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I hovered above the elves, not really quite sure how to greet them, or what I should do next. They looked up at me, and I figured I’d start with a standard greeting.

 

“Hi!” I called out, giving them a wave, diminishing my Radiance. They could see me after all.

 

The elves glanced at each other, even the woman playing tug-of-war with her wolf paused. The white “rope” on the rock got up, flapped over to the casually dressed elf, and wrapped itself around his arm.

 

“Greetings.” The fancily-dressed one called out, with a strange, clipped accent. “Who - and what - are you?” He asked, voice filled with curiosity. There was no hostility, no concern, no worries.

 

Progress! Greetings!

 

“Heya! My name’s Elaine. I’m a human, from Remus. Who are you?” I asked, hovering above the absolute visions of perfection. I didn’t want to get too close until I knew them a bit better. I ID’d them quickly.

 

[Warrior] - The ginger-haired woman with the massive horns. She looked as strong as a bull to boot!

[Mage] - The impractical robes and short horned blond. Why was I not surprised?

[Ranger] - The casually dressed dude with the bighorn sheep horns emerging from pitch black hair.

 

The mage was a little behind the other two, but all three were massively powerful. Not quite as strong as Hakka had been, but stronger than any human I’d seen. It was hard to pin their level exactly, but they had all three of their classes.

 

The Ranger seemed to make a decision.

 

“Yo! My name’s Aegion, I’m the Ranger here! We’re all elves from the Tympestshard Council! Come on down and have a drink!”

 

His accent was also strangely clipped, and the other two elves turned on him, fiercely whispering in rapid, quiet words among the three of them.

 

Given their seeming reluctance, combined with their high levels, I wasn’t going to poke too much. I did fly a bit lower though.

 

Finally, they seemed to reach a decision.

 

“Heya! Come join us!” The woman called out. “Always fun to meet fellow adventurers, no matter where they’re from!”

 

Oh no. Oh no oh no OH NO. They were adventurers! Scum of the earth! Source of all villainy!

 

They were also incredibly hot elves, and something smelled amazing. Who was I to say no?

 

I landed, continuing to clutch my egg protectively, and being a Sentinel was totally awesome.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [The Dawn Sentinel] has leveled up to level 418->419! +3 Dexterity, +24 Speed, +24 Vitality, +170 Mana, +170 Mana Regen, +48 Magic power, +48 Magic Control from your Class per level! +1 Free Stat for being Human per level! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element per level!]

Huzzah! I focused on what I was doing.

 

A round of introductions started.

 

“I’m Awarthril!” The tall woman said, extending her hand for me to shake. She was a head and a half taller than me, and was even better-looking up close. Like, WOW. My definition of “beauty” was entirely redefined as I kept my eyes studiously locked on her ever-changing eyes. Blue, hazel, green, purple, red, grey - her eyes shifted through every color, some natural, some less so. The classic mark of a Mirage Classer. I took her hand, and felt her move it up and down. Her grip was gentle, her movements slow, but there wasn’t a single shred of doubt that she had my hand in its entirety, and that none of the movements I was making were making a shred of difference in what she was doing. She was strong.

 

“This here is Kiyaya!” She said, affectionately rubbing on the massive wolf’s head, who came up to me.

I hadn’t appreciated just how stupidly large Kiyaya was when I was in the air. He was literally eye-level with me, with a jaw big enough to stick my entire head in, with teeth sharp enough and muscles strong enough to then casually rip my head off.

 

He gave me the great big goofy tongue-lolling look that dogs did so well, then gave my face a sloppy lick. It was incredibly ticklish, and caused me to laugh.

 

“Can I pet him?” I asked, getting a nod and a hidden smile back. I started to scratch Kiyaya, in the same way I used to pet Moonmoon back at Ranger Academy. She thumped her foot happily - which was a little scary, given her claws and the size.

 

“Awww, who’s the best little wolf?” I cooed over her. “Yes it’s you!”

 

Kiyaya gave me another lick at that, and I glimpsed Awarthril’s approving smile.

 

“Anyways, I’m a Mirage-Ooze-Mantle Warrior.” She explained. I’d never heard of that combination before. Heck, I hadn’t heard anyone theorize it either. Mirage? Ooze? Ok, Mantle I could see.

 

“How does that work?” I asked, curious.

 

She glanced at Aegion, who grinned back.

 

“One mug!” He called out.

 

“A quarter of a mug.” Awarthril countered.

 

“Half a mug and two candies.” Aegion replied back, so fast it must’ve been prepared.

 

“Half a mug and one candy.” Awarthril said with an eyeroll.

 

“Deal!”

 

I was totally lost, but the elves weren’t. They cleared a space for Aegion to stand in the middle of. As he passed me, he whispered.

 

“I would’ve settled for Awarthril to drink half a mug, but she never negotiates the candies well.”

 

I was so lost.

 

His snake bailed from his arm, and went to quietly raid the snack table while everyone was occupied. Smart snake.

 

Hang on - the snake had wings. What was it?

 

I used [Long-Range Identify], only to get back [Couatl]. Interesting! I kept a half-eye on the table.

 

The elves prep was done though.

 

“Here!” She called out. “This is how it works. Watch carefully!” She said.

 

The third elf and Kiyaya vanished, and Awarthril flickered off to the side. My head started to itch in that way it did in the presence of illusions, when I had a faint inkling they were at work. Chains sprang from the ground around Aegion, wrapping around his legs and arms, while puddles of goo appeared at his feet.

 

To his credit, he - and his snake - tried to fight back. He leapt and tumbled, acrobatically avoiding the chains - but the ooze was building up on him, stretching from the ground to his body, slowing him down. Eventually, he slowed down enough that the chains caught him, wrapping him up entirely.

The entire thing happened in dead silence.

 

“You got me!” He called out good-naturedly.

 

The illusion dropped, and Kiyaya appeared behind Aegion as Awarthril’s location changed back. The 3rd elf and the couatl appeared at the table, still chowing down.

 

“See? See! It’s amazing.” Awarthril said, with the supreme confidence of someone who knew exactly how good it was.

 

However, I hadn’t been watching just Aegion. There was something else I’d noticed.

 

“Totally cool!” I said, meaning it. That was one heck of a skill set - being able to fake her own location, hide her teammates, then bind and chain down attackers? It was a ton of crowd control, and her stats - and identification - revealed that she was a warrior, with a lot more tricks up her sleeve. Like casting the famous “punch” spell.

 

“There was one thing I noticed.” I said with a grin.

 

“What’s that?” Awarthril said, still preening, missing my tone of voice.

 

“While you hid your friend and the couatl well, and hid what was in their hands, you didn’t hide the food vanishing off the table.”

 

Awarthril looked like she’d been poleaxed, while Aegion roared with laughter. The last elf just chuckled as he peeled an apple by twirling his finger around it, using some magic I couldn’t quite see.

 

“You - but - bleargh!” Awarthril threw her hands up in the air. “How did you notice that of all things?!”

 

I let a faint Radiance glow come from me while I winked.

 

“Let me introduce myself! Elaine, human, Celestial Healer and Radiance Mage! I’ve got some explicitly anti-mirage skills, and I’ve been dealing with some high-level illusions recently.”

 

Which was putting it mildly.

 

“Arglebarglebargle.” Awarthril made a noise. “Of course you’re a Radiance mage and a healer. Like the total opposite of me.”

 

I cocked my head. “Oh?” I asked.

 

Before she could answer, the last elf smoothly slid up to me, offering his hand.

 

“Serondes. Charmed to meet you.” His voice was like music, a crystal wind chime in the wind. I took his hand, locking eyes with him. His eyes burned and boiled like a mighty volcano was trapped behind them, and I felt heat rising to my cheeks as I took his hand.

 

Why did my treacherous heart have to go a-THUMP?

 

“I’m, a, utterly charmed to meet you as well.” I said, getting a smile as dazzling as the break of day from him.

 

Serondes. What a pretty name.

 

“What Awarthril means, is that your skill set is almost entirely antagonistic to hers. You are a healer, graceful and powerful. No injury can stand in your path, no disease can survive your beauty. Yet, Awarthril is all about preventing injury to her team - like me - in the first place. Illusions to hide herself and her friends, chains and muck to stop enemies from reaching me and harming me in the first place. She considers any injury to her team a personal failing. Naturally, your Radiance could destroy her illusions, if powerful enough.” He explained, as I hung onto every word.

 

Awarthril punched him in the arm to a resounding crack of breaking bones.

 

“Shattered crystals WHY!?” Serondes screamed, holding his arm.

 

“Because you talk too much. You didn’t need to flirt with Elaine by telling her everything about me, hmmm? Plus, she’s a healer. She can fix you up. Remember last week? The spiders? The raptors? The acorns!? And what about -”

 

“Ok, ok! I get it!” Serondes yelled back, gripping his arm. “Elaine’s a great healer. Of course she wouldn’t mind helping me.” He “asked” with a brilliant smile, but it wasn’t a question. Just a statement that the world would move to, that it was inconceivable that I’d do anything other than heal him.

 

I mean, he wasn’t wrong.

 

“Of course!” I said. “Let me take a look at your arm.”

 

Sure, I could just smack him full of healing - I had the power, control, and mana for it - but I wanted to get the chance to study elvish anatomy. It’d help with future healing, in case anything got tight.

 

That’s what I was telling myself. It had nothing to do with me wanting to see just how - oh my.

 

Serondes, instead of rolling up his sleeve, just dropped the entire top half of his robe, revealing his rugged abs, his perfect pectorals leading up to lean arms, muscled just so.

 

Why couldn’t I have been born an elf? Immortal perfection from the start?

 

Aegion gently coughed, and I jumped, flushing. What was I, a teenager with a crush?

 

… damnit, given my age and social experiences, yes. I was rapidly developing a crush on all three of the elves. Or wait, was it a crush or just envy? Did I want them, or did I want to be them?

 

I mentally shook my head.

 

“Right. Do you have any implants in your body? Anything that might be destroyed by healing back to your natural state?” I asked, quickly studying the break. Broken humerus, clean break, simple stuff.

 

He shook his head. “I keep talismans in the crate, but nothing inside.” He said.

 

I poked him, focusing on the healing. My mana flickered a hair, and I let out a whistle.

 

“Wow! You’re efficient!” I said.

 

“Of course! I’m an elf.” He said, like it was the most natural thing ever for elves to be perfectly efficient when being healed.

“For services wonderfully rendered, a gift.” He said, Sand swirling in front of him. A blast of heat and light heralded Lava, and then he started to sing. Tonal singing, like a chorus of angels. The Lava faded, revealing a glass rose that was twisting and growing under his melodious voice.

 

“For me?” I gasped at the fine glass artwork that was presented to me. At his nod, I used my free hand to take it.

 

“Serondes. Lava, Sand, Sound mage, glass-maker extraordinaire.” He bowed, giving me a good view of his rippling muscles, before clothes suddenly popped into existence on him.

 

“Leave the poor girl alone, she’s going to have a fit with all your prancing about.” Awarthril scolded him.

 

“Yeah! Plus, now she’s got no spare hands!” Aegion said, barging over with four mugs in his hands, his couatl on his shoulders. While Awarthril was what an old master of marble would’ve carved, and Serondes was smoldering, Aegion was cute. Sure, he was perfection made flesh, but under all that was a burning intensity, confidence in every inch of his tightly-wound muscles. I couldn’t help but imagine what his hands would feel like.

 

“Name’s Aegion! Might’ve mentioned that already. The Ranger in this group. This here’s Cordamo. Best little couatl you’ll ever see! Careful of his poison. Right! I’m Gale, Lightning, Spore, long range, so on and so forth. All that stuff’s boring. What I do is I’m a brewmaster! I -”

 

“Regularly poison me, because you have no classes or skills in it.” Serondes interrupted. “Elaine, I don’t think you’ll like what he has to offer.”

 

I looked at the egg tucked under one arm, and the rose in the other. I shuffled the glass rose into my egg-holding arm, to free up space.

 

“Ah, I’ll give it a shot.” I said, accepting a mug. Awarthril reluctantly accepted a half-full mug, while Serondes rolled his eyes and took a full mug.

 

“Right! Bottoms up!” Aegion said. “To our new friend, Elaine!”

 

Awarthril and I both started drinking, while Serondes and Aegion looked on.

 

Oh my gods. This stuff was foul. It was as bad as the elves looked good. Thick sludge with unusual lumps in it. I forced myself to swallow a mouthful, but couldn’t do a second.

 

“Gluuuuuurbg! Yuck.” Awarthril made a disgusted retching noise. “This is somehow your worst attempt ever. How do you make it worse every time?”

 

Aegion took a small sip and pulled a face at his drink.

 

Aegion and Serondes promptly turned their mugs upside down, pouring the contents out onto the grass. It sizzled slightly.

 

I remembered that Awarthril had agreed to “pay” for the demonstration by drinking a half-mug. I wasn’t bound by the same rules, and if the person who made the drink was pouring it out?

 

I dumped my mug.

 

Awarthril finished her mug, and threw it into the woods. It went through a tree, and I lost it after that.

 

“Get better at your damn drinks!” She screamed at Aegion. “There’s no way I’m trying one of your new ‘candies’ after that!”

 

She started ranting about Aegion’s concoctions, and all the different ways they’d been utterly terrible, and how this was somehow a new low.

 

I was in total agreement. Aegion’s brewing. Highly suspect didn’t start to cover it.

 

I shot Serondes a grateful look, for trying to spare me from the misery of Aegion’s hobby.

 

“I’m curious, what are you three doing here?” I asked, changing the subject.

After all- what were they doing here?

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