Aeneas left the house a few minutes ago, leaving me in the garden under the shade of the small crooked pecan tree. While I could see he had questions about my appearance, he didn’t ask and handed me the mana stone. It was a deep solid purple with no light able to pierce the gem. At first glance, I thought it would feel like any other gem, but when it was placed in my hand, it felt like I had just picked up a cold piece of steel. Aeneas didn’t say where he was going and left after handing me the spoils of my night.
From where I was, I could see Agatha in the kitchen window. She would occasionally look up to watch me with interest while she cooked everyone a meal. When she first saw me, I thought I feel goosebumps. The last time I felt this was when I was in middle school and the older girls had gotten me to wear a dress. I definitely would keep an eye on her for the foreseeable future. Healer and Hammer were off “discussing” something. What that was, I didn’t want to know.
I took a deep breath of the fresh herb garden and felt a moment of joy of being clean for once. You never knew how much you’ve taken something for granted until its gone, in this case, looking and feeling like a proper human. I had scrubbed myself until my skin became rosy and the water became near black from all the disgusting stuff that had been stuck to me. By the end of it, I could finally smell how repulsive it all was. That was when Hammer walked in and started the debacle. Healer had to pull the poor boy out and help get me fresh water to finish bathing. By the end, I was just as clean and proper as if I was back home. The only drawback was it took about an hour versus finishing in less than 10 minutes. `
I pushed aside my freshly brushed bangs to the side and turned my attention to the weapons by at my feet. My XM17 laid on a cotton blanket that hadn’t been dyed. Five full magazines and three boxes of 100 round 9mm ammo boxes, with one already down to twenty-five rounds after I had topped off the last magazine. The ammo came from the loot box as well as a cleaning kit for it. Now the pistol looked brand-spanking-new. I had also gotten a few new toys out of it as well.
I reached out to my left and pulled a heavy rifle onto the blanket since I had finished cleaning the pistol. It was a reproduction Springfield M1 Garand, chambered in .30-06 Springfield – walnut stock of course. I laid the long rifle onto the blanket along with the ten fully loaded en bloc clips beside it. While I had gotten ten fully loaded clips out of the loot box, it didn’t provide me with any other additional ammo. I also had some complaints about the loot box giving me such a damn heavy rifle. “The M1 Garand is a weapon nonetheless, you will just have to deal with it if you don’t want to use your remaining four drops.”
After she heard me mumbling under my breath, Lily chirped over my – now clean – headset. I wasn’t so much mad about the rifle, more so that I had not gotten the M1A version with the detachable magazine. M1 Garands were a mainstay in American culture as an iconic rifle that had a place in every gun-loving Americans’ heart. I would have said ever red-blooded, but I don’t know if Aliens had red blood and if an extraterrestrial wanted to be an American, who was I to judge?
Anyways, the rifle was over three-and-a-half feet at nearly eleven pounds. It was a hefty rifle if you compared it to most high-end AR-15s weighing under seven-pounds. You could even go lighter if you went crazy on weight reduction like my brother did, but I’m not into that skeletonizing fad. “Can you even use the rifle?” Lily asked. I may have taken it as an insult back home, but right now, it wasn’t a matter of my pride. It was a matter of life and death if I could even wield it. “Let’s see.” I sighed as I got to my knees. I dusted off the clean pair of cotton pants that were slightly too long and bunched up around my bare feet.
I bent over and stood the rifle on its buttstock while picking up a single clip. I placed the clip in my mouth since I didn’t anywhere to stick it momentarily. Then I heaved the rifle into my arms. It wasn’t bad. Eleven pounds was easy to carry, but most people often forget that this weapon was going to be held outward for the better part of its use. It wasn’t like in the movies with swords where you can hang your hand and let the sword drag along the ground. Well, you could do the same, but with you definitely didn’t want to do that with a complex piece of machinery that could explode in your face.
It didn’t come with a sling either, which was going to be a problem if I had to carry this for a long period of time like my pistol.
Putting my complaint aside, I shoulder the rifle before I looked down the crosshairs. I did it a few times to get used to it. The weight wasn’t a problem if I kept it down to short term use and go crazy with it… Like running up and down a ridge with it. Certainly, it was a whole lot of gun and anyone-or-thing that became as unfortunate to be on the business end of this rifle when I pulled the trigger would definitely drop. After I found my shoulder placement with the rifle, I pulled the rifle slightly forward off my shoulder. I let go with my right hand while I used my left as a pivot point to let it the buttstock drop down to my thigh.
I kept a tight grip on the rifle as I pulled the clip from my lips and pressed it into the receiver, keeping my right hand to block the charging handle from flying forward. Like I remembered, once the clip was seated, the handle tried to slam forward, but I held it back with a firm grip with my right hand. I slipped my thumb out of the chamber without delay and allowed the bolt to slam into battery. I felt my heart nearly skip a beat when the bolt tried to close.
Okay, I had to admit there may have been a childhood trauma with the M1 Garand and it was certainly at play here. One does not play with the rifle that has killed many thumbs in its life, okay?! Garand Thumb is a serious injury, especially for a child!
However, childhood mistakes aside, I didn’t have much say in the matter as the XM17 was not going to get me far in this world as seen with the night dread. The .30-06 was a very powerful cartridge so in the term of firepower, so long as I wasn’t going toe to toe with a horde or something like a fucking dragon – I would do okay. The Garand wasn’t the easier to maneuver and that would make close quarters a pain if it ever came down to it. Putting my childhood blights aside, I shouldered the loaded rifle over and over again to fight the sweet spot. You have to be able to find the crosshairs near-instantly when you brought up your rifle and this helped in doing so. Training makes perfect.
“I’ve finally figured out how you can purchase items from the store.” Lily came over the comms.” Sweet!” I unshouldered the rifle and sat down again, leaving the rifle in my lap. I brought my device up and Lily told me to click on the store. I do so and the store screen appeared. “Now what?” I asked, “Go to the new tab at the top right.” I searched the screen, found a new button with a yellow background and a mana stone in the middle. I tapped on it and an all too familiar screen appeared.
“Isn’t this the in-game purchasing screen in that popular Facebook game?” While I asked, I already knew it, but I wanted to confirm that is what I was actually looking at. “One moment.” I could almost hear the anger in the AI’s voice and the screen turned black with her loading screen over it. I waited for a few seconds before Lily came back. “That stupid God copy-pasted the game’s code into the system. Give me a second and I’ll fix it.” O, she was mad. I kept to myself and allowed her to do what she needed without my backseat coding.
The loading screen disappeared and came back on the home page. “Do it again.” Lily chirped. I did so and landed back on the page. Now instead of looking like a pay-to-win game, it had a few lines of information such as mana stone conversion rate;
Small – 10 points
Medium – 50 points
Large – 100 points
There was also a note that the quality of the stone could also add value and that this was just a basic minimum for each stone. It sounded fair enough. It wasn’t like I was an expert on mana stones and everything I wanted was in the Tact-store. In the middle of the screen were instructions and a large circle around them. “Place mana stones on screen.” I followed the instructions and placed the strange fantasy stone on top of the screen. The moment I heard the “clack” as the gem touched the screen, black tendrils -black as ink- sprouted from the screen. They wrapped around the gem as the gem sank into the screen. The whole process took a heartbeat to finish.
Once the gem disappeared, a new prompt was up on the screen. “Please push ‘Done’ when you’ve finished entering mana stones.” I tapped the new button with my finger and Lily came over the comms. “Great. Now I’ve added a few counters to the top of your tact-link for your convenience.” I looked at the top of the screen where the time was. It was 6:09pm. An hour-and-a-half since Aeneas left me out here. Next to the time was several counters
Loot boxes: 4
Then there was a “TBA” after the points. “What’s the TBA for?” I went about clicking through the store “I changed the UI settings around and cleaned up the code. Now it should run a lot smoother. I’ve also added a new tab to your homepage. This is your current challenges, well, current completed challenges. However, I’ll speak to you later on that. You received 50 for the medium stone and another 50 for submitting your first medium stone. You’ve also received another 400 for completing four challenges within your first week of being here. Have fun.” Lily ended her talk and the comms fell silent altogether.
I switched over to the shop and found everything was accessible, but almost every item had been locked away behind challenges or trials prerequisites. The only silver lining was that most of the armaments, support, and vehicles had loot-box symbols that indicated they were obtainable through them.
I went through the clothing section and found it was separated into two different sections. Support clothing, modern clothing, and current world clothing. I clicked through the World clothing tab and found it sold just about everything that looked to belong in this world in terms of normal clothes. However, most of the clothing was region locked and required me to visit those regions to unlock them. None of the clothing had loot box symbols. The modern section also sold plenty of clothing from my world and it was completely accessible. It took me a few seconds to grasp how to purchase items too.
I had to add items into a cart and check out. I already knew where the UI came from. Amazon, but they changed it to Manazon. The shitty God didn’t bother to check the emblem either. I quickly found a pair of denim skinny jeans, a few black shirts, underwear, socks, and new boots. That alone took 150 of my points. There were current half off sales on winter clothing, but I didn’t need any of that. I searched through the supportive clothing and quickly found a replacement vest for 150 and a replacement plate for another 40 points. This left me with 260 points. I still had my boots that I left in the washroom. I scanned through the available weapons and found that there was a UZI with a clear unlock requirement.
“Kill 10 enemies within 1 minute with using any 9mm weapon.” The price was 300 to purchase. I wasn’t how closely the prices reflexed my world’s prices, but it may have had something to do with their usefulness. The Uzi was a pretty niche Small Machine gun (SMG) if you compared it to any other SMG out there. However, it was the only SMG in the store that had a unlock requirement that I could accomplish at the moment.
Since my a few of my pouches had been ruined by the night dread, I added three small magazine pouches into the cart for my belt at the cost of 50 points and a single large one for my carrier at 60. Of course, there were things I wanted, like to splurge on ammo and armor, but I restrained myself to just buying a few things I needed. I checked out the cart and the items appeared in my inventory as a cardboard box. I left them there for now as I heard the backdoor of the house squeak open. Healer, with Hammer in tow, approached me as they crossed the dirty maze in between the planters and stopped a foot from the edge of the cotton blanket.
“Ho? What’s this?” Healer pointed to the rifle with curiosity. Hammer stopped to the left of Healer and crouched down onto the balls of his heel. “What does it do?” Hammer asked right after. “Its a firearm and it shoots bullets out the barrel.” I pointed to the loaded en bloc clips and then pointed to the end of the barrel. “Whats a… bullet?” Healer asked as he joined his helper closer to the ground. “This thing.” I pulled a 9mm cartridge from the opened box and help it up. Its shiny brass casing and FMJ tip gleamed in the errant dusk light that bounced off the surroundings.
“That’s fancy, are you a noble?” Hammer asked as his eyes looked over the small round with deep interest. “No, nobles are nearly non-existent where I am from. In my country, they don’t exist.” I said as I put away the shiny back in its box much to the young man’s disappointment. “No nobles? How does anything get done in your country?” Healer asked. His interest was peaked with that statement. “Slow if it ever does get done, but quick if it involves the state getting money from you.” I said with a snort.”So how-” Hammer was about to ask another question. “I’m not smart enough to explain every aspect of my weapons, so can we refrain from the 21-questions game?” My eyes locked on the overly curious man before me.
“Fair enough. No more of that Hammer.” Healer said as he got up. “Do you know where my vest is?” I knew they had it, but I wanted to make sure I got – all of – my equipment back. It would be bad if they ever got used against me. While I think a carrier would do little against me, I had to make it a principle to always reclaim my equipment, minus bullet casings. Those would only be reclaimed if the situation permits it should I even bother with it. “Ah, they’re inside. Which works perfect since we actually came out to get ya’.” Healer got to his feet and gestured to the door.
I nodded and waved my hand all my items. They turned into light particles before they dissipated into the air, leaving the cotton blanket on the dirt. “By the Gods, you have space storage?” Healer asked, his eyes wide as spotlights. Hammer only “Ooo-ed” At the sight. “Something like that.” I didn’t what he meant nor did I want to know. I already had too much information to digest in one day. I’d probably be like some test where I forgot a majority of what they told me, but the stupid stuff. I got up, dusted off the blanket and handed it over to Healer. “Thanks.” I said as I passed him.
I was almost to the door when Hammer called out to me.”Oi! Don’t forget your sword!”. I turned. Healer went around me and into the house while Hammer walked up with the shortsword I had commandeered from the dead ambusher last night. “Ah, that.” I had forgotten about it while I went over all my gear. It would be something I would have to remember from now on. It wasn’t a great blade, but it was better than nothing when I ran out of ammo. The leather sheath hadn’t been cleaned with the rest of my equipment with the yellow bile like blood still crusted around where the sword entered its home. “I thought you were servicing your gear?”
“Yeah. Just forgot I had this thing.” I smiled awkwardly as Hammer only nodded and left the paperweight in my hand. I felt a little repulsed when I felt the dried blood on the grip too and leaned the sword up against the wall by the door before I went inside to wash my hand. The bucket water was still out by the tree so I made a note to tend to it after dinner.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Everyone finished a small soup of mushroom herb soup while Hammer kept going on about my appearance. “Enough. Everyone knows your bad with girls, but don’t you be going after men.” Healer moaned as he stared down his helper. “Nothing but trouble with that.” Hammer groaned. For the past twenty minutes, Hammer had been on a tangent that ended up with Healer accusing him of liking me. It wouldn’t have been the first time I felled men with my charms, but Hammer was adamant that he didn’t fully believe I was a man. I had laughed myself breathless more than a few times for the first time in a long time.
While Healer was teasing the poor guy, neither of them were malicious towards either or timid. I didn’t remember the last time I had sat at a dinner table, family or friends, where there wasn’t any tension. Well, I couldn’t say there was none. Agatha had her eye on the door most of the meal. “But he looked like a damn Satyr when he went in, but he came out lookin’ like a fair maiden!” Hammer howled as he tried to argue his point. “Okay, okay. Enough before you pop a vessel or something.” Healer was about to double over at Hammer’s intensive way of trying to clear his name.
At this point, It had been close to three hours since Healer had left. Now my eye had been on the door now along with Agatha. The other too slowly wined down enough to notice the silence from us. “Aeneas not back yet?” Healer turned in his seat to see the door before he turned back. “Let’s go look for him. He should have been back by now even if he made a few stops.” Hammer’s face turned serious once Healer reminded him that there had been in fact someone who had not shown up yet. “I need to change.” I said to Healer who pointed to the washroom as he got up.
I got up from the table then went into the washroom. I closed the door and summoned the box in my inventory. A large cardboard box that came up to my knees and was about the size of a mini-fridge. It looked exactly like the company they were ripping off, but just replaced the name with Manazon – not even the tape was spared. I popped the flaps open, stripped, and slipped into the new clothes. I put on my old boots then slipped my new carrier. When I had slipped everything into their respective homes, I noticed I had not bought a sling for the rifle. Its buttstock rested on the floor against the tub, it’s sling attachment points looking a little lonely.
I quickly popped into the store and ordered a sling – bringing it out and attached it to the Garand. It was a black polymer two-point sling. It was good enough and cleaned out only 10 points.
I slung the rifle onto my back and walked out of the washroom to the sight of three armed people. Healer was dressed in full leather armor over his regular clothing with a shortsword in on his right and a thick wooden wand sheathed in front of his belt buckle. Hammer also wore full boiled leather over his clothes but held a large two-handed hammer in his hands. Agatha was still the same. “Ready?” Agatha asked as she eyed my equipment. “Where is your sword? How are you going to fight if something happens?” She sneered at me.
“These will do.” I smiled while I pointed out my rifle and sidearm. “This isn’t a game. Something has definitely happened to my -” Healer stepped in.” The boy will be already. He’s already proven his ability to fight.” Agatha frowned and said nothing else before she walked out of the house, slamming the door open on the way. The table by the front door was my old carrier, all torn and bloodied. I wanted to strip its pouches but it had to wait until we got back. “Let us go.” Healer looked at me, more questions in his eye as I walked past him, but he withheld himself this time and followed me out.
Now that I was no longer numb to smells, I was hit with the putrid smell that was the village road. It smelled like shit and piss that had fermented for days like a public park bathroom in summer. My face crumbled as I nearly gagged. “Has this place always stank?” I asked no one in particular. Either Way, no one bothered to answer as the others began appeared to have finally become serious. We kept a fast walking pace with our weapons holstered as we worked our way down the snaking road until we popped out onto the main road. The empty main road.
The sun was beginning to set, but the road was completely empty. Aside from a few dead knights and adventurers. The moment we saw the dead, we all drew our weapons. Agatha kept point and walked out into the center of the road. I kept close to the now boarded-up buildings as Healer kept on me and Hammer stayed with Agatha. I kept my rifle trained towards the north while the other two checked the dead knights. “Lady Agatha!” A voice cried out from behind me. A Knight limped down the dirt road with his armor blackened around his left leg and he had to use his sword like a cane to support himself
Agatha paused a moment, her confusion apparent on her face before it was wiped away with the frost of anger. “What happened?” She approached the knight and helped him sit on a crate that had been left outside one of the stores across from us.” The Adventurers attacked us! They took Sir Aeneas!” Healer bolted over, a semi-transparent ball of light forming in his hand. He came to a stop by the knight and crouched over his side before he began to unstrap the man’s greave and cuisse, but they hadn’t been burned away by whatever had charred his left leg. “When? How?!” Agatha questioned the knight.
“About half an hour ago! A large group of knights had escorted him through our gate when a group of adventurers along with the Guild manger’s mage at the head. They attacked with ar-” His report was interrupted by his pained screams as Healer began to pull away the armor from his leg. I couldn’t see why he was screaming, but I could smell it – burnt flesh.
The man’s cries quickly caught the attention of knights off at the distant gate. The rattle and clangs of metal echoed through the street as several battered knights hobbled up the street with swords in hand. “Lady Agatha!” Several of the men cried out when they saw who was attending to their wounded comrade. I kept to my sector as I kept sparing a few glances in their direction. Soon, the one with the most ornate armor began to report to her…
. . . . .
Half an hour passed as the remaining knights within the settlement who were in fighting order were gathered near the south gate. A total of just under eighty knights had been gathered. Eleven knights had perished at the gate while nine perished outside the to the east. All of those who died were the guards who knew what happened specifically, aside from the Officer who survived as he had been the furthermost away from Aeneas during the assault.
Sir-Knight Aeneas had been seen with adventurers chasing him while attempting to kill him. Nine knights, who were patrolling the outside of the palisades, had heard the commotion as they were nearly as loud as the village itself. The patrol had come to his aid and lost four knights in the skirmish before they were able to rout the attackers. Aeneas had never told the officer what he had been doing out there, but the adventurers were quite enraged as he put it. The battle had lasted only close to ten minutes, but it took close to twenty minutes to get back as they had wounded among them and had to tend to them. This had given the adventurers enough time to regroup with reinforcements and attack the south gate when they arrived.
The result was as we saw.
I didn’t voice it, but I felt something was off about this officer. Something whispered in my ear that he wasn’t telling the entire truth. I believed that it was as he said and the adventurers attacked, but something was off during the end and beginning parts of his report – even the part how he was spared. I looked to the sky as the sun dipped to the west past the mountains. The only lights stemmed from the marching knights. They filled the entire street as the stores and houses in their path were as silent as the grave. No one person had thought themselves well enough to walk the streets tonight as the two factions in the settlement were about to collide.
I turned to the front where Agatha spearheaded the retaliation. She had not doned her steel and elected to keep on her leather armor while the rest of her men were clad in their armor. The ruckus would have been deafening if I had not had my headset on, to which Lily was fiercely protesting. “Your weapons are ranged and you should not be at the front of the group!” It wasn’t that I didn’t agree, but Agatha had already forbidden me from repositioning myself. The contrast from the earlier had startled me, yet, I couldn’t blame her. They had her husband.
Every street we passed was as dark and black ink as the moonlight as if the moonlight was being devoured by the surrounding shacks. It wasn’t until we reached the square in front of the Guild did any light come from elsewhere. Light poured out of the windows, faintly illuminating the space in front of the building. Shadows stirred in the windows as screams resonated reached out further than the light.
“Capture the Guild Building now!!!” Her order came out as a shrill scream as she took up a position at the entrance to the square. The officers under her began to issue orders are steel swords sang from their sheaths. “For Sir Aeneas!” War cries rang out. The river of flame and steel poured into the square, their mad charge filled the air with the clattering of war as arrows sang from the windows of the guild.