Naffur just looked at the tree boy, wondering what he could say to convince him. “You really refuse to go toward those lights…? It looks like a festival. And I don’t know about you… but I haven’t bathed in weeks…”
The slightly smoldering tree crossed its arms and shook its head vigorously.
Sighing, Naffur asked. “Is it because of burning the flowers?”
The tree’s foliage springing up from his back drooped. Over the past four days, Naffur had accompanied this strange tree and gathered a few dozen flowers of different varieties. Naffur had no idea what the tree boy needed them for, but there was such an honest joy in his motions that it was hard not to get caught up in it. In addition, monsters seemed to avoid the tree boy, so it had been a relaxing few days.
But then, Naffur tripped. When he sprawled forward, the bouquets he was carrying slammed into the tree boys chest. At first, nothing happened. The tree boy rushed forward and hovered around Naffur, making concerned noises.
Naffur honestly wanted to roll his eyes. He wasn’t a kid. He had plenty of stats in Endurance. What the tree boy should really have been worried about was Naffur’s head, that he managed to trip in this world where he was empowered by the System.
But right as the treeboy was about to help Naffur up, his face twisted in fear and panic. Naffur could feel the strange being’s body flush and throw off a wave of heat. It was so much so soon that Naffur scrambled backward. The flowers that had gotten caught in the tree boy’s foliage slowly withered and simmered.
That had been several hours ago, and so much of the cheer from the treeboy had disappeared that Naffur wanted to run away from the thing. But…
“It will be fun,” Naffur said plaintively. In his life, he never had much cause to try and cheer someone up and felt extremely awkward about the whole situation. “You need a distraction.”
The treeboy pantomimed being locked behind bars.
Grinning, Naffur rushed forward and shoved the tree boy. With the same silent, clown motions, the treeboy tumbled to the ground. In its wake, a wave of heat spread outward, sizzling the grass.
Naffur nodded in satisfaction and held up his hands to demonstrate. “Look, not burned. You only heat up when you worry about it, dummy. As long as you stay calm, you won’t burn anybody. Let’s go to the festival!”
Although the prospect of people made Naffur extremely nervous, he had realized how foolish he had been to rush into the wilderness without any preparation. Having a place to gather supplies was important. Naffur was tired of nuts and berries and cold monster meat.
The treeboy seemed torn, but then he reached down and picked up a twig. He gripped the thing for several seconds. Very soon, the twig flickered and warped. A second later, thing tongues of flame sprang up from the place where the treeboy was gripping.
“...well, it’s not perfect,” Naffur said awkwardly. He scratched the back of his neck. “I’ve spent a few days with you. We aren’t super close, but… I noticed some things. This forest at night is super cold. I honestly wish you would produce more heat while you are doing your nighttime dance. But you don’t.”
The treeboy gathered his hand twigs into a fist and slapped it down on his other palm. Then he mimed shivering with chattering teeth.
Naffur glared at him. “Yes, that’s me being cold because you aren’t throwing off any heat. And anyway, why would you throw off heat. You aren’t on fire. If you were on fire, wouldn’t you also throw off light? It’s just…”
For several seconds, Naffur’s words got caught in his throat. But he forced them out. “Sometimes… life sucks. It’s really shit. And you worry about being… well, about people liking you. And you are so worried that you just sit in your little shack and watch the stars. And the next day, when no one new likes you, you feel a sick little bit of satisfaction because you were right. Just like you expected, nothing’s changed. But don’t you see? The reason you… the reason I was alone for so long was that I was too afraid to try anything else.”
Naffur’s mouth felt very dry. “And even now… When something happened that worried me… I just ran. I didn’t… try anything. When she- I just ran. But I also ran because I was afraid of what would happen if I ran… well, you don’t need to know that. But yanno, I was giving in to my fears and facing them. Just maybe in the wrong order.”
The treeboy cocked his head to the side.
Throwing his hands up in the air, Naffur released an aggrieved breath. “I don’t know! Your chest is hot and tight and queasy and you don’t know what to do. That’s just the way things are. So stop being a baby and pound it!”
Naffur raised his fist. The treeboy blinked his bright eyes and simply looked at Naffur.
Then, slowly, the treeboy raised his fist and bumped it quickly against Naffur’s. It was hot, but… no, it was warm. Naffur’s face split into a smile.
“So, ready to go to the festival?”
The treeboy blew out his cheeks in annoyance and stomped his foot. But after throwing a mini, silent tantrum, he nodded reluctantly.
“Excellent Lord Arbor. We have prepared your procession. I am so happy that you have agreed to come.”
Naffur spun around. In the middle of the path behind them, there were suddenly a dozen bowing… monsters. The leader straightened. His head was a snake’s, with a neck almost a half meter long. The rest of the men with him straightened as well and revealed a series of tigermen and beetles and broad-shouldered storks.
“Uh…” Naffur glanced at the treeboy. The treeboy was giving him an accusing look, blatantly saying ‘This is your fault.’ “W-who are you?”
“You may call me Alm. I was placed in charge of following behind Lord Arbor in case he may have need of mundane assistance. Praise Arbor.”
“Praise Arbor,” The people behind the snakeman Alm echoed.
Naffur looked back at the treeboy. “Your name is… Arbor?”
Arbor nodded, his eyes creasing into two happy moons. Then he shook his body back and forth, swaying in place. And to Naffur’s disbelief, the dozen sudden arrivals imitated Arbor. They looked like fools.
Arbor himself wasn’t that great of a dancer. And for all these seemed to be monstrous animal forms of humans, they dance a lot like the way Naffur had seen normal middle-aged men dance. It did a lot to help Naffur's last vestiges of instinctual fear dissipate.
When the dance ceased, Alm snapped his fingers. “Fetch the palanquin! Lord Arbor will grace the city with his presence. May all sing praises in his name. Praise Arbor.”
“Praise Arbor,” They all chanted, even as two dashed toward a nearby boulder. Within ten seconds, they had stripped off layers of dyed cloth and vegetable matter they had used to disguise a small dwelling. From there, the rest of the chanting assistant rushed forward and disassembled the house while the first two began to pull a large parcel from a tiny shed they had erected and began to unpack that.
Five minutes later, Naffur was sitting on a wood platform surrounding by thin veils of what seemed like chainmail. Ostensibly to keep other people from looking in, Naffur guessed.
Struck by a sudden thought, Naffur turned to Arbor. “Arbor… are you super rich.”
Arbor grinned and raised his eyes to the sky. Then he began to gyrate his trunk and shake his foliage. The strange movement lasted all of ten seconds before Naffur looked away with a scowl. Goddamnit, he was rich.
Well, at least that meant Naffur would probably get access to a shower today…
In order to pass the time without acknowledging the obscene movements of Arbor, Naffur went into his Path menu. To his delight, he had enough PP to finish his current Path. It was a completion that Naffur had looked forward to and dreaded because it was the Path Ducis: The Two-Faced Boy.
For all that the title had scared Naffur away somewhat, he had heard that the more specific the Path seemed to your life, the more likely it was to be powerful. So Naffur had bit his lip and began pouring his PP into it. And now…
Congratulations! You have finished the Path Ducis: The Two-Faced Boy! In your body lies a deep potential to accomplish much. If you pursue it, you could stand at the pinnacle of the world. And yet, in your heart, you hold many weights that prevent you from advancing. Both in act and deed, you are many people. Yours is a life filled with masks. The Path you walk is not one you chose. But you have chosen to follow it. And this world is such that if you seek your fate at the end of the Path, it will be found, in one manner or another. No matter your dreams or longings, your feet can carry you forward.
You have gained the Skill “Three Aspects of the First Ducis (L)”. You have gained the ability to create three aspects to affect your own performance, Stats, and Skills. One will be active at all time. Switching between the different Aspects will cost Stamina and Mana, depending on the effects of the Aspect you are switching to. Costs will decrease with Skill Level. The bonuses provided will increase with Skill Level.
You have created your first Aspect! You have gained the ‘Aspect of the Lost Boy’. While utilizing this Aspect, you will be harder to notice. Skills involving deception and stealth will be more effective. You will experience a minuscule bonus to Reaction and a small bonus to Perception.