The Great God Maerisk Blesses You

Skill ‘Hidden Movement’ is now Level 4.

There are two kinds of righteous action; that which can be done by daylight, and that which must remain hidden.


The little sting of his stealth leveling jabbed at Jasper's soul, prodding him out of inaction.


The girl threw her sword aside and rushed to the red-haired spearman’s side. She pushed her hands against the wound and called out– “Teysa!”

The masked woman was rising. The wound she had taken was long but shallow, and she rolled onto her feet groggily, like a drunken boxer. Staggering over to the injured boy, she drew a vial from her hip and poured it down his throat.

Light blossomed underneath his chest. It seemed to fill him up, to make his body shake and jerk about like a poorly strung puppet, motes of blue escaping through his mouth and the piercing wound through his midsection. His whole body glowed like a candle, flesh as translucent as thin wax.

When the light faded, he was whole again.

It seemed unfair. They had so much magic, so much power. They had come through like a killing wind; the camp was dead and empty, fires still burning at the corpses, the smell of singed hair rising until Jasper felt a sudden nausea surge up his chest and–

He forced himself to breathe slowly, resisting the urge to vomit. Not here. Not now.

Jasper had an incredibly thin amount of control left over this situation. He’d sat there, in silence, as they butchered the camp. He’d done nothing to help Big Dog– and maybe there had been nothing he could do.

Maybe he would have just died with the rest.

But now, if he wanted to live, he had to control the situation and not lose himself in emotion or nausea. Slowly and shakily, Jasper stood to his feet and waved a hand.

“Hey down there!” He called.

The adventurers looked up. The archer-girl reached for her bow, but it was in splinters. The masked woman drew out a small crossbow and aimed it up for the roof.

“Wait, I’m–” Jasper started–

“Stop.” The archer said, cutting him off. “He’s Ardish.”

There was a moment’s hesitation before the crossbow lowered. “So he is.” The masked woman agreed. “Good eyes.”

“Who are you?” It was a croak, but the red-haired man spoke, pushing his way up from the dirt and onto one arm. “Identify yourself! We will give you till the count of ten!”

“Jasper Stone!” He had seen what these people could do. Jasper didn’t bet a tin coin on his chances of survival, but he stood up, and waved s hand.

“Not your name! What town are you from, man, and to what gods are you sworn?” Already, Jasper’s eyes darted between the three of them. The masked woman, unreadable. The archer, cool and collected. The man…

Loud and arrogant.

“I uh, I was wandering the countryside as a bard when I… ran into these folk, and they took me captive…” Not a full lie, not a full truth. Somewhere between. “And I’m sworn to Aphon, naturally.” Aphon was the name connected to his performance skill– that was the god he imagined a bard would serve.

The three adventurers looked between each other, and back to him.

“Why are you on the roof?” The masked woman asked.

“Oh, this? I climb up here every night. Just, oh, waiting for a chance to escape.” Jasper hated, somehow, that it was close to true. Hated the thought of his words echoing out over the still courtyard below– unheard by the dead, by Dessim, by Big Dog.

He’d meant to leave them behind and adventure.

But not like this.

And the thought occurred, for the first time, that they might have just–

Let him go? Once he was out of stories, of course, but maybe there’d never been a need for his planning and scheming. Maybe he had just needed to ask.

“If you’re a bard, play us some music.” The man insisted. Something was wrong– he was too doggedly suspicious. Either he knew something was up, or he was just an untrusting bastard.

“I don’t have an instrument.” Jasper complained, already knowing he’d get nowhere.

“Then come down here, and hope we find you one.”


— — —


Jasper sat nervously on a crate as the adventurers stripped the camp. He was trying not to look at the dead, as they were dragged by their boots towards a roaring bonfire. Flies had already begun to settle on their still faces, their unseeing eyes.

He sat and looked intently at the tips of his boots.

“Here.” Without warning, the archer-girl shoved a lute into his hands. Jasper winced for two reasons.

One– it was time to either learn to play the lute on the spot, or die for the lack of music lessons. He cursed a younger Jasper, who’d tried and completely failed to learn guitar over a single summer, hoping to pick up girls. He could pick and pluck, but actually playing? It was a league beyond him.

Two– the instrument belonged to Errim, the three-fingered musician of the troupe. Jasper remembered it well. He’d borrowed the instrument when he first arrived, when the bandits were half-ready to string him up for amusement if he didn’t come through.

Strange. They were bandits– rough, violent people. The problem was, for all their faults, Jasper didn’t have better friends.

And now, he was sat in the center of three distinctly unfriendly gazes.

“Play the Dauphine’s Waltz.” The red-haired man commanded, sitting himself down opposite Jasper. He carried a short blade with him now, tapping the flat of the point against the backs of his knuckles as he waited, impatient.

“I hate that one.” Jasper answered reflexively, with a dim little smile. Better than admitting he didn’t know.

“Everyone likes the Dauphine’s Waltz.”

But Jasper had already begun. He reasoned it like this. Operative let him use any tool, any weapon. Yet no rush of instinct had come with the lute– no answer to his prayers. And that could mean he was totally, irrevocably fucked.

Or it could mean he already knew what he needed to know.

Maybe, maybe being a fool was a little more than he’d counted on. Every other class seemed to get something at their zeroeth level…

So he let his fingers move across the strings, and hoped.


— — —


Jasper paused.

They were staring at him.

“Well…” The archer-girl started to say, but her face was frozen.

“That answers that.” The masked woman– Teysa– said, with a tone of bemused amazement.

The spearman just sputtered, red in the face.

Jasper was… unsure… what had just happened. Between the moment he had started to play and now, there was a dark chasm in his mind. The memories simply didn’t exist. All he could recall, even vaguely, was the way his fingers had moved, how certain he’d felt of every note.

It had been a good feeling.

And he felt better now. The tight, gripping sense of loss had released its hold on his chest. He could breathe fully. His mind was calm and steady.

“Well, ah, I hope that…” Awkwardly, he set the lute aside.

“And– how were you captured by bandits?” The masked woman reached out, grasping his arm. She examined the marks around his wrist for a moment. “Only first-rank…”

“You could ask first.” Jasper snatched his hand back. At this point, if he didn’t start pushing back, they’d walk all over him. “As for how I was captured, well… I’m not a big fan of fighting.”

“Sorry. Sorry, I can be…” She paused, and then reached up. Unbuckling the black leather hood, she dropped it into the crook of her arm, revealing a round, pleasant face with buzz-cut thin blonde hair and a scar that cut a hook-silhouette across one cheek. “I’m Teysa.”

“I heard.”

“Alchemist.” She added.


“I could look at your–” She gestured to the claw marks on his face, still red and raw. God, it had only been a few hours.

“I’m good.” Jasper croaked out. The pain was helping, somehow.

“He should join us.” The red-haired man blurted out, looking back to the archer-girl, as if expecting her to argue.

“Fine by me.” She said bluntly. And she turned away, going back to hauling bodies for the fire. As the last one of them not cut to pieces, she was taking the brunt of the work, and she paused to fish through pockets for spare coin before heaving each corpse onto the flame.

“Ah, about that–” Jasper tried to cut in.

But the spearman cut him off.

“You can handle a sword, right?” He pressed. “Have any Talents?”

“Yes and no.” Jasper decided to keep things short. He wasn’t winning this guy over– he was proving he couldn’t be pushed. “But you haven’t asked me if I want to join you.”

“We rescued you.” He responded without hesitation. His voice was full of reproach, as if he'd been slighted. “You owe us.”

He was higher-class than the other two, Jasper realized. His armor was better, his skin was lighter from days indoors, he wasn’t scarred to hell– and his way of speaking, blunt as it was, had a clipped and polished accent the others lacked.

“It’s a chance to play an Anointment. For the lord regent’s son.” The boy pressed. His gaze was hungry now– he’d seen something he wanted. “Most bards would give their right hand for the honor.”

“Most bard are idiots, then. Sounds like a pretty bad deal.” Jasper said with an sleazy, utterly-insincere smile. He was already standing…

The red-haired boy shot up, grasping for the collar of his shirt. Jasper was yanked forward. “You owe us.” The spearman repeated, in a low hiss.

“And I’ll be happy to owe you from far away. That’s the best way to owe someone.”

“Amun!” Teysa stepped in between them, pushing the red-haired boy back. “He doesn’t have to…”

“Fine, fine.” I wanted to anyway– but now it’s your idea. Playing reluctant when he got exactly what he wanted meant he’d be free of suspicion later. And it made Amun think he’d won– the grin on the boy’s face was broad and unabashed. “I can see you're insistent, and, I don’t really have any other prospects. I might as well come with you. Assuming you're willing to pay...”

Excellent. If coin is all you want, coin I can provide.” The spearman reached into his satchel bag, taking out a scroll of paper sealed with black wax. When he held it up, it was with the air of someone displaying a holy relic. “This is a ducal letter of commendation. We are to adventure through the Edro Wilds, slaying bandits and monsters as we may come upon them, and reach the capital of Ceremystra, where we will attend the young heir’s Anointment and provide him aid on his divine task.”

Amun pointed to Jasper. “You will play at the Anointment. When you do, your debt will be paid and you can consider yourself dismissed. With fifty silver wrens in your pocket.”

Oh, right. The debt I owe you for graciously slaughtering my friends. Jasper was seething, but he kept it tamped down below. There would come a day for revenge– once they’d carried him out of these wilds and back to civilization.

“Now that you two are done.” The archer-girl stepped up. “We have to leave. It’s not safe to spend the night here. There’s something evil in that old ruin– I can feel it.”

“Alright, alright…” Amun lifted his hands and grudgingly stood up, dusting himself off. Teysa followed suit, gathering her bags and satchels onto her shoulder.

“Here.” She whispered to Jasper, offering him a small vial of electric blue liquid. “For your face.”

“No curing that.” Jasper replied, making her giggle in a stifled little laugh.

But as they left– Jasper trailing along uncertainly– he looked back. The door to the old keep was cracked open. Something might have gotten out during the confusion. Or, and this gave him hope, someone might have gotten in. Someone might be alive, in hiding, in the dark…

Jasper could only pray they survived. And, wouldn’t you know it, he could think of at least one god who owed him a big fucking favor.

Bell, you cretinous asshole, you bloated stupid shitsack. Whatever you want from me… I want you to help them. Do that, and we’ll see.

And turning away, Jasper left the fort where he’d spent nine of the better days in his life.


About the author


Bio: Author bios are for the mangy dogs who think they write literature. I write trash, and I am the king of the trash.

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