23: Rusti
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“So like, am I your girlfriend?” I asked with a giddy laugh.

“Yeah I guess, but we only do stuff in the game,” Rora said, looking a little red in the cheeks. She was so cute.

“Sweet,” I grinned, continuing to stretch myself as we walked.

I was wearing my full battle outfit now, minus the helmet, because I didn’t want to die. Everyone knows that the people without helmets are the ones most likely to live. That’s just basic plot armour!

Damn though, I felt good as we walked through the streets towards the city gates. I couldn’t stop looking at Rora and thinking Girlfriend! Which… I know it was silly. This wasn’t a proper relationship by any means, and fuck I’d been terrified of the prospect for most of yesterday and the days before… but now that we’d talked about it? I couldn’t stop myself from feeling amazing about it. I knew it would end, and it would absolutely suck, but I was feeling invincible right now, so whatever. I’m sure I would feel terrified in the nights I was logged out and pining for her, wondering if she would still feel the same when we logged back in.

We’d only gotten out of the bakery a bit before noon, having gotten distracted by each other’s lips for a good portion of the morning. It had been nice to kiss her because I liked her. I’d been thoroughly turned on by the end though, and I was still feeling more than a little frisky. I wanted her so badly I was contemplating becoming an exhibitionist right here.

It was when I was gazing adoringly at my potential snack that I saw it, beyond her wispy orange hair. Or rather… him. Wait no, were they a girl? No... looked like a boy from here… maybe.

A cat boy was rushing and dodging through the crowded street, his big fluffy black ears twitching with an excitement to match the shit eating grin that was spread across his face. He had long-for-a-boy black hair that was bouncing in all directions as he ran, and a tail that I noticed deftly dip into an NPC’s pocket as he went. He wore a cloak not dissimilar to the one that Chiri had bought, which is to say a generic rogue cloak. His hips held a cornucopia of daggers and other sharp objects in sheaths, and in his fist he grasped a large number of soft fabric… hats?

Behind him, a ruckus of noise and angry shouts rose as the crowd parted slowly before a group of very irate looking men. A very irate group of men wearing Red Pins…

“Rora!” I said, nodding towards the commotion.

“Oh dang, that cat really pissed off the Red Pins huh?” she remarked calmly, although as I stepped up next to her, I saw the twitch of a forming grin.

“Can I?” I pleaded, my eyes big and bright as I searched her face imploringly.

“Babe, I see no greater target for testing your new gear than those Red Pins over there,” she laughed, her eyes dancing with delight.

She called me babe! Aaaaaaaaaah!

“Can I have a stamina potion?” I asked sweetly, already holding my hand out. “For afterwards I mean.”

She laughed as she handed one to me, and I poofed it into my inventory for safe keeping, then turned to the now clear corridor I had towards the goons. My gear was all enchanted, giving me a whopping fifteen points into strength alone, not even counting the rest of my attributes. This was a lot, for those who didn’t know. The strength of your average human was at about the twenty range, for comparison.

“Hey dude!” I called to the cat boy, gaining his attention as he ran and waving him to the side with a hand. “Shift over a little!”

He slowed his headlong sprint with a curious twitch of his ears and moved out of my way. As soon as my path to the Red Pins was clear, I sighted down the street at them, charged my speed boost ability and clenched my gauntleted fist. My body coiled like a spring and I grinned the promise of death at my foes, raising the cat boy’s eyebrows in curious interest.

For the first time since I’d been using this ability, as my stamina began to drain into the red, there was a physical indication that something was happening. Red sparks of energy skipped across my limbs for the breathless moment before I let fly. And oh how I let fly.

The air shuddered with the boom of thunder as it screamed in agony, my body forcing it to part like… well, like my fist went through their bodies. I had finally achieved that proper blood mist like I had been talking about. I cut through the center of their ranks like a thirty six pound cannonball. One moment they were charging down the streets, their friends and comrades at their sides and no one to stop them from killing the little thief they were chasing. The next moment, their friends were nothing but a cloud of body parts and blood.

From my point of view, I went from releasing the ability, to imbedded in a wood and plaster wall. My fist was in up to my shoulder, and my knee was lodged pretty hard into the wall too. With the remaining sliver of my stamina, which I had saved for this express purpose, I summoned the potion and pulled the cork out with my teeth, then downed it in one go, the sound of screaming npc citizens like applause to my ears.

Pinkies up bitches.

The average city dweller had no idea who these thugs were, all they saw was a series of them being vaporised to the sound of thunder. Distantly, I could hear the bells of the city watch as they got all upset over the racket I’d made. Too bad for them, because it felt good to break things again!

There was the whump of Rora teleporting, a noise that would now forever cause a bit of warmth to pool in my stomach, and she was here to pull me out of the wall. Apparently being pressed against a door was my thing.

“Holy shit,” she wheezed between laughing gasps of air. “That was fucking amazing!”

“I know! I even went so fast I didn’t get too much blood on me!” I giggled in euphoric delight, tugging my arm free of the wall with her help.

“If this wasn’t a game, we’d be fucking awful people for laughing about this shit,” Rora commented with a grin.

“Yeah, but I mean, there isn’t really a more humane way to kill a racist than to instantly pulp him right? Like this is practically a mercy compared to how I normally do it!” I explained like it was a perfectly reasonable thing to say.

“Very true! Well, I’m assuming you can’t do that again for a minute, so I guess it’s my turn,” she said, turning to give the poor hapless bastards her war goddess smirk. That smirk was so fucking hot, oh my god.

She drew her sword with casual ease, the tarnished gold catching the light of the sun as she pointed it at our enemies. For a moment there was a flickering fiery energy along its length, and then with a crack, a beam of ruddy orange fire whipped out and burned a hole through the brain of the neared Red Pin.

After that initial kill, she was off, teleporting forward to cut them down with her usual brutal efficiency. Not wanting to be left out, I rushed forward and into the fray. She’d even been kind enough to start killing in the middle, so I didn’t have to run as far!

The first guy swung at me with a short sword, making a vicious slash that would have cut deep, except I now had a thick plate of steel to block with along each of my forearms. Catching the blow with my left hand and reaching forward with my right, I grabbed his hand where he held the sword and squeezed. The man screamed, thrashing and beating ineffectually at my gauntlet in an attempt to get me to let go.

I did as he wanted and let go of his ruined hand, only to grab his neck instead. With my new hold around his neck, I swung him into the path of another incoming blow from an advancing Red Pin. The blow from the next guy pierced his thrashing friend instead, and I hefted the now dying Pin into the guy who had just delivered the blow, sending them both crashing to the ground.

I took the dead guy’s sword off the ground and pinned them both, then looked up for my next victim.

I was surprised to see the little cat boy gleefully stabbing his way through the Pins from the other side, phasing in and out of sight with some sort of invisibility spell. He wasn’t moving through the enemies as fast as Rora, but he was definitely doing his part. Alright then, so it was going to be a slaughter. I could dig that.

The fight was over pretty quickly after that, much to my disappointment. Having this armour was amazing!  I’d gone from a melee glass cannon to a brawling force of nature, and it felt SO GOOD. Almost too good… I needed tougher enemies to fight, ones that could take more than one or two hits before they went down. I had a new goal in life, find an enemy who could go toe to toe with me.

“Wow,” the cat boy said, being the first to break the silence that had settled around after the fighting stopped. “That was so cool!”

“Hell yeah,” I nodded, raising a hand for a high five.

He reached up and slapped my hand as hard as he could, then winced because I was sheathed in steel and he wasn’t.

“Damn! Shouldn’t have hit your hand that hard!” he squeaked, squeezing his hand between his thighs with a grimace. “Like, I literally just watched you put it through like six dudes and a wall.”

“Yeah, the only thing thicker than her fist, is her skull,” Rora commented dryly, giving me a teasing wink.

“Wow, rude!” I laughed, poking my tongue out at her.

“You leave your tongue out like that and I might make you use it,” Rora grinned, leaning in teasingly close, then backing off. I found I’d been holding my breath as she leaned in, and I felt a mild pang of disappointment that she didn’t make good on that promise. Should I leave my tongue out longer?

“Nice,” the cat boy commented with a shit eating grin I was coming to suspect was his signature expression.

Turning from Rora back to the cat, I asked, “So what did you do to piss off all those Red Pins?”

“Oh that’s easy,” he laughed, holding up the hand that still held all the hats. “I stole these off their heads.”

“You stole… their hats?” I asked in bemused admiration.

“Yeah, I was bored, and those guys are assholes… two birds, one stone!” he nodded.

“Oh my god, he’s like you!” Rora groaned, placing her head on my shoulder theatrically.

“Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?” he asked with a chuckle.

“Good,” I said at the same time that Rora said, “Bad.”

Laughing, I pressed a kiss to the top of her head, because she’s cute, then asked the cat, “So what’s your name dude?”

“Rusti! Like the word for oxidised metal, but with an I instead of a Y. Oh uh, and I’m actually not a dude. Or a girl. I’m a bit a both and also neither!” the cat grinned impishly.

“Oh cool! That’s um…” Rora said, lifting her head off my shoulders and looking thoughtful as she racked her brain. “They and them pronouns right? Uh… Non-binary? Sorry, I’m an ignorant cis lesbian, don’t actually know any trans people in real life. Shit, I’m not even out of the closet in real life, apart from to… to my best friend.”

I blinked at both of them, feeling a little confused by what was going on. The whole being in the closet thing definitely explained why she’d been hesitant during our first two encounters though.

“Yeah! It’s weird, everyone always defaults to boy with me cos of my voice and my haircut, but I mean, I don’t mind that too much. Then they get all confused when I take my cloak off and see that I have hips and tiny boobs. It’s fun, I get to fuck with people every time I meet them!” they laughed, wiggling their hips from side to side in a little dance.

“Yeah I’m hella confused, but I think I follow? Use they and them, try not to think of you as a boy, or a girl,” I said, having only just managed to follow the conversation.

Rusti made some funny sort of eye contact with Rora for a split second, then nodded, “That works.”

“Still, introductions aside… Seriously, why steal the hats?” I asked.

“Those guys have been bullying us non-humans for weeks, and I was getting pissed off. I was just going to disappear with the hats after wasting their time, because they seemed pretty busy when I found them, but then you two showed up! Now they’re all dead and I have a ton of experience!” they smiled, kicking a corpse almost affectionately.

“What were they busy doing?” Rora asked eagerly. If she’d been a dog, her ears would have pricked up.

“Dunno, they were messing with some random totem looking thing. Looked magic to me,” they shrugged, seeming not to have paid too much attention.

“Can you show us where?” she asked. “We have a quest to do with them.”

“Oh? That’s cool! Yeah, I can definitely show you where to go,” they smiled, then their eyes lit up as they considered something. “Oh, will we get to kill more of them?”

“Definitely,” Rora and I said in unison.

 

****

 

“Oh-kaaaay, maybe we don’t want to kill this particular group of Red Pins,” Rora said with a low whistle.

As much as I hated it, I agreed with her. These guys meant serious fucking business. They were set up in an abandoned warehouse, its roof having long since caved in. Why was it always abandoned warehouses? This one was on the edge of the old docks district. The place used to be the only place that barges could find a berth in the city to offload their cargo, but some sixty years ago the prince at the time had decided to dig a proper harbour off the huge river. It required constant maintenance, but it was a lot better than the old one.

As such, the old docks district had fallen into disrepair, the warehouses of the affluent merchants being abandoned in favour of ones closer to the new docks. To make matters worse, the river had been slowly eating away at the district, sinking it down into a swamp that only the most destitute or desperate would go. Even criminals tended to avoid the place because it was so unpleasant.

We were sitting on a taller building, looking down on the hive of activity from a safe distance. They had patrols of the usual level fifteen thugs that we’d fought earlier today, but towards the center, they had much higher levels. Dudes in full plate armour, carrying tower shields taller than I was, were guarding the doors. Mages in ostentatious robes stood around in groups looking like the pompous gits that they were, while crossbowmen skulked across the rooftops.

In the center of it all, just visible over the ruined wall of the warehouse, was a strange totem made of some dark material that I couldn’t identify. Across its surface, purple arcane runes bubbled and flickered.

“Fuck, I really wish I’d had time to study how magic works in this game,” Rora grumbled, her fingers absently worrying at the ribbons that made up her robes.

“I don’t think you need a phd in magicology or whatever to figure out that the thing down there isn’t good. I mean, just look at it! Spook central!” Rusti exclaimed. “Also, I think I just got a quest. Something about a conspiracy.”

“Oh hey, that’s the same one we have,” I smiled.

“Oh cool! Think… um, we could party up or somethin’? If that’s all good?” they asked hopefully.

I looked at Rora, who smiled affectionately at me and leaned forward to whisper in my ear, “You’re the people person, not me. Your call babe.”

Babe. There it was again, that word that sent shivers of happiness up and down my spine for multiple reasons. I loved it. I was going to become addicted, that was for sure.

“Before I say yes or no…” I murmured, reaching up to play with a strand of her hair. “We need to friend each other.”

“Wait, we aren’t already?” she asked, looking genuinely surprised.

“No silly, we never bothered… we were too busy fighting or fucking to get around to it,” I giggled, giving her a quick peck on the cheek.

“Wow, okay. What’s your ingame name? The full one?” she asked, swishing her hand around in the air like she was playing with her menus.

“Tamipesagniyah,” I said, then spelled it out, because there was no way anyone was going to get it without me doing that.

“There, invite sent,” she said.

I accepted it, feeling strangely very happy to finally have a connection to her that I might be able to use if we got split up again. Her full player name appeared to be Auroraduskyhair, which I thought was really cute. Probably because it was the name she’d chosen for her game account, but still. Cute.

“Alright, your turn Rusti, what’s your handle so we can add you?” I asked, looking over at them as they watched Rora and I.

“I should get a name change to ‘ThirdWheel’ if I’m going to be partying with you two,” they joked. “My full handle is RustiTheTrickster.

I typed their name into the friend request box, as did Rora, and once we were all friends… wait, I was still in a party with Chiri. Wow. I sent a message to Chiri, asking for party lead so I could invite the two next to me, which she gladly agreed to. She mentioned something about being busy “testing some new poisons”, and then went silent. Interesting…

Once I had party leader, I added the other two, and we were set.

“What’s the plan then? Go back to the bakery?” I asked, looking to Rora for guidance. If I was the people girl, she was the plans girl.

“Nah, we caused a bit too much of a commotion before, so if we go back, they'll probably have guards busting their door down. I think we should find an abandoned house to squat in for the night while we get to work on this quest. I have a feeling this city won’t be safe for us for much longer,” she said thoughtfully, chewing lightly on her tongue. I wanted to chew lightly on her tongue too…

“Okay…” I said sadly, already missing the bath.

“I have a place I’ve been hiding in that would work,” Rusti mentioned. “I’m kinda wanted too. I’m playing as a thief after all, so I needed a thief hideout.”

“Sweet, lead the way again,” Rora smiled.

As we got moving, I opened my messages and got to the task of reassuring my sister and through her, my parents.

Tamipesagniyah: Sorry about earlier, I really was cuddling Rora at the time. Apparently she held me through last night, I was crying and whimpering and shit in my sleep, and she couldn’t wake me up.

LipsAndShades: All good. Mum and Dad figured out what happened last night…

Tamipesagniyah: Oh?

LipsAndShades: Um… well... they realised that if they got close to the window, they could see further down your body.

Tamipesagniyah: That’s a bit weird.

LipsAndShades: They were worried. Turns out… the pod did a huge chunk of the cutting and slicing last night. You uh, don’t have a dick anymore, that’s for sure. It made a lot of other cuts too, but that’s the most notable.

Tamipesagniyah: Holy fuck, no wonder she warned me… that was anaesthetic that put me to sleep. I should have realised it too, remember that time I had surgery to fix… fuck whatever it was, I can’t remember the weird scientific name they used.

LipsAndShades: Yeah I remember. Now… who warned you, MaTRON?

Tamipesagniyah: It felt the same. I shoulda realised… anyway, yeah. I can’t say much, there seems to be some weird shit going on, and I don’t want to mess with things until after the transformation is complete. Let’s just say it’s a good thing that my pod is locked.

LipsAndShades: If you say so…

Tamipesagniyah: Please trust me on this

LipsAndShades: Alright. Love you sis. I can’t wait to give you a hug when you’re out.

Tamipesagniyah: Can we just like, cuddle on Mum and Dad’s couch when I get out? Like we used to before the whole, boy and girl weirdness made it awkward.

LipsAndShades: Fuck, I missed that. Yes.

Tamipesagniyah: Love you sis.

LipsAndShades: Team twins!

Tamipesagniyah: Team twins!

I was smiling as we made our way into the half collapsed house that Rusti was using as a base of operations. Most of it was a mouldy wreck, but the room that used to be some sort of dining room was reasonably dry and clean. In one corner Rusti had their bedroll, and in the old fireplace they’d set up a crude cooking area. It was cute and homey.

“You two can use that corner for your bedrolls if you want,” Rusti said, gesturing over at the corner opposite their own.

“Thanks,” Rora nodded, while I moved over to the cooking area, intrigued by their setup.

Rora and I ducked out to quickly buy a whole bunch of food, as I wanted to try my hand at some proper cooking, and we needed stores anyway. Rora also made me buy some potions… which turned out to be kinda expensive. Realising how much they actually cost made the casual way she’d handed them to me that much more endearing. When we got back from our little shopping trip, it was late afternoon and I got stuck into doing some real cooking!

 

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Cutenesssssssssss. BOOM! Thanks for reading!

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