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Kibry II steadied her breathing and closed her eyes. The usual din of the Slaughtered Calf Inn settled into the subtle murmurs of wagers passing between patrons and onlookers. All eyes were on the monk in a cleared area between several carousing tables, an array of seven bottles sitting atop various tables, chairs, and handrails around her. In her mind's eye, Kibry II envisioned her objective as one, then seven, then one again. When the moment was right, Kibry II opened her eyes and gave a battle shout that silenced the room.
"The gods strike through me!"
Her image blossomed into seven silhouettes of golden light, and in the next second, each of the seven bottles had gone from closed to open. Kibry II rematerialized in the center of the wheel of light that her strike always conjured upon the ground, the universe's way of acknowledging her feats. A cosmic tip of the hat and pat on the bum.
Cheers and applause pealed through the Inn. A few disheartened onlookers grunted annoyance as they failed to welch on the bets they had lost. Most cheered, well pleased with the show. Kibry II allowed a tiny grin to crack her impassive, meditative countenance. One patron was giving her a more direct look and a slower, more ironic clap. No wannabe welcher within 30 yards exuded more annoyance than she.
"Your move, Sweetcleats," Kibry II said as she walked triumphantly to resume her place at table with her demon hunter friend.
"Fine by me," Sweetcleats responded, motioning discreetly to her ferret companions to set up the playing pieces.
Nickel and Dime whizzed around the room, bounding off of tables and laps. The furry pair pickpocketed the money they needed to exchange for fresh bottles, then dropped off the coin with the innkeep and set up the bottles around the room.
"That was seven, right? So it's eight to me," Sweetcleats tapped her wrist eight times to signal to Nickel and Dime that they needed to fetch an additional bottle. The ferrets found an unwilling participant, looted him, and set up the eighth bottle on top of the mantle overlooking the whole bar area.
In a blur of motion that seemed to turn her entire figure into the absence of light, Sweetcleats sent a single bolt at the top of each bottle, shattering them in a spray of foam.
Renewed cheers rocked the walls of the inn. The entertained and now slightly more damp audience whooped and cheered for Sweetcleats' sweet feat.
As if to deliver her counter-grin for her, Nickel and Dime hopped up on Kibry II's arms and took turns nudging their noses into her cheeks.
"Alright, we'll settle that later," Kibry II said to her now seated again demon hunter friend, ignoring the continued ticklings of ferret whiskers. She then whistled.
The creature that responded to the hail made Sweetcleats instinctively reach for her weapon, avaricious hatred oozing into her resource orb. Her discipline orb being fuller, instead of aiming her weapon at the creature she aimed a question at Kibry II.
"Kibry, what is that?"
"That," Kibry II stretched out the syllable to emphasize the that in that, "is Auric."
"Tell me what a treasure goblin is doing here and give me one good reason I shouldn't pop him right now and lay claim to the cache of gold and materials he's hoarding."
"What he's doing here is taking my empties and bringing me fresh golden mead," Kibry patted Auric's head as he tittered with concupiscent glee, "and I can give you seven reasons. He's cute. He's a helper. He's not hiding a cache of anything. He works for me. You wouldn't want to do the whole action-hero thing in the inn again since the last time the innkeep had us clean up the zombie gibs from the floor. You wouldn't get anything out of it if you did."
"Okay that's six."
"I think that more than counts."
"I think you can't count to seven. Let's hear it."
"Fine. The most important reason is this:" Kibry II bared the reverse of her left hand to Sweetcleats, putting her ring finger on display.
"You...married a treasure goblin?"
"No, you dimwit, this is the legendary Puzzle Ring."
"I haven't heard any legends about puzzle rings."
"Whoever wears this ring gets a little helper like Auric here."
"Is that the legend?"
"Well, er, I'm sure there's more of a story to it than that."
"It's cute," Sweetcleats paused, "You can see where I'm coming from, though?"
"No, I totally get it. 'Some guy picked up this ring and then a treasure goblin appeared to help him out' doesn't make for much of a legend."
"Yeah, I mean legends should be about demons getting murdered or people taking revenge on things."
"Howabout obtaining enlightenment? Lifting themselves to a higher plane?"
"Overrated," they both said at once, and chuckled as they drank from their steins.
"So Kibry," Sweetcleats continued, "what else does little Auric do?"
"He uh, well, I think a demonstration is best."
Kibry II found a nearby urn, held it aloft in one hand and smashed her other fist into it, shattering it with a satisfying ceramic crashing noise. She then repeated this act until, on the eighth or ninth urn, a polearm flew out of the shattered vessel and clattered on the ground.
"Are you gonna pick that up? That's got to be worth nine common debris or so," Sweetcleats guessed.
"No no, just watch," Kibry II responded.
Auric hopped playfully over to where the polearm had landed on the floor, placed the handle end in his mouth and started chomping. In a few seconds he had devoured the entire thing, lack of modifiers and all, and resumed his playful cackling.
"So he's a living rubbish bin."
"Sortof. If you feed him twelve to fourteen things he gives you a present."
"I go through the same thing with Nickel and Dime, I just never like the 'gifts' they leave."
"Har, har," Kibry II replied.
"What, is your sense of humor still on cooldown?"
The two sat back down and enjoyed a laugh. The ferrets and Auric sized each other up tentatively. The night crowd continued their cheerful banter, washing the room with white noise.
Interrupting the mood, a man burst through the door with a noise to compete with the dropping of an orange or green item, drawing Sweetcleats' and Kibry II's attention, as well as shushing the whole room.
"Demons!" Captain Rumford cried, "Hellspawn! They march on our gates. All militia to me. All Nephelem heroes, to arms!"
"Do you mean, like, all all?" Sweetcleats asked.
"Yeah, I mean, there's bound to be a ton of other heroes around," Kibry backed her up.
"Right, loads. Besides, weren't you a ghost?"
"I'm sure I saw him as a ghost when we were in the High Heavens."
"Did you die? Wait, are you still a ghost, but one of those, like, solid ghosts that take people over?"
"Ooh, right, I think I had a ring that could do that."
"The point is, Captain," Sweetcleats propped her sweet cleats neatly on the seat, "we don't trust you. I mean, we've been aspects of death and we didn't see you there."
"Right," Kibry II piped up, "either you're not a ghost and we don't trust you, or you are a ghost and we don't trust you."
Captain Rumford turned a deeper shade of red as he bristled internally, eager to get a word in edgewise against the unified front of inaction that the Nephalem carousers had become in the face of his alarm.
"Besides," Kibry II concluded, "I'm a little squeamish about the whole 'diving into an unholy host of demons' thing. I don't want Sweetcleats here to have to hold onto my stuff for Kibry III, you know?"
"Regardless," Rumford called, relieved to finally speak, "if you do not act, the Burning Hells will tip over on us, drowning us all!"
Out of time, Rumford and several militiapersons charged out the door, leaving the room and the mood more empty than before. Sweetcleats and Kibry II exchanged a glance and then a sigh.
"We'd better get going," lamented Sweetcleats.
"Yeah, action time," agreed Kibry II.
The duo gathered up their minions, paid the tab, and left the building. They walked to the waypoint in the center of town.
"This place is going to be a mess," Kibry said.
"Yeah. I'm thinking Caldeum," Sweetcleats agreed.
Whereupon Sweetcleats and Kibry II waypointed themselves to another act before the unholy host descended upon New Tristram for what must be the millionth time.
The foggy Westmarch wind licked languidly through the open tavern door as yet another adventurer entered, sappy water still clinging to her bespoked, knife-lined articulated combat harness. She stopped a few steps into the room and gradually unnodded her head for dramatic effect before casting her baleful, trained gaze around the room, and landing almost immediately on her target, another adventurer togged out in the ritual dress of a worshipper of Ytar. Sweetcleats strode from her prior stopping point to the table where Kibry III sat in wait.
"I've got it this time," Sweetcleats announced, tossing back the hood she had been wearing with a flick of her brow.
"Let's see it, then," Kibry III responded.
Whereupon Sweetcleats reached past her knives to an inventory slot, found what she was looking for, and repaired her hand to the table, clutching a small object. Opening her grip, a small stone landed click-clack on the table, a smug smile betraying Sweetcleats' face for an instant. Kibry III looked fazed, then, as if she had activated her Serenity Defensive ability, totally unfazed by any force or fact. Sweetcleats expression darkened to its more natural Demon Hunter glower.
"Doesn't count," Kibry intoned.
"What!? That totally counts!" Sweetcleats replied.
"Nope, I'm not gonna count it."
"Look, you boasted that you would take on any challenge and I decided on one of the classic riddles of Ivgorod and you accepted it as a challenge."
"And here's the answer!" Sweetcleats rasped as she grasped the walnut in her fist, the hatred half of her resource orb straining from the pressure within.
"It doesn't have an answer."
"You took it as a challenge, but I was trying to trick you by presenting you with one of the 72 sacred meditation puzzles that disciples of the gods handed down through the teachings of Ivgorod through the ages. There isn't an answer either in the spirit or the world."
"But there is. I'm holding it."
"I said, 'present me something no one has ever seen before.'"
"Right, and no one has ever seen the inside of this walnut before."
"It doesn't count."
Still irritated, Sweetcleats rapped the walnut on the table a few times before taking her seat and ordering a pint. The pair of friends sat and drank in silence for a few minutes, Kibry impassive and wise-seeming, Sweetcleats simply thirsty.
"That wasn't fair," Sweetcleats broke the silence.
"No it wasn't."
"Kibry II was never so rude."
"Oh, she so was. And anyway she zagged when she should have zigged and got caught in a waller wall in the last place any of us should ever have been."
"You're right," Sweetcleats voice cracked as all the irritation sublimated to sadness.
"Oh. Too soon? I'm sorry."
"No, don't worry about it. It was random and stupid and the same could happen to any of us."
Kibry III simply held her mug in salute, and took a drink to her prior incarnation. Sonic squeaked from atop Sweetcleats' shoulder, nuzzling in and covering his tiny face with his wing.
"I miss Auric, too," Sweetcleats lamented.
"The treasure goblin? What happened to him?"
"He returned to the plane of elemental greed once Kibry II's ring vanished along with her other equipped possessions. At least, that's what the scholars say. Not sure I believe in the plane of elemental greed."
"Well, you've seen treasure goblins hop into portals. They must lead somewhere."
"Right, but I figure that's just elsewhere in the world. Perhaps even nearby. I mean, anyone can town portal."
"When have you ever seen a monster town portal?"
A chill ran through both of their bodies as they mutually imagined the consequences of even one of Diablo's minions learning this basic spell.
"Best not to—" Kibry III began.
"—think about it," and Sweetcleats finished.
Sweetcleats stretched a leg up onto the table to relax a little more, her knives tinkling in place, making a sound like quiet, deadly jingle bells.
"Can I ask you a personal question?" Kibry asked, looking at the twinkle of knives peeking out from their hiding places seemingly everywhere along Sweetcleats' battle gear.
"What's with all the knives? Is that a mourning thing among Demon Hunters or..."
"Huh? What knives?"
"Come on. I've seen other Demon Hunters with spreads of knives hidden in little belts and catches. They wear fifteen, twenty tops. I can count twenty in your left boot alone."
"Oh, those knives. Well, I don't know what to tell you. I just really like knives."
"And your crossbow. Do you ever shoot it?"
"I think about it sometimes, but really the knives just make more sense. Sometimes I leave the crossbow in the stash and roll out with a mace."
"Oh come on, as if you ever use the swords that you use."
"They provide good counterbalance for punching."
A flash of inspiration struck, and Sweetcleats tumbled from the room, the rattling roll stunning other tavern guests as she passed. She returned after an hour had passed carrying a canvas roll of supplies. Kibry watched as Sweetcleats arranged her crafts next to their table. When she was done, an easel, paints, canvas drop cloths and brushes stood pallisaded by a phalanx of screens.
"There," Sweetcleats announced.
"I don't understand."
"This will answer your riddle," Sweetcleats declared, tying a blindfold around her face and ducking into the screens.
"What on Sanctuary are you doing?" Kibry inquired.
"I am painting with a blindfold on, surrounded by screens. When I'm done, I will have a painting that no one has ever seen."
Kibry stared at the screen, baffled.
"That also doesn't count!" Kibry cried.
"It so does!" Sweetcleats responded.
Kibry threw up her arms and resumed her seat and waited for Sweetcleats to finish. Sweetcleats' blind painting continued for several minutes, the discipline half of her resource orb barely keeping pace with her brush strokes. She emerged with a triumphant smile on her face, and peeled off her blindfold.
"I still say it doesn't count."
"Oh you're no fun. Besides, don't you want to see what no one has ever seen before?"
"Let's have it."
Sweetcleats pulled away the curtain, revealing the result of her work: an array of splashes and lines that mostly resembled a small creature, as if drawn by a child.
"What is it?" Kibry asked.
"Oh, I can kinda see that."
The duo tilted their heads to one side, then back.
"It's a little blurry," Kibry assessed.
"Yeah, I wanted to use a knife, but I didn't bring one."
Edited by MyNameIsKaz#1135 on 8/7/2014 9:54 AM PDT
Laughed at most of the story.
Then I looked at your profile and saw Kirby the Second, dead in the HC memorial section.
RIP and glory to the fallen.
FYI you might want to post a link or something in the HC forums. If this story memorializes Kirby the Second, then some HC people might take a look.
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