Our journey to the Nexus-Village continued, at first the endless forest out of large pines and firs turned sparse, the distance between the trees growing and the trees itself getting smaller. As we got further north, even those trees yielded to the unforgiving, harsh wind and only shrubs remained. One day, both Ylva and I remarked that we were able to feel the Nexus quite clearly, and when turning our discussion to the subject, I learned that Ylva had rudimentary skills in Ice-Magic inherited from Fenris lineage but not enough to do more than slightly manipulate Ice. I guess now I knew who had helped during the battle in which we had saved her. All of the Frostwolves had those skills to some extent, and I had given them more than enough ice with kinetic energy to use against their enemies. I had wondered why the wolves had fallen that easy.

Both of us were certain of the direction, until one day, the horizon gave way to an endless expanse of grey, frothing waves. We walked on, and soon we reached a small brim, ending the shrubbery and falling for a ways and then ending in the ocean. We were quite literally at the end of the world.

Still, the Nexus was further north so we asked Lenore to come out for a bit. The bird had mostly stayed within her Hallow, avoiding the cold, only coming out when we had a fire going and then sharing Ylva's warmth. After Lenore emerged, she took off, soaring on the wind, climbing into the slightly cloudy sky. Then, a few minutes later, she was diving like a hawk onto a mouse and landing in my arms. I felt her shivering and knew that she was truly not made for this climate, so I immediately welcomed her back into the Hallow, only then asking what she had seen.

Like that, we knew the score - we were standing at a fjord, and across the water was more land, reaching out into the ocean. We turned south, moving along the shore but soon we decided that it was not worth it, walking in the endless, icy wind blowing in from the ocean so we moved a bit back, using every wind-shelter we could find. One good point about the cold was that we could simply walk over the streams we had to cross, they had a solid covering of ice, giving us a nice, even surface to walk on. It took us two days to walk to the end of the fjord and that is with the super-human endurance we had and travelling until long after dark, using our cold-resistance to the maximum. On one day, even Ylva decided to seek shelter within her Hallow, leaving only Sigmir and me out in the cold. Ylva's Hallow was located within the right hand and arm of Sigmir, causing silvery fur to appear on her hand. I don't know why but it looked good on her light-blue skin.

During my nightly Log-Out, I was having dinner while watching GNN. I was surprised when I saw that they’d put on a Beta-Feature for Road to Purgatory and even more so, when I realised that I was featured in it. Well, the Highlight-Reel and I was featured in both of them. The first, they called Individual Bravery, highlighting the trials of single Characters, I felt a bit strange about that, it had featured a group-battle-scene after all. The second, they called Clash of Armies, a bit pompous but hey, if it sells, who am I to criticize.
Something of note was that during the second Highlight-Reel my eyes were glowing blue, not the usual green they should be. That tidbit probably made them think they were seeing two different characters, one dark, creepy green-eyed monster, slaughtering innocents and one beautiful, blue-eyed Sorceress, protecting the underdog, or underwolf, with her alongside the proud Shield-Maiden.
Still, I’d have to ask Sigmir or maybe Lenore about my strange eye-colour, after all Lenore was living in my eye now. One might call her the Raven of my Eye.
What really got me laughing was the news lady happily joining in the online-craze I had caused, speculating with the best of them if I was a plant, that Pantheon had offered me lots of money to switch games, damaging the brand of their competition, even going so far to suggest that the rest of the old Team Amaranthine was in on it and they had thrown their games on purpose to increase the effect. Maybe it was good that they hadn’t connected the two appearances or they would go truly crazy. Just imagining it, forced me to stop eating, because I was laughing so hard. Conspiracy-Theories have a way of making me laugh.

The idea that anything truly big could be hidden felt like a joke to me, who had dug into other people’s finances to uncover their secrets. Well, at least it had paid the bills, my gaming career had been successful but the real money had been in advertisement deals which I’d never taken, so I’d needed a job that I could do on my own schedule to pay the bills.
I was still laughing when the programming switched to an announcement by Pantheon for their Beta-Schedule, their plans were for a one-year Beta with new players joining each month, the first month had only 10 000 players, each subsequent month had more, until they wanted to stress-test with a million new players the last month before release. It sounded to me as if they wanted to combine testing and advertisement quite heavily or maybe they just wanted to make sure that there were no negative consequences, there had to have been a waiver somewhere in the NDA, I was sure of that. Not that I’d read it, I was one of the millions that told the lie most often told. “I’ve read and accepted the Terms and Conditions.”

Before we broke camp back ingame, I investigated what was going on with my eyes by myself. Each morning, I washed myself shortly and today, I used a sheet of Ice as a mirror. I was unable to make out a lot of details but it was quite clear that my eyes were green, even if the one with Lenore was darker than the other. Thinking back, I remembered using Overflow so I did and my eyes shone from within but not with any colour. Then I tried to use a simple Ice Rune-Spell and for a short moment, my eyes were glowing like they did in the video. Trying Darkness and Blood-Runes showed me that Darkness gave my eyes an eerie, black glow, similar to my Dark Radiance spells and Blood-Runes had a pulsing, red glow. After my self-inspection, we ate breakfast and broke camp for another exciting day of hiking.

I was quite surprised when we reached the end of the fjord; nestled in the mouth of a river was a small village, built into the coastline, close to the water. The buildings looked mostly made out of wood but reinforced with the bones of large, maritime creatures. It was still light out when we approached the village and a small, snake-like creature greeted us. “Welcome, Travellers. You must have walked a long way, welcome to the village of Yugan.” I guess I had just met my first Naga. My first impression was, that I was looking at a male. He had a brawny torso, covered with a grey jacket, probably some kind of leather. It ended in a skirt-like covering reaching halfway to the ground with the snake-half continuing about 5 feet on. His skin was a grey-blue colour, similar to the sea outside. His head had no hair, no surprise there, but a double-crest in a lighter grey, joining together in the back of his neck and vanishing under his jacket. It reappeared on the tail, after the skirt ended.
On closer observation, I had to readjust the idea of small, yes, he stood only about as tall as I did but my body ended with my feet on the ground, his body had the snake-tail that stretched on. I'd guess if you measured from the tip of his tail to the crown of his head, he'd be about eight feet long.

I replied to his greeting, as he had spoken a language that I only understood thanks to the ability Lenore had bestowed upon me. “Greetings. I'm called Morgana and these are my companions Sigmir and Ylva. And yes, we have travelled quite a way. Is there some place in this village that might rent out a chamber for the night and provide dinner? We can trade leather or wolf-claws, depending on your preferences.”

He raised on of his arms, scratching at the crest on his head. “I don't know, maybe you should ask the village-head. Let me show you the way.” with that, he turned and slithered off so we simply followed. There were a few more villagers gawking at us, I'd guess they really didn't get much in the way of visitors. Our guide approached one of the larger buildings, slithering up a ramp and opening a slightly hidden door, it was built in such a way that it faced the cliff side the house was built into so you couldn't see it until you were right in front of it. I guess it was not hidden for reasons of secrecy but to prevent the cold coastal winds to blow directly into the dwelling. After we entered, another Naga greeted us. “Ungio, wha... Oh, Travellers? Well, that is a surprise, we rarely get visitors during the summer, much, much less now in the winter. Welcome to Yugan, I'm called Siranda.”

Siranda was quite impressive, a bit taller than Ungio and a deeper blue. Also quite obviously female, being naked and for some reason having medium-sized breasts. She also had a large crest but only a single crest, in a green-blue hue. The real surprise was however that below her arms was a second, smaller pair of vestigial arms. I was flabbergasted for a moment, before remembering that manners were important.

“Greetings, Siranda. My name is Morgana and my two companions are Sigmir and Ylva. We are travelling north and hoped that we might rest in your village for the night. We hope to be able to trade for it, depending on your needs.”

Siranda was smiling at me. “Interesting. I guess you are travelling to Neyto, are you not? It is not as if there is much more north of us. If you are, there I do have an idea what you could trade for the night.”

“Neyto? We are on our way to the elemental Nexus north of here, seeking the druids that are said to live there.” I answered.

“Yes, the Nexus. The community formed by the druids and those living close to them is called Neyto. If you are heading there, I can show you a good route on a map. And if you take a slight detour, you can trade work for your stay. You see, there is a small colony of Mudfins on the banks of the river. They are competing for food with us and I'd like for them to be gone. If you kill some of them while heading north, you will have done a great service to Yugan. It might be hard for you, but I'm sure you can handle it. If you are done, please break this token, I placed a mark on it so I can feel it break, so I know it is dealt with.”
Her talk smelled like a quest to me, so I accepted and was not at all surprised when a blue screen told me that.

Quest Alert!
Kill the Mudfins
Quest Difficulty Hard
Siranda, village-head of Yugan, asked you to deal with a small colony of Mudfins.
Mudfins killled 0/20
Bonus-Objective: Destroy the clutch of Mudfin-Eggs
Quest Reward You gain Guest-Right in Yugan-Village.

Siranda smiled and got out a map and the token, fashioned out of a small sea-shell. Looks like Neyto is about four days journey north of here, on a peninsula. The map showed a couple of small valleys and Sigmir, Siranda and I were able to come up with a good route that would coincidentally lead through the Mudfin-Colony. We talked a little more, but about nothing of substance, then we were shown to a small side-chamber where we could rest for a bit before dinner. A couple of days east was a village of bear-beastmen called “Yari” according to Siranda. They were trade-partners with Yugan, and Siranda suggested that we could visit there, depending on our plans after visiting Neyto.

Dinner was a communal affair, with quite a few Naga gawking at Sigmir and me - mainly at Sigmir, due to her size. It was interesting to see the tall shield-maid hem and haw because of the attention, clearly out of her element. Not that I was that much better, but I had a lot more experience with faking it.

Still, the dinner was nice - fish and seafood, prepared to perfection. I even learned about the vestigial arms of the Naga, apparently they started growing with age but Siranda would not tell me at what age, playing coy. Learning about Naga-Culture was interesting - there were culturally similar villages all over the world, the larger communities were connected via magic, their best Oceanomancers able to use the ocean itself to communicate. Sadly, there was no mage in this community, I'd have loved to learn more about their magic traditions and abilities.

As the day wound down, Sigmir and I bowed out and before going bed, enjoyed the warm bathhouse. Afterwards, we went to bed. It was a bit strange to sleep in a bed made for Snakes, but manageable. We did make out a bit but both of us were rather exhausted so we soon sunk into a deep sleep.


A note from Tsaimath

I've changed the detail in chapter 9 that said that during highlight-reels, faces are hidden and will change a few details to erase a few inconsitancies. Nothing truly plot-relevant, only little things. 

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