Briga had quickly realized that, given enough books, I would happily stay in the room I’d been given and not cause mischief.
Even me wandering around caused mischief. Not only did Briga decide that I needed a full escort of guards, it wasn’t quite clear who was being guarded.
The crazy human wants to wander around? Ok, sure – but what to do when the crazy human wants to poke her head into the armory, out of sheer, bored curiosity?
Do we say no, and risk a diplomatic incident? Do we say yes, and risk her killing herself?
All in all, bored, curious, and enough firepower to level a building was a bad combination, and for the low, low price of a few of Briga’s less-loved novels, I was out of everyone’s hair. I get books, Briga avoids headaches, hurray!
And oh, to read books again! Tasty, delicious morsels to devour, sweeter than any mango. Lasted longer to boot. I could read again!
I wasn’t a careful, patient reader. I wanted to read the books, and I wanted to read them now. Briga had lent me five books, probably figuring that it’d take me a day per book, with a few extras for me to have some variety and choice.
However, I was a well-rested Radiance mage, which meant that even when the glimwood dimmed as the sun set, I could turn on my own reading light, and read far into the night.
Unfortunately, that also had a chef profusely apologizing to me, as I neglected to eat the food that had been brought to me.
“Oh generous Healer Elaine, are you most certain that the food is to your liking?” The chef – whose name I missed in his rushed introduction – wrung his hands nervously.
“No, no, it’s totally tasty!” I protested, around a mouthful of cheese and bread.
Fondue. They had fondue here! Tasty, delicious, decadent cheese, with little cuts of bread on dippers! Dip in the bread, swirl it around, and mmmm! Delicious! Magic kept the timber bowl both warm, and unburnt. There were some spices in the mix that I couldn’t quite identify, and it was sheer bliss.
I swallowed, and continued on.
“I’d just been so busy reading, I totally lost track of time, and meals.” I said, raising the book I’d stubbornly kept in my hand while eating one-handedly.
Look, it took time to get a bookmark, put the book down, then pick it back up and find the page again. Time that could’ve been spent reading instead!
“Are you sure?” He asked again. I wanted to sigh, roll my eyes, and throw him out of the room so I could eat fondue AND read at the same time in peace. Instead of placating the chef.
Politeness, social niceties, and being diplomatic, AKA not starting a war, meant that I had to talk with the dwarf, and reassure him that, yes, everything was AOK. I was fairly certain that snubbing the chef wouldn’t result in a war, but then again, Pastos had started over something almost as small.
I was already in the history books for Pastos. I wasn’t going to go in the history books as the starter of “The Great Fondue War”.
Small talk and ego management it was!
I hated ego management. Especially when the thrilling adventures of Carpenter Durin awaited! He was currently imprisoned deep in the orc’s dungeon, but had a tiny amount of wood that he’d smuggled in. I was pretty sure he’d be whittling a tiny key to escape with, but who knew! He could’ve come up with something even cleverer to escape with!
I finally got the chef to leave me alone by asking him for a dozen pots of fondue for the road, which seemed to properly reassure him that everything was good, and I was happy.
Back to Durin!
The foolish and slovenly orcs had left him a bed and a bench in his cell, naturally made out of wood, which he carved into a full suit of armor, weapons, and a shield. He then carved the tiny chunk of wood that he’d smuggled in into a pick, to pop the hinges of the jail and break out, slaying all the captors, and rescuing the girl with the bushiest, best-groomed beard.
The quality of writing wasn’t that great. Like. Why did he need to carefully bring in some wood if half the cell was made out of it? Did the author really expect me to believe that orcs were so dumb that they put the hinges inside the cells? However, I wasn’t going to complain. It’d been so long since I’d read any book that I’d take a child’s book using less than 50 total different words.
However, it was a fascinating insight to how dwarven culture worked. Nothing spoke more strongly to a culture, and what they believed was right and wrong, than their popular works of art.
Oedipus was a great example from the Greeks, and the values they espoused. Similarly, I was getting glimpses of dwarven culture and values from reading.
Of all things, [Learning] leveled up from all my reading. I’d also gotten a [Persistent Casting] level, just from my already-on casts, and keeping [Shine] on in the evenings when I was reading.
Which had leveled up. Three times.
It was absurd how easy levels were coming to me again. It was completely and totally unfair. I’d spent my whole life on hard mode!?
If nothing else, the dead zone information was critical. I was happy I’d written the letter to Night, although I hoped the Senate didn’t get the idea in their head to try something dumb like invade.
[Sunrise] had leveled up a good amount, but that was probably more because it was low level and I was spamming the heck out of it. Still hadn’t gotten a good chance to practice [Solar Infusion].
“Hey, go get yourself hurt” could easily end poorly, and I was trying to avoid problems.
Either way, I needed to be practically dragged away from my books when the time came to leave for the dwarven capital.
I made my way out with my gear, to a large, open-air wagon, pulled by two massive yaks. There were seven dwarves in total, all of them as tall as I was, but twice as thick, stocky, and covered in various degrees of wooden armor. Some had what I’d consider to be “heavy” armor, while others were lighter. Seemed like a case of convergent logic, where both humans and dwarves had a level of agreement of how much armor should be on what type of Classer. I saw Tilruk, and six more dwarves I didn’t recognize.
Tilruk was back, doing the introductions.
“Everyone, this is Healer Elaine the 94th. Saying this once more. She’s a high-ranking member of her government, and your mission is to safely escort her to the capital, so she can meet with the clan leaders. Healer Elaine the 94th, these dwarves will be your escort. They are one of the best teams we could assemble. First, the leader is Lule, the 89th.”
“Charmed to meet ya.” She said, extending her hand out. I shook it, giving her a critical look.
Frizzy red hair hung around a warm, smiling face, a pair of gentle brown eyes with the strength of a mountain behind them, dominated what little of her face could be seen behind her beard. She was showing up as a mage, and a strong one to boot. I wasn’t quite sure, because I didn’t quite have the experience needed, but I was guessing around level 380 or 390.
Obviously, they were taking this seriously, and bringing their A-game.
“This is Warrior Fik the 86th.” Tilruk introduced the next dwarf. My eyebrow quirked up in surprise at hearing the low generation number. It was something like every 50 years or so was a new generation, which meant he was, what? 8 generations behind me? Like, 450 years old or something?
Unkempt silver hair framed eyes that made me think of Arthur’s, which made me think he was a Forest element. His gear spoke towards expecting heavy fighting, like he’d be in the thick of things. His beard was just as messy as the hair on his head, and he gave me a polite, formal bow.
“Healer Elaine the 94th.” He stiffly said. “You grace us with your presence, and I wish to invite you to break bread and share salt with us.”
Lule rolled her eyes at him.
“Healer Elaine will be sharing lots of bread with us, I’m sure. Is this the time or the place?” She gently rebuked Fik.
He glared back at her, and sniffed.
“Tradition is to be maintained at all times.” He said, practically with his nose in the air.
Oookaaay then. I’ve found the dwarf who knows all the traditions, and seems to be super-traditional even by dwarfish standards. If I have any questions on traditions, I should ask him.
If I can ever figure out the traditional way to ask.
“Fik, I know you’re retiring this run, but can you just… keep it simple for this?” Tilruk asked, somewhat pained.
“I suppose there isn’t a traditional method to handling… humans… I shall endeavor to create sensible traditions.”
Everyone else in the circle groaned at that. I mentally bumped him up a few notches in my “pain in the rear” chart.
He was a [Warrior], around level… 340? Hard to estimate. Went down a few notches, comparing his generation and level to Lule’s generation and level.
Although maybe Lule was an outlier?
“Moving on!” Tilruk said, clearly trying to regain control of the conversation. “Warrior Drin the 89th. Scout Glifir the 90th. Mage Toke the 90th. Healer Ned the 92nd.” Tilruk said, pointing to each in turn, probably not wanting a repeat of the prior derailment.
Or just wanted to get his job done and to get out of here.
Drin was up first.
[Warrior], with the gear to support that assumption. “Normal” blue eyes, in so far that not having an element present was “normal” at his level. At roughly 380 or so, not having an advanced element on his highest class seemed weird to me, although Ned didn’t have an element either. Had his entire beard and hair in braids.
Maybe they knew something I didn’t about advanced elements?
He was the first one to talk with me after Tilruk’s introduction.
“A pleasure!” He said, shaking my hand. “Long shot, but you wouldn’t happen to have any bugs from Remus, would you?” He asked me.
I was no [Diplomat]. I couldn’t carefully school my expression, not when thrown a curveball like that.
“What?” I asked, somewhat stupidly.
“Bugs, you know! Little critters, beautiful things. Usually have six legs and wings.”
I stuck my finger in my ear and rubbed it around. I was sure I was mishearing him. Or there was a language barrier, or linguistic drift that I was encountering for the first time. Language had been flawless up until now, but there was always a chance.
Lule buried her head in her hands.
“Ye lot couldn’t have kept the lid on being weird for half a day? A quarter of a day? No?”
I looked at Lule in confusion. She gave me a pitying look back.
“Aye, he’s that mad about bugs.”
“Yeah, see!” Drin said, pulling out a jar, and popping the lid open. A golden substance met my eye. “Tree sap’s great for preserving bugs in! I’ve got a whole collection!”
Well. I had encountered a lot of bugs on my travels, and this seemed like a chance to make some sort of connection. I smiled at Drin.
“We’ve got the Kadan Jungle, with almost endless types of bugs. Maybe you’d like to travel there some day?” I asked him.
“Sounds fun!” He answered back.
“Scout Glifir!” Glifir happily butted in. “Got a map of Remus?”
Glifir’s eyes were glittering and reflective, in a subtle way. I initially guessed Mirror, but quickly revised my guess to Ice after a few moments. A [Ranger] was his [Identify], and crazy high to boot. Around level 400? A hair under?
Hard to tell. I didn’t have a lot of experience [Identify]ing people that high level. I should check if tradition allowed me to ask, and get better at figuring out high level people.
Hey. Some elements were tricky to work out. Like Maximus’s now-infamous mixing up of Hesoid’s Miasma and Decay eyes.
“Nope!” I said. “Might be able to draw you one though.” I said, then instantly regretted opening my big, fat mouth.
[Pristine Memories], combined with a map back at Ranger HQ meant that, yeah, I could make a damn good effort at a full map of Remus. Except giving a full, detailed map of everything might be a bad idea. Be good for leveling up [Pristine Memories] though.
I was going to murder Hunting when I got back. The longer I stayed, the worse the idea of me acting as a diplomat/first contact seemed.
Hopefully I could show off my healing. Everyone liked healers.
Fortunately for me, I’d never practiced drawing. My map was going to make a 3-year-old with crayons look like an artistic genius.
“That’d be great!” Glifir grabbed my hand and enthusiastically pumped it.
Mage Toke came to my rescue.
“Healer Elaine! Wonderful to meet you! I’m looking forward to this trip together!” She said, taking my hand and pumping it furiously. Her blue eyes, set narrowly within their sockets, contained a murky darkness, and her brown, wavy hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail. She’d gone for the “woven” style with her beard, and at some point I needed to ask what the different styles meant.
If I could somehow find the traditional way to ask.
Whoever the Senate eventually sent over was going to need the patience of a saint, and the memory of an elephant. This was crazy.
Then again, I suppose that’s what I was for? To get a rough feel of things, and let people back home know what was what?
Either way, Toke was a [Mage], and from the looks of it, roughly in the middle, around level 360 or so.
I turned to the last member of the group, Healer Ned.
“Greetings, Healer Elaine the 94th.” He mechanically (woodenly?) said to me, saluting with the strange half-clap.
“Greetings, Healer Ned the 92nd.” I replied back, mentally giggling. I was the same level as he was! And he didn’t have fancy eyes!
[*ding!* [Identify] leveled up! 151 -> 152]
While it was nice to level [Identify] up, gaining an extra half a meter on the range didn’t seem like it’d do much for me.
Blonde, shaggy hair was under tight control, while Ned’s beard was neatly combed, but otherwise unornamented.
“Right! Reiterating a bit, Healer Elaine, our sole mission is to escort you to the capital. Please, come and take a seat, permit us to be your protectors and wardens.” Lule said, the last part in a ritual tone of voice I was coming to recognize as Tradition, with a capital T.
“Why thank you, I’d be delighted to have you as my protectors and wardens.” I said, climbing up into the open-air cart.
The cart not having a top felt all manner of wrong to me, grated at every instinct I had. Still, when in Rome…
Ned took a seat opposite to me – clearly, being a healer had some small privileges at least – and Fik took the reins of the yaks.
Yaks. Still couldn’t get over that.
With a sharp snap of his wrist, the cart started to move, with the remaining four dwarves – Leader Lule, Mage Teko, Warrior Drin, and Scout Glifir taking positions around the cart. It was clear that I was the VIP, with a comfy seat and no work to do.
I could get used to traveling in style.
We almost immediately went from “military outpost” to “deep forest” in like, 40 steps. It was quite something.
Glifir looked to Lule, who nodded at him. He jogged off into the woods, scouting I assumed. The remaining three dwarves changed how they were walking, moving to form a triangle around the cart.
The rest of the cart had chests and crates of supplies, and a medium-sized package literally had my name on it.
I decided now was as good of a time of any to mentally review what equipment I had, and what was in the package with my name on it. My bet was tasty, tasty fondue. I had promised the chef I’d take some with me.
First off, most importantly, was my armor. Vambraces, containing my gem supply. I was out my [Feather Fall] gem, but I still had dozens of utility gems, and dozens more [Nova]’s. I felt confident in my ability to handle most single-monster threats with them.
Attacks by multiple powerful creatures, I was less sure about, but then again, I wasn’t exactly a fearsome combatant. I’d probably just try to fly away.
Among my utility gems, I’d had some time to review, revise, and otherwise swap gems out slightly from the standard set. I’d dumped [Light] ages ago – I was a Radiance mage, I could make my own light – but kept [Gust], [Water Conjuration], [Shocking Paralysis], [Watery Manacles], [Brilliant Barrier], [Mana Void], [Tracks-be-gone], [Tripwire Alarm], [Summon Knife], [Cast Scream], [Invisibility with eyeholes], [Muffle], [Amplify Voice], [Wall Buster], and [Curse Breaker]. I’d also dropped [Revealing Radiance], since it was [Shine] with a different name.
Instead, after my massive success with [Invisibility with eyeholes], I’d picked up a few more gems, and gotten Magic to charge them.
Which made me want to use them all the less. It was one of my last mementos of him, physical proof that he’d existed.
I could probably trade out [Mana Void] for something else, now that I had [Solar Infusion]. Which I needed to practice.
I also needed to chat with Ned, trade medical knowledge. I’d like to think my knowledge was unmatched, buuuuut I could be wrong.
Nah. Secretly I was hoping for the chance to show him up massively, and demonstrate who the better healer was. Both of us at exactly the same level? I had to compare notes. My class quality was probably better, but he had two whole classes dedicated to the art, while I just had the one. I was pretty sure I’d win – the powerful, top of the class healer wasn’t sent to the boring frontlines, while I was the pinnacle of humanity, but hey! I could be wrong.
I wasn’t usually this competitive, but… eh.
Moving onto the rest of my gear. Lamellar vest flowed into a tough leather skirt, studded with metal. Most of my Arcanite was woven into the chest piece, easy to access and pull from. Also easy to remember where it was, when I needed to maintain my gear. Shin guards protected my sandals, which was super important. No sandal meant no flying, and I’d still found few threats that could properly take down a flier.
I had a helmet, which had helped block a Spitter’s attack. It wasn’t looking in great shape.
All of my armor had inscriptions running through them. Inscriptions for strength, for speed, toughness and dexterity. It boosted me, and was unnaturally difficult to damage.
In practice, anything that was able to get to me, and meant me harm, could probably shear right through it. Then again, it did stop and help with minor attacks, usually of the overwhelming variety. It was good for dealing with a boulder exploding near me, and a hail of pebbles raining down on me. The armor would neatly deflect most of it.
For that matter, while I’d worked out most of the kinks, there was only so much I could do, and the armor still had dozens of scrapes and dents from when I went sky diving out of the Pegasus. I was going to keep my mouth shut about that, so the dwarves wouldn’t laugh themselves silly and tell me about how wood was oh-so-superior.
Weapons. Sword at my hip, spear attached to my bag. I didn’t have my knife, because when Brawling had burst in my room informing me that it was GO TIME, I wasn’t exactly grabbing my full kit – just my “fight right now” kit. I hadn’t drilled with the sword and the spear since coming here. Didn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. Was my weapon of last resort, although it worked decently as a threat. If I pointed a finger at someone, they’d just laugh, or not get it.
Pointing a sword? Universal gesture. Could also help in a desperate situation. Like if a Mirror monster attacked me.
Heck, a level 60 Mirror monster would give me trouble. Hence backups.
My bag had rope, a trowel, my horribly abused shield attached to it, packages of field rations and water bottles, half eaten down from the trip across the Formorian lands. A bedroll, a canvas, a small metal skillet, and some fire making supplies helped round out my gear. I was fully confident in my ability to survive in the wilderness for extended periods of time, especially when it was forest, with wild animals that could be eaten and such, and not a barren wasteland.
Lastly, the pendant mom had gotten me for my awakening day. I’d worn it basically non-stop ever since, although I’d needed to replace the leather cord a few times now. I knew more now, and while I knew it didn’t have any sort of inscriptions or anything, I still kept it and wore it. For luck. For protection.
I opened up the package addressed to me, to round out my supply check. Six large sealed wooden containers met my eye, clearly the chef’s fondue in easy-travel-mode. I noticed Ned giving them a jealous look.
I’d share one, and see if he’d open up.
Shame we didn’t have one more – I could give one to everyone. The way to the heart was through the stomach, after all.
No pesky sternum in the way.
At the bottom, there were a few more books. Briga had clearly seen how effective keeping me entertained was – completely out of trouble – and had gone the extra mile to keep me entertained, and out of trouble, while I was heading back to the capital.
They would have a lot of trouble trying to explain to Night that they’d misplaced me. Ooooh, Night would not be happy to learn that they’d lost one of his precious Sentinels. There would be more than a few violent words at that.
I glanced through the titles of the books Briga had sent to me, my cheeks burning up as I read one of the covers.
I don’t think she meant to include that one!