I stomp out the front door and look around. Two groups are assembling here, and there is an obviously fancy hat. The short, maybe five feet tall, human has a tricorn that he is wearing backward just to make a peacock eye feather stick out straight behind his head by at least two feet. It’s completely ridiculous and makes me smile a little with fond memories of my silly hat collection.
I walk down the steps and straight up to him. “You, Sir, must either be Justin or wearing his hat.”
He turns and looks up at me, and gives me a little of the stink-eye, and says, “It’s my hat.” Then he waits for me to say something else.
So I do. “I like it! I used to collect silly hats before Nirvana. My favorite hat was a chicken that was also a puppet.”
Justin relaxes, “Well then, we should get along fine. What can I do for you, Pretty Kitty?”
“Well, I’m a newb and Sam told me that if I wanted to learn how to use this boar-poker, I should see about joining your zombie suppression crew. I’m as useful as a fence post, and the only thing I think I know about this weapon is that I’m supposed to use the pointy end on the enemy.”
“That’s fine, and we have room.” Justin nods towards a small group of individuals with polearms, “Hang out with them for a bit. We will divide into squads before we head out. While we are traveling to the graveyard, your squad leader will give you more specific instructions. We won’t leave for about an hour, and if you have anything you don’t want to lose when you die, you should go find a place to stash it.”
“Thanks, I’m ready to go, and I’ll get out of your hair.” I turn and walk over to the group indicated. There are three spears, two halberds, and three Ji – two fangtain and one quinglong. All but one of the group members are human, and the odd man out is an elephant beastkin – complete with a prehensile trunk, which is currently holding his Faintain Ji up while he repacks a backpack.
“Good Afternoon, I’m Pretty Kitty.”
Most of them nod or wave in acknowledgment. A pair, a spear, and a halberd wielder return to the intense conversation they were having when I walked up, effectively ignoring me. The others appear to be friendly enough, with several of them introducing themselves.
“I am Oki Ren (Faintain Ji).” Pointing, “These two troublesome souls are Derik (spear) and Kevin (Spear).”
“I’m Sasha (halberd).”
“I’m Markus (quinglong).”
The sour-looking woman with the other fangtain ji doesn’t say anything, and when I look at her, she turns away.
“This is my first time going on a suppression run, any advice?”
Kevin asks, “Do you know any of the cleaning cantrips? Our squad leader will teach the basic clean cantrip to anybody who doesn’t know it, but that is only good for gear. You’ll be covered in gore no matter what you do, and you’ll want to clean it off as soon as the fighting ends. It stinks something horrible.” Everybody nods in agreement.
“I know the advanced cleaning cantrips. What do you do to combat the smell?”
“Most of us just tough it out with perfumed bandanas,” says Sasha. “I’ve seen a few people with masks, and one guy had a super fancy mace that he could put burning incense into.”
“That mace sounds cool. Did it work?”
She shook her head, “Nope, it just added the incense smell to the rotting meat smell.”
“Well, I guess today is your lucky day – for those with the mana to spare. I’ve earned a few coins with the Explorer’s Association on new cantrips, and I don’t have any restrictions on who I can teach them to. Want to learn one that could help?” I suddenly had the entire group’s attention.
Oki Ren bowed slightly, “Sensei, no one who has gone on a suppression mission would refuse to pay you for this information. I would offer a silver coin for this single cantrip, even if I can not use it yet.” The others didn’t hesitate to jump in and offer to pay for the knowledge too.
I waved them all off, “Today, I have witnessed justice and tragedy both and do not have room in my heart for greed. I’ll freely share the cantrip and hope it will aid some of you. My condition is that you share the cantrip freely with anyone on a suppression mission asking you in the future.” They readily agreed, and soon most of them were singing, “Plug it in, Plug it in!”
Oki Ren wasn’t one of them, and he was sitting on a folding stool he must have had in his inventory. I approached him while the others were fooling around and teaching the other groups the new cantrip. “What does ‘Oki’ mean?”
“Large or huge; It’s something left over from before I was digitized,” Oki Ren replies.
“Is that why you made the unusual choice of elephant beastkin?”
“Partially,” he nods. “I also value elephants’ sacred relationship in many eastern religions. Its thick skin means I need not wear light armor and symbolizes how the opinions of others cannot pierce through it to wound my heart.” Snorting a laugh, “Having a prehensile trunk is a nice bonus too!”
Chuckling, “How excelling, a man of many depths and humor too!” I take a medium-backed wood and canvas folding camp chair out of my inventory and join him. “I presume that you are conserving mana.”
Ren nods, “I am. I have more work to do before my mana pool grows large enough to spare mana for your new cantrip. I would much rather be clean at the end than practice with your deodorizer cantrip.”
“That’s fair. How will they divide us up?”
“One or two of us per squad at most,” Ren says. “Personally, I prefer it when there are two polearms on the team. There’s always a point where we attract too much attention and get mobbed. Having two of us will let us keep pushing them back from the mele fighters and reduce the injuries we all suffer.”
“Do we get to pick our partners?”
“We can put in as a team – would you like that,” Ren asks?
“I would. As a total newb, having a partner seems safer. Additionally, I am enjoying the company.”
“Thank you,” Ren says as he gives a mini-bow while seated. “I don’t wish to offend, so I will explain upfront. I am recently digitized and am still getting used to Nirvana’s speech and subject matter limits. If I pause during our conversation, it is because I am reviewing to be sure that I don’t incur another penalty.”
“I understand and won’t be offended. Unfortunately, Sam, the receptionist, broke the rule with me and was penalized just before I came out. I have no desire to have that happen and will do my best to avoid topics that I have already identified as restricted.”
“That’s unfortunate about Sam, and I also appreciate your consideration. It’s frustrating because I know something about these topics and cannot discuss why they are restricted, even with others who know the subject matter. I can discuss the subject matter itself with them but not why. It’s bizarre,” Ren says while clenching his fist.
“Well, let’s change the subject -“
[You have a message from Nirvana.]
“Sorry Ren, give me a moment.” After he acknowledges me, “Open Message.”
Your outburst has done more than throwing those losers into the ocean did. The crowd forcibly removed the greedy punk from the line and told him he was ‘too stupid to live, much less get a magic class.’ They shamed him off the island. Everybody handled being denied much better after that event. There are several videos on the NET, should you want a first-hand take on it.
I know you didn’t do it on purpose, much less for a reward. However, I also know that Sam’s slip made you feel even worse. To that end, I will not impose the full penalty on Sam, and he’ll be back after a normal three-day death timeout.
“Well, what do you know?” Dismissing the message and looking back at Ren, “Have you been following what’s happening on Temple Island?”