The knights were apparently playing all night, and as I rose out of bed, they began finishing up their game. How many rounds did they go for?
>What did you play? And who won?
Juggler responded first.
>We played a basic iteration of Bards And Skalds. I won the most.
Joker chimed in.
>Duelist won the least! He sucks at cards!
A scathing remark. Duelist said nothing in response and looked away, arms crossed. He might be genuinely frustrated. I decided not to press further. Janice began to stir at the noise. Wondering what time it is, I look around and realize there’s a grandfather clock in the room with us. It follows the 12-hour format, just like Earth. It’s eight in the morning. I don’t really know if the time similarity is a coincidence or not. I speak to Janice as she awakens.
She yawns and stretches before getting out of the bed. She then responds in kind.
>Yes, good morning.
>Do you know if inns like these have places to bathe? It’s… been a while since I’ve showered.
At home, I’m used to showering every day. It’s uncomfortable feeling unclean like this.
>Ah, that’s a good question. I’m not quite sure… you might ask the receptionist if they offer such services.
>Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll go and ask. Be back in a jiffy.
>…What’s a “jiffy”?
Ah, that colloquialism came out in English.
>In a little bit, sorry.
I head to the reception desk in the foyer and am unsurprised to find a different worker for the morning shift. Asking her about bathing facilities, she looks up my name in the guestbook to confirm I’m not a walk-in before handing me two red cards with the word “bathkey” on each of them. They’re surprisingly hefty. Inquiring further, she explains that they’re charged yuminium batteries that power the heating of the baths, then gives me a rundown on how to use them. Extremely convenient. Thanking her, I return to the room to find Janice patiently waiting.
I hand her one of the keys and repeat the explanation I was given. The baths are private rooms, so Janice won’t have an issue. Heading down to where I was told the bathrooms were, we find and each enter an unoccupied room. The bathtub is simple and white, and its piping is exposed. In the same room is what appears to be an actual flush toilet, though its design is dated. My knowledge of plumbing in the industrial era isn’t really up to snuff, but I assume this to be a luxury. Very nice.
At the base away from the tub is the receptacle described to me by the receptionist. I insert the bathkey, and the device immediately sounds a low continuous humming. Turning the faucet, water begins spraying out of the shower-head. It was explained that it takes a short while to heat up, so I undress and place my clothes on the nearby counter. Testing the water with my hand, it eventually reaches an acceptable temperature, and I step in the shower. Warm. Veeery nice. It’s surprising to see heated facilities in what appears to be an industrial age, but magic ain’t gotta ‘splain shit.
After cleaning up and getting dressed, I meet up with Janice back in the room. She starts speaking.
>We should head to the guild earlier rather than later. Applying to be examined should be our first priority.
>Right. We’ll ask the receptionist for directions.
Janice dons the hooded robe. And thus, we went downstairs, turned in the bathkeys, asked for directions, and went out into the sun. We are greeted by the cool spring air and the noise associated with the hustle and bustle of a lively city. Cars pass to and fro in the street, and I hear the sound of music in the distance. The lack of true combustion engines prevents the vehicles from drowning out the cheerful song. The trip shouldn’t be very long, according to Parviz. We begin casually walking down the sidewalk. The knights keep behind us as to not take up too much space.
Now that I can see the city in the sunlight, and without exhaustion from a car ride, I take the opportunity to soak in the sights. The vibrancy, activity, and color of the buildings, roads, and people betray the drab black and white photography that gave us a vision of the industrial era. Cars of various colors roll down the streets. In front of me, a window opens on the third floor of a brown brick building. A paperboy heckles passersby with the latest news as a woman nearby sweeps outside a bakery to start the day. Birds unknown to me fly above in the clear blue sky. Janice begins speaking to me as we walk.
>According to my studies, the Invisible Status practitioners typically keep to themselves, so I suggest we concoct a cover story explaining our companionship.
>Ah, that makes sense. They do sound pretty reclusive. What should we say if asked?
>The most straightforward excuse is that you are merely acting as a bodyguard for me, as sisters of this faith are not usually trained to fight. The sect generally hires outside help as escorts if the need arises.
>Sure. What happens if we meet a real Invisible Status member?
>…I put on an act, and we pray they do not discover our ruse.
Encouraging. I’ll just hope that it doesn’t happen.
>Works for me.
After several blocks and a right turn, a large plaza comes into view. The music is more pronounced now, as is the sound of the pedestrians crowding the square. I naturally approach the edge of the sidewalk at the crosswalk, but Janice expresses confusion.
>How do we safely cross?
I’m surprised by this question, but only briefly before I remember that Janice lives in a secluded castle on a mountain.
>See that guy on that box?
I motion towards the traffic conductor waving his arms around. Other people are already gathering next to us to wait as well.
>He directs the flow of traffic and determines when it’s safe to cross the street.
Just as I finish, the man blows a shrill note into his whistle, does a few movements, and the cars stop for us. I begin walking with the crowd. Janice lags behind for a second but eventually catches up. There are a lot of people in this plaza browsing the plethora of stalls, enjoying the numerous performances, and just being generally lively. I feel overwhelmed by the vibrant colors of the various stalls and the clothes worn by passersby. Is there a festival going on? Joker begins speaking excitedly.
>Wow, there are so many yusurs here! And they all look so different! Look at that one dance!
Joker claps energetically as we pass through the plaza. Off in the distance, I can see what was described to me as the Guild Hall. Juggler starts talking to Joker.
>Remember, we can’t perform here until Anon becomes a Bard, or we might run into trouble with the authorities.
The notion of street performances being banned isn’t wholly outlandish to me, as depending on where you are in a town or city on Earth, you can’t simply set up shop with your guitar and put out an empty hat anywhere you want. Though in this world, unchecked performers can do much more than simply gather spare change. Just as I’m thinking of such things, a man in uniform passes us by. His attire is an eye-catching red, clean, and proper. The best way to describe it is a mix between an 1800s policeman and a stage performer. He sports a beret with a brown feather sticking out of it. Strapped on his back is a light brown lute. Is that a Troubadour? We pass through the crowds Janice stops outside the guild building.
>I will remain out here with Duelist, as my entering the building with you might raise questions.
>Got it, I’ll try not to take too long.
Hopefully, this isn’t like a DMV, I pray to myself as I enter with Joker and Juggler in tow. The guildhall is just as active as the outside, as people of various builds dressed in various outfits and armors are scattered about, talking about this or that. A sizable group is patiently waiting in front of a large billboard, while others laze about. There’s a stage across from the entrance, though no actor or singer stands upon it at this moment. People pay me no mind as I walk up and place myself in the short line in front of the counter, as the knights follow close by. Not even a minute later, I’m speaking to the receptionist.
>Welcome to Boarding’s Bardic Guild, are you here to place a request?
>Good morning. I’m here to learn about becoming a Bard, and if possible, to begin the application process.
>New faces are always welcome, do you have a residence in the city? Or are you from out of town?
>I’m currently staying at an inn nearby. I’ve been scouted by Echo Bay and was told to present this letter when I applied to prove as such.
I take out and place Parviz’s letter of recommendation on the counter. She begins reading the letter and finishes rather quickly before speaking once again.
>Not even official and you’ve already got a sponsor, you’re certainly on your way! The morning hours of operation are reserved for request submission, request acceptance, and other busywork. Are you available this afternoon to return for your performance, “Anon”?
As expected, it seems a live performance is required as a test for fledgling bards. We’ll have to make use of the knights here.
>Yes, I am. I’m free any time in the afternoon.
She begins jotting down something on a piece of paper in front of her before speaking again.
>Wonderful. Your time slot is 2:15 PM. Come at least ten minutes early so we can confirm your arrival. Do you need any provisions or equipment for your performance in question?
>No, I’m a summoner. I’m fully prepared.
>A summoner? That’s quite the rarity indeed! I’ll be praying for your success, and I am looking forward to your performance. One second while I copy this letter for documentation.
She takes what looks like a weird paint roller with a yuminium core in its handle out of the desk, along with a sheet of paper. Placing the page over the letter of recommendation, she does something I can’t see to activate the roller and presses it across the paper, creating a duplicate copy. She then folds the original letter and places it back in the envelope before handing it back to me. Like magic.
>Thanks. I’ll be back around 2PM.
Turning away from the counter, I begin to make my way towards the exit, but someone blocks the way.
>Hey there, buddy, did I hear right that you were a bonafide summoner? Are these dudes your guys?
In front of me is a well-built man, younger than me but not by much. At around my height, he sports a faded red shirt, forest green pants. and mustard brown boots. He flicks a comb smoothly through his short, spiky blonde hair before looking straight at me with blue eyes. Confidence seems to exude from him based on the way he carries himself. Strapped on his back is what appears to be a strange guitar, but I can’t make out its features from this angle.
>What’s say you and I have a go? Test your mettle? I’ve never fought a summoner before.
What the hell is this?
>I’m not really looking for a fight, and I’m not into hazing either.
He grins, before cracking his knuckles audibly.
>C’mon man, live a little. Let’s have a go.
Before I can open my mouth to protest, Joker steps in front of me and speaks with a severe tone, addressing the man.
>You’re a Wordsmith.
>Ohhhhhhh, the little guy has good eyes. How could you tell little man?
>It’s all in your eyes, there’s no mistaking it. Anon, let me take this guy on.
Joker points at the man, and he chuckles in response. Wordsmith?
>I like your gumption, little dude. Try not to get knocked out too quick, right?
The young man doesn’t let up, as a flurry of blows from a battleaxe swings at Joker. Blocking it with a shield, Joker leaps back, gaining distance. Before the assault begins again, Joker calls forth his trusty steed, a riding wolf, and starts running circles around the arena. The man reaches up into the air, and seemingly tears from the sky: lightning itself, before hurling it at Joker. It pierces the wolf, but not before Joker leaps off and produces two explosives that he sends flying in the youth’s direction. The explosion sounds out, and smoke fills the area. Joker waits with his shield raised, but the smokescreen remains. It appears as though the fight has ended, but out from the smoke charges the man. He no longer carries an axe, but now sports two cesti, one on each hand, which he proceeds to pummel Joker’s shield with. The assault is short-lived, as Joker is quickly overwhelmed. His guard broken, Joker is struck soundly and is sent back a few paces, thus ending the fight.
The youth begins gathering up his cards as the match ends.
>Gods, nothing beats a good round of Wordsmith.
Joker, who’s sitting across from the man, is completely devastated. He pounds the table in frustration, contrary to his usual demeanor. He was really into that game, huh.
>I’m sorry Anon, I’ve failed you.
>I-it’s alright. You did your best. I’m proud of you.
That was a rather deep game of cards. Wordsmith, huh. The youth speaks to Joker.
>You did good little man, where did you learn to play? It’s not every day I play cards with a summon.
>I only ever got to practice with the other knights. You’re the first yusur I’ve dueled with.
>You’re pretty practiced for someone who’s never played a yusur before. I hope we can play again sometime. What’s your name, guy?
>I’m Joker, this is Anon.
>A pleasure exchanging blows with you, Joker. Anon, you’ve got a good guy here watching your back. A game of Wordsmith lets men speak with their hearts. You’re in good hands.
He gets up and approaches me as Joker cleans up his deck.
>My name is Jaddian Thunderrock. I’m a Bard if you couldn’t tell. I heard you’re on for your trial performance in the afternoon? Unfortunately, I’ll be out of the hall at that time, but you’ll smash the exam if you’ve got guys like Joker on your side.
We exchange a firm handshake.
>I won’t disappoint. I’ve got an acquaintance waiting for me, I’m sure we’ll see each other again, Jaddian.
>Call me Jadd.
Jaddian heads over to the bulletin board to peruse the new postings the employees put up during the card game. Joker, Juggler and I head out into the plaza to meet up with Janice. What to do while we wait…