“Lee!” Miller yelled as he came up the stairs. “What are you doing? Let’s get out of here! We shouldn’t delay in the day’s tasks, or the wines of Augustus won’t taste as sweet!”
Lee turned to look at Miller as he stomped into the room and took a minute before answering. It was probably best to brush over the fact that Miller had only been part of the religion for a day, had never met the deity and was already divining how Augustus thought and rewarded his followers.
“Getting Shannon back to her home as soon as possible is a priority . . . But, I think that’s exactly what we need to do,” Lee answered, thinking aloud.
“What? We need to get out of here as quickly as possible,” Ling responded, looking around frantically. She had a death-grip on her bow, and it was clear that she was both frustrated and worried about the idea of hanging around any longer than they had to. “What if someone shows up? What if Geoffrey had accomplices?”
“I’m actually hoping they do come,” Lee said, walking pacing around the room as he looked things over. “Because then we’ll be able to correct the mistake made by our good Brother Donovan.”
“What mistake? I enacted righteous justice and delivered unto man the wrath of Augustus!” Miller declared shamelessly, thumping his blood-soaked hand against his chest.
“Yeah, you did,” Lee answered quietly but sternly. “And now that he’s dead, we don’t know how his operation works. I think it’s safe to assume that he had to have been working with someone else at this point. We don’t know why Geoffrey was doing this or what his goal was, but we do know that several other people have gone missing, and none of them are in this house. He had to have some purpose for kidnapping all those people, and he most likely had accomplices to help him smuggle them out of town. We know that there was never a trail found that led toward water, so I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t just dumping the bodies. We need to find out who he was working with and a way back to whatever camp they are using so that we can save any other victims that might still be alive.”
“As the herald of the great Augustus, you should show more faith, Lee. It’s clear that Augustus will show us the way. We shall slay those evildoers in the name of justice!” Miller insisted.
It was clear that neither his opinion nor mood would remain undaunted by any argument or pessimism, so Lee decided to just leave it be. “I show as much faith in him as is appropriate,” Lee sighed. He turned to Ling and said, “Do you think you can do me the favor of taking Shannon back to her home? I’m sure her father is worried sick.”
“No!” Shannon pulled back as soon as Ling put an arm around her. “Please . . . Please don’t leave me alone yet.”
You’re scared that someone else will try to grab you again? “Okay . . .” Lee acquiesced. “Miller, come on. We’ll come back and watch this place later.”
“That sounds boring. Let’s just get directions from Augustus and give them all a good one-two! I want to rip someone’s head off for the way they treated this woman. I am going to find one of those bandits, rip his collar bones out, and stab them through his eyes so that he can see the holy light of justice first hand!”
After Miller’s earlier display, Lee had no doubt in his mind that Miller would do everything in his power to follow through with his plan and do exactly as he promised. He also had no doubt that it would probably end up being a lot more bloody and gruesome than what he had just described. “I feel like I should remind you about forgiving others, as is the way of Augustus,” Lee warned. Miller’s irrational attitude was likely to get them into trouble if the Firbolg couldn’t learn to contain his temper.
“Ah, good. Then I’ll send them on their way to the afterlife, and Augustus can forgive them,” Miller boasted while wiping his hands clean of the blood.
Lee’s plan was to rush Shannon back home as quickly as he could so that they could come back and stake out the house, but then a thought struck him: I could just leave Ethan here. No one would dare suspect that they were being watched by a mouse, so he could follow whoever was coming without any risk. It would also allow him to keep an eye on the place while they were gone, so there wouldn’t be any need to hurry through with Shannon. But I should probably help you out first. “You guys wait outside a second. I need to do a quick ritual and pray for a sign pointing us in the way of the bandit fiends,” Lee said, coming up with the quickest excuse he could think of.
“What? Can I take part? I can pray with you,” Miller piped up enthusiastically. “Does it require drinking or building something or building something while drunk?”
“No, it’s fine. I need to do this on my own,” Lee responded, politely turning down the eager offer. “The honored ritual needs concentration, and I wouldn’t want to be distracted.”
“Alright, we’ll wait right outside.”
“Can I . . . Can I stay please . . .” Shannon asked meekly. “I want to thank the one who found me. I don’t know what I would have done if your god hadn’t sent you to me.”
“Just give me one minute,” Lee said, shooing them out the door finally.
Then, with everyone gone but Little Ethan, he picked up the mouse and began thinking about what he could do to make it better. He took a few extra pieces of clay he had saved, placed them on the mouse’s back, and focused as hard as he could on the Golem Sculpting spell. He molded the pieces of clay on the mouse’s back into wings. With the size limitation placed on his Golem Sculpting ability of only being able to make a sculpture that could occupy 2.43 fluid ounces, the wings weren’t big enough for any sort of flight, but they were large enough that it could easily glide for long distances.
Due to prolonged use of Golem Sculpting, Golem Sculpting has been promoted to Unranked Level 5.
Golems created by Golem sculpting are now 5% more effective in combat. Current Combat bonus: 27.62%. Future Golem’s created by Golem Sculpting may now take up an additional 5% more space. Current Max Space: 2.55 fluid ounces.
Due to improving Golem Sculpting, you have received +1 intelligence. Current Intelligence: 26.
Well, looks like you’re getting even larger wings, Lee said, taking an extra moment and a few more pieces of clay to sculpt even bigger wings. I wonder if he actually can take off with wings this large? Lee thought, sending Little Ethan a command to try. The mouse ran as fast as he could, spread his wings and flapped a few times, pushing himself straight into the air. Well, I’ll be . . . Lee scratched his chin in surprise as he watched the happy rodent flying around.
Do you think you can wait on the roof and let me know if anyone comes into this house or looks suspicious? Try to use those keen senses and find out if anyone that smells of blood comes by here, Lee instructed.
Little Ethan, still a little perturbed at never getting credit for his assistance, looked like he might refuse, so Lee petted him a bit to cheer him up. Once the mouse was appeased, Lee turned and left.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Lee said as he exited the house. “I’ve asked for help in this matter, and we’ll know soon enough if it’s granted.”
Little Ethan seemed happy that Lee hadn’t used the word ‘Augustus’ when he mentioned that he would be asking for help.
“Go, please. Can we go?” Shannon was the first to respond as Lee rejoined the others.
“Yeah, we can go. I’m sorry I took so long praying, but I need to find who is doing this so that no one else has to go through what you did. The thought of others suffering too . . .” Lee paused and placed a hand on his chest while doing his best to look as solemn and worried as possible. Despite the fact that he had lied to them about praying for help to Augustus, he actually had no problem acting the part of an overly-genuine hero. While he didn’t share Miller’s bloodlust and need to enact justice at the end of a bloody spear, he was honestly annoyed with what Shannon and Ling had both been through and certainly felt like there was a special place in hell for the people who had done this to two young women.
“That’s right! That’s the right spirit, Lee! We must pray by drinking. We’ll drink a river of alcohol and craft mugs for our beers until Augustus himself comes and points us toward the right and good victory promised for his virtuous servants!” Miller threw one arm around Lee and pointed the other one toward the heavens. “Now that we men of the cloth know of your pain and have prayed to Augustus, there is no way our noble god will let these foul deeds stand!”
Lee did nothing to throw off the overly-familiar behavior of Miller. Instead, he only chuckled at how much of a white-knight-justice-freak this Firbolg was. “Ling, can you lead the way back to her place? The town layout is still so confusing for me,” Lee asked, smiling innocently.
“Of course,” she said, and began leading the group back to Shannon’s home. The walk was mostly quiet. Mostly. Since they weren’t running this time, it took a lot longer to make the trip between the homes, and Miller had plenty of time to laud his new favorite deity. The Firbolg could still be heard boasting about just about everything: how great Augustus was, how wonderful the fried chicken and bacon had been in the morning, and how victory was assured.
Shannon’s father was waiting by the door for any news from one of the hunting parties, and he was overjoyed for his daughter’s return. He tried to talk of a reward, which of course sparked Lee’s interest since he all for anything that would help keep him alive, but Miller intervened before Shannon’s dad could offer anything. Miller insisted that accepting a reward for ‘doing the right and just duty of a man of god’ would be preposterous and that, if he wanted to show his thanks, he should instead drink in Augustus’s name.
Lee would have faulted the man and corrected the logic, but he really didn’t want to pass up the chance to potentially convert another follower. He wondered, Is a man’s love for his daughter and thankfulness for her safe return enough to convert him? If it were me, then yes. I would probably say and do anything for my daughter, but we’ll see.
When the group finished at the home, Ling accompanied them back to the tavern to let Ramon know that he shouldn’t worry.
“You’re kidding me? Geoffrey?” Ramon slammed his beer on the counter as he stared at Ling, Miller, and Lee with a shocked and wide-mouthed expression. “Geoffrey was helping kidnap people in town?”
“Yeah, but, please keep it quiet,” Lee said, gesturing for Ramon to keep his voice down. “While it’s nice that Shannon has returned, I don’t want the whole town to know that Geoffrey was caught. If they do, his accomplices won’t move recklessly.”
“Mmm . . .” Ramon looked like he was considering something. “So you’re going to try and use an unbaited trap to catch the mouse?”
“The mouse doesn’t know the trap has no bait,” Lee replied.
“I’ll keep your secret. The scheme seems clever enough,” Ramon replied. “But why are you here when you should be waiting there?”
“Ah . . . Some secrets shouldn’t be shared,” Lee answered cryptically and just smiled.
“Like that chicken recipe?” Ramon pushed. “Can you share that? If my tavern can get its hands on a recipe like that, we’re sure to overtake every restaurant in town.”
“Well . . .” Lee gave a sheepish grin. “It’s not mine to give. I’m sorry, but it’s only for those of true faith to learn.”
“So there isn’t a problem in me learning it?” Ling asked.
“Have you decided to honor Augustus as your god?” Lee asked, his ears perking up.
Miller also seemed pretty happy with this. “Right, right, are you joining me in the faith?”
“I have,” Ling answered with a nod. “There is no other way to explain the miracles as of late than to admit that the hand of a god must have had some part in them. Everyone in town was searching everywhere, but you went straight to the culprit. Even if your logic and reasoning had pointed us to the exact spot in town we needed to search, how did you know which house it was?” Ling paused and looked down. “It’s embarrassing to say, but it feels like you knew where to go all along . . . That your god, Augustus, had shown you from the beginning, that all the steps you took were not for the sake of saving Shannon but showing us how to save people in the future. You were doing your best to show foolish people like me how not to be so helpless. That’s why I believe” –she paused and took a shallow breath– “there must be a god. Who else would have sent us a savior?”
Your actions and deeds have successfully converted one more person to your religion. Faith has increased by 1. Current Faith: 2.
One down, one to go! Then I can go home again. Lee was so overjoyed with this news that he completely overlooked how mad his harrumphing familiar, who could hear and see what Lee could, was at all of his glory being stolen again. “That’s great–”
“I’m going to join too,” Ramon declared, interrupted him. “The girl speaks sense, and I’ve seen enough miracles in the last two days since you came to know when I’ve seen something worthy of praise.”
Your actions and deeds have successfully converted one more person to your religion. Faith has increased by 1. Current Faith: 3.
That’s . . . ! That’s enough for another day! Lee was beside himself as he saw that number. My bed, my home! I can go back to you!
“That’s right! It’s only fitting that the God of Alcohol and Crafts would be worshiped by the tavern master!” Miller’s boisterous volume and hearty laugh shook Lee out of his thoughts of home. “Let’s have a drink to celebrate our new brother and sister in the faith!”
“Wait!” Lee quickly stopped Miller from taking the cup. “We can celebrate when the mission is complete.”
“Oh, you mean finding the camp and rescuing any potential survivors?” Miller asked. “So Augustus has answered our prayers and shown us the way?”
“No . . .” Lee sucked in air for a moment as he stalled and tried to think of a way to keep his friend sober without admitting that Augustus wasn’t going to help them at all. “Augustus doesn’t think it’s time or that you’re ready.” Lee decided to speak on his deity’s behalf and deflate Miller’s currently-sky-soaring ego. “He says, as you are now, you’d never make it out alive if you were to leave right now.”
“What? Are you calling me weak? I have the might of right on my side, and I will not–” Miller wasn’t going to take that insult sitting down, and he literally stood up, seething with rage.
“Hey, it wasn’t me,” Lee said hastily, trying to placate the other man. He did his best to grin at the awkward scenario of a threatening comrade. “It was Augustus. You’re welcome to get mad at him, but he said he wants you to train.”
“That’s not a bad idea. If something were to happen to you two because you weren’t prepared, who would go out and save the damsels in distress while I tend the bar?” Ramon joked.
“Please don’t get mad at Lee. He’s doing his best to fulfill Augustus’s wishes. Please stay calm and understand,” Ling added, also taking to Lee’s side and giving Miller puppy dog eyes until he sat back down.
“Hmmm . . .” Miller said as he sat back down, seemingly deep in thought.
“I’m sorry. It might be that I’m too weak to carry out the justice myself. If that’s so, the burden you’d have to carry would exceed your capabilities,” Lee explained, trying to make light of the situation and avoid bruising Miller’s ego any further. The truth was simply that he had no idea what they’d be going up against, and the previous two scuffles had been life-threatening. It just didn’t make sense for them to rush in without preparing as much as possible beforehand. “I’ll go out and train myself, but you’re welcome to join me.”
“Hmmm . . .” Miller didn’t even give him a glance as Lee stood up.
“Do you need help?” Ling offered.
“I wouldn’t mind a sparring partner. If you can dig up some wooden weapons, and don’t mind assisting me,” Lee answered. “We could even get a few weapons and do some quests around town until Augustus needs us to act.”
“I’ll be more than happy to!” Ling beamed. It was nice seeing her in fine form again. Between yesterday’s events and today’s issue with Shannon, Lee had worried the poor girl might never recover. He didn’t know if he would have the strength or fortitude to put on a strong front if he had gone through what she had–at least not the day after it happened.
“Hmm . . .” Miller just kept making that same noise to himself. He was also stroking his chin as if he actually had a beard, his eyes downcast.
“Did someone break your friend? I’ve never seen him think before. I don’t know if this is normal,” Ramon asked, stopping Lee and Ling as they headed for the door to find some place to train.
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen him put much thought into anything, either.” Lee tried to recall when Miller had ever done anything besides expound about the how they would win fights because they were on the side or right. He didn’t seem to be the type to strategize or even consider tactics–a fact exposed by the fact Lee had to plead with the combat-oriented brute just to get him to quietly approach the four bandits who had held Ling hostage.
“Hmmm . . . .” Miller just repeated the sound, nodding to himself now.
“What is it?” Lee was almost scared to ask.
“I understand what Augustus wants us to do now!” Miller shouted triumphantly, causing a few of the other patrons, who were happily munching on what looked like the remaining pieces of fried chicken Lee had left this morning, to look over at him.
“You do?” Lee felt like laughing as he pictured what the drunken shape-shifter’s response to Miller’s odd claim would have been.
“Indeed. I am skilled in combat and can wield a spear like no other, but I have not honored the deity enough for him to acknowledge me in his own field,” Miller exclaimed. “I have drunk, and I have fought, but I have known nothing of crafts. That is why all I saw was how to modify a spear when I was looking at his book earlier. He thinks that is all I know of crafts!”
No, it’s just what was in your heart when you opened the magic tome, Lee mentally corrected him. He felt like saying it out loud might start wearing out his good will with the Firbolg, so he kept quiet. “So what’s your plan?” Lee asked, shrugging off the nonsensical notion.
“I am going to spend the day making art! Let me see that book so that it may show me the art I must produce,” Miller demanded.
Lee pulled out Augustus’s bible and handed it to Miller, curious as to what the man would produce. He tried to catch a glimpse of the pages as Miller opened it, but Miller slammed the book closed and handed it back to Lee before he could make anything out.
“Alright, I know what I must do to appease Augustus and earn his favor in finding these foul and villainous fiends,” he said resolutely, and before explaining himself or giving anyone time to question him, he stormed out of the tavern.
“Are you going to go after him and make sure he’s okay?” Ling asked after Miller left.
“Uhhh . . .” Lee just looked at her for a moment as it thought it over. He wasn’t entirely sure it was safe to leave the thick-headed warrior alone, but there wasn’t much he could do to stop him either. That said, spending time with an attractive young woman was more appealing at the moment than chasing after a brash Firbolg. “I think I am going to stick with my original plan. You sure you don’t mind helping me train?” he finally managed after rolling his tongue back into his mouth.
“Of course,” she replied with a smile, and the two made their way to her in order to pick up training equipment.
Lee had debated trying to find a quest or two to raise his level, and subsequently his hit points and other stats, but given his lack of ability with a blade in fights, he settled on training instead.
Luckily, Ling had a few practice swords leftover from when she was younger that were almost exactly the same length as his bronze sword. After collecting the weapons, they made their way to an adjacent field and sparred together well into the afternoon. Lee couldn’t exactly tell the time, but judging from the shadows and path of the sun, he estimated that it was somewhere between two or three.
In the course of half of a day, he had already started to feel a lot more competent using a sword. He knew that he was still rather weak in the grand scheme of things, but he had advanced from barely being able to hold his own against Ling to the point he could push her back across the field as well. As long as he was able to concentrate on what he was doing, he was able to parry her moves and press his own attack as well. Somewhere in the course of their swordplay, a message popped up:
Due to prolonged use of swords, Swordplay has been promoted to Unranked Level 3. This skill improves one’s reasoning and execution of sword-related abilities in combat.
Due to improving Swordplay, you have received +1 intelligence. Current Intelligence: 28.
Excellent! Lee cheered himself on as the second status message for improved sword combat appeared. His gaming instincts wanted to take over and continue sparring with Ling until his skills reached an unprecedented level, but he knew that eventually either Miller’s impatience or a discovery from Ethan would drag him back into combat. If that happened, he had to make sure that he wasn’t completely worn out when the time came. As much fun and as easy as it was sparring with a sweat-soaked and beautiful woman, he had to make sure that he was ready when the time came for real combat.
It may have just been the lecherous and lascivious side of Lee taking advantage of the woman’s relenting and accepting nature, but after six hours of swordplay, Lee switched over to hand-to-hand combat and grappling. He continued to spar with her some more until he heard saw the awaited message:
Due to prolonged weaponless fighting, Unarmed Combat has been promoted to Unranked Level 2. This skill improves one’s reasoning and execution of unarmed abilities in combat.
Due to improving Unarmed Combat, you have received +1 intelligence. Current Intelligence: 29.
“You’re a quick learner,” Ling said as they took a break. “I have never seen anyone take to weapons and fighting as fast as you do.”
“Thanks.” Lee was abashed around her. “I do what I must, but you’re pretty good at this yourself.”
“Well, I’ve been training for years. My father was always worried that something might happen to me if I wa . . .” Ling stopped talking, and her facade visibly cracked as her face fell. “Father thought I’d be able to defend myself if I was trained, that nothing would happen to me . . . that everything would be okay just because I could fight a little. Because of him . . . He told me over and over again that if I tried, and that if I trained, I’d be safe. So, I felt safe. I believed him.” Her eyes started turning red as she continued. “I believed him, and I let myself feel like I could live a happy, normal life, where the worst I’d have to worry about is Weisner running out of the house in the morning.”
“It’s okay now. You’re okay now,” he said softly. He had no idea how to comfort Ling, but he knew that those paltry words wouldn’t cut it.
Squeek! Little Ethan began shouting at him telepathically. Squeak squeak! he called again, making sure that Lee was watching what he was seeing. Through the mouse’s’ eyes, Lee watched as an old couple that he had bumped into when looking for Ling’s cat opened the door to Geoffrey’s house with a key and snuck inside. Lee followed their movements as they found Geoffrey’s corpse on the stairs, as they realized that Shannon wasn’t there, and as they fled the house, constantly looking over their shoulder to see if they were being watched. Unfortunately for them, they had no idea that the spy who caught their trail was a winged mouse, extending his gray, sculpted wings as he soared from roof to roof in pursuit of them.
“I know you say it’s okay, but . . .” Ling sniffed, “but I felt so helpless. I feel so helpless, and I hate this feeling. It’s like, at any moment, someone is going to yank me to the ground, tie my hands, and do what they want with me. And there is nothing I can do about it. Do you know how terrifying that feels?”
Ling was venting her frustrations and releasing pent up emotion, but Lee only partly heard them. He was too busy trying to stay on top of Ethan’s movements as the mouse chased after the surprisingly spry, geriatric-looking from one side of the town to the other.
Do I know how it feels to feel helpless in a situation where some random entity kidnaps me and does what he wants? Lee blinked twice as his brain caught up to what Ling had been saying. Yeah, I think my experience with Augustus definitely counts as just that. But I can’t tell her that. Lee just decided that, since he was the herald of a religion, he’d simply regurgitate stuff he had learned in Sunday school as a kid it the hopes that it might actually help.
“We’ve all experienced the harsh reality that the world is greater than any one man,” he began. “No individual can ever hope to move or change the tides of fate or stop them from washing over them. No one can rely on the hearts of man to act in unity to aid them. That’s why, when I pray, I pray not just for the strength I need to change the world into a better place but also for the peace of mind to accept that there are some things I’ll never be able to change.”
“Ah . . .” Ling just nodded at his words.
“We’re not so great that we can defend against all evil, but we can be at least have the will to not shrink, cower or break when it besets us.” Lee rested a hand on her shoulder as he continued to play the role of the wise priest. This type of sermon wasn’t uncommon. He had heard it from a few different priests throughout the years, but he reckoned this type of thinking might actually be new to them since it was a world filled with so much violence and not a church in sight.
Ling looked up at Lee, and her eyes were deadlier than Medusa’s. They seemed to see right through Lee’s feigned exterior for just a moment, but then she just nodded. “That’s right. Bad things will happen, and no one can stop that from being true, but we can at least stop them from destroying us. Thanks,” she said and smiled.
“It’s good you understand. Since that’s the case, I think it’s about time I go help the others then.” Lee returned the pleasant expression as he handed her back the training sword he had been using while they sparred, and then he left. Ethan hot on the trail of the two people soon to leave town, he didn’t want to delay more than was needed.
“Wait!” she called after him. “If you’re going to help the people, can I please come with you?”
Lee turned around long enough to give her a half-hearted smile and said, “You’ve already helped people a lot today. Without you, we wouldn’t have saved Shannon. Let me take care of this now.”
He actually wished he could take her with him, but he had already decided that it would be too risky. It would certainly be helpful to have the extra firepower–she had proven herself competent with both the bow and the sword–but he also knew that this fight would probably get her killed if she couldn’t keep her emotions in check. She wasn’t Miller, who had dumb luck and brute strength on his side. So, after watching her accept his words with resignation, he turned back and headed into town to find his Firbolg companion.
He checked in on a few shops on the way into town, hoping to find Miller in one of them, but he still made it all the way to the main tavern before he found his friend. There, he discovered Miller sitting at one of the tables, staring at what had to be the largest mug he had ever seen in his life. The cup was a light color of oak, and it appeared to have been treated with something similar to tung oil and was easily capable of holding fifty to sixty ounces of beer. It was completely undecorated, and the cuts were far from uniform, but it was rather impressive, all things considered.
“So this is what you’ve been up to?” Lee asked, staring at the cup.
“Yeah,” Miller answered with a nod. “I got to thinking . . . Since we’re serving the God of Alcohol and Crafts, perhaps he isn’t unhappy with our personal strength, just the strength that we can exhibit in celebrating the victories he gives us.”
“Huh?” Lee stared blankly at the man. “You haven’t started drinking yet, have you?”
“No, but when we get back after destroying those heathens and crushing those demons who treat people like dogs and farm animals, we’ll have the adequate tools to toast our triumph!” Miller said, slamming his mug on the table. “We shall not be unprepared!”
“I see,” Lee sighed.
“What? Are you unhappy with– Oh! You wanted one too! You were worried that you’d have to drink out of Ramon’s tiny mugs built for people who like to exercise while they drink, running back and forth to the bar!”
“Hey!” Ramon shouted a protest at Miller’s dig on his mugs.
“Well, don’t worry! I have you covered!” he said, bringing out a second mug. It was almost identical to the first except for a strange symbol carved on its front. Not recognizing the symbol at all, Lee just took it for a series of scratch marks in focus, as it looked like the hybrid between a
“Tell me if it isn’t amazing. We’re going to have so much fun tonight. I bet Augustus is so happy with our work that he’s already sent us the location of the camp.”
“Wow, this is . . . This is amazing,” Lee said, fawning exaggeratedly for the sake of Miller’s feelings. “What’s this mean? It looks neat.”
“It’s your name, Lee. I wrote it with the alphabet of my homeland,” Miller responded proudly.
“Ah . . .” Lee nodded, certain that Miller wouldn’t be the type of guy to pull a prank or joke on someone. “Well, thanks man, I really appreciate this, but we need to go.”
“Augustus told us where the base was?” Miller’s eyes popped open, his excitement mounting to even greater heights than when he was talking about their two beer mugs. “I knew it! I knew that as soon as I finished the second mug that Augustus would be so pleased he’d come down in person and have you drag me off to the battlefield so that I could earn the right to fill them. That’s why I came straight back to the tavern: so you could find me easier.”
“And here I thought you were just being silly,” Ramon laughed, giving a light jab to Miller’s enthusiasm.
“Whatever the reason, we do need to go,” Lee urged.
“To battle!” Miller shouted emphatically.
“Please, and please rescue them,” Ramen pleaded, sincerity bleeding into his voice. “Far too many children have been taken in the last two months.”
“You already gave us the quest, old man,” Lee chuckled. “You don’t have to ask me twice.” Just make sure that experience is ready for when I come back with the people.
“Just for you, I’m going to go stab someone through the heart. And if any are done before I quench my rage, I’m going to roast someone on an open fire and leave the remnants of their flesh as breakfast for the dogs and vultures of the lands!”
Ramon just gave a nice smile and sent them on their way. “You do that for me,” he called after them as they left the tavern.
As soon as they were outside, Lee set off walking as fast as he could without calling too much attention to himself or Miller. He didn’t want to eat up his stamina by jogging or running too far, but he didn’t want to delay any longer than he had to. It was already a stroke of luck that the couple hadn’t lit out of town entirely with how long it had taken him to find Miller. Thankfully, with Ethan’s navigational assistance, he was able to practically mirror their movements as the duo took off after them.
Due to prolonged attempts at stealth by your current telepathically-connected familiar, Sneak has been promoted to Unranked Level 3. This skill improves one’s ability to stay hidden, move silently and act undetected.
Due to improving Sneak, you have received +1 intelligence. Current Intelligence: 30.
That’s new, Lee thought as he read out the boost. That’s also game changing. Does this mean that as long as I give Ethan a tiny little rapier to go around and fight insects with, I’ll also get better at using swords? Or if I give him a tiny bow and arrow, I can learn archery through him? He had hoped that the prompt would answer his questions, but nothing came up.
“Hey, Lee.” Miller grabbed the back of Lee’s shirt, stopping him in place.
“What? We don’t have time to lose. We have to go save those people before it gets dark out . . .” He was more than a little frustrated that he’d been stopped as they were just starting to really close the distance between them and the couple.
“Lee, quiet for a moment. There’s someone following us,” Miller stated quietly.
“Huh?” Lee surreptitiously glanced around, but he didn’t immediately see anyone. “Who could be after us? Who even knows where we’re going?”
“I don’t know, but we’re being chased,” Miller said without a shred of doubt in his voice. “We need to prepare for battle. Get your weapon out.”
“How do you–”
“I heard them. It wasn’t much, but I heard them asking which way we were going. They’ll be here soon.”
“Alright.” Lee closed his eyes for a moment as he collected his thoughts. How do I convince this pure and honest hero type to lay an ambush? “You know, since they are trying to sneak up on us and stab us in the back, we need to give them an adequate punishment.”
“What do you mean?” Miller asked as he pulled out his spear and cracked his back, turning to face back in the direction they had come from.
“Well, we need to make sure we stab them in the back first. We need to lay an ambush so that even they will understand the depth of their failures in death. We much teach them to know the pain of their methods first hand.”
“Hmmm. Fair enough,” Miller agreed, nodding at the sage words of wisdom. “So what’s the plan?”
“Well, let’s hide hunker down on the side of the road, hope they don’t have a dog, and then jump them when they pass us. Honestly, I don’t really have anything better,” Lee chuckled.
“No grand schemes this time?” Miller asked, clearly taken aback by the simplicity of Lee’s plan.
“None.” Lee shrugged as he moved off the road and pressed back against one of the large trees. Unlike the woods back home, the trees here were massive enough that the plan just might work. The biggest tree he had ever seen back in his world was only as wide around as a man was from shoulder to shoulder. These, on the other hand, were so large that you could have comfortably driven a sedan through them. The plan wasn’t entirely without merit, but if whoever was following them had hunting dogs with them, it would go awry rather quickly.
“Works for me. I’ll give your plan a go, but I hope they spot us so we can
“Shhh.” Lee just put a finger to his mouth and gestured for his friend to stay quiet.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes before three bandits passed them. Two of them were Leprechauns, and one was Firbolg, and each of them was decked out in leather gear with both daggers and bows. As soon as he could see their backs, Lee nodded to Miller and charged the closest bandit.
“Ahh!” one of the leprechauns screamed out in a mixture of shock and pain as Lee’s slash sank into him from behind.
Lee had been hoping to split the man’s head in two with a single attack but gauged the distance between them incorrectly. His sword struck cleanly into the man’s neck, drawing blood, but didn’t do enough damage for it to even partially decapitate him as he had hoped. His momentum did, however, propel the Leprechaun down onto his knees and draw the attention of the other two bandits.
The other Leprechaun screamed out as Miller’s spear stabbed into his back just as he turned around to face Lee.
Lee was going to finish off the Leprechaun on the ground while he had the upper hand, but when he saw the Firbolg take the bow off of his back and pull out an arrow, he couldn’t help but panic a little. He remembered all too well how annoying and painful his last experience with an archer had been while trying to save Ling, so with that in mind, he immediately planted two swift kicks into the Leprechaun at his feet and charged the Firbolg.
Lee rushed the bandit and struck out with his left-handed sword before the archer could nock the arrow. Just like the last bowyer he had fought, the man parried his attack with the bow stave and shifted to the side. Having learned from his previous experience, Lee took advantage of his opponent’s full body shift and stored the bronze sword into his inventory. Lee knew that he wasn’t going to get anywhere in the fight unless he could control his enemy’s bow, and that wasn’t something he could do as well with a second blade.
The Firbolg brought his bow around in an overhanded counter attack aimed at smashing Lee’s head. Unable to completely dodge out of the way, Lee jerked his head to the side and took the blow on his shoulder instead. Pain shot up from his shoulder as the bow’s upper limb made contact, and he saw a message letting him know that he had taken four points of damage from the attack. Doing his best to ignore the stinging pain, Lee grabbed ahold of the bow before the archer could pull it back and yanked on it with all of his might.
As soon as his fingers wrapped around the bow stave, it was clear the other person was stronger. There was no way he was going to be able to wrest control of a weapon away from a man using two hands when he was only one, but the pull was still enough to yank his opponent off balance. The man stumbled forward as he tried to regain his footing, leaving his side completely open to an attack. Lee immediately took advantage of the opportunity and stabbed forward, desperately hoping to finish off the Firbolg before the Leprechaun was able to attack him from behind. Lee felt his sword stab into the archer’s side, but it didn’t see to do much other than slide off of the man’s stiff leather armor.
The Firbolg struggled, yanking even harder on his bow as he tried to regain control of his weapon, but Lee dug in his feet and did everything he could to leverage his weight and keep his balance while still attacking. He struck out with the sword in his free hand several more times, and he was certain that he could feel the blade biting into the man’s flesh.
“I got him fixed. Get him!” the Firbolg yelled, wincing as Lee’s blade stabbed him for the fourth time.
Crap, that must be the Leprechaun he’s talking to. Lee panicked. Not sure what to do with his back exposed, he only knew he had to switch positions and move so he could see the Leprechaun somehow. Partially due to his panic, partially due to the fact he didn’t have enough muscle to do much, and partially due to the fact he really didn’t want to be where he was when the Leprechaun’s daggers came at him, Lee let the Firbolg win when gave a hard tug on the bow.
Lee simultaneously let himself be pulled forward by the Firbolg’s strength and pushed off with his legs at the same time. His momentum carried him forward, and he used the extra force to aim slash right into the Firbolg’s midsection. Before the archer could recover, Lee grabbed ahold of his arm, holding him in place, and stabbed him repeatedly.
Your party has killed the player Lester. Your party has been awarded 98 copper, one oak bow and 65 experience. Your share of this is 49 copper, one oak bow and 32 experience.
Once he knew the Firbolg was dead, turned his attention back to the Leprechaun. The Leprechaun looked confused, his knuckles growing white as he gripped his daggers and his brow creasing as he stared at Lee, unsure of what to after having watched his friend be murdered. Lee could tell that he was trying to finding an opening and sealed off the possibility by continuously shifting the body of the Firbolg around in front of him like a shield.
“You can’t win!” The Leprechaun resorted to taunting and gave up on being able to outmaneuver Lee. “Even if you kill me here, the herald will have vengeance in my name.”
Your party has killed the player Robert. Your party has been awarded 25 copper, one oak bow and 42 experience. Your share of this is 12 copper and 21 experience.
“What?” Although Lee was happy to see the prompt that let him know he wouldn’t have to have to square off against this dagger-wielding maniac alone, he was still taken aback by the bandit’s words. I thought people kept calling me the herald. What is he talking about?
“Your death is the true god’s will!” the Leprechaun shouted again before charging at Lee.
What the heck is he talking about? Lee wondered for a split second before his instincts kicked in, and he went straight into defensive mode. He pushed the corpse forward as hard as he could and stalled the man for a moment. The Leprechaun threw up both hands to catch the body and prevent the dead Firbolg from knocking him to the ground.
Lee took advantage of this second opening as the Leprechaun flung his slaughtered comrade to the side and stabbed him in the gut. As soon as he had drawn his sword back, Lee slammed into the stunned man and tackled him to the ground. The Leprechaun struggled to throw Lee off, but Lee pushed him back down and used his weight to hold him in place, even though he lost his grip on his sword in the process.
“He’s mine!” Miller shouted. “Roll off the bastard now.”
“The Herald will avenge me!” the Leprechaun shouted again as Lee rolled off him.
“There is but one god, and he will toast with your fermented blood tonight,” Miller shouted as he stabbed his spear straight into the Leprechaun’s chest. It through the downed man’s armor, but it was visible that the three combined blows he had suffered were taking their toll. Miller pulled his spear back and slammed the heel of his boot down onto the Leprechaun’s chest, pinning him with his back against the ground. “Hold his arms.”
“Okay?” Lee did his best to grab ahold man’s flailing arms and prevent him from either attacking Miller or pushing him off. He finally managed to pin the man’s arms and looked up to see Miller ripping the top part of the Leprechaun’s armor off. “What are you doing? We don’t have time for that type of play. We still have to–” catch up to the old couple Ethan is following. No, I can’t say that. “We still have to rescue the others.”
“There is time for this much.” Miller grinned in a devilish fashion that deeply disturbed Lee. “Justice demands vengeance, and those on the side of good must become the swift arms of righteousness lest the wicked walk over us!” he declared as he reached down, and his fingers slowly dug under the Leprechaun’s clavicles. Moments later Lee heard a snap, and the man’s collar bones broke, the shattered fragments piercing through skin as Miller kept tugging on them. The Leprechaun screamed in agony as his body was drug apart from the inside.
“I’m sorry, friend,” Miller said to the Leprechaun as one last pull with his massive strength finally wrenched two pieces, one from each side, of the collar bones free. “But your wickedness was great, and I must keep my promises.”
“Please . . . Please, stop! Please stop!” the Leprechaun howled through mouthfuls of gurgled blood in a barely intelligible fashion. Lee let go of the man’s arms, their movements pitiful and weak, no longer even needing to be suppressed.
“You people shouldn’t have done that to Shannon,” Miller shouted loudly enough for the entire forest to hear. Even before the last word left his mouth, the Firbolg stabbed down, jamming the two pieces of freshly broken bone straight into the Leprechaun’s eyes.
Your party has killed the player Cornwallace. Your party has been awarded 57 copper, one bronze dagger and and 125 experience. Your share of this is 28 copper, one bronze dagger and 62 experience.
“There, now I’m done. Now I feel better,” Miller said, his foot crushing the Leprechaun’s rib cage as he stood up.
“Can we go now?” Lee asked, his eyes still transfixed on the victim of Miller’s rage. He shot a glance over at Miller’s first kill, only to see that the man had been stabbed repeatedly through the gut with a spear. It wasn’t as gruesome or destructive as what he had done to the Leprechaun, but it was a gruesome death nonetheless.
“I think we’ve wasted enough time here,” Lee reiterated. They were fighting the clock, and he couldn’t stress the need for them to hurry enough. There was also the fact that he wanted to leave the scene before the gruesome sight of the bodies upset his stomach. He had found out since coming to this world that he could handle the sight of death and violence, but that didn’t mean that certain things like what Miller had done to Geoffrey and this poor sap with clavicles in his eyes didn’t still make him a bit queasy, even if he thought the man deserved it.
“Then lead the way. I’m sure we’ve done enough to honor Augustus with blood here.” Miller just grinned wickedly, a broad smile plastered on his face.
Even if you’re more familiar with this game than me, how can you be so comfortable with what you’ve done at a gut level? Is my first convert secretly a sociopath? Lee suppressed an urge to shudder, not wanting his emotions to be visible.
After leaving the three bodies behind, the two continued on their chase. It took a lot longer than Lee expected, and the latter half of the journey became more difficult as the flat land ()) slowly inclined and they began climbing what Lee could only image was the base of a mountain.
“Hey, Miller,” Lee asked as they continued their climb through the woods. “I’ve been wondering, was there another herald before me?”
“Huh? You mean did I meet another holy guy in the town before I met you? No, of course not. How can there be another herald when Augustus has already picked you?”
“Oh.” Lee sighed. Then what was that mad Leprechaun on about? He was clearly talking about a herald, too. From his ranting, it sounded like there was another, but that can’t be, can it? Lee was starting to wonder. Miller only showed up shortly before I did, so if another guy came by a few months ago, weeks, or even days before I did, then Miller wouldn’t know anything about it. He’d be as oblivious as I am. That means I need to ask someone like Ramon about it if I want the real answer. “Well, nevermind then.”
“It’s okay. We’ll get a drink soon.” Miller’s grin seemed to grow, seemingly undeterred by the distance they’d traveled as the two pressed on.
By that, you mean you’re going to kill enough people that it justifies having a drink, Lee thought, interpreting his words.
When they were finally close to catching the couple, Lee forced Miller to slow down. He considered just being quiet and stealthy, but after thinking about how he didn’t actually have an argument good enough to compel the loud war beast of a man into quiet and inconspicuous behaviors, he decided to just zigzag the path to slow their ascent so they would always be equidistant to the couple. Lee was worried that Miller would catch onto what he was doing, but fortunately enough, it wasn’t long before the couple arrived at the destination.
“Hold up,” Lee said, stopping Miller. “We’re here, but let me figure out where here is first before we go charging in.”
“Right! Then we–” Miller began, but his voice was too loud so Lee cut him off right away.
Lee took in the situation as best as he could through Ethan’s rodent eyes as the mouse feverishly worked his way around the encampment. The couple had disappeared inside, though he didn’t know exactly where yet. From what he could tell, there were a few wooden structures surrounding a hole in the mountain, probably a cave, that extended farther than even Little Ethan could see. A mining shaft. This is a mining camp, Lee concluded as he began to recognize the features.
The building closest to the mine shaft, which was also the largest, was obviously the sleeping quarters for the workers–most likely the people taken from the village who had been forced into slavery. From Ethan’s fast scouting report of the town, he could tell that there were two guards stationed in the slaves’ sleeping quarters. He knew it was the slaves’ quarters just from the smell, but the lack of sanitation facilities and the fact that everyone in their cot was shivering and covered in dirt confirmed yet. It was obvious that they weren’t used to working in mines, and the blisters on their hands showed it, yet they had been worked so hard and abused so badly that not an inch of their body was unmarked. There was also fear. The pungent smell was unmistakable to Ethan, even with the horrendous bodily odors.
The slaves didn’t even so much as look at one another or bother to say a single word. It’s the attitude of beaten dogs. They’re too afraid to move to for fear of another beating. Lee glanced over at Miller. He knew that, if Miller saw what he saw, his patience would end immediately. Miller would charge the camp and fight until either everyone in the place was dead or he was.
He’d probably do something a lot worse than what he did to that Leprechaun, too. Lee shuddered at the thought. Next to that building, separated by at least twenty feet, was another smaller building. After getting a peek inside of it too, Lee realized it was the barracks. All forty people inside were currently asleep right, save for a single guard inside the building facing its only entrance and two guards outside the building with weapons drawn. The guard on the inside didn’t seem to have his weapon on him. He only had a strange, green book in front of him. It seemed less like he was trying to protect someone and more like he was checking people in and out.
The last remaining building was directly across, no more than fifteen feet apart from, the main barracks. It was a storage facility with mining carts, torches, and food rations. Unlike the other two buildings, which had metal in their frames and metal-reinforced wooden doors that swung outward, this building had a solid wooden double door the same color as Miller’s treated mugs. This entrance large, and designed so that the slaves wouldn’t have trouble moving the mining carts in and out. However, the most noteworthy thing about this building as far as Lee was concerned was that it was entirely deserted. It didn’t hold any weapons or anything that might be easily looted of great value, so it made sense that they didn’t bother keeping it defended. There was also the fact that the guards posted outside of the barracks would be able to defend both facilities without a problem and keep note of who was going in and out of the emptied storage facility.
On Lee’s command, Ethan did his best to find a way into the supply warehouse; and, sure enough, there was a weak spot in one of the walls. Little Ethan snuck around and used his teeth to gnaw through the weak point, leaving an opening wide enough for Lee and Miller to pull off a few boards and get inside.
“Miller, I’ve just communed with Augustus, and he’s a little upset with you,” Lee began, spilling his lies to get Miller to behave. He had an idea, one he was mostly stealing from books he’d read and movies he had watched, but it was still a decent idea.
“What? Why is he upset with me? I’ve done nothing but deliver his wrath to the doubters of the land!” Miller was flabbergasted at the possibility that he could have possibly committed a sin.
“He says you stabbed someone through the heart, and you fulfilled your other promise to him with the collar bones, but . . .” Lee trailed off, giving time for Miller to realize what he’d forgotten.
“I didn’t burn them! I didn’t torch their corpses and leave their cooked flesh for dogs and vultures to feast on!” Miller had a look of guilt and shock written across his face. “You’re right! I’ve sinned. I had the chance. There were bodies there, but I was in a rush to follow you, so I forgot what to do!”
“But it’s okay.” Lee put a hand on Miller’s shoulder. “It’s okay, big guy. Augustus says you can appease him now, but you’ll need to burn a lot more than one or two people.”
“How many must I kill and burn?”
“Well, actually . . .” Lee grinned. “He wants you to burn some people alive.”
Miller’s eyes, which were already wide open from shock at his transgression, managed to open up even further. “Truly the God of Alcohol and Crafts is a twisted and creative deity of destruction for such an act to be the only way to appease him.” Miller seemed at odds with himself, his eyes turning about continuously in his head. “But how do I burn people alive? Should we knock them out first? Is that how we should do this?”
“No no no,” Lee answered patiently, shaking his head. “Just follow me, and do as I say. You’ll need to kill a few people without burning them, but if all goes well, Augustus will be very pleased with you. By the time we’re done, you’ll have earned the right to drink great gallons of beer and wine in his name tonight.”
“Okay, show me the way,” Miller replied feverishly. The two of them snuck around the camp toward the back of the storage center. By the time Lee and Miller reached the back of the storage unit, Ethan was spying on the old couple, who seemed to be arguing with the man holding the green book.
Lee and Miller quietly ripped open the hole, removed the boards and slipped the storage room without a problem.
“Well, what do we do here?” Miller whispered.
Lee thought about his plan. He knew that all the best-laid plans of mice and men, or Ethan and himself as it were in this case, often would go awry, so he kept it as simple as possible. He went over each point two or three times with Miller so that he wouldn’t be confused when the battle broke out, stressing that he needed to achieve the goal first before going on a murderous rampage. Once everything was set, he sent Ethan to scout ahead and report back for the best possible moment to make their move. Lee was nervous, but if things went well, he’d be climbing levels and enjoying a good barbecue bloodbath. Then again, If things went poorly, he’d be dead–and dead here was dead for good.
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