Three hours later, and we find Torga and the group five miles from the agreed upon meeting place. Because of Torga's massive size, and the fact that the sun was shining brightly ahead. Lena suggested that she and Fenris bring Uriel, Talia, and Solon to him, instead of him getting closer to the town and potentially causing panic among its denizens.
Azgun, as one of the planets higher up Yggdrasil, than most worlds Torga was used to. To see a 'monster; of Torga's size here, would no doubt cause not only the town of Sheena to panic but that panic would spread to the rest of the kingdom and possibly the world, as well.
With the average monster tier being on three or four. The sheer panic from a 'monster' of Torga's power appearing would be enough to have the whole world after them in only a few days... Well, if they were seen together with Torga, that is.
This line of thinking, unfortunately, caused Torga a not insignificant amount of worry.
"Take the rest of the group with you, when you go." Torga said as Lena and Fenris were preparing to leave.
His words caused Ayla and Hali to almost shout in protest, though Findral covered their mouths to before they could and harshly whispered, "Quiet!"
Her words stopped the two in their tracks and they turned to glare at her, but she just held their mouths closed and continued speaking.
"Before the two of you open your mouths and start whining, might I suggest that we wait for him to explain?"
Hali and Ayla glanced at each other, then back and gave her simultaneous nods. Findral slowly moved her hands away from their faces and took a step back.
"Good, maybe you aren't quite as childish as you've led me to believe." Findral smirked, then she and the girls began to listen in on Torga and Lena's conversation...
"You do know the girls aren't going to want to leave you alone after so long apart, right?" Lena casually said whilst preparing her bag for the journey.
"What they want is, unfortunately for them, not what I'm concerned about at this time." Torga replied.
Lena finished pulling her bag strap tight, then looked up at him. "What are you concerned about, then?" She asked.
Torga gave her a dry chuckle, then he responded with a question of his own. "If any of you were seen traveling with me, who do you think they would attack first?"
"I would assume they would attack you first."
"And when their attacks fail to do what they hoped?"
Lena opened her mouth to respond but seemed to think better of it halfway through as she simply sighed and nodded her head in affirmation.
"Alright, I understand your point."
"I figured you would-"
"Yeah? Well, I don't understand!" Ayla marched up to Torga and yelled. "Why is it, that every time we get together, you always try to send us away!?"
Torga turned his attention to Ayla and said, "You know very well that isn't what's happening, Ayla."
"Do I!?" She snarled. "It seems like you're always sending us away to 'protect' us, but it only serves to put you in even more danger than if we'd stayed!"
Her words caused Torga to narrow his eyes and a low hiss to build in the back of his throat.
"Is that so?" He asked, then he turned his attention to the others. "And do the rest of you think the same?" He looked at each of them individually and, to his surprise, most of them nodded in the affirmative with on Fenris replying negatively.
"You do what you do because it's what you believe to be best." He shrugged, "While most here have faith that you could protect them from just about anything, I know otherwise."
"Don't encourage him, father!" Hali yelled.
Fenris rolled his eyes and looked at his daughter. "Despite your opinion of the Fatass, Hali. The fact remains true that he isn't invincible. The fact is never truer than when he's around us... Isn't that right?" Fenris asked while meeting Torga's eyes with his own.
"Surprisingly, Mutt. In this instance, you are correct." Torga admitted.
Hali and Ayla spun their heads to stare at Torga.
"Are... Are you saying we're a burden to you?"
"In... a manner of speaking."
"How can you say that!?" Hali demanded.
"Because it's the truth." Was Torga's simple response.
His casual dismissal of their feelings caused no small amount of hurt to pass through the young women's chests.
"Fine, if you want us to leave... Then we'll go with Lena."
"No!" Ayla interrupted her, "Father has made his decision... Let's not argue with him about it."
"Ayla is right. Arguing with Master is not the way to change his mind." Findral said quietly.
Hali looked between the two for a couple of seconds, then she grit her teeth and acquiesced.
Hali and Ayla then split off from the group to prepare themselves for the journey.
"That was kinda harsh, don't you think?" Lena asked Torga once she was sure the two were out of earshot.
"Despite the harshness of my words, they were truthful. In a fight or die situation, I will never be able to give my full attention to my attacker if they are around." Torga sighed.
"That's just because you still see them as children." Fenris snorted.
"Are you trying to say you don't?" Torga asked.
Fenris smirked and turned his head in the direction the girls had left in.
"Of course I do... I probably always will see them as the little girls that used to beg me to race them around on my back." Fenris admitted.
"When will the two of you get it through your heads that they aren't those little girls anymore?"
Torga and Fenris looked at each other, then back at her.
"Never." "Not in this lifetime." Was their simultaneous response.
Lena groaned and cupped her head between her hands.
"I truly pity those poor girls, with you two guard dogs around." she quietly muttered... Though said guard 'dogs' heard her all the same.
"Hey! I resent that remark!" Torga chuckled.
"Eh, you've called me worse." Fenris mumbled, then he and Lena walked off to finish their preparations, leaving Torga alone with his thoughts...
"I am sorry for my words, girls... But... I don't know what I would do if something happened to either of you." He internally sighed, then he lay his head down and closed his eyes.
Behind his closed eyelids, memories of the past rapidly appeared and disappeared until he, eventually, fell asleep while thinking about the past...
Flashback: One month after Torga entered his evolutionary state.
Torga, in his guise as the elven mage known as Torolf, was sitting in the dark, next to a dimly lit campfire. All around him, his friends lay sleeping inside their respective tents.
Lena, Fenris in his human form, Solon, Hali, and little Talia was in the largest tent, while Uriel and Ayla had tents all their own.
Torga, on the other hand, did not have a tent... Nor did he require one, as he'd discovered only days after beginning this 'journey'.
Because the body he was inhabiting was no longer elven... Or mortal, for that matter. It did not require sleep, food, water, or anything else a living body would require to survive. While that may have been seen as a positive by some people, the truth of the matter was...
"This is a nightmare." Torga sighed internally.
Though he could travel and experience just about everything his friends did, it was the things he couldn't experience that was the most obvious. As his body didn't have the necessary nerve ending to transmit most of his senses correctly, he wound up trapped within a body that couldn't feel, smell, or taste anything. And with the loss of those senses, came his inability to sleep... at all.
So, he could usually be found sitting at a campfire while the others slept the night away. However, tonight was different.
Late into the night, Torga had just about ready to go hunting for tomorrows breakfast, when heard a quiet whimpering coming from Ayla's tent.
Deciding to delay hunting for a while longer, he walked over to the tent and gently pushed open the canopy to see Ayla crying while clutching a picture of her grandmother against her face.
"Are you ok, brat?" He asked in a soft voice, so as to not startle her.
She rolled over onto her side and continued to softly cry.
"Hey.." he whispered, as he slowly entered the tent and sat down at her feet. He sat there quietly for a few minutes, then he whispered. "It's okay to cry, you know?"
"No, it's not... I'm a big girl," She sniffled, "And big girls don't... Big girls don't cry..."
"Say's who?" he asked.
"Auntie Lena and Uncle Uriel. They said Granny wouldn't want me to... to cry."
A low hiss involuntarily formed at the back of Torga's throat, but he quickly stamped it down.
"Hey... Look at me, Ayla." he whispered while tapping her on the foot.
She moved the picture out of the way just enough to see him, but she still refused to roll over or to sit up.
"Don't listen to them, Ayla. It's alright to mourn for those we have lost."
"You don't cry." She mumbled just loud enough for him to hear.
Torga bitterly smiled and looked at the ground. "Is that what you think? That I don't cry?" he looked up to meet her eye.
"When I lost my wife I... I cried so much I thought I would die." he admitted.
That got Ayla's attention, as she rolled onto her back and sat up to look at him.
He shook his head, "No... No, I'm not."
"You have to be... I thought you said you didn't remember anything from that life? So how can you know if you cried or not?" She accused.
He shrugged, "I don't remember anything about myself; what I looked like, who my parents were... hell, I don't even remember what my own kids looked like." He started fiddling with his shirt as he spoke. "But... But I remember her. I remember everything about her." A small smile flitted across his face as he tilted his head to the sky to look at the moon through the canopy.
"I remember how we met, our first date, our first...ti- uh... our first kiss."
"What were you about to say?" She narrowed her eyes at him after hearing him quickly switch words.
"I'll uh... I'll tell you when you're a bit older." He chuckled, though it was a soft one.
"The point is, Ayla. I remember everything about Sarah. I can remember all the good times we had together... And the bad ones, as well."
Ayla scooted a bit closer to him and laid the picture in her lap. "Tell me a story." she demanded.
Torga stared at the tear stains on the picture for several seconds, before he looked up and saw the dried tears on her face. "How long have you been crying yourself to sleep, brat?" he wondered.
"Okay, what do you want to hear about?"
"Tell me how you met."
That caused Torga to smile for real as he began to tell his story...
"Did I ever tell you that Sarah was a doctor?" He asked, prompting Ayla to nod. "Well, I don't remember exactly why I was there, but... I was injured pretty badly."
"Bad enough that I almost died, apparently."
Ayla gasped but didn't say anything else.
"Anyway, I remember waking up in bed and there she was, standing off to my right and talking to... someone" Torga frowned as he tried to remember just who Sarah was talking to in his memory. But all he could see was a dark shadow standing in front of her, so he shook his head and pressed on.
"When she noticed I was awake, she gave me this smile... The kind of smile I would forever remember as the one that took my breath away."
"You fell in love at first sight?"
"No... I just... She was just the type of person you could feel at ease around. She always tried her best to make people happy and it showed in the way she carried herself.
I uh... I developed a bit of a crush on her while I was under her care and, well, when she told me I was ready to leave I... sort of asked her out on the spot."
"And? She accepted, right?"
Torga laughed out loud, then hung his head. "Nope, she turned me down on the spot and walked away."
"Yep-" he chuckled, "But, I didn't give up. I went to her office every week for my check-ups and every week I would ask her out again.
This went on for months. Every time I saw her, I would ask her out and she would politely decline.
So, on the last day of my being under her care, I decided to go out with at least some dignity... and for the first time in months I didn't ask her out."
"What did she do?"
"Well, she was polite the whole time, was very professional and did her job. However, just when I was getting ready to leave her office for the last time, she asked 'Aren't you going to ask me out again?'"
Torga smiled, "No, I didn't. I told her that I figured I'd already bothered her enough, so I was going to attempt to leave without embarrassing myself this time, at least.
So, she took that as her cue to ask me to eat dinner with her that night."
Ayla looked at Torga with confusion clear in her eyes, "But, if she'd said no all that time, why did she suddenly change her mind?"
He shrugged, "She didn't change her mind. Apparently, she was just waiting for me to stop being her patient before she would agree to have to dinner with me."
"But... What if you'd lost interest in her before then?"
"Well, I guess she just picked up on something that you should know by now as well."
Torga leaned in and gently laid his hand on her head, "I don't give up on the people I care about." he winked at her.
Ayla's face turned beet red and she looked down. "Oh..."
"Feeling better, now?" Torga suddenly asked.
"You've stopped crying."
"Oh... Right." She smiled bitterly, "I guess you'll leave me alone again now, right?"
"Not if you don't want me to."
Ayla's eye's snapped up to meet his. "You'll really stay if I ask you to?"
"Of course." He nodded.
"Then, will you stay with me... Just until I fall asleep?" She muttered.
"I'll stay with you for as long as you'll have me around, Brat. You're family."
Her eyes widened, "Do you really mean that?"
Torga nodded, "Have I ever lied to you?"
She shook her head.
"There's your answer then, Brat. You're stuck with me."
She sat her picture down beside her and dove into his chest.
"Then you don't get to leave me again... I won't lose another family." She whispered.
Torga wrapped his arms around her and said, "Not if I can help it, Brat... Not if I can help it."
"But your safety comes first..."
Torga's eyes snapped open and he looked around to see if anyone was nearby. Once he was satisfied that he was alone, he laid his head back down and whispered.
"Your safety will always come first, Ayla... So long as you and Sarah live, I'll do anything to protect you... even from the monster inside of me."
He stared out at the dead plants surrounding him, and the darkness that was spreading out from him as he unconsciously drew in the ambient magic.
"And if that means I have to keep sending you away until I learn to control this? Then that's a sacrifice I'll gladly make time and time again..."