At Dendra’s insistence, I continued to wander around the town, allowing her to see the sights. In the light of day, the city did look quite different. That distant corner of my mind where I had walled up James’ memories and emotional fragments brimmed with comparisons to the Old West and fantasy stories.
Dendra prattled on endlessly, directing me where to go and when to stop. I tuned out and just went with the flow.
While I allowed my body to pilot itself around the town, I thought back on my journey so far. Every time I seemed to be making progress and getting stronger, the goal would just move that much further away. Unbidden, the name Sisyphus came to mind before I banished the irrelevant thought.
Even so, I remained troubled by the thought. My aspiration had been to be able to defeat and consume those beasts in the upper reaches of the mountains. Then I saw the dragon beneath the lake, and had yet another peak to reach which was far higher than all that had come before.
But what then? What would I do upon reaching the absolute peak of power, when I had nothing left to gain in this world? The ideas that formed in response felt too similar to James’ memories. Should I cultivate relations? Should I seek solitude? No matter how I looked at it, the people I knew were weak. However, in their weakness, they sought to work with others whose strength covered their weaknesses. Vee and her team were weak, individually. Together, however, they had a certain strength.
But that strength was insufficient to defeat one such as me. Now that I was thinking of it, their strength was barely capable of defeating a minor horde of slimes. I felt disillusioned all over again.
Well, inherent weaknesses aside, they certainly seemed to have strong magics. If I could learn to harness those, then this farce would not be a total waste.
For now, what I needed most was a tutor. I needed someone to teach me the written language used on the spell-forms. I knew I had many options, but if I wanted to minimize my exposure to society I should rely on those I’ve already become acquainted with, like Vee’s party.
Ah, no matter how I thought of it, troublesome things remained troublesome. In order to learn from the humanoids, I’d have to maintain this form and continue interacting with them. I’d only be able to stretch my metaphorical legs when I was not around them.
Dendra seemed to pick up on my agitation as she ceased directing my movements around town and directly addressed me. “What’s wrong, Shaper?”
“I don’t like this.”
The tiny green plant woman remained silent for a few moments before speaking. “I don’t really know what’s bothering you, but sometimes what is necessary to do is unpleasant and you have no choice but to just deal with it.”
“But they’re all so weak. I wish I could just eat some of them to gain what I need.”
Dendra shrugged. “That would be useful, but it isn’t the case. You just have to deal with what you have to deal with.”
I kicked at the dirt of the road, sulking.
“It looks like you lot are stuck with us for a bit. So, which one of you is going to teach us how to read?” Dendra’s tiny form stood proudly on my shoulder as she asked the assembled adventurers.
We’d caught up with Vee and her group at a tavern, where they were enjoying a meal. I was familiar with the building, as I had observed it many times while learning the spoken language.
When Dendra asked her question, four heads turned toward the one member of the party who was trying to make herself as small and unnoticeable as she could. Trella let out a small squeak in response to the weight of her companion’s gazes. “Me?”
“Okay, thank you for volunteering,” Dendra said, totally ignoring the questioning tone of the vulpine Kin’s voice. The other four bowed their heads toward her as if to say ‘Thank you for your sacrifice.’
Not heeding the distress of the fox girl, Dendra plowed right on to the next subject. “Right, now that that is settled, let us discuss our role in the upcoming events. For… reasons, Shaper and I will act as scouts to verify the scope of the goblin invasion. They have not yet arrived in this forest, but it is a certainty that they will soon. Your boss has seen fit to assign your team to work as our assistants and liaisons. You will relay our findings back to the Guild and provide us with support. Also, I will be assisting your team in setting up an outpost near the far edge of the forest. We will set out tomorrow morning to begin with all that.”
Vee seemed a bit confused by the circumstances, and decided to air her concerns. “Why will you be doing these things? The guilds have no authority to assign tasks to an Emissary or her envoy.”
Dendra smiled. “It was part of a negotiation. For services rendered, the Hunter’s Guild will be making certain arrangements. You will, of course, receive standard pay for your part in our assignment.”
“Why us?” Sul asked.
“Well, we just needed a group that wasn’t likely to annoy my adorable little Shaper here. Since he doesn’t seem to feel like killing you all, it was basically a done deal.”
Trella grimaced upon hearing Dendra’s answer.
I watched with mild curiosity as Dendra explained the current situation to the group.
“But, why us?” Sil asked.
Dendra grinned and looked to me. Despite my review of James’ memories, I still did not truly feel ready for these interactions. I sighed internally, maintaining my external stoicism. “You seem fun.”
“And so he says. Objections? Refusals? Complaints? No? Alright, done deal.” Dendra spoke with a rapidity that I doubted the humans could keep up with.
As the humans settled in and the activity within the fort’s walls dwindled, I began to wander the premise of the fort once more. The smell of the place changed. It no longer smelled like a hive of industry and opportunity. Now it reeked with the scents of opportunism and greed.
I walked toward the walls, intending to leap them and return to the forest for the night. Unfortunately, I was followed.