2.17

Erin woke up with a huge smile on her face. Today was the first day of the rest of her life, and for once, it was all amazing.

Slightly less amazing was the huge mess in her common room. Erin’s huge smile reduced in diameter, but she maintained a cheery outlook. True, her inn was trashed, but the money.

“The money!”

Gold coins, silver coins, copper coins. She had far more of the copper coins than anything else, but Krshia had given her several gold coins as she’d brought goods up from the city throughout the night. Erin had a huge jar of money, and next to it was an even bigger jar, again filled with money.

And next to that…

Erin had to hug herself, she was so elated. It had worked! Her crazy idea had worked, and she’d earned so much!

She had to give some of it away, of course. She hadn’t paid Selys or Ceria or Olesm for their help, and Ryoka had cooked up all the food! She wondered if the prickly girl would accept being paid. She would, right?

If only Toren was here, life would have been perfect. That made Erin’s smile slip, but just for a second. He would have cleared up this mess overnight and be staring creepily at her in the morning. But without him she’d have to do it.

Well, it was a fair price for a wonderful night. Erin sighed, rolled up her sleeves, and got to work. She could get a head start before she made breakfast. Something involving eggs and bacon, she guessed. It would be too much work to mix pancakes.

As Erin began to hunt for dustrags, buckets of melted snow, and of course a mop and broom, she thought about last night. She’d leveled. So many times! Erin knew Level 20 wasn’t actually that high—Selys had told her almost everyone got to that before they died. But still. Level 21!

And the [Singer] class. Erin was surprised by that, but she had wanted to sing her best on the roof. And what were those skills?

[Perfect Recall] and [Control Pitch]. Did they work? Erin focused.

Yes. They did. Amazingly so, in fact! Erin could remember every lyric, every verse in every song she’d ever sung. And what was more—

“Testing, testing, do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do!

Her pitch was perfect. Even someone with a autotuner couldn’t have improved her voice. It made Erin feel weird; like her voice wasn’t her own anymore. But that feeling soon gave way into a greater desire to sing!

Ryoka had taken away the iPhone right before she fell asleep. But Erin could still sing without the device. Besides, it was still enchanted and would probably blow Erin’s eardrums out if she used it.

Now, what song could she sing? Erin remembered her warmup, and smiled as the lyrics popped into her head.

She bent to pick up a discarded dress, gingerly holding it between two fingers, and looked out to the brightening sky. Erin opened her mouth, and sang.

Do, a deer; a female deer, re, a drop of golden sun…!

 

—-

 

Ryoka woke up to the sound of music. Because she had a hangover, this was a terrible, horrible experience. Each new verse was a nail being jack-hammered into her skull, and the pillow Ryoka pressed over her head was taking too long to suffocate her.

The heinous singing floated down from below, accompanied by the loud clink of porcelain being stacked together or silverware being organized.

What Erin had forgotten was that last night, everyone had imbibed quite a lot of alcohol. She’d drunk it too of course; but Erin was immune to alcohol’s effects and so she was the only person waking up this morning without a hangover.

After Erin got to la, Ryoka could bear it no longer. She seized the nearest object she could reach, staggered out her door and hurled it down the stairs. It turned out that she’d hurled her bedside dresser, and it crashed into pieces as it hit the ground floor.

Ryoka heard the shocked exclamation from Erin. She grunted something and stomped back to her bed.

“Rude!”

But the singing stopped. Ryoka rolled back into bed and caught far more than forty winks.

When she woke up at last, it was an hour or two later and Ryoka was hungry. She stumbled out her door, and found everyone else was getting up as well. Their synchronization was probably due to the fact that the sun had hit all of their windows at the same time, and Erin still hadn’t bought any curtains for her new inn.

Sleepy faces, and wincing expressions. Ryoka nodded to the others.

“Ryoka.”

“Ceria.”

“Val.”

“Olesm?”

The Drake staggered out of Ceria’s room and paused. He looked around at the other people in the inn. Slowly, he backed into the room and shut the door.

Ryoka stared at Ceria. The half-Elf shrugged. She didn’t quite meet anyone else’s eyes as they walked downstairs.

They found Erin bright and cheerful, and a steaming bowl of scrambled eggs, a plate of greasy bacon, and bread. Ryoka could have hugged Erin, but she was more interested in eating.

“So. How did you all sleep? Um, sorry about the singing.”

“I quite enjoyed it. It was an unusual song.”

Val smiled at Erin around his breakfast. Ryoka grunted.  Ceria nodded as she massaged her temples.

“What a night. I can’t believe half of what I remember. And what I do remember—”

She broke off, not looking at Olesm. And he was pointedly not looking at Ceria. Ryoka eyed his twitching tail. Erin didn’t seem to notice either reaction. Instead, she pointed excitedly at the chessboard on the table.

“Guess what, guys? Look at this! The chessboard I got was magical!

Everyone looked around. Olesm dropped his fork and Val whistled as he saw the ghostly pieces.

“I thought something was off. Well now, that’s not something you see every day.”

Ryoka frowned.

“What is it?”

“Some kind of duplication spell and magically connected board, I would guess. Obviously.”

Ryoka turned her head, and saw Pisces lurch into the inn. He looked – and smelled – like he’d been sleeping outside. The trash that fell from his robes attested to that fact.

“Pisces.”

“Ceria. I see you are having breakfast. Allow me to join you.”

Pisces inserted himself at Ceria’s table, much to her displeasure. Erin glared at Pisces, but she didn’t oust him from the inn. Instead, she looked back at the chessboard.

“So it’s like a magic chessboard that allows you to play against someone far away? Cool! I had…one just like it back at home!”

Ryoka glared at Erin while Pisces and Val raised their eyebrows. Olesm was busy inspecting the board, murmuring excitedly over the ghostly pieces. They did look quite impressive, especially as it turned out that the ghostly wisps followed the pieces as the Drake tried moving them across the board.

“They’re cold!”

The pieces were indeed cool to the touch, and Ryoka imagined holding solidified air as she touched them. Erin stared at the board, and the pawn moved on the other side.

“Well, this is an invitation to play if ever I saw one. Sounds like fun!”

Ryoka tried to quickly run through the consequences of playing a game, but she couldn’t think of too many. Besides, whoever had sent the board clearly knew it had arrived.

Erin reached for a piece, but Olesm’s tail twitched and she paused, seeing it. The [Tactician] hesitated, and then looked at Erin pleadingly.

“Can—can I play a game? I wouldn’t want to impose, but I’m curious…after you’ve played a few games, do you think I could try?”

“Well, why not now?”

Erin moved aside and gestured Olesm into the seat. The Drake gaped at Erin and Ryoka smiled in her seat.

“What? But no—I couldn’t do that!”

Olesm protested as Erin pulled back the chair for him. She shook her head at him.

“Oh come on. It’s not like it’s that important who plays first. And besides, the other person has no idea who I am. Go on! I need to clean up anyways.”

“If you’re sure…”

Olesm’s hands were twitching as much as his tail as he sat at the chess board. Hesitantly he peered at the pieces, and then moved a pawn forwards.

While he was waiting—and Ryoka wondered if he’d be waiting for a long time given the time zones that could be involved for the other player, she looked at Ceria. The mage was looking at Olesm, but she turned to Ryoka and also turned red when the human girl nudged her.

“What? Ryoka?”

“I’d like to talk with you about learning magic later. If you’re not too busy?”

Ceria smiled wryly.

“Not at all. I’ve got a few things to do this morning, but would a few hours from now be fine?”

“Sounds good. I’m going to run and then rest some more. I’ll meet you back here.”

“It moved! It moved!

Olesm’s excited voice caught everyone’s attention. Ryoka glanced over, and saw a piece had indeed moved. Olesm was transfixed, but then he cautiously moved a piece. After a few seconds, the invisible opponent replied.

That was impressive. It hadn’t been what, more than a few seconds? Had the mysterious sender been waiting for someone to make a move? Ryoka liked chess, but she wasn’t nearly as fanatical as Erin and Olesm were.

“I’m going to stay here and clean up while Olesm plays, and then I’ll play. It’ll be a fun day!”

Erin collected plates and cutlery as she announced that fact to the room. Ceria nodded and gestured at the mage at her side.

“Pisces and I will visit the city. I want to see Yvlon and he’s going to get new robes.”

“I am?”

Pisces looked dubiously at Ceria. He plucked at his much-stained robes.

“My current garments are quite suitable.”

“They are not.”

Everyone agreed with Ceria’s statement. The half-Elf pointed at Pisces.

“You’re disgusting. You’ve still got that gold we paid you for Ryoka’s leg—use some of it!”

He hesitated, and rose to follow her as she walked towards the door.

“Ah. About that. You wouldn’t be able to give me a small loan, would you?”

The door shut behind them. Ryoka and Val left soon afterwards. That left only Erin and Olesm in the inn. Erin kept tidying up, getting rid of stains, forgetting everything in the rhythm of work.

It wasn’t easy. But it wasn’t hard either. In truth, only the stains and bits of food particles that got into cracks in the floorboards and under chairs and so on irked Erin. Now, why couldn’t she have gotten [Advanced Cleaning] or something instead? Although her two skills did sound useful. Erin wondered what kind of food she’d be able to make tonight. Hm. What should she make tonight?

After a while, she heard an odd thumping sound coming from Olesm. She looked, and saw his tail as smacking the ground as Olesm stared at the table. There was a helpless look in the Drake’s eyes.

“Olesm? What’s wrong?”

He turned to her. Olesm looked like he was about to cry as he pointed to the chess board. The white chess pieces were covering the board, while only a King and two pawns remained on his side.

“I—I’m sorry. I can’t do anything.”

 

—-

 

Ryoka inhaled the fresh, cold air as she stepped outside. Winter. Ah, winter. She wasn’t a fan.

The cold and snow made it impossible for her to run barefoot, and so she hated the winter. That was all there was to it.

Technically, Ryoka could run barefoot in the snow. Some runners could even run through freezing water in the winter; she’d seen Youtube videos. But it was a bad idea to do on a long run, and dangerous. Besides, her parents had freaked out when they learned Ryoka was doing it, so that was that.

Val appeared next to Ryoka and began doing the same sort of stretches she was doing. She glanced at him, and wondered if they were thinking of the same thing.

A morning run. It was the best time for it. Her body was stiff, and her head was still fuzzy and hurting from last night. No help for it but to run it all off. Daily morning runs were a part of Ryoka’s life—if she wasn’t going on a delivery today, she wanted to run for a while.

“Are you going for a run? Want company?”

Val’s offer surprised Ryoka. She stared at him for a few seconds before replying.

“I’d just slow you down. You’re way faster than me.”

It didn’t even hurt to admit. There was such a huge difference between them it would hurt more to deny such an obvious fact. But Val didn’t seem to think so. He scratched at his neck and looked at Ryoka.

“That may be true, but why would that stop us running together? I don’t have to use Skills. In fact, I prefer not to. [Double Step] and [Quick Movement] might be great for long distances, but they make me far too tired to do whenever I feel like it. So, that run?”

“…Sure.”

It was odd. Ryoka wasn’t a social runner. On the track team in high school, she’d been just as antisocial as anywhere else. In fact, she was even more ostracized there because she was the track team’s best runner and she didn’t get along with anybody. A pariah who showed up for events and track meets and nothing else.

That had been her parents’ fault as much as hers. They’d forced the coach to let Ryoka train by herself, since she would anyways after the track team finished. A bad decision. One of many Ryoka hadn’t protested or had made over the years.

She hoped running with Val was a good idea. She let him set the pace, and he led her here at a reasonably fast jog through the snow. Not too fast; she soon realized he wanted to talk as they ran, which was another unknown concept to her.

“That was one wild night, wasn’t it? I’ve seen celebrations in cities that didn’t reach that level. And the music! Dragons above, I’ve never heard anything like it!”

“It was good, wasn’t it?”

Words didn’t capture that night for Ryoka. It wasn’t magical or anything life-changing, but it was special all the same. It was…slightly magical, okay. It was a good night. A rarity for her.

“And that device Erin was using—was that yours? It makes music?”

“It—plays back music.”

Ryoka fished out the iPhone from her pocket and showed Val. It was off, and he peered at it curiously before picking up the pace.

“I don’t understand it, but I’ve seen objects that record sight and sound. And smell. I assume it’s like that?”

“It’s from where Erin and I come from. You can think of it as magic. It’s close enough.”

Perhaps it had been a mistake to give away that she had the iPhone, but that conversation with the others had illustrated just how borked the idea of keeping their world secret was. Besides, there was a benefit to giving some things away.

“Let me know if you meet someone who has something like this, though, will you? I’d be interested in meeting them.”

“I would too, especially if they’re anything like you and Erin!”

“Well, they might be. But I haven’t met anyone else.”

Ryoka felt her legs warming up as they ran through the wet snow. The sun was warm on their skin, and she was feeling better by the second. Nothing beat a good run, and surprisingly, the conversation didn’t hurt either.

“Again, I’ve got to thank you. That charm you had—I want to repay you somehow. It was extremely expensive.”

“Like I said, forget about it. It’s one favor from a Runner to another.”

Ryoka shifted uncomfortably. What Val had said sounded a lot like what she’d heard Fals saying all the time.

“Still. It’s not a small thing. A thousand gold coins—”

This time Valceif made a face and slowed down so he and Ryoka were next to each other. He looked at her seriously.

“Ryoka, we’re Runners. When one of us needs help, other Runners give what they can. If we need someone to help carry a delivery, we ask. Because we are alike, you and I. Today you needed help; tomorrow I might be the one in trouble, or someone else. I’m just paying back favors I received in the past.”

She considered that. Val looked around and sighed.

“Look, I’m not too happy about losing that charm either. But that’s how life works. We lose and we win. The last Runner who helped me out took two arrows pulling me to safety after a [Bandit Lord] jumped me. It’s the least I can do.”

Ryoka nodded. Then she lowered her head.

“Damn it. I’m a fool.”

“What? Why?”

Ryoka tried to explain as best she could. It sounded terrible and confused to her ears—she wasn’t used to talking about…anything with anyone. But Val seemed to get it. He slowed slightly as he thought.

“Hm. I understand what that Fals guy was saying, but that’s not exactly how I view it. It’s a problem with small-time Guilds. Here—”

He changed directions as he jogged through the snow. Ryoka followed him, and noticed they had just avoided a suspiciously flat spot.

“Shield Spider nest?”

“Other Runners warned me they like to hide in the ground during the winter. Good thing they’re the only dangerous monster that lays traps—at least, during this time of year. I’d never come here in the Spring or Summer without preparing a wand or two.”

Val shook his head.

“Still better than Crelers. Dead gods, I can’t stand those things. But where was I? Oh, right. Small Guilds like that are different than what I’m saying. There it’s ‘follow the rules or get out’. But Couriers don’t answer to our Guilds in the same way. We back each other up if we’re in danger, but no one bosses anyone else around. What that Fals guy and the guild wanted you to do—I’d be on your side as well.”

“You would?”

That surprised Ryoka, although perhaps it shouldn’t have. Val clearly wasn’t one of the Runners in a guild, and he’d treated the other Runners like a different kind of people.

“We’re a community, not a cult. And it’s not like I go around tossing charms at everyone I meet. If that pinch-faced girl wanted help for instance, I would have let her get hexed all day long.”

He gestured at Ryoka as they powered up a steep hill.

“You’re different. That Fals guy, the girl I saved—”

“Garia.”

“—Right. Well, they’re only going to become Couriers if they get really lucky and learn a good skill. That doesn’t seem likely to me. But you’re faster than them without levels. And you’ve got the grit to run all night to get here.”

“You think so? But I don’t—I don’t have any levels. I could never run like you do.”

Ryoka admitted that with a lot of regret. She’d always assumed that levels were just a cheap trick, a way to cheat or play someone else’s game. But of all the things in the world, seeing Val run like that had tempted her the most.

“If—if I decided to level up, maybe that would be better. Smarter. More sensible.”

She’d expected Val to agree with her, but instead he seemed wary of the idea.

“I personally don’t think it’s worth it.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for one thing, and please take no offense, but—you’ll never reach my level if you start now. I know [Warriors] and other classes level up faster if they kill stronger enemies and so on, but [Runners] gain levels differently.”

“How so?”

“We level up based on how far we’ve run, and how challenging it is. True, you could do some horribly hard runs, but even then, I doubt you’d hit Level 10 by the end of the year, and it would just get slower from there.  No, I’d say you’ve got your own unique style without levels. You should continue as you are.”

That was the first time Ryoka had heard that opinion. She glanced at Val’s profile and his bent nose.

“You think so? No one else I’ve met shares your opinion.”

“Well, it’s a preference thing. And besides, you probably don’t know this, but Skills aren’t the same even for people with the same class.”

Ryoka had inferred something like that from comments from other Runners, but she hadn’t ever heard it from the horse’s mouth so to speak. She let Val go on as they ran a slow circuit of the Floodplains of Liscor.

“Skills are—how should I describe them? They’re like a gamble, but a safe one. As you level up, you’ll definitely gain some good skills and some not so useful ones. But you can generally predict which ones you’ll get based on your class.”

“Ah. A pool of options?”

Val lifted a thumb up and inclined his head at her.

“Precisely. There are rare skills you can get like [Double Step], and not-so-rare ones. For instance, almost every [Warrior] is going to get [Thick Skin] if they go for close-range combat sooner or later. But they might get it at Level 5, or Level 50. Well—not Level 50.”

“Why not—wait, there are rare skills every 10 levels?”

“Good guess! Yeah, I got my [Double Step] skill at Level 30. And of course sometimes you can learn a rare skill, but that takes training and some luck. I suppose if you had a class you could learn something that allowed you to move faster but…”

“Not worth it. Right. But how can I run faster without classes?”

“With magic, of course. I’ve met people like you before. People without levels, I mean. That’s how they overcome the problem.”

Ryoka slowed and her foot skidded over a patch of ice. She caught herself and ran after Val as he paused for her to catch up.

“You have?”

“Yeah. I meet them now and then. People of all kinds choose not to level. Well, they’re not too common as you can imagine, but I do run across them now and then.”

“Are there any differences between them and others?”

“Attitude? The way they get treated? Nothing else.”

That was disappointing, but maybe…Ryoka tried to keep the conversation going while she thought.

“And you think I can become a Courier even without Skills? With magic?”

“It’s possible. You just need the right equipment—the right magic if you’ve got the talent. Not all Couriers are fast. Some run a bit slower than you, but can’t be stopped. There’s a [Marksman] among us who rides a horse. She snipes anyone getting in her way from two hundred feet away.”

“Hm. So build up my résumé until I’m famous enough, huh?”

“Your what? Oh, you mean take a lot of prestigious requests? Yeah. Get a name for yourself as a trusted Runner and it’ll happen. You just need to take requests no other Runner will do.”

“Well, I’m on a good start.”

“Oh? How so?”

Ryoka hesitated. But she’d talked honestly with Val so far, and she wanted to be on a level. Besides…she told him briefly about Teriarch’s request, leaving out all of the really interesting details.

Val whistled.

“Eight hundred gold pieces? You’re kidding. That’s…no wonder your guy was expecting a Courier.”

“Well, it was forty gold pieces and a potion until I started bargaining with him.”

“Hah!”

Val had to think as they ran on. Ryoka had asked him whether he knew of the lands past the Blood Fields, omitting any mention of undead or the person she had to find, Az’kerash.

“The Blood Fields? And the southern lands, huh? You’ve got a problem there, but I’m not sure I can help you. I’ve only been down that way once or twice.”

“Pity. I’ll manage.”

“You shouldn’t have to go in there uninformed, though. And while I might know—hold on, let me see if I can find the other Courier nearby.”

“What?”

Val reached into a pouch at his belt. He pulled out…a stone, of all things. It was vaguely like the one Teriarch had given Ryoka—a normal smooth stone, although this one was inscribed with glowing symbols rather than an arrow.

They lit up as Val touched a finger to the rock. Ryoka heard nothing, but Val must have heard a voice, because he began talking to the air as they ran.

“Ah, hello? Am I speaking to Hawk? This is Valceif of First Landing. I’m in the area, and I was wondering if you had time to consult with me and another Runner. We’re just outside the city, running. Would you like to—? Thanks.”

He tucked the stone back into his pocket and looked at Ryoka.

“I’ve called Hawk, a Courier who does runs around here. He’ll be with us in a few seconds.”

That was no exaggeration. Barely ten seconds after Val had spoken, Ryoka spotted something hurtling towards them out of the city gate. She barely caught sight of the Runner himself; the snow geysering up behind him was what caught Ryoka’s eye. He intercepted the two Runners within seconds, and the snow cascaded down around them as Hawk, Beastkin, giant talking rabbit, and Courier of Liscor appeared.

“Valceif! I’m surprised they sent you down here!”

“Hello, Hawk. Well, you know how it is. You were busy, and I was nearby and they needed a rush job so here I am.”

The two Runners clasped…hands. Ryoka stared at Hawk’s large paw, and at his furry face and at…him.

She couldn’t deal. No. No—she was lost. He was a giant rabbit. This wasn’t just seeing a Drake or a Gnoll, this was a talking rabbit with pants and a six-pack. Ryoka’s mind was dissolving at the edges.

“And this is Ryoka Griffin, a City Runner. I was hoping you could help her. Ryoka, meet one of the fastest Couriers on the continent.”

“Hawk. I’m the Courier around here. Please to meet you, Miss Ryoka.”

Ryoka took the paw gingerly, and shook it. He had…five fingers, but four toes on his feet. The fur felt smooth and warm in her hands and she met his brown eyes and tried to smile.

Val took over the conversation. He briefly explained Ryoka’s delivery, adding a few details she thought were unnecessary.

“She’s a City Runner, but a step above the other ones. I was hoping you could give her some advice.”

Hawk smiled at Ryoka and shrugged.

“Well, I can keep you from running into too much trouble, but there’s always some war or skirmish going on down there. It’s risky for a City Runner or even an inexperienced Courier. You might want to reconsider going down there, Miss. How much are you getting paid? Is this request really worth it?”

He wasn’t precisely arrogant, but he seemed too relaxed to be taking the conversation seriously. After seeing how fast he ran, Ryoka couldn’t blame him for thinking she was small-fry.

She steeled herself. Rabbit or not, he was still a person. Remember that. Erin made talking to other species look so easy. She grinned at Hawk, and decided to take him down a peg. Just a peg.

“You could say that. My delivery’s worth eight hundred gold pieces. Think it’s worth doing?”

Hawk tripped, but caught himself before he face-planted in the snow.

“Eight h—”

He eyed Val. The other human was grinning at him. Hawk smiled ruefully, and nodded at Ryoka in apology.

“Well, I’ve underestimated you, I can see. But my point stands about the danger, especially if you’ve got something that might attract attention. Want to give the request to me? I’ll do the delivery and cut you in on a hundred gold pieces.”

Ryoka shook her head. She wasn’t about to trade the request, even if it would mean no risk to her. After what she’d learned about Teriarch, she just had to fulfill his request, for more reasons than one. Val looked at the other Courier reprovingly.

“Hawk.”

The rabbit man raised his hands defensively.

“I’m just asking. Okay. I thought you weren’t being serious, but I’m sorry Miss Ryoka. Right then. This is a serious delivery.”

“And she’s doing it.”

“I just offered.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine.”

Ryoka gestured to her belt pouch, where the letter and ring were hidden.

“Besides, what I’m delivering is spelled to only be carried by me. You’d probably die if you tried to take it.”

“That’s…an important detail. Right. Well, advice I’m happy to give. What do you need to know? Travel routes? Current battlefields?”

“All of the above and local monsters and so on. Ryoka’s never been down that way.”

Hawk nodded. His ears twitched and he looked out at the pristine snow around them.

“Mind if we run and talk?”

“It’s fine with me. I know a good route around here with some nice flat spots. Want me to lead?”

“Sounds good.”

“Go ahead.”

They set off. Like Val, Hawk adjusted his pace so Ryoka could comfortably keep up. It felt odd, being the slowest person in the group. Hawk began to talk as they ran together.

“Now, do you know where you’re going or do you have a moving target? If it’s something like one of the Walled Cities, you’ll be able to get there pretty easily. If not…”

“I’ve got a spell that points me in the right direction. I have no idea where I’m going.”

Val groaned.

“I hate those.”

Hawk nodded. The rabbit took long, easy strides that made Ryoka envy him. He didn’t even seem bothered by the snow as he ran through it. Well, he had pads on his feet…paws.

“Tricky. If you’re going by spell, you could run right into a monster nest or one of the war zones down there. There are a few conflicts going on, and any Human running past is going to get shot at, Runner or not.”

“What? Soldiers don’t attack Runners! If they know you’re a Runner, they should leave you alone!”

Val looked indignant, but Hawk only smiled at him.

“If you can prove you’re a Runner before they fill you with arrows, be my guest. Besides, they use spells that blast an entire area, so there’s no guarantee you won’t be caught up in one. My advice is just stay away, but if you’ve got to head into one of those zones…”

He began listing locations off, and Ryoka tried to memorize them. Val pulled out a map of the area and began marking spots for her. Another gift. She tried to refuse, but he told her it was only worth a gold coin or two. In response, she tossed two at him as they ran.

“Just be careful. You can talk to soldiers if they aren’t trying to kill you and usually get past, so that’s not the real problem.”

“What is?”

Hawk leapt straight over a five foot high drift of snow and landed lightly. He turned and ran backwards while Val and Ryoka went around it.

“Things to watch out for? I’d start with the Gnolls. Keep away from them unless you’re absolutely sure you know which tribe it is. Some are friendly towards Humans and other species, but others will try and eat you. Believe me, I know from experience.”

He scowled, rubbing at his neck. Ryoka could just imagine the conflict that would arise…she looked at Hawk and decided she would never be able to eat rabbit again. Not that she was particularly a fan in the first place.

“There are several nasty Goblin tribes down that way. Don’t underestimate them; they’re not like the normal ones around here. Um—there are lots of monsters, but they’re mostly hibernating or hiding in the winter. Watch out for Snow Golems, though. They’re practically invisible in the snow. Oh, and Wyverns. The white ones come down from the mountains sometimes and they love the cold.”

Ryoka knew what a Wyvern was, but she couldn’t believe the other thing Hawk had said.

“Snow Golems? Do you mean giant snowmen?”

“Snow things.

“Right. Sorry.”

“Common mistake. I suppose you’ve seen what happens when some stupid brats make a snow Drake and forget to give it clothes? Imagine that, only ten times bigger and with icicles with claws and teeth. Plus, they can hurl snowballs filled with rocks.”

Hawk shuddered.

“I hate them so much. If you ever know you’re getting close to a group of them, bring some kind of fire spell with you.”

“And Wyverns—keep an eye on the sky. If you see anything overhead, even if you think it’s an eagle, make sure you’ve got somewhere to hide where they can’t reach you. They can dive incredibly fast, so be careful if it’s cloudy.”

“And you’re not going to talk me out of this, despite the danger?”

Ryoka looked at both Couriers, amused. This sounded almost as bad as the High Passes, but then she’d just been told by everyone that it was suicidal to try to go there. Both Val and Hawk shook their heads. Val gestured at her as they began to circle back in the direction of the inn.

“If you’ve taken the contract, you’re bound to deliver it. And if you’re the type to give up just because you might die, you’ll never become a Courier.”

Ryoka grinned, and Hawk and Val returned it. It was odd, being in sync with other people.

“Anything else?”

“The undead. Be very wary of them.”

This time Hawk looked completely serious.

“You weren’t here for the undead that attacked, were you?”

“I saw the aftermath.”

“Yeah, well…they weren’t nearly as bad as the ones you can find around the Blood Fields. I mean, there was that big one, but individually, the worst undead out there were Crypt Lords.”

“That’s nasty enough. They’re commander-types.”

“Yeah, but they were commanding zombies, skeletons, and ghouls. Not scary. But a lot of the undead you can find down there are leftovers from the Necromancer.”

“Oh.”

Ryoka looked between human man and rabbit man.

“The Necromancer? You mean the one who raised the undead army? What kind of undead are we talking about here?”

Hawk shuddered.

“Horrible ones. Smart ones. He enslaved wraiths and ghosts and built new types of undead. Look—just before you go, buy some emergency gear. Something to get you away quick if you run into a group of them.”

Ryoka felt at the potion at her belt, and remembered the ones she’d gotten from Octavia.

“I’ve got some stuff.  And four healing potions and three stamina potions. Enough?”

“Should be.”

“As long as you don’t stray too far from the roads. Healing potions are only useful if you’re alive to use them. Best trick is not to get hurt.”

“Agreed. Just don’t get hurt.”

“And don’t give up! Delivery or die!”

Ryoka had to laugh. Both Couriers were like her. It was amazing! She took a breath and quoted from memory.

“‘Neither rain nor snow, nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds’, huh?”

Both Val and Hawk looked at Ryoka in astonishment.

“That’s quite good! Where did you hear that?”

“Oh, it’s a quote from my home about Couriers.”

“‘Neither rain nor snow’…yeah, I like it!”

Hawk nodded his head and Val did as well.

“We might just have to use that line! Thanks, Miss Ryoka.”

“Call me Ryoka.”

‘Miss’ seemed to be this world’s way of being polite, almost like Japanese honorifics. She bowed her head at the other two Couriers as they slowed on their approach to the inn.

“Thank you, both of you. I owe you a lot. I’ll repay the favor someday.”

“Bah. It was nothing.”

Hawk waved a paw dismissively. And then he grinned at Val and Ryoka.

“Talk is cheap, but meeting other good Runners? It’s great to meet other people who can run! You wouldn’t believe how slow the ones around here are. And hey, maybe we can go back to that inn for some more hamburgers afterwards, hey?”

Val and Ryoka paused. Ryoka remembered how many she’d eaten yesterday, for both lunch and dinner. Val was clearly thinking the same thing.

“No.”

“Not for at least a month.”

Both Val and Ryoka said it at the same time. Hawk looked slightly hurt.

“Why not? You were both at the inn last night, weren’t you? The one with the music? It was great! I must have eaten eight of the things, and then I got some tail, if you know what I mean.”

He grinned at Val and made a wiggling motion with his paw.

“Drakes. So slippery, you know?”

Val and Ryoka exchanged a look. Val looked at Hawk.

“Tail? You don’t mean—”

Ryoka’s mind literally shut down at the idea of Hawk eating eight hamburgers and then finding a female Drake and…

Neither human spoke, but they both accelerated at the same time. Hawk had to increase his stride to keep up. He glared at them as he kept pace.

“Oh come on! Do you think I’d be into fleshy people like you? I’d rather kiss a Minotaur first. At least they have something covering them! Furballs, you humans are so touchy.

 

—-

 

Olesm was not a Drake given to arrogance, but he still had his pride. It had been badly crushed, beaten, and stomped by a certain human and the undead, but it was still pride nevertheless.

He’d leveled up, risked his life, and tried to learn to play his favorite game as best he could. He’d learned from the greatest chess player in the world—Erin, and he thought he’d made something of himself.

But now he knew the truth. The cold waters of reality were lapping around his head, and Olesm was too downtrodden to even bother trying to swim.

He felt Erin come over, and wished, wished, he was the kind of person who could capture her heart. But he was a [Tactician] – not a good one, not nearly as good as one in Liscor’s army – but he had a special skill. He could read people, and she wasn’t interested in him.

At all. Oh, she liked him, but Olesm knew it wouldn’t be more than that. And of course, he’d found someone—

It was just that she was like a beacon to him, a font of knowledge and unexplained mystery that stirred his soul. And he had let her down. He could barely look at Erin. Shame made Olesm’s tail droop.

“I—lost. Three games in a row. I couldn’t even put up a fight.”

Erin stared curiously at the chessboard as Olesm cringed. He couldn’t even bear to see how badly he’d been demolished. It hadn’t even been a battle, really. Just the other player pushing Olesm’s head down into the waters and holding him there while he drowned.

“Huh. That other guy’s good. Or girl. Probably a guy, though.”

“You can tell what gender he is just by looking at the board?”

Olesm’s tail drooped ever further. Erin was so far above him—

“No! I just mean—well, all the Grandmasters back home were mostly guys. Girls didn’t play chess as much so I meant…hm.”

She stared at the board, and then started resetting the pieces. Olesm stared glumly at the board.

“I think I made him mad. Or—disappointed him. I’m so sorry.”

After the first game, the other player had reset the board quickly. But this time he – or she – let Erin put all the pieces back. Yes, Olesm could feel the disapproval radiating off the pieces. It scourged him, and he couldn’t deny it. If he had found out that the player who’d come up with that marvelous puzzle was just someone on Olesm’s level.

Olesm lowered his head to the table. He would apologize, leave the inn, go to the city, and not bother Erin again until he was ten levels higher. He would—

A hand brushed the spines on Olesm’s head and he jerked. Erin patted him gently on the head as she took a seat at the table.

“There’s no reason to be mad for playing someone worse than you are. Everyone has to learn. If this guy’s mad, I’ll teach him a lesson for you.”

Erin flipped the board around, and moved a white pawn. Olesm hesitated, but his pulse suddenly began to speed up.

“He’s quite good.”

“I know. I could see. So—I guess I’ll take this seriously.”

“I’ll just—I’ll give you some—”

Olesm backed up until he was a table’s length away from Erin. He waited, with baited breath as she stared at the board. Then, almost reluctantly, he saw a knight move to F6. His spirits sank again.

This was…what had Erin called it? Oh, yes. Alekhine’s Defence. It was an aggressive opening to counter with, and it hinted that the other player had grown tired of playing Olesm. At first he’d played very cautiously, but now—

Erin smiled. She moved another piece forwards—a knight to C3. Almost instantly, the other player countered, moving his knight again, but Erin didn’t stop. She started playing pieces rapidly, as soon as the other player moved his.

Olesm could feel the shock running through the board. The other player had probably just realized someone else was playing—Olesm hadn’t moved his pieces so quickly, and certainly not with such skill.

For five whole minutes, the game paused, and Olesm could feel the other side recalculating. When the game resumed, it was slower, and the other player took his time thinking his moves over.

“Oh.”

It was a soft sound, in the gentle silence of the inn. It came from Erin as the game was more than halfway done. She’d made a mistake, and the other player had taken her queen. Olesm stared at the board in shock, and then at Erin. She was surprised, but she just looked at the board and started recalculating her position. He heard her murmur as she tapped her chin.

“He’s quite good. Yeah.”

And then—

She grinned. It was an expression like many of the bright smiles Olesm had seen and felt before, but this one was different. It made his scales tingle.

Because there was a light in Erin’s eyes he hadn’t seen before. And as she moved the next piece, punishing the bishop that had stolen her queen, he thought she looked…

Hungry. Yes, that was it.

Whatever else you might say of Erin, her skill at chess was indisputable. In this world, chess had lived in the minds of a few players for less than three years. But Erin had grown up playing chess as a child. She had breathed and lived the game, playing more matches in a year than Olesm had in his life.

Erin had grown up studying over 1,500 years of chess. She’d learned from Grandmasters and countless games she could look back on. Chess strategy had evolved much since the origin of the game, and Erin had learned to play at such a level that even among the 600 million players in the world, she still stood close to the top.

To Olesm, she was a god of chess that had come to this world. He had never beaten Erin; never even come close. But it is lonely, standing alone at the top. Only once he’d seen Erin challenged—only once had he ever seen her lose.

She’d played a hundred Workers at once and then taught them an Immortal Game. And then she had played one of her own. Olesm still remembered that game.

It must have been so lonely, afterwards. To play against players who couldn’t even make her take the game seriously. But now. But now—

Erin played silently, sitting with her back straight against the chair, posture perfect. She didn’t look around, didn’t chatter happily as she played. For once, she was concentrating completely on the game. And as the game drew close to its ending, her responses got faster, her concentration even deeper.

At the end, Erin took the black King, and Olesm remembered to breathe again. Erin sat back in her chair and laughed in delight. And that sound was pure and made him realize that she was happy.

Happy to have won. But happier to have played.

“Come on. Another game?”

Erin started resetting the board, but she tapped one of the ghostly pawns on the chess board once. And Olesm saw the black pawn move up and gently tap the board as well.

They understood each other. They were two players separated by hundreds, possibly thousands of miles, but they understood each other. They were here to play. So they did.

Another game. And another. Erin won both. Olesm watched as the fourth game began, and realized the truth.

Yes. Whoever was on the other side of the chess board was not Erin’s equal. But they were close. So close. And in each game, they sent a message to Erin, one written in every closely-contested exchange, every lost pawn and checkmate.

You are not alone.

Olesm wiped tears from his eyes. His heart ached, and he knew it would be silly to anyone watching. But there was a beauty in this that only someone who loved the game could see.

It took so much to look away, but he had to. Olesm walked into the kitchen and found what he was looking for. He’d found a bunch of parchment Erin had bought when he was helping out. It was still there, in a cupboard with an ink pot and quill.

Olesm returned to the living room and stared at the game. It was going slowly, and he looked at Erin’s face just for a second. She was closing her eyes, smiling gently, and his heart hurt for a moment.

He slowly picked up the quill and dipped it into the ink. Olesm began to write, noting down each move in the shorthand notation Erin had taught him.

And Erin smiled, and the chess pieces moved. They danced on the board and the Drake listened to history being made.

 

—-

 

Far away, and in a large tent on the middle of a hot and humid day, Niers Astoragon, second in command of one of the Four Great Companies of Baleros, and highest-leveled [Strategist] on the continent, gently pushed over the king and stared at the chess board.

He ignored the sounds of battle around him. His soldiers would emerge triumphant, and his lieutenants had the battle well in hand. Interfering with them would only impede their growth.

No, instead, he stared at the shimmering board and the magical pieces arranged on it. He had lost. For the fourth time. It had been close—ever so close! But he had lost. For the fourth time.

Niers did not rage. He was not, in fact, angry. Instead, he smiled, in much the same way Erin had. He put one hand on his chin and stroked it, feeling stubble rasp under his fingers. He had forgotten to shave, or sleep for that matter. He had been waiting to play the puzzle-maker and after an initial disappointment, his patience had been rewarded tenfold.

For a second, Niers debated hunting for his razor. He would have borrowed one of his lieutenant’s blades, but he hated how they fussed over him. A dagger as large as he was was still a dagger, and he was more than strong enough to lift it. It was just awkward, that was all.

Appearance trumped desire. Niers was a Level 63 [Strategist], and on his shoulders the fate of his company rested. He could not let his soldiers down. But—perhaps after he had played another game?

Niers reached down for a chess piece, and then he paused. A sound was coming from outside—a dissonance in the sounds of battle. Niers listened, and sighed. Some fool had just deployed the other army’s elite vanguard against his soldiers, turning this skirmish into a far bloodier battle.

His soldiers would need his help. Niers raised a hand and said two words.

“[Assault Formation].”

The air on the battlefield changed. Satisfied, Niers turned back to the board, ignoring the roar that came from his soldiers as the tide shifted once more.

He looked back at the board. He had sent it on a whim, judging the cost worth the possibility of a decent game. But now a bigger question loomed in his mind, one he’d wished he had asked sooner.

“Who are you?”

The chess pieces didn’t answer out loud. But as Niers saw the white side reset itself, he knew he would find part of the answer in the game. He sat down, concentrated harder than he had for what seemed like years—

And began to play.

 


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76 thoughts on “2.17

  1. Okay, first off, if you’re wondering why there’s suddenly an update…it’s because I owe you a bonus chapter! So this one is getting unlocked for all readers, and I’m writing up the next chapter for Patreon users as we speak. (Or maybe in an hour or two.)

    Second, I know there have been problems, namely that since I now release a chapter for Patreon users one update early, email and RSS users get hit with a chapter that they can’t unlock if they’re not Patreon pledgers. I wish there was a better way to stop notifying people of password-protected posts, but WordPress sucks in that regard. I’d like to know if you’re bothered by this, though. Let me know how many people don’t like this new system and I’ll maybe switch it back to putting the chapter on Patreon? But then people can’t comment.

    Regardless, Patreon is taking off and I might owe another bonus chapter soon if we hit $500/month! Thanks to everyone for pledging, and Patreon people can look forwards to a chapter later today. I’m working on it…soon.

      • We were kicked from the 3rd rank.
        Vote, please; otherwise we are never going to reach the 1st place, and get the Bonus Chapter.
        This site is supposed to have around 1k unique visitors, so it should be easily done to kick ‘the good student’ from the throne.

        • 3rd place. cmoooon only 210 votes and we will do it!

          Readers! This is the time to stay united! The time to put your hands int he air like you don’t care… about anything but the success of this webserial on TopWebFiction! Steel your gaze and say “Today! Is the Day! I spend 15 seconds of my life to push a button!” We can do it! The only thing between us and salvation is The Wandering Inn not bein in first place! And we can change that! Once and for all (of the remainder of the week)!

          Who is with me?

        • Does anyone even know what’s up with that? I’ve taken a look at “The good student” and sure, it’s interesting, decent world building, but it’s only got something like 13 chapters, why’s it getting so many votes?

          • Well, it gets so much attention, while only having less then 20 chapters, because it is being writen by the author of how to avoid death on a daily basis, which already got over 10k readers. So, it’s nothing to be suprised about by seing it getting so much attention, while it’s only in it’s beginning stage.

    • The RSS thing bothers me some – I follow a lot of stories via RSS and it can throw me off a little. Obviously I’ll keep reading either way, but just chiming in as requested.

    • Honestly I am not bothered by the notifications coming from the password protected chapters, but it annoys me that I don’t get a notification when these chapters unlock. I just check the site whenever you upload another protected chapter in the hopes that you unlocked the previous ones, however that doesn’t work if you upload the bonus chapters as well (at some point the past couple of days there were 3 protected chapters). This Issue could be solved if you took down the protected chapter and just reuploaded it (still not ideal thogh).

      • Royalroad RSS? They have one? And…yes, that would work! I only update Royal Road with the latest chapter. Let me check it out.

        EDIT: Okay, I put the Royalroad RSS below the WordPress one. That way readers can use both depending on whether or not they can unlock password-protected chapters. Plus, the Royalroad one will update whenever a normal update comes out so it’s win-win! Great suggestion!

        • Check out my comment below. I think I have a better (albeit more complex) idea, where it links to your page instead of RoyalRoad’s.

    • getting a notification about locked post is fine, help us scrubs want the next one even more.
      maybe say patreon in the title? and then edit?

    • Poor Erin when she realizes that much amplification is very hard on medieval glass.

      Poor Free Antinium, they seem to have missed the party. Or maybe not, it was loud enough.

      • An interesting question. If there’s a site that offers good features like WordPress for easy customization…maybe.

        I’ve got a lot of work invested here, and people know this site. Moving might be more hassle than it’s worth, to be honest. If the only issue here is RSS and notifications, I might bite the bullet and stick with it. But if you’ve got a suggestion for me, I’ll certainly check it out.

          • I don’t know. Honestly, I really wouldn’t want to ask anyone to put in time and effort when the system works fine the way it is. If I needed something special that couldn’t be achieved with what I’ve got, that would be different.

            But let’s be honest, this site is just a vessel for a word document. I’m happy with it 90% of time, and that’s enough.

            But if I ever do feel the need to change things I’ll talk with you. Thanks for the offer!

            (Maybe when I make a videogame or something. On my list of things to do!)

            • Well I’m not going to join Patreon, for reasons mentioned previously, but I would like to do something to help.

              Apart from the fancy expanding comment boxes, and multithread comments, I probably have most of what you would need pre-done.

              You can see my email, just drop me a line if you want to talk more.

    • Found another
      There’s no reason to be mad for playing someone worse than you are.
      I think you mean better not worse

      • On more
        It was an expression like many of the bright smiles Olesm had seem and felt before, but this one was different.
        It should be seen, not seem

    • Oh and this one too.
      “He put one hand on his chin and stroke it, feeling stubble rasp under his fingers.”

      Stroke should be stroked.

    • “It would be too much work to mix pancakes.”
      You might want to change that to crepes or something. Pancakes require baking soda, not something that would be available in a medieval society. Theoretically, it could be made using magic, but, if Erin was complaining about the price of sugar, magically manufactured baking soda would be well outside her price range.

  2. Baleros is the place Gazi came from, but it is the same as the kingdom ruled by the King of Destruction or is out strategist a merc?

  3. Oh, my prediction was wrong. I always wonder if the author changes it at the last minute when they see a reader predicting their plot twists. Or if I was wrong from the start. (I’m talking about the chess player being the girl Erin used to date) At least, I hope the author changes it. I was especially worried when you brought up the fact that “probably a male” and “most grandmasters are male”

    Now the obvious direction to take this plotline would be to have Niers come down to find Erin and instantly fall in love with her. Then Olesm will become insanely jealous thinking that Erin should be with a chess player that’s as good as she is. Then he does something stupid as a result of that conclusion.

    • Even if Niers does fall in love with Erin it might not work out.

      “He would have borrowed one of his lieutenant’s blades, but he hated how they fussed over him. A dagger as large as he was was still a dagger, and he was more than strong enough to lift it. It was just awkward, that was all.”

      Either he has giants for lieutenants or he is the size of a dagger. :p

    • The author is not allowed to give away spoilers, but yes, if a reader points out a glaring problem or suggests something even better (names, for instance), I’ll roll with it.

      …But in this case I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to mention that Niers always existed, and no change occurred. More than that, you won’t get out of me! (Good prediction, though.)

  4. Another awesome chapter!

    I can not wait until Niers learns he was beaten by an Innkeeper.

    I am surprised that Ryoka did not think of, and warn about, the biggest problem with Erin playing against an unknown opponent. The only way to level a class is by overcoming a real challenge. This means that Erin is going to be leveling the top [tacticians/strategists] in the world and this is going to have real and lasting consequences. I strongly suspect that this chapter is going to come back and hurt our protagonists in the future.

    Very interesting skill that Olesm has, I wonder what the justification is for such a skill being granted by the [Tactician] class. I suppose all is fair in love and war 😉

    Confirmation that other people choose not to have levels is fascinating. I really hope that this development path pays off for Ryoka in the end. I love her attitude and approach to this world and I would be sad if she slowly fell behind the power curve while others exploited the leveling system.

    I wonder why Toren has not made it back to the Inn yet. Based on the location of the battle it seems like he should have had enough time to return by now. Hopefully nothing too bad has happened to him (perhaps Rags adopted him into the clan :).

    • I am veeeery sure Toren is power leveling with the goblins in the Dungeon after they defeated the aemor. My hope for the endboss barmaid skeleton of doom is getting higher. ^^

      • It would be hilarious if he comes back with a voice sounding like Michael Caine. Or maybe he finds a buddy spirit in the dungeon that narrates his struggles with a Morgan Freeman voice. The chapter could be called the boneshank redemption

  5. Now that I think about it, it’s actually just as likely that Niers will be offended that Erin is a girl and an Innkeeper at that. That he’ll try and kill her or something out of embarrassment.

    • I dunno, from what little we’ve seen it looks more like Niers is the calm, collected type. He doesn’t rage after losing 4 games in a row, he’s not a hot blooded general looking for blood, he seems to value his men’s lives. He might be very surprised he’s playing against a girl innkeeper, but not “I kill you for honor” angry

    • None of your suggestions sound ANYTHING like the sort of thing the author writes. As a level 63 strategist he’s probably an old man and he seems to be intelligent and considerate, which wouldn’t make him suitable for either a love triangle or envy/vindictiveness plot.

      My guess is this is a character that won’t pay off for ages (like how the Princess has been a dangling plot line for months). At some point way down the road this connection will pay off allowing Erin and Ryoka access to a major army or getting them involved in diplomatic intrigue at a national level.

  6. Woo! You go, Olesm! Start off this world’s own 1,500 years of Chess history!

    Also, wow, 63? That’s like the highest on-screen character level we’ve heard of yet.

  7. YES!!!

    YES YES YES YES YES YES!

    Guess who IS NOT playing a dark snake lord who abused the courier system to find where she is and give our protagonist ANOTHER threat hiding in the wings????? Or Flos, who can zone in on her in as ground zero for an invasion? Or an undead arch-necromancer? Or Titania, who has finally found a mortal interesting enough to become “interested” in (never a good thing)?

    HA HA! ERIN! Who’s just playing some crazy high tactician on far away continent. Not evil, not a direct threat, not interested in “anomalies”. Just a dude who loves chess.

    YES!

    I can’t tell you (…okay, you get the idea) how happy I was that it wasn’t yet another person gunning to hurt Erin and/or the world. Sooooo happy.

    • While I like your optimism I think it is a bit too early to say if this will come back to hurt Erin or not. We know nothing about Niers and what his faction’s goals are. I agree it would be nice to have another ally in the world but I am not holding my breath.

  8. One request/thought/idea, though? You just cameo-ed the highest level individual in the story…then had him use the same skill as our ordinary bread and butter tactician (sorry Olesm!). Could you have him use some sort of cool sounding crazy high level tactician skill? [Impregnable Defense], or [Rampart Formation], or [Locking Shields] or such? We’re just seeing a LEVEL 63!! Tease us with what he can do!

    • Aha. The difference here is that Olesm used [Attack Formation] and he used [Assault Formation]. As to the difference in effects…well, you can infer something happened from the passage.

      • Totally read “Assault” as “Attack”; so you did throw in a new skill, I just can’t read right. Nice!!

    • I actually like that he used a very similar skill and that we saw the more poweful effect when it’s used at such a high level. Shows what Olesm could eventually reach if he hangs around Erin enough

    • My imagination of a high level tactician or strategist isn’t one of more game breaking power or overwhelming abilities. it’s timing and utilization of even the simplest basic skill. in a game with a slow spell (15% attack speed reduction) some players see 15% less damage no big deal unless it’s a boss or hard fight. The tactition will see the margine of the attack window in which other spells would be interrupted on hit, the opening where spell concentration is now gauranteed, in this little buffer they now have a window in which they are invincible.

    • Also I have to point out that they are not the same class.

      One is a [Tactician] the other is a [Strategist]. I am not sure if strategist is an evolution of tactician but that would make a lot of sense.

      The fact that large scale battle skills do not require the active participation of the character is fascinating. I wonder if they would still work if the person was only watching the battle via magic. This would allow you to ensure your high level trump card was never at risk even if the battle was lost.

      I am picturing a high level [General] back in a castle using a magic map and basically playing a board game but with real pieces. :p

  9. Soo… why doesn’t Ryoka try and learn the skill anyway? I feel like she’s less a classless skillless character, and more someone who just refuses to fill out the character sheet. My arguement in that is she has [Light], and albeit she said she canceled [Indomitable will] with the cool phase “can’t give me something I already have” but she shrugged off the commands of a bronze dragon, it’s simply not something you do without the skill fortification. she still mentally holds herself back by the rules of our world and it shows in how her speed seems human again since the crash with Yvlonne she’s felt more tied back/restricted then she did when she first got her leg healed and outran Relc.

    but learning skills like how she got [Indomitable will] and [Light] or erin got [Power Strike] is more about applied effort then ties to the class or lack there of. If she realizes that she just may be able to pick her skills and remain classless.

    I’ve always felt like the class check from gazi or the dragon or that random person was always less divination and more mind reading. That from the begining she hasn’t been canceling the leveling only turning off the notifications/shutting up the voice, and because mentally she doesn’t acknowledge the class or skills there’s nowhere those skills that read that information is able to pull those details from.
    example, I’m 29 years old, but if i never kept track of my age and didn’t know how old i was mind reading would not be able to tell, though divination types could still determine my age.

    I originally dismissed this idea when she met Teriarch because my first guess was blood mage/elder vampire (untill I saw the blacked out text) in which it would be unlikely to be mind reading but blood scrying of some type. once I saw the dragon part I thought it was still some elder divine magic. Though given the extent of his dependence on mind manipulation magic I’m back to this Ryokka there. I’m convinced at this point that Teriarch, Gazi, and that random adventurer simply peak at the mental character sheet in which most people keep.

    • The skills and classes were turned down because Ryoka felt like she was getting help from someone, and giving up the chance to earn it herself. she felt like receiving any help from the system would open her up to a weakness she didn’t have before: the system would know what she picked and anyone that knew how to see that could see what she was capable off because she took on those labels the system gave her.
      and you must realize getting skills in anything is like going halfway through training and someone saying yea you did enough and like magic you know how to make potions you never heard of, fight effectively in any situation with only a few sparing sessions of experience. getting that kind of boost would be easy to take for granted, but anyone that values the fruits of their own labor and takes a second to realize that anything they learn because they got a skill was given lightly and not taken from experience and hard work, will turn down the skill because it’s an insult to their dedication. some people just want to get things done themselves, half finishing a project and having someone hand you a completed one and telling you it’s OK to turn it in, isn’t something everyone can accept.

      and skill reading seems to me to just read information that was put in place by the system. having the ability to read you opponent well would probably reward you with an estimate power skill that eventually turns into something like a skill that can read what skills the system has given other people.

  10. I like your theory about how the class detection works. It matches with how it seems that classes and levels are innately tied to the inner thoughts of an individual rather than how the external world sees them.

    The example of Ryoka’s race against Relc is interesting. I suspect in that case she was running faster than a human should be capable of but she did not realize it. If she had some real time readout of her speed though my guess is she would be limited to what she “knows” a human is capable of doing.

    I am still not sure how skills work. In Ryoka’s case she does some action in the world and then that night she gains a skill that reflects what she did. In Erin’s case she often gets skills that are pure upgrades to what she did. When she did her epic concert it was described that while she was a good singer she was not perfect. Yet now with her new skills she would be able to sing even better. So in some cases it seems that skills are just a formalization of something the character can already do while in others they seems to be based on what a character wishes they could do.

    This then has me wondering about how Tom gained his super annoying music skill. If class/skill acquisition is entirely based on your inner thoughts and subconscious it would really to be someone who is depressed and self-loathing. It would be interesting to see the skill set of some of the villains in the world.

  11. I have been following your story for a few months and have it set to notify me of new chapters, that I then read right in my inbox. Suddenly the last four chapters have been password locked. Is there anything that I need to do or will these be released later? ________________________________

    • Sorry for the confusion. I’m now releasing chapters one update early for Patreon donators and giving them the password. I then make the chapter public when the time comes.

      The easiest way to tell what chapter isn’t password locked is to look at the Current Page on the Overview/Main Page.

      Not being able to control whether a new post is sent via email to subscribers is a limitation of WordPress. If I find a better way to do it, I’ll let everyone know in the next chapter’s comments.

      • As a user of the RSS feed, this is also affecting me. I would very much like a notification when the chapter is no longer password protected. The fact that a notification pops up for new password-protected chapters is a minor annoyance compared to the fact that I no longer get updated when there is new content I can read. One option to consider would be creating a separate notification post when you unlock a chapter, which you can later delete.

        Otherwise, please keep writing, I really love the story!

      • *Commenter’s note: The second suggestion may be the better of the two,so please read it all. Sorry for the wall of text.

        I have a solution to the problem. Make a new section on the wordpress page (like reader reviews, incentives, etc) for the Patreon chapters. Set up a separate RSS/email feed for that, but exclude the posts there from the main RSS.
        When you unlock a new chapter just move it to the main section or create a new post.
        The problem is the comments not transfering over though.

        Another solution is set up an RSS/email feed that triggers everytime you unlock a chapter. That can be done by taking the RoyalRoad RSS/email feed as the trigger for the new RSS. So you subscribe to the [RoyalRoad RSS] with the [New RSS]. The [RoyalRoad RSS] sends an email to the [New RSS] which makes it send it’s own email/rss message to the readers directing to your page instead of royalroad. This way you keep the comments too.

        The issue of your current system is that non Patreons don’t get notified when a new chapter is made available. Or when a bonus chapter is made available either. So we might be ok with just going a couple of chapters back everytime a new password protected comes on, but we won’t be able to do that for the bonus chapters as we don’t know the exact date it unlocks.

        • Hey Diatrix, I did consider your idea with creating new chapters and moving them over, but the missing comments would be a problem.

          On the other hand your email feed sounds like a good idea…but I have literally no idea how to do it. You say make a feed based off the RoyalRoad feed, but how is that done? I’ve never used RSS myself, so I’m at a loss. If you can let me know how that works, I’d definitely try to implement it!

  12. Pirateaba, I have another suggestion in order to increase your readers. I recently came accidentely on a site ,which gives tips that help you to increase the traffic o na website. One of them is a rather simple, but effective one, namely the writing of a headline.
    First of all, they are more inclined to click on your site when they see an intriging headline, instead of just the number of a chapter. Second, the more important one is that people are much more often confronted with your website, if they are searching something, which has the same or a similar name as one of the keywords in your headline. As one can imagine, the keywords are important; you shouldn’t use words that no man is ever going to write into the search engine. I found a program that was made especially for that problem. You can write the headline you want to use, and it tells you how often the keywords in it are being googled. Afterwards it suggests you possible alternative words, which might attract more people, in reference to the one you’ve used.
    It might be a bit tedious to come up with a name for every chapter, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
    One more thing, use social media. You already have made a twitter account (https://twitter.com/pirateaba), so you don’t have to go through the hassle of having to go through the registration process. You seemed to have stopped using it over a year ago, which might be the result of a lack of followers. If that discourages you from making a second attempt, then I wouldn’t worry, given that you can see that you already have a few thousand fans, if one includes the stastics of royalroadl. Maybe you could make this another incentive [ [Number] Twitter followers]. The same I would suggest for FAcebook as well. The number of people using these sites is just too gigantic to not take advantage of.

    Hope that helps you little.

    http://www.yourwriterplatform.com/author-website-traffic/(Site that gives these Tips)
    https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/6325025?hl=en (The program for the keyword improvements)

  13. “A dagger as large as he was was still a dagger, and he was more than strong enough to lift it. It was just awkward, that was all.”

    A tiny strategic genius? Gnome-polean? Pixy-ander the great? Gremlin Khan?
    Will Nac Mac Feagle and the rest of the Wee Free Men make a cameo?

  14. I will be honest, I read ’16 before I went to bed listening to music and dreamed of a pair of illusionists in robot- ish plate mail rocking a daft -punk-cochella-2007 show to a bunch of gnolls and drakes.

    We need more earth humans doing shows at the wandering inn. Madison square garden eat your heart out.

  15. I see two ways this goes with niers, one he marches his armies on liscore solely to under the assumption that such a chess master must also be a strategist this is the unlikely scenario.

    Secondly Niers levels up to 65 or to 70 so he ventures to meet erin in which he flips out in a wierd disbelieve to gratittude that he’s gained multiple levels thanks to her when it’s been decades if not centuries since his last level.

  16. Dissapointed woth Ryoka this chapter. You’ve spent a long time building up, showing her flaws and how her own behaviour brings on a lot her own problems. Then 2 characters who are super high level tell her she’s ok as she is, she was right all along, doesn’t need to change and it’s everyone else in the world who are dicks… She really feels line a Mary Sue. Also his argument that magic can do stuff doesn’t detract from a reason to gain levels in some class.

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