We landed when the horse riders took a break for lunch. It had been hard work on the horses, because they had climbed half of the way back up the pass into the Tabad that the brigade had taken at dawn before turning off the road and beginning the climb over the adjacent ridge. But it was unavoidable, because this was the only way into the area where Talene suspected the Berado mine to be located. They had chosen to stop in a hollow that was just barely obscured from the road below.
Allia waved me over as soon as we landed. Everyone was already sitting on various stones or bare spots of ground, while the horses attempted to strip a bit of sustenance off the few bits of vegetation they could find.
She told me, “This place is bone dry and the horses will need water soon. It’s still a couple hours of walking for them before we reach water. My daughters tell me you have the skill to create water?”
I chuckled. They were remembering my water stone, which of course I didn’t have with me. But it was a magical tool for materializing the Water mana which I poured into it, and I actually had improved my Water skills quite a bit since then, thanks to the coaching Grandmother had given me.
“I no longer have the tool they saw me using, but I’ve learned a few things since then. I should be able to do a basic materialization.”
Allia frowned. “If a [Wellspring] spell worked, I would do it myself. You can’t produce the quantities the horses need in this kind of dry air without wearing out the caster. I guess we’ll just have to push them until we get down to the stream that’s supposed to be on the other side of this ridge.”
I planned to do brute force materialization, fairy-style, not the spell she mentioned, but I didn’t contradict her. Instead, I looked over at Arken.
“Uncle, this looks like some nice solid rock we’re on. Do you think you could make a large basin? Say, two hundred gallons? Make it shallow, like twelve inches or so, so it’s wide enough for all of them to drink?”
“Two hundred?” Allia retorted.
“Trust her, Mom,” Ceria said.
Arken can use Earth magic. He stood, carrying his staff, and went closer to where the horses were waiting. Holding his staff upright, he splayed his hand out.
“[Moca Upp!]”, he intoned in Elvish, then raised his staff.
A disk of rock, lens shaped on the bottom and about a pace and half in diameter, parted from the ground, rising up to about knee height. This was apparently an image-controlled spell, making it level two magic despite the lack of a preparatory chant.
He drew a circle with the head of the staff, and the disk broke apart into a cloud of gravel. With a wave of the staff, it slowly drifted away from the horses and settled in a pile several paces away.
Returning his attention to the dish-shaped depression he had just created, he intoned, “[Sameinast!]”
Earth mana filled the depression, coating the surface and then fusing with it.
He looked back to me and smiled. “That should seal up any cracks or pores. It should be watertight now.”
I dug the Starfire Jade Writing Brush out of my wallet and walked over to the newly-made basin. Pointing the brush handle toward it, I tried to drag Water mana out of the dry, upper altitude air and found it like trying to squeeze the last drop out of a toothpaste tube.
After a shake of my head, I reluctantly unlocked my stash of Water mana in my core, circulating a helping of it until my magic pathways were close to saturation, then pouring it out through the brush handle, forcibly willing it to materialize.
When I first came to Huade, I could only do this by accident, by losing control of my manifested mana coating. That’s why I needed my water stone. But, the training that my grandmother had given me on Water manipulation, in order to improve my swimming skills, combined with the better control that my core granted me, now allowed me to pour physical water out of the brush in a powerful thin stream.
It was glancing off the shallow, curving surface of the basin and spraying right out the other side. I stopped the flow, pondering how to reduce the energy behind the stream.
“Reverse the brush, Your Highness,” Talene called out.
Nodding, I flipped it around, pointing the bristle end at the basin and tried again. To my delight, another function of the brush revealed itself. Water came out in a thick gush at much lower pressure. I continued to draw Water mana from my core and flow it through the brush until the basin was just about full.
The horses were staring at the water, but not moving. I realized that my proximity was the problem and moved to where the others were having their lunch, and they began claiming spots around the basin.
Allia was staring at me with slightly glazed eyes. Ceria was snickering at her.
Talene had a wry smirk as well, as she looked at the horses drinking. She looked at me as I unlimbered my pack in order to get at my stash of food and said, “I knew you were incredible, but that was quite impressive.”
“Where did you even find so much Water mana here?” Allia demanded as she recovered. “The air is bone dry!”
“She didn’t,” Dilorè declared, sounding like she was ready to start laughing. “I did not see her pull any Water mana from the environment. My cousin has the ability to carry a bizarrely large reserve of mana around inside herself, as if she were carrying ten pounds of magic stones for every element.”
Allia glared at her. “That’s ridiculous! Nobody can do such a thing!”
“Actually,” Talene countered, “The most powerful fairies are all capable of the same feat. Her Highness probably can’t come close to matching His Majesty, her grandfather in sheer mana reserves, and I’ve heard Her Highness’s mother has the ability to store mana reserves as well.”
Based upon things she had previously told me, I believed Talene had the beginnings of a core herself, but if she wasn’t mentioning it, I would keep my mouth shut.
Mother having a core was news to me, but when I considered her reputation for sheer destructive ability, I realized she almost had to have one. It made me wonder what other cultivation milestones she’d accomplished.
Allia’s brows knitted as she stared at me, then I saw that look coming back into her eyes, that told me the thought began playing in her mind, she’s an actual Strega, isn’t she?
She looked away, then, to cover her embarrassment, she looked at me once more and scolded, “Nine horses do not need that much water.”
She was right, of course.
Even these horses, dehydrated after a half-day of walking in this dry, high-altitude air, were probably going to take in less than a couple gallons each at one time.
I just shrugged and nodded. I didn’t need to tell her that I planned to fly back here by myself once we made camp tonight, in order to have a midnight soak. I had just enough Water mana left to do my mana-coating trick, but physical bathing is relaxation instead of work, and by nightfall, this much water would accumulate a nice supply of free Water mana, attracted from deep within the ground by the presence of standing water. And this spot, once the party had gone over the top and down into the valley beyond, would be completely secluded.
During a lunch of hardtack, sausage and dried fruit, we spent a short time discussing how to reformulate our plans after the sudden schedule change, but the bottom line was, we really didn’t have to change a lot. We were just a day ahead of schedule.
“The place we are planning to camp is the same as where we would have been camping tomorrow night by the original schedule,” Allia declared. “The difference is, we had hoped to have our fairy friends exploring ahead during the day tomorrow, while we were making our way back up here.”
“Hm,” Talene responded. “While fairies have a considerable fondness for rest and relaxation, they don’t actually need as much sleep as mortals. Perhaps those friends can do some preliminary reconnaissance after we set up camp.”
They were looking sidelong at Dilorè and I. I was about to just say, Yup, leave it to us! like a good knight, but Dilorè pointed out…
“It seems to me that a certain half-fairy in our party also doesn’t need much sleep, especially considering her other half is Dwarven.”
“Ah, but I have no wings, My Lady,” Talene responded with a smile.
“And yet, you can fly, Your Wisdom” Dilorè responded drily. “I’ve seen you do it.”
Talene tsked, then admitted. “I can. It’s a considerable drain on my pneuma, though. I was planning to spend most of the night on watch while consulting with Matthias, instead. He’s been doing some research for us.”
With a sigh, Dilorè conceded. “Fair enough.”
With a preliminary look toward me, receiving my nod of agreement, she told Allia, “Very well, My Lady. We’ll run reconnaissance tonight while the mortals get their rest. I would like an agreement that we get every other night off though. We can’t actually go continuously without sleep.”
“Really?” Brigitte asked. “Tiana used to go five or six nights at a time without sleep when we were in demon territory.”
“Your Highness!” Dilorè immediately scolded me, looking instantly furious.
I held up my hands to ward off the harangue. “That was only when we were on really dangerous ground!”
“What’s really dangerous is wearing down your pneuma like that! For we fairies, such behavior can cause serious issues with our bodies!”
“I’m half-vampire though? We can sustain ourselves through the night on the Darkness around us.”
“Only. At. Night!” she lectured angrily. “Promise me you won’t do that again!”
Bruna and Ceria simultaneously went “Pfft!” and then broke out in laughter.
Dilorè turned her glare on them, and Bruna sobered up enough to say, “Sorry. It’s just that my sister had to give her the same lecture, when she was doing the same thing while in a party with us.”
That just earned me another dour look from Dilorè.
“I’ll avoid it from now on, okay?” I told her.
Dilorè gave me a small, grave nod, accepting it as a promise.
“You can fly?” Ceria asked Talene. “I’ve been trying to learn, but I can’t figure out how to control it.”
“What spell were you using?” Talene wondered.
“[Wind Porter],” Ceria answered. “It’s the only levitation I know.”
“Ah, yes, that’s not going to work. You need contact with the ground for the control method. For a Wind mage, the spell you need is [Wind Wings]. It’s fourth level magic, so I’ll have to write out a grimoire for you, when there’s a chance.”
“You’ll teach me?” Ceria asked, excited.
“Certainly. I’ll consider it a recruitment gift.”
“Recruitment?” Ceria blinked in confusion.
“Certainly. A young mage with as much sheer ability to port magic as you, plus combat skills, is a natural as a sage’s disciple.”
“Oh. Um…” Ceria’s eyes flicked toward me and I realized what the conflict was.
I smiled. “Ceria, I’m not expecting you to stick to my side, remember? You’re supposed to live your own life. That includes following opportunities.”
She nodded, her brow knitting slightly.
Talene chuckled. I don’t know if anyone had told her what our relationship was, so I suspect she was imagining something else, but she patted Ceria on the hand and said, “That’s a decision for the future. You don’t need to accept the offer in order to receive the gift.”
Ceria remained quiet after that. I suspect the sudden reminder that she would have to decide whether to follow me or not, once this mission was over, was weighing on her mind.
Synopsis: The online game <