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Introduction:

Noah reaches the capital and finds a clue to his existence.
Offkey

‘Ah, peaceful,’ Noah thought to himself as he drifted down the river.

He was riding on a raft made of wood from the village, some trees he cut himself, and various other materials. A pile of pine boughs was keeping him insulated from the water below and a sail made from his traveler blanket sped him beyond the push of the current. Making it had taken most of the morning, but by noon, he had already traveled farther than he would have in a day of walking. He was currently enjoying a brief respite from the attacking monsters. They’d spot him from the river banks while feeding on slain ogres, goblins hurling their spears and wolves splashing along in the shallows to try and get at him. It would have been too much effort to reach their bodies and harvest anything of worth, so if Noah had to kill them with his bow, he just left them where they fell.

By day’s end, he made it back to the channel and set up camp along the bank, hiding in an alcove that could only be reached by the water. He set out early the next day, though without the same speed as before. He no longer had a current to carry him, and while larger ships could harness the western winds to move up and down the channel, his small sail could only push him against the bank, so he was stuck with rowing. An exhausting exercise, it reminded him of the regattas he competed in during his days at Yale so long ago.

It was during his second day of rowing that he finally met some good fortune. A ship was approaching, either coming from or passing by Took, on its way to the capital. Some bronze coins for the captain got him a seat onboard, and from there, it was a straight shot to the coast. Over the next few days, the landscape changed. A great mountain could be seen in the west, the lair of a supposed dragon, but everything south of it had been claimed by Uther. The dense forests gave way to farmland, reducing the monster threat to little more than a rural annoyance. There were more settlements along the channel as the capital expanded each year.

The smell of the ocean grew more powerful with each mile traveled, until, at last, the endless blue expanse was clear to all eyes, and to the right, a city of stone and brick. Colbrand, the capital of Uther. Even from a distance, Noah could see the cathedrals and the mansions of nobles, and in the center, a grand palace. It was a Medieval metropolis with several small rivers and aqueducts providing water. Noah couldn’t deny he was a bit excited. This was the closest he’d ever get to traveling back in time to one of the great cities of the ancient world. Stepping off the ship and feeling the ground under his feet, he didn’t even mind the rank smell of the unwashed masses and roads caked with sewage.

He wandered the streets, soaking in the sights and looking for a place to stay. This was a city rich in commerce, growing fat from the fur, sea, and timber trade, and taking in riches and goods from nearby nations thanks to their position on the coast. Market real estate was priceless, with merchant tents and stands taking every open space. Like Noah, there were adventurers everywhere with plans on entering the academy, all arriving at the same time, and that wasn’t all.

Knight’s Day, more than just the date of enrollment, it was a summer holiday celebrating the achievements of the knighthood and their service to the country in current and past wars. Soon, the city would become the scene of a grand festival, so everyone with the means to travel would be flocking to the city. The streets were packed almost to the point of overflowing, with everyone looking for a bed for the night.

As the sun drifted towards the horizon, Noah was starting to get worried. He hadn’t found any inns with a spare room, and even all the stables had been taken up. He might have to sleep in the streets. He’d prefer to not have to scour the city for a spot where no one had dumped a chamber pot recently. Despite his concern, he didn’t drop his guard and grabbed the wrist of a pickpocket as they tried to reach into his bag. He twisted the street rat’s arm, forcing him to the ground.

“Nice try, you’re lucky I don’t have time to…” Noah trailed off, hearing something that made his heart skip a beat. It was smothered by the noise of the streets, but he was sure he heard it.

♪ “Old pirates, yes, they rob I…” ♪

“No fucking way…” Noah released the thief and took off.

♪ “Sold I to merchant ships…” ♪

Left, right, left, he ran down the streets, following the faint voice and distant strumming.

♪ “Minutes after they took I… from the bottomless pit…” ♪

He arrived, finding a man sitting in the street with a guitar in his hands and an open case in front of him with a few coins tossed in. He was in his late twenties, with long messy hair and a beard, the dirtiest pair of jeans Noah had ever seen, and a torn leather jacket. The neck of his guitar had been broken and poorly repaired, and the lower bout had a large hole busted in it, so none of his cords sounded right. Still, he played.

♪ “But my h-a-a-and was made strong… by the ‘and of the Almighty.” ♪

“We forward in this generation triumphantly,” said Noah.

The man’s hand jerked, producing a whine from his guitar that threatened to break one of the strings. He stared at Noah with wide eyes, his mouth hanging open. “What the fuck did you just say?”

“Never thought I’d hear Bob Marley being played on a street in goddamn Middle Earth.”

The man dropped his guitar and scrambled over to Noah, too excited to even get off his knees. He grabbed Noah’s shirt, sobbing. “Oh God, I thought I was alone! I thought I had lost my mind!” His wailing was drawing looks from everyone around.

“Hey, hey, take it easy.” Noah tried to calm him, but he was hysterical. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink. You and I have a lot to talk about.”

They went to a nearby bar and Noah ordered a pitcher and two mugs for their table in the corner. As soon as his mug was filled, the man emptied it and slammed it back down onto the table with a deep sigh.

“So, who are you?” Noah asked, drinking his beer with substantially less vigor.

“I’m Daniel, you?”

“I’m… Noah. You came from the modern world, same as me, right?”

“Tennessee, 2019, you?”

“Maine, same year. Did you die in the other world?”

“Yeah, I got hit by a truck. Next thing I know, I’m waking up on a beach. That happened a few months ago. You died too?”

“School shooting.”

“Oof.”

“Don’t worry about it. Tell me, has this ever happened to you before? Traveling to different realities after death?”

“Fuck no. I mean, I’ve had some bad trips before, but nothing like this. What about you?”

Noah hesitated, unsure of how to respond. Everything he thought he knew had changed. This man had the transmigration ability without reincarnating, meaning he was only experiencing one of Noah’s problems and offered no help on the other. He didn’t have enough information to safely lay his cards on the table.

“No, I thought this stuff only happened in fantasy novels.”

“Christ, I was hoping you might know what was going on.”

“Look on the bright side. Would you rather have been splattered by that truck?”

Daniel refilled his mug with shaky hands. “I wish I had. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve had the shit kicked out of me since I got here?”

“Tell me everything that’s happened. Maybe something you did after arriving or where it happened will offer us a clue.”

“I woke up with my guitar broken and I was craving pretty bad. I just thought I had been out partying. It wasn’t the weirdest place I’ve woken up. I didn’t even remember the truck until later. I knew something was wrong when I reached the first town. It was like a fucking Renaissance fair, man. Everyone looked at me like a fucking alien. I was out of smack and fucking dying on my feet. Some church took me in once I promised I would devote myself to whatever god they worshipped. That week nearly killed me, I swear to fucking Christ. Sleeping on some straw, shitting and puking my brains out while rats chewed on my feet. I bailed as soon as I could walk.

I decided to come here. I thought I’d have a better chance living in the city rather than out in the boondocks. I’ve been playing in the street to try and get scratch and living outside. My fucking guitar, man, broken to shit. I tried fixing it, but it’s fucked, can’t play anything right. I’ve been mugged so many times, and the soldiers don’t do shit. They beat me up too.”

“What about before the accident? What was your life like? Did you ever encounter some kind of magic or unexplainable phenomenon that might have been the precurs— might have led up to you showing up in this world.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. I’ve been trying to remember, but big parts of my life are really hazy. Before I came here, my life was only a little bit better. I had a shitty apartment and paid rent by playing in bars and dealing heroin, though I ended up using as much as I sold. At least coming here got me clean, though I don’t know if it counts since I still really, really want to shoot up. As for any magic, I’m gonna have to say no.”

“But can you use any magic now?”

“I fucking wish, bro. Then I’d show those soldiers who’s boss.”

Another strike. It seemed Daniel had very little to offer. Still, this guy was his only hint to the nature of his reincarnation, so he couldn’t just let him die in the gutter.

“You haven’t told anyone else about all this, have you? Talked about Earth?”

“A few, and probably more while delirious. Why?”

“If you tell people you’re from another world, a world full of technology, the best-case scenario is that they think you’re lying or just crazy. Worst case? You end up burned at the stake for blasphemy.”

“Yeah, something like that did happen to me once or twice. The locals are crazy.”

“And if you don’t want it to keep happening, do what I do. Lie. Learn to blend in. This is Rome, so do as the Romans.”

“So, wait, is that why you talk with an Uther accent?”

“Ah, you noticed. Does it sound authentic?”

“You hit the ‘ice’ in ‘noticed’ a little weird.”

“Hmmm.”

“Yeah.”

“Well this is what it takes to blend in. Instead of bitching about your old life, get a new one. When are you ever going to get a fresher start than this?”

“This fresh start is more like a fresh shit.”

“That’s because you smell like a sewer. Do you know your way around the city?”

“Yeah, I’d say so.”

“Know of any good bathhouses? I’d kill for some hot water, and you’re a borderline health hazard.”

“Sure, I think I have enough money for that.”

“Relax, it’ll be my treat. Show me where the nobles go.”

The prospect of a bath lit him up like a Christmas tree. “I know just the place!”

They left the bar and Daniel led Noah through the city with his guitar case slung over his shoulder. They arrived at a great stone building near the palace, decorated with statues and sporting a fountain out front. The patrons entering and leaving were nobles and rich businessmen with their wives or concubines, as well as some veteran adventurers and knights. The way they carried themselves and their physiques displayed their battle experience.

They stepped into a wide entry hall which split diverged into the men’s and women’s baths, and between the two corridors, a reception desk manned by a well-dressed butler and maid. They gave Noah and Daniel disapproving looks, not that Noah could blame them. One looked like any beggar pulled off the street, the other just a filthy young adventurer, the two of them little more than a pair of loiterers, hence the disdain in the butler’s words when he spoke.

“Welcome to the Teapot Royale. How might I assist you?”

“Good evening,” said Noah with a nod. “We’re first time patrons and unaware of protocol. What amenities do you have to offer us?” He placed his hand on the table, flashing his ring. There was no seal or coat of arms, but it was gaudy enough to make them re-evaluate their view of Noah.

“We offer baths both public and private, good sir, with your choice of scented herbs and soaps,” the butler said with a humbler tone. “There is also a laundry service, and any possessions left in our care are guaranteed safe, be they weapons or money.”

Behind Noah, Daniel was doing his best not to squeal like a fangirl.

“Is the water in the baths reused or can I order it fresh?”

“We used purified ocean water for each bath, fresh if you’d prefer, or reused for a discount.”

“That won’t be necessary. I’d like two private fresh baths, piping hot, with soap, and we’ll also take advantage of your laundry service.”

“Excellent, sir. For the two of you, that’ll be eight bronze coins.”

Uther’s coin system was metric, making it easy to configure it to dollar values. The trick was determining the strength of the dollar. This was a $40 bath, leaving even Noah irked by the amount. True, in this world, even simple commodities were a tiresome process, but prices like these were surely set to make sure the common folk never got in. Annoying, not unexpected.

“Very well.”

“Excellent, now if I could just get your name.”

“Put us both under ‘Daniel’.”

Soon after, two loud sighs of happiness were released by Noah and Daniel, each sitting in private baths and shrouded by wisps of steam. The baths were made using glazed clay and filled with slightly-brackish water. Was this from the surface of the channel? Or had the water really been desalinated thanks to magic? There was a bit of ash mixed in from the hot rocks that had been used to heat up the bath. Beside each one was a soap dish filled with a cleaning powder.

These baths were just two of many, forming a ring around a cold-water pool, where bathing was required before admittance. Many of the baths were occupied by young men like Noah and elderly nobles, while the pool was used as a scene to discuss business, politics, or simply talk as friends.

“This might be the greatest moment of my life since coming here,” said Daniel.

“I’ve certainly missed this,” Noah replied with a washcloth over his eyes.

“Thank you so much for this, I don’t know if I can ever repay you back.”

“Let’s just say you owe me one and leave it at that for now.”

“How’d you get all that money to throw around?”

“I appeared in the northern territories and decided to become an adventurer. It’s been very lucrative.”

“You really been fighting monsters and shit?”

“Yeah, I also did some protection work.”

“Fuckin’ badass. The only monster I ever fought was some kind of angry rabbit. Damn thing tried to tear my throat out. Where’s the holy hand grenade when I need it?”

“Yeah, I’ve faced plenty of those, little long-eared honey badgers.”

“I kinda thought I had ended up in a video game when I first got here, like I was back in Clock Town after meeting Skull Kid.”

“I know, right? I was half-expecting to get experience points when I killed my first monster.”

“‘It’s dangerous to go alone, take this.’ Where the hell was that guy when I needed him?”

“I will say, though, those health potions have been a lifesaver. It’s hard not to just drink them like Red Bulls.”

“No kidding. By the way, why did you come to the capital?”

“I’m enrolling in the knight academy.”

“Magic school, sweet! You’re living every teen book nerd’s fantasy.”

“I am looking forward to it. I want to see how many clichés end up being real.”

“I bet you a pitcher that one of your classmates ends up being secret royalty.”

“Don’t jinx me, I want see if I can figure them out for myself. Do you know anything about the school?”

“Only that you and, like, five hundred others are trying to get in. A lot of them are total dicks about it, especially the noble kids. I could throw an apple core into a crowd and end up hitting some princeling or something right as he’s bragging, and I say that because it’s already happened. That was one of many events resulting in me getting my dick kicked in. Probably about… half of the people in here under 20 are enrolling.”

“Tell me about the city. I need all the information I can get.”

“Well there is no sewage or electricity, which sucks ass. They have those stone bridges that deliver water. What are they called?”

“Aqueducts, yeah, I saw a few of them when I came down the channel.”

“There are fountains, but they’re a far cry from a regular sink.”

“I mean socially. What should I be aware of?”

“Well from what I’ve picked up, minus bums like me, everyone in this city works for someone else. Every business is under the thumb of some noble. The only exceptions are businesses that have joined into merchant guilds, or whatever they’re called. They’re sort of like unions, I guess.”

“Do things ever get violent? You know, “protection money” rackets or that sort of thing?”

“Not from what I’ve seen. I mean, unless you have some kind of backer, it’s hard to open anything larger than a food stand. Tent on the street corner? You’re good, you’re protected by the guilds. Solid walls and actual property? You’re gonna have to kiss someone’s ring.”

“What about the palace? What role do they play?”

“They seem pretty hands-off when it comes to business. When it comes to the military, they dominate everything, and they tax the hell out of stuff coming in through the ports.”

It didn’t surprise Noah, considering what he had heard about the knighthood. The only way the royal family could control all military might was if they gave the nobles free rein over all enterprise as compensation. However, there was no telling how long this system could last. One side would eventually go too far and the other would have to retaliate to put them back in order.

Noah and Daniel enjoyed the hot water as long as they could and scrubbed until their baths looked like cups of coffee. They left the bathhouse with freshly cleaned clothes and raised spirits, but night was almost upon them.

“Now to get some grub. Any places you can recommend?”

“I know a guy with a tent, makes a decent pot of stew and sells it cheap. Nice guy, real mush-mouth.”

“Lead the way.”

The bathhouse was situated in the more affluent section of the city, so they had to walk a bit to find this fabled street chef. When they arrived, they found a line of several other homeless people, including some adventurers, leading to a tent where a large man was filling up bowls of stew.

“I’ll get in line, try playing something while we wait, maybe you can make some money. Besides, until I can find some magic way to a way to charge my phone, you’re my only source of real music.”

“Now that, I can definitely do.”

Noah got in line with the other hungry customers and waited to the sound of an out-of-tune rendition of Roundabout. No matter his skill, the broken neck of his guitar was screwing with the tension of the strings, so he repelled passersby rather than entertained them. As for the street chef, Daniel was right, and standing in line, Noah could barely understand what he was saying. Whether it was an accent or speech impediment, he couldn’t tell, but the man spoke mostly in vowels. Noah had to use his clone to save his space in line so he could move to the front and see how much other people were paying.

“Oh screw it.”

While invisible, he slipped into the tent and stole two bowls, made from the shells of horseshoe crabs, and filled them up when the man wasn’t looking. He rejoined his clone and made his way back, only to come to a sudden stop. Something was happening while Daniel was playing. In his invisible state, Noah could see Daniel’s mana, and it was reacting to his guitar. It would zip back and forth along the strings like a Jacob’s ladder and spark off his fingers. It was close, so close to manifesting as magic.

‘So that’s why he thought he couldn’t use magic. But why would his guitar be the medium?’

Then, as he got closer, he noticed something happening to his own magic. There were ripples, shimmers moving through his clone, like it was a reflection in the water and something had landed with a splash. He could feel it, his mana reacting. Before Daniel could notice, he deactivated his spells and they both sat at the edge of the street with their bowls. They didn’t have spoons or forks, but it didn’t seem like anyone who bought the stew did. The two ate greedily, and it was well worth the walk.

‘I supposed I should pay for this after all.’ “Tomorrow, let’s see about getting your guitar fixed.”

Daniel turned to him, a strange look on his face, like the entire world had just gone silent. “You’d do that for me?” He spoke as if Noah was offering to donate a kidney.

“You really love that thing, don’t you?”

Daniel sat back, staring up at the sky. “Playing is the only thing I don’t suck at. Aside from drugs, it’s the only thing that lets me drown out the world. For as long as I can remember, living has only meant pain, and music helped me forget that. I flunked out of school but I’m a master of the craft. Besides, this guitar is all I have left in the world.” Silence drifted between them. “Oh, hey, you want something to smoke?”

“Should I say yes to that?” Noah countered. Daniel reached into one of his inner coat pockets and pulled out a crinkled zip lock bag full of herbs. “You can’t seriously have pot.”

“God, I fucking wish I did. I’d say it’s more like weak opium from across the sea. All I know is it helps take the edge off a bit when I get cravings.”

Noah chuckled. “That’s like quitting cigarettes by smoking nicotine gum.”

“No, it’s more like… wow, shit, you’re right. That just goes to show you how crazy this world is. We got dragons, magic, and this shit right here.” Daniel revealed a wooden pipe and a BIC lighter. “Better than nothing I suppose.” He filled up his pipe, took a hit, and handed it to Noah.

“So that’s what I see everyone smoking. I haven’t taken the time to try it for myself.” Noah breathed in and savored the smoke, analyzing it before releasing a cloud. “Passable, but ‘meh’. Hopefully, in a few hundred years, they’ll have done enough ***********ive breeding to produce something decent. What do they call it?”

“Gonlief. I’ve been toying with the idea of growing and selling it myself, you know, from the comfort of the rain barrel I sleep in.”

“Forget the rain barrel. Let’s look for a brothel, I’ll just pay for the full night and that’ll keep us off the streets.”

“And just like that, you are officially the greatest friend I’ve ever had. I’d follow you through Hell back.”

“Well first we need to find a place that has some open beds.”

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about one place, if you’re interested. I’ve wanted to go there since I arrived.”

“Sounds like fun.”

With the loss of the sun, Colbrand was morphing into its nightlife stage, where music filled the streets and lanterns and torches were used to keep the darkness away from everyone’s minds. The taverns were at their peak of business, with drunks staggering out as quickly as sober customers streamed in.

“Awful lot of flutes and drums playing,” said Noah.

“I know, right? The only strings I ever see on are harps, and you can’t even play Smoke on the Water.”

“You’d think someone would have invented the lute by now.”

They arrived at the ‘Knight’s Sheath’, and just from the exterior architecture, Noah knew it was unique. Most brothels he had seen in this world didn’t look any different from regular taverns and inns, just a drab wooden box with some windows, but a lot of care and effort had been put into the construction, giving it more a Victorian manor look. Not only that, it was considerably large with several floors, like a noble’s mansion.

They entered an expansive parlor, surprisingly well-lit and full of activity. At the far end of the room was a stage where a woman was playing a harp and singing in another language, and to the side, a bar adorned with countless bottles of varying shapes and colors. The center of the room was full of men drinking and gambling while the working girls handed out drinks. It was certainly a cut above any other establishment Noah had seen. Prostitutes would normally wear a dress with maybe some exposed cleavage and were easiest identified by how they acted around men. Here, every outfit was theatrically sultry and alluring with a burlesque theme.

“It’s like King Arthur’s Playboy mansion!” Daniel said with giddy excitement.

“In more than one way, look.” Noah was watching the girls, noticing that most of them had beastmen traits, such as animal ears, tails, eyes, and even feathers. “Are all of these girls slaves from the north?”

“We have no slave girls here.”

The voice came from directly above the two men. They looked up to see a shelf above the door, where a black cat sat like a sphynx, its eyes focused on them.

“Did that cat just talk?” Daniel asked in shock.

“At this point, I’d be disappointed if it didn’t,” Noah said. He looked back up at the cat. “Are you the madam in charge of this place?”

If a cat could smile, this one appeared to try, and its tail began to swish. “I am, good instincts. Madam Cyrilo, at your service.”

“I’m Jake and this is Daniel.”

“Welcome, good sirs. As I said before, there are no slave girls here. Their dead eyes and depressing auras tend to repel normal customers and attract sadistic ones. We only employ proper courtesans, women who take pride and pleasure in their work.”

“But then why do all these girls—”

“For fetishists,” said Noah, cutting Daniel off. “Right?”

“Correct again. I taught these girls shamanism myself, at least, those with an affinity for it. Beastmen slaves are becoming all too common and every noble wants one as a pet. This is how we keep the customers coming in.”

“Fucking furries, man. They’re even in this world.”

“You two are cute. Have some drinks and enjoy yourselves.”

Noah and Daniel went to the bar and the bartender poured them a pair of glasses of fine liquor. He looked like he was ex-military, or perhaps a former adventurer, due to the way he carried himself, looking like both a butler and a bouncer. When we stepped out of hearing range, Daniel turned to Noah.

“Jake?”

“Do me a favor, call me that when there are other people around. I try to avoid giving my real name when I don’t need to.”

“Isn’t that a bit paranoid?”

“Not if it’s easy. It’s only paranoia when effort is put in.”

Daniel looked around. “That truck really must have killed me, because I’ve finally arrived in heaven.”

“Yeah, I’m glad you talked me into it. This place is sweet.”

A brunette beauty leaned against the counter, sporting a pair of rabbit ears, a tail, and the stockings and corset to match. “It can get even sweeter. Hi, I’m Bella.” Her lips had a lascivious curl and she gazed at Noah with honest lust. “Young and handsome, my favorite. Do you want to hop down the bunny trail?”

“That was fast, excellent customer service. But that depends, I need a woman who can entertain me all night. Do you have the stamina for that?”

She giggled. “It’s so cute when you boys try to impress and act all tough. It makes me want to eat you up. You’ll be wiped out after five minutes with me, I guarantee it.”

Noah turned to the bartender. “I’d like a bottle of wine to go.” Noah finished his drink and then handed Daniel some silver coins. “Don’t spend it all, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Daniel raised his glass in admiration, looking like he was about to shed manly tears. “Goodnight, you prince of Maine! You king of New England!”

Noah held a bottle of wine in one hand and Bella’s soft fingers in the other, following her up the stairs to her bedroom. Some candles were lit, revealing a bed that smelled of perfume.

“Make yourself comfortable, I’ll change out of this silly thing and then we can properly enjoy ourselves.” She ducked behind a folding screen and Noah gave a quick scan of the room. He’d normally do a full search for hidden enemies, but the most obvious threat was already before him. He removed his clothes and got in the bed with the blanket covering his lower half. The bottle of wine obscured his vision as he took a deep drink, and when lowered it, Bella entered his view, wearing nothing but lace stockings and a garter belt. “You got a carrot for me to nibble on?”

“While I appreciate your enthusiasm, the puns aren’t working as well as you might think. Come on, let me see what you can do.”

She smirked and strode over to the bed. Her steps were well-practiced, the pendulous swinging of her hips showing off her figure and causing her pert breasts to jiggle. She climbed onto the bed, crawling over to Noah and lowering her head to his waist. She nuzzled against his covered member like a cat against a table corner. She was good, using the feel of her chin and cheekbones to build him up and turn the blanket into a tent.

She pulled the blanket away and Noah felt the warmth of her hands as her fingers coiled around him. “Oh, nice. Very nice.” She spat onto her palms and began stroking him, getting it slick. She settled on his lap, but instead of letting him penetrate her, she rubbed her slit against his shaft. She was scooching her hips back and forth, grinding harder and harder while her hands continued stroking and caressing him. The feel of his shaft against her clit, it was making her hum and coo in bliss.

Noah came quickly, dropping a batch on his stomach. “Impressive technique, well done.”

“The way you spoke, I was expecting you to last longer. I can’t deny my disappointment.”

“Well as you can see from the amount, it’s been a while. That was the easy one.” Noah took another drink of wine. “I’m nowhere near done yet, and you have plenty of work to do. For starters, I see a mess you need to clean up.”

“As you wish.”

She once more lowered her head and licked the semen off his stomach, not letting any of it go to waste. His half-mast member then vanished into her mouth and she once more displayed her skill. The forming and breaking suction, the slurping of saliva, her hums of exertion, they were such soft sounds yet so clear, like the chiming of bells. She drenched his cock and then sucked it clean over and over while her hands worked the shaft and massaged his balls.

With her head so close, Noah decided to indulge his curiosity. He stroked her long rabbit ears, immersing his fingers in the soft fur. Bella shivered when he touched them, but didn’t say anything. She was probably used to guys grabbing at them and simply resumed her work. He was gentle, and the longer he stroked her ears, the more he displayed his skill, and the more her own skill devolved. Sensation was turning into distraction, and when he began rolling the tips of her ears between his fingers, she had to pull away.

“That didn’t hurt, did it?”

“No…” she said with unsteady breath, flushed cheeks, and dilated pupils. “Not at all.” She drank some wine to steady her nerves, then regained her coy smile. “I think we should move on to the main event.” She got back on his lap and showed him her rabbit tail. “Keep your eye on the fluff ball.”

She guided him into her, her pussy greedily accepting his girth, and from there, the show began. Leaning forward, she began gyrating and bucking her hips in a way that Noah wasn’t sure he had seen or felt before. Her ass was shaking like a paint-mixer getting tossed around inside a giant dryer. His breathing was rough as he struggled not to blow a second time. The sensation of her interior, the softness, the warmth, the slick honey of her arousal, all spinning like a tornado—it was nearly overwhelming. While she worked, Noah couldn’t take his eyes from her tail, like the lure of an anglerfish. The way it zipped in all directions, defining the intensity of her movements, it was nothing short of hypnotic.

A technique like this uses up a lot of energy, and after a couple minutes he could see her tiring. She didn’t even allow herself to moan because she was too preoccupied with trying to get the moves right. “Damn, I am in awe. But now I think it’s time I showed you what I can do.”

She was intrigued, then, in a flash, she was on all fours and he was attacking her from behind. That first thrust, it drove into her and Noah performed his own tornado-like assault. Her voice escaped before she could catch it, a moan of intoxication passing her lips as her eyes rolled back. She tried to maintain her posture, but her arms soon gave out. Noah’s hold on her waist was firm and his thrusts were deep and rapid. He matched his rhythm with his pulse and controlled his breathing, utilizing both speed and steady pacing to fuck her like a machine. Just like before, he kept his eyes on her tail, studying how it moved to determine his strokes. He was closing in on that perfect rhythm, and before he could reach it, Bella cried out in euphoria.

Noah continued for several more minutes, every slam sending ripples through her body. With each climax, her muscles would lose more and more tension, Bella feeling like she would melt into a puddle. Her body finally went limp and she lay flat on the bed. Noah remained on top of her thrusting from a diagonal angle. He gripped her left ass cheek like it was bread dough and used it as a handle. Rather than thrusting, he was pushing her down, deeper into the mattress, and then pulling her back. It usually worked better with a spring mattress, but Bella was moaning like a banshee, all of her confidence gone as pleasure drained her strength.

Noah eventually climaxed, his one vs Bella’s half-dozen. He pulled out of her with his seed dribbling from her pussy. He sat back and quenched his thirst with some wine, then passed the bottle to Bella when she extended a limp hand, too tired to speak. Noah let her catch her breath while he waited for his erection to return, then he flipped her onto her back.

“Ready to go again?”

“You’re really making me work for this.”

“Like I said, I’m paying for the full night.”

He was once more on top of her, his cock plunging back inside her womanhood while he sucked on her breasts. The moans resumed, Bella whimpering in bliss as Noah pulled on her nipples with his lips and massaged her flesh with the forceful probing of his tongue. Her voice, her expression, they were not befitting a seasoned courtesan, rather reminiscent of a deflowered maiden. Noah’s hands, when not supporting him, were busy stimulating her ears. He’d pinch the tips, rub the edges between his fingers, and work his thumbs around the canals, and just the tone of her voice made it worth the effort.

As he plunged into her over and over, Noah slowly raised himself up, along with Bella’s lower body. Eventually, she was curled up with her butt in the air, having the perfect view of Noah’s cock rampaging between her legs. She was only silent when their lips were joined, a deep tongue kiss born from the two of them drunk with wine and lust. It went on like that for hours, Noah ravaging Bella to the sound of her orgasmic moans. She abandoned her façade of control and maturity, simply giving in and letting Noah subject her to whatever position or move he desired. It was no longer about money. As long as the pleasure continued, there was nothing she would say no to.

It was when the streets finally went dark that Noah gave in to his fatigue and pulled out of Bella for the last time. He sat against the back of the bed while she laid sprawled like a cat by a woodstove. Their naked bodies were plastered with each other’s fluids, same with the bed. She slowly crawled over to him like a zombie, a glazed-over look in her eyes. She kissed the head of his penis and then moved up, licking the sweat off his chest.

“More,” she whispered. Despite her desperate plea, she was so exhausted that Noah toyed with the possibility that she was sleepwalking.

“That’s enough for tonight, you did a good job. We’ll keep going tomorrow.”

She didn’t respond, simply closed her eyes and fell into a slumber that only time could undo.

----------

“Fucking roosters,” Noah muttered as the infernal birds cried out for the umpteenth time.

He could have ignored the sun shining through the window and casting its light straight into his eyes, but the morning cries felt like nails on a chalkboard right next to his ear. He felt sick to his stomach with a raging headache. It seemed he had yet to find a reality without the agony of hangovers. Bella was still lying on top of him, not even an inch out of position from when she passed out. He lifted and dropped her hand and she didn’t stir or react, so he simply pushed her off him. She rolled onto her back and released a loud, unladylike snore.

Noah sat up in bed and retrieved the wine bottle. There was just enough left to quench his thirst and give him the strength to get to his feet. In the corner was a washbasin and pitcher of water, and while he was tempted to simply drink it like a racehorse, he was deathly in need of a scrub. He reeked of Bella. He gave himself a thorough sponge bath and then got dressed and gathered his things. She was still out cold, so he left some money on the nightstand before leaving.

Down in the bar, the only men to be found were either employees or other patrons nursing hangovers. This wasn’t a place where breakfast was served, but Noah was aching for a hot cup of the tea he was smelling. He took a seat at the bar and ordered a mug from the steaming pot. He nursed it slowly while trying to remember the best foods for hangovers. Once Daniel came down, they could go out and scrounge for breakfast. Where the hell was he anyway? By the time he finished his tea, the throbbing in Noah’s head and the rumbling in his stomach had dissolved his patience.

“Excuse me,” he said to the bartender, “you wouldn’t happen to know which girl my friend ended up with, would you?”

“Madam Cyrilo. She doesn’t usually take on new clients, but they spoke over drinks and then went upstairs. Her room is on the top floor.”

“Thanks.”

Noah went back up the stairs, past several floors of bedrooms to the master suite, where Cyrilo’s name was above the door. He knocked on her door. “Daniel? Madam? Are you two in there?”

“You can come in, lad. Your friend might need some help getting downstairs.”

Noah opened the door and flinched. A king-sized bed took up much of the room, with Daniel half asleep on one side, and on the other, an old woman sitting up. She looked to be in her 70s, and to Noah’s horror, she had yet to get dressed.

“Well, you certainly gave Bella a run for her money. I’ve never heard her make sounds like that.”

“Well… I do have a reputation to uphold, Madam.”

“Maybe you and I could have some fun tonight, or at least you could give Daniel here some pointers. He was very grateful, but after hearing Bella all night, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.”

Nearby, Daniel finally woke up. From the groans of pain he was making, he appeared even more hungover than Noah, yet when he opened his eyes and saw what could only be compared to a blowup doll filled with cottage cheese and left in the sun for two days, he went silent. Well, mostly silent. He was gasping like a fish, every breath filled with horror with his eyes as wide as dinner plates. Noah hurriedly retrieved a robe from a nearby hanger and handed it to Cyrilo.

“I appreciate it, lad, but no thank you.” She then stared at Noah with a peculiar smirk. “A young man who can calmly make eye contact in this situation must either have the manners of a seasoned butler, or has seen unspeakable horrors.”

“It’s a little of Column A, a little of Column B, Madam.”

“You must have an interesting reputation indeed. Well, boys, I hope you enjoyed your stay, and I hope to see you again soon.” Daniel looked like he was still having a stroke, but Noah was able to appreciate the sight as Cyrilo began to transform, her body shrinking while fur covered her pasty skin. In seconds, she morphed into the cat they first met. “I find being a cat is much easier than being an old woman.”

She then left the room with soft little footfalls, and once she was gone, Noah turned to Daniel. “You all right?”

In response, Daniel began crying like a baby and wringing the blankets. “Forever unclean!”

----------

It was an unusual sight for those walking the streets, Noah all but dragging the inconsolable Daniel from food stand to food stand. Noah was eating everything that would help cure his hangover, as well as shoving food down Daniel’s throat to stop his blubbering.

“Seriously, how much did you have to drink last night?”

“I don’t know, they just kept pouring drinks and I couldn’t stop myself! I’ve woken up with regrets before, but… argh! I feel so filthy! Forever unclean!”

“Quit saying that, it’s no longer funny. Look, let’s just get your guitar fixed. That’ll take your mind off things.”

As they walked through town, they asked if anyone knew any skilled woodworkers, specifically anyone who constructed harps and other instruments. The neck of Daniel’s guitar couldn’t simply be nailed back together. It had to be repaired by someone who understood the importance of string tension. In actuality, Noah wasn’t surprised when they finally heard those four words.

“I can’t fix this.”

He and Daniel were standing in the shop of Colbrand’s best harp-maker, and the old man was looking over Daniel’s guitar with a mix of curiosity from its design and disdain for its condition. His scarred hands testified to his experience as a craftsman.

“This wood has been ravaged by the sun and moisture. It’s starting to splinter all over. I’d do more damage just trying to fix it.”

Hearing the news, Daniel began to pace back and forth on shaky steps, taking deep breaths to try and calm himself. “I knew it, I fucking knew it.” He punched a wall in his anger, then cried out in pain from his split knuckles.

“Daniel, go wait outside. Get some fresh air.”

“I’m fine!”

“No, you’re bothering me. Get the hell out.”

When Daniel finally left, Noah turned back to the craftsman. “Can you make a new one, using this as a reference?”

“An experimental work like this would be costly, and I’ve got my hands full with projects for the festival.”

“I don’t mean totally from scratch. Just make the surface with the neck and scrap the original one for parts. These two here, they’re called the saddle and the tuning machines. If you can attach them, it’ll save you a lot of work. Also add this piece here, the pic guard. These metal frets, you can transfer over as well. The strap can also be saved.”

“You said you just wanted the surface, but this thing is built like a drum.”

“I have something in mind for that.”

Noah reached into his backpack and removed a large carapace from a dungeon crab parasite, one of the few he hadn’t sold before leaving Clive. His idea of turning it into a shield was tossed aside, having found a more interesting use for it.

“While I can’t show you an example, I’ve seen plenty of these instruments made using turtle shells, so the principle will be the same.”

The man examined both the guitar and the carapace, and Noah could see the work taking shape in his mind. It reminded Noah of the blacksmith from Clive, when he sold him the knight armor. It wasn’t a matter of money, he was now curious.

“Very well, I’ll do it. But like I said, I have a lot of other projects going on and this is experimental work. If want this done with any sort of speed, I can’t work for anything less than five silver.”

“That’s fine, money is no concern. Now, there is one more thing, about the materials. Is there any wood you know of that is good at conducting mana and magic?”

“Hmmm, well if I’m carving it as one piece, it’ll have to be sverna wood. It’s a tree that grows on the mountains of the dwarf homeland. It enhances one’s warrior magic if made into a shield. Just that piece will cost you another silver coin.”

“That’s fine. When can you have it done by?”

“Give me three days.”

“Deal.”

Noah left the guitar and shell piece with the craftsman and went back outside, where Daniel was sitting on the ground with a despondent look on his face. “I’ve hired him to make you a new one. It’ll be ready in three days.”

Daniel scrambled to his feet, as excited as a kid on his birthday. “Are you kidding me?”

“It’s true.”

His joy then plateaued. “Why are you doing all this for me?”

“There are several reasons. Which do you want to hear?”

“The most selfish one.”

Noah exhaled through his nose and looked off into space for a moment. “It’s an investment. Think of this as not loaning you money, but buying shares. From now on, I get a cut of all the money you make with that guitar. Besides, introducing modern music to this society is too interesting to pass up, and you could become something like a one-man Beatles, at least, if you’re as good as you say you are.”

“Ok, now what about the nicest one?”

Noah sighed in annoyance. “This isn’t how I usually do things, but I’m going to be honest. You’re a loser, I knew that the moment I saw you. You’ve made it awfully clear that your life in the old world sucked, and most of your suffering is probably self-inflicted.”

“This really isn’t that nice.”

“Think of it as tough love. If you keep trying to live that life here, you aren’t going to live much longer. If we had met under different circumstances, I would have written you off as a lost cause. Here, you have a clean slate in a new world and I suggest you use it wisely. People can change. It’s rarely easy, but it can be done. That guitar may be your key to a better life.”

Silence followed.

“Thanks,” Daniel finally said. One word, it was humble, grateful.

“That’s as far as my charity goes, so I suggest you get a day job. As for me, I’m off to do some sightseeing. I’ll be sticking to the Knight’s Sheath for the next few days. Later.”

With Noah gone, Daniel returned to the brothel in a hurry. He had to move fast, before his motivation decayed into apathy. It was midmorning and the place had reached a steady level of activity. There was rarely a shortage of people looking to get laid, especially now when the city was overflowing with young, virile adventurers.

“Oh, you again,” said the bartender.

“Yeah, hi, I’m looking for Madam Cyrilo.” Truth be told, she was the last person he wanted to see, and he had yet to fully recover from the shock of when he woke up, but at the moment, she was probably his best shot.

“Already? I suppose you aren’t the first customer to mistake love for lust. She must have really had an impression on you.”

“No, it’s not like that. I wanted to ask her if I could get a job here.”

“You? No offense, but our female clientele, the few we have, have a bit higher standard on what they’re willing to spend their money on.”

“No! I mean doing odd jobs and that kind of stuff. I’ll mop floors, do laundry, even scrape dry baby gravy off the ceiling if I have to.”

“You’re coming to a whorehouse to do grunt work?”

“I am the gruntiest grunt to ever dig a ditch!”

“All right, I’ll let her know you’re here. She’s in the back room right now.”

He disappeared through a door at the end of the bar, and several moments later, he reappeared with Madam Cyrilo, sitting on his shoulder like a parrot in her feline form.

“Ah, hello again. Lucius says you want a job?”

“Yes, I’m willing to do whatever task you need. All I need is enough money for food and a dry corner to sleep in. Please!”

“Well, I suppose we could always use an extra set of hands for heavy lifting jobs, and there is always cleaning to be done. Very well, you’re hired.”

“Thank you, ma’am! Also, there is one more thing.”

“Yes?”

“I’m currently having an instrument made and it should be ready in three days. When it’s done, I hope you’ll give me a chance to play on that stage.”

“That stage is for the girls to woo customers. Some men really go for a woman who can sing. I’ll be honest, I don’t think they’d be interested in you.”

“I don’t mean like that! Just… just let me play my music on that stage and I guarantee you more customers. I’m offering them something they won’t find anywhere else in the world.”

“All right. I’ll give you a shot. If you work hard for the next three days, I’ll let you go up there.”

“Thank you so much!”

“You can thank me after you mop this floor.”

----------

Noah wandered through Colbrand, forming his mental map of assets, dangers, and escape routes. Compared to the small towns he had passed through, he had a lot of ground to cover, but now he found himself with ample free time and a longing for entertainment. If he could not find something to satisfy him, the search itself would help fill the vacuum. Learning, it was how he stayed in the moment, using the flow of information to hold onto his sense of time. Besides, his survival depended on his knowledge of the area.

This city was quite wealthy, able to afford paved streets and buildings made of brick and mortar, and there was always an armored soldier in view. ‘This level of policing could be a problem for me in the future. Hopefully, it’ll blow over after the festival.’

Those thoughts were pushed aside when his eyes fell on the steeple. A few streets over was a cathedral dedicated to the six elemental gods, dwarfing the puny little wooden chapels he had encountered thus far. He wasn’t normally interested in architecture, but a cathedral built in this age was a bit enticing. He trekked through the crowded roads and reached the church, circling it while studying the exterior. It was built to last and the stained-glass was worthy of praise.

He passed through the great double doors and was immediately disappointed. He didn’t know what he had wanted to feel, maybe a wave of mana or a whoosh of air, just something to tell him this place wasn’t merely another monument to mythology. If the gods or their influence was present here, they existed beyond his senses. He continued on, looking upon two rows of pews bathed in the colored light of the windows overhead. Half depicted the six elements, the other showed saints and great warriors from the church’s past. There were only a few congregants, taking a break from their daytime routine to come in and pray. At the end of the cathedral hung a line of flags, each one depicting a rune and one of the elemental gods.

Noah took a seat at one of the pews and stared at the flags, trying to drown out all distractions while he opened himself to the feel of the mana in the air. Was there really nothing here? No sign of divinity? He sat in that pew for an unknown length of time, devoting himself wholly to his senses in search of the gods’ presence. He remained while congregants came and went, unmoving, unlike the rainbow light of the stained glass sliding across the floor.

“Are they saying anything?”

Noah turned to see a priest standing nearby. He was a middle-aged man in a white robe with the rune of the god of light inscribed on his chest.

“Excuse me?”

“A man is easiest to read when he sits in church and opens himself to God. From the look on their face, the glimmer in their eyes, just the way they clutch their hands, I know what they are after. You are not here asking for protection, forgiveness, strength, or even good fortune, nor are you here to express gratitude. No, you are here for answers. You come here seeking truth from the voice of God.”

“You’re good, but it’s not quite something as dramatic as “truth”. Right now I’m just indulging my curiosity. I only recently learned of this faith and I want to find out more.”

“What would you like to know?”

“Everything, really. Try to sell me your belief.”

The priest chuckled and sat down nearby. “That’s some curious wording.”

“I meant no disrespect. I honestly want to know. Besides, isn’t that your job as a priest? You convince people to buy your ideology the same way you bought it from someone else. What society has faith in determines its identity; faith in the divine, faith in gold, faith in emotions, everything. I want to know what Colbrand has faith in.”

“It’s unusual to be asked such a question. Adventurers who ask about the gods usually want to know how to make their magic stronger.”

“Well, that is also part of it.”

“I suppose I should start at the beginning, then.”

“That normally is where people start.”

“It was the titans who created and shaped our universe, though many believe that they themselves are the universe, our reality made from their bodies. Ageless, infinite, and beyond all understanding, the titans created the gods to help cultivate reality, and of the myriad born came the elemental deities. Relampargoza, Terranora, Wassenschtal, Brisenvalla, Byrnestoir, and Lumendori, the gods of thunder, earth, water, wind, fire, and light. They created this world, but their dominion was opposed by the heathen spirits of nature. War broke out, the gods creating elemental soldiers and weapons that marched across the earth, and the spirits laying magic circles to eternally spawn their own minions.

It was a war lasting eons, continuously reshaping our world until, at last, both the gods and the spirits came to the same conclusion: create a minion in the image of the enemy to gain their strength. The gods created the first race, the Enochians, elemental power in the form of life. Terranora crafted their bodies from clay and iron. Wassenschtal gave them blood made from the waters of the fountain of youth. Brisenvalla gave them the breath of the four winds. Byrnestoir gave them the fire in their hearts. Relampargoza gave them vast reservoirs of mana and mastery over magic. Lumendori gave them their souls, imbuing them with the righteous drive and infinite wisdom.

The spirits of nature created the dragons, giving them bodies that could resist all extremes and dominate land, sea, and air, claws that could rend the flesh of our world and its inhabitants, and wild magic and powerful breath. Time passed, and the war finally came to an end. The dragons were left on the verge of extinction, and for a time, the world was at peace, a paradise built by the Enochians. But they too were eventually broken, first in mind, then in body. The nature spirits deceived them, turned them away from the true path to living like animals. Having lost their faith, so too did they lose their power. With every generation, their bloodlines weakened, the once-mighty race becoming the tribes of men, elves, dwarves, and others.”

Noah leaned forward against the next pew. “Those who worship the elemental gods, I assume, are trying to rebuild paradise.”

“We humans are incapable of such a thing, being a fallen race. Regardless, we shall prove our loyalty to the gods. Be it one generation or a thousand, we shall be nourished by our faith and the gods’ favor, someday reclaiming our abandoned birthright and rising as the new Enochians. We emulate our glorious creators and our faith in them gives us strength. A man of faith is far more powerful than a man of talent, and history has shown that time and time again.”

This gave Noah pause, for while the words were spoken by every religion since the dawn of time, there was the possibility of them being true in this case. The power of belief could build and destroy nations, allowing people to perform and endure great and terrible tribulations, but that was more an issue of the placebo effect. Was it possible that magic could be the exception? That one could receive divine favor and overcome human limits?

“But there are other gods, aren’t there? If elemental magic comes from the gods and shamanism comes from spirits, what do warrior and monk magic come from?”

“They are remnants of our Enochian ancestry, just a glimmer of the power they wielded even without faith. The other gods have no bearing or interest in our world. It is the elemental deities that deserve our praise and love.”

“What about other magics? There must be some.”

“Like I said, it’s just a remnant of the past, lingering talent. There are stories, rumors every now and then of someone wielding unknown magic. It’s almost always proven false, some charlatan trying to make a name for himself or cheat people. The Zodiac twins are the only case I know of for real. Well then, have I “sold you” my faith?”

“No, but you were good, don’t be discouraged. I’ve just tried every religion I can find and none have borne fruit.”

“Goodness,” the priest said with a chuckle. To him, Noah was just an exaggerating young man who stepped one toe into different faiths and quit the first day. In truth, Noah had more history wearing priestly robes than the actual priest beside him. “Perhaps they felt wrong to you because you belonged here instead of there. I believe Lumendori put those false faiths before you so that they might be your stepping stones as you climb to the light. But what could drive you to such extremes?”

Noah looked up at the arched ceiling. “The search for meaning, same as everyone. Your search for meaning propelled you to the role of priest. Deep down, I think everyone wishes to find God in some manner or form, no matter how small. We want our beliefs and values to be deemed worthy by an inarguable authority, and that is how we get meaning. Even those who claim not to believe in any kind of god still believe in something abstract, something to justify their thoughts and actions, like the value of life. Without that meaning, we go insane. If there is a source of meaning in the universe, I want to find it.”

“If true, it would be the greatest proof of God. We are inherently born with a drive to find God because we know it to be the one thing that truly exists. Our Enochian ancestors were touched by the gods and that feeling has rippled across endless generations, and while we have not looked upon divinity as they have, our belief in the gods is our desire to return to them. You’re here because you’re looking for answers, answers of a specific kind. You believe in something, maybe not in divinity, but in something beyond this mortal plane. You might not be a man of faith, but you are a man of belief.”

“We’re all men of belief.” Noah ended it there and got to his feet. Things rarely went well for people who argued with the clergy in Medieval society. “It’s getting late, I’m heading back home.”

“That is an excellent idea. Someone like you shouldn’t be out in the streets at night.”

“Someone like me?”

“Your swords. They tend to draw unwanted attention.”

Colbrand was filled with adventurers armed to the teeth, what possible attention could he attract? He decided not to press the issue. “Thanks for the warning, and the explanation. Your faith is a peculiar one.”

“I only hope to see you back in these pews sometime soon. Every soul that steps onto the proper path is a step closer to paradise.”

Noah left the church and began his walk back to the Knight’s Sheath. Going to the church was time well-spent. Some of his questions had been answered, and those that hadn’t at least opened up new avenues. In regards to his magic, he had the body of his previous life, same with Daniel, rather than a new body born on this world, so he could discard the Enochian ancestry theory. His only lead was the existence of an unknown god. Whether or not gods even existed had yet to be confirmed, but he now had a direction.

He grabbed some dinner from a street vendor and arrived at the brothel after the sun had set. The place was as busy as the previous night, and now, most of the men had a drink in one hand and a gonlief cigarette in the other, with a jar of the stuffed tubes at every table. Noah sat at the bar and ordered himself a drink. He retrieved a cigarette from a nearby jar and examined it. It was hand-rolled but expertly made, using some kind of cheap papyrus.

“Where did you get these?” Noah asked.

“Oh, that was your friend’s idea. He came back this morning looking for a job,” the bartender said.

“How’d that work out?”

“You can ask him yourself.” He stepped over to a door leading to the back rooms and opened it partway. “Daniel, your friend is back.”

Moments later, Daniel appeared, looking beaten and exhausted with a rag tied around his forehead. “Thanks, Lucius. Yo, No-Jake.” He caught himself in time and addressed Noah by his alias.

“Hey, you got a job pretty quick.”

“Yeah, thanks. The first day hasn’t been easy. I’ve never been very good at the whole “working for a living” thing.”

“Hey, remember what I told you,” said Lucius while flicking the back of Daniel’s ear. “You’re not allowed to complain within these walls. A bad attitude can drive off customers.”

“I’m pretty sure none of those guys are paying attention to me. You made that point clear earlier in an oh so friendly manner.”

“Don’t be an ingrate.”

Noah lit the cigarette with a nearby candle. “At least you’re putting your skills to work with these.”

“I have plenty of experience.”

“It’s your saving grace,” said Lucius. “You should have seen him try to mop the floors, it was almost depressing, like watching a blind dog stumbling through its house after the furniture is moved around.”

“That you would speak those words is the real tragedy,” said Daniel. “Now I’m going to be imagining that dog for the rest of the night.”

“Well, there is still some hope for you yet. It’s around ten years late, but maybe I can teach you to be a real man. We just need to jam some steel in your spine.”

“Yay, even more tough love.”

“If Lucius can get you to complain just a little bit less, then he’ll have done the work of a saint.”

“Not you too!”

“Face it, you’re kind of a drag.”

“I’m just doing whatever I can to earn that little cot in the back room.”

Noah was then embraced from behind with a pair of ample breasts pressed to his back and delicate hands moving across his body like he was being searched for weapons.

“My darling has returned!”

“Hello, Bella.”

“I’ve been thinking about you all day. My room is ready for another night of fun.”

“I was actually considering giving that blonde girl over there with the gills a try.”

“Ronda? No! No, no, no, no, no, she’s not right for you! She’ll literally just lie there like a fish! And she won’t give the extra special discount I’m offering just for you!”

“All right, go upstairs and get yourself warmed up for me. I’ll be there in a little bit.”

“Don’t make me wait too long,” she purred. She then pulled away and went up to the stairs, with the three men watching her puffball tail wiggle in excitement. Lucius and Daniel then turned to Noah, this average-looking youth, with eyes full of wonder.

“Bella has a rabbit’s libido, but I’ve never seen her that excited,” said Lucius.

“Her thirst is stronger than any magic I’ve ever seen. What did you do to her?” Daniel asked.

Noah chuckled. “That’s the result of a man’s skill and effort. You boys may be late bloomers, but I’m sure someday you’ll come into your own.”

Breaking glass, the smack of a hand against a woman’s cheek, and the frightful yelp of pain; these three sounds drew the attention of everyone in the parlor. One of the girls had spilled a customer’s drink, an adventurer, and he lacked the capacity to react in a dignified manner. The blow knocked her to the floor and he stood over her. “You got it all over my lap, you stupid whore!”

“Ralph, easy,” one of his friends said. Another three men occupied the table, all members of an adventuring party.

Lucius was already halfway to his location, having gotten out from behind the counter and crossing the parlor with a rigid posture. He grabbed the man’s raised arm before he could hit the girl a second time, and she scurried off.

“You’re out. No one hits the girls.” It was an absolute declaration, like a judge passing down a criminal sentence. Two of the man’s friends became tense, getting ready to intervene. The evening merriment was paused and all the patrons and working girls were watching the exchange.

“It took me a month to get here and the fucking beasts can’t even carry a drink!”

“Out! Now!”

Lucius tried to pull him towards the door and a knife was drawn, aiming for the bartender’s kidney. He grabbed the man’s wrist to stop the attack and then headbutted him. Two punches to the nose and a knee to the solar plexus brought the troublemaker down and prompted his friends to attack, one wielding a club and the other armed with a sword. For a big guy, Lucius was quick on his feet, dodging the swung club and elbowing the owner in the face. The club smashed the edge of the table and Lucius grabbed it and aimed for the nearby swordsman’s kneecap. There was the sound of bone breaking and the warrior went down. Bless his heart, the initial troublemaker was back on his feet, though unsteady. Another attempt at stabbing earned him a dislocated shoulder and a solid faceplant. The man who had originally wielded the club took a knee to the jaw before he could even get back on his feet.

As the fight continued, Noah turned to Daniel. “You’re not even going to pretend to back him up?”

“I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

“According to Cyrilo, you’re neither of them.”

“Well, I normally save all my effort for your mom. Hell, that’s why we both ended up here. I’m your real dad.” He then pretended to throw an invisible basketball.

All that was left was the fourth adventurer, still sitting at the table. Lucius steadied his breathing, straightened his collar, and turned to him. “I’m afraid that the cost of damages falls to you. Can I get you another drink?”

The man sighed and placed some coins on the table. “Make it something strong, please.”

“Right away, sir. Daniel, you’re on cleanup!”

“My time to shine.”

As Daniel went to work dragging the wounded adventurers out into the street, Lucius returned to his spot behind the counter. Likewise, the parlor returned its earlier joviality as the men brought attention back to titties and booze.

“Damn savages blow through this city like locusts.”

“You were good,” said Noah.

“All in a day’s work.” A minute later, they heard a commotion outside. One of the adventurers had woken up as Daniel was dragging him out and attacked. “Son of a—" Lucius reached under the counter and pulled up a sword and sheath. He stormed outside, leaving Noah to finish his drink and head upstairs. Bella was waiting.

Please comment!
2 comments

moooow2Report

2021-01-19 05:49:49
good story!

troggyReport

2021-01-18 02:20:34
this a great story. keep it coming

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