Francis is finally awake. It sure has been long enough.

Delta has come back as well, though she seems to be brooding about something or another. I am not entirely sure what.

“I have something important to announce to you two friends of mine,” I say.

The looks they give me are glazed-over, to say the least. Neither one actually says anything to me.

“Well, the truth is,” I begin, “I leveled up this morning while you two were gone. I am now level 19.”

Delta shrugs. “Okay, cool.”

But Francis’s eyes light up. He quickly munches down a bagel, and all his normal energy that is typically sapped away by the black hole of being sleepy returns in a flash. “That’s amazing!” he exclaims. “That means you’re only one level away from reaching C-Rank, doesn’t it?”

“Well, technically, I will be given the option to rank up if I so choose, but since doing so will increase the curve for level ups and will make it more difficult for me to gain in stats, I may want to stay as a D-Rank [Adventurer] for the—”

“No way,” Francis interrupts. “Your goal is to reach S-Rank so you can be the first big hero in a million years or whatever, and stats aren’t part of that. Destiny Points are the only thing you need to worry about.”

“So I should ignore one of the fundamental aspects of the entire Destiny Deck System?”

“Optimally, yes,” he says, launching into full-on gamer lecture mode by this point. “Even the Destiny Cards you can draw are a detriment to your overall progress. If you want to be efficient and game the system to victory, you gotta be willing to sacrifice some of the little conveniences.”

“Wow, I… never really thought of it that way,” I respond.

“That’s because you’re not a pro gamer yet,” he says. “Trust me. Six hundred hours into Royals of Foreign Lands and you’ll start to look at game systems very differently. It’s all about the build. The min-max.”

The min-max…

That seems like a very important and official term. I should write that down somewhere.

The train that we are riding on goes over a bump of some sort.

We rattle for a moment, and I grip the seat as if something terrible is about to happen. But nothing does; it’s just a momentary passing issue.

It does remind me, though, that there is another issue that is certainly not momentary or passing that is of vital importance:

“You two must recall the fighting last night, where my inebriated clone began throwing random items out of a large bag.”

Francis and Delta give me another strange look.

“Uh…” Francis puts his finger to his bottom lip.

Delta shrugs. “A lot of stuff happened last night. It’s hard to remember.”

“Well, perhaps that ruins the build-up, then, but I wanted to remind you that I have… THIS!”

I poof out of my inventory a very special item: A large rucksack filled to the brim with assorted items.

“This is a loot bag from Mystix,” I say. “My clone discarded several items that could have been of good use, but it is still quite filled and extremely heavy. I’ve been meaning to show this loot bag for several days now, but it seems now is the most appropriate time, since we are in need of replacements for what we lost in Paso Robles.”

After I say that, the realization once again hits all three of us that we left behind almost the entirety of our belongings back in that hotel.

“Such a bummer…” Francis mutters.

“But have no fear! The loot bag will more than make up for it.”

“What’s in there?” Delta asks. “Anything ridiculous?”

“Well, the fun part is that I actually don’t know,” I say. “The bag contains assorted items from many travels with my Adventurer’s Guild group, Team Fanghook. We tried to sell many items at each town, but for, everything left over, we kept it in this bag for safekeeping.”

“So it’s just random assorted junk…”

“But it could be interesting junk! Let’s dig in any see what’s going on here…”

I reach into the bag, rummaging around the various items contained within. I feel hard metals, I feel soft organic materials, and most of all, I feel…

“Strider chitin!” I shout as I pull out a stack of sheets of thick, rough insectoid skin.

Several of the other passengers in the train car turn to me and give me suspicious glances. I should most likely refrain from yelling when I pull things out from now on. (Though I am a master of pulling out, that is for sure.)

“Is that… giant bug skin?” Delta shudders as she asks this.

“Yes. Striders are large insect creatures with psychic powers and super speed. They are very dangerous and almost impossible to kill. So their skin is very, very popular for clothing, armor, and snack foods.”

“Sn…” Delta declines to even question such a question as this. Do they not eat insects on Earth? I didn’t even think about that until just now. Huh, what a peculiar world this is.

“It may fetch a pretty penny for those who wish to weave it into armor, I think,” I say.

Now for my next item…

…A goblin eye!

This time, Delta shrieks.

“It’s the eye of a slain goblin,” I explain. Pretty neat, huh?”

“Why in God’s name do you have that?!” she whispers loudly, failing to keep her voice down. Passengers are now actively staring at us.

“These are said to have strong medicinal properties. I’m not quite sure myself.”

“It could be really cool to analyze the DNA,” Francis says.

“I have no idea what that means, but it sounds interesting.,” I say.

Okay, another item…

…A minature one-handed bow.

“Oh, wow, I could have used this all along,” I say. “This is a bow specially designed for just one-handed use. All this time, I’ve been having to use my special techniques, but I could have just loaded the arrows onto this machine and blasted away.”

“I think they call this a crossbow,” Francis says, “but crossbows are way lamer than your cool bow attack. Never stop that.”

“Aw, thanks.”

After that is…

…A gold bar.

“Oh, this may be useful,” I say. “It’s a gold ingot that has been smelted into a bar form. It can be traded on Mystix for the equivalent of one thousand gold coins, or melted down and turned into powerful weaponry. I don’t know if it is of any use on Earth, but—You two, why are you looking at me like that?”

Their jaws have dropped so far I’m worried that they are suffering a simultaneous mental breakdown. It honestly worries me more than a little bit to see them like this. Are they okay?

“I-I-I…Eryk…” Francis fails to speak a complete thought.

Delta is too stunned to even let a word out.

“I guess gold isn’t the most popular item here on Earth. Well then, that might be a bad thing, because…” I rummage through the loot bag and pull out more items. “…there’s two more where that came from. About six and a half pounds in total, if my weight judgment is accurate.”

Francis outright faints.

“Please put those away before anyone sees,” Delta whispers with a biting tone.

“Uh, okay…”

I promptly comply.

Wow, these people really must hate gold…

I continue my presentation, showing the two of them such interesting items as an artifact from the Yuletide Town Ruins, a Pterosaur quill, and a discarded mage’s tunic (Borguk had been gaining interest in fashion before we, um, parted ways). But no matter what I show them, nothing seems to make them any less tensed up than they were when I first showed the gold.

What the hells is up with that?