Interlude Two – Looking Out For You

“If you are doing something for someone else, don’t be shy to have them spell out properly what they want. Even if you are just doing them a favor, make sure they pose it as a request beforehand. Anyone can give Quests to Players this way, and it is always preferable to do something as a Quest than otherwise.

The reason behind this is that your Transcension Device often decides to give additional rewards, if the task is challenging enough. If the task isn’t listed on your Quest log, you might be missing out on something.

I’ll give you an example that is quite extreme and exaggerated, but shows perfectly how important it is to always ask for Quests:
Your neighbour needs fresh vegetables for dinner, and you decide to go down to the market and buy them for her. Because she didn’t pose it as a request, you didn’t get a Quest for this task. However, had she asked you to do this task, you would have seen in your Quest log that there was an additional reward for it: a new Ability. It would not only be a valuable reward, but it’d inform you that getting vegetables from the market is currently quite difficult. As you arrive to the marketplace, you see that someone had hijacked all the guardian golems and killed every civilian in sight. Now even if you defeat the golems and manage to salvage some of the trampled vegetables, you wouldn’t receive anything for your efforts.”

– excerpt from the first chapter of “Guide for the Niazian Empire’s new Players”



The time has come. This is Tor’s chance.

He bursts out from his hiding place and runs towards the wagon. It’s so full of sacks and boxes that it’s a wonder how that single einop is able to pull it. The owner has his back to Tor, arguing with a shopkeeper. Tor focuses on the small wooden box on the top of the other boxes. It is left unattended and isn’t even fastened properly to the rest.

The only problem is that he is too short to reach the box from the ground. He would have to jump up to the end of the wagon and climb up. Someone would notice him without a doubt, but he has already given up on stealing the box stealthily. He would just have to run away swiftly. He already has three alternative escape routes in mind that he could use to lose any potential pursuer.

His plan is cut short when a large hand suddenly lashes out and grabs him by the back of his shirt.

“Woah there, what are you doing, boy?”

Tor is picked up from the ground as if he didn’t weigh anything. He kicks out reflexively, but the man holding him up just extends his arm so that he cannot reach him. Looking back over his shoulder, Tor recognizes his captor as the blacksmith from Nekkar Street.

“What are you up to, kid? I don’t like that look in your eyes.”

Tor doesn’t say anything. The blacksmith seems to be thinking on something.

“No, that line doesn’t work, does it?” he asks with a smirk. “I should say, I don’t like that look in your eye!”

Tor doesn’t appreciate the blacksmith’s humor. His hand reflexively touches his eyepatch and anger floods him, smothering his initial panic. He’s beginning to suspect that this man isn’t the type who would just let him go with a simple warning.

“Let me go!”

“You know, the strangest thing is,” the blacksmith continues, ignoring his demand, “That there is this rumor about a half-eyed boy who stole from the crystal vendor. The whole Central Market is looking for him. You don’t happen to know anything about that, do you?”

Instead of answering, Tor powers up one of his mecha-bugs and flicks it towards the man. He didn’t want to resort to this as it would be quite difficult to replace the bug – it’s hard to find metal parts that small – but escaping takes priority. The bug has only four legs and a stinger, and without a power core it wouldn’t last more than a minute. Still, it is more than enough to create a little distraction.

“Wha- What the hell!” the blacksmith exclaims as the bug lands on his neck. “Ouch!” The mecha-bug stings him. He tries to swat it away with his free hand, but the bug has already moved on, crawling under his sweaty shirt.

“Aaaargh, it’s biting me!”

The blacksmith cannot endure the assault and releases Tor in an attempt to use both of his hands to get the bug out of his shirt. Tor isn’t idle either: as soon as his feet touch the ground, he flees. Several passerby has already stopped to watch to commotion, so he doesn’t have the opportunity to steal the box anymore.

He sprints into the nearest back-alley, jumps on a dumpster and vaults over the wooden fence blocking the way. He is now in Jazon’s territory, but hopefully he and his gang is sleeping at the moment. It’s the morning after the Night of Dearth after all, and Jazon is always out on those nights with his gang. Tor doesn’t know for sure why, but he came to the conclusion that they probably think they are cool or something.

Tor navigates through the dark alley as silently as he can. He still needs to steal some food for dinner, so he decides to head to the Lower Market. As he nears River Shekey, he speeds up and crosses the street as quickly as he can. Soon he is under the Wide Bridge, wading through the water. The bridge isn’t very high, so even he has to stoop a little. The water reaches past his knees, which makes this route quite uncomfortable. Still, it is not unbearable. Because the Wide Bridge is, well… wide, he wouldn’t be seen, not even from the sides. Maybe he is overly cautious. Maybe he could just simply walk across the bridge, and no one would bat an eye. But after his previous mishap with the crystal vendor it’s better to lay low for now. After a couple of cycles, no one would probably remember him.

No, not no one. There is a single exception: his half-sister, Koren. Tor’s relationship with his sister isn’t the best, but she is all he has. It isn’t a normal brother-sister relationship though. Koren is almost old enough to be his mother, and Tor sometimes resents that she keeps patronizing him.

But all in all, it isn’t all that bad. They make a good team, or at least that’s what Tor likes to believe. Both of them have their own unique way to make their living. Admittedly, the means by which Koren is earning money is a bit of a mystery for him. Tor knows that his sister isn’t telling him something, but he promised Koren not to pry. He intends to keep his promise, but sometimes it is difficult to do so.

Supposedly, Koren is just talking to some people, and they pay her for it. At least that’s what she said. Tor knows that his sister is good at talking, but he has trouble imagining who would go so far as to pay for it. Koren told him that some people are just lonely, and need someone to talk to.

This would have made sense, but once Tor caught her sister in the company of a shopkeeper from a nearby street. Tor knew for a fact that the middle-aged, slightly balding shopkeeper had a wife. Could a man feel lonely if he already had a wife? After a great deal of thinking, Tor came to the conclusion that yes, it might be possible. Or maybe the shopkeeper just wanted someone new to talk to. He certainly needed it, because Koren returned home only on the next morning.

Tor’s way of earning money is dangerous, but no less dangerous than Koren’s. Sometimes the people she is spending time with become upset, and they hurt her. Once, Koren came home in thorn clothes, with marks of beating all over her body. It hasn’t been the only occasion when she got hit, but it was the most serious. Ever since then, Tor has been constantly trying to push himself, trying to make enough money so that his half-sister doesn’t need to. Instead of just stealing food, he started to look out for valuables that they could sell.

Unfortunately, neither Tor nor his sister was good at saving up their silver coins. Koren often spends their money on clothes and makeup, while Tor has his golemancy as a hobby. Still, both of them try to put away as much money as possible, so that one day they could travel to a larger city. A big city would mean more opportunities for work, supposedly. Tor suggested Koren that they could start their journey anytime, but Koren said that since neither of them are fighters, travelling alone would be dangerous. For some reason, she doesn’t think that the occasional road patrols would be enough for their safety. Since Tor has never been outside of Bildy in his life, he accepted his sister’s advice.

But thanks to his latest catch, the time when they left Bildy might be near. They would need to store up some food, probably. Then, if Koren manages to sell the dagger for a good price, they would be able to pay for a caravan to bring them along. Or… would they need to store up food at all? Maybe it would be included in the price paid for the caravan.

Being occupied by his thoughts, Tor barely realizes that he already reached the other side of the river. He sits down on a rock right next to the bridge and he dangles his legs, waiting for his feet to dry. The sun is shining and the weather is comfortably warm, so he closes his eyes and allows himself a few moments of rest. He goes back to his previous line of thought, musing about his adventures on the previous day.

That day was awesome. No, Tor was awesome! He has never managed to steal something so valuable. Admittedly, this was pickpocketing, much easier than stealing in the traditional sense. The stalls or shops always had their valuables protected by barriers, and only the owner of the shop could reach through them. Still, what Tor did was no small feat. Not only did he manage to steal from a Player – a Player! – and avoid getting caught, but he also pocketed two power cores from the crystal vendor. Sure, people are watching out for him now, but overall it was worth it. If all goes well, he wouldn’t be here in a few days anyways. If not… well, he is back at his earlier thought: he needs to lay low and hope that people would forget about him.

But first things first! They need a filling dinner, because yesterday all they ate was a pair of apples. Tor stretches, then gets to his feet. Time to visit some of his favorite lurking spots.


To Tor’s great annoyance, the wood screw just isn’t long enough. He has been working on extending the mechanical hand, giving it a wrist and an elbow – essentially creating a prosthetic arm – but so far he has been encountering setback after setback. He tried to integrate one of the new power cores into the construct, but the crystal needed space. Eventually he had to dismantle almost the whole thing and start again from scratch.

With a frustrated sigh, he tosses the screw into the corner. He will have to visit the scrapyard tomorrow, and hope that he would find something useful. He could also visit some of the workshops to see if they had any leftovers or discarded parts, but that would mean going downtown. He discards the idea after he came to the conclusion that it would be pushing his luck a bit too far.

He absentmindedly caresses the crystal head of his threader. The elongated needle-like tool is the most basic tool for anyone who wants to practice golemancy. More importantly, however, it is the only item that is left from Mother. It’s highly customized for his taste and he had to repair it a couple of times already, but its essence remains the same. According to Koren, this tool was Mother’s favorite. With it, Tor feels as if nothing is impossible to build. He just has to persist.

As Tor contemplates what to do next, he hears a scraping sound. It could only mean one thing, and sure enough, Koren storms inside within moments.

“Yo, little brother!”

Before Tor could ask the question that has been nagging his mind all day, his sister throws herself down on the mattress that serves as a bed and speaks up.

“You have anything to eat?”

“Yes, got two loaves of bread there in that basket,” Tor answers quickly. “So, did you-”

“Cool, thanks Tor!” Koren pipes up and reaches for the bread. “You are my favorite brother!”

“So, did you sell the dagger?”

Instead of answering, Koren just stuffs her mouth full of food. Tor is annoyed, but he doesn’t let it show. Having experienced the same several times, Tor came to the conclusion that Koren is teasing him on purpose. Showing irritation would just encourage her more. He carefully puts down his threader and patiently waits for Koren’s answer.

Koren doesn’t stop eating, but with one hand she reaches behind her back, pulls out the dagger and tosses it on the floor.

“Hey, what are you doing?! You might damage it!”

“Nah,” she says around a mouthful, “ift’s vhery tough, thruft mhe.”

Still, Tor gingerly picks it up and puts it on his broken chair that serves as their table. The black material that the dagger is made of seems strong enough, but the glowing orange lines on both sides of the blade could be fragile. They look like tiny veins coming from a crystal core that is embedded into the base of the blade. Tor has never heard about power cores having orange color, but he can easily imagine that it is the source of whatever magical power this weapon uses. In that regard, it’s not unlike golemancy. However, the veins coming out from the core are way too delicate to be able to conduct significant magical power, and they aren’t even connected to anything. Seemingly they serve no purpose, and because the whole weapon is made of a single piece of black metal, Tor cannot even dismantle it to inspect the mysterious power core. Not that he would, even if he could. Tinkering with magical devices without sufficient knowledge on them is dangerous. Tor learned this lesson well, but only after paying for it dearly.

“I guess Hiorg didn’t want to buy it, after all?” Tor asks his sister.

“No, he wanted it. Offered five gold.”

“Five gold?!” Tor jumps to his feet. “Then why is the dagger here? Will you trade it at a later date?”

“Nah,” Koren waves one hand dismissively, “I didn’t accept the deal.”

“You- What?!” Tor can’t believe his ears. “Why? With that much money, we could surely get a ride and start a new life elsewhere!”

“That isn’t much money,” Koren says, looking her brother somberly. “It might seem a lot to you, but for a magical weapon, five gold is barely anything. It is easily worth ten times that much money. I cannot be sure, since I don’t know what the dagger does, but I’m certain that we could get more for it.”

“But-”

“Tor, listen. I know five gold would be more than enough short-term, but we have to think about what to do later on. This… life we are having now. It’s not right. It’s not the solution. We cannot keep doing forever whatever we have been doing lately.”

Tor frowns. He understands what Koren is trying to say, but doesn’t wholly agree.

“You don’t have to worry about me, I’m fine,” he said defiantly. “Yes, it’d be good if we sold the dagger for a lot of gold. You wouldn’t have to do your work then, sis. I think that’s a good idea. But you said yesterday that we needed to get rid of this magic weapon quickly, because we don’t know what it does, and the Player may be able to track it. So why did you change your mind?”

Koren waits patiently for Tor to finish, then leans back on the mattress and stares at the ceiling. For a kid who rarely talks to anyone, Tor knows quite well how to reason with others.

“It isn’t about me,” Koren begins slowly, “I was actually thinking about you. I want you to attend an Academy.”

“W-What? No, I- Hey, I never said that I wanted to attend any of these stupid Academies! You don’t get to decide it for me!”

“I knew you would try to argue,” Koren says offhandedly, “But you don’t know what you are missing out on. You are talented, Tor. I know you would perform well, and become great at Golem Craft one day.”

“Who cares?! Do you know how much the tuition would cost?! If you want to throw out our gold, at least spend it on spare parts and crystals for my constructs! That way, it won’t be a complete waste!”

“Who cares? Well, I care. And I’m telling you that the best thing for you would be to attend an Academy. If I could get 30 or more gold for the dagger, we could buy you proper clothes and pay for the tuition. You are about the proper age for new pupils. And I told you, we have to think about what to do in the long-term. Don’t you think you would be earning much more money for both of us if you became an accomplished craftsman? Or do you plan to shoplift and pickpocket during your whole life?”

Koren hasn’t even sat up or acknowledged Tor’s outrage this whole time. She knows that deep down he actually likes her proposal. The boy must have fantasized about attending school a couple of times. No, the only reason Tor is complaining is because he hasn’t had a chance to think about this yet. A few days ago the possibility of attending an Academy was just a pipe dream. However, thanks to the magical weapon this dream might become reality.

“By the way,” Koren adds, “I may be able to get rid of the weapon soon. Hiorg said he would set up a meeting with Doxter for me.”

Tor stopped grumbling to no one in particular and looked at Koren with narrowed eyes.

“Doxter? That slimy guy who always tried to grab your bum?”

“Well,” Koren says with a laugh, “That doesn’t narrow it down much, but yeah, I think you know the guy.”

“What’s he doing here? I thought he went to Dian.”

“He is here and there all the time,” Koren says with a shrug. “Transporting goods between the two towns, I guess.”

Tor seems to be thoughtful for a moment.

“I’m going with y-”

“No, you won’t,” Koren says and stands up. “Listen, Tor, there isn’t anything that you could do if you were there with me. If they wanted to trick me, your presence wouldn’t deter them. You’ll be staying here, and wait for my return… hopefully with a large bag of gold. Got it?”

Tor wants to object, but Koren just keeps glaring at him resolutely. His mouth open and close a few times, then his shoulders sag.

“Okay. But be careful, sis. Don’t trust him.”

Koren nods and smiles with satisfaction. Tor can be really stubborn if he wants to, so she is glad that he doesn’t try arguing further.

“I’ll be careful. I was the one who chose the place of the meeting, and I’ll make myself scarce at the barest hint of threat.”

She reaches out and ruffles Tor’s already messy, auburn hair. There aren’t many things they share in appearance that would mark them as siblings, but the color of their hair is one of those things.

“I just-”

“Everything’s gonna be alright, little brother.”


“I fucked up,” Koren mutters as she staggers forward one more step. “Damn the Moon, I fucked up really bad.”

She is pressing one of her hands on her stomach, but the bleeding doesn’t stop. With all this movement, it cannot stop. She needs her other hand to support herself, trying to use only her left leg and not putting any burden on the broken one. But with each hobbling step, the cut on her stomach flares with newfound pain. She is beginning to doubt that she would be able to reach their shack… their home, even though it’s so close.

She grits her teeth, then takes another step.

Even if she reached their home, she wouldn’t be able to climb up. Years ago when Mother died, they took a few wooden boards and built a hut on top of a flat-roofed building. Well, it wasn’t really ‘they’. It was mostly Koren by herself, because Tor was too young at the time. She was fortunate that the surrounding houses were more or less abandoned and no one objected. It’s a quite safe place: the only way to get up is to scale the wall of the house, taking hold of the ivy that grows all over it. What’s more, looking from the street their shack is hidden from sight.

But even if she miraculously climbed up, what would she do? Tor has stolen a healing potion a few cycles ago, but it would be barely enough to heal the cut on her stomach. It might save her life, but… her leg is a mess. She wouldn’t be able to walk properly for a long time, if ever.

She takes another step.

She fucked up, but she still considers herself lucky. Doxter and his men could have killed her. Or they could have raped her, then killed her. They hurt her, yes, but not as badly as they could have. As soon as they took the dagger from her, it was as if she wasn’t even there anymore. She just crawled away. Only if they hadn’t broken her leg so damn many times…

She takes another step.

She isn’t going to be able to going to be able to bring home any coins, even if she survives. She would like to say that she is the one looking after Tor. After all, she is the one who’s earning actual coins, and she is the one who’s usually dealing with other people. Tor is just scuttling around, trying to make himself useful. He helps on his own way, but he is still just a kid. It’s true, but… but then why does it always feel like she is Tor’s burden, and not the other way around?

She takes another step.

Tor found the dagger that was worth a fortune. Well, stole it. Whatever. They could have traveled far from this rotten town. They could have finally changed their life. And they would have, if Koren didn’t fuck up. Now they have no money, and Koren’s only hope is a healing potion. A healing potion, that Tor found. Or stole. Whatever.

She takes another step.

It doesn’t really resemble a step. She’s dragging her good leg as she hangs onto the wall and tries to keep her aching right leg away from everything. It’s not so bad. No, it isn’t. It has been hurting for so long that by now she doesn’t really feel it. Yes, she can do this. Their home is just around that corner.

She takes another step.

She turns around the corner, and stops. Relief floods her. She wouldn’t have to climb up! Tor is sitting on the edge of the rooftop, his tiny frame illuminated by the green moonlight. He has been waiting for her to return.

“Koren?”

She tries to reply, but she doesn’t have the energy. Still, she is happy. It was… nice to see Tor one last time. The last of her strength leaves her, and she falls.

“Koren!”

Pain flashes through Koren once more as she lands on her side, but she doesn’t lose consciousness. What a pity. Not feeling anything would be a blessing at this point. With a low groan, she flips onto her back.

“NO, KOREN! Hold on, I’m coming!”

“SHUT UP, KIDDO!”

Someone hurls an empty bottle out of the window right above Koren. The glass shatters on the other side of the street, some of the shards raining down on her. As she watches the little pieces bouncing off the ground, she loses focus for a moment…

Probably more than just a moment. The next thing she feels is bitter liquid pouring down her throat. She pushes away the bottle, and tries to warn Tor.

“Nno… my leg… bones not in place…”

She has trouble focusing on what she wants to say. She is just so, so tired.

“Pour potion… on stomach… don’t drink… not the leg…”

She barely knows where she is. She feels so weak. She feels like floating. Floating in a sea of pain. But then slowly, ever so slowly, she feels the pain in her stomach lessen. No, not only her stomach. She feels overall much, much better. Still like shit, but much better.

“Wow… strong stuff,” she mutters, trying to sit up. Small hands support her as she does so.

“The best stuff, for the best sister in the world,” Tor says. It’s something that Koren would say. She looks at him in surprise, finally being able to focus on him. He is clutching an empty flask, his face is soaked with tears, but he is smiling.

“You… you aren’t mad at me?”

He shakes his head and he doesn’t stop smiling.

“Mad? How can I be? You live!”

“But… the dagger… and my leg…”

“Don’t worry, sis. Until you recover, I’ll be taking care of you,” he says with a grin. Hearing his cheerful words, Koren looks away. Her eyes are full of tears again.

But this time, it’s not from any pain.

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