Old No. 7
Detective: standard (rank 1)
As twilight began to fall, Yuanhu and her new companion found a small pool, probably the result of a underground spring. Yuanhu dipped her leg in the pool, the clear water frigid but cleansing. The stranger was polite enough to rip a scrap of his clothing off to wrap her wound with.
By the time night fell, Yuanhu had caught a pair of small rodents and the stranger had created a suitable campfire in the clearing near the pool. She skinned, gutted, stuck, and gutted her catch as he gathered fruit. (“No,” she had to say, “green is ripe. Red is immature.”) Yuanhu dipped the fruit in the water and handed his share to him, and the pair sat around the fire as their meat cooked.
“So...” Yuanhu breathed, “what are you?”
The stranger's mouth widened in its odd way. “My kind's called human. Smart, hairless apes, if you know what those are.”
Yuanhu didn't. “And you are from another world?”
“How'd you come to that conclusion?” he asked, but not threateningly.
“You use words and wear fabric I'm not familiar with, but you also don't seem to have any knowledge of this land. You could be from some foreign continent, but you haven't mentioned a boat, and aren't outfitted for wilderness survival. I don't know, but I'm guessing you're from...not here.”
“Hm. Well extrapolated. Yeah, I'm not from here. I don't know the first thing about...”
The stranger nodded in thanks. “About Elsware. All I know is you're a bit less...technological than I'm used to. Are all the...racci tribal?”
“No. The town of Splinter is fairly near here. My tribe--” her stomach lightened again “--went there to trade often.”
“Ah. Well, I'm from a different planet. Or a parallel reality, or a different dimension, or maybe this is just my Earth in a distant future. It's also just possible, what with you speaking English and all, that I'm imagining all this, that this is a vision or my dying dream or whatnot. ” Yuanhu felt real, but said nothing. The stranger looked up. “I've been trying to find familiar constellations, but...”
“Constellations?” Yuanhu asked.
“Ah, arbitrary arrangements of stars people decided look like people or things,” the stranger explained.
“Oh,” said Yuanhu, and looked up towards the eyes of the legends as well. “Well...” she said, “tell me what happened, maybe...maybe there are clues.”
The stranger gave a single, grim laugh. “I don't remember much, but I can tell you what I do recall, I suppose.
“You know I don't even remember what day it was?”
Weapon Master: standard (rank 1)
He began his story.
It had been evening, the stranger had had a hard day, and was out of liquor (“Fermented, distilled grain. Like ale or mead, if you know what that is”). He walked down and purchased a good sized bottle of whiskey, the bottle he had already shown her.
While walking back, he had peered into an alley and seen a group of teenagers accosting an older man, robbing him and insulting him besides. The stranger specified that he had never thought of himself as brave or even foolhardy, but apparently the sight of a mugging going on in plain sight pissed him off enough (“Aggravated me, it's a euphemism.”) to yell at them. When the youths paid no attention, he advanced on the group, not even thinking to call for help.
When he got close, the first youth had turned, swore at him, and threw a punch. Before the stranger quite knew what he was doing, he had gripped the whiskey bottle and swung it, cracking the young mugger across the face. The boy screamed and swore again, but the stranger shoved the end of the bottle into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him quite effectively.
The second teenager, an African-American (“Oh, never mind.”) now also turned his attention from the old man and brandished a switchblade. The danger seemed not to even occur to the stranger, and managed to get the bottle up fast enough to deflect the incoming knife. He swung his impromptu weapon into the teen's face and was rewarded with a sharp cracking noise and a small burst of blood—the boy's nose was broken.
After that, there was not much to remember. He recalled the sight of a gun being pulled, and the deafening report, but then all was darkness and unconsciousness until he had woken up being prodded by the urkin.
Crushing Weapon: superior (rank 2)
“I fought them off with the whiskey bottle, and after that just tried to get my bearings, something I was profoundly failing at until I saw you being attacked by that giant crayfish thing,” the stranger finished.
Yuanhu's fingers twiddled around each other as she considered the stranger's story. It seemed unbelievable, naturally, but he had no reason to lie, and he certainly looked like he was from a different world. “You brought the bottle with you here?”
“Yeah, and that's the damndest thing,” he barked, “I checked my pockets—I didn't bring shit-all else except this damn bottle. Another argument for the idea I'm imagining all this. No wallet, no cell—never mind, it's not important. Just this bottle that fortunately doubles as a useful bludgeon.”
Yuanhu's tail twitched jovially. “Does it still taste good?”
“It's Jack. It's not supposed to taste good, it's supposed to get you drunk,” he answered. “Besides, I can't drink any, and whatever deity you have here knows I've wanted a nip.”
The stranger removed the bottle from his pack and held the top, attempting to open it with an odd twisting motion. He stopped quickly. “Damn thing doesn't open, and don't think I haven't tried. Just another weird thing about this whole situation. And another thing—watch.” The stranger looked around and spotted a rock peeking out of the ground nearby. He scooted over to it, hefted the bottle high, and struck it against the stone as forcefully as he could manage.
The bottle was driven out of his hand and flew end-over-end into the dim underbrush. “Shit. Find that, please. It may be dumb, but it's all I have,” said the stranger.
The pair stood and began searching the crowded bush for the bottle. Even with two people, the search took a while. Yuanhu had just picked up a stick she was afraid she had already picked up twice before when the stranger grunted in discovery and retrieved the whiskey bottle, half-under a leaf not a pace from where she was standing. The stranger displayed it to her. “See?” Indeed, the glass of the bottle was unbroken, lacking even a crack or blemish. “Apparently this is the whiskey bottle equivalent of Excalibur or something.”
Yuanhu would have asked, but thought better. Clearly it was some reference to his culture.
Binding: standard (rank 1)
By the time they returned to the fire, their meat was cooked through. Yuanhu quickly cleansed both of the pieces of meat in the pool, again handed the stranger's share to him, and began to eat. Almost immediately, however, the stranger spoke. “So what's wrong with your eyes?”
Yuanhu nearly choked on her rodent. “W-what do you mean?”
“I mean that the bottle was right in front of you. If it was a snake, it would have bitten you three times. I thought raccoons had good night vision.”
“So, raccoons, are those animals from your world I look like? What are they like?”
“I dunno, smaller,” responded the stranger. “They eat garbage, we make hats out of them. Don't change the subject. What's the matter with your vision?”
Yuanhu looked down at the ground in shame, her stomach feeling awful despite the food. “Hey, wait,” said the stranger, “if it's private or something, I don't care, you don't have to say.”
Yuanhu shook her head. “No...it's...it's fine. You told me where you come from, so...” She took a breath. “You're right, I see as about as well at night as I do in the daytime,but...” she extended one arm, suddenly very conscious about how much shorter her arms were in comparison to his. “After about here, everything...blurs, as if what I'm looking at forgets their edges.” The stranger said something, an odd word Yuanhu didn't quite hear, and Yuanhu continued. “I thought it was how everyone saw the world until the tribe started training me for hunting. I'm useless with a bow, even worse with a spear.
“I guess I'm pretty talented with snares and such, but I'm not strong, and those kind of traps are only useful for hunting small game, nothing that the tribe can use to feed everyone with. A hunter not able to see her prey is just a drain. So I...had to leave. It was for the good of the tribe, after all...and...” She felt tears coming once again to her eyes.
“It's common in my world,” said the stranger, and Yuanhu looked up, confusion drying her eyes. “It's called nearsightedness,” this time saying the long word more slowly. “Again, really common. My mom has it. Caused by the eye being...what, bigger maybe, I forget. The light reflects--”
“Is there...” Yuanhu's mouth was dry, “a cure?”
“Glasses,” he responded, and took the frames off his head. Across the fire was too far away for Yuanhu to see his eyes, and she wished she could—they looked fascinating. “Like these—well, these aren't prescription, of course, but same idea. Pieces of glass—well, they haven't been glass for decades, some sort of plexiglass hybrid by now, I guess—anyway, they're curved so the light bounces into your eyes correctly, and everything ends up looking normally.” He thought for a second. “Course, even if I had a pair for nearsightedness, it wouldn't work on you. Your eyes are a bit too far apart, for the one thing, and your ears are in the completely wrong place, and—oh, God, I'm being really insensitive, aren't I?”
“It's okay,” said Yuanhu, and it was. She had lived hating her eyes for so long she had forgotten—there was hope. Even in other worlds, there was hope.
Iron Will: standard (rank 1)
After their meals were finished, Yuanhu and the man sat silently for a while, just watching the campfire.
“So...” Yuanhu said, “what are you going to do? Here, I mean.”
“I dunno,” said the stranger distractedly. “Wake up, hopefully. Failing that, I guess I have to try to find a way back home. Not that I have a lot waiting for me there, and I'd be happy to hang here, but...” he looked up. “But I don't exactly blend in here, correct.”
Yuanhu nodded, with a chortle.
“But...I don't have any idea where to go. To get back, I mean. You don't happen to have an Emerald City around anywhere, do you?”
“The Forge...” Yuanhu breathed. The stranger gave her a look. “It's on the north shore. I've never seen it, of course, but the rumors say it's a smelter the size of a city. The say that...that the whole world is made in the Forge.”
“Sounds as good a place as any,” he said, “good to know I got a destination, at least.”
“But...but you can't!” Yuanhu yelled, “the north coast is...days upon days of travel! Besides that, you've got to get through the mountains, and that takes a guide and preparation and...and...”
“Hon,” said the stranger gently, “I don't have anything else to do. And I don't feel like camping like this forever.” Yuanhu, her stomach tumbling, felt like crying again. “Look,” said the stranger, “we can talk about this tomorrow. I'm tired. Let's find a comfortable spot of ground and sleep on it, okay?” Yuanhu nodded.
As the stranger tried his best to make the urkin pack act as a pillow, Yuanhu moved to the other side of the clearing and curled up, holding her tail in her arm. With one last look back at the man across the fire, she closed her eyes.
Ally: standard (rank 1)
Jack, as he now called himself, woke to the chirping of unfamiliar birds and a layer of dew on his clothes. Well, this would be a pain in the ass if he didn't find a blanket. He wondered if the raccoon-girl had to worry about such things.
He sat up and realized that he was alone with the remnants of the fire—the raccoon-girl was nowhere to be seen. Jack sighed and shook his head. It was just as well. No point in getting her killed with him.
Jack stood up, stretched the stiffness out of his back, and placed the now ever-present bottle of Jack in the pouch he had looted from the body of one of the coo—no, the urkin. He slung the pouch over one shoulder and looked at the sky. 'Okay,' he thought, 'she said the forge was on the north shore, and the sun's this way, so north is...that way. Hmm. Unless the sun doesn't rise in the east here. Dammit, I should have asked.' Shrugging in annoyance, he headed what he was pretty sure was north anyway.
“Hey! Are you leaving without me?” yelled a loud, suddenly familiar voice. He turned around and saw the raccoon-girl, attending to the pool of water. She dipped something in the water (an act so raccoon-y that it always made Jack want to laugh) and jogged to him as quickly as her injured leg let her.
“I thought you had run off while you had the chance,” Jack said.
“I was just getting breakfast,” she said, handing another one of the strange green fruits to him. “You—you didn't think I'd leave you to your own devices, did you?”
“For a second,” Jack responded, smirking.
“There are so many savage creatures out here, you'd be eaten in no time,” the raccoon-girl said, with that normal impossible-to-read expression.
“Whoa, what?” Jack asked, “are you serious? Cause maybe I should find something better than a bottle if there's that much danger, and...” he blinked, “and your tail moving like that means you're kidding, doesn't it?”
“Indeed,” she said, and let out a barking laugh.
He laughed too, and Yuanhu and Jack, no longer a stranger to her, began walking.