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A note from Selkie

Are you missing Night? Do you shy away from the daystar? Is blood your favorite drink?

Then read Journey of Black and Red!

https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/26675/a-journey-of-black-and-red

It has an audiobook out recently!

Serondes and I spent three days, ah, decompressing, getting a little more comfortable with each other.

 

Doing things like working on my magic!

 

“At this point, you should be able to reheat rock until it turns back into lava.” Serondes said on the afternoon of the last day before we were going to leave. We were busy cuddling inside Castle How-Did-You-Make-So-Much-Lava, ignoring the potentially poisonous fumes coming from Aegion’s workspace.

 

I looked up at him, from my place curled up on his lap, arms around his neck.

 

“Oh?” I asked, somewhat surprised. He gave me a quick kiss before resuming.

 

“Rock is often just hardened lava that has cooled off. By heating it back up, you turn it back into lava. Could be useful to you in a pinch, and any Earth mage would lose control over the liquified rock. Unless they’re specialized.” Serondes hedged.

 

That made some sense. I was pretty sure there were rocks besides igneous rocks that might not melt under heat. Then again, I wasn’t the Lava mage, so what did I know?

 

“Got anything for me to practice on?” I asked.

 

Serondes gave me an “are you serious” look, then smiled and gestured around. To the walls of the castle.

 

I gave him my best Look.

 

“You’re just trying to get me to demolish the castle for you.” I accused. He laughed, his magical, musical voice tinkling like glass windchimes.

 

“Naturally! At the same time, there’s no way you can bring it down fast enough, so I’ll need to help.” Serondes stood up, while I firmly clung to him like a barnacle.

 

I glanced down, making sure the egg was well-secured. Were the golden lines starting to glow a bit?

 

I wriggled my way out of Serondes’s grasp, planting my feet on the ground and looking up at the walls, doing some thinking.

 

If I wanted to punch right through the walls, I’d focus everything on a narrow beam. That would drill through the quickest.

 

However, if I did that, then tried to sweep it to “cut” through the wall? It’d just cool and resolidify back into rock behind me. A plane - or a cone - was the best way of handling this.

 

I walked up to a more or less random part of the wall, and started burning a ring into the wall, focusing on heat and destruction.

 

[*ding!* [Solar Flare] has leveled up! 1->2]

[*ding!* [Solar Flare] has leveled up! 2->3]

 

I turned the notifications off before they could get too annoying. Serondes wrapped his arms around me, resting his chin on the top of my head. Quite distracting.

 

I focused and burned, and burned, and only when a slow leak of molten rock trickled out of the bottom of the circle, the edges of the ring glowing hot, did I realized my dumb mistake.

 

“I’ve got no way of getting the lava out once I melt it.” I groaned to myself. I figured I’d ask the expert. “How do I get the rocks out once I melt them?”

 

I could feel Serondes shrug, his solid arms half-lifting me up with his movement.

 

“Just wait for them to drain out. It’ll be a slow process.” He said.

 

Well, screw that. It’d probably just re-harden back behind it. Looked like I wasn’t going to be melting through stone anytime soon, as neat of an idea as it was.

 

It was good to have the knowledge that I could do it, tucked away in the back of my mind.

 

“We just need to demolish the place, right?” I asked, getting an idea.

 

“Well, yeah.” Serondes was like an innocent lamb.

 

“Great!”

 

I went a little nuts. [Kaleidoscope] and Radiance beams went everywhere, and for eight glorious seconds I unleashed the full destructive force I had at my fingertips onto the poor innocent walls.

 

[*ding!* [Solar Flare] has leveled up! 3->26]

 

That was more like it!

 

Aegion came tearing out of his room, sword on his belt, bow and arrow ready.

 

“Where’s the attack!? What is it?! Is everyone ok?!” He called out, as Cordamo flew up into the air like a shot.

 

I bent over in half laughing.

“Yeah, we’re... We’re fine, just… redecorating... A bit.” I gasped out through peals of laughter.

 

Aegion eyed all the various pockmarks and Lava smearing down the wall, rapidly rehardening. He rolled his eyes, and put his weapons away.

 

“Right. Enjoy yourselves.” He walked back to his brewery. I realised that if his fumes were explosive, that could have gone badly.

 

I looked at the walls.

 

Maybe if the fumes had been explosive, I could’ve done some real damage. The wide-ranging attacks I’d launched, and the basically non-existent damage on the walls was a good reminder that Radiance liked to be compressed and focused into a small point or line, and not some big splashy thing.

 

I glanced at Serondes, who was looking at me.

 

“Wanna do something fun with me?” He shamelessly flirted.

 

I showed him that, yes, I did.

 


 

We - and by we, I mean Serondes, while I mostly cheered him on - demolished the castle over the rest of the afternoon and evening, practicing the art of leaving no traces - and not having a ticking time bomb of any sort hanging around for some poor soul to find. It’d be all too easy to imagine someone coming along, setting up home, then the walls falling on them one day as the material decayed away.

 

We got up bright and early, and kept on traveling. The three elves seemed even more determined to tell me things than before, and a week later I was up to my ears in yet another lesson.

 

“Every Immortal has a curse.” Aegion was telling me, as I walked hand-in-hand with Serondes through the vast fields. There was a forest coming up, and a few randomly scattered mountains, but for now - ferns and grass. “The curse is the same for all Natural Immortals of the same species. For example, all liches share the same curse.”

 

My ears perked up at that. There were liches?! Masters of undeath, who could only be killed by destroying their phylactery? I had to know more… although the lack of shambling zombie armies seemed to imply none were nearby.

 

Actually - of all the things I’d seen, I’d never seen zombies, and I would’ve expected to at least see some in Remus. Weird. Out of all the fantastical creatures in existence that the gods had happily plagiarized, were zombies the only ones that got skipped?

 

Or was there something more to it? Was -

 

Focus on the important Immortality lesson!! My musings had also killed my chance to ask about liches. Damnit!

 

“While those who have attained Immortality,” He gestured at me, giving a sign of respect. “Generally get custom curses. I will say, I’ve never met someone with an active Immortality skill who hasn’t used it, but hey, I learn something new every day. Candy?” He offered, holding his hand out while seamlessly transitioning from one thought to the next.

 

I accepted the hard ball of sweet deliciousness he called candy. As terrible as his brewing was, his little sweets were delectable.

 

“Right, curses.” He got back on track. “Curses are an Immortal’s biggest weakness. They range from benign to downright lethal. Liches probably have it the worst.” Aegion finished up, as Awarthril smoothly stepped in.

 

“Pine trees over there! They’re super cool, they stay green all year long. Their sap is a pain to deal with though.”

 

Awarthril kept lecturing about pine trees, which I was all too familiar with. I wasn’t going to interrupt though - it’d be rude, and maybe she knew something I didn’t.

 

“... and the resin is interesting though. Wood, Forest, Ooze, and, of all things, Decay can handle the stuff or be affiliated with it.”

 

See! Knowledge! No [Passionate Learning] levels though. Ah well, they were slowly trickling in anyways.

 

“Liches can’t make more of themselves.” Aegion started back up from where he’d been interrupted. “Every lich that exists was made during creation. At the same time, they’re nearly indestructible.”

 

The topic was interesting enough that Awarthril decided to butt in.

 

“You’re going to get cursed one way or another. You should consider just getting it done and over with.”

 

“Nah, that’s silly.” Serondes dismissed. “Enjoy life as much as you can. Enjoy the sun. Enjoy food. Enjoy being able to cross running water. Enjoy seeing things, feeling, hearing. Drinking. Warmth. Curses come in all shapes and sizes, and you never know if you’ll catch White Dove on a bad day.”

 

“Yeah, rumors have it that being nice and polite to White Dove when she comes calling helps.” Aegion added in.

 

“No, they say that being rude hurts.” Awarthril retorted.

 

“Same difference.” Aegion muttered, clearly unwilling to argue it further.

 

Be nice to the Grim Reaper. Got it. I didn’t think that was ever a question, but maybe I could get some birdseed or something? Hopefully it wouldn’t be pissed at all the times I’d dodged it, or yanked people out of its grip, or…

 

Shiiiiiiiiiiit I’d probably pissed off Black Crow something fierce already.

 

Which brought me to the next logical question.

 

“What’s the elf curse?”

 

The three elves stopped walking, going very still. They all traded looks with each other.

 

“I can’t tell you.” Serondes finally answered.

 

“It’s taboo.” Aegion added in.

 

“Any elf let slip what our curse is? The Wardens move in, kill everyone who spilled the secret, the people it was told to, and anyone who could’ve remotely heard it.” Awarthril added in. “They do so in a very public manner. Don’t ask. Don’t even think about asking. And don’t say you ever did ask.”

 

I shut up. Message received, mood killed. Serondes and I stopped holding hands.

 

We walked in silence, the elves not even bothering with their lessons, as we entered the forest.

 

It was an old pine forest, large trees rising into the sky, coating the world in dark green light. Old pine needles crunched under our feet as we walked along. Cordamo flew off to explore, and Kiyaya, fur regrowing, oblivious to the mood, had fun rolling in piles of pine needles, horrifying Awarthril.

 

After some time, Aegion pointed off to the right.

 

“Cordamo’s found something interesting. Let’s go see?” He suggested, turning and heading off that way without waiting for our response.

 

The rest of us glanced at each other, shrugged, and followed Aegion. What else were we doing? I mean, sure, I wanted to get back home, but we were going roughly in the right direction anyways.

 

A bit of walking later, and we made it to a clearing. An old ring of stones, a campfire long cold was in the middle. Three ugly as sin statues, of large, humanoid creatures with hideous features and tusks were around the fire, in various poses of shielding themselves, looks of agony on their face. Someone had dressed the statues in frayed, rotting clothes. A tiny skeletal figure was in rusted chains between two of the trolls, time stripping away the flesh but somehow the skeleton itself remained.

 

“Well.” Awarthril said, putting her free hand on her hip. “Speaking of curses. Trolls here have a nasty one. Turn to stone in the sunlight. An ironic curse, given their strong Light affinity.”

 

I eyed the scene again, the statues taking on new meaning. Some clever creature had been captured by the trolls, and managed to keep them talking until sunrise. Said clever creature wasn’t clever or strong enough to break the chains though, and had joined his or her captors in death.

 

“Think there’s a settlement nearby?” Aegion asked, pacing around.

 

“Should be. Want to say hi?” Serondes squatted down near one of the trolls, intently looking at something on it.

 

“Um. Is that… wise?” I ventured.

 

“Hmm? Oh yeah, trolls are fine. Bit grumpy during the day.” Aegion chuckled weakly at his own joke.

 

“Could even say they’re lifeless.” Serondes added.

 

Awarthril punched him in the arm for that. The crack let me know I needed to work my magic on Serondes. Again.

 

The elves spent some more time poking around, and I did some of my own.

 

Old statues. That’s what I was getting out of this.

 

We trudged on, and hit a large clearing before the lonely mountain that was just kinda hanging out.

 

I was split on whether the solitary mountain was a whim of the gods creating the world, or a powerful Classer deciding that, yes, right here was just perfect for a mountain.

 

In the clearing were dozens upon dozens of statues of the same ugly creatures.

 

The one that immediately caught my eye was front and center, posed heroically. Defiantly. A deliberate act, facing the sun and turning himself into stone for eternity.

 

Others tried to mimic the pose, or do similar things. One was holding a rusted sword high, another had two rotted clubs. All seemed to want to show off, to prove how cool they were forever more.

 

Some just looked tired. Old, tired, weary. Done with life, finding a final end in the harsh rays of dawn. A burden, lifted from their shoulders.

 

One of the statues just looked like a sleeping figure. A deliberate statement? An absent-minded accident? A cruel joke? A successful murder attempt?

 

Quite a few of the statues were frozen in running poses, when they hadn’t fallen over and broken. Trolls who had stayed out too late, and were caught by the sun, instantly turning to stone mid-stride. Most had been laid flat on the ground, cracked into many pieces as their leg never caught their final stride. A few lucky ones were still upright.

 

One broke my heart. A troll, curled up protectively, making a shield with her body. A tiny stone face, peeking out from an arm. A mother’s final act of sacrifice, of protection, rendered moot by a child’s inability to understand the dangers of the sun, and why mom wasn’t moving anymore.

 

One area seemed to be set up as an altar, with a number of trolls in fresh-looking robes preserved forever, the height of some ceremony captured for all who passed by.

 

Here and there were stone feet, the trolls for whatever reason deciding some petrified brother or sister of theirs no longer worthy to be part of the gallery.

 

One troll had his pants around his ankles, clearly in the middle of relieving himself when he got turned to stone. The statue looked fresh, and I had to wonder - drunk, or one last defiance?

 

Then we were at the yawning mouth of a large cave, and Awarthril called in a language I didn’t understand. Grunts and snarls came out of her mouth rapid-fire, echoing down the cave.

 

We waited a few moments, then a different set - I assumed - of grunts and snarls came back, and Awarthril’s face lit up.

 

“Oh good! They’d love to have us for dinner!”

 

“Uh, wait, what?!” I said, my words falling on deaf ears as the elves and their companions happily entered the cave.

 

Well. Time to meet trolls, I guess.

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Selkie

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