As soon as I awoke before even opening my eyes properly, I spent ten minutes meditating. Drawing my Neuma away from the curse once more. I was finding my efforts were currently enough to keep it from spreading further up my arm. The lower half below the elbow, however, was a totally different story. Once I’d finished my meditation, I had a visual inspection of it. The colour was a mix of grey and black, like smoldering charcoal. The pain had lessened dramatically, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.

The fact that I’d been able to prevent its rapid spread so far, did give me some confidence. If I could do that much now, then when I got stronger, hopefully I could do a hell of a lot more.

Mal was already awake. After a quick cleanup in the room’s hand basin we were ready to go.

There was a five-minute wait, with a soundtrack of groans and complaints when I banged on Joel and Daz’s door. Mal went ahead so Boris could go outside. I wondered what he was doing for poop bags.

When Daz finally opened the door. I couldn’t help but chuckle as he’d clearly worn his chest plate for bed. It took another ten minutes for them to pull themselves together, before we headed downstairs for breakfast.

The triplets were already there stuffing their faces with gusto. I noticed that they were not only consuming breakfast, but more beer, too, which didn’t bode well for the day ahead.

I think we were all a little taken aback when they greeted us with cheers. They seemed overjoyed to be heading out with us. As we passed, they seemed only to want to talk to Joel. They seemed to have built up a strong rapport with him from the previous evening, and quite honestly, I was glad to delegate that social aspect of our new team.

As we made our way to our own table, I raised an eyebrow at Dug, who was cleaning tankards and glasses behind the bar. “Should I be worried?” I smiled, indicating the half ogres with a nod. He shook his big head with a grin.

“Not at all! As long as they keep it under six tankards, they’ll be fresh as daisies for the travelling.”

I shrugged. It was all I could do, and I kinda trusted the trullan barman. Pushing the triplets from my mind, I scanned the room to see if the Dokalfar, Angelica was around. My eyes slid over eight other breakfast eaters, before they settled on her sitting in the shaded area again, barely visible, especially with her cloak’s hood up. There was a plate of scrambled egg on toast set in front of her. Though her attention seemed to be directed toward us.

I smiled and waved as the servers from the night before landed at our table with a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and warm fresh bread.

Mal, Joel, and Daz, who were rough as forty grit sandpaper, from the night of heavy drinking, tucked into their breakfasts like they’d been starved.

I can’t deny, I did too, relishing the smokiness of the bacon, the runny yolks, and the steaming fluffy bread.

As much as I appreciated elaborate complex food, and I intended to offer a few ala carte options on my menu when I opened Clive’s Place. I was still a firm believer in simple, good quality, well-cooked ingredients. This breakfast hit the jackpot. In fact, the only thing missing, was coffee. Mal had asked Dug about it. He received a confused expression in response.

“We’ve got, beer, mead, wine, or water. I can warm any of it up for you if you want,” he replied, and I sensed the humor in his voice despite his straight face.

“Water’s fine,” Mal said with frustration.

No sooner than I’d mopped the last of the yolk from my plate, with the bread, than Elsbeth came bursting through the doors. The timing was uncanny. I almost felt as if she’d been waiting for us to finish to make her entrance. She caught my eye and came straight over to our table.

“We shouldn’t tarry much longer. Talenille is twenty miles away and I would prefer to get there before night fall. Are you ready to depart?” She snapped.

Before I could answer, another question was fired at me. “We have another party member then?” Angelica said appearing from behind Elsbeth. “A priestess of Devotion, who intends to plan a route, that I already took the liberty of planning. Based on the company of those I knew were already involved. Why didn’t you mention this yesterday?” She said to me. Clearly not happy with the change of events.
I found myself at a loss for words as the two women waited for my reply.

With a flash of my occasionally winning smile, I replied to Angelica. “Simple. I had no idea priestess Descar would be joining us when we spoke. It was sprung on me last night, along with this fine hoodie that prevents me from being tracked.”

“A powerful gift indeed.” She looked to Elsbeth next. “I assume you are of an advanced level?”
“Level 41,” Elsbeth replied, with a smug air about her.

I can’t say I was impressed. She’d seemed arrogant, when I first met her, but then showed me a side that was tender and caring. Apparently, this morning we were getting the other Elsbeth.

“I have a specific location to journey in Knuntang, as a hopeful first point of contact with Hilgresh Natom,” she continued.

“There was no mention of this prior. I believe keeping off the main roads is essential to the success of getting these three useless sacks of Alull dung to Knuntang alive.”

“The roads are far safer than the open countryside,” Elsbeth admonished. “Why would you even consider a different approach?”

“Look, Priestess.” Angelica said with notable venom. “I only agreed to accompany Clive here, to Faray. The instant we enter that city, I will be leaving with my money.”

Esbeth smiled. “I’m sure your company will be delightful up until that point and I look forward to traveling with you.”

It was up there, as one of the most insincere statements I’d ever heard, and I’d spouted my fair share of those in the past. Though I could still only see the lower half of Angelica’s face, it was hard to miss the scowl that crossed her deep blue lips.

“I assure you,” she replied tightly. “That the feeling is mutual. I intended to make for Munefird, with an evening camping. Will this not be a more direct route to the location you’re intending?”

“It would. But these boys are soft. I do not think they’d make the journey to Munefird through rough terrain in two days.”

Angelica snorted, and I grew a little annoyed with how the two women were talking about us. But my friends were hungover to hell and another, relatively comfortable place to lie our heads tonight seemed like a good idea. I really didn’t feel like another night out under the stars in this dangerous ass place just yet. Maybe once I was level one hundred, I mused to myself.

“We could make, it,” I said, forcing a smile, “but, I think an Inn might be better for our first night of travel. We’re going to need to try to level too. As you already know, we’re weak at the minute.”

Angelica’s scowl deepened when I opted for Elsbeth’s plan. “You are all quite pathetic at the moment. I will travel the road. But don’t expect me to leave any kills for you. I need all the experience I can get, and that was not part of our deal.”

“I will leave any enemies we may face alive for you to dispatch, Clive.” Elsbeth said, with her nose in the air. “Your safety is worth more than my own experience gains, in the radiant light of the Devoted. Now, are you ready to depart?”

“Sure,” I said getting to my feet. “I’m more than ready.”

She looked dubious, as did Angelica, but I ignored them easily enough.

“Hey, Remus, George, Tracy. You all ready to get out of here?” I asked.

The half ogres started banging on the table excitedly as they stood. My own friends rose far less enthusiastically to their feet as I made my way over to Dug.

“Thanks for everything, man. You’re not nearly as much of an aggressive prick as you make out to be,” I grinned. “I just wanted to say too, and I know it sounds stupid, because they could crush me with ease, but I’ll look out for the triplets as we go. I know they mean a lot to you, even if I don’t know why.”

He nodded, his expression unreadable. “Thank you Clive. That does actually mean a lot to me. Good luck on your quest, and I hope you get to keep your arm.”

“Me too, Dug. We’ll be coming back this way, so I guess I’ll see you later.”

We shook hands with what I hope was mutual respect before I left with the others.


We followed Elsbeth and Angelica to the gates we needed to exit Laurel. The two of them seemed to be competing for the role of head guide. Marching at the front of our group at a fair old pace. It was a bit annoying because I wanted to speak to them both. Instead, we just followed behind, drawing looks from those we passed in what must have looked to be a very strange group of travellers.

We passed through the gates with no problem, the guards, honoring Elsbeth as she passed, but casting amused and interested looks at the rest of us.

Once on the open road we walked in silence. Apart from George and Tracy who were bickering over the name of a slug on a stick they’d found.

My friends just trudged dejectedly. Nursing their various symptoms in silent misery. It struck me that Elsbeth could have cleansed them of the effects, but it appeared her own thoughts and personal competition with Angelica were at the forefront of her mind. I couldn’t be bothered to ask her either as I’d no doubt offend her in some way. Instead, I nudged Mal. “Why don’t you ask the priestess to cleanse you?”

“Dunno. Seems a bit trivial to be asking a powerful Priestess, to be curing a hangover I caused myself. Though if she offered, I sure as shit wouldn’t say no.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” I replied, with a grim smile. Daz however, had heard the conversation and decided he’d just ask. Hurrying up to where she walk, he stumbled on his sword into her. I expected her to be barreled to the ground by the badly armored idiot. But he just bounced off her like she was rubber. I had a feeling I’d just had my first demonstration of what level 41 could mean, in regard to overall strength and ability.

She looked down with a mildly irritated expression at the rather pathetic sight of Daz on the floor. “Is there a reason you just fell into me Daz?”

“It’s the sword, Priestess. It doesn’t sit right on my hip, and it got tangled.”

“I see. Perhaps you should have chosen something smaller?”

Daz groaned at yet further confirmation of his poor choice. “So, people keep telling me, but I’m happy with it. What I’m not happy with,” he said getting unceremoniously back to his feet, is this pounding head ache and hangover.”

Elsbeth flashed a smile at him. “Of course, that must be terrible for you with all this way to walk, carrying the armor and sword, too. Here, let me help.”

Daz grinned from ear to ear as Elsbeth, raised her hands and placed them on his shoulder. The smile quickly disappeared as she spoke.

“To avoid headaches and sickness associated with hangovers, do not drink copious amounts of alcohol, particularly before a long and arduous trek. Should you be foolish enough to poison your body in this way, then certainly do not ask a high-ranking Priestess of Devotion to expend her precious mana, to heal intentional self-inflicted poisoning, as that is both insulting to me, and embarrassing for you. Now, strengthen your resolve, and follow.” She snapped the last few words out, before spinning away from a now very embarrassed looking Daz. He fell in with us as we set off walking again. Mal smirked. “So, pretty much what I said would happen then.”

“Fuck off Mal,” Daz said with his head hanging low.

Remus came alongside Daz and gave him a friendly slap on the back. “You are very weak man. You must grow stronger to survive longer.”



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