"I appreciate it, lad, but no thank you." She then stared at Noah with a peculiar smirk. "A young man who can calmly make eye contact in this situation must either have the manners of a seasoned butler, or has seen unspeakable horrors."

"It’s a little of Column A, a little of Column B, Madam."

"You must have an interesting reputation indeed. Well, boys, I hope you enjoyed your stay, and I hope to see you again soon." Daniel looked like he was still having a stroke, but Noah was able to appreciate the sight as Cyrilo began to transform, her body shrinking while fur covered her pasty skin. In seconds, she morphed into the cat they first met. "I find being a cat is much easier than being an old woman."

She then left the room with soft little footfalls, and once she was gone, Noah turned to Daniel. "You all right?"

In response, Daniel began crying like a baby and wringing the blankets. "Forever unclean!"


It was an unusual sight for those walking the streets, Noah all but dragging the inconsolable Daniel from food stand to food stand. Noah was eating everything that would help cure his hangover, as well as shoving food down Daniel’s throat to stop his blubbering.

"Seriously, how much did you have to drink last night?"

"I don’t know, they just kept pouring drinks and I couldn’t stop myself! I’ve woken up with regrets before, but… argh! I feel so filthy! Forever unclean!"

"Quit saying that, it’s no longer funny. Look, let’s just get your guitar fixed. That’ll take your mind off things."

As they walked through town, they asked if anyone knew any skilled woodworkers, specifically anyone who constructed harps and other instruments. The neck of Daniel’s guitar couldn’t simply be nailed back together. It had to be repaired by someone who understood the importance of string tension. In actuality, Noah wasn’t surprised when they finally heard those four words.

"I can’t fix this."

He and Daniel were standing in the shop of Colbrand’s best harp-maker, and the old man was looking over Daniel’s guitar with a mix of curiosity from its design and disdain for its condition. His scarred hands testified to his experience as a craftsman.

"This wood has been ravaged by the sun and moisture. It’s starting to splinter all over. I’d do more damage just trying to fix it."

Hearing the news, Daniel began to pace back and forth on shaky steps, taking deep breaths to try and calm himself. "I knew it, I fucking knew it." He punched a wall in his anger, then cried out in pain from his split knuckles.

"Daniel, go wait outside. Get some fresh air."

"I’m fine!"

"No, you’re bothering me. Get the hell out."

When Daniel finally left, Noah turned back to the craftsman. "Can you make a new one, using this as a reference?"

"An experimental work like this would be costly, and I’ve got my hands full with projects for the festival."

"I don’t mean totally from scratch. Just make the surface with the neck and scrap the original one for parts. These two here, they’re called the saddle and the tuning machines. If you can attach them, it’ll save you a lot of work. Also add this piece here, the pic guard. These metal frets, you can transfer over as well. The strap can also be saved."

"You said you just wanted the surface, but this thing is built like a drum."

"I have something in mind for that."

Noah reached into his backpack and removed a large carapace from a dungeon crab parasite, one of the few he hadn’t sold before leaving Clive. His idea of turning it into a shield was tossed aside, having found a more interesting use for it.

"While I can’t show you an example, I’ve seen plenty of these instruments made using turtle shells, so the principle will be the same."

The man examined both the guitar and the carapace, and Noah could see the work taking shape in his mind. It reminded Noah of the blacksmith from Clive, when he sold him the knight armor. It wasn’t a matter of money, he was now curious.

"Very well, I’ll do it. But like I said, I have a lot of other projects going on and this is experimental work. If want this done with any sort of speed, I can’t work for anything less than five silver."

"That’s fine, money is no concern. Now, there is one more thing, about the materials. Is there any wood you know of that is good at conducting mana and magic?"

"Hmmm, well if I’m carving it as one piece, it’ll have to be sverna wood. It’s a tree that grows on the mountains of the dwarf homeland. It enhances one’s warrior magic if made into a shield. Just that piece will cost you another silver coin."

"That’s fine. When can you have it done by?"

"Give me three days."

"Deal."

Noah left the guitar and shell piece with the craftsman and went back outside, where Daniel was sitting on the ground with a despondent look on his face. "I’ve hired him to make you a new one. It’ll be ready in three days."

Daniel scrambled to his feet, as excited as a kid on his birthday. "Are you kidding me?"

"It’s true."

His joy then plateaued. "Why are you doing all this for me?"

"There are several reasons. Which do you want to hear?"

"The most selfish one."

Noah exhaled through his nose and looked off into space for a moment. "It’s an investment. Think of this as not loaning you money, but buying shares. From now on, I get a cut of all the money you make with that guitar. Besides, introducing modern music to this society is too interesting to pass up, and you could become something like a one-man Beatles, at least, if you’re as good as you say you are."

"Ok, now what about the nicest one?"

Noah sighed in annoyance. "This isn’t how I usually do things, but I’m going to be honest. You’re a loser, I knew that the moment I saw you. You’ve made it awfully clear that your life in the old world sucked, and most of your suffering is probably self-inflicted."

"This really isn’t that nice."

"Think of it as tough love. If you keep trying to live that life here, you aren’t going to live much longer. If we had met under different circumstances, I would have written you off as a lost cause. Here, you have a clean slate in a new world and I suggest you use it wisely. People can change. It’s rarely easy, but it can be done. That guitar may be your key to a better life."

Silence followed.

"Thanks," Daniel finally said. One word, it was humble, grateful.

"That’s as far as my charity goes, so I suggest you get a day job. As for me, I’m off to do some sightseeing. I’ll be sticking to the Knight’s Sheath for the next few days. Later."

With Noah gone, Daniel returned to the brothel in a hurry. He had to move fast, before his motivation decayed into apathy. It was midmorning and the place had reached a steady level of activity. There was rarely a shortage of people looking to get laid, especially now when the city was overflowing with young, virile adventurers.

"Oh, you again," said the bartender.

"Yeah, hi, I’m looking for Madam Cyrilo." Truth be told, she was the last person he wanted to see, and he had yet to fully recover from the shock of when he woke up, but at the moment, she was probably his best shot.

"Already? I suppose you aren’t the first customer to mistake love for lust. She must have really had an impression on you."

"No, it’s not like that. I wanted to ask her if I could get a job here."

"You? No offense, but our female clientele, the few we have, have a bit higher standard on what they’re willing to spend their money on."

"No! I mean doing odd jobs and that kind of stuff. I’ll mop floors, do laundry, even scrape dry baby gravy off the ceiling if I have to."

"You’re coming to a whorehouse to do grunt work?"

"I am the gruntiest grunt to ever dig a ditch!"

"All right, I’ll let her know you’re here. She’s in the back room right now."

He disappeared through a door at the end of the bar, and several moments later, he reappeared with Madam Cyrilo, sitting on his shoulder like a parrot in her feline form.

"Ah, hello again. Lucius says you want a job?"

"Yes, I’m willing to do whatever task you need. All I need is enough money for food and a dry corner to sleep in. Please!"

"Well, I suppose we could always use an extra set of hands for heavy lifting jobs, and there is always cleaning to be done. Very well, you’re hired."

"Thank you, ma’am! Also, there is one more thing."

"Yes?"

"I’m currently having an instrument made and it should be ready in three days. When it’s done, I hope you’ll give me a chance to play on that stage."

"That stage is for the girls to woo customers. Some men really go for a woman who can sing. I’ll be honest, I don’t think they’d be interested in you."

"I don’t mean like that! Just… just let me play my music on that stage and I guarantee you more customers. I’m offering them something they won’t find anywhere else in the world."

"All right. I’ll give you a shot. If you work hard for the next three days, I’ll let you go up there."

"Thank you so much!"

"You can thank me after you mop this floor."


Noah wandered through Colbrand, forming his mental map of assets, dangers, and escape routes. Compared to the small towns he had passed through, he had a lot of ground to cover, but now he found himself with ample free time and a longing for entertainment. If he could not find something to satisfy him, the search itself would help fill the vacuum. Learning, it was how he stayed in the moment, using the flow of information to hold onto his sense of time. Besides, his survival depended on his knowledge of the area.

This city was quite wealthy, able to afford paved streets and buildings made of brick and mortar, and there was always an armored soldier in view. ‘This level of policing could be a problem for me in the future. Hopefully, it’ll blow over after the festival.’

Those thoughts were pushed aside when his eyes fell on the steeple. A few streets over was a cathedral dedicated to the six elemental gods, dwarfing the puny little wooden chapels he had encountered thus far. He wasn’t normally interested in architecture, but a cathedral built in this age was a bit enticing. He trekked through the crowded roads and reached the church, circling it while studying the exterior. It was built to last and the stained-glass was worthy of praise.

He passed through the great double doors and was immediately disappointed. He didn’t know what he had wanted to feel, maybe a wave of mana or a whoosh of air, just something to tell him this place wasn’t merely another monument to mythology. If the gods or their influence was present here, they existed beyond his senses. He continued on, looking upon two rows of pews bathed in the colored light of the windows overhead. Half depicted the six elements, the other showed saints and great warriors from the church’s past. There were only a few congregants, taking a break from their daytime routine to come in and pray. At the end of the cathedral hung a line of flags, each one depicting a rune and one of the elemental gods.

Noah took a seat at one of the pews and stared at the flags, trying to drown out all distractions while he opened himself to the feel of the mana in the air. Was there really nothing here? No sign of divinity? He sat in that pew for an unknown length of time, devoting himself wholly to his senses in search of the gods’ presence. He remained while congregants came and went, unmoving, unlike the rainbow light of the stained glass sliding across the floor.

"Are they saying anything?"

Noah turned to see a priest standing nearby. He was a middle-aged man in a white robe with the rune of the god of light inscribed on his chest.

"Excuse me?"

"A man is easiest to read when he sits in church and opens himself to God. From the look on their face, the glimmer in their eyes, just the way they clutch their hands, I know what they are after. You are not here asking for protection, forgiveness, strength, or even good fortune, nor are you here to express gratitude. No, you are here for answers. You come here seeking truth from the voice of God."

"You’re good, but it’s not quite something as dramatic as "truth". Right now I’m just indulging my curiosity. I only recently learned of this faith and I want to find out more."

"What would you like to know?"

"Everything, really. Try to sell me your belief."

The priest chuckled and sat down nearby. "That’s some curious wording."

"I meant no disrespect. I honestly want to know. Besides, isn’t that your job as a priest? You convince people to buy your ideology the same way you bought it from someone else. What society has faith in determines its identity; faith in the divine, faith in gold, faith in emotions, everything. I want to know what Colbrand has faith in."

"It’s unusual to be asked such a question. Adventurers who ask about the gods usually want to know how to make their magic stronger."

"Well, that is also part of it."

"I suppose I should start at the beginning, then."

"That normally is where people start."

"It was the titans who created and shaped our universe, though many believe that they themselves are the universe, our reality made from their bodies. Ageless, infinite, and beyond all understanding, the titans created the gods to help cultivate reality, and of the myriad born came the elemental deities. Relampargoza, Terranora, Wassenschtal, Brisenvalla, Byrnestoir, and Lumendori, the gods of thunder, earth, water, wind, fire, and light. They created this world, but their dominion was opposed by the heathen spirits of nature. War broke out, the gods creating elemental soldiers and weapons that marched across the earth, and the spirits laying magic circles to eternally spawn their own minions.

It was a war lasting eons, continuously reshaping our world until, at last, both the gods and the spirits came to the same conclusion: create a minion in the image of the enemy to gain their strength. The gods created the first race, the Enochians, elemental power in the form of life. Terranora crafted their bodies from clay and iron. Wassenschtal gave them blood made from the waters of the fountain of youth. Brisenvalla gave them the breath of the four winds. Byrnestoir gave them the fire in their hearts. Relampargoza gave them vast reservoirs of mana and mastery over magic. Lumendori gave them their souls, imbuing them with the righteous drive and infinite wisdom.

The spirits of nature created the dragons, giving them bodies that could resist all extremes and dominate land, sea, and air, claws that could rend the flesh of our world and its inhabitants, and wild magic and powerful breath. Time passed, and the war finally came to an end. The dragons were left on the verge of extinction, and for a time, the world was at peace, a paradise built by the Enochians. But they too were eventually broken, first in mind, then in body. The nature spirits deceived them, turned them away from the true path to living like animals. Having lost their faith, so too did they lose their power. With every generation, their bloodlines weakened, the once-mighty race becoming the tribes of men, elves, dwarves, and others."

Noah leaned forward against the next pew. "Those who worship the elemental gods, I assume, are trying to rebuild paradise."

"We humans are incapable of such a thing, being a fallen race. Regardless, we shall prove our loyalty to the gods. Be it one generation or a thousand, we shall be nourished by our faith and the gods’ favor, someday reclaiming our abandoned birthright and rising as the new Enochians. We emulate our glorious creators and our faith in them gives us strength. A man of faith is far more powerful than a man of talent, and history has shown that time and time again."

This gave Noah pause, for while the words were spoken by every religion since the dawn of time, there was the possibility of them being true in this case. The power of belief could build and destroy nations, allowing people to perform and endure great and terrible tribulations, but that was more an issue of the placebo effect. Was it possible that magic could be the exception? That one could receive divine favor and overcome human limits?

"But there are other gods, aren’t there? If elemental magic comes from the gods and shamanism comes from spirits, what do warrior and monk magic come from?"

"They are remnants of our Enochian ancestry, just a glimmer of the power they wielded even without faith. The other gods have no bearing or interest in our world. It is the elemental deities that deserve our praise and love."

"What about other magics? There must be some."

"Like I said, it’s just a remnant of the past, lingering talent. There are stories, rumors every now and then of someone wielding unknown magic. It’s almost always proven false, some charlatan trying to make a name for himself or cheat people. The Zodiac twins are the only case I know of for real. Well then, have I "sold you" my faith?"

"No, but you were good, don’t be discouraged. I’ve just tried every religion I can find and none have borne fruit."

"Goodness," the priest said with a chuckle. To him, Noah was just an exaggerating young man who stepped one toe into different faiths and quit the first day. In truth, Noah had more history wearing priestly robes than the actual priest beside him. "Perhaps they felt wrong to you because you belonged here instead of there. I believe Lumendori put those false faiths before you so that they might be your stepping stones as you climb to the light. But what could drive you to such extremes?"

Noah looked up at the arched ceiling. "The search for meaning, same as everyone. Your search for meaning propelled you to the role of priest. Deep down, I think everyone wishes to find God in some manner or form, no matter how small. We want our beliefs and values to be deemed worthy by an inarguable authority, and that is how we get meaning. Even those who claim not to believe in any kind of god still believe in something abstract, something to justify their thoughts and actions, like the value of life. Without that meaning, we go insane. If there is a source of meaning in the universe, I want to find it."

"If true, it would be the greatest proof of God. We are inherently born with a drive to find God because we know it to be the one thing that truly exists. Our Enochian ancestors were touched by the gods and that feeling has rippled across endless generations, and while we have not looked upon divinity as they have, our belief in the gods is our desire to return to them. You’re here because you’re looking for answers, answers of a specific kind. You believe in something, maybe not in divinity, but in something beyond this mortal plane. You might not be a man of faith, but you are a man of belief."

"We’re all men of belief." Noah ended it there and got to his feet. Things rarely went well for people who argued with the clergy in Medieval society. "It’s getting late, I’m heading back home."

"That is an excellent idea. Someone like you shouldn’t be out in the streets at night."

"Someone like me?"

"Your swords. They tend to draw unwanted attention."

Colbrand was filled with adventurers armed to the teeth, what possible attention could he attract? He decided not to press the issue. "Thanks for the warning, and the explanation. Your faith is a peculiar one."

"I only hope to see you back in these pews sometime soon. Every soul that steps onto the proper path is a step closer to paradise."

Noah left the church and began his walk back to the Knight’s Sheath. Going to the church was time well-spent. Some of his questions had been answered, and those that hadn’t at least opened up new avenues. In regards to his magic, he had the body of his previous life, same with Daniel, rather than a new body born on this world, so he could discard the Enochian ancestry theory. His only lead was the existence of an unknown god. Whether or not gods even existed had yet to be confirmed, but he now had a direction.

He grabbed some dinner from a street vendor and arrived at the brothel after the sun had set. The place was as busy as the previous night, and now, most of the men had a drink in one hand and a gonlief cigarette in the other, with a jar of the stuffed tubes at every table. Noah sat at the bar and ordered himself a drink. He retrieved a cigarette from a nearby jar and examined it. It was hand-rolled but expertly made, using some kind of cheap papyrus.

"Where did you get these?" Noah asked.

"Oh, that was your friend’s idea. He came back this morning looking for a job," the bartender said.

"How’d that work out?"

"You can ask him yourself." He stepped over to a door leading to the back rooms and opened it partway. "Daniel, your friend is back."

Moments later, Daniel appeared, looking beaten and exhausted with a rag tied around his forehead. "Thanks, Lucius. Yo, No-Jake." He caught himself in time and addressed Noah by his alias.

"Hey, you got a job pretty quick."

"Yeah, thanks. The first day hasn’t been easy. I’ve never been very good at the whole "working for a living" thing."

"Hey, remember what I told you," said Lucius while flicking the back of Daniel’s ear. "You’re not allowed to complain within these walls. A bad attitude can drive off customers."

"I’m pretty sure none of those guys are paying attention to me. You made that point clear earlier in an oh so friendly manner."

"Don’t be an ingrate."

Noah lit the cigarette with a nearby candle. "At least you’re putting your skills to work with these."

"I have plenty of experience."

"It’s your saving grace," said Lucius. "You should have seen him try to mop the floors, it was almost depressing, like watching a blind dog stumbling through its house after the furniture is moved around."

"That you would speak those words is the real tragedy," said Daniel. "Now I’m going to be imagining that dog for the rest of the night."

"Well, there is still some hope for you yet. It’s around ten years late, but maybe I can teach you to be a real man. We just need to jam some steel in your spine."

"Yay, even more tough love."

"If Lucius can get you to complain just a little bit less, then he’ll have done the work of a saint."

"Not you too!"

"Face it, you’re kind of a drag."

"I’m just doing whatever I can to earn that little cot in the back room."

Noah was then embraced from behind with a pair of ample breasts pressed to his back and delicate hands moving across his body like he was being searched for weapons.

"My darling has returned!"

"Hello, Bella."

"I’ve been thinking about you all day. My room is ready for another night of fun."

"I was actually considering giving that blonde girl over there with the gills a try."

"Ronda? No! No, no, no, no, no, she’s not right for you! She’ll literally just lie there like a fish! And she won’t give the extra special discount I’m offering just for you!"

"All right, go upstairs and get yourself warmed up for me. I’ll be there in a little bit."

"Don’t make me wait too long," she purred. She then pulled away and went up to the stairs, with the three men watching her puffball tail wiggle in excitement. Lucius and Daniel then turned to Noah, this average-looking youth, with eyes full of wonder.

"Bella has a rabbit’s libido, but I’ve never seen her that excited," said Lucius.

"Her thirst is stronger than any magic I’ve ever seen. What did you do to her?" Daniel asked.

Noah chuckled. "That’s the result of a man’s skill and effort. You boys may be late bloomers, but I’m sure someday you’ll come into your own."

Breaking glass, the smack of a hand against a woman’s cheek, and the frightful yelp of pain; these three sounds drew the attention of everyone in the parlor. One of the girls had spilled a customer’s drink, an adventurer, and he lacked the capacity to react in a dignified manner. The blow knocked her to the floor and he stood over her. "You got it all over my lap, you stupid whore!"

"Ralph, easy," one of his friends said. Another three men occupied the table, all members of an adventuring party.

Lucius was already halfway to his location, having gotten out from behind the counter and crossing the parlor with a rigid posture. He grabbed the man’s raised arm before he could hit the girl a second time, and she scurried off.

"You’re out. No one hits the girls." It was an absolute declaration, like a judge passing down a criminal sentence. Two of the man’s friends became tense, getting ready to intervene. The evening merriment was paused and all the patrons and working girls were watching the exchange.

"It took me a month to get here and the fucking beasts can’t even carry a drink!"

"Out! Now!"

Lucius tried to pull him towards the door and a knife was drawn, aiming for the bartender’s kidney. He grabbed the man’s wrist to stop the attack and then headbutted him. Two punches to the nose and a knee to the solar plexus brought the troublemaker down and prompted his friends to attack, one wielding a club and the other armed with a sword. For a big guy, Lucius was quick on his feet, dodging the swung club and elbowing the owner in the face. The club smashed the edge of the table and Lucius grabbed it and aimed for the nearby swordsman’s kneecap. There was the sound of bone breaking and the warrior went down. Bless his heart, the initial troublemaker was back on his feet, though unsteady. Another attempt at stabbing earned him a dislocated shoulder and a solid faceplant. The man who had originally wielded the club took a knee to the jaw before he could even get back on his feet.

As the fight continued, Noah turned to Daniel. "You’re not even going to pretend to back him up?"

"I’m a lover, not a fighter."

"According to Cyrilo, you’re neither of them."

"Well, I normally save all my effort for your mom. Hell, that’s why we both ended up here. I’m your real dad." He then pretended to throw an invisible basketball.

All that was left was the fourth adventurer, still sitting at the table. Lucius steadied his breathing, straightened his collar, and turned to him. "I’m afraid that the cost of damages falls to you. Can I get you another drink?"

The man sighed and placed some coins on the table. "Make it something strong, please."

"Right away, sir. Daniel, you’re on cleanup!"

"My time to shine."

As Daniel went to work dragging the wounded adventurers out into the street, Lucius returned to his spot behind the counter. Likewise, the parlor returned its earlier joviality as the men brought attention back to titties and booze.

"Damn savages blow through this city like locusts."

"You were good," said Noah.

"All in a day’s work." A minute later, they heard a commotion outside. One of the adventurers had woken up as Daniel was dragging him out and attacked. "Son of a—" Lucius reached under the counter and pulled up a sword and sheath. He stormed outside, leaving Noah to finish his drink and head upstairs. Bella was waiting.

Please comment!

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https://ladyboyforum.com/topic/11396-new-member-on-the-forum/?p=273451

https://www.kodinerds.net/thread/77983-modify-client-s-configuration-via-cli/

https://knx-user-forum.de/forum/%C3%B6ffentlicher-bereich/knx-eib-forum/1917028-tr270c-und-tr271c

https://www.klangfuzzis.de/threads/lautsprecherringe.107041/

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Pub: 22 Apr 2024 12:14 UTC
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