Godless and Faithless 2: Ch 4

"I’m at the same level as most people."

"Most people don’t spew out mana as you do. What is your level?" she asked again.

He hated when women talked to him this way. Why should he have to tell her anything simply because she asked? She was nothing but a stranger to him.

He brought out the sarcasm. "Hey, my name is Axel. What’s yours?"

"Ava. I have watched you fight for a month now."

Axel hadn’t seen her watching him!

"You should be close to level three but fight like a level one."

"Ava. Pretty name. Pleased to meet you too." He got up and walked over to her with an extended hand, trying to keep a straight face.

She shook his hand with a strength that surprised him. "Likewise. You know little of the ways EXP is gained but you have still attained the strength that many seek. How is this so?"

"Alright, since my sarcasm is lost on you, I will make it clear. I don’t want to tell you."

Her grip tightened. "I know. I still want my answer." She increased her grip until his bones rubbed against each other. He had to pull it out of her grasp. Or at least, that is what he tried to do.

"Let go." He said, voice losing all levity and sarcasm. She only increased the force until he winced in pain.

Axel had enough of this. Pulling his dagger out, he activated Fear Knife. Then the grip on his hand dissipated. Rayner held Ava by the wrist and the girl tugged to get her hand free from him. She’d found herself in Axel’s position.

"Should I squeeze your wrist until you answer my questions?" Rayner tightened his large hand around Ava’s little wrist until she cried out.

"Let her go." Another woman appeared with a sword at Rayner’s throat. She dressed similarly to Ava but had mature features. Her eyes were narrowed and sword steady.

"Enough!" Kevia demanded. After a tense moment, everyone took their distance from each other. Kevia sighed. "Should have known. I’ve seen you two watching them for a while now. I guessed what you were looking for too. The boys like to keep to themselves. That goes double for this one." She jerked her thumb at Axel.

"I need to know how he did it. How someone so unskilled and unrefined rose in power."

Kevia raised a hand to Axel to keep him from yelling at Ava. "Axel is not unskilled." She left the other remark unchallenged. "He just has a more unique skill set than others. If you were listening to our talk earlier, then you know everybody’s experiences are different. His led him to level three."

So Kevia knew his level. And now, so did everyone else who heard.

Damn, hiding things from her was as difficult as keeping secrets from Grace.

Ava balled her little fists. "Even after all my years of training, the goddess Vara has never blessed me so. Just how much of your god’s blessing do you forgo to gather so much EXP?"

Gods and goddesses took EXP as worship. It acted as a kind of food for them, which they used to provide worshipers with blessings, skills, classes, and titles. The problem was that it is incredibly difficult to grow in levels when an already-hard-to-get resource is offered up as a means to get the power needed to get the EXP in the first place.

When reviewing Rayner’s notes, he compared it to a snake eating its own tail.

"Again, that is our private matter," Axel said.

Ava’s eyes flared and her partner prepared to strike again but Rayner interrupted. "We don’t know." At their questioning faces, he elaborated. "I have been stuck at level one even as Axel has risen higher, we barely understand our skills. You know more than we do, I bet."

Axel’s level was higher than Rayner’s because of his title Godless. He didn’t have to give the gods his EXP for power. What confused them was that this counted for Rayner as well. More so because his title Faithless meant he could not worship gods.

"I have heard of gods that don’t reveal themselves to their worshipers but still ... I think they are hiding something," the other woman said, fingers again edging to her sword.

Like Rayner, Axel tried honesty. "We are hiding something. But again, like Kevia just said, we are private people and feel no need to start telling strangers our affairs. We may be foreign but some things are persistent across all lands. Keeping your mouth shut around strangers is one of them."

Just as Ava looked to understand, her body tensed making it clear her intention not to give up.

Seeing this, Kevia came up with a solution. "Fight. This is a training yard after all. Whoever wins gets a secret. Within reason. I will judge."

"Agreed," Axel said.

"Agreed," Ava said.

Rayner looked so shocked that it was worth accepting the fight just to capture his reaction for memory. "Why are you doing this?" Rayner asked.

"This girl has watched us and we had no idea. What happens if she pays a visit to us on the street or in our rooms?"

"Shit."

"Yeah. We handle this here where we have backup." Axel glanced at some of Barny’s guardsmen who had stopped sparring to watch the exchange.

"I’ll keep my eyes on the older one."

"Stop whispering over there and fight me!" Ava said, already in a sword stance that had her blade behind her as if it were still sheathed. He’d only seen stances like that in the movies.

Axel entered the white-lined sparring ring. "Coming honey!"

"Stop it, man. She looks serious," Rayner said.

"I am serious. Get over here and die!" she said.

"See?" Rayner said.

"OK, OK, I get it," Axel said.

"How are you gonna beat her? She has armor on. Don’t underestimate her because she’s a woman."

"The last girl I fought tried to burn me alive." Axel thought back to the rogue Coalition fire mage at the caves. "I’m not underestimating anyone. I’m trying to piss her off and throw her off guard."

"That only works in the movies. I have an idea."

"I’m listening."

"Don’t use your skills—Let me finish. Her armor will stop your dagger. You would have to get at her face and that’s not happening. Not when she knows it’s the only place you can go for; the height difference also makes it obvious." In the corner of his eye, Axel saw Kevia nodding proudly. "Instead, blast her with your mana, like what the Forest God did to us."

"Solid plan. Gathering that much mana will take time and her stance looks aggressive."

"That’s your problem. Figure it out, Axel. It’s what you do." Rayner gave him a pat on the back that turned into a push to Ava’s direction.

To anyone watching, it looked like Rayner was encouraging his awkward friend to ask the girl out. That is, if that girl wanted to chop his head off ... Was Ava’s sword glowing?

"Begin!" Kevia said.

Ava’s sword of heavenly light appeared in front of Axel’s face before he could get his dagger up. He ducked from the sword thrust but in his panic at her speed, he overcompensated. He heard the clink of her chain mail and knew she would chop down at him.

His only option was to do a short hop away from the girl but before he could get ready the shining sword was in his face. This time he had enough time to shift his body just enough to avoid being run through the face.

He hoped Kevia was fast enough to intervene to prevent him from dying. Then again, she never stated the rules for this match.

And so, the pattern continued. A little girl with a glowing white sword chasing around a tall black teen who hopped around like a rabbit. It took nerves of iron not to look at the reactions of those watching.

He was slower than her but he was no snail. His long powerful legs let him leap and step away from her with ease and he was getting used to her style.

Still, the pressure of her attacks forced him into awkward positions that strained his body’s flexibility.

Ava attacked with quick thrusts with her sword. When Axel took a breath and if she couldn’t catch him unawares, she opted to stay in his space to arc her blade at him, trying to split him into two bloody pieces.

As she chased him, he struggled to build up enough mana to stun her. Whenever he used mana or his skills, he focused on pain and fear and violence. Perfect for a fight that naturally induced all those emotions. Axel hated it.

It was essential he figure out the skill behind Ava’s glowing white sword. The kobolds used flame-based attacks and their swords glowed red, allowing them to cut through soldiers’ armor and weapons as if they were paper.

Ava didn’t need the extra cutting power She had force behind her attacks. Force that he felt when she gripped his hand. Against an unarmored opponent like himself, she was doom.

Then he remembered that she’d been watching him all month, and she worshiped a goddess named Vara.

Enemies, however, do not let their prey sit and think and she had kept up her assault on him without tiring.

Ava’s first cut landed on his shoulder. He braced for pain but felt none. There was even a delay between the cut and the blood dripping on his skin.

"Is this it? Is this how you advanced in level at such a young age?" Ava said, sword pointed at him like a spear.

Not once had the sword stopped glowing white. That meant it was still draining her mana. If it were Axel, his mana reserves would have depleted by now. Yet not even a drop of sweat marred Ava’s soft face.

He needed time to discover her skill. If she wanted to talk, then he would talk. "What can I say. Some people have the talent. Some don’t. Like you for example."

"Your attempts to anger me are failing," she said with a face that looked ready to bite him to shreds.

"You know what’s been bugging me?" Axel crept away from her while he spoke but she took small steps forward to match him. "I swear I have seen you before."

"You have. I was at the bandit camp you liberated, with the prisoners."

He paused mid-step. "Oh, I see."

"No, you don’t! How can I face my comrades after that humiliation?"

"Look, whatever happened I am sure nobody will fault you."

Axel felt like a jerk and not in the cool way he was going for. He never asked for details on what happened to the bandit’s prisoners but he could make assumptions.

"I wasn’t assaulted if that is what you are suggesting." Her words were clipped. "Instead, braver men and women, people I was sent to protect, shielded me. I let them do it to avoid torture like a coward. Worse, the bandit leader was one of our own soldiers, a traitor. Only by your actions did we get free."

"Is this some form of thank you?"

"My problem with you is that it is only by your whim that we were saved. The majority of worshipers do not randomly attack bandit camps."

This was something he’d learned when speaking with the whores at the brothel. In video games an adventurer would, whenever they felt like it, take out a bandit camp for the fun of it.

He thought that was normal on this world too. But that was only if a worshiper had an army behind them. He and Rayner had done it with armed refugees and a few guardsmen.

It still didn’t explain Ava’s problem with him. "OK, you’re right. I don’t understand. But I’m listening." That and Axel needed more time to gather mana.

"I do not wish to be the casualty or benefactor of another’s whims. I will not become just another bloody face on the battlefield." Her tone was softer but determined. Her anger had settled.

Now her words reached him.

The only reason she lived is because a world-hopping necromancer’s clone summoned two teenagers to his world. Then those two teens instead of staying with the dwarves to be celebrated as heroes or with the fairies after freeing them of a neglectful god chose to travel with a mother of two. Then they helped a caravan attacked by wolves. Then decided to take on an encampment of bandits.

Not a chance a proud girl languishing in a cage wanted to pray for. Honestly, she should be dead ... and she knew it.

His heart went out to her. Having to rely on fickle powers to survive sounded like a nightmare. It is what Yazid brought them here to stop, or at least mitigate. Still, he couldn’t help her. His higher level was due to him not being of this world.

Axel shrugged. "Sorry." It was the wrong thing to say.

Screaming, she changed her stance so that her sword hung over her head. Before, he’d thought she was trying to kill him. Seeing her now, he knew, this was the expression she would have when he died.

In an instant, her glowing sword of white fell on him. In that same instant, Axel finished gathering his mana.

Then Kevia appeared. "Axel wins."

Kevia’s hands were on their wrists.

Ava’s blade rested in his hair and Axel’s dagger pointed at her throat. He had to bend at the knees, both to avoid her sword and get his dagger at her throat.

Shocked, Ava staggered back. "How?"

"That’s what I asked myself as you kept pressuring me. Your sword is almost as long as your body. You should keep some distance from me, a close-ranged fighter with skills that by now you must know can cripple you with a cut, but you kept up the pressure, anyway. I figured out your skill when I realized how you watched us for so long without notice: Illusion."

Her shoulders slumped, but she stayed interested. "You figured it out from only that clue?"

"No. When you wounded me, I didn’t feel it until later. You are fast but not that fast. The skill gave the appearance of you closing the distance instantly so you could hide behind the illusion. The illusions are also based on your intentions. It’s why you kept your anger in check." Or at least she tried to. It was also why he, not one known for being sympathetic, connected with her so easily. He assumed that was unintentional. "A truly amazing skill."

"And still not enough." Her friend comforted her and they walked away.

"Hey! Where are you going?"

"Leave them alone, man. I know you want to ask about that goddess of theirs but read the mood," Rayner said, now by his side.

Axel ignored him. "The training yard isn’t closed yet." He raised his dagger.

She halted, back facing him. Then she gripped her sword and turned, the expression of defeat gone from her face. Her expression was that of a soldier ready for victory.

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