It wasn’t long before we were back on the road with Mike’s caravan. We had provided a detailed report to the guild, and thus the responsibility for the dungeon moved to them. There was no news of any other attacks in the area, so it seemed we’d arrived at just the right time. Well, none of us were exactly surprised about that.
The road became a bit more difficult as we approached Astrurg. Of course, that made sense as we climbed into mountainous terrain. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any more monsters before reaching the border. Not that we would expect more than a single instance of trouble on a trip- but then again, our particular group couldn’t know what to expect.
The gates at the border were open- though of course there were still guards. Still, it was a sign that Astrurg and Othya were on good terms. It was quite different from Fepresil where Khyrmin basically had to intimidate our way past the border. Of course it helped that we had proper passports this time, but in Fepresil I could imagine them being quite grumpy even if we had just the right documents.
It didn’t take long to arrive in the first city, Dhar Boldohr. That was where we parted ways with Mike and his caravan. We were headed for Kagdihr, the city closest to the dungeon we had planned to visit. Dhar Boldohr was much closer to a human city than the elven cities were. However, instead of mostly wooden buildings, stone was the main material. It made sense- they lived in the mountains, so sources of good stone weren’t far. With walls being a necessity for cities, being able to make them stone even around smaller cities was a benefit. In contrast, the terrain wasn’t as good for farming, so they likely had to trade for much of their food. That said, maybe there were enough horned rabbits around to help offset things. I’d also heard that some vegetable-like monsters existed among plant type monsters… but they didn’t seem numerous enough to really provide a proper diet for a whole area.
On the way to Kagdihr, we ran into neither plant monsters nor wolves, even over several days of travel. Unlike in Fepresil, many of the people in Astrurg spoke Othyan. More than in Escait, even- and Escait was still primarily human. Once we’d been in Astrurg for a few days, we realized why dwarves might prefer living there. Or rather, why others might prefer not to. It was cold. It wasn’t the coldest part of the year yet, even, but it nearly as cold as winter in the center of Othya. Dwarves in general had beards, body hair, and generally a bit more fat than humans… so they wouldn’t mind the cold so much. Of course, there were always exceptions- and there were plenty of non-dwarves in the cities.
Once we arrived in Kagdihr, we reported to the adventurer’s guild. We would be exploring a nearby dungeon, so making it known where we were was useful for them keeping track of us- which was both to watch out for us but also for our benefit. After we found an inn to stay at, I returned to the guild. Thrandath would be contacting us at some point, but I had something else to do. If we were supposed to be bait, I had to make my presence known to more than just the guild representatives. While nobody would necessarily recognize me in this country, I could still make the locals know about me.
I scanned the common room of the guild, looking through those who were around relaxing. I settled on a big, wide fellow. I walked over and plopped down a silver coin. “Arm wrestle me.”
The dwarf looked me over. I wasn’t really shorter than him, but I certainly wasn’t as wide. However, he remained cautious. I was wearing my armor, after all, so it was clear I wasn’t going to be extremely weak. I didn’t have the intent to fool anyone anyway. “Alright… fine.” The dwarf placed down a silver of his own. He likely suspected I had a Strength enhancing item- but even an exceptional one would only give a few tens of points. Moreover, a silver coin wasn’t too large of a sum of money, so a bit of competition could be worth it.
I have to admit that it really was an unfair competition, not that I cheated… but I knew how strong he was to begin with. He was at a solid 400 and some points of Strength, and while numbers weren’t everything, the gulf was too big for him to breach. It wasn’t like I lacked in technique anyway.
Only a few eyes were on us, but the match was over quickly. As it ended, the dwarf stared blankly down at his hand on the table for a few moments, then slid the coin across to me. Fortunately, just enough people were paying attention to make things work. A few moments later, a pair of other dwarves had come over. “What’s this Barsum, did you just lose to a human?”
Barsum shrugged, “You try him then.”
“Hmm… maybe those gauntlets… Are you willing to take them off?”
I nodded, setting the gauntlets under the table by my feet. “Of course.” I left one of the silver coins on the table and put the other in my bag, “Same bet?”
The second dwarf didn’t last any longer than Barsum- he was slightly weaker, after all, and it wasn’t like I was wearing Strength enhancing equipment. By the time I defeated him, a few more eyes had turned to us.
Dwarves were a stubborn group who thought they knew better than everyone else… so, basically, just like humans. In addition to the fact people rarely made the exact details of their attributes public, more and more dwarves- and a few others- gathered around to watch, or to join. Some clearly knew they were going to lose, but like the idea of a competition. Others thought this or that must be helping my Strength, or that they could use technique to beat me… but I had technique too. In the end, my equipment was piled up under the table. While my arms couldn’t be said to look anything like my actual Strength might suggest, they were muscular. They were probably a handful of times thicker than when I had first come to this world… but not massive. Part of that was the bonus points and other added bonuses, but with my base Strength being higher than pretty much anything that would be seen on Earth, it had to also be that my body just wasn’t the type to really bulk up.
As time went on, people came back from adventuring or perhaps were called over by friends, and I had more and more opponents. I never made the bet higher- one silver wasn’t too much for adventurers, but I wanted to keep it that way. This was a friendly competition, and I didn’t want there to be any hard feelings afterwards. Then she showed up. A dwarven woman, shorter than average even… but with obvious weight behind her. I saw her move through the crowd- I had no doubt she could have pushed them out of the way, but instead she waited for them to notice… at which point everyone parted. I couldn’t get an exact read on her without seeing her in action… but I knew she was in a different league, from the way people treated her to her gear to the feeling she gave off. She said nothing as she tossed down a silver and sat across from me, and our match began.