Chapter One Hundred and Eighty - The Parable of the Baker Knight
“Raa!” I roared as I swung my padded spade around. The head swooshed through the air and hit absolutely nothing because the clever sylph I was trying to bonk with it casually stepped back and out of the way.
“Duck!” Awen called out from behind me.
I dipped down, ears dropping flat onto my head just as a crossbow bolt (with a sandbag for a head) shot past where I’d been.
Bastion smiled and casually flicked the wooden pole he had in place for a sword, slapping the bolt off course. “Good timing there, girls,” he said. And then he was stepping up and swinging for me.
I parried his first strike with the haft of my spade, then hopped over a sweeping kick--only the kick never happened; instead, mid-twist, Bastion shoulder-checked my tummy, grabbed the back of my knee, and sent me crashing to the deck back-first.
“Erk!” I coughed.
Bastion stepped past me and lunged for Awen. She tossed her crossbow aside and flung her arms out at him. Two balls of glass formed in her palms and launched out towards the sylph.
But Bastion was way too fast, and he weaved around both before stepping right up to Awen. He shoved her arms aside, ignored a kick to the shin, then threw Awen over his shoulder and to the ground right next to me.
“Awa!” Awen coughed.
We were both down for the count. Again.
“Well done,” Bastion said. “Your teamwork is improving, and even your reflexes.”
I raised an arm to protest, then let it fall back down. I was too pooped to get up. "You’re too fast,” I complained.
“I’ve got nearly twice your levels, and a decade’s worth of combat training,” Bastion said. “Good training too. Day after day of being punted around by my seniors until I learned how to take care of myself.”
I rolled onto my tummy, then pushed myself up. My warspade--with the end wrapped in a bundle of cloth--had fallen a few steps away, so I had to move over to pick that up. “I don’t know if we’re getting any better,” I said.
The day before, Bastion and my friends tricked me into going back to bed after lunch. But today I spent all morning trying to fight Bastion. I wasn’t back at my best, but I wasn’t too far from it, and yet I hadn't landed a single blow.
“Captain!” Clive called from the quarterdeck. “Land ahead!”
I gasped, and seeing that Awen was already jumping to her feet and didn’t need a hand, rushed to the bow to look out to sea. Out by the horizon was a long strip of green and brown. “We’re getting close.”
“Looks like it,” Bastion said as he came over. “I think that’ll be a good place to end our training for today.”
“Was it really training? All that happened is that you threw me and Awen around.”
Bastion nodded. “Now you know how to be thrown around a little better. Don’t worry, you’ll improve.”
“Of course I will. I’m doing my best after all. Right Awen?”
“Right,” Awen agreed with a very serious nod. “We’ll be strong in no time.”
“We have some open General Skill slots too, so we should fill those out with some combat stuff,” I said. “But that can wait. We’re heading to a port over in, uh.” I pointed to the shore ahead. “What nation is that?”
“None,” Bastion said. “Or I suppose you could argue that the land is controlled by the Crying Mountains, but seeing as how the people from those mountains rarely move away from their dwellings that argument doesn’t hold up very well.”
“So it’s a free place?” I asked.
“Not quite,” another voice said. I turned to see Amaryllis coming over. “The land is lawless, which isn’t the same as free. There are a few communities there. Small villages and such. But for the most part it’s virgin territory. Only one nation ever tried to capture it though.”
“Oh?” I asked. I knew how much Amaryllis liked her history lessons. Plus, they were neat!
“The Trenten Flats mounted a sort-of invasion. They’re keen on expansion. So they crossed the Hoofbreaker Forest, and tried to conquer the one city and the few villages there. They crossed the Crystalline people of the Crying Mountains though. One of their biggest defeats. A running rout across the entire land, through the Hoofbreaker Forest--which is what earned it that name--and all the way to Crystalbreak where the reinforced army made a stand and arguably won. They never pushed back as far as I know. Not with the wall going up.”
“The Grey Wall, right?” I vaguely remembered that part.
Amaryllis nodded. “Paid for by the Crying Mountain. It’s a barrier across the only land bridge between two continents. Probably one of the biggest structures in the world. It took nearly half a century to be completed, and that’s with a decently large body of workers.”
“Does it work? As a wall I mean.” I remembered learning about the Great Wall of China not being all that great at stopping Mongolian invaders.
“I suppose so. The Treten Flats haven’t tried their luck again. I suppose the wall, and the forces behind it, act as a decent deterrent. The Hoofbreaker Forest is also mostly untouched. The cervid used the wood from it to build some of their infrastructure, but they have other sources.”
“Cool,” I said. “Maybe we’ll be able to see the wall from the air in passing.”
“Probably,” Amaryllis said. “We’ll be passing to the east of it in a few days. Assuming all goes well in Insmouth.”
“What do you know about Insmouth?” I asked.
“Very little,” Amaryllis said. “It’s a small independent port, with not much of value for sale, and it’s not on the way to anywhere interesting. If it wasn’t for the large detour we’re taking we wouldn’t be passing anywhere near here.”
“Isn’t there anything to the south of it? The only maps I’ve seen cut off around there,” I said.
Amaryllis shrugged. “Open desert, and not the sort that can be traversed like the Ostri Desert. I suppose there could be more that way, but if there is I haven’t heard of it. Airships should make exploring that way easier now, but I don’t know of any recent expeditions.”
Bastion nodded. “There’s civilization all over, but you really need to go looking for it. And there’s little incentive to do so. Our corner of Dirt is rather plentiful already.”
“It might be getting too full of plenty,” Amaryllis muttered. "The Trenten have been butting up against borders in nearly every direction, and they don’t seem keen on crossing the Vermin Vastness to go looking for more people to terrorize that way.”
I didn’t quite know what to say about that. “Lunch?” I tried.
“Certainly,” Amaryllis said. “As long as you’re cooking.”
I nodded, placed my spade on my shoulder, then walked off to the back of the ship and down towards the kitchen. As we’d discovered through trial and lots of error, neither Amaryllis or Awen could cook. Nor were they allowed to try to cook anymore.
Clive and Steve and Gordon could manage simple foods, and Bastion had a sort of camping skill that let him make some things in a hurry. I had a bit of experience preparing things back home, which made me one of our better chefs. The scallywags were also pretty deft, especially Joe who had worked a food stall once or twice.
I rummaged around a bit for something to cook, then settled on a sort of stew. There were limited cooking ingredients in our little kitchen area, and not all that much in terms of tasty supplies.
As good as hardtack could be when it came to lasting a long time and being nutritious, it didn’t beat proper food. So, I cleaned some veggies using my cheating cleaning magic, then started dicing them up and tossing them into a pot of water which I set to boil.
We had a little bit of meat left, stuck in a rune-powered coldbox and wrapped in a few layers of filmy paper. That was the last of our supplies from the Harpy mountains. we hadn't had much time to stock up at Needleford.
I made a mental note to pick up some more provisions at Insmouth. We had some canned food, and wouldn’t starve even if we had to ration things out for a month or more, but that didn’t mean that we’d enjoy beans three times a day.
Which was as good a reason as any to open a can and dump it into the stew. More protein was always welcome!
By the time most of the crew came down, the stew was simmering and I was filling out bowls with hot broth and placing them onto the table. “We should get utensils with magnets built into them,” I said as I put a bowl in front of Awen.
“Ah? Oh, so that they don’t move around?” Awen asked.
I nodded. “Yup. Who’s on watch above?”
“Steve and Sally,” Oda said.
“Do you want to bring them some bowls, or will they be eating after?”
“They’ll take a break later,” Oda said. “We’ll just have to make sure not to eat it all.”
I nodded, then got some help passing things around. Once everyone was set, we dug in. After having endured some of Amaryllis cooking, even something as boring as my stew felt great. “So, did you scallywags figure out what you want to do once we land?” I asked.
Joe shrugged. “We might look for work. We might not. Depends. Heard that Insmouth is a pretty quiet place. So it’s probably safe, but that doesn’t mean there’s much to do there.”
“Finding work is important. You’ll need some money to keep afloat. But with three of you helping each other out that shouldn’t be too hard. Once you have work, all three of you should find a dungeon,” Bastion said.
Amaryllis nodded. “He’s right. You’re all going to find it hard to find better jobs if you’re caught at your first evolution.”
“Is that a big problem?” I asked.
Amaryllis made a so-so gesture. “In bigger cities it isn’t uncommon to have most of the population locked at their first evolution, with a few naturals having pushed past. It’s good enough to keep things running smoothly. But anyone of a higher level, with more classes, will be seen as somewhat more desirable in any given position. The stats alone mean that a person will be more resilient.”
“Awa, there’s also a, um, notion that people that have gone past level ten are likely to keep on going. That they have more potential? Keeping someone at a low level means that they stay dependent.”
“I should pay more attention to people’s levels, but it feels... kinda sad to only see people for the numbers, instead of seeing them for who they are.”
“That’s a pretty common way of doing things,” Amaryllis said. “In peacetimes, when everything is going well, it’s hard to discriminate against people based solely on class and level. It’ll still happen. The amount of practice you need to... say out-blacksmith a Blacksmith is immense. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
“The Baker Knight,” Awen said. “Uncle said he met him once.”
“Hmm?” I asked.
“It’s a children’s story. Based on more or less real events,” Amaryllis said.
“You never heard of the Baker Knight?” Joe asked. “Everyone knows the story.”
I shrugged. “What’s it about?”
“A young man that got the Baker class deciding he’d become a Knight,” Amaryllis said. “This was during some turmoil in Pyrowalk. The long version is filled with aesops and side stories. The short version is that he succeeded, eventually becoming a rather terrifying figure. The character’s often played off as a bit of a goof though.”
“That sounds cute!” I said. I had been slowly getting accustomed to all sorts of new cultures and people, but I never really considered what the children's stories were like. It was something else to dig into... one of these days.
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- Someplace Cold, Canada
- A bird that likes comfy and happy things, and also knives. Once ate a god’s eye and awakened the ability to see all that is good in the world. Known to steal shiny ideas and baubles. Currently forbidden from writing his own bios.
Bio: A bird that likes comfy and happy things, and also knives. Once ate a god’s eye and awakened the ability to see all that is good in the world. Known to steal shiny ideas and baubles. Currently forbidden from writing his own bios.