War Aeternus 2 Ch2

Name: Lee Race: Human Class: Herald – None

Level: 17 Health: 270/270 EXP: 6200/10500

Primary Stats:

Power 27 (28) Toughness 27 (28) Spirit 27 (28)

Secondary Stats:

Charisma 20 Courage 20 Deceit 14

Intelligence 123 (129) Honor 5 Faith 622

Personal Faith 213

Skills:

Unarmed Combat Initiate Level 7 Swordplay Novice Level 6

Sneak Novice Level 9 Cooking Initiate Level 7

Trap Detection Initiate Level 6 Knife Combat Initiate Level 8

Mental Fortitude Initiate Level 1

Divine Skills:

Golem Sculpting Novice Level 10

Appreciative Drunk Novice Level 8

Faith Healing

Divinity Powers:

Life in Death

Unlike Satterfield, which was basically a small, close-knit hamlet comprised of thatch-roofed stone buildings, Kirshtein was actually large enough to contain the seas of people that swelled through its gates every morning and night. The buildings were constructed from red brick and capped with dark-grey slate roofs, and they sprouted up as if they were trees competing for sunlight in a forest, towering unevenly between three and six stories tall and casting shade on narrow alleyways that slithered and crooked like tiny streams between them. The main roads were also much larger than Satterfield’s, and they were easily able to contain the multitudes of people and carriages with ease, one only ever rarely bumping into the other as they diffused into the heart of the town.

Lee couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as he walked back into the city with his friends. The malaise stemmed from how chaotic the place was. Between the size of the city and the uneven layout, it was hard to keep track of where he was mentally in relation to everything else. He had constantly gotten lost as he tried to find his way around on his first visit, and he had even gone so far as to pay a beggar to show him around. He had done his best to take note of landmarks that would help him find his way back again if needed, but it was still a challenge to find his way from one side of the city to the next.

The second source of his problem was from the hundreds of people all around him. They were tightly pressed together in the streets, passing him constantly, and he had a nagging fear that someone working for one of the other Heralds might take advantage of the crowds and stab him in the back, ending his budding religion as quickly as it had started. There was no way to defend against it or predict where it might come from. Each and every passerby was suspect, and even with his golems’ help, he still couldn’t keep an eye on every person within stabbing distance at the same time.

Finally, he was stressed out because he hadn’t been back to Satterfield since yesterday morning, and he had an itch in the back of his mind telling him that he needed to check in on his congregation. The entire town had quickly morphed into the de-facto capital of his Church of Bacon and Booze, as he jokingly thought of it, and after the first restaurant-maintenance-fiasco, he didn’t trust the others to handle things. His flock might be great at pounding back beers and spreading the merriment of the order, but without Lee’s cooking ability, they couldn’t produce the fried chicken that had become their staple fast enough to keep up with demand. Like an idiot, Lee had bought the two places adjacent to Ramon’s tavern and morphed them into a single large ‘church’ that held way more people than the kitchen or the staff could ever hope to handle. Despite his experience in restaurants and his cooking skill, he felt like he was constantly behind. The whole experience brought back repressed memories from his days working in the service industry that he would rather not remember at all.

“You know you do have enough faith to go back a few times,” Augustus, the god who had first sent him to this world, reminded him.

It didn’t help his mood any that he was constantly being watched by a drunken god who preferred the guise of a primate rather than that of his own skin and spied on him like the paparazzi over a reality TV star. To make matters worse, Augustus seemed to have an innate ability to always know what Lee was thinking. “Oh, don’t look constipated! I’m just trying to be helpful. I don’t know if it’s appropriate or ironic that you take life way too seriously as the Herald of Alcohol. You really just need to get a few drinks in you, get laid and relax. This game isn’t going to end anytime soon, so you better learn to enjoy the breaks you get.”

Lee assumed that Augustus meant well, but it was hard to take him seriously. The god was sometimes bitter, abusive and insulting, and he often lashed out at Lee for any little perceived shortcoming. Even when he did decide to provide Lee with some form of advice or information, it was often mocking, degrading and biting–sort of like this mild pestering that Lee was experiencing at the moment–but Augustus could be sincere and charming on occasion too. His random personality swings made it impossible for Lee to ever predict which side of Augustus he was going to see.

“What would I even do if I went back?” Lee asked.

“I don’t know. Learn a few skills like you did before? Maybe finally bang that Russian chick who was following you around with that dopey grin and puppy-dog eyes?”

Lee involuntarily recoiled at the suggestion. He wasn’t disgusted at the idea of sex, per se, he was just annoyed at Augustus for trying to push him into doing it. “I don’t need to hook up with a random chick.”

“Fine! Don’t have sex! Just go ahead and play the part of the Japanese main character in almost every anime and build up a harem of women that you never make it past first base with!” Augustus laughed so loudly that his voice echoed through Lee’s head.

“I’m not doing that. And my life is not some cartoon!” Lee protested, but Augustus’s laughter only grew greater.

“Sure, sure. You’ve literally had a girl sleep in your bed every night since you got back to this world, and you have yet to even grab some–”

“Will you stop it!” Lee shouted, cutting off Augustus. “I don’t need any relationship advice from my sometimes-literal-dog-of-an-ancestor. I’m doing fine.”

“Doing fine? Is that what you call it? You’re leveling up like a regular player without taking advantage of your status as a Herald at all, and you’re still using that crutch I gave you to get anything of meaning done with your power,” Augustus chided, his discontent evident in his tone. “Come on! Let’s go back to the other world for a while. Heck, if you want to think of me as a dog, I’ll shapeshift into one and help you pick up girls. Girls love dogs, right?”

“What crutch? What do you mean?” Lee asked, still focused on the discussion of powers.

“That? Well, I can’t spell things out. That’s cheating. Anyway, I’ll see you tonight. I’m sure you’ll be begging me to help out once the sun sets . . . to get you to a nice beach where you can eat, drink, spend time with women, drink some more and do crazy things like any descendant of mine would if his intelligence weren’t zero! Because right now”–he paused to chuckle–“this is just sad to watch.”

Lee frowned. Augustus was quick to mock Lee’s intelligence any time he didn’t immediately comply with the god’s wishes–apparently even when Lee refused to risk making a woman like Amber, who had likely gone through hell when she had been a slave, relive old wounds by being in any way pushy or forward.

“Just keep your offer. I’m not going to need it tonight,” Lee answered with some hesitation. He made sure to emphasize the word ‘tonight’ since he might actually need to take it up soon. Even if he was annoyed at Augustus for pressuring him into behaving in a way that he didn’t feel was natural or for mocking his life decisions, the idea itself wasn’t a bad one. More time in own world meant another opportunity to acquire more knowledge and the chance to refine the skills he already had. In turn, that meant more power and an increased chance of surviving in this world. After his last visit, it had become clear to him that the time he spent in each world benefited his time in the other. And, as reluctant as he was to admit it to Augustus, he did like the looks of Masha, the Russian girl Augustus kept referring to.

Augustus’ annoying laughter cascaded in the back of Lee’s head. “See you tonight!” he finished, and then the laughter disappeared instantly.

Well, that’s not creepy at all. The edges of Lee’s mouth pulled downward as if they were caught on fishing hooks and yanked toward the ground with enough force to pull the Loch Ness monster.

“Something wrong?” Miller asked, putting a hand on Lee’s shoulder.

“No, just”–Lee looked around–“just feeling uneasy.”

“A beer,” Miller answered resolutely. “You need a beer.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t worry, boss. I’ve got you covered.” Miller grinned as he pulled out one of his spears, ignoring the fact they were in the middle of the street in a large city that frowned upon the use or arming of weapons within its walls in any way.

People turned in alarm, and Lee’s eyes opened wider as he realized what was about to happen. It was like watching a car wreck in slow motion as the jolly giant lifted the spear and slammed it’s butt down onto the ground, letting out his Drunken Shout onto Lee and every single innocent bystander around them at the same time. Lee was used to the experience, so he wasn’t too horribly affected, but as he turned and looked around, he grimaced at the horror of what happened around him. The blast of inebriation slammed into the unsuspecting populace like an alcoholic hotbox, leaving everyone except for Lee and his group teetering back and forth in an alcoholic stupor and struggling to stay upright. He watched as two horses which had been pulling a sort of two-wheeled carriage just stopped and lay down, their weight heavy enough to tilt the carriage forward on its single axle. A clear thump from inside the cab let Lee know that the likely-sloshed passengers had roughly crashed to the front end of the carriage. Even worse, a group of children who had been playing nearby started spinning in circles and grabbing onto one another for support in a rather funny, cute, childish yet alarming sort of way.

Holy crap, Miller! You didn’t just get everyone here drunk: you managed to get a classroom’s worth of children intoxicated! What the heck is wrong with you? Lee was caught between his desire to laugh and his frustration with the oaf’s inability to sense basic propriety. You don’t get children drunk! He wanted to shout the admonition, but he refrained for now.  He knew that he would have to lecture his Firbolg companion later on the basics of social acceptability and decorum, but this wasn’t the time or place for it.

“We have to get out of here. Now, ” Lee said urgently, hurriedly grabbing Amber’s hand and pulling her through the crowd. He glanced back to make sure that Miller and Ling were following him and then ducked into an alleyway as quickly as possible.

“Where are we going in such a rush?” Miller asked, beaming with pride.

Someone covered in that much blood and carrying around severed heads shouldn’t look that happy. It’s more unnerving than listening to Augustus talk about sex. “We’re going to turn in the bounties and these heads,” Lee answered, coming up with the first excuse he could. “I just figured we should do it as soon as possible so we can get to the bar quicker and make sure we have a place to crash tonight.”

Miller paused, his expression deflating before his grin returned. “That’s right! Great idea! You’re always using that head of yours, Lee!” His own massive noggin bobbed up and down in acknowledgment. He paused, and something crossed his face that looked like he was either thinking or trying to push out a fart. “I bet that, if we knock out the stupid money chores early, we can try to tackle at least thirty different beers each. I hear this town has beers shipped in from across the entire region!” Miller wiped the drool from his mouth when he finished speaking. It was evident exactly how eager he was for beer.

Lee frowned. What the heck? I like beer as much as the next guy, but that would leave me looking more irresponsible than a group of barely-employed adults skipping work to hang out at an overpriced cafe in the middle of New York.

“That, on top of the cost of the inn for the night, would cost us over half of what we’ve earned today.”

“Oh, that’s right . . .” Miller groaned, his goofy grin drooping until it matched Lee’s frown. “We have to pay street price for the beers here. That’s just not right. Aren’t you the son of the God of Alcohol? Shouldn’t you be able to turn water into ale or something?”

“I could try, but things didn’t turn out well for the last guy who turned water into alcohol,” Lee chuckled. “He ended up never being able to drive home.”

“Why?” Miller asked as all three of Lee’s companions looked at him in confusion. “Did he get the horse too drunk to steer the carriage? Is that even a big deal though? Couldn’t he just walk?”

Drunken horse? Oh, God . . . Even though Lee had just seen real-life equine inebriation only moments earlier, the mental image still made him laugh. He shouldn’t have–it probably counted as animal cruelty to some groups back home–but the thought of all the antics a drunk horse might get up to was still amusing. After his little laugh, he noticed the bewildered expression on Miller’s face and said, “He couldn’t drive because . . . Well, I guess he did walk everywhere, but . . . Just  . . . You know, don’t worry about it.”

“Well, forget him then. Here.” Miller passed Lee a waterskin. “Try changing this into beer. As the son of a deity, you can do anything. I have absolute faith in you.”

Lee did his best to think of how he would approach such a feat. He used magic whenever he healed someone, which was fairly often, and he used it when making clay into a golem, so he wasn’t unfamiliar with the process. He pulled some of his spirit and funneled it into the waterskin. He thought of beer while circulating the mana through the water, and after a minute or so, he knew that something had changed. He couldn’t tell exactly what had happened, but he knew that some of his mana was missing, so he stopped and opened the waterskin and poured a drop of it into the palm of his hand to inspect it.

“What is it?” Ling asked, inspecting the dark-violet-colored liquid. The small drop glowed visibly in the palm of his hand, letting off a small amount of amethyst-tinted light. It clearly wasn’t beer, but it definitely wasn’t water either.

“I don’t know,” Lee answered. “It looks . . . weird.”

“You don’t know? You made it!” Amber grabbed his hand and flattened it out so the bead of purple water was even more prominent.

Well, if it’s anything like video game logic, then blue is for mana potions, red is for health potions, and purple is for . . . Lee didn’t have time to finish his thoughts on the matter before Miller stuck out his finger and did his best to scoop it up.

“Oh, that tastes delicious,” Miller said as he popped the drop of water in his mouth. “But it’s not alcoholic.”

“Here, let me try.” Ling grabbed the waterskin out of Lee’s hands with such dexterity that it made Lee question whether she was an archer or a thief. “Wow, that’s amazing!” Ling exclaimed with an extremely satisfied look on her face. “But . . .” She paused, took out a knife, and made a small cut on her arm before proceeding to drink some more. After a few sips, the cut on her arm healed up.

They all watched in awe and disbelief as the skin butterflied across the wound and the red line vanished, leaving behind only the drops of blood that had already escaped onto her pale skin.

“Drinking it made me feel just like I do when you heal me,” Ling explained. “It felt warm and nice, so I thought it might have the same effect.”

That’s right! Blue is mana, red is healing, and purple is both! Lee took back the flask and downed a large swig of it himself. Although it wasn’t even close to being as much as had gone into making the purple water, some of his mana actually was restored. It figures that a world based on video game mechanics would follow the standard video game rules. Isn’t that right, system?

It’s more appropriate to say that all video games follow the principles that this world does than to say this world follows the principles of your video game worlds. Blood is the source of life, and so that which restores life naturally would often appear red. Water nourishes the spirit, and so that which heals one’s spirit will carry its color, blue. The two colors combined are purple. Your video games have copied life, and this system is the basis of life. Therefore, the egg, in this case, came after the chicken, as your expression goes.

Lee wasn’t expecting it, but the system actually responded, and it answered in what felt like a somewhat-defensive manner. System, you don’t actually have a personality, do you? he asked hesitantly, remembering how all its previous answers were straight to the point and devoid of excess.

Amber tried the elixir next, and the same happy, satisfied expression that Ling had spread across her face. Only Miller appeared to be dissatisfied, staring at the waterskin with his distaste evident on his face. “It’s nice, but it’s still not beer,” he grumbled.

“Well, just because this isn’t beer, it doesn’t mean that I can’t make beer at all. I think . . . Hold on, there’s a store over there across the street. Let’s see if they sell some supplies I need,” Lee said, having managed to find a grocery store after only looking around for a second. If there was one aspect to this town that he found admirable, it was that there were restaurants and grocery stores everywhere. If there was an area large enough for stands, there were farmers or merchants trying to pawn off produce and merchandise.

“What? It might still be possible?” Miller called out as Lee dashed to the store.

Within a few minutes, Lee had the full kit of ingredients needed to make beer. The shopkeeper only sold by the barrel or box and not by individual units, but that wasn’t a problem since Lee’s strength was nearly three times that of a normal man’s back home–which was easily enough to hold a cart full of groceries without feeling any strain. The problem was stacking and balancing the containers and trying to maneuver around the store awkwardly without dropping anything. Despite being focused on the goods he was gathering up, he couldn’t help but notice a strange man in all black staring at him. The tall, blue-haired man was flanked by two armed guards and spent his time talking with the grocer as Lee navigated through the store like a circus performer trying to balance ten spinning plates.

“A brewer, are you?” the man asked, studying Lee through squinted eyes.

“No, not really.” Lee shrugged and then mentally kicked himself for shrugging in front of a stranger who clearly looked like he was in a position of power. It was a bad habit he had built up as a way of deflecting direct answers, and it was one that needed to go if he were going to pass himself off as the enlightened, know-it-all prophet type. Avoiding direct answers was fitting enough, but shrugging like an ignorant chump certainly wasn’t.

“Then what are all these supplies for? It appears as if you have all the necessary ingredients for brewing beer,” the man observed, looking over the boxes that Lee was balancing.

“A friend wanted me to try something. That’s all,” Lee answered before turning his attention back to the grocer. “So how much for all of this?”

The grocer smiled as he started counting the boxes.

“Haikai, just take an inventory and let me know what our good Human brother bought later. I’ll pay for it myself,” the man said, examining Lee once more.

“That’s not necessary.” Lee declined with a shake of his head. He knew better than to take free things from a stranger. “I’ve got it.”

“No, I insist. Please, allow me to take care of this,” the man repeated, giving a soft smile that didn’t match his inquisitive glare at all.

“But . . .” Lee’s protest trailed off and died out.

“If he says he’s paying, I ain’t taking your money,” the grocer said. “Just treat it as on the house, and have a good day.”

“Well, thank you. Thank you very much,” Lee replied, finally relenting uneasily.

“Don’t mention it. I’m Connacht,” he said with a tiny, polite nod of his head. “Consider this a greeting gift from one of us to another.” The way he said ‘one of us to another’ threw Lee for a loop, but he didn’t waste any time thinking about it. He still needed to get back to the group.

“Well, I’m Lee. It’s been a pleasure,” Lee said bowing his head to match the other man’s gesture.

“Nice to meet you, Lee. I hope your day is fruitful,” the man said and then went back to talking to the grocer about an order.

Lee glowered at the boxes and felt the man’s eyes follow him as he left.  He couldn’t put his finger on it, but the whole situation seemed off–and dangerous. What in the heck was that? Don’t tell me rich people in this town are actually that charitable. Why was he being so nice?

Lee made his way back over to his group, who were waiting at the mouth of the alley across the street from the store. He noticed a strange look on Amber’s face as he walked up to them.

“Should you really be buying food with the head of a Firbolg strapped to your side?” Amber asked. “Not worried about that contaminating anything?”

Lee wanted to facepalm. Crap. I’ve been walking around with it for so long that I forgot it was even there. “Well, no need to fret about it now. Here, take it off of me. I need to handle this stuff.”

“Sure,” she said, unfastening it from his waist as Lee started unpacking the boxes.

Pulling everything out and setting up his operation in the narrow alley left things pretty cramped, but it kept his wares and activities away from the foot traffic on the side of the street. The last thing Lee needed was a careless passerby accidentally tripping over his impromptu brewery.

“What are you going to do with all of that stuff?” Miller asked.

“You’ll see,” Lee answered cryptically. “Do you have any bottles of water on you?”

Miller shook his head. “That skin was the only water I carry. You know, the ‘in case of emergency’ water.”

“I have some,” Ling offered, pulling out a container. It wasn’t much, just forty-eight ounces and not nearly enough for what he had in mind.

“No, we need more. Hold on.” Lee ran about a hundred feet down the block to a different shop he had spotted. There he bought a few extra bottles of water–figuring he’d want to further practice using his spirit to make restorative beverages later on–along with two wooden barrels, which he filled with water before returning to the alleyway. He could have gone back to the first grocery, but he wasn’t exactly keen on running into the generous man again. Generosity in a world filled with murder wasn’t something that he was keen on trusting. In this land, everyone with power had ambitions, and those ambitions very well might leave Lee dead in a ditch if he wasn’t careful and got too close to them.

Arriving back at the alley once again, Lee set the barrels down and quickly freed up his hands by practically tossing the water bottles at Ling in a rushed hand-off. He eagerly continued setting things up for his new project without even bothering to explain what he was doing to the rest of the group.

“Okay, so now what?” Miller asked.

“I think he’s going to make us beer,” Ling said, looking over the ingredients.

“Yes! That’s the hope,” Lee affirmed. “Let me give this a try.” With that, he put the ingredients on top of the two barrels and then channeled his magic in the same way that he had before. He concentrated on the process of how beer was made as he did it and watched as the ingredients were ripped into a mist by his spirit. Then, after turning into an ethereal cloud, they passed through the wooden walls of the barrels and bound with the water. Even though he couldn’t see it happen, he felt it as his mana instantly carried out the entire brewing process.

You have learned the divine skill Nectar of the Gods. This skill is currently at Initiate Level 1. This skill allows one to transform mundane ingredients into tipple fit for the gods!

You have been awarded 2 Intelligence for discovering a new skill without the assistance of class trainers or a manual. Current Intelligence: 125

Recipe Learned: Augustusfest Beer #001

Effects: Unknown.

For fully mastering a new recipe, you have gained 2 Intelligence. Your current Intelligence: 127

He popped open the top of the now-full water barrels, and sure enough, there was beautiful, bubbly beer inside.

“Holy sweet mother of delicious-looking amber nectar!” Miller exclaimed as he quickly pulled out an empty mug and dipped it into the container.

“HEY!” Amber acted indignant at the mention of her name, even if Miller had only meant the color.

Miller held up the mug, staring at it lovingly.

“Well?” Lee asked.

“Well, what? You should have a mug on you and at least two for the ladies. Do you think I’m going to be the first to try out this religious holy water by myself? No! We must all share in its greatness. This is beer that Augustus himself has deigned to bestow upon us. How dare a mere mortal like me take honor away from the deity that has blessed us by greedily drinking it before another? Before the son of that same god himself?”

You weren’t that righteous about it a moment ago when you just smashed your finger into my palm. Lee shook his head as he pulled out three mugs, filled them and passed one each to Ling and then Amber. “The location isn’t going to bother you too?” Lee asked, musing over their choice to stop and start drinking on a narrow back alley.

“Not if it doesn’t bother you,” Miller said, holding out his drink.

“Welp, here we go,” Lee said. And here’s hoping I didn’t make a batch of poison that will kill us all. Lee clinked his mug to the other three before the four of them quickly downed the drinks.

This . . . Lee thought for a moment. This is amazing. This is better than any beer I’ve ever tasted! Apart from enjoying the delicious flavor of the brew, Lee could also feel the status effects of the drink wash over him.

 

Augustusfest Beer #001 has temporarily increased your Power by 1 and your Charisma by 2.

 

“This is indeed a beverage of the gods!” Miller proclaimed. “As to be expected from the Herald that brought us the divine gifts of fried chicken and bacon!

“I’m going to agree with Miller: this is definitely a beverage of the gods. Did Augustus teach you how to make this?”

“And you did it without a crutch,” a voice snickered in Lee’s head.

“Alright, Miller, you wanna hold onto these beers while we go turn in the bounties?” Lee asked.

“No problem,” Miller said. He pounded the top back onto the barrel to seal it up before hoisting it and the unopened one above his shoulders. “The sooner I get this beer in my belly, the better! It would be an absolute injustice to not make sure these barrels are empty by the first crack of light tomorrow.”

And this is why you’re not a much higher level than I am. Lee just shook his head. It was understandable that Lee had needed to forego a lot of leveling since he had spent a lot of downtime setting up the church, passing out the pamphlets and books and making sure that operations on the restaurant side were running smoothly, but there wasn’t a good reason for Miller to not be leveling. Sure, Lee felt safer knowing his stalwart companion was nearby at any given moment, but he didn’t understand why Miller spent so much time drinking and not gaining experience–especially considering killing things in a brutal fashion was basically his modus operandi at this point.

“We could also try selling it,” Amber suggested. “I know we need more money for the restaurant’s expansion and to hire and train more staff. These barrels might be a quick way to make some.”

“That’s . . . not a bad idea. But let’s see how well these two sell first.” Lee smiled at Amber and gave her hand a squeeze.

Miller shook his head vehemently at the idea.

“Sell them? What? That’s nonsense. If you insist on selling these precious beverages, then let me borrow some money so I can buy them.”

Lee, Ling and Amber all just stared at him. You’ve got to be kidding me. “Yeah. No. We’ll get you more when we run out, big guy.”

“But how can you be sure it’ll taste this good? This delicious ale is divine! Can we really risk pawning it off? Just let me borrow some money. We can make some more barrels and sell those instead,” Miller insisted.

“Are you saying that you don’t trust that I can make another? Do you have no faith in me as a Herald?” Lee asked pointedly, taking advantage of Miller’s naive religious fervor.

“What? No. Not at all. I would never doubt you as a Herald!” Miller responded, quickly trying to dodge the charges as they started walking. “I’m just . . . No, you’re right. If we can sell these, then fine. We’ll use the money to buy enough materials to make twenty more of them!”

Well, that was a quick change of tune, Lee chortled as they made their way out of the alley.

The Hunter’s Guild that they arrived at shortly after was itself a mix between a tavern, an inn, a bar, a mall and a classroom. It was hard to describe exactly how all of those factors came into play, but they did. Unlike every other building on the block, it was solid wood, wider than it was tall, and only went up three stories. The entrance was a wide open space that let people easily move in and out, as even the door to the Hunter’s Guild itself was large enough to accommodate even the most obnoxiously-large pickup truck a man could buy without a problem.

The right side of the building was comprised of shops filled with people who bought and sold everything from fishing knives to full plate armor and even custom writing kits designed for the adventurer on the go who still wanted to send a letter home, and each shop was just as large as the full-sized stores outside. Next to those were rows of tables where people sat and listened to adventurers give lectures on how to trap certain monsters, ways one might use a sword when fighting various critters, or even what herbs to look for when one was out and about.

On the left side of the entrance was the ‘workspace.’ It was an area where one would go to either turn in bounties, sign up for bounties or even register bounties on creatures that caused trouble or posed a threat. If someone had the money to post the bounties, there was always someone that would take them up, but for the most part, all bounties were generally state-sponsored. Scouts combed through the kingdom and then registered all potential troublemakers with the Hunter’s Guild, and then the country would tell the Hunter’s Guild how much they’d be willing to pay to have that threat removed.

Behind the bounties offices was a series of bars and butcher shops that sold an extravagant selection of alcohol and meat. Since proof of a kill was often required for bounties, people continuously walked in with fresh meat, and these shops were the first ones to buy, cut, dress and resell it. People would often buy a meal or a beer and then walk over and listen to whatever lecture was going on at the time.

There was a large set of stairs in the middle corridor that led to the second and third floors, which were both filled with private rooms available for rent. They were some of the most expensive rooms in the city, especially for their size, but they were also some of the most convenient due to their locale. And, most importantly, there were well-trained and seasoned guards posted in the halls each night to ensure that people stayed in their own rooms and that no one was killed in the middle of the night.

In all, it was a fairly good starting model for what Lee eventually wanted for his church in Satterfield, although he admittedly needed to entice more people to come to the tiny town before that dream would ever even come close to being a reality. Right now, his church was essentially a super-light version of the Hunter’s Hall that was barely one-twentieth the size.

Amber entered first, carrying all of the heads in front of her as they all mosied into the Hall, and she drew more than a few simple stares. Even just for a moment, it seemed like Lee’s little group was officially the star attraction for some show the Hunter’s Guild had commissioned or the opening act for a circus.

“You know that you aren’t allowed to kill other hunters,” one of the people, a short, blue-haired Firbolg man said as he watched them enter.

“I didn’t act–” Amber began before being quickly cut off.

“Thank you for sharing. Have a nice day,” Lee interjected and put an arm on Amber’s shoulder, cutting off her retort right where it started. The Firbolg was unsteady on his feet, swaying back and forth, and he was likely as drunk as if he had taken Miller up on a drinking challenge–and Lee didn’t feel like dealing with a drunk at the moment. “Just ignore him,” Lee said to Amber when she shot him an annoyed glance for interrupting her.

“Fine,” she harrumphed in answer, and the group continued on to the main desk.

They only had to wait in line for a few minutes before they were noticed by the staff there. “You aren’t supposed to kill other hunters,” the man said as soon as he saw the heads Amber was holding.

Amber looked back at Lee as if checking if it were okay but then just barrelled into her explanation, talking a mile a minute, before he could actually answer. “I know we aren’t, and we didn’t want to. We were hunting a Cragaboom, we had just killed it, and they came to take our bounty. We didn’t know what to do, so we thought we’d report it to you guys. We figured that, if they tried to kill us over claiming the Cragaboom’s head, they might have actually killed others and that, even if there wasn’t a bounty on them, we should notify you of what happened right away.”

The man behind the counter leaned back, and his scowl deepened as he looked at the heads. “You’re trying to tell me that an upstanding Firbolg like him tried to waste his time bothering with the likes of you?” the man, who was a Leprechaun himself, grumbled. “How are we supposed to know you’re telling the truth?”

“You could just investigate it.” Amber’s frustration leaked through in her tone. “I mean, that’s your job, right? Not mine, last time I checked.”

“Amber.” Lee said her name quietly in warning as he placed a hand on her shoulder. He could tell the whole thing was going to escalate quickly at this rate, and he could feel a growing sense of panic gripping his chest. Nope. This isn’t good. Even if we’re in the right, we don’t have the power or authority to act this way, woman!

“Yeah, it is your job, and you shouldn’t doubt a young lady,” Miller said, pushing himself between Amber and the counter. “I was there too, and they tried to take my head. Are you going to tell me that was justified?”

“No, sir, of course not. I would never insinuate that a gentleman like–

“Like what? Go on. Say it, you spineless bastard.” Miller’s rage started to grow, infusing the large room with a sudden tension.

“I would never deign to besmirch your kind.” The once-arrogant Leprechaun was now practically groveling before Miller.

“Look at me,” Miller demanded, reaching across the counter and grabbing the Leprechaun by his leather chest piece. “Look me right in the eyes. If I find out that you pulled any of the sneaky crap that your treacherous, bootlicking kind is known for, I swear to you: I will hunt you down, rip your arms right out of their sockets and drown you in the blood that spills from your still twitching limbs.”

What the hell? Lee stifled a groan and said, “I think what our overzealous compatriot is saying is that we’re not here for trouble.” He pulled both Amber and Miller back a step. “We’d just like to notify you of the issue, collect our money, reserve four rooms for tonight and be on our way.” Lee had a habit of reserving an extra room for Amber, even if she never used it. It was odd and costly, but he wanted to know that she ended up in his bed every night because she wanted to be there and not just because that was the only option she had.

“The money for three Cragaboom bounties is . . . 6 gold pieces.” The man handed Miller the cash and then backed up from the counter as far as he could while still sitting in his chair before adding, “While I’m required to thank you for your service, I feel obligated to let you know that I still have to report this issue to the higher-ups. A male Firbolg with three”–he paused a second–“Humans have killed another esteemed party. It’s required, and they’ll do worse to me than you will if I don’t report it. Now, were there more parties involved? Perhaps a witness to corroborate your story?”

Your party has been awarded 1800 Experience for completing three medium difficulty state quests. Your share is 450 Experience.

Ling and Lee sighed in perfect harmony.

Please don’t take Miller’s threats lightly.  “I’m sorry to say there are none, and we thank you for your time. We’ll be on our way now.”

The Leprechaun looked like he wanted to stop the group–he opened his mouth and held out his hand–but then he ended up not saying anything. Lee used his golems to watch as the clerk signaled to another man in the room.

You should have listened to Miller. Lee sighed again as they walked to the lecture tables. Some days, the nonsense piled up and made him sigh so much that he thought he was either practicing meditation or trying to expand his lung size.

Ethan, keep a watch on what’s going on. I smell trouble.  

The four of them sat at one of the open tables, and Lee mumbled, “It’s too open.”

“Hmm?” Amber asked.

Ling even raised an eyebrow as she looked around. “You’ve never complained about it before. Is something wrong with this particular table?”

“It’s just . . .” Lee glanced to his sides and then to Miller holding the barrels of beer. “I think we need to go to the alley. Now.”

Miller looked at Lee for a moment, confusion written across his simple face. Then, his whole face expanded as if he had been struck by a brilliant epiphany. “It’s because you finally saw reason and don’t want to share our beer with anyone!” Miller said enthusiastically. “That’s great! Great! GREAT, I TELL YOU!”

Easy. You’re not trying to sell cereal. Lee nodded. “Something like that. Let’s just say that I think some uninvited guests are going to try and ruin our good mood if we eat here.” The two golems were efficient in their work, and they had already picked up on the fact that there was a group approaching. He pushed himself back to his feet, urging the others to follow him.  They were clearly curious and concerned, but they did as he suggested and rose with him.

Thanks to the golems’ scouting, he knew exactly where the would-be aggressors were coming from, so he led his own little group in the opposite direction, dodging them at every turn so that they didn’t bump into any of the men that were now being ‘alerted’ to the problem within the Hunter’s Guild.

“Lee, what’s going on?” Ling asked, following closely behind. “I don’t understand why you’re in such a rush.”

Miller shook his head. “Because he wants to drink the beer sooner, of course. Simple concept, woman, simple concept.”

Lee couldn’t help but chuckle at that response as they made their way out of the Hunter’s Guild and into the back alley across the road.

“Should we keep going?” Ling asked as Lee came to a stop.

“No. The main street isn’t visible from here. Only a few houses,” he answered, checking to make sure there were no potential witnesses to what was about to happen. “This place should be perfect.” Their back was against the wall, and he somehow knew that they were going to either have to win this fight or wind up dead. Those men weren’t coming to question Lee and his group, and they weren’t coming to follow up on any investigation: they were coming for vengeance, plain and simple. He could see in the way they stalked around and how they kept a hand on their weapons at all times.  

“Perfect for what? I don’t see a table or chairs. I don’t see anything here that would make drinking perfect,” Ling said, looking around.

“Who says he planned on drinking?” a voice asked in greeting. Lee had already known that they were there because of his connection to Ethan, but now he was finally able to see the four Firbolgs and two Leprechauns with his own eyes. “He didn’t come to drink. He came to die.”

“Yeah, he knew what was coming, the cledor rat,” a feminine voice added. “You people always have a sixth sense for knowing when you’re about to die, don’t you? Just like rodents.”

“Don’t worry about it, Little Ethan. She didn’t mean rodent as an insult,” Lee said aloud to his tiny mouse compatriots and then quietly turned and nearly whispered, “Into the forest, against the mountain” to Ling, only turning his attention back to the menacing group in front of him once he saw Ling acknowledge his statement with a nod.

The Firbolg in front cackled snidely, his laugh bouncing off the walls in the most grating fashion possible, and asked, “Who you talking to, boy? Although you’re right: ‘rodent,’ for your kind, isn’t an insult. It’s an apt description for the type of gutter-trash you are.”

Lee had the pair of Ethans silently slip along either side of the alley, each carrying a thin wire between their teeth as they ran forward. They wrapped the wires around the first fixtures that they could find that was below knee height, gutter pipes ran down the wall from the third floor and into the sewers beneath the street.

Trap set. Lee smiled, not actually realizing it’d go off so smoothly until he noticed that all six of them were staring at him and that not a single one had looked down to see the mice.

“You keep saying ‘trash’ and ‘my kind,’ but I have to ask you a question.” Lee took out his sword and a shield while trying not to appear rushed. He had been so busy trying to orchestrate things that he ended up being the last in his group to arm himself.

“What’s that, boy?” the man asked, revealing the pair of daggers he used for his own weapons.

“Well, I just want to know . . .” Lee spoke slowly, dragging out both his words and his question as he waited for the man to edge closer to the tripwire. “How is it going to feel if you end up getting gutted like a stray cat in some nowhere alleyway by stupid, filthy trash?”

“Oh, boy, stop talking about things that’ll never happen,” the man scoffed, leaning back and letting out another laugh. He was joined by most of his friends, but then a spear flew through the air and pierced straight into his kneecap.

“Ha ha ha!” Miller let out his own boisterous, mocking laugh this time as he pulled another spear out of his inventory. “If you keep talking with such a disrespectful attitude to the leader of our church, I’m going to kill you myself before our Herald has a chance to!” he declared proudly, smiling to himself as he watched the man grab his knee while screaming in pain.

“You son of the town tart!” the man bellowed. “And you people?! What are you doing?! GET THEM!”

Miller threw his second spear before anyone even so much as moved, this one landing directly in the man’s throat and pushing him back into the Leprechaun behind him. “I told you I’d kill you myself if you kept running your mouth, you blasphemous bastard!”

Your party has killed Campbell. Your party has been awarded 19 silver, 40 copper, a low-quality steel helmet and 742 Experience. Your share of this is 4 silver, 85 copper, and 186 Experience.

The others charged forward. The first in the line of attackers snagged his foot on the tripwire, slamming into the ground face first, and Ling planted an arrow straight into his arm. She shot another one at the same arm, and the man dodged to the left to avoid it. Ling followed with yet a third arrow at the same part of his body, and the man strafed even further to the left. When his left shoulder was almost touching the wall, Lee pounced. He used his large shield to slam the man directly into the wall. Having caught him there, Lee used every ounce of strength he had to hold him in place, pinning the man’s chest and arms between himself and the building behind him. Ling immediately followed up Lee’s maneuver by firing off a series of arrows aimed directly at the man’s head, loosing five in the span of only a few seconds. The first tore through his scalp above his ear, shaving off a line of hair and causing him to scream out in pain, but a second shot right into his open mouth and shut him up for good. One last arrow sank into his face below his left eye, and Lee held him there and watched the lifeblood pour out of his skull.

You have killed Paul. Your party has been awarded 19 silver, 61 copper, a full plate iron chest piece and 810 Experience. Your share of this is 4 silver, 90 copper, and 202 Experience.

The moment Lee’s shield had become occupied with holding the would-be pincushion against the wall, the Firbolg that had been behind him a moment ago stepped forward and struck out with a whip. It lashed into Lee’s back and dealt 28 points of damage as the thorny, spiked chain slashed into Lee’s armor. Lee had been expecting to be on the receiving end of an attack. The entire alleyway was far too narrow for multiple people to fight at once, so he knew that he’d be the center of attention the moment he had stepped in front of Miller and the others with his large shield–but he hadn’t expected it to hurt so bad.

“Can’t you just wait your turn to die?!” Lee howled as a second attack struck him again on the back, peeling off another 19 hit points. Thankfully, Lee’s now-dead victim was out of the way, and he was able to lean into the blow and take the hit across his shoulder rather than his back.  If he hadn’t, the blow likely would have done as much if not more than the last hit. He backed up and maneuvered his shield in front of him, turning to face the enemy,

“I can’t get around you, Lee!” Miller complained. “Lee, let me at ‘em. Let me kill that bastard!”

The only way the massive Firbolg was going to get around Lee and his shield in the narrow alley was if at least one of them turned sideways, and that would have left the one who turned vulnerable and unable to dodge any incoming attacks for a couple seconds. Lee likely wouldn’t be able to maneuver around a wounded Miller with his shield to effectively cover him if his friend were critically hurt while shimmying past either, meaning that the spearman would be open to every other attack that came after as well.  

“No, I have him,” Lee replied without ever taking his eyes off of his opponent. He held his shield up in front of him, constantly vigilant and ready to intercept the next blow from the whip.  He also noticed that the man was holding a dagger in his opposite hand and made a mental note that he was going to have to watch out for that as well.

Only a second passed, but then Ethan knocked over a stack of metal trash cans just behind the man. The clinking and clanking as the fell to the ground set off the man’s hair-trigger nerves, and he lashed out with his whip once again. Lee tried to block it with his shield, but he was too slow bringing the clunky shield around in time, and the tail-end of the whip snapped around his sword arm. It didn’t hurt nearly as bad as the blows that had landed on his back, only dealing 4 damage as it wrapped around his bracer, but it left him vulnerable.

The Firbolg yanked back on the entangled whip with all his might, and Lee lost the battle of strength flat out, almost instantly losing his stance as he was pulled forward. He tried to throw his shield out in front of him in order to block any incoming damage, but the man’s left arm snaked around the shield just as Lee came within reach. The dagger he held there stabbed cleanly into Lee’s side.

Damnit! Lee cursed in his head and gritted his teeth. This time the man had landed a vital strike, and 141 hit points had been knocked off in a single blow. The pain of such a massive critical was enough that he knew he would have passed out if his body wasn’t full of what he felt was enough adrenaline to bring a dead horse back to life for a few last kicks.

You have suffered internal organ damage. You will take 3 points of damage every 3 seconds until healed.

A little bit of terror clamped his heart as his eyes saw an 89 floating there with his health bar, and his mind raced and tried to figure out what to do next. The bleeding effect placed a timer on his life. No matter what, the battle had to end in less than four and a half minutes or he was a dead man. To make matters worse, this whip-wielding Firbolg was no joke. Even when Lee had slammed into him with all his weight, the man barely moved. Lee had no idea what to do to handle this.

Lee pushed off with his shield, trying to back away and create some space between them, but he couldn’t budge so much as an inch. The whip was still wrapped around his arm, holding him firmly in place, and the dagger was already on a return trip.

I’m going to die!

Seeing no other alternative, Lee abandoned his attempts at getting to a safer distance. He slammed his shield forward into the man rather than trying to pull away and simultaneously twisted his weight to the side. The maneuver gave him enough room to sidestep around his opponent while turning him around at the same time. The whip-wielder’s back was exposed to Miller, Ling, and Amber, but Lee was likewise exposed to those behind his opponent as well.

Both parties took advantage of the play, each rushing forward, but the duo was closer to Miller than they were to the man’s friends. Lee’s attempts to back away from the man had been fruitless, but they had succeeded in slowly shuffling the man away from his own group one small bit at a time. Miller had been eager to get into the fight, and he didn’t waste time when the opportunity came up.  

You have killed Bjurstrom. Your party has been awarded 18 silver, 42 copper, a steel sword and 922 Experience. Your share of this is 2 silver, 80 copper, and 231 Experience.

Lee was already turning back around before Miller even finished his work. Another sword swing struck him across the back for 31 more damage, leaving him with 57 health left after the bleeding effect ticked off another point. Thankfully, he was able to get his shield up and block the next attack. The impact from the swipe still knocked a single point of damage off his bar, but that wasn’t high enough to bring Lee into the panic zone yet.

A new challenger approaches, Lee thought ruefully, taking a deep breath and studying his opponent. Like Lee, this one was using a sword and a shield. Her shield wasn’t as large–she had opted for a buckler–but its worn appearance, riddled with dents and scratches, let Lee know she had used it before. A lot. Her blue eyes were trained on him as she gave him a wicked-looking grin as if to say, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ while she twirled her sword around in her hand. He wasn’t sure if she was doing that to show her talent with a blade and intimidate him or to invite him into attacking her while her guard was down and her sword wasn’t being held properly, but if the effect was to cause him to freeze, it did, and another point of health ticked off his life bar, leaving him with only 55.

While he was trying to figure out how to defeat her, Ling came in with a suggestion from behind him. “Forest into the mountain?” Ling offered, letting Lee know she had a clear shot to do it. Lee readied himself, signaling by only the slightest nod that he would risk repeating the tactic.

At that moment, an arrow flew past Lee’s right side and struck her buckler. She was able to deflect it safely, but the small movement forced her just a little to the right. The next arrow came whizzing by and forced her back and a little to the right again. Things seemed to be looking like they would go smoothly.

It’s going to work again, Lee thought confidently.

But then the girl took the initiative. She pushed herself away from the wall the moment she came in contact with it, using her momentum and the added force to barrel right into Lee.  He was able to absorb most of the impact on his shield, so it didn’t do much damage, but it was just enough to stop Lee from slamming into her like he had planned. Ling’s last shot, which had been neatly aimed at where the woman was supposed to end up, pierced directly through Lee’s shoulder blade and pulled his health down another 28 points.

Crap. Lee used the last bit of energy he had to push back at the girl with everything he could. She might have been stronger than him, but with only twenty-four seconds of life left now thanks to the bleeding effect, Lee had all the incentive he needed to summon up every bit of strength he could muster. He closed his eyes against his better judgment and pushed forward. He didn’t stop until he heard the clink of her chainmail shirt on the wall behind her, closely followed by the sounds of a very, very short-lived scream. Then he opened his eyes to see she was dead.

Your party has killed Sarah. Your party has been awarded 2711 silver, 1420 copper, a gold wedding band and 790 Experience. Your share of this is a gold wedding band, 6 silver, 78 copper, and 197 Experience.

He immediately looked down the alleyway in expectation of an attack on his unprotected side from the two remaining enemies, but he was greeted by the surprising but ultimately-welcome sight of a massive barrel of beer hurtling through the air toward his assailants. The projectile cask smashed into the two remaining enemies just before they could reach Lee. The weight of the barrel of beer combined with Miller’s throwing strength was enough to crush the first one and send both to the ground in a heap.

“Get down!” Miller shouted.

Lee heard the heavy steps of his friend behind him as the Firbolg took a brief running start. Guessing what was coming next, Lee quickly did as Miller had instructed and dropped to a kneeling position, ducking his head for good measure. The hulking warrior lept over Lee the next moment and landed on top of the stunned attackers with a spear in hand and went to work.

Part of Lee really wanted to watch what was happening, but he knew that he didn’t have much health left. He currently had 9 seconds before he was all bled out.

“The purple water!” Lee shouted. Amber, who hadn’t been able to help at all during the fight, seemed to know exactly what he was talking about. She pulled out the water Lee had imbued with special properties earlier and tossed it to him.

Six seconds left. Lee cringed as he chugged the entire contents of the waterskin. Sure enough, while it didn’t fully heal him, it immediately closed the bleeding wounds and restored roughly 75 hit points, putting him back up to a much more comfortable 81 health. It wasn’t exactly down to the one-second wire, but it sure as hell felt like it to Lee.

Your party has killed Paladino. Your party has been awarded 17 silver, 42 copper, superior-quality leather pants and 850 Experience. Your share of this is 4 silver, 35 copper, and 212 Experience.

Your party has killed Danielle. Your party has been awarded 15 silver, 93 copper, a box of knitting supplies and 844 Experience. Your share of this is a box of knitting supplies, 3 silver, 98 copper, and 211 Experience.

Divinity Power: Life in Death activated.

“I don’t ever want to come that close to dying again,” Lee said aloud, holding the now-closed-up wound on his side.

“How close was it?” Miller asked.

“Six seconds,” Lee answered honestly.

“Well,” Miller said, turning to Ling. “It wouldn’t have been that much if you had just watched where you shot those–”

“Miller, it wasn’t her fault. We got played. Not just her, both of us. I was just as much to blame, so please don’t–”

“But she almost killed you! You were fighting for the righteous cause of justice, delivering swift death to those who would oppress her, and she shot you in the back!” Miller’s anger was palpable. “AND THE BEER!”

And there’s the real source of your frustration. Lee suddenly realized why Miller was lashing out as he looked over and saw that the barrel that had smashed into the two men had broken and was leaking out horribly all over the alleyway.

“Well, then don’t just watch it! SAVE WHAT WE CAN!” Lee ordered, pointing to the beverage.

Miller didn’t even stop to answer as he rushed over to the broken wooden container and began working on it.

Lee turned to Ling and gave her a half-hearted smile as the Firbolg scrambled to come up with a way to store the remaining beer before it all poured out of the cask. He could see in her face that, even without Miller chiding her, she was pretty torn up by what had happened. She just stared at him, lip quivering, and didn’t say a thing for a few minutes.

“He knows you didn’t mean to,” Amber said, putting an arm around Ling’s shoulder. “It’s okay. These things happen. It was a tight space, and you were incredibly helpful. Without you, he might not have made it that long in the fight, so don’t beat yourself up.” Amber poured on one reassuring phrase after the other, but it didn’t seem to have much effect.  

Ling stood there staring dumbfoundedly and glassy-eyed despite Amber’s continued assurances and soothing words, and she looked like she was on the edge of tears. Her trembling lip and erratic breathing certainly made her appear as if she was on the verge of a breakdown, she just stayed there, staring at him, and then turned around. Lee thought for a second that, if there hadn’t been a wall behind her, she would have already darted like a deer breaking the magical spell of the headlights. She might have even tried to run past him, but that side of the alley was now closed by a greedy Firbolg. When she turned her head back, Lee could see that her eyes had started to swell with shiny pools of water as the tears finally welled up.

“Hey, it’s okay. These things happen, and I’m still here,” Lee said comfortingly. “You shouldn’t blame yourself. I consented to the play too.” Lee had nicknamed the formations and strategies they used ‘plays,’ since the closest analogous concept he could think of in the real world was when American football players would shout random words like ‘Blue 42,” and it would have a very specifically-executed formation and plan of attack tied to it.

“I just . . .” Ling bit her lip again, leaving marks as her teeth withdrew. “I don’t know what I should have done . . . what I should do. Do I take the shot and risk hitting you next time? Do I not take the shot because you might die? Do I give you more leeway so that I don’t risk it and just accept that fewer arrows will hit? What should I have done? How do I . . .? What do I do? You have to tell me what to do because I can’t be the one that kills you. You can’t die. You can never die.”

“Woman, shut up and stop whining,” Miller called out from the pool of spilled beer that he was now literally drinking off the ground. He had started skimming his cup across the ground in order to scoop as much of the large puddle as he could before chugging it and trying again. Lee wasn’t sure if he was able to get more than a few drops at a time, but he did seem determined. Without even looking up, he continued to berate Ling. “If he had died, it would have been because Augustus meant for it to happen. Didn’t you read that book of his? Do you think he fears death? Haven’t you been around him at all?”

“I . . . I . . .” Ling hesitated, her eyes darting between Lee and Miller. “I did. I read it.”

“Then you should know that death for him is a step up from this life. If he dies, he’ll just end up hanging out with David, who was far better company than most of the people I remember running into here,” Miller insisted. “But if you don’t believe me and end up killing him by accident, don’t worry, woman. I’ll send you off to be with him myself so your mind will be at ease.”

Lee put his foot down on that right away. “You will not. If something happens to me, you need to kill the slime I was fighting, not the friends I was with.”

“Why not both?” Miller asked, seemingly oblivious to Lee’s point. “It’s not like death is a bad thing.”

“Because I SAID SO!” Lee had had enough of Miller’s arrogance. He often let the Firbolg push him around because their goals aligned. Helping people, running headlong into danger, doing the right thing–Miller was the type of person that Lee didn’t know he had wanted to be before he was kidnapped and dragged to the new world. Even as dumb as he sometimes seemed, there was something to be admired in someone who always did what he thought was right regardless of the consequences. It was the reason Lee rarely fought against Miller’s pushy mannerisms, but this was just one thing he couldn’t tolerate. “You will wait for Augustus himself to decide when her time is up, or when any one of our flock that messes up in a fight’s time is, and that’s final.”

Miller stopped scooping the beer for a moment and looked over at Lee. “If the Herald insists,” he said. His dry tone and odd facial expression as he said it both left Lee confused.

“And as for you”–Lee turned to Ling–“you just need to execute the moves as I say, stop worrying about what could have happened and focus on what actually did happen. Six of them are dead, and two of them were your kills. Thank you,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Thank you. You didn’t almost kill me. You saved my life.”

Too cheesy? Too much? Lee tried to read her reaction. Her lip had stopped quivering the moment Miller had yelled at her, but she hadn’t wiped away the tears, so they were still fighting against gravity and clinging to her eyes as she looked at him.

“You’re . . . You’re welcome,” she mumbled.

“What was that?”

“You’re welcome.”

“That’s better. Now, help me with this.” Lee pointed to the arrow still sticking out of his back. In the heat of the fray and the emotional aftermath, he had forgotten to pull the arrow out of him. It still hurt, and the stinging there and in his side where the dagger had struck him was only getting worse as the adrenaline faded from his system.

“I’ll get it!” Amber volunteered so quickly it made Lee realize his faux pas.

Crap. Did I just ask the girl who is torn up about a friendly fire incident to pull her own arrow out of me? God, I’m so stupid. Lee winced at his mistake.

“You don’t have to tell me. I already knew,” Augustus’s voice chimed in just to make that awkward and overused sitcom burn.

Not you, the actual one. Lee cursed at his kidnapper right as Amber yanked the arrow out of his back. Surprisingly, even on the way out, the arrow did two points of damage and added a bleed.

You are bleeding. You will take 1 points of damage every 10 seconds until healed.

“Crap. That seems to have just re-opened the wound. Anyone got a bandage?” Lee asked. When they shook their heads, he just gave up on the less-draining way out and summoned his spirit. He hadn’t been very successful healing himself in the past, but he also hadn’t needed to worry as much, so he hadn’t practiced. His Divinity Power, Life in Death, had always healed up DOTs or life-threatening issues once he managed to kill the opponent. That’s why it wasn’t a big deal for him to rush a heal when he could just sit down, bandage himself up and heal the old fashion way, but the arrow hadn’t been from an enemy that he could kill. It had been from Ling. In a way, this made friendly fire far more deadly than any neutral or hostile party attacking him. There might even be a time where he would have to choose between staying alive or killing off someone who fought side by side with him, not that Lee ever imagined a scenario where he could actually kill someone he fought side by side with. He’d probably just take the death in that hypothetical case–or at least that’s what he told himself as the thought popped into his head.

Okay, I can do this, Lee told himself, taking a deep breath and circulating the spirit energy throughout his body the same way he did with the other people he had healed. It took a few moments, but it worked. He could feel his flesh mend as it stitched itself up across the wound, his injuries healing up and even the bruises disappearing. After less than two minutes of work, his entire body had been healed, and he still had a third of his spirit left. “Could you hand me a few water bottles?” Lee said to Ling. She didn’t respond verbally but quickly produced all the bottles she had on her and started giving them to Lee.

Lee then took the bottles and started filling them up one at a time with his spirit, turning each one purple. Unlike the first time, he was able to do the whole process in a much more energy-efficient manner and managed to turn seven water bottles completely purple.

Recipe Learned: Mana Water

Effects: Unknown.

For fully mastering a new recipe without the assistance of a recipe book, you have been awarded +1 intelligence. Current Intelligence: 128

Miller finished his alleyway beer-cleaning service and walked back over while watching Lee fill the last bottle with mana. “He sent them after us,” Miller said as Lee looked up at him.

“Yeah, the wretch has a death wish,” Lee replied while nodding.

“Are we doing this now, or do you want to wait until our next trip?” Miller asked, being unusually reasonable.

“Do you think you can sleep well with him still alive?” Lee asked. He wasn’t one to normally encourage a ‘rampage.’ Nevertheless, half of him was hoping Miller would push them in that direction.

“Does Augustus have a way for us to kill him and everyone in the Hunter’s Guild at once?” Miller asked, and Lee could see a quiet fury in Miller’s eyes that hadn’t been there for nearly a week.

“You want to burn the place down? I mean, the building is wood, but I am sure they have measures against it,” Lee responded, looking in the direction of the Hunter’s Guild as he tried to remember the details. “Also, there are too many innocent people in there . . . good people that don’t deserve that.”

Miller nodded. “That’s right. Innocents. Well, what does Augustus suggest?”

Why are you being so calm about this? Shouldn’t you have already rushed in there and started killing? “Well, I don’t know about you, but my guess is that he’s probably going to head home when he gets off work. I don’t think the employees sleep at the same place they work, especially with the cost of rooms there. If you don’t mind being a little sneaky about it, we can snag him then.”

Miller’s neck flexed, and his chin retreated as disgust painted itself across his face. The idea of ‘snagging’ someone in a stealthy and underhanded method clearly didn’t appeal to the Firbolg at all. “Are you sure this is the best idea Augustus could come up with?”

“You could also get him on the way to the bathroom or pay a girl to seduce him into a secluded area,” Amber suggested. “Back when we were . . .” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Back when we were on the mountain, we used to always talk about doing that to our jailers. We used to always say that, if one of the jailers ever got too far out of line, we’d lure him away from the others, kill him off and then bury him before anyone was ever the wiser. I don’t know if it’d work, but I used to run through ways I’d do it in my head a thousand different ways every time I closed my eyes at night.

Lee thought about it for a moment. “That could work too, but it seems much riskier. It would also tip him off to the fact that we’re still alive. We can’t use either of you because then he’d know we were still around, and we can’t hire someone because we don’t know anyone in the town we can trust.”

Amber frowned. “We could just camp near the bathroom and gut him when he goes in though?”

“I’m not sure I want to deal with that crap,” Lee said. “Let’s just stick to the alleyway idea.”

“Isn’t there a plan that doesn’t involve us scurrying around like the rats he thinks you are?” Miller asked. “Doesn’t Augustus have a way for us to kill him honorably without having to fight the whole town?”

“Didn’t we already defeat the enemy in honorable combat?” Lee looked over at the bodies. “This isn’t combat. This is just us tying up a loose end. Compared to our skirmish with those six, this should be like putting the icing on a cake.”

“Putting what on a cake?” Ling asked curiously, finally wiping her eyes dry.

“Icing is . . . You know what? Never mind. I’ll show you next time we’re near a kitchen,” Lee said. How the hell do they live in a world without icing? I thought the lack of bacon was bad enough, but they don’t even have any of the other substitute comfort foods either. What sort of monstrosity of a place is this? Lee couldn’t help but pity the people of this world, and he began to feel like he understood how these people could be so violent and murderous toward strangers.

“You better have some for me too,” Amber said, snuggling up to Lee’s arm as she grabbed one of the purple bottles away from him.

“Fine! I’ll have enough for everyone,” Lee laughed. “But, right now, we need to focus on how we’re taking the bad apple out of the bunch before he spoils our fun.”

Ling grabbed one of the now-purple water bottles that Lee held out for her. “I think your plan is fine,” she said agreeably.

Miller hesitantly took the bottle extended to him as well. “Fine. If it’s what you think is best. But, in the meantime, let’s have some of this divine beer. We’ve already been interrupted enough.”

“Did you manage to save enough of that barrel to hold you for a bit?” Lee asked, pointing to the broken one on the ground.

“Yeah. Through painstaking efforts, I have recovered some of the fallen Brave Brother’s Brew,” Miller answered, puffing out his chest as he produced a now full mug of beer.

“That’s . . . not a bad name. Okay, well then, you drink that. I need to take the other one and go find us more supplies. We’re still incredibly far behind what we need in order to finish restoring Satterfield.” Lee grabbed the still-intact, full barrel of beer from next to Miller. The look of horror on the Firbolg’s face was priceless, and it looked as if he were watching his own beloved firstborn son being taken from the crib right in front of him by an evil monster.

Amber burst out laughing at Miller’s expense. “Relax, Miller! Lee will come back with more, different, and even better beers. Just have some faith in him!” she said between fits of giggles. “I’ll go with him to make sure we get you a good one, big guy, so don’t you worry at all.”

Miller looked like he wanted to say something, and his mouth hung open for a minute, but after a second he closed it and just nodded. “Alright then. I’m going to listen to Augustus and hide here and make sure that weasel doesn’t leave before we notice.”

“Suit yourself. Enjoy the beer. And Ling, you mind making sure he doesn’t get in over his head?” Lee asked.

“If you think that’s best,” Ling said.

Lee liked having Ling around. She’s always a team player, Lee thought to himself, walking out of the alleyway with his barrel of beer and Amber.