Worth the Candle, Ch 14: ELEVATOR facts

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The thing to know about modern elevators is that they have a lot of safety features.

  1. There’s not a single cable that holds up the car, there are about eight, each of which is capable of holding up a fully loaded car all by itself.
  2. The elevator car and counterweight it’s attached to are usually on tracks in order to provide friction in the event of a catastrophic failure.
  3. The elevator car has safeties on it that activate if there’s what the manual would euphemistically call an “overspeed event”, or in other words, when the car is moving way faster than it should.
  4. The pulley at the top of the elevator shaft is the thing that actually makes the elevator car and counterweight go up and down, and it has a governor on it that locks the pulley into place if there’s too much centrifugal force from an overspeed event.
  5. At the bottom of the elevator shaft there’s usually some cushioning, not enough to always prevent injuries or deaths, but enough to add some margin of error.

That was about what I knew. Here’s where I would normally make some crack about how KNO 2 was bullshit, but my KNO was up to 4 at this point and I was honestly not sure that I would have been able to remember all that if I’d been asked a few days before. That was a sobering thought; it would be the first real indication that the game layer was actually monkeying around with my mind.

Anyway, here’s what I knew about the safety features of elevators in Aerb:

  1. ???

(That’s overstating it a bit, since I was a big believer in convergence of designs, and therefore this world probably followed those rules as well, whether it had been created from an imprint of my mind or whether my dream of Earth was inspired by buried memories of Aerb. Even if there was no Elisha Otis to invent the elevator in Aerb, the principles of design would be largely the same, modulo anything that magic could do. Elevators had braking systems to prevent people from plummeting to their deaths, not because of anything specific to Earth. So far Aerb appeared to have what I would call physics plus, but what I had seen so far indicated that they didn’t have free energy, which meant that they needed to conserve energy, which meant that elevators would have counterweights to reduce the energy needed move cars around.)

Unfortunately, no one else knew all that much either, which meant that I was putting forward a plan that was at least partly based on ignorance. It was possible that there was a governor at the top of the elevator shaft that would trip through centrifugal force when the counterweight started moving down, and it was also possible that lack of electricity would simply lock both the elevator car and counterweight in place.

“Risk and reward,” murmured Quills after we’d discussed the idea some. “If it works, we skip past seventeen floors of hard fighting. If it fails … we’ll have spent resources that we can’t afford to spend. The undead will come at us and we’ll have to kill them, rather than just running away. Still, on balance … Leonold, the Prince’s Invulnerability will protect us?”

“Yes,” nodded Leonold. “It’s six seconds, no more, no less. If our ascent takes longer, I’ll have to activate it twice. And if our ascent fails, then we’ll be out a use.”

“Then I’m in favor,” said Quills. “We’ll move to the elevators, make a stand there, then hopefully get to the top and disembark from there. Fenn, we’re going to use your final artillery shot. Objections?”

Carter shifted uncomfortably, but neither he nor anyone else said anything. Personally, I was starting to more keenly feel the effects of the enclosed space; my headache had gotten sharper and I was sweating. I was fairly sure that I would have felt warm, had I not been keeping a fire going with my blood for the past hour.

And yet even when there was agreement about what we were doing, we stayed within the bubble of dilated time. (Do I need to point out that I was eager to learn how to do that? I mean I hope that you at the very least think of me as not being brain damaged, so yes, I wanted to learn how to put the game on pause.) One of the “bits and bobs” included in Leonold’s arsenal was 200 feet of rope, which he pulled from a tattoo on his wrist, and which he thereafter treated as though it were entirely real. This he did some crude knotwork with, because it was better to have that prepared while we were safe than while we had the zombies after us.

And then, after all the waiting, most of which I spent practicing moving my throat tattoo, we were suddenly ready to go. As everyone got into position within our small space, I could feel my heart beating quickly in my chest and my breathing grow faster. That might also have been from the carbon dioxide poisoning.

When the time dilation fell away there was a flash of light that left me blinking and a blast of air moving away from us. There was barely time to take in the scene we’d left behind before we were moving again, racing toward the elevators.

When we got there, Quills delivered three quick cuts to the elevator door, then Carter delivered a solid kick to the triangle of free-standing metal, which crashed inward and fell down four stories, because the elevator wasn’t waiting. I stuck my head in and flared up light from my hand, then breathed a sigh of relief. “Fourth one down!” I shouted, even though they were right next to me. That was failure point one behind us; there was an elevator on the right level for us to use.

We reached it just as three of the slick corpse menageries came crashing down the hallway. Quills called for artillery, and Fenn obliged, with her arrow again splitting in two every ten feet. We were in relatively close quarters though, which meant that the assault wasn’t quite as powerful by the time it reached its target, and only one of the things became a pincushion, falling apart and letting the other two through. Quills cut through the elevator door, then turned to meet them.

My own role was to help Leonold with the preparations, in part because I’d given them the impression that I wouldn’t be completely clueless about what we’d find up there, and in part because I could produce light to work with. I followed him into the elevator and then hoisted myself up through the grate that he’d opened.

Look, I’d never been on the top of an elevator car back on Earth, and had never seen the top of one except in movies, so when I say that what we found looked exactly Earth-like, you have to take it with a grain of salt. I’m sure that there were differences, but I’m not sure what they were. The car ran on tracks, there were more tracks for the counterweights, and eight cables went straight up beyond what we could see. Everything still seemed to be in fine shape, minus a small bit of dust that might have been there when this castle was active. That was pretty reasonable, given that this place had essentially been mothballed for an unknown number of years. At any rate, that was failure point two waving as it passed us by; the elevator looked how it needed to look for this plan to work.

“If you fuck this up, I’ll kill you,” Leonold whispered to me.

I nodded and tried to ignore my shaky hands as I helped him to prepare. The cables were bolted into the frame of the car; we needed a way for us to be carried up with the ends as soon as someone, presumably Quills, cut them loose. To that end, we began weaving the rope through the cables, leaving the prepared lasso loops dangling out so that we could each slip into them. I was working one-handed, since my other hand held the flame, basically just being an extra hand for Leonold.

“Is this going to hold?” I asked him, even though that question had been gone over a few times while we were planning. The tattoo mage didn’t answer me. The rope he had wasn’t very strong, not even as strong as climbing rope, but it didn’t need to be that strong, especially if we were setting things up so that there was the strain was distributed across many ropes.

“Good?” Quills shouted to us as we were finishing up.

“Close,” Leonold called down. “No problems.”

“Candelabra,” Quills shouted.

Leonold didn’t hesitate; he dropped down into the elevator and then cast a spell that I could only halfway see while I waited for him to come back. Only I wasn’t just waiting, I was working as hard as I could to move the Fool’s Choker around my neck. On Earth, the worst thing about having a full neck tattoo was that it was visible to everyone. On Aerb, that was the second worst thing, but it was still pretty bad, because it meant that even if I moved it, it would be immediately visible that I’d done so – unless, of course, I was in a dark elevator shaft and controlled the only source of light. It was slow work to shift its position, but I had finally felt that cold band of magical ink slip to the side, right as Leonold came back up. It was no longer a choker, more a ring sitting on my shoulder, and while I was sure it would still hurt, that was better than having a slit throat.

Leonold returned to his work, moving quickly. He hadn’t been looking at me at all before, and to my relief that continued as he did the last of the knotwork. I nevertheless positioned the light so that I would be as obscured as possible, and let it dim slightly. When he was finished, he slipped one of the loops over his head and arms until it was nestled in his armpits, then walked a half step away to draw the lasso tight. He leaned slightly, testing it.

“Good to go,” he shouted. To me, sotto voce, he said, “I shouldn’t have said I would kill you, that was just nerves talking. This mission … you don’t know the half of it. And now it’s down to this insanity.”

“S’okay,” I replied. I had a lump in my throat.

The others made their way up, first Fenn, then Tova, then Quills, and finally a battered and unsteady Carter lifting himself up while kicking at something below him.

“Hurry,” he said, just as the car was rocked by an impact. Leonold helped slip a loop around him and then supported his weight. From the grate, a single arm snaked up, its fingernails bent backward and falling out.

Quills made the first cut by the weak light of Aarde’s Touch, slicing through the roof of the elevator. So far as I could tell, either blade-bound had absurdly sharp and durable blades, or they found conventional physics to be terribly unexciting. When a second cut followed the first, metal began to creak, and when his third cut came, the elevator lurched down. The section of metal we were standing on was peeled back by the tension of the cables pulling at their mounts now. Quills drew a sharp breath and aimed his blade.

“Invulnerability on three,” said Quills. “One, two,” spears of golden light shot forward from a large tattoo that was now centered on Leonold’s chest, one of them going to each of us and connecting us to him, then fading out. “Three,” said Quills, bringing his sword down.

I had thought that we would rise faster. In my head, we’d go soaring upward, like a coin launched from a slingshot, but while it wasn’t at all sedate, it was slow enough that I had time to count the floors. I had let the fire I was providing go out as soon as we started moving and was now holding onto two ropes, both Tova’s and my own, trying not to feel ill from the swaying feeling.

“Belay cast!” called Quills.

And then just like that, the six seconds were up, and we were still rising in darkness, only my nausea at the movement was compounded by the painful squeezing feeling around my chest. The ropes had drawn us all together, so that flesh was pressed to flesh, and I could feel Fenn’s hot breath as we continued up. I was still trying to count floors by the faint light that seeped in from elevator closed doors. We had, at any rate, sailed clear of failure three, because no pulley governor was engaging, and we were still on the rise.


“There’s this thing called the unspoken plan guarantee,” said Tiff. She had turned her chair to the side and was propping her feet up on Reimer’s chair, which he disliked but allowed. “Basically what it means is that if you hear people talk about a plan in a movie or novel or TV show, then that plan will fail, or if not fail, then run into some unforeseen complication.”

“I’m not sure I get it,” said Arthur. “We’re not bound by traditional narrative rules.”

“Yeah, I don’t get it either,” I said. “The unspoken plan guarantee exists because there’s no tension in hearing a plan and seeing it in action. In tabletop, the dice provide the tension.”

“The dice provide some tension,” replied Tiff. “But if the plan is good enough, then there’s the same problem, and we have someone at this table whose job it is, at least more than others, to make this whole shebang entertaining, and who also has the power to introduce complications ex nihilo.” She made a finger gun at me and mouthed a pew sound. I smiled and rolled my eyes.

“So you’re saying that we should keep things secret from the DM?” asked Reimer. “In my experience, that doesn’t work too well.”

“Oh, well not big secrets,” said Tiff. “We should keep little secrets, tiny things we hold in reserve that we agree not to mention out loud in the hopes that Joon forgets about them, or parts of the plan that can legitimately surprise him so he doesn’t feel the need to insert things into the game just to make it more interesting.”

“Seems a little adversarial,” replied Arthur. “In the tabletop-as-performance model … well, I guess there you could make the same argument, that the performance is better if there’s some aspect of hidden things being shown.”

“Or,” said Tom. “We could just not ever plan anything.” He tapped the side of his head. “If you have no plans, then you don’t have plans that need hiding.”


We were around the fifteenth floor when we reached failure point three point five. I was the only one who knew about it, hence the awkward numbering.

I listened to the beat of my heart and the rush of my pulse, then pushed heat into my closed fist, trying to watch closely to see how much light was given off. My grip on Tova’s rope was tight, and if I understood correctly the flame was nothing like an actual flame, so the visible light in the dark elevator shaft was basically nothing. I pushed more of the heat of my blood into my fist, then more, then still more.

After the first second, the heat was uncomfortably hot, and after the second second, it was painful. I would say that it was unbearable, but I was bearing it, because I had to. And then, just as I was getting ready to cry out in pain because of the burns I was inflicting on my hand, the rope holding up Tova snapped and sent her screaming as she plummeted. The game messages came quickly after that.

Skill increased: Deception lvl 8!

Inge Carter defeated!

Loyalty Increased: Fenn lvl 1!

Achievement Unlocked: Microhitler

Tova Feidlimid defeated!

Loyalty Increased: Fenn lvl 2!

New Virtue: Ruthless!

I felt sick to my stomach as I read through those and blinked the messages away as soon as I saw them. Tova hadn’t fallen straight down, she had clanged hard against the side of the elevator shaft, probably hitting a girder or ledge. I wasn’t next to Carter, but I’d felt him jerk around and then start swinging. After that, I’d heard the clanking thud of her hitting bottom. Even without the game telling me so, I would have known that she was dead. Even if the fall had somehow not killed her, the zombies would have, so I had to at least be thankful that her death was a quick one. Please, please be the sort of person who deserved that.

And we were still rising, faster than before, almost to the top.

“Invuln,” said Quills, his voice hard.

Again the spears of light came out from Leonold, but this time they touched only three of us, Quills, Fenn and myself. It was enough illumination to see Quills quickly slice through Carter’s rope, letting him drop down below. Two seconds later, we went crashing into the top of the elevator shaft, pulled forward and around by the pulley, which finally gummed up with the cable mountings and metal plate hitting it at high speed. I landed in a crumple, with my torso and one leg on something made of metal and my arms out in the middle of nothingness. I still had a rope around my chest, but I had no idea what it was connected to.

When I suddenly started feeling things again, the pain in my burnt hand was almost crippling, so I stayed where I was, not daring to move.

“Roll call,” said Quills. His voice was calm and steady.

“I’m fine,” said Leonold.

“Peachy,” replied Fenn with a cough.

“Juniper?” asked Quills, as I tried to slow my breathing. I had known that the fire would hurt, but I hadn’t realized that it would hurt so much. Worse, I was absolutely sure that it would be clearly visible, leaving me caught red handed.

“Tova,” I said at a whisper. “She was right beside me.”

“Give us light,” said Quills.

I placed my hand down on the metal beneath me, tried not to hiss as the raw flesh touched it, then used my good hand to create a small flame. I saw Quills holding onto a strut, with his sword drawn, Leonold blindly clutching part of the gridwork that the pulley was attached to, and Fenn sitting casually on a walkway to the side.

“What happened?” asked Quills. I would have sighed in relief that the question was directed at Leonold instead of me, but my hand was getting more painful by the moment.

“There were too many failure points,” said Leonold through clenched teeth. “Eventually, we had to hit one.” And now I’m home free, until we step out into the light and they see my burnt hand and displaced tattoo. “I’d still like to check the ropes though.” Fuck.

I let the light from my hand dim further and flicker. “Not sure how long I can sustain this,” I said. “I’m already getting the shakes.” Most of that was because of the radiating pain of my burn. I did wonder how deep it had gone, what I would see if I looked at it. I’d put in enough heat to burn the rope, or at least damage its structure; what had that done to my hand?

“Post mortems are unimportant right now,” Quills said smoothly. Leonold gave me a suspicious look in the dim light, but my hand was held high and the shadow from my head mostly covered my neck. Quills stood up, sword in hand, heedless of the fact that he was balanced precariously over at least a twenty-story fall. He climbed his way down to the elevator door below us, standing on a thin ledge, and with four strokes of his blade cut a square hole in the door. The detached metal slid back and fell into the elevator shaft, tumbling down until it banged against the sides and made a racket.

“On the plus side, the upper floors should be relatively clear,” said Fenn. “They weren’t residential and the undead have more trouble going up than down, meaning that over the years many of them would have filtered into the lower levels through stochastic motion. All that’s left is to find the key and skedaddle.”

Leonold climbed down and out the door, following Quills, and Fenn followed after with catlike grace. I unlooped the rope from around myself, feeling the stinging pain in my hand as I briefly brushed it against the rope, then slowly, agonizingly, made my way over to the catwalk, and from there down a slender ladder that the others hadn’t even used, trying my best not to succumb to vertigo. My injured hand was cradled to my chest as I made the transition in, hoping that I could somehow talk my way out of what the injury implied.

But just as I stepped onto the floor I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder as the tattoo sliced into me, and then —

Leonold Pavran defeated!

Quest Complete: Heading Off the Skin Mage – Leonold Pavran tried to kill you as he died, but you managed to move the tattoo just in time.

Level Up!

I was taken by the golden glow of raw power and wrapped in its warm embrace, the pain in my shoulder and hand instantly gone with no trace they’d ever been there. My mind was fuzzed with a feeling like pure, rapturous love that was gone as soon as the level up put me back down on my feet.

I’m pretty sure that Fenn and Quills would have been staring at me, if Leonold wasn’t lying on the ground with a dagger sticking in the side of his head. Instead, Quills had his sword drawn and was moving back from where he’d been toward Fenn.

Fenn ran, and Quills chased her. There were too many things going on for me to process it all, but we were in a sunlit reception area on the top floor of Sorian’s Castle, with a desk against one wall and a blue and yellow crest with a badger on it behind that. Fenn went to the nearest of the two doors out, pushing it open, and I firmly believe that she would have died then and there if the door had been locked. She had a bow, a magical one, but with no magic remaining, and he had a sword which could cut through practically anything.

I ran after them, not knowing what I could possibly do against Quills, not even if I managed to catch him off-guard. I came into the room, a wide open area with a dome nearly two hundred feet across and furniture that had been pushed to the sides, just after him. I almost bumped into him as he came to a stop and raised his sword, not at me, but at a familiar someone crouched down behind a makeshift barricade a hundred feet away.

Thunk.

A perfectly circular hole appeared in the thin blade Quills was holding and he grunted. I stared with mouth agape at Amaryllis, who was calmly crouched down with her rifle aimed down the length of the room, shielded by a thick wooden desk that had been tipped on its side. Quills cursed and did a tumbling roll to the side, coming to land behind a plush couch. Fenn was similarly hidden behind what looked like a piece of laboratory equipment, with an arrow nocked in her bow. She didn’t quite have an angle on Quills.

“Identify yourselves,” called Amaryllis. Her voice was raised to cover the distance between us.

“Brownsnout Quills-in-Hand,” said Quills. “Blade-bound leader of the now-former Fireteam Blackheart, pledged in service to the Kingdom of Anglecynn, long may it stand.”

“Fenn Greenglass,” replied Fenn. “I am technically a consultant to Fireteam Blackheart, but we’re having a very petty squabble right now with regards to some recent vacancies within the fireteam, some of them quite recent indeed, if you catch my meaning. I appreciate you not shooting me when I came in.”

“Only because you surprised me. Brownsnout, which of the Lost King’s get sent you?” she asked.

There was a long pause from Quills. “The command came from Prince Larkspur Prentiss, my lady.”

“You thought about lying to me and decided against it,” said Amaryllis. “I’ll count that as a point in your favor then.”

“They were going to kill you, princess,” replied Fenn. I could see her eyeing the spot where Quills was hiding behind cover, trying to judge whether it was a shot worth taking. “Personally, I would count that as at least one point against him.”

It occurred to me that I was the only one not in a stand-off. I was standing by the door, not hidden behind anything. I had been mute thus far, watching and waiting. I closed my eyes for three seconds and tried my best to keep listening while I looked through the menus. I had points to spend, but what I really wanted was the “Companions” screen. I’d seen the messages, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise to see Fenn there. She had a brief biography there, and to my surprise, so did Amaryllis. I wondered when that had happened. It wasn’t a screen I checked often.

 

Fenn Greenglass, Loyalty lvl 2

Fenn is a half-elf born to a elven father and human mother. Her childhood was spent with alternating months in the Isle of Eversummer and the colony of Rogbottom. While her ears marked her as exotic and dangerous among the humans, her teeth marked her as a hideous disgrace among the elves. She has never felt at home in either world and pretends to understand less than she does in order to highlight her differences before anyone can call her on them. After she reached maturity she held several odd jobs until settling into a dangerous, solitary life entering into the Risen Lands exclusion zone to take whatever wasn’t nailed down. That life ended when she was arrested selling contraband to a fence. When Anglecynn needed a guide through Silmar City, she was pulled from prison and given a second chance.

“Fenn is listed as a companion,” I said to Amaryllis. “Quills is not.”

“You vouch for her?” asked Amaryllis.

“I do,” I said, hoping that the biography the game had fed me wasn’t lying. I had already cast my lot with Fenn anyway. Maybe if I’d been given fewer threats to my life from Quills’ team, or maybe if they hadn’t made it so clear that my life was worthless to them …  hell, if the teleportation key math had worked out differently and they could have pretended that I would have a spot, maybe it would have all worked out differently.

“Brownsnout, why did you come?” asked Amaryllis.

Quills was silent for a moment. “Juniper and Fenn know enough that I can’t tell any lies which might soften the story,” he said. “I’d have prefered not to do it like this.”

He leapt up from behind the couch, rolled over toward me,

Thunk.

And grabbed me by the shirt, whipping me around to put me between himself, Fenn, and Amaryllis. His sword, now with a second hole through it, was at my neck. He was bleeding from his chest, but it was just a red wetness rather than a font of blood. He was breathing quickly, and it smelled like rotten wood.

Then we started moving. Quills stayed as far away from me as he could while still being within range to cut me down. His katana was longer than I remembered it being, with a three foot blade, and he stepped in such a way that he could cover the ground between us easily.

“I think both those women would be fine with me dying,” I told Quills. “I’m not sure what your plan is here.”

“I can handle Fenn,” said Quills. He spoke loud enough that everyone would be able to hear him. “Graduation for the blade-bound involves advancing upon a number of archers, deflecting their arrows until you’ve reached them. I chose to go against five and made it through unscathed. Fenn, you know it’s in your best interest to see this play out. You gain nothing by wasting arrows I can easily turn aside.”

Fenn shrugged and set her bow down on the ground. “You’re right,” she said. “Not my fight. Dibs on going against the loser.”

“As for the princess, she values you,” said Quills. His voice was lower now, his words just for me. “She has a defensive position there, one that took time to set up. She has the key already. My guess is that you’re what she was waiting for.”

“Maybe,” I said, though I didn’t really believe it, not after what I had seen of Amaryllis. “That won’t stop her from taking the shot.”

“It’s stopping her right now,” replied Quills. “All I need is to close the distance.”

Amaryllis had her rifle trained on me as we crept forward. Alright, maybe not on me, per se, but pointed at a target that was right behind me. And Quills was right, she was letting us get closer, one step at a time. Part of that might have been her wanting to wait for a better shot, given that she had a four second cycle time on her rifle. In theory, her best strategy for saving her own skin would be to wait until she could take two good shots before he reached her. For that to work, she would have get me out of the way, maybe by just telling me to move and expecting me to do it, regardless of how likely it was for me to get bisected. It was in the interest of Quills to keep me going for as long as possible to ensure that he only had to block two shots with his blade, likely taking two more grazing hits in the process before he was on her and capable of killing her. And it was in my interest to just keep shuffling forward and hoping that something unexpected happened. I had theoretical tricks that I could try, half-formed ideas about blood magic that might have done something, but I would only get one shot.

We were almost exactly halfway across the large, domed room when Fenn spoke.

“Ahem,” she said. Quills and I both turned back to look at the half-elf, who had silently picked up her bow and drawn it. Quills was still holding onto my shirt and pulled me closer. We had come to a dead stop.

“Do you think this will accomplish anything?” asked Quills. “It will slow our progress, nothing more.”

“I guess we’ll find out,” said Fenn. Quill’s stance changed, his sword swung around to meet her arrow, and I ducked down behind him (whether through luck or some inkling of what was going to happen, I don’t know).

I guess Quill’s plan had been to bat the arrow out of the air and continue on, or simply outlast whatever was left in her quiver. Using a sword to hit an arrow in mid-flight was apparently part of his suite of bullshit sword magic, so that wasn’t as stupid as it might have sounded.

But when the arrow was ten feet from her bow, it split in two, and then in two again, and again, and by the time the arrows reached him there were five hundred of them. I was down on the floor, not being a lookie loo, so I didn’t actually see it, but in my mind’s eye his pupils dilated in dawning recognition of what was coming at him, enough that he could recognize what was happening but not enough that he could actually do anything about it. More likely, the arrows were going something like 150 mph and his synapses literally wouldn’t have had time to register it, even if his blade-bound powers might have been able to deflect it.

He collapsed to the ground, stuffed full of arrows, and I screamed out in pain, because you don’t fire five hundred arrows at a guy and not also hit the person ducking behind him.

Brownsnout Quills-in-hand Defeated!

Quest Complete: Into the Fryer – The enemies are dead, the key is in hand, and the path forward is clear … but to where?

Loyalty Increased: Amaryllis lvl 5!

Loyalty Increased: Fenn lvl 3!

“Sorry!” called Fenn as she jogged over to me.

I was shaking in pain and staring down at an arrow that had pierced me in the calf. I had been directly hit by three of them, and grazed by at least one or two others. I was bleeding from my temple, from my side, from my shoulder, and there was an arrow sticking into my stomach which took up surprisingly little of my attention. But for all that, the blood meter in the lower left of my vision wasn’t taking a dip just yet, and my health meter was showing me at seventy-five percent.

“You fucking shot me,” I grunted at Fenn.

“You seem to be a pretty durable fellow,” said Fenn. “Besides, I think it’s better than the alternative of being sliced in half by an angry porcupine, which would have been your ultimate fate. Quills was the one of the four that I least wanted to fuck with, and that had nothing to do with his prickly bits.”

“You fucking shot me,” I grunted again. “Not to sound ungrateful.”

Skill increased: Comedy lvl 2!

“Well, can’t say I wouldn’t do it again,” said Fenn. She leaned down to look over my wounds. “You know, your princess over there still has a gun trained on me, do you think you could find it in your heart to convince her that I look prettier without a hole in my head?”

“Amaryllis!” I called. “She saved my life, I need your help.”

“I have the key,” she called back. “Do you trust her?”

“No!” I replied. “She fucking shot me!” I grunted through the pain. “But she killed the people that were going to kill us,” my breathing was getting heavy from the effort of speaking loudly, “So I think we should all get out of here together.”

“You know,” said Fenn, “You are really harping on this being shot thing, in a way that I do not find very attractive. I did use a bodkin point, you’re welcome.”

To make a long story short, Amaryllis came over and patched me up as best she was able. The three direct hits I’d taken had all managed to miss major arteries and the bodkin point apparently did less damage on entry and exit than some others. The cut on my temple was actually the most alarming, not because of the injury I’d sustained there, but because if it had gone an inch to the left I would have had an arrow stuck in my brain.

“So,” said Fenn, once I was in somewhat better shape. “I am currently persona non grata in the Kingdom of Anglecynn and my read on your political situation is that it wouldn’t be wise for you to return, so where are we going, my lady?”

Amaryllis looked Fenn up and down. “You said she was a companion,” said Amaryllis, “Same as I am.”

“The game thinks she’s loyal,” I replied. “The metrics say she’s as loyal as you were when we were in the sewers. Less than you are now though.”

Amaryllis raised an eyebrow. That wasn’t a metric I’d shared with her. Fenn simply smiled along as though she knew what we were talking about. I did wonder what would happen if Amaryllis said no; the key was the last bus out of Silmar City, and I wouldn’t have blamed Fenn if she’d fought tooth and nail for it.

“Then we’ll stay together, for now,” said Amaryllis. She pulled something from the handbag at her side, a small golden disc with a glowing green center. She placed her thumb on it lightly and it pulsed to her touch. “Our destination is Barren Jewel.” She glanced at Fenn. “That’s non-negotiable.”

I recognized the name; it was a city in the middle of a desert, sustained by magic, full of cutthroats, and disconnected from the modern world. I wasn’t sure how that would translate in Aerb, which had fairly ready access to both radio and teleportation.

“Is there anything anyone needs before we go?” asked Amaryllis.

“Loot,” said Fenn. “Let me look around here and grab some valuables we can hawk in the Jewel.” She trotted off to snoop around this large room, which I gathered from some equipment off to one side had once been the research facility. Before that, I could only guess; the lobby said it was the office of someone important, but everything else said it was an open living space for a king or CEO.

“I have questions,” I said, “Nothing that can’t wait until we’re safe.”

Amaryllis rested a hand on my arm. “It’s going to be a long, long time until we’re safe.” She closed her eyes and let out a sigh. “I’m sorry I didn’t go back for you.”

“No, that’s –”

“I left you for dead with just enough of a veneer that I could feel at peace about it,” she said. “You must have known that. It wasn’t until I was making the climb that I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t going back for you. I’m glad you’re alive, Juniper. You’re a very decent person.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Wait, did you climb the castle walls?”

But Fenn returned before I got much more than a nod from Amaryllis, and then the disc in her hand started spinning, and we were off to the next part of what I generously decided I would call an adventure.

Achievement Unlocked: Tutorial Complete!

END BOOK I

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Worth the Candle, Ch 14: ELEVATOR facts

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