“Hey Serondes?” I asked as we were walking through the woods, back to Aegion and his growing pile of food.


“Yeah?” He replied, as I slipped my hand out from his.


“Piggyback ride!” I cried out, jumping onto his back, then clambering into position.


“OOf - what? Oh fine.” He said, as I got one arm wrapped around his neck, one hand gripping his horn.


What else were they for, if not for great head handholds? And this was nice. Intimate, without any undertones.


Plus, going downhill was a lot easier than going up.


We leisurely strolled back to our staging area, where Aegion was standing next to a variety of woodland animals. Mostly small, boring herbivores of the dinosaur and mammal variety. Still! They were all going to be tasty, yummy yummy in my tummy.


“We brought the fruits!” I cheered from behind Serondes’s head.


“Great! Can you put them there, and Serondes, can you start cooking? Hoping to slow cook the entire lot, give the trolls something they haven’t tasted before.” Aegion gestured to a spot. I slid off of Serondes’s back as he put the baskets down.


“Work work work.” He muttered, as I kissed his cheek.


“Hey, let me do some of the cooking!” My motives were entirely selfish. I wanted to sear my piece juuuuust so.


“Eh, sure, grab the…” Aegion gestured to a small dinosaur that Kiyaya had clearly brought back. Kiyaya was a firm believer in either government taxation, in middlemen, or that the transporter deserved a cut. Either way, apart from the massive holes where Aegion’s arrows had half-blown the poor dinosaur in half, there were large wolfy bite marks all over. The choicest parts gone.


Happily, Kiyaya’s idea of the best pieces and mine were different.


Serondes glanced at what I was going to cook, and with a few sharp whistles, sliced the entire thing apart. No deboning for me! No digging out entrails! Just easy peasy cook mode!


“Thanks! You’re… the best!” I gave him another kiss, then skipped over to my portion of the cooking.


I noticed a hair too late that Aegion had hijacked all the fruit - he had asked for them anyways, but half got dumped into the large pit Serondes was making, while the rest vanished into a barrel that was already belching purple smoke.


I stayed upwind of whatever terrible brew Aegion was working up this time. For novelties sake, I grabbed some rocks, and cleared out a circle for a firepit.


“Why didn’t you ask me to make that for you?” Serondes asked, sounding a bit hurt, practically appearing outta nowhere. I jumped.


“Ack! Thought you were busy.” I said. He swept me in his arms for another kiss, which I greedily reciprocated.


“Tell me if you need anything.” He said, his hands doing a bit of wandering down my back.


“Oh, I will.” I tried to purr it back, to sound all suave, and, well…


Lemme just say it didn’t work. Serondes went back over to deal with the large pit he was handling, as Awarthril came back with another poor sniped animal.


Honestly, I was starting to feel bad for the animals.


“Aegion! This place is a mess!” She scolded him, sweeping a critical eye over the haphazard operation he was overseeing. “I already told you to clean it up once, and, tsk.” She finished, bustling around and getting things swept up.


“Also, if nobody objects, I think we should switch to a night-day cycle. Be nice to chat with the trolls, instead of one of us always sleeping.” Awarthril was happily chatting away. “We so rarely get to talk with one of our kin like this, and it’d be a shame to just snooze the time away.”


“I agree!” I chimed in, for totally different reasons. I didn’t want the trolls thinking that Elaine was on the menu, and taking a bite while I was sleeping. Awarthril was still going round, cleaning up, and with some minor Awarthril-induced guilt, I looked at my campfire area. I had some scraps here and there, which I’d normally not think twice about...


I used some short bursts of high-powered Radiance to remove the evidence of the mess where I was cooking.


“Honestly.” She tutted at Aegion. “We’re guests here! We can’t be leaving a mess, and we need to leave a good impression on them.”


She wandered over to my much tidier, much smaller little fire. Evidence removed! Well, mostly. I quickly scuffed over some burn marks in the dirt with more dirt, doing the camping equivalent of shoving it under my bed.


“Looks tasty! Good job keeping it clean over here. Much better than the boys.”


I had no idea what to say to that, so I changed the subject.


“Hey! Anyone ready for another story?” I asked.


“Yeah!” Aegion’s voice echoed weirdly, and I looked over to see the elf head-first in one of his endless barrels.


“I’d love a story.” Serondes’s musical voice floated over. I spent a moment looking at him, dozens of small skills - like his mage’s hand made of sand, hey that rhymed! - zipping around, all for the mundane task of cooking.


In my moment of distraction, Cordamo struck, diving down into my campfire and stealing half of my dinner.


“Cordamo!” I shouted, taking flight and chasing after him. “No! Bad couatl! That’s mine!”


Kiyaya didn’t help matters by rolling over and laughing from the ground, as Cordamo furiously flapped away from me. With the way his head was jerking, he was chowing down as fast as he could, eating the evidence of his crimes.


A pair of hands, large enough to belong to a giant but made out of Sand, erupted from the ground, seizing Cordamo, bringing him down to Serondes who was glaring at the poor beast.


With one last huge swallow, the evidence of his crimes vanished down his greedy throat.


It was with murder in my mind that I started telling stories as night started to fall. I was aware that the trolls would show up soonish, but eh. Until then, it was story time.


“Let me tell you all the tale of the serpent Python and the god Apollo…” I started, thinking of the first tale I knew where the snake died.


That was the theme for the evening. Apollo slaying Python. St. Patrick and the snakes. Thor versus Jormungand - slightly edited. Perseus and Medusa.


With pointed glares I told the story, and Cordamo seemed to have gotten the message. Steal my roast, get roasted in the stories.


The trolls were out and about though, and a few passed by our campsite, giving us uneasy looks. Awarthril just snarled at them - somehow, in a friendly way - and they mostly passed.


A couple of maskless trolls hung out near the edges of our campground, grunting and snarling to each other. Most of them were wearing loincloths, and I wish I could say it was all of them. I watched them warily, as they were eyeing us. The maskless trolls were, as a rule, all smaller and lower level, which made me think they were young.


Young, and stupid. Not a great combination.


Awarthril snarled and grunted at them, and beckoned them over. With a few sniffs, and some quick talk among each other, the trolls cautiously, then with increasing boldness, wandered over.


They were sniffing around our cooking, and Awarthril generously gave them a rack of ribs to split, while Serondes and I were cuddling. Aegion was running around - once with his hair literally on fire, but generally normal busybodyness.


The young trolls happily tore into our offering, and through the trees, I saw the occasional flash of white, another older, meaner troll keeping a wary eye on the young ones.


One of the trolls, emboldened by our generosity, reached into the fire pits to grab another slice for himself. Awarthril yelled at him, and he yelled back, the two of them arguing in trollish. Some of the other young ones piled in, and I got the general gist of it from the body language displayed.


In short, they felt entitled to more. Their reasoning was obtuse, but “dumb entitled kid” was a truism the world around.


Awarthril was holding firm though, and the caretaker trolls was just watching from the dark woods, the lines on his mask starting to glow.


The trolls tried to just grab the juicy stuff from the pit anyways, and Awarthril summoned dozens of chains, blocking off access.


“Serondes?” She called out sweetly, in the “you better do something now.” voice. Serondes gave me a quick squeeze, then Lava flowed out in a narrow trickle, expanding and completely covering up the food, to better slow cook it without greedy little troll hands dipping in.


The trolls sulked off, kicked the ground and generally acting like rowdy, disappointed teenagers with no respect for other people’s property. Growth spurts and teenage years made barbarians out of perfectly reasonable, civilized people. I had no illusions that in a tribal, barbaric society that it’d pull a reverse, and make civilized people out of brutes. It’d just make their risk-reward analysis even worse.


One of them started rifling through the discarded parts pile, just carelessly throwing parts all over the campsite.


“Come on! We had that all clean!” I protested, not caring that there was no way the troll would understand me. He looked at me, blew a raspberry, then carried on, throwing a cracked hoof my way.


[Mantle] flickered and stopped it, and I felt a hair smug as I beat Serondes’s shield. Go go instant shields! I could feel his grip on me becoming tighter, as he got a little pissed on my behalf.


Or maybe it was just on his behalf. We were cuddling, it was aimed just as much at him as it was at me.


With a triumphant squeak that tried to be a roar, the troll grabbed a boar’s head, raising it above his head. The other trolls crowded around, pushing and shoving, throwing crazy shadows in the poor light.


However, something pissed off the caretaker troll, and it stomped in with a roar. We all got to our feet, Serondes pushing me behind him, but we weren’t the target of his ire.


No, it was the troll holding up the questionable trophy that was the focus of his wrath. He stormed over, the other trolls scattering before him, and with a snarl, he smacked the other troll so hard that he flew into a tree, a sickening crack as the troll broke dozens of bones.


Then I was off, jumping over a fire, running over to the troll, hoping I’d get there before…


Well, shit.


I felt all sorts of dumb.


With a grumble and more cracks, the troll’s bones all reformed, and with a series of grumbles, the troll just got back up. With an evil look towards us, he and his fellow teenager trolls stalked off into the night. With one last look at us, the caretaker troll followed.


“Well then.”



We stayed up for the entire night, watching the trolls. I claimed a nice spot in Serondes’s lap, and with all the energy of a new couple, we were able to keep ourselves well entertained. To Aegion’s disgusted noises.


After one bout of kissing, followed by fake retching noises from Aegion, I’d had enough.


“Your actions make me want to retch as well.” I pointed to the barrels. Aegion mimed taking an arrow to the heart and falling over.


“Ack! Awarthril! Save me, our little Attained Immortal has barbs!” He called out, lying in the dirt. Awarthril probably just rolled her eyes - I had no idea, I was busy looking at Serondes’s.


“You totally deserved that.” She said, staying out of it.


Aegion, at the very least, was something of a good sport about things, and left us well enough alone. I considered asking Serondes for more magic lessons, but…


Kissing and touching was just far too much fun at the moment. From what I’d seen and heard, this phase would pass, the frantic energy and enjoyment of each other was just a passing phase. Magic could wait for another day, I had unlimited new days.


This? This was for but a moment, a brief flash in the pan, as I felt my connection with Serondes growing deeper by the day.


Before light even touched the horizon, a long, low hornblast blasted out from the direction of the troll’s cave. We saw flashes of trolls bounding through the forest, some with game, some without, as they tried to make it back to the cave before the first light of day.


The horn stopped before dawn broke, and we retired at the same time.


“Hey, scoot over.” I nudged Serondes as I crawled into the same hut as him. I had asked earlier, and, well, I was ready to take the next step.


Sleeping together!


A lack of proper sleeping clothes was a pain, but bless Mistweave for being easy to work with. As Serondes shifted over, I took off the basket made out of woven glass, carefully lifting the egg up and readjusting its temperature, then re-tying it off with [Persistent Casting].


Serondes seemed to have some ideas in mind, transmitted by his eyes and the way he was looking at me, but I was tired. I just wanted some cuddles and sleep, preferably being cuddled to sleep.


We shifted and turned, and I found myself staring into Serondes’s magical eyes, our noses touching. His hand rubbing up and down my side.


“Good night - err- morning Serondes.” I said, trying to put the emotions and words that were so hard to properly hammer out into my tone, conveying affection in my tone.


“Good night Elaine.” His voice was magically musical as always, and he closed his eyes and went to sleep.


Awww. Happy feelings welled up inside of me, as I tried to fall asleep, our noses practically touching, my arms around Serondes. It’d be so romantic! Holding the egg in the hand that was over Serondes was a bit weird… but I’d make it work. I hoped. The whole romantic aspect was slightly dampened by the fact that Serondes wasn’t holding me back, buuuutt… eh. I’d live. Maybe tomorrow night?


Except for his hot breaths, breathing out stale air right into the space I wanted to breathe in. And my arm rapidly getting numb and tingly. I tried to gracefully extract it, but there was no easy way without disturbing Serondes. After what must’ve been ten minutes or so of staring at him, and trying to get comfortable enough to sleep while also getting a good look, I resigned myself to turning over and sleeping.


The idea of two people sleeping, practically kissing in their sleep was super romantic.


The practical execution? Just didn’t work.




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