Thursday, November 8, 2018

The "Best" RPG Ever-60

While Nora had picked out a variety of reference and fiction books, and Mira some "legal" spellbooks and still more fiction, neither of them had thought to buy anything regarding monsters. Zack and Katherine decided fairly quickly that their errand was going to the library to borrow books of that nature: Something detailing various types of monsters and/or demons along with any useful weaknesses or other helpful information about them. This gave them a destination before they had even reached the first intersection after the alley they started out in.

A few minutes later, the catgirl recognized someone coming toward them from the other direction, and waved. The aged elf came closer and stopped before them. "Well, what a surprise," he said cheerfully.
"I agree," she replied. "Tsaron, this is Zack; Zack, Tsaron."
"Pleasure to meet you, Sir Zack," he said, nodding to the wolf-girl. "I do hope you'd join me for tea some time."
"Uh, sure, I guess."

"..Look, I don't want to beat around the bush too much," said Katherine. "You are a psion, aren't you?"
"If you've drawn that conclusion, then I won't dispute it," he replied. That seemed to be as close to a yes as he was willing to say.
"Have you been, uh, reading my mind?"
"You must not have much experience with your powers if you can't tell the difference," he said calmly.
"Okay—well—you were definitely reading his mind a second ago, right?" she tried, realizing he had immediately referred to Zack as 'sir'.
"I think you both know the answer to that," he said, still wearing a calm grin. This conversation was turning marginally infuriating.
"Rrrrr. I'm just saying, you might see some stuff that doesn't make a lot of sense to you if you keep reading me or my friends' minds. I'm not, really sure how to explain it to you in a way that does make sense, either."
"I've hardly noticed anything out of the ordinary," he said with a small shrug. "Not that you aren't all extraordinary young people in your own right, but I have seen much in my days.

"At any rate, with the cat out of the bag—so to speak—" (he looked pointedly at Katherine while making this expression) "I should probably tell you not to bother trying to read the mind of the Captain of this town's guard. Blanking is an extremely difficult art to learn, but a master of it can not only tell when someone is trying to look at their mind but actively respond to it. It's easier to just tie your mind to another entity that obsessively thinks of only one thing, or just layer centuries of thoughts into such a thick fog that you don't remember half of them yourself, but those come with certain costs of their own and can be navigated around with some effort since they still amount merely to passive defenses."
"I'll..keep that, in mind," she said.
"I'm confident you can," said Tsaron. "At any rate, I have an appointment to make. Please drop by for tea sometime soon, and bring as many of your friends as you like; I'm sure I'll be able to find enough chairs." With that he, gracefully and serenely went around Zack to continue on his way past them.

They waited there for a moment, until the elf's footsteps faded out in the distance behind them. Finally the knight asked, "..What was that about?"
"I get the distinct impression he wants me to know who top dog is—'so to speak'," said Katherine, with a touch of annoyance in her voice. She sighed. "At least I don't think he means us any harm. I mean, if he did he would've probably already done it."
They began walking again. So, does he know we're from Earth and that thing about having seen much means there really are others from Earth here? thought Zack.
I don't know..his wording was so vague. It could mean that he didn't see any of our thoughts about being from Earth, even though you were literally thinking about it as soon as I started to vaguely reference the idea, she said back. He doesn't strike me as the kind of psion who respects privacy a whole lot—I know, I know, even compared to me though—and he's probably really powerful given his age, which together mean the only way he wouldn't see those thoughts from one or both of us is if the..whatever brought us here actually 'blocks those out' from being read. Under the theory that we were brought here by this world's gods, there's no reason I know why they wouldn't be able to just, do that.
..And there's no way to just ask him directly without actually talking about what we don't really want him to know in the first place, Zack said.

Rose paced around the block for maybe the twentieth time, and came back to the guardhouse. The guard standing next to the front door saw her approach and shook his head: The Captain had still not yet returned. She sighed, and crumpled onto a nearby bench to rest her feet for a moment. She could swear she used to be such a patient person..! In..the other world. For that matter, how did she survive such a long time in this one without a great deal of patience?

"Hey there," said Mira's voice from behind her, making her jump to her feet and turn 180 degrees in a rapid motion. "Hahah, sorry if I startled you."
"No no, that's okay..." One of her feet scratched the ground a bit in mild embarrassment.
"You still waiting for the Captain to show up? I'd think she would've been here by now," said the witch.
"I suppose that means you still haven't had lunch yet. Aren't you hungry at all?"
The dragon-girl's stomach chose this moment to growl loudly entirely on its own. "Um...yep," she said quietly, blushing a little bit.
"Well, then let's go somewhere so you can eat, silly!"

Rose looked at the guardhouse, and back at Mira. "Come on, they've definitely got the message you want to see her by now, right?" she reasoned in reply. "The Captain knows her way around town, and can probably find you wherever you end up. I'm sure she wouldn't want you to starve yourself waiting for her, either."
"I guess so..." She took some slow steps to go around the bench toward the witch.
"Right, that's settled. So where would you like to go?" she said cheerfully, putting an arm over Rose's shoulder as they arrived next to each other.
"Uhh...I don't really know that many places," she said. " meat," she added with a touch of severe awkwardness.
"Well, I could probably make a couple of recommendations not too far off from here. Let's go!" Mira began leading her off.

It did not take very long for the restaurant they arrived at to seat them and take their order. But everyone was giving them looks. Rose had noticed people staring at her now and then anytime she was in town; some of them scared, most just curious, like they hadn't seen someone like her before, and that was fair. But this was...staring staring. It made her a little nervous, skittishly looking around at them and often seeing them turn away just before her eyes could meet theirs.
"I'm pretty sure they're staring at me," said Mira, noticing her expression. "Witches are not very popular."
"But uh...neither are dragons, right?" said Rose, nearly at a whisper. "I-I mean...the stories are always about a hero slaying the big awful mean dragon. And they usually are awful enough to deserve slaying. But it makes someone like me look bad..."
"It's the same way for me, you know," said the witch, keeping her volume just at the upper edge of conversational, where many of the onlookers could definitely hear her. "All the evil, nasty warlocks and witches of history make being a nice one an uphill battle. I just have to prove myself every step of the way."
"Heheh...I guess I can try to do the same," said Rose, brightening a little bit. However, there was a lingering feeling for a moment there, a faint thought resembling but haven't I already tried that before? She frowned slightly, trying to hold on to a slippery memory, but it was just no good. One of those awful experiences better forgotten, maybe.

"Here's to being the nice ones," Mira said, raising her glass a bit in a mock-toast. Rose took an awkward couple of seconds to register the expression and do the same, clinking them gently against each other before draining her entire cup...that was what you were supposed to do, right? The witch just giggled at her and reached over to pat her head a couple of times, which felt...nice. Rose smiled and blushed slightly from that.
When the food did arrive, Rose tried to at least sort of imitate the 'normal' eating everyone else was doing. As before, she had real difficulty using a fork effectively, like her hand just wouldn't quite obey her with any kind of utensil in it. This was...maybe something she could 'buy' on that "Humanoid Sociability" part of her skills to make this at least a little easier? It was just starting to irritate the part of her mind that remembered being this stuff being automatic without even needing to think about it. Mira hadn't ordered much, of course, having already had lunch, and even offered the dragon-girl a few tastes off her plate.

Nobody actually knew where Ezra lived. As far as the members of the guard were concerned, she lived in her office and was busy working when not present there. Of course this was an intentional ploy to keep her brief times at home actually peaceful. This was the ideal place to host a guest who didn't really want to be publicly a certain psion, who was already waiting on a chair in the living room.

"You know, anyone else I found in my home uninvited wouldn't leave it uninjured."
"You did invite me, though. Didn't you?"
She sighed, taking a nearby seat. "I'd just rather find you at the front door than showing off your skill at picking locks."
"What if you were late? I'd have to stand around outside and direct people unconsciously around me the whole time. After all, you are awfully busy."
Ezra took a moment to roll her eyes. "I really thought after all these years you might have learned to obey a few of society's basic rules."
"Oh, I know how. I'm just delighted I don't have to. You know why."
"I think I have more experience obeying orders than you, and I have been a perfectly well-adjusted member of society ever since," she said.
"Sure, especially since becoming the head honcho of said society," he jabbed back with a moderate smirk.

"..Well, I'll ask you something I can't ask them. How many years has it been?"
"Nearly two decades," he says. "Well—since me. Since you, tack on another I suppose. I could give you a lot more detail mentally."
"You know very well I prefer the slow and steady way," she said. "Any new wars, since yours?"
He shrugged. "Sort of no? No less military presence around the world though. No shortage of nukes about, still."
"One thing I like about this world over ours," she said. "Summon a giant demon and someone will be able to seal it. Cast a spell of mass destruction, it takes forever and people will be ready and waiting to try to stop you. None of this, kill billions of people by pushing a button."
"Hmm," Tsaron nodded. "Maybe we have the gods to thank for rules like that. Not that you can't still hurt a lot of people if you really want to," he said. "It just takes forever, and comes with a tangible price. Then again, we've got monsters to contend with here."
"But you can fight monsters: Put your sword in them or throw magic at them. Even someone who fails and dies at least does so knowing that they were fighting a real threat that was actually there, and had some effect toward stopping it. Not that we don't have political intrigue here, too, but it's never the survival of the entire world at stake."

"...That took a depressing turn, I'm sorry," Ezra said. "Anything else?"
"Oh, sure. You'll love this—technology's marched even farther ahead; even I barely recognize it all," he said. "Everyone carries huge phones around that do more than computers did in your day. And mostly use 'em to waste time. Plus, they've got two or three breeds of devices with mikes in 'em that you install in your home, and then you can ask them questions and buy things through them and so on."
"That's a...darker future than I imagined. Government mandated surveillance?"
"Not at all, you pay for those things," he said. "They're a luxury item. I guess they send the data to the company and not the government, but it's all supposed to be anonymized and.."
"And you can probably think of a thousand ways to abuse the existence of something like that," she said.
"Ohh yes, get the right black hats on it and...! Anyway, on top of that, they like to hook up every kind of normal appliance to the Internet they can. 'Smart' this and 'smart' that...can you imagine wanting a toaster with a screen on it that talks to your phone?" He put a hand on his forehead. "And, I sound like their old people complaining like this about it. Gods."

"Not that our new arrivals actually use many of those things themselves," Tsaron added after a moment. "One or two of them do record themselves for the whole world to see and hear, though. Online performance art, out of playing those, ah, computer games live." He was more familiar with them than she was, and tended to adjust his terms this way even though she would've understood the normal jargon just fine. "I admit I don't personally see the appeal."
"You know more about those games than I do," she said, shrugging.
"But I still never played very many myself. Considering the emotional attachment some of them have to the things, I almost regret it. Doing things over again, I'd love to end up nice and safe where they were instead of diving neck-deep into all that risk just because I thought it was the 'right' thing to do at the time."
"I wonder how their world would handle a reinstated draft," Ezra mused. "Or if that's even a possibility anymore, with how much society changed. But hey, if you were nice and safe you probably wouldn't have wound up here."
"There is that, of course, at least in theory. Given our collective 'failure' I doubt I'm the kind of person the gods would summon over here twice."

"You know, I'm a little surprised the wolf didn't follow us out," said Katherine. "He was right there, after all."
"Now that we have an actual 'den', he's content to stay there, I think," Zack said. "Unless the whole 'pack' is going out somewhere, or I ask him to come along."
"Really," the catgirl shook her head. "I bet I couldn't get a better idea of what he's thinking with a deep mind-scan. Have you noticed he's a little bit of a tsundere?"
"Ughh, that term." Zack shook his head in annoyance.
"I'm so sick of seeing characters written into that weird fetish stereotype. Nobody actually acts like that. Nobody."
"Oh yeah, JRPGs. Yep." The catgirl nodded. "I'm sure it's not always that bad, though?"
"I think I can count the number of well-written characters you can reasonably call," (he had a brief verbal hesitation out of disgust) , "'tsundere', on one hand."
"Hahah..yeah, I'd believe it.

"Still though. He's like 'grrr I'm nobody's pet, don't touch me—will you pet me? I'm terrified of the'—what was that mental phrase—'sky noise, hold me!'."
"Hah, yeah, a little bit," said Zack. "He just wants to be respected, I think. But just as much, to be a part of the pack."
Katherine turned, giving him a scrutinizing look. "Did you...laugh there for a second? Like a little 'hah'?"
"Yeeah..what about it?"
"I dunno..I don't remember ever hearing your laugh before. Rayna said she tried to make some jokes but they didn't connect at all."
"I have a sense of humor," Zack said, completely seriously. "I'm just quiet about it. I don't really, giggle or laugh out loud much," he shrugged.
"I guess the word you're looking for is 'dry'," she said. "You don't exactly tell a lot of jokes either, though."
"I haven't had much to joke about lately," Zack countered. "Feels like that should change soon, though."
"Can't wait. Anyway, we've arrived."

She waved at the library doors, pretending to use the force while psionically pushing them open. Zack rolled his eyes, mentally calling her a showoff, but went on ahead through them. She just sent back the concept of "when you've got it, flaunt it" and followed.
The knight started toward the front desk. "Hey, where are you going?"
He stopped in his tracks, turned half around toward her. "...To ask where monster reference books would be," he said flatly.
"That'd take forever. At least compared to me already having found the section we're after," she said, starting off in that direction. Skimming sensory information was very convenient for finding a clearly-labelled row of shelves.

Zack sighed and followed. "Does that 'mental charisma' thing just not work on people who know you?" he said quietly. "Or are you just intentionally being obnoxious?"
"My unshakable confidence is part of my charm," she shot back at the same volume. "Isn't that exactly what you like about me?"
"There's a difference between confident and smug."
"Which is?"
"One of them is annoying."
"You know you love it." Despite the words sounding like an argument, they had a good rhythm going. Katherine could've told he was enjoying it without even reading his mind; his tail was wagging a little bit.

They reached the right place at this point, and the catgirl turned toward the shelves. "Now, which of these looks the most..helpful...?"
"..Something wrong?" said Zack, noticing her sudden distracted state. In the midst of her passive, semi-involuntary run-through of nearby minds she had stumbled across a deeply unfamiliar sensation: One mind in particular was attractive, in very much the same way that she would normally expect a body to register as attractive. In the span of a second or two her supernaturally-powered mind went into a brief moment of confused overdrive, splitting off into two main lines of thought: One of them questioning whether this was actually a normal thing for a psion to feel, and the other one debating whether or not to dig deeper into the mind to know where to find that person later. When Zack asked her whether something was wrong, it interrupted both of them, and she quickly shook herself out of the overloaded state.
"Nope. Now let's see..." She recovered and forced most of her mind to focus on the task at hand, which to Zack looked like her resuming normal behavior, looking through the books. A small part of it at least looked in on what that mind was thinking about, to get an idea of where he was in the library right now and maybe make plans to return, much later, alone.

It was something about magic, specifically chaotic magic...the nature of monsters...she couldn't actually understand some of the technical aspects of the thoughts without risking digging deeper into the concepts, which she couldn't spare the concentration for besides not wanting to risk violating privacy any more than her powers automatically did. And yes...he. A guy. The next logical question was: What was so attractive about this? There was just something very nicely...organized and put together about it. It was hard to quantify into words, but that was no different from finding someone physically attractive, was it? She ducked out of this train of thought to keep her outward behavior normal, once she felt like she'd skimmed enough information to get by.
Obviously they didn't want something detailing the anatomy of one monster, and a seven-volume encyclopedia seemed like a difficult read. After a bit of looking, Zack pulled out a moderately thick book whose title indicated it was a primer on common monster types. That sounded like a good starting point, at least; undoubtedly they had already encountered some rarer monster types, but goblins and dire wolves and wildcats were surely pretty common, for example. Katherine also found a compendium of demons, though this was a lot thinner and seemed to have relatively sketchy descriptions based on bits and pieces of hearsay and legend. This was about the point where she stopped looking at the...cute?...mind and started off toward the front desk to check the books out, keeping them floating in the air next to her on the way to show off a little more.

Still, what to do? Finding an attractive mind—well, finding a mind attractive in the first place had caught her a little off guard. Rushing after him would look strange, and didn't feel right to her in the first place. Thinking carefully about what she'd experienced and...either making some kind of plan or burying the thoughts as deep as they would go in her head seemed like the best course of action. In fact, burying it temporarily for now was a great idea; save it for a time she was on her own in her room or something instead of out here with someone else, needing to split concentration off for walking, talking and so on. For now...they just needed to get the books back to the house.


  1. Katherine's turn now. Can't wait to see how this goes.

  2. I just was directed to this story recently by a member of the MSF Discord. I haven't actually read this far yet, but I wanted to go ahead and say how much I am enjoying it.

    Your characters and action descriptions are great.

    I hope that you keep writing it.