8.13 F

On Sunday, 6 PM EST, Rebecca Brewer, the editor who worked on 8.11 E will be doing a Q&A in the #publishing channel on the Discord server! Join here if you want to watch or participate! Also, she has done an interview with The Fantasy Inn! Click here to read it!

 

That she could not investigate the Potion of Regeneration didn’t surprise Octavia Cotton. The Drake representative had kept it in his possession after the failed revival attempt and he and the other Drakes from Salazsar would gut anyone who so much as looked at it cross-eyed.

Which was only appropriate. If it was just her entrails, the Stitch-Girl would hand them over willingly to even look at a drop of the stuff.

She couldn’t. Fair was fair; she doubted even Master Saliss could easily replicate it even if he had the entire sample within a year. Within a decade? She was sure Saliss of Lights could do it. It would be the discovery of the decade if he did, too.

For now, she was busy enough not to even try to get a hold of a drop or two. Octavia did not remain in the inn or Stitchworks, which was temporarily closed. It was too sad. And she had work. Lots of it.

Paid work! Leveling work! She sweat over vials, little pellets of powder she was mixing up—ready to dive behind the steel counters if she knocked anything over. Saliss’ laboratory held only Octavia. The apprentice had a master-class [Alchemist]’s personal working environs at her fingertips!

And she was making potions and formulating reagents which she compiled into powders, tonics, salves, and more. Working off meticulous notes. Some of the creations were beyond her, but Saliss had gone over the ones she could make.

It was Octavia Cotton who was helping replenish Saliss’ lost armaments. She was making Blast Potions by the dozen, and it was not a fun experience. Yes, she was learning. Yes, she was being paid by Saliss and using his equipment.

One potion could blow her brains across the wall if she dropped it wrong. Saliss had given her protective artifacts and Octavia, as a Stitch Person, could replace arms melted off by acid—that had happened already, just a drop had begun eating her entire hand away!—but she was still as cautious as could be.

Oh, and one more thing. Octavia walked over to the logbook of [Messages] and read the latest entry.

 

Octavia, do the thing with the potions for the person for the money. Thanks,

            –Saliss.

 

She stared at the [Message] and cursed her master. Then, she went back and read his correspondence where he’d accepted an offer to produce eighteen Battle Veteran Draughts…she abandoned work on his Blast Potions to fill the order.

What a good apprentice she was. Leveling, that was the ticket. And making her own notes based off Saliss’. He knew she was going to do it and she was helping! Give and take, that was the [Alchemist]-way. Give, take, and explode things. Hopefully not yourself.

“[Purity Check]. Bad, good, bad—who’s selling this rot to Master Saliss? Aha! 98% purity? That’s…good. I think.”

Octavia made a note, frowning. She had a Skill Saliss lacked. Not a great one, but she was doing a test of ingredients before she got to work. Some of the ingredients weren’t pure and she’d have to refine or filter them. Skills and levels.

 

—-

 

At the same time as Octavia was becoming a recluse who hadn’t seen daylight for the last six days straight, someone else was getting all the daylight.

Also, the stares. The female Hobgoblin breasted boobily as she titillatingly perked her way down the street.

…That was to say, she walked down the street of Liscor, ignoring the looks some people were giving her. Some people.

Mrsha had never really bothered to notice it before, but Ulvama made it obvious. Nor did she seem bothered. If anything, she was trying to elicit that reaction.

It was almost comforting to the Hobgoblin [Shaman]. Her reason being that in this city of Drakes and Gnolls and Humans, the familiar stares were preferable to someone pointing at the Goblin and reaching for a weapon.

Not that it wasn’t scandalous.

Goblin! Just look at the way she dresses! Savages.

Mrsha’s ears perked up. She glared at the Drake. Selys just rubbed at her head.

The fact that a Goblin could walk around Liscor was the product of many concessions. Once, they had died at the gates. Later, it had been fights, riots, over one Hobgoblin walking through.

Today? Well, the Watch was shadowing them and Ulvama was causing a second disturbance for other reasons, but she was getting away with it.

The interesting thing to Mrsha—not interesting, egregious, to use a Lyonette-word—was that Ulvama might have less clothing than many on the street, and her magical paints, and she was, apparently, highly attractive, but all of that wasn’t different from how Plains Gnolls dressed all the time.

Savages was a word Mrsha used to hear the Stone Spears Gnolls being called behind their backs when they traded with Drakes. She didn’t like it then, and she didn’t like it now.

However, the Ulvama-method of provoking attraction and dislike of her body almost took away from the Goblin element. She was cunning. Like…a cunning thing. Mrsha had no analogy here.

The point was that Ulvama, after two weeks of being in the inn, had snapped. She wanted to see the city! She wanted, at least, to get new things. She had explained this to Mrsha in an Ulvama-way, by poking her.

“I give you list. You buy me things.”

Mrsha had refused. Ulvama had promptly picked her up by her feet and dangled her there. Mrsha had punched her in the stomach. Then they’d played ‘serious tag’, wherein Ulvama eventually locked Mrsha down with a vine-trap spell and sat on her with her stupid butt until Mrsha decided to get Selys for help.

Surprisingly, the Drake had decided to give it a shot. So here they were.

“Timbor’s inn is open. Maybe we should, ah, go there?”

Ulvama didn’t respond as Selys gave her the side-eye. She was staring around. Then she hurried off. Mrsha and Selys saw her peering at a display full of bracelets. The Drake watched her carefully, no doubt fearing the Goblin would steal something and run off. The Goblin made Selys pay for what she wanted. She was happy enough to obey the law if she had Selys-money behind her.

She was beginning to really like all the things this inn was giving her for free. Ulvama dragged the other two along as she began searching for what she really wanted: dyes, paint powders, and so on. She’d already pilfered Octavia’s shop of everything she could use, and the Stitch Girl was going to be really steamed when she discovered the thefts.

Mrsha made Selys carry her after the third shop Ulvama visited. The Drake groaned as she held Mrsha, who was getting heavier. Mrsha wanted to be back at the inn. There were more interesting things than stupid shopping. She had evil rats to catch! Her inn had an infestation. Or mice.

 

—-

 

The point was, people were getting on with their lives. Returning to their professions. Timbor Parthian, formerly of Celum, had been told that his city was rebuilding with all the gold that had been sent in. A windfall, hope, charity to dig deeper foundations and replant after the destruction the Bloodfeast Raiders had caused.

He would not be returning. It was thoughtfully that the [Innkeeper] polished a tabletop, although the Drake [Waiter] had done a fine job already, as he watched his customers come in.

Thoughtfully, like every day since he’d begun to rebuild with Erin Solstice’s help. He thought of her and his throat constricted as he swallowed. He had gone to war for her, a damn foolish thing in the heat of the moment.

Yet he’d survived. And now…he looked around. The [Mayor] of Celum had personally invited him to return, offering money to rebuild Timbor’s inn.

A tempting thing. But The Drunken Swordsman was gone, and rebuilding in the same spot would just bring back memories of the death, the grief…The Drunken Gnoll was the new inn in Liscor.

Timbor saw potential here. He was in the new quarter going up, yes. His inn still had sharp corners, yes. All the Humans were new to their jobs, Liscor had seen monsters attacks, yes, yes, yes.

Even so, look! All his guests were Human. They came here for his extremely-affordable breakfasts. Those were loyal customers for the next decade if he made his inn a place they could come to, rain or shine.

Humans were new in Liscor, but they were already proving their worth. Drakes and Gnolls didn’t take to them with all the welcome in the world of course; Timbor had heard of two fights just yesterday between work crews. ‘Humans stealing jobs’ was the new refrain.

Still, he thought Liscor was the place to be. The Players of Liscor had bought a theatre and Timbor had, with some quick insight, persuaded them to buy the building across the street from his inn. Masterstroke, really. Drakes and Gnolls were coming to his inn after each play and he had a discount for anyone who had one of the little play pamphlets.

Timbor would not return to Celum. Liscor was the future. He had an eye for commerce. Esthelm’s metals were coming through Liscor. Pallass had a connection here. There were plays, and now?

His eyes moved to the first non-Human customer to move into the inn. Oh yes. Timbor saw the Gnoll park the wooden skateboard and look around, almost challengingly, as two of his friends stopped.

“Welcome! Can I get you something on-the-go? One of our fast food bags? Or will it be drinks and a meal?”

The Gnolls and one Drake looked at Timbor’s welcoming smile. The [Innkeeper] had seen more and more skateboards, even a bicycle, one of the cheap ones, in Liscor’s streets. Did Celum have that?

“We’ll get three fast-food bags.”

“Of course. That’ll be…”

Timbor went for the pantry with Runes of Preservation he’d had enchanted just last week. Unlike the kitchen, this was separate, right next to the little drawer with money you could change coins with. He took the silver, returned some coppers, and handed over three little bags of food.

It was a variation on the foods Erin had made. Smart business! Well, he hadn’t come up with the idea but implemented it. A cheap bag, some paper wrap, and you could have burger, fries, a bit of ketchup or the mayonnaise or something else, and with a preservation spell, have food in people’s hands in moments.

Erin Solstice was not the only person who could do quick food. Timbor’s breakfasts-on-the-go were increasingly popular and other [Innkeepers] were copying him. But they had a harder time beating his prices, his food, and him being first than they did stealing from Erin. Timbor was competitive.

Speaking of which, as he personally took the money, he poked his head into the kitchen. The breakfast crowd who were eating in the inn rather than taking the to-go meals were a happy lot.

“Miss Imani, we just sold three more of your fast-food bags.”

“Well, you can have the second [Cook] make more. I’m off for a class in twenty minutes! I can do all the breakfast orders—is Palt here yet?”

A voice snapped back. Imani did not like the fast-food system, or the impression she was running it, despite adding some quality to the items. Timbor glanced around.

“Not yet. I’ll let you know when he comes in.”

Humming, he moved around his inn. Yes, Liscor was making him feel young again. Adventurous. Starting a new business, working with a challenge—he was leveling once more!

He didn’t even bat more than an eyelid when Ulvama, Selys, and Mrsha came into the inn for lunch. Although he did stare for a bit.

 

—-

 

Another Hobgoblin had no one staring at his chest. Unless it was bare, covered in glistening sweat, rippling with muscle and…

But that was not now. Also, he would have ignored the stares regardless since he was used to them by now.

Numbtongue sat in the Garden of Sanctuary. He ate, he slept, but he still had yet to move. He still waited.

The inn was returning to some kind of life. Mrsha and Ulvama had formed an unlikely bond, or at least, a truce of convenience.

The Earthers had their jobs. Even Troy and Leon were staying out of trouble. Troy kept going to Pallass; Leon stayed in his rooms, hogging the laptop or went into Liscor. One seemed happier than the other, but there you were. Rose had gone south; other friends of the inn like Pelt had thrown themselves back into work. Many were gone, on missions relating to the frozen [Innkeeper] like Lyonette. Others prepared for war.

Antinium clad in armor were drilling in the Floodplains. The sight of several thousand of them swinging weapons or marching in formation was a sight to unnerve the enemies of Liscor, as was the growing army of the Watch, now with a mandate to take battle to enemies outside of the walls of Liscor as well as police inwards.

Montressa and Bezale popped their heads into the inn regularly, but sometimes they stayed in Invrisil or even Pallass; they were prone to leading groups through the magical door, still facilitating the links between cities. Palt and Imani had work in the city, when they weren’t being disgustingly cute together—at least, according to Mrsha, who handed them ‘yuck’ notes now and then.

Somehow, The Wandering Inn still made money thanks to those portal-fees. And the guests. Hexel still stayed in the inn, although he was talking of finding other accommodations in the city while leaving his three Lizardfolk apprentices to stay at the inn. Imani still kept enough food for Ishkr and the limited staff to serve anyone who was around.

The inn was empty, but not dead. And all the guests were accounted for.

…Weren’t they? You could lose track. Mrsha, Ulvama, Numbtongue, Apista if you counted her, Kevin, Imani, Palt, Joseph, Rose, and so on, Montressa and Bezale, Hexel…Bird had reclaimed his pillows and blankets and had not gone on his one-Antinium war, and that was a relief… He’d sold his arrows to Liscor’s new army, ironically making a profit.

That was surely everyone. Everyone who wasn’t abroad like the Horns, Ryoka, Lyonette, and so on, right? Wait, Octavia! Pallass, though. So that was fine. Grimalkin hadn’t appeared for a while, but one assumed he was flexing elsewhere.

The problem was that no one was counting. There was no Lyonette. No Erin. For if there had been, someone might have noticed that one of the newest guests was…absent. If she appeared, it was not at a time that even Ulvama or keen-eared Mrsha would notice.

Perhaps the Brothers of Serendipitous Meetings, still holding sentry, counted her. But a gentleman did not inquire into a lady’s affairs, even late at night. Everyone had forgotten about her, in the tragedy and events since the Summer Solstice.

The young woman who had come with Ryoka and Salamani, and unlike the two Runners, stayed behind. The somewhat mysterious Opener from Reizmelt, far in the north. A girl who might be sixteen years old, always wearing dark, covering clothing, with that tight-lipped smile, red eyes and pale skin.

The Vampire.

Fierre. She’d been having adventures too.

 

—–

 

The day after Fierre was mugged; she woke up to discover she’d grown an inch.

It was my fault, really.

After investigating places to set up her Opener business and realizing how much competition there was in Invrisil, she’d been walking late at night when she noticed the man following her.

Like a moth to the lantern, the young woman had done all the wrong things. Look over her shoulder anxiously, change directions, hurry down a street—and found herself herded towards a quiet alleyway.

The Vampire girl had known that the latest hours of the nights in the unfriendliest parts of the city were not when a seemingly sixteen-year-old young woman should be wandering around alone with no perceivable artifacts—or even with.

No one should really do that. And having lived in the reasonably-large city of Reizmelt for years, Fierre had known exactly what she was inviting. In fact, she had wanted that.

Vampire. I am a Vampire! Predator of the night! A true Vampire. Come on, a bit closer…

The [Thug] or whomever he had been, [Kidnapper], or something just as bad or worse, had been grinning. A man who’d covered his features with a hood and strips of cloth. Sensible if Fierre got away.

“Don’t fight back or it’ll go worse for you.”

He’d warned Fierre as she stood halfway down the alley. She’d backed up and he’d moved forwards, head on a swivel for a chance patrol of the Watch.

Just a bit closer. This isn’t going to go the way you want.

The Vampire girl had grinned then, her eyes flashing red, her mouth opening in a predator’s fanged bite. But subtly so the man didn’t know how the tables were turning.

It…hadn’t gone the way it was supposed to. In Fierre’s head, it was a classic reversal of fortunes. The Human monster finding he was trying to victimize the real threat. A single scream in the night of Invrisil, a corpse, or bewildered man left unconscious the next day. She hadn’t really planned that one out.

But instead of grabbing his arm and swinging him into the brick wall, Fierre had seen the man draw back before he lunged.

“…[Dangersense]? Shit—

He’d turned to run. She’d gone after him, cursing. In her newfound arrogance she’d sort of forgotten that the criminal element got warning Skills like everyone else and a smart [Mugger] might well have something like that for situations just like this.

She’d leapt on his back and borne him down, even so. She was fast! But he was fast too, and had ripped a knife out of his sleeve. He’d slashed—she’d tried to hit him but the knife was so quick she’d realized she had to hit him with all her strength even if she got slashed. Unless he got her heart or throat or face—

She’d drawn back a fist and fallen over. Limp, Fierre had lain on the ground as the man threw her off him. She heard the voice behind her as the [Mage] shed his [Camouflage] spell. He’d crept up on them as they fought.

“[Paralysis Touch]. She nearly got you.”

The [Mugger] spat. He lurched to his feet and kicked Fierre in the chest. He turned to his accomplice.

“Bitch. One of the fuckin’ Sisters you think…? She nearly tore my arm off!”

The other [Spell Ambusher] looked up and down the street.

“Didn’t see a shadow. Grab or stab?”

“Grab. Let’s get her. She down?”

“Yep. I’ll cast [Sleep].”

They busied themselves as Fierre’s head fell back, grabbing arms and legs. They were halfway out of the alley when the [Mage] saw the clawed hand shoot up and grab his neck. Fierre squeezed.

The [Mugger] dropped her legs with a shout of horror as she took the other man’s throat. This time he didn’t even stop but whirled on his heels. Fierre took him with a single leap. She tossed him back into the alley and ran over to kick him in the chest until he stopped moving. Then she’d slid down a wall, panting, until she realized she could not stay here with two corpses. She’d drunk their blood and fled, panting and cursing her idiocy.

Only two things had saved Fierre that night. The first was the [Mage] failing to reapply the [Paralysis Touch] and trusting to [Sleep] instead. She’d not been completely immobilized by the first spell, but they could have killed her. She’d gathered her strength as the spell quickly wore off to kill him.

The second thing that saved her was the fact that they hadn’t been high-level. If they had? Fierre had shuddered all the way back to her rooms in The Wandering Inn.

Idiot! You nearly got killed! If they got you—if that [Mage] had been ten levels higher—

At the same time, a plaintive thought had rung through her head all night, until she finally got to sleep.

But aren’t I supposed to be strong?

 

—-

 

A few more things. Fierre was an inch taller. She stared at herself in the mirror and checked again, but she looked taller. Even…older.

“Why?”

The answer was obvious. The blood. She’d drunk both criminals’ blood, and then slashed their necks with the dagger to hide the evidence. It had been foul, but she’d been hungry, hence the stunt to begin with.

What had happened, though, was not Fierre becoming a Level 2 [Mugger] or [Mage]. Rather, she’d tasted the blood, gulped it down, but hated it. Foul, disgusting!

She hadn’t heard the level-ups. Fierre, a Level 7 [Assassin], learned something that moment about her species and about how they leveled up.

You could refuse to absorb levels. Something about the two men had been repugnant, so Fierre had only taken their blood.

This was the result.

“Blood or levels.”

Fierre eyed herself. She had always been scrawny, short, and sick. Now, she was an inch taller, and healthier by far—if still pale. All because she’d killed two men, and before that, fed on numerous [Assassins] after the battle in Invrisil’s streets.

Vampire. Fierre bared her teeth at herself in the blank mirror. There was no actual Fierre staring back, but she knew she was an inch taller because she used a classic Vampire trick for when they wanted to measure their heights. The blank mirror showed her room—and the book Fierre had put on her head, hovering in the air. Not her clothing or her features.

Such vas the mysterious nature of ze Vampire. Ze bloodlines of old, ze great power of ze night. Fierre felt like her mother, Colfa val Drakle-Lischelle, was narrating in her head. She recalled all of Bamer’s stories of true Vampires, their fabled strength, ability to heal from anything but stakes or silver or the greatest magic, Lords and Ladies of the Night! Shape changers, spellcasters…invisible to mirrors, afraid of sunlight and garlic, but immortal otherwise.

Vampire. She—recalled how close she’d come to a bad end last night and deflated.

Some Vampire. Did Ryoka’s panacea not do everything? Am I just a bad Vampire? Is it my waning bloodline, the silver in my family for generations?

Do I just suck?

The answer was probably ‘yes’ on both accounts. Fierre felt like how Ryoka often described herself. All hot air, little substance. And she’d been so sure she was better than Ryoka at fighting because she was a Vampire.

It defined Fierre. Pride in her species, fear of being found out. Resignation about her eventual death, too early. She had worked part-time jobs, drinking animal blood, quietly a bit miserable as she watched other people level and dream of greatness because of that.

Then—one day—she had met the newest person to come to their strange little inn. A City Runner from far-off Celum.

Ryoka had run into her life and turned it upside down. Her Opener job, her twenty six years of life as a Vampire, knowing her fate—overturned in a few months. Now, Fierre was in Invrisil, she had been cured of the silver toxins in her blood that had haunted her all her life, and she was a Vampire who could drain levels from other people.

I am everything Bamer’s stories say I should be. I can level—or steal it from other people. I’m stronger, faster, tougher than I ever was before. I beat down magical Golems with my bare fists! I met the Archmage of Izril! I’m…

Still low-level. I’m below Level 10. Idiot. You got overconfident. What happens if someone finds the corpses? What if they were in a gang that investigates? If they have magical bloodhound classes? Idiot.

She bonked her head against the mirror a few times. Fierre and Ryoka were more similar than either knew. Fierre also spoke to herself; it came with being an Opener, and her job of categorizing secrets and information. She was normally deliberate, cautious, keeping opinions to herself.

Her newfound power had gone to her head. Now, Fierre calmed herself down. She had to be careful! She flitted downstairs before daylight could sear her skin and fished around in the kitchen.

Imani wasn’t there. Fierre had a…‘blood sense’ that allowed her to tell when beating hearts and blood were about. She could also use the Garden of Sanctuary, but she was fast enough that no one noticed as she collected a few items and went upstairs.

She had no need of food. Food had been last night and Fierre had found she could go a day or two on regular ‘meals’ before she needed blood. Instead, she found a bucket of broken ice and put several ice chunks in a towel. Then she put the bundle on her head.

Fierre’s body was always cold, but she could sit in the snow and be happy.

Let’s see. Confirm, collate, categorize. The tenets of the Opener. What do I now know about my nature? Well, I can absorb levels. I need actual, people-blood to feed. Animals don’t cut it anymore.

I’m a Level 7 [Assassin] with a number of useful Skills. I should have used [Bloodform Blades] on those muggers! I shouldn’t have been so careless. I need more levels, more experience with fighting if I’m going to do it.

Am I going to do it? I need blood. Mugging people—how long till the Watch wonders who’s killing people and leaving bloodless bodies? That’s stupid. Mother and father and Bamer would all tell me I’m putting all of us in danger.

But I need levels. I need blood. I’m thirsty.

It was so sweet. Tastier than any blood she’d ever had, even the ‘foul’ blood of those two last night. Animal blood was just…food. This was life, energy! She knew she’d grown because of the blood. Her body had been malnourished her entire life. Would she be taller, even stronger, actually beautiful like her mother, if she drank enough blood?

Fierre was twenty-six. Now she looked…seventeen. The urge to change was upon her. To drink. But—careful.

Level 7 [Assassin]. If you exclude the Vampire element, a Level 16 [Thug] should probably be able to take a Level 7 [Assassin] in anything like a fair fight. Idiot. [Lesser Dexterity], [Reject Toxins], [Bloodform Blades], and [Concealing Presence] are all weak! And if you don’t even use one, how are you supposed to beat anyone? That’s two combat Skills, one stealth Skill, and one other.

I should be a Level 60 [Assassin] or something, shouldn’t I? I can’t even remember how many people I…I was so hungry.

Twenty levels—at least twenty!—became three. And that was the first person. It could have been a 10:1 ratio. Or even less! Twenty to one, for all I know.

It makes sense, because if I have both levels and my nature, I’ll be unstoppable.

Fierre exhaled. Analysis complete. She now knew a great secret about Vampires. Put the clues together and it was obvious.

House Byres had killed them. They had won the war against Vampires by poisoning every well and river with silver. They had lost the battle by winning the war. Vampires had lost the ability to steal levels because of the silver in them.

Only Ryoka had saved Fierre, with some great magic from Eldavin the Grand Magus. Fierre owed her friend a huge debt. But she was in no position to repay it, even as a bodyguard. She was weak, but she knew how to be stronger.

Issue? Getting blood isn’t that easy. Especially since you’re stealing levels and I just bet a Level 30 [Ranger] would object if he lost his levels. Do they lose their Skills? Do I actually steal levels, or just the power?

There was no one to experiment on, but Fierre appended a delicate ‘unlikely’ in her head to those questions. The Opener thought on, sorting her head.

I need to choose what levels I get.

There was no question she would gain more levels, even if it meant theft. Leveling was a rush. The sensation of getting stronger, realizing she could do backflips with ease and walk on the edge of rooftops with even more grace than she’d possessed before thanks to [Lesser Dexterity] was amazing.

And she’d always been a Vampire, able to leap onto a rooftop, throw Ryoka about, punch holes in wood, and heal from being impaled with hundreds of needles. Fierre had always wanted to be, well, superhuman. She was already inhuman.

[Assassin] is a great class. What other classes would be ideal? [Mage], definitely. Um. [Archer]? I don’t know how to use a bow. How would that help?

Fierre’s character was such that as another day rose, and Mrsha rolled down the hallway until she slid down the stairs one at a time on her back, Fierre found herself consulting her notes on classes and making a list of good classes to ‘acquire’ levels from. And she had lots of secret notes.

[Rogue] can consolidate into [Assassin]. I could almost assume that I could ‘merge’ levels. Or if not, one class will consolidate the other in time. And [Rogues]—there are a lot of them in gangs.

[Thug]’s not the same. Be careful—I need a Ring of Appraisal. I need one for my job, anyways.

[Mage] is great because magic consolidates with everything. [Spell Ambusher] from [Thug], for instance—that’s probably who jumped me last night. [Spellblade] for [Assassin]?

“Hm. Records of one of the greatest criminal’s class being ‘The Killer X’, for the scar he or she left. Confirmed dead, bounty claimed…class was [Arch Bladefiend]. That sounds like some kind of [Slaughterer]—[Mage] consolidation if ever I heard one.”

[Mage], then, and [Assassin]. [Warrior]? I mean…sure. [Merchant]? Nah. No artisan classes…right? I could become a master-potter and do what? Make the most amazing bowls to keep blood in? Although, there was that [Potter] who…where’s my notes on him? Oh yeah, could create pots that extended your life so long as they didn’t break?

Every class gets better the higher you go. I need to choose a path.

And that path was probably being stronger. Fierre had enjoyed the raid on Valeterisa’s mansion, for all the danger. She felt a rush from fighting, cutting loose.

…Shame she was so bad at it.

 

—-

 

The problem was, Fierre was an Opener by profession. She’d done other things, like helping mix super-toxic plants for [Alchemists] because Vampires had different weaknesses than regular people, laborer jobs; she could actually butcher an animal as well as most apprentice [Butchers], even without Skills.

She could also raise sheep, farm, and…none of this was a background in the art of war. Fierre didn’t even know how to swing a sword. Oh, she’d gotten a few lessons when she worked part-time as a [Guard], but she was realizing more and more how ill-prepared she’d been.

Even that [Thug] with the knife had nearly tagged her with her inhuman, Vampire reflexes. And he’d been Level 14 or something! As much as Fierre hated to admit it—even Ryoka was better at fighting with her fists.

Fierre’s strategy was grab something, tear an arm off, or punch so hard she could shatter every bone in someone’s body. She had once beaten Ryoka by grabbing her and throwing her into a wall hard enough to knock her out.

Which was great. Vampire strength and all. But that meant that if you ran into someone with your level of strength and speed, you were still going to lose.

Fierre knew this because she wasn’t an only child. Or an only-Vampire. And she had grown up tussling with her brother, Rivel, and testing herself against her father, Himilt, her mother, Colfa, Bamer, and all the other Vampires she’d ever met.

She was distinctly average. Before her curing, Rivel could beat her in a fight, or it was close enough not to matter. And Himilt had been faster, stronger, than any of his family when he cared to be.

Now, Fierre wished she’d stayed to talk to her father, who was descended from the lineage of Vampires, had married Colfa, a Human woman.

She checked at the Mage’s Guild in Liscor that morning and got a [Message] from them. And Ryoka. Fierre itched to read Ryoka’s first, but she tipped the [Scribe] and opened her family’s first.

You always tipped the [Scribes]. They had rough jobs. Fierre would know; she’d worked as one as well, copying down dictations or letters to be sent, often verbatim from impatient clients with improper understandings of grammar who got mad at you when you corrected them. The Gnoll had smiled at her with that understanding; Fierre got it.

Anyways, her family’s message was short. They didn’t want to waste money, and they had to talk in code. Fierre read slowly—it was from Himilt himself.

 

Fierre, we’ve talked it over. We might dig new wells. If the old’s gone bad, dig new ones. All’s not lost. But how’s the grass around Liscor?

 

“Huh.”

She exhaled. That was strange, until she thought about it. The Lischelle-Drakle family had been in uproar after Byres’ treachery had been uncovered. In the heat of the moment they’d known they had to leave because of the poison in them, in the ground.

But that was their family’s home. It had been for a long time. It was tempting to stay, to dig fresh wells and watch them. Fierre scribbled a note to write back, muttering.

Liscor’s great; open land, but spring rains are troublesome…tons of space. Rock Crabs are dangerous, but a good hill costs nothing, except building everything, of course. Think about it, love…

She turned to Ryoka’s note with considerably more interest. However, she was dissatisfied to see how short it was.

“Fierre, I’m still not able to return to Liscor. Horns of Hammerad…attacking the Village of the Dead? Are they insane? Trying to…mud in my veins, what is she getting herself into now? Can’t she stay out of trouble for five minutes?”

Fierre tore up the note in fury and stormed off.

 

—-

 

She was out of her loop, not having her contacts or regular sources of information. She was starting over in Invrisil, and still setting up.

Fierre quickly confirmed the obvious, which she’d already know about if she was in Reizmelt. Yep, adventurers were heading north. A lot of teams, surprising, given how crazy the Horns of Hammerad’s raid was.

Fierre drummed her fingers on the table, irritated. She had no idea what Ryoka was planning, but knowing her friend, it was going to involve Ryoka baiting the entire army of the undead by…running around the village naked while shooting Wands of [Fireball] into the sky and somehow blowing off an ear.

I’d really like to see that first bit. The Vampire hesitated as she heard her own thought. But it wasn’t something she was going to deny.

Ryoka was…Fierre squirmed as she thought about it.

A mystery, a friend, and more. Come to that, Ryoka was still a mystery. Where did she come from? Why did she seem to know things? What was the Erin-connection? The [Innkeeper]’s death had put a hold on all of Fierre’s attempts to uncover the secrets, but this was why she’d come with Ryoka to begin with.

She…liked…Ryoka. It was a strange realization for Fierre. But she really liked Ryoka. She smacked her lips absently. And it wasn’t just for her blood! But that was one of the things.

She liked Ryoka? Then that meant…they had a word for that kind of person in the south, didn’t they? Turnscale.

It bounced off Fierre. She was a Vampire. Superior to all species. She just hadn’t really realized it. Maybe it was just Ryoka?

Then again, Fierre had been tempted by others in the inn. Erin herself. Lyonette…even the female [Shaman]. Although Fierre didn’t want to risk any of that. Or be a [Shaman].

But that’s definitely a pattern. She hesitated.

Forget that! You’re not getting anyone’s blood without them knowing. What are you going to do about Ryoka?

Well, nothing. What could she do? She had few contacts, no teams she could demand to help Ryoka that weren’t going—Fierre gritted her teeth.

Ryoka was drama running, though. If she survived this incident—and she would—the next one would need Fierre. Belavierr had been Fierre’s first introduction to Ryoka-level problems. So it was time to get a head start on her Opening business. To that end, Fierre made a few social calls.

 

—-

 

“Hello, I’m Fierre. An Opener. I’ve started my business in Invrisil. Here’s the address. I’m happy to offer Runners discounts for the first month. And I’ve worked with and know the Wind Runner and the Mage Runner. Excuse me, Mage Rider.

It was not quite a lie to imply Salamani had used her services. Also, Fierre’s practiced introduction and tight-lipped, but friendly smile and the money she slipped to the [Bartender] was the eleventh visit so far.

Not to just any [Bartender]. She was a [Broker] in her own right. The fact Fierre knew to talk to her, and the truth-verified statement, made the woman grunt.

“New in Invrisil? Reizmelt, right?”

It was her showing off a bit. Fierre blinked, and realized word about her had gotten around. Also, that I’m important enough to have word spread about me.

She was just a bit pleased about it. The [Bartender] gave her a nod.

“I can spread word to the Runners who come to me. Can’t say any’ll jump ship right away.”

“There will be openings.”

There always were. Openers changed jobs fast, sometimes with the law or angry people whose letters they’d opened on their tails. Sometimes their change of job was due to opening a letter a tad bit too roughly—and you needed to peel what was left of them off the floor.

“Anything I should know?”

The bartender pretended to polish a glass as they spoke in the crowded bar, one of the popular dens for the right sort.

“Only that this ain’t Reizmelt. Got a bodyguard?”

“I’ve got a door. Brought it with me, even.”

Fierre joked. She got a grin, but the woman leaned over. Like many, she looked a bit protective of the ‘young’ girl Opener. Another advantage and Fierre used them all.

“Look, kid. A door’s good. Enchanted? Great. But you need a bodyguard. The gangs can play rough. Even if you stay on their good side, all it takes is one.”

I can handle myself. Fierre caught those words. Don’t show your hand!

“I’ll do that. Thanks. Also, I’m obviously in the information broker business too. Willing to trade secrets. I’ll bring you a bottle of Reizmelt’s best and see what you’re willing to share?”

“Hah! You are experienced. So young? Did they all die of old age in Reizmelt?”

Another look, almost pitying or sad. But gone in a flash. You couldn’t show that kind of weakness. Fierre pretended not to notice the woman’s look as she grinned.

“Nope, too slow.”

The laugh Fierre got was one of the better interactions that day. Everyone watched everyone, so being confident, even suave, and showing you knew what you were doing was great to establish credibility.

She took a hint from the [Bartender] as well. So her final port of call was just…advertisement and showmanship. Showvampireship.

The seven-foot Iron Golem was locking the door into place as people watched. It wasn’t as beautiful as some of the Golems the [Merchant] had been offering, or as tough. But it had been delivered, Fierre had paid a lot for it—and if you were going to have a bodyguard, it might as well be a Golem.

Look out, Invrisil, this Opener’s got a Golem! Fierre hoped the crowd, including some Runners checking out the new Opener, thought that she was a one-trick Opener. That she was relying on this Iron Golem for protection. That meant they’d go for it rather than her, underestimating her if the worst came to it.

Of course, the trick was never to let it get that far. But Fierre’s stunt meant that someone rapped on the door less than an hour after it had gone up. She let the first City Runner walk in. He was, predictably, a Mouse.

Openers had their own lingo. Not charitable; you had Mice, Morons, Knights, and Needles. That referred to the style of Runner you were going to get.

Mice were like rats. They had low credibility-scores, or they were just below-average to average Runners. They didn’t tend to get good letters to open and steal secrets from and they’d turn if anyone so much as sneezed at them.

Morons were gullible, or hotheads. Ryoka would have fit into that category—or Knights, who never divulged secrets at all and rarely used Openers.

Needles were Couriers or good City Runners. They might run afoul of someone trying to use a City Runner in a scheme, or Courier, but it could backfire because a strong Courier might deliver something despite all odds. That was definitely Ryoka in all the Opener’s books, now. A Needle-Knight.

Mice, though…she handled it easily. Low-discount, nothing worth opening in the letter he thought held something truly valuable like saffron. She smelled the spice packet someone was trying to send without paying a tax before even opening the letter, and the Runner went away, disappointed. He might well pocket the spices one [Chef] was sending to a [Cook] in another city.

Two more Runners came, to get a picture of her. They didn’t like how young she was, but she rattled them by addressing them by name before they introduced themselves. That was just Fierre having a list of all Runners and matching them to the portraits she’d paid for.

Elementary. It would take time to consolidate a new base of power and Fierre worked for four hours, mainly setting up and taking those calls. She would work here for 4-6 hours each day, and everyone who was smart would know when they’d be able to knock. Her Iron Golem would keep her place of business safe; [Thieves] knew Openers guarded their wealth of knowledge and would retaliate, and the Golem was another deterrent.

Fierre had no time to waste, though. So her second call that day happened after dusk. And this time the person came to meet her.

“Reizmelt. Drakle?”

Lischelle-Drakle.

“Oh, that’s right. The marriage. I’ve never been north myself.”

The other Vampire settled back into a seat in her Opener’s office. It was the best place for a meeting like this. He eyed the Golem warily, but with a confidence that Fierre didn’t miss.

Well, he was an [Assassin]. Ex-Guild; that was public knowledge by now. It had saved his life. He’d split from them during the famous Wind Runner’s delivery.

He was older, lean, with scars despite his Vampire nature. Magical damage. His eyes were red, but a brighter red than hers, and his hair was, ironically enough, dyed silver at the edges. Darker red to black near the roots. Now here was a Vampire who had style.

They were both Vampires. And he had agreed to meet with Fierre in a moment when she’d reached out to him with one of the classic signs.

Vampires existed across Izril. Some in entire villages or towns, others in families. They knew how to find each other. One of the most obvious ways was to invite them to dinner.

Fancy some liver? I have a good sausage I’ve been dying to share with some cheese.

Obvious stuff like that. You mentioned a blood-related dish and they knew who you were. It wasn’t like many people looked for Vampires. Then again…

The Vampire assassin lowered his cup. He was an [Assassin] in name—not practice. Fierre had bought a Ring of Appraisal that morning and he was blank. But she was smart enough to know that his ‘anti-appraisal’ ring was actually the truth. He nodded at her, relaxing as she gestured the Golem to wait outside.

“Nice drink. Stiff. Smokey. What’s this, a scotch?”

“Reizmelt, yep.”

He took another sip. His fangs, his entire posture, was business-like, not flirtatious. Relaxed more than anything. Fierre was glad. Some Vampires you met just thought you were interested in meeting your own kind. Well, a lot of marriages happened because of that.

But this fellow understood.

“Vaulont is my name here. Vaulont the Ash—I turn all my victims to ash.”

“Ah, smart.”

He nodded, with a dry smile.

“A perk of the job. Anyways. I can’t promise I’ll hold to blood-ties here. I’m not accepting offers on one of us—but I can’t watch your back. You understand?”

“Of course!”

Who’d demand another Vampire to cover for them just because we’re the same species? Has someone done that? Fierre was insulted by the suggestion. Vaulont relaxed a hair further.

“I didn’t go after Ryoka—the Wind Runner as well. I backed out. Glad she survived. I wasn’t going to cross blades with the Faces. I’m amazed she made it.”

“I know. I’d have never asked otherwise. I wanted to thank you for that.”

“We owe her.”

The assassin shrugged again. Fierre nodded.

They knew. If not all of it, enough. He spat.

“Silver in the water. If anyone puts out a hit on House Byres, especially that [Knight]—I’m taking it for coppers. I’ve lived every day of my life with scars I got from rashes as a child. My entire family died early. Silver.”

“I know. Do you have plans? My family’s debating moving.”

He shrugged, moodily.

“Aside from eating charcoal like it’s a snack? I have no roots.”

“Oh.”

“Forget about it. Listen. While we’re talking about them, watch out for a Delanay d’Artien. He’s an Emergency Runner and he’s one of the old families. Dresses like a giant target. Red leather, crossbow—but he’s smart.”

“Understood, thank you. Anyone else?”

“Huh. Reinhart was what I’d say. Don’t mess with her business. Her servants are no joke. But they leave the Gangs alone if they don’t cause trouble. But she’s gone south. Her [Gardener] though—that one’s killed more Faces than you’d expect. Idiots don’t see a high-level [Druid], just an angry [Gardener].”

“Also got it.”

They were swapping the Vampire’s essential info. There were multiple reasons Fierre had invited Vaulont, though. After a moment, he slid her a bit of parchment.

“There are three of us in Invrisil. Two natural-born. Wife and husband run this [Butcher]’s. Export elsewhere.”

“Ah, wonderful.”

Fierre lied. She would never drink animal blood unless she had to again. She’d had to dig out some of the ‘safe’ blood from her packs just to host Vaulont. He was sipping the blood greedily.

“This is good stuff. Fresh. I have to use days-old stuff on the job, until a kill. And they’re not always private with time to harvest. So, how can I help you?”

“Actually…that was what I wanted to talk to you about. I’m far from home, and I, uh…I’m curious.”

The assassin’s eyes sharpened. Fierre lied to him as she went for her first source of…blood.

“You want a share of what I get?”

“I’m just curious—”

“Let me stop you there. If I get any, it’s what I drink. No offense, but I’m not bleeding them like animals. I don’t know how, and there’s no time. If you’re curious…don’t cause trouble. Not here, and not for us.”

She was astonished to find Vaulont the Vampire-Assassin was straight-laced as they came. It was probably why he’d spared Ryoka, for that matter.

Some Vampires, especially the young ones, tended to experiment when they got a chance. They drank Human blood, or other people’s, hoping against hope it would help them. Now Fierre knew it would not, but she and Rivel had gone through that phase, paying for blood, figuring out ways to obtain it.

It didn’t taste better unless you were cured, and the adults looked on the act with mingled understanding and deep wariness. Vaulont fixed Fierre with a look.

“You may have left Reizmelt to be freer of your family’s influence, but even three Vampires in Invrisil are too many to put at risk. Understand?”

“Look, I was just asking. I’d never do anything myself.”

Fierre flushed at the upbraiding. Vaulont relaxed slightly and took another shot. It was hard to get Vampires drunk and Fierre had consigned the entire bottle of scotch to this meeting.

“Fine. Neither of us are children. I understand. It won’t taste good.”

To you. Fierre was beginning to dislike his parental attitude. She spread her hands.

“That’s why I came to you. I thought if anyone…”

“I know. I get asked that all the time. I can’t. I could get you a cup, maybe…if you really want one taste, let me know. Otherwise, I don’t want you playing at drinking.”

The young woman was regretting bringing it up. And she realized something else.

Vaulont’s victims might be [Merchants], non-combat classes. I can’t vet them and he’ll be suspicious if I keep wanting more, even if I play it off as a fetish. Damn.

“Maybe once. Although if it’s not different…I want to know. Sorry. What’s ‘playing at drinking’?”

The assassin toyed with the shot glass as he grimaced.

“Sneaking into a house or after a night with someone—a bit of sleep dust, a healing potion, and a bite. What, you’ve never heard of it?”

The Opener’s mouth opened. She had two thoughts at the same time, right on top of one another. The first was an image of her creeping into a target’s home, and picking who she wanted. It would be easy. That’s surely how Vampires did it.

It would be convenient, if I was careful and covered my tracks…

I can’t do that!

The second thought was louder. She heard it, and it came from being a Lischelle-Drakle. From her family. That sounded—wrong.

Vaulont saw it on her face. And at last, he grinned, baring his teeth.

“Good. You’d be surprised at how many bastards I’ve met who do that for fun. Sport. Let’s…talk about something better. You were there. Can you tell me about Reizmelt? I’m out of steady work and everyone’s trying to kill me.”

“I—sure. Well, if you want to visit, my father’s always welcoming…”

 

—-

 

Strangely, Fierre had a realization from that meeting. And that was that she was not a monster. The idea of creeping into people’s houses, draining them—

She didn’t want to be that kind of Vampire. She could rationalize killing the two criminals, albeit in aggravated self-defense, and the [Assassins]. But she did not want to go further than that.

But how was she going to get blood? She was already starting to crave it after only a day.

Being a moral Vampire sucks. And not in a good way.

After meeting Vaulont, who was surprisingly responsible, for a Vampire, despite being a hired killer, Fierre walked back to Liscor feeling as if she’d accomplished a lot and a little. She had her practice up, some idiot street kids had drawn genitals on her Iron Golem while it had guarded her front door, and she was hungry and a bit tipsy after half a bottle of good scotch.

 

—-

 

She sniffed the air, sensing the blood of those around her. Her level of desire waxed and waned depending on her hunger. It had grown overbearing after a week or two of being cured and only Ryoka’s level-less blood. Somehow, Ryoka’s blood wasn’t even nourishing if she didn’t have levels at all.

Why didn’t she have levels? Who was Ryoka? Fierre wanted to run after the Courier. But Ryoka could fly, and Fierre was slower.

For now. She wondered if she could turn into a bat.

A whiff of something tempting made Fierre turn her head. Normally, most people she just ‘wanted’, but some people stood out.

Erin had been one, perhaps because of her levels or because Fierre…liked women. She’d been tempted by Ceria, Maviola…yep, levels, half-Elf, [Lady], and Lyonette, strangely.

It also seemed that…attraction had to do with how much Fierre wanted blood, because she wanted Ryoka’s, even though it had as much nourishment as Fluffles the Sixth’s. She wondered what high-level personage she had scented.

As she walked through the streets of Invrisil, she passed a circle of onlookers and aggressive shouting. She passed a [Fistfighter] plying his trade.

Fierre stopped, walked back, and turned to see Alber knock down the fifth man in the group of [Tavern Toughs]. She heard the energetic ding of someone striking the bell, and shouts as people had to give up bets to the [Bookie].

“Alber!”

The young man was chugging a healing and stamina potion as he looked around for challengers. Unlike Reizmelt, his hat was filled with coins.

Not gold, but silver and copper. He’d been making a killing today. He spotted Fierre as she waved at him. The Vampire, mouth agape, watched him check his gloves then face off against a man who had to be three hundred pounds, and not all of it fat.

“He’s going to be slaughtered. Bastard has fists as fast as an arrow, but there’s no way—”

Fierre remembered Alber. He was a blast from Reizmelt! And she’d seen him go down time and time again, usually to adventurers, or people like Mad Madain, or the sheer weight-class imbalance.

He always went down swinging, though. She expected it now; even with potions, he was covered in sweat and had gone six fights at least. His opponent read to Fierre’s [Appraisal] spell as a [Tavern Diver]. An advancement on [Tavern Tough]. The kind of man who could be a [Bouncer] or the worst sort of guest.

Let’s see.

Level 27 [Tavern Diver]. Shit. [Heroic Tolerance: Alcohol]. [Body: Iron Fists]. [Greater Inebriated Strength]. [Inebriated Toughness]. [Devastating Uppercut]. Oh no, Alber’s in for it. Weird, rare Skills wasted on a useless class.

The man squared off against the [Fistfighter]. He was already a bit soused, which ironically made Alber in even more trouble. He grinned as he exposed an amazingly hairy chest. Fierre covered her nose; she could smell his armpits in her mouth.

She saw Alber lift his fists as someone rung the bell. There was a [Bet Taker], someone to collect money, drag people away. Helpers, but they’d leave Alber face-down on the impromptu ring if he lost. She watched, anxiously, as the instant the bell rang, the [Tavern Diver] opened with his [Devastating Uppercut] Skill.

He exploded out with the punch, fast, using his reach and full body’s weight behind the blow. Fierre saw, with her ring, Alber’s class and level appear in her vision.

Level 28 [Boxer].

He swayed out of range of the uppercut and countered the man so fast everyone but Fierre barely saw it. The Vampire gasped as the man stumbled. He was huge, though, and Alber weighed maybe half his weight? He turned with a roar—

[Lightning Jab]! [Flurry of Blows]! [Full-Weight Counter]! Fierre read the Skills a moment before they came out. Alber struck the man with his left, dancing back, then ducked a swing and unloaded on the man’s belly. He used the final Skill as another big swing came at him. He lunged in and put all of his weight behind a fist to the man’s stomach.

Not his chin. The drink and whatever the man had been eating came up as people groaned or cheered. Fierre watched as the [Tavern Diver] shoved away hands and came up again. He was tough!

But Alber took him apart in the little ring. He ducked, weaving, blocking some punches, letting the other fighter tire himself out. What was it called?

Rope-a-dope? Fierre had laughed the first time she’d heard the expression. But she knew what he was doing. Jabs with his left, footwork, even the way he held his gloves was changed from the [Fist Fighter]’s self-taught style. It had changed because of Ryoka.

Moreover, Fierre watched with open mouth as Alber’s seventh opponent went down and no one stepped up to challenge him. She reached for her notes and wrote something down slowly.

[Fist Fighter] and possibly unarmed Skills are available to use in each fight, not time-limited. Or extremely-fast time activation.

Alber had used the same Skills in bout after bout.

“No one else? No one at all?”

The [Bet Taker] was shouting, trying to drum up another easy win. Yet Alber had overplayed his hand for the day; no one else wanted to try it after the [Tavern Diver] had gone down. Men emptied a day’s pay into hats, looking sullen or admiring by turns at Alber. He’d need to find a new spot to ply his trade tomorrow.

The [Boxer] looked around. He nodded at Fierre and began to collect his share of the winnings as she waited to talk to him.

“I’ll take him on! What’s the fee, one silver? I’ll bet on myself too!”

Heads turned. The [Bet Taker] brightened up. And because he was a [Bet Taker], not a [Bookie], he misjudged his mark.

The City Runner who strode into the ring made Fierre’s head swivel around. Another familiar face!

Garia Strongheart wasn’t dressed as provocatively as Ulvama, but if you looked, you could see abdominal muscles. And she was a [Farmer].

Alber’s head snapped up. Fierre began to find silver coins. She walked over to the [Bet Taker] as people encouraged Alber to take it easy on Garia!

“Don’t fight him, girl! He’ll knock you down! He’s merciless to women and men both!”

“I want to try!”

Garia grinned. She looked around for gloves, but Alber was the only one who had any. She eyed him.

“Are you okay if I hit you? I’ve got a good punch! No kicking?”

“You can try for a larger fee. But a fair fight’s only punches.”

He shrugged. Fierre recalled that against weaker opponents, Alber didn’t even bother to restrict kicks.

“Only punches, then.”

Fierre placed her bet. Alber didn’t notice; he was sipping a stamina potion, not even going for the healing potion though he’d taken two decent swings.

He was making a mistake. Garia was probably a good amount under Alber’s weight…but looks were deceiving.

She was a [Farmer]’s daughter. A [Pirate]’s daughter.

Also?

A [Martial Artist]. Alber let his guard down at the start. And it only took one punch.

Fierre saw the [Boxer] put up the cross-arm block as the bell rang. Garia leapt forwards, and it was a good step-in. She saw Alber’s eyes widen, but he had his arms making a cross, a strong punch-blocker. She raised her fist—

Whumph. Fierre winced. She’d sparred with Garia at the Strongheart farm during a visit. Garia was as strong as Fierre. And she’d just used a Skill.

[Launching Strike]. Alber absorbed the punch. She thought he’d used [Arms: Impact Shield], which could have made his arms as strong as a steel shield for a second. He’d also pivoted to take the punch full-on.

So his arms didn’t break or even bruise. None of that stopped the other effect of the Skill.

Alber went flying. Garia’s [Enhanced Strength], her [Martial Artist]’s Skill—and Alber’s back step during the punch culminated in him going flying. He lost his block, flailed his arms once as Fierre saw him fly out of the ring—

And with a crash, he sailed through the glass frontage of a store eight paces behind the boxing ring. The expensive glass rained down around him as he went back-first through it.

Garia, who had been smiling, lost the smile. Fierre stared as the horrified [Shopkeeper], who’d been watching the fight, stared at Alber. The young man was trying to brush glass, which was cutting his skin, off him.

In the silence, Fierre slowly grabbed the [Bet Taker]’s arm so he couldn’t run off with her money.

 

—-

 

The money she’d won from the bet went into the glass window. Glass was expensive, so Alber’s taking for the day, the bet money, and Garia and Fierre all chipped in.

It went to winning thanks from both. Garia was shamefaced—and so was Alber, for underestimating his opponent.

“I’m so sorry. I heard there was a [Fist Fighter] and I’d never used that Skill.”

“It’s fine.”

It probably wasn’t. That was a lot of money to be out for Alber who lived day-to-day, but the young man was taciturn all the time Fierre had known him.

For instance, he’d barely grunted as acknowledgement when he’d seen Fierre, for all it was a shock to both.

“Heard about Ryoka. Good she’s okay. Nice to see you.”

They’d had a drink afterwards, in the closest pub. Ironically, the [Tavern Diver] and his mates had wanted to haul Alber off, figuring that if you couldn’t beat him, the [Boxer] was their best friend, and possible second in a bar fight.

Garia Strongheart got to him first.

“I’m really sorry about that. You know Ryoka too? Small world! Why don’t you come to my farm? Come on, my father loves to meet people who fight with their fists. Come over for dinner! They love it when I visit and it’s through the magical door.”

“I’m fine.”

“I insist.

And she’d practically dragged him with her. Ryoka had once told Fierre that Garia was shy, but kind. Fierre didn’t see it. The young woman seemed forthright enough to her.

She invited Fierre too, but the Vampire girl declined. Mainly because she had no desire to drink a second time with the [Pirate] and [Green Mage], and also because she needed to sort her thoughts out. Alber wasn’t that great a conversationalist, anyways.

What made Fierre really decline was uh—uh—she hurried back to The Wandering Inn and her room and shut the door.

Gaah! Why do I want to drink his blood so badly? And hers?

Both Garia and Alber were driving her Vampire-sense crazy. And with that desire had come a realization. Fierre…would not mind drinking Alber’s blood. Or doing other things.

Which led her to a grave, nay, terrible realization.

Oh no. It’s not just Ryoka. Or women. I’m attracted to anything with a pulse!

That was an exaggeration, of course. Fierre would rather have sucked the blood of a Shield Spider than the [Tavern Diver]’s. But Alber? Alber and Garia were both uh, possessed of strong blood flow. You could see it under their muscles. Lovely veins…she’d love to taste them, even when they were covered in sweat or a bit of grime. Especially then?

Aaah! Stop it!

Vampires liked that kind of thing, like Selphids. Fierre was realizing all kinds of things about herself.

However, the biggest revelation was yet to come. Because she’d come back early after the encounter, Fierre found herself having dinner in The Wandering Inn.

They still had food there. Guests got breakfast; they could get dinner. It had been an abandoned place recently, but this night, Fierre smelled cooking and found Imani serving people around the tables.

Numbtongue was there. So was Selys, who had accompanied Mrsha and Ulvama all day. Mrsha was gobbling something called a pilau rice dish, without even the decency to have bloody meat in it. It still smelled good to Fierre.

She surprised them all.

“Fierre? I haven’t seen you in—a week!”

Guiltily, the guests and staff realized that Fierre had been neglected, but she waved it away and told them about Garia.

“She did go through to Invrisil. And you’re working there?”

“Mhm. Is this free to eat for anyone here? I can find something else.”

“No, stay! You’re a guest, of course! Mrsha, stop gobbling.”

The Gnoll had no Lyonette to halt her, and Ulvama was eating just as fast with her claws. Amused, Fierre sat down. She had no satiety needs from this food, but good cooking she still liked. Rice was unusual in Izril, so she savored the bites.

There were a lot of guests for one of the first communal-dinners in The Wandering Inn since…well, Numbtongue had been coaxed out of the garden. Palt was helping serve food with Imani, Ishkr was doing likewise, Drassi had finished her shift at Wistram News Network.

Here were Joseph, Troydel, Leon, Kevin…Fierre’s eyes narrowed slightly as she realized Rose and Galina were now gone. Octavia, bloodshot, smelling of burnt cloth, was muttering about Battle Draughts.

There were even the three Lizardfolk, who merrily tried to tease Mrsha by stealing her food. Hexel was out, but even Montressa and Bezale were there.

Fierre indulged in the community of it all. Everyone was catching up. And that’s when it happened.

“So, Invrisil’s scheduled the first soccer game against a smaller city tomorrow—and baseball vs Liscor in four days.”

“I wonder if Wistram News Network will cover it? It might not be as big, sorry, Joseph.”

The Earther shrugged as Drassi leaned over. Ulvama snorted at the sports as she casually grabbed Mrsha’s little pudding off her plate. The Gnoll stared at the empty plate, and then head-butted Ulvama in the side. Undeterred, the [Shaman] ate it, as Mrsha tried to drag at her arm. I am bigger! I eat your food if I want!

Fierre watched Kevin yawning over his plate as Troy whispered to him.

Wings, Kevin. Did you help her with the glider? Can you at least look over this?”

“Troy, my dude. If this is something stupid—Rose isn’t here, but I’ll ask Bezale to hit you.”

The Minotauress looked up and Troy, exasperated, shuffled something into his belt pouch. Montressa ignored that as she leaned over Mrsha sulking in Selys’ arms as the Drake promised another pudding.

“If you’re doing the baseball game, Joseph, would you mind putting in a word with Liscor’s Council? Bezale and I could…promote some dresses, for the cheering squad or uniforms for the players. Maybe even free of charge.”

“You what?”

Joseph looked blank. Montressa smiled.

“We’re introducing a secondary, linked-shop from Invrisil. The latest designs—in Liscor!”

“You mean, a chain store.”

“I like that.”

Bezale looked at Joseph. Fierre’s eyes narrowed again. She knew what Montressa and Bezale were doing. Smart work—Fierre wished she could be so charismatic and connected as to be the first people to ‘link’ all three cities and bring the best businesses over to each.

“If you can get me a meeting with the Council, the best [Seamstress] in Invrisil might be able to do you a discount, or even some free advertisement. Perhaps in return for some negotiation with the shops? Let’s talk.”

Montressa was smiling at Joseph. He was wary—he just taught people how to play football, but he was willing to pass on the request. Thus, business was concluded at the same time as Ulvama went to steal the next pudding Ishkr was bringing out for Mrsha. The little Gnoll furiously waved a wand and Ulvama fell flat onto her face as a bit of grass sprouted from the floorboards.

That was when it happened. Montressa shot Bezale a knowing look.

“There’s more we want to bring—from Wistram. New ideas. Like what Geneva was saying to help with Erin. We can set up a clinic if we have support. Find a [Healer]? I don’t know how these…blood transfusions work, but if you can explain…”

Fierre looked up.

 

—-

 

Geneva Scala was still advising the others about Erin. The failed Potion of Regeneration, the incident to no one’s gain, had led to her sending more instructions. One of which was that if they were going to attempt a proper procedure, a proper blood bank and blood transfusions could possibly save Erin’s life if the poison still prevented healing potions.

Blood transfusions? Blood banks? First off, what was this? Second off—why did they know about it?

Fierre lingered at the table, listening with all her might as Joseph, Leon, Troy, and Kevin explained the idea to the other skeptical people. She didn’t know why Montressa and Bezale had some familiarity with it, except that it was connected to Wistram. She didn’t know why these Humans knew.

Or why Geneva Scala, the Last Light of Baleros knew and was affiliated. But she listened. And she saw it in one glorious moment.

“I’d like to fund that. If it can help Erin—and do all of that, especially save lives when someone’s poisoned, why haven’t we done that?”

Selys was speaking when Fierre sidled over to Montressa and Bezale, who’d seen another opportunity. The Vampire girl raised a hand.

“I’d uh—like to help too. It sounds like a good idea.”

The small group talking about logistics turned to look at Fierre. She shone with the pure innocence of someone who wanted to bring life-saving technology to Liscor.

“Oh. Er—Fierre, right? We can certainly use help. You’re an Opener?”

Montressa gave Fierre a look. Fierre smiled and the Secret Broker of Wistram and Letter Opener of Reizmelt traded competitive looks. Not to be outdone by a snob from the Academy of Mages who thought she knew how things worked, Fierre was already handing Selys a little list.

“There are still some cheap areas of land being offered for sale by Liscor’s Council. Although I think that if you talked to them, they might give you some for free. Oh, and here’s a list of Liscor’s top [Healers]. And Invrisil’s.”

Montressa and Bezale looked at the smug Vampire. The [Spellscribe] uncrossed her arms as she realized she’d been out-written. Selys looked at Fierre and grinned.

“That’s much appreciated!”

“I’m also willing to put some gold into this project if it helps. Even set things up.”

Really?

The two [Mages] were clearly wondering if Fierre was virtue-flexing on them at this point. The Vampire hesitated at Selys’ raised brows.

Slow down. Don’t be too eager! Give them a reason. A reason…

“—it’s because of Ryoka. She’s always getting wounded and a ‘blood bank’, or those bags you were talking about could save her. Not to mention, I heard about the Horns of Hammerad and the Crelers. This could actually revolutionize adventuring if it was made easy! No fear of poison—or less, at any rate!”

“Ah, of course.”

Fierre saw Bezale’s eyes light up again. No doubt the Minotauress had just cottoned on to the same thing Fierre had. Octavia, ironically, was still in the dark, but it took a [Warrior] to see the obvious.

If blood transfusions were cheaper than healing potions, or even if they could prevent poison from being as deadly if you coated your blades in it, warfare itself would change. This isn’t some [Healer] thing. This could be as big as the Occillium mold.

After so many big inventions coming from Liscor, it was the kind of thing that people were learning to pick up. Like an [Entrepreneur], the best [Merchants], and indeed, [Innkeepers], [Gossips], and savvy [Lords] and [Ladies], the people of Liscor were developing the sense for what was valuable and new.

Not only that—it was experience. They’d done this before. It was just strange to do without Erin. Almost wrong. But it was to save her, so Fierre watched the process the [Innkeeper] had laid down move into action more smoothly. The wheels Erin had moved were now greased.

She was so clever! Look at that!

Selys had a perfect ‘in’ with Liscor’s Council, by way of Zevara, Olesm, and Krshia, Elirr, and Raekea. She prevailed on Elirr to call the Council to a short session—they met every day anyways—which also tied into the Mrsha connection.

Not only that, Liscor’s Council was fast-moving, decisive, and had money to spend, especially on something that would save lives in the upcoming Hectval conflict. They had an [Architect], free land to hand out, and so the only thing really missing was the expertise.

There’s no plastic. How the heck are we supposed to make a tube? Out of leather?”

“That’s probably got a lot of germs. Glass?”

“Wait, let’s just ask Geneva. She says she’s invented one.”

Fierre’s ears perked up as she listened to unguarded snippets from Joseph and Kevin. Another thing she picked up on was what whatever ‘secret’ was out there—almost everyone seemed to know what it was except her. She ground her teeth together, but it was more important to get this thing moving. Montressa went into Liscor and Bezale took Invrisil to find [Healers] willing to give this a shot.

Herself, Fierre listened to the explanation they got from Geneva about blood types, proper hygiene, and her own methods of making blood transfusions—with metal or glass.

“Pelt can make a needle in ten minutes. I’ll just bet he could do this. I’m off to Esthelm!”

How quickly they moved! Fierre was amazed. They had a master [Smith] who was willing to move things like this up in his schedule, a medical expert…

“We’re going to need to try a blood transfusion and collect a lot of blood. Runes of Preservation, definitely, for the blood bank.”

“I can calculate the cost. Are you planning on hiring Master Hedault?”

“Kevin can probably convince him to do the work fast.”

Convince Master Hedault, the notoriously schedule-oriented, best [Enchanter] in Invrisil to prioritize your work. How easily you say that!

It was relationships. The [Innkeeper]’s strength. Openers had to act the same way, so Fierre respected all of this. And every step of the way, of course, she was there.

Need someone to scout out all the sites where this clinic could take place? No problem.

[Healer] needs to be talked into it? Fierre had all the explanations ready.

A pair of hands to help carry all the pieces of equipment around and set up a trial run? Fierre had hands.

She spent her entire morning and evening making this happen. It wouldn’t be a one-day process, but Kevin had two gleaming needles made of steel by lunch. The tubing was harder, but he claimed that Pelt was working on a flexible metal tube, chained segments of metal together, for the sheer challenge of it.

The Vampire was excited. And yes, she put eighty gold pieces of her own money into the contribution pile.

The simple fact of it was Earth’s practice of storing and using blood was unheard of in this world. It was like a dream come true for a Vampire that needed blood from people.

The first people to invent the medical practices of bleeding and then blood transfusions in Earth were definitely Vampires. The person who invented leeching was just weird.

 

—-

 

Anyways, the upshot of it was that while they had a lot more to do in establishing procedures, getting everything lined up, the blood bank for Liscor was well underway, and a few adventurers and [Guards] had even volunteered to see what it was like.

The main thing Geneva Scala claimed was necessary were [Cleansing] spells for the needles, which allowed them to be re-used so long as the needles didn’t come into contact with significant disease or poison.

Her real concern was matching blood-types, as well as making sure no one gave blood that had any kind of ‘sexually transmitted infections’. Fierre had nearly pulled out her canines when she’d been told you could transfer disease that way!

Vampires didn’t fear disease, though—if they were silver-free. It was a concern for the blood-team. Selys was managing it with Montressa. Neither Joseph nor Kevin nor Leon nor Troy were really interested in being the [Blood Healers] of the new era. But they gamely helped and Fierre found herself in the middle of temptation.

“Don’t touch that! No fur, no little kids!”

Troy tried to shoo Mrsha away as she stared at vials full of blood. She slapped his hand down—she didn’t take orders from Troys—and stared at Octavia as the [Alchemist] mixed two blood samples.

“Looks like the [Doctor]’s right. Lizardfolk blood doesn’t match anything but Hexel’s.”

“Aw.”

One of the [Architect]’s assistants looked disappointed; the test of mixing blood was creating the tell-tale ‘sticking’ that Geneva claimed as a sign of improper type matchups.

Coagulation. Fierre licked her lips as Octavia handed more samples off to be washed.

“I’ve got it.”

“Oh, thanks. I need more test tubes. Okay, Miss Geneva sent over a bunch of these ‘blood types’, but since it’s only four Lizardfolk, I have no idea where you all fall. Let’s do Drakes next.”

Fierre hurried off with the bloody vials. The sight of the…delicious…blood made Leon turn pale. It was amusing to the Vampire to realize that while many could take wounds freely, the act of drawing blood made some faint.

For instance, Hexel had swooned after giving blood and seeing his—probably from his past trauma—and Elirr had had to catch him in his arms.

Fierre cleaned the vials by drinking them down, then adding water and gulping the watery blood. Sure, it tasted worse, but she had discovered something as people gave blood.

Everyone from Lism to Selys to Kevin had given blood to be tested. At first, Fierre had been wary, but she’d tried some blood from Numbtongue when the Hobgoblin had been tested against Ulvama to see if they were compatible.

To her disappointment, Fierre had gotten no levels or even the indication that she could ‘acquire’ levels from his blood. It really was taking directly that seemed to work.

On the other hand, it’s sustenance! This is so tasty. Yum, yum, yum—

Food supply had been acquired, if not the keys to classes and power. Fierre wished she could take a bigger role in the testing. What Octavia had to do with Geneva’s blood typing process, Fierre could do with taste!

She knew blood types were different. Of course, she was more aware of animal blood, but there was a ‘taste’ to each one. For instance, what the [Doctor] had learned and Fierre was observing was that blood transfusion wouldn’t be as easy as poking yourself with a needle and squirting some blood to ‘top yourself off’ after losing a pint.

“Some species aren’t blood-type compatible. Lizardfolk are…lizards, so there’s no transfer across their species. Even some kinds of Naga can’t trade with regular Lizardfolk, apparently. But it says here that uh, ‘mammals’ have more compatibility. But in each species, there are some who can’t trade.”

“That’s wild. Hey, Kevin, Joseph. How many blood types did we know of um—back home?”

Fierre’s eyes narrowed as Troy stared at the list. Kevin counted.

“…Six? There are rare ones, you know. Like, wasn’t there that blood that only 300 people in the world had? Blood type Bombay?”

Fierre saw Joseph nudge him. Kevin hurried on.

“I mean—our home. Until now. How many are there uh, that Geneva’s found?

The Vampire girl tilted her head slightly.

What in the name of garlic sauce was he talking about? The world? But this is new. Yet they act like this is normal in their home. They’re not from Drath…

The pieces were there. But the conclusion was too massive for her to encapsulate, yet. And there wasn’t any precedent—or even fiction—to give her the clues.

“Uh—uh—looks like sixty four so far.”

Sixty four?

“Wait, it says here…”

Everyone crowded around as Troy read out the complicated explanations that Geneva had written. Fierre translated into her own notes and rephrased for everyone.

“There are only about twenty ‘main’ blood types. The problem is that with so many species, there are some non-transferable ones. If you’re lucky, you have the basic ones like um, A, B, AB, and so on.”

“AB’s common? Dude.”

Kevin looked at the list glumly. He was AB+, which was wonderfully unique. Fierre pointed.

“It’s going to take a dedicated [Healer] to figure it out. See all the links? This blood—O—can transfer across most of the ‘main’ types. But anyone with a rarer type can’t.”

Geneva had tried to make a graph, but the problem was there were so many crisscrossing lines and odd connections, like O-blood being transferable with a lot of blood types, but not FS—a Drake type—yet AB being compatible with F so long as it was negative—that gave most of the crowd a headache.

“It’s less useful than we thought.”

Montressa groaned out loud, seeing the complications. Someone would need to be tested to know their blood type, and if an emergency happened, they’d need all the blood types in reserve in case someone had a rare one.

“But still useful. I wonder if this ‘blood typing’ would be useful for a [Blood Mage] of some kind? There aren’t many in Wistram, but…”

The two [Mages] exchanged a significant look. Fierre raised her brows. Neither [Mage] had been surprised by this revelation, yet Fierre had been blindsided.

Wistram knows about this blood typing thing, even though Vampires and Openers don’t. Joseph, Kevin, Erin, Ryoka, Troy, Leon, Rose, Galina, and Imani all come from the same place, even though Ryoka and Imani look far different. Somehow, blood transfusions are known across the world and yet I’ve never heard of them.

There were only a handful of blood types that they knew of. All of which are only for Humans…

Even her blood didn’t match the basic Human eight. Fierre had been nervous, but Octavia had just put it down to Fierre being an as-yet undiscovered blood type.

The Vampire girl stared at her notes. Her eyes crossed. She held up the comments about ‘world’, ‘Earth’, ‘home’, and squinted at them. She bit her lip, reflecting on Ryoka.

“Hey, who’s got the laptop? I want to use it to see if we have any data on this. Or just a spreadsheet. Leon?”

“Come on, Kevin…”

“Don’t hog it. This is important.”

Fierre’s head rose. She saw Kevin arguing with Leon. She followed them up the stairs, with her [Concealing Presence] Skill.

She stared at the laptop. Mrsha padded past the hallway, sniffing and searching for evil, clever mice. Fierre saw Kevin look around, and then hurry to the Earth-rooms to try and create a more acceptable diagram of the blood types.

The Vampire girl’s mouth was agape the entire time. Some conclusions were incredible. But the Earthers?

They weren’t exactly covert.

 

—-

 

Fierre sat in her rooms, gulping down blood and nervously scribbling like a mad-Vampire. It was easy to purloin the blood. The blood bank was all she wanted.

Oh, it was from Earth, yes. Another world.

They were from another world. What kind of world? No clue! But it was obvious after seeing the laptop.

The glowing screen, eavesdropping—the blood types—oh, so obvious. How could she have missed it? Ryoka! Ryoka was as obvious as the burning sun when you looked at her! She was so different, but she had no knowledge of other continents—not in any details she ever expressed.

“But where? Could it be some kind of hidden paradise? But they said ‘world’. And all these games…”

Fierre had a short list of possibilities. Firstly? They came from a hidden dimension, one of those fabled pocket-cities or ancient gateways to some kind of magical reality. Second? Completely different world…somehow.

A place where Vampires had existed and Ryoka had known about them. Where only Humans were.

Third? This was some kind of code and they were messing with her.

Fourth? The future! Or the past. No, wait, that was silly.

F-fifth? The alternate-timelines theory. Which tied into option number two and four, really.

However, what it meant was mind-blowing. Astounding. Fierre put her head in her hands. This was the discovery of a lifetime. The secret worth an incalculable amount of money!

Wistram knew. Of course they did! It all added up! Montressa, Bezale, Palt—and why they kept hanging around the Earthers, their name for themselves. Who else knew?

To the Opener and Information Broker, this was a time-sensitive secret. Worth more as less people knew about it, like all secrets, obviously, but this one would invariably become public. It would be impossible to keep this quiet forever.

At this moment in time, to the right people, other brokers, influential people who wanted to be told of stuff like this, it was worth tens of thousands of gold pieces, if not all from the same place.

I can sell this to at least thirty sources myself and then sell it to the other brokers for…

Fierre hesitated.

But that would put Ryoka in more danger.

A conscience was a terrible thing for a Vampire or Information Broker. Fierre sat back in her chair, exasperated.

Ryoka kept my secret. Is this like Vampirism? Do I owe it to her not to say anything until it’s too late? I’m sitting on a goldmine here!

She cured me. How much is that worth?

“She didn’t tell me herself, though!”

Grumpily, Fierre sat up. She thought they were friends! When Ryoka got back, Fierre was going to—she was going to—

Well. She was going to do something. Fierre sighed. She burped and reached for another vial of blood. Then she flexed a hand and looked out the window.

The sun was setting.

 

—-

 

As daylight turned to dusk, a creature of the night awoke to her nocturnal powers. She leapt into the air, doing a somersault, landing on her feet, then raced across the ground like a pale shadow, a blur, but silent as a whisper. She picked up a stone embedded in the earth as wide around as her chest, over a hundred pounds, and threw it twenty feet.

Even stronger! Faster than before! She could feel her body reacting to the blood! The Vampire girl laughed as she ran, looking for a fight! An opponent who could even dream of challenging her!

“Ooh. So strong.”

Bird watched Fierre from his tower. She had run away from Liscor and the inn, but there was always Bird.

The problem was, there was always someone around. Invrisil? Forget about it! Try lurking from the rooftops and you’d be sharing elbow room with two [Rogues], a [Thief], and an [Assassin]. Liscor? The Watch patrolled dark shadows in the night and poked spears into them!

Sewers stank. Even the Floodplains weren’t private, although only Bird saw Fierre running about, punching the air, testing her newfound power.

…Which was a good thing. Because Fierre saw the telltale heartbeat in the huge boulder ahead of her. As a cunning eye poked under the edge of the rock and it lifted up, she bared her fangs in anticipation, and her hands turned to claws as her eyes shone crimson.

 

—-

 

Ten minutes later, Fierre was limping back to the inn, head hanging low. The Rock Crab had fled, not because of the fear of the predator of the night, but because Bird had shot two seed cores at it, the ‘anti-crab’ arrows he’d made by tying the fragile blue fruit cores to an arrow.

I’m supposed to be strong!

The Vampire cried inwardly. She was! She was as strong as—as—

Garia. Stronger than any Human could dream of normally being—or close to the Human limit of someone many times her weight! Fast, as fast as a Human athlete! And combined, she had strength and speed and a healing factor all beyond humanity, whose most outstanding members could only hope to equal or surpass her in one aspect.

…None of that meant superior to a giant crab with claws as big as she was, who carried around huge boulders weighing over a ton as a shell.

Fierre had tried to punch through the shell. She had learned Vampire strength, if not directed properly, could not break stone that easily. Also, trying to ‘box’ with a Rock Crab was a bad idea.

Goblins and brave adventurers went under the shell with weapons and tore the Rock Crab apart, or hit it from afar through gaps. Fierre had, with all the intelligence of a new-born Vampire, punched its shell and tried to tear a claw off until it nearly severed her leg.

She did not know how to fight. Fierre went to thank Bird. The Antinium called down at her from the tower as Palt trotted out of the inn with a wand—he’d heard Bird’s alarm.

“Hello! You are welcome, Miss Fierre! You are very strong and very weak at fighting! Do not run around when I am sleeping or you will be food for crabs. Good night!”

…Fierre accepted a hot cup of goat’s milk and hid in the corner of her room for the rest of the night.

 

—-

 

The worst part was that she grew another half-inch, again overnight. Her body ingested the blood it was missing, and was making the comeback of a lifetime, turning her into the older Fierre she had wanted to be.

None of that helped her complete combat-ineptness. The next day, Fierre listened as Bird happily ate a ‘bird pie’ for breakfast.

As in…boiled eggs and chicken baked into a pie crust. Imani looked appalled as she served it to him, but Bird had asked for it as a reward for his heroism.

“I thought I could just run about and try out a new Skill. I didn’t know Rock Crabs were so…deadly. Thank you, again, Bird.”

That was Fierre’s lame excuse. She was glad he didn’t mention seeing her toss boulders about.

“Miss Fierre is very bad at fighting. As bad as Mrsha, but worse.”

Ishkr coughed and Palt hesitated.

“…Maybe that’s enough of retelling, Bird.”

“Okay. Thank you for the bird-bird pie. I am very happy. If you would like to be endangered again, Miss Fierre, I will save you so I can have another pie.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Was she worse than Mrsha? No way! Absolutely not! Fierre stared at Mrsha as the Gnoll girl decided to prove her mettle. She stood up on two paws, and began to punch at Ulvama’s face, just close enough to make the Hobgoblin flinch.

Ulvama picked Mrsha up, and tossed her over her shoulder.

Ishkr dove for Mrsha.

Mrsha hit the ground, rolled onto all fours, charged back the way she’d come and performed a flying head-butt into Ulvama’s right side.

The Hobgoblin [Shaman] fell out of her chair, swearing and clutching at her side. As Numbtongue had taught her, Mrsha performed a flying elbow—onto Ulvama’s belly. The Hobgoblin made an urgh sound. Mrsha took one look at her face and decided she maybe had gone too far.

Ulvama grabbed at her, shrieking with fury. Mrsha ran for the [Garden of Sanctuary], dodging between chairs, evading a spell that missed her tail by inches. Ulvama sped up, and blocked the door, eyes flashing with fury.

Mrsha threw dirt in her face. [Dirt Spray]! She slipped between Ulvama’s legs, still waving her wand.

The [Shaman] went after her. She ran into the beaver gang.

Fierre put her head in her hands.

She was worse than Mrsha at fighting.

 

—-

 

Strength without technique was still strength. Fierre got over her despair after she realized that for all her cunning and ‘fighting ability’, the Vampire could still throw her opponents through a wall where Mrsha could barely throw a ball.

However, it still stung to be humbled twice in so many days. Yet, look at Mrsha. Fierre conducted a background check like she had a client who wanted a full analysis on Mrsha. The client being her, in this case.

Plains Gnoll, probably went hunting or at least knew how to skin animals, even shoot a bow or at least what to do in dangerous situations with her tribe. Survived the Goblin Lord’s attack. Trained by Numbtongue, Redfang Hobgoblin [Warrior]. Trained (perhaps against the will of caretakers), by Relc Grasstongue, Senior Guardsman and [Spearmaster]. Mentored by [Druid], Nal…something. Survivor of Raskghar and multiple inn attacks.

Fierre? She looked at her notes on herself.

Took boxing lessons from Ryoka once. Punched magical Golems at the Archmage of Izril’s mansion. Fought with brother. Worked part-time as a [Watchwoman] (no actual combat), and at a [Butcher]’s. Vampire.

There was a discrepancy here that anyone could see. And this was with a child.

Something had to be done. Fierre worked on the issue while she went back to her job. Two more Runners, swapping secrets with an Information Broker who clearly thought she was some incompetent from the rural countryside…

She snapped at the overconfident man trying to look big and intimidating and scare her into giving up her wealth of knowledge.

“No, listen. One of us knows how to summon the Unmarked Coach. One of us has sixteen contact listings with major Gangs. You want that kind of knowledge? Come back with a thousand gold pieces per piece of information and then we’ll talk. Or give me something I want, not lists of data I can pay five silver for.”

She kicked the broker out. Fierre might not know how to throw a punch, but she was a pretty important Opener. Yeah…yeah…she stared glumly at her Iron Golem and spoke to it.

“I’m not that bad at fighting.”

It looked at her blankly. Even her Golem didn’t seem to believe her.

 

—-

 

In the end, Fierre closed up early. She couldn’t sit still, anyways. Her body was vibrating with energy thanks to the blood she’d ingested. A shame she couldn’t use it.

Also, a double-shame that she was Fierre the Opener, not Fierre the Adventurer because she couldn’t ask for a [Weapon Master] to train her or something without them wondering how she had [Greater Strength], [Enhanced Speed], and so on.

However, it occurred to Fierre that there was one person whom she could prevail on, who might not take her abilities amiss. Who had an actual, working knowledge of how to fight with Fierre’s best weapons—her fists and feet.

It was…

 

—-

 

…Not Ryoka. Fierre rapped on the bedroom door and a tousle-haired City Runner opened it.

“Fierre?”

Garia was still at her parent’s home. Alber was not. Fierre had heard from Wailant that the [Boxer] had fled the next morning after a single night there which involved eight boxing bouts against father and daughter.

Still, the Strongheart family was hospitable. Overly-so, perhaps. Fierre had eaten a second-breakfast despite only wanting to meet Garia.

“How can I help you?”

Garia yawned over her breakfast, but she grew excited as Fierre confessed her problems.

“You want to learn how to defend yourself? I can help! Mom, I’m borrowing the barn.”

Viceria Strongheart raised two resigned brows.

“Just don’t break anything. And don’t wake your father! He hurt his back brawling with that poor young man. If you see him, you owe him some food. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me like you dragged him here just to beat him silly—all without paying him.”

The [Martial Artist]-[Runner] looked a bit embarrassed. It was not the first time Garia Strongheart had seconded someone to help her train. Actually—Wailant kept abducting Numbtongue on his lonesome as well.

“I can definitely help you. I’m a [Martial Artist]—and I’ve been talking with some people in Pomle and Master Grimalkin. I know you’re fast and strong from when we sparred. I can definitely help! I’m free all day. Do you know where Alber’s staying? I should apologize.”

Fierre didn’t, but it wasn’t hard to look up and she promised to tell Garia when she swung by tomorrow. They headed to the barn, chatting.

“So you’re running deliveries around Invrisil?”

Garia jogged along, looking energetic in the daylight. Fierre was glad they’d chosen an indoor spot; even with hood over her head and clothing, she felt like she was already burning in the light.

“Yep! The Guildmistress of Celum actually recommended I go. I was super nervous, but she told me I’m at that level now! Me! Can you believe it?”

The Vampire thought about Garia punching Alber into the window yesterday and could believe it. If anything remained of the Garia that Ryoka knew, it was still a bit of an inferiority complex.

However, Garia’s nerves disappeared in her impromptu sparring ring. And it was Garia that Fierre realized she needed to meet.

“It’s not [Enhanced Strength] anymore. It’s [Greater Strength]. Even Dad was impressed. I’m getting all of the other basics, too. [Lesser Dexterity], [Enhanced Endurance]…you have the same, right?”

“Something similar. I got really lucky.”

“Me too. But Pomle’s people keep telling me that I need to change the way I fight. They like me practicing basic moves, but it’s all different at our level. I wish I could go there and learn from them, but at least I have [Messages] now!”

“Different how?”

The [Martial Artist] in training beckoned, an eager grin on her face.

“Come on and I’ll show you.”

This time Fierre took her opponent seriously. In the confines of the barn, the cows, two magical, some horses, and a pig watched as the two circled. Fierre crouched—then leapt to one side, almost on all fours like Mrsha! She blurred left as Garia yelped in surprise.

“You’re even faster—

Fierre shot a punch at Garia’s side. Not as hard as she could. She was t—

Garia grabbed her, and threw her. Fierre once again experienced the joys of flight. The Stronghearts had a big barn. Garia winced as Fierre crashed into one of the beams and dropped, nearly thirty feet distant.

Sorry! You’re okay, right?

“I’m…fine.”

Her ego was bruised more than her body. Fierre charged back in—she punched twice, and Garia blocked both before sending her flying again.

“How are you doing that?”

Frustrated, Fierre threw up her hands. Garia pointed.

“Footwork. Listen, it’s all in what the [Martial Artists] taught me. Once you get to a certain point…”

…Everything changed. Fierre ended up sitting on some hay as Garia explained. All of her preconceived notions of combat were somehow right and totally wrong.

“When you have [Greater Strength], or even [Enhanced Strength], normal swords and stuff might actually hold you back. Sure, if you’re fast enough, keep doing the same thing. But—have you ever seen those massive swords some people use? The kind that look silly?”

“Greatswords? Zweihanders?”

Swords could get absurdly large or heavy. Even battleaxes, which surely weren’t practical, were the tools of high-level [Warriors].

“It’s because no one can normally swing them around quick enough to be practical. But if you can swing a ten-foot battleaxe and clear everything around you—why not, right? According to the experts I talk to, the problem is when normal people think they can copy that. Plus, the reason why weapons get larger is because sometimes you’re fighting giant monsters.”

“Right, right. But I can’t beat anything.

Garia shook her head.

“That’s because you don’t move right.”

“I’m fast!”

Fierre was stung. The [Martial Artist] looked at her.

“But I’m just as fast, or nearly. And you run around. Here. Try to jump me from the side again. I’ll show you how I can keep up.”

Fierre did. She spun left—and saw Garia execute a simple turn. Three steps, and she had pivoted to face Fierre.

“Oh.”

Garia smiled as the Vampire finally got it.

“What the [Martial Artists] say is that you have to fight differently to use all your strength or speed. Like throwing you—that’s actually a bad idea.”

“How come?”

“I might be able to throw you fifty feet. You won’t get more hurt, though, and I’ve wasted time. If I throw you, I should throw you straight down so all my strength transfers. Stuff like that. Also though—even if you’re fast as lightning, footwork matters.”

This was the kind of thing Fierre needed to be taught. Ironically, the Vampire’s natural abilities were on par with a [Martial Artist]’s way of thinking. She wanted to spar more, but Garia had her practicing pivots and how to punch or kick.

“I had to start the same way. You’re welcome to come over as much as you want, though! I’d love to have someone to practice with at my level.”

It was not the great revelation Fierre wanted, but she accepted she had to learn everything about combat. She did feel like she had unleashed some of the nervous energy in her body, too, so after three hours of Garia-lessons, she promised to make this a regular thing and went back to the inn.

She still felt like all the blood she’d drunk had done more for her than just improve her body. Fierre had, by ‘cleaning up’ the blood-type experiments and taking some of the blood donations, drunk probably a gallon of people-blood yesterday.

And she could still go for more. Did she look at Garia’s sweaty neck and feel the urge to taste sweet ichor? Yes, but Fierre was always thirsty. Was she ashamed of that? No.

She had been thirsty her entire life. Now, she could finally drink. Fierre pushed open the door to The Wandering Inn after a twenty-minute delay, and saw the [Urban Tracker] and squad of Invrisil’s Watch waiting for her.

 

—-

 

“Two murders in Invrisil?”

Montressa looked unsettled—Bezale did not.

“There must be countless crimes per day. Why are we under investigation for the death of two common criminals on the street?”

“Just a hunch, [Mages]. Nothing personal. I track via scent. It’s muddled—but there’s a good chance the attacker came through here. I wish I’d gotten to the scene earlier, so I’m following all leads. May I speak to you one at a time? And then you, Miss…”

“Fierre.”

The Vampire girl’s teeth tried not to chatter. The Dog Beastkin gave her a nod.

He was a rare sight outside of Baleros. Beastkin, not Gnoll. Ishkr was eying him, and one could not help but see the more canine features, from the floppier ears to the different shape of the head and body. The [Urban Tracker], Jeck, was shorter than most Gnolls, slimmer, but he was an experienced member of the Watch they called in for murders.

It was odd they were working so hard on this murder, especially for two common criminals. Then again—Fierre had made another huge mistake in thinking no one would notice.

What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? I have to run. I can’t run, they’ll know! I don’t have any lying Skills or artifacts! Oh, dead gods. What do I do?

The Watch patrol accompanying Jeck was politely waiting in the common room while he interviewed Montressa, Bezale, and then Fierre, one at a time. They were the only people who’d been through to Invrisil. He’d done Kevin by the time Fierre arrived.

“Waste of time.”

Bezale grumbled as Montressa exited the room. It was ten minutes for her, and the Minotauress. Fierre was paralyzed.

If she ran, they’d know. She knew the Brothers of Serendipitous Meetings were keeping watch, but they weren’t going to stop a Watch investigation.

She’d have to fight. If Jeck found out—they’d search her and know. She’d lie. Lie! And if she had to fight, she’d count on the Brothers to fight the watch patrol. There were only six. How strong was Jeck, though? He looked high-level.

She couldn’t read his level with her Ring of Appraisal, so he had to be strong. She wasn’t ready!

Fierre didn’t want…

“Miss Fierre? This won’t take but a moment.”

The Dog Beastkin smiled at her as the Vampire girl sat down across from him.

“Don’t be nervous.”

He was reading Fierre, eyes sharp, flicking to her face, her body—Fierre tried to act normal.

“I’m sorry. I just don’t interact with the Watch much.”

“Really? I would have thought an Opener at least knew Reizmelt’s Watch. We make use of your people’s services when we have to.”

She jumped.

“I—an Opener? I don’t know what—”

The [Tracker] sighed.

“Miss Lischelle. May I call you Fierre?”

She nodded dumbly. He knew her name, her identity—Jeck went on.

“If you’re worried about your profession, I’m just here investigating the two murders. Your class is not going to get you arrested.”

He eyed her as Fierre tried to relax and smile. She did a better job of it now; her heart was thundering, but she didn’t perspire. She knew how to lie. She had lied in plenty of encounters with the Watch and Gangs, in high-stakes scenarios.

Stakes, oh, slap me with sunshine. Why did I have to think about stakes?

She’d lied, but never about being a Vampire. And her guilt in this case was clear. He was going to use a truth spell and that would be that. She couldn’t stop that.

Was she going to have to fight? He had to have enchanted weapons. She couldn’t beat Garia.

“Just a few questions, Miss Fierre. We only need to cross you off our list of investigations.”

“Really? About the two dead men?”

“Exactly. If I can get you to swear on a truth stone you’ve never heard of them, no knowledge of what happened, and so on, I’ll be gone. Shall we begin?”

“I—of course. But this is the second time I’ve had to talk to an officer, you know. Don’t your records show that I’ve already been asked? The night it happened, actually.”

Jeck blinked. He rifled through his report.

“Really? By whom?”

“A Guardswoman. On the way back to the inn. I must have been close by the place…I think it was those two. Two men?”

What are you doing? You idiot! Idiot!

What else was she supposed to say? Lie—before he used the truth stone! She watched the Dog Beastkin check through his papers.

“I see. That’s…not recorded. Mixups happen. You’re sure you were investigated about this particular crime, Miss Fierre? Truly?”

He looked up. Fierre met his eyes with all the desperate genuine innocence she did not have. Jeck’s eyes felt like they were boring into her soul and uncovering her guilt. Did he have Skills? [Detect Guilt]? Why hadn’t she prepared?

Fool. This was how it all ended. So…stupid…

Her eyes burned with unshed tears. Fierre kept her mask up. She tried to keep her gaze from wavering.

They locked gazes for ten seconds. Then twenty. Too late, Fierre realized she had made another rookie mistake.

Keeping his gaze without blinking! One of the easiest signs of a liar! Blinking too much or not at all, idiot! Only Nagas and Dullahans do that!

This was it. She—she’d say she was an [Assassin]. He could verify that. She’d take her anti-appraisal ring off, claim…it would be a mess. However, she feared Jeck would ask too much and then she’d have to kill him and run, run far and fast as she could unless all of her kind was exposed…

Would Vaulont kill him for me?

All these things passed in Fierre’s mind at once. Her eyes burned. She couldn’t look away from Jeck. He sniffed the air. Fierre clenched her hands so hard her nails cut her flesh.

Why can’t you just believe me?

Her eyes…hurt…Fierre saw Jeck’s eyes widen. And then—

 

—-

 

The door slammed open. The [Senior Guardswoman] on the patrol looked up, hand shifting to her sword. Jeck had warned her, confidentially, that this might actually lead to an arrest.

“Investigator?”

She used Jeck’s title. The Dog Beastkin stomped out of the room, and the Watch patrol readied themselves for…

“I’m terribly sorry, Miss Fierre. We’ll be on our way. Squad, with me.”

The [Tracker] grumpily marched them towards the door as the [Server], Ishkr, went ahead of them. The [Senior Guardswoman] leaned in.

“Did you find your suspect, sir?”

“No. And I want a word with the Watch Captain or whoever’s in charge of coordinating these things! It was a waste of time.”

“Sir?”

He growled at her, vexed.

“You idiots. Double-check where our other teams go! Someone already asked her.”

Oh. The [Guards] relaxed, looking annoyed or embarrassed or rolling their eyes. Jeck shook his head, and they erased Fierre and the inn from the possible suspects.

There was no chance Jeck had made a mistake. Of course he’d been using a truth spell in his interrogations. It was unthinkable that an expert [Urban Tracker] and [Watchman] like him would ever slip up. If he suspected Fierre or the [Mages] could break a truth spell, he’d have suspicions even with a pass.

Fierre was undoubtedly in the clear.

 

—-

 

Fierre had to use the outhouse, urgently, after the encounter. As she sat on the toilet, she had a few thoughts.

I need to watch out for people who can resist mind-effects like Ryoka.

And—

I have my mother’s eyes.

The power of Vampires had manifested. Not just her body’s superior attributes. Forget that. Her heritage had awakened. Fierre had gained the power that Colfa possessed weakly. Yet her daughter had all the strength denied to the silver-poisoned Vampires of the Lischelle-Drakle clan.

Eyes of Charm.

 

—-

 

Jeck let the patrol go after they returned to Invrisil. He filed a report and a complaint that would no doubt be ignored, and huffed out of the Watch House.

He met someone afterwards, just for a moment. It wasn’t an inconspicuous meeting. You couldn’t hide in a crimson leather overcoat, or with the flashy hat and manner of Delanay d’Artien.

“Well?”

The Emergency Runner was frowning. Jeck shrugged. The [Tracker] sniffed the air, coughing at all the scents.

“No good. Someone interviewed her first. Under truth spell and everything.”

Delanay’s face fell.

“You’re sure?”

“Am I a professional or what?”

Jeck snapped. The young woman had explained it all and he’d tested her with a truth stone. No signs of a liar there. He’d thought so, but it had been just the Opener class. He rubbed at his furred forehead as Delanay sighed.

“Okay, it was just a hunch. Damn. Sorry for wasting your time. I guess she’s off the list.”

“Favor for a favor. Don’t mention it.”

Delanay frowned. So Ylawes was twice-wrong. Well…it had just been a hunch. He thanked Jeck and offered to treat him to lunch. Fierre. Not a Vampire.

He’d been almost convinced he’d find something this time. But he never had. Oh well.

 

—-

 

Eyes of Charm. Not even magical wards could fully block it. You had to have strong willpower, according to the legends.

Of course, no one tried to use it to do more than win an uneven trade with a [Merchant] or convince someone they hadn’t seen you drink red liquid. Colfa was the strongest user of the Vampire power in generations and she couldn’t even overpower Ryoka.

Well, Ryoka might be a special case. Yet Fierre had just overpowered a Level 30+ [Tracker], she was sure of it.

With silver out of my veins, my bloodline powers are here! The powers of a real Vampire!

It was hereditary, bloodline powers. At least, if you were born naturally from a Vampire couple. You inherited mother and father’s powers. If you were ‘sired’ like Colfa had been by Himilt, it was up to chance, hence her mother gaining the Eyes of Charm, rather than the other powers of Vampire clans.

According to the stories, each Vampire was different, like each person was.  The powers they inherited or gained were stronger in some, weaker in others. But living memory didn’t provide specifics, only basic knowledge.

Bamer, for instance, liked high places and had no fear of falling. He was lighter than the others, because the primary strength of his clan had been flight in ages past.

At least Fierre knew her other strength. If everything checked out, she had inherited two powers. She stared at the blank mirror, wishing she could see her eyes and see if the ruby reds had changed when she activated the charming, hypnotic gaze.

Charm from her mother. From her father—the power of the Drakle Clan.

Her father took to the power of transformation. Not becoming other animals, but the ability to become…mist. Fog.

In legends, Vampires could fit through cracks in walls, ambush foes, becoming intangible, nigh-invisible. In the modern era?

Himilt could generate a bit of mist on overcast days when it already appeared. He could appear out of the fog like a ghost at best. Since she had been born naturally, she would have that too.

Fierre concentrated. Her head throbbed, already from the effort of activating her eyes a few times. Yet she felt it. The incredible energy of so much blood, the suppressed adolescence, the freedom of the pain of silver!

She was becoming who she was meant to be. A Vampire! Predator of civilization! Apex species! She was—

Her body strained. Fierre cried out with frustration. She—

Developed a nosebleed.

 

—-

 

Glumly, Fierre sat on her bed, exhausted after eleven more attempts. Nothing worked. She could apparently burst blood vessels in her nose at will, though. If she tried hard enough.

The irony of a Vampire bleeding was not lost on her. Exhausted, she flopped onto her back. She was so tired. She relaxed every muscle in her body, wistfully turned to mist, and sank around her bed.

Fierre appeared under her bed before she seeped through the floorboards. She shot up, rolled out from under the bed, and threw her arms up in the air!

I did it!

Relaxation, that was it! She had to push with her eyes, imposing her will, her desire! But mist? Calmness, letting herself drift apart. No wonder her father was so good at it! Nothing ruffled his feathers!

The Vampire girl danced in her room in The Wandering Inn, laughing, tears in her eyes.

Tears of joy. Her dreams were coming true. Like every child who had ever been born to their species, Fierre had dreamed that she would be the one.

That her cough would go, her sickness end, and her people be delivered from whatever was killing them. That she would live longer than sixty years.

That she would be a Vampire. Ryoka had delivered it to her. Her dreams were coming true. Fierre shout-whispered so no one would hear.

“I’m going to be the greatest Vampire of all time!”

So quietly even a Gnoll would not hear if the door was open. And the door was closed, the windows shuttered and blocked. Fierre was no fool. She danced past her mirror, invisible, and saw her room, no trace of her clothing or body which she had always, secretly, longed to see.

The grass.

The open door…

Fierre slowed.

It was true that she had barred all doors, locked them, and given no entry by which her secret might escape. She had just forgotten that it was this inn, where a single key opened all locks.

Or in this case, a door led to all rooms.

The trouble with friends was that sometimes they liked to pop in, unannounced. They liked to surprise you, which was a terribly inconvenient thing if you were an introvert.

Or a Vampire.

Also, little Gnolls, like the white-furred one staring at Fierre, and who had seen the mist-trick, tended not to have a sense of privacy.

Mind you, Apista could have flown through Mrsha’s mouth and back out of it at this moment. The bee nearly tried with Garia and Alber, who were delivering a Strongheart pie that Viceria had given Garia to share with her fight-friends.

Mrsha, Garia, Alber—Numbtongue was too far away on the hilltop to see or hear—but Ulvama was not. The Hobgoblin [Shaman] had her legs in the pond and was eating a frittata with her bare claws.

All of them had seen. Her transformation, heard her now very inadvisable shout-whisper. Fierre stared back at the stunned group.

They were all paralyzed with the shock of seeing mist turn into Fierre. Hearing…well, they didn’t even know what a Vampire was. They were stunned, nonetheless.

Except for Ulvama. The Goblin [Shaman] gave Fierre one look and snorted.

“Oh. Bloodbiters are back.”

She kept stuffing herself with frittata.

 

—-

 

Terror of discovery was a modern Vampire’s fear. Burned alive, staked through the chest, left to scream and die in the sunlight, hunted with silver—drowned in baths of garlic—

“You thought we’d do that to you?

Garia was horrified. After some thought, Fierre had to admit it was a bit silly.

“Not you, but—people. [Knights] used to hunt us! There were wars!”

“We’re your friends, though. And I didn’t even know what a Vampire was, until I saw you! If I’m fine with Goblins—friends with them, even—do you think I’d try to kill you?”

The [Martial Artist] pointed out. Fierre hesitated.

Like Ryoka, no one was reaching for a stake. If anything, while Garia and Alber were unsettled and surprised by the revelation, Ulvama hadn’t even blinked.

Mrsha on the other hand? She looked up at Fierre with shining eyes.

Would a little child be horrified by a super-strong, fast predator who had fangs and could turn into mist? Or would a little Gnoll, especially one with white fur who knew what it was like to be different, think that was the coolest thing ever? Except for the burning in the sun thing.

Fierre was still hyperventilating. But her secret was held by four now, five if you counted Ryoka. And no one would tell. Not even little Mrsha, who understood the danger, perhaps better than Alber.

He was just looking at her. More intently than the [Fist Fighter]-turned-[Boxer] had ever really done. He had seen Fierre as someone he didn’t need to think twice about.

Now? Garia slapped her knees and Fierre jumped. The [Martial Artist] grinned.

“I knew it. I just knew Ryoka didn’t have normal friends! Er—sorry.”

She looked at Fierre. The Vampire laughed, despite herself. She looked at Alber.

“No one’s going to tell? Please? Not even other people.”

Garia, Alber, and Mrsha all shook their heads. Apista rotated horizontally in the air. They looked serious. Fierre felt something stir in her chest. Alber she hadn’t been certain about, but…

“How much?”

Ulvama rubbed two clawed fingers together as she put aside the tin. Mrsha darted over and pushed her into the lake.

Beavers.

Fierre looked at Alber. He just studied her, and then smiled.

“So that’s why you stayed at Madain’s inn.”

“Yep. Secrets. Everyone has some.”

Ryoka, Fierre—Garia in a way had her parents. Mrsha nodded. She had tons. She began to write some down to share.

“What about you? Are you a…related to a [Lord]? A [Magician]? Something?”

He gave it some thought. Alber sat cross-legged in the grass in the [Garden of Sanctuary] for a moment. At last, he opened his eyes and looked at Fierre.

“…I can fit six boiled eggs into my mouth at once.”

Fierre stared at him, and then began to giggle. Garia laughed and so did Alber, after a moment. Mrsha rolled around on the ground, until Ulvama picked her up and began dunking her head-first in the lake while holding her legs.

The secret spread. Fierre would be more cautious in the future. Probably. But she was learning, about herself, how to fight, how to be a newer Fierre.

Ryoka’s secret she kept. Nor would she make more mistakes. She would not hunt people in the streets, that was for sure, even murderers and criminals. She had a choice of how she wanted to embrace her heritage.

She was Ryoka’s best friend. A Vampire of honor. Fierre built around that. She would see what happened.

She owed her strange friend from Earth so much. And that was what Fierre concentrated on. Ryoka made enemies like other people passed water. Fierre would prey on no people.

But she’d drink Ryoka’s enemies dry. Down to the last drop.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: Vampires! Vampires! Vampires? Look, this is all I’ve got.

Hi, I’m tired. If you thought of a Dad-joke, please leave.

I finished the revision. I’m learning, but mainly, at this moment in time, I’m wiped. There is one more chapter, and I’ll be back on the 30th, so the breaks might come more mid-month from now on.

All this to say that this was an interim-sort of chapter. Not as strenuous as the one I had planned, which was good because everyone needs a break. I’ll see you on Saturday for one more big chapter before I go. Hope you’ve enjoyed the editing process and these chapters! We’ll do another one—but in a few months! Gotta recharge.

See you next time! Relax! Take breaks! Drink blood? Thanks for reading.

 

The Garden of Sanctuary by Enuryn the [Naturalist]!

Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/enuryn

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Enuryn_Nat

 


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55 thoughts on “8.13 F

    • It is correct as it is.
      Environs:
      noun
      the surrounding area or district.
      “the picturesque environs of the lake”

    • It makes sense, she’s listing the three that triggered her desire. Ceria (half elf), Maviola (Lady) and Lyonette for some reason (not knowing she is a princess).

    • 6.01
      Fierre gave Ryoka a toothy grin.
      “Oh yes. Vampires don’t really age. We can if we want to, or even get younger. But we don’t have to grow old.”
      “Then why do you look like you’re sixteen?”
      “Because it’s easier to pretend to get older each year. I was even younger when I first came to Reizmelt. Which is hard, because I’m old inside. For instance, I’m older than you.”

      doesn’t this contradict the growth by blood of this chapter?

    • Her touch was cool and electric. It sent a shock running straight down Ryoka’s spine as Fierre gently touched her arm. Ryoka felt her heart beating way too fast. She tried to pull away and her mind finally put two and two together.

      “You’re—charming me. Stop it.”

      Fierre laughed.

      “Didn’t you say to give it my best shot? Well, I am. Are you…interested?”

      Ryoka was, very. Fierre tilted her head and gave Ryoka a pointed smile. For some reason that was the most appealing thing in the world. Ryoka swayed. Her head dipped. What was she doing? She wasn’t attracted to Fierre! Or girls! Okay, it was a spectrum of liking someone, but—

      “Would you like to be friends? I’m terribly interested. And don’t worry. I won’t bite.”

      That last line nearly pulled Ryoka out of it. But the look Fierre gave her dragged Ryoka right back in. And closer to Fierre’s lips.

      Fierre charming ryoka using vampire gaze in 6.01
      it might be different from the gaze used this chapter, but you should tell us the difference, cause it seemed like she already had her mother charming vampire gaze

        • “That was—domination. Yeah, we can do that. It works best on animals, but mother’s gifted, apparently. She can control people. Even make them forget things. It didn’t work on you, though. Why is that?”

          “Maybe because I had a charm?”

          Ryoka showed Fierre one of her Runner charms. The vampire gave them a dismissive look.

          “Charms don’t work on the vampire gaze. It’s not an enchantment so the charms can’t block them. Try again.”

          “I’m just stubborn, then. I’ve had people try to charm me before. It never works.”

          “Really?”

          Fierre gave Ryoka an appraising look. The Runner sat back.

          “Give me your best shot.”

          The vampire studied Ryoka, and then shook her head lightly.

          “No thanks. I don’t practice my gaze. It’s risky if you get found out, or if you meet someone who can resist. I want to live a healthy, long life, thanks.”

          she had the gaze, she just doesn’t pratice it, it needs to be fixed in 6.01

    • …. professions. Timbor Parthian, formerly of Celum ….

      Parthian => Parithad

      …. professions. Timbor Parithad, formerly of Celum ….

    • Hey aba, this is not a typo but I think Innworlders should not know about Zweihanders. Because you established that Innworlders do not know German, by that logic they could not name a sword type in German.

      • blood transfusions in Earth -> on Earth

        Idk, I had already heard of Zweihanders, they’re not that uncommon in video games. I wouldn’t really consider this unusual.

  1. This was a really great chapter, I enjoyed it a LOT, and I really like Fierre as a character!! I love how flighty and distractible she is, it’s a neat contrast to Ryoka’s brooding concentration, despite being a similar character in many other ways. Her confused bisexuality is also a mood, especially when it comes to athletic people — although I’m surprised she never ended up being drawn by Numbtongue or Ulvama, since the sex appeal of both was emphasized. Really glad she got a chapter despite not winning the poll!

    Of course, the problem with Fierre being one of my favorite characters is that I’ve got a bit (a lot) of a fear of blood (especially in medical contexts like transfusions and needles and blood draws)! oops.

    But there was enough other stuff to pull me through. Looking forward to more chapters with her in them! Bi rights!

    • It is a vampire thing as a lot of stories like World of Darkness have vampires attracted by body type or blood rather than gender.

      The reason she didn’t go to goblins is probably due to her lack of involvement with them or seeing them as viable sources. Since goblins are not a race you think of when going for easy to obtain blood.

      • Interesting thought, weak goblin tribes would be a great source of blood and levels for an aspiring Vampire that doesn’t want to kill “people”. At least in the vast majority of innworld where Goblins are regarded as monsters; you’d just need to realize they can level and their blood gives sustenance.

        On the flip side, a goblin tribe might also be a great place to live as a vampire since they probably wouldn’t be prejudiced, they might give some blood freely for protection and a human-looking friend that might be able to bargain for them (both to prevent attacks and simple trading with human settlements).

  2. I must say I was afraid Fierre would go down a dark road, but I really like her in this chapter, and would LOVE to read more about her.
    Hooray for honourable Vampire!
    Beware, Ryoka’s enemies!

  3. Got to love slightly paranoid vampires especially with how that paranoia tends to be justified.

    Also a bit hilarious at how Fierre learned the difference between high stats and actual fighting experience… Especially when Levels can clear that vampire power gap real easily.

    Level 7 vampire lossing to level 28 people?

    Yes the level difference is there, but if we pretend her stats make up the difference… It still kind of hurts when the child of the inn is better at self defense then you.

    Though I have to admit she did take the knowledge or hint of earth a lot better then some people did especially without falling into a mental breakdown. After finding out about the sheer difference and scope of what the secret holds.

    Also good job on not selling the secret. Because you would need to verify and the Mage secret keepers would try and crush her if they found out about her selling the secret… Without even getting into the secret of her being a vampire.

    Still curious to see how she tries to learn and adapt to her new status.

    Especially with knowledge of Blood Banks… The new heavy investment from cloaked figures who take charcoal snacks. Because this solves a lot of their problems. Even if learning blood types is going to become a major pain.

      • Half? I’d say 90%, if you aren’t in the guard or some type of combat class Mrsha could probably… well not defeat you but definitely survive longer in a monster attack

  4. I don’t know why they were so dismissive of the bloodbank idea. Just label blood first by species, then by type. In most places (e.g the Walled Cities) it wouldn’t really matter because most people would belong to only a handful of species.

    • Mostly ease of potions is the first reason. Why go with a more complicated method when two drops of a health potion fixes blood loss?

      84 blood types for just Licsor and trying to know which can be safely transferred without accidentally also transferring disease is a lot more complicated then two drops of a healing potion… Which people mostly use to solve all their problems due to ease of access.

      Even then blood banks might not have been thought of for their MEDICAL help due to blood mages being a thing… And certain races being a little bit more paranoid about giving up their blood.

      As elf bones make great pieces to build magical equipment out of.

      So blood banks ruined by crazy magic if vampires outbreaks didn’t make everyone outlaw the idea. Right now vampires are thought to be dead and most species frown upon blood mages due to their less than moral habits.

      Also you have an actual well respected [doctor] telling people why blood transfers are a good thing since she had to use it on the battlefield.

      Also vampires hiding in background to supply some extra funding probably helps.

      • Very good explanation, but one detail you got wrong. Only high-grade potion will heal blood loss. It was mentioned at some point.

        • If you need high grade potions then you are already in a lot of danger. Because Inn World doesn’t exactly have a lot of hospitals… Just [Healers] for small things and Health Potions for bigger things.

          Still was trying to remember how the [doctor] did the drip feed health potion to replace a blood bag needed for surgery.

          Not the basic “Oh my goodness! I need my blood back in my body!”

          Since most of those cases tend to have the person dying from something horrible instead of the anti-potion arrows.

  5. Yes Big I. And blood type even with a honking handful of factors is still just math to get the answer.
    Thank you Pirateaba for making me lol with this chapter more than my husband lolled with his supposedly funny book which was Not yours. I win! ( you win!)

    • Hahah yes in real world it’s just binary variables: A, B, +/-; O is just lacking both A and B.

      But it seems that with the addition of some types, it’s not just if you lack one bit, your blood will be accepted by those without.

  6. I’m sorry, but it sounds easier to enchant a metal tube to be flexible.
    I don’t mean it to sound nit-picky, and can totally see Pelt getting carried away for the challenge, especially w/o Hedault around to propose alternatives.

    But as a final product it would be simpler, more reliable, and easier to produce, especially if fabric can be enchanted to mimic metals. It would also be better for peristaltic pumps, since it could not just bend direction but be squeezed without risking making leaks.

  7. Can we get a flashback to ulvamas childhood or whenever she went to goblin shaman school because she seems to know some pretty interesting stuff for what initially seemed like a minor character in the mountain city arc. She barely even blinked when she saw fierre was a vampire, which is admittedly a very goblin reaction, and seems to be fairly well versed in goblin soul magic given her reaction to numbtongues class. I might have to start voting for the goblins in the poll again. Assuming teriarch ever loses one

    • She’s a Shaman. Goblin Shamans and Goblin Leaders have access to the memories of past Goblins. The higher the level the further back you can go. So she most likely just has tapped into a memory from the past when vampires were a thing.

  8. I’m not shure if Ulvama is able to do it, but an easy explanation would be that she had seen vampires in the ‘collective’ memories of the Goblins (i.e. goblin chieftains from hundrets of years ago). Even if Ulvama herself can’t access these memories, her chieftain (Tremborag?) could have told her all kinds of stuff and the mountain city tribe was fairly large, so he should have been able to see pretty old memories (that’s how it works, isn’t it?).
    But still, ‘yay’ to more goblin chapters! What is Rags up to anyways?

    • Goblin [Shamans] might have collective/ancestral memory skills like [Chieftains]’, though I can’t remember where it was mentioned (Rags’ original tribe had no [Shamans]).

  9. So we find out in this chapter that vampires have a healthy body attraction and charcoal snacks are good for you.

  10. So… Having brought up the invention of leeching… How do I phrase this? They’re apparently long-lived, hardy, low-maintenace pets. The bigger ones may develop individual personalities and habits, something on the scale of curious frogs having favorite resting spots and opinions on being petted.

    I personally don’t want any. I’m scared of masses of the small ones. The big ones look cool and don’t move very fast so I’d be down to pet one. Definitely don’t want to see them eating from live mammals, nor do I have any interest in warming up jelled blood from specialty food stores.

    https://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/we-regret-to-inform-you-that-people-are-feeding-pet-leeches-their-own-blood/

  11. So blood stored in a bloodbank definitely loses all “levels” thus a vampire can’t steal them?

    Otherwise, bloodbanks would be a terrible idea in a world with literal witch/ritual magic that operates on the sympathetic principle: e.g. you only need something connected with the target (blood, hair, body parts, prized possessions…) to cast a curse/hex remotely. Vampires remotely stealing levels/lifeforce through bloodbanks would be too overpowered, although, people would certainly spot it very quickly when those who donate start losing levels or die suddenly. So it’s not a long term stable source, if that’s how it worked.

    Charles Stross’ Laundry series has exactly those kinds of vampires and blood magic connection: drinking blood, even remotely, even in small quantities and stored away from the donor still kills the donor because it establishes a “sympathetic magic” link. The vampires get around it by sourcing the unwilling “donations” not from bloodbanks for transfusions but from laboratories doing blood tests on already terminally ill patients because those patients suddenly dropping dead is not so noticeable…

  12. Based on how things are going, it’s going to be at least 8.30 before Erin comes back to life. Yikes. Is that an 8.14 N chapter? As in Niers? Dead gods. So much is going to happen before Erin comes back. We’re probably getting at least 1 more chapter with Erin in the land of the dead. There’s no way the gods would just let her start amassing power and knowledge in efforts to kill them/keep them dead, or better yet, completely erase their existence. And she has to figure out a gameplan for when she returns. The god on Rhir might be the “child” that Emerrhain tells Aaron about. Erin should learn more about that one before going back and at least learn the names of the other 3 gods. All the Earthers also need to know about the gods soonish. If they’re going to stop them, the Earthers throughout Innworld cannot keep praying to the gods.
    How many more arcs do we have to do? Fetohep’s not done (pretty sure). Trey still has to finish his plans for Amerys. Teriarch has to fix Cognita, and the ramifications of that will probably have a chapter on its own. The Terras faction needs to develop and gain strength. Mrsha needs to face the assassins coming for her, probably with Fierre and Ulvama killing them all. There’s the Plains Eye problem that needs to be addressed. And Az’kerash/Belivierr is likely to do something. We’re definitely getting a chapter on the Village of Death, which shouldn’t be nearly so deadly with the Putrid One consumed. Fetohep might have the strategist kids go to Liscor with one of Serept’s swords if the 18 rulers of Khelt can get in contact with him. Rafaema and Cire still have their arc. I really wouldn’t want to be Pirate… having to tie this all together. Oh and then there’s Baleros. Geneva and the Selphids. Titan’s students. Weakened Forgotten Wings Company, with enemies that know “The Titan is out of the way” or whatever Peclir Im said. Plus Rabbiteater’s on Terandria. At least nothing will happen with Rhir??? Maybe? Erin’s missing so much. How will she ever get caught up? If Erin has to rely on everyone else to revive her, I think she’s going to have missed way too much to make sense of Innworld… not that she ever could before.
    Time to talk about this chapter. While I do like Fierre, I would have been disgusted at her, if she became a monster. But she isn’t. “She would not hunt people in the streets, that was for sure, even murderers and criminals. She had a choice of how she wanted to embrace her heritage. She was Ryoka’s best friend. A Vampire of honor. Fierre built around that.” Fierre could have become some monster that saw other people as resources, like how the Earthers are viewed. With the way she was killing, I was fearing that’s what she would do. Maybe it was the way she was embraced by her friends. Or the blood bank being able to feed her instead. Or her talks with Vaulont. Either way, she realized she didn’t want to be a monster.
    Really love the bit about how Mrsha saw and related to Fierre. Hope that gets brought up in later chapters. If she stopped being an Opener, the Half-seekers might take her. It fits with their goals.

    • I’m wondering if Fierre would survive the Bloodfields. There are already slimes there full of blood and a majority of the hazards use a type of poison so I wonder if it is a viable feeding option for her and a possible way to hunt enemies that deserve it.

      • I mean, that would be interesting to see. Heck, maybe some Earthers were thrown in the Bloodfields as well. I wouldn’t put it past that summoning spell.
        But I just can’t see Fierre needing to go into the Bloodfields anytime soon. And I doubt she would enter without an actual reason… training wouldn’t be good enough, too.

        • You have a good point. I think that Fierre is technically better suited as a reluctant [Assassin] for now because of her abilities that lend well to stealth (Charm and Mist and [Lesser Stealth]). I have a feeling that she won’t really go after someone unless they are seen as evil. I also think that that run-in with the law scared her off from doing just that for now as well. It feel that Pirate is setting up something that will externally push Fierre to feed. I wonder what it could be.

          • It might be her seeing how at risk the Earthers are. Mrsha too. A driving force that will give her an opportunity to feed would be if someone went after those two. Like Wistam for her to become a mage. Or the assassins from plains eye. Or even someone from Roshal. Damn slavers.

            • I believe that it is more likely that she’ll steal levels from Wistram and Plains Eye assassins since they seem lower level than Roshal forces (story wise). I have a feeling that if she feeds on the forces from Roshal she would get [Slave] levels so it would be interesting to see how they taste to her (highly athletic people seem tastier).

  13. You know, Garia must be some 1 in a trillion prodigy in martial arts. Training less than half a year, and shes already a powerhouse. To be able to get to that level, by randomly punching the air, when people here train 7 years with in clubs with instructors and have sparring partners, and they still don’t even have proper basics, Garia is not human, right? But seriously the whole martial arts aspect of this novel is fishy… hands don’t beat weapons, not for humans at least, unless you are Yvlon. And Garia shouldn’t even be able to teach beginners at her level, a bit of a huge plot armor filled power boost for Garia to make her relevant don’t you think? Unattractive, unsuccessful, slow, lets just make her lose weight yet make her twice as strong, twice as beautiful, give her the skill of a deserved black belt on top of that. Lets also gift her 20 or so levels in a few months despite not encountering death situations or having the infinite level speed boost of earthers.

    If she was forced to survive solo for a few months in a creler infested mountain, sure no problem. Just randomly punching the air and bandits to get godly benefits? Nah sorry.

    • I wouldn’t say Garia is a powerhouse. Sure she can beat up a Vampire with no combat training or combat Skills but it isn’t like she just 1 vs 1’d a Gold-rank warrior in a spar. Much less beat them in a life or death fight where weapons and magical gear would be used.

      We have heard Teriarch say it before, Skills make a mockery of hard work. Also remember that Skill gain is based on desire/want, personal perspective, and the available Skills in the Skill Pool. [Martial Artist] is a rather rare Class in the Innworld meaning the better fitting Skills are going to be more available compared to other Classes and [Farmer] is the trope gateway to great [Heroes].

      As for why Garia has been banking in levels, she has been receiving expert training advice from Pomle [Martial Artists] and Grimalkin. That and she has been actively improve herself and learning to not rely on Skills. With that kind of drive you are going to bank levels in the Innworld until around level 30.

      • Skill gain may be based on desire, but I don’t think you can gain Greater Strength or such with just that kind of training.
        Remember, even Enhanced Strength is said to be rare.

        Dunno about what you think, but Garia beating Alber so easily was kinda farfetched.

  14. A big continuity error (fierre could use the charm gaze before, demonstrated to ryoka and gave the whole explanation)

    a small one (fierre telling ryoka about how she ages could just be lying for no purpose since unlike the charm gaze we don’t see on screen proof, so the chapter only contradicts her claims)

    kind of inevitable since the supporting characters aren’t really plotted in advance and the author doesn’t have a giant spreadsheet to consult when deciding to give a character focus

    (Salys had a similar issue after inheriting zel’s armor and getting more focus where her background changes from what the story previously stated)

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