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Name

Gwen Baird

Armour

3

Class

Hunter

Health

20

Level

4

Dodge

1

Species

Half-Elf (Wood/Human)

Species Skills (Half-Elf)

 

Strength

6

Elf Sight

3

Agility

5

Base Skills (Hunter)

 

Body

5

Stealth

2

Mind

6

Perception

2

Sense

6

Tracking

1

Charm

5

Archery

1

 

It was late in the day when they reached the village, which was larger than Gwen had expected. She had been picturing four houses and a tavern the size of a garden shed, but this place was far more developed than that. The tavern was large and covered multiple floors, plus it had a stable out the back that looked big enough for a full herd to escape the rain in. A sign hung over the door showing a swan sitting with a vaguely concussed expression in amongst a truly astonishing number of beer mugs.

"Well that's got to have a story behind it," she mused.

"Oooh, a temple!" Marina said, bouncing on her toes, she grabbed Gwen by the arm and started to pull her in that direction.

"Marina, I'm really not in the mood for religion right now, can't we go to the pub first?" Gwen felt exhausted already by the new world and the new experiences. She really didn't want to be lectured on the cleanliness of her soul.

"No, because temples are save points, you dafty, we get in there, pray a bit, I'll most likely get a bonus to my magic for a while and if we die any time in the next week or so we'll pop back here instead of some random point in the forest: didn't you pay attention to Dove when she was explaining things?" she asked, using her teacher-tone.

Gwen bristled, "I listened, I just didn't remember right now." It was the voice, she thought, it cut straight through to the nerves, then danced on them. And to be fair, when Dove had been explaining how things went in the game, Gwen had had other questions for the AI.

Not taking "not now" for an answer, Marina towed an increasingly stubborn Gwen through the edges of the village to the temple. In the end, Gwen gave up on digging her feet into the turf, it was clear her sister had put a lot more points into Strength than she had.

The temple was an odd looking building, at least to Gwen's eyes. It certainly appeared like it had been modelled off an old medieval church from the Highlands, all square corners and whitewash, but some wires had gotten crossed somewhere and it had gotten mixed up with a greenhouse made from stained glass. It was beautiful: greens, blues and purples all blended together in feather-like images, but against the backdrop of pine forests and mountains, Gwen couldn't help but shiver at the thought of staying there.

Aside from that though, it could have been any one of the rebuilt crofter's cottages and conserved churches that her parents had marched them around when she was a kid. She could almost feel the drizzle that had usually accompanied them down the back of her neck and the taste of the mints mum had kept for such excursions.

Marina led her to the door – an arched sunset out of glass decorated the wall above it so that it looked as if the door itself was a part of the sun – and when Marina opened that door and tugged Gwen through, they seemed as though they were walking through the sky itself. Inside the temple's walls were a honeycomb of recessed niches; a few nearest the front had items filling them, but there were hundreds without anything inside them. The objects weren't what Gwen had expected either. There were some small models of figures, mostly in some silvery metal that to Gwen's untrained eye could be anything from silver to steel to platinum. But the rest were oddities, they looked more like the contents of a kitchen odds and ends drawer. Lots of pieces of paper with writing and print in small, black letters pinned in place; dolls made from sticks, straw, or pressed flowers and leaves. And in some of the niches there were, well, just things: a mirror; a comb; a tankard of shining, if dented, brass.

"I don't really know what to do here," she muttered. Gwen felt the hairs on the back of her neck stick up, she had never exactly felt at home in religious spaces, and it seemed that that feeling had come along for the ride.

Gwen crossed her arms across her chest and followed Marina reluctantly into the aisle that led between the rows of pews.

Marina was charging up it, apparently quite content to be there and happy to make as much noise as she wished, but then it had never been easy to shut Marina up.

Poking his head out of an office space, a middle-aged man smiled at them, "Good afternoon," he said, "Are you new to the village?" He came and showed himself to be a well-built man, wearing a knitted jumper over thick trousers. His slightly thinning blonde hair was sticking up like it had met a comb once and had not felt the need to repeat the experience.

"Indeed we are," Marina said, with impressive bonhomie and confidence for someone on their first day in a new reality. "We're just passing through, but we just had to stop for a visit, I am Marina, and this is my sister, Gwen. Do you have a few minutes to talk about your lovely village and this beautiful building?"

The priest, since that was what he appeared to be, seemed utterly delighted to talk to someone who liked his temple as much as he did. "My name is Nikolai, the village is Starlingrise, and this is our temple." He waved a hand, "And we're happy to accept any worshippers of any gods, since we've always held that it's best not to insult any gods by leaving them out."

He stopped for a laugh, Marina happily did so, Gwen, recognising a cue when she heard one, gave a polite chuckle.

"We generally have a service in the morning, and some in the evening on the holy days of some of the gods for whom it is appropriate. But chiefly this is a space for personal reflection and worship, though I am of course always happy to help out when I am needed for certain rituals. May I ask which gods are your personal patrons?" He asked, looking first from Marina then to Gwen.

"My goddess is Minethena, the Teacher and the Student," Marina said, placing a hand over her heart in a way that looked as if she had done it a hundred times a day her whole life.

"Felicitas, the Lucky and the Careful," Gwen said, feeling far more awkward as she copied Marina's actions.

The priest seemed a little intrigued by the names of their goddesses, but he was able to see which of the twins was keen to talk more about her goddess and so wisely turned to Marina. "Well, we have not yet had any worshippers of those two goddesses, so if you wish to place something in the niches here," He waved to the honeycomb of shelves along the walls, "Then you are very welcome. And, Ms Marina, am I correct in thinking you are a fellow priest?"

Marina blushed and waved a hand modestly, "Oh, little more than a novice, really. But very happy to hear any advice you have, sir." She beamed up at him.

He was clearly flattered and ushered her to a pew to talk things over.

Gwen tapped Marina on her shoulder as she passed, "I'll finish up here and see if I can get us some rooms at the inn."

Marina grinned back, "I'll see if I can get us a quest!" she whispered back before hurrying off to sit by the priest. There was a moment of awkwardness as she had to move the mace hanging on her hip as it obstructed her movement, but she fixed it soon enough.

The two priests' chatter filled the temple, masking even the small noises Gwen's leather shod feet made against the stone of the floor. She picked a spot on one of the walls that had an unclaimed niche and walked up to it. Up near the front they were filled to the brim, some even spilling over with flower wreathes, some dried and others fresh, but here it was mostly just a single small offering in each hollow.

"Well, I'm here," Gwen said, "I don't really know what to say, I didn't get the, uh, education my sister evidently did on how to behave in temples." She thought for a moment, then said what seemed the best thing that sprang to mind, "Thank you for looking after me, I've felt very lucky, and I've tried to be careful. Um, please continue to do so and I'll do my best to be worthy of your help. Thanks," She paused, checking her pockets for something to put in the niche, her fingers touched warm metal. There was something in there that hadn't been there before. Frowning she drew out a single, gold edged, playing card. In the place of a king, queen, or jack, was sat a smiling figure: she was clearly meant to be Felicitas because no Queen had ever been painted with such a cheeky smile, or wearing an outfit that was a meld of medieval high fashion and a flapper dress. In one hand she held cards to her chest, in the other she was tossing dice.

"Well, I'll take that as a 'Hello,' I suppose," Gwen said with a little laugh, leaning the card up against the back of the hollow. The light caught the card and, just for a moment, it looked like the woman winked one eye. This made a warm feeling blossom under Gwen's breastbone, it was nice to think that someone was looking out for her, even just a little bit.

Stepping back she nodded to the niche, then resettled the backpack on her shoulders and sent a look over to Marina. By the looks of things, they were still deeply in conversation about priestly duties, or whatever it was they were talking about.

Shaking her head, Gwen turned and left, hopeful that the price for a room for the night wasn't too much, and that a drink too would be within her budget. And that the simulation wasn't going to be too accurate about the state of medieval taverns and their inventories.

Pushing open the door to the tavern she was pleasantly surprised, it smelled of ale and roast chicken, and the room she stepped into was bright and had comfy-looking furniture. Catching the eye of a barmaid, she walked up, easing into a charming smile, "Hello, I'm Gwen, what's your name?"

A little red around the cheekbones and over the tops of her very slightly pointed ears the young woman answered, "I'm Abigail, and what can I do for you, Gwen?"

"I'd love an ale and I need a room for the night. My sister and I will be staying, she's over at the temple at the moment, talking priestly business with Nikolai," Gwen tilted her head in the direction of the temple behind her, knowing full well that the action showed off her own slightly pointed ears. Fingers-crossed for part-elf community discounts, she thought.

Abigail gave a grin, "Well, I can do the both for you, we have a nice room that looks in the direction of the temple for you and your sister, that is if you don't want separate ones?" She twirled a lock of her hair around a finger and leaned forward with a sultry smile.

Shit! Those standard 5 points in Charm work too well, I'm not used to this, Gwen thought frantically, "Oh, well that's very kind of you, Abigail, but I think I'd better stay with my sister." Please let that be enough, I don't want her angry with me. God, I wish there was a code for, "Hi, I like to flirt but I'm demisexual and the last time I was in a relationship it took me over a year of flirting to get to the point of spending the night with her." That brought her ex, Ana, to mind, which wasn't helpful, so she did her best to ignore it.

Abigail pouted a little, but seemed to get the message without any hurt feelings, "It's three copper for the ale and two silver for the night," she said, "And we'll feed you too, so don't fret about that."

Relief washed though Gwen, "Thank you, Abigail."

Abigail gave her a smile and turned back to get the ale out of a barrel behind the counter. She filled the tankard and pushed it over to Gwen. Condensation was already appearing on the outside of the ceramic mug; Gwen had never seen something that looked so delicious. Gwen let out a sigh of relief, the knowledge that pubs and taverns often used cold spells was suddenly downloaded into her mind, and she passed over the three copper coins.

"So where are you from, Gwen?" Abigail asked, drying off a spot of condensation on the counter from the jug.

"The border with the elven lands: my sister and I are travelling to the west to meet up with our parents and a cousin," Gwen replied, the agreed-upon story dropping from her mouth with ease.

Abigail gave her a sympathetic look, "That's quite a distance."

"It is, but hopefully the new place will be worth the shoe leather," she took a sip of the ale. The cool touch was the perfect way to end the day of walking in the heat. Wiping her mouth on her cuff, she asked, "Have you seen any other travellers coming through?"

Abigail appeared to think for a moment, "They were coming in dribs and drabs a couple of months ago, but I haven't seen anyone in a while, come to think of it." She frowned, "Actually, now I do think about it, we haven't seen nearly anyone at all recently."

Gwen frowned, her coincidence senses were tingling, the ones that made themselves known when things weren't coincidences. "Just out of curiosity, but how often would you say you see monsters around here, big half boar, half beetle things, or scorpion tailed wolves, for example?"

Abigail's eyes widened, "Never! I've never heard of anything like that, did you see something like that in the woods?"

"On the road here," Gwen said, "My sister and I were lucky to survive, if we weren't together and if I hadn't gotten lucky, we probably wouldn't have."

A trembling hand moved up to cover her mouth, Abigail looked shaken, her tanned and freckled skin was paling, "That– that's not good. Would you excuse me for a moment?" She left before Gwen had the time to answer, pulling up the hinged end of the bar to get onto the other side and walking over to an older man sitting by the fire with a large plate of chicken and mashed potatoes before him. She crouched down and started to whisper in his ear, the white-haired old man looked up at her in shock, then over at Gwen, then back up at Abigail.

"Are you sure?" He asked very loudly.

"So this young lady says," Abigail said.

The entire room had frozen and fallen silent, all of what must have been the regular crowd looking in interest at the gossip fodder growing in front of them. Gwen took a breath and leaned more completely against the strength of the bar.

The door opened, haloed against the light in shining armour was Marina, she took a look at the silent taproom and at Gwen tensely hovering by the bar. She strode over, trying to look carefree, "I assume you've told them about our welcoming committee?" she said quietly.

"Yep," Said Gwen, "You told Nikolai about it, too?"

"Yeah, apparently this area is notable for its lack of terrifying monsters," She said.

"And apparently no one's visited the village in a while," Gwen said. They shared a look, Gwen's worried, Marina's excited.

"I said I'd find us a quest, didn't I?" Marina said with a smile.

"I think the finding was pretty equally shared out on this one," Gwen said. She couldn't get as excited, not when Abigail had looked so afraid. The barmaid might not be real, but that emotion had looked genuine and it had hit Gwen as if it were.

Abigail was waving them over now, Gwen left her bag where she had put it up against the bar and walked over. "My sister, Marina," Gwen said, indicating her twin.

"I was just talking to your priest; it sounds like you have a monster problem?" Marina was doing her best to look concerned and not excited. It was coming over as a deep solemnity which the old man at least seemed to appreciate.

"Indeed, we haven't seen any visitors in weeks, though most worrying for us," he shared a look with Abigail, "is that my older daughter, Jessica, lives on a small farm with her children a few miles outside the village. We haven't heard from her, either."

Gwen asked, "Would you like us to go check up on her?"

The older man let out a sigh of relief, "It is good of you to offer, we were hoping you would agree to check on her." He held out a hand to Gwen, "My name is Brennan, please sit." He waved to the table in front of him. Gwen nodded and she and Marina sat down on the bench across from him.

"Jessica lives about fifteen miles outside the village, she and her late husband moved there, on the site of an old manor; the walls were gone but the foundations were still good so they built a farmhouse and barn on them. David died a few years ago, but with the kids getting older our Jessica was able to keep the farm running. She's basically alone out there when it isn't harvest time," He shook his head. "I should have insisted she came back to the village."

"She wouldn't have come," Abigail said, shaking her head, "She's very proud of her farm, and well she should be. But if there's creatures like you described out there then she won't be safe, and if she does get hurt then it's too far for the kids to run for help."

"We can go," Marina said, "though perhaps we should leave in the morning, as much as I want to help I do not think it would be safe to spend the night out there when we don't know the way."

The pair seemed disappointed but understanding. "The road there is good, but it's not used enough to be completely reliable." Brennan acknowledged, "In the dark, if you were attacked it is very likely that you could lose it and then we would have to send someone looking for you as well." He sighed, "Very well. If you will go at dawn then we will be very happy to feed you and put you up for the night." He looked at his daughter, "We cannot spare much for payment-"

Marina cut over him, "That's not necessary. If you're willing to feed and house us, then that will be more than sufficient." At their thanks she smiled, and, with an innocence that got Gwen suspicious instantly, she added, "And perhaps, after, you may be willing to listen to me deliver a sermon. Nikolai has offered to let me do so in the temple before my sister and I continue on our journey."

"Of course, we'd be very happy to," Abigail said. "I'll show you up to your room so you can leave your things, it must all be very uncomfortable."

"I would be very grateful," Marina said, she stood and gave a flourishing bow, effortlessly taking the focus of the room.

Gwen was happy to be pushed into the shadows.

After they had said goodbye to Brennan, Abigail took them through a door. The second the door was closed behind them the noise from the room they had left was thunderous.

Abigail shook her head, "Bunch of gossips," she said fiercely. Leading them up the narrow stairs she showed them to a large room with two beds, dressed in bright patchwork quilts and white linen sheets. She left soon after, obviously still not quite even keeled after the shocking news.

"You know, just curiosity would have likely got you half the village as an audience at the Temple," Gwen said, a little sharply.

"And this should help get the other half," Marina said. "And don't snap, the quickest way for me to level up my magic is to teach people about my goddess. There are some spells I just can't get until I've preached to a thousand or more people, and spells that need even more after that: I need to get the numbers in." She plopped down on a bed.

"What did you talk to the priest about?" Gwen started to unknot her boot laces and take them off. Once done, she sat on the foot of her bed and crossed her legs underneath her.

Despite the long day of walking her feet felt as fresh as they had when she started. Her health was still at the shockingly high score of 20 as it had risen in line with her rapid levelling.

She took care of a few notifications which had popped up, it was just regular updates of her rising tracking skill. Once she had reached the village it had stalled at 4.

"The local gods, mostly. Understandably they're very into crafting and farming around here, but he was happy for me to tell people about Minethena before I left. I doubt he would have been if he thought I was likely to stay overly long and be possible competition, but," she shrugged, "then I mentioned the creatures we fought and, well, he had a reaction similar to that of the taproom."

"I wonder why there are monsters here all of a sudden?" Gwen mused.

Marina gave a sharp laugh. At Gwen's questioning look she sighed, "What possibly could have happened in the recent past to make the local landscape start spawning lots of new monsters?"

The answer struck Gwen, "Adventurers."

Marina nodded, "The timelines match up."

Slumping back onto her bed Gwen groaned and tried not to feel guilty.

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About the author

K Mackay

Bio: I used to lurk on here, now I've got some writing up. It's been a novel experience.
I love Science Fiction, Fantasy, and everything in between. I tend to get overprotective of characters who are not mine and should have been treated better. Catch up with my life updates at my website, www.watchedplotneverboils.com

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