by AJ Marks
Part 2: A Lucky Test
Gwen saw the town ahead feeling relieved. She spent the last two hours listening to Zoe, who managed to talk non-stop about a variety of topics. It amazed her the girl’s voice had not given out. Now entering the town, she noticed the bustle of people, and felt cursed. Why were so many people in this town?
“Wow, so this is Alarion, heard about it, never been here. Merchants say it’s a major trading town in the Shadowland,” Zoe said, causing Gwen to look over at the girl. She too had heard of the town. One of the largest and known for its merchant shops from all over. People came here to trade. She would have to be careful, in case someone recognized her.
“Think you can make if from here?” Gwen asked, looking down at her tag-a long hoping the girl could.
“But I haven’t thanked you properly, and I have your shirt,” Zoe said, unsure about leaving.
“Don’t worry about it, you can keep it,” Gwen replied, not saying she would be happy to leave the girl. The past two hours of non-stop talking had her about to rip her hair out. She moved on through the crowd leaving Zoe at the entrance of the town, and went looking for an inn to stay at.
Making her way past the crowds, she had no desire to sleep outside tonight. The winter chill still hung in the air at night. Spring had yet to abate the temperatures, and many avoided the chilly nights. Spotting an inn she made her way towards the entrance.
Inside she spotted the normal types of a cheap inn. The rough people who were more at home with mercenaries than the upper elite. She wondered what her mother might think of her entering a place like this, probably rolling over in her grave at the thought. Most were low level fighters, and no one she spotted looked familiar, another reason for staying in such places.
She made her way over to the innkeeper, who merely watched the area with little interest. He looked up and gave her the once over, before continuing his work.
“How much for a room?” Gwen asked.
“Sorry, all full, merchant train came in yesterday, leaves three days from now, in fact, most inns are full when this happens,” the innkeeper stated back to her, his tone uninterested.
“Great,” Gwen said, wondering what she might do now. “Know any inns that might have a room?”
“Only one, the Golden Nugget, doubt you’ll get in there though, strict about who they rent a room to, and well, you ain’t their type of clientele,” the innkeeper said, giving her the once over.
“Well, thanks,” Gwen said, walking off, having her path blocked by a ragged looking man, obviously drunk.
“I could lend you a room,” he leered, looking at her chest.
“I doubt it,” Gwen said, holding a dagger to the man’s throat in a flash. “You don’t have the parts I like in a partner.”
A couple of yells rang out at the statement. The man looked down, then up and slowly backed off, with the help of a friend to steady his walk.
Gwen made it out of the inn, and after asking for directions, headed in the direction of the Golden Nugget with the thought they worst they could do, say no to her. Looking at the outside of the inn, it looked like a mansion and not an inn, realization struck her that this is where the wealthy merchants stayed, the big shots when they were in town. The money oozed out making her feel outclassed with her clothing and current job. The other problem, even if they said yes, she probably could not afford the creds to stay here.
Gathering her courage, she walked in, seeing a couple give her a disgusted look and even thought she heard something about her clothing from the woman. The man said nothing, but looked away ignoring her completely. A woman with short black hair sat nearby, ignoring her completely. Another couple stared for a second before focusing on their food. She stopped about halfway in, deciding to find another place to sleep.
“There you are, being looking for you,” a familiar voice said. Gwen froze, turning to look, seeing Zoe walking towards her, smiling. “I found us a room.”
“Us?” Gwen stammered, confused about the sudden turn of events. She looked down at Zoe, who merely grinned back up at her, now dressed in a new skirt and a top that exposed her cleavage nicely. Gwen took a second to admire the view given before snapping out of it, and back up into innocent green eyes.
“Yes,” Zoe said, turning to address one of the nearby couples. “She’s the one I spoke about earlier.”
“You are a wonderful person then,” the woman said. “Helping out this poor girl after such an ordeal.” Gwen felt slightly uncomfortable with the sudden praise, and the attitude shift she felt from many of the others. “Such a terrible thing, thieves have been such a bother lately, haven’t they dear.”
“Um-hum,” he replied, a pipe clinched in his teeth, before taking it out. “Protection this year is hard to come by, a sign of the economy I guess. Did you get a name?”
“He said his name was Stephos,” Zoe said, replying before Gwen could speak. She saw his eyes go wide at the name, and he took an interest in her, looking her over with more than his first glance.
“Really, he’s been a pain to many of us for a while now,” the man said, thinking things over a bit. “You must be powerful if he left you alone.”
Gwen knew from experience when someone sized her up, and he defiantly was doing it right now.
“Yep, he went running away with his tail between his legs,” Zoe said, ignoring any warning looks that Gwen gave her.
“Looking for a job?” the man asked between puffs on the pipe.
“Um, you see,” Gwen said, hesitating, but she really did need the job, but the woman spoke up first.
“Don’t pressure her John, let her have some rest,” she said. “After all, rescuing this poor girl is taxing enough”
“All right, think about it, I’ll be around,” he said, standing.
“Fair enough,” Gwen replied back, watching as he nodded and walked out of the inn, probably towards his merchant stall.
“Come on, I’ll show you to our room,” Zoe said, grabbing her hand and dragged her through the inn and towards the stairs. Up to the third level and then the end of the hallway. “Here we are.”
Gwen entered, looking around mildly impressed, but saw only a table, two chairs, a nice room, but what appeared to be a single bed.
“Lucky I found you, this was the only room in town, or so I was told,” Zoe said, jumping onto the bed and lying down. “Ah, this feels so good after all that walking. How you do that I don’t know, my feet ache.”
“You get used to it,” Gwen replied, placing her bag down, knowing she had two choices, either stay here, or go on the road and spend the cold night outside. She choose to stay inside, despite the bounty hunter act, she did enjoy being pampered. “So, how did you get the room?”
“Got lucky I guess,” Zoe replied. “Went looking for a place after you left me standing there. Then almost got run over, but John pulled me out of the way before anything could happen. He asked what was wrong with me, and I gave him the story of being saved twice in one day. His wife wanted the story and ended up here, where I bumped into you, my lucky day.”
Gwen shook her head at the explanation, it sounded too good to be true, yet knew it happened. “I got that part, but it seems that you left some things out,” Gwen said, recalling John’s reaction to her encounter with Stephos.
“You mean like mentioning Stephos, well, at the time it didn’t feel right, so I said nothing,” Zoe replied, giving Gwen the impression she did this type of thing before. “And besides, I told them about my top being ripped, and instead of lending me thread, offered to buy me a new outfit, which led to asking about where I was staying. When I said I didn’t know they offered to put me up here.”
Gwen pinch the bridge of her nose at the information coming from Zoe. The tale could be considered an exaggeration if she hadn’t seen it herself.
“I even got us something to eat,” Zoe said, pointing to the table which had food on it, enough for the both of them.
With a bit of resignation Gwen sat down, looking at the food wondering what type of person Zoe really was. She had managed all this by herself. Gwen had thought for sure the girl would have had trouble. Perhaps she would need to reevaluate her.
Gwen took her time in the tub, enjoying the hot bath, a luxury she rarely had these days. Usually the inns she stayed in were anything but relaxing, and the clientele she dared not turn her back on. Her hair washed, she lounged in the tub pushing things of her past out of her mind. Such luxuries always reminded her of home, her youth, before the troubles.
The past had a way of creeping in on her when she did not wish it to. Getting out she dried off, and ran a comb though her hair getting rid of any tangles. She paused, looking at herself in the mirror, deciding she kept herself in good enough shape before returning to the room
She paused at the door, seeing that Zoe asleep on the bed already. Not wanting to disturb the girl she made her way over the window, after dousing the light inside. She looked out seeing the bustle of the town, even at night. The town was busy almost twenty-four hours a day. Lamps burned brightly illuminating the paths, and she spotted several more guards patrolling.
Taking time to scan the crowd she paused seeing a familiar sight. Another bounty hunter, and a powerful one. She also knew him from her past. She would have to avoid him until they got out of town. She wondered slightly at what he might be doing here, Zeltran usually worked for the Realm.
Watching him for a while he made his way through the crowd and away from the inn. With so many people he would have a hard time feeling her aura, which made her feel better. They both knew how to hide their true powers. A trick that you learned as you got more powerful.
He turned after walking along the street, and Gwen let out a breath. She rummaged through her bag taking out her bedding to sleep for the night.
“Thought I told you there’s room for both of us here,” Zoe said. Gwen looked at her. They argued about it before Gwen went to the bath, and Zoe made it clear they could share.
“Didn’t want to squish you,” Gwen replied.
“Come on, I don’t bite,” Zoe said, giving a small grin.
Gwen hesitated for a second at the sight, and the statement. She finally gave up, climbing into bed as well, trying her best to not take up too much space. Finally reaching a comfortable position she thought about the day. She wondered what tomorrow might bring, but decided to not tempt fate.
Gwen awoke to a different feeling, one she had not been accustomed to in years, a body snuggled up against hers. She moved her hand slightly feeling soft skin under her fingers. Moving a bit more she felt the swell of Zoe’s hips, before going back up to her shoulders and back down, loving the feel of the skin.
Gwen’s eyes shot open as the realization struck her. Zoe was snuggling against her sometime in the night. That did not bother her that much, some were natural snugglers, what bothered her, the fact Zoe seemed to be nude. Taking a moment to calm her nerves, she assess the situation with a more rational mind. The girl appeared still asleep.
Gwen slowly extracted herself from Zoe, trying her best to not wake the girl. Finally, after several seconds she stood in the middle of the room taking a few more calming breaths, as she had gotten good look at the girl, the soft feminine curves. Her own body tingled with where she had been touching, and part of her wanted to go back and snuggle some more.
Shaking the thoughts from her mind, and sure that Zoe would run screaming from the room, made her way over the water basin. Splashing water on her face a bit hoping to wake up a bit more. A glance over indicated Zoe still asleep, and part of her felt envious of her ability to sleep so soundly. Innocence of youth she guessed.
Now she tried to figure out what her next move might be. Taking out her supplies, she went through making a list of what she needed to buy, and how much creds she had to buy it with. Movement from the bed caused her to look over.
“Ugh, you’re already awake,” Zoe said, propping herself up on an elbow looking over at Gwen. The movement caused the sheet to move down slightly, exposing Zoe’s breasts. Gwen looked over seeing the twin peaks almost begging for attention before mentally slapping herself and looking back at Zoe.
“Um, yeah, have to be in my line of work,” Gwen replied back. She looked back up into Zoe’s eyes, but realized looking there did not help. The girl’s innocence almost shone though, and the action of rubbing sleep out her eyes, well, Gwen looked at the window for a second pushing the feeling of the girl’s body against hers this morning.
“Glad I’m not a fighter,” Zoe stated back, flopping onto her back. “No fighting magic.”
“No, didn’t sense any with you,” Gwen finally said. “Any magical abilities?”
“Nope, not a mage either. Not sure I want to have any of that magic either” Zoe said, but she thought she spotted a brief, guarded look on the girl’s face. Though the sight of the bare breasts divided her attention before she realized what the girl said.
“Why’s that?” Gwen asked, curious about the answer. She never met anyone who did not want some sort of power, or more abilities.
“Too much trouble, if you have fighting magic, then you’re expected to fight, I don’t like fighting. If you have magical abilities, then you’re expected to help out in support of the fighters, or helping people with problems, again, too much of a problem, people always coming to you for things,” Zoe said, sounding logical, as if she had given this some thought.
“Well, I suppose so,” Gwen said, running a hand though her hair, thinking about it for several seconds. “I guess that’s true, but most want powers so they don’t have to ask someone else to help them.”
“Then they should learn to get along without it,” Zoe said. “Then those who really need the help can get it.”
“An idealistic way to look at things,” Gwen replied. “Sadly the real world doesn’t work that way.”
“No, I guess not, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing it.”
“Fair enough,” Gwen answered, looking back down at the table. “My experience is those with power either try to take over, or want help from those who are trying to take over.”
“Mercenaries,” Zoe stated, almost spitting out the word. Gwen had the feeling the girl had her fair share of run-ins with such groups.
“So, what’s the plan?” Zoe finally said after several seconds of silence. “What do we do next?”
“We?” Gwen repeated, looking over at Zoe. She had no plans of forming any sort of partnership with the girl. She only saw trouble staying with the girl.
“Sure, you can always use someone normal like me,” Zoe answered, causing Gwen’s eyebrows to rise.
“And how do you come up with that conclusion?”
“Its obvious you want to avoid people, and you don’t want then to know about your power, so in towns I can help you out. I can buy stuff, I love shopping, I’m good at talking, and listening,” Zoe said, Gwen knew about the talking, doubted the listening though. She remained quite as Zoe continued. “I can gain information, and stay out of the way in a fight, and then, well, there are always some other benefits of a young gorgeous thing like me.”
Gwen coughed at the implied statement, as the girl showed off a bit more of her body. Gwen turned towards the window ignoring the last part, at least as much as possible, and focused on the other aspects of Zoe’s argument. The girl could talk, and probably could shop better, considering her dislike of crowds. An idea came to her. “All right, how about a test?”
“Test, okay, what type of test?” Zoe said, sitting up in the bed giving Zoe a full view of the girl’s womanly charms.
“Um,” Gwen said, her brain momentarily stunned by the figure before her. The girl was not girl, but defiantly a woman.
“Oh, that type of test?” the girl said, suggestively moving to give a better view.
“Ah, no,” Gwen finally said, finally looking away and tossing her a shirt to wear. “You always sleep in the nude?” The question came out of nowhere, and Gwen wondered why she asked it.
“Whenever I can, it feels so, um, so sexy and exciting, don’t you think,” Zoe said.
The image of Zoe squirming around under her in the heat of passion, the soft skin as her fingers explored the secrets of Zoe’s womanly charms. The sounds she might make, coming from the cute lips. Gwen shook her head trying to rid herself of those highly erotic images. Turning back to the girl, she appeared waiting for something.
“So, what test?” Zoe said, a smile on her face.
“Test?” Gwen replied, slightly confused for a second before quickly recovering. “Right, test, well, I’m in need of some supplies.”
“So, shopping, shouldn’t be a problem,” Zoe said, suddenly excited about the prospect. Gwen looked a bit surprised, but said nothing about it. “What about creds?”
“Here, use this,” Gwen said, tossing the bag over to her along with the list, watching as Zoe looked it over for a few seconds.
“This it?” she finally said.
“All right, I can do this, I’ll head out after breakfast, can’t go on an empty stomach,” she said,
“Sounds good,” Gwen said, privately looking forward to what the girl could do. “Then we’ll meet up at lunch time or so and see how you did.”
“I think you’ll be surprised,” Zoe said, turning to get dressed before heading down.
Gwen sat in the dining area of the inn, having spent the morning watching people come and go. Dressed in a simple outfit, which drew less stares than her normal outfit, and left the sword back in the room. She felt sure such a weapon would be frowned upon, but had seen a few guards walk into the area, usually to discuss business.
Of course, she watched one woman, the wife of a merchant, walk in and out with several different men, and women, all morning. She had no illusions what the woman was doing, as she even had looked Gwen over a bit at one point. Of course she had met with a guy, and thought she heard him call him her hubby. That same guy returned a bit later with a young thing heading back to the room. The couple acted as if they played a game with so much coming and going.
Sipping on her drink, she thought back to this morning, after Zoe left. She had thought about heading out as well, before spotting Zeltran wondering around outside. She felt grateful that Zoe had gone out, while she hid inside the inn. She spent some of the morning wondering why he was here. What job was he doing? Zoe would attract different people, consider that Gwen usually attracted the riff-raff of the group.
With lunch approaching more people came into the dining area. She overheard a few merchants talking about the latest raiders, and concerns over the economy. Things she rarely concerned herself with. Another group talked about prices they should sell their goods at, and what the competition was doing. They discussed ways to put the competitor out of business causing Gwen to shake her head. She had no desire to be a part of such ruthless tactics. She preferred being able to square off against her enemy.
She overheard one merchant talking about being on the lookout for an armed female with unusual power, and had a bounty on her head. Gwen tried to listen in, but they never mentioned any description of the woman or what the powers might be.
Now with lunch approaching, she looked around for any sign of Zoe’s return. A glance at the entrance and she saw Zoe make her way into the inn, her arms full of packages. She made her way through a few tables before sitting down across the table, setting the stuff down on the extra chair.
“Got everything,” the girl said, a proud grin on her face. “And I got some good deals as well, here’s the extra.”
Gwen took the coins slightly surprised at how little the girl had spent. “You got all of this with about half what I gave you?” Gwen asked, after looking closer at the coins left.
“Yep, I love to haggle,” Zoe said, still smiling. The girl did not seem to lie when she said she loved to shop, and also appeared good at it as well.
Gwen gave it some more thought, weighing the pros and cons of having a partner. She thought it might not be so bad for a while, after all, the girl would not stay with her for very long. Enough to find some place she could stay.
“Well, all right partner, what do we do next?” Gwen asked, watching the girl’s eyes light up with excitement.
“How about lunch.”
“Okay,” Gwen said, motioning for the server to come over. The next thing would be what direction they might go next.