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.:: Burnt Town - x- Eastwell Border town; Rayola::.

 

“I TOLD YOU that it was following us!” Nael screamed from above me.

We were at the Train station. More like forced to be there in actuality.

“ It’s not MY fault that Fluffy was so good at hiding his presence, why are you blaming ME?”

“FLUFFY? DID YOU JUST CALL THAT MONSTER- FLUFFY?”

I winced

“RAYOLA, YOU DO NOT, AND I SAY DO. NOT. CALL THAT SUPREMELY INTELLIGENT, HOMICIDAL, MONSTROSITY OF A BEAR- FLUFFY!”

We were prancing around the station trying to find purchase on the levitation platform before- 'Fluffy' could catch up to us.
So far, we failed spectacularly. We got barely got here in one piece, but couldn’t actually manage to complete our objective.

That is, to steal the old reserve train and get the hell out of here.
The Train, as they call it, was the height of innovative magitech.
It was a stone Levitating disc of about a few hundred metres in diameter lined by metallic rings, which were surrounded by smaller levitating platforms used to load and unload both passenger and cargo onto the seats along the rings of the disc or the centrally suspended cargo hold respectively. Apparently, you could also link several of them together.

It then moves along directional runes placed at intervals, driven by a magical construct, at high constant speeds irrespective of the load that particular train is carrying.
The best feature of the whole thing is that it's extremely mobile and the construct manning it is trained in combat maneuvers, so no-one has to worry about being shot down out of the sky.

The worst problem was its long reuse cooldown and high mana consumption. It practically drains the air dry. No-one's going to be using magic anywhere near that thing. The longer the distance the more astronomical the cost and cooldown. It's annoying but acceptable.
Nothing is perfect. It’s the first time I’m seeing one, and I can't help but be very impressed.
Sad the Association isn't very keen on sharing it. Probably could have started a revolution on its own.

It was hard to control, but we could get to the main disc via a levitating platform on the ground.

Fluffy, probably figured out what we’re trying to do and was now trying to cut off our escape with renewed vigor. After nearly an entire day of Jumping around the roofs of the Small brick station, the workshop,  and from the tops of trees, we finally managed to get on the Train and left the damn bear behind.
The thing took a long time to actually move after we threw off the Anchors holding it in place up in the sky. 

We were rewarded by the sound of the bear roaring in frustration.

It was trying to climb a large tree in uncomfortably close proximity.

*Hell, that bear is persistent.* 

It was a difficult situation and we had to actually drop an entire platform on top of it to escape while it was collecting itself.
I just hope it doesn't learn how to fly with that thing.
It was a terrifying thought. 

*From what I've seen, I have a feeling it would.*

Concerning. 

I had a talk with Nael. If anyone asks, it was never there in the first place. IF, anyone inquires that is. No-ones going to know we ever existed. Nael was contemplating whether we should crash the whole thing somewhere remote and was weighing its risks.

I leaned back on the outer ring and laughed while Nael was collecting his thoughts. He frowned before leaning back and indulged in a few moments of laughter as well.

He then closed his eyes and we shared a few hours of silence before He made a loud groan.

“Ah, shit!” He yelled in frustration.

“What happened?”

“Forgot to do something in a nearby farming town, we need to make a stop.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“This is not an officially sanctioned vehicle, we can get the construct to drop us off close to the place but Since we took the spare without any official permission, we have to redirect the thing somewhere else so as to not get into trouble ourselves.”

“okay.” I got that part.

“the problem is, when we get off, we have to wait for the next inbound train and because this village is on a wider, more rural route, it’ll take nearly two weeks before the next one arrives.”

“mmmm okay, I can wait, I don’t see the problem.” I had no problem waiting.

“well, it’s with regard to my membership. I’ll probably get a large penalty for being evasive of responsibilities.”

That was.. troubling. I brainstormed for a solution but found none.
Wait…

“You told me that you sent something called a memory report when you were in an extremely dangerous situation right?. So if you can make them believe you’re injured or something?”

“Hmmmm… That’s probably a good idea, let them think I’m dead or something, That would teach those idiots a thing or two about actually being nice to their team-mate for once.”

After a day’s journey, the disc started to dip. Nael hurried over to me.

“Jump”

“wha-“

“There’s no official stop here, we’re going to attract attention otherwise."

“Can’t we just set it down slowly?”

He shook his head. 

“No, if you stop it now, It’s not going to start up again for an entire three days.
We're jumping the train onto the trees. You’ll survive even if you don’t get hold of one, but that’s the plan,
here take these.”

He handed me most of his travel packs.

“wha- I’m not here to carry your stuff!”

“Hey, does carrying this affect your chances of survival?”

“uh… no?” I replied.

“then shut up and do it.”

"BUT IT'LL HURT!!!"

"Jump, you stupid scaredy-cat." 

“Oi, weren’t YOU supposed to be scared of me?” I accused

“ That was before I realized that you were a degenerate failure of a vampire, with the only good point about you being that you can be used as bait.”

“HEY! That’s not something you say to a lady!”

“You girl, are no elegant lady. Now shut up, and JUMP!”

Fair to say, nothing eventful happened on the way down.

The train slowed down a bit close to a river, where the trees lining it's banks were conviniently close. 

The trees were tall here. Incomparably so to the ones I saw in the clearing I woke up in.  Apparently, we were in the Northern periphery of the Great Forest, or the Great Wilderness, as is called in various regions. It's supposedly the native lands of the Elves, although they live at the Southern end of the same. The forest is too dangerous to cross unless one is extremely familiar with it, and its very hard to get the details too since most pureblood elves are extremely Conservative and unforthcoming about it. The only information we do, know is from the occasional Elf that wanders out to satisfy their wanderlust. 

Both of us managed to grab a branch safely without any damage, and slowly made our way down. 

Thankfully, I didn't fall. 

*A bit disappointing but it’s adjustable.*

{Oi, don’t  get me into pointless trouble.}

*It's not like you avoid that by yourself you know.*

I shook my head. Then we walked half a day North. The forest was Huge, Lots of big trees. Each at least a spear wide. Some even as wide as entire houses. I could see the rough texture of the bark and the deep crevices that ran along with it, all the way to the top. There were large ferns, still holding on to the morning dew, scattered across the Clean, wet, forest floor full of dry leaves. It was a wonderful sight.

Also a bit unnerving.
For the forest was eerily silent.
Vile creatures were prowling the vicinity despite us dropping off near the periphery.
We paused for a moment.

Nael led the way, climbing rocks, trees, wading through foliage... An extremely uncomfortable route, especially since it was very close to a clearing. It was confusing, but all he said was that it wasn't safe, whatever that means. But who am I to say? I'll just leave it to the guy who seems to know what he's doing. 

Even if he's annoying me. 

Both of stopped.

Something was wrong.

We could barely hear it, but there it was, the faint sound of ripping coming from ahead of us.

As weaved our way through the great prop roots of the titanic tree that blocked our view, we came across it.

A monster, that was the only word to describe it.

A gigantic winged monstrosity that was ripping chunks out of a stag with it’s gigantic teeth. The stag was no easy prey, A majestic beast with crystalline antlers and a form twice the norm. And it was still alive, thrashing, turning, hoping for a desperate attempt at escape, or a merciful end. The monster didn’t notice us, It’s beady eyes were focused on it’s prey and the excited quivering of it’s giant body shook up the forest , The wings of the beast were folded so it could grab onto the stag with the claws at their end. Even hunched down, it still towered over twenty feet.

It’s other features were hard to make out, there was not much to make out between the furred rat like body and the thick tail that snaked through the dry leaves behind it. 

Suddenly, there was silence.

Heavy silence.

It paused eating.
Suddenly, it raised its snout in the air, and its whiskers twitched.
It did, notice us after all.

We were frozen in fear.
It started right at us.

It's eyes appraising us.
Eyes as blacker than the darkest night. full of pride, Intelligence, Arrogance. Indifference. 

Then it turned back to its meal with obvious disinterest. Saved, because we didn't satisfy its palate.
We quietly traced our path back and took a new route around it.


"A Sazkadur," Nael said, shaking his head.
He didn't talk further.

Neither did I. 

I'm never going to be able to look at mice the same way ever again.

Finally, we crossed the borders of the forest, uneventfully onto vast extensive plains.
I could make out bountiful farmlands far away and roofs of a relatively small village dotted the distance.

It was still too far away to tell, but I could thank my improved vision for it. I'm barely adjusting to it, it's very distracting and gives me constant headaches when trying to stare at things too far away but it has its uses. 

"Eastwell."

“that’s where we need to go?”

“Yea. "

He let out a sigh of relief. We were tense all the way here, and it took a toll on him. His face looked tired, worn, but happy.

“what’s there?”

“family.”

I shot a glance at Nael.

“You trust me to be around them?”

He shrugged.

“You’re not that bad. Just a fair bit annoying as I see it.”

“Ow. So are there a lot of elves here? I didn’t know they were present in these parts.”

“There aren't any. ”

I was confused and it probably showed on my face.

“ Haha, it’s complicated. I’m not really welcome back where I’m from, but the people here took me in.”

“Oh.”

He just nodded and spoke no further as we trotted ahead, increasing our pace. We reached the edge of the village by dusk.

Nael waved at some farmers, who waved back.

We took some turns and eventually got to a large cottage at the end of town. It was a lively place, tall brick walls, chimneys, a tiled roof, large windows. Expansive gardens. 
The whole perfect retirement home, fit for a noble. 
I heard squeals of children from inside.

The door shot open, and a bunch of kids ran to greet us.

“Mr elf, you’re back!”

“Nael, Nael, let’s play magic hands  again, no-one believes me when I said I beat you-“

I watched with amusement as he was swarmed by at least a dozen children. I never thought he was the sort of guy who likes to play with kids.
Then again, judging by his expression, he probably wasn’t.

Not like they cared.

I choked back my laughter.

Then they noticed me, shooting me curious glances. A little girl tugged Nael.

“Nael, who’s that pretty girl, and why does she look like a dolly?”

Dolly? Is it because of my appearance? That's...

An evil smile spread across Nael’s Face.

*Uh-oh.*

“Yea, little Nilly, that’s because she IS, a large dolly! She can move around and speak, and is very smart too! Go play with her!”

“Really? WOW!”

“WOW, it’s true, look, she’s so cold to touch! It's Like wax!”

Nael, you evil man...
Then they swarmed me before I could escape or come up with something else.

*Too late, dolly*

{Oh, just shut up will ya?}

An hour later, I managed to break free from the little monsters and finally get inside the house.
Nael was sipping something like nothing ever happened.

“Is this the girl you were talking about?”

I turned as I heard an elderly voice behind me. Opposite ]Nael, was an old couple who seemed to be sizing me up. One was an old man with a withered face, a scar running down his chin, and with a barrel- like torso with muscles so ripped I felt like his biceps were actually watermelons.

The other was an old lady with an impressive, elegant air about her, and no less ripped with muscles albeit much less bulky.

*What's the fuck is wrong with this family? What the hell do they even eat?*

“Hmm, from what you told me, she’s not going to be a problem right?”

“Nah, she’s a bit like you in some ways, has a few screws loose up there.”

“Oh, Nael, you just got here, don’t start brawling with Gilbert again”

“Laura, the senile fool needs more exercise, you’re spoiling him too much.”

“Oi, back in my day, I was a gold rank adventurer ya’know, I bet that me alone is enough whip your entire team’s asses. We were STRONG, and we earned it. Not like you pussy explorers who’re scared to go out of their sanctioned zones.”

“Hey, you shaming the association? we may be very cautious but at least we don’t go around causing more trouble than we were sent to solve!”

“Oh, was that a comp-“

“that was NOT a compliment.”

“Boy-“

“I’m older than you, ‘old man’.”

“Hah, I always say this, and it’s not going to change anytime soon, yer barely a boy in elf country, and that means you’re barely a boy here.”

“How does THAT make any sense? I’m-“

“Boys, you’re making our guest uncomfortable”

All three of them turned to me.

“Eh, not a problem.” Nael shrugged.

“Nael-“

“Come here girl, sit.”

Laura beckoned to a chair next to the polished wooden table.

“Do you want anything to eat, dear?”

I shook my head.

“I can’t”

She hesitated

“to drink?”

I shook my head again.

I even tried some blood earlier. The result was the same.
I didn’t even feel any hunger or thirst… Just an emptiness that’s hard to put into words.
As if… there’s something inside me was missing.

*More like you're missing a stomach to actually digest things?*

{I'm fairly sure that's not the case.}

* Just keep trying then.*

{Juice?}

*I don't think that'll work. Try something more... Unique. *

The voice suggested with a hint of sadness in its tone.
Huh.

“Can’t drink anything either.”

Laura seemed like she didn’t know what to do.

“It’s okay, I’m fine.”

I said with a sad smile.
She nodded and proceeded to the kitchen to get something for the others. Or pry apart the kids who were apparently fighting. They were making a serious ruckus outside.

“So what’s the story with Nael?”

Honestly, I was a bit curious.

Gilbert let out a booming laugh.

“This scrawny bastard? Ah let’s see, one day Laura and I were just going on with our daily business, making sure these poor kids are all comfy and all, when I smelled an intruder behind the house.
I was infuriated! Who dares to try break into the residence of Gilbert the Wolf, A Stormrider!
So I took me old blade and started slashing stuff like I used to do back in the day.
Can’t say it didn’t bring back memories!”

“Started slashing stuff? You call that pointless destruction-… I NEARLY DIED!!!! THRICE.”

Gilbert nodded.

“Always wondered how you escaped, probably just dumb luck, but I decided ya were worthy enough to earn my ear!
Imagine my surprise to see a full-blooded elf. HERE of all places.
Then I HAD to listen to his stupid sob story. Laura really was too soft. Didn’t stop bugging me till I had him help us out with all the kids.
I still say it was a mistake.”

“Yea go sleep or something, you 'old' man."

“PAH”

I looked out the window at all the kids

“Is this an orphanage?”

I heard a giggle.

Laura was back and handed a suspiciously green drink to the others.

“ Gilbert was an orphan when he was a child, and had to go through a lot. So when he retired, he bought this house and decided to start a ‘survival programme’ for children who lost their families to the Great Eastern war, and he calls ME soft.”

Nael chuckled. Then he shot me a glance.

“Oi, Gilly, what do you think of Rayola here.”

“I still find it shocking you had the balls to name her after your dog.”

“No, not that. I’m talking about what she is. Isn't it strange. Have you ever heard of a vampire without thirst, lest one that walks through the sun? I’m doubting my own conclusion right now. ”

Gilbert squinted at me.

“She’s strange.”

“I know, that’s w-“

“No.” He cut Nael off.

Nael glanced at Gilbert quizzically.

“I’ve fought a few vampires back in my day, even escaped the clutches of a lord! That’s really sayin something ya’know. Those suckers were pale, not like her, but in a freaky sort of way. Yer girl looks like a bleached white Doll, and that’s weirding me out even more.
Both have signs that they’re somewhere in between the living and the dead but the… air feels different.”

“Air?”

“The vampires smells of blood and death. Rayola here, does, smell of vampire blood, but it feels... Hot, scalding even."

Nael’s brow creased.

“You’re spouting nonsense again. what are you, a dog? You do well to notice her skin’s cold as ice. ”

“A WOLF, you'd do well to remind yourself of me title, boy!.
And no, you’ll get an idea of what I’m talkin bout if ya raid enough of the Forsaken Grath crypts. The undead there are not like the blighted ones, They don’t multiply fast like those with the dark blight but they have purpose, HATE, and where you expect the hollow darkness you see in their counterpart’s eyes, you’re staring into a burning inferno of Rage and Wrath.”

He glanced at me.

“Vampires are creatures of darkness and has slight relation to the dark blight by their nature. She, however, seems to be their counterpart to the Raging ones.”

Nael frowned.

“That doesn’t make sense. She's a bit annoying, but otherwise a fair bit harmless.”

Gilbert turned to me

“You said you don’t remember most of your memories, right?”

I nodded.

“Ever wondered why? Maybe that’s something to be concerned about.”

I tilted my head in askance. He just chuckled.

“It’s just a hunch, but I learnt to trust my hunches.”

He gave me a sad smile.

“Lass, I don’t think anyone can help you but yourself. You need to seek your own path and find your own answers. Both me and Laura are familiar with the creatures that roam the world and can have a general idea of what kind of things you can find in a particular location. If it's already mapped of course.
It’s the rite of an adventurer we obtained, one which was passed down from generations of adventurers to the next by blade and tongue.”

He slowly rose up.

“You are an oddity, you are both completely out of place, AND probably the first of your kind. I have no idea as to even what classification to put you under. All of us including you, girl, know too little of yourself.”

His expression saddened further.

“I Hope you really might not have to do this, but I suggest that you go to the Forsaken Temple of Grath, you might discover something there. For some reason, your presence keeps reminding me of the dreadlord residing there.”

Laura shot from her seat in protest.

“GILBERT! You’re sending her to fight Irkath? Are you out of your mind? No matter how much she can revive herself, the place is too Dangerous, too VENGEFUL, too much pure undiluted HATE. And Irkath…. You KNOW how we barely survived, how he DECIMATED the kingdom’s best...  Our Friends, singlehandedly, and you’re…”

He waved his hand.

“I know. I don’t want her to go on a suicide mission. Entering the crypt itself might be enough. If that doesn’t help, it doesn’t matter if she meets Irkath or not.”

Nael sighed.

“I won’t be able to help you with that one. The creatures of Grath Irkath’s valley are known to never leave their territory, but the explorer’s association has barred the area from entry for its members. Any attempt to cross those borders without consent will result in immediate expulsion. And I’m fairly sure no-one’s going give let me go to my death alone, willingly. You probably might find someone to help you with the adventurers, tough. They’re the only ones stupid enough to try.”

Gilbert huffed.

“Told ya the explorers were pussies. Two attempts and a counterattack were enough for them to stop.”

I was confused.

“Counterattack? I thought that you said the creatures there won’t leave their territory.”

“They don’t”

“Huh?”

Nael explained further.

“One day, a heavenly rock just dropped from the sky and fell on top of one of the association’s branches, completely flattening it, like... splat. And what do you know, that stupid hunk of rock had Irkath’s Insignia on it. The incident scared the hell out of The 'Blue Tree' and it refused to be co-operative till they barred the area completely from explorer entry.”

Gilbert rolled his eyes.

"Cowards and bootlickers. Anyway, you should travel to the Adventurer’s guild. You’ll probably find more information there as well, the explorers are awfully stingy with their stuff and aren’t too keen on the idea of sharing, ESPECIALLY information, even to their own members. Clearance and a whole lot of other crap I don’t understand.”

I nodded.

“Thank you, I’m honestly very grateful.”

Gilbert laughed

“Don’t worry girl, my help will also send you to probably one of the most dangerous locations on the map. Actually, the only discovered dungeon that still hasn't been cleared beyond the first eight floors! So we call it even.”

I smiled and thanked him again.

Gilbert said something to Laura when she started to scold him again.
They were out of earshot but I still managed to hear it.

*You remind him of his old friends he says.*

I shrugged.

{Coming here wasn’t completely unproductive. I found allies, and also a goal. To become an adventurer.}

*To find this ‘Forsaken Grath’s temple, eh?*

I nodded.

Today was good.
Probably the best day of my un-life, despite what we had gone through.


Then again, it’s barely been three days.

 

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Cloudless Night

Bio: Concept Artist, Camouflaged Cloud.

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