Misadventures Incorporated

by

Spicy Space Squid

Chapter 42 - Close Encounters of the Barely Intelligible

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Chapter 42 - Close Encounters of the Barely Intelligible

A conspicuously large bush three times the height of every other shrub tiptoed its way over to the edge of the world. It—she—approached the horn laterally, skirting the line where everything but the stony structure ceased to exist.

Casting her gaze into the void nearly put a smile on her face. It reminded her of home, of the countless times her mother had rebuked her for getting too close to the manor’s edge, and of the way it felt for the wind to lift her hair while her legs dangled above the cloudy skies. But at the same time, it was wrong. The backdrop was too empty. There was nothing, no matter where she looked. No mountain ranges, no oceans, and no faraway cities could be seen on the horizon, regardless of how hard she squinted. She couldn’t even find the sun, despite its rays falling directly upon her face. It was almost like every direction was up, like Borrok Peak and Mirewood Marsh were the only two places in the whole wide world.

What happens if I fall?

Making a mental note of the idea, she snuck her way over to the horn’s only entrance and drew one of her antlers. For the next few minutes, she did nothing but sit still. Her heart would skip a beat every single time the patrols reached her, but she soon concluded that her concerns were needless. Not a single one of the dimwitted creatures was able to see through her disguise.

Log Entry 873
Sneaking has reached level 10.

She waited until the upside down patrol was on the far side of the rusted stone structure, striking only once she was sure all the borroks had their eyes turned away. The halfbreed paralyzed one of the bug-monkeys patrolling the forest floor and reeled it in with her magic. She held its mouth shut and jabbed her blade into its throat while its nerves were still numb. Twisting the bone to and fro, she wrecked the creature’s vocal chords and silenced it before its voice could reach its allies. Once she was sure the borrok was mute, she moved her blade from its neck into its carapace, destroyed its wings, and tossed it over the edge.

The cat-monkey tried its hardest to surmount the forces of gravity, but it was unable to regain any of the height it lost, no matter how wildly it flailed its limbs. It shrunk rapidly, remaining visible only because it was the sole speck of black in a sea of blues and whites.

Another colour was added to the mix right as Claire was about to turn away. There was a faint flash of red, with the darkened insect as its origin. And then, nothing. Both the foreign hues were removed, purged from the freshly cleaned canvas.

Log Entry 874
You have slain a level 21 borrok.

Log Entry 875
You have leveled up. Your health and mana have been restored and all harmful status effects have been cleansed.

Your primary class, Llystletein Rogue, has reached level 35.

You have gained 2 ability points.

Her ears fluttered in shock as a small smile crossed her lips. The sky wasn’t just an infinite expanse filled with clouds and air. It was a death pit, a death pit that the murder-happy halfbreed could easily use to her advantage.

___

Claire was worried that the borroks would catch on if she continued to trim down their numbers, but repeating the process proved that her concern was, once again, wasted. Two hours and eight fatalities later, the forest floor was clear, completely deprived of all wandering guards. Not even the gilded borrok, which had turned out to be nothing more than an older, higher leveled individual, had put up much of a fight. Like all of the others, it had been dispatched in a matter of moments and cast into the void.

The guards charged with protecting the doorway were more difficult to remove. Tossing them overboard wasn’t an option. They were too far from the abyss; they were sure to regain control before she could punt them over the edge. Not that she had to. Changing her approach provided the halfbreed with a perfect solution. She threw a rock at a nearby tree and snuck past them while their attention was directed elsewhere.

From the outside, the interior had appeared bland and boring, a plain, dark cave etched into the side of the horn-like mountain. But everything changed as she stepped through its mouth. The world began to distort the exact same way it had when she first approached the high security area. Walking into the light at the end of the tunnel revealed an environment far larger than any the iron spiral could have possibly contained.

Biting winter winds assailed her as she gazed upon a white mountain. A distant snowy peak glimmered off in the distance, beneath the light of a crescent moon. Evergreen pines could be seen growing in patches, sparser in some places and denser in others. Countless stars shone upon the landscape, dotting the night with distant clouds of purple and blue. A particularly bright line of heavenly bodies formed a trail in the sky, stretching from one distant horizon to the next.

Shivers ran down Claire’s spine as she pulled her ears inside her cloak and brought her arms to her shoulders. Her mantle wasn’t thick enough to keep out the cold. While the stains that covered it didn’t immediately freeze, it would only be a matter of time before the bloodsoaked garment was transformed into a sheet of ice. Worse yet was the halfbreed’s newfound lack of motivation. Waves of lethargy hit her one after another, urging her to build a fort out of blankets and sleep her way through the winter. The mountain’s size was just as discouraging as her physiology. It looked too tall for her to climb in a week—if she was going to be able to climb it at all.

There was no telling where her targets were. She didn’t even know how the sentinel and lifegiver were supposed to be any different from all the other borroks. The best choice at hand was to kill all the unique looking enemies she happened to come across. An untenable approach at best.

Are they important? Will they come out if I make enough trouble?

The approach hadn’t exactly worked when she tried it with the veabers, but the halfbreed was convinced that all would be fine so long as the borroks didn’t also ignore the knives she stuck in their faces.

Stupid veabers…

Still grumbling about an event that had clearly never happened, Claire turned around to check the doorway she had come through.

Only to find it missing.

The space behind her was empty. The ground suddenly ended, much like it had outside.

“I can’t leave?”

Another groan escaped her as she turned back around and started to make her way up the mountain. Unlike the horn, the oversized hill was fully formed right off the bat. Random bits and pieces didn’t suddenly get added to it, and it didn’t grow as she climbed its slope. But that was the only aspect that even came close to appreciable.

Her toes were practically frozen by the time she made it to the first tree. Snow was getting underneath her scales and her lungs were screaming in agony. They were ill suited to the cold mountain air. She wanted to breathe deeply to accommodate the surprisingly strenuous effort that was wading through the knee-deep banks, but slow shallow breaths were the only ones that didn’t hurt.

Leaning against a pine, she cupped both hands around her mouth and looked around for anything that could help her warm up. And found nothing. The only animals nearby were squirrels and small birds. None of them had pelts thick enough to keep her warm.

I really wish I knew fire magic.

The trees were the only potential source of heat she could find, but processing them was outside her realm of expertise. Keeping an eye out, however, did eventually lead to a clue. Three and a half breaks later, she came across two sets of hoofprints, the same tracks that she had seen in the marsh. Following the trail, Claire tried to minimize the amount of stamina she needed to expend by placing her feet within the indents left by the centaurs, but soon found it not worth the effort. Hopping between the holes took more energy than pushing her way through the cold silvery blanket.

She found several small groups of borroks moving through the mountains, but she avoided every encounter, veering off course if necessary; the rogue wasn’t looking to pick any fights while she was still unadjusted to the cold. Another few dozen minutes of walking led her to a more gentle slope with a series of caverns adorning the cliff face that lay beside them. The hoofprints steered away from the caves, but Claire found herself doing the exact opposite. One of them had caught her attention, its interior illuminated by a flickering orange glow.

A source of heat.

She approached it cautiously, hugging the wall as she snuck up on the humanoid shadow projecting onto the snow that decorated its entrance. Peering inside, she spotted a being made almost entirely of fur. Its colouring was not too different from hers, white with a tinge of blue. But that was where their similarities ended.

Unlike the halfbreed, the giant wasn’t shivering in its nonexistent boots. She couldn’t see its face underneath its silvery coat, but she doubted that it was any different from its hands, both of which were fully encased in fur. Even its palms were invisible.

Claire gulped as she reached for her mace. She didn’t know what it was, but she knew it was the solution she needed. Its skin would serve to protect her from the harsh winter winds. But she didn’t get the chance to strike. It turned around as she neared it and revealed that its face was everything she had expected. The only feature she could make out was a single colossal eye as wide as her forearm was long.

“You, visitor? Visitor, sit.” The cyclops grunted as it gestured towards an icy bench by the fire. It spoke Marish, the common tongue, but its accent was thick and difficult to understand.

She hesitated. Her heart was still pounding from the would-be assassination attempt and she had many a doubt as to whether approaching the round-eye was safe. But after a moment of silence, she pulled her hand away from her weapon and moved towards the flame.

Looking around the firelit cave provided the impression that it was the hairy man’s home. Several pieces of furniture, chairs, benches, and tables, were strewn throughout. Their designs were haphazard, but one thing was constant. They were all made of ice. There were a few furs present as well, stashed away in one of the far off corners. The firepit that was at the centre of the room was stacked with fresh wood, and a whole tree was positioned beside it. There was even a pot, filled with a murky red liquid. A bone in the shape of a large horse-like skull poked out from within. An ill omen, to say the least.

With a gulp, Claire took the seat she had been pointed to and looked up at the towering yeti. It was almost exactly double her height, a little more if the crystalline horn sticking out of its forehead was to be considered.

She could feel her feet thawing as the flames tickled her toes and breathed life back into her flesh, but she was still uncomfortable. The giant loomed right over her like a watchful hound. She nearly jumped out of her skin when it raised one of its hands and cast a spell. If his hand had drawn any closer, the rogue would have drawn her dagger and attacked.

The tension drained from her as the yeti completed its spell, forming a bowl atop its furry paw. The icy frame almost looked to be made of glass, with the cold air it radiated the only testament to its material.

“Visitor, eat?”

The cyclops dipped the bowl inside its pot and presented it to her. The retching scent that spewed from the vessel directed her attention towards the single large eye that lay within, the eye that looked suspiciously similar to the furry creature’s.

Against her own better judgement, the halfbreed refused, shaking her head as calmly as she could. She knew it was risky. Among some of the less developed but supposedly intelligent races, like the lizardmen of Tal’Ihir, refusing kindness was no different from declaring open hostilities. But much to Claire’s relief, the bear-like humanoid did not subscribe to that particular philosophy. It spent a moment eyeing her suspiciously, but soon relented and returned the stew to the pot, bowl and all.

“Me, hunter. What, you?”

“I’m just passing through.”

“Pass, here? Mountain, nothing. Borrok, only.”

It snorted as it leaned forward and set its arms down on its legs.

“I’m here for the borroks.”

“Okay. Visitor, borrok, kill. Visitor, friend.”

The one-eyed beast smiled with its eyelids; both the top and bottom ones came together to form an upwards curve shaped like a short stout U. Claire didn’t quite understand the gesture, but got the gist that it was a friendly one. She breathed a sigh, activated her authority skill, and summoned a meal as the feeling slowly returned to her fingertips.

One hesitant bite after another, she began working her way through the vegetables accompanying the fried frog wings. The dish was still disgusting, courtesy of its tastelessness, but stale bread wasn’t going to cut it. She needed something nice and toasty to warm her up from within.

Though the food kept her occupied, it was a far cry from demanding her attention. She soon realized that the giant’s single eye was fixed upon her.

Does it want some? The force mage glanced between the dish and the cyclops before picking up a wing and offering it. I’m not eating it anyway.

She expected the one-eyed beast to gleefully accept the present. But she was wrong. Visible puffs of air spewed out of its single nostril, kicking up its fur, as its eye turned bloodshot; it was about as far from happy as she was from home.

“You, sorry!” it snarled. “Me, hunter! You, visitor! Hunter, me!”

She had to drop the dish to back off as it stomped up to her. It didn’t care about anything between them. One of its legs smashed into the pot, kicking it aside and splattering its contents all over the frozen cave, while its other tore through one of the benches. Before long, it had her with her back against the wall. Its tall frame shook with every breath it took. Its big fuzzy hands were balled into fists and its gaping maw was dripping with foam and slobber.

What’s wrong with him?

It wasn't as if Claire had no idea what had set the yeti off, but his half-intelligible rambling made it difficult for her to interject or confirm her suspicions.

“No! No, no, no! Hunter, no you! Hunter, me!”

It lashed out at her, throwing a punch that she barely managed to dodge. With a roll of the eyes, the halfbreed darted between its legs and drew her weapons. One way or another, the situation had devolved into violence. But she didn’t particularly mind.

If a fight was what the creature wanted, then a fight was exactly what it would get. She still did want its pelt, after all.

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About the author

Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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