As long as I remained in the Astral River, keeping the platform on the cusp of the Nexus we used to sit stable, the Grandmother was content to teach me. Holding the platform together was easy at first but the strain on my mind, the need to keep me anchored to my Avatar back in the forest, my mind anchored at that particular spot of the Astral River and the platform anchored to me, was mounting, slowly but surely. I also understood that, if I failed I would be in trouble. I wasn’t sure what losing myself in the Astral River would do to a Traveller, it might be as simple as being sent to respawn or it might be more problematic, existence as a ghost in the Astral River was possible or even out-right loss of the character. But even if the punishment by the game was as simple as a respawn, I had no doubt that the Grandmother would add her own lesson to it, one on the danger of hubris.

But, even with all that in mind, the chance to have questions answered by the Grandmother was a lure strong enough to make me push to the boundaries of my abilities and beyond. I wanted to learn from her, especially now that I had learned more and could ask more direct questions.

Finally, after what felt like a long, long time, I realised that the platform around us was slowly crumbling, despite my best efforts. I was simply too tired, too mentally exhausted, to keep it stable.

“Apologies, Grandmother, as much as I would like to continue to learn from you, I don’t think I would be able to find my way back into my body if I stay for much longer.” I admitted, my voice contrite and regretful. I had a feeling that, even if I came back here, the Grandmother wouldn’t be in the same teaching mood she was in now.

“Yes, I can see that. Your will is still strong, your soul shining brightly with a desire for knowledge but your mind is at its limits and would soon crumble. But you’ve done well, especially for one so young as you are. We might speak again, but don’t attempt to reach this place frivolously. I taught you more as a reward for your growth, unless you manage to impress me again, I will not teach you again.” She nodded and, after a last sip of the incredibly magical tea she had prepared, I stood and gave her a polite bow, the bow of a grateful student to their teacher.

“We will talk again, someday.” with those words, her form turned back into complex streams of Astral Power, flowing back into the River and, for just a moment, I felt the enormity of her being around me before she retreated, back through the nexus.

No longer needing the platform, or the form I had been using, I let both dissolve into the the simple streams of Ice, Darkness and Blood, my mind remaining in its immaterial form, as I always was in the Astral River. The power flowing around me was so soothing, inviting me to remain, to let go, but I somehow managed to hold myself together and focus on the connection back to my body. It was a little indistinct, almost frayed making me wonder if I would be able to make it back.

But I had prepared for just that and focused on the other safeguards I had made, my connection to Lenore and the name carved into my throne in blood. Both were faintly discernible, strengthening the connection and there wa a third radiance near those two, one that called to me. Instinctively, I knew that it was Sigmir, that I had to return to her and focusing on her existence allowed me to slowly swim through the Astral River, going against the current that tried to sweep me away.

With a last push, I returned to my Avatar, its eyes flickering open as my senses regained function. There was a moment of disorientation and if I hadn’t been stably sitting on my throne, I would have fallen over, trying to discern up from down. The Astral River was lacking those concepts, it was ruled by its current and the elements, which could be bent to your will, if you were strong enough. Where I could use magic to influence reality on Mundus, the Astral River wsa magic and I could use my will to bend it, at least to a point.

“Did it work?” Lenore asked, her voice curious.

“How long was I under?” I asked Lenore, ignoring her question for now. My mind was reeling from the incongruence I was experiencing, the forest around me looked just as it had when I had delved into the Astral.

“Maybe ten minutes. So, did you manage to find your way through the Astral River?” she asked again, lightly pecking my ear to motivate me.

“Yes, it worked. I managed to talk to the Grandmother, for far longer than ten minutes. I guess time works strange ways in the Astral River, I could have sworn I was delving into it for hours.” I admitted, remembering the answers I had received and the vague hints she had dropped as avenues of future inquiries.

“That sounds as if it was well worth it. What did you learn?” Lenore pressed on, even as she placed her head against my temple to return to her Hallow.

“Quite a bit, especially regarding ways that we might keep us safe from attacks like the one today. And even a few possible ways to increase my strength, even if I’m not sure I want to use them. They do have drawbacks, some of them rather significant.” I shook my head, my mind feeling rather fuzzy as the mental fatigue from my experience in the Astral River was starting to affect my physical Avatar. It was a strange experience, I had been cognisant of the exhaustion but more as a concept, a feeling of knowing that there was a limit I wouldn’t be able to push through but with the return to my Avatar, it was as if now, the normal processes that were part of exhaustion were kicking in, trying to make up for lost time.

“Tomorrow. I’ll explain more tomorrow.” I promised Lenore, as a yawn was trying to break my jaw.

I noticed that there were a few notifications that I had ignored, so I looked through them.

Skill increased
You increased your skill: Astral Meditation [58/100]

Skill increased
You increased your skill: Blood Magic [59/100]

Title gained
You gained a skill: Astral Traveller
The Astral River flows through the Cosmos, forming a bridge between realities, between realms and between worlds. You took the first steps of traversing the Astral River and lived to tell the tale.

The boost in Astral Meditation was quite impressive, netting me six points but then, I had spent a lot of time in the Astral River. Blood Magic, on the other hand, might have gone up when I created the marking. Thinking about the marking made me realise that I had to make sure that I wouldn’t leave anything that could be used against me. A short manifestation of my Ice-Magic turned the still infused blood into ice, and Lenore made sure that it lost all links to me, using her Death-magic. The only thing that remained behind were pretty, glittering crystals that would melt in the coming days.

That only left the title to think about, not that it seemed to have any effect, other than maybe bragging rights. But I felt just too tired to deal with those, so I started walking, or rather shuffling, back to the others.

As I stumbled into camp, Sigmir caught me, a worried look on her face.

“Are you alright, love?” she asked as soon as she was holding me secure on her lap.

“Yes, I am. Just tired, so tired.” I admitted, snuggling in, enjoying her smell and the feeling of safety her arms always gave me.

“I managed to contact the Grandmother and ask for advice.” I announced, hearing a soft swear from Adra.

“You talked to her?!” Adra asked, her voice a little strained. Maybe because she had some theoretical magical knowledge, not like Rai who was more interested in the practical aspects and thus unaware of the difficulties such a spell had.

“We did. She complimented me on my growth, you know. Can you even imagine how it feels if a being so powerful, so awe-inspiring compliments you?” I asked, speaking without really thinking about my words.

“I have seen parts of who and what she is. And she said I have exceeded her expectations, which was why she granted me another lesson.” I continued, hearing a soft gasp from Adra.

“When? How?!” she asked, her voice whisper-quiet.

“Time, time flows different in the Astral River. And that was where we met. I spent hours with her, even as only minutes passed here. I have no idea if that was her doing or a property of the place we were in. She made awesome tea, though.” I tried to form the words to convey what I had experienced but my mind was getting more and more fuzzy.

“Love, would you mind if we go to bed now?” I asked, snuggling deeper into Sigmir’s embrace, just before the world turned dark around me.


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