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“Are you sure about this?” said E-Merl, looking dubiously at the white-clad nun helping an older laborer stagger home.

The last two days had been full of frustration for Bandit’s recruitment effort. They’d started out lucky: E-Merl turned out to have skills with combat applications, and staying in the tavern helped them both realize what Bandit should’ve known from the start: there was no better place than a tavern to find adventurers between jobs. Bandit had started to let herself think this would be easy.

But Grayl the Gravedigger was too old for the gig. Astoria Troy had some potential but couldn’t be convinced this wasn’t some kind of scam. Scipio the Scorpion had turned them down flat with a monosyllabic “Nope.” There was, let’s just say, something a bit suspicious about Nyahaha Evilla’s claims to be a hero. Tora the Temptress relied too heavily on sex appeal to be fighting opponents not attracted to human women. (She didn’t take her rejection well, although her messy crying did draw the attention of the bartender, whom she immediately began seducing.) Hair-Trigger Harry attacked them because he took the offer of a salary to imply he wasn’t good at freelancing. E-Merl escaped that fight with illusions and Bandit escaped it with stealth, at which point Harry just started swinging wildly. Poor performance in the ensuing bar fight also eliminated Glassjaw, Ulanna the Unlucky, and the Adventurer With No Name Because He’s Still Coming Up With Something Really Cool III.

A few possibilities did impress Bandit and E-Merl enough to vet their abilities in outdoor field tests, using E-Merl’s illusions as targets. But those too had been dead ends. Bobo the Bouncing Berserk Boy was not nearly as bouncy or berserk as advertised, and Bandit now found the way that some adventurers used the “berserk” tag to puff themselves up a little offensive. Egton the Exploder had neglected to mention that he had no way of putting himself together again after he exploded. Bandit and E-Merl agreed never to speak of that field test again.

Finally, Morbo the Metalmancer, who had studied alongside E-Merl, was actually powerful. But he had been unbearably racist even by Gastonian standards, only agreeing to the test to demonstrate his superiority to E-Merl and firing off insults to both E-Merl and Bandit’s breeding with every spell. And perhaps even worse, he’d gone down like a ton of quoinstones as soon as Bandit punched him. E-Merl hurried them out of there before Morbo could recover consciousness, knowing Morbo had powerful friends. And E-Merl was fretting about possible reprisals for hours after that…although, oddly, he was smiling as he did so.

But he was not smiling now, as they followed the nun and the laborer. “I don’t think you really want a nun, I don’t think she is a real nun, and I don’t think you want her, either.”

“Wow, you…covered all th’bases, there. You really don’t like this one… Unpack that, please?”

“Nuns are mean.” 

“I’ve worked with ‘mean’ b’fore. ‘Snot a dealbreaker.”

“Not like… I mean… I know you fought the Sisterhood of the Bloodshot Eyeball, but you didn’t grow up in their shadow like I did. Like, they’d sometimes help people, but there was always this undercurrent of menace to it, y’know?”

As they watched, Rachel guided the laborer to a post on which he could sit and rest, and she talked with him amiably. “Yeah, I’m not gettin’ that vibe from her,” Bandit said.

“And that’s my point! Either she’s pretending to be nice now that the Sisterhood’s basically smashed, or she’s another poser like Bobo or Glassjaw, just wearing the outfit to look tough. Either way, it’s like watching someone dressing up as a land shark and kissing babies. Plus, she’s got licks of hair peeking out of the headscarf that’s supposed to keep her hair completely covered! It’s sloppy! Who does that??”

“We’re kiiinda startin’ t’get desp’rate, E-Merl. Ardaic’s been patient with us so far, but if this group isn’t up t’at least four by th’end of th’week, we might not be in those posh digs he got f’r us much longer’n that. ‘Rachel’ there was the one person other guys kept bringin’ up when we said we were recruitin’. Seems like she helps ev’rybody, includin’ adventurers when they’re questin’ in the public int’rest. An’ I think I actually saw her fight when th’old team rescued Frigg from the Sisterhood. We need t’at least talk to her.”

E-Merl knew he’d pushed about as hard as he could here. Bandit valued his opinion, and that meant a lot to him…too much to risk. “Fine. You do the talking, though. With this gut feeling I’m getting, I’d just mess it up.”

As E-Merl watched, the nun coaxed the laborer back to his feet and the last couple of blocks to his home. E-Merl watched Bandit follow and start to engage this “Rachel” in conversation. E-Merl kept watching. He couldn’t name the feeling he had about her, but it was a feeling his entire life after leaving his parents’ care had taught him not to trust–

A high-pitched shrieking started up, so loud that E-Merl tensed into combat readiness. Had…had Bandit stabbed their new prospect? No, wait… Rachel was shrieking with anguish… no, it seemed like… joy?

A few increasingly confusing moments later, Rachel and Bandit started approaching him. E-Merl could tell just from the way they walked in sync that Rachel was in. Bandit explained, “I didn’t get much further than remindin’ her how I’d met her befo–”


“Who’s Fr…? I mean, you’re welcome. Sure.”

“HA HA HAHAHA FORGIVE ME, I’M SO EXCITED!!” she shouted, and pulled E-Merl into a spontaneous hug. Her body was surprisingly muscular, E-Merl noticed, as he waited for the embrace to end with an eye-rolling frown.

And that backed up what Bandit had said about Rachel’s fighting abilities. So maybe this would work out, and maybe both E-Merl’s theories had been wrong. Maybe it was possible for someone to be both nice and tough.

As long as they were also, apparently, completely nuts.