Chapter Thirty Four – The Crossing at Bluebell Bridge
I walked slowly. My legs were tired and I felt sore. My hips hurt. There was a strange pain in my head and my chest was chafing against the bugbear tunic. Much as I loved it, I was beginning to hate it. If adventurers had to wear clothes like this all the time it was no surprise that they were constantly killing people.
I wanted more of the Steak-and-Broccoli, I was thirsty, my bag was heavy, and most of all, I was bored.
“Are we there yet!?” I asked, growling in annoyance.
“Gell, you’re an abomination,” Iron shouted, playfully. “You have to learn a little bit of patience. We haven’t even been walking for an hou… erm, for half a cycle yet!”
“It’s not my fault I want things to happen!” I returned. “I finally escaped Dungeon Home and the instinct and I thought everything out here would be amazing! But these trees are boring! I thought we were going to see the city! Where is it!? We’ve been walking forever!”
In truth, the trees were amazing. Everything was. I danced around in the leaves as they fell, brown and yellow and red tumbling around us as we walked down the trail.
“You don’t seem all that bored by the forest. Is it really so bad?” Amy asked curiously.
“The trees are so pretty. They’re huge too! I could always tell they were big from my cave, but they just go up and up and up,” I said, craning my neck back trying to see the top of one of the highest ones. "But they still don't do anything."
“So, would you prefer the trees to the city?” Amy asked, her tone teasing.
I frowned, unsure how to answer that. “I don’t think so. You’ve… gotten me excited for a city. It’s completely new to me. I know what trees are, and can put a look to them. Seeing them up close isn’t as interesting as seeing something new for the first time. I know all these things but I’ve never seen them. What’s a building look like? What’s a fire-hydrant? What’s a water tower? I just…” I trailed off, unable to come up with the right words.
I wanted to see a whole place with adventurers who were interesting but not hostile. I wanted to hear the conversations! I wanted to hear new words I didn’t understand! I…
“I just… want, I guess,” I said. “Sorry if I’m impatient.”
Pitying looks crossed Amy’s features while Iron looked a little guilty.
“Well… at least you have the decency to feel sorry about it,” Iron grumbled. He quirked up with a bit of a smile. “Our kids were less patient than you!”
I frowned. Kids?
“You have kids?” I asked, instantly intrigued by the new topic. Baby Invaders? Those couldn’t hurt anyone! “Would I like them? Will I get to meet them someday!?”
Amy laughed, a rich and happy sound filling the woods as the three of them walked along the path toward Variak at a sedate pace. “Maybe someday, Gell.”
“Yes!” I hissed joyously, excited at the prospect of meeting new people who weren’t murderous assholes. Suddenly a realization came over me. “Wait. You both have kids? And they’re the same kids? You’re a couple?”
Iron laughed this time, holding up his hand where a glinting green band was wrapped around his ring-finger as if it held some sort of significance. “You didn’t realize that?”
“I’ve never seen a couple before. I guess Skeleton and Skeledog were kind of a couple… but I don’t think they fit that word properly. They were always together but they don’t make kids like couples do,” I said.
Amy looked at me pointedly, studying me in a way that made me a little uncomfortable.
“What?” I asked when I could no longer stand her staring.
“Gell… if you’ve never seen a couple before us, how do you know what one is?” she asked.
That, I decided, was a great question.
“I wish I knew,” I replied, staring wistfully off into the trees, at the mountains, and the sunset, and the Great-Open which was called the sky. “I just… know things. Couples get married, for instance. Or split up. Are you married?”
Amy grinned. “We are. Going on forty nine years, come February.”
They’d now told me that a cycle was two hours, and a day was twenty four hours. I converted that to twelve cycles to make it easier. Knowing a year was three hundred and sixty five days I multiplied the days by the number of cycles in a day, and found that…
“Whhhooooaaa…! You’re two hundred fourteen thousand six hundred and twenty cycles married! That’s like, fifty times longer than I can even remember!” I exclaimed.
They both shared one of those looks that I had no context for, before they both grinned. Iron nodded. “That’s… uhm. Probably right? Wow, you did that fast though. Have you always been able to do math like that?”
I cocked my head questioningly. “Like what?”
Iron looked like he wanted to pursue the subject but thought better of it. “Nevermind, I guess.”
There was a brief silence as we continued walking down the path. Iron was constantly watching the surroundings for any sign of danger, but he was distracted by our conversation more than once.
“So… what are your kids like?” I asked.
At that, Amy sighed, staring dejectedly ahead into the woods.
“They’re good kids but they have kids of their own now. We don’t get to see them as much as we’d like. Our son is preparing for his third baby. Our daughter… well. She isn’t on the best of terms with us. We haven’t spoken in—” Amy paused for an unusually long time, before continuing, “about six hundred cycles.”
“That’s sad. If I had a family, a real one, I’d want to see them every day,” I said. “But it's okay. I’m going to make a family all on my own! It’s my biggest dream after all, and it’ll have Bugbear and Momma Bossbear after she forgives me, and Skeleton and Skeledog and… and you guys! If you want!”
I put them forth like it was no big deal, but I didn’t think I managed to hide how important their answer was to me as I gazed at them longingly.
Amy frowned like she did sometimes. I turned when Iron answered with a grin, “We’d love to be a part of your family, Gell.”
I beamed at him, then noticed that Amy was beaming at him too. Did that mean she agreed, too?
We walked on in amicable silence for a while as I contented myself with studying the trees, until Iron brought me out of my thoughts.
“It’s not Variak, but if you’ve never left your cave, I bet you’ll love this. Gell? Welcoming to Bluebell Bridge!”
He said it just as we reached the top of a tall hill, and I gasped in awe as we crested it.
The road, winding through dense woods until this point, opened up. Our route suddenly became cobblestone instead of a simple well-trodden path, and the newly paved path curved sharply downward around the hill. The trees also ended, allowing me to see the whole of the valley, where the river ran down from the tree-covered hills until it came to a bridge that seemed to hang in midair.
The bridge crossed over a great river far below, and it dwarfed everything I could see beneath, but either end of the bridge held buildings, each with tiny little lights coming from them, easily visible in the low valley where the afternoon sun could not touch.
“Oh, my gods…” I breathed, staring in awe. “So that’s a city!”
Iron scoffed. “That’s barely a town, though the bridge is still amazing. You haven’t seen anything yet.”
“Cities are even bigger!?” I breathed in excitement.
“Much much bigger,” Iron bragged.
“There’s so many adventurers! Oh! Oh there's a Unicorn! No.. wait… where’s it’s horn? Oh! The bridge is amazing! Amy, do we get to see the bridge!? Is it edible? What about all the little lights? Oh, windows! The Invaders talked about those, but it never made sense. They would talk about them like they were Miss Tutorial’s body but I knew they were glass screens like those ones! Wait, can we–!”
“Slow down, Gell! Take a breath! We’ll have some time to explore. We’re lucky enough we weren’t attacked on the way here. It's getting a little late anyway. How would you like to stay in an Inn? The beds there are very cozy!”
“Sleep. Sleep!? But I’ve never needed to do that! I want to go see all the things! Meet new people!” I insisted.
The two exchanged another look before turning back to me.
“You might not need to sleep, Gell, but we do. You can, of course, explore the town as you will. No matter what you do though, don’t leave town–err…” Amy paused suddenly, as if remembering something.
“Gell, we have no right to tell you what you can and can’t do,” she continued after a few moments of hesitation. “For your own safety though, please don’t leave the town, once we’ve arrived? We don’t want to see you get hurt.”
I thought for a moment, but it didn’t take much deliberation before I nodded. Amy and Iron were the only humanoid creatures to be kind to me so far. They also wanted to join my new family! If I couldn’t trust them, who could I trust?
“Good. It’s unsafe outside the city for any of us, but you’re going to get a lot of attention in there, Gell. Promise me you won’t let any of them lead you outside of town?”
I already didn’t really want to leave the town, anyway. Miss Tutorial telling me about the dinosaurs and cultists was already scary enough that Iron and Amy had needed to persuade me to leave the Shady Woods Copse after they’d logged back in. It wasn’t too hard for them to convince me though. I had a reason like getting to see this beautiful place! Knowing this place was safe was almost enough to make me not want to leave at all!
“Now that I’m here, I don’t know if I’ll ever leave! There’s so much to see!” I exclaimed, then calmed down at the hard look in her eyes. “Okay… I won’t let anyone lead me outside of town. I promise.”
She smiled and nodded before turning and continuing down the steep cobblestone path. I marveled at the stones, skipping on them and trying to only step on the bright ones, while avoiding the dark ones.
As we got closer, we passed the first person. It was a dwarf with a huge beard, working on the road. His name was “Gable, the Road Builder,” but he reminded me of Beardy Wall.
“Ho there, adventurers!” he called as we approached and Amy waved awkwardly. Iron ignored him entirely, which I thought was kind of rude.
“Ho there, Dwarf guy!” I exclaimed, happily. He smiled at me and then turned around to continue hacking away at the cobblestone road.
The road looked fine, so I wondered what he was doing as we got further away, but soon enough there were so many people I could hardly remember the odd dwarf.
As we entered Bluebell West I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people. Some of them had normal names like Dungarr, the Blacksmith and Eilondye, the Tailor. These people usually wore plain clothing and were often behind stalls, or patrolling the town if their names ended in “the Guard.” The vast majority though, were people with names like “Barstucks C0ff33drinker.” Names that interspersed letters and numbers for no apparent reason.
These people were easy to spot because almost all of them were staring at me.
A red blinking dot appeared in that overlay that was usually almost invisible, and it became clearer as I focused on it.
You have received a new message! (47)
The number beside the little envelope icon kept rising as more and more people sent me messages. I opened it and the screen filled with a list of expanded mail subject lines.
“Yooo! Rockin’ Skin!”
“Join my group?”
“Where did you get that race!? It’s beautiful!”
“Jelly Angel! Please be my bride!”
“Enhance Your body quickly! Just 3 easy payments of $299.99!”
“Where di you ge da goods?”
“Epic skiN! How’d you get it!?”
“Hey, what yo ASL?”
“Can you buy that skin online?”
“Buy 10 Regular Class Intelligence Crystals for the low price of $79.99! Stock moving fast!”
They went on and on like that, half of them asking me where I got the skin, while the rest either commented on my beauty or were trying to give me something if I gave them numbers. It was strange.
“You’re pretty popular, aren’t you?” Amy asked, having noticed me scrolling through my invisible screens. “Checking messages? Just… so you know, you should probably ignore most of them. Especially the purple ones. Those are always just spam.”
“Spam? The… canned food?” I asked, recognizing the word with my inexplicable knowledge. I’d never seen spam before. Weirdly, I was getting the idea that there were two definitions for the same word. That happened every now and then. In this case, I thought Amy was probably talking about useless mes… oh. Right. That would make sense.
She laughed, before confirming. “Kind of? Spam. Junk mail. Messages not worth your time.”
“Really? Aww,” I said sadly. The “enhance your body” one had sounded so promising. I thought it might be able to turn me back to normal for a moment. I mentally decided I’d pick up a two and four nines if I ever happened to spot them around, just in case Amy was wrong about them.
The people watched us strangely, while those with the normal names went about their tasks regularly. Fortunately no one actually approached us.
We reached a square where people wandered every which way. Straight across was the bridge that led to the other side of Bluebell. There were a lot of people here, and even a few horses with wagons carrying around the normal names. The adventurers didn’t linger here long though, most of them only stopping to glance at me and send me a message before moving on.
There were buildings on the sides of the square but most of them had their doors closed. One didn’t though, and lively music blared from inside. The windows were open and the door stood wide as well. It looked wonderful.
I was about to ask if we were heading there when I spotted another person and my blood ran cold. My freckles faded to a sickly yellow glow.
“Gell? What’s wrong, Gell?”
I couldn’t move. All I could do was remember the knife, and the hundreds of times it had snuffed out my life. The pain. The deaths.
Red Thorn stood on the other side of the square, talking with a horse stall owner. She was smiling. Joking with him. She looked just like any other adventurer. Somehow the monster hadn’t noticed me yet.
“L-let’s go?” I asked, suddenly realizing I was squeezing Amy’s shirt sleeve, though I didn’t remember grabbing her. “H-hurry.”
“Gell? What’s wrong?” Amy asked.
“L-let’s go… please?” I turned to insist for just a moment. When I turned back, the Thorn was gone. Had she been watching me? “Wh-wherever we’re going. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
I couldn’t stop shaking.
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I'm Materia-Blade. I've been a long time fanfiction writer, and have recently decided to toss my hat into the original fiction arena. I love fantasy, sci-fi, and Lit-RPG's and have read hundreds of books from each genre.
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