The rising sun shining in his eyes awoke Noah from his sleep. It was not a deep sleep, due to his current circumstances, but he at least felt rested. It was his first dawn in this new world. He and Tin were lying on a pile of pine boughs, keeping them off the ground and insulated, and wrapped in the canvas wagon cover, which they were using as both a tarp and a blanket. The freed slave was snuggled up tightly against him, both for warmth, and out of affection. The term “freed slave” fit her ironically, as Noah had given her freedom, but she chose to remain his slave anyway.
As he started moving around, she slowly stirred. “Master?” she murmured.
“Time to get up, we have work to do.”
It was a chilly morning, so the first thing Noah did was build up a fire while Tin collected their clothes from the waterfall. They had been set under the spray to be washed, and after a night under the pounding water, they were clean as could be responsibly expected. They were hung up to dry around the fire, while Noah and Tin had breakfast. Last night, Noah had made some cups and bowls using the clay that Tin gathered and left them in the fire to bake overnight. Now, he was using them to boil water and make pine needle tea.
“What do you want to do, Master? I can lead you to town if you like.”
“How long would it take to get there?”
“Another two or three days.”
Noah weighed his options. This wasn’t an optimal situation. “No, we’ll stay here for another day. We have a defendable position here, but if we return to the road, we’ll be like sitting ducks. While I have faith in my fighting abilities, I can’t defend myself, you, and the horses. Let’s try to improve our chances before we set out.”
“What should we do?”
“Yesterday, while I was looking for rocks in the dark, I think I might have seen some slimes moving about. They’re usually small, right? Not big like the ones I killed yesterday?”
Tin nodded. “They’re usually the size of rats.”
“Perfect. First, what we’re going to do is make a lot of lye.”
“It’s the stuff in ash that I used to make that soap last night. It’s a very nasty chemical. I’m going to start gathering wood. I want you to bail out the bathwater from the basin and refill it. Rain water would be best, but river water will have to do. Then take the stones and put them back in the fire. You remember what to do if something attacks?”
“Throw horse dung and holler for you?”
Noah departed, heading back into the forest. Just like the day before, he was gathering hardwood from birch, oak, and maple trees. He moved cautiously, hearing movement all around him. He also returned to certain areas he had visited before, with prey on his mind. He came across a spot he had just yesterday done his best to avoid. There was spider silk on the ground, and nearby, an obvious trapdoor. Noah put a large stick on his foot and readied his bow, taking aim. He kicked the stick over by the trapdoor, and instantly a spider burst out to seize what it thought was its meal. The thing was huge, almost five feet in diameter.
Noah released his arrow, striking one of its eyes and leaving it screeching in pain. Before it could duck back into its hole, he shot another arrow, this one drilling through its skull and ending its life. While it was still fresh, Noah rushed over, pulled out the second arrow, and thrust his fingers into the hole. He stirred his fingers around in the spider’s brain, causing its legs, now curled up into a fist, to start spasming. While not familiar with spider anatomy specifically, he was tickling what he hoped to be the cerebellum.
“Come on, where are you… Ah!” He found the magic spot, as the whole body convulsed and the abdomen started expelling silk at a frantic rate, like he was squeezing a tube of toothpaste. Het got to his feet and dragged the spider with him, laying out the silk so that it wouldn’t stick to itself. He had come up with this idea on a whim and was overjoyed to see it work. When flow of silk stopped, he removed his fingers. “That’s right, ladies, I am just that good.”
He then began rubbing dirt into the silk like he had with the animal fat he had collected the previous day, something to keep it from sticking to anything. It was good thick line, and strong as well. Next, he started gathering up the older, thinner webbing it had used for its den. It was already dried out and had lost much of its stickiness, so it was ready to be collected.
He returned to the camp, carrying the spider with him as well. He was sure he could think up something to do with his corpse, maybe use it like a scarecrow to ward off goblins or something. When he arrived, Tin had completed her task and stared in amazement at the dead spider.
Noah walked over to the wagon and pulled out a small wooden barrel. It had originally been filled with salt, which the slave traders used to preserve their food, but now there wasn’t much left. What remained, Noah poured into some of his clay jars. He then hung the spider to drain its blood into the barrel. There wasn’t much, and it had begun to congeal immediately after death, but that just made it sticky like syrup. He swirled it around the inside of the barrel, covering every inch, and then filled it up halfway with some of the used ashes from the birch fires yesterday. He didn’t touch the ashes with his hands, and upon closing the barrel, he shook it up. Once completed, the inside of the barrel was coated with thick layer of ash.
Putting it aside, Noah began moving hot stones from the fire and putting them into the basin, bringing the water to a boil. Then, he started shoveling birch ashes until it filled up half the basin. For the next half hour, Noah would swap out stones, making sure the water was always boiling. Soon a film began to settle on top of the water. It was liquid lye, rising from the ashes. Noah harvested it from the surface, careful not to touch it, and put it in the skillet on the fire to boil away the moisture.
“Ok, I’m going to go back and get more firewood. I want you to keep swapping out the stones so that the water stays boiling hot, and as the lye gathers on the surface, skim it and put it in the skillet. Whatever you do, do not let it touch you. The waterfall and the river are keeping the air moving in one direction. You want to stay upwind so that you don’t breathe in any of the fumes. You got that?”
And that was how they spent the entire morning and much of the afternoon. They kept burning birch wood, and once the basin stopped producing lye, they would swap in fresh ashes and resume harvesting. Between collecting firewood and tending to the fire, Noah created more pottery with the river clay and baked it in the fire. The skillet was routinely filled with the lye mixture, and once the water evaporated away, Noah would scrape the lye into one of his clay jars. It was the middle of the afternoon when he declared that they had collected enough.
“Now to test it.” With his knife, he collected a small bump and put it on his arm. He could feel it burning his skin like an aching sunburn. Had he taken his time with this, it would have been burning a crater into his skin, but in this case, quantity was better than quality.
“Yeah, this will work well. You did good,” he said, rubbing the top of Tin’s head.
“Thank you, Master,” she replied with what he assumed to be a rare smile.
“Let’s eat some lunch and then move on to the next step.”
They moved away from the fire, sick of its heat, and ate by the waterfall. While chewing on touch jerky, Noah studied the horses. They weren’t tied to any trees, at least not now, and were wandering around the campsite, nibbling on whatever they liked. The trip wire was doing a good job of keeping them close, but they would probably run out of food by tomorrow. They’d have to move on by then.
“Master, if my may ask, how do you know how to do these things? I’ve never seen anyone fight like you do, at least not someone your age, and you have the skills of an alchemist. What kind of training have you done?”
“An alchemist? I kind of like the sound of that. Let’s just say that I have a lot of life experience. I’ve lived through good times and bad. I’ll tell you more some other time. Anyway, we should move on to the next stage. I’m going to go along the river and catch small slimes. I want you to find the corpses of the big slimes I killed yesterday and try to collect their skin.”
Tin was obedient, not speaking any of her doubts and instead setting off to do as her master ordered. Noah retrieved the barrel he had tinkered with earlier and filled it with water, then began walking through the river, searching the banks. It was only up to his knees, and there were plenty of large boulders for slimes to hide by. On his hands, he wore some rough leather gloves that one of the slave traders had been wearing. The slimes he found were usually about the size of his fist, and with great care, he’d pick them up and put them in the barrel.
The water in the barrel, thanks to the ash, had a raised pH level. The slimes were acidic, but their pH level wasn’t very low. The alkalinity of the water and the ashes kept them from melting through the sides of the barrel. He also tossed in some food to keep them from starving. Hopefully they’d still be able to digest it. If they were all still alive by the next morning, his plan was a success.
When he returned to the camp, Tin had gathered up the skins of the dead slimes from the day before.
“I’m sorry, Master, but the skins are too fragile for any kind of use.” Noah put down the barrel and examined the shed skin. It was crinkly and soft, a far cry from any kind of leather, more like a snake’s shed skin.
“No, they’re perfect, just what I wanted.” He handed her one of the daggers the slave traders had carried. “Here, start carving them up into squares, about as long as your hand. You know how big, right?”
She nodded and went to work. While she did that, Noah collected more long hair from the horses. He took the squares that Tin cut up and used them to wrap up small piles of lye, then tied them shut with the horse hair. The slime skin, despite its fragility, still maintained many of its characteristics. Slimes were like living acid, so they had to be able to control their pH level. Their skin not only kept their guts in, it kept basic substances out, substances like lye, making it perfect for holding it.
With their combined efforts, they were able to create just over thirty lye packs, plus another twenty filled with alkaline ashes.
“Ok, let’s test one of these out.” Noah took one of the extra squares, filled it with ashes, tied it off, and threw it at a nearby boulder. The slime skin held together while being handled and thrown, but upon striking a hard surface, it burst open and sprayed its contents in all directions. “Perfect!”
“So we’re going to throw these things?” Tin asked.
“That’s right. This lye isn’t very strong, so it doesn’t do much to skin, but if it gets into your eyes or you breathe it in, you’ll go down. All we have to do it hit our enemies in the face and they won’t stand a chance.
Now, I know we’re both tired, but we still have a few hours of daylight left. Let’s work on a couple other ways to improve our situation, and tomorrow, we’ll head for the nearest town.”
They departed the next morning at dawn, wanting to get an early start. They were traveling at a faster pace than before, mainly because there were no longer slaves in tow. The two horses the traders had ridden were no longer walking alongside the wagon, but were now helping to pull it. With the spider silk Noah had collected and wood from the forest, he managed to create extra harnesses so that they were leading. The horses moved in a steady trot, nothing compared to the cars from Noah’s previous lives, but fast enough to possibly outrun an untrained man.
For Noah, this was a scene he was familiar in. He had fought in numerous wars and seen countless post-apocalyptic worlds, living through one anarchic hellscape after another. He was familiar with the need to grow eyes in the back of his head, to expect enemies at all times.
“Master!” Tin exclaimed.
“Yeah, I see them.”
Swarming from the side were a pack of wolves, each one almost as large as the horses pulling the wagon, but Noah had planned for this. He handed the reins to Tin who whipped the horses into a full gallop. He took out his bow and began launching arrows. Most of these arrows, he had made himself. He had to rush them, so they weren’t his best work, but they got the job done for short-range encounters.
The wolves dodged the arrows as they charged, but it managed to spook them into moving around back to attack from the rear. Noah climbed into the wagon and stared them down through the open back. Changing their attack angle had momentarily slowed them down, but they’d catch up in seconds and flank them. Noah tossed a bundle of branches and greens out of the back of the wagon, but they were more than they appeared. It was actually a net with thorny bushes and bristles woven in. The net was dragged behind the wagon, and the wolves that stepped on it cried out as their paws were spiked with sharp seed pods. Those who were injured gave up the chase, while the rest of the pack learned and split up to avoid the net.
Before they could leave his view, Noah opened up the barrel of slimes and began throwing them. Even if the small beasts didn’t make a direct hit, they exploded like water balloons. The acid splashed on the wolves, who instinctively knew that slimes were to be avoided. The pack realized that this prey wasn’t worth all of the trouble and gave up. One threat had been neutralized, giving them time to breathe, but it didn’t end there.
Bears and other forest beasts would pop up every now and then and need to be dispatched by arrows. The tiny bolts couldn’t do much damage, but the pain would make the beasts reevaluate whether or not to continue attacking. Any monsters he managed to kill, he would harvest for parts. With Tin controlling the horses, he would work in the wagon, removing skin, teeth, organs, and anything that looked valuable or useful. Every now and then, they’d even stop so that he could collect medicinal plants and mushrooms. But the more he fought, the more Noah realized how unprepared his body was for all this. He was healthy and strong, and had lifetimes of combat experience, but his hands hadn’t built up a layer of calluses that a native of these lands would have. Every time he gripped his sword, he could feel blisters forming on his palm.
Then, in the afternoon, the next challenge revealed itself. In the distance, a tree lay across the road. A rider on horseback might be able to jump it, but never a wagon like this. Whether or not it had fallen naturally, Noah knew who would use this opportunity.
“Tin, stop the wagon.” They came to halt a hundred yards from the tree. “Turn the horses around. If I die, ride back the way we came. Stay at the waterfall until someone uses this road and then travel with them.”
“Master, are you sure about this?” she asked with her basset hound eyes.
“I’ve handled worse.”
He got off the wagon with his sword in hand, and on his arm, a shield made from the carapace of the spider he had killed. He was wearing one of the slave traders’ coats, the closest he could get to leather armor, and he also had his satchel, filled with lye packets. Rather than approach the tree, he dove into the woods. If there were any goblins in hiding, he’d flank them. As he approached the barrier, he spotted them, hiding behind the trees. They were the size of children, but with protruding stomachs and green skin. Their ears and noses were pointed, their faces overall barely even humanoid. They were armed with swords and bows, likely stolen from slain adventurers.
He closed in on the first one, his footsteps giving him away and causing it to screech in alarm. Noah dispatched it with a swing of his sword, overpowering its attempt to parry and lopping off the top of its skull. The others, alarmed by the death of their comrade, turned their attention to Noah and attacked. They launched their arrows, albeit with shoddy aim, but it forced Noah to duck for cover. He pulled out one of his lye packs, focused on a goblin with a bow, and threw it like a baseball. The small pack nailed it between the eyes and exploded. The goblin took an instinctive breath in, and then immediately screamed in agony. Not only were its sinuses and lungs filled with lye, but it had gotten into his eyes, leaving it blinded.
The way it shrieked was nothing less than unnerving. It was like a baby crying, it racked the mind and made even Noah squeamish. The goblins, hearing those screams, became frightened. This was a cruel world, and living in the woods, every day was a bloody fight for survival. But none of them had suffered or seen someone suffer a flesh wound and make that kind of noise.
Noah gave them no time to gather their courage. He dealt with the other goblin archers the same way, leaving them howling in agony. With their long-range attacks neutralized, he closed in. The remaining goblins tried to put up a fight, but he slaughtered them with gruesome hacks and stabs. His spider shield fractured whenever he blocked a swing, but it held together long enough to kill them all. These goblins probably ambushed their prey, catching them by surprise to make up for their weak bodies, but once they lost that advantage, they were easy to dispose of.
He was closing in on the last one, slightly larger than the others and armed with a club. It growled and made a wide swing. Noah didn’t try to block and stepped back out of the monster’s reach, then swung down his sword and cleaved the goblin’s head open. To his discomfort, blood splattered across his face and got into his eye. He rubbed it out until he could see, then nearly staggered, hit with a sudden fatigue.
“What the fuck? That fight must have taken more out of me than I thought.” He pushed through the sudden weight and returned to the road. It was exhausting work, but he moved the tree out of the way. “Tin, come on through!”
The wagon approached and stopped where the tree had lain, but there was a look of confusion on Tin’s face. “Master, where are you?”
“What are you talking about? I’m right here.”
Confusion turned to fear, Tin beginning to panic. “Master, I can’t see you anywhere!”
Noah couldn’t understand. He was standing right in front of the horses. He walked over and grabbed her arm. “Tin, I’m standing right beside you.”
Touching her just made her yelp in surprise. “I still can’t see you! What’s going on?”
That’s what he would like to know. Was something affecting her vision? Maybe she had been hit with some kind of goblin attack, or it was an illness, either a disease or some kind of poison from something in the forest.
“Tin, look around. How is your vision?”
“It’s fine, I can see everything clearly! But I can’t see you!” Was he the problem? He could see himself just fine. Damn it, his eye was still itching from the blood. He rubbed it with his palm and Tin gave another yelp of surprise. “Master, you’re back!”
“I was here all this ti—” He stopped, noticing something. His fatigue was gone. It had disappeared just as suddenly as it showed up. The last time he felt it was when he first woke up in this world. His eye… It had been itching as well. He rubbed left eye again, and Tin once again freaked out. “Tin, can you see me?”
“No, it’s like you vanished into thin air!”
That fatigue, he was feeling it again. He stepped back and began kicking around leaves and dirt. “Can you see this?”
Well, that answered that question. For some reason, the fatigue seemed to deepen when he did that. He rubbed his eye again, and from the look on Tin’s face, she appeared to be able to see him again. “What happened to the road?” she asked. “It just suddenly changed when you reappeared.”
Noah put his hand over his eye again, not rubbing it, but just covering it. He repeated the experiment, making a mess of the road. “Can you see any difference in the road?”
“No.” He covered his eye once more, and she nodded her head. “Yes, now I see.”
“So when I disappear, you can’t see what I do to the road, but when I reappear it suddenly changes, right?”
“Yeah, sort of like flipping a page. Master… I think you’re using magic!”
“Magic? No, that doesn’t make sense. My parents were normal, I haven’t even studied any kind of magic.”
“That’s the only thing it can be. But I’ve never heard of magic that could make people disappear like that.”
“I’m not disappearing, I think I’m becoming invisible. It’s… an illusion. I’m creating an illusion that makes me invisible… and when I alter something around me, it expands the illusion to conceal the change I’ve made until I release it.” He covered his eye and felt the fatigue, then, covered it once more and it stopped. “Covering my eye is the trigger that activates it.”
He then remembered his last moments with Lindsey. He had covered his left eye because the sun was blinding him, and he woke up in this world in that same position. His glitchy reincarnation, it hadn’t just preserved his body at this age, it gave him some kind of magic. Maybe it was the magic itself that caused the error, the magic present in this new world.
“Tin, do they have any kind of word for the energy used for magic? I feel like something is draining out of me when I use it.”
“They call it mana.”
‘You have got to be kidding me.’ “Let’s see what happens when I cover my other eye.”
The moment he attempted it, he fell to his knees, almost blacking out. “Master!” Tin exclaimed. She climbed down and helped him to his feet.
“So, you can see me. That means I didn’t turn invisible. But something clearly happened, or at least, tried to happen. I have a different spell in each eye, but not enough mana to use the second one. It must be like a muscle. I have to train it to increase my stamina.
Anyway, let’s get out of here before the smell of those goblins attracts wolves.”
The next day, while Tin took town the tripwires set around their makeshift camp, Noah was busy experimenting with his magic. He had come across a giant spider, draining the blood from a captured rabbit. As he approached, Noah covered his eye and cast his illusion. His feet on the underbrush, it should have given him away, but the spider didn’t seem to notice. He decided to make more noise, picking up a stick and snapping it, but still, the spider didn’t seem to notice.
Finally, the spider spun around, its black eyes searching for the source of the noise. It seemed that his illusion also concealed sounds, but not his voice. Maybe because he intended for his voice to be heard? He had been casting his spell on and off since he discovered it, to try and get a better feel of his mana. He couldn’t properly stress himself since he needed to save his strength for when he needed it, but he was starting to sense the flow.
He drew his sword, a new one. After the fight with the goblins, he had taken their weapons, and despite being slightly rusty due to inadequate care, they were higher quality than the cheap machete that Noah had been using until now. He now carried a Medieval-style longsword, a short sword, and his knife. He came up with arrangement with thoughts of ancient samurai, who carried a katana, a wakizashi, and a tanto dagger.
He reached out with his longsword and used it to rustle a nearby bush. The spider didn’t see or hear anything. Noah could feel it, his mana flowing through his sword towards the bush, enveloping it in the illusion. He focused on the energy running through his arm and tried to slow the flow, to keep it from moving beyond his sword. It was exceedingly difficult, like trying to flex a muscle he had never used before. It reminded of him of all the years he spent as a newborn, when his muscle tissue was just slightly tougher than gelatin. He tempered his breathing, driving out all distractions from his mind, and soon, he could feel the flow of his mana, like he had grabbed a hold of it.
He pulled it back, leaving the sword enveloped, but this time, when he rustled the bush, the spider raised his front legs and bared its fangs, believing an animal to be causing the disturbance. Noah slowly approached and tapped one of the spider’s raised legs with his sword. It hissed in fury and swung at something it could not see. The illusion could block sounds from reaching his enemy, but it couldn’t evade the sense of touch, so he couldn’t just turn invisible and stab someone without them feeling it.
There was something else he noticed. When he was invisible, he could sense the mana in others. Tin had very little, likely a sign that she had no affinity for magic, probably a reason why she ended up a slave. The monsters had even less, but not all of them. Lone wolves without packs and many spiders, they seemed to be shrouded in mana. He didn’t get the impression that they could use magic, more like it clung to them, like an odor. What made them so special?
This was just another question that Noah chalked up to something he’d learn later. For now, he should just continue utilizing his magic to its full potential. The spider had its guard raised, but couldn’t sense the presence of anyone or anything nearby, so it could do nothing to stop Noah from ending its life. He harvested what he needed from the body and then returned to camp.
It was a sweet relief to Noah and Tin when they finally left the forest. After two days of repeated ambushes by predators and goblins, the sea of trees that flanked them on either side were replaced with open pastures, fields where farmers and their slaves were planting crops. The road became more uniform, receiving more maintenance due to the increase in traffic. In the distance, they saw the town, Clive, as Tin called it. It was surrounded by a heavy-duty log fence to keep the monsters out. It reminded him of the colonial village museum from his fifth-grade field trip. The creek from their waterfall camp joined into the river that flowed beside the town.
Guards in cheap leather armor with a few metal plates were manning the gate, and they stopped Noah and Tin as they approached. One of them looked over the horses and the wagon with a wary eye.
“These belong to Garrow and his men. How did you come by them?”
“Were you close with Garrow?”
Noah slipped the man a few bronze coins, while hoping that they were actually worth something that he wasn’t trying to bribe someone with pocket change. “Then I suppose you’re mistaken, right?”
Seeming satisfied, the guard pocketed the money and then waved them in and Noah and Tin entered the town. For Noah, it was like he had traveled back in time to Medieval Europe. Peasants walked the muddy road, street vendors tried to sell their wares, and the air stank beyond all de***********ion. The buildings were brick and wood, only a few of them more than two stories, with their windows using foggy glass.
“What do we do now?” Tin asked.
“We’re going to sell this wagon, everything in it, and the horses. That guard recognized them, so others may as well. Plus, I can protect a stack of coins better than this load of pelts. We can just buy replacements if we need them.” They rode past a beggar lying in the street and Noah brought the horses to a stop. “You there, where can I find a weapon dealer?”
The bearded man pointed a trembling finger to the east. Noah didn’t thank him, but tossed him a copper coin. They turned down one of the eastern streets and a sign caught Noah’s eye. It had an anvil with two crossed swords in front of it like a crest. They stopped the wagon outside and Noah disembarked.
“Look after the wagon. This place is probably crawling with thieves, so be wary.”
She was armed with a dagger and he had faith in her competence. He stepped into the store, with a bell ringing above his head from the door opening and closing. This store was made of brick in order to lessen the fire danger due to the forge in back. Numerous weapons were put on display, from swords to halberds. Back in his previous lives, Noah could have bought a damascus sword online for $60 that would put these to shame, but these would suffice.
He also paid attention to the prices in order to figure out the rate of conversion for money. The numbers were drawn a bit differently from past worlds, but they appeared to have the same values. From what he could tell, ten copper coins equaled a bronze, ten bronze equaled a silver, and ten silver for a gold. The metric scaling made it easiest for Noah to compare them to US dollars, but from what era? There was a suit of armor selling for two gold coins, about two thousand dollars. But was that two thousand dollars back in the Old West? Or was that two thousand dollars in the 21st century, after more than a hundred years of inflation? He couldn’t even tell whether the prices were good or not. This was either all great equipment at a high price or garbage sold to beginners and cheapskates, or even just junk the owner was asking the moon for to try and rip Noah off.
A man appeared from a back room and stood behind a counter. He was a great bear of a man, buff and dirty from a life spent standing over an anvil. Seeing Noah’s modern clothes, unease crossed his face. “Can I help you?”
“Do you buy weapons as well as sell them?”
“Only as long as they incorporate metal. I don’t buy bows or staffs.”
“Perfect.” Noah returned to the wagon outside and retrieved an armful of weapons looted from dead goblins. It wasn’t all the weapons, though. He kept a tough-looking axe that could-prove useful. He stepped back inside and laid them out on the store counter. “What can I get for all of these?”
There were four short swords, two longswords, six daggers, three spears, and an axe. The blacksmith raised his eyebrows in mild surprise at the size of the haul, but otherwise maintained a poker face for the sake of business. He examined each weapon, making exaggerated grunts and sighs over every chip and sign of rust.
“This is mostly garbage. I can buy them for one silver.”
“That’s a bad joke. That’s less than a bronze coin per weapon. You’re selling daggers for three bronze each. Seven silver.” Judging by the prices of the display pieces, that was more than the blacksmith could sell them for, and while he would have liked to go higher, the blacksmith was really low-balling him.
“That’s ridiculous. My merchandise hasn’t been dragged through the woods. Yours has. I’ll have to spend all night polishing and sharpening these to make them worthy of being put on display. Two silver.”
“Leave them as is and then chalk down the price. You can sell them to some newbie warriors as training gear. Six silver.”
“I can’t come anywhere near that. The best I can do is two silver and five bronze.”
“You can always just forge them into something new and sell at a higher price. Four silver.”
“You think you’re the only one selling weapons by the arm-load? Plenty of adventurers come in here to dump what they found in some goblin tunnel. Scavenged swords are hardly rare on the market. Two silver and seven bronze. That’s like final offer.”
‘So, ‘adventurer’ is a term used here. It probably applies to monster hunters and the like.’ “How about this: my axe, plus two daggers, in exchange for that nicer axe up on the wall? Everything else, you buy at half for what you’re selling their counterparts for. That’s ten bronze for the short swords, another ten for the long swords, four and half bronze for the daggers, and another four and half for the spears. That’s right around three silver.”
The blacksmith gave a huff. Three silver, such a round, whole number. It was five bronze above what he could get if he sold the weapons for half price, but his inner-perfectionist didn’t want to complicate it with a smaller payment. Had Noah planned that from the beginning? Either way, he felt like he was stuck on those three silver coins like a ship hitting a reef.
“Fine, three silver.”
“Deal.” He and Noah shook hands and Noah received the three coins and the axe. “I also have another thing outside that you might be interested in. Follow me.” He led the blacksmith out into the street and showed him the tripwire roll in the back of the wagon.
“What is it?”
“A tripwire system, offering a hundred yards of protection. Any monster that touches it makes the metal alarms jingle. It’s so loud that even the dead can hear it. I’ll trade it for three bronze and the small shield you had in the corner. It’s got to be worth that in materials alone.”
“Fine, but only to get rid of you. You’re exhausting.”
The deal was struck and Noah and Tin set off with a much lighter wagon. The axe Noah had gotten was a large one, perfect for chopping both trees and monsters. The shield he now wore on his arm was only around the size of a dinner plate, but that worked for him. It was strong enough to block a slash from a sword and it wouldn’t hamper his movements. The tripwire was a bit painful to lose, but once they sold the wagon, they would have ended up carrying it with them.
With directions from many of the townsfolk, they sold and traded their wares. The blacksmith wouldn’t buy the bows, but Noah found another weapon dealer who allowed him to trade up to a much better piece and a quiver of good-quality arrows. After that, the medicinal herbs and mushrooms were bought by an herbalist, the wolf pelts went to a leatherworker in exchange for some armor and a strong backpack, and the clothes and bags were traded at the garment shop for some new outfits and a second backpack. Due to the weird looks he was getting, Noah was aware that his modern clothes made him stand out. They were too valuable to get rid of or sell, so he simply packed them away and donned the apparel of the countryside.
He ditched the severed heads of the slave traders into someone’s pig pen and the hogs went to town. From asking around, it seemed that the Garrow fellow he killed wasn’t the wanted criminal he had hoped for. It was a shame there was no bounty to collect, especially after three days of putting up with the smell of those heads.
The owner of an adventurer’s shop yelped in pain from the lye touching his skin. He sold traveling and survival gear, such as rope, candles, dried rations, and other curios to help travelers survive the beasts dwelling outside man’s domain. Now he was buying the last of Noah’s haul, including the remains of several spiders and the barrel of slimes. A test had been necessary to convince him of the lye’s ability.
“So? What do you think? Seven bronze and everything’s yours.”
“I can do five bronze, but only because you actually have living slimes. I’ve never seen them captured like this!”
“No, no, I can’t do five…” Noah pretended to be lost in thought. “Do you sell maps?”
“I want two maps, one of the country and one of the area. Throw those in and I can go down to five.”
“For two maps added, the best I can do is three and a half bronze.”
“Four bronze and you won’t have to deal with me for the rest of the day.”
With that, Tin and Noah left, having sold everything they deemed not worth carrying. The wagon and horses had already been exchanged for some lovely gold coins, so now they lived carrying everything they owned. Tin was in a good mood, now wearing proper clothes and footwear. She looked nothing like the slave girl that Noah had met when he first came to this world. One might look at her and not even think she was a slave.
The sun had almost set, but they made their way to their final stop, an inn known as the Old Wineskin. It was busy inside, the air stinking of pipe smoke, ale, and poor hygiene, and the floor creaking under countless pairs of shifting boots. The hostess, a large woman looking like she birthed children by the litter, greeted them at the door from behind a front desk.
“Are you here to eat or to sleep?” she asked.
“Both. What are your rates?”
“Five copper coins a night for one room. For ten, you also get firewood, a hot bath, and two square meals a day for one person.”
Noah counted up the coins for him and Tin and stacked them on the table. “We’ll take the full package for three nights.”
The woman handed him an iron key. “Take a seat in the dining room wherever you like and I’ll bring you the house special.”
Noah led Tin through the crowd of drunken villagers, both of them on the lookout for pickpockets. Every man in the bar looked either like a Viking or the kind of guy that Vikings typically killed, all of their clothes made of either wool, linen, or animal hide. Any women were either travelers huddled together, or courtesans sitting across the laps of their drunk clients and laughing at every bad joke as they waited for the alcohol to take its toll.
Noah and Tin found a small table near the fireplace and took their seats with Noah warning Tin to put her bag directly under the table.
“This town is just as I expected,” he said.
“Is something wrong, Master?”
“No, everything is fine. I rather like the atmosphere here, the feel of it.”
He had seen plenty of towns that been knocked out of the modern age in his previous lives, usually due to some kind of apocalyptic event or because it was in a third-world country, but none of them had the Medieval Europe aura like in fantasy books and movies. For all of his life experience, this was something he was glad to finally be able to cross off his list.
“So we’re going to stay here for three days? Then what?”
“I’m not sure yet. I don’t have enough information. I want to know more about this country, about the other countries. I want to see what I can make of myself and what will give me the best chance of survival. But for now, I want to rest up for a few days and learn what I can about the area.”
He took out the maps he had bought and looked them over. Their quality was just as he expected from a Medieval society. The map of the Algata province showed the towns around Clive, as well as vague rivers and mountains, but there was no scale for referencing distance and none of the roads were labeled. The national map was no better, but it did name the bigger towns and the capital of Uther near the southern coast. It was hard to determine the size of the country, but it was probably somewhere between England and Texas.
Right now, what he needed to work on was a backstory. True, this was not a country with an educated public, but Noah was still ignorant of the culture and lifestyle, something that would require years to catch up on. If he claimed to be somewhere but failed to answer a question that any native would know, it would make him look suspicious. In his past lives, his backstory would generate itself, just like everyone else, and as an adult, when he needed an alias, he could easily craft a new one using his knowledge of the world. This was the first time he had to create a new identity with so little information.
The hostess arrived with wooden trays and beer mugs. The house special was a bowl of meat and vegetable stew and a biscuit, with a pint of the local ale to wash it down with. Noah didn’t even want to imagine how a health inspector would react to seeing the kitchen and how the food was prepared, but after three days of nothing but rock-hard bread and dried meat that was little more than salted leather, he ate greedily.
Tin, however, stared at her food. “Master, is it really ok for me to eat this? I need only scraps to survive. Master doesn’t need to be so generous in buying me such wonderful food.”
“You’ve done everything I’ve told you to do and have yet to disappoint me. You deserve to eat proper meals. Besides, I need you strong and healthy so you can continue to assist me.”
She bowed her head with her shoulders trembling. “Thank you, Master.”
The room they were renting was awfully stark, just a bed with some itchy blankets and a fireplace. There was also a table with a lone candle and a pitcher of water. Firewood had already been delivered. As Tin lit the candle, Noah began moving around the room, knocking on the walls, floor, and ceiling, searching for any hidden doors or peepholes. For all he knew, there could be people watching them, waiting for them to fall asleep and then rob them, or worse. He once made the mistake of spending the night in a backwoods motel that was run by a serial killer. The flat tire within walking distance should have warned him, but he refused to believe the cliché.
“You get a fire started while I look around. Don’t open the bags or reveal any of your belongings until I get back, and move the bed against the door.”
He was sure for the most part that no one was listening or watching them at the moment, but that might be temporary. He wanted to check the inn itself. But on the off chance that someone was managing to avoid his detection, he didn’t want to activate his magic. He left the room and locked the door behind him. There were rooms on either side and across the hall, but they would come later. He went downstairs, maneuvering through the crowd and stepping outside into the dark street. The town was clearing out, everyone heading home or to whatever spot they slept on.
Noah walked down the street, and as planned, he sensed a tail behind him. He stepped behind the nearby butcher shop and laid in wait. His pursuer, knife in hand, entered the alley. He never even saw Noah, certainly didn’t see his hand aiming for his Adam’s Apple. A solid blow ripped the air from the man’s lungs and sent him to his knees, unable to even scream in agony. He dropped his knife and Noah got him into a stranglehold, lifting him back onto his feet.
“You weren’t following me before we reached the inn, I certainly would have noticed you, so that means you didn’t see me with Garrow’s wagon and horses. Either someone who did see me put you up to this, or you’re just going after me because I look like an easy mark. So, which is it?”
“Eat shit, you damn kid!” the man gargled. He tried to free himself from the choke hold, but Noah just tightened his grip. He couldn’t see anything, no matter where he looked.
Noah took out his knife and held it under the man’s eye. The blade was invisible like Noah, but the man could feel the blade threatening to pierce the skin of his lower lid. “If you want to save yourself, start talking. I can make you beg for your life and then beg for death in a matter of seconds.”
“This is just what I do, punk! I wait for pieces of trash playing adventurer to make a wrong turn and then I take everything that they have!”
“Is there anyone else or do you work alone? You really don’t want to lie to me.”
“I don’t need help.”
Noah put his knife away. “Clearly, you do.” For the briefest moment, the man felt Noah’s hold on him loosen, thinking he was going to be let go. Instead, Noah just grabbed his head and snapped his neck.
Noah searched the corpse for anything of value and dumped it in the river beside the village. He then returned to the inn and searched the outside. He had measured the distance from the window to the corners of his room, and, assuming that all the rooms were the same size and same configuration, there didn’t appear to be any false walls that someone could hide in.
With his illusion still active, he went inside the inn and maneuvered through the crowds, this time putting all of his effort into not bumping up against anyone. He checked the thickness of the floor and ceiling of each level and found no anomalies. His mana was starting to run out, so he had to hurry with the last step. He returned to the floor of his room and listened to the surrounding doors.
Behind the door across the hall, he could hear two female adventurers talking, making plans for the following day. In the room to the left of his, he could hear a man sharpening his sword. The room to the right was silent. From his pocket, Noah drew a length of wire. It was originally part of the handle of one of the swords he had sold, but he took it before taking it out of the wagon. Lockpicking had been a skill of his several lifetimes ago, so he was a little rusty. Regardless, he managed to open the door and peeked in, seeing the one inhabitant sleeping.
Noah ended his search. He now felt like he could truly relax. He returned to the door of his room. “Tin, it’s me,” he said while knocking.
He could hear the bed, used as a barricade, being moved aside, and Tin opened the door. “Is everything ok?”
“Yeah, I think we’re safe.”
They both stepped into the room and released their held breaths upon the door closing. Finally, they could let down their guard, at least for the most part.
“Ok, let’s go over the money we collected.”
On the table with the lone candle, he spread out the coins from their sales. There was a great number of silver coins, plenty of bronze, and several copper, as well as some gold. “With all of this, we can stay at this inn for as long as we want. But for now, let’s work on keeping it safe.”
The copper coins would kept in two of the three snake wallets, as bait or a decoy against pickpockets. The third wallet held the bronze coins and hung around Tin’s neck. As the for the silver and gold coins, Tin worked with Noah beside the fire to hide them in his clothes and possessions, such as the lining of his jacket and the straps of his backpack.
Soon after they were done, there was a knock at the door. “Here with your bathwater!” a chambermaid announced.
Noah let her in and she placed a wooden tub on the floor, filled with steaming water and some rags. In this world, it seemed like outside of swimming, the only way to keep even remotely clean was with a simple wash cloth. Noah tipped her and she departed.
“Good, I’ve needed this,” he said.
As he and Tin stripped down, she approached him. “Master, please let me wash you.”
“What? You didn’t do that before.”
There was a desperate shimmer in her eyes. “Something which I beg your forgiveness for. I must show my gratitude for your kindness.”
“You don’t owe me anything for treating you like a person.”
She embraced him from behind. “It is my duty to service my master. Please, allow me to continue not disappointing you.”
“I never said you couldn’t do it. I appreciate your efforts.”
She made a small noise of relief, almost like a cross between a laugh and a gasp. “Please take a seat.”
Noah sat on the foot of the bed and Tin retrieved some of their leftover soap, then brought to tub next him. She kneeled before him and wetted the front of her body with one of the rags, then with the soap, lathering up her breasts and between her thighs. He could tell she was excited. Despite her perpetually expressionless face, he could see the small curling of her lips, the shimmer in her eyes, signs of joy. It was an ironic combination; she, having never known pleasure from contact with a man, and he, so numb that contact with a woman was one of the last few things that could give him pleasure.
She began by taking one of the washcloths and scrubbing Noah’s legs, trying to remove the sweat and dirt from their days in the woods. Then, her breathing would deepen, and she’d start rubbing her chest up against him, grinding against him like a stripper pole. Her breasts were far from ample, due to her harsh life and poor diet, but what softness there was, she used to please Noah. She made sure he felt every cubic centimeter of fat, as if the mass of her breasts equaled her loyalty.
She washed off the soap and then got on the bed to repeat the process on his arms. Her efforts gave him an amused smile. With her inner thighs nice and sudsy, she’d straddle his hands, letting him cup her womanhood in his palm and feel how wet she was. She was beginning to pant and whimper, her lust building up in her. Her frantic breaths in his ears was likewise getting him worked up. He had a few ex-girlfriends that would give him this treatment.
“Tell me, have you done this before or is this an idea you came up for me?”
“This is new. I’ve never felt so much gratitude to my master before.”
She moved behind him and scrubbed his back, then began smooshing her breasts against him in sweeping motions. It reminded him of washing windows. While she grinded on his back, she washed his chest and her hands naturally fell to his throbbing manhood. She stroked it lovingly, as if wanting to memorize every detail. She started rubbing against him with more force and jacking him off. Despite Noah being on the receiving end, Tin’s efforts were making her breathe heavily with an aroused whimper passing her lips. The feel of her breasts on his back and her masterful stroking were also getting to Noah. Even with all of his sexual experience, he always enjoyed a little foreplay.
He didn’t bother trying to resist and simply ejaculated, while behind him, Tin shuddered as if having a climax of her own. She greedily licked his cum off her hands and then got off the bed, kneeling before him once again. Her gaze, full of drunken lust, was glued to his semi-flaccid manhood in the aftermath of its eruption.
“Master, you’re so dirty. Let me clean you.”
She began sucking on his member with worshipful dedication. Every drop of cum, she slurped off while savoring the taste of his sweat. Like the other night, she paid attention to his balls, either massaging them while his cock plunged into the depths of her throat, or sucking on them and rolling them around her mouth while she jacked him off.
“My, my, you sure do enjoy servicing me, don’t you?”
She looked up at him, a slave both to him and to her desires. “Yes, Master. My body feels so much gratitude for you.” She couldn’t resist, she started playing with herself. “Especially down here.”
She stood up and he allowed her to get on his lap, shuddering in bliss as she felt him enter her. She was so wet, his cock sliding against her inner flesh without any resistance. There was no hesitation in any of Tin’s movements, she didn’t need to adjust her position or let her body become accustomed to the feeling of being penetrated. As soon as she was down to the base, she began bouncing on his cock at full speed.
Noah laid back with his hands gripping her ass. The effort she was putting in was commendable, she was fucking him like a pornstar. Her moans of bliss, she didn’t bother trying to conceal them. She let her voice ring out, escaping their room and being heard by everyone in the inn. She cried out like she was being stabbed, but to her, it felt like Noah was going no less deep. She was putting all of her strength into keeping up this rhythm, dropping all her weight onto Noah’s lap so that he could truly explore her body. She couldn’t allow him to exert himself. There were no fields to work, no livestock to take care of. She couldn’t fight, couldn’t hunt, couldn’t do anything to repay her master for the kindness he had shown her. All she could do was offer her body for his enjoyment, to give him something to unleash his desires on.
But her strength was fading fast. Despite her efforts, Noah wasn’t giving in. In fact, he decided to fight back. He retrieved one of the damp washcloths and wiped the soap off her breasts, making her nipples become erect. He then sat up and began running his tongue and lips across her skin, kissing her areolas and sucking on their peaks. He often pulled his mouth away to join with hers, kissing her with skill she could only call art. Rather than letting her continue bouncing, he implemented his own technique. Cupping her tight ass in his hands, he began gyrating her hips in one direction while he moved in the opposite direction. Now, instead of doing long, deep strokes, his cock was stirring up the depths of her womanhood like he was whisking some scrambled eggs.
The two-fold attacks, they were more than Tin could bear. “Master! Ah! Master!” she moaned.
She held onto his shoulders as a wave of climaxes rushed through her, soaking Noah’s lap in her arousal. Noah fell back, this time while pulling Tin down with him. Tin, lying across his chest, was given no time to rest. He lifted her hips up and began bucking his own, driving up into her at maximum speed and depth. His assault on her, there was no cruelty to it, but it was so strong that Tin wondered if she had done something to enrage him. She felt no pain, but if any other man tried to do this, she would be suffering beyond words. It was his skill and experience, she could feel it with every move he made. He knew exactly what to do to not cause any harm, despite the intensity itself leaving her on the verge of blacking out.
“Master, it feels too good! You’re going to break me!”
“Hold on, I’m almost there.”
She literally held onto him for dear life, as if a tornado had ripped off the roof of the inn and was threatening to pull her up into the sky. Soon, the storm passed, and Tin felt that final thrust and Noah emptying himself into her. The sensation of her master’s seed flooding her womanhood, the heat of it inside her, it made her moan a single crystal-clear note, like a bird call. Then, she collapsed on top of him, using the last of her strength to run kisses across his chest.
“Master, when you wanted to know the area and me and some other slaves raised out hands… thank you for choosing me.” Noah didn’t say anything. He knew that this was a situation that one couldn’t simply respond with ‘you’re welcome’. Yet after so many lifetimes, he still didn’t know what the proper response was. “And at the waterfall… thank you for letting me stay by your side.”
Then, she closed her eyes and fell asleep, snuggled on his chest like a cat.