Once again, I wake up in someone else’s bed. Haha, still not dead. This ceiling is a pleasing pastel green. I lie awake for a time recounting the events of the ambush to myself. I’ll ask Janice about it later. Smirking, I move to leave the bed. Checking myself for damage, I find that the wound on my leg is gone and I feel no pain. I look around, the room is sparsely furnished, just like the room I used at the fort. There’s a standing mirror in the corner, which I use to check my back where I was struck. It’s as if I was never hurt; not even a scar remains. More magic. There’s no one else here.
>Ping Command: Janice
…Huh? Oh. After nothing happens, I realize that I can’t sense my tention levels anymore. I don’t see the dagger anywhere in the room. It’s possible that I lost my connection to it when I fell unconscious. I check my backpack that’s in here with me, but the dagger is missing among its contents. Putting on the shoes conveniently left for me, and bringing the backpack, I leave the room. I appear to be on the second floor of what I presume to be an inn or a guest house. I guess we made it to the trading post? Heading downstairs, a homely woman behind a desk notices me and calls out.
>Ah! You’re awake. We prepared a room for you after you arrived in that sorry state. Poison, it was apparently. You’ve been out for a day recovering. Must be hungry, have some bread. On the house.
She grabs a biscuit from a basket on a table behind her and holds it out to me. I thank her and take it. I just keep losing days being unconscious. It’s not stale nor particularly flavorful, but it satisfies nonetheless.
>So I take it we’re at the trading post?
>Aye, this is the guest house at Echo Bay’s trading post between Boarding and Signature.
So they managed to carry me the rest of the way and kept me alive as well.
>Thanks for your hospitality. Do you know where my companions are?
A look of disgust flashes on her face, but quickly subsides before she speaks up.
>Ah, yes. The little ones were given permission to perform, and are likely out and about… The drator woman is truly with you? She brought you to us last night and begged me to take her coin; just for you, that is. Apparently she’s off meeting with the master, provided the receptionist doesn’t shoo her away. Can’t imagine what for. It’s the building out and to the left near the center of the post. Has a big sign with our logo. Can’t miss it.
When she spoke of Janice, it was with a mixture of derision and pity. Janice wasn’t kidding, huh.
>Thanks, I’m gonna see if I can find them.
>Do be careful, now! You already escaped death once!
Leaving the guest house, I’m greeted with the first sign of civilization I’ve seen in about half a week. It’s not as bustling as a city center back home, but the people are plenty enough. Several stalls are set up in a plaza adjacent to the gravel road cutting through the trading post proper. Various sorts are walking about either conducting business or continuing down the main street in either direction. There are horse-drawn carts with goods and carriages with people in transit. Very rarely, to my disbelief, I see what appear to be old-fashioned vehicles. Small flatbed trucks carrying secured cargo effortlessly glide down the street. As if they literally exited a silent film, the old looking trucks move without noise save for the sound created by displacing the road itself. They’re not combustion engines…? When I do happen to see a truck, it usually has what look like guards in hot seats on the sides, or sitting with the goods on the back of the vehicle.
Looking across the plaza, I spot a couple of familiar figures. Juggler and Joker are performing for a group of children. I head over to meet them. Juggler is expertly flipping about his knives, and Joker is showing off simple magic tricks. Joker is completely focused on his art and doesn’t react. Juggler notices me as I approach, but continues his routine unperturbed. He speaks up when I reach the small crowd, juggling all the while.
>Good, you’re awake. It’s been about a day. We’ve been about gathering tention for the master, while she’s been bartering and making all kinds of deals or whatnot. She burned quite a bit of energy healing you. You should go see her, she’s in the building behind us.
Juggler motions with his head, and I look to see a sign with yellow, blue, green and red letters spelling out “Echo Bay” above what could only be the headquarters mentioned by the innkeep.
>Got it, I’ll go see what’s up. Have fun.
Juggler nods his head before skillfully grabbing and throwing an additional dagger from his waist into his cycle. I hear children laughing in delight, and turn to see that Joker has manifested a bouquet of flowers out of thin air. Smiling, I head to the building and open the well-used door. Inside, a receptionist greets me. She speaks in an even and polite tone, showcasing her expertise.
>Welcome to Echo Bay, how may we assist you today?
>Hello. My companion Janice is apparently here?
>Ah, yes. Through the door on my left. The young woman insisted that you join them if you managed to arrive before their talks finished.
I knock on the aforementioned door. An unknown man’s voice greets me.
>Yes, yes. Come in!
Entering, I see Janice and a middle-aged man sitting across one another at a large ornate desk. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that Duelist is leaned up against the wall next to the door. The office exudes a sense of wealth. On the walls are many shelves holding various antiquities, books, and artifacts of makes each wildly different from its neighbor. A painting of a woman with a calm expression carrying a child hangs behind the man’s seat. I’m briefly overwhelmed by the storied collection in front of me and feel slight remorse at having to step on the exotic carpet underneath. The man stands up and speaks with life and energy.
>Aha! You must be the fledgling bard. Do come in, we just finished our business here. Shall we fill you in on the details? But where are my manners?
He approaches me, and we shake hands. A firm, practiced handshake befitting who I presume to be the company president. Dressed in a business suit straight out of the 1800s, he’s got a full head of brown hair, a curly mustache just like a Pringles can, and a pair of spectacles.
>Parviz Morad, proprietor of the illustrious Echo Bay. A collector of both mundane and arcane, prosaic, and exotic, humdrum and etcetera. Young Jani tells me that you’ll be taking the bardic examination in Boarding, exquisite! Glad to be working with you. Anon, is it? Come, please sit down. Let’s talk.
He returns to his seat while motioning towards the chair next to Janice, which I sit down in. He continues to speak.
>Jani informs me that she found you collapsed in the forest near her home. It’s a pity about the amnesia bit, but I’m sure a rousing career as a bard will reawaken your lost memories; One could only hope. Young Jani tells me you offered to assist after she saved you from the wilds. Good man! I wish I could have provided a similar act of kindness to her, as Jani’s family and Echo Bay have close ties. Alas, my duties as a businessman interfere excessively. However, Echo Bay would be proud to act as your sponsor once you inevitably trounce the exams. We have nothing but faith in you!
Immediately after he stops speaking, Janice’s voice fills my head for a split second. Parviz doesn’t react to this.
>Sorry, play along.
Ah. Trying to act the part, I respond earnestly to Parviz.
>Yeah, I figured that if I do some traveling, I might have a decent shot at remembering who I am. A familiar sight or person might remind me of my past. Janice explained that if I help her by becoming a bard, it’d make it easier to move about.
>Rightly so! A bard is a natural go-getter. You could even say they typically go somewhere and get something! We’ll be glad to support you in your endeavors as a go-getter, especially since Echo Bay specializes in having their bards execute the act of getting something by going somewhere!
>I’ll do my best to earn your trust.
Janice finally speaks up.
>We will finish our business here at the post, then tomorrow morning we set off for the city itself. Parviz has generously offered to shepherd us the rest of the way in his company car. He has also provided us with a letter of recommendation that you may present to the guild, in the event that they question your origin, as you “have no recollection of your past.”
>I’m glad to offer the service of my car, meager as it may be. Though, you’ll not find another piece of technology as advanced as my personal vehicle this side of Cyberia! That I can assure you!
Hold the fuck up. Did he just say “Siberia?” Have they shipped me off to the gulags?
>Sorry, is that our planet’s name?… My memory is a bit foggy. Can you spell that for me?
>Ah? Why certainly, C-Y-B-E-R-I-A. Goodness, your amnesia is quite thorough. To forget your very home’s name must be a distressing experience, to say the least!
>Yeah, you could say that. I’ll be sure to not forget it again.
Janice stands up from her seat before speaking in turn.
>We must be going, as Anon and I have some business to finalize while we’re still here.
I stand up as well, and Parviz responds.
>Right, right. Do get some rest. Though traveling by car will expedite your journey, it’s still quite the distance to Boarding. Covering such a length as your very first trip in an automobile would be a daunting experience to anyone. We will meet in the morning. A pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Anon.
Parviz puts his hand on his chin and smiles, nodding knowingly to himself. I guess traveling by car is something of a rarity here. I don’t know whether to be insulted or not. Janice and I excuse ourselves, and Duelist silently follows us out of the building. Janice begins to talk as Duelist, and I follow behind her.
>My apologies for that circumstance. I realized while I was speaking with him earlier that it would be unwise to disclose your full origin needlessly, and came up with a vague cover story. My ping message appears to have given you enough information to play the part. I doubt I need to explain that no yusur alive would give credence to such an outlandish backstory as yours.
>Well, nobody on my planet would believe any of this either. I don’t blame you.
>Right. Let us do some shopping.
We arrive at the edge of where the stalls are. Janice stops abruptly, turns around, and hands me a jingling pouch. Reaching inside, I pull out several different denominations of coins.
>These are “Yuze.” Parviz would explain that they’re the common currency, backed by yuminium. Feel free to count them, as being familiar will undoubtedly be influential in our success.
The coins each sport a minimalist design, and are a dull silver. In the center is a slightly curled character with a number to the right of the letter. This character has the same pronunciation as the “Y” in “Yuze.” In my possession, I have 14 coins with “Y1,” 6 coins with “Y5,” 9 coins with “Y10,” 2 coins with “Y50”, and 1 coin with “Y100.” 334, huh. Janice waits for me to finish counting, and hands me the yuminium dagger I was using during the ambush. I can sense its tention again after touching it; empty. Janice speaks again.
>I suggest we should acquire for you a better yuminium focus, as this dagger was truly an offhand purchase I made years ago to test some ideas I had. It was never meant for anything more than that, as it’s a particularly weak weapon even a housewife might deign from utilizing.
Janice stares off into the distance for a moment. People are giving us looks as they walk by us.
>I… will remain here. Duelist will accompany me.
>Do these merchants not treat you the same way as Parviz?
>Parviz and my family share a long and storied connection. A man of his influence might merely ignore the stigma associated with dealing with a drator, but a lesser man might risk his business were he to deal with one openly. I attempted to barter on my own but was soundly rebuked. Eventually, I settled on having the ever stoic Duelist act as my liaison… It did not go as planned. Now that you’re here we can simply have you move about as our representative. Think of it as practice for dealing with the populace of this world. Go on.
>…Right. I’ll try not to get ripped off.
I set out to investigate prices. The value of a single yuze is clearly much, much higher than a single United States cent. Making an effort to gather as much information as I can, I figure out a few things. Visiting food stalls, I find that a loaf of bread is 4 yuze, while a week’s worth of dried meat rations is 7 yuze. I see what is advertised as a yuminium lamp lasting three weeks before needing a recharge. It’s priced at 82 yuze. A bundle of rope is 14 yuze. Always carry some rope, you might need it for anything. I head towards a weapon and armor peddler, and he speaks up as I approach.
>Welcome sir! Precharged for your convenience! Feel free to synchronize to gauge the tention levels. An informed purchase is one made without regret!
Opting for something lightweight to defend myself with, I choose a small leather buckler; 42 yuze. Purchase made. Something catches my eye, a gauntlet with a yuminium core embedded in the back of the hand. The gauntlet is leather, the back of the hand and fingers are protected by metal.
>May I try on this gauntlet?
>Go right ahead, sir!
Equipping the gauntlet, and securing the strap, I move my right hand about and wiggle my fingers. It’s like it was made for me. I feel my link to the dagger disappear, and a new connection in my mind forms with the gauntlet. Is this “syncing?” Looks like you can only use one focus at a time. The gauntlet is fully charged, and compared to the dagger which had two or three casts, the gauntlet feels as if I could throw out ten “Attack Vectors” before it diminishes completely. I like it.
>How much is this gauntlet?
>190 yuze! I can vouch for its quality, as I’ve never had a complaint about equipment from that particular smithy. Well worth the price. On my honor as a merchant!
This is one of the most expensive things I’ve seen so far. Decent yuminium must go for a good price if it’s valuable enough to be the backing for currency. Eventually, I settle on getting the gauntlet, as I have no real training with actual melee weapons. Shitposting is my power after all. I backtrack and make several purchases at the stalls, before counting the spoils. 74 yuze remains. I feel as if my purchases were careful enough, and that I wasn’t taken for a ride. Rations, some rope, a new weapon, a shield, and some other minor things. Not too shabby. I return to where I left Janice and Duelist.
Standing there is Duelist, and someone wearing a beige cloak and hood. The cloak is embroidered with black thread, creating a crisscross pattern along the edges of the cloth leading up the mantle and around the hood. Something about the person is off like they’re blurred or indistinct. I cautiously approach and speak out, confused at where Janice went while leaving Duelist behind.
The person turns towards me, and I see their face. It’s Janice.
>You’ve returned, wonderful. Ah, yes, this. Your visage speaks that you’re confused about this raiment.
Janice spins around to show me the cloak fully. On its back is a design: four black squares forming the corners of a single larger square, connected by lines in-between.
>This is the one thing I was actually able to acquire. It’s an enchanted cloak typically worn by practitioners of the Invisible Status faith.
>Yes. I’ve only but read of them myself, but they’re an odd religious sect that believes only the gods themselves are truly worthy of their fervent worship. In order to shield their very being from all but the omniscient deities of the Four Channels, they don these cloaks. They have the effect of masking tention completely, and subtly warping the air to make the wearer more discreet. Parviz provided it to me. It is quite the rarity, and yet he was willing to give it to me. “Unfortunately, you may be looked at as a loon.” He said. It is most welcome, as it will allow me to move about without suspicion.
A loon huh. I guess it’s better than being harassed. Maybe when I become a Bard, it won’t be necessary?
>Were there strings attached?
>Do you mean on the cloak? On the neck, there are strings to tighten the hood.
Janice shows off tightening the strings.
>No. I mean, what did Parviz ask for in return? He said this thing was incredibly valuable, right? Did you pay for it?
>I did not. He insisted that it was a gift.
Suspicious. Are the ties between Parviz and Janice’s family really that strong? I’ll have to be careful about accepting favors from him.
>Alright, well I’m all finished shopping. I’ve also picked us up some rations in case we need them.
I show her the gauntlet and buckler.
>I don’t have any weapon expertise, so I opted for something lightweight suitable for my unusual power.
>Wonderful. Keep the dagger as an emergency backup, as I no longer need it. Let us return to the guesthouse. As unkind as it may sound, we must commit to a debriefing of the ambush. A lot went wrong in that clearing.
>Yeah, I have plenty of questions and theories too.
We head back to the guesthouse.
That night, we entered Janice’s room to discuss the encounter in the forest. Duelist decides to remain outside the room to keep watch in case we discuss something sensitive. Janice sits down in a chair. I sit on the edge of her bed. We begin going over the events of the fight the moment we’re settled. I speak first.
>So let me go over what I think I realized first, then you can correct me. My first spell was useless because I rushed the “performance.” That last spell I tried to cast definitely needed a lot more tention than I had at the time. I could feel the dagger empty itself immediately, and it only managed to stop him for a split second.
>Correct. The effort and energy that you put into your two casts did not tip the scales enough to outweigh or even meet your desired outcome. Unfortunately, you have a distinct lack of combat experience owing itself to your generally peaceful life.
>Yeah, that’s something that I’ll just have to work on.
I shrug defeatedly to myself.
>So, those were “goblins,” right. What was with that one with the bone wolf. What did you call it?
>A skald. Unlike a yusur, monsters or fauna that can utilize tention are typically hostile. Black magic is usually the only thing they’re capable of. The populace refers to them as “skalds” to differentiate them from a true bard. The one we encountered was attempting to cast support magic and managed to enhance one of the wolves attacking our frontline.
>Yeah, so what happened at the end? I was hit in the back.
>Ah, yes. That archer you only managed to trip at the beginning of the encounter recollected itself and shot you with a poisoned arrow. It knocked you out instantly.
Damn, he sure had his revenge. I almost kicked it back there.
>The innkeep said I was out for the night. I woke up without any wounds. I assume you did that?
>Quite. It burned an excessive amount of tention, but I was able to heal your wounds and cleanse the poison. Unfortunately, it left you unconscious and unable to move. The knights carried you the remainder of the way, and we deposited you to rest.
>That’s… not good. How much tention do you think you have left.
>…Less than a month, perhaps even only a couple of weeks… provided that I do not cast a single spell.
>I’m sorry I’ve put you in this situation. First, you save me from disappearing, then you save me a second time from dying.
Janice thinks to herself, her face filled with frustration. She speaks again but looks away from me.
>It is quite fine… I could not simply leave you to die after already saving you once. It’s not as if I revived you out of pure altruism, for if you had been killed in that forest, I would have been left without a means to recover any energy at all.
>But still, thank you for saving me.
Janice doesn’t respond. Silence fills the room as I think to myself for a possible solution. I’ve yet to take off the gauntlet. Flexing my fingers, I decide to take a closer look at the embedded gem. Yuminium really is pretty… Wait. That might work. Kinda lewd though. I break the silence.
>…What if I charge your horns directly?
Janice doesn’t react, as if she didn’t hear me. After a little bit, she responds.
>Pardon? Charge my horns?
>Yeah, when I bought the gauntlet I learned how syncing to a yumnium focus actually works. What if I sync to your horns, then use my power to give you tention?
Janice hesitates but continues.
>That would be extremely convenient if it works as you intend, but…
She looks visibly uncomfortable at this suggestion.
>I’ll… have to unsynchronize with my own horns. I’ve never done that before. Unlike a regular yusur, when I sleep my connection to my focus remains intact… I don’t know what will happen. Only one person can be synced to a focus at a time.
Hmm. It’s possible this might be dangerous. Our time frame is really short though.
>If you think it’s risky, we don’t have to try it. It’s just a thought I had. It’s possible we won’t need to do it and can finish the bardic exam in time to gather tention for you naturally with the knights.
>No, I believe it will work. I won’t die or anything outrageous, probably, but it might be discomforting.
Janice stands up, and takes off the cloak and places it on the chair. She walks to the center of the room. I get up, set the gauntlet on the bed, head over to her, then ask:
>Are you ready? Let’s give it a shot.
>I’ve resolved myself. As this might remedy our dilemma, it’s worth the attempt.
She closes her eyes for a while, then groans.
She puts her hand on her head, then stumbles a bit before falling forward. I manage to catch her.
>Oof, sorry. We should have just had you lie down first.
Janice seems to lose her ability to stand completely. As to not let her fall on the floor, I pick her up and lie her down on the bed. She’s light.
>I’m going to do this as quickly as possible.
Janice doesn’t respond. Without hesitating, I grasp one of her horns. I feel myself synchronize, and… Oh my god. It’s… so vast. I’m briefly stunned by the extreme capacity that her horns have. It feels endless. Trying not to get overwhelmed, I activate my power. The desktop appears. Letting go of her horn, I realize that I still maintain the connection without constantly touching it. I make three separate shitposts, garnering as much tention as I can, and am immediately banned from 4chan. After exiting my power, I try and fail to grasp how much time we have left. I probably can’t get a sense of how much that actually did because of how huge her power stores can get. It must come naturally to a drator. I cut my connection to her horns.
>Janice, if you can hear me, sync back to your horns. I’m done.
Janice groans again but soon begins to regain some of her color. Deciding to leave her to rest, I take my gauntlet and my other belongings and leave the room. Duelist speaks to me as I exit.
>Yeah, but Janice is exhausted from today. She went to bed. Keep an eye on her, okay?
I head back to my own room and retire for the night.