I spent an excessively long time in the hot bath Serondes had made. I’d like to say it was because I was relaxing, enjoying my first hot soak since the dwarves.
No. I was mortified by the fact that I’d stunk so badly that the elves almost literally threw me in. I was determined to clean out every single last bit of dirt, grime, and grease. Also, my nails had gotten super-long, and had started to curl against the end of the gauntlets. I just hadn’t noticed at all, but they were curled, yellow, cracked, and nasty.
My hair was in terrible shape to boot. The only reason the entire thing wasn’t one huge mat was the uber helmet-hair I was now sporting. The ends had needed trimming, and I swear I would’ve lost levels in [Pretty] if I’d still had the skill. In theory, it wasn’t possible. I was convinced that I would’ve caused such an affront to the skill that the System would’ve been like “whoa, wait, no, can’t have any of that.”
As I was scrubbing unidentifiable sludge off my body, Awarthril was running about with a piece of string.
“Left arm up!” She called out, and I instinctively obeyed her, feeling my hair blow around as she moved faster than I could see. I felt numerous tingles along my arm follow behind her motion.
“Mmm, I see, I see…” She said, vanishing again in a flurry. I’d get back to washing, and of course as I was cleaning somewhere awkward she’d show back up again.
“Stand!” She called out, in a nice, but firm tone. I stood on the hard igneous rocks, not quite sure what she wanted. She was being so helpful though, that I wasn’t going to say no.
“Right, arms out.” She said, with the professional tone of a nurse getting her patient all set.
I snapped my arms out, feeling a light, ticklish breeze over my torso and belly as her string whipped around it, far faster than I could see. A shiver went up my back, following a few seconds after the string.
“Ok, I’m done. You have a nice long soak now.” Awarthril said, vanishing again.
The gust of wind behind her led credence to the idea that she’d moved with her super-elf speed, and hadn’t dropped an invisibility illusion.
I went back to scrubbing, thinking about it. Awarthril was the most straightforward illusionist I’d ever encountered. No tricks, no deceit, just plain and simple.
Well. As “plain and simple” as any elf got.
The water was starting to turn an ugly color, the relative size of the pond versus the dirt I had on me in an unfavorable ratio.
I was still musing on Awarthril when I spotted Kiyaya, roughly at the same time she spotted me.
And the bath.
“No! No no no AHHHHHH!” I yelled, as Kiyaya took a running leap into the pond, acting like a one-wolf depth-charge.
I came back up spluttering, only to see Kiyaya happily frolicking in the water, splashing about like a puppy. I blew some hair out of my face, chuckled, and kept digging dirt out from under my freshly-trimmed nails.
About fifteen minutes of intense scrubbing later, Kiyaya got out of the water, with the dreaded little shakes all dogs do when wet.
I was a bit smarter this time, and dove under the water right as she shook herself, throwing wet dog water all over the place.
I rolled my eyes as I kept scrubbing, eventually moving onto my armor, which Awarthril had helpfully left by the pond.
I honestly didn’t know how to properly maintain plate armor like what the dwarves had gotten me. I did know some basics, like “clean out the sludge” and “get the dirt out of the joints” and the like. Fortunately for me, the [Mend Armor] gem had fixed most of the worst issues, like corrosion. Granted, given that a chunk of the armor was now made out of conjured material, it was living on borrowed time. It would only have a few years left of being useful, but at the rate I went through armor?
Yeahhhhhhhhhhhh. I suspected I’d be back in Sentinel gear in no time. If nothing else, I wanted to look the part. People knew what Rangers, and Sentinels looked like. Showing up in weird armor?
They’d mistake me for an adventurer. I couldn’t have that happen!
I idly touched mom’s pendant. The leather cord it was on had somewhat held, but I’d need to look into restringing it soon, along with washing it.
“Hey Elaine!” Aegion called from behind one of the hardened walls of Lava that Serondes had raised.
“Yeah?” I called back.
“Do humans have a nudity taboo or anything, or can I come in?”
Did I want the incredibly hot elf to stare at my naked body?
Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. I mean, yes, but nooooooo. I was feeling self-conscious around the elves already. I didn’t think my ego could handle Aegion’s critical look. From what little I’d seen, he’d good-naturedly point out a few flaws I had, then tell me exactly how I could fix them.
The elves were absolutely wonderful, and I was going to develop an inferiority complex being around them.
“Um. We don’t, but I’d rather not. The water’s mostly sludge at this point anyways!” I finally squeaked out, giving a poor excuse, the other part of my brain imagining Aegion in the bath with me.
I’m pretty sure all the steam was from the bath, and not from my ears.
“Alright! Well, you’ve got some new clothes out here. They should all fit, I just tailored some of Awarthril’s old clothes for you.”
I couldn’t help myself. I quietly broke down crying, trying to half-submerge myself in the water so they wouldn’t hear me.
Alas, trying to keep sound hidden from incredibly high level Classers with extra-large ears right next to you was a losing game. Awarthril moseyed over with Kiyaya in tow, plate with pterodactyl steak in one hand, fork with a second steak on it in the other. She was gnawing around the edges, twirling it around as she chowed down. I put my hands over my face, not wanting her to see me crying, as futile of a gesture as that was.
“Are you ok?” She asked, taking a comfortable seat on the ground near where I was crying in the bath. I weakly nodded my head, unable to stem the fat tears welling up.
“What’s wrong? You can tell me.” Awarthril’s voice was soothing and comforting.
“You’re all just so nice!” I blubbered out. “Everyone and everything for the last YEAR has been trying to kill me, eat me, imprison me, or worse, then you all come along and you’re just so nice and wonderful and caring and just too good for me.” I had snot running down my nose, and I was totally in ugly-crying territory. It’d been too long since I’d been treated with basic kindness. Too long a paranoid captive, too long trapped in the dark mines, too long fighting Formorians, just - too long since I’d last had a hug.
I needed a hug.
“D’awwww. No, it’s ok. Come here. It’s all ok.” Awarthril said, awkwardly cradling my head while I cried into her lap. “You just looked like you needed a break. Come on, it’s all ok now. I’ll get you fed and warm, you’ll have a good night’s sleep and everything will be ok.”
I sniffed again, rubbing my snotty nose against my arm then just dunking it back in the pond.
“You’ll be ok. I promise. Why don’t you finish up, and join us for a hot steak? Serondes has really outdone himself this time! Come on, a hot meal’s just what you need.”
“And you’re sure about the clothes?” I asked her.
“Oh those? I hope you’re not too offended, I’ve been looking for an excuse to get rid of them for ages. I hated the cut, but Mistcloth’s too nice to just throw out. This does me a favor! Really!” She explained. “Guilt-free storage cleanout. Ok, I’ll leave you be. Come join us in a minute!”
Awarthril left, and with a great slobbery kiss Kiyaya licked me and padded after her companion. I finished washing up, then took a look at the clothing Awarthril provided.
First off, wearing hand-me-downs was nothing new for me. Most of the clothes I’d ended up in as a kid had been hand-me-downs that mom’s friends gave to her as their last kid outgrew them, and many of my old clothes ended back in circulation that way, or got re-stitched into newer, larger clothes for me. That part wasn’t weird.
A practical stranger’s former undergarments becoming mine? As an adult? A little weird.
It was totally different from anything I’d ever seen. There was a dark, navy blue sort of “bodysuit”, that went from my ankles to my wrists, but for whatever reason stopped at my chest instead of going to my neck, showing off a bit of cleavage. I could see why Awarthril didn’t like the cut. The edges were rimmed with gold, which made a nice effect.
There was a second layer on top of that. A white, partially sheer half-cape wrapped around my neck, and went down to my elbows, all rimmed with gold again. I had something like a long shirt, made out of the same material, with long slits in it for easy walking, while the whole thing was cinched with a “belt” made out of the same material, ending with a diamond-shaped “buckle”.
The stuff was soft and wonderful, and it practically hugged me. The contrast to what I’d been wearing before helped with the magical, otherworldly feeling it gave. I walked experimentally around the pond, trying out how my clothes felt.
They were weird. I had no doubt there was some magic at work. On one hand, I felt clothed. I could feel the cloth against my skin, the fabric shift and move as I walked. I was obviously clothed.
On the other hand, I felt naked. The feedback was almost non-existent, and as I walked and moved, the split skirt, which should’ve hampered my movements somewhat, didn’t. The bodysuit part, which should’ve restricted my movements just a hair, instead allowed me a full range of flexibility. I tried all sorts of exercises to see if I could get the feeling or sensation of the clothes restricting me, or feeling taut against me. I stretched, bent, puffed my chest out, did a cartwheel - nothing.
I was brewing a headache trying to reconcile the two feelings together. Still, having gotten the hang of it, I put on some too-thin slippers - super cozy, and as easy to walk in as sandals. I grabbed the egg, re-warmed it, and walked back out.
If Awarthril had told me one of the two men was daintily eating his pterodactyl steak with a knife and fork, carefully taking small bites and savoring the flavor, and the other one had a spinning carousel of meat in front of him, only taking the choicest bites out of each one as it passed by his mouth, I would’ve pegged Serondes for dainty, and Aegion for savage.
Turns out, Serondes was a hair picky, and only wanted a few of the best bites from the food he’d cooked, waste and silverware be damned. Aegion, on the other hand, wanted to savor every last bite, no doubt in search of the perfect flavor to throw into his next poisoning attempt.
“Elaine! You look great!” Aegion cheerfully waved me over to the table, where I started to copy his manners.
“I knew you’d look good in that!” Serondes snapped his head forward, tearing out a chunk of prime rib.
A glowing smile lit my face up.
“Thanks!” I gracefully accepted the compliments, digging into the feast, asking a burning question.
“What does Mistcloth do? It seems somewhat magical.”
Serondes casually answered between bites. “It’s a low-tier magical cloth. When it comes to normal activities, it’s solid. When it comes to anything that can harm or rip it, it becomes insubstantial. Watch me!”
So saying, he shot a precise bolt of Lava at me. I had enough reflexes to start to dodge, but not entirely.
Good thing he wasn’t aiming for me, just for the part of my half-cape he could snipe. The Lava bolt reached it, and cleanly went through, the half-cape barely even fluttering.
I examined the path the shot took, seeing that my clothing was entirely untouched.
“This is good stuff!” I said, poking at the cape. It felt springy and real enough.
Hang on - if it couldn’t be damaged?
“How’d you tailor it?” I asked Aegion, who just got a smug look on his face.
“I’m just that good.”
We exchanged some small talk, before Awarthril got down to business.
“I believe our talk about you coming along for a bit has been interrupted a few times now.” Awarthril opened up the conversation, then proved she was just as distractible as I was by darting over to Serondes.
“How many times have I told you? Honestly, wipe your face.” She said, grabbing a napkin and wiping the corner of his mouth, too fast for him to escape the physical classer’s speed.
Awarthril. Team mom.
“Right! You’d be a great fit for giving us a hand. You don’t even need to fight or anything, from the story you told us you’ve done more than enough of that. No, we just need a high level healer hanging around, maybe going around and helping ‘heal’ everyone. Don’t even need to heal anyone we come across if you don’t want to! The simple declaration should be enough to panic any Shimagu, and that’s what we need to flush them out. Otherwise, they’d just lie low when we pass through, and we’re frankly not strong enough to assault their cities. In exchange, we’ll help you get back to your home after doing this for a few…”
Awarthril trailed off, realizing something.
“How long do humans live anyways?” She asked me. “You’re not Immortal, we’d know about humans otherwise. But like, you live at least 500 years, right?”
“Wellllllllllllllll…. About that….” I prepared myself for an awkward conversation.
“Humans aren’t that long lived. Close to 70, 80 before vitality kicks in.” I explained to Aegion’s wincing. I left out the significantly lower lifespan from everyone poisoning themselves with mercury, lead, and other fun substances.
I figured that an entire thriving race of Immortals were probably the safest people to reveal my closely-held secret to, and get a gauge of their reaction. That, and I wanted to impress them somewhat.
“With that being said, I might be slightly Immortal.”