We got up in the morning, and after stocking up on water, set off at a good pace. None of this lazily walking around until noon, no. We had a job, a mission, and I was frankly a little surprised that the elves were so willing to go out of their way to help out on this.


To my embarrassment, I realized about halfway through the day that I was the anchor, the slowpoke. I was running, pushing a sprint, the Mistcloth clothing making the impossible - running in what was basically a dress - possible, yet everyone else seemed to be going at an easy loping jog, Awarthril and Tyriss looking like they were practically walking.


Stats were weird. The benefits of being a physical classer were making themselves manifest once again.


Either way, I felt bad about being the slow link, and I pushed myself until my lungs burned, using [Sunrise] in moderate amounts to keep myself going. It was a cruel reminder that between my time in Lun’Kat’s lair, the weeks spent searching for my Sentinel badge, and the relaxed time I’d been spending with the elves, that I’d done almost no cardio, or other exercise.


In short, somehow, far away from home, I’d managed to go soft. Possibly a bit flabby, with how much I’d been eating and sitting around with the elves. I resolved that once we were back on the road after this little detour, that I’d get back in the habit of some daily exercise, regardless of how nice it was to laze about.


I had my pride, and we didn’t need to get to the hydra quickly. It wasn’t like it was in the middle of eating a town or anything. We were on, from what I gathered, a mission of revenge.


At the same time, I knew pride came before the fall; and it was good to occasionally swallow mine for the benefit of the team. Letting myself get humbled now and then, here and there, kept me grounded and didn’t let my head swell up to absurd sizes.


“I’m slowing everyone down.” I panted out. Just because I could heal myself, and had near-unlimited energy, it didn’t stop my lungs from burning. It’d take a little more cardio to get me back into good enough shape where it didn’t happen anymore.


I would totally cheat with healing, and it’d take me like three days, not three months. Still, I had to suffer during those three days.


“Should I fly up, and have Awarthril just pull me along?” I gasped out the second part.


“We can slow down if you’d like.” Awarthril offered kindly. Tyriss looked at her, hanging onto her every word.


I wasn’t great at social stuff, but being in the same boat, I recognized the look. He was crushing on Awarthril hard. I was glad to know the elves had that effect on more than just me.


“No, the point is to speed everyone up, not slow us down.” I said, feeling winded. Running and talking wasn’t my strong suite, as much as I loved running.


Awarthril nodded, throwing a stick for Kiyaya to have fun with. Kiyaya was bounding about, seemingly out for play, while Cordamo was out foraging, grabbing the, errr, tasty plants for Aegion. For each plant Cordamo would fly back with it, he’d leisurely examine it - while jogging - grunt approval, then effortlessly make the shot, dropping the plant into the Spatial Box.


Hells, it was probably landing in exactly the right place in the box to boot. That one I couldn’t attribute to elf bullshittery - that was just raw stats on display.


Flying was better, although my understanding and brief experimenting with it showed that I was faster running than flying, at least on the open plains we were moving through. It helped that everyone was running in front of me, trampling down the grass and ferns, making it as easy as could be to run.


Speaking of - a nice dress with metal boots was one heck of a weird running combo. I didn’t have anything else, and I desperately wanted a backpack full of gear again, as opposed to my floppy, full of half-rotting dino-grease practically-empty bag. Honestly, at this stage, I might be better off burning it, it was that gross. The elves were nice enough to stick my armor in their Spatial Box, but even with their help my hands were full - gold-cracked red egg in one hand, and that lovely glass rose Serondes made me in the other.


I missed having basics, like a knife. [Radiance Conjuration] helped mitigate most problems, and it hadn’t been a concern down in the mines. Now though? Now I felt like a burden; and I looked like an idiot who just walked into the wilderness armed with nothing but gumption and a smile.


I was seriously considering a strong physical mage element for my 3rd class. Earth was a solid contender, although being able to easily make and manipulate stuff was making Sand, of all things, highly attractive. I suppose other elements could do similar things - Wood, focusing on plants and vines, Ice, focusing on snow. Water - although it’d get stuff wet, Metal, focusing on a liquid metal.


Lava was cool - but not. It’d probably burn anything I tried to mage hand, although the sheer building versatility was nice. I could probably build with anything solid though. The reason Rangers didn’t was sheer power and mana. It was expensive, and without reserves - like the wagon’s mana - mages couldn’t easily summon or move enough stone to make it work.


Thoughts for another day. I wanted my 3rd class to do everything!


Heck, I wanted all my classes to do everything. Just, with my other classes, it was easier to accept what they were, and the direction I was taking them. The last class? Endless possibilities, made real by the System.


Normally I’d tell myself to focus, and get on track, but I was running. There was nothing else to do, besides pant and curse the fact that Mistcloth gave no support at all.

Running hurt. Bless vitality for making it hurt less.


Well, I suppose I could listen in on the conversations everyone else was having. I couldn’t really participate, because every word would be punctuated by gasping and wheezing, while Tyriss and Awarthril seemed to be out for a light stroll, happily chatting with Aegion and Serondes.


We ate on the run, although we did pause to drink now and then. I had a sneaking suspicion that Awarthril was stopping for water a little more frequently than was strictly needed, for my benefit, but I was keeping my mouth shut.


Well, not really shut so much as open and panting, but same difference.


We ran late into the night, only stopping when the moons were high, throwing a spotlight onto us. Serondes made a quick camp, electing to go for one large dome that covered all of us, instead of the smaller individual huts we’d been doing before.


I groaned as I saw Aegion taking out his barrels, but Serondes was the one who said something.


“Really? You can’t leave them be for one day?” He asked.


“They need tender loving care! Otherwise they’ll go bad!” Aegion protested, hooking up another barrel.


I couldn’t leave that lying down.


“Wait. They’re not bad right now?” I quipped, getting some sign language back. The elves used their pinky, not their middle finger, and held their hand at an angle. Same general shape, same idea. They did have five fingers though. Awarthril just laughed, and after translating for Tyriss, he chuckled as well, shooting his own rapid-fire insult into the fray, clearly trying to impress Awarthril.


Aegion half-stormed off in a huff, but couldn’t quite get anywhere, given that he still needed to sort out his on-the-road brewery. Cordamo did hiss menacingly at us all. Tyriss looked nervous, while I took a step back. I wasn’t messing with a high-level danger noodle, especially when nature had gotten hit over the head and gave it WINGS. Serondes just good-naturedly half-heartedly swiped at the couatl, while Awarthril just shook her head at our antics.


We ate a quick dinner, then I seized the moment.


“Hey Serondes - more magic tutoring?” I approached him after the food, seeing if I could finagle some time with him.


He paused a moment, thinking.


“Not tonight, sorry. I need to rest. You need to rest as well.” He patted the ground near him, and I took it as an invitation to set up next to him.


Oooh, he liked me! He wanted me to sleep next to him! Or wait, was he just being friendly? Was I reading too much into this? This whole thing was -


He gestured to Awarthril, and patted the other side of him. I gave him the stink eye, which he should’ve noticed, but either didn’t, or pretended not to.


I was a bit miffed that he invited Awarthril over, who chained into Aegion and Tyriss. The moderately sized hardened Lava-hut had room for all of us, but we all ended up on the same side, settling in nicely. Kiyaya laid down at our feet, creating a nice footwarmer for us all, while I made sure the egg - I should start coming up with names, or have a nickname for it or something - was properly resting against me, [Persistent Casting] and [Egg Incubation] working in tandem.


I wanted to go to sleep, but between my healing and [Sunrise], I was able to stave off the effects of having run all day long. Instead, I stared at the ceiling of the hut as everyone went to sleep, my heart pounding in my ears as I was aware of just how close Serondes was to me, his chest moving, his…


Damnit, I’d gone and gotten a crush again. But, like, I kinda signed up for this one, and thrown myself into it.


What I should do was talk with him, like a normal, capable, functional adult. I should see what he wanted in a relationship, what his wants, needs, and expectations were, see if it was compatible with mine, then ask him if he wanted to date. It should be that simple and easy - well, it was - I just lacked the emotional something or another to, like, actually do it.


ARGH! This romance stuff was complicated! I didn’t even know what I wanted!


Sentinel Dawn. Crippling weakness: Romance. And social stuff. Thinking about it, one was an offshoot of the other.


With a huff, I turned myself over, and after minutes - hours? - of staring at the back of my eyelids, I finally fell asleep.


It took four days of running mixed with angst to make it to the swamp. I eyed Tyriss with newfound respect. From what I’d gathered, he’d made it all the way to us, from this swamp where they’d tried to fight the hydra. It was one heck of an impressive feat… until I remembered we’d been traveling at my pace the entire time, and not the centaur’s significantly faster gallop.


Tyriss said something, and I managed to catch the gist of it, having picked up a few words from all the chatting.


“What now?”


Awarthril responded in fluent centaurese, and I entirely missed it. I didn’t miss her going invisible, and while the grass looked entirely undisturbed, the blast of wind as she sped off was unmistakable.


I shook my head. What would Magic have to say about her sloppy techniques? I swear, she was only going invisible because it seemed to be the right thing to do, not that she needed to be invisible. More elvish nonsense.


Serondes gestured, and we all backed away from the swamp. Rapid-fire words were exchanged with Tyriss, which turned into a heated argument. Serondes was waving his hands around, while Tyriss stomped his hooves.


Finally, they seemed to reach some sort of compromise, and Lava started to flow from Serondes, coating a modest patch of grassland, smoothing and flattening it. Forming a foundation. Then walls, twice as thick as I was tall, started to rise up. They only made it about half as tall as I was, when they stopped rising up.


Serondes moved around to the back, and quickly made a smaller - but still significantly sized - lean-to. It was Tyriss-sized, and the centaur moved over, and said something, signifying his approval.


Guess he wasn’t staying with us in the large construction of Serondes’s?


A clear, but narrow, zig-zagging entrance was present and built in, and Aegion immediately walked into the entrance, only to jump back with a yelp.


“Why’d you leave it so hot!?” He did the classic ‘hotfoot’ dance, glaring murder at Serondes.


I rolled my eyes at that, and Tyriss who’d wandered back over, in spite of not speaking the language, got the idea, whinnying a laugh.


Serondes answered, his tone indicating what, exactly, he thought of Aegion’s question.


“Lava, as you might have noticed, is hot. Things take time to cool, like your dinner coming out of a fire.”


Aegion threw the same pinky one-fingered salute Serondes’s way.


“Why the low walls?” I studied the structure, not quite seeing the point.


“Ran out of mana.” Serondes replied. At my concerned look he corrected.


“Ran out of spare mana. Plus, the entire thing is too hot right now. Any more, and it’ll start melting and collapsing.”


Made sense. Worst part was Serondes being out of spare mana, he couldn’t keep showing me magic tricks, well, not without eating into his mana that was needed to keep building the…


Well, usually I’d call it the campground, or the resting place. No, from how large the foundation Serondes had laid, to how he was circling it, muttering with his hand over his eyes, looking at a steep angle up into the sky?


He was building an entire fortress.


Generally, in Remus, it was considered poor practice to build anything out of conjured material. The natural decay rate of conjured stone made it impractical for anything lasting more than a few months. Sure, it might still be standing, but unknown structural problems would start cropping up. It’d take constant maintenance to keep upright, and it was considered far cheaper to simply pull real stone out of the ground, or quarry it, and use that. At Ranger Academy we’d studied a couple of famous examples of buildings that had collapsed horribly, and been told “don’t do it.” We’d never been given the exact details, but then again, we’d been in training to become Rangers, not engineers.


It was compounded by most people not having the mana pool or regeneration to just erect a fortress in a reasonable period of time.


The current situation completely overturned that logic. Serondes had the mana, the time, and we didn’t need it to last that long. I hoped. I should check on that.


“Hey Serondes, is this just for the hydra fight, or is there more to it?” I caught up with him as he made it back around one circle.


“Just for the hydra. We shouldn’t have any trouble with it, but it gives us a place to hold and defend if needed.”


He glanced at Tyriss.


“I personally doubt that the hydra would be so foolish to engage with a fortification like this, not when it was smart enough to avoid being baited by the centaurs, however, it’ll keep our gear and you safe.”


Hang on.


“I should come along!” I protested.


Serondes gave a long-suffering sigh.


“Why don’t you and Awarthril discuss it?” He started to raise another level of the fort, while I grumpily stalked off.


Leaving me behind, bah. We’ll see what they had to say about that!


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