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“Okay, Renala,” I said, waving the smoked leg of a deer I hunted the day prior in front of her snout. She snapped eagerly at it and wrapped her teeth around it. I pretended to struggle, but I eventually ripped it free from her jaws. She tried to pull it back with her front claws.

“And- fetch!” I hurled the leg as hard as I could out Lydia's bedroom window and over the castle walls. Renala stretched out her wings and dove for the deer meat in a flurry of fluttering limbs. She floundered at first but eventually managed to catch herself in a glide and flapped wildly until she was fully in control. The leg began its downward arc and Renala drew wide circles in mid-air to catch it with her fangs.

“Levin!” Lydia screeched from the bed. She scrambled past me and all but collapsed from relief when she saw Renala flapping desperately back toward the windowsill.

“All work and no play makes Renala an angry dragon. You too,” I caught the wyrmling as she tried to grasp onto the windowsill and pulled her into my arms. She seemed to ignore Lydia’s anger in favor of chewing on the deer’s femur.

“Is this how you raised Rebecca?! We are going to have a serious conversation on how to properly rear a child! How did you even get a deer leg into my chambers without me knowing?!” Lydia hoisted herself off the ground, and the temperature increased drastically.

“Idyia snuck it in for me.”

“That conniving, Dark Elf bi-”

I pulled Lydia into a deep kiss.

“No, no more of that, you promised.” I silenced her racist tirade before she could let it fully burn. She pulled back after a few breaths and rolled her eyes but did not continue.

“This is not a joke, Levin. You cannot train the pure-blooded descendant of my glorious ancestor like a mastiff with wings.”

“But look at her, she loves this game!” I motioned to Renala, who was now halfway through the bone. She still ignored our arguing.

“If the first word that comes out of her mouth is ‘fetch,’ I will flay you alive.”

“I shall beg for my Queen’s mercy at that time,” I replied with an exaggerated tone that earned me a snort. “Or should I say, my darling wife?”

She stuttered whatever retort she had prepared and I took the chance to sweep her off her feet then carried her back to the bed. I tossed another deer leg out the window for Renala to chase after, but Lydia was far too distracted to complain for the rest of the morning. When I finally left, she was spent, eagle-spread over the bed, and sleeping soundly. In a similar, selfish fashion, I pulled Anna away from her daily morning duties. When I was finished with both of them, I joined Idyia at the castle stable. She was already ready and waiting.

“Are you certain this is how you wish to part ways with the Queen and Miss Anna, Master Levin?”

I tacked my horse and mounted. Slung across my back was a duffle bag, a quiver of arrows, and my longbow. On my chest Renala slept soundly, her gentle snoring rhythmic and soothing. She was a deep sleeper, I learned. Even the fiercest of jostling wouldn’t bother her, which was a far cry from Rebecca when she was first born. Then again, Renala was growing quickly. In the last three weeks she had almost tripled in size and I now struggled to fit her into the leather chest bag she had grown to love.

“If I stay any longer, I won’t want to leave.” I replied, my voice was filled with lingering doubt. It was a tone I often took right before I had to deploy. I left Lydia and Anna exhausted and satisfied. They seemed to understand this was the last time we would see each other for a while, so we all made it a morning worth remembering. I could always talk to them using «Telepathy (Group)», but there was an intrinsic physical intimacy in having a face-to-face conversation that my «Skill» could not compensate for.

“As you wish.” Idyia mounted her own horse and we snapped our rides into a gentle trot toward the countryside.

There were many reports about demon attacks along the Renalian border territories. The local guardsmen and militia were ill-equipped to deal with the strange and terrible abilities the demons had. One of the worst reports was the destruction of an entire village by a demon wielding a sword with flames black as pitch. That was our first destination.

It took us six days to arrive at the northern border that joined Renalis and the neighboring country of High Elves, Thaysil. Using my «Map» to calculate, we traveled about 50 miles everyday, which meant the northern border was 300 or so miles away from the capital.

Unfortunately, Idyia was reviled at every tavern and waystation we stayed at. But I wanted her to keep herself revealed; I needed to prove to her and to everyone else that I did not care about her heritage. Nor did I tolerate anyone who tried to harm her based purely on her appearance. We got into quite a few bar fights over her presence. Rumors of Ranger Levin owning a Dark Elven pet spread fast, but I hoped they were the start of something better. Soon, the people would be singing of how a Dark Elf and a Hero banded together against all odds and vanquished the demons plaguing Renalis.

It was probably a stupid and naïve dream, but it was something I wanted for Idyia and her tribe whom swore loyalty to Lydia and Renalis. I probably wouldn’t see any changes in my human lifetime based on how slowly culture progressed in Valeria, but maybe Idyia would survive long enough to experience the difference.

It was on our fifth day that we finally saw the first signs of demonic incursions. The remnants of several villages littered the landscape. Decaying corpses and bleached bones decorated the smoldering streets. We spent at least a quarter of the day digging mass graves and looking for survivors. It wasn't long until we had a caravan of refugees tailing us. They were so desperate for any aid that they either ignored or tolerated Idiya's presence. In order to win over hearts and minds, I had Idiya handle most of the interactions with the refugees while I supervised to prevent any unnecessary escalation in cultural animosity. The sight of a golden dragon circling overhead also calmed down any panic. To the citizens of Renalis, the golden wyrmling was a sign of relief and good fortune. Renala had grown too big to fit in my chest bag, so having her stretch her wings served as good exercise, anyway.

Idyia and I led the survivors to Dolor Keep, where Lord Belmond of House Dolor was supposed to rule the region from. We weren't the only ones with that idea though, and the roads were flooded with peasants and nobles fleeing for the Lord's stronghold. We escorted the refugees up to the gates, but Idyia was barred entry.

"She's with me." I showed the gate guardsmen a signet ring with Lydia's House insignia to try and push past him but the guard sneered and shoved me back with the blunt end of his spear. I could have retaliated or just stood my ground, but the situation was already extremely unstable. Any more tension could cause the refugees to panic en-mass.

"We'll set up camp along the road, then." I finally concluded after the two of us extricated from the crowded gates.

"This is my fault, Master Levin. I apologize." Idyia's face was as apathetic as ever, but I could see the shadows of self-deprecation flutter in her eyes.

"No, you did nothing wrong." I immediately dismissed her concerns while we wandered the area until we found a clearing for ourselves. Many other groups were also claiming their own campsites after giving up on entering the keep for the day.


“There are too many refugees. The guardsmen only allow those of wealth to enter the walls. The rest of them will be stranded outside,” Idyia observed as we sat facing away from each other on our own sleeping bags. I filled two water basins using my flask and we quietly used cloths to wipe ourselves clean of the dirt and grime that often accompanied the dusty, dirt-paved roads we traveled over. Idyia then wiped my back clean and I repeated the gesture after she tied her hair up into a ponytail.

“Yeah. We’re real close to the Renalis-Thaysil border, right?” I asked, then dunked my head into the basin. I wet my multitool and used it to trim my growing beard back into a neater, more manageable stubble.

“Are you interested in crossing the border, Master Levin? I am unsure if the Sacred Tree of Vierlana will allow an elf with tainted blood onto its land.”

“You’re not tainted, Idyia, but I get your point. No, I was thinking we could try sending the refugees to Thaysil instead, but the High Elves would probably just turn them away. We need to kill this demon fast.”

“So we shall remain here?”

“This is the last border town still standing for several dozen miles. It’s the only real target left. They'll come to us.”

I wiped my teeth with a rough linen cloth. We didn’t have any toothpaste, so I crafted some with «Survival». It consisted of charcoal, rock salt, and various herbs to help with flavor and scent. I passed the mixture to Idyia, who smiled and eagerly snatched it from my hands. Now that I was finally growing more accustomed to Valeria, I was trying to use every bit of knowledge I could gain to improve the quality of life of those I cared for.

I slipped into my sleeping bag once we repacked all of our belongings. The Bottomless Duffle Bag was proving to be a fantastic addition to my equipment. Idyia took a bit longer to freshen up, and once she was finished, she used two fingers and whistled loudly into the sky. Renala dove out from the cloud-line and into our campsite. She broke her fall by spreading her wings and curved into an elegant glide, but had to squeeze tightly into campsite order to fit between Idyia and I. She was already the size of a small horse and I knew I was going to fondly miss how easily she fit into my arms only a few days before. Once she landed, Renala ran the length of her body against Idyia's waist like an affectionate cat and scrambled toward my sleeping bag. She was just so adorable.

I had to enjoy these moments while I could. Because, by all accounts, she would grow up into a fearsome golden dragon: the direct descendant of Bahamut’s sister and fifth consort, Renala. She paddled up to me and laid her head over my chest. I had to actively ignore the intense heat wave she exuded with every breath.

“Thanks, Idyia.” I said and threw her a lazy wave from my prone and helpless position beneath the baby dragon.

“You’re welcome, Master Levin.” She reached into my Duffle Bag, retrieved a large piece of smoked deer, and affectionately stroked the wyrmling.

“Lydia's going to be bitterly jealous. Renala's going to like you more.”

Idyia chuckled lightly but did not stop spoiling the baby dragon. Idyia focused on scratching Renala's eye ridges, her favorite spot. She released a satisfied hum in reply.

“Rest easy tonight, Master Levin. I shall take the first watch this evening.” Idyia insisted while feeding Renala a slice of smoked meat. Idyia was the one who slept the most over the last few days because I never stopped abusing my «Constitution» and kept grinding whatever «Aspects» I could, whenever I could. I now focused on «Survival» since we were spending so much time outdoors.

“Yeah, good night.” I closed my eyes and immediately felt myself drift away. Renala’s natural warmth easily staved off the night chill.

“Master Levin!” Idyia’s cry dragged me out of my half-conscious state. Screaming and the scent of burning wood fully awoke me. For a moment, I was beneath a JLTV, rifle in hand, looking for the first opportunity to crawl out and return fire. I grew too relaxed lately. My body and mind failed to quickly process the situation. I rolled out of my sleeping bag, threw on my uniform, and strung my bow even as Idyia kicked dirt into our campfire to douse the lightsource. The sky was filled with smoke but the fires were blacker than the night above.

“Give me a sit-rep!” I demanded while Renala squaked angrily and slithered back and forth around my legs like a pacing cat.

“About twenty seconds since the first building caught fire, Master Levin.”

“Any casualties?”

“Several. I think only a few of the refugees were able to flee through the town gates. The demons teleported into the roads and started a slaughter.”

“Teleported? So we’re dealing with a big shot.”

I looked at my «Map». There were thirty red dots within 300 meters of my position but I could only spot twelve of them through the smoke and fire with my naked eye. I magnified my vision in one eye and spotted the demons. They wielded wicked halberds and looked like a herd of deranged satyrs straight out of a Greek fantasy. Anyone who didn’t escape was being rounded up and beaten to near death. Some were even ripped apart and eaten. They had a taste for children, I clinically noted.

“Idyia, do you spot that demon with the flaming sword?”

“No, Master Levin. Your orders?” Idyia drew her shortswords and pressed herself against the nearest tree to mask her profile. It was uncanny how well she blended into the darkness.

“Stay hidden and wait for the enemy commander-”

Renala roared and leapt into the sky. She circled the carnage from on high growling, hissing, and roaring all the while. The scent of fresh fire and death must have agitated her somehow. The demon’s eyes glowed red at the sight of the dragon and began pointing their weapons at her. Some threw javelins. It was obviously a provocation because Renala was well out of their range, but she fell for the bait dove into them anyway.

“Fuck!”

Idyia was already charging forward. I trailed after, sprinting and shooting. I didn’t bother holding back and unleashed a barrage of poorly aimed sets of three-round burst. Even as my arrows left the string, I nocked and fired again. My first volley of shots slew the four closest demons outright, their bodies peppered with wood. Even if they were off-target, the sheer amount of arrows was enough.

Idyia was upon their disorganized ranks in the next instant. Her attacks were fast and precise: she aimed for the most obvious vital points around the demon’s necks and nimbly dodged and weaved around their wide, sweeping counterattacks. Her hair trailed after her like a silver waterfall. At one point, she even backflipped onto their larger weapons with the grace and nonchalance of a cat landing on a wall. It was something out of a Hollywood movie scene. I was momentarily entranced and so were the Renalis citizens she fought so hard to protect.

But any demons that were distracted with her swordplay were pelted by arrows in the next instant. Whenever they tried to pin her down with numbers, I forced them apart with an indiscriminate barrage to give her breathing room to reposition. Idyia and I sparred together for several hours everyday. I knew her habits, her strengths, and her weaknesses. Any opening she had, I closed with my arrows. I let her take center stage among the chaos while I supported her from the distant shadows with covering fire. The red dots started turning gray in rapid succession. More demons advanced into my detection range and I used «Telepathy (Group)» to warn her of any enemies trying to flank her so she could maneuver with foresight. She was attracting plenty of attention, which was the whole point. We needed to get the demons away from Renala, who was still surrounded by seven more.

But Renala was no pushover. The wyrmling had grown in size, she was far stronger than any average human, and her scales were as hard as steel. Her tail whipped out with enough force to crack stone and her claws were sharp enough to rend a man to shreds. Even so, the demons used their halberds to great effect against the larger target and kept Renala encircled. Whenever she tried to take to the air, they struck out at her wings.

When one of their attacks finally drew blood, I lost my shit.

I burned through what was left of my Mana and went full-auto. All of my actual arrows were shot within the first two seconds, and then I had to rely on my Quiver of Infinite Arrows to create more.

My arrows fell like rain and all seven of the demons surrounding Renala were impaled from head to toe in the next instant. Renala fully stretched out her wings and retreated back into the sky while I drew my longsword in one hand and held three knives in between my fingers with my left.

“Up top!” I telepathically warned Idyia when I charged forward straight into her back. In a practiced fashion, she swung hard and wide to knock her attackers back and gained a few inches of space, then knelt down just as I closed the distance. I planted one foot on her shoulder, vaulted high into the air, and threw all of my daggers while spinning like a top. Each of my knives dug hilt deep into the eye sockets of the demons around Idyia and as soon as I landed, we were spinning and slashing with our backs to each other. The two of us formed a living tornado of steel that sucked in the demons and spat them out like a meatgrinder.

Then, I felt a painful, oppressive aura that burned my very soul. Reacting purely on instinct, I shoved Idyia away as a huge sword wreathed in black flames slammed into the ground where we once stood.

Unlike the other demons, this one wore a set of blackened plate armor adorned with spikes. One leathery wing stuck out from a hole carved into the back of its armor. It was at least three times taller than I was, putting it at around 17 feet high.

“Idyia, deal with the adds,” I said out loud. Idyia shot me a glance that twinkled with momentary confusion then retreated to engage what was left of the demons. The demon struck at Idyia’s back when she disengaged, but I lunged forward and deflected the attack with a double-handed swing that knocked the demon off-balance. Even with my heels dug in, I was sent skidding backward and my hands went numb. Even my longsword was slightly bent. The demon quickly regained its composure and seemed to turn all its focus onto me.

I felt a strange sense of morbid anticipation and let my lips curl into a vicious smile.

“You’re going to be worth a fuck-ton of EXP.”

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Tyonis

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