I cursed up a storm at discovering my missing Sentinel badge. I descended back down to the ground, to where I’d landed. I carefully examined the ground beneath me.
I wasn’t lucky enough for my badge to have fallen where I landed, oh no.
[*ding!* You’ve unlocked the General Skill [Lost and Found]! Would you like to replace a skill with it? Y/N]
[Lost and Found], my old friend! More useful when I had more stuff to worry about. Still, I had something lost I needed to find, and while I didn’t quite have a spare general skill slot, [Avoiding the Dragon’s Eyes] was close enough to dead to consider it.
I flew up into the air, to get a grasp of how large of a task was in front of me.
It was about a kilometer from where I was to the base of the mountain I’d been thrown off of. I needed to find something gold and reflective that was about the size of my hand, that could be in a wide path from where the stone sheep had landed - like half a kilometer behind me - to where on the mountain I’d been thrown from.
I’d need every bit of help I could get.
Plus, I was totally going to replace [Avoiding the Dragon’s Eyes] with a companion skill, hopefully soon. Why not do it now? I could even swap between skills for some time, grab whatever I needed that would help.
I took the skill, ditching [Avoiding the Dragon’s Eyes]. Losing the skill sucked - I doubled over and hurled, carpet-vomit-bombing the dinosaurs below, who didn’t seem to care.
At level 1, [Lost and Found] wasn’t doing much for me, but as I leveled it up, hopefully it’d help.
The remains and the outline of the sheep’s attack wouldn’t last terribly long, not with all the dinosaurs roaming the savanna. Which was another confounder - if a dinosaur stepped on the badge, it could drive it deep into the dirt, making it almost impossible to find.
Still, it wasn’t an impossible task.
I flew around the area, keeping a weather eye out, while burning markers with Radiance, outlining the huge field where I believed my badge could be. I then flew along it slowly, keeping my eyes open while burning a grid pattern into the ground.
It took me four passes to get everything set. The brachys gave me a hard time, being too large to give a fuck about the small flying burning thing hovering around. The other dinosaurs thankfully scattered when my rays showed up.
I got the entire field scoured and marked, a classic grid search pattern.
I then flew over to the square I’d arbitrarily marked as “A1”, and got to work.
Seven weeks. It took seven bloody weeks to find my Sentinel badge again. More than once I’d considered leaving it behind, and going “whoops, my bad” when I finally made it back to Remus. Especially with Lun’Kat’s lair nearby. It had probably been foolish to stick around, but, well, there was a whole herd of animals here, an entire ecosystem.
But no. It meant too much to me. It was too important for me to just leave behind, not when it was merely lost, and not utterly destroyed or something. I found it one night as I was bathing the unchecked squares in [Lantern]. I finally got lucky, and saw a shiny reflection from the ground. I swooped down, picking it up, and thanking all the deities that Lun’Kat hadn’t left her lair.
More likely, she’d left while invisible, not wanting to announce the presence of her home to the world. Or she’d traveled through her portal, or she had some other way of getting out.
I kept the egg nestled under one arm the entire time, pouring heat into it. It was practically second nature at this point, helped with [Persistent Casting]. Sure, I was basically down an arm, but it wasn’t like I had the weapons to use the arm. Just made camping a little awkward.
Speaking of, I’d set up on top of one of the brachys. It had some element - Arcanite or Gemstones was my bet - which made crystals grow out of its hide. It made a nice place for me to nestle in and rest at night, with the crystals both stopping me from rolling off, and stopping anything extra-big from hitting me. I feasted on leftover dinosaur - the small ones were tasty! - then had a nice, long rest before the travels ahead of me.
The next morning, with my badge found and re-attached, it was time to go. I’d already decided that I was heading north. I’d hopefully hit the ocean, unless the weather and terrain got too tropical. Then I’d head east. It’d be arrogant to assume the ocean spanned the entire world. For all I knew, the continent looked like an L or something.
Unless I found some reason not to return to Remus. It was complicated, but right now I couldn’t think of a single other thing to do besides return home.
I had a large breakfast, eating most of my leftover dinosaur. It was easier to fly with it in my stomach after all. I packed the remains in my bag, then launched myself up. I used the sun to orient myself northish, and started flying.
Flying! Flying never got old. It never got boring. It had everything I’d loved about running, without being constrained by the ground. I was free to soar, to twirl and glide. I could flutter, flit, and flap my way across the sky! Nothing could hold me back, nothing could restrain me! The sun in my face, the wind in my hair, flying was glorious. I angled my wings to catch a breeze, launching me high up into the sky, where I then dove down, swooping towards the ground at a dizzying speed, only to catch myself on the air and fly right back up!
Flying! The only things better than flying were mangoes and books, but I didn’t have either of those. Plus, none of them had the long-term staying power that flying did.
I could almost literally fly forever to boot! Between my insane regeneration, and [Sunrise], I could go a loooooooooong time. Not that I was planning to. Not again.
My top speed wasn’t anything impressive, but it did remind me that my skill was upgradeable, mostly by studying butterflies and birds.
I almost facepalmed as I realized I’d potentially missed a chance to study a dragon flying. What sort of stupidly powerful upgrades would that have granted me?
Then again, in order to do that I would’ve needed to risk myself even further, which wasn’t quite what I wanted.
Where did my all-too-reasonable fear of dragons go? I watched Lun’Kat destroy a country with more-or-less a single skill, and here I was thinking about studying how she flew to improve my own abilities.
I tried to shake my head, mentally reset myself. Familiarity bred contempt, and I’d spent too long in Lun’Kat’s lair, sneaking around her sleeping form. I’d seen her up close and personal, I’d seen her pictures, her treasured mementos. She wasn’t an unknown, terrifying monster in my mind.
She should be! My lack of fear, my lack of respect towards her and her capabilities would get me killed SO FAST.
I looked around for birds. A murder of crows was nesting in some of the scraggly trees, while a few hawks soared on thermals. I spotted a sneaky dimorphodon poking its head out, keeping an eye on the savanna I was flying over.
I tried to chase some of the hawks, to shake them and make them give up their secrets, but they wanted nothing to do with the giant glowing lunatic butterfly.
Still didn’t stop me from pausing and observing them for some time. I wasn’t quite sure, but it seemed like my wings got a little lighter, and the next time I hit a warm updraft of air, it felt like I was going up a bit faster. That I could hover in place a tad longer. I hadn’t calculated all the numbers, I had no way of timing and recording stuff, so I couldn’t say for sure that it was the case.
No levels in [Scintillating Ascent]
I figured one animal was good enough for the day, and I found a place to camp for the night. Not having any camping gear kinda sucked.
The next day the cycle resumed, and I figured I could take enough time every day to study one bird or another. I was in no rush, and I might see animals I wouldn’t see again for some time.
I wanted to see the aerial acrobatics of crows next, and that was one heck of a mistake. They were fairly content to hang out in their trees, and when I rustled it, trying to get them to do something?
Yeah, they figured I was attacking them, and mobbed the crap out of me. I could’ve lasered them all to death, but that felt like an extra-dick move, so instead I just fled, crows pecking at my shield the entire way.
I didn’t even notice an improvement in my flying, but maybe it’d done something subtle. Probably not though - the skill did mention ‘studying’, which I hadn’t done at all.
Ah well. Onwards.
I spent a day stalking a dragonfly, trying to get my wings to mimic its crazy buzzing. At the end of it, I was fairly certain I’d upgraded my skill a bit, but I wasn’t quite sure how. I resolved to put myself through a full set of paces, to see exactly what I had, and then repeat the exercises whenever I studied an animal, to see if I’d managed to improve things.
Even then, I was only one person, without Sky to provide feedback. I was probably missing moves.
I let myself get distracted, and studied a second animal as I found a butterfly for the first time! I must’ve spent three hours stalking and watching the butterfly, blowing an Anchisaurus that got a little too curious into a dozen well-roasted pieces.
The butterfly was sadly common, with no special traits, and I didn’t get anything from it. I did get a lovely meal though, and chasing the butterfly around was just plain fun. It felt like being a kid again, no worries, no fears, no monsters lurking around the corner. No crushing presence of rock and stone threatening to bury me alive. Just good clean fun.
In the wilderness.
Hundreds to thousands of miles from home.
The thought was like a bucket of cold water.
A few days later, and as the sun was setting over a forest I now found myself over, I spotted familiar tendrils of wispy black smoke. Someone had a campfire going! I figured I’d fly over and see if I could say hi. The odds that we spoke the same language were low, but I could always try body language, and the old standby - pointing and charades. All language shared a similar root, which would help, and I’d hopefully pick up any new languages quickly with [Passionate Learning].
The trick was to not get totally blasted into oblivion by whoever was there. I wouldn’t blame people for being twitchy, not with the sheer volume of monsters that regularly roamed. I lit myself up with [Lantern] - not too bright, I didn’t want to look like a sun was landing, AKA an attack, just making sure I was bright enough to be seen coming from a distance.
I followed the smoke, and saw a group of three people in a comfortable campsite around a fire. They had three large huts, simple and made out of dark stone, beautifully carved chairs, even a small table with a spread of food. A couple of large barrels had fires burning under them, with all manner of copper tubes weaving between them. There wasn’t a wagon or anything else like that I could see. A large wolf was playing tug-of-war with the woman, while a strange white rope was coiled on a rock.
Of course, there were the people themselves. Two men, one woman. They were beautiful - there was no other word for it. They were otherworldly divine, the Platonic ideal of what bodies should be and faces should look like. The woman was in light leathers, one man was in totally impractical robes, and the second man was in casual clothing.
The two men had looked up at the approaching light, while the woman was busy playing tug-of-war with the wolf.
Two more features caught my eye as I got closer.
First, they all had horns. Impractical-robe dude had short stubby little horns, like a goat. Tug-of-war woman had a majestic set, like an ibex, huge and curling back, while the casual clothing dude had horns that curled back around his ears, like a bighorn sheep.
Speaking of ears, they also caught my attention. They were long and slender, and I could feel excitement welling up inside of me as I saw them, a few casual comments about “pointy horns” dropped by the dwarves suddenly clicking into place.