There were a few moments where I got to feel smug at their surprise.
“You seized Immortality?” Serondes eventually asked.
“Seize immortality?” I asked, completely unfamiliar with the phrase.
“Attained it with a skill.” Aegion clarified.
“Seized is the better word.” Serondes muttered.
“Attained is accurate!”
“So is seized!”
Awarthril thumped both of them on the head, ending the argument.
“You two are as bad as each other! Knock it off!” She turned to me.
“Elaine! That’s wonderful!” She leaned in closer. “What’d you get as your curse?”
“Awarthril! I would never ask something like that!” Serondes waved his fork at her. “Her curse is intensely private, not to be shared with anyone she doesn’t utterly trust.”
“Oh, knock it off.” Aegion swatted at the air near Serondes. “From the sound of it, she grew up in an area with no Immortals, she doesn’t know any of the terminology, we need to help her out as much as we can.”
“I’m not cursed yet.” I told them.
“Awww, shucks. Sounds like it isn’t an Immortality skill then.” Awarthril cut a steak in half, shoved the entire thing in her mouth, and ate it in like three bites. That was a valid method of eating when she had a billion physical stats, but wow.
“Eh, I haven’t activated it yet. I was concerned about White Dove and getting cursed, since we don’t have a lot of immortals.”
Serondes and Awarthril each picked up something different from that statement, and started talking over each other.
Aegion took the chance to shove a mug of some sort of golden-colored liquid into my hands, raising his own in a universal “cheers” gesture. I instinctively took a sip, flavor and taste having a whole parade at how good it tasted. Why couldn’t everything he made be like this? I narrowed my eyes at him. Or was this some of the “old, good stash”, broken out on special occasions, and not one of his brews?
I was leaning towards “not one of his” until further evidence changed my mind.
Serondes won out, on the basis of having Sound skills.
“Hang on, you know almost nothing about Immortals, but you know about White Dove’s curse ahead of time? Most people who seize Immortality are taken by surprise.” He said, while Awarthril glared murder at him. To her credit, she gracefully backed down, letting me answer Serondes’s question - but from the look on her face, the way she was hunched forward on the table, not eating, said the moment I was done, she’d pounce with her own question.
“Oh, we’ve got some vampires hanging around where I live. I talked with a few of them, they told me how it worked for them.” I said, giving the short, short version.
“Vampires!” Aegion happily slapped the table with one free hand, slamming his mug down to the table. “We’ve got some records of them in the List of Immortals, but we thought they’d gone extinct! Good to hear they’re still alive and kicking. Be a shame to lose another Natural Immortal race.”
“Forget all that.” Awarthril said, still staring at me. “You said you haven’t activated it yet. Are you telling me that you’ve got an active Immortality skill, not a passive one?”
“Uh, yeah. It rewinds the clock on the body, or in other words, makes someone young again.”
That was my understanding of the skill, having built it myself, and from the description given.
The penny dropped for the other two elves.
“Hang on, can you use it on others?” Aegion asked.
I opened my mouth to answer, but Serondes interrupted.
“Elaine, listen to me. No, seriously, listen. I know I said keep your curse quiet, but more importantly, if you can use it on others, don’t tell anyone. Being able to make others Immortal is one of the most sought-after skills, period. Take Awarthril here. She’s bonded with Kiyaya,”
The two in question affectionately nuzzled each other.
“But Kiyaya has a limited lifespan. The bond’s extending it, but Awarthril isn’t expecting her to live more than 200 years.”
“Pblrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp! I’m expecting her to live forever!” Awarthril interrupted with heat and fire in her voice.
Serondes graciously nodded a compassionate concession, and kept going.
“You’re going for a companion yourself, you should have some idea of the depth of the bond involved. Now, Awarthril’s come along with us to try and get enough levels for Kiyaya to gain her own Immortality skill.”
Awathril threw a fork at Serondes. It wasn’t particularly fast, not with the supersonic throws I knew she was capable of, and he easily dodged it. He did get brained as she pulled on the thin strand of sticky goo attached to the fork, boomeranging it back, making him faceplant into the table.
Either way, message sent and received. Serondes kept talking as he rubbed his head, glaring at Awarthril.
“Now, she finds someone who can grant Immortality, or heck, like you were saying, turn back the clock. What would she do to convince you to help her and Kiyaya?”
“Uh. Ask nicely?” I hazarded, channeling a bit of Brawling and playing the naive human.
No, the implications Serondes was talking about were all too clear. Even if Awarthril was totally moral, and I helped her out willingly, desperation one day might drive her to some extreme or another. Someone with a higher level and fewer scruples might want an Immortality granting healer around, to keep all their favorite toys alive forever.
And since this was Immortality that was being discussed here, forever was forever.
“Ok, no, I get it.” I raised my hands defensively as Aegion started to open his mouth. “What makes Immortality skills different from, like, the best carpentry skills ever? Why doesn’t that inspire greed?” I asked. “Surely this can’t be the only madly desired skill.”
“Time.” Awarthril grimly answered. “Or replaceability, depending how you look at it. You want Folen to make you one of his legendary talismans? You can afford to wait until your name is next on the list. You need a sword of adamantium? Offer a new life to a hundred orphans, and train them all in the art of smithing, until one master rises to the top, and can craft the sword for you. However, you fall in love with a mortal? You find a lifelong connection with a companion who’s only got 300 short years on the planet? Nothing can replace them. The only solution is to get them to a high enough level, and get lucky that the System offers an Immortality skill - or find someone who can grant it. Conventional wisdom says to not fall in love with mortals, or bind with creatures with low lifespans, but… sometimes life just happens.” She affectionately petted Kiyaya, fighting back a tear.
I put on my thinking cap.
I didn’t have much more to say. I’d wanted the Immortality skill, burned with desire for it. I’d crafted and shaped my class to accommodate the skill, all without thinking about long-term implications and knock-off effects.
With that being said, would I have problems in Remus?
Unlikely. Night, and other vampires could grant Immortality, and yet they didn’t seem to have big problems. Being somewhat secretive and hiding could help, along with being the biggest, baddest fish in the small pond called Remus, but there was something more to it than that. The elves knew about vampires, but I hadn’t heard of secret midnight raids to kidnap them. Given that, to my understanding, they could grant Immortality, I was missing some piece of the puzzle.
I mean… Aegion had just mentioned that the elves suspected the vampires had gone extinct, which might be why there were no daring… midday? raids.
Come to think of it, Night had never offered to turn me into one, nor were there legions of ex-Sentinels-turned-vampires running around. At least, not that I knew of. There had to be something else going on, but I didn’t think this was the time for it.
Also, I’d seen stasis fields from Lun’Kat. Didn’t they imply other ways of keeping people around forever? Oh, right - they’d freeze the person, and it wasn’t much better than creating a statue of the person, but it did extend the timeframe… although given that it was one of the most powerful dragons in the world making the stasis fields, it might be out of the reach of all but the highest leveled elves.
I challenged one of my assumptions. I hoped Lun’Kat was one of the most powerful dragons. I dreaded to think what it’d be like otherwise. The fact that one of her elements was Mirage implied she wasn’t that combat-focused as…
“Elaine. If you can help Kiyaya, will you do it? Please?” She asked, as the wolf in question nuzzled my hand, licking me plaintively. “I’ll owe you a favor, even if you just try.”
Well, nothing for it. I had no reason to say no, and this would be good practice.
I focused on the skill, “stretching” it like a new muscle. I tried to channel it into Kiyaya, but there was no purchase. No feeling of activation. It was like I was trying to heal a rock.
“I’m sorry. I don’t think my skill works on wolves.” I said, feeling my heart stabbed as Awathril’s face fell. The skill had no ‘purchase’, no feedback.
She put on a brave face.
“Well, nothing for it. I’d be more than happy to work with you to level you up, get the skill stronger, and evolve it so it can help with non-humans!”
Always the eternal optimist.
“That might be a bit hard - I put the bare minimum in to get the skill, it was expensive.”
“What do you mean?” Aegion asked.
“I had the chance to build my own class! It was a ton of fun, but incredibly stressful.”
I’d mentioned that earlier, but it’d gotten lost in the discussion about my class qualities and stat totals.
The elves and their companions all looked at Serondes, who gave a smug smile.
“I managed to get that for my Lava class! Had a whole range of volcanoes, and a jar of lava to pour. Got some nifty skills out of it. How about you?”
Interesting. It didn’t quite seem to be as rare as I thought.
“Stars and constellations I had to ignite with starlight.” I said.
“Elaine, it sounds like you’ve had a most fascinating journey. I’d love to know more about you. Tell me about yourself.” Serondes gave me a look, like I was the only person in the world.
I know I’d given the short version of my story, heck, earlier today, but now they wanted more.
“Well, things started in earnest when I was eight, and unlocked my System. See, I had my good friend, Lyra, who…”
I gave them a somewhat abridged version of events, from the events that caused me to swear my [Oath], without going into details of exactly what was in it, to running away from home, bandits, Rangers, monsters, classing up, kidnapping, more monsters, plagues, the capital, Ranger Academy - the short version - becoming a Sentinel, keeping all the Sentinel secrets. An overview of my missions, from plagues to pirates, earthquakes to rebellions. Then the Formorians, and, well, they’d heard it from there.
It was pretty late by the time I’d finished, and Serondes had scattered torches around the campsite, igneous rock topped by shifting Lava.
I was helping as well, with my own little glow, but I was feeling more than a bit regretful right now that I’d taken Radiance over Lava. It was just so versatile!
I had to remind myself that it was significantly more expensive to pull off the same tricks, and Radiance had a different bag of tricks. Like, Radiance light was cheap. Lava-light? Had to keep dumping large amounts of mana into the Lava to keep it hot, and it kept radiating the heat out, while also not being all that bright, relatively speaking.
Aegion was contently sipping another mug of mystery beer, a contently sloshed look on his face.
“Good story, good story.” He gestured towards my mug I’d been nursing, carefully rationing every sip. It was good stuff, worth savoring and letting the feeling flow over me with each mouthful.
“I’m totally convinced now. Elaine dear, you need to spend some time with us, to learn what it means to be Immortal, and how it’s going to change things for you. Plus, we need to get your level way up. That Night fellow sounds like he’s got his heart in the right place, but is muddling through it himself. I’m sure he’d do his best to help you, but, well…”
She trailed off, not wanting to finish her sentence, and disparage someone close to me. I could roughly fill in the blank.
“But he’s not an elf.”
Still, I did appreciate them wanting to raise my level, even if it was for selfish reasons. I wasn’t going to say no, any help in this hostile world was worth it.
“One early trick, for example, are companions! You’re going to be living a long, fruitful life, probably with a bunch of cycles to get your classes and their quality high enough. Companions are great for that! They help protect you when you’ve just reset, and you’ve lost a lot of strength. Jumping from your first cycle to your second is rough. A lot of Immortals do something silly, thinking they have their old strength, that they’re as fast as they used to be.”
Awarthril shook her head sadly, but not with the knowing of having lost someone close to her to the described mistake.
“Plus, companions are great!” Aegion jumped in, affectionately feeding Cordamo carefully-sized chunks. The poor snake was bloated as hell, having been ‘affectionately fed’ for the past few hours while I was telling my story, but the little glutton was still forcing his mouth open for the next bite. “People will come and go your entire life, no matter how much you might think otherwise. A companion though? They’ll keep you grounded, centered, sane. One friend who’ll never leave you, who you’ll never drift apart from over the centuries.”
“Right now, we’re all the best of friends.” Serondes chimed in, to everyone’s - companions included - agreeing nods. “A thousand years from now? I might be cashing in some favors Awarthril owes me once in a while, and every decade or so inviting Aegion to lunch. A companion? Friendship for your eternal life, the one constant in an ever-changing world.”
Awarthril shot him a foul look at that.
“It’s pretty late. We should turn in for the night.” Awarthril yawned and stretched.
“I’m happy to take a watch if needed! I don’t mind helping. I’m used to it.” I volunteered.
“Watch?” Aegion asked, as confused as could be. “Why would we set a watch?”
“Er, if something attacks us in the night, or tries to sneak in, or something? Whoever’s awake can alert everyone else?” I looked around, seeing looks of confusion.
“But nothing’s going to attack us.” Serondes pointed out, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Don’t worry about it Elaine! We’ll be fine. Just go get a good night’s sleep.” Awarthril said.
“I’ll fix you up a little space. Come with me.” Serondes got up from the table, beckoning me to follow. With a flicker of thought, he raised walls, expertly catching a bedroll tossed by Aegion over to us. Sand and Lava mixed together as he hummed, a beautiful and haunting melody. Soon, a cozy little sleeping space, complete with small windows, big enough to let in some light but not let anyone see inside, emerged, with us in it.
It would be cozy even before Serondes was here, and as it was, I ended up pressed against him, my mind whirling in all sorts of different and interesting ways. I shifted to make sure my egg stayed safe.
“One last thing before I go.” He musically half-whispered in my ear, not needing to be any louder for me to hear. “Match the egg’s temperature, then exceed it by a small amount. If you’d like, I can make a Lava box to keep it warm at night.”
The soft breaths on my ear was causing a flushing to go up my neck, and I mentally reasserted myself.
“Thank you.” I whispered back. “I’ve got a skill for it.”
“Tell me if you need any help during the night.” He walked out of the small sleeping hut he’d made.
I did need something - I retrieved my armor, and spent some time making sure it was all dry, doing some serious thinking. First things first though, I adjusted the heat output from my Radiance magic to the egg I was holding, then once I’d gotten it just right, according to both Serondes’s instructions and [Egg Incubation], I tied it off with [Persistent Casting] and forgot about it.
First off - all the elves were stupidly good looking and interesting. However, my experience with Jaclyn, remembering how that turned out, was a good reminder not to rush into things. Heck, the elves either didn’t notice the effect they had on me, or just assumed it was totally natural.
I wanted to curse the gods out for making elves so damn perfect. If I’d known, I would’ve begged Papillion to be an elf, not a human. It was so unfair, I could cry.
I let the feeling pass. Crying and being upset over it wouldn’t change the past, it wouldn’t change who I was.
With that being said, I figured I could indulge in the inadvertent crush I’d developed on all three of them for a single night, then ruthlessly crush it - pun intended - and properly mentally reset myself, so I wasn’t totally bedazzled by all three of them, so I didn’t hang onto their every word and watch every motion, hoping they’d glance at me and smile.
Hormones were so annoying!
At the same time, they could be a ton of fun. The trick was going to be in control of my feelings, and not let them rule me, along with not making any dumb decisions.
And hey, once I’d sorted out my crush feelings and gotten my head screwed back on straight, maybe I’d pursue one of them. None of the dates I’d gone on in Remus had been any good, and I was starting to despair of finding someone, anyone, who could relate to me in a respectful way, who I found interesting and wasn’t old enough to be my father.
Ok, maybe technically the elves were that old, but they seemed to be around my maturity level. Either way, we were on a similar playing field, so to speak. They didn’t have a bunch of kids running around, we were all Immortals, in short, they didn’t trigger any of my squick “ewww no” factors.
Awarthril’s mothering of everyone was getting close though. Wasn’t there yet.
Right. Plan was set - indulge in crush tonight, then kill it, and look at the elves with a fresh set of eyes. I wrapped myself up with [Mantle], then started fantasizing about the elves. Only question was - who?
Serondes, with his musical voice?
Awarthril, with her caring nature and ginger hair, which I’d never seen in Remus?
No, wait - All three.
At the same time.
I practically exploded in delight at the thought.