Chapter 27: Border Patrol

The days wore on them, and the lack of any change in pace hardly helped. The group would warily fight off a few bandits and travel beneath the hot sun until they reached a stopping point. If a structure or town were not found by late day, they would set up camp by the road. Diana was still curious about James’s weapon but, despite all this time, had only learned that each shot was fairly expensive. Something someone no less than a well off noble or high ranking adventurer could afford.

Eventually though, she had decided to drop the subject after a few unsuccessful inquiries had been met with mere grunts or glares. At this point, even she could tell that it was not a topic James wished to discuss.

It was near midday when they arrived at the border checkpoint to the Kingdom of Natusha. The post was rather large and had well over three hundred soldiers stationed within it, which meant the post was more like a military town than an actual checkpoint.

Since the location was possibly the last friendly place they would be in for a while, it was tacitly agreed that they would spend the night there and rest up before the rest of the journey, which with each passing day seemed increasingly monotonous. Howard went to an inn, which like the small marketplace had sprouted to serve the needs of the [Soldier]s, to purchase a room, and James hit the local markets to find materials for his work and attempted to advertise his power cores at the market so he could make some quick cash before he entered the truly arduous part of his trek.

Since they had implemented his lights and heating systems even this far from the capital, it was no surprise that the local markets eagerly took them in because he was still the only person to have developed the technology. After a few hours of successful business, James ended the day tired but significantly richer. Meanwhile, Kira and Diana decided to care for the wagon before joining up with Howard at the inn.

By the time James returned to the inn, it was beginning to darken, and he found the two ladies eating at the bar. Kira’s appetite had gone unchecked, resulting in four plates piling up in front of her with a fifth half-finished. From their rosy appearances and fresh aromas, they had bathed before eating as well. James joined them with a plate and a mug, prepared for an evening of casual chit chat. He decided to kick it off with a safe topic.

“How is Howard holding up?”

Diana smiled, thinking of him. “Good. The activity is keeping him alert. He is proud of my skills as well as my Skills, I suppose. He went upstairs to take a nap though. Claimed his old bones couldn’t handle late-night drinking.”

Diana recalled on the sword at her side, and James noticed. He hesitated before saying, “Diana, there is something I want to tell you about that sword. However, this isn’t the place to do that. It might not be safe to use it without knowing certain things about it.”

Diana picked up the hint that she should not openly use the sword if challenged and nodded. After their current plates were emptied as well as a second round that followed, the three were content with their meals and decided to listen to the music from the Bard Box. When the guard changed from the day guard to the night one, it became noticeable that the inn’s dining area filled with hot and tired men wanting cold drinks. With the constant clinking of glasses and a low roar as guards recounted tall tales, it quickly became rowdy, and Diana and James rose to go with Kira rising to follow them. The pair was halfway to the stairs when a loud feline yell occurred. “Rrreeeerrrr hhhsssss.”

James immediately turned to discover Kira ordering another drink through hand signals while one of the guards had his hand on her rump. Her eyes locked on her gropers as she prepared to lash out. Giving the firm flesh in his hand a squeeze, the man guffawed, “Now, don’t be like that, kitty-kitty.”

James rushed to her as she continued her low tone hissing. “Hey, Tom, I see you met my lady.” Kira rushed away from the guard and hid behind James, both scared and angry. With a wince, he felt her claws dig into his clothing as she struggled to control her agitation. If he let her grow any more agitated… James shuddered. He did not want to deal with a bounty on their heads.

The guard glared at James, a little unamused. “Hey, we were only looking for a little fun. No need to butt in.”

James signaled the barkeep. “Drinks for these Toms. On me.” The barkeep paused hearing the name but not recognizing to whom it belonged. The guard and those nearby looked at him in confusion as well. “Tom?”

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James acted like he had not noticed himself saying that. “Apologies, I have trouble sometimes with your tongue. Tom means friend.”

Many of the [Soldier]s heard that and realized they were about to get a free drink and became excited. The burly [Guard] muttered, “I’d rather have a sample of her.”

Kira dug her claws deeper into James, enough for it to sting and draw blood. “Tom, you don’t want my drink? Let me just say that you’ll enjoy it a lot more than you’d enjoy her.”

Only allowed on

The hostility dripping in James’s tone was noticeable. James tried to clearly display the aura of an insulted lover.

A neighboring [Guard] grabbed the first’s shoulder. “Come on, man. He’s paying for the first round. Ease up. It’s just a Hersha sl*t; you can find another one later. Besides, you heard the man; she might be vicious or have some [Berserker] blood in her.” The [Guard] paled and seemed to hesitate before glancing at the numerous people watching their confrontation. Gritting his teeth, the [Guard] James had been talking to rolled his shoulder to shake off the offending hand. “No, this Tom does not want your damn drink!”

James balled his fists and considered punching the imbecile right there when the barkeep yelled, “Take it outside.”

James nodded and headed for the door first, which gave a significant first-turn advantage to the guard once they had fully stepped outside. “Master!” James started to turn back toward the inn upon hearing Kira’s call when a chair broke apart against his arm. He was lucky that he had taken a bracing stance before he had turned as he had already suspected the [Guard] would try to fight dirty, so it looked like the chair had had little effect. The guard held the top of the chair’s remains, shocked. The blood seemed to drain from his face as he realized he’d probably just entered combat with a high Level [Warrior] Class. After all, while as a simple [Guard] he lacked some of the more powerful Class-Analyzer Skills, he still had the very much essential [Gauge Strength], and that Skill told him very clearly this was a fight he would not win. He was like a rabbit being stared at by a tiger.

Wetting his pants, the unfortunate [Guard] did not move as James gripped the top of his chest plate and threw him outside with a heave. A few of the [Guard]’s companions turned away upon seeing the embarrassing scene while the rest of the inn’s patrons chuckled at the arrogant [Guard]’s misfortune. After checking to make sure that Kira and Diana were fine, James then prepared to truly begin Combat, marching outside to face the hapless [Guard]. However, by the time he got outside, the guard was already fleeing up the street, a visible wet stain on his tunic. The inn’s dining occupants grumbled about the lack of a good show as they flooded back to their meals and unattended drinks. Glancing around at the now calm scene, James sighed and approached Kira, scratching behind her ear. She melted into his arm, happy that he had defended her. The other [Guard]s mocked their colleague as they stomped back to their seats behind him. James still paid for their drinks but not the chair. The [Innkeeper] promised to see to it that the [Guard] paid for that.

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