I awoke to the sound of metal clattering against the floor, and a feminine voice whisper-shouting “SHIT!” Opening my eyes to far too much sunlight for this early in the morning, I saw a ceiling I didn’t know in a bedroom I didn’t recognize. Where the hell was I?
Oh, that’s right. I died.
At the edge of the room, a woman half-clad in armor was tiptoeing between the closet and a collapsed pile of… well, the other half of her suit of armor. Rikaine Lin Rain, I presume. She caught me staring at her mid-stride. “Hey there,” she said. “Sorry ‘bout the noise.”
Honestly, this was already so much better than the last few times I woke up.
Reaching down, she poofed the toppled breastplate and helmet into her inventory. “Don’t worry, I’ll be out of your hair in a second.” She turned around and poofed the items right into the closet, where they manifested on top of and around a wooden stand built for the purpose. Heh, inventory-based item hauling. That was a neat trick.
She flashed me a quick smile and waved goodbye, leaving the room and shutting the door behind her, presumably to give me more time to sleep if I wanted to. I didn’t know what time it was or how long I had slept, but there was no way I was going back to sleep now. I was starting to remember all the insane details of my day yesterday, and my mind was racing thinking of all the possibilities that today might have in store.
Not to mention, it was too damn bright to fall back asleep. Jeez, was Era a million miles closer to its star than Earth was to the Sun?
So, with no real reason to stay in bed other than the fact that I probably looked like crap (an excuse that’s never stopped me before), I got up and followed Rikaine out into her living room.
I found her leaning over a silver metal chest two rooms over, its lid open as she reached inside. Wisps of steamy air were escaping from the edges of the open lid, dissipating out into the suspiciously kitchen-like room we were in. Just like Elder Hammond’s staff right after he slammed Andreon with the heat blast, the sides of the chest were covered in glowing red runes that formed an esoteric circuit diagram around the entire chest. Could it be?
Rikaine pulled out a canteen and shut the lid with a heavy thud.
Yes! Refrigerators were still a thing! Thank you, magic! Except, wait, that meant refrigerators would be a thing for everybody on Era except me. Fuck!
The circuit of runes dimmed to a passive background glow as Rikaine knocked back her canteen with a hearty chug. She breathed a sigh of quenched satisfaction when she was done. “So, are you gonna stand there all day like a skinpuppet or are you gonna introduce yourself? Actually, wait, do you even know Beleric? Can you understand me?”
I hadn’t realized Rikaine knew I was there, so the sudden attention caught me off guard. “Oh, uh, hi. I’m Ash.” Note to self: never get into a situation where I had to find out what a skinpuppet is. A decade of fantasy tropes under my belt was more than enough to make me afraid of something that fantasy people thought they should call a skinpuppet. “Yeah, I can speak Beleric. Although, I know it from my world as English.”
“Huh. Weird.” She shrugged. “Well, Rikaine’s the name. Rikaine Lin Raine. Nice to meet ya.” She walked past me into the living room, where she promptly dropped herself onto the couch and kicked her legs up onto the ottoman. She patted the cushion on the other end of the couch. “Come on, have a seat.”
I didn’t really have anything else to do at the moment, so I had the seat.
Rikaine took another long swig from her canteen. From her expression, I got the distinct impression that the beverage was something harder than mere water—a lot harder.
“Please tell me that’s beer in there,” I said, “and that you have enough to share.”
She disengaged her mouth from the canteen. “No way, girl! I’m just coming down from my night shift. You’re just starting your day.”
“Fair enough. I could probably use it later, though.” Ha—at least I was right that it was something alcoholic. Although, speaking of alcoholic, this probably wasn’t the best first impression I could be making. Didn’t I say I was going to work on that? (I swear, I’m not an alcoholic. I’ve just had a hell of a yesterday so far.)
Rikaine nodded emphatically. “I hear ya. Maybe tonight then.”
Oh boy, was I feeling awkward—and I knew exactly why. I could tell, this chick was one of the guys. From her short-cut brown hair to the booze she so casually downed first thing in the morning, Rikaine gave off the vibe of a total bro. Not to mention the bulging upper body muscles—her arms were beefy as heck. Either Rikaine was a total gym rat, or this was what everyone had to look forward to in the higher Ranks.
All that, wrapped up in a package just an inch or two taller than me. (I was 5’ 5”, for the record.) Rikaine looked like she’d be right at home fraternizing with the soldiers of the Gostrey Aegis, whereas I’d be right at home in a dark corner on my laptop, researching a new API in one tab and listening to some heavy metal in another, only realizing once the clock struck midnight that I never turned on the ceiling light when evening crept up on me. And why would I have? My computer screen provided perfectly good illumination on its own.
… Anyway, my point is, Rikaine and I were from two totally different worlds, and I had never been able to get along with her type before. But new life, new me, right? Maybe things would be different now. Maybe I could find a way to bridge that gap and make nice with someone I had nothing in common with. Maybe—
Someone knocked on the door and Rikaine jumped up to answer. Thank god, saved again. I could offer Rikaine my olive branch of friendship later. It was probably for the best, since I hadn’t been able to come up with a better opening than So I heard all your friends in the Aegis were dead. That’s rough, buddy.
“Hey, Boh,” Rikaine said. “Your girl’s in here. Wanna come in?” She thumb-pointed in my direction.
A familiar voice answered her. “She’s not my… Yeah, thanks.”
I stood up from the couch. “Actually, if that’s Bohriam, could we take this party outside?” Rikaine looked at me curiously. “I uh… Okay, no offense, I really appreciate you letting me drop in unannounced and stay the night, but you’re still a stranger and I don’t trust you yet. Bohriam’s also a stranger, but he’s the one person on this planet that I trust—him and maybe Elder Hammond—and I don’t do too well around too many strangers at once. I’m kinda feeling really out of my comfort zone in here, honestly.”
I don’t like talking about my anxieties, but if I was marking Rikaine for potential future friendship, I couldn’t exactly ditch her at the first opportunity without being truthful about why. Or at least, mostly truthful.
Rikaine looked back out the door for some kind of response from Bohriam.
“Well, I was here for both of you,” Boh said, “but I have a lot to talk to Ash about. I’ll see you later, Rikaine?”
Rikaine shrugged. “Suit yourselves. I need some shut-eye anyway.”
Oh my way out, Rikaine addressed me with a smile. “If you’re free tonight, swing by and we can have that drink.”
I smiled back and nodded. “Thanks again for letting me borrow your bed last night.”
“No problem—you’re more than welcome to borrow it anytime you want,” she said with a wink, and my mental assessment of Rikaine’s personality instantly shifted from 80% buff to 80% butch.
Outside, Bohriam was looking the best I’d ever seen him. (He was wearing clean clothes instead of blood-stained armor. It wasn’t a high bar to pass.) “Hey there, Stone Cold Bohriam. How’s it hanging?” He looked at me like he couldn’t tell if I was a master wordsmith or if I needed mental help. “Uhh, nevermind. It’s an Earth saying. What I mean is, how are you?”
“Better than yesterday, thanks. Sorry I kinda zoned out after we made it to Gostrey. I had a lot on my mind.”
“No problemo, Bohremo. I know you were probably distracted thinking about all your Aegis friends being dead now.”
“… Yeah. I was.”
… Fucking hell. What was wrong with me?
“Anyway,” Bohriam continued, “I was doing some thinking last night, and I think you’re still in danger.”
“Listen, so—” He pressed what I could only assume was an invisible (to me) button on his arm, and waved his hand in the air in front of us. A big translucent holographic screen popped up in the air where he waved, purple with green borders. Holy shit, the Seven Sevens System came with a HUD!
Quests > Personal Quests
Save the life of someone from another world.
“So, my Personal Quest was to save the life of—stupid question, you can read this, right?”
“One hundred percent,” I said.
“Okay, cool. Everyone’s HUD auto-translates into their own language, whether it’s Beleric or Cynthural or Lojban or whatever else people speak in the furthest reaches of Era. But it’s good to know that written Beleric is similar enough to written English for you. Anyway—my Quest clearly states that I need to save the life of someone from another world, right?”
“Right,” I said, trying to think of ways I could munchkin the HUD’s auto-translation function. Teach Bohriam an ancient language and use the HUD to recover its lost alphabet? (Too bad I didn’t know any ancient languages with lost alphabets.)
“So, the Quest should have been completed yesterday when I saved you from Grennick and the Gray Guard… Unless you weren’t actually in any danger of dying then.”
“What? But Grennick was two seconds from cleaving into my neck with a sword that looked pretty darn lethal. Not to mention Speedy throwing literal fireballs at me.”
“I know,” Bohriam said, “it sure looked like you were about to die—which is why I blew my cover and stepped in. But the System doesn’t lie—if you were actually in any danger of dying on that battlefield, the Quest would have marked itself complete as soon as I got you out of there. I wouldn’t still be Stone-rank. And so—I think you’re still in danger.”
Well, shit. Despite the seriousness of the situation, I couldn’t help but snicker. “Heh. Still taking your Personal Quest as prophecy, I see.”
“Only when it makes sense to,” Bohriam countered. “Other people have quests whose clear conditions could pop up a million different ways, a million different days. But mine… It’s not every day that you meet an alien who would die without your intervention.”
“Hard to argue with that kind of logic.” I got the feeling that Bohriam was the kind of guy who enjoyed lateral thinking puzzles and using logical deductions to his advantage. No wonder we got along so well.
But also, damn, I was literally an alien now! Why hadn’t I demanded that someone take me to their leader yet?
Probably because Bohriam took me willingly as soon as he had the chance. Yeah, Boh was definitely all kinds of pragmatic.
“So, what should we do about that?” I asked.
“Well besides the stupid answer of, I become your 24/7 personal bodyguard until someone wonders why you need a personal bodyguard and attacks you to find out… I’m not sure. But one thing I do know is, you probably need to get up to speed on how the Seven Sevens System works as fast as possible. And I think I have an idea for how you can do exactly that.”