Pike slammed his tankard down on the table, spilling some ale, and started laughing boisterously.

"Damn Avery! That's funny as hell"

"Well what can I say, I'm a well-travelled man after all" said Avery while smiling back at Pike.

In truth he wasn't actually a well-travelled man. He was born the son of a shopkeeper in a town in the North West of the Mantal kingdom and five years ago he moved to Hill city and by chance got a job working as a guard at the Cardinal clan's estate.

Nevertheless, as a frequenter of this particular pub, Benny's, he'd heard his fair share of stories and didn't feel any qualms about pilfering the best ones.

It wasn't only Pike who was laughing at the story Avery had just told. To the side, Lance and a couple of other guys who worked for the clan were laughing, however, they were easily overshadowed by Pike. Pike by far was the noisiest of the group and boasted the best lung capacity amongst those present.

The only person who wasn't laughing was Tom. To be honest, he didn't quite get the sense of humour that the others were revelling in, though he couldn't really be blamed for this considering his life history. He was just too far removed from human culture to really see what was funny about it.

"So if I've got this right, the woman was actually the daughter of the governor?" Tom asked.

"Yes" Avery replied.

"And they were really in the government building and not her estate?"

"Exactly" Avery explained.

Tom paused for a moment thinking it through, but, in the end he still didn't see what was funny about that.

"I don't get what's funny about that" Tom said.

In response to Tom's words, everyone started shaking their heads.

"You're just too humourless Tom, you never laugh. You need to live more" said Avery.

"But I am living" Tom said with a deadpan face, causing another round of head shaking and sighs from those around him.

"To Avery!" Pike shouted suddenly, raising his tankard and then taking a large swig of ale from it.



"Hell Yeah!" followed several others as they too raised their own drinks and took large gulps from them.

This behaviour had been repeated many times throughout the night. Officially they were celebrating the fact that Avery had reached the 9th level of body strengthening, but in truth they just wanted to have an excuse to get drunk.

Tom was also participating in this as part of the festivities but in contrast to the others who all already had a strong buzz or were tipsy, Tom was still sober. The reason for this was that Tom found he did not like the alcohol he was drinking. This was the first time he was drinking a fermented drink and he could not for the life of him understand why the others enjoyed it so much. He had a high tolerance level for the taste of things he ate and the taste of the ale he was drinking didn't exceed that threshold, but even still, he didn't see the need to continuously consume something that he derived no pleasure from drinking.

This resulted in Tom being at an even bigger disconnect with those around him. Perhaps if he had allowed himself to actually get drunk he would have found it easier to cross the cultural barrier that set him apart from the others.

Despite Tom's situation, he wasn't uninvolved with the celebratory nature of their outing. He drank when he needed to and he spoke when he wanted to. Actually, the guys considered his questioning remarks and naivety to be funny in and of itself.

The night continued much the same as it had started with everyone chatting and drinking around the table. Of course, the topic of conversation that came up the most was of Avery's advancement.

"So Pike, how does it feel to know that Avery can easily beat your big arse up now?" joked one of the guards who was friends with the two.

"What do you mean! Avery still wouldn't be able to beat me up in a million years" Pike vehemently denied.

"Yeah, except when he beats you up in training" joked Lance to the side, setting off a round of laughs from the table.

"Hey! He hardly ever wins against me. If anything its 7-3 in my favour" Pike said back, defending himself.

"That's only on the training field. Besides you're splitting between matches involving different kinds of weapons. You might have an edge with polearms and with the fist, but you're shit with a sword" said Avery.

"That's because I don't bloody use a sword!" Pike replied back, feeling indignant.

"Hey now" Lance chimed in.

"He's shit with everything, just strong as an ox" he said while patting Pike on the shoulder.

Lance's quip had gotten another round of laughter. Everyone present knew that even though Pike was a good fighter, he was also a bit of a brute. He had a tendency to rely on his greater physical abilities, such as his strength and his reach, to outdo his opponents.

"Don't you bloody start an' all"

Like this, the night continued and Pike ended up being the butt of many jokes because of the rivalry he had going with Avery.

As time went by and it started getting later and later, the number of people in the pub dropped a bit. It eventually got to the point that the guys in their own group started to leave.

Aside from Tom, the rest of them were all under the employ of the Cardinal clan and had to be up for work the following morning.

Before the rest of them were going to leave, they decided to order one last drink.

Tom got up with Avery to grab them from the bar and bring them over, however, he himself decided not to order another one. He still had some ale left, unfinished in his own tankard, and decided he would call the night quits after he finished it.

Actually, out of everyone in their group Tom had drunk the least alcohol and was still perfectly sober. Perhaps if he had drank to the point that he was drunk he might've enjoyed and appreciated the experience more.

To Tom, the night was defined by the rowdy and joking conversation that was going on around him. He had placed the alcohol he was drinking out of his mind and considered it as a thoroughly unimportant part of the night. To him, the most memorable thing about this particular outing was the atmosphere. It was something he hadn't experienced before and couldn't help but think that it wasn't the worst of things.

[Perhaps I'll ask Jacob for a drink the next time I see him]

Thinking this, Tom and Avery made their way towards the bar.


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