Reads: 26

The sun had barely crowned over the horizon and the two were already standing outside the gates of the Glu tribe. As parting “gifts” they had been offered leather sacks and water skins, and no rations.

The weather favored them today. Last night was warm and the snow from the storm had receded ever so slightly. Birds native to these skies now decorated the air high above their heads, almost bidding them farewell on their journey.

“I still cannot wrap my head around miss Val’Ava’s thought process. We could have stayed here to hunt and you could cast your spells in their favor. Sending us away on such short notice and with nary a word of goodbye feels rather unfair and little benefit it holds for them. Then again destruction struck when we stepped foot in their tribe. They can’t be blamed for not wanting us around even if it wasn’t our direct fault.” Alexander sighed. Muso’s face still lingered, reminding him of all the things he could have learned and all the fun the two could have had, were the times kinder to him.

“Whatever she might have decided doesn’t concern us. Whether she blames us for the death of her son or husband or if she linked us to the attacks on their home is irrelevant. It was past time we left anyway; this place is cold and not kind to my tentacles at all. I guess we must hurry down the slopes as fast as possible.” Ei’s rush was apparent. Their eviction from the tribe was less a hurdle and more a blessing to her, for she wanted to leave the mountain and her crime behind. Less likely it was for her actions to be discovered by either the tribe or Alexander if Thula’s body was never linked to her sharp tongue.

“Quite the hurry you are in huh? You had better settle for a moderate pace. Even though my movements are now my own and no longer inhibited by the numbness of reincarnation, I don’t feel quite comfortable enough to sprint down the mountainside. Though now that you know how to cast spells, maybe you’ll find a way to cast “Fly” or “Haste” and cut our travel time.” He said jokingly. Ei tilted her head questioningly, unable to understand how yesterday’s massacre had taken so little a toll on his mind.

“You seem quite jovial, considering the death of Muso, who I assume was your friend. You did appear rather distraught at his demise.”

“I didn’t know him that much. That must have been the reason why his death…slightly shocked me. It irks me too that I feel no need to mourn him. I must confess that I felt compelled to treat the Volo’Mar as human, like us, yet something kept me from seeing to the purpose fully. Could it be that I never saw them as more than NPCs, even though now they stand so tangible before me?”

Ei tugged at his arm to go, eager to leave this place behind her.

“You treated them as equals enough, but you don’t need to do that now. Come, let’s leave!”

“Fine, fine! Climb on my back so we can go faster, a long road lies ahead of us.”

Ei wrapped around his shoulders and secured herself as Alexander took off with long strides. She turned her head for but a second, but it was long enough to catch a glimpse of a frozen, white finger poking out of the melting snow, right outside the gate. She didn’t look again. 

Alexander set forth upon the snow with newfound power and control over his limbs. He ran down the north side of the tribe and over a ledge that continued into woods covered in thin mists, or more likely clouds considering the altitude. The trees here were all slender and their bark coarse and flaky, perhaps an adaptation for them to survive at such unnatural heights and temperatures. Past the treeline and driven outwards by momentum the two took flight over a short rock precipice landing on their feet on the incline below and sliding down the side harmlessly for a small distance. Needless to say, Ei was more than displeased at the liberties Alexander took in his traversal. Branches would strike her face and much snow had found its way under her hood. A little ways ahead of the rocky, sloping mountain face the mists passed, and their sight cleared. The ground steadily became more level, less aggressively vertical, and at the distance, they faintly made out hues of green merely inches below where the curvature of the planet made the valleys of Ferilva vanish in a white haze.

No exhaustion came to Alexander and his legs felt tireless and rejuvenated with each step that brought fresh, chill air into his chest. There was freedom in his spontaneous charge, a speed that activated the instincts of the hunter in the Ghoul and pushed him even further. He no longer slid on icy stones and Pheth’Arenra held steady at his side no longer to be used as a glorified crutch. Sheer drops and sharp stones no longer curbed his dash, as both would fail before his unbending armor.

The ceaseless movement did drain his energy, but the mountain held bountiful gifts for the resourceful and the bold. At intervals during their journey, Ei would cast “Lifesight”, a Secondary rank spell used to detect non-player entities. Though little relevancy it had in the Meta of “Wanderer”, it proved quite useful in finding the burrows and resting coves of many a small critter of the mountain. Ei’s heat-sensing eyes would have made the hunt even easier, but under the light of the sun, her vision was no different from Alexander’s. Meals were in no shortage, and many animals seemed to still be hibernating through the winter, signaling that spring was not yet in full swing, as they had previously surmised, but close at hand. A stab of the spear was more than enough to dispatch even the largest of beasts they came across and their meals were hearty if a little unwholesome and raw.

Time passed slowly on Alexander’s shoulders and Ei allowed her mind to wander with the rushing winds into the sky and the soft tones of the world. Once again she almost forgot the actions that had brought her sorrow, but never did they leave her fully to rest.

The day was her time to let her body relax and sleep, though it was hard to do so under the constant shaking of her carrier on the rough trek. At night she stood watch as Alexander dozed off, leaving her alone in the high winds. Every streak of cold brought to her body stings of painless guilt and doubt. These she would suppress to the best of her ability, if not to enjoy the world at hand, at least to stay ever vigilant in the night. She found some solace in the form of her spellbook, which she studied carefully whenever rest permitted it, or whenever the ride was not too bumpy. The pages of the book numbered nearly a hundred or more, perhaps reflecting the number of spells she had unlocked during the game. She never took the time to count them all, or memorize more than the essentials. After all, few were necessary to achieve victory in combat or in exploration and too many had niche uses that she likely never got to experience. Now those uses might not be so niche anymore, and a studious zeal overcame her. Over the days of their trip, she managed to unlock many of the lesser spells and practiced them extensively; they would prove a much-needed aid for their uncertain fates.

Two nights into the trip her vigilance was rewarded. Another hunting pack of white ghouls, the dominant hunters of the slope it seemed, had approached. Her timely warning to Alexander allowed both to duck behind a nearby stone outcropping and wait as the nosy predators passed them by. Surely they could fight them off, now more than ever before since they came to this world. This did not mean instigating a battle and avoidance was always better than conflict, in these cases.

Eleven days went by nearly without incident. They crested over frozen riverbeds and dells of white amidst fallen trees and climbed down slippery cliffs of shedding ice. Every step brought more warmth to the air and the green of the valleys below grew clearer and more vibrant and the snow became thinner like a sheet of velvet from a sea of white. With their pace, it would take no longer than two or three days at most to arrive at the feet of the Weeverfish range, yet they had to slow down substantially. The ground became increasingly uneven, the rocks sharper and Alexander’s steps came with intent, no longer airy and free flowing.

“We should have checked coordinates or direction with the “Compass” spell.” Ei said as Alexander climbed over an imposing cleft. “We descended without direction and must have come too far North-West. Past this point, it is all crags, deep crevices, cliffs, and mounds of sharp rock that come out of the ground like swords. If we had taken the path more eastwards we wouldn’t have had to come through here.” Ei looked into the distance and saw the rising and winding terrain that now blocked all view of Ferilva.

“A minor obstacle I say, we will be past it soon. It might increase our travel time by a few days, and we might not come across much hunt around here, but I wager we have had enough to eat to hold out for a day at least. We survived for more than a week on nothing but snow, if you recall! Our bodies are hardy now and we can use them less sparingly than our old ones.” Alexander kept climbing and leaping from one wall of the ravine to the next and then over thin slices of rock between sheer drops. The climb down and back up Raschep’Tur felt much more threatening than whatever rose before him. A flight spell would have been convenient, but Ei had not found it yet.

“Yeah, sure. Encourage yourself however you like, but don't slip and fall, because you’ll take me with you.” Ei managed a bit of hesitant sarcasm.

“Maybe I will!” he laughed “Now that I think about it, what if we need to return to base to resupply? Will we have to climb all the way back up? In the haste and confusion of the first few days here I didn’t even consider the possibility, yet it seems like a major oversight.”

“I think I have that covered,” Ei said reassuringly. “While you were gone I had an Anchor Tower built in the valley, inside the hillier region of Welkineldi. Once we get down we will be able to use it to get back up to the teleportation circle I made in the old egg room.”

“Ah that is hopeful indeed.” He paused for a second in confusion. “Wait…if you built an Anchor Tower in Ferilva…why didn’t we just teleport there in the first place? It could have saved us a whole month and so much hardship!”

“That wouldn’t be possible. I had it built by dominated Goblins and never used it once during my stay here, and eventually, I forgot the coordinates. Without coordinates I can’t teleport us anywhere; the circle would take us nowhere and we would be stuck still at Raschep’Tur” As she spoke the name of their base her voice felt deeper and coarse, faintly altered. She was certain she had spoken the name before, yet only now did this minute change reveal itself.

“Well…that’s unfortunate.” Alexander sighed. He too noticed the deviation in her voice but set the matter aside for now. “You know, somehow it feels like whenever there is an easier way to do things you neglect to tell me until I ask. Is that just me or…”

“If it could have been used I would have told you. I don’t see the reason to mention something that is of little value to both of us.”

“Sometimes it’s nice to be pointed down a blocked path just to know that it exists. Transportation is about to get a lot more complicated; it no longer works at the press of a few buttons. We should be careful what roads we go down without a plan of escape.”

“Your point is valid, I guess. I’ve been a little…aloof.”

“Being a little neglectful is something we all do. But you are also very smart, so next time you get an idea, tell me about it, whether you think it will work or not.”

At that moment Ei caught a sound from the sky. A low, hollow hooting came in the rhythm of fast flapping wings.

“I have an idea right now, how about we go hide? I can hear wings trailing towards us.” Ei said as she tapped the side of Alexander’s helm.

There was nowhere to hide. They were in the open, hanging a few dozen feet from a floor of jagged rocks. It was a moderate drop, one that Alexander could handle no doubt, but the cracking stone would certainly warn their hidden followers. His heart told him to rise and find stable footing over the edge, and thus he climbed.

He held a tenuous grip on the ledge when their enemy revealed itself. From over a winding ridge, they rose, wings moving at a breathtaking pace like those of a hummingbird, their faces flat and beakless, human enough to pass for the head of an Indian totem.

Both of them relaxed as they saw the group of seven bird-like entities approach.

“Huh…what are those?” questioned Alexander, not taking them for much of a threat. “They sure look a lot like Orniths.”

“Unlikely. Orniths live in swamps. I don’t recall seeing them in the Bestiary so I guess it's a first.”

“Whatever they are, you are my artillery right now. I thought a wyvern might rise to face us but no ill fate finds us today it seems! Shoot them down however you like.”

And Ei raised her tentacles to cast a spell of “Lightning”, which she had recently discovered in her book, but changed her mind, instead raising a tentacle that bore a magnificent black jewel upon a ring of silver that glimmered with seven tiny arcane lights. Controlling her Mana as she had learned, she sent a surge into the Jewel of the Night Sky, and a halo of seven glistening blue lights formed around her and shot towards the creatures. They were pierced and cried their terrible yelps as the torn and jagged stones and crevices swallowed whatever was left of them. The power of the ring would stay in effect a while longer, and many more orbs of light flew astray, lacking appropriate targets, and punched holes into the unsettled rock and tore down part of the stoneface they stood on, nearly sending them to accompany the flying beasts.

Alexander cried out in amazement. “It’s even cooler when you can feel the bangs go off around you! Again! Again!”

Meanwhile, Ei held on for dear life as the air around her shook from the volatile and uncontrollable projectiles. “Maybe some other time, you know, WHEN WE’RE ON SOLID GROUND!”

“Fair enough!”

With renewed fervor, Alexander pressed on over crag and pit and the two came upon a reclining curve that led over a massive cliff and on its edge dangled from dubious hold a massive boulder that peered dangerously over the edge. And it was upon this boulder that the world forced them both to open their eyes wide.

A pallet of green opened before them broken up by strokes of misty white and long streaks of blue that shimmered under the midday sun. There below them they saw ground familiar, for they had walked it many times, yet foreign, for never had they experienced it with their senses. Less than a kilometer below them they could vaguely descry the start of a waterfall springing forth from the mountainside, which they knew to feed into Kernam, the eastern river. Far deeper into the valley they discerned its sister river under the clear skies, Sednam, with which it linked and gave crystal flows. Its waters sprang from the slopes of the Eastern Terminal Hilt, and more specifically Moumurgatah, the mountain of life as the green-skinned folk of Fernala had dubbed it. The Terminal Hilt now created the impression of a cruel and indomitable wall that rose into the clouds, uncaring for the mortals who wished to see past it. To the south, all the eye could grasp was endless green, sometimes lesser, sometimes darker, the thin line of coloration separating thick forests from lush greenlands and moist marshes, until that image too was lost in the white of cloud and distant mist.

The shrill winds carried with them Ei’s guilt if only for a second and the soft light of early spring presented before her a silver plate of all she could desire. This was why she was here, and Thula be damned if she thought her tormenting presence could dwarf such a sight.

Alexander crouched on the perch, his nostrils sensing an air somehow more fragrant than the one at the top of the mountain, denser with the aromas of trees and running water. They were close; maybe a few days and no more until they could explore that wide expanse anew.

“Where to?” He asked, breaking Ei out of her stupor.

“Fernala is a safe bet. There we can resupply, stock up on exploration gear and, if we need anything, head over to the tower I built and teleport to the bowels of Raschep’ Tur.” Her voice brought with it a tinge of darkness once again.

Alexander eyed her cautiously. “Ei, I’d like to talk about your voice when you say ‘Rachep’Tur’.” And his voice too acted the same, and he covered his mouth in surprise. The name felt somehow harder to pronounce aloud. 

“Well, I see it is not only restricted to me.”

“Curious indeed. When you speak that name -I can’t fully put a finger on it- but I feel a sense of worry, I’d like to say, overcome me. Even now, when I was the one to speak it, I felt the words somehow drain me. Did you feel the same or am I just being weird?”

Ei thought for a second.

“No, I felt no such thing. Yet I think you are not being weird. My “Mental” resistance is maxxed out, in a way similar to your immunities.” And she held aloft a tentacle bearing the ring which granted this immunity, Enelya was its name, and it was decorated with a simple, smooth pearl. “Maybe the name of our base is spoken in some form of Abyssal; we did hear it from the Gelato Puddings after all. If that is true, then speaking it should deal mental damage to both the speaker and listener. It would be wise to avoid saying it from now on.”

“Now that is something we can agree on. Speaking Abyssal no longer works through some dodgy system of speech recognition and its effects are unknown to us. Who knows what it feels like to be afflicted with the ‘Madness’ or ‘Fear’ status effect, in real life? I sure wish to never learn.”

Without delay and with daring audacity he fell from the ledge and comfortably struck the landing a hundred feet below. His knees once again silently cursed him but they would heal within a reasonably fast amount of time; he had no fear of bludgeoning injury. All that remained now was the road.

Submitted: September 22, 2022

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