Chapter 1: Prologue: Invincible Battleship, Sunk
In the middle of the ocean under the clear blue sky drifted a large clam with eyes. This was no ordinary clam (after all, it was gigantic and it had eyes), and it was actually serving as the invincible battleship of a group of players who called themselves the Execution Squad.
They were on a mission that only they could accomplish -- defeating the Dictator of Life.
Within the clam, the members of the Execution Squad tried to position themselves so that they could steal a few winks before their inevitable clash with the Dictator of Life once they reached the Northern Continent. There would be no time for rest then. They would slay their way through and end things once and for all, saving Second life in the process, or die trying.
"Why is the Dictator of Life waiting for me in the Northern Continent?" asked a white-haired elf to a busty female elf dressed in pink armor. He tore his gaze away from the pearl that was emitting light at the center of the shell above him to glance at the female elf inquisitively. She was the daughter of the Second Life Game Company's president. If anyone would know the mind of the final boss, it would have to be her.
The female elf toyed with her long red hair, eyes gazing faraway, except there was nothing to gaze at save clam meat. "That's a long story," she hedged.
"We have plenty of time," the white-haired elf replied dryly. "You've been keeping things from me. I don't like it."
The female elf opened her mouth, but before she could answer, their "invincible battleship" suddenly shook back and forth violently. The white-haired elf yelled out, "AnRui, has something happened?"
Their ship, which happened to be a clam, replied, "We have just hit a glacier."
"...are we reenacting the Titanic?" asked the white-haired elf in disbelief. "Lolidragon, you better not have jinxed us by naming AnRui 'the Titanic'. Naming our previous battleship after the Challenger had been bad enough."
The female elf snorted and swatted him on the head. "Shut your mouth! That was a perfectly fine name."
"Argh, guys, can we argue later? I feel clam-sick..." came a muffled voice from behind them. The man who had spoken had one hand over his mouth and one hand in the air in an attempt to stop them from arguing further.
"What a useless guy you are, Feng Wu Qing," the female elf retorted, eyes flicking over him.
However, Feng Wu Qing's words weren't uncalled for because it was truly no time to be arguing. After Lolidragon's retort, their battleship jerked even more violently, this time in a circular motion that caused Feng Wu Qing to smack right into Lolidragon, who smacked into Prince, the white-haired elf, who smacked into the next unfortunate person (who happened to be the bard Gui), who smacked into...
It was quite a domino effect.
"AnRui, what's going on?!" exclaimed Prince, his voice muffled since his face was currently buried in Gui's robes after toppling into him. When Gui held on longer than necessary to help him up, Prince quickly punched the bard and sent him flying into the dark elf Wicked who immediately tossed him to the ground like a hot potato.
"It seems that we have now been sucked into a whirlpool," the clam answered politely, as if the situation weren't so dire. The light above them flickered, dousing the players inside the clam in periodic darkness.
"...I thought you said we hit a glacier?"
"There is now also a whirlpool."
"Can we escape it?"
"I can use my spinning techni-"
AnRui abruptly stopped in the middle of his explanation and started spinning so crazily that everyone became clam-sick. Feng Wu Qing now had company in his misery.
"Stop the spinning technique!" someone screeched to no avail. They continued to spin around and around and around. Prince became so dizzy that he thought he saw dozens of Meatbuns flying in circles above him. Then, one of the Meatbuns landed on his head.
So I'm not completely seeing things, he thought, but that realization didn't help with his nausea.
"Meat-bunbun's owner, I am afraid that I have been compromised. My actions are no longer my own. I can only spin in the direction of the current and cannot go against it."
"What?!" exclaimed all the players in unison.
"Stop spinning then!" someone yelled.
"Sadly, I cannot do that either," AnRui apologized, his voice tight.
When the spinning only grew worse the nearer the center of the whirlpool they reached, Prince groaned. "It's like we're being flushed down a toilet!"
The light above them flickered out altogether after Prince's famous last words.
More than one person silently apologized to the goldfish they had flushed down their toilets in their youth. Even dead goldfish didn't deserve this kind of treatment.
Down the whirlpool they went, flushed straight out of Second Life.
High in the sky above the clam, a blue, humanoid NPC watched in satisfaction as AnRui disappeared into the whirlpool. He flicked his hand. The whirlpool vanished, taking along with it all twenty-one members of the Execution Squad and their transport.
The ocean returned to its calm currents, except now there was no longer a large clam drifting among its waves.
With a smirk, the "NPC" in the sky said, "Goodbye Prince. May you never confuse the Dictator ever again."
A continent away, the Dictator mentioned by the one who played at being god gripped the arm of his throne tightly, knuckles turning white. "Father, no..."
He swallowed with emotion, the lump in his throat refusing to go away, his eyes burning with a feeling he didn't understand.
"Good luck, Prince..." he managed to utter in the end, his voice nearly engulfed by the large, empty throne room. "I will always watch over you, no matter where you are."
"No matter where" turned out to be foreign soil, but Prince didn't know that. He had been out for an entire day. He didn't know that either.
He moaned in pain and shifted only to cause more pain to shoot up his sides. The pain felt disturbingly real to him, even more so than usual. It was baffling. And it hurt.
Slowly, Prince's eyes fluttered open.
The sight of a player with a head of shining, blond hair framing a face with the bluest eyes he had ever seen greeted him the moment he opened his eyes. Behind the dazzling man hovered a person whose features were hidden by a hooded cloak, cutting a figure that contrasted starkly with the brilliance of the man who stood in front.
Not my type, Prince thought as his eyes wandered over the blond man, but very drool-worthy anyway. He must have chosen to beautify himself by at least 20%. No, maybe even 30%!
Chapter 2: Chapter 1: Invincible Lack of Teammates, or in Which We Get Introduced to Neo and Aldrizzt (Who Really Do Lack Teammates)
Four people trudged toward town slowly. One was a regal man with blond hair and blue eyes. He carried a sword, which suggested that he was a warrior or a knight of some sort. When asked, he would proudly declare his profession as that of a holy knight. The man next to him looked to be of a similar profession, as he was wearing armor, except he carried no sword by his side for some strange reason. He was actually a warrior. Behind the warrior without a sword walked the third member of their group, a robed man who wielded a staff. He was a cleric. The last member of their group, a completely hooded figure, followed a ways behind them and was staring down forlornly at a burnt magic scroll. Only parts of his dark skin could be seen. He was the mage of the team. They also had a fifth member, a rogue, but their rogue had absconded with the treasure in the middle of the mission, so now they were down to four members.
After some time, the hooded figure, whose name was Aldrizzt, let out a sigh. He ignited a spark of dark flames to burn the rest of the scroll to ashes. Keeping a damaged scroll around would do him no good. He then hastened his steps to catch up with the rest of the team.
At the front of the group, the blond, regal man, who went by the name Neo, grumbled and rubbed his forehead. He had drunk one too many cups of wine the previous day. It was a miracle that they had come out of their latest adventure unscathed, or well, it would have been a miracle for any normal adventurer team, but any team with Neo and Aldrizzt in it couldn't be considered anything close to "normal". Their mission hadn't been all that big of a deal to them even though it would've been near impossible for others -- all they had to do was steal a crown from a slumbering dragon, though the dragon had woken up in the end, so that had complicated things.
Just a bit.
In any case, Neo's opinion was that the mission had gone perfectly well -- they'd managed to get the crown and none of them had died -- but apparently his teammates thought differently. The true miracle would have been if Neo and Aldrizzt's teammates decided to stick around even after the disaster that was their last mission. Sadly, there would be no such miracle today.
After they reached town and divided up the reward money, Neo's teammates stopped in their tracks. Neo walked on a bit further before he realized that his teammates had stopped.
"I think we need to part here," said their lecherous cleric who really had no right to say such a thing when he had done his part in botching up the mission with his lack of sleep due to visiting a prostitute the night before. He sported an amazing bruise on his face, having taken a smack in the face from the dragon's tail when Neo had led the dragon straight at them in his head-on battle with the legendary beast, completely forgetting that most clerics were easily damaged (unlike his student) and shouldn't be expected to face a dragon head on. The cleric should have been able to heal his own injury, but his lack of sleep had depleted his holy light and had pretty much rendered him useless, even during the mission.
The only response Neo deigned to give the cleric was a snort and a wave of dismissal.
The warrior without a sword spoke up too right after the cleric. "Neo, you don't need me around at all. You took care of everything by yourself."
At this, Neo couldn't help but respond. Staring pointedly at the warrior, Neo said, "If a certain someone hadn't sent his sword off for repairs and misjudged how long it would take to get it back, then I wouldn't have had to do everything by myself."
"That's not the point," the warrior said, "the point is, you don't work well with a team. Some people might not mind not having to do a single thing, but my skills aren't being honed here. Besides, these missions have gotten crazier and crazier. I seriously can't keep up with you like this. I do value my life, you know. I'm done."
After he finished speaking, the warrior turned and started walking away.
"You're leaving?" questioned Aldrizzt in dismay. He should have seen this coming -- he knew that Neo wasn't easy to get along with -- but he had truly never thought that he and Neo would lose the rest of their teammates because of Neo and not because of him. Wasn't he the dark elf, the one people should feel disdainful about?
Aldrizzt pulled his hood down lower self-consciously, just in case, though it was an unnecessary action. For some reason, their teammates had never been wary of him despite how suspicious he must look with his hooded cloak. Instead, they had all known that it was Neo they should be wary of even though Neo was a holy knight, and he was even the former Sun Knight who was known to be an upstanding man... But that was only as far as the whole continent knew. Those who knew Neo personally knew differently.
The warrior turned his head and said apologetically, "Aldrizzt, it was great knowing you. May the God of War forever see to your continual health and fighting prowess." His eyes flicked over to Neo before he addressed Aldrizzt again. "I think you'll need the blessing."
Before Aldrizzt could respond -- he didn't know how to respond as he didn't believe in prayers, but he understood the sentiment behind the warrior's words since Neo was truly a handful -- the warrior had already left.
Aldrizzt and Neo merely stood there dumbly as both the cleric and the warrior departed from the team.
"What heartfelt partings," Neo said with a scowl. "Excuses, all of them! At least the rogue had enough sense to run off before it came to this."
This time, it was Aldrizzt's turn to rub his forehead even though he wasn't the one with the hangover. He thought to himself, Chasel, you overestimated me when you left Neo in my care... We can't even manage to keep any teammates!
He sighed, resigned to the fact that it would be just the two of them again.
Two days later found the two of them in the forest, cooking lunch. More accurately, Aldrizzt was cooking their lunch – roasting delicious-smelling trout -- and doing all of the cooking while Neo did none of the cooking. Instead, the former Sun Knight polished his blade by the riverside, having washed his hands of cooking; he was more likely to burn the food to crisp than to end up with something even remotely edible. (He had also washed his hands of doing the laundry, otherwise they would have nothing to wear afterwards except for shreds...but that wasn't the matter at hand.)
When Aldrizzt finished roasting the fish, he handed one skewer to Neo before sitting down to eat.
"Anywhere you want to go?" Aldrizzt asked. They had departed town without picking a destination. Oftentimes, they let their feet wander and take them wherever they ended up. After all, Aldrizzt was in no hurry to get anywhere. He had plenty of time.
Neo was in no hurry either, as he was a retired man. He chewed and swallowed before he answered Aldrizzt's inquiry. "I've heard that the princesses of the Kingdom of Moon Orchid are all beauties, especially the first princess."
"You seriously want to visit the royalty of all of the kingdoms?" asked Aldrizzt, recalling that Neo had mentioned wanting to visit the princes and princesses outside of the Kingdom of Forgotten Sound. "I don't think it's a good idea to bring a dark elf with you on such a trip."
"Nonsense, they can deal," Neo said, his expression telling Aldrizzt that if they didn't "deal", then they would have the former Sun Knight to deal with.
Aldrizzt rolled his eyes, though he also had to admit that he did feel somewhat touched. Ever since they'd started adventuring together, he'd waited and waited for Neo to one day decide that he wasn't worth all the trouble, but Neo's responses to complications involving Aldrizzt had never been to leave him behind even when that would be the easier and smarter course of action to take.
He was truly lucky that it was Neo who he had met when he tried to flee from the dark elves.
"Well, we're already in the territory of the God of War, even though it's just the border. It shouldn't take us too long to reach the main city," Aldrizzt finally said. What would take more time is convincing the royalty to give us an audience. Why would they?
"You have sure learned the lay of the land," Neo commented, "when you were so clueless before." After he spoke, he looked around him, blue eyes narrowing. Aldrizzt was fairly sure Neo had no clue where they were.
"Someone had to, or else we would be forever stuck in forests." Though he hadn't known where locations were situated on the surface, Aldrizzt figured out very quickly that he had to learn. Neo was the absolutely last person to depend on for directions.
After they finished eating and cleaning up, Aldrizzt gathered the wind element to cast the Spell of Flight. This was also something that he had learned because of Neo, who had pestered him endlessly about learning the Spell of Flight, claiming that it would make their journeys easier. Aldrizzt was a dark mage, not a normal mage, but after spending time with Neo, he even learned how to gather the fire element (good for cooking food), the wind element (good for transportation), and the water element (good for washing clothes)... The only element he couldn't master was the holy element (good for lighting the way), as that was the element opposite of his main one, but Neo was good enough at that to let it slide.
I have to admit that Neo always makes things interesting, mused Aldrizzt. He had never been afraid he would succumb to boredom as he had always had other matters to worry about, such as not fitting in with the rest of the dark elves, but boredom was an easy state to fall into for someone who could live as long as he did.
However, staying by Neo's side meant that there would never be a dull moment. If Aldrizzt had even been the teeniest bit bored, his boredom would have been completely obliterated by Neo's next course of action.
When Neo's stomach indicated to him that it was time for dinner, Aldrizzt found them a lake to set up camp for the day.
"I'll build the fire. You hunt," Aldrizzt said. That was the most logical way to divide up the work. At least Neo was good at hunting, if not cooking, doing the laundry, finding his way around...
Neo nodded and left for the thickets.
As Aldrizzt gathered twigs and branches for the fire and started building a barbeque rack, he pondered if they should try to find any new teammates. He was fine handling Neo by himself, and he appreciated Neo's bluntness and utter disregard towards his race -- it was truly refreshing -- but it was also nice to interact with more people than just Neo.
Neo had once mentioned wanting an elf to join them, but Aldrizzt had only been able shake his head at that. Elves absolutely detested dark elves. Trying to get an elf to join them wasn't even worth considering. They would much rather turn Aldrizzt into a pin cushion than become his teammate.
It figured that Neo would return from hunting with an elf flung over his back like a sack of potatoes. Dinner was nowhere in sight, as the elf was obviously not dinner.
"Look Aldrizzt, an elf! I want her to join us," Neo said, loudly and clearly, leaving no room for Aldrizzt to hear him incorrectly.
Aldrizzt held his face with his hand. Then, he asked in disbelief, "Did you kidnap that elf?"
Neo placed the elf down, leaning the elf against a tree trunk. "Nonsense, I found her lying face down on the dirt. She was alone."
Eyes glancing over the elf, Aldrizzt said dryly, "Neo, that's not a her."
"Eh?" Neo quickly looked over the elf. "With eyelashes like that, skin as white as milk and as smooth as honey, and a figure so slim, how can she not be a girl?"
"Your ability to discern elven gender is just as bad as your sense of direction, if not worse," Aldrizzt said, recalling that Neo even had trouble discerning Aldrizzt's gender, and that was just... Aldrizzt was male through and through. He didn't see how anyone could mistake that.
"Whatever, doesn't matter what his gender is. I still want him to join us," Neo said resolutely. "Elves are very agile. I'm fast, but we can use someone even faster."
"I'm surprised you didn't mention that you wanted an archer."
Neo lifted one eyebrow. "An archer? Of course I want an archer. Archers are lethal. Never cross the Leaf Knight. But that elf's not an archer. With that kind of physique and those kinds of calluses, he obviously uses a sword of some sort. Don't discriminate and think that all elves are archers."
I was just hoping that you weren't thinking that, thought Aldrizzt even as both of his eyebrows rose past his hairline. "You couldn't tell his gender, yet you can tell that he uses a sword?"
When Neo merely gave Aldrizzt a look, the dark elf shook his head and said, "You know what, forget I asked. Of course you would know when it comes to swords."
Aldrizzt decided to stop questioning Neo. Whether or not the elf would join them depended entirely on the elf. They would have to wait for the elf to wake up and make a decision, but their guest didn't stir even after Neo cast a few Minor Heals over him.
"If only my student were around, he would be able to cast more advanced healing spells," Neo said.
"The more I hear about your student, the less he sounds like a holy knight..." Aldrizzt murmured.
"That's because he's very unsuited to be a holy knight. The only profession that's worse suited for him would be that of a knight. Thank the God of Light he didn't become a knight. I'm afraid he would already be dead by now if he couldn't use holy light to aid himself." Neo shook his head. "His swordsmanship and his horse-riding..."
Neo trailed off, leaving Aldrizzt to his own imagination of just how bad Neo's student was at swordplay and horse-riding. If Neo's student's skills in those areas had anything on Neo's sense of direction, then Aldrizzt truly pitied him.
"Looks like he's breathing just fine. I'll return with some game. Look after our guest," said Neo, watching the elf's chest rise and fall.
With that, Neo left to continue his hunting.
Alone at their campsite with their unconscious guest, Aldrizzt pulled up his hood. I don't think it would be a good idea for him to wake up and see a dark elf right away.
He continued with building the campfire and the barbecue rack. When he was done with that, he set out their bedrolls before he lit the campfire. Then, Aldrizzt picked his own tree trunk to lean against. As he settled back, he swept his eyes over the elf once again.
Pale complexion. Long eyelashes. A fine chin. He's a handsome one even among elves, thought Aldrizzt, like one of nobility, with class. He then let his eyes wander over the elf's white hair. That was a strange sight. Elves normally had light green hair or blond hair. Some also had more earthen hair colors that came in all sorts of browns. White hair was practically unheard of among elves. In fact, white hair was characteristic of dark elves, not elves.
Aldrizzt fingered his own white hair that contrasted so sharply with his dark skin and made his red eyes stand out. Based on the stranger's white hair, Aldrizzt would have claimed him to be a dark elf if not for his pale complexion.
Could he possibly be half dark elf? Aldrizzt wondered, but that was simply unlikely. He didn't know any dark elves or any elves who would even want to go anywhere near the other. Elves and dark elves detested each other, and that was merely putting it mildly.
When morning greeted them, Aldrizzt cleaned up the campsite. Neo had brought back two rabbits and a bird for dinner, which went along well with the bread they had bought back in town. They ate the leftovers for breakfast.
Still, their guest hadn't woken up yet. When it came time to depart, Neo approached the unconscious elf, about to bend down, looking as if he had every intention to throw the elf over his shoulder again.
"We should probably stay here until he wakes, or bring him back to town," Aldrizzt said. "Neither of us are healers. It worries me that he's not awake yet."
"Hm," was Neo's only response. He poked at the elf.
"Neo!" Aldrizzt reprimanded.
Neo merely rolled his eyes.
The elf shifted and groaned.
"That's more like it!" Neo exclaimed.
Aldrizzt quickly moved backward, out of the elf's immediate sight. He made sure his hood was in place, and that his sleeves were pulled all the way down.
Slowly, the elf opened his eyes, long eyelashes fluttering.
Those were some of the reddest eyes Aldrizzt had ever seen. Those were not the eyes of any normal elf. With hair as white as snow and eyes as red as blood...
Could he truly be half dark elf?
"Hey Aldrizzt," Neo said, jerking Aldrizzt out of his thoughts. "Why is he staring at me so intently? Are you sure he's not a girl? I'm pretty sure I recognize that kind of gaze."
Chapter 3: Chapter 2: Invincible Communication Through Food and Fighting
The elf was still staring at him, star-struck, even as Neo stepped forward to give him a hand. Neo received a stare for his effort before the elf blinked and accepted his help. After Neo pulled the elf up, he was awarded with a winning smile.
He's quite the charmer too, Neo thought, with a smile that even rivals my student's.
Neo had no shortage of admirers and lovers, with his lovers numbering at least fifty, if not a hundred. Even at a young age, his fair hair and azure eyes had always garnered him endless attention, and his charisma had reinforced the deal. When he became the Sun Knight, the attention he'd attracted exploded even further, the public's adoration and awe following him wherever he went. In response to all of the attention, he'd taken to flirting like a fish to water. A charming smile was never far from his face during his time as the Sun Knight, compliments falling easily from his lips. If not for his appearance, he would have easily been mistaken for the footloose Storm Knight.
Although the whole continent knew that the Sun Knight was only supposed to love the God of Light and was not supposed to ever love women...that had never stopped Neo from accepting people's advances or initiating his own.
He was Neo, and that meant he didn't let rules bind him.
The point was, he was very experienced with attention, and he was especially familiar with that kind of attention. The elf before him had definitely been checking him out with those pretty red eyes of his.
"It's not polite to talk as if he's not there," Aldrizzt admonished Neo without answering Neo's question, even though Neo's question hadn't been rhetorical. It wasn't his fault elves looked so androgynous!
Aldrizzt turned toward the elf and said, "Sorry about that."
Neo snorted, hoping Aldrizzt's kindness wasn't going to waste. This was why Neo couldn't let Aldrizzt wander off by himself. He didn't know how Aldrizzt had been able to survive so long with his goody-goody nature that was begging for other people to take advantage of him. He sure would have made a fine Leaf Knight. The only problem was that he didn't believe in the God of Light. That, and the fact that he was a dark elf, made him an unlikely candidate for the Leaf Knight, but Neo truly believed that there were few people more suited to taking care of others than Aldrizzt.
The elf merely glanced between Neo and Aldrizzt, the smile he'd flashed Neo replaced with a frown. He did not respond to or acknowledge Aldrizzt's apology.
Aldrizzt stiffened and pulled his hood down further. When his sleeve slipped, he hastily dropped his hand to cover his dark skin.
Neo watched all of this without a comment. He arched one eyebrow and continued speaking to Aldrizzt as if the elf weren't there, just to make a point. "Well, if he doesn't like it, then he should speak up for himself." He paused, sparing the elf another look before he added, "And he should stop staring at me."
Because the elf was staring, again. Depending on who was currently speaking, he would swivel and stare at that person. This time, the gaze was more confused than appreciative, which Neo didn't find very interesting.
Even with Neo's blunt words, the white-haired elf did not speak a single word. He righted himself, half-leaning against the bark of the tree, before he took a few steps forward. His gaze flitted between Neo and Aldrizzt, and then he looked around at his surroundings, eyebrows furrowing as he did so.
After that, the elf opened his mouth, and Neo understood why the elf currently looked so confused and why he hadn't responded to them.
"Howay reaay ouyay?" the elf asked, gesturing at Neo and Aldrizzt. Then, he looked around him. "Hereway maay Iay? Siay histay hetay Orthernnay Ontinentcay?"
That sounded completely foreign to Neo's ears, and even after the elf had spoken, Neo still thought him to be androgynous. No male had such a dulcet voice!
"Aldrizzt, translate," Neo said. He stepped aside so that Aldrizzt and the elf could see each other unobstructed.
"I told you before that I don't know the elven language either," Aldrizzt replied. "It's not like dark elves and elves ever have time to stand around and chit-chat with each other, not when they would sooner kill each other..."
"What! I thought I told you to learn!" Neo exclaimed. Aldrizzt had plenty of time to learn! "If you had heeded my advice, then we wouldn't be having communication problems here."
Although Neo couldn't see Aldrizzt's face with how he had his hood pulled up, he thought he saw a flicker of white. Aldrizzt was rolling his eyes at him again.
"In case you don't recall, I was busy learning the Spell of Flight," Aldrizzt said dryly.
"Oday ithereay foay ouyay nderstanduay emay?" asked the elf urgently, cutting into the conversation. He gestured at Neo and Aldrizzt and then at himself.
Eyes flicking toward the elf, Neo said, "I have no clue what he's spouting, but it sounds like a question."
Aldrizzt frowned. "Actually, that doesn't sound elven either. I wonder what language he's speaking. He looks like he's wondering if we understand him though."
A look of frustration flashed across the elf's face. He pushed past Neo and Aldrizzt, stumbling forward, seemingly determined to head somewhere.
Neo and Aldrizzt shared a look before they followed the elf to see where he would go. It wasn't like they had anywhere pressing they needed to be, and Neo still very much wanted the elf to join their team, despite communication problems.
All that truly mattered to Neo was whether or not the elf knew how to fight, and if he did, how well he could fight.
Neo planned to find out.
Hours later and five dead slimes later, Neo concluded that the elf definitely knew how to fight. Although slimes were basic creatures, the elf had plowed through them as if they were nothing. Neo had whistled appreciatively, especially over how the elf had sliced through them cleanly with a flick of his black blade. The elf's fighting style wasn't a style Neo had ever seen before. That fact made Neo's hands itch. He watched greedily, impressed.
As he dealt with his own slimes, Neo told the elf, "We should have a duel sometime."
The elf flicked his red eyes at Neo and grinned. "Ou'reyay uiteqay aay ighterfay ootay!"
"Hah, I like your fighting spirit!" Neo exclaimed.
After that, the two of them barged forward together, cutting down branches and chopping down all creatures stupid enough to cross their paths.
Behind them, Aldrizzt shook his head in exasperation. "You almost seem like you're having an actual conversation even though you just spoke gibberish to each other."
"It's the language of fighting, Aldrizzt, the language of fighting!" came Neo's response.
When a boar charged at them next, the elf made quick work of the boar, blood splattering all over his clothes. The clothes hadn't been all that clean beforehand, but now he had blood splatter to complete the outfit, and that was much harder to wash off than dirt.
The elf grinned, licked his lips, and tossed his head. His white hair almost seemed to gleam amongst all the scarlet. Clearly, he was enjoying himself.
Neo whistled once again, dropping to a stop next to the boar. "Looks like we have lunch taken care of." He hadn't even needed to go out of his way to hunt. Their lunch had delivered itself right to them.
Aldrizzt nodded, but his attention wasn't on the boar. Rather, his attention was on the elf, who was now covered in blood.
Neo caught Aldrizzt's gaze. Aldrizzt still had his hood up, but Neo doubted the elf would care. It excited Neo that they had come across an elf who was not quite like any other elf in the entire continent. Neo had heard that elves were the friendliest and kindest bunch out there (with the exception to their kind demeanor being their attitude toward dark elves). If they could help it, they wouldn't even hurt a fly, preferring to live harmoniously with nature. This elf in front of them? If he was "friendly" and "kind" and "wouldn't even hurt a fly", then Neo was a saint.
When the elf turned to look over his shoulder, Neo nodded at the boar and then mimed eating while Aldrizzt simply gestured at the elf's clothes and said, "I hope you know how to do laundry."
The elf nodded at Neo to indicate his understanding before he tilted his head to the side, shrugging in incomprehension at Aldrizzt. He swung his blade down, red blood flicking off his weapon.
Neo heard Aldrizzt sigh. Really, was an additional set of clothes all that much of a bother? All Aldrizzt had to do was toss everything in together! It wasn't like washing clothes was all that difficult!
Behind them hovered the carcass of the boar that Aldrizzt had elevated using the Spell of Flight. When Aldrizzt had cast the spell, the elf's eyebrows had shot up before he casually said, "Oolcay," which Neo had taken to mean he approved. Which was a given of course, since the Spell of Flight was a damn useful spell in Neo's opinion. Otherwise, why would he have pestered, ahem, suggested Aldrizzt to learn it?
After they located a stream, or well, after Aldrizzt located a stream (since both Neo and the elf had just barged on without a care for the direction they took), Aldrizzt lowered the boar down to the ground. Immediately, Neo and the elf headed toward the stream to wash their weapons, leaving Aldrizzt behind to gather twigs for their campfire.
"That's quite some blade you have," commented Neo when they were at the stream. He gestured at the black blade the elf was currently washing. Streams of red dyed the river, branching out from its source.
"Histay siay ymay Lackbay Aoday," the elf said.
Shaking his head, Neo said, "I still don't understand a single word, but want to trade?" He pointed at the black blade in the elf's hand and then lifted his own sword to show the elf.
Glancing down at the weapons in their hands, the elf shrugged and held his black blade out, hilt first.
With a wide grin, Neo accepted the weapon. He handed his own weapon over, a high quality blade. It paled in comparison to the Divine Sun Sword, but few blades could live up to that one (and Neo didn't need the best blade out there to defeat any and all opponents that came his way). Still, he appreciated good blades.
Lifting the slim black blade, Neo gave a few experimental swings. He liked the feel. Readying his stance, he asked, "Duel?"
"Uresay," the elf replied, grinning in response.
They flew at each other, weapons clashing.
If Neo hadn't already wanted the elf to join their team, he definitely wanted the elf to join their team now. It wasn't every day that he came across someone who liked the thrill of battle just as much as he did, and it wasn't every day that he found someone who could keep up with him. They practically spoke the same language!
"Don't kill each other," Aldrizzt said dryly. "And remember his injuries, Neo."
"Yeah, yeah, make sure the boar's done cooking when we're finished!" was the only response Aldrizzt received.
"I told you two to be careful," Aldrizzt nagged with enough concern to put the Leaf Knight to shame.
Neo watched as his teammate fretted over the elf who was now sporting a large gash across his upper arm where Neo had nicked him. The elf had paled when that had happened, and even now he was still visibly shaken.
It boggled Neo's mind that the elf was so bothered by the injury. The injury wasn't even a severe one! Neo made a face. "I was careful. Besides, I can easily heal this."
Waving his hand, he gathered some holy element, enough for the spell he had in mind. "Minor Heal!"
The healing spell landed gently on the elf's injury, sealing the gash.
The elf looked at his arm that was now completely healed and then at Neo. "Hankstay," he said. "Iay idn'tday nowkay ouyay ereway aay ealerhay. Iay houghttay ouyay ereway aay arriorway."
"No problem," Neo replied, thinking that the elf was probably thanking him, though he had no idea what else the elf had spouted.
"Are you okay?" asked Aldrizzt in concern.
Staring down at the ground, the white-haired elf said, "Tiay urthay aay otlay. Hyway idday tiay urthay osay uchmay? Histay oesn'tday akemay ensesay." He sounded like he was working out his thoughts in the open. Neo hoped he wasn't expecting a response.
The elf closed his eyes, piercing red hidden for the time being. "Iay hinktay Iay eednay otay oglay ffoay. Omething'ssay otnay ightray."
Immediately after he finished speaking, his eyebrows knitted together, and he shouted what had to be an expletive in his language. Eyes shooting open, he glanced around him in disbelief. Wild, red eyes sought Neo and Aldrizzt out. In a panicked voice, the elf blurted, "Iay an'tcay oglay ffoay!"
He gestured at his head and made some sort of motion that looked like he was trying to take something off of his head but had failed to do so. Neo pursed his lips, not knowing what the elf was trying to tell them. After all, there was nothing there for the elf to take off.
"Easy there," Aldrizzt said, trying to calm the elf down. "Panicking won't help us understand you."
The elf wrung his hands and plopped down on the ground. He cradled his head with his hand, eyes darting around him as if he were seeing his surroundings for the first time. When his eyes started looking moist, Neo immediately said, "You know what, food sounds really good at the moment."
Dealing with a distressed elf was so not his forte. He hated it whenever anyone cried! It had been bad enough whenever he went too far and accidentally made Grisia cry -- Grisia had been a child then, so Neo figured it was a right of his to cry -- but this elf was clearly a grown-up! Or wait, was this elf still a child...? Age was so hard to tell with elves!
Taking a skewer of roasted meat, Neo shoved it in the elf's face to stop the incoming tears.
To the surprise of everyone present (yes, even the elf) it wasn't the elf who responded to Neo's offer of food. Instead, a plump, white blob burst out of the elf's clothes and gobbled the roasted meat in one gulp.
Neo and Aldrizzt stared.
Neither had any idea what they were currently staring at.
Was it a slime? It couldn't be. Slimes weren't white and opaque. More importantly, slimes didn't eat meat.
"Aldrizzt, I think I might be seeing things," Neo said as he stared down at the white blob that was currently munching on the meat that Aldrizzt had spent so much time roasting for them.
"No, you're not, not unless I'm seeing things too," Aldrizzt replied. He too, was staring down at the white, carnivorous, blob.
The elf's reaction was different. At the sight of the white blob, the elf's eyes lit up. He gave a cry of joy and hugged the white blob before he started blabbing at it nonstop. The white blob also spoke back in the same language.
"Huh," Neo said with one eyebrow raised. He'd seen plenty of odd sights before, but a white blob that looked like it could be a slime of some sort...capable of speech? Now, that qualified to be at the top of the list of "odd".
His eyebrow disappeared further into his hairline when the white blob turned to him and Aldrizzt and bowed. Then, the white blob bounded up onto the elf's head and said, "Meat-bunbun is thankful. Thank you for taking care of Mama."
"You can speak," Neo said dryly, no longer needing to look down at the blob, since it was now on the elf's head.
"Yes," the white blob nodded and did a little hop on the elf's head. The elf didn't seem to mind getting his head pounded on. "Meatbun knows all languages!" the blob said proudly, cute little eyes blinking at them.
"You're Meatbun?" questioned Aldrizzt.
The white blob, Meatbun, nodded with its entire body. "Yup!"
"What in the world are you?" Neo asked.
"Meatbun is a meatbun!"
Well thanks, that tells me so much, Neo thought to himself.
"I believe a meatbun is a type of food," Aldrizzt said. "Possibly a bun filled with meat, given the name?"
"Yup!" Meatbun answered. "Meat-bunbun loves to eat meatbuns!"
Neither Neo nor Aldrizzt knew what to say to that.
"Wait," Neo said not a moment later, recalling what Meatbun had first said to them, "did you just call the elf 'Mama'?"
"Mama is Mama~!" Meatbun said, hopping up and down on the elf's head.
"You sure he's a guy, Aldrizzt?" Neo said. "I hate to bring this up again, but maybe you were wrong. That thing is clearly calling him Mama."
"Meatbun is not 'that thing'!" Meatbun protested.
Aldrizzt sighed. "Neo, should I be worried? You seem to really want him to be a girl."
"What? No! It's not my fault he's so confusing! You elves are all so frustrating!"
"Neo, I'm not an elf..."
With Meatbun as their translator, they managed to get a few things straight. If only Meatbun hadn't been sleeping, they would have gotten things straightened a lot earlier! They learned that the elf's name was "Prince" (and yes, he was a guy despite what Meatbun called him, though he had looked strangely suspicious, eyes darting away when Neo questioned him about why Meatbun called him Mama if he wasn't female). He had been on his way to someplace called the "Northern Continent" when his ship had crashed and he got separated from his companions.
"Prince, huh? That's... who names their kid 'Prince'?" Neo asked.
"It's not a very elven name," Aldrizzt murmured.
"Nothing about him is very elven," Neo said, "Except for the ears." And how misleading he is.
"True," Aldrizzt said in agreement.
Neo and Aldrizzt introduced themselves to Prince, who asked them if they would help him find his companions. Since neither of them were in a hurry, they agreed, but only if the elf would join them as their teammate for the time being. It was a win-win situation for both parties.
When Prince asked them about "logging off", only to receive blank stares, Prince paused and then asked Meatbun to ask them if the word "NPC" meant anything to them. When Neo and Aldrizzt both shook their heads, Prince seemed to have come to some sort of conclusion about them, though Neo didn't know what that was.
It didn't matter to Neo though. He was excited that the elf had decided to join them after all. "So, what should we call ourselves?" asked Neo. They even had a fourth member, Meatbun, though Neo wasn't sure how useful Prince's pet would be in a fight.
"Neo, your naming sense is..."
"How about Dark Human Elf Squad?"
Aldrizzt planted his face in his hand. "Not this again... That is a terrible name. Please don't name us that."
That night, Aldrizzt discovered quite happily that Prince 1) knew how to cook and 2) knew how to do laundry, so Aldrizzt welcomed Prince onto the team wholeheartedly.
The same night, Neo discovered that Prince flushed a very interesting red when it came time to take a bath. For some unfathomable reason, Prince's nose started bleeding uncontrollably when Neo took off his shirt.
Neo merely raised one elegant eyebrow and dragged Prince into the water.
Speech from 1/2 Prince characters (when heard by LSK characters) is written in Pig Latin. If you actually want to figure out what Prince is saying here, you can! Pig Latin is where the first character in a word is moved to the end of the word and "ay" is added onto it. Prince isn't actually speaking Pig Latin. I just used it to show that LSK characters don't understand him (instead of my typing up a bunch of complete gibberish or using random languages to replace their speech, though I suppose I could've used Chinese for 1/2 Prince characters~).
Speech from Legend of Sun Knight characters (when heard by 1/2 Prince characters) will be written backwards. If you want to figure out what they're saying, all you have to do is invert the entire sentence.
I'm thinking of possibly making an exception for character names though, so we can have the characters actually introduce themselves to each other and learn new names. Otherwise, we'll forever have Prince referred to as "the elf"! (in cases where we don't have convenient translators!)
I thought of using ROT-13 to encode either side's speech, but it's a little harder to decipher their speech that way, so I chose two methods that still allow you to figure out what they're saying if you really want to know. ;) I also considered using l33t speech for 1/2 Prince characters (vowels replaced by numbers), but not all words looked funny enough when I did that, haha.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3: Invincible Music; Hark! What is that beautiful tune? No, no, don't be lured by it. He's a demon!
Securing his hood so that his ears were hidden, a robed figure ambled out into the streets, harp-like instrument in hand. The townspeople paid him no mind until music started drifting to their ears. One-by-one, the busy townspeople put down what they were doing, entranced by the beautiful notes. The tune was altogether foreign, graced by an unknown language, but even though no one understood the lyrics, everyone felt the yearning that was laced through the words and notes.
They listened. A few even blinked furiously, willing their eyes to stay dry.
The robed figure, who had to be a bard, plucked at the strings of his instrument and continued to sing his melancholic tale. A small crowd had gathered around him, tossing copper coins and even a few silver ones onto the cloth he had spread before him. He gave an enigmatic smile and a nod in response to the townspeople's generosity, sending more than one of the village girls squealing in the midst of their surging empathy.
When the last note faded away, the crowd reluctantly dispersed, returning to their daily lives.
Immediately, the smile on the bard's face vanished without a trace. He gathered up the coins, tying the cloth together to form a pouch. His new earnings jingled by the side of his waist.
Leaving the plaza, he made his way over to a rickety building and pushed the door open.
"One hundred silver ducats," he said. "I would like to hire a team."
Let us backtrack to one week ago.
When Guiliastes, our bard in question, otherwise known as Min Gui Wen offline, had first woken up by the side of a cave, he had done so with a gasp, and he'd immediately noticed that he was alone. Unlike Prince, there had been no one around, and certainly no benevolent dark elf and former Sun Knight, to greet him upon his awakening.
Guiliastes, henceforth known simply as Gui, had not immediately taken to using his music to procure a means of survival for himself, for he hadn't even known where he was.
This was what he had done instead, and perhaps it was thanks to his IQ of 200 that he was able to calmly analyze his situation and come to the right conclusion, unlike the conclusion that Prince had made.
He looked around to study his surroundings, only able to discern that he hadn't ever been to this part of the world map before. It wasn't anywhere he recognized, and last he knew, he had been in the middle of the ocean, so how had he ended up here?
Then, he took stock of himself and noted his lightheadedness, but he quickly ignored that, tossing his pains to the back of his mind. An easy task, for he had quite a lot of practice with blocking off pain, considering how often he got beaten up by Prince. What was more important to Gui was finding out whether or not Prince was okay. When that thought crossed Gui's mind, he immediately tried to PM Prince.
And discovered that he couldn't. Imagine the horror that crossed Gui's face at that realization.
Has Prince logged off? Or has he died and returned to the Central Continent?
At that moment of horror, dozens of thoughts flew through Gui's mind about what could have possibly happened, almost making him panic -- no, it wasn't almost making him panic, he was panicking -- at the thought that Prince could be hurt, but he realized not a moment later that something was very off, and it wasn't just that he couldn't PM Prince.
There was no PM system.
He tried to call out his stats and found that he couldn't do that either.
The next logical step was logging off, so Gui tried to do just that. He had a feeling that it wouldn't work, and he was right.
"Am I really...still in the game?" he questioned out loud even though there was no one around to hear him. He tugged at his long tresses and looked down at his robes, his bard outfit. Then, he focused his mana, feeling his magic gather. There was no question that this was not the real world. His hair and his robes could be explained away, but magic? That he couldn't do in real life. The question that ate at him now was whether or not this was still Second Life. Was he stuck in the game, a game where the Dictator of Life had changed the rules?
Following that, Gui shivered, suddenly struck with the thought that perhaps the Dictator of Life planned on trapping all of the players within Second Life, estranging them from their physical bodies. If none of them could log off, then they were no different from NPCs. Second Life would become their only reality. Gui didn't understand why the Dictator of Life might have suddenly changed his plans when he had been so focused on chasing all the players out of Second Life, but Gui had no other explanation for his current situation.
If he was currently stuck in the game, then it was likely that everyone else was too.
His face fell, and he gulped. I have to find Prince.
Just as Gui vowed to find Prince, an elated exclamation suddenly sounded, and a flurry of wings revealed Fire Phoenix to have been scouting the area. Fire Phoenix's presence was yet another piece of evidence against this being the real world.
Still, upon seeing Fire Phoenix, relief replaced the worry that had been splayed over Gui's face. He wasn't completely alone like he had first thought. Gui conversed with Fire Phoenix, voicing his conjectures.
After he finished speaking, Fire Phoenix looked at him in apprehension, her usual haughty voice hesitant as she spoke.
"Master, this is not Second Life," she said, wings folding around herself in her landing.
Even though Gui was smart, it was really thanks to Fire Phoenix that Gui made the leap of logic. Her declaration had sent his thoughts tumbling without a net to catch them, scattered to form something completely outrageous.
Gui's strength evaporated, and he found himself leaning against the cavern wall.
He had been afraid of this. He had thought that maybe...but how...? How could this be possible? Because... If this wasn't the real world and it wasn't Second Life either, then where in the world was he?
Sadly, no one was around to explain anything to Gui. However, that wasn't going to stop Gui from finding out and making sense of things.
He certainly wasn't a professor for nothing. It was his job to learn and figure things out.
Bard and pet quickly got to work.
Despite the shocking discovery of being stranded in a completely foreign world, Gui spent very little time on being shocked. He couldn't afford to stay shocked, not when he didn't know how Prince and everyone else were faring.
Gui did not at all like not knowing Prince's wellbeing.
Thankfully, Fire Phoenix was with him and made looking for a town a simple matter. She took to the air, flying high above the sky to look for signs of intelligence other than their own. Once she located a town, they started toward that direction and continued onward the entire day, only stopping briefly for food. Wherever this was, pain felt very real and hunger felt just as real. (A wilderness expert Gui was not. His only experiences of surviving outdoors were from Second Life, so thank goodness once again that Fire Phoenix was with him. She knew how to hunt. She even easily roasted the food.)
When Gui set foot into that first town with Fire Phoenix flying by his side, Gui soon realized that although this world looked similar to the fantasy world of Second Life, it was fundamentally different in many, many ways.
Many unhelpful ways.
For one, the people would not stop staring at him. Apparently, he was somewhat of an oddity with his pointy ears and dark hair.
He knew this because Fire Phoenix had helped translate the townspeople's murmurings, and it was with a sinking heart that he observed that all of the townspeople were clearly human. No pointy ears. No furry bodies. Nothing out of the ordinary.
That brought him to his second point. Gui couldn't understand a single word the people spoke. Although the players of Second Life spoke all sorts of different languages and came from all parts of the world, the game automatically translated everything so that everyone understood each other regardless of what language they spoke. Luckily, Fire Phoenix's translation system still seemed to be in place, as she could understand and speak this world's language just fine.
The third difference, a very crucial one, was what had Gui running as if his life depended on it.
In fact, he was pretty sure his life depended on him outrunning the crowd chasing him. He really should have thought this through more, but he hadn't thought that this place that looked so much like Second Life would...
"Hmph, what a bunch of lowlifes! Trying to capture me to sell me? I only have one master!" exclaimed Fire Phoenix, haughty voice in place as she flew by Gui's side in a flaming streak of red.
...find phoenixes so rare.
Gui almost wanted to cry.
After that fiasco, Gui learned to hide his ears and to keep Fire Phoenix hidden as well. She was much more difficult to hide than his ears, and she absolutely refused to let him disguise her into some other, less flamboyant kind of bird, so Gui could only settle on leaving her outside of town during his forays there.
Since Gui couldn't bring Fire Phoenix with him and he didn't know this world's language, he had to learn the basics of the language from Fire Phoenix first.
Evening saw the two on the outskirts of another town that Fire Phoenix had located for them, deep in the middle of an impromptu language lesson. Gui tried to memorize as many vocabulary words as he could so that he could ask around in town and figure out just where in the universe they were. He also tried to learn as much as he could of the language structure so that he could at least string a few sentences together. While he gathered information in town, Fire Phoenix would stay in the wilderness to avoid inciting another round of "capture the phoenix."
"Master, you should sleep," urged Fire Phoenix after their campfire sputtered and died out late in the night. Or was it early morning already? Gui couldn't tell.
He shook his head and rubbed his tired eyes. "I can't. I can't waste time. I have to master this. Prince is still out there!"
Gui hated with a passion how long it was taking him to learn the language. Every second he spent on stumbling over his words was another wasted moment when he should have already been in town, conversing with the townspeople.
"Master, sleep will help you retain what you are currently learning better," Fire Phoenix said. If she had been talking to anyone else, Gui was sure that what she would have said instead was: "You are utterly failing at grasping the fine details of this language, so go to sleep already before I peck your eyes out."
Coffee. Where was coffee when he needed it? With it, he could have pulled an all-nighter without a problem, as he often did when he had endless exams and papers to correct, or whenever he came upon a particularly interesting literature piece that would keep him up through the night...
Alas, since there was no coffee to be had, and since he was utterly failing at retaining what he was learning, he admitted that perhaps Fire Phoenix was right. He should sleep. He would be more efficient after a short nap.
With that thought in mind, Gui reluctantly let sleep claim him, eyes drifting shut.
He hoped that he would dream of Prince, but instead he dreamed entirely of jumbled words and incomprehensible speech. In his dream, Fire Phoenix squawked indignantly at him and did indeed peck his eyes out.
However, it didn't hurt at all, and merely added on to his frustration.
It turned out that Fire Phoenix was right. Their lesson went much more smoothly upon his awakening, and now that it was daytime, there were actually people going about their business in town. People that Gui could talk to. He rearranged his robes to hide his ears, and then he headed into town.
His talks basically went like so:
He would listen to the strangers ramble off, only able to understand a little of what he was being told. He would memorize the rest so that he could repeat it to Fire Phoenix later on.
"Kissinger?" Gui asked, just to make sure he had the word right. The current stranger in front of him nodded and continued to spew a bunch of words, though not without giving Gui the side-eye. Gui didn't need to understand the man completely to know that he was thinking this: "Just what rock have you been hiding under?"
Gui did his best to memorize it all. And to ignore the strange glances caused by his questions.
He nodded to express his thanks. After he asked a few more people, he left town and repeated nearly word-for-word what he had heard in town to Fire Phoenix. Fire Phoenix then translated everything for him. Together, they managed to figure out most of what they needed to know.
They were in a place called the Kingdom of Kissinger. It was one of the three kingdoms that governed this continent, and the people of Kissinger believed in a god called the Shadow God. The two other kingdoms, both far from his current location, were the Kingdom of Moon Orchid, whose people mostly followed the God of War, and the Kingdom of Forgotten Sound, whose people mostly followed the God of Light.
Religion, apparently, was very prominent here.
"Strange world," Gui concluded after Fire Phoenix finished translating for him. "Very medieval. Must be fascinating for history majors. I'm interested myself in learning about how these religions came about, but now's not the time for that. I still don't know where any of the others are."
He also concluded that he had not ended up in the past. This was either a different game world, or he was in a parallel universe altogether, though in that case, he was still somehow stuck in his Second Life body as Guiliastes and was not Min Gui Wen (but then, what did that mean in regards to his physical body, the one wearing the game helmet?). Either scenario opened up a multitude of possibilities that almost made him wish he had chosen to specialize in something other than literature. Scientists would have had a kick out of his current situation... but well, Gui was a genius, so even though he was a literature professor and not anyone you'd normally think would be suitable to study parallel universes and virtual realities becoming real, the genius part really balanced everything out. He was very well read, and that was an understatement.
He puzzled through the possibilities.
At night, Gui once again had Fire Phoenix teach him more of the language, and Fire Phoenix once again urged her master to take a break when it became obvious to her that he didn't plan on resting. Again.
Fire Phoenix snorted. Her master could be such a pain.
The next time Gui went into town, he asked about how he might go about searching for certain people he wanted to find.
The warrior he asked explained to him about the Adventurers' Guild. If he wanted to search for someone and needed help doing that, he could make use of the Adventurers' Guild and create a mission for others to claim. All he needed was the ability to pay the adventurer teams.
That wasn't a bad idea. It wasn't ideal, making his companions' presence known when they were all so out-of-the-ordinary, but he needed to find them somehow.
Now, he just needed money to do it.
Gui assessed himself, looking down at his instrument that he was still carrying, immediately knowing just how he was going to go about earning money.
They kept on the move, traveling from town-to-town. At each town, Gui would perform, singing tales of his estranged love, of his yearning for his Prince. He created everything, from the tune to the lyrics, thankful that he had some practice from his time holding concerts with Prince in Second Life. At first, reactions to his songs were lukewarm, but Gui poured all of his emotion into his singing and his playing, crisp notes gripping the air, burrowing deep into his listeners' hearts. He could tell when his passionate longing shook them and touched them, finally affecting them and garnering him sympathy and compassion.
Although he always had his ears covered now, his appearance half hidden, he still caught many women staring at him, their hearts most likely aching for him. Perhaps his secretive nature made him all the more alluring. He always made sure to smile at them.
"Thank you," he murmured in their language, having practiced this line. He wanted everyone to know just who he was singing about, why he was doing this. "You bring me one step closer to my Prince."
That sent the women giggling, and it made Gui smile a genuine smile.
I'll find you. Gui promised. I'll definitely find you.
Before he knew it, one week had passed, and he had finally earned himself a reasonable amount of money, as well as a lot of fame. That was a side benefit that Gui had only considered in passing in the beginning, but now he actually dared to hope.
He dared to hope that perhaps...perhaps he would be able to bring enough attention to himself that even his companions would hear about him. If he couldn't find them, then the next best thing would be to make enough noise so that they could find him instead.
In any case, Gui felt he now had enough money to hire teams to help him in his search. That was why he was currently standing in the Adventurers' Guild, drafting up a mission.
"Reward, one hundred silver ducats for locating a young man with white hair, pointy ears, and red eyes, paid only when said young man is found. Fifty silver ducats will be paid if any of the following members are found: a young girl with pigtails..."
"A young man with white hair and pointy ears?" asked a cleric behind Gui. He thought that was what the cleric had said. Gui was still learning and hadn't caught the tail-end of what the cleric had said. The cleric also had quite a soft voice, especially considering the fact that he was a guy. The cleric turned to someone beside him, "Wasn't someone like that caught in the City of Everglade?"
"Huh, I think I heard something like that, Kylie," the warrior replied gruffly. "But I bet he's dead already! Would serve him right, heh!"
"May the God of Light have mercy..." murmured the cleric. "Please don't speak of death so easily, no matter the race of the person in question."
Gui dropped his bag of money out of shock. When Kylie picked it up and tried to hand it back, Gui gripped the man's wrist and held his eyes with an intense gaze.
"Tell me more," Gui breathed. "Please."
Please be safe, Prince, please.
Kylie is from v4c2 of the Legend of Sun Knight. He is a very minor LSK character, haha.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4: Invincible Days of Retirement; After All, it's not Every Day that Strangers Fall in Front of Your House from the Sky.
After his retirement, Chasel had opted to remain in Leaf Bud City. He had gotten used to the city after living there for approximately two decades and had seen no need to leave his beloved city. Unlike Neo who had immediately gone off adventuring right after retiring, eager to bid Leaf Bud City farewell so that he could see the rest of the world, Chasel hadn't shared the same adventuring spirit.
Instead, he appreciated the stable lifestyle he now led. Other than him, three others of the former Twelve Holy Knights had also chosen to remain in Leaf Bud City: the former Ice Knight Eller, the former Blaze Knight Fahr, and the former Storm Knight Lanbi. Oftentimes, they would frequent taverns together, or they would meet up at Chasel's place, which was located in the far outer city, and was thus not surrounded by very many other houses. His closest neighbor was at least a block away, giving Chasel and his companions plenty of room if they wished to brush up on their fighting skills outside of his house.
After their friendly spars, they would enjoy different brews of tea inside Chasel's home. Before Chasel knew it, three peaceful years passed in such a way, his current life completely different from the tense one he had led as the Judgment Knight. Over tea, they would share the latest news about their students, as well as news about Neo, who was under Chasel's orders to send frequent updates to the former Twelve Holy Knights about his whereabouts and what he was up to. Chasel felt it a necessity -- Neo was too much of a terror to unleash upon the world unchecked, thank the God of Light for Aldrizzt -- but Neo just felt him and his concerns to be a pain.
It exasperated Chasel at times just how eager Neo was to escape from him. Chasel was only keeping tabs on Neo for his own good and for the safety of others.
He placed the latest letter from Neo and Aldrizzt on the table so that he could pour the tea.
Today, like many other days in Chasel's retired life, he was enjoying a cup of black tea with his friend Eller after their sparring session. As Chasel gently blew on his tea, Eller babbled away, not at all reticent like what one would expect of the former Ice Knight.
"Have you heard? Neo's student has left for the Kingdom of Moon Orchid to be a groomsman for the Son of the God of War!" exclaimed Eller. Without paying much attention to his hands, the former Ice Knight cooled his own tea with a dab of ice elemental magic. After he downed his tea with one gulp, he furrowed his brows, nibbled on his lower lip, and continued speaking. "But I thought the Son of the God of War came here for the hand of our princess? What's he doing getting married all the way in our neighboring kingdom?"
Chasel took a sip of his tea that was still leaning toward "hot" before he spoke. "Ah, I'm afraid you're behind on your gossip, Eller. Our princess has claimed a different fiancée, so the Son of the God of War had to find a different bride. I'm surprised he was able to find a different bride so quickly. They must have already had plans in place even when he was still in our kingdom."
The sides of Chasel's lips quirked up in a soft smile at the thought of what had transpired while the Son of the God of War had been in Leaf Bud City. Neo's student was truly outrageous. Lesus had only told Chasel the bare bones about what had happened with the Son of the God of War's marriage proposal, but it was enough for Chasel to know that Grisia had once again come up with a brazen plan. Sometimes, Chasel really didn't know whether Neo or his student Grisia was the one who was more of a handful. Thankfully, Lesus was the best person Chasel could think of to handle Grisia.
"Do you think Grisia took Ecilan with him to the Kingdom of Moon Orchid? I'm sure Ecilan would enjoy seeing the sights..." Eller asked. As he talked, he propped his elbows on Chasel's table and rested his chin on his hands so he could ponder his own question.
Shaking his head, Chasel replied, "Knowing the Pope, he wouldn't send Ecilan with Grisia unless things were dire. Like Lesus, Ecilan is also of the 'cold, cruel-hearted' faction. The Pope wouldn't choose him. But, you and I both know that the real reason the Pope wouldn't send him is because Ecilan provides desserts to the entire Holy Temple. I don't think the entire temple could stand it if their source of desserts suddenly disappeared."
Once Chasel answered, Eller licked his lips. "Ooooh, Ecilan's desserts. How I've missed them! Of course the entire temple would feel deprived if Ecilan weren't there. Ecilan's desserts are the best!"
"Didn't Ecilan send you a batch merely last week?" asked Chasel. He was quite sure it had only been a week. Eller had even brought some over to share with Chasel. Over the years, Eller had never ceased bragging about Ecilan's skill at baking, and would, quite frequently, gleefully share Ecilan's baked creations with Chasel and the others.
"Yes, but I've already finished eating it all... Receiving a batch here and there still doesn't compare to being able to eat what he makes every day!" Eller complained.
"There, there," Chasel consoled him, as he often did, especially now that there was no need to pretend that he wasn't compassionate anymore. "At least Ecilan has been attentive and has never forgotten to send you his newest creations. I can't say the same for Fahr and his student..."
Both the former Judgment Knight and the former Ice Knight held a moment of silence for their comrade Fahr, who had been completely forgotten by his student Chikus the moment Fahr had retired.
"You would think Chikus would at least visit once in awhile, but he always seems to be in a rush," Chasel commented. "Still, Chikus is just forgetful and lives too much in the moment. Grisia on the other hand..."
He trailed off.
Eller laughed into the table that he had been trying to burrow his face into out of depression. He lifted his head from the table and completed Chasel's sentence for him. "Grisia, on the other hand, would purposely avoid Neo if he were in the city. Good thing for both parties involved... no, good thing for everyone that Neo's not around."
"Yes, it's fortunate that Neo's not around at the moment," Chasel said. It wasn't that Leaf Bud City couldn't handle having two audacious Sun Knights around, but Neo and his student would certainly get into all sorts of trouble, and Neo would manage to turn the entire Holy Temple over with his whims. In the end, Lesus would have contacted Chasel, and Chasel would have needed to pay a visit to the Holy Temple to collect his wayward comrade. It was a well practiced routine even when Neo had still been the Sun Knight, Chasel going out of his way to collect Neo...
He shook himself out of his thoughts. Neo would be Neo. "Speaking of Neo, I received word from him yesterday."
"Oh? What does his letter say?" asked Eller curiously, eyes flicking downward to look at the letter Chasel had picked up again.
Chasel chuckled. "More accurately, I should have said I received word from Aldrizzt, seeing as he is the one who wrote this letter. Apparently, they're in the Town of White Rose and have been traveling with three teammates: a cleric, a rogue, and a warrior."
"Good luck to them," Eller said. "I hope they last more than a week."
Eller's tone, however, indicated that he didn't think it was very likely that they would last more than a week.
"I hope so too." Chasel lowered the letter and thought to himself, I hope they haven't already disbanded in the time that it took this letter to reach us.
As Chasel and Eller continued chatting, a sudden crash from outside jolted them out of their conversation.
Outside of Chasel's house, a redhead gingerly picked himself off of the dirt ground, Chasel's practice dummy smashed into smithereens underneath him. That had to be some fall. Some distance away from him were two other humans: a handsome man with his hair tied in a high ponytail and a young girl who wore a dress that had wings coming out of the back of the dress. It was an angelic outfit, a style that might even be found among the Sun Knight's clothes.
"Well, it certainly doesn't look like Fahr's student had suddenly decided to pay us a visit," Chasel commented as he took in the situation and saw the redhead whose hair was fiery enough for him to be mistaken for the Blaze Knight. He had his hair tied like how Chikus usually kept his hair, but unlike Chikus whose hair was far messier and whose face was unmarred, this man's hair was sleek, and he had a cross-shaped scar over his cheek.
Immediately after Chasel and Eller had exited the house, the redhead's hand flew to the hilt of his sword. He stepped in front of his two comrades who appeared to be unconscious. "Who are you?" asked the redhead warily, eyes darting between Chasel and Eller.
Chasel raised his hands up to show that he wasn't holding any weapons. He did have his sword by his waist, but he didn't plan on using it. The man before him was definitely trying to protect the other two despite the fact that the man himself didn't look all that steady on his feet. His complexion was also quite pale. "I mean you no harm. It's just that you've fallen in front of my house, so I came out to see what had happened."
When the man continued to remain alert, Chasel glanced to the side and noticed that Eller still had his weapon out.
"Eller," Chasel chided.
"Fine, but you better protect me if anything happens!" Eller said. He slowly and cautiously put his weapon away and backed up. Even without his weapon, Eller wasn't defenseless, as he was quite the wielder of ice magic. Chasel dismissed his quip. If necessary, Eller could definitely defend himself.
Despite the man's condition, his gaze was sharp as he surveyed his surroundings. He then spotted the practice dummy he had broken. It had definitely seen better days. "I apologize for breaking your property," he finally said.
"Apology accepted," Chasel murmured. "Would you like a cup of tea? Feel free to bring your companions in as well. I'm sure they will be more comfortable once they're no longer on the ground. I'm not very proficient in healing magic, but it should be better than nothing."
Chasel indeed poured the redhead a cup of tea once they'd gotten everyone settled. The redhead looked like he could use it, and he seemed to appreciate it even though he didn't voice any opinion over the tea. He merely drank it without a word. Chasel was pleased to see him drain the entire cup. When he placed the cup down lightly, Chasel silently refilled it.
It took a day for the redhead's companions to wake up. In the meantime, Chasel and Eller had both cast Minor Heals over the unconscious man and girl, but they continued to sleep. The redhead, whose name was Kenshin, did not say much as his companions slept on. He merely kept a quiet vigil by their bedsides and refused Chasel and Eller's offers to heal him. Chasel could tell he wanted them to save their healing magic for the other two, though he did not outright say so (Chasel was quite good at reading between the lines). It was true that Chasel could not perform healing magic more than three times a day, so he could not refute Kenshin's refusal. His companions did need it more.
What Chasel could have done, however, was invite a cleric over, but Kenshin hadn't wanted to spread news of his presence. Seeing that his two companions slept on peacefully, he had declined Chasel's offer to seek a cleric.
Except for Kenshin's red hair, he was as different from the fiery Blaze Knight as one could be. He was a quiet one, and he kept his emotions closely guarded.
Chasel found it ironic that Eller, the former Ice Knight, was much more expressive than their guest. Eller had loudly declared this far more interesting than going home and had taken a spot on Chasel's floor for the night, further demonstrating his animated personality. He even snored.
The girl woke up first. Then the guy. Not because of Eller's snores, Chasel hoped, but the timing was suspicious and pointed to that. Kenshin didn't relax when it happened, but Chasel could tell from the way his shoulders were slightly less hunched -- years of being the Judgment Knight had honed Chasel's observation skills -- that he was relieved.
"Itshay, Iway eelfay ikelay ymay issay obberedclay emay onway ethay eadhay ithway erhay ingfryay anpay," said the guy on the bed.
The girl looked around at her surroundings, and Chasel found that she took notice of where the exits were first. Interesting. "Erewhay areway eway?" she asked but not without wincing.
"How are you feeling?" Chasel asked, wondering if they knew how to speak his language. He hadn't expected they would speak a different language. Kenshin had been fluent, albeit reticent.
When both guy and girl just looked at him in incomprehension, Chasel turned to Kenshin. "Hm, it doesn't seem like your companions speak my language. Are you three from somewhere distant? I do not believe I have heard your language before."
Kenshin's mouth turned downward minutely, but that was all the answer Chasel received. The redhead then turned to his companions. The three of them started a rapid discussion in their foreign tongue, with the man, who looked to be around Chasel's student's age or younger, asking the redhead several questions while Kenshin answered in succinct phrases.
At one point in time, both the girl and the guy closed their eyes before they flew open again in shock. The young man even got off the bed (and nearly stumbled) before he started pacing. At least that told Chasel he was physically okay.
Their guests continued their heated discussion, well, heated on the young man's part. He sounded close to hysterics while Kenshin's voice remained calm and controlled throughout. The girl patted the man on the arm.
"Did they forget about us?" asked Eller, who had apparently woken up (Chasel would think anyone would wake up from the loud conversation going on before him, but Eller was usually a deep sleeper, so if anyone could sleep through this, it would be him).
"They have a lot to talk through," Chasel said with a shrug. Eller pulled himself off the ground just in time to see the girl furrow her brows and the guy nod. Then, the girl punched the guy in the face.
"Uchoay! Efinitelyday urtshay neoay undredhay ercentpay," the guy said while rubbing his jaw.
"Huh," Eller said. "You sure they're talking with each other?"
Finally, the three people who had shown up in front of Chasel's house out of nowhere approached the table Chasel and Eller were sitting at. Kenshin opened his mouth to speak. He looked reluctant to do so, but he really didn't have much choice when he was the only one who spoke both languages.
He gestured at his two companions. "Feng Wu Qing," he said while indicating the guy. "Doll," he said, nodding at the girl. He then asked Chasel a few questions before he turned back to his companions. Their discussion flared up again. Occasionally, Kenshin would ask Chasel another question, usually prompted by one of the others. He was most likely translating their queries for them.
It was odd to Chasel that these people seemed to know nothing about the Church of the God of Light or of the other religions. Even people outside of the three large kingdoms of Forgotten Sound, Moon Orchid, and Kissinger had to have more or less some knowledge of the religions. Since they knew nothing of the God of Light, it wasn't strange that they hadn't heard of the Twelve Holy Knights either. Still, it felt strange to Chasel that he had actually gone unrecognized in Leaf Bud City. It was almost unheard of.
While Chasel pondered where these people could have hailed from (it had to be somewhere very far given their language and unfamiliarity with the religions), it seemed that their discussion had finally come to an end, and that they had come to a consensus about their next step as well.
Very bluntly without any sort of lead-in, Kenshin said, "We are not from this world."
"You are from a different world? Fascinating," Chasel commented mildly.
That would explain things.
Kenshin blinked. Feng Wu Qing -- even his name sounded otherworldly -- nudged at Kenshin to translate. Kenshin did, and then it was Feng Wu Qing and Doll's turn to blink in surprise at him.
"Ouyay uresay elievedbay suay uicklyqay," said Doll.
Chasel had always been told that he was very practical. He saw no reason to doubt their words, and the explanation did fit. Moreover, what none of his guests knew was that Chasel was very good at spotting when someone was telling the truth or not, and he could tell that they were being truthful.
He smiled to himself. There was truly no need to even set foot outside of Leaf Bud City. Even though he hadn't sought adventure, it seemed that it had found him just fine.
"Tea?" Chasel asked.
Here's a badly drawn map of where everyone we currently know are located as of the last chapter they appeared in (they might no longer be in the same place):
I've tossed all the place names I was able to gleam (and remember) from LSK on here, and then I added a bunch of random towns and cities of my own. I might need to add more later on, but hopefully this will serve well for the time being~. Accuracy of locations from the actual series is not at all guaranteed. =P
Chapter 6: Chapter 5: Invincible Prince on a White Horse... or not. Because. You'd at Least Need a Horse to be a Prince on a White Horse.
In the holding cells of the City of Everglade, a white-haired dark elf sat leaning against the wall, his hands cuffed before him. Two guards stood outside of his stark prison with their backs facing him. Whenever the guard to the right of the dark elf's sight twitched, head turning slightly to glance at their prisoner, the guard to the left would step heavily on the former's foot to get his eyes to stop wandering.
After all, they were guarding a dark elf. Who knew what wicked things the dark elf would do to them if they were caught staring?
The dark elf's skin, black as ebony, blended into the darkness of the dimly-lit prison. Only the dark elf's white hair stood out in the flickering candlelight, so white that it almost gleamed like the metal that cuffed his wrists and feet. Neither of the guards had ever seen a dark elf before, but they had heard the legends. Dark elves were a notorious race that lived below the surface, easily distinguishable by their dark skin, white hair, pointy ears, and blood red eyes, physical traits that couldn't be any more different than a human's. They possessed not an ounce of compassion; wickedness ran in their poisonous blood. Ruthless murderers and heartless thieves made up the lot of them, apathy and deceit their second name.
Neither guard had thought they would ever see a dark elf in their lifetime -- dark elves never deigned to come to the surface, thank the Shadow God for that -- but here a dark elf sat, imprisoned and shackled with only a few metal bars separating him from them.
It was both frightening and a tad bit exciting.
When the first guard tried to sneak another look (he couldn't believe that he was actually in the same room as a dark elf, or that dark elves even existed in the first place), he caught the dark elf just as he raised his head. The dark elf stared back at him with narrowed green eyes. Not red like the legends, but a piercing green. Despite that, he was definitely a dark elf. There was no mistaking the color of his skin, the translucent quality of his hair, or the sharpness of his ears. Or the way he had cursed at them in that undecipherable language of his when he'd been captured.
Who knew what kind of horrid fate the dark elf had damned them to in his alien tongue?
"Stop staring!" the guard on the left hissed, once again digging his boot into the other's boot.
"Ouch! Not my fault, okay? I mean, look at his skin. And those ears!"
After he spoke, he couldn't help looking back again. When he turned his head, the dark elf stared right back, green eyes narrowed and unblinking.
"Besides," he protested, unable to tear his eyes away, voice tight with nervousness, "he's staring too."
The dark elf really was. Staring, that was. In a not-so-friendly manner.
"Do you have a death wish?" asked the second guard. "I bet if the dark elf were to break free, the first one he'd attack is you with your offensive staring!"
"Come on, don't jinx me... I have a family, you know," gulped the guard. He really didn't want to be on the receiving end of a dark elf's wrath.
"Then stop staring. You can do that for a day, can't you? He's going to be out of our hands soon after all. Show some restraint."
"Huh, what do you mean?" That finally caught the guard's attention enough for him to tear his gaze away from his possible demise.
Exasperated, the second guard dropped his voice and whispered, "I can't believe you haven't kept up to date on our orders. He's being moved to the capital tomorrow."
"Whoa, he's gonna get executed?" exclaimed the first guard in a loud voice, rendering the other's discretion completely useless.
"Will you stop being so freaking loud? Who knows! Maybe the Silent Eagle just wants to see him."
When both guards glanced back at the dark elf to see what he'd made of their conversation -- after all, he had to have heard considering how loud one of they had been -- the dark elf merely stared back at them, revealing no apparent reaction to their words even though they had just been talking about the possibility of him getting executed. If not that, he would still be dragged in front of the Silent Eagle, and that was akin to being judged by the Shadow God Himself, considering how the Silent Eagle was the one with all the power in the Cathedral of the Shadow God.
Just how apathetic could the dark elf be? Or could it be... they were all below his notice?
The guard on the right gulped once again and slowly turned away from the dark elf. Perhaps he really should stop staring.
When the next day dawned, the city's guards dragged the dark elf out of his prison, leading him down the main street to where the dark knights who would take him were waiting. The people of the city lined up on both sides of the street, solemnly watching the procession.
Orders had come from above -- let all know the fate of the dark elf. Normally, something like this would have been kept under wraps to prevent the citizens from panicking, but the dark elf had been caught in plain sight. It had been ruled that showing the citizens that the dark elf would no longer be present in the city would do much more for calming the citizens down than keeping him hidden from the public eye.
Who knew whether that was a sound decision or not, but orders were orders.
Because of the ruling, the dark elf was now being paraded down the streets. Whispers filled the air as the common people laid eyes on the dark elf, many for the first time in their lives. Others had only seen a dark elf for their first time when this particular dark elf had been captured a little over a week ago.
"Why is his skin so dark, Mommy?"
"Shh, don't look!"
One of the guards snorted. If you don't want your child looking, you shouldn't have brought your child here.
"You calamity bringer! Get out of our city!"
"The Silent Eagle will know what to do! Long live the Silent Eagle!"
When the procession finally reached the dark knights, the guards pushed the dark elf forward, causing him to stumble. He stubbornly remained on his feet, glaring at his new captors through his long, white hair.
The captain of the dark knights gestured toward the dark elf. Two dark knights hurriedly followed his command, grabbing the dark elf by his arms.
"Nhanduay emay!" the dark elf cursed and tried to shake them off to no avail, chains clattering in the process, hair whipping around wildly.
The crowd gasped when they heard the foreign words out of the dark elf's mouth.
The captain surveyed the dark elf, completely unfazed by his poisonous words and his struggling. He merely motioned for his dark knights to grab on more tightly, forcing the dark elf to still. "So this is the dark elf?" the captain murmured. He turned toward the common folk and announced, "We will be taking him to the Silent Eagle. Have no fear!"
As the crowd cheered loudly, a hooded figure within the crowd stayed silent. Once the dark knights led their prisoner away, the hooded figure slipped through the crowd in the direction the dark knights had left in. Two others, one holding a magic staff and the other a sword by his waist, followed after him.
Zhuo Ling Bin, stuck as his avatar Wicked, didn't understand how he had landed himself in this position. He had only been trying to get his bearings when he'd gotten attacked.
No one had understood him despite how much he had tried to explain. He hadn't understood their language either, and when he'd tried to defend himself, the feeling of cutting into the man's leg had felt off. Hand momentarily losing strength, he hadn't dared to injure his attackers any more than he already had.
After that, he'd let them take him in... but that had perhaps not been his smartest idea. No one had come to talk to him. He never had a chance to explain his circumstances. He'd tried to talk to the guards, but all they ever did was stare at him in wariness, eyes full of distrust. That, and they did their best to ignore him. Only one of the guards had watched him in curiosity, but when Ling Bin had tried speaking with him, the guard had looked as if he thought Ling Bin was trying to curse him. Ling Bin had watched as the guard's partner kept stomping on his foot. It didn't look too comfortable.
Now, he was being moved. For all he knew, he was possibly being marched to his death. When that thought crossed his mind, he dug his feet into the dirt, steps slowing nearly to a stop. Although he had had only limited facts to work with, he'd had plenty of time to come up with theory after theory about where he was and what that meant. Death in all of his conjectures was something to be avoided. He didn't know whether it would be permanent or not, but he had a feeling he shouldn't test it out.
Immediately, the person behind him gave him a shove and shouted, "Ti evom!"
He stumbled, shackles chafing his wrists and ankles, the links of his chain clinking against each other. He shot a glare at the man behind him, but the man merely pushed him again, forcing him forward.
They continued on the move with Ling Bin unable to free himself. He discretely studied his surroundings and also noted the number of people that were escorting him. All of them wore dark armor, ranging from gray to black, and they carried swords. Some also had shields. There were too many people for Ling Bin to make a break for it, and he had no weapon either. Moreover, his hands were shackled together, and his feet were also chained, the chains only long enough to allow him to walk. Still, he was out in the open. That meant that escape wasn't impossible. He didn't know how long it would take for them to reach their destination, but he hoped the trip would take longer than a day. If the men were to stop to rest for the night, Ling Bin didn't doubt that they would lower their guards then.
That would be Ling Bin's best chance of escape, perhaps his only chance even.
"Su rof elbuort fo stros lla gnisuac neeb sah taht fle krad eht si siht kniht uoy?" asked one of the men. "Egalliv eht nwod denrub taht eno eht?"
Someone grunted in response while another shrugged. The man that had spoken glanced at Ling Bin, eyes calculating.
The men often talked among themselves, but Ling Bin didn't understand a single word of their conversations, much like how he hadn't been able to understand the guards back in the city either. He thought these men were probably talking about him considering how often the men glanced at him. Or perhaps they were just distrustful of the color of his skin and the fact that he had pointy ears. No one in Second Life had ever batted an eye at Wicked, but this was definitely not Second Life. All the people Ling Bin had encountered so far were humans, and they...feared him.
Ling Bin frowned, brows furrowing.
As he studied the men around him and tried to devise a way to escape, he thought he saw a splotch of red out of the corner of his eye. However, when he looked upwards toward the right, there was nothing there but trees.
When night fell, one of the men signaled for everyone to stop. Like Ling Bin had expected, they began setting up camp and looked like they would be resting for the night. Two men stayed alert, one guarding Ling Bin, the other guarding the other side of the campsite.
Ling Bin pretended to sleep. He closed his eyes, letting his breathing even out. This was something he often did with his brother Ming Bin in the past, waiting for their parents to fall asleep before they would sneak outside of their rooms, past their bedtimes, just so they could sneakily log onto some MMORPG they were playing together. They had eventually outgrown that, but Ling Bin still recalled the memories fondly. Now, he needed some of his childhood sneakiness again to get himself out of his predicament.
He tried to relax, but worry gripped him, brought to the forefront from his thoughts about his brother. Where is Ming Bin? Where is Xiao Lan?
However, he would do no good for either of them as a captive.
In and out, he breathed, slowly and evenly, willing himself to appear asleep. But wasn't he already asleep somewhere out there, in a place that he couldn't currently access? What did this mean then? Sleep within sleep? Despite having slept on and off throughout the week, he still didn't understand how this worked.
With his eyes closed, Ling Bin could almost pretend that he was back home, but the raw skin around his wrists ached and would not allow him to forget or pretend. He waited patiently for his captors to settle down, and he listened for their breathing to fall into a natural rhythm. When enough time passed, he narrowly cracked open one eye to sneak a look at the sleeping men. Then, he glanced at his guard.
The man was slouching against his sword and was even using it to hold himself up, but he was still awake and attentive while Ling Bin was tied to a boulder.
That was slightly problematic.
Just as he pondered how he could possibly free himself, chains shot out of nowhere, entangling the man Ling Bin had been studying. When the chains appeared, Ling Bin also heard an accompanying, hurried whisper.
"Chains of Love!"
Ling Bin started. He'd actually understood the words. The voice had also sounded familiar.
In the next moment, a burst of action happened. The man guarding Ling Bin fell over, bound tightly in chains, his weapon clattering onto the floor. At the same time, a burst of flames and claws broke the chains that had bound Ling Bin to the boulder. Immediately, he dove for the guard's sword, claiming it for himself.
"Xineohp a?" the fallen man exclaimed from the ground. He then remembered to yell, most likely trying to wake everyone up. Chains bound his mouth a moment too late. His words were out.
Behind Ling Bin, a gust of wind sent his hair flying and his chains rattling. Ling Bin whirled around, sight greeted by majestic red. He also saw that all the men had woken up, weapons in hand.
"Dleihs thgil!" someone chanted. Warm light enveloped Ling Bin, invigorating him, making him feel impervious.
"This way!" a cloaked figure urged while chains materialized from the air, shooting at the men that were now coming after them. Many of the chains caught onto the men's feet, making them fall before they managed to reach Ling Bin.
Without further thought, Ling Bin scrambled in the direction of the cloaked figure. A melody graced the air as chains continued descending upon the men.
"Never thought I would use this here," said the cloaked figure in disdain. "This wasn't meant to be used on you."
"I never asked you to save me!" Ling Bin retorted, discontentment boiling within his heart. He'd almost rather prefer rotting away in prison than to owe a favor to this man.
"Then you shouldn't have let yourself get captured!" snapped the cloaked figure. "It's not like I want to save you either! You're just the first one I've found!"
Back-to-back, Ling Bin and the cloaked figure efficiently fought off the remaining men despite their arguments. Ling Bin's sword sang through the air, flat side of the blade slamming against the men's armor, impact sending them stumbling. When the area before him momentarily cleared, he slammed his sword down repeatedly against the chains that fettered his ankles. The moment the chains broke, he sent a kick at his next attacker, the end of the broken chain from his shackles whipping the man in the face, leaving an angry, red lash.
While Ling Bin defended and held his own, the figure next to him formed magical arrows and shot them at the men. Another two people, strangers to Ling Bin, also seemed to be on their side. One of them slashed at the men with his sword while the other cast protective spells, but even so, they were still greatly outnumbered. When one of their attackers got too close, a screech from above deafened Ling Bin's ears. Next thing he knew, fire erupted in a burst of scorching flames.
"Quick!" the cloaked figure exclaimed. "Run!"
Ling Bin didn't need to be told twice. He turned and ran, the raging fire behind them stopping the men in dark armor from chasing them. The chains from his shackles slapped against the ground as he ran, nearly tripping him.
Another melody graced the air, and he felt his legs lighten. He thought he could also breathe more easily than before. Above them, a large bird soared and shrieked, red tail feathers bright with flames.
Ling Bin ran with all his might even as he hated himself for being saved by Gui of all people. He didn't need a prince on a white horse to save him like a damsel in distress, and he certainly didn't need to be saved by Gui!
The hooded bard followed right behind Ling Bin, protecting him from their pursuers with his arrows formed out of magic.
"Just what did you do to piss them off so badly?" asked Gui in gasps, short of breath. His stamina had never been very good.
"Nothing," gritted Ling Bin. "My very existence seems to rub them the wrong way."
Just like how Gui's existence completely rubbed him the wrong way too, but Ling Bin couldn't deny that Gui had saved him this time.
"Thanks," Ling Bin finally managed to say.
Gui snorted. "What kind of professor would I be if I let a student die here?"
Ling Bin rolled his eyes. "It's too late for you to start acting like a professor."
The two strangers who had fought along with them caught up then, though one of them was nearly being dragged along by the other. The man looked completely exhausted, magic staff almost falling out of his hands.
"Revol ruoy si siht os?" asked the tired man in curiosity. "Rof gnikool erew uoy nosrep eht?"
Gui blanched and answered in the same language, sounding like he was vehemently denying whatever the man had just said. He also shook his head ferociously enough to cause his hood to fall off his head. The two strangers didn't seem to find Gui's appearance surprising. Ling Bin thought this probably meant they had already seen his appearance before.
Has Gui managed to learn the language in a mere week?
Sometimes, Ling Bin found it too easy to forget that Gui was smarter than he looked.
Gui gestured wildly at Ling Bin before he hastened his steps and slapped Ling Bin on the back, stunning him.
"Rehtorb ym yllautca si eno siht!" Gui declared. "Ecnalbmeser eht ees uoy t'nod?"
He gestured at his ears and then at Ling Bin's. He even grabbed a lock of Ling Bin's hair and pulled it against his.
"What in the world..." Ling Bin wondered out loud.
Above him, Fire Phoenix snorted a curl of fire. "He says you're his brother."
"What? Why would he say that!"
"Or did you want to be thought of as his lover? His stupid claim is the only reason these two haven't run screaming from you yet."
Apparently, "Wicked" was Gui's half brother. A very nice and misunderstood dark elf.
As a reminder, speech from LSK characters when heard by 1/2 Prince characters is written backwards. (However, you shouldn't have to read what they say to understand the story. It's just done so that if you do want to read what they say, you can).
Chapter 7: Chapter 6: Invincible Sense of Duty; Even if Your Captain Punishes You for Gossiping, Duty Says Do It Anyway
To understand this chapter, you will most likely need to be familiar with LSK v2 and v3! But hopefully you won't be too lost even without knowing LSK. :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Every day in the early morning, a group of men could be seen running along the perimeter of Leaf Bud City. They wore the white and gold uniform of the Sun Knight Platoon, sun emblem embossed on the plate of their armor.
"Good morning, sun knights!" greeted one of the vendors from the street amiably.
The leader of the group nodded in acknowledgement, watching as a young girl and a man with blazing red hair purchased vegetables from the vendor. The rest of the platoon grinned despite the sweat that was running down their faces. They waved at the vendors.
"One round left!" exclaimed one of the men.
"L-Last round!" shouted another, almost out of breath.
With the morning sun glinting off their armor, the sun knights completed their final lap around the city. Many were winded by the time they finally reached the Holy Temple, but there were also a number of them whose breathing remained even. For the past five years, they'd kept up with jogging in the morning and had built up good stamina as a result; however, they had only recently added a ninth round to their routine. One round, they found, made a huge difference.
Most of them didn't know how their ninth round had come about; some said it was born out of their captain's worry for Adair (the ninth round had been added at the time of Adair's injury -- maybe their captain had been angry at them for losing to the warriors from the Monastery of the God of War) while others said it was due to Ed's big mouth.
After thinking it through, they unanimously (with the exception of Ed) decided that it was due to Ed's big mouth.
Adair, vice-captain of the Sun Knight Platoon, was perhaps the only one who clearly remembered and understood the reason -- it was because their captain had discovered that the Sun Knight Platoon gossiped a lot. With Knight-Captain Storm even. Consorting with the enemy, their captain's eyes had seemed to say at the time. Unforgivable!
Their captain had found out because of Ed, so Ed was indeed not unrelated to their demise.
In any case, they now ran nine rounds within the city walls every morning. None of them had dared to complain about it. Well, they did complain to themselves whenever their captain wasn't around (now was a great time with their captain all the way in a neighboring kingdom; even their captain wasn't powerful enough to hear them from such a distance), but whatever their captain ordered, regardless of how strange the command, they would carry out. It was the first lesson they had learned after meeting their captain.
If their captain wanted them to jump off a cliff, then they would jump, no questions asked. Their captain was their captain and... Truthfully, they would rather jump out of their own volition than get blasted by magic and squashed by a boulder for company.
After the completion of their ninth round, Adair led the platoon to the training grounds. Despite how exhausted many of them were, their training wasn't over, so there would be no rest yet.
When Adair neared the training grounds with the sun knights following after him, he heard the sound of swords clashing. Ah, is Tyler challenging Knight-Captain Hell again?
Adair was right in his assumption. When Adair reached the training grounds, he was just in time to see Tyler's sword glance off of Knight-Captain Hell's. Tyler quickly found his footing and blocked Knight-Captain Hell's follow-up strike, but the latter clearly had the upper hand.
A few days ago, Knight-Captain Hell had made a shocking declaration to Tyler in front of several holy knights, including the entirety of the Hell Knight Platoon. Adair wasn't one of the holy knights who had been present that day, but since the declaration was pretty much the only thing the entire Holy Temple had been talking about for the past few days, it would have been near impossible to miss out on what the Hell Knight had so boldly declared.
"Tyler, if you defeat me in a duel, I will relinquish the position of captain to you," he had said.
Tyler had accepted. Adair heard from one of the other sun knights, who heard from one of the storm knights, who heard from one of the hell knights, that Knight-Captain Hell had soundly defeated Tyler in that very first duel. There had been no competition. Barely able to stay standing after the duel, Tyler had gripped his sword tightly, leaning on it and using it like a crutch, as he glared at the Hell Knight.
"I'm not going to give up," Tyler had gritted out without any deference to his captain. Instead of becoming affronted, however, Knight-Captain Hell's eyes had seemed to dance in approval, or so claimed one of the hell knights who had been present at the scene. Deciphering Knight-Captain Hell's emotions was hard since his lower face was always hidden by his mask, but his eyes often told a lot.
Adair could see what people meant by that. He watched as Knight-Captain Hell knocked Tyler's sword out of his hands, ending the duel in his favor yet again. Knight-Captain Hell's eyes clearly told Adair that he was enjoying the duel very much, and that he admired Tyler's skills.
This man has a world of patience, thought Adair. After that first duel, Knight-Captain Hell had continued to accept Tyler's challenges. Today's duel was the seventh one between them.
After Knight-Captain Hell gave Tyler pointers about his swordsmanship and invited him to challenge him again the next day, he left the training grounds. Adair motioned for the rest of the sun knights to start training without him. Then, he approached Tyler who was staring at the floor, lost in thought.
Tyler, you're still unwilling to accept Knight-Captain Hell? That's not what a vice-captain should do. He's your captain.
Adair wanted to tell Tyler this, but he had a promise with Tyler. Tyler was to give Knight-Captain Hell a chance. One month was the trial period. If Tyler truly found Knight-Captain Hell unworthy after a month of interacting with him, then Adair would support Tyler's judgment. Now, it was up to Knight-Captain Hell and Tyler to work things out. Adair did not plan on coming between them. Interfering would only undermine both Knight-Captain Hell's authority and Tyler's dignity.
Tyler looked up. "Hey Adair."
"How was the duel?" Adair asked as he came to stand by Tyler.
"Unbelievable," was Tyler's reply. He opened and closed his hands several times in succession, as if he were trying to get some feeling back into his fingers. "I think he must be even stronger than Knight-Captain Judgment."
Adair hid a grin. Was that admiration he heard in Tyler's words? Perhaps Tyler was already coming around. "From what I saw of his skills during the three person deathmatch and how he more than held his own against the Son of the God of War, I would say that his skills are definitely topnotch."
Adair himself had had a taste of the Son of the God of War's skills -- they had been enough to almost send Adair on an early meeting with the God of Light if not for Elijah's timely help. Knight-Captain Hell, who had fought evenly with the Son of the God of War, was definitely strong. Adair didn't find it hard to believe that Knight-Captain Hell could possibly be even stronger than Knight-Captain Judgment in swordplay.
For Adair, one hundred tumbles down a cliff courtesy of his captain had finally convinced him to approve of his captain. For Tyler, perhaps it would take far less than one hundred duels to convince him that his captain was worthy of his position. After all, these duels made a lot more sense than getting thrown down a cliff.
It was a very good thing that Tyler's captain was so sensible. If Tyler's captain had appeared out of the blue and had a personality like that of Adair's captain, Adair doubted Tyler would ever come around. As it was now, Adair thought it was just a matter of time.
"I'm going to challenge him again tomorrow," Tyler said, determination lacing his words.
"Of course. You're not one to give up," Adair commented, smile playing at his lips. Knight-Captain Hell didn't seem like someone who would give up either, from what Adair had learned of him so far. He was, after all, someone who would accept duel after duel and never tire of it. They were quite a pair of captain and vice-captain, both tenacious to a fault.
Truly perfect for each other.
After morning training, Adair saw to the rest of his duties as a sun knight. Without his captain around, he actually had less to do than usual. Normally, he would be preparing breakfast for his captain at this time. After presenting his captain with breakfast, his captain usually gave him extra tasks to do, such as researching someone or possibly beating someone up. Without his captain around, Adair skipped all of that and went directly to Knight-Captain Storm's door, something he normally did after he finished all of his other tasks.
He knocked on Knight-Captain Storm's door and waited patiently for the door to open. He knew that it was sometimes difficult for Knight-Captain Storm to reach the door. Stacks of paperwork could be difficult to maneuver around.
"Good morning, Knight-Captain Storm," greeted Adair when the door finally opened. A head of blue peeked out from inside. The door flew open wider once the person inside noticed it was Adair outside his door.
"Adair? Thank the God of Light!" exclaimed Storm Knight who had dark bags under his eyes like usual. He disappeared back into his room, only to reappear with a towering stack of papers. "Here you go. I was just wondering how I would be able to finish these. The Pope suddenly decided to send me to Leafblade, something about an uprising over there that I need to check out. The people there don't sound happy that we have allowed the Monastery of the God of War to set up a small faction right here in the kingdom. I must depart by tomorrow."
"Adair believes Knight-Captain Storm's words will greatly motivate the villagers and smooth any hard feelings," commented Adair. Whenever there was an uprising or a fight for freedom, the Storm Knight would definitely be there, since he was the representative of freedom, a soul who wasn't bound by rules. Supposedly, he appeared at all such happenings to fight for the people when in reality, the Storm Knight always helped mitigate the situation so that the Church of the God of Light could handle it more easily.
Adair took the stack of paperwork. Without fail, his captain always tossed his paperwork at Knight-Captain Storm. Without fail, Adair would always come to Knight-Captain Storm's door to help him with half of the paperwork his captain tossed at the Storm Knight. Adair was the vice-captain of the Sun Knight Platoon after all. Helping his captain with his paperwork, even if his captain hadn't directly given the paperwork to him, was within Adair's duties. Well, sort of. At least Adair was being helpful to Knight-Captain Storm, and Knight-Captain Storm almost always had information to share that was greatly pertinent to Adair's interests.
Just as Adair was about to leave, the Storm Knight suddenly remembered something. "I heard that there is talk about a necromancer appearing within the city."
Adair stopped. A necromancer? It would be the Sun Knight Platoon's duty to check that out.
This was definitely something Adair needed to know about. Without his captain around, it fell upon Adair to handle any business related to undead creatures. It was not technically illegal for necromancers to settle down in Leaf Bud City, but the Church made a point to make sure to know about their whereabouts and intentions.
"It's not her?" Adair asked after a moment's pause.
Both of them knew who Adair meant. Although they had never talked much about the necromancer that Adair's captain was acquainted with, both of them knew of her existence, and Adair thought he had actually met her at least once, if not more than that without knowing about it. His mind flashed back to one of his patrols when he had chanced upon his captain dallying about in the streets in disguise next to a man who had to be the death knight that had injured his captain. Next to them had been a little girl with a sharp tongue. She was much too calculating and perceptive for her supposed age. Adair had left quickly after realizing their identities, not wanting to intrude on his captain.
Adair had heard that the necromancer had moved out of Leaf Bud City. There should be no necromancer in the city anymore.
"No, I don't believe it's her," answered Storm Knight, "but I'm unsure." After he spoke, he frowned, most likely displeased with how little information he had.
Adair nodded. "I'll check it out with the Sun Knight Platoon. Have a safe journey, Knight-Captain Storm."
Both men set out on their tasks, the Storm Knight with his preparation for his sudden journey, and Adair with his preparation for the day's patrols. As Adair carried the paperwork to his room so that he could work on it later, he wondered if his exchanges with Knight-Captain Storm were exactly what his captain deemed as "gossip."
Perhaps Adair was the biggest perpetrator of the so-called "gossiping" that his captain had punished the Sun Knight Platoon for after all.
After a moment's consideration, he shrugged the thought away. He was merely doing his job to the best of his abilities. Gossiping with the Storm Knight played an essential part in carrying out his duties.
Truthfully, his captain always relied on it too... and his captain had never directly forbidden the gossiping.
Adair decided he would just call it information gathering from now on.
During that day's patrolling, Adair and the rest of the platoon asked around about any strange sightings or if anyone had any trouble with undead creatures. None of their inquiries yielded anything until they reached the marketplace when suddenly, a bunch of the vendors starting clamoring about skeletons chasing a little girl.
"We helped the lass out!" exclaimed one of the vendors.
"The poor thing, she was so scared!" said another. "Those skeletons were vicious!"
"Do you recall the girl's appearance?" asked Adair. Although having a little girl chased by skeletons usually meant that the little girl had been in danger, Adair found that his experiences told him things often weren't as they seemed on the surface.
It can't be that she actually hasn't moved out of the city?
The vendor, who Adair recalled was one of the ones who never failed to greet the Sun Knight Platoon in the morning during their rounds within the city walls, cupped his hands and placed them on both sides of his head. "She had her hair in two buns tied with blue ribbon. Her dress was white and blue. With uh, wings coming out of 'em."
The vendor flapped his hands and helpfully added, "She normally comes here in the morning."
Further interrogations yielded no new information. The rumors about there being a necromancer within the city seemed like they had originated from the sighting of the skeletons that had appeared in the marketplace.
"Keep an eye out for a little girl with hair tied up in two buns," Adair told Ed, coming to the conclusion that they would only be able to find out more through her.
Ed gasped, "Don't tell me you're into little kids? Don't do it, Adair. I know the Captain overworks you, but don't give in to the dark side!"
Adair snorted and amended his previous thoughts about how maybe he himself had something to do with his captain ordering them to do a ninth round within the city walls. It was definitely all Ed's big mouth.
"Shut up, Ed."
The next morning, Adair and the Sun Knight Platoon went on their usual morning run, but when they reached the marketplace, they stopped for a "rest." Adair stationed the sun knights around the plaza and along the streets, instructing them to pretend like they were shopping. Most purchased drinks for themselves. They stood out a lot, but it would do. The vendors always saw them running in the morning, so it was not out of the ordinary for them to drop by.
Adair was chatting with one of the vendors when he suddenly felt a mix of dark and holy elements behind him. It was strange feeling them together, strong enough to ping even his senses.
"Ed, who is behind us?" asked Adair.
"A little girl and her big brother!" Ed exclaimed and then added, "Is that the little girl who has caught your interest?"
Are all necromancers little girls or what? Adair thought to himself even as he willed Ed to stop fooling around. He had thought that maybe the girl was indeed a necromancer, and she could possibly even be the necromancer that his captain knew, but he hadn't been sure of the possibility of her being a necromancer until now. She possessed strong enough dark element to be a necromancer, but what didn't make sense was the holy element that he felt along with it.
He turned around. "Surround them."
Despite Ed's fooling around, he immediately followed Adair's orders. The sun knights who had been milling about quickly fell into a circle to surround the girl. The Sun Knight Platoon may not win over the Judgment Knight Platoon in physical fitness, but the Sun Knight Platoon was surely the best at ganging up on people. It was perhaps not something they should be proud of, but their captain had indeed trained it into them.
After successfully surrounding their target, Adair noticed the man next to the little girl. He had a head of blazing red hair, face marred by a scar. Adair realized that he had seen this duo in the morning before, just not as closely as now. The man was unforgettable, and he was on the verge of striking out at them. One wrong step, and that blade would be at Adair's neck.
"Hold your weapon," Adair said. "We're just here to ask a few questions."
"Then there is no need to surround us," the man said, angling himself before the little girl.
"It is just a precaution," said Adair.
The man kept his hand on his sword, as if saying, Then forgive me for staying alert. This is just a precaution as well.
Adair waved for the Sun Knight Platoon to back off. They only took a few steps backwards, refusing to leave Adair by himself.
Hm, the holy element isn't coming from the guy. Both the dark element and the holy element are coming from the girl.
"Are you a necromancer?" Adair asked the girl bluntly, seeing no need to dance around the matter. Surprisingly, the girl turned to the man and spoke in a strange language. The man spoke back to her in the same language before the girl replied and both trained their eyes on Adair.
"She is," the man finally said. "Is that a problem?"
Adair frowned and looked back at the girl. This was not the same necromancer that his captain knew, even though this one was also a little girl. "It won't be if the citizens aren't disturbed. I heard there were skeletons causing havoc in this very marketplace not too long ago."
The man conversed with the girl before answering, "She was merely trying to get her bearings. It won't happen again."
Adair's frown deepened, not understanding what the man meant by that. However, there was something else that bothered Adair even more. He turned to the girl and asked, "Why are your dark and holy elements both so high?"
The girl and the man exchanged words in their strange language again. Then, the man said, "She's an angel."
...did I hear that right?
The girl, possibly seeing the doubt on his face, flapped the wings that were sticking out of the back of her dress much like how the vendor had flapped his hands the day before in demonstration (except these were actual wings), and looked up at him with a curious expression.
Adair had thought the wings to be part of her dress. Apparently, they weren't.
This chapter can otherwise be known as "a day in the life of Adair," AKA Lucathia flailing over Adair and dumping her head canon (about what's going on in the Holy Temple while Sun is off playing groomsman in the Kingdom of Moon Orchid in v3) on everyone.
-Neo, Aldrizzt, and Prince (and Meatbun) are in the Kingdom of Moon Orchid, adventuring.
-Kenshin, Doll, and Wu Qing landed in Leaf Bud City in the Kingdom of Forgotten Sound, right in front of Chasel's house. They've been staying with Chasel but haven't made contact with the Church yet.
-Gui (and Fire Phoenix) and Wicked are in the Kingdom of Kissinger, being chased by dark knights. They have Kylie and Aaron helping them, minor characters from LSK.
-Sun and Leaf are off in the Kingdom of Moon Orchid as groomsmen for the Son of the God of War.
Everyone else's whereabouts are still unknown! (Well, most of the Twelve Holy Knights are in Leaf Bud City, doing their work). Storm is off to investigate Leafblade though... *hint hint*
Chapter 8: Chapter 7: Invincible Charm; No Matter Your Age or Appearance (or Even Gender, Some Will Tell You), He Will Always Have a Wink Just for You
While Adair dealt with the "necromancer" that had supposedly appeared in Leaf Bud City, Storm Knight gathered his platoon together as well as a few members of the Earth Knight Platoon. They set out late the next morning, and on their way out of the city, they passed by the Sun Knight Platoon. When Storm Knight spotted the platoon, he slowed his horse down and gave Adair, the Sun Knight vice-captain, a nod.
Then he saw just who was next to the Sun Knight vice-captain and halted his horse altogether.
"Greetings, Storm Knight," said Chasel, the former Judgment Knight. With his black hair and black eyes, he was sticking out like a sore thumb among the shining sun knights, but he wasn't the only anomaly. Three others who weren’t sun knights were also with the platoon.
When Storm Knight spotted the young girl with them, he didn’t hesitate before tossing her a wink. Regardless of age or appearance, the Storm Knight winked at any and all females.
The girl wrinkled her brows, not seemingly affected by Storm Knight's wink in a good way. Perhaps she was too young for his charm to work the usual way.
Two tiny wings twitched from behind the girl’s back.
Storm Knight was tempted to rub his eyes. Has my eyesight grown worse...?
By the girl’s sides were two men, one with blazing red hair loosely tied and an impassive expression, and the other with a high ponytail and a scowl on his face. The latter slapped a fan close in his hand and spoke to the girl in a loud voice. Then, he winked at the girl who giggled in response and spoke words that Storm Knight didn’t understand.
T-That wink! Storm Knight quickly tried to memorize the wink to add it to his repertoire. He smiled at the man, grateful for the lesson, but the man ended up blanching and taking a step back so that he was behind the red-haired man.
“Adair, how was your patrol?” Storm Knight decided to ask, eyes shifting away from the three strangers. How did you end up returning with our former Judgment Knight? And who are these people? In fact, what language did they speak just now? I don’t think I’ve heard it before.
Adair bowed slightly. “We unraveled the mystery surrounding the rumors of a necromancer in the city, Knight-Captain Storm. Now, we’re on our way back to the Holy Temple with Sir Chasel and his guests.”
When he'd mentioned "necromancer," Adair's eyes had landed on the little girl. Storm Knight studied her again.
“Our esteemed guests happen to come from faraway. Only Kenshin speaks our language," added Adair, neglecting to mention just how "faraway" they had come from, as it was not something easily explainable out in the open like this.
Adair turned toward Kenshin and gestured at Storm Knight. “Kenshin, this is Knight-Captain Storm, one of the Twelve Holy Knights of the Church of the God of Light. He is versed in many happenings around the kingdom and would perhaps prove helpful in your search. Ah, but currently, he is on his way to a different village, so we might not be able to ask for his help until he returns.”
The redhead, whom Storm Knight now knew as Kenshin, regarded Storm Knight for a moment. Then, he stepped forward, hand reaching up to his hair. He undid his ponytail, hair unfurling down his back, and handed over the hair tie.
Storm Knight took the hair tie just as Kenshin said, “We have been separated from our companions. If you happen across anyone who speaks our language in your travels, please show them this and direct them to Leaf Bud City.”
“Ouyay ustmay eallyray ebay orkingway ouryay ocalvay ordscay hesetay aysday,” the man with the fan said to Kenshin, amusement coloring his words.
Kenshin didn’t respond to whatever the other man had said. He merely tilted his head slightly in the other man’s direction and said, “That’s how our language sounds like.”
Storm Knight smiled, bowed with a flourish at the two men, and gave the girl his updated wink. He hoped it looked more charming now. “It would be my pleasure.”
It would also make his trip a lot more interesting.
Storm Knight's destination, Leafblade Village, was located northeast of Leaf Bud City in the northernmost region of the Kingdom of Forgotten Sound, right along the coast. It would take two days for Storm Knight and his platoon to reach the village by horseback, and they would have to pass through the Forest of Concealed Moon, which could add another day to their travels.
Leafblade was a vocal fishing village whose people often complained about being forgotten by the capital. The village was located a distance away from the main roads, so unless travelers or adventurers intended on going to Leafblade from the start, it was not a place people normally passed through.
This time, Leafblade shouldn't have had anything to complain about because Leafblade would actually be the first place where the Monastery of the God of War was going to set up a new branch. However, despite the honor of being the first village considered, Leafblade wasn't happy.
It was one of those no-win situations. Ignore them, and Leafblade would complain of neglect. Offer Leafblade as the first place for the neighboring kingdom to build a side branch, and Leafblade would complain that they were only offered because the Kingdom of Forgotten Sound thought they were unimportant enough to relinquish to the Monastery of the God of War without harming the Church of the God of Light too much.
The people of Leafblade were, in fact, correct about that. Leafblade was close enough to the capital to be considered an important part of the kingdom but also out of the way enough that having the Monastery set up a new branch there wouldn’t give the Monastery too much power.
Leafblade was obviously not happy for being used, hence the protests. It was essentially the citizens going, "Look at us! Don't you dare forget about us and then toss us right at the enemy! We refused to be used like this!"
A protest was an easy way to catch the attention of the Church of the God of Light, for whenever there was a protest or an uprising of any sort, the Storm Knight would more often than not show up and join in, supporting the people in their fight for their rights.
That was exactly what the Storm Knight and his platoon were en route to do. That, and catching some sleep, for this was the first time in ages that Storm Knight didn’t have to do paperwork. He would have plenty of paperwork waiting for him once he returned (in fact, this journey would generate its fair share of paperwork), but at least most of that would be his own paperwork instead of a certain someone’s.
Ceo Storm, the 38th generation Storm Knight, let the ups and downs from his horse’s trotting lull him to sleep. Having finally escaped from paperwork hell for the time being, even the lack of a bed wasn’t going to keep sleep from beckoning him.
Slowly, his eyes closed and his breathing evened out. The Storm Knight Platoon members pretended like they didn’t know their captain had fallen asleep. The Earth Knight Platoon members found it amusing and kept looking back at Storm Knight, but Ceo’s platoon members would shoot the nosy earth knights reprimanding looks. In the end, the earth knights just scoffed and considered this one of the Storm Knight’s eccentricities.
In the forest that they were passing through, a tall shadow slunk behind the trees. If the holy knights had been paying closer attention to their surroundings instead of staring at Storm Knight, one of them may have cried wolf.
Once they reached the village of Leafblade, Ceo actually received less sleep than what he had received on the way to the village despite the availability of a bed. They were shown their lodgings, but there was really no time for rest. Ceo and his men refreshed themselves and immediately headed back out into the streets.
The village was in a dire situation. As a means of protesting, nearly all of the villagers had stopped fishing. In other words, until they were heard, they would not ship out any fish to the capital. They only fished enough for themselves.
They also refused to pay taxes.
Currently, they were still able to sustain themselves, but the longer they stopped trading with the capital, the longer they would be bereft of an outside income.
If his hair weren’t so unique in color, Ceo would have dressed down and mingled among the villagers to find out more. However, since he was very eye-catching, he could only barge forward as the Storm Knight in his official position.
“How dare the capital toss us to the wolves,” Ceo heard someone say.
“I’d rather sit on my ass all day than give anything more to a kingdom that doesn’t care about us!” someone else said. The speaker was doing exactly like he claimed, that was, sitting on the floor without doing anything but complain.
The situation was pretty much like what Ceo had predicted. The villagers were disgruntled about their treatment. None of them had stopped to think about how they could use the situation to their advantage.
Suddenly, someone shouted, “It’s the Storm Knight!”
“Storm Knight!” someone else cheered. “Storm Knight!”
A chant began. Now, the attention was on him. Exactly what he wanted. If people were focused on him, then they wouldn’t go off and do their own thing without Ceo knowing about it, possibly getting hurt in the process. These things were always difficult to handle, but Ceo was starting to get the hang of it.
Ceo breathed in and smiled at the people. As there were several females among the crowd, he started winking nonstop. He walked forward but didn’t make it far before the crowd had him surrounded, eager for his words. He swept the end of his long coat aside and leaped onto a large boulder to address the people.
“Villagers of Leafblade, your voices have been heard,” Ceo shouted, complete with hand gestures. “I am Storm Knight of the Twelve Holy Knights. If you would be so kind to allow me to join your ranks, I wish to protest along with you. This injustice must not be allowed to go further!”
The crowd roared in excitement. “Storm Knight! Storm Knight!”
Without a hitch, the villagers accepted Ceo as one of their allies.
Inside his heart, Ceo breathed a sigh of relief.
“Another round,” Ceo declared, beckoning the barmaid over. He winked at her as she took his order, and she smiled coyly back, purposely swishing her skirt when she turned. He was all too glad when she finally left. If she had stayed any longer, he might have broken out into cold sweat.
“You sure have the ladies going crazy for you,” a female voice said in amusement.
Here was his other problem. Despite the fact that the barmaid was no longer in his vicinity, there was another female who was even closer in proximity to him.
And was even sharing his table.
After rallying the crowd, Ceo had managed to get connected with the leader of the protest, who turned out to be a woman by the name of Edna. She was the daughter of one of the prominent fishermen in the village. They decided to discuss things over drinks, which was why they were currently at the local tavern. The rest of Ceo’s men had scattered to keep an eye on things, investigate, and gather more information, so Ceo was alone with Edna.
When their second round of drinks came, Ceo grabbed the mug and chugged the alcohol down in order to stop himself from feeling overly conscious of just who he was sharing his table with.
“You sure hold your liquor well,” Edna commented. Unlike how Ceo was currently feeling inside, she didn't appear nervous to him at all even though she was seated with one of the Twelve Holy Knights.
Ceo reluctantly lowered his mug. He smiled and winked. “And so do you, my lady. Cheers.”
He wasn’t complimenting her for nothing. Both of them had an empty mug in front of them and were on their second one.
They clinked their mugs together and downed their liquor. Since Ceo had already been drinking from his mug, he soon emptied it and had no more excuses not to give Edna his full attention.
Edna was a comely woman with her fair skin and lush curls that framed her face. Her figure was not one that Earth would whistle at, but her height was certainly one that Moon would be heads over heels for. She might not even need heels to see eye-to-eye with Moon.
After placing her mug down, Edna said, "Tomorrow night, we plan on speaking with the emissaries from the Church and the palace again. You'll put in a good word for us, won't you?"
"You bet I will," Ceo said, on the verge of winking again. It was more like a reflex than anything now, but since he had already winked at Edna more than once, he was trying his utmost not to wink at her again. At least not before she finished her second round of drinks. She might wonder whether or not something was wrong with his eyes if he kept winking at her. He almost wished he had another drink he could busy himself with.
As they came to an end with their information sharing, Ceo finally couldn't stand it anymore. He quickly turned, trying to find someone else to wink at. He spotted a dark-haired figure whose bare arms were showing and winked before he realized it was a guy. Surprisingly, the guy seemed to be nursing a cup of tea when the tavern was much more known for its alcoholic drinks.
Someone actually ordered tea? wondered Ceo as he continued looking at the dark-haired man who was clad almost completely in black, from his black vest-like shirt to his black gloves and armlets to his black neckband and his black pants and belt. He had a sword hanging by his waist, so despite how thin his clothes were and how little they resembled armor, he was most likely a warrior. Dark eyes flicked upward, glancing at Ceo before seemingly dismissing him. With his cold expression and dark hair and clothes, he could perhaps give Judgment a run for his money. He just needed a few more layers.
Edna had one eyebrow raised when Ceo turned back to her. "Are the ladies not enough for you?" she teased. Apparently, Ceo's wandering attention hadn't gone unnoticed.
"No such thing," Ceo said smoothly. Dammit, he really wanted to wink again. Surely it had been long enough since his last wink at Edna that another one wouldn't seem out of place.
Ugh I'm going to wink, and that's that!
He winked and said, "There is no reason for my eyes to wander when there is already a beauty like you in front of me."
There. Now his eye felt much better, urge to wink gone even though he was definitely doomed to a night of puffy eyes. As for the cheesy line he had spoken, he'd learned that from Earth, who always claimed it worked like a charm. He really hoped it would work for him too.
Edna laughed. "You flatterer. I bet you say that to all the girls. I'll leave you to your handsome lad here. Until tomorrow."
With that, Edna bade him farewell and left the tavern, obviously without believing Ceo's words.
Ceo seriously wanted to thunk his head against the table, but he couldn't do it with so many people watching.
Great. Didn't that just go spectacularly well. Earth, you liar. Ceo thought to himself.
He leaned on the table, fingers playing with his hair, and pondered through his reputation. He supposed this didn't hurt his reputation. The Storm Knight was a flirt. Who said he couldn't flirt with guys too? It usually even sent the girls giggling, though Edna seemed to be made of different stuff.
The point was, his reputation was surely still fine. As long as he didn’t have to start winking at all the guys too after this. He would definitely go blind from that.
He glanced at the dark-haired man again, raising his mug when those dark eyes briefly flicked upwards. Ceo really hadn’t meant to stare. He felt a little apologetic about that.
Then, Ceo remembered that he'd already finished his drink. He ordered another one.
When Ceo left the tavern, he stifled a yawn, wanting to find his comfy bed that was going to be all his during his temporary stay in the village. However, lady luck was definitely not on his side.
A fight had broken out.
You were all supposed to wait until tomorrow to get rowdy, thought Ceo. Why are you all so impatient? My bed...
A few of his storm knights had already seen the commotion and were doing their best to mitigate the situation. Ceo could also see that a few earth elemental shields had been erected, so that meant earth knights must already be present too. Ceo had thought that they would prove the most helpful in such a situation.
"Knight-Captain Storm!" one of his storm knights exclaimed.
"What's the situation?" asked Ceo, eyes surveying the riot.
"Sir! I don't know the details, but I think one of the emissaries insulted Miss Edna and her uh, parentage. The villagers were very angry on her behalf."
Great, why did you have to go and do that?
Ceo had had a plan. There was no way the Church could disallow the Monastery from building a branch in the Kingdom of Forgotten Sound, as that was what Sun had negotiated for in order to have the Son of the God of War give up on marrying their princess. Whatever happened, the Monastery had to build a side branch in Forgotten Sound. Ceo planned to argue for Leafblade, demanding as many benefits for Leafblade as possible.
Even though he didn't want to increase the Monastery's following in his kingdom too much, he had also thought to ask the Monastery to send their most handsome and their most beautiful warriors and warpriests. Regardless of the villagers' initial opinion, sooner or later the charisma of the Monastery's men and women would win the villagers over, and the villagers would understand that it was not exactly a bad thing to mingle with their neighbors. In fact, Ceo had wanted to tell Edna that this would be a great chance for Leafblade to become more important to the kingdom. Ceo could certainly use another source of info, especially on the Monastery. It had been even better for Ceo that Edna was the leader of the protest, for she seemed to have a level head on her and didn't seem the sort to be swayed by handsome men. That meant the Monastery wouldn't be able to change her loyalties too easily even if they sent handsome men, but the handsome men would at least appease the rest of the villagers, so Edna would appreciate that.
Imagine that, an entire village acting as his ears...
Now that plan had just been dashed. No, no... his plans had just been set back by a bit, that was all. Ceo steeled himself and leaped into the fray.
"Stand back!" Ceo yelled and whirled, foot slamming into one of the guards. "If you dare attack the citizens, I will regard you as my enemy, an enemy of the Storm Knight!"
How dare you disrupt my plans!
Chapter 9: Chapter 8: Invincible Direction Sense, or Lack Thereof. In Another Story, We Would Have Met Sun by Now, But This Is Not That Story
In another story, Neo and Aldrizzt would have made it to town in time to see an "adventurer squad" powerful enough to slay dragons pass through town. The squad, consisting of several impressive members, would have been led by a warrior who possessed the strength and flexibility of a black panther, and behind the warrior would have walked a holy knight with dazzling blond hair, warm blue eyes, and a blindingly bright smile.
That would have been Aldrizzt's first glimpse of Neo's famous student, but before learning the identity of the holy knight, Aldrizzt, despite being a mage, would have noticed that the holy knight had neither the proper footing of a knight nor a good hold of his sword. His conclusion? The man was not a holy knight. Rather, he must clearly only be masquerading as one and was actually being protected by the adventurer team!
A logical conclusion, though not one that our holy knight would have appreciated.
Perhaps it was a fortunate turn of events for our dear holy knight that Aldrizzt did not yet have a chance to come to this misunderstanding, not that Neo's student would have actually learned of Aldrizzt's first impression of him. On the other hand, it was not so fortunate for Aldrizzt that he, Neo, and their newfound elven companion weren't anywhere near town. They really should have reached town a long time ago... but that wasn't why Aldrizzt was unfortunate. Since they didn't even know that they would have met Neo's student in town, it wasn't a big deal that they had never made it to that particular town.
Aldrizzt was unfortunate because he had been saddled with not one, but two of the world's biggest idiots at directions. In his one hundred and thirty-six years of life, Aldrizzt had never met anyone who could get as lost as Neo before. He had truly thought that Neo was one of a kind in the art of getting so thoroughly lost. Neo would declare his desire to visit, let's say, a waterfall in the Kingdom of Moon Orchid, said to be home to a type of herb used for preserving youth, and they would instead end up all the way in the Kingdom of Kissinger, before a rare stretch of desert without a droplet of water in sight.
That was how bad Neo's direction sense was. Even Aldrizzt, who was new to the surface before meeting Neo, having lived his entire life underground, knew the stars and his way around better than Neo did. After a countless number of times of getting led to a swamp when their destination was supposed to be a meadow, and getting brought to a cliff when they were supposed to be traveling through grasslands, Aldrizzt really had had no choice but to learn his way around, another addition to the many skills he had acquired since meeting Neo.
Unfortunately for Aldrizzt, Neo was not the only one who was so talented at getting lost, and even Aldrizzt's reasonable skills at navigation that Neo had helped him polish were not enough to triumph over the combined disaster that was Neo and Prince together on the same adventurer team.
Sure, Prince could cook and do laundry, but if not for that (and for the fact that Prince was, well, an elf), Aldrizzt might have even wanted to claim that Prince and Neo were long lost siblings. Not only did both enjoy the thrill of fighting, their skill at getting completely and utterly lost was eerily alike.
One night, Aldrizzt sent Prince out for some firewood. Bad decision. Very bad decision. Aldrizzt hadn't thought it would turn out to be a big deal -- he had only sent Prince out for some firewood after all. Not a difficult task... But they had almost lost their elven companion for good because of it. In the time that Prince had been lost, Aldrizzt finished setting up their camp, washing their clothes, and cooking their food... even without firewood. In the end, Aldrizzt had to use the Spell of Flight to elevate himself into the air to search for Prince. He'd done it before Neo could rush off to look for Prince -- Aldrizzt really didn't need another teammate getting lost.
Eventually, Aldrizzt found Prince by the stream with Meatbun, a good half day's journey away from where they had stopped to set up camp. Prince just looked at him sheepishly, a pile of skewered fish by his side. The elf had indeed gathered firewood, but the wood had gone into making fish kebabs.
After Prince had realized he was lost, Prince had thought to use the stream to find his way back (after all, they had set up camp next to the stream). Not a bad idea, and quite a miracle really, that he had managed to locate the stream in the first place. Except... he had chosen the exact opposite direction to head in, taking himself farther and farther away. Meatbun had been no help.
At least they'd ended up with enough fish to last them several meals. Prince might not be good at directions, but food was entirely his territory.
If Aldrizzt only had one companion versed in the art of getting lost, he would not have despaired. Too much. But with two companions who didn't know left from right... It was even enough to make Aldrizzt temporarily forget his worries about how Prince might react upon finding out that he was a dark elf.
It was while they were discussing the name of their squad with Meatbun as their translator that they got lost so badly that they never made it to the town where they would have crossed paths with Neo's student, not that they wouldn't have gotten lost even without the distraction. The distraction just made it happen even more easily, since the only one who did know left from right (namely Aldrizzt) had been so occupied that he hadn't had time to redirect them in the correct direction.
Neo was very adamant about naming them the Dark Human Elf Squad, but Aldrizzt thought it to be a terrible name. He was all for other suggestions and was ready to wholeheartedly accept whatever Prince suggested (surely anything was better than Neo's suggestions), until he actually understood Prince's suggestion after Meatbun translated it for them.
"The NAP squad? Short for Neo, Aldrizzt, and Prince?" Aldrizzt asked. He didn't know about Prince's language, but to Aldrizzt, that sounded unfortunately like a synonym for sleep.
He tried conveying that. "It's like a synonym for sleep," Aldrizzt explained. Meatbun turned to Prince and translated Aldrizzt's words, but Aldrizzt didn't know how well his misgivings had translated over. Maybe he shouldn't have used the word "synonym"... Did Meatbun even know the word?
Prince mulled over whatever Meatbun had managed to tell him, and then unexpectedly, he chuckled before asking if the name would have any unfortunate meanings if the letters were switched around. At least, that was what Aldrizzt thought Prince was asking. Meatbun hadn't actually used quite so complicated a word as "unfortunate."
The conversation went something like this:
"Drizzt-Drizzt doesn't like the name NAP-NAP?"
"No, like I said, that's like a synonym for sleep..." Oh, there he went again with the word synonym...
"Mama says NAP-NAP is a good name! But if Drizzt-Drizzt finds it funny, maybe we should be PAN-PAN instead. Is that better? Not as funny?" asked Meatbun.
"We're not forming a cooking squad here," Aldrizzt tried to explain.
However, Aldrizzt's words seemed to excite Meatbun more than dissuade him. Meatbun hopped up and down on Prince's head. "PAN-PAN! Siay ookingcay quadsay!"
Prince's eyes lit up. "PAN Squad!" he exclaimed, repeating Meatbun's words. "PAN Squad! Hattay siay ustjay erfectpay."
Aldrizzt didn't need Meatbun to translate to know that Prince liked the name. He hurriedly said, "We are not naming ourselves the PAN Squad."
NAP, PAN, ANP, or however Prince wanted to spin it, those names were not much better than Neo's suggestion.
Beside him, Prince was undeterred by his disapproval, not that Prince actually understood what Aldrizzt had said. Prince was already pretending to hold a pan of some sort and was tossing imaginary food into the air.
"PAN-PAN Squad means yummy squad?" asked Meatbun with shining eyes.
"Not...exactly..." Aldrizzt replied. It was a wonder that a food item like a meat bun was so excited about eating food, but Aldrizzt was no longer surprised about it. After all, when Meatbun had first shown up, he had immediately devoured the meat that Aldrizzt had roasted to eat. It had left a lasting impression.
Why isn't Neo saying anything? Aldrizzt glanced at Neo, who was leading the way ahead of them, only to see him holding his stomach. With any other person, Aldrizzt might have had a cause for concern, but this was Neo.
Aldrizzt was unimpressed.
Neo was laughing.
"See, Aldrizzt? What did I tell you? You should have accepted my name suggestion!" Neo exclaimed and turned around, the edge of his lips curving into a smirk.
"Rejected," Aldrizzt declared.
Neo lifted an eyebrow. "Surely you don't like PAN Squad better than my suggestion? My name is not even at the front in that one. NAP Squad would be better if you must choose something so plebeian."
"All of them are rejected," Aldrizzt said. "Also, none of these names include Meatbun in them."
"Is that why you rejected my suggestion? Fine. Dark Human Elfbun Squad. How's that?"
"Neo, you really don't get it, do you... Why do you keep going back to that name..."
Prince, since he had to wait for Meatbun to translate everything, decided to wander ahead of them. He turned left, and the others followed without a second thought, still deep in conversation.
Yet another bad decision.
Although they had not succeeded in coming up with a satisfactory name, they had succeeded in getting thoroughly lost. After all, their only navigator had been busy fending off names and had thus been too slow to realize that Neo and Prince had been the ones leading the way. With the combined efforts of Neo and Prince, Aldrizzt doubted if they were even in the Kingdom of Moon Orchid anymore.
"I thought you wanted to visit the princesses of Moon Orchid," Aldrizzt said while they stood outside an abandoned barn in the countryside. "This doesn't look like the capital to you, does it?"
"Strange, I was sure it was here," Neo replied, hand on his chin.
"Not unless the princess, her sisters, and the entire royal family actually live in a barn," said Aldrizzt.
Right after he spoke, Meatbun leaped across the air from Prince's head and landed on... Neo's head. Neo was the closest one to the building.
"Doll-jiějie is here?" Meatbun exclaimed.
It only took a single glance at Neo's indignant expression at having a white blob land on his head for Aldrizzt to burst out laughing. He looked away, but the image was already imprinted in his mind. At the thought of the look on Neo's face, Aldrizzt couldn't help chuckling again even though he knew it wasn't very nice to laugh at others.
"Meatbun, would you kindly return to Prince's head?" Neo asked in a slow voice. It was most definitely not a suggestion, but rather a command. When Aldrizzt turned to look, he saw the dangerous smile he was expecting on Neo's face.
Aldrizzt could tell that it wasn't going to work. Instead of doing what Neo had "suggested," Meatbun started hopping up and down, sending Neo's golden hair flying. Neo's hair was going to be a tangled mess after this.
"Meat-bunbun likes it here!" Meatbun explained.
"Great, see if you like it here after I split you open--"
"Meatbun, don't translate that," Aldrizzt said, worried that Prince would take offense. He also shot Neo a disapproving look.
Neo rolled his eyes. "Meatbun, tell Prince to tell you to get off of my head."
That's not going to work... Just as Aldrizzt thought this, Meatbun dutifully translated a string of words. Prince spoke, and Meatbun moved... onto Aldrizzt's head.
For a talking meatbun, he was quite heavy. Deceivingly heavy.
"Doll-jiějie?" Meatbun asked again, following that up with a little hop.
Aldrizzt's head dipped in from the impact. How strong Prince's neck must be for him to withstand Meatbun's careless little hops all the time!
The hops were disturbing Aldrizzt's hood, and it was with a jolt that Aldrizzt remembered he was still trying to hide his identity from Prince. He quickly grabbed his hood to stop it from falling, but doing that made his sleeves slip. He hurriedly darted his eyes at Prince. Did he notice?
Prince, however, wasn't looking at Aldrizzt. "Doll?" Prince asked. His eyes wandered around the area in curiosity.
"I'm afraid I don't follow. There are no dolls here," Aldrizzt said, hand tugging at his sleeves.
"Doll-jiějie is not a doll! Doll-jiějie is Doll!" Meatbun said, indignant. His hops grew more rapid, like stomping. Aldrizzt's head dipped further and further until he was looking entirely at the ground.
"Did you understand any of that?" Aldrizzt asked Neo while trying to straighten back up.
"Not a thing." Neo shrugged and ran a hand through his hair. He scowled when he came across resistance, but he didn't dwell on it for long.
"And here I thought our communication troubles were over..." Aldrizzt murmured.
It was not that Meatbun didn't know the language. It was just that his knowledge was often very limited, resulting in strange conversations... This is going to take some work.
After learning that Doll was one of Prince's companions and that she was a princess (it took many questions before they managed to come to this conclusion), Aldrizzt and Neo finally understood why Meatbun had suddenly called out her name at the barn. Unfortunately, the princess that Neo had been hoping to visit was not Doll, and Neo also did not know of any princesses that went by that name.
Both Prince and Meatbun had been depressed upon hearing Neo's words, but hunting down dinner had cheered Prince up, and the food that had resulted from that had cheered Meatbun up.
Eventually, this team that had yet to agree on a name finally reached a small town. Or more like, they finally stumbled upon a small town, as none of them had even known of the town's existence. They had been traveling through some forest whose name they did not know when the forest had suddenly given way to a town. It was akin to spotting an oasis in the middle of a desert, enough for all of them to doubt their eyes and wonder if they were seeing an illusion. After all, why would there be a town in the middle of a forest? The town was completely surrounded by trees!
Prince clasped his hand together and looked toward the skies. "Inallyfay, aay edbay otay leepsay niay!"
"Are you that happy...?" Aldrizzt wondered. He was also glad that they had finally come across a town -- it meant that he could actually send Chasel the next status update and reassure him that Neo had not gotten into any large troubles -- but Prince's elation went beyond that. Aldrizzt had never known elves to be this expressive. Prince was truly one of a kind.
The elf had a wide grin over his face, and he was heading straight for town.
"Wait!" Aldrizzt called out. "You should cover up your ears!" And your hair!
Although Prince was not like Aldrizzt, who would definitely be chased out of town if anyone laid eyes on him without his cloak, Prince's features were still very striking, especially his sharp red eyes. As his eyes were not easy to hide, Aldrizzt hoped that Prince would at least hide his other striking features, namely his hair and ears, since the combination of the three would only serve to accentuate his eyes.
Neo brushed off Aldrizzt's concern. "He's an elf. He'll be fine. He's not burnt like you."
"Drizzt-Drizzt is burnt?" Meatbun gasped and hopped off of Prince's head to land in Aldrizzt's arms. He peered upward with large eyes. "Roasted? Drizzt-Drizzt is not food. Don't get roasted!"
With Meatbun gone from his head, Prince finally turned around. "Siay omethingsay rongway?" he asked.
"It's Drizzt-Drizzt!" Meatbun exclaimed. "Ehay ashay eenbay urnedbay!"
"No, I haven't been roasted..." Aldrizzt tried to say, but Prince had already rushed forward to inspect Aldrizzt's hand while Aldrizzt held Meatbun with his other arm. Aldrizzt flinched, but it was too late. If Prince hadn't already figured it out (despite how long they had been in each other's presence), this would definitely be enough to clue him in.
"I did not mean to deceive you," Aldrizzt said with a heavy heart. Neo came to stand next to him in what Aldrizzt took to be silent support.
"Ou'reyay urnedbay osay adlybay hattay ou'reyay lackbay! Histay siay erribletay. Hyway idn'tday ouyay oday nythingaay boutaay tiay?" Prince exclaimed in a rush, eyes wide. Aldrizzt did not understand a single word, but he knew that they could only be words of rebuke.
See? He's so shocked that he's rambling...
"Mama says that you're burned so badly that you're black! Drizzt-Drizzt needs to take better care of himself!" Meatbun scolded.
And now Meatbun is scolding me... Wait...
That was not what Aldrizzt had thought Prince and Meatbun would say. How could Prince not have noticed that Aldrizzt was a dark elf? How had he come to the conclusion that Aldrizzt's dark skin was because he had been burned? If anyone were burned so badly that their skin turned as dark as Aldrizzt's, then that person could only be a walking corpse!
Neo laughed heartily. "That's right! Before your eyes is a burnt elf."
"Neo!" Aldrizzt admonished, aghast. You're really not helping!
"Aldrizzt, do you think so little of Prince?" Neo asked. "He is not like other elves." His tone seem to imply that since Neo had taken a liking to him, there really shouldn't be a problem.
"I know, but..." Even though Neo was vouching for Prince, and even though Aldrizzt, surprisingly, trusted Neo's judgment of character, he was just so used to having to hide, so used to rejection. He had not dared to reveal himself even to their previous team despite not wanting to keep them in the dark. Could he really hope for another companion who would be willing to see past his birth, to accept him for who he was? Prince was even an elf... but Neo was right. Aldrizzt was giving Prince too little credit, and even if Prince were to decide that he could not accept him, Aldrizzt would not blame him.
Aldrizzt steeled himself, pulling his hand out of Prince's grasp. Then, he lowered his hood, letting it drop against his shoulders. He felt completely exposed. He swallowed and said, "Don't worry. I haven't been burned. I'm just a dark elf."
Prince's reaction wasn't quite what Aldrizzt was expecting, but it wasn't very reassuring either. Instead of recoiling, his jaw dropped, and he stood there in shock.
"Am I so hateful that I've shocked you into silence?" Aldrizzt wondered with a heavy heart.
Prince shook his head, but he couldn't be answering Aldrizzt's question, not when he didn't even know what Aldrizzt had asked. The elf looked like he was trying to clear his mind. Then, he smiled lopsidedly, sending Aldrizzt's heart beating rapidly. Could it be that Prince actually doesn't mind?
Prince murmured, "Ouyay emindedray emay foay omeonesay. Ouyay ooklay aay otlay ikelay imhay."
"Mama says you look a lot like someone we know," Meatbun translated.
Neo raised an eyebrow. "You're acquaintances with a dark elf?"
That can't be possible... Aldrizzt thought, still in a stupor. But wait, if Prince is indeed half dark elf like what I had first thought, then that is not all that farfetched.
It would also explain why Prince was still willing to smile at him.
"Yes! His name is Wicked, and he is very nice," said Meatbun. "But he doesn't like Fire Phoenix's master very much."
A dark elf named "Wicked" who is very "nice"? Meatbun's words were once again confusing Aldrizzt, and he doubted Neo fared any better. Could Prince perhaps be related to this Wicked somehow?
"You've seen a phoenix before?" Neo asked, attention homing in on something completely different from what had thrown Aldrizzt off.
"Fire Phoenix is my wife!" Meatbun exclaimed happily.
What in the world...?
Aldrizzt hadn't ever seen a phoenix before, and he had never thought phoenixes and meat buns could marry. Each other, that was. Or well, he never thought meat buns could even talk. Was he...being too narrow-minded? He'd wanted people to accept him, but if he couldn't even accept...
He looked guiltily at Meatbun, who had returned to Prince's head, only to discover that Prince was now staring at him in a way that Neo sometimes stared at meat when he got really hungry. Aldrizzt was reassured that Prince had no problem with dark elves since his reaction had not been one of disgust or rejection, but...
Aldrizzt suddenly felt the need to pull his hood up again.
Dejected, Prince murmured, "Hyway idehay henway ouyay avehay uchsay aay andsomehay acefay? Iay houghttay ouyay ereway isfiguredday!" Then he looked at Meatbun and said, "On'tday ranslatetay hattay, Eatbunmay!"
Neo guffawed. "How much do you want to bet that he's admiring your looks?"
"What?" Aldrizzt was flabbergasted. He shrank into his cloak even more.
Don't tell me Prince is...checking me out?
"Ah, not used to the attention?" Neo smirked. He shook his head in pity. "So inexperienced and young!"
"I'm already over a hundred years old!"
Once they entered town, which Aldrizzt discovered was named Forest Leaf, they immediately searched for an inn. Even though Prince was fine with sharing a room, Aldrizzt had the fleeting thought that it might be better to book at least two rooms... but surely Aldrizzt was just misunderstanding. It was very possible that Prince just liked to admire beauty, though Aldrizzt had never thought of himself as beautiful. It was a strange thought.
While sitting at the desk in the room they had booked, Aldrizzt began composing a letter to Chasel.
Dear Chasel, Aldrizzt wrote. Remember the adventurer team I mentioned last time? Unfortunately, we have parted ways with our teammates, but do not despair. We have found a new companion, an elf, if you can believe it, like what Neo had always wanted. He has striking features -- hair as white as snow, eyes as red as blood...
He paused. ...and he can even give Neo a run for his money with his direction sense...
Again, his hand stopped. He hesitated before he added, Also, I wonder if he has a thing for Neo or maybe even me...
He stopped once more and crossed the last part out. Surely he was over thinking this.
Chapter 10: Chapter 9: Invincible Curiosity, Insatiable
While many of his companions had found or were with at least one familiar being from their world, Sunshine had yet to come upon anyone he knew. Or anyone at all, in fact. He did appreciate the birds though. It was too bad they couldn't answer his questions, but that didn’t stop him from chatting with them.
He tilted his head, hands splayed next to his crossed legs, fingers rubbing across the soft fibers of his flying carpet as he studied the sky around him, endless blue as far as his eye could see. He could never get tired of admiring the sky, of feeling the sun shining down on his skin, warming him to his very fingertips. Of the varying skies Sunshine had laid eyes upon since leaving the cave that had been his entire world, he loved fair skies the best; when there was not a cloud in sight, that was when the sun would shine the brightest.
He breathed in deeply, a content sigh escaping from his lips.
Wherever this place was, it wasn't Second Life, but it was just as beautiful, if not more. The air was sweet and crisp at his current altitude, the breeze soft like a caress. Sunshine had always yearned to see the sky with his own eyes, to feel actual wind blowing through his hair. Although he had always tried to imagine what the outside world would be like, his imagination hadn't been anything close to experiencing the real thing.
Stepping outside of the cave that had been his entire world had dazzled him and left him in awe. He’d wanted to learn and experience everything in the wide, new world he’d stepped into. Now, he was experiencing it all over again. This wasn’t Second Life. This was another world altogether, and in this world, he was just as real as everyone else. He could feel it, that extra 1% of realism that had always been beyond his grasp. It wasn't much, the difference was so minute, but he could feel it.
More than that, however, was the pain. Fairsky had told him that the degree of pain in Second Life, set at 30%, was high for a game. Sunshine hadn't known how muted that actually was though, not until he had accidentally pricked his finger here in this different world and felt acute pain blossoming, pain like he had never ever felt before.
Everything here was so much more intense.
Is this what Fairsky always experiences?
When he’d thought the cave to be his entire world, he’d dreamed of the world outside. Then, he’d thought Second Life to be his entire world, and he had been satisfied even though he’d known he had only exchanged his cave for another form of confinement. There was a world outside of Second Life, but it wasn’t one he would experience. He hadn’t spent too much time regretting it; he’d loved Second Life and had not wanted for more. He only regretted that he couldn’t follow Fairsky out into her world.
Never did he ever imagine that there would be a world outside of both his and Fairsky’s. Just how vast and amazing was the universe? Would he ever get to experience it all?
Sunshine smiled, tilting his head upwards, feeling the warm beams of sunlight hitting his chin and neck.
After rolling his neck, he returned to searching for his companions. Somewhere out there, Fairsky must be searching for him too. He could not wait to tell her what he was currently feeling and experiencing.
Days passed while Sunshine searched.
He peered down over the edge of his flying carpet, hoping to come across Fairsky before she grew too lonely.
The truth was, Sunshine was starting to feel a little lonely himself. It was not a feeling he liked and was certainly not a feeling he wanted Fairsky to feel. He was still enjoying his new experience greatly, but he missed Fairsky and her liveliness, and he worried for her safety, as well as the safety of the rest of his companions.
Were they stranded alone, like him?
Despite flying over a mountain range and then a forest, Sunshine still hadn’t come across anyone. The landforms below him and the sky around him were beautiful, but the silence was beginning to make him fidget.
He had truly gotten spoiled by the liveliness that came with living at Infinite City so much that he could no longer stand prolonged periods of solitude.
Even when he had been isolated in his cave, he’d had Kenshin with him then. The degree of conversation he had held with Kenshin was not much different from his current, one person conversations, as Kenshin had always listened quietly while Sunshine chattered away, talking enough for both of them, but Sunshine had never known loneliness during those times.
Now that he thought about it, this was perhaps the first time he didn’t know Kenshin’s whereabouts. Even when players they knew logged off and left for a world neither he nor Kenshin could follow into, Kenshin had always remained easily accessible. Although they'd grown apart ever since leaving the cave, their world widening so that it was no longer just the two of them, Sunshine had always felt safe and at ease, knowing that Kenshin would always be there for him.
He missed Kenshin a lot.
Sunshine picked at the threads of his flying carpet, eyes roaming the lands below him.
Since he had been staring so intently, he immediately noticed when two people suddenly appeared out of nowhere. He blinked. Then he blinked again to make sure. They were still there in the distance. Sunshine was fairly sure they hadn’t been there before.
Were they players who had just logged on? Was that how things even worked here? How else would these two have appeared out of nowhere?
Perking up, Sunshine immediately lowered his carpet to fly closer to the duo, eager to finally have someone to talk with. Not once did he even hesitate to think that it might not be a good idea to approach strangers who had just appeared out of nowhere without studying them first. He was too happy that he'd finally come across other people, but even if that hadn't been the case, Sunshine was never one to be overly suspicious of others.
As he flew closer on his flying carpet, he was able to make out the appearances of the two people who had appeared. One was a young woman dressed in a mage’s outfit. The other was a handsome man clad in dark armor. Sunshine could also make out their voices now, their words gradually becoming comprehensible.
“That had been close. This should be far enough, Alice,” the man said.
So her name is Alice! thought Sunshine. What a pretty name.
“Are you sure? They're going to catch up again soon. Once more. We have a few scrolls left. We can put greater distance between them and us.”
“But I don’t want you to tire yourself out.”
“Eagle, I’m not tired at all. I will never be tired as long as you’re with me.”
"How about just a short rest?"
"Just a short one then."
Sunshine found a smile coming over his face. Alice and the man, whose name seemed to be Eagle, reminded him of Fairsky and himself; as long as Fairsky was around, Sunshine did not ever feel tired.
“Someone’s there!” Alice cried out in sudden alarm. She pulled out a scroll from her sleeves and grabbed Eagle.
Sunshine blinked, about to look behind him, but he paused. Oh, does she mean me? In that case...
“Hello-” he started to say while urging his carpet closer, but before he could even finish his greeting, Alice and Eagle both vanished, just as suddenly as they had appeared, a slight breeze the only indicator of their departure.
Startled, Sunshine quickly flew closer, dismounting in the spot where they had been not a moment before. He glanced around and even looked behind one of the logs, but there was no trace of the duo to be found.
“I wonder if they logged off?” Sunshine said to no one in particular even though he suspected that something else was probably going on, another mechanic that he didn't understand. “I was hoping they would answer my questions...”
Dejected, Sunshine hopped back onto his flying carpet to continue his search. He wasn’t going to let this set him back though. There was a positive side to this encounter: he’d come across people -- that meant that this world was populated after all, and wasn’t home to just birds!
After spotting the duo, Sunshine didn’t come across anyone else, not even the people who were possibly pursuing Alice and Eagle. Maybe I'm traveling in just the opposite direction?
From what he had heard of their conversation, he understood that they were being followed. It was no wonder they were so wary.
He thought he spotted them again at one point, but either he saw incorrectly, or they vanished again before he could reach them. Sunshine landed in the empty clearing and looked up at the clear sky through the trees. He had never felt so lonely before. They had been so close, yet so far. Their teasing proximity that danced just out of reach made it all the more unbearable.
I wish I could talk with them, but maybe they don't want to talk with me.
Crestfallen, Sunshine decided not to force the issue. He flew a ways ahead and stopped keeping an eye out for the duo.
Perhaps it was because he had stopped looking for them that Sunshine was able to meet them again. Just as he was about to settle down for the evening and had started looking for a place to land, the same duo suddenly appeared right in his vicinity with a burst of wind.
Immediately, Sunshine brought his flying carpet closer to eye level with them and blurted, “Hello, I’m Sunshine!” He didn’t want to miss the opportunity of speaking with them again. What if they vanished once more?
Both were visibly startled. Alice flinched, and Eagle drew his sword. The scroll Alice held fumbled out of her hand. Sunshine really hadn't meant to startle them.
“Who are you?” Eagle questioned, moving to stand protectively in front of Alice while she bent to pick up her scroll.
“...Sunshine?” Sunshine offered again. He had just introduced himself, but maybe Eagle hadn't heard him clearly.
Alice murmured, “Eagle, he’s not one of our pursuers, but..."
"I'm not," Sunshine nodded, agreeing with what Alice had said even though he didn't know what Alice planned to follow that "but" with. Eagle, however, seemed to know what she had wanted to say.
After exchanging a glance with Alice, Eagle asked, "Why are you here on the surface?" He kept his sword trained on Sunshine.
Sunshine nibbled on his lips, not quite sure what Eagle meant by "surface." Is there an underground world here too? "I'm kind of lost?"
Despite what he had admitted, Eagle and Alice were still looking at him in suspicion. Alice was even starting to recite her magic.
"Dark elf, lost or not, your presence on the surface is not welcome. What are you planning? Why have so many of you come to the surface?" Eagle demanded.
"Eh?" Sunshine blinked. He looked behind him. Dark elf? Where is there a dark elf? After looking around, Sunshine could only conclude that Eagle had meant him. Sunshine blinked again and pointed at himself. "You don't mean me, do you?"
"...Who else is there?"
Sunshine swept his hair aside to more clearly reveal his round ears even though they had been out in the open the entire time. "I'm not a dark elf though?"
Eagle's eyes widened ever so slightly. It was not much of a change in expression, but Sunshine had had plenty of experience with Kenshin. Eagle's eyes carefully roamed over Sunshine. It was apparent that he had not immediately taken notice of Sunshine's ears. "So you are not," Eagle said. "What are you?"
An NPC pet, thought Sunshine. But is that all there is to me? To Fairsky, I'm most definitely...
"Human," Sunshine answered with a smile.
"With white hair and dark skin like yours, how can you be human?" Eagle said. It was like he was stating a fact, an undeniable truth. He was not asking for an answer, but Sunshine didn't take his question that way. He thought long and hard.
Sunshine touched his hair, silvery strands slipping through his fingers. It was not completely white, not like Prince's or Wicked's -- there was a slight tint of purple to it -- but it did contrast a lot with his skin. "My hair and skin don't make me human? What does one's appearance have to do with whether someone is human or not?"
What makes a human? Am I not one? Is it because I am merely code in the end?
"You must be at least half dark elf with an appearance like yours," Eagle concluded.
"Half dark elf? How would that work? Why would I need to be half dark elf to have my appearance?" Sunshine asked, curious.
It was perhaps Sunshine's curiosity that had Eagle and Alice sharing another look. Eagle was the one who explained, "Children inherit their parents' looks. One of your parents must have had white hair and dark skin, or else you would not look this way. The only race that has white hair and dark skin is the dark elves."
"Is that so?" wondered Sunshine. Perhaps that is so in this world. But I am merely code. I have no parents. My looks were set by the game designers so that I would look like an Arabian prince...
Sunshine frowned. "I don't have parents..." But no, that was not quite right. Weren't the game designers his parents? Or was Long Dian, the one who had fabricated his current existence, his parent?
He played with the soft fibers of his flying carpet and decided to amend his words. "I don't know who my parents are, but regardless, I don't see why that should matter. Why are dark elves not welcome?"
A light crease appeared between Eagle's brows. "Are you trying to argue in favor of the dark elves? All humans know that dark elves are evil creatures. They are irredeemable."
How can there be a race born evil? Sunshine wondered. What makes one evil? Are Kenshin and I "evil," since we were designed to be bosses for players to triumph against?
"It is in their nature," Alice added to Eagle's explanation. "Is it in your nature?"
"That I do not know," Sunshine answered, never one to lie. He furrowed his brows, deep in thought. "What does evil entail? What makes one evil? Who gets to decide?"
Is the Dictator of Life evil? Is that why we must defeat him?
"Are you seriously asking us that? I never thought we would be asked such questions regarding the nature of evilness while trying to elope," Alice complained and crossed her arms. "I did not run away to answer such questions..."
Sunshine's eyes lit up, and he exclaimed, "You are eloping? Truly? I have heard about 'eloping' from Fairsky before, but to see it happen! You must be in so much love with each other! Oh, but you had to elope? Does that mean your union was met with disapproval? I am so very sorry..."
Alice and Eagle shared another look. Then, Alice turned and covered her mouth with her hand, a sound that Sunshine thought might be laughter escaping from her lips. Eagle coughed, as if he was trying to muffle his own mirth.
Sunshine thought that something he said must have set them off, but he didn't mind -- laughter was a good sign. He felt his mood lift, a wide smile coming over his face. "I'm so happy for you two!"
Eagle coughed again. He lowered his sword and said. "I believe you are not evil."
Alice nodded as well.
Sunshine smiled brightly. "Will you listen to my story, and will you tell me yours?"
Sunshine stayed with the couple for several days. During the evenings, Sunshine would tell his story. Not all of it, but enough so that Alice and Eagle would understand that he was not of this world, and that he had been separated from his companions, including Fairsky. They talked about other things too, like how magic worked, and Sunshine even got to practice Alice's brand of magic. Sunshine found everything to be new and fascinating.
Alice and Eagle depended on scrolls for a type of magic called "teleportation," instant movement across places. Teleportation could also be done without scrolls, something Alice was still trying to learn. Sunshine had never attempted such magic before, but Alice assured him that he had the aptitude for it. His flying carpet was an indication of his affinity with wind magic, as she could tell that it was his magic that kept the flying carpet afloat. He didn't think of his magic in her terms, but it was true that he knew wind magic spells.
As they talked, Eagle gazed at him across the fire, the tendrils of flames casting flickering shadows across the ground between them. "I advise you not to champion rights for dark elves. With your appearance, it would do you no favors."
"Your world is very strange," Sunshine murmured, "for there to be such a divide between humans and dark elves. Where I am from, things are not so. Although I am not a dark elf, I also do not find dark elves to be evil. The dark elf that I know is very kind."
Sunshine thought of Wicked. Perhaps the ways of Second Life did not apply here -- Wicked was not truly a dark elf after all. He was a player, a normal human outside of Second Life. But Second Life was Sunshine's entire world. It was all he knew.
Wicked, despite his name, was very kind. It was true that he was normally stoic, but Sunshine knew Wicked could be gentle. It happened most often in Prince's presence, but Sunshine had also received Wicked's kindness before, such as when Wicked would patiently answer curiosities Sunshine had. Sunshine was sure others had also been the recipient of Wicked's kindness before.
"You cannot base an entire race's nature on a single entity," Eagle said. "Perhaps the dark elf you know is kind. That does not mean the rest of his people are the same."
"Perhaps you are right," Sunshine said, "or perhaps you will change your mind if you were to meet my friend. He might not be indicative of his entire race, but you will find that dark elves can be kind too. At least from where I am from."
"How exactly did you end up here?"
"Well, you see, we were riding AnRui..."
Although Sunshine's explanation confused Alice and Eagle more than it enlightened them, Eagle managed to make some sense of the story.
"A whirlpool?" Eagle murmured. "It must be a warp of some kind." Realization dawned in his eyes as he spoke. "Your passage must have been the trigger..."
The trigger? Of what? wondered Sunshine.
"Eagle, what is it?" asked Alice. She placed a hand on his arm.
Eagle shook his head. "I'm sorry, Alice. I had no plans on going back so soon, but Sunshine has just shed new light on a matter I need to investigate."
Alice bit her lips. "Then what about me? Didn't you leave because the Cathedral would not recognize us? Are you going back to your duties?"
Before Eagle could answer, Alice made a noise. She pulled out a small box and gripped it tightly. "They've caught up with us."
"How close?" Eagle asked.
"Very close. You remember that we purposely..." Alice trailed off.
"Yes, I remember. I will go and distract them," Eagle murmured.
"What is going on?" asked Sunshine.
"Our pursuers have caught up with us. Eagle will go and distract them," Alice said.
Immediately, Sunshine shook his head. "No, you should leave together. I will hold them off."
Alice and Eagle shared a troubled look.
"Why do so much for us?" asked Alice, confused.
"There is no reason for me not to, and truthfully, the two of you remind me of Fairsky and myself. It pains me to be separated from her. I would not see that happen to the two of you."
Before the couple could respond, Sunshine had already ascended into the air and shot off. He had his flying carpet, and he was not exactly a weak mage and was even beginning to understand the wind magic of this world. He refused to see two lovers like Alice and Eagle get chased down, forced to part. That would depress Sunshine even more than never getting to be their friend.
Eagle called out. "Sunshine, wait! You don't have to do this..."
Sunshine smiled. "Stay safe. If you happen across Fairsky before I do, please let her know that I am always thinking of her."
"Tell her yourself!" Alice yelled after him without any of Eagle's misgivings. "You better come back in one piece!"
What Sunshine did not know was that Eagle and Alice had purposefully teleported near their pursuers so that Eagle could show up in front of them and lead them on a merry chase. They had not predicted that they would run into Sunshine, or that he would offer to "distract" their pursuers for them, throwing off their plans. It was not ideal to let Sunshine go in Eagle's place, but it was perhaps not a bad turn of events either for the couple. If their pursuers had not believed that Alice had been "kidnapped," they would definitely believe it now.
The only problem was that Sunshine looked somewhat like a dark elf. It was highly possible that their pursuers would shoot first and ask questions later. Sunshine paid no heed to this possibility. His only thought was to buy Eagle and Alice enough time to make their escape.
After parting, Sunshine hurriedly flew in the direction of the pursuers. If Eagle had been the one to "distract" the pursuers, he would have teleported instantly to their side and would have met an "assassin" dressed in a black, skin-tight leotard, an assassin who blended right into the night with his long, dark tresses.
Sunshine, however, did not teleport. He met the squad halfway after their lone night-watcher had alerted the rest of the squad to his presence.
The odds were not good for a solitary mage facing a squad that could even slay a dragon, but Sunshine's goal was not to triumph. He merely wanted to delay them, and he had had plenty of time to recite his spell before he reached them.
"Guided Arcane Missiles!" Sunshine shouted once he broke into their view, magic striking the trees before him. The tree trunks cracked and fell before the pursuers' path. A strong man and an ax-wielding woman in the group were both holding up crooked trees so that they would not fall on one of their comrades, the priest of the group.
Suddenly, an arrow flew out at Sunshine. He dodged, attention drawn to the archer. Next to the archer was a blond man with eyes the color of the sky that Sunshine so very much admired. Sky blue eyes stared up at Sunshine calculatingly, but Sunshine could not let that deter him.
Sunshine recited his magic once more. I won't let you separate Alice and Eagle!