We spent the next two weeks slowly heading north, the days starting to become just a bit shorter. We were making alright time, although stopping halfway through the day felt all sorts of weird.
It was perfectly normal to my elvish traveling companions, and, well, when in the company of elves, do as the elves.
It was a day like any other as we walked north, the three elves chatting away, helping me learn all sorts of things.
“Over there, we can see some vultures circling… hang on.” Awarthril pointed out some tiny flecks in the sky. I gave her my best “Are you shitting me?” look. Just because she was a physical classer, with probably over 100k vitality, possibly some skills to boot, didn’t mean we could all see that far!
“Let’s check it out.” Aegion turned and started walking that way. Of course he could see that far, he was a blasted snipe-archer. He could probably shoot them down from that far away. With his eyes closed.
With nothing better to do, we all turned slightly and started heading towards the vultures, most of the conversation dying out as we focused on the task. We did pick up the pace though, slowly going faster and faster until I felt forced to take flight with [Scintillating Ascent], my wings in all their glorious colors snapping open and letting me soar and glide, pulled along by Awarthril’s [Rubbery Rope].
Flying never got old. I’d have to seriously consider if I wanted to keep my wings if I ever got offered the “Turn into Radiance and zip around” skill. It also suggested that I wouldn’t “cycle” my [Butterfly Mystic] class - I didn’t want to lose flight, and I suspected my efforts improving skills wasn’t easily replicated. Plus, it had eaten my [Pretty] skill.
Heck, for that matter, I was unlikely to cycle my first class either. I couldn’t risk losing my Immortality skill and just dying of old age because I did something dumb. No, the only class that had a shot at me cycling it was my 3rd one. Even then, I might just stall out getting it as long as possible to give it the best start I could, and take it from there.
Serondes took flight a few minutes later, Awarthril towing the two of us behind her. Aegion kept pace with her, a combination of having Gale and Lightning as his elements, archers being physically inclined, and Awarthril stopping herself at Aegion’s max speed.
Or… was it Aegion stopping himself at Awarthril’s top speed?
In about a quarter of an hour - Awarthril’s eyesight was ludicrous - we were near where the vultures were circling. A centaur - I couldn’t think of anything else that was half-man, half-horse. He looked like something out of myth, scraggly brown hair turning into a combination mane/backfur, leading into spotted fur along the horsey parts. If I had been a horsey girl once upon a time, I might’ve been able to guess what type of horse he seemed to be half-of. He was badly hurt, walking in a little three-legged gait, keeping all his weight off the fourth one. His left arm abruptly ended at his elbow, and as he panted and heaved, blood continued to trickle out of a dozen different injuries, some looking like nasty punctures, others like long strips had been taken out of him. A few creatures were stalking him through the plains, not going for the kill, but just waiting for the inevitable to occur. They spent more time snapping and snarling at each other, than trying to bring him down.
It was a miracle of tenacity, the predators being willing to wait until he dropped, avoiding a life and death fight, and significant amounts of System help, that he was still alive and on his feet.
The elves, taking only a minute to drink in the scene, sprang into action. Cordamo snapped into Aegion’s hand, and with a crack of thunder, a number of arrows blurred away. Awarthril dropped the Spatial Box, disconnected Serondes and Aegion from her [Rubbery Rope], and ran towards the centaur… pulling me along with her. I tumbled at the sudden acceleration, getting a quick look behind me before straightening myself. Serondes was busy erecting walls, while taking items out of the Spatial Box at the same time. Kiyaya ran next to Awathril, effortlessly keeping up.
Guess we were camping here.
I re-oriented myself, just in time to see Awarthril reaching the centaur. I pulsed [Dance with the Heavens] through [Wheel of Sun and Moon], flash-healing the centaur, fully restoring him to perfect health. Well, minus the dirt, the exhaustion, the dehydration, the starvation, the dried blood, then… ok, fine, pretty good not-about-to-die health. The image was terrible, but I had the mana to spare.
Also, up close, it was clear that the centaur was big. Like, his horse-half wasn’t scaled down to a nice human-sized proportion, no, the human half got scaled up to horse-size. Horses, as it turned out, could get stupidly large. I remembered that horses were measured according to their shoulder, and I’d need to stretch my hand above my head in order to touch the point on his body where the shoulder was measured. I couldn’t quite walk under him without touching, but I’d be able to limbo without too much effort.
I wasn’t a horsey girl - but I did remember that Shire horses were the biggest horse of them all. Just one of those little fun facts.
The centaur took one look at us, one look behind him - seeing the monsters dead or fleeing under Aegion’s assault - and collapsed.
“Well… that’s not the usual response.” I quipped.
We got the centaur back to the camp - mostly Awarthril picking him up somewhat awkwardly, but with no effort, and carrying him over - and started to settle in. Aegion was busy with a knife and some wood, hands blurring as shavings flew all over the place, while Kiyaya retrieved monsters for Serondes to cook.
“Lion-steaks. Nice.” I saw one of the animals dragged in. Kiyaya gave me an affronted look, and moved the lion over to the side in a pile, making it abundantly clear that it was her lion.
“I’ve never had them before.” Awarthril confessed, throwing Kiyaya a look that said ‘be nice, and share with everyone’. “We don’t casually hunt apex predators. Only when they become a problem or threaten someone do we step in.”
I cocked an eyebrow at her and gestured towards the world, as Serondes started his whistling.
“Really? The lion is an apex predator?”
“Close enough.” Serondes paused for a moment to answer, before continuing his tune. Awarthril got a blanket out.
“Elaine, would you be a dear and find water?” She asked, handing me a large bucket.
Well, might as well make myself useful. I took flight, noticing that Awarthril was making a heap of blankets, then putting the centaur on them, throwing one last blanket over the whole mess, doing her best to make him comfortable.
Water wasn’t exactly easy to find. We tried to camp near a watering hole most days, but we didn’t quite have the same luck today, not with us haring off to follow the vultures. I flew in steadily-widening circles, feeling the occasional thermal shoot me up into the sky, letting me lazily glide down, or dive to pick up speed.
Sure, I had more than enough mana to cover flying, almost no matter how I ran it. It was just pure fun, bliss in the air.
I eventually found some water, filled up the bucket, mentally marked the spot, and headed back. Flying was less fun when carrying a bucket of water, watching it slosh out now and then. I made it back to the campsite, which was now fully arranged. Landing near the table, I put the bucket down, then walked over to where the centaur was sleeping.
“How is he?” I murmured, trying to be quiet enough to not wake him up.
“Exhausted, poor thing.” Awarthril was looking at him with a critical eye, while Kiyaya protectively stood over him, her head slowly turning from side to side, scanning for threats.
Aegion was busy with a knife and wood, while Serondes wasn’t around. Drat.
I debated using [Sunrise] on him, giving him a quick shot of energy. It’d chase away a lot of the exhaustion, but would probably wake him up, and he needed his sleep. I was with a team right now though.
“I’ve got an energy skill, but I think he needs to sleep. We don’t need to talk with him immediately, do we?” I asked.
Awarthril tsked at me.
“No, no, let him sleep.”
I eyed the bucket, I eyed the camp, I mentally thought about our water reserves.
Well, I should make myself useful.
“Got any more buckets?”
Centaur dude finally woke up late at night, while we were all softly talking around the fire. Serondes was slow-cooking the monsters Aegion had sniped earlier, occasionally picking up and flipping them over with a mage’s hand made out of Sand.
Versatile stuff. I’d never given the element much credit, but Serondes was a master of flexibility with it.
We were sitting in a circle, and I was mindlessly telling a story I’d told uncountable number of times before - Arthur’s favorite, The Iliad. I was more focused on Serondes’s expression, his rapt attention on me. His little smile at the funny parts, his frown at the sad. Awarthril was idly stitching something large together - although I thought Aegion was the one with the tailor skills? - and Aegion himself was continuing to carve lots of arrow shafts. Serondes continued to show off by having a number of mage hands plucking feathers, and attaching them to the arrow shafts.
I wanted a [Mage Hand] skill. I was strongly considering trying to get that as my “final new skill” once I’d finished a nice round of upgrades on my [Butterfly Mystic] skills.
That was if Radiance could even do that sort of thing. Nothing about Radiance suggested physicality, which was both part of its strength, and its weakness. I might have to shelve it until my 3rd class.
Still, I started and stopped the story at the centaur making some noise, while the elves smoothly turned to look at him.
“Hey, you’re awake!” Aegion exclaimed, staying seated. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh, probably awful.” Awarthril didn’t bother staying seated, instead going over to make a fuss over the centaur. “He almost died, and the vultures were quite literally circling him, ready to pounce at any moment. Frankly, it’s a miracle you’re alive.” She said, circling around the poor centaur who was twisting his body, trying to track her. I could see his eyes blinking in the sleepy “what the fuck is going on, am I still sleeping?!” way.
Thinking about it, he probably just used an entire lifetime’s worth of luck.
I walked over, and halted near him.
“Here, let me use a skill on you.” I extended my hand, pointing at him with one finger.
He said something, and I didn’t understand a word of what he said. Sounded like an entirely different language.
Awarthril and Aegion looked at Serondes.
“Their language changes as fast as they run, and he’s not from any of the main tribes I know.” Serondes shrugged.
Aegion walked over with a variety of foods that he quickly whipped onto a large wooden plate - finger food, bread, some of the meat Serondes had cooked, vegetables, a knife, a fork - basically a bit of everything, a feast with a tiny option for any diet.
It didn’t stop Awarthril from slapping the mug out of his hand.
“We’re trying to make him better, not poison him to death!” She scolded Aegion, while the poor centaur was looking on in confusion. I seized the moment to lean over, touching him and blasting him with [Sunrise].
Aegion shoved the platter in his hands, while Serondes used another mage hand to bring over a freshly-dunked mug of water. Awarthril tsked, and grabbed her hairbrush out of the endless crate of goodstuff, then started brushing the centaur. The poor dude - he was very obviously a dude - half-jumped at the intrusion. Awarthril continued to brush, leaning in with expert strokes to get rid of all the dirt, dried blood, and other debris.
Mostly on his sides though - dude was huge, even by gracefully tall elf standards.
“Awarthril.” She said, pointing to herself.
We all pointed to ourselves in turn, and the centaur figured it out.
“Tyriss.” He said with a great, booming voice, with an accent like rolling, thundering hooves, then said something else after that.
I didn’t quite catch what it was, but annoyingly, the elves seemed to immediately figure it out. Extra-annoyingly, there seemed to be an immediate consensus among them that they’d all learn his language, instead of trying to teach him their language. It made sense - with the three of them working at it, they could help and reinforce each other, and they were all, well, frustratingly geniuses at it.
I had [Pristine Memories] and [Passionate Learning], and yet, the elves instantly outstripped me in learning this new tongue. Heck, they’d even riff off of each other.
I grumpily sat down at the table, chin in my hands, idly grabbing a bite of food here, a sip of water there, and pouted in their general direction as they mastered an entire language in the space of two hours, while I figured out how to say “hello” and “my name is Elaine.” I think.
And when I said the elves mastered the language. I meant mastered.
“No, look, this is clearly something venomous he’s talking about, not poisonous. See how the vy sound changes between the two? That’s clearly indicating the difference between the two.” Serondes exasperatedly explained to Aegion.
“Potato, Tomato. You were completely wrong on ‘lake’ versus ‘pond’.” Aegion retorted back.
Serondes looked affronted.
“It was poorly explained!”
Awarthril yelled at them in the new language they’d learned, and they immediately switched back to bickering in the new tongue. There was a language barrier, but the tone and the body language made it clear what was going on.
Tyriss was clearly becoming more relaxed and comfortable as the elves picked up his language, and he got a good meal inside of him. Warmth, food, drink, and companionship worked wonders - I would know, having been on the receiving end of the elven generosity not too long ago.
Awarthril had a sort of blanket for him, neatly embroidered and looking warm and cozy as anything. Aegion’s endless whittling ended up with him giving the centaur a bow, and a quiver full of arrows. Tyriss looked grateful, babbling his thanks.
I was feeling left out of the entire thing, and after some time I decided to chat a bit with Serondes on the side.
“How did Aegion know that he used a bow? Not all Rangers are archers.” I asked.
“Ah, I forget how little you know at times.” Serondes sat down next to me, as I shuffled in a bit closer. For warmth, of course.
I scowled at him.
“Yeah, I’m not an all-knowing elf. Come on. The Low Experience Zone drives everyone away, we’ve had Formorians at our gate for centuries, of course I don’t know this stuff.”
Serondes shifted a hair, helping press our arms together a bit better, which naturally had my heart going wild and all sorts of interesting thoughts going through my head. The last week or so of doing magic together every night had been slowly bringing us closer - or at least, that’s how I saw it. For all I knew, Serondes just saw this as normal, or assumed it was some sort of human custom that he was entertaining.
Ugh. Why did this stuff have to be so hard?
He turned and looked at me, locking eyes with me.
“Centaurs are famous for their archery. They almost never stick around for a pitched battle, instead choosing to volley arrows and skills into attackers, then using their natural System-granted speed and god-granted bodies to outrun their pursuers, constantly whittling them down. Creature for creature, in their given terrain, they will beat any elvenoid race... except for elves.”
I hadn’t blinked once during his entire lecture, drinking in the sight of his eyes… and I noticed he hadn’t looked away either, not even as Awarthril smacked Aegion for doing something or another dumb. My poor heart was steadily increasing in pace.
“Why don’t they rule the world?” I asked, fully expecting the answer to be “Because elves.” Still, anything to keep the conversation going, to keep Serondes looking at me while he was that close. Plus, it was boring being boxed out of the talk due to the language barrier.
“The entire world isn’t a flat, open grassland.” Serondes replied with an amused twist of his mouth, turning and looking at more of the background yelling that was going on. Something about Aegion and his barrels.
Oh shoot. Did that just sink things? Did he think I was some sort of idiot?
Why did these damn hormones have the driver’s seat!?! I needed a skill to kill all my hormones and make me more normal.
Serondes kept me company for a bit, sometimes seeming to flirt, sometimes not - hard to tell, especially with my skewed perspective - while Awarthril and Aegion kept chatting with the centaur. Finally, they all joined us at the table, Aegion breaking out more of his drinks, pouring some for each of us.
“Long story short.” Awarthril said, gracefully accepting hers. “Tyriss’s entire herd was wiped out by a hydra of all things. We’re going to swing by and see if we can do something about it. A hydra that’s gotten a taste for elvenoids isn’t something we should let run free.”
We all watched with rapt attention as Tyriss said something, the elves all nodding. He then gratefully held the mug up, and took a great big drink.
He got like three swallows in before realizing just how foul it was, and I properly foresaw the spray of disgust coming. I shielded everything, stopping the foul liquid from contaminating our stuff and clothes - well, everything except Aegion. He totally deserved it.
Practically as one, like we’d rehearsed it, the elves and I turned our mugs over.