With Hunting gone for the next couple of days, there wasn’t much to do. Sure, I re-did my [Persistent Casting] with as perfect of an image as I could get. I played with my new skills, pushing [Mantle of the Stars] as hard as I could, weaving a series of complex images and pictures. Re-doing the [Persistent Casting] took me two days, and I felt that they were well-used. With a small amount of luck, it’d last me for years.
[*Ding!* [Persistent Casting] leveled up! 189 -> 190]
Honestly, the skill leveling up was kinda useless. My mana regeneration was large enough that I literally couldn’t tell that [Persistent Casting] was using some of it.
While it was hard to set up, I also practiced throwing out my [Mantle], and grabbing and “pulling” stuff slightly. I wasn’t going to be able to pick anything up off the ground, but if someone came at me at a glacial pace, I might be able to foul a spear strike.
Of course, at the speeds I was working with, I’d just be better off doing practically anything else under the sun or moons. It was like throwing a cape underwater. Slow to start with, then magic nonsense kicked in and seemed to make it even slower. In a world of stats, of physical classers, supersonic rocks, and poisoned gas, the trick wasn’t going to get me very far.
But I was booooooooooooooooooooooooooooored. Sitting here all alone, with nothing to do. Being a soldier, being a Ranger was boring work half the time. However, we were a team. We found ways to entertain ourselves, usually by playing games with each other, or sparring, or self-improvement of one sort or another. Almost none of the activities were solo activities.
I did a solid amount of exercise, but I was no fanatic. I couldn’t do that all day. I mean, I had skills to be the ultimate bodybuilder. Between [Sunrise] granting boundless energy, and [Dance with the Heavens] able to heal anything, it would be way too easy to lift heavy rocks, get stronger, and lift even heavier rocks with absolutely no cooldown whatsoever. I could get close to the physical fitness of an Olympian in just a few days.
I had no desire to be Olympic-class. Although, the games were starting again this summer, and I did want to watch.
Oooh, wait. I could totally be a trainer for one of the contestants.
I spent a few hours fantasizing about being a trainer for an athlete, instead of, well, becoming a grade-A athlete myself. Beyond a strong baseline that I felt I needed to have to be a proper Sentinel, I had no desire to push myself further. It was a heck of a lot more fun to imagine finding some poor kid off the street, and being the “gruff young mentor” who took her from zero to hero, dominating the entire Olympics! Every event! Gold to my student! I could even play up the “crazy person in the shadows” persona.
I was crazy bored, and imagining stuff was entertaining.
However, there was only so much playing with myself that I could do.
I wanted to bemoan the lack of books, but there was nobody to complain to. I tried to see if I could conjure up Librarian to talk with… although, upon reflection, that might be more that a little nutty, talking with myself like that.
I was going nuts staying in the underground campsite, with only the light from the entrance showing the passing of time.
I did what any incredibly bored person did.
I took a walk.
I wanted to leave Hunting a note, but we didn’t have any writing supplies. It’s not like we were expecting to send letters from the middle of the wilderness.
I tried to carve a little message into the hard walls of the campsite with my Radiance, but burning light versus stone?
Yeah, the stone kicked my ass.
I shrugged, and leaving my pack behind, making sure I still had my sword, I crawled out to get some sunlight, warmth, and fresh air.
I still reeked, having spent more than a month away from a bath at this point. I’d literally kill for a bath, and only feel a little bad for it. Add in me staying inside the cave for a few days, and whoof. It was bad in there.
I emerged from my cave, and shielded my eyes as natural light hit them. I hissed at the sun, briefly pretending I was a vampire.
“Ack! Away with you, vicious day-star! I curse your brightness! Go bother someone else!” I said, covering my face with my arms and rolling around on the ground.
… look, I was bored.
Having had my fun pretending to be a vampire, I decided I was now Elaine, Explorer Extraordinaire! Off to map strange new lands!
I looked around me, trying to decide what way to go. There was the lair, back the way we came, or the two other directions. I arbitrarily picked one, and started walking, then flying. Didn’t go up too high, the sun was still in the air, but the day was moderately cloudy. Didn’t want to get knocked out of the sky. Sure, I could probably survive any fall at this point. It didn’t mean it was pleasant to fall screaming out of the air.
Plus, the Spitters were still around. Who knew if there were some Shooters or not?
I went on a little flight, making sure that I could always see the hive. Basically, I ended up doing a great big circle around the lair, keeping it as a landmark to make sure I didn’t get lost.
That’d be incredibly dumb. I always made sure I knew exactly where the hive was located. It was right… over…
There. Phewf. Close one.
I flew back towards the hive with some relief. Elaine, the Explorer was ready to become Elaine, the Indolent. At least for like, another day or two.
Making it back to the lair? Easy mode.
Finding the relatively small hole that Hunting made, a basic level of disguise towards our little campsite underground? When everything around the lair looked the same?
That took me until the sun set, and even then I spent another two hours walking around with [Shine] on, cursing that I hadn’t made an obvious marker or packed myself a lunch or anything.
Still, I did manage to find it, and happily tucked myself away. I hadn’t appreciated how warm the campsite was, especially after a bit of focused Radiance work to heat it up, nor how nice the bedroll could be, or food! Hunger was the best spice.
I wrapped myself up in the bedroll, stealing Hunting’s supplies to bulk up my blankets. It was getting awfully chilly at night, a combination of the southernly direction we’d traveled, and it being early winter now.
I closed my eyes and happily drifted off to sleep, wrapped up safe and sound in my [Mantle of the Stars].
My nightmares decided to stomp all over my happy time. The Formorians were now working with the pirates and bandits.
Somehow made the nightmares a bit easier to handle.
“That was ugly.” Hunting said, somehow managing to speak clearly in spite of shoveling food into his mouth at top speed.
“Tell me more.” I said, not at all interested. Anything that a Sentinel was calling ‘ugly’ I wanted no part of, but at the same time, we were a team. We were the only real support network for each other, the only people that had some idea of the trials and tribulations we faced.
Elaine, the Good Listener was here! Hunting had shown up the next day, looking exhausted. Going for days on end, no matter what stats one had, would do that to a person.
Hunting had gone back into the lair, navigating through the twisting labyrinth, killing Spitters as he went. He did some damage to a few of the mushroom pits that we’d seen, but eventually gave up on trying to ruin them all.
“Then, I…” He said, trailing off with a thousand-yard stare. He shook his head.
“Never mind. Let’s rest up. The Formorians are no longer a threat.”
“We going to head back?” I asked, unable to keep the eagerness from my voice. Baths. Food. More baths.
Screw it, I was going to turn myself into a prune when I got home. Just spend a week inside the baths. I’d let Night know where to find me if there was some emergency or another, but I was going to get clean.
Mmmm. I had Autumn as an official apprentice. I’d make her do the fetching and carrying to keep me well-supplied when I was in my week-long bath.
I was so deep in my own fantasy world that it took me a few seconds to process what Hunting had said.
“Excuse me?” I asked incredulously.
“No, we’re going deeper.” He said.
“Because….?” I tried to keep my tone neutral, but some of my aggravation must’ve slipped through. We’d been on a long mission.
“Because I want to get a sense of what’s on the other side. I want to get some idea of why all the Formorians came towards us. They only had the four Queens. Why did they risk them all on an attack? Why didn’t they scatter, to make sure some of them survived? It smells.” Hunting said.
I wrinkled my nose. I hadn’t quite gotten used to the putrid stench, although I could kinda ignore it.
“Sooo… you want to take a peek, and see what happened?” I asked him.
“Yeah basically. For all I know, the ocean wraps around and they were trapped by the water, with no other place to go. Maybe there’s a canyon, or mountains that they couldn’t pass. Either way, the biggest danger is our food running out.”
“How are we going to mitigate that?” I asked him, only to get a look in return.
Arms held out in a particular way, which could only mean one thing.
“I hate being carried.” I muttered under my breath.
We sprinted through the lands at top speed for three days. Hunting had been humoring me before, when he kited me along on the end of a string. Now I was seeing what a physical Sentinel, over level 500, could do when he wanted to.
He was moving so fast, I could barely see what was going on. Not that there was anything to see, just endless beaten rock on one side, cloudy sky on the other.
I’d totally try to take a nap if it wouldn’t be super awkward. This was somehow even more boring than being in the campsite. I needed skills to amuse myself.
Or, like, a portable library. Full of books.
I needed to convince people to start making books first. My attempts had failed miserably, mostly on scrolls being superior in most ways currently.
I’ll confess, I half-dozed. At least Hunting was staying super-healthy, as he was constantly touching me and getting healed.
Then Hunting came to an abrupt stop, jolting me out of my semi-slumber. He never stopped like that, and I went from 20-100 instantly, half-jumping out of his arms at the same time that he dropped me, landing gracefully, ready for whatever was coming.
Well, what we were facing was dreaded by people and armies, not only in this world but on Earth as well. They had stymied thousands, and broken hundreds of spearheads against its bulk. A towering colossus, colored a dark reddish-brown, its length reached from horizon to horizon, and it was over two dozen meters tall. It cast a long shadow, reaching and stretching out, grasping at us.
It spoke of timeless strength, a menacing strength that promised to crush all those who came at it. A strength, so close to being a fundamental force of the world – of the worlds – arrayed against us.
Walls. Wooden walls, stretching as far as the eye could see. While there were clearly more than one log that had gone into building the structure, there were no obvious breaks or changes from piece to piece.
Well, not from this distance.
Wooden walls – not built by any human. At least, not any humans we knew of.
Hunting was busy getting his shield and spear ready, and I geared up, sliding my sword out of the scabbard into my hand.
“Careful. Let me do the talking.” Hunting said. “Don’t do anything unless you absolutely have to.”
I nodded my assent, not wanting to contradict Hunting, even through I didn’t quite agree with him. There were quite a few things I’d want to do preemptively, like running away, shielding, and more, but this wasn’t the time or the place to argue, or make decisions by committee. Hunting was more experienced than I was, and was one of the top-ranking Sentinels, in spite of our theoretical equality.
Best to present a united front in the face of whatever this was.
We spent a few tense moments looking at the massive wall, before silently looking at each other, shrugging, and starting to walk towards it.
A bearded face, made tiny by the distance to the top of the wall, popped out and spotted us.
Under normal conditions, I wouldn’t be able to hear what he was saying, but he was so loud, and there was nothing else making noise or between us and him, that I was just able to make out what he was yelling.
“Attack! Attack! The Formorians are attacking!”