“Hey, Eryk, what’s that over there?” Malia asks, pointing to a distant object in the sky.
Eryk squints his eyes and tries to make it out, but it seems like merely some sort of vague fuzzy square floating in the air to him, to his human eyes.
Malia notices how hard he is trying to make it out and kisses him on the cheek. “I’m teasing you,” she says.
“What? Why would you do such a thing?”
“It’s funny seeing you try things,” she says to him. “You’re always trying so hard at everything you attempt. You never give anything less than the full amount of effort you have in you. That’s probably why we’re here together now, you know. Besides Borguk, nobody on Team Fanghook wanted a new F-Rank hero to babysit. But as team leader our orc friend won us over and now here we are. You refused to give up and now...”
“And now I’ve shared every part of me,” Eryk says foolishly. He thinks he’s being romantic, even though he comes off more as an insecure child. Malia finds it endearing, though.
The two of them sit not too far away from the grassy field, on top of a large stone that overlooks a large hill. At the bottom lays a crevice that leads to a small river. In one direction, that river leads off to Goddess knows where, somewhere vast and unexplored, most likely. In the other direction, it leads to the Furtherfelt Mountains, where at this moment a great war is brewing between Dwarves and Yostians. The full-scale battles have not yet broken out, but anyone informed with the news is well aware of what is going on now.
The full-scale battles are of no concern to the two [Adventurers] sitting on a stone in a grassy field as insects buzz by, however. They are concerned only with getting to know one another more closely.
“Thank you for joining Team Fanghook,” says Malia.
“You’re welcome for allowing me on Team Fanghook,” says Eryk.
It is difficult to ascertain what is going on in Eryk’s mind right now. Is he proud of everything he has accomplished so far? Embarrassed for how weak he still is compared to his teammates? Guilty for how he is holding them back? Too overwhelmed by his passions for the woman beside him to care about any of those things? It is hard to tell, because the only look on his face is a crooked smile.
“Tell me your favorite color,” Eryk says.
Malia is taken aback. “Favorite color?”
“Yes. What color do you like the best?”
“I didn’t really know adults could have favorite colors,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve thought of a question like that in decades.”
“Well, think about it now, then tell me.”
“Hmmm...” Malia seems lost in thought. Perhaps she is genuinely considering his question, or perhaps she is considering what kind of a man would ask a woman her favorite color. Either way, she finally answers, “Teal.”
“Teal? Why that one?” Eryk asks.
“You seem shocked. Almost offended.”
“No, I’m just curious.”
“Well then, if you must know,” Malia says, “I like green because of its gentle, natural feel, and I like blue because of its cool, refreshing feel. Teal is the combination of both those things.”
“So it’s cool and natural?”
“Gentle and refreshing.”
“I see,” Eryk says.
“Pink,” Eryk answers immediately. Malia giggles, but Eryk merely tilts his head to the side. “What? Pink is my favorite color. Is there anything wrong with that?”
“Well, it’s not exactly unexpected, but...”
“It’s okay to like pink,” he mutters. “Just because I’m... doesn’t mean...” He begins to sulk.
Malia pats him on the back. “You know, let’s switch to a new question. My turn.”
His head perks up. “Oh?”
“What did you want to be when you grew up?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Eryk says. “I want to be the first S-Rank Hero in generations. I want to become the best there ever was.”
“You misheard me. I asked, what did you want to be? I mean, when you were a child, what dreams or ambitions did you have? What were you dead-set on becoming before you grew up?”
“Yeah, do you understand.”
“I do. That’s... that’s a bit of a tough question, though. I may have to ponder on it.”
“Oh, well then, I’ll start,” Malia says. “I wanted to be an architect. My parents were both architects in the elven city of Thy’lia, and so I wanted to follow in their footsteps. Up until the time I became an adult, which in elf years is about age fifty, I tried as best as I could to become an architect who would change the world with her artistic buildings.”
“What stopped you?”
“I’m very bad at math...” Malia sighs.
Malia sighs again.
“So, do you remember your childhood well enough now?” Malia asks. “What did you want to be when you grew up?”
“Well, the difficult part of answering that question is that life on North Spire is a bit different than the typical one. We are almost entirely farmers, as you recall. And our family traditions are very strong when we are in those that are not farmers. My fathers had already planned out my entire life from the moment I was born. I was to be a civil servant who managed the crop inventories and moved product from city to city. That was to be my sole task in life, and so most of my childhood was centered around tasks of physical strength and endurance, for I would be the one who physically carried all of that product.”
“Wait, ‘fathers?’ You have two fathers?”
“No, I have six,” Eryk says, blushing from embarrassment. “I, well, I am aware that North Spiran culture is not the same as other places, but this is one area I do not usually like to bring up because of some of the prejudice involved...”
“No, don’t worry, I’m okay,” Malia says. “I don’t know much about your people, I will admit. I apologize for my ignorane. Could you explain?”
“Of course, he says. “The family clans on North Spire are large and do not necessarily follow any blood descent. They consist of a group of fathers who raise the younger generation and take care of the older generation, with one Forefather who represents the entire family in larger North Spiran affairs, sometimes being held as a ceremonial hostage at the capital town. Men and women and others alike can become fathers, so long as they are selected by the others and then elected by the adults of the family. Some families only have two fathers. Some have many. It simply depends.
“The Solbournes are a special family in that all of our fathers are men. It is not necessarily romantic or sexual in nature, though I always had my suspicions about some of my fathers. I found the entire Solbourne patriarch to be a stifling experience that drove out many of the young women I called sisters. They found other families to join, to marry into, or even struck out on their own. Rarely did they stay Solbournes.
“And so that’s all I have to say. North Spire is an interesting place, and sometimes people dislike it, but it is the only family I have ever known... at least until Team Fanghook.”
“Aww,” Malia says. “I don’t think it’s that weird.”
“But you do think it’s weird in part...”
“Well, it’s not the same kind of culture I grew up in, that’s for sure. But life is different when you’re in a race that lives for 350 years, huh...”
“I guess we’re both different in our own ways.”
The two begin to hold hands.
The sun is cresting, inching closer to sunset as every moment passes. The two are not yet a couple, nor will they be for some time after this day. But their romance surely blossoms now.
Malia leans in and nestles her cheek against Eryk’s. He giggles and puts a hand through her hair. The two of them are so far apart, in age and combat prowess and culture and even favorite colors. None of that stops them from being together here and now.
They remain silent in their own way, watching the not-yet-sunset in the afternoon skies.
“What IS that thing out in the distance, though?” Eryk asks, finally.
“Oh, yes, you humans and your poor eyesight,” Malia says. “That there is a flying mollusk. It’s a gigantic shelled creature that floats around the skies and eats small microbes and the occasional bird.”
“That... that’s an animal? A beast? I had suspected it was merely a persisent cloud, but... By The Goddess’s name, that’s a real living creature?”
“It’s harmless unless you’re flying in the air. Or unless you make it angry.”
“It appears to be coming this way, though...”
“It’s also a very slow creature,” she adds. “Even if it’s headed this way, it won’t be to this spot for another... maybe day? Could even be longer if it decides to linger.”
“Well, what shall we do then to pass the time?” Eryk asks. He kisses Malia on the neck.”
“Here? on this rock? No way.”
“I didn’t mean to suggest...”
“When are our companions ever going to return?” Malia asks. “I’m almost starting to worry about them.”
“I like to think The Goddess is intervening, giving us plenty of free time to hold down our place and seek out more information about the region.”
“So you’re saying we should be exploring,” Malia says. “You might be right. While the others are out there doing, well, whatever it is they’re doing right now, we should be doing more than sitting around and training. We need to harvest some plants. Find long-lost treasure. Maybe find some skeletons with armor and weapons left behind.”
“Ah, yes,” Eryk says. “The [Adventurer] way. We will traverse the lands and uncover as much profit as there is to be found in such a place as this.”
“You’ve already adapted to our lifestyle, I see.” Malia laughs. “Why don’t we begin our little mini-adventure?”
“It is a more promising thing than simply sitting on this large stone for the rest of time.” For all his talk about staying here forever with Malia, it was clear that his heart was set on adventure and growth. For he was a true [Adventurer.]
Today, though, will be much more of a mark of his [Adventurer] status than he ever imagined possible.