The world returned to Kahari with a bright flash of light. Sand filled his vision, and after a moment, he remembered where he was. Sitting up quickly, he looked down to find his chest healed. He’d known, even seen that he would be healed, but the darkness of death had still embraced him. He remembered nothing of what he had seen after the world faded to black, but after a few deep breaths he did remember how the fight had ended. He’d lost. Of course, winning or losing wasn’t the deciding factor for joining the Association, it was how the judges judged the fight. Considering it’d been longer, and more back and forth than the last one, he was confident they both made it in, but he couldn’t help but to harbor some doubts.
Climbing to his feet, he finally got a good look around, and found Chara climbing to her feet in her own right. Damage on their gear hadn’t been restored, only themselves. There was still a hole in her cloak and armor where he’d got her with his spear, and several small holes in his own armor where Rose had tore him open. He moved to untangle his hammer from Lily, still embedded in his shield. The wires attached to the marionette were fine, but on closer inspection, they weren’t steel. He didn’t recognize the metal, but he could feel the slight thrum of magic power through them. A magical material of some nature, maybe one of the easy to make ones like Solar or Lunar steel, he wasn’t sure. He’d never personally handled them himself.
Still, he was careful as he pulled his hammer out from inside the wires. He wasn’t sure if the wire had any actual enchantment on it, or if it was just magical material, and he thought it best not to break it. Once done with that, he pulled the marionette free of his shield, Chara was busy checking the damage on Rose, mostly to make sure she could take it out of the arena with her. Anything after that...well, it’d need to be repaired later, but that was a future problem. She looked up as Lily, or whatever it was actually named, was placed next to her. A quick inspection told her it had only minor damage, and while some of the wires were loose, everything else was fine. She offered Kahari a small smile and a quiet-
Before they parted, exiting through their own gates. Instead of the stone cells from before, they were escorted into a group area, which had Echellia and Basal in it. They were separated from each other, but Kahari didn’t feel any animosity from them. It seemed more like they were waiting anxiously, and weren’t in the mood to really talk. Chara was brought in from the opposite side, and now had two big metal cases in her hands, likely carrying cases for her marionettes. What Kahari hadn’t been expecting was the smothering bear hug that caught him from surprise from behind. His feet dangled helplessly from the floor as Bedora held him above it. She proceeded to march him over to a table and dump him unceremoniously into a seat. Nissa wasn’t far behind, carrying a few mugs of something that had a strong smell. It smelled like mead to Kahari, but there was something else mixed in that he didn’t recognize.
She took a seat calmly even as Bedora disappeared herself.
Kahari was shushed by the fairy girl, and didn’t get a chance to complain before there was a thud in the chair next to him. Deposited as unceremoniously as he had been was Chara, she shrank away from Bedora, who towered over her five foot (153cm) frame.
Nissa hushed them both as they opened their mouths to try and figure out what was going on. They both sat quietly, exchanging glances that quickly affirmed to the other that they had absolutely no clue what was going on. Chara seemed somewhat, no, very confused from inside the hood she kept up. There was a loud thud as Bedora deposited what looked like a full roast boar on the table, complete with an array of vegetables, what looked like a pie, and the mugs which Nissa passed out.
A heavy hand smacked Kahari on the back of his head as he tried once more to figure out what was going on, this time from Bedora before Nissa could shush him. Bedora finally took a seat after depositing plates, and silverware.
Nissa growled. Finally giving up, he turned his attention to the boar even as steam was still rising from it. It was...extremely freshly cooked, and it was hard to describe the number of different smells assaulting his nose. The apples in the pie, cinnamon, the strong smell of spices that had been used on the boar. What’s more, the smell of mead, spiced with something strong, also filled his nose. It was like a feast, no, it was a feast. For the...four of them. He looked at
Bedora as she started carving the boar, putting large amounts on each plate, leaving people to choose their own vegetables. Once she was done, with a massive portion on her plate and a much smaller amount on Nissa’s, she cut the pie into pieces. The strong smell of fresh pie filled the air, and of everything here, it was what got Kahari’s mouth watering. With that, Bedora smiled, and held her hand for everyone to wait. After a few moments, a sourceless female voice filled the waiting area.
“Qualification Match Two, Kahari vs Chara, results are in. Near victory by kill goes to Chara. Bronze rank awarded to-”
There was a pause before the voice continued.
“-both fighters. Congratulations! Results for Qualification Match One, Basal vs Echellia are still pending. We apologize for the wait. Qualification Match Three will begin in five minutes.”
The voice faded, and Bedora and Nissa both smiled, yelling in unison.
Nissa continued even as Bedora picked up some of her meat and started eating.
“The two of you put up a good fight, so we broke into our savings to celebrate. Chara won, so it’s only right she gets to share in it.”
Chara nodded, understanding at least some of it, even if she still wasn’t sure why she’d been carried here by the Amazon.
“Thank you, uh...I’m sorry, I don’t know your names.”
Nissa looked at Bedora who had now stuffed some of the vegetables in her mouth and rolled her eyes.
“I’m Nissa, that’s Bedora. We’re the ones that picked up Kahari from Seras, trained him, and sponsored him.”
“He had a sponsor then? Skipped the fee?”
“Yeeeah, he was going to end up here at some point, assuming the Voston Wilds didn’t kill him, so we sped up the process.”
“Alright, uhh is....Bedora always like this?”
“Rude? Yes. Overbearing? Sometimes. Mean? Not really, she just gets impatient dealing with talking to people. Sorry about her just grabbing you.”
“Next time, I’ll just bite her.”
Chara opened her mouth, long fangs unfolding in emphasis, some kind of venom dripping dangerously from them. Kahari didn’t quite know what kind of venom dynLamia had, but he imagined it wouldn’t be pleasant one way or another.
“You’re welcome to try it, not sure if you’d get through her skin, but it’s worth the shot.”
Bedora tried to say something through her mouthful of food, but it was completely lost. Kahari chuckled and rolled his eyes before grabbing the mead and taking a taste. He wasn’t sure what was used to flavor the mead, but it was good. Taking a full swig, he started digging into his own food, starting with the roast boar. He actually bothered to cut the meat, using silverware unlike Bedora. It was good, with how fresh it was it was still a tad hot, but ultimately it was juicy, and he detected hints of...rosemary and something else. He wasn’t sure, he wasn’t much of a cook, let alone a connoisseur that could identify spices on taste alone.
Chara, for her part, was also eating using the silverware, and was focusing on the meat. The glimpse into her mouth earlier had revealed most of her teeth were sharp and serrated. It made some sense that a species descended from the mythical Lamia were almost certainly predominantly meat eaters. She did take some bites of vegetables, and was eyeing the pie with a hungry look, but she was eating far more meat than anything else.
Kahari grabbed a roll and spread some goat butter on it. He preferred the slightly sweet taste over that of normal butter. That was how things went for the next several hours. Other fighters filtered in and out, Basal and Echellia both joined them when they were both declared for silver rank. The noble boy failed his test, while the Barbarian girl, Tinkerer, and the Undecided all made it in. That had to sting, the noble would have to wait a year before he could try again, though given he was sponsored at least he hadn’t lost any money.
By the end of the night they were all rosy cheeked, with other fighters pitching in to keep the feast going. They weren’t sure what was being celebrated, but they’d be damned if they didn’t enjoy themselves. Bedora ended up passing out slumped over the table, while Nissa quietly used a healing spell to clear her head once she was ready to be done for the night. Chara got up to excuse herself, but could barely stand, let alone walk. Kahari wasn’t sure why, she’d barely had anything to drink, maybe it was something to do with her species. He didn’t know enough about her people to make a guess. She took an unsteady step and fell, landing on her side. She lay there for a moment before attempting to push back to her feet again. Kahari, while drunk, was still capable of walking. After glancing at Nissa trying to figure out how to drag Bedora back to her room, he shrugged and got up himself.
Putting the marionette cases on his back, he caught Chara before she could fall a second time. The girl was surprisingly light, as if she had little on her already small frame. Picking her up, he cradled her gently, reminded of carrying his sister Aiyoko when she was sick. She wasn’t this small, but the memory brought a bittersweet smile to his face.
Chara managed, face hidden in the shadows of her hood. Kahari managed to get to the moving room, and after blinking a few times to read the buttons, found the right floor and pushed it. The movement of the room made him feel nauseous now, and while it made him sway on his feet, he didn’t throw up. Instead he found himself on the same floor as his own group's rooms. Chara had apparently gotten there shortly before them. She dug her key out of her pocket, and the door to her room opened with a quiet click. It was much warmer, and more humid than his own room. Probably customized for the dynLamia in his arms. He sat her cases down on the floor by the desk, before putting her in the bed. Turning out the light for her, he left the room to go pass out in his own. He didn’t remember making it there the next morning, but given it was his bed and the room was still six, he had apparently made it.
Stretching and yawning, he started the morning off with a nice warm bath. His head was killing him, but a quick healing spell made it better. After that, he’d just need some water and he’d be fine. Probably. He was sitting on his bed, still drying from the bath when there was a quiet knock at his door. Curious, he got up, and found Chara there. Her face was shadowed, but he could see it, and judging by the look on her face, her head was killing her to.
“I just wanted to say...thank you for getting me back to my room. And...it’s been good meeting you Kahari.”
She held out her hand, and after a moment, Kahari took it and shook it. This small peaceful moment was interrupted by Nissa exiting her own room.
“Kahari! Chara! Just the two people I wanted to see!.”
Her loud, bubbly voice pounded into the heads of both the people she was talking to, making them wince and recoil. She frowned and lowered her voice.
“Just wanted to see how you two were doing. Well, was just going to check on Kahari, wasn’t planning on talking to you till later Chara. Caught you anyway, so I’mma just get it out of the way now. Kahari, what would you think about having Chara join us?”
Neither of the two had been expecting this. Nissa quietly explained that while she and Bedora had been observing in the stands, they’d been talking about needing one or two other party members to really be a proper group. Especially with the revelation that the battle in Ixul required at least four people to a party. Something about a minimum amount of battlefield support or something. They didn’t really pay attention, they were going to get involved even if they had to hire mercs to fill out the party.
“So we thought, given her close level to your own, and the skills she showed off, we’d offer her a place. Course you get a vote too Kahari, we’d planned on giving you till after lunch to think about it before we talked to Chara but...here she is so I took the chance now.”
“I’m not so sure. I’m not exactly a...people person.”
“That’s fine that’s fine. Just think about it, we’ll be hanging around for a few days while Kahari’s badge gets made anyway. After that we’ll be taking local quests and training the hell out of him.”
Nissa waved her hand dismissively as she talked. She was the only one that was in any real state to talk, or think for that matter. Chara just nodded and slunk back off to her room. Kahari wasn’t sure if it was her seeming shyness or her hangover that made her retreat. He supposed it could be both, but in the end all that really mattered was that she hadn’t outright said no. He wasn’t sure what he thought of the idea himself, but he had to admit she was certainly talented with her weird fighting style. He’d never heard or seen anything else like it. He supposed there might be more information in the archives, but until he had his badge he wasn’t allowed in, even with a sponsor.
Nissa trotted away humming to herself to head upstairs, Kahari couldn’t even begin to guess what she was up to, but it probably wasn’t anything to worry about. Retreating back into his own room to wait out the rest of the hangover, Kahari focused on resting for the time being. Several hours later, there was a louder knock at his door, and upon opening it, Nissa, and a still drowsy looking Bedora stood before him.
“Alright, out of bed. It’s time for lunch.”
“No butts, you need to eat, and it’ll do you good to see the city.”
Nissa shut Kahari down quickly, and the look on Bedora’s face said she’d received a similar scolding. Maybe not today, but at some point. Sighing, Kahari put his boots on and joined the other two in the hall. Nissa led the way, humming and smiling while Kahri just tried to not think about how noisy the streets were. His head wasn’t hurting too bad, but Bedora had drunk till she passed out, he doubted she’d be ready for the streets.
Nissa grabbed Kahari by the arm, and dragged him along with her, much as she was already dragging Bedora along. Once they were all in the moving room, she took them up to the first floor. Bedora looked resigned to this faste, so Kahari decided to go along with whatever insanity Nissa had planned.
Nissa pulled the two of them along with her, outside into the city. Today was overcast, and damp, light fog still clung to the ground in places. It was warming, and the rain had stopped, but things were still muted and grey. This left the city quieter than usual, with many of its residents remaining indoors through the wet day. Most of the other people on the streets were travellers like them. Merchants, adventurers, maybe refugees, farmers from outside the city's walls. Many of them used this quieter, subdued day to get done what they wanted away from crowded streets or the usual hustle and bustle.
In the silence, the ringing of a distant hammer, bells from one of the many churches, or the march of troops through the city was much more clear than on a normal day. The Duke of Ixul was up to something, maybe preparations for a possible Night Talon attack, or maybe a visitor he wished to show off to. Didn’t matter much to the group, it just added new sounds to the streets. Before they could get very far, there was a quiet voice. Well, quiet by most standards, it seemed quite loud by Chara’s standards.
It’d be a normal tone for anyone else, but for her it was calling out. Maybe not quite yelling, but loud enough to be heard. Kahari and Nissa turned while Bedora sighed and leaned against the nearest wall, eyes closed. Nissa turned to find Chara, dark cloak swapped out for a white one, standing before them.
“I um...I’ve...I want to join you. I’m alone here, and have no one to turn to, to work with.”
Nissa smiled and offered her hand to the small dynLamia.
“Then welcome to the group Chara, once both of you are official, we’ll need a name. But for now, lunch.”
Chara shook Nissa’s hand, a smile on both their faces, even as Bedora waved her hand to hurry them along. She was hungry, and she was thirsty. Kahari smiled, and offered his own hand to Chara once she was done shaking Nissa’s. She hesitated for a moment, before taking Kahari’s hand as well.
“Welcome to the team.”