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“Let’s head back.” Serondes suggested, as Awarthril still looked exhausted. I realized I was a dumbass, and hit her with [Sunrise]. Still wasn’t used to using the skill with a group of people, even though I’d had it for a year.

 

She perked right up at that, going from “barely standing on her feet” to “I could run three marathons” in an instant. I loved magic.

 

“Thanks Elaine! Yeah, we should head back.” Awarthril belayed her own words as she headed towards the hydra. Serondes started to make another platform, and Kiyaya padded over to where Serondes was, still looking like the funniest thing I’d ever seen.

 

Shaved wolf. Honestly, when I forgot about how it’d happened, it was hilarious.

 

Now that the fight was over, I was all too aware of the fact that everything from the waist down had been dissolved off, and I was prancing around half naked, and it was the wrong half to boot.

 

Ah well. There was nothing I could do about it besides own it.

 

With a few expert twirls of her weapon, Awarthril took the hydra apart. She whistled sharply, and Kiyaya came bounding over.

 

“Hey Serondes! Make it a big one!” She called out, dragging a large chunk with Kiyaya.

 

Serondes muttered darkly about “being more than a gloried [Ferryelf].” and “absurd mana costs.” Knowing how expensive flying was, and seeing the mass of hydra and Lava that needed to be moved?

 

Yeah, he had a slight point. I’d be impressed if he could pull it off.

 

A sky barge formed, as I stood around feeling somewhat extraneous. The elves had been mostly right - I hadn’t been needed. My healing wasn’t the difference between a win or a loss, between life and death, and while Kiyaya and Awarthril had been in terrible shape at the end of the fight, they hadn’t been on the edge of death. Sure, they might’ve been stuck in bed for a week or two, but I’d done practically nothing. At least, nothing that required my presence right here in the fight.

 

I watched Awarthril take a look at the hydra, then slice a deep gouge into its flesh, parting the walls and crawling into the body. I pulled a face at that, and went back to thinking of the elves.

 

I’d thought them arrogant, and somewhat naive for doing stuff like not setting a watch, and happily hunting a much stronger monster in its territory. However, the elves had proven they were almost as good as they thought they were, and I was privately, quietly, eating some crow.

 

With a triumphant cry, a blood-stained gore-splattered Awarthril emerged from inside the hydra, clutching a large, fleshy mass, five times the size of a head. Awarthril was carrying it like the severed head of an enemy, and it clicked - it was the hydra’s heart. She brought it up to her face, and with several large motions, took a bite out of it, barely chewing before swallowing. She then offered the heart to Kiyaya, who took a delicate nibble.

 

Given that Kiyaya was as tall as I was?

 

That “delicate nibble” was more than half the remaining heart. It drove home the point that she could rip my head off in a single move if she was so inclined, and I didn’t believe I could heal that.

 

Awarthril tossed the remaining heart to Serondes, blood flying off of it in a twirl as it spun through the air. Serondes turned to catch it, but Cordamo intercepted the throw, unhinging his jaw and somehow swallowing the rest.

 

Serondes glared murder at Cordamo, who unrepentedly smacked his long, snaky tongue against his nose, hissing a laugh at him.

 

“I am sure I will find a way to even the score.” Serondes promised, turning back to the barge. Cordamo looked a little worried about that, and flew over to rest in my hair.

 

Well. Ok then. Eating the hearts of their enemies. Not what I was expecting out of the elegant elves. I hope there were no more surprises, like “sacrifice a traveler during a double full moon” or anything like that. I was a little too handy and easy to grab…

 

Still, fresh, hot meat right out of a monster? Had it during Ranger Academy, 6/10, a bit of searing dramatically improved it.

 

I went over to the lake, mostly to stay out of the way, partially to clean my legs. I had armor from the waist-up, and a strong wake-up call that I shouldn’t bother with it against foes that were much more powerful than I was.

 

Then again, if I’d gotten caught in the sandstorm, I would’ve loved to have the armor.

 

“All set!” Awarthril called out, and I headed over, sand caking to my legs in the classic “wet feet sandy beach” way.

 

We all boarded the Lava-barge, loaded with tasty hydra cuts, and started to make our way back to Aegion and the Fort-De-La-Victoire.

 

We took back off, and I had some burning questions.

 

“What’s it like where you grew up?” I asked them, while looking at Serondes specifically. He’d gotten my life story - what was his?

 

Awarthril gave me a knowing smile and a wink while Serondes was looking at me.

 

“Well, I grew up on the outskirts of the Tympestshard Council. I had three brothers and sisters - all older - and we had a few hundred acres of forest for our family. Early on, my parents taught me how to…”

 

I was enthralled with him, hanging onto every word he spoke.

 

Serondes kept telling me his life story, not even pausing as we needed to land at one point. He threw some grumpy looks at Awarthril, but said nothing. Possibly as a concession to just how hard she had just worked in the last fight - she’d done the vast majority of the work. If she wanted to celebrate a bit, and have a massive barbeque, nobody was going to rain on her parade.

 

During a lull in the conversation, I figured I’d check my level up notifications.

[*ding!* Congratulations! [The Dawn Sentinel] has leveled up to level 419->420! +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!]

My capped skills stayed capped - [Mantle], [Dance], [Wheel], etc - but that was it. I suppose the only thing I’d done was run away from the hydra, heal my legs getting dissolved a few times, and fixed up Kiyaya and Awarthril at the end of the fight. I hadn’t exactly strained myself, and I suspected the only reason I’d gotten a level was the sheer difference between the hydra and myself.

 

[*ding!* You’ve unlocked [Solar Flare]! Would you like to replace a skill with [Solar Flare]?]

 

Solar Flare: The sun erupts with destructive power, obliterating all those who stand in its way, and those too unlucky to be near. With this skill, all your [Butterfly Mystic] skills and abilities are more destructive. Increased destructiveness and effectiveness per level. -66,666 Mana Regen.

 

Ok, wow. That was a stupid amount of mana regeneration, and the text of the skill was ominous, to say the least. Still, it was what I’d been looking for. It would dramatically improve my Radiance abilities, and let me punch up significantly. I’d felt I was falling behind for some time, that my mage abilities were becoming weaker and weaker compared to my healing abilities.

 

Well, this was a good step in the right direction. Bonus - both [Solar Flare] and [Sun’s Heart] seemed to be Sun-related, which was encouraging. It made me think that I could merge the two skills together down the line, which [Butterfly Mystic] was good at. Then I’d get a new skill slot, a new skill, and the cycle would repeat.

 

Stats were only a small part of the power and survival equation. Training and skills were significant.

 

“Excuse me.” I got up and walked to the railing. [Lantern] was level 345, and I was not looking forward to what would happen once I lost the skill.

 

“Everything ok?” Awarthril’s concern was clear.

 

I nodded.

 

“I’ll be fine.” I said, positioning myself for a technicolor yawn.

 

I breathed in, and slowly let my breath out. I took a deep breath in, and with some will, swapped [Lantern] for [Solar Flare].

The dizziness and nausea hit me like a tidal wave, my lunch rebelling and going back up the pipe. I tossed my cookies over the edge, collapsing as the world spun around me. I felt hands grab me, keep me stable. Another hand grabbed my hair, pulling it back as I kept sick uping off the edge of the Lava barge.

 

“I don’t know what’s wrong with her.” I heard Serondes saying.

 

“She’s not an elf. She probably swapped skills, and is suffering.”

 

“Oof. Glad that’s not me.”

 

Fucking.

 

Elves.

 

Finally, as I heaved and heaved and nothing but bile came up, the world stopped spinning. I became aware of Serondes and Awarthril holding onto me, keeping me safe and secure. My heart went out to both of them, to the kindness and care they’d shown.

 

“Thanks.” I got back up.

 

Serondes waved his hand.

 

“Don’t worry about it.”

 

I did brush my legs off, cooking the sand dry with my Radiance.

 

We arrived back at Fort Why-Did-We-Make-This-So-Big, landing outside of it where Aegion had already dug out large firepits, crossing them with branches and small trees. Serondes landed the barge near the pits, then Aegion and Awarthril got to work. I slipped into the castle, retrieving my egg, and changing back into good clothes, AKA my only other set of clothing, the Mistweave. No more half-naked armor-bare legs combo. It was a crime against fashion. Serondes had been as good as his word, and [Egg Incubation] reported that it only needed to be warmed up a bit more. I promptly grabbed it and started dumping heat into it, clutching it protectively. Feeling beautiful and elegant, I swept my way back to the firepits.

 

Serondes had made himself a chair to lounge in while he had a few mage hands contributing to the preparation of the hydra meat. Grabbing a chunk, carrying it over to him where he whistled it to pieces using his Sound magic, then placing it onto the firepit, where his Lava was busy cooking things.

 

Of all the magic I’d ever seen, I’d never seen an instant-cook skill. I should totally try to find a Radiance chef with an instant-cook skill. It would probably be good for [Butterfly Mystic].

 

Kiyaya practically fell asleep in the fire, exhaustion laying her low. Her nose twitched furiously as she smelled the delicious cooking wafting her way. I figured I’d see if I could hit her with [Sunrise] when we were done.

 

Cordamo had a little spice shaker in his tail, and he flew back and forth, lightly dusting our dinner.

 

“Anything I can do to help?” I asked Serondes.

 

He looked at me, and my blasted stomach did a flip-flop that was entirely unrelated to the upcoming dinner.

 

“Can you pack up the table and chairs into the crate, then ask Awarthril to get them out here?” He asked, all while his magics kept working without pause. Impressive multi-tasking.

 

I headed over to the oversized cooled Lava walls, and slipped back into the main fort area. Trying to juggle the table and chairs while holding the egg was tricky. Lots of one-handed dragging occurred. I managed to pack up the chairs and the table into the Spatial Box, having figured out the trick of how to put them in just the right spot. I figured I’d try to bring it out myself, instead of bugging Awarthril. She’d had a tough day.

 

Keeping the egg in one hand, I grabbed the lip of the box and heaved, trying to drag it. I might as well have tried to haul the wall, for all the good that did me.

 

I put my hand on my hip and glared at the Box, my mind churning.

 

I snapped my fingers, and said to no one in particular “I’ve got it!” as I worked out the problem.

 

Spatial Box. Nothing about weight loss or reduction. It had a what, 60:1 ratio? So it was as heavy as 60ish crates together. I looked at my strength stat.

 

Yeeeeeeeeeeah I wasn’t moving that anytime soon. There was a reason Serondes had suggested I ask Awarthril for help.

 

“Hey Awarthril?” I approached her, seeing that she was now lying down a wide variety of fruits and vegetables onto the oversized grills, letting them soak up the fat dripping off the meat.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Can you move the crate out? I’ve packed it up.”

 

“Of course!” Awarthril blasted off, two gusts of wind heralding her leaving and coming back.

 

“Now, can you take out and lay the table please?” She placed the crate in front of me.

 

I did a quick count.

 

“Six? I don’t think Tyriss is joining us.” Hadn’t seen hide nor hoof of him since he’d left. Sure, there was always a chance he’d double back, but that’d be one heck of a coincidence.

 

“Let’s do seven. What if someone finds us, like you did? It’d only be polite to have a seat ready for them.”

 

Seven it was!

 

I reached into the crate, feeling around for the table and chairs. Taking stuff out was harder than putting it in, but after a few false starts, I got the hang of it and started pulling out the needed pieces.

 

I finished up just in time, Aegion slicing off and plating a few rare steaks. Awarthril and Serondes had moved onto making some drying racks for the hydra, to better preserve it for the road. I was a little wary of how well it’d work and how long we’d be here - drying that much meat would take forever - then Serondes used his Sand magic, wringing all the moisture out of the meat.

 

That… would work.

 

Aegion wandered into the fort, jumping onto the walls with one of his barrels.

 

“Don’t you dare!” I yelled at him, certain he could hear me from here. “Break out the good stuff! This isn’t the meal to be poisoning all of us and ruining the taste!”

 

Aegion jumped down from the wall, somehow keeping the open barrel perfectly stable as he landed.

 

“Relax! This is the good stuff! Come on, I’m not that mean.” He walked the barrel over to the table, sounding hurt. He grabbed a few mugs off the table, dipping them in one at a time to fill them up. He took a great big drink, then handed me mine.

 

I took a sip.

 

It was terrible.

 

I whirled my head so I wouldn’t hit the table, then sprayed it all over the ground, spitting a few times to get the taste out of my mouth.

 

“Fine. You got me. You win.” I said, dumping my mug right as Aegion dumped his. “Now, can we please have the good stuff?”

 

Aegion good-naturedly chuckled at his prank as he wandered over to the Box, reaching in and hauling out a silver embossed barrel with a tap on the end. As he poured out drinks for everyone - using fresh mugs, bless him - Serondes, Awarthril, and the companions joined us at the table.

 

“We feast!” Aegion called out as we all sat down. “To Awarthril, heroine of this trip! The unstoppable vanguard! The untouchable warrior! The one who chains and binds!”

 

The three elves moved to click their mugs together, and I hastily joined in. Awarthril took the next part.

 

“To Serondes, doing everything! The killer! The flier! The storm!” Awarthril toasted Serondes, and we all clicked our mugs together.

 

Serondes was up next, and I figured out how this went.

 

“To Kiyaya, voice of doom! She rips! She tears! Her howls echo throughout the world!”

 

We clicked our mugs as Kiyaya trotted over to one of the roasts, grabbing an obscene amount and dragging it back. She had a few mouthfuls, then started to “talk” in the doggish way, nuzzling Cordamo.

 

Awarthril was the only one who understood what she was saying, but she wasn’t translating. After a few warbling wolf-isms, Kiyaya stopped, and we all clicked our mugs together.

 

Cordamo flew over to me, and started hissing loudly, thumping his tail on my shoulder and blowing my hair around with his wings. He had quite a few things to say, out of which Aegion roared with laughter at one.

 

“Says you’re a comfortable resting spot.”

 

I rolled my eyes as I clinked my mugs with everyone else. “Comfortable resting spot” indeed. I hadn’t contributed that much else to the fight.

 

It was my turn, and it seemed like things had come full circle.

 

“To Aegion Longshot! Sniper extraordinaire! Brewer most awful! Something else should go here!” I finished, not having a good third thing to say. The elves laughed though, as we crashed our mugs together for the last time, the three elves throwing their drinks back.

 

In for a penny, in for a pound, and I joined them, praying that the stuff wasn’t as potent as the dwarven ale that had laid me low.

 

I did not want to make an embarrassed drunken mess of myself in front of any of the elves. Especially Serondes. Noooo.

 

The drink was smooth and rich, hitting all the right spots and sending a pleasant, non-inebriating buzz through my body.

 

“To the hydra! No more will you harm another soul! Well fought, and we are thankful for your presence gracing our table!” Awarthril used her empty mug to toast the parts of the hydra still cooking, and with that -

 

We tucked in.

 

Aegion was back to his small bites, while Serondes made a brief showing of eating properly. All that went out the window after the first round of hydra had been eaten, and he went back to the “grabbing a bite out of the choice pieces” method. Honestly, I found it a bit wasteful, but there was like 600 pounds of hydra and six stomachs. I wasn’t eating a hundred pounds of hydra.

 

Awarthril practically inhaled her food. She spent more time walking back and forth to the barbeque, piling her plate up, than sitting down and eating. I’m pretty sure the only reason she stuck around at the table, and didn’t, like, just start ripping the food off the pit into her mouth directly was it was the polite thing to do.

 

I was still stuck being one-handed, and I just leaned into it. Spear food with fork, take entire steak to mouth, munch around the fork as I worked my way down to the bone. Then the next one, grease getting all over my face and dribbling down my chin.

 

We didn’t talk much - we were too busy chowing down. The silence of good food, that was hard-fought for.

 

The sun set as we were eating. I had a good seat, and it didn’t get in my eyes. It did get into Aegion’s eyes though, and I suppressed a laugh.

 

“That was good.” Awarthril said, her stomach bulging alarmingly. I didn’t know it was physically possible to eat that much, but she’d done it.

 

I’d eaten my fair share, including some fruits that I didn’t recognize but were otherwise tasty. I wasn’t ravenous like Awarthril had been, given that I’d barely used any magic. I did feel like I needed to be rolled out of here with a barrel though.

 

“Yes.” I agreed, not feeling like saying much more. I cleaned my face with a napkin, degreasifying myself.

 

Food good.

 

“I’ma turn in.” Aegion got up, somehow steady in spite of drinking way too much of the good stuff. More blasted elf nonsense.

 

He picked up Cordamo, who’d gone entirely comatose from overeating, and smoothly walked over to Castle Too-Much-Effort.

 

Awarthril flopped into the grass, vanishing in the untamed wilds, and Kiyaya nuzzled up next to her. Serondes got a blanket out from the Spatial Box, and draped it over the two of them. Loud snoring echoed shortly after.

 

Flopping down sounded nice, and I did just that, looking up at the stars while the embers glowed red. Serondes joined me, lying down next to me and looking at the stars.

 

“The stars are almost as lovely in the sky as they are in your eyes.” Serondes outrageously flattered me. I mentally rolled my eyes at the over-the-top compliment, but it didn’t stop me from being secretly pleased deep inside.

 

I was still riding high off of the fight, the party, our success - everything. I thought back to what Awarthril had said - wow, was it really this morning?? - and decided, fuck it. Who’d want to date someone who couldn’t even talk to them properly? Serondes had just given me the best opening ever.

 

“Well, your eyes are like the hydras!” I cheerfully flirted back.

 

“I sure hope you don’t mean my eyes are dead and lifeless.” Serondes drily replied.

 

Wait.

Shit.

No.

 

“Buh, no!” I verbally backpedaled. “Like, your eyes are all shiny and Lava-y, and there’s lots of bubbly holes, and it kinda looks like a ton of eyes, like the hydra has - had - not that it matters - a ton of eyes. Pretty! Cute! I promise!”

 

Serondes chuckled at my blathering - hopefully amused. Undeterred, I plowed on. My stomach was twisting, my palms were sweaty, and I’d rather sneak through Lun’Kat’s lair again than open myself up like this.

 

But I’d never get anywhere in life on “what-if’s” and “maybe he’ll talk to me first.”

 

I could try to be somewhat subtle though.

 

“What are elf - and really, Immortal - relationships like? I can’t imagine they’re the same as mortal relationships.”

To the best of my knowledge, Night was a monk. If it wasn’t for Jaclyn, I’d wonder if vampires even…

 

Wait.

 

She wasn’t a good example. For all I know she was just trying to get some tasty healer bites in.

 

Serondes chuckled.

 

“You have no idea how true that is. Even among different mortal cultures, they all do different things. Some mate for life. Some just for offspring. The dragonlings have no real concept of a “relationship”, just good sex partners. As for Immortals? We all differ, as varied as the Immortal races.”

 

Yes, yes, that was very nice, but…

 

“What about elves?” I said, rolling over on the grass, onto my elbows, to see him better. “Do you have, like, an arranged marriage? Some fiancee waiting for you back home?”

 

I hadn’t heard one in his story, but then again, he hadn’t been able to give the whole story. Immortals had long, rich lives.

 

He smiled at me.

 

“Most Immortals follow the same pattern, although there are exceptions. Mortals who seize Immortality form the majority of these exceptions. Elves have it figured out though. After a period of getting to know each other, they make a commitment, a period of time to be devoted to each other. 100 years is considered short, 2000 is considered long. At the end, there’s an understanding that they will separate for some time, before deciding what to do next.”

 

He shrugged.

 

“That’s for the ones who want a short - or long - commitment. Others are free spirits, content to enjoy life.”

 

That answered the question, but didn’t answer the question!!!

 

I swear, he knew what I wanted and was enjoying tormenting me.

 

“Are you devoted to anyone?” I asked, mentally thinking about him and Awarthril. They had been bathing together at one point… but I hadn’t seen other interactions between them that suggested they were a couple.

 

But.

 

Naked.

 

Together.

 

Alone.

 

The formula was there.

 

He shook his head.

 

“I knew I’d be going out, and quite frankly, we’re all young. We wanted to see the world first, before thinking of such a thing.”

 

Ok. Seemed to be available. Seemed to be interested. We were already on the topic.

 

Nothing for it. Time to be bold! Time to be Healer Elaine at her very best!

 

We were already close.

 

I reshuffled myself so I was supported by my knees, the omnipresent egg in one hand. I leaned over, grabbing his short pointy horn with one hand, and kissed him.

 

His arms wrapped around me, as he pulled me in and kissed me back.

 

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 20]

[Mana: 412740/412740]

[Mana Regen: 275034 (+356755.875)]

Stats

[Free Stats: 91]

[Strength: 941]

[Dexterity: 1468]

[Vitality: 11166]

[Speed: 11166]

[Mana: 41274]

[Mana Regeneration: 41363 (+35675.5875)]

[Magic Power: 18178 (+340837.5)]

[Magic Control: 18178 (+340837.5)]

[Class 1: [The Dawn Sentinel - Celestial: Lv 420]]

[Celestial Affinity: 420]

[Cosmic Presence: 286]

[The Stars Never Fade: 1]

[Center of the Universe: 420]

[Dance with the Heavens: 420]

[Wheel of Sun and Moon: 420]

[Mantle of the Stars: 420]

[Sunrise: 344]

[Class 2: [Butterfly Mystic - Radiance: Lv 345]]

[Radiance Affinity: 345]

[Radiance Resistance: 345]

[Radiance Conjuration: 345]

[Solar Flare: 1]

[Nectar: 345]

[Sun's Heart: 345]

[Scintillating Ascent: 313]

[Kaleidoscope: 345]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Long-Range Identify: 370]

[Pristine Memories: 217]

[Egg Incubation: 44]

[Bullet Time: 420]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 375]

[Sentinel's Superiority: 395]

[Persistent Casting: 291]

[Passionate Learning: 377]

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Selkie

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