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January 25, 2019, 10:21 am.

Here we are, face to face with Ivicka. A perfect opportunity for… something.

And we might even be protected by being in Glimmering Sands, though the recent battle shows that's more of an administrative type of protection. At least out in the open like this. Besides, at the moment, I'm worried about Josh, Roberts and Demo. Hmm. With Demo unable to walk and Roberts unconscious, is there any way we can escape other than flying?

While I'm worrying about the guys, Ivicka and Tipan are staring at each other as though they're the only ones here.

"I'm glad to see you're okay, sister," Ivicka drawls out after a couple seconds while I circumspectly scan the K'tharn around us, ready to pause and steal the others away using wind magic, flying us all away the moment Ivicka attacks, rules be damned. None of the other K'tharn seem ready to attack though, standing there at ease. Her comment provokes a choked cough from Tipan, ruining her attempt to stoically stare back.

Ivicka doesn't wait for Tipan to respond, swaggering closer, pushing her K'tharn escort to the side until she towers over Tipan. Well, over all of us really. Even as she pushes closer, she continues speaking, "I was worried when you ran inside the zone with a bunch of outlanders instead of your squad, but I see it's worked out for you. Was that lightning I saw you tossing around like honeyed crisps? Clearly, we have much to discuss. Maybe we should get dinner tonight to catch up?"

She's only two metres away when she stops, her eyes still fixed on Tipan.

"Why wait? Are you afraid of what all your loyal troops will discover?" Tipan counters, crossing all four arms while pointedly glancing around at the surrounding K'tharn.

Even as Tipan's speaking, I hear Beth mutter into Tipan's ear, "We don't have time for this. We need to take care of Roberts and figure out what's happened to Josh."

Beth is searching our surroundings nervously. I swear she's ready to break away or turn invisible on the spot. But then her eyes flit to Roberts and she tenses up for a second.

"And you. What a poor way to repay my hospitality. Sharing my meals, sleeping under my roof, learning my secrets before absconding with several of our gliders?" Ivicka calls out as she shifts her gaze to Beth, ignoring Tipan's question.

"Secrets? The only thing I learned was that you need to bathe more frequently. You kept two of my people bound and unconscious while confining my movements. Hardly hospitality," Beth spits out, her glare actually causing Ivicka to flinch for a second.

"People? Males aren't people. Everyone knows that," Ivicka laughs out, though there's a bit of an edge to her laughter.

"Is that what you've been teaching your trainees?" Tipan demands, waving at the assembled K'tharn.

Before Tipan's finishes speaking, Beth is adding her own reply, "They're better people..."

"Trainees? Look again dear sister," Ivicka interrupts, not noticing, or perhaps not caring about, Beth's opinion.

Beth glares daggers at Ivicka while I give the K'tharn accompanying Ivicka a closer inspection, leaving me shocked for a second. These ones are in better shape, but to my surprise, I quickly discover they're all Fallen. Most have that vacant gaze similar to the generic ones from the city, not really seeing anything. However, two do not. While their eyes are imbued with life, tracking our interactions, that's the only thing that distinguishes them from the rest.

Pretty sure those two are more of the awakened Fallen we need to be dealing with. I'm tempted to analyze them but considering I still have a dull headache from doing so in the fight with the dolls, I'm a little wary. If this is anything like when I broke pause, it'll just bring about more headaches.

Tipan continues staring at Ivicka for a couple seconds before she glances at the surrounding K'tharn. When she does, she gasps out, "You'd bring Fallen here? To a stronghold controlled by the Lords?"

"I don't know what you're talking about sister. I'd never stoop so low as to do such a thing. No, these aren't Fallen. Fallen are mad and attack anyone they see. As you can see, my associates aren't attacking anyone. Based on this simple truth, they can't be Fallen," Ivicka denies. The smirk that appears on Ivicka's face threatens to devour Tipan's indignation whole. "These are a gift. Servants for his Lordship Thansome."

"Servants?" Tipan responds flatly, her fur flattened in shock.

Even as Ivicka's monologuing, I can feel the gaze of one of the awakened Fallen weighing on me, so I meet her eyes. She gives me a small, almost timid, wave when I look at her. I find myself reflexively waving back at which point she gets a tentative smile. This causes my brain to stop processing for several seconds. When it restarts, Ivicka is already speaking again.

"Yes, servants. And after this little disruption, I think I'd best deliver his gift quickly. I'd hate for there to be any damage." The Fallen I'm staring at winces at Ivicka's words, the smile disappearing as she glances up worriedly then casts her eyes at the ground, shoulders slumped.

Tipan doesn't respond. But she does step to the side, directing the rest of us out of the way as well. I'm reluctant to concede our ground but it's probably the wise choice. Beth's the only one of us with more than a sliver of health remaining. And Ivicka's a copper rank threat. Not only that, but from what Tipan's told us, Ivicka is at the upper end of copper. That means she's one of the more powerful K'tharn in their little empire. Probably on the planet.

And that would be if we were fighting her without her entourage in a settlement controlled by another powerful empire.

As Ivicka and her entourage of Fallen push past us, I watch the strange timid Fallen. She's not looking about any longer, her eyes downcast. The awakened Fallen are truly strange. Even stranger when they're not throwing spells at me every chance they get.

"Are we really just going to watch her walk away?" I ask as we do exactly that.

"Not sure what else we can do, kid. And besides, we need to see if we can't find someone that can help us with Josh and Roberts. Speaking of which. What even happened?" Beth asks, glancing at Roberts before turning to regard Tipan.

"I'm not certain. One second, we were talking about the likelihood of my sister being here given Asterix and Cristha's presence. The next there were thumps all around us as dozens of these things landed. One of them crashed into Roberts, tearing at him. He was out of the fight before we knew we were under attack. I've never fought things like this before but I've heard of them dwelling far to the south," Tipan answers, shrugging while pointing at the ant-hoppers before kneeling next to Roberts.

"I don't suppose you have any healing items handy?" Beth asks Tipan while they pull back his sleeves then gently lift him to inspect Roberts completely.

"No. His health is only at negative twenty, so he should be fine once he's recovered. With his current regeneration, he should be back into the positives in a little less than four hours. Most users can go a fair way into the negatives before they'll be at risk of dying. Half of our positive health, at minimum. Of course, the nature of the injury can change that. But he's not bleeding or missing anything important, so he should be okay."

"Well, that's reassuring. Time to move," Beth states, spinning Josh's robe back over her shoulder then striding away. She takes a different route, not quite travelling in the direction that Ivicka just went.

Glancing at Roberts once more, I groan at my uselessness. This is another thing I need to learn. Roberts hasn't been able to teach me any healing magic since his magic relies on robust training and his Reprieve resource. However, if we can find someone who uses regular system healing, I shouldn't have a problem learning from them. At least, that was Tipan's theory when we were talking about it the other day.

The second Beth decides we're ready to go, Tipan gently lifts Roberts into her arms, cradling him. Glancing at Demo, who's leaning on a nearby building with his cloth changed leg rolled up and pinned in place, I move over to offer him a shoulder.

"Thanks. Almost thought yeh'd all forgotten about me," he says as he puts his arm over my shoulder before we attempt to make our way down the street.

"Beth's just worried about Josh," I offer in her defence. Even as I say that Beth is striding away at a near run. I use wind magic to take most of his weight as we strain to keep up with Beth's rapid pace.

"Aye. I noticed. Yeh'd think she'd never had a lover transmuted to a wooden doll before," he says. I'm about to inform him that it's a truly unusual event for any of us when I notice his twitching lips.

"Jerk," I mutter as we hobble south towards the tower.

"Best if yeh left us at the Inn, I think. We'd be a liability if yeh need to escape and it should be safe. These buildings are tougher than they look," Demo says with a sense of awe I haven't heard in his voice before.

"I'd rather not leave Roberts alone. You'll watch over him while we're gone," Tipan states as Beth disappears around a corner ahead of me. It's at this point I realize she's not even thinking about waiting for us.

"Beth, we're going to drop the guys off at Falcon's Catch," I inform her, still connected through the interface.

"Good idea. I'll meet you there. I just want to have a word with Pefe first," Beth replies.

By the time we make it to Falcon's Catch, a troublesome thought occurs to me. What if no one knows how to help Josh? Even if we revive Roberts what if he's unable to heal him too? I don't think the Restoration ability applies to being turned into a wooden doll unless he's dead. I'm glad we all bought the ability, but it's not as perfect as I'd imagined.

When we step into the lodge, Herv is still perched on his bean bag chair. I don't think I've seen him move from that thing once. He does crack one eye open to observe us when we enter though.

"Trouble with Aethop's daughters," he states, staring pointedly at Demo's floppy leg.

"Yep. Don't suppose yeh'd be able to recommend a solution. It says it won't heal on its own. Needs to be restored," Demo responds while flopping his leg back and forth like a toy.

"Easier to cut the leg off then find someone to regrow it," Herv suggests. Herv's suggestion causes Demo to abruptly lean away, nearly dragging me off my feet until I reflexively catch us with wind magic, nearly lifting us off the ground.

"I'd rather not. Yeh're sure you don't know anyone who could restore it? We've another friend who's come down with something similar. Cept he's all wood."

"Wood, huh? That ain't a daughter's ability. More likely a wood sylph. You'd be better off looking for a transmuter. Might be there's a lady in the market I know who could help you. She's a bit of a strange one though," Herv warns.

I'm not certain Herv has much right to be calling other people weird. Then again, I'll admit, I don't either.

"Can't be that bad. Could yeh give the details to my friend here? As yeh can see, I'm not in the best condition to be wandering around," Demo states.

"Sure. You can even stay in your rooms until you find proper treatment. Just hobble your way out here if you need a meal or anything. I can get em delivered."

With that settled, Tipan and I start moving the guys to their rooms. As I'm walking, I feel Smoulder squirm out of my pocket, moving closer to Herv to investigate. Herv's single open eye rotates to watch her get closer. For a second, I'm worried he'll hurt her, but when Smoulder sniffs at his bean bag, he reaches down one feathery hand and gently scratches her behind the ears.

Leaving Smoulder behind to get acquainted with our host, I take to Demo to his room. It'd be tough to squeeze him into the same room with Roberts.

"You sure you're going to be okay here?" I ask, lifting him over to his bed using nothing but wind magic. He makes a small, "eep" when I hoist him into the air.

Oops. Probably should have warned him.

Once he's sitting on the edge of his bed, he turns to me, pulling a worn paperback book from his inventory. "I'll be fine. Yeh just worry about tracking down a healer for Roberts. I'm confident he'll be able to fix this right up."

"You don't want me to check with Herv's friend first?" I ask, surprised.

"Hardly. I've read about what most healers can do in the system. What our comrade Roberts is capable of shouldn't be possible for a silver rank healer, forget iron rank. Perhaps we'll need this weird friend of his, but we should try a little closer to home first, don't yeh think?"

"Sure. But it's going to be a few hours until Roberts has regained enough health to be in the positives."

"Like I said. Yeh should find him some help."

"Right. I'll talk to Tipan," I answer sheepishly.

"Be careful. This Ivicka being here, right when we're at our worst? It smells worse than a Reaver's breeding pit," Demo warns right as I'm turning to leave the room.

"I will," I answer with a grin before slipping into invisibility to remind him what I'm capable of. Being invisible should be an excellent first line of defence, right?

"Filthy Creators, that one's got too much power," I hear him complain behind me. Once out of his sight, I reappear before peeking into Roberts's room.

Tipan is next to his bed, carefully tucking Roberts into place, gently pulling the blanket over him before squeezing his shoulder while whispering something I'm unable to make out.

As she's standing next to his bed, I whisper, "Let's get the details from Herv. And maybe ask him which shop has healing items for Roberts. Demo figures Roberts will be able to fix his leg."

Tipan nods, carefully edging around Roberts's bed, replying as she slowly pulls his door shut. "It'd be a good idea to ask Pefe as well. She was telling us this morning that she knows most of the local subs."

"Subs?" I ask as we enter the lobby where Smoulder is parked in Herv's lap, rumbling away while he strokes the length of her body.

"Those who focus their efforts on developing the skills of their subclasses. Artificers, brewers, rune-smiths. That sort of thing," Tipan explains.

"Ah. Crafters." I nod understandingly.

After some quick directions from Herv and a reluctant parting between him and Smoulder, we enter Ocean's Breeze. A new wooden wind chime outside the door makes a low wooing noise as we hear Beth engaged in conversation with Pefe.

"Those are all the transmuters I can think of. But this doesn't look like a transmuted person to me. I think it's one of Lifithent's works. I sold several similar figurines to a friend this morning," Pefe explains patiently, her voice even.

"Okay. Where does this Lifi-whatever work? If this isn't Josh, then that means he's missing. And I need to know why this was left in his place," Beth demands, her hand clasping the air like she wants to form it into a fist or draw a weapon.

It's at this point that Pefe notices Tipan and I standing awkwardly in the door, giving us a welcoming smile and a small wave.

"Lifithent's workstation is located on the seventh level with most of the other higher-tiered subs. But she doesn't take kindly to unannounced visitors. It'd be best if you let me make an appointment for you," Pefe explains, wringing her lower hands.

Beth shifts in place for a moment, likely weighing her response before grunting out, "Fine. But we can't afford to wait long. Let her know we need to speak to her. Urgently."

"I will. One minute please," Pefe says, her eyes going unfocused for several seconds.

"Okay. I've messaged her. I'll let you know… Oh. That was quick. Oh. Uhm," Pefe continues, rubbing the back of her head as she stutters to a stop.

"What?" I can't help but ask, drawing an amused quirk of the lips from Tipan beside me. I know it's Beth's show but hey, we're here too!

"She says that she won't be making any appointments until after the festival. She's had a generous but demanding client claim her time," Pefe explains.

"Well. I guess we'll just have to visit her without an appointment," Beth decides, crossing her arms as she glances our direction.

"I'm afraid so. I'm sorry, I didn't realize she'd be so busy. Normally, she at least attempts to accommodate others. It's strange. She's very passionate about sharing her work with those who follow her rules," Pefe apologizes.

"Not a problem," Beth waves off Pefe's apology before continuing, "but perhaps you can tell us about other places who can supply more traditional healing. Including lessons or training."

"Yeah. I can do that just give me a second here…" Pefe trails off, digging around behind her desk.

Pefe ends up writing out a physical list using a device similar to my own infinite pencil. Once she's done, she proffers the list to Beth a flip of her wrist and a warning, "I've never purchased anything from any of these shops, other than Mel's Crystals. But they all offer healing in one form or another."

Beth nods her acknowledgement as we review the page with twelve different names on it. There's only one place listed which offers training, which Pefe clearly labelled with a big bright star and the word training, both in orange. It's cheerily listed under the name The End of The Line.

I guess it's not the first place you'd want to get healing training.

Hehe.

"Thank you, Pefe," Beth says, waving goodbye then leading us outside.

"So, how are we going to do this? Should we split up and search individually or stay as a group?" I ask Beth as we follow her down the stairs, the chime causing me to raise my voice to be heard over its wooing.

"We're going to travel as a pack. We can't afford to split up anymore. Much as I hate to admit it, the guys are all stable. They should be able to wait for us to do this safely. And I want to be in top form once we're finished. Because once we're done…. "

Beth stops at the bottom of the steps, turning to face Tipan and me, who bump into each other as we halt. Beth has a near-feral grin on her face as she snarls out.

"Once we're done, we're going hunting."

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Draith

Bio: I'm a new author doing the best I can. Comments, criticism and feedback are all appreciated.
While I see myself as more of an orc with a veneer of civility, I humbly accept the interpretation that I am, in fact, a pickle cowboy. But I ain't no caterpillar.

It doesn't take a life-changing moment to change your life. © 2020 Draith F Kirtzinger.

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Experiment Zero ago

One of these days I might actually try to give you some valuable feedback instead of typo spotting little mistakes. But till then ...

I've never fought things like this before but I've heard of them dwelling far too the south," Is this the correct version of to/too? My gut tells me no - but my gut isn’t always reliable.

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