4.17

Ryoka stood in the darkness, heart pounding. She was afraid. Mortally afraid. There were things she feared in the world, and she was about to face one of them.

She had met Dragons, [Necromancers], Goblin Lords, and yes, each one was terrifying in a way that left scars on the soul. If she closed her eyes, she could still taste the fear. Such memories weren’t nightmarish, though. Nightmares were generally figments of the dreaming mind, and as such, couldn’t come close to the experience of seeing a Dragon face to face.

Part of the fear was wonder. And when Ryoka sat up at night, heart pounding, seeing the Goblins slaughtering the Stone Spears tribe, feeling her fingers bitten off—

That was a horror, one that did not disappear for waking. Because a nightmare was only suspicion, paranoia, unfulfilled fear. Goblins existed. The Goblin Lord was coming. So was the [Necromancer], and Ryoka didn’t know what to do.

All these traumas—Ryoka hadn’t even included dead things around a fire, or evil carnivorous goats. With so much to be afraid of in this world, it seemed silly to have this fear.

And yet, it stemmed from a different place than the ordeals she had gone through. This one was personal, intimate, and it came from a time when Ryoka had been in her world. She just couldn’t face it without shuddering inside.

She hated visiting friends. Or to be more accurate, she thought she did. She’d never actually done it.

Until now.

Ryoka hesitated outside of the door of the large farmhouse. By her side, Mrsha fidgeted in the snow. She looked plaintively up at Ryoka as her stomach rumbled.

It was dark. That didn’t necessarily mean that late; winter being what it was, the sun had gone down before it was time for dinner. And that was why Ryoka was here.

Dinner at Garia’s. She’d asked, and Garia had been only too happy to talk to her parents. And of course, Fals had agreed to come and Ryoka had known it was the only good thing to do as a friend. Still…

It was going to be awkward. Ryoka dreaded that. She didn’t know what to do, what to say, how to act, and she had a horrible fear of silence at the dinner table. At other people’s dinner tables, that was. Her naturally antagonistic relationship with her parents had made her accustomed to it at her house, on the rare occasions they all ate together.

But there was no help for it. Ryoka had taken Mrsha from Erin’s inn after Safry and Maran had been fired. She’d gone to Celum and run with the Gnoll carried on her back. There was actually a kind of basket the Gnolls used that could be used to carry their young. It wasn’t exactly easy to run with, but Ryoka had crossed through snow and run down empty roads until she reached a farm a few miles west of Celum.

That had surprised her, learning that Garia lived so close by. But she’d never talked to the girl about her family, aside from the basics. Garia lived on a farm. Her parents ran said farm. That was all Ryoka needed to know.

And the farm did seem like a proper…farm. It was hard to see in the darkness, but Ryoka had spotted a structure very similar to a barn coming in. It seemed quite large to be run by just two people. Maybe they hired help? Anyways, it didn’t fit with what Ryoka had expected. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected.

“And now we’re here. I should have asked more questions. Like do I bring a gift? I’m pretty sure a hungry Gnoll isn’t a normal hostess gift.”

Ryoka muttered to herself. By her side, Mrsha looked up imploringly. Ryoka had been standing outside in the snow for a minute, which in Mrsha time was probably a year. The Gnoll was clearly hungry—she could probably smell the food inside. She edged over to Ryoka and poked her leg with a claw, looking meaningfully at the door.

“In a second, Mrsha.”

She just had to steel herself. Okay, say ‘hi, thanks for having me’. Or did she introduce herself first? Ryoka hesitated. Maybe she should—

 

“Just go in, you daft coward!”

 

Someone shouted in her ear. Then Ivolethe kicked Ryoka in the back of the head.

“Ow.”

Ryoka swatted at the Frost Faerie. Ivolethe flew around her and glared at Ryoka.

 

“Stop dithering. I grow bored with every passing moment ye stay out here, and my kind watches trees grow for sport.”

 

The Frost Faerie stared meaningfully at Ryoka. She’d come with Ryoka on the journey, amusing Mrsha to no end by tormenting Ryoka with flurries of snow, snowballs, snow pitfalls, and other winter-related pranks. Ryoka opened her mouth to snap back, felt another poke, and gave in after a short fight.

“Okay, okay. Stop kicking me—stop poking me, Mrsha. I know it’s you. Don’t look around. There’s no one else here! I’m doing it.”

Steeling herself, she raised her hand and knocked loudly at the door. Ryoka had heard muffled sounds from within, and there were lights burning behind the shuttered windows. Now, at her knock, she heard a loud exclamation from within and heavy, running footsteps.

“Ryoka!”

The door burst open. Mrsha nearly went flying as Garia flung the door wide and then engulfed Ryoka in a bone-crushing hug.

“Gah! Garia!”

“It’s so great you’re here! Oh! And Mrsha! I didn’t see you there! Hello! Remember me?”

She let go of Ryoka, allowing the taller girl to breathe, and bent to shake paws with Mrsha. The Gnoll blinked up at Garia solemnly, and then licked her lips as Garia held the door open.

“Come in! My family’s here and Fals came an hour ago. He’s really funny—but you knew that! There’s food ready and snacks—oh. Is uh, she coming?”

Garia had caught sight of Ivolethe. Like all people from this world, she stared a bit to the left of the faerie, looking at Ivolethe’s glamour. She looked apprehensive, no doubt remembering the events at the Runner’s Guild.

“Crap. I uh—”

Ryoka hesitated. She wanted to let Ivolethe come in, but she was well aware of the chaos the Frost Faerie could cause by herself. And it was dangerous for Ivolethe to be indoors as well, even invited. The iron in Garia’s home would be a problem.

For once, Ivolethe solved the problem by herself. She spoke loudly, making Garia jump. Apparently she could speak to whomever she pleased if the need arose, although she seldom bothered.

“I shall take my leave, Ryoka Griffin. I have things to see, and I don’t wish to listen to your mortal prattling all night.”

“Oh. Uh. Sorry.”

Garia stared at Ivolethe, white-faced. Ivolethe grinned at Ryoka and flicked her eyes inside calculatingly.

“However, if ye would leave food for me outside, I might consider blessing this place. A proper meal, though. Without iron, mind! And with lots of meat!”

“I’ll uh, I’ll do that.”

Wide-eyed, Garia watched as Ivolethe flew upwards and then disappeared rapidly into the sky. She looked at Ryoka. Ryoka shrugged.

“You heard her. Put something out after dinner. Lots of meat. I’ll bet her blessings are worth spit, but it’s better than having her annoyed. Don’t worry either way, though. She’s pretty harmless.”

Garia nodded uncertainly as Mrsha lost patience and padded into the house ahead of the two. Ryoka was about to follow when a snowball spiraled down from above. It hit the back of her head and nearly knocked her flat.

Of course Ryoka had grown used to snowballs thrown by faeries before. She’d been hit by ones with rocks inside them, bits of ice, and so on. But this one had come down at an extreme speed and angle. It had a ton of force behind it. In short, it hurt. Ryoka stumbled, turned and raised her middle finger to the sky.

Fuck you!

A distant laugh answered her. That was coincidentally also when Fals and Garia’s parents came out to meet Ryoka. Their first impression of her was thus an angry Asian girl flipping off the sky, hair covered with snow. As first impressions went…well, Ryoka had had worse.

 

—-

 

“So you’re friends with the Winter Sprites, Miss, ah, Ryoka?”

A few minutes later Ryoka was sitting around a table with Mrsha, Garia, Fals, and Mr. and Ms. Strongheart. Of course, no one spoke like that, so they were Wailant and Viceria, the married couple who’d raised Garia.

They…weren’t what Ryoka had expected. For one thing, well, they didn’t look the part. Not that Ryoka had expected a pair of Southern-accented people with hats and overalls, but she had considered the standards of farming in this world fairly below hers. She’d been prepared to meet a fairly poor couple, living in a village and farming a patch of land that might be owned by a [Lord] or other kind of landowner.

Instead, she met the oddest pair imaginable. The father, Wailant, had huge, tattooed and scarred arms revealed by his sleeveless cotton shirt. It had taken Ryoka several minutes just to process the incongruity of his appearance. She managed to break down the weirdness into several layers.

Firstly, his arms were muscled. Not surprising on a [Farmer], and Garia was certainly strong as all get-out from her years working. But the tattoos? One was of a twisting tentacle holding a ship, the other of some kind of horrific fish with a gaping maw. The other, well, Ryoka was just glad that Mrsha was more interested in her food than in Wailant.

And his shirt! That was another weird part of him. Because despite wearing a sleeveless shirt, it was far from a poor quality cloth. The shirt itself was a light blue gilded with gold. It had a flowing edge around the bottom and sides reminiscent of a golden wave.

And the scars. Unless farming in this world involved fighting mutant rabbits with teeth like swords, Wailant had gotten the savage scars that covered his arms somewhere else. He had a particularly nasty circular wound—from an arrow, perhaps—on the side of his stubbled face.

In short, he looked as little like a [Farmer] as Ryoka could imagine. And his wife, Viceria?

She was a [Mage]. She wore the robe, spoke like Pisces when he wasn’t being obnoxiously wordy, and Ryoka could sense the magic about her. She had long, flowing hair tied back in a braid—light brown, contrasting against Wailant’s black hair. She was slim, elegant.

Ryoka sat at a dinner table with the two of Garia’s parents as she ate, filling her plates with roast yams, a hot egg-and-pork casserole, spooned potatoes and some kind of weird, soft and sour vegetable called Tashal onto her plate, and tried to make conversation.

“Uh, yes. That’s right. Her name’s Ivolethe. She’s ah…a friend.”

“Oh? I wasn’t aware they had names. Garia told me about seeing your friend’s true form. I had no idea they were using a glamour at the time, but that would explain their other abilities. How did you meet her?”

Viceria tapped her fingers together as she studied Ryoka over her plate. She was using silver…silverware. In fact, the plates were costly ceramics. Ryoka carefully chewed down a bite of Tashal—it really was good with potatoes, like sour cream—before replying.

“I ah, attracted their notice. Those little b—those pests followed me for days, pulling pranks on me, throwing snow at my head, and so on. In the end I managed to impress them a bit, and Ivolethe seemed to like me.”

“So you have one of those devils following you?”

Sitting next to Fals and his wife, Wailant snorted. He folded his arms as Mrsha tried to fill her mouth with food. The Gnoll was happily consuming everything she could reach, and her plate kept being filled by Wailant, who seemed to enjoy watching Mrsha eat. She and Garia were the only things he seemed to approve of—Fals and Ryoka were getting the third degree.

“Those pests can wreck a farm in a day. I remember one of the farmers south of here lost an entire spring harvest when they covered his fields with eight feet of snow! He had to hire [Diggers] to shift it while all the other snow had long melted away!”

Ryoka coughed awkwardly and saw Garia wince. Her friend was sitting on her right, next to Fals, and she looked guilty as her father stared hard at Ryoka.

“I uh, didn’t know about that. I’m sorry for your friend—”

“My friend? I hated that bastard. I’m glad the faeries covered his fields. Served him right. But your friend’s not going to do it to my farm now, is she?”

“No. Absolutely not. Ivolethe doesn’t generally cause trouble—she just pulls pranks.”

“But she can do quite a lot on her own, can’t she? Garia told us about what happened to the Runner’s Guild in Celum.”

Viceria gazed at Ryoka, making the Runner girl cough. She was saved by Fals, who interrupted with a placating smile.

“I’m sorry to say the Runner’s Guild—and most of the people within—probably deserved it in that case, Miss Viceria. I haven’t seen Ryoka’s little friend doing anything else like that. In fact, I’d consider someone who’s familiar with snow and such an asset.”

“Oh. So that’s why Miss Ryoka’s had all those lucrative contracts? I wanted to know how she got deliveries for gold—hundreds of gold coins or so Garia’s said—while she’s still running deliveries for silver and copper. Is it all because of your Frost Faerie friend?”

Garia sat up in her seat, flushing scarlet and glaring at her father.

Dad. I don’t think Ryoka is—don’t embarrass me!”

Wailant Strongheart was unmoved. He was giving Ryoka a look she wished she could bottle and use on everyone she didn’t like. Coming from him, it was, well, hard not to flinch. Ryoka met Wailant’s green eyes, not backing down.

“I got those contracts because I was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t take them from anyone.”

“So you say.”

Wailant shifted, uncrossing one arm. Ryoka could see every muscle in his right arm shift for the motion. Sitting across from her, Fals leaned back as one of Wailant’s arms flexed, making the fish tattoo seem to swim. He grinned a bit desperately and nodded at Ryoka.

“We’re ah, all City Runners here, Mister Wailant, Miss Viceria. No one takes advantage of each other if we can help it. We’re a team. Ryoka just happens to be one of the best Runners in our Guild. In truth, I wouldn’t take half the requests she does. Running through the High Passes? I’d rather play tag with a Creler, or paint myself red and run through the streets of Celum naked.”

That got a laugh. Garia giggled and Wailant barked out a guffaw and slapped Fals on the back. Ryoka winced as she heard the crack of flesh on flesh. Fals kept grinning, although it looked like he was now struggling not to cry out in pain.

He was being charming, funny, and talkative. At first Ryoka had assumed it was the usual Fals, but she’d quickly realized that this was a defense tactic. Keeping Garia’s parents entertained was far more preferable to having them ask piercing questions. Ryoka wondered how he’d survived an hour already.

To change the subject, Ryoka cast about the table. Hostile parents aside, Garia’s house was really very nice. Extraordinarily nice. Again, Ryoka had expected a family that conformed to medieval economics, which was to say, dirt poor. But everything in the Strongheart family home looked well-made and some things looked expensive. They had a bookshelf filled with books for crying out loud! Ryoka chose that as the subject and nodded at it.

“I see you have quite a collection of books. I uh, didn’t know that [Farmers] were so well read. I’ve tried buying books myself, but they’re as expensive as healing potions, some of them. How did you come by this collection?”

“We’re humble folk, Miss Ryoka. That doesn’t mean we’re stupid. Or poor, for that matter.”

How did she manage to put her foot further into her mouth? Ryoka saw Garia burying her head in her hands as Wailant pushed back his chair. There was nothing poor or humble about the way he brought out several of the books for Ryoka and Fals to admire. She stared at the covers, noting several from her time perusing Magnolia’s library.

“It’s a magnificent collection.”

“Of course it is! I’ve read them all. Viceria here knows several [Shopkeepers] and [Merchants] who sell to [Lords] and [Ladies]. Of course, a poor family of [Farmers] can’t afford more than one or two first-edition tomes. Read all of these, have you?”

“Not all of them.”

Ryoka found herself being quizzed aggressively on the books she had read as the dinner continued. All the while, she saw Garia grow more and more anxious. She kept breaking into her father’s flow, trying to change the subject.

“So uh, does anyone want dessert? Mrsha? Why don’t I uh, get it? And you, Dad.”

She practically dragged her father out of his chair and into the kitchen. Mrsha followed, waddling a bit with her full belly and standing upright so the food wouldn’t come out if she fell over. Fals took that moment to flee for the outhouse, leaving Ryoka in a moment’s reprieve.

Well, Viceria was still there. Ryoka eyed her across the table and saw the woman smile.

“I apologize for my husband, Miss Ryoka.”

“It’s uh, fine. Call me Ryoka. Why do I get the feeling that he doesn’t like me?”

Viceria laughed softly. She looked like she was ten years younger than she was, which was, according to Garia, in her thirties. Ryoka was having a hard time imagining her giving birth to Garia. Oh, the features were there, the hair color was the same, but the body shape—no.

“I think that it’s because you look a lot like the girls that used to give Garia a hard time when she was growing up. You have their look, and I think Wailant’s concerned you might be taking advantage of Garia. I won’t pretend I didn’t have the same thoughts when I met young Fals, but he seems decent enough.”

That clarified some things. Ryoka sat back in her chair, hearing Garia’s not-so-quiet argument with her father about much the same subject in the kitchen.

“Oh? What do I look like?”

Viceria shrugged, looking slightly bitter.

“Tall, beautiful, thin. It’s not as if Garia doesn’t look lovely herself, but she thinks she should look more like me, when she inherited her father’s build. And of course, her first class was [Farmer], not [Mage]…”

“Wait, her class?”

Ryoka frowned. Viceria looked surprised.

“Of course. Don’t you know? Some classes dictate the way in which we, well, look. I am a [Mage], for instance. Working with magic means I tend to look younger than I really am—of course, there are spells that help as well. But [Mages] tend towards thinness. We burn too much energy for most of us to gain weight. Whereas classes like [Farmer], well, anyone who grows up with that class tends to grow a lot larger than say, someone who was raised as a [Clerk].”

Was that really true? Ryoka frowned as she tried to unpack this. The way you looked could tie to your class? She could buy the bit about [Mages] burning energy, but surely broad shoulders were in Garia’s genes, not a byproduct of her class. Then again, this was a world governed by Skills. Why couldn’t there be a passive effect that did just that?

“I didn’t know about classes like that. But Garia and I are, well, friends. She made my acquaintance and we’ve hung out. I wouldn’t ever take advantage of her. She’s a good person.”

“We know. But while she doesn’t say it, we’ve heard her talking about people less kind than you two are. We’ve met some of them before, as well.”

Viceria shook her head, looking troubled.

“Some girls seem to think they’re better than Garia just because they weigh less, or they can run faster. Apparently, Garia isn’t well thought of in the Runner’s Guild.”

The same in every world. Ryoka gritted her teeth. She took a breath, and then looked Viceria in the eye, speaking clearly.

“I think Garia’s worth twice as much as other City Runners. She’s had my back in two fights so far, and both times she didn’t hesitate to help me, even when we were fighting a group of adventurers.”

The woman blinked at her.

“Garia? In a fight?”

What?

There was an exclamation from the kitchen. Ryoka turned her head and saw Wailant, holding a pot full of custard. Behind him, Garia buried her face in her hands.

Wailant put the pot on the table and turned to face Ryoka. He wasn’t frowning, although he did loom a bit.

“Are you telling me my girl was in a fight?”

Ryoka leaned back a bit. This was going south. She wondered if she could jump out a window with Mrsha if it came to it.

“Yes, Mister Wailant. It was my fault. She was defending me after some idiots picked a fight and—”

“How’d she do?”

Wailant stared at Ryoka. She froze. He stared at her expectantly, as did Viceria.

“Did she knock anyone down? How many folks were in it? Did she kick anyone in the balls? I told her, that’s the way to start and end a fight in a hurry.”

Dad!

Ryoka stared at Wailant. She felt like she was running on the wrong track—she’d felt that way the instant she’d met Garia’s parents. But for the first time, she felt like she could see the right way to talk to him. So she sat up in her chair, smiled a bit, and nodded at Garia, who was red as an apple.

“One punch, Mister Wailant. She took out a Bronze-rank adventurer with one hit. She probably would have done the same to his friends, but the Watch broke things up before we could get to it.”

The fight at the inn with the adventurers that Persua had brought came out over dessert. Ryoka sat at the table, eating lightly spiced custard while Mrsha licked two bowls clean and then lapsed into a food coma. Fals came back, and Garia covered her burning face as her two parents heard both times when Garia had stepped up in a physical way to defend Ryoka.

The mood in the room had changed. Wailant was nodding with fierce, fatherly pride and Viceria was smiling as they heard how Garia had knocked out her opponents with one hit on both occasions.

“That’s my girl. One solid punch is all you need. Once the other fellow’s on the floor, a few good kicks and they’re out for good.”

He jabbed out with a fast punch to demonstrate, nearly clipping Fals. Ryoka grinned at him as Viceria filled her bowl with some more custard.

“You’re pretty proud of Garia for fighting. I would have thought you’d be worried.”

“Worried? Hah! Our daughter’s got [Enhanced Strength]! At her age, no less! She could knock out an ox with her fists if she wanted to.”

“Dad! Stop! Come on!”

“I don’t doubt she could. But Garia’s no fighter. She’s a [Runner].”

Wailant ignored his daughter as she tried to kick him underneath the table.

“Yes, but she’s my daughter, and that mean’s she’s got a warrior’s blood in her veins. She’s more than a match for a green-ass adventurer who doesn’t know the handle of his sword from the blade.”

Ryoka eyed Wailant, askance.

“I thought you were a [Farmer].”

He grinned at her, suddenly chummy.

“I am. But I used to fight for a living.”

“Really now?”

“Oh yes. I was a [Sailor]. Haven’t you seen the tattoos? I used to sail across the world, to all five continents!”

He flexed one bicep to show Ryoka the image of the tentacle grabbing the ship. She’d hardly missed it, but all the pieces suddenly fell into place. Well, some of them at least.

Fals blinked at Wailant.

“You were a [Sailor]? How’d you end up here?”

Wailant opened his mouth, but his wife cut in.

“My husband’s not a sailor, Fals. I’m sorry to say that’s the little lie he likes to tell. He did sail, but he was hardly an honest man.”

“Yeah, Dad. Tell the truth!”

Garia glared at Wailant, who protested.

“I was a [Sailor]!”

Two pairs of female eyes stared at him. He sighed.

“No? Fine. I was a [Pirate]. Happy?”

Both Ryoka and Fals’ mouths dropped open. Mrsha rolled over in her seat, oblivious, but suddenly Wailant the [Farmer] became someone else. He sat back in his chair, the custard forgotten and started telling the two Runners about his past.

“Oh yes, I was a [Pirate]. What, you think I got these scars from pulling up potatoes? Well, this one I got from killing a Creler. Nasty bastards—as bad as anything at sea, that’s the truth! But I took my first step on the deck. My family was from Baleros—yes, they were [Pirates] too. It’s in the blood, not that I knew them. My father died at sea before I was born and my mother died in a battle when I was five. I had two brothers and a sister—can’t tell you where they are. But I learned to fight and got my share of the plunder as soon as I could use a sword.”

The world was a funny place. Ryoka knew you could meet all kinds of people in her world, people who lived in quiet places who had all kinds of amazing stories to tell. But this? Wailant had been a [Pirate]. He’d sailed under a ruthless [Pirate Captain], taken down enemy ships, fought in the worst storms against monsters, even battled with a group of Gold-rank adventurers who’d been after his ship!

He’d been a Level 27 [Pirate] when he quit sailing for good and found an honest ship headed for Izril. Not because he’d lost his ship or run into any bad luck either—he’d retired as wealthy as any Gold-rank adventurer. But he hadn’t stayed at sea like the rest of his crew.

“I got sick of rocking ships, the damp, salt in my hair and thousands of glowing eyes watching me from the waters on bad nights. Out there in the depths of the sea…I could have become a [Storm Sailor], or a [Captain] of my own ship had I wanted to. But I chose land instead. Do I have regrets? Perhaps. I could have had a ship of my own, but you see, I knew in my heart that I was making the right choice…”

Both Garia and her mother rolled their eyes as Wailant went on. They’d heard this story a thousand times, probably inflated no end over the years. But Ryoka and Fals were entranced. Fals broke in as Wailant waxed poetical about nights spent on deck, staring up at the stars.

“How’d you end up around here though, so far from the sea?”

The man grimaced.

“Practicality. The vast amount of my fortune went to clearing the bounty on my head. What I had left I used to buy a farm, and then to pay for food and supplies for the first few years before I leveled up enough to make a living with my own hands. I bought it far inland because I was sick of seeing water—and because I had more than a few enemies who would like to see me dead. I thought a farm would be nice and relaxing—and it was, after I learned how to manage it!”

The first few years had not been kind to Wailant, but he’d persevered, not shying from the work.

“Plus, I had my advantages. I couldn’t figure out how to make the damn oxen plough a straight line for months, but I didn’t have to stick together in a village, afraid of monsters at night. If a band of Goblins came roaming around, or a Creler tried to dig a nest in my lands, I’d kill it with this!”

He had a cutlass, shimmering with an enchantment that he apparently kept with him while farming at all times. He’d looted it as his share of treasure long ago, and it had saved his life more than once on the farm.

“It’s also how I met Viceria. She was a Wistram graduate, trying to study the Blood Fields when she ran into a group of Carn Wolves. I found her escort dead and killed two of the damn things before the pack ran off. She and I got to talking, and well, nights are cold on a farm.”

“Ew! Dad!

Garia shoved her father, sending him tumbling across the room. He cursed like a sailor—or pirate—as he got to his feet, and Ryoka sat back in her chair. That explained…a lot.

“That’s incredible. And you—Miss Viceria—”

“Just call me Viceria. That’s right. I stayed. I’m an expert at magic involving plants. I’m no [Geomancer], but rather a [Green Mage]. That’s different from a [Druid], by the way. I’m a respectable level in that, but I found being a [Farmer] far easier than competing at Wistram. There’s not much respect for disciplines involving growing, or there wasn’t when I lived there.”

And so, the incredible farming duo had been born. Neither Wailant nor Viceria were specialists in the [Farmer] class like the Level 30 [Farmers] who could supply an entire city with produce, but they had their own skillsets that helped a great deal.

“Most farms, well, they need two dozen farmhands just to harvest and guards and so on. Even a high-level [Farmer] has to be wary of bandits and monsters. I don’t have that issue, and my wife has the spells to grow crops faster than normal, as good as a Skill! Between the two of us, we supply a good deal of produce for Celum. Enough to live comfortably on and I can always hire a few brats to take in the harvest when it comes time for it. Besides, the farming life’s fairly quiet, and I enjoy not fighting for my life every other day.”

Wailant and Viceria smiled as they looked at each other. Garia looked away, blushing, but Ryoka felt a bit envious. Wailant had seen the kraken—literally, apparently—and walked away. He’d found a way to live that was satisfying and he’d found someone to share it with.

She took a sip of mulled wine. By this point, everyone was sitting around a dim fire. Mrsha was curled up next to it, snoring, and Garia was yawning. As Fals and Ryoka chatted to her parents, Garia grew sleepier, until she had to excuse herself for the night.

“I might have to do the same.”

Fals admitted after a jaw-cracking yawn. He stood up as Viceria offered to show him to the room they’d prepared for him. She, Garia, and Fals left as Wailant sat by Ryoka, staring at the fire. Viceria came back alone, and that left Ryoka with the two older Stronghearts.

She didn’t mind. It was odd, but in the course of an evening, Wailant and Viceria had turned from intimidating, antagonistic parents into, well, people. Ryoka even found herself liking Wailant’s style of dressing. Apparently he couldn’t live with sleeves after having bared arms all his life.

“It’s an incredible place you have here, Wailant, Viceria. I’m glad Garia’s got such great parents.”

“Hah. Great parents would be able to help their daughter. But she’s a [Runner] and we’ve no idea if she’s safe or in danger half the time. It’s only when she comes back that we know she’s safe, and she does that too seldom.”

Wailant sat with a stiff drink in his hand. He’d already downed six, having an incredibly high tolerance for alcohol, but he was in the depressed stage. Viceria sat with wine by the fire, glancing between it and at Ryoka.

“She says she’s been doing well. But I’ve heard her stories and I hear you have something to do with helping her out.”

“Just a few things here and there. Nothing much.”

Ryoka shook her head. Wailant stared at her, tapping his fingers.

“That’s not what she says. She came back with potions at her belt a few weeks ago. That was thanks to you. We offered her coin for it before, but she’s too proud—”

“She won’t let us buy her magical artifacts, or buy her things ourselves.”

That surprised Ryoka. She would have thought Garia would have taken any chance to get ahead, but her parents shook their heads when asked.

“My daughter’s as stubborn as I am. She wanted to fit in, not get ahead. I told her the best Runners have all the advantages they can get, but she thought it would make her too different, that it was cheating. I told her, on the sea you cheat if you can do it! Put a hole in the enemy’s hull, climb onto their decks and stab them while they’re sleeping! But Garia’s not like me.”

“She’s not a warrior, you mean?”

Wailant shook his head, looking unhappy.

“I’d have liked her to be. It needn’t be her class, but it would set my mind at ease if she could defend herself. Only, she’s got no talent with a sword.”

“Or magic.”

Viceria nodded as she traced around the rim of her cup.

“She can’t use a spear—”

“Or bow—”

“And I wouldn’t bet a Drowned Man’s eye against her hitting anything but a tree with a hatchet. Our daughter’s strong and tough, but she’s too clumsy to be a warrior, if she had the temperament for that class to begin with. Which she doesn’t.”

Wailant downed his cup, tossed it aside. Viceria gave him an accusing look which he ignored. He stared at Ryoka.

“You say she punched out a man in armor? That’s good. But fists aren’t enough against swords or arrows, let alone magic. A brawl’s one thing, but [Bandits]? How can I rest easy knowing she might be jumped by them? Sea’s wrath, she has been attacked before. Someday I’ll get a letter from the Runner’s Guild, and then…”

He trailed off, looking tired and worried. In that moment, he looked like every parent Ryoka had ever known. Like her parents. She felt something squeeze at her heart.

“Garia’s brave. She has people looking out for her. Fals, for instance, and I try when I’m in the area. If fighting’s the problem, maybe she can carry artifacts?”

“Maybe. But an artifact’s only good if you can use it. A Skill lasts, and there’s the instinct of a warrior as well. I could be sure of myself if I was jumped, but if someone took her by surprise—salt and shores, I’m not half as strong as I would be on a ship, but I wish I could give that to Garia. Some way to dodge arrows. Or a ring! But that costs coin and the farm doesn’t earn enough for us to buy an artifact that expensive…”

Ryoka stared at the fire. A girl who couldn’t fight and two parents who worried about her. It was a story for this world. In any other world, Garia could live while relying on law enforcement, but here the law ended at the gates, and sometimes didn’t even work within a city. What could you give someone who couldn’t use a sword? Without the ability to use magic?

The Runner girl stared at Wailant’s arm, and then at her hand. She made a fist, and stared at it.

“Oh.”

Both Wailant and Viceria looked at Ryoka. She blinked at her hand. It felt like forever since she’d…she stood up and threw a punch.

“Nice one.”

Wailant watched Ryoka as she punched and then threw a hook. She stood differently, moved differently than Wailant as she did. He’d punched like a boxer, but Ryoka kept her hands higher, at head-level, and further apart, bouncing on her feet. She was moving according to a style, and Wailant, used to fighting, saw it.

“Are you a [Fistfighter], or some kind of [Brawler]?”

“Not quite. I learned how to fight back home. Only, it’s not a Skill I learned, but a style. A way of fighting.”

Ryoka jumped and kicked. Viceria made a sound. Wailant stared.

“I’ve seen idiots do that when fighting. Jumping around before they get cut to ribbons. But that looked like it could have done damage.”

“Not to a monster. Not with my strength.”

Ryoka shook her head, remembering trying to fight a Carn Wolf. She punched and kicked, dodging back from an imaginary foe. Her muscles protested a bit. How long had it been since Ryoka had practiced?

“So why learn how to fight like that?”

“It helps. Against humans, people with knives. I could defend myself. But I’m not strong enough. If I throw a punch, it won’t knock down a Carn Wolf. Or a Minotaur.”

She paused, felt a pang and hung her head. Calruz. Wailant nodded.

“Minotaurs can’t be beat with bare hands. I’ve seen their black ships too many times. They’re deadly at sea and on land. No sane [Pirate] goes near their islands. But learning to fight like that…there’s some grace to it. Better than I do in a fight at a bar.”

“Yeah. Only it won’t save me from a monster attack. That’s what my legs are for.”

Ryoka turned to Wailant and Viceria. She tapped her arm.

“I’m not strong enough, like I said. If I punch with my…style, I can be sure I’ll hit someone. However, even with a good punch it won’t do enough. Not from me. But if someone else punched like that, someone who could knock an ox out with a punch…”

The former [Pirate] and [Green Mage] stared at Ryoka. Wailant sat up. Viceria smiled.

“You think Garia could learn to fight with her fists? She’s never learnt any other way of fighting. She doesn’t have the knack for it.”

“Yeah, well, martial arts isn’t just about talent. It’s something everyone can learn. It just takes practice.”

“Martial arts. Is that what it’s called?”

Ryoka shook her head, smiling.

“No. This is called Muay Thai Kickboxing. And this—”

She took a different stance, threw a different punch.

“—is called Karate. It might be better for Garia. I don’t know. I thought about teaching some techniques when I saw her in that fight at the inn. I never got around to it. But if you’re worried, I could give her some lessons. She could practice herself if she takes to it.”

She looked at Wailant and Viceria. It was just a thought, something to reassure them. The two parents looked at each other, speaking without words and then Wailant stood up. He cracked his neck, and then beckoned at Ryoka.

“Try me, then. Go ahead. I’ve a few drinks, but if you can knock me down…you don’t have a class, do you?”

She grinned at him.

“Not a one.”

“Garia said that. I couldn’t believe someone would be that stupid.”

“Really? Then let me show you—”

Ryoka twisted, kicked. Wailant dodged back. He laughed, surprised, as Ryoka hopped backwards. She grinned at him, beckoned.

There was something here. In this room, as Viceria told them to not damage the furniture and Ryoka tagged Wailant with a kick that sobered him up and he showed her how fast a former [Pirate] could punch.

In the end, they stopped with bruises and light hearts. Ryoka found herself being slapped on the back by Wailant, and talking with Viceria. She smiled, and carried Mrsha to a room upstairs to sleep. She thought, just for an instant, that it was strange. She’d expected awkwardness, dreaded meeting Garia’s parents, and gotten off to the worst start possible. But suddenly—

She was enjoying herself.

Fancy that. Then Ryoka slept. The next day, she began teaching Garia how to punch. And Ivolethe—

Began teaching her how to use magic.

 

—-

 

Ryoka Griffin stood on a hill, facing the wind. She breathed in deeply, and felt the chill of the morning’s air blow through her hair. She stared into the open sky and felt the world pressing down at her.

The clouds were impossibly high overhead. The wind rushed about her, invigorating Ryoka, filling her with quiet contemplation. Her breathing slowed. Her pulse settled. She cleared her mind, became still, meditative. Her mind grew tranquil as Ryoka absorbed nature—

 

“Not like that, fool! What are ye doing?”

 

Someone threw snow into Ryoka’s face. She spluttered, opened her eyes, and scowled at Ivolethe.

“What the hell was that for? I’m trying to sense the wind!”

Ivolethe buzzed around Ryoka’s head, an angry blue butterfly with attitude.

 

“What kind of an idiot does that with their eyes closed? I told ye, to learn faerie magic, ye must first sense the wind.”

 

“Right. And that’s all you said. I’m here for a lesson. So tell me, how do I sense the wind?”

Ryoka folded her arms and scowled. Ivolethe looked exasperated.

The two were standing on a snowy hilltop near the Strongheart farm. Ryoka had woken up to a very enjoyable breakfast, talked with Garia about learning martial arts and gotten the girl’s wary agreement. She’d taught the girl how to stand and punch and Garia had seemed willing to give it a try, even though she’d giggled and not taken it as seriously as Ryoka would have liked. But Fals had tried it as well, and that had made Garia grow more focused.

Everything had been going swimmingly, in short, until Ivolethe appeared and demanded that Ryoka start learning faerie magic. And that too was great—in fact, Ryoka was excited by the prospect.

Only it appeared Ivolethe’s methods of teaching weren’t as straightforward as Ryoka’s. She’d taken Ryoka to this hill and told her to sense the wind.

“How does it work?”

Ivolethe sighed gustily. She flew in front of Ryoka, folding her tiny pale-blue transparent arms and pointed.

 

“Ye see the wind?”

 

“Uh, maybe. I see air.”

Ryoka stared at a blank patch the faerie was pointing at, which was probably what Ivolethe meant. Ivolethe smiled.

 

“Good! Now follow it.”

 

She waited. Ryoka stared at the empty patch of air and then glanced at Ivolethe.

“What do you mean, ‘follow it’? There’s nothing to see!”

Ivolethe slapped a hand to her face, making a sound like breaking icicles. She flew to Ryoka’s face and punched the girl in the eye. Ryoka shouted and swung wildly.

 

“Did I tell ye to stop looking? Look at the wind, you bleeding idiot!”

 

“There’s nothing to see!”

 

Exactly! So look at nothing and see where it goes!”

 

Ivolethe screamed in Ryoka’s ear. Ryoka opened her watering eye and glared at the faerie. The faerie glared back.

“Let me get this straight. You’re telling me to stare at something invisible.”

Ivolethe rolled her eyes.

 

“Of course. To control the wind, to know it, ye must see it. And it is invisible! Of course it is! Otherwise you mortals would have already seen it!”

 

“But how can I see if—”

Ryoka guarded her face as Ivolethe swooped at her again. The faerie flew past her and spoke into her ear.

 

Look, fool. Look at what is invisible and see it. With your eyes. With your soul. Look and see. That is all I need tell you. Look. Ye have done it once, on the magic coach.”

 

Ryoka remembered. She’d seen Ivolethe flying, and seen the wind, followed it for one glorious second. She didn’t remember how she’d done it, but…she nodded.

“Fine. I’ll try.”

Ivolethe nodded, still looking impatient. Ryoka took a deep breath and stared ahead. Watch the wind. See it.

She saw nothing. The wind blew, and it went still. It blew again, but aside from some snow caught up by it, there was nothing to see. Nothing to look at. Ryoka struggled to look at the wind, but she always looked at the wind, didn’t she? It was always there.

Invisible. Unseen. How was she supposed to see it? Ryoka tried adjusting the way she looked at the world, focusing her eyes, tracing an imaginary path the wind took. Nothing worked.

Five minutes passed. Ryoka searched the air for something she couldn’t see, couldn’t imagine seeing, and Ivolethe floated in the air beside her, making discontented faces. She yawned hugely, and Ryoka gritted her teeth.

“I saw that.”

 

“Did ye? Good. Your eyes are working, then. Now see this.

 

Ivolethe yawned wider, showing Ryoka the inside of her mouth, pale red ice and sharp teeth. She flipped one wing as Ryoka growled to herself.

 

“Hurry up! I’m bored!”

 

“I’m trying to learn. You’re supposed to be my teacher! Shouldn’t you have some patience and let me try to figure this out?”

 

“No, fool! Because if ye were going to get it, you’d have already gotten it by now! Magic isn’t something you can keep trying over and over!”

 

“That’s because you’re not giving me any instructions. If you want me to see the wind, tell me how in more detail.”

Ryoka snapped, but Ivolethe just flipped herself over so she was staring at Ryoka upside down. She spoke, suddenly serious.

 

“I cannot.”

 

“Why not? Because it’s secret?”

 

“No, because there are no words for it. It is magic, Ryoka Griffin. Magic. It is something you understand in here, not here.”

 

She flew over and tapped Ryoka’s chest, then flew up and tapped her head. Ryoka nodded slowly.

“Instinct? I have to get a feel for it, that’s what you’re saying. Then if I keep practicing—”

 

“No.”

 

Ivolethe sighed. She rubbed at her face, frowning hard. She shook her head.

 

“It is not instinct. You cannot learn this by practicing.”

 

“But you said—”

 

“It is grace, mortal. Grace and naught else. Grace and wonder. A moment. It is not something ye can learn in a book. It is not something you can keep trying to do. You will learn it in a moment of purest understanding—or never.”

 

The Frost Faerie looked at Ryoka in the eye. Ryoka felt a slight chill that had nothing to do with the cold. She opened her mouth, paused. What Ivolethe said spoke to her, but it made no sense at the same time.

“That’s not how magic works in this world, though. [Mages] study magic in books. They can write it down. They have to study.”

 

“True.”

 

Ivolethe nodded, frowning.

 

“How shall I explain? That is magic. Tamed, and bent for use, yes, but it is still magic. But it is not my magic. Not the magic of the fae. Not deep magic, which runs wild. If ye wish to study that magic, practice. Understand, by all means. But ye shall never see the wind if you think of it as something to be understood, to be learned. The wind is the wind. I ask you to see it, Ryoka. Not understand the why of it.”

 

Ryoka struggled to make sense of this. On one level she got what Ivolethe was saying. On another…how could you stare at something and not want to know why it was? But that was magic. Ivolethe’s magic.

A moment of grace.

 

“Back to trying. Try and if you cannot see it, we shall try later. But this is the first step, Ryoka. The only step. Learn to do this, and ye shall see all in time.”

 

See the wind. Ryoka tried. She really did. But she couldn’t keep what Ivolethe had said in her mind and just try to feel something naturally. And the Frost Faerie saw it.

 

“Stop. Another chance will come. Look for the wind elsewhere, Ryoka, but ye won’t see it here.”

 

And that was it. The lesson was done. Ivolethe floated past Ryoka as the girl sighed, disappointed. The Frost Faerie laughed as she pointed down the hill.

 

“Go back to your mortal friends. Look at the child!”

 

Ryoka turned and saw that her martial arts lesson had attracted more than just Fals. Mrsha was standing clumsily in the snow, trying to punch like Garia. She kept punching, and falling over by her own momentum.

It was very cute. Ryoka laughed and took out her iPhone as she descended the hill. She tried to turn it on, but found to her deepest disappointment that it had run out of power! She cursed to herself. It was hard to remember to get Pisces to cast [Repair] on it. Erin would just have to imagine Mrsha’s antics.

“Ryoka! I don’t think this is right!”

Garia was complaining as she punched the air, blushing as Fals did the same beside her. She’d been willing to try learning, especially after her father had vouched for the effectiveness of Ryoka’s kick, but she was clearly feeling silly.

“Don’t worry, you’re doing good. Raise your arm a bit more. And like I said—each time you punch, breathe out. Like this.”

Ryoka demonstrated, bringing her fists up and punching slowly as she exhaled. Garia copied her, but complained immediately afterwards.

“I get that I’m learning to punch, but I feel silly. I’m just hitting the air!”

“Well, that’s the point. Look, you’re practicing, like you would with a sword.”

“Yeah, but—no one’s going to stand there and let me punch them.”

The girl rolled her eyes and Ryoka barely resisted doing the same.

“I know that, but you have to start at the beginning. Look, just punch like I showed you. You’re using the muscles in your stomach. If you can feel them as you punch…”

“But why would muscles in my stomach help my arms?”

Garia looked confused. Ryoka groaned. How could you explain hundreds of years of biological science to someone who hadn’t even heard of muscle fibers? Well, with martial arts, actually.

“It’s all connected. Look, one of the principle of martial arts is connectedness. Every part of the body works together. Your arms aren’t one separate thing. That’s why when you punch, your entire body, from your arms to your legs go into one motion. That’s why you take a stance and move the same way. It’s the most effective.”

“Is that why you had me do jumping jacks?”

“That’s part of the warm up, yes. So is swinging your arms, rolling your hips, and everything else. You need to be flexible. That’s what these exercises will help you do as well—build muscle so you can move freely.”

“I don’t see why. My arms are already strong. Isn’t that enough if I’m punching someone?”

Garia’s cheeks were red as Ryoka walked her through more exercises, making her learn how to do knee lifts to the elbow, and then hiza-geri, a form of knee striking from Shotokan Karate. She clearly didn’t want Fals to see her doing this silly routine, for all he was doing it with the two girls and Mrsha was too.

“Punching someone isn’t enough, Garia. Strength isn’t enough, although it’s pretty damn important. But martial arts practices defense, movement—it’s a way of living. It’s…a way to be graceful. Grace.”

Ryoka stared ahead until she realized she’d stopped doing knee strikes. She made Garia do twenty until the girl complained her legs were getting tired.

“And I have to do this every day?”

“If you want to get good, yes.”

Ryoka snapped, growing impatient with Garia. She was trying to help, but Garia seemed determined not to get through even the basic forms! She was trying to help—

“Why don’t you show us what a master looks like, Ryoka? I’m sure you see how all this matters, but I’m like Garia. It feels silly to do all this. What does it look like once you keep practicing for a while?”

Fals spoke up and Ryoka blinked at him. She opened her mouth to tell him it wasn’t one kind of thing—and then realized he was right.

Mrsha had grown bored of watching Ryoka practice with Garia. She’d started playing in the snow. Garia’s parents had a hot drink and were smiling and Garia looked fed up. Ivolethe was laughing at Ryoka, and Fals had his eyebrows raised.

They didn’t know what martial arts looked like. Perhaps no one in this world did. Ryoka nodded.

“You’re right, Fals. Let me show you what it looks like, Garia, everyone. Mrsha, get back. Ivolethe, you can stay right there for all I care. I’ll show you…what training your body can do.”

Ryoka took a few steps away from Garia and cleared some snow off of the ground. There was grass underfoot. Not ideal—Ryoka would have liked a firmer surface, but it would have to do.

Garia sat back with Fals, blushing at him and watching Ryoka with a bit of interest. Ryoka smiled to herself. There was something familiar about this moment. Hadn’t she done this once? Oh yes. When her leg had been healed. When she’d been able to move again.

It was the same. Ryoka took a breath, and then ran forwards. She jumped, and then did a handspring into the air. Her audience gasped, but that was only a warm-up. Ryoka landed, twisted, and back flipped up and over, landing on a patch of snow to silence, and then cheering.

“What was that? How did you do that?

Garia nearly tripped over her own feet, running over to Ryoka. She stared in amazement at the girl, but Ryoka put up a hand.

“I’m just getting started. Watch out—”

She did a standing front flip, which was easy, but again, totally astounded everyone watching. Mrsha ran over to Ryoka, screaming in inaudible excitement. Fals stared at his feet and hopped experimentally as if to try.

The Humans and Gnoll watched as Ryoka did another backflip, this time with a run up. Ryoka cursed as she nearly slipped on landing. The snow was not the place for tricks. But her audience didn’t care. They had never seen someone move like Ryoka could.

The next thing Ryoka tried was a standing cork, or standing corkscrew. It involved her standing with her left leg raised slightly off the ground and behind her right leg, which was slightly bent. Then, Ryoka jumped up and her entire body twisted around and up, sending her spinning up and around. It wasn’t like a front flip at all. In fact, it was so fast that Garia and the others couldn’t even tell what Ryoka had done.

It was a move from a martial art devoted just to tricks. Appropriately, it was called Tricking, a way of doing flashy moves like you’d see in movies. Naturally, Ryoka had learned how to do several tricks, and this one, a standing cork seemed to defy the laws of gravity for those watching it for the first time.

In slow motion, it would look as if Ryoka’s leg came up, propelling her into the air, and then her body curled and twisted several times before her foot came down, landing her on the ground. Ryoka did this again for her stunned audience—

And wiped out.

Spectacularly, as it happened. Ryoka messed up the landing and slipped on some snow and hit the ground hard. She was up in a second to reassure Mrsha, but she’d hit herself hard enough to bruise.

That actually helped, because after seeing her flub so badly, the watchers were even more convinced Ryoka was insane as she did several more tricks. Determined to make up for that hilarious failure, Ryoka did a spinning aerial kick that hit Ivolethe as the faerie flew a good six feet up in the air. The faerie went flying, screaming insults, more surprised than hurt.

“How are you doing that?”

“Practice!”

Ryoka laughed as she did a series of tricks, spinning and kicking into the air, flipping around—flying. Tricking. It wasn’t a formal martial art. Or rather, it wasn’t a type of martial arts that applied to fighting or self-defense. It was more like a sport, an activity, an exhibition of what the human body could do.

There were very few situations that required Ryoka to jump into the air, spin, land on one leg, flip herself forward and then kick, but that wasn’t the point.

It was a performance. Ryoka did a running flip off of a handstand in the snow, jumped up, kicked at a target twice her height in the air and landed. She nearly slipped and fell in the snow, but then she was laughing, hearing Garia and Fals shout in amazement.

“See? This is martial arts! This is what you can do if you practice!

Next, Ryoka showed the group some more practical moves, doing the roundhouse kick she loved so much, punching, blocking, moving to avoid and counter invisible enemies. It wasn’t as showy as Tricking, but it was just as amazing to the people watching.

Because they had never seen this either. Warriors with swords were one thing, but this was different. This was martial arts, which emphasized moves that had no wasted movement, that could be performed because the user had practiced them again and again.

No one in this world did flips. What would be the point? Oh, maybe a [Tumbler] could do it, or an [Acrobat] if they even existed. But no one in this world had had the time to practice, to do a backflip. Because there was no point! No point, which is why there weren’t people doing acrobatic tricks in ancient Rome, at least, as far as Ryoka knew.

There was no necessity to anything Ryoka did. No reason to do it, except because it was amazing and wonderful and inspiring.

And fun.

And as Ryoka ran and did a handspring into the air, she felt alive. She’d forgotten, somewhere, what it was like to just move for the sake of moving. The wind was blowing through her hair. She felt like she was flying, just like the first time she’d ever pulled one of these tricks off.

It felt as though at any moment, as you were flying upwards, the world twisting around you, that you could just soar into the heavens, that your body could carry you upwards without limit. Ryoka leapt, and saw something in the air.

A flash of movement. She saw the wind. She saw it twist around her—

Ryoka!

Garia cried out and Ryoka found herself flipping over and over, upwards and up. And then down. She shouted, lost control—

And fell.

It was a long way down. When Ryoka woke up with Mrsha covering her face, Garia told her Ryoka had gone for a gainer, a backflip off of one foot. She’d leapt into the air, and then, somehow, kept flipping upwards. She ended up flying ten feet into the air before falling. Ryoka had successfully done a quadruple gainer, a feat never performed in the history of human kind as something—the wind—had carried her up.

Unfortunately, she’d missed the landing. Panicked, confused by what had happened, Ryoka had landed the most impressive face-plant in the snow, again, perhaps the most impressive one ever seen. She’d knocked herself out as everyone had gone running over.

When she’d heard all of this and gotten Mrsha off her, Ryoka sat up, looked for Ivolethe, and tried to kill her friend.

“What the hell was that for? Was that payback for kicking you? Because if it was—”

 

“It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me!

 

Ivolethe shouted as she flew away from Ryoka. The girl stopped, glaring at Ivolethe and swaying on her feet.

“What the hell do you mean? It was you! I saw it! You used the wind—”

 

“Not me, you fool! I did nothing!”

 

“What?”

Ryoka stared at her. She realized what Ivolethe was saying and paled.

“But then I—”

The Frost Faerie grinned at Ryoka. The girl froze, staring at her, at the clear blue sky.

“But that’s impossible. I was showing off. I wasn’t trying to—”

Ivolethe floated up, smiling broadly. She tapped Ryoka in the chest, grinning and shaking her head.

 

“Showing off? That was the best time for it! You didn’t try. In that moment, ye were Ryoka at your most natural. You did not feel. You saw. And the wind saw you.

 

“I did it?”

Ryoka stared at Ivolethe. She stared around, at where Fals was gingerly trying to do a handstand, at Garia, who was determinedly punching the air and Mrsha, doing flips as Wailant tossed her up and Viceria watched with a wand at the ready, just in case.

Then she looked at Ivolethe. To her surprise, there were tears in the faerie’s eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

The small Frost Faerie shook her head.

 

“Ah. I did not know. I did not know what else Humans came up with. I lived with a body like yours for years, but this?”

 

She did a corkscrew in the air, flipping over, a perfect copy of the move Ryoka had done. Ivolethe laughed.

 

“This! This is new. This is something else. And for this, Ryoka Griffin, I thank you. For showing me something I have never seen.”

 

She landed on the ground, and took a few steps. Ivolethe kicked up into the air and back flipped up past Ryoka, into the sky. Her laughter was all Ryoka heard. It filled the world as Ivolethe flipped upwards, not flying, but borne by the wind. Ryoka stared as the faerie flew and whispered one word.

“Grace.”

 


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32 thoughts on “4.17

  1. Click on the video! You know you want to. It’s by Glitchy, the same person who did the Wandering Inn soundtrack! Apparently he has a book report and chose to do it on…The Wandering Inn! This is the trailer he came up with and it looks ten times more entertaining than any book report I ever did in school.

    Leave a comment, a like, and so on. I’m very grateful anyone likes the story, let alone enough to do a trailer for it!

    In other news, GENEVA. Side stories! Who made February only 28 days long!? But. I have a plan! It’s a good plan because I came up with it, and I think it will work. It’ll be close either way, but hopefully you’ll get a chapter right as the month ends.

    Fingers crossed. But I’ll not worry about it because I’ve done all I can for today. I write, I do what I can, and that’s all. So I won’t worry about this chapter either. Rather, I’ll say I enjoyed writing bits of it. I had a very boring family for Garia to begin with, but who wants boring? I hope you enjoyed meeting them, and I have to say, Ivolethe might be a worse teacher than Yoda.

    Let me know if you agree in the comments. Thanks for reading!

    PS: I lied about the connection with 4.16 to this chapter. It’s uh, going to be the next regular chapter…I’ll reference it when I get to it.

    • This was a wonderful chapter. There’s just something about the faeries’ enjoyment of truly new things… it’s beautiful. The joy of free movement is so perfectly expressed through Ivolethe and Ryoka, and I love it.

    • You are right, no one wants boring! I did enjoyed meeting Garia parents, and when it was reviled that Wailant was once a [Pirate] and his history with his wife, I would now place them in the Top 10 Best characters of the whole series. And this was their first appearance! Great Job.

      For Ivolethe teaching, I would not put the blame on her, but on Ryoka for not taking the lessons to heart. I have this impression that if it was Erin who took the lessons, she would get what Ivolethe was saying and understand her.

      As for the Video, my congratulation to Glitchy, it was FANTASTIC!!!

  2. Leave a typo if you’re a fan of watching people do crazy stunts and flips and stuff! I uh, wish I could do any of that.

    (Potentially athletic readers: Federico, Nemesh, gueenee, MrWiggles, 1024dp)

    • “One was of a twisting tentacle holding a ship, the other of some kind of horrific fish with a gaping maw. The other, well, ” You used “the other” twice in quick succession, maybe use “the second” and “the third”?

    • “They’d heard this story a thousand times, probably inflated {no end} over the years.”
      {no end} -> {to no end}?

  3. Our February was given its current position in a reform imposed by Julius Caesar. Supposedly, after his death, the Senate stole a day from February to lengthen the month of Quintilis, which was renamed to July after him. Later another day was stolen to lengthen Sextilis when it was renamed for Augustus.

  4. Nice one. Garia, who bored me a little bit, has gotten some clout now we met these not-boring parents, and for once I anticipated Ryoka’s breakthrough by switching roles from pupil to teacher, but only because I’ve learned to look out for pirateaba’s beautiful in-chapter twists and tie-ins.

    • I knew when Ivolethe said a moment of grace and Ryoka described martial arts as grace as short time later, there would be fireworks. I was not disappointed.

  5. There is a small discrepancy regarding Garia’s illiteracy (1.04 R) and her parents being well-read individuals, but I could be convinced that is part of her stubbornness refusing her parents’ help.

  6. Another great one! Here’s to non-boring parents ☺
    After Ryoka’s martial arts performace / fey magic experience I couldnt get the following Matrix quote out of my mind: (Ivolethe as played by Lawrence Fishburne ) “…Yet their strength and their speed are still based in a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never be as strong or as fast as you can be.”

  7. I am surprised how ok Ryoka and Fals were with Wailant having been a professional robber and killer. I mean, considering time and his level he must have killed dozens of people as a pirate. And the only regrets he has shown about this lifestyle were about the enemies he made and the sea. He can’t be judged for how he was brought up, but the same can’t be said for his current self.
    To put it into another perspective, pirates are basically the sea version of bandits. The bandits that attack caravans and kill runners to get the goods they transport. Runners like a certain courier that died not to long ago. Runners like Ryoka, Fals and, for that matter, Wailant’s own daughter: Garia. I wonder if he ever thought about it that way. (Or rather, if the author thought about it this way.)

    Sorry if I’m rattling on, but it just seemed strange how they had no negative reaction of any type.

    • I don’t think we know enough about pirates in this world to pass judgement…

      I mean, even in our world, pirates are very varied in terms of their actions and morality and most of the time they were not “evil” bloodthirsty murderers.

      From privateers who were pretty much soldiers, to “freedom fighters” who pirated countries who they felt invaded their waters, to strait up sea slavers, there is a lot of variety but many pirates had justifications for their actions and followed some kind of codes, sometime more fair and merciful then some countries navies…

      Of course, pirates in innverse could be One Piece! pirates 😉

      • I think it’s also worth keeping in mind that he quit and paid off his bounty. That seems to count for a lot in Innworld, if Pisces is any indication.

        Actually, now I’m thinking about other people that applies to- Lady Maresar, Gazi, Amerys, Takhatres, Orthenon, Klbkch, the Free Antinium in general- Innworld seems to have a strong culture of “who you were and what you did doesn’t matter as much as who you are and what you’re doing”. Once you’ve paid for something, it seems that it’s over and done with.

        I wonder if that’s the result of living in a world where death is so much more likely? Like, does it matter if someone dies to a Kraken or to a [Pirate]? They’re still dead. Or maybe it’s the result of living with levels- unless you have a [King] handy, levels are an indelible record of your life and choices, and nobody wants to be held to that forever.

  8. Thanks for the chapter! Quite emotional.

    – – – – –

    I wonder if I ever mentioned here but here is a point of view that might be interesting.

    Those things in medieval that soldiers, men-at-arms, knights or other warring folks did with their swords and spears were martial arts too. From what I see about HEMA, it has amount of written sources, and reconstruction seems quite interesting in that mind-tingling way. I also seems quite efficient and complex to be called art. (Also in many ways different from typical tropes from RPG and Hollywood films which is interesting on it’s own)

    It seems like those folks had unarmed grappling too, often refered by ‘techniques’.

    Digging into that was interesting and I feel that this point of view – that medieval thingies and whatchadoings with swords and spears were martial arts – well, in my eyes it feels valid.

    Also it feels somewhat weird that Garia has so many problems with hand-held weapons but has a knack with unarmed combat. Those hand-held weapons were invented and widely adopted because those are comfortable for defending oneself and irrevocably destroying human body of enemy in disgusting but easy ways.

    It’s easier and faster to damage somebody when using a knife than bare hands.

    And a bit of thoughts below regarding Garia’s situation:

    They say it is easy to get your feet wet with spears. Spears tend to be intuitive for humans with their physiology and hand-eye-coordination. Every palm of range gives advantage and spear gives much (unless pitted against 2 types of opponent – 1. fist-held large round shield. 2. – full-plate armor knight – like those that start to pop up from 14th century, I guess?)

    And defending from bandit’s ambush, armor and shield might be practical against missiles?

    Oh well. Sorry for this info dump. Sorry twice if I already mentioned these very thoughts. But if it makes someone’s day more interesting that’ll be good.

  9. Ivolethe talking of grace and than Ryoka goes describing Martial arts as grae.

    Yet martial arts is all about practice and learning to do movements and linking and compacting them into your instincts. To automate your actions. Making the first action you choose be the correct one.
    Which if both the martial arts “grace” and magical “grace” are the same… Ivolet’s the fairy of ultimate bullshit.
    Because Ryoka proposed that she’d need to practice seeing the wind, observe till it becomes instinct, yet Ivoleth shut her down, HARD. If the “graces” are the same than Ryokas way would have worked, that’s the way martial arts is learned.
    Yet Fairy magic piggybacked on her acrobatic performance.

    Or perhaps the magic thing is about worming its hooks into you trough an high level action that’s become a part of you. Where the magic piggybacks on a learn’t skill. Fairy magic seems like one of those living forces, like the system, or the gods.

    Fairy magic looks a lot like [skills] I’d say. You are a part of the upper plane. As in when you do an movement or take a action it’s part of a ritual that moves and interacts with things in the upper plane, which in return effects the lower plane. It’s powerful, but not very precise. Like how the faeries sped up Ryoka or cause large scale disasters on a regular basis.
    While dragon magic looks a lot like [magic]. You are a part of the lower plane. You observe, study, move, arrange thins in the lower plane, that send the minimal amount of domino toppling in the upper plane. Get the effects you desire with minimal force. Like how teriarch did that blizzard.

    As for Pices, the true mage. Pices makes the lower plane a part of his instincts. Going deep into the math and natural science to predict things for a more precise and effective magical effects. More theory, a bit less instinct. Yet the practice is extremely high quality.
    As for Ceria, the half fairy. Ceria makes the upper plane a part of her instincts. She relies on her being half magical being, playing to her strengths. Becoming a bigger part of the upper. Working less on precision and focusing more on raw power. She knows the broad stokes of magical theory, not going into the nitty gritty. More instinct, a bit less theory. Yet the practice is extremely high quantity.

    In the end both approaches are made from the lower plane.

    Than there’s to mention hand to hand combat, battle monks, alternatives to karate, mui thai and all that jazz not existing in this world, it’s bullshit. Bullshit I tell ya.

    Also the thing about fun not existing, like huge fairs made by the lords and ladys for profit where performers jousters, coin brothers and all sorts of traders gather, I call that bullshit too. Cause jolly fun is profitable.

    And than there’s the 21th century equivalent, the city of heroes. That place better have everything. It’s the city of wonder, ain’t it? Bringing stuff from the city of wonder into the backwaters of the kingdom would be the same as Erin making a theater troupe.

    It’s really jarring to see simple and privative things as acting or refined fisticuffs not exist. It suspends my disbelief, A LOT.

    • We do know that monks exist, and we know that boxing existed, both were mentioned by people in innverse, but they seem to not be popular.

      its not that fun doesn’t exist, its that fun isn’t as readily avaliable the way erin is used to and wants to, instead for fun people go Dance, drink, gamble, listen to music, shopping, there are festivals and the sort, or when a [Troubadour], [Bard], [Tumbler] visited from roaming, they were just not the instant I can open my computer/tv etc, sort of fun that is instantly avaliable and erin wants to as a modern girl, they had to wait instead for things that erinc onsidered “fun”.

      whatever its realistic or not, its up to you.

    • The way I see it, the difference with innverse and our world in most points you brought is standardisation.

      Sure there are performers and “fun” but it’s all arcording to a prewriten script, mostly at least… Kind of like the difference between a video game like Elder Scrolls (ex: Skyrim) and a pen and paper D&D game except, much more open ended in both cases…

      The thing is instead of having the artistic and scientific progress, this world has a easy path through skills. For exemple, we know that [cooking] skills give you knowledge of recipes… why bother let your imagination invent new ones when you get access to the “database” of recipes though leveling…

      Same thing for martial art, as long as people know the “path” to a class like [brawler] or [monk], why bother with inventing the whole philosophies behind martial arts… don’t forget martial arts took centuries to develop and are based on needs of people learning them. People in this world simply have to get a class.

      TLDR : Classes and skills stiffle inovation though making knowledge easier but less “progressive”. People keep learning from the same “databases” of knowledge and skill over and over, resulting in stagnation, with not much progress or decay over the centuries except for classes being “lost” and “discovered”…

  10. Didn’t see anyone else mention this, but what about “I lived with a body like yours for years, but this?” Does that mean the Frost Faeries were once human? How often can they change their body, it at all?

    That little throw away line has huge implications.

    • I thought it was probably a reference to the sword-wielding full-size form we’ve seen occasional glimpses of. Ceria half-saw it when Ivolethe’s glamour was stripped by being inside an iron building, and Ryoka saw it for a moment when she ran from the darkness.

      • It’s clear that the elves are half fairy. Being called bastards and such by the. And than there was the non interference pact with the gods…

        • I mean the vanished elves are faeries. Their bastard children are half elves, cause some of the fay pulled a Zeus.

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