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After Esbeth – as I’d taken to calling her in my head – left, I found myself thinking about that smile, and the words that my life was precious. When I first saw her, I thought she would be a haughty, pompous ass. But she wasn’t. She was beautiful, calm, patient, and caring. As I wondered about what vows priestesses might have to take, Meria came back in with my friends.

All thoughts of an otherworldly romance fled with their loud arrival. I couldn’t help but grin. Especially when Boris came piling into me for a stroke.

“Heya boy. How ya doing,” I said giving him a good rub. I didn’t touch him with the left hand. Not only did it hurt, but I didn’t want to touch anything I loved with it.

Mal came right up to me with a pat on my back. He was looking me in the eye with real intensity. “How you doing, pal?”

“Well, a little uncomfortable with how you ‘re looking at me. Oh, and I’m still turning into a demon.”

He punched me in the good arm. “Daft arse. We got any plans to fix you up?

“Yeah, we need to visit these people who’ve trained their Internal Connection. Neuma Masters they’re called. It might work. Apparently, the Goddess of Justice’s followers could probably heal me, but they’re much more likely to kill me. We also have option three, which is to chop my fucking arm off.”

They drew back as one, expressions of sympathy and horror making me feel really positive.

“We’re getting you to these Neuma Masters, mate. You’re not losing your arm,” Mal said. Joel and Daz nodded firmly.

“Thanks guys, I hope you ‘re right. I’m quite attached to it.”

“Wanker,” Mal smirked.

I spent a while rehashing what Esbeth had told me about the Dark gods and everything else, and they sat there looking concerned.

“You might not be able to join Justice, but I can. Then I’ll heal you,” Mal said firmly. “Hedge our bets, if this Neuma thing doesn’t work out.”

“I don’t think that’ll work. For a start, you’d have to train for a long time, most likely. Then, according to Elsbeth, you’d have to follow Justice’s will, which would be most likely to kill me.”

“What about Destruction?” Daz asked. “Should one of us try to join them?”

I heard a gasp from the door and saw Meria edging towards the door to leave.

“Hey, sleepy head,” I shouted over. We’re not from around here, and we’re not really going to join the God of Destruction. It’s just how we talk okay?”

“Yes, Clive, of course. I understand. Sorry,” she chittered away nervously.

“It’s alright Meria, you’ve nothing to worry about from us.”

She nodded rapidly, then fell silent, so I turned back to my friends.

“So what you guys been up to, anyway?”

“Bored really,” Joel said. “We all had some sleep, then we’ve just been sitting around waiting for you to wake up. Priestess Descar came and saw us again. We talked about getting back home. She didn’t have a clue. Only to try different temples on our travels. Apparently, jumping between worlds isn’t that common here. I think we might have to try and nab one of those rings from a demon.”

“If that’s what we need to do, then that’s what we need to do.” I said. “Let me try to get healed up first.”

“If we’re gonna hunt them down, then we’re gonna need to get tougher ourselves,” Mal said. We all agreed, but the conversation dropped as another couple of Acolytes entered the room carrying an array of food. While it was similar to what we’d received in the holding cell, there was a lot more variety and a much larger scale.”

“You know we should probably offer something in return for the hospitality here. We’ve hit lucky that everyone’s been so friendly to us,” Mal said.

I nodded agreement. “Maybe offer them some of the money we collected. I don’t know how much any of it is worth. How much do we have?”

Joel put his hand inside his robe, his eyes glazing over. “46 bronze and 8 silver,” he announced. “And I got 19 bronze and 12 silver,” Mal added.

“Hey what happened to the other bronze? You had 20 before.”

“I was flipping it in the air while you two were asleep. It dropped and rolled into a crack in the floor. I couldn’t get it back out. Soz.”

“True,” Joel snickered. “I watched him for about five minutes trying to get it back out, before he gave up.”

“You were awake?” Mal complained.

“You woke me up when you dropped the damn coin. I didn’t want to be awake! Was funny though.”

I ignored them and shouted for Meria.

“How much is money worth, Meria?” She looked at me like I’d grown another head.

“Sorry. More specific. What is the value of bronze and silver coins?”

“I see. Coins or Rips?”

“Huh, what’s a rip?” I asked.

“Would a holding inventory identify them as one or the other?” Mal asked.

“Yes,” She smiled. “It would itemise them as such. A bronze rip will buy you a loaf of bread or half a dozen apples. A coin is worth 20 times as much. A silver rip is worth the same as a bronze coin. I earn six silvers a year. Skilled tradesmen earn approximately the same. It would be considered a decent wage. Rent on a modest property would cost around two silvers a year.”

“Thank you Meria,” I said trying to hide my excitement. I looked back to the others who were making no effort to do the same as high fives were passed around.

“We’re fucking rich here,” Daz said too loudly. I kicked him and hissed at him to shush.

The mood was much lighter among my friends as we ate. I might have had a death sentence of sorts hanging over me, but I was doing my best not to dwell on it. I had a plan and I’d focus on that and stay positive. I looked at the others and they seemed happy at the moment. All except Daz. He was eating, but seemed subdued.
“Hey Daz, you alright man? I’m sorry I kicked you dude.”

“HA, I get why you did, it’s cool.”

“So what’s up?”

“It’s nothing, Clive, I’m okay.”

“We’ll get you back home so you can see the kids, I promise,” I said, assuming that was the unspoken worry.

“I doubt they’ll miss me much. I only see them three times a fortnight and we only sit in McDonalds. Our lass doesn’t like them in the house.”

“They’ll still miss you and so will your lass,” I said trying to help.

“Ha, she probably hasn’t looked up from the fucking tv since I left. She’ll not give a shit until the electric goes off.”

“So why you sitting there like someone just shit in on your cheese plate?” Joel asked.

“Because I’m happy,” Daz said sadly.

“Well, tell your fucking face, will you,” I laughed.

“I know it doesn’t make any sense. But I’m sad because I’m happy. How bad must my life have been that I’d rather be here.”

“I dunno. It’s pretty cool so far. I mean we need to get back, but you know…” Joel said. “And were rich,” he added more quietly. “But then I’ve no kids yet. Thank god,” he said raising his glass of water.

“What about you Mal?” I asked.

“I’ve got Boris here, so I’m happy. Becky was supposed to be calling round this weekend to see if we could make up. I can’t say I’m overly bothered that I won’t be their for that train wreck of a conversation,” he replied. “You?”

“Fucking devastated. You know how long I’ve been trying to get that restaurant open and now…” I raised my blackened arm, and said no more. I chided myself internally for complaining, even though I’d promised myself I wouldn’t.

“We’ll sort you out, man,” Daz said. “And if we don’t make it home, you’ll just have to make a restaurant here!”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Joel grinned. “I bet this place is crying out for cheeseburgers.”

“If I did open a restaurant, I think I’d do something a little classier than bloody cheeseburgers, Joel.”

“Ooh, well look at you, would ya! To high and mighty for the nutritional power house of a seeded bun, a chunky beef patty, cheese, bacon, maybe some onion rings thrown on too.”

“What about salad?” Mal asked.

Joel turned to glare at him. “Wash your filthy mouth out you damn heathen.”

We all burst out laughing. “Thanks Joel. If any of that comes to pass, then I will name that specific burger after you.”

“I should hope so,” he said with a wry grin. We were interrupted by Meria clearing her throat loudly.

“An appointment has been made for you to visit Kalia, the mid-tier Neuma user that resides in Laurel. Are you ready to go?”

“Sure,” I said back. “Just one thing Meria. Any chance of something to wear on top?” I said standing up still bare chested. I pointed to my injured arm. “These bandages leave a lot to be desired when that wind blows.”

She blushed, nodded, and left the room with an, “Of course.”

I had my jogging bottoms still on. They were pristine from the cleansing spell. I saw I only had one sock on. My trainers were by the bed, looking newer than when I first got them.

“Anyone seen my sock rocket?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Mal said pulling my stretched and bloody white sock out of his robes with a grin. “Sorry, it was in the inventory, so it wasn’t affected by the cleansing spell.” He held it out. I groaned in response. “Keep it for me will you,” I said as I took the other sock off and threw it on the bed before pulling my trainers on. Meria arrived a moment later with my hoodie. It was clean and it had a white circle patch quite expertly sewn into where the hole had been. Where the cursed knife penetrated had been repaired so well that I had to inspect it closely to see where the damage was. I couldn’t believe how elated I felt to have the Hoodie returned to me. I loved this hoodie.

I slipped it on, wincing as my arm passed through, but glad that I didn’t have to look at the mottled sinister colour it was turning any longer.

Then we were off out. Onto the streets of Laurel, where I could actually take in some of the sights and sounds.

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