Okay, I had a cram session just this morning. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Or at least that’s what I told myself as the wagon train approached the guard checkpoint at the gate to Rogert. From what I was told, the city had a population of about two thousand people inside the walled city, and outlying unwalled villages for farming and suburbia living. There were merchants who made their living just traveling through these suburb areas taking orders and making deliveries. This kind of city set up was apparently the norm for this world, even though there were such things as monsters and beasts running around.
The reason being, that if there was some kind of attack, the villages would evacuate to the walled cities and the mercenaries hired to act as guards for the villages would move to intercept any aggressors if they’re strong enough to do so. Otherwise they acted as a rear guard to protect the fleeing civilians.
The reason this was important to me right now, was because the guards at the large gate in the wall were not a part of the Fulchas military structure. Which meant they would have no reason to know who the hell Colonel Lumpy is!
“Greetings, sir,” said the helmeted and dirty armored guard at the gate with an attempt at a proper salute. Wait, am I supposed to salute him back? Let’s not, I dunno how to do a proper salute. The guard dropped his salute and pulled out a pencil from a clipboard. “May I have your name, unit, and orders for the records?”
Record keeping, huh? Time for my acting skills to come out. Say hello to Mr. Drill Sergeant.
“No, you may not have anything of the like, MAG-GOT!”
Okay, that caught him off guard. Let’s keep this up.
“Our orders are on a need to know basis, and you do NOT need to know!”
“I! I! Yes, sir! But, um-”
“Spit it out, maggot! There’s no prize for chewing on your own tongue!”
“I can’t let you in without identifying yourselves…”
“What’s that, maggot? I can’t hear you! Speak like you got a pair!”
“You need to identify yourselves, sir!”
“This is the 78th platoon, you writhing little grub! Now get your people the hell outta my way before I put my boot up your ass and wear you like a slipper!”
“I will! I just need your name and rank, sir!”
“My name? You want to know my name!?”
I wanna know it, too. I sincerely doubt that asshole I killed was actually named Colonel Lumpy.
“I am the colonel in charge of this unit, maggot! I do not need to name myself to a pathetic piece of shit like you! Stand aside before I cook you like a pig at a Bar-B-Q!”
Oh crap. Do they not have Bar-B-Qs in this world? I think a small part of my soul just died.
“I said, if you don’t get out of my way, maggot, I’ll light you on fire, and feed your cooked carcass to piss drenched hobos! Do I make myself clear!?”
“I! I! I! I!”
“Say ‘I’ again, and I will gouge out your eyeballs, and brain fuck the sockets! Get out of my way, maggot!”
“We-we-we can’t sir! Not until you identify yourself!”
The guard’s voice had started going shrill with fright, but he and the other guards at the gate were still doing their duty to block the way. At this rate it’s looking like I’ll have to fight my way in, and that would be all kinds of bad news for me. Crap, I can’t think of a way to get out of this!
“Colonel Braug, sir,” said a voice behind me. Wait, do I know that voice?
Turning back, I saw, umm, Calico Catgirl. Gina? Right, yeah! Specialist Gina Reese, one of the few names that actually sounded like something you could find back on Earth. She’d moved from her position in the ranks to come here… why?
“Co-Colonel Braug?!” cried the guard, as he stiffened up even more and began shivering.
Oh, snap. Gina was name dropping! Thank God for those who pick up dropped stage cues.
“Thank you,” I said, my sincerity slightly showing through the persona I’d adopted, “Thank you, but no, Specialist! I’d rather tear this maggot’s throat out with my own teeth, if it comes to it!” I turned back to the clipboard guard and kept up my drill sergeant shout. “Yes, my damn name is Braug, and I am the Colonel in charge of this platoon! Now, is that enough for you, or am I gonna have to blow you into tiny pieces and use you as fish bait! Because I could seriously use a nice relaxing day of fishing on a calm and placid lake, you urine soaked piece of shit!”
The guards got out of our way quick enough after that and we entered the city. After getting far enough away from the guard post, I hoarsely whispered, “Thank you” to Gina. God I could use a lozenge. Gina replied with a “You’re welcome,” that seemed like it was desperately trying to hold back some laughter.
“It’s not a lozenge, but it’s good enough,” I said almost to the air as I finished my sip of some honeyed tea. The soldiers were getting the luggage, wagons, and horses squared away while Aase, Daphne, and I were enjoying some refreshments at the cafe near our hotel. For some reason Mercy was here, too, but oh well. Since I’d removed my leather coat and the uniform top, I was getting a refreshing breeze through the short sleeved undershirt as I whiled away the early afternoon with these three ladies.
God, I was looking forward to the hotel room tonight. It was actually clean. And I had a room to myself. Not to knock sharing a bed with Aase, but I hadn’t had enough privacy to have some “alone time” since I landed in this world, uh, Meaorh. As a result, some of my drill sergeant persona’s crankiness wasn’t acting. That, and I was starting to look at the women around me as sexual objects before thinking about them as people, and I didn’t like that. Thinking like some random jock sucked.
I took a long breath, and worked hard to get the image of the legs of the outdoor cafe’s waitress out of my head from when she bent over to place an order on a table. As I opened my eyes again, I said, “Okay, Daphne, explain the coins to me again. Slowly, this time.”
I seriously needed to get a handle on this world’s currency. Apparently The Faith, their church, had gotten a unified monetary system into place where each coin of each denomination was the same weight of metals, and thus, value, through the nations, even though they all had their own nation’s design. It promoted trade, and made travel easier for everyone. That wasn’t the fucking problem.
“Okay, this one is one tenth of a Sul. This one is one third of a Sul. This one is three eighths of a Sul. This one is five sevenths of a Sul.”
“Why in the hell does your world have such a mismatched currency system,” I protested. “You can’t even make a whole dollar out of the last two coins!”
“Yeah, it makes as little sense as the British Pound,” said Aase.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” said Daphne. “That’s just how it’s always been.”
It was just… so damn illogical. It was starting to make my brain hurt with how damn stupid a currency set up it was. “Okay,” I said, “Let’s forget that and move on. That one over there is a Sul, the basic unit of currency. How many of those Sul is a silver coin worth?”
“Each silver coin is worth thirty seven Sul.”
More uneven numbers! I never really took a liking to the metric system, but the evenly rounded units had their uses, by God!
“And each gold coin is worth five silver coins,” continued Daphne.
Huh. That one wasn’t that bad. “So each gold coin is, uh, one fifty… one hundred and eighty five Sul,” I counted in my head. “Okay… but even so, it’s needlessly complicated.”
“It’s enough to make me never want to go shopping again,” complained Aase.
“Aren’t you European, Aase,” I asked. “Don’t they have those wacky fractional based currencies over there?” It was an honest question, I didn’t know.
“Hey, we use the Krone. It’s a proper decimal based currency.”
“Oh, so that means you’re, uh…”
“I’m Norwegian, thank you very much. You said dollar before, does that mean you’re American?”
Aase’s knowledge of world currencies was obviously greater than mine. I affirmed with a, “Yup.”
Aase tilted her head a little and dropped an eyebrow in thought before asking, “Is that why you’re so strange? The fact that you’re American?”
I was quiet for a long moment in consideration before saying, in all sincerity, “I think my problems run deeper than that.” Aase hummed consideringly as I returned to the main point of the conversation in my head while mumbling, “Hotel fees… thirty plus occupants… new clothes… yeah. We’re burning through our funds. There’s a lot remaining in gems, but the coins are going fast. I don’t think we can afford to stay in this town for two nights if we want to be able to make it to a city where we can sell those gemstones for a good rate before our physical currency runs out. And even then, there’s no guarantee those additional funds will hold out long either. We’re going to have to find a way to make money as a group on our way to… God, I don’t even know.”
“We could always go to the Holy Capital,” suggested Mercy. “I’m sure they’d be just as interested in you as I am.”
I think I cringed somewhere, deep inside my heart. I said, “I don’t think I’m quite ready for that level of attention. Besides… I don’t think I know nearly enough about this world to trust any group or organization.”
“In that case, we don’t know enough to even decide where we should go,” said Aase, morosely.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But at the very least, we should try and get out of this nation as soon as possible. That collar on Colonel Lumpy still has me completely paranoid.”
“In that case we should head towards Arsktun,” said Daphne. “It’s the largest city on the border with Fehkaahl, a beastman nation. Their government has been uncooperative with human governments since it’s founding. If we’re running…” Daphne nibbled her lip a little as some emotion welled up in her, I guess, before continuing on. “If we’re running from the military or anyone strong enough to infiltrate it, a beastman nation is probably our best bet.”
“Is it a trade city,” I asked. Daphne nodded her head and I continued, “Then it sounds like we’ve decided our next destination.”
Aase started asking Daphne about Arsktun, it’s trade, shops, and other stuff. My mind wandered as I allowed myself to be alienated from their conversation and I took sweet, sweet refuge inside my own mind, where I could contemplate what kind of idiot had to have been born for soda bottles to get warning labels that said, contents under pressure, may cause eye damage. An unsettled rumbling and massive change in the flow of the crowds milling through the street the outdoor cafe faced grabbed my interest away from soda bottles. Turning to look, I saw someone who definitely stood out.
He was nearly as tall as me, but his form fitting shirt showed nothing but muscle mass. Over that shirt was a long coat of what seemed like pure white snakeskin. In fact, all of his clothing seemed to be made from that material, with different parts dyed a different color, either for fashion or differentiation. I didn’t know, I didn’t care. Because as flashy as his clothes were, he himself was more so. The guy looked like a movie star, that was how handsome he was, with vertically slit eyes as pale as brushed gunmetal and shoulder length hair of a white nearly as pure as Aase’s. And on his back was a large pure white sword, somewhere between a bastard sword and a claymore, that seemed like it was attached by straps and buckles made from snakeskin and ivory.
I was entranced by the guy. It was like something straight from an anime had jumped out of a TV and began to walk the earth. It was more thorough and “true” a sight than any professional cos-player could have ever achieved. It was so alien. It was so powerful. It was looking directly at me. Now it showed a smirk and-
The top and bottom half of the cup of tea I had been drinking shattered on the table as a part of the contents were flash frozen in a horizontal path. How did I know it was a horizontal path? Because there was a slash of icy white across my abdomen at the same height as the tea cup which was on the table. My primal brain told me I’d just been attacked, but not injured. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know why, but I was sure it was the man in white that had done it. I put power into my legs and a combative snarl on my face. I had no weapon except magic, so I lifted my hands into half curled claws, ready to grapple, form a fist, or throw magic at a moment’s notice. I had no idea what I was going to do, or any kind of plan aside from “Defend myself,” the surge of adrenaline in my brain precluded any thought beyond that. I just watched the man in white, and waited for what he would do.
His smirk turned into a good natured smile, and his eyes left mine. He resumed his walk down the street, passed a cowering vendor selling fruit, placed a coin on the wooden railing of the stand, and picked up a piece of produce. Even as the man in white began to leisurely eat his purchase, his stride never broke once. I watched him disappear into the landscape of the city, and my body only relaxed enough for me to flop into my chair once I had confirmed he’d gone.
God. My hands were trembling from the after effects of the adrenaline.
“What was that,” asked Aase carefully. “What just happened?”
Daphne was wiping beads of sweat off her forehead with her napkin as she replied, “It was a Dragon’s Prank.”
“Are you being literal, or figurative, Daphne,” I asked.
“Both,” said Mercy, whose voice was a bit shaky. Seems the event had gotten to her as well. “The Dragon’s Prank is a term born from the fact that dragons, like that man just now, sometimes perform a bit of mischief to entertain themselves.”
“Mischief in their eyes at least,” said Daphne in complaint. “For everyone else, it’s the same as their lives being put on the line.”
“And they’re allowed to do that,” asked Aase in surprise or outrage. Maybe both.
Mercy picked up the explanation again. “Yes. Politically and militarily, every dragon is considered a neutral city state. They don’t have any kind of governing body to regulated each other, and they’re so strong that people don’t want to make enemies of them unless they have to. That’s the second meaning to the term, a Dragon’s Prank. Just suffer their self-amusement, and wait for them to leave. Or else.”
“Okay, that’s fucked up,” I said as I got to my feet once again. “I need to take a walk. Burn off some of this – I don’t even know what. I saw a church or chapel or something down that way, I think I’ll go look at it’s architecture. You wanna come with?”
“After I finish my tea,” said Aase with a strange smile on her face. She may not have been ready to trust her legs yet. Or she didn’t want to risk bumping into the dragon again, since the church was in the same direction the dragon disappeared down. I didn’t push the issue, said my words of departure, and started walking.
I was about halfway to the church when I realized I didn’t have anything to take notes with and started subconsciously kicking myself. It’s always harder to remember layouts and the like without anything to take note with as- a crash and some screaming.
My head instantly turned in the direction the sounds came from, the front door of a shop. There was another crash, and then other sounds of breaking. They weren’t letting up.
As I made a straight line to the shop, a thought flashed through the back of my head, hoping it wasn’t the dragon doing it, because if it was then I was about to get myself killed.
I pushed by some guy in the moving crowds that stepped in my way and through the shop’s front door. Inside was a middle aged guy with blood coming from his nose on the ground, being tended to by a middle aged woman. Aside from them, the only other people in the shop were two jackasses who were the physical definition of wanna be tough guys. Too much attention to the hair and clothes, not enough to their posture or their choice of words.
“This is the kinda stuff that ‘appens when ya don’t keep up with yer security payments!”
Then one of the two doofuses kicked over a shelf full of something, causing the loudest crash yet.
“Hey, chuckle heads,” I unhesitatingly said to the pair. I mean, when you have power, you may as well use it.
As the two looked over my way, I pantomimed a wild west gunslinger and pulled a double quickdraw with my fingers as I said, “Bang.” Each of the doofuses took a solidified air beanbag round to the chest and fell backward. They started struggling to get up right away, so, continuing the gunfighter play, I played like I was fanning the hammer of a revolver in my right hand with the palm of my left, precisely shooting these bozos in the hands, legs, and feet with powered down air bullets. I intended to keep going until they got the point to stay down, but then I felt the impact across my abdomen.
Somehow, for some reason, I’d taken a hit to my gut. Looking down, I saw it was a counter inside the shop. I was supporting my weight upon it? Hadn’t it hit me? My legs buckled under me and I fell to the floor.
What was going on? Why was I on the floor?
The world somehow seemed disjointed. Nothing was making sense.
And there was an ache in my leg. And a hot line on the back of my head.
I touched back there, and a lance of pain shot from the hot part of my head. My hand came back into view with a smear of red on it. Is that my blood?
There was an impact in my side, rolling me over onto my back. Looking up at the ceiling, I tilted my head to get a look at something moving. Wasn’t that the guy who bumped into me just outside the shop? He raised something like a skinny baseball bat, and swung it down. My forehead over my eyebrow shot white hot, and something wet started spreading over the left side of my face.
It was after that that I was finally able to understand that I was being attacked. I lifted my arms to block this guy’s club and absorbed a few impacts with my forearms. I was probably channeling magic into them because it didn’t feel like the bones were going to break, but if the situation kept up I was gonna lose just because the guy was right over me, swinging a weapon. At about the time I resolved to do something, some guy’s boot came from another direction and hit me over the right eye, causing my head to bounce against the hardwood flooring. This opened the way for the club wielding guy to start getting shots in at my chest.
I tried to roll away, get to a point where I could get my legs under me and come up swinging, but there was another pair of boots hitting me when I tried to do that. In an instant I had no idea where to go. I didn’t know what to do. My mind was hazy to put it mildly, and some stray neuron fired the idea that I’d probably been concussed by that first hit from behind. This thought happened at about the time I was being dragged outside the shop by these three goons.
I was pulled into the dirt street. I think I tried to grab onto something at some point, but my fingers probably didn’t have any strength in them, or any dexterity. Which is it when you can’t move how you want to?
The air exploded out of my lungs as a boot came down on me. Then more boots. There was a thudding thunk at some point as the broken end of the club was dropped beside my head. Once again, I was rolling around, trying to find a way out. I was pushing magic power around my body, probably at random, but enough to keep me conscious and at least attempting to move. No matter what, I wasn’t giving up. Then there was the full tread of a boot covering my field of vision, and everything went dark.
Don’t ever think for one moment I won’t kill my characters if I think it’ll be interesting. Plot armor doesn’t exist for me.
I will be having a special Q&A Chapter release at some point. Any questions you want answered in it, ask them here.