It was a good thing that Alyssa’s home was relatively large. Brakkt and Irulon each had their own rooms, with Brakkt staying in Clark’s old room and Irulon in the basement guest room. Tess had to sleep on the couch downstairs, but she seemed happy enough with the situation. Compared to using the tents during the trip down to Teneville, a couch in a climate controlled environment was enough to get her to stop making odd glares out of the corner of her eye whenever Alyssa was around.
So that was nice.
Of course, both Fela and Kasita had decided that they would sleep in Alyssa’s room. Well, Kasita didn’t really sleep. She had taken to using Clark’s old computer to explore Earth culture. Which Alyssa was fine with.
Once upon a time, Alyssa would never have been able to fall asleep with other people in the room. Especially with one making noise. A few months on Nod had fixed that. She had somehow gotten to the point where, no matter the situation, she would fall asleep within ten minutes of lying down.
Though, things felt… off. She wasn’t quite sure why. She didn’t think it had anything to do with demons or Tenebrael. But something about the situation was just…
She would have to think more on exactly what was wrong.
For the time being, Alyssa went through her morning rituals almost like she had never left Earth. A quick shower, a bowl of cereal, and even a bit of news on the television. Not that any of the news really mattered. They wouldn’t be talking about anything she cared about. Maybe if she had made it home right after her last visit to Earth, but she hadn’t. Her phone could get some news on it, but she had honestly been too frightened to look anything up. Now, they just talked about usual morning news stuff. Traffic conditions. The weather. Some vaguely inspiring story about an elementary schooler selling lemonade and not getting arrested for not having a permit.
Really, Alyssa had never been one for news.
In taking her cereal bowl back to the kitchen, she paused at the back window. Brakkt and Ensou were standing out by the edge of the lake. Ensou was lying down in the grass, tail thwacking against the ground every now and again. Brakkt was half standing, half sitting on Ensou’s side, staring out toward the water. And not just staring.
Dropping off her bowl at the sink, Alyssa spent a moment digging through some of her brother’s gear before slipping on some boots and heading out.
The lake was a short distance away from the house. Not too far. Maybe as much as a full two minutes of very casual walking. Really, if not for Ensou being so large, she might not have even noticed Brakkt from the house. It wasn’t like he was in his armor at the moment. Rather, he wore something resembling a bath robe. One hiked up around his knees.
Which made sense. As Alyssa got closer, she realized that he and Ensou were both partially in the lake water. A fairly thick string of woven hemp had been tied around Ensou’s tail. Every time the draken moved its tail, it rippled through the water out for quite a distance. Maybe as far as fifty yards out, though that was pure eyeballing it. Alyssa had a feeling that she knew what they were doing, but wouldn’t be able to say for certain without asking.
Ensou raised its head just enough to angle one of its eyes in her direction while Brakkt looked over his shoulder. The way he looked, Alyssa felt a bit bad. Had he been sleeping while standing up against Ensou’s side? But he didn’t seem upset with her presence. Instead, Brakkt nodded. “I thought I’d see if I couldn’t get a few for us and the draken.” He looked over Alyssa, mostly at the rod she had over her shoulder. “What have you got there?”
“A fishing rod. I, uh, thought I saw you with one from back at the house, but it might have just been the light gleaming off the surface of the water.”
“Can’t say I’ve fished with such a device. It looks like an elf designed it.”
Alyssa looked the rod over. He was probably talking about the reel because… yeah, it was a fairly complex bit of spinning technology. Or rather, it probably wasn’t that complex compared to some things on modern Earth, but if someone asked Alyssa to build one, she would give them a blank look.
“Well, I can’t say I’ve ever fished with a draken tail, so I guess we’re even,” she said with a smile. “Mind if I join you? I’ve been thinking that I need to work on wilderness survival skills. While I’ve fished before, gutting and preparing fish for eating isn’t something I’ve done before.”
“You’ve fished, but you haven’t eaten fish?”
“No. I’ve eaten fish. Just not one that I caught myself. Back in my world, the majority of people get their fish precut and prepared from our… markets. In fact, I doubt even ten percent of people have gone fishing, but a lot more have eaten fish. Large boats will cast nets as big as the boat into the ocean, catching fish by the thousands. They then deliver those fish to processing centers for preparation and distribution to the markets.”
“The more I hear of your world, the stranger it seems. Even your home,” he said, turning slightly to see all the way back to the house, “it doesn’t use any magic, but it feels like it does. The cool air, the fridge, the television and computer. It is quite fantastical.”
“I wonder if I shouldn’t bring Guillem out here and see what she makes of all the technology.” Based on how she acted when Jason showed her the designs for the steam tractor, she would probably faint at the thought that humans created all that without magic or help from elves. “But Jason probably needs to give her a primer on electricity first. For now, mind if I join you in fishing?”
“First, Ensou, let’s see if we caught anything.”
As Brakkt stopped leaning against Ensou’s midsection, the draken got to its feet. After shaking a bit of moisture off its side, it started walking back toward the house. The hemp rope, still tied to its tail, pulled with it.
After a short few feet, Alyssa realized that the rope wasn’t just a single long rope. It had several others tied to it periodically. Each of the extra ropes were only a few inches long, maybe as much as a foot in extreme cases. And each was tipped with a hook.
Soon enough, a fish came out, attached to the end of one of the smaller hemp ropes. Another fish came out. And another. By the time Ensou had pulled the rope all the way out, Alyssa had counted up sixteen fish. Considering that Brakkt had really just been sitting around and Ensou had just thumped its tail a few times, it seemed like a pretty good haul. Though that might depend on exactly how long he had been out here.
“When did you start fishing?”
“The break of dawn.”
“Wow.” That had been about two hours ago now. Not the longest time for fishing—in fact, over a dozen fish in two hours was probably a fairly decent rate judging by the very few times she had gone fishing with her father and brother—but that wasn’t what she found surprising. “I can’t believe you and Irulon are related. She didn’t get up until well after noon yesterday.”
As he knelt down to pull the fish from his fishing line, dropping them into a wicker basket, he nodded with a small sigh. “I am quite used to waking and sleeping at a moment’s notice. On outings, it can be vital to get whatever little sleep possible. My sister, on the other hand, would choose to simply stay awake for days at a time if the option to sleep for a while never presented itself.”
“I think I’m more like you than Irulon. In that respect, anyway.” Looking over the basket of fish, Alyssa had to wonder if she should even bother catching her own.
But, as soon as Brakkt finished pulling the fish from the rope, Ensou waded out into the water, moving in a long arc to avoid getting caught in it. Making it back to the shore, Ensou flopped over. Brakkt, once again, resumed leaning up against the large draken.
So Alyssa decided to show Brakkt how her fishing pole worked. Mostly the reel. The whole thing seemed a bit curious to him.
“You only catch one fish at a time? Even without Ensou, I would have propped up a long rod of wood on some sticks and tied the hemp and hooks to that, leaving it for some time while I took care of other things.”
“It’s a very modern fishing rod. Because of those markets I just mentioned, this kind of thing is more for sport or relaxation than it is for surviving off caught fish.”
He didn’t seem all that impressed. So, after attaching an artificial lure—she didn’t have any live bait, but it didn’t look like he did either—she gave the rod a swing of her arms.
And nearly hooked Brakkt.
“Sorry,” Alyssa said, face burning with embarrassment. At least he had quick reactions. If he hadn’t ducked… “It’s been a few years. I’ll just… move over here for a moment.”
Brakkt watched her go, slightly more wary than before.
Alyssa couldn’t even look at him as she moved to get herself some extra space.
Closing her eyes, she tried to remember all the steps. Dangle a few inches. Hold the line against the rod. Open the bail. Right. She had forgotten that fairly critical step. Point forward, then bring the rod vertical. The movement was all in the elbows and wrists. No shoulder swinging. Halfway back to the lake, let go of the line.
It took three more tries to get a good cast. She didn’t even try to catch a fish for another ten casts, deciding to just practice getting the line out into the lake. Alyssa headed back toward Brakkt only once she was sure that she wasn’t going to embarrass herself further. Even then, she could almost feel him eying her.
Not wanting to get her line tangled up in Brakkt’s hemp rope, Alyssa cast off at a bit of an angle.
When it sailed perfectly, plopping into the water without hooking into any people, Alyssa let out a small sigh of relief.
Now she just had to remember how to actually set the hook in the fish that bit and keep them from getting away.
After another two hours, she had allowed several fish to escape, snapped her line twice, and managed to catch one beefy fish. It wasn’t as large as the largest of Brakkt’s fish, but it would have kept her fed for a day or three if needed.
Of course, Ensou had to show her up by pulling in the hemp rope line, bringing up another dozen fish all at once.
Still, for her first time fishing in years, Alyssa was fairly happy with her catch. Now she just needed to know what to do with it.
Thankfully, Brakkt was more than willing to show her. After wrapping up his hemp rope, he selected three fish from his bounty, leaving the rest for Ensou to distribute among the others. As he and Alyssa started back to the house, she couldn’t help but ask, “What if Ensou decides to not distribute them all?”
“Ensou might be the largest of the draken, but even he will find himself having a bad time with the others mad at him.” With a look over his shoulder and a mild shrug. “Even if Ensou eats the entire bunch, it’s not like the others will starve. They can fend for themselves, whether that be through trying to snap up some fish or hunting in the forest. I gave them free reign to do whatever they wanted so long as they keep away from Teneville.”
Back at the house, Brakkt dropped the fish off on the patio table. Just before Alyssa could run inside to grab a few knives, he went and pulled a pair out, offering one to her. “You said you haven’t ever sliced up fish? Watch closely.”
Alyssa did so. With his guidance, she managed what was a fairly decent job of cleaning and gutting the fish. It took about a half hour to do so. For her. After taking a few minutes to show her exactly what to do, Brakkt whipped through his three fish much faster than she managed.
A few minutes in, Fela popped her head out. Her paw-like hands weren’t really the best at turning modern doorknobs. Lots of doors in Lyria were more of a handle style, making them easier for her to open. As such, Lisa had to come over and open the door.
Like letting the dog out.
The hellhound didn’t say a word. She came out of the house, right up to the porch table, and squatted down. The little flames from her eyes were just barely above the top of the table. She sat there, staring. Unmoving. Watching.
Right up until Alyssa dropped the knife on the fish, slicing its head clean off. As she tossed it over her shoulder, the hellhound jumped into the air and caught it in her mouth.
Alyssa could only shake her head.
“Having fun out here?”
“I don’t know if fun is the right word, but I’m getting the hang of it. How does fresh fish sound tonight?”
“Not like we had anything planned. Though, I am going to open the safes and go over all our weapons. Make sure they are cleaned, well maintained, and otherwise ready to go.”
“Ah.” Alyssa looked up to where her mother stood in the open door, shaking her hands to get some of the fish guts off. “Aside from the ones I took, they shouldn’t have been touched.”
Lisa pressed her lips together. “I found a shotgun and a rifle lying on the floor of my closet.”
Alyssa winced. “Oh. Well, in my defense, I found myself in a whole new world and, when I was getting the guns out, I think I was distracted by an angel threatening to kill me.”
“Don’t let it happen again.”
“You’d think she would be a little more understanding,” Alyssa mumbled as the door shut with her mother on the opposite side.
Brakkt gave a low chuckle. “That sounded quite kind, actually. You should have heard Irulon after I borrowed one of her books. I don’t think I’m ever going to get within reaching distance of her bookshelf ever again.”
“I could see that,” Alyssa said, setting down her knife. She was pretty sure that she was done. Brakkt’s sliced up fish looked quite a bit better than hers. Not in terms of fish quality, but just in the presentation. His cuts were cleaner and obviously more practiced. “Hey, since my mom is getting them out, you want to try shooting a gun? I promised Kasita that she could as well. And maybe even keep one as long as she doesn’t go flying every time she tries to fire one.”
“Is that an actual concern when firing a gun?”
“For Kasita, yes. Her body doesn’t have much mass. But I have watched regular humans smack themselves in the face before due to the power of some guns. Or because they were unprepared.” Alyssa looked down to the fish on the table. “Shall we hand these off to Tess for actual cooking? Or did you want to do that too?”
“I’ve cooked fish before, but I’ve never handled a weapon from your world.”
It took the better part of an hour to get everything set up. Alyssa had to wash her hands. Irulon wanted to try as well. Lisa wasn’t going to let people fire guns for the first time without her supervision. Alyssa had to wash her hands. Targets had to be set out, one spinner target and two pieces of plywood with posters of zombies on top. Gun selection had to be made as well. A tiny lightweight .22 pistol for Kasita. Larger pistols and revolvers for everyone else. Even a fairly heavy assault rifle, civilian version.
And Alyssa had to wash her hands.
Even after three washes with soap and hot water, they still smelled like fish guts.
Lisa got started with ground rules. No pointing at anything but the ground or the targets. Keep fingers off the triggers. Guns should always be treated as if they were loaded. Not to remove ear protection. “Do not look down the barrel, Princess Irulon.” And other such warnings.
Kasita, as it turned out, could hit exactly what she wanted to hit. Rapid fire was, however, impossible. Even with the tiny rounds, she still stumbled back with every shot. While her accuracy was impressive, Alyssa could tell that she was deeply dissatisfied with the situation as a whole. It wasn’t anything specific that she did. Just that her excitement at first being handed the pistol drained rapidly with every shot.
A heavier pistol would increase her inertia, but all the other pistols shot larger caliber bullets, which tended to have more force and more recoil. Besides that, while Kasita might be able to hold a heavier pistol, carrying one around just wasn’t going to be a thing she could do.
Alyssa moved right up behind her, holding her shoulders to help steady her. “If you found a wall to stand against, it might work out,” she said after Kasita managed two shots without needing a complete reset between them. “Though, it might limit your disguise ability if you’re carrying that around all the time.”
“Yeah,” Kasita said with a sigh. “Maybe it’s best to just stick with magic. When I asked for a gun of my own, I hadn’t realized that I would be allowed to make my own spell cards.”
Honestly, that was probably for the best.
Irulon was next in line. Her first two shots missed entirely. Test shots, she claimed.
But only at first.
After that, Irulon didn’t miss once. Even moving rapidly from target to target, she hit everything she aimed at. Both eyes were black with those white rings, so she was clearly using the dragon to cheat a bit. But Alyssa couldn’t argue against its effectiveness. In fact, Alyssa imagined that, even riding full speed on a draken, Irulon would be able to hit everything perfectly.
In contrast, her older brother was far more normal. It was like how Alyssa had acted her first time shooting guns. In fact, it was almost eerily similar. Right down to Lisa standing just behind him with her arms crossed, watching as he hit the larger zombie targets, but without the head-shot accuracy that Irulon and Kasita had displayed.
Alyssa fired off a few rounds of her own and was quite pleased with her accuracy. She didn’t do too much. While they had a decent stockpile of ammunition, that was quite literally all the ammunition in the world. Barring Tenebrael descending, bearing gifts of bullets or Alyssa figuring out how to use Tenebrael’s magic to accomplish the same task, wasting it all by shooting targets just wasn’t that great an idea.
So they finished up after only an hour of shooting. Both Irulon and Brakkt tried out a few of the different guns. Irulon even managed to ricochet a bullet off the metal plates of the spinner target and into one of the zombie heads.
The end verdict from both royals was that magic was more versatile. Brakkt’s sword, with the enchantments on it, actually helped him fight. It was too much of an advantage to give up for a weapon that, while long range, would probably not significantly harm most monsters that were dangerous enough to warrant trying to use them. Irulon thought that she might be able to make better use of a gun than her brother, but wanted to investigate possible magical enhancements to the devices. Or set a team of Observatorium students to do the same as her own time was limited to the point where she wasn’t that interested.
Regardless of whether or not they wanted a gun for their own uses, Lisa marched everyone back to the house for a round of dismantling and cleaning.
Which, if anything, only convinced them that guns were not worth it. They were much harder to clean than swords.
Alyssa was fairly happy, however.
The strong scent of gunpowder overpowered the smell of fish.