The stranger stretched out his massive arms in a very wide shrug. "No need to explain. ALI can get temperamental at times." He had a short reddish beard and wore a dirty brown shirt and trousers. A heavy, wickedly curved knife waited in a scabbard at his right hip. He'd casually walked close enough that Natalia could see it quite well. From the condition of the handle, it looked both cheap and old, but it was one more weapon than she had.
"ALI? Is that what you call her? It? Them? The voice with the boxes, I mean."
"Yeah, that's ALI. Automatic Learning Interface, I think it means. I'm not sure whether that was ever confirmed by official Goodminton sources. Some people say 'Advanced' and some say 'Leveling', and a few people still think the 'A' is for 'ARES'." The man shrugged again. "And you can call it whatever you like. Its voice varies on who it's talking to as well."
"Oh. Well 'ALI' is better than calling her 'box-voice'. That might have annoyed her. Among over things."
"Perhaps. Who knows with ALI? So, are you new to VIVID? You don't look new." He looked up and down her valuable dress.
She tried to remember exactly how valuable the dress was, but she couldn't summon any memories regarding its purchase. Just a vague feeling that it was worth at least as much as a week's stay at a half-decent hotel. It didn't look quite so good after having collapsed into a tree. "Yes. Fairly new."
The man nodded in a friendly way. "Well then, welcome! I'm Hambold. That's a beautiful necklace you're wearing. Are those sapphires? In solid silver?"
Was it real? Why was he asking? Should I answer him?
Stoni hadn't noticed Natalia's necklace at all, and couldn't remember its origin or specifics. But she knew how to find out.
"Hey ALI, what can you tell me about my necklace?"
Its composition, purchase date, purchase price, manufacture date, origin of the compon—
"Just tell me what it's made of and what it's worth! Please."
The necklace you are wearing is made of pure silver from the Tanescue mine in the Southern Tanlan Mountains of Asheroon and five highest grade sapphires from the Bleedle mine in central Mrilchift. Such an item would sell for between 600 and 800 Asheroon standard silver coins, depending on specific demand.
Wow, that sounds like a lot. And ALI is talking to me again, so that's good. But what do I tell Hambold?
"I get the sense that it is quite valulable," Hambold said, his smile turning less pleasant. "Tell you what, how about I see how much I can sell it for, and I'll split you... hmm, actually in that case I won't split you, if you catch my meaning." His grubby fingers grazed the knife at his hip.
No. No no no. I can't lose something this valuable. But there's no chance I can run faster than him. And I have no hope of fighting him bare-handed. What can I do?
Natalia was caught between the possibilities of fight or flight, knowing both were futile. Frozen in panic as her heart pounded, she couldn't grasp for an alternative.
|Archery||Use and care of bows and arrows.||Outstanding||31||
|Baking||Production of baked goods.||Excellent||12||
|Canine Care||Raising and training of dogs.||Excellent||8||
|Closeup Magic||Performance of sleight of hand and related illusions of misdirection.||Outstanding||5||
|Florist||Creation and selection of floral arrangements.||Good||78||
|Footwork||General use of feet.||Good||23||
|Handiwork||General use of hands.||Good||61||
|Observe||General use of senses.||Good||84||
|Silvertongue||General use of speech.||Excellent||98||
|Sage||One who is considered wise and mysterious, seeking and using hidden knowledge while maintaining their own secrets.||[More...]||[More...]|
|Noble||One of high status and position in society who knows how to make others achieve their goals.||[More...]||[More...]|
|Shade Striker||One who waits in hiding as long as is needed to strike at unsuspecting targets.||[More...]||[More...]|
|Did you expect this to be filled out?|
|This is the basics not an exhaustive character sheet.|
|Unimpressed||Resist attempts to beguile or frighten.||Excellent||45|
|Baffle||Confuse targets with words or actions, making them susceptable to manipulation.||Outstanding||9||
|Concentrate||For a time, increase Mind at the expense of Mystique.||Excellent||75||
|Draw Focus||Trick targets into noticing only what you want them to notice.||Outstanding||21||
|Resist Poison||Purify your body through sheer force of will.||Good||32||
|Sense Vulnerability||Determine targets' emotional and mental weak points.||Outstanding||12||
|Inspire Loyalty||Target underlings work or fight harder for your cause in response to your encouragement.||Sufficient||77||
|Overawe||Your sheer presence gives lesser beings pause.||Good||18||
|Sceptre Strike||Increase power and proficiency with your weapon of office, and it is much harder to damage.||Outstanding||16||
|Sense Allegience||Determine targets' willingness and intent to plot against you or your enemies.||Outstanding||2||
|Voluntell||Convince target of lower status that a plan is their own idea.||Sufficient||55||
|Appear Harmless||Reduce suspicion and fear aimed your way.||Good||58||
|Imbue Essence||Your mental state influences your weapon and those it strikes.||Excellent||68||
|Pierce Protection||Strike foes through armour and cover.||Sufficient||14||
|Skip Emptiness||While waiting, time seems to pass quickly until something notable occurs.||Good||78||
|Unerring Blow||Increase the accuracy of your first attack in a fight.||Outstanding||7||
"Really, ALI, you pick now to throw that at me?"
Hambold stepped a little closer and withdrew his knife. He flicked it up and down deftly, showing off that he had some idea of what to do with it. "Now, now, there's no need to make this messy."
Stoni grabbed onto the easiest option available to her: reading. There might be a solution in the character information that had been generously provided to her at the last moment.
What are my top skills? Archery, Closeup Magic, and Silvertongue... So I can do magic? What does that actually...? Oh. It's sleight of hand. That probably doesn't help me here. Why did Natalia come out here without a bow if she's so good at archery? What else is in here? 'Classes' seem important. Ah, they've each got their own abilities. Shade Striker sounds combat related. No, none of that seems helpful without a weapon to attack with. What about Sage? That seems great if I want to confuse or trick someone. And I can Sense Vulnerability. But that's not physical vulnerabilities. Some of that might help. Guess I should check out Noble, though that seems like the least useful. Yeah, my top abilities there are Sceptre Strike and Sense Allegiance. What's my weapon of office? Of course, it's a bow. Which I don't have.
Hambold sighed lazily, broadcasting his impatience. "I hate to do this, but if I've got to squash another noob with too much money and not enough sense, so be it."
"I don't think so," said Stoni, drawing on what she hoped was Natalia's nobility. "You are addressing a noble lady. If you interfere with my person or my property in any way, there will be consequences."
The robber took an involuntary step back at that pronouncement, and his knife hand drooped. "Now, now, there's no need for trouble. I..." He blinked, paused for a few seconds to gather his wits, and shook his head. "No, don't think you can sway me with fancy tricks, little lady. There's no way you have any idea what you're doing, and you definitely can't be a noble."
"Oh, do tell me why not," she said, trying to keep up the appearance of confidence.
"That's a 4 mystique class and there's no way you could have earned the ranks or the medallions you'd need for that. Unless you put all your base stats in to mystique, which is complete madness. Starting with one stat zeroed is bad enough, let alone two. So either you're bluffing, or you were playing dumb about ALI. But there's no way you can really be a noble and not have learned ALI's name."
She shrugged her usual lopsided shrug. "Either way, I fooled you. Makes you wonder how else I've mislead you. Is this necklace really worth over 600 silver coins, or is it just a cheap trinket? Do you want to be the man who killed a woman over a cheap piece of junk?"
Hambold's eyes briefly bulged with greed, but he shook his head again. "I don't care what quality those sapphires are, there's no way it's worth a quarter of that price. But now I'm going to have to insist, on principle. I don't care how much it's worth, I'm not letting you walk away with it."
"Principle? You don't strike me as a man with principle."
He shrugged again and held up the knife, looking along the blade at her neck. "Perhaps not. But I will certainly strike you as a man with a large knife if you don't hand that bauble over in the next ten seconds."
"Alright, Mister Scary Bad Man," she mocked. "You can have it." She reached up and back with the finely manicured fingers of her functional hand and pulled the silver chain over her head. She fumbled it, aided by a pulse of painful visual noise behind her bad eye, and just barely caught it again with the same hand.
Hambold noticed the way she'd been moving. "Something wrong with your left arm?"
"It doesn't work, if that's what you mean. But this arm's more than enough." She spun the necklace around her index finger while extending her arm to him.
"Whatever." His avaricious eyes followed the necklace and he stepped forward to snatch it from her.
Natalia fluidly turned the flick of her wrist into a sweep of her arm. The mass of silver-encrusted gems slammed unerringly into the side of the distracted robber's nose. He let out a sound that was half yelp and half scream, but it could not erase the awful sound of the impact from their memories.
Hambold was almost insensate from the pain, and was in no state to talk. Natalia had nothing to say to him. He stared up at her with furious eyes as he clutched his face, trying to stem the flow of blood and tears. She picked up the unused knife and set out along the road as if nothing had happened.
That worked well. I wonder whether that was enough to gain any higher tiers.