Sarah rushed through the rows upon rows of stalls that made up the Floating City’s Grand Bazaar, with Alexis following just half a step behind her. Sarah stopped, taking a long look around her, and kicked a stray rock in frustration, earning herself some glares from the crowds.
“I could have sworn I saw something like steel glinting around here,” she said with a huff, turning around to give her surroundings a better look.
Alexis looked unconvinced. “I don’t know, this looks just like any other place in this stupid bazaar. Just clothes, and trinkets useless knick-knacks — and cheese! Where the hell do they get all this cheese? I thought the whole island was supposed to be a city.”
“No clue. It just feels like we’ve been walking in circles, you know? It all just looks the same.”
“Figures. City is supposed to be the biggest gathering of adventurers and I can’t find a damn sword.”
And Sarah was painfully aware just how much she needed a new one. Their trip to the Circle of Stars had seen her fighting gargoyles at some point, and it was only when they were back to the ship that Sarah realized how badly her weapon had been damaged by those encounters. Despite its quality, its low-grade enchantment could only handle so much — and while it had been able to cut through stone, it hadn’t come out of those fights unscathed. The blade was chipped, and thin fissures ran along its width. Sarah wouldn’t have been surprised if her next slash ended with the blade just flying off the hilt.
That was until a voice from one of the stalls rang out, offering Sarah salvation.
“Hello to the two young ladies! I understand you are looking for weapons?”
Sarah turned to see the merchant who’d addressed them — and had to do a double take as she noticed the pointy ears.
An elf. She shouldn’t have been surprised to see elves in this world, but after having met only humans in Canneria and Ravenrock, she’d began to think there weren’t other species around. Clearly, she’d been wrong. She approached the stall, trying her best not to stare at the man’s ears — and mostly failing, which didn’t go unnoticed.
“Haven’t seen an elf before?” he asked with a kindly smile.
Sarah blinked twice, and she’d have flushed if she could. “Nope.”
“You must have come from the mainland, right?” he said, earning two nods from the Revenants, “There aren’t many of my kind left there, aside from some settlements in the north. Not many of the other races, either. Just humans, humans, and more humans.”
“But not here?” Alexis asked.
The merchant laughed. “I’m surprised you made it this far into the bazaar without meeting any of my kin! Indeed, you humans don’t rule the Archipelagos as you do the continent. But never mind that, I understand you’re searching for weapons, yes?”
“Yup. I need a new one, and soon.”
“You won’t find any around here, then,” he said with a chuckle. “This part of the bazaar, it’s only for common goods, you see? No weapons, or armor, or magical artifacts. Those have their own section, much smaller and with many guards overseeing it.”
“Oh,” Sarah said, feeling quite foolish. That made a lot of sense. “Where can we find it?”
The merchant pointed over his shoulder. “It has a separate space set aside for it. You’d have to circle around the entire Bazaar if you wanted to get to the main entrance, but there are a few alleyways that way if you’d prefer a shortcut. Not as glamorous, but much quicker. But before you go, can I interest you in some of my wares?”
Sarah opened her mouth to say no, but Alexis was quicker, jabbing the other girl in the side with her elbow. The effect was slightly hampered by Sarah’s armor. “We’d love to take a look,” she said, with a smile — and then gave Sarah a meaningful scowl.
Chagrined, Sarah shrugged and inspected the merchant’s stall. Jewelry, she saw, protected by a case of glass. But she already had her robin necklace, and didn’t feel the need for more. She was about to signal Alexis that she wanted to go, but again, the other girl spoke up first.
“How much for the arrowhead bracelet?
The merchant looked surprised, yet disappointed. “This little thing? Fifty silver. It is carved out of the wood of a thousand-year-old oak.”
Sarah doubted it, but Alexis reached into her coin pouch and completed the transaction, and soon they were off in the direction the merchant had showed them.
“Did you really want that?” Sarah asked, giving Alexis an oblique look.
“Not really. But I’d have felt guilty if I didn’t buy anything.”
“Pretty sure that’s what he was going for in the first place.”
Alexis shrugged. “Well, at least I don’t feel guilty. And it’s not like it’s my money, anyway.”
“True. Boss doesn’t really care about money. When he had my armor crafted, he didn’t even look at the bill. Luckily for me.”
Alexis snorted. “What, did you get the blacksmith to make the most expensive thing he could?”
“Better. He got a mage to stick a pocket dimension to it. That alone was like, twice as expensive as the armor itself.”
Alexis whistled. “Damn. Maybe I should do the same. I’m always worried I’ll run out of arrows.”
“It’s not that big. It can fit my sword and some small stuff, like my deck of cards.”
“Still, you can’t deny it’s incredibly useful.”
The two girls made it to the edge of the Bazaar and entered the first alley they found. Unlike the colorful exuberance of the Bazaar itself, the alley was cramped and narrow — barely wide enough for three people to walk abreast. Dark shadows loomed, flickering as people passed by the ends, blocking the light.
“Perfect place for an ambush,” Sarah mused out loud as she swatted away a mosquito.
Alexis noted the group walking some distance ahead of them, and turned in place to take a look behind, where a couple followed. “In broad daylight? With others around? Nah.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time. Wouldn’t even be the second.”
Perhaps they wouldn’t have been attacked if Alexis hadn’t tempted fate. Or perhaps, if Sarah hadn’t brought it up in the first place. But as it stood, both things had happened, and as soon as Sarah’s words were out of her mouth, the pair that was walking not too far behind them decided it was their moment to shine. They charged.
Sarah and Alexis turned in an instant, Sarah’s sword appearing suddenly in her outstretched hand. Alexis unslung her bow from her shoulder, drawing an arrow from the quiver on her waist. Two on two, even with Alexis’s handicap in close quarters should have been a done deal.
And then, the sound of feet shuffling behind them told them that the other pair was joining in. To help, perhaps? With a swift motion, Alexis turned and shot an arrow right between their heads.
They continued, undeterred. Enemies, then. Standing back to back with Sarah, she drew another arrow — but this time, she was aiming for the figure on the right. She released, the arrow flying true, but the figure twisted out of its path, slowing down to avoid running into its partner. Alexis stood agape for a moment — she hadn’t seen anyone do that before! And worse yet, the two were already too close. Another shot was impossible. She threw the bow to side of the alley, along with a quick prayer that it wouldn’t be trampled, and drew her emergency dagger from her boot, bringing it up into a high guard—
And just in time to deflect the first assailant’s swipe, mere inches from her face.
Behind her, Sarah was engaged in her own fight with the first two attackers. She’d blocked their first few attacks, then caught two more with her armor — she stopped defending once she realized their daggers couldn’t penetrate the thick plate. Instead, she focused on the offensive, trying to impale the two enemies with her sword. She couldn’t swing — the space was too narrow to allow her any kind of broad movements. She was forced, instead, into making pinpoint stabs, but the attackers were quick to dodge. Trained assassins, maybe?
A dagger flashed right before her eyes, aimed straight at the eye slit her helmet. On instinct, she brought her sword high, blocking the strike—
But the dagger must have snagged on one of the chips in the blade, because she found herself with nothing but the hilt in her hand. But the dagger’s path had been affected, at least, and it slid harmlessly across her helmet.
A stood dumbly for a moment, until finally she remembered she had other tools in her arsenal. Her aura, most of all — she kept forgetting about it. It had been largely useless in the dungeon, and she’d only used it when Shiro called for it. She activated the skill, making sure to keep the radius tight and its intensity high.
As trained as their assailants were, they weren’t prepared for Sarah’s strange ability. They could dodge physical blows, and their protective amulets would ward off magical attacks, but the skill she’d been given by the System was none of these.
Sarah could finally get a good view of her two attackers as they staggered. The woman on the right was still on her feet, though clearly struggling, while the man on the right had collapsed to his knees. A crash behind told Sarah the other two were suffering similar fates.
But they weren’t the only ones affected.
“Gah!” Alexis yelled out. “Friendly fire!”
Sarah hastily excluded the other Hero from the effects of her aura. “Sorry,” she said with a guilty smile. “I’m used to fighting with Shiro around.”
“Nevermind that. Deal with these guys first before they get used to it.”
A minute later, the four assailants — a woman and three men — sat unconscious, arrayed along a wall. Alexis crouched over them, her bow back on her shoulder as she stared intently at their garb.
“I don’t see any identifying signs,” she said with a frown. “But their gear is way too good for them to be simple street thugs.”
“I thought that was obvious from the way they fought.”
Alexis shrugged. “One of them dodged my arrow. Like, how crazy is that?”
Sarah and Alexis’s heads snapped to the side as the sound of footsteps — many footsteps — engulfed the alleyway. Sarah tensed, summoning her sword to her hand — but no sword came. She really needed a new sword, and she needed it now.
A hand pressed down on her shoulder, and Sarah saw Alexis give her an encouraging smile. Alexis stepped forward to meet the newcomers.
As they approached, their purpose became evident. It was the city guard, led by a middle-aged woman with gray in her hair. She wore the usual guardsman uniform, the insignia proudly displayed on her tabard.
She wasted no time getting to the point. “Well, well. And what in the endless abyss happened here?”
“We were ambushed by these four,” Alexis said simply, gesturing to the unconscious bodies. It wasn’t her first time dealing with law enforcement, and she knew from experience it was in her best interest to stick to the truth. After all, they had done nothing wrong. This time.
The guardswoman took a long look at the assailants, and her eyebrows shot up. “And the two of you fended them off? I find that hard to believe.”
“We’re stronger than we look,” Sarah said. Alexis stepped on her foot, again, to little effect.
“Yes, I can see that,” the guardswoman said with a sigh. “And of course, there aren’t any witnesses around, is that right?”
Alexis shrugged. “Not unless anyone watched the whole thing from a window.”
The guardswoman grunted. “Unlikely. Okay, here’s what’s going to happen,” she said as she shifted her weight around. “You two are under arrest.”
Sarah took a step back, trying once more to summon her sword, and Alexis tensed.
“Calm down,” the guardswoman continued. “Hear me out first. I believe you when you say you were attacked — but we do things by the book here. Since there are no witnesses, I’ll need you to recount what happened on a truth spell. Both you and the other group. Unless it turns out you attacked them, we won’t be keeping you longer than a couple of hours.”
“And if we refuse to come?” Sarah asked, and Alexis stomped on her foot again — and winced. It wasn’t quite like stepping on a Lego, but it was close.
“Then we’ll do it the hard way, and you’ll also be fined for resisting arrest.”
“We’ll come,” Alexis said, glaring at Sarah.
“Good. Cuff them all, grab the unconscious ones, and let’s get going.”