Chapter 71 – Up and Out

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I took to the air in a dour mood. I was suffering from fatigue due to three unpetrifications with only brief rests between, but that wasn’t the root cause of my funk.

The trio had been bereft of equipment except for the weapons that had been locked in Ryuu and Graham’s hands. Brigitte was able to use a couple daggers from the orcish equipment we had scrounged, and we backtracked their battle far enough to find where she had lost her bow. She had no arrows, but it was still a stroke of good fortune for her that some orc or goblin hadn’t picked the bow up, since it was a valuable weapon.

But none of them had provisions. Only the clothing items that couldn’t be stripped remained on them; likely the orcs had stolen their packs and everything else. So, for them to eat a meal, we had to dip into our supplies.

Since the sisters could only offer jerky, both Brigitte and Ryuu became downright greedy when it came to my sausage and cheese. Graham had some tact and tried to restrict himself to hardtack. That earned him some points with the sisters, and they made him take some of their jerky as well. He must have pleased Bruna earlier; she gave him a couple pieces of my dried fruit she had secretly hoarded, too.

Then, we were moving too soon to allow Ryuu and Brigitte to recover, because Ryuu insisted. Graham probably had the constitution to go without time to recuperate, but he had to be stretching himself too. A certain Amazon had also sapped his energy, after all.

Ryuu was not my party leader anymore, but neither did he have to listen to me, and I had to make sure he made it at least as far as outside the mines, in order to call my own mission complete.

Which is why I had to just shut up and accept it when he rejected the idea of locating the gnome tunnel, the access that the builders of this park dug to the surface when they began work. Ryuu was adamant that we reunite with Arken and Melione as soon as possible. We didn’t have time to mess around searching for a way to sneak back into town unseen. 

Despite the past evidence of evil intentions toward the hero’s party and the probable existence of demon allies among the locals, the plan was to brazenly travel back on the Jobs Office wagons.

It all added up to a bad mood for me… except that every time I saw Ceria, I knew this wasn’t the real issue making my mood sour.

We had crossed the forest and then meadow below the wall breach without any encounters to speak of. The forest had been nearly empty, after all. The local life had fled or was still in hiding from all the high order monsters of the recent past. So far, none of the dangers I had feared came true, and we could have easily made it through.

Had we gone through forming the blood bond for nothing? For what purpose did I distort the rest of Ceria’s life? It had seemed like a terrible necessity at the time, but now that we were marching out with three strong allies at our side, was it turning out that I had made another horrible mistake?

Maybe I could excuse myself and say that her blood-bondage had made it possible for me to rest and be able to do the unpetrification in safety. And that action, in turn, had allowed Bruna to ‘have her snack’ and recover at last. But I couldn’t say that for certainty. The unpetrification itself I had been able to do when I arrived here.

So I was flying ahead to check the breach, to make sure nothing lurked there in ambush, but my real purpose was to take my mind off the subject. I alighted and activated my circlet of light, moving in a couple dozen paces without finding anything suspicious.

“I’ll start carrying people up,” I stated on landing, as the others reached the base of the wall. Brigitte just rolled her eyes and began climbing, as I expected, but the other two looked uncomfortable.

You can’t climb the wall like Brigitte, guys, I thought with some amusement as I watched them weighing their options.

It was easy to deduce that they had gone down in the first place expecting to use the coil of magic rope that Graham was carrying. It had vanished with his equipment, of course, and I was now their only ride home. Was relying on me going to be that much of a dent in their pride?

Seeing their hesitation, Ceria spoke up. “Lady, if you carry me up there first, I can lift the rest up to me.”

Bruna looked at her with some surprise, then comprehension. “That isn’t too much to lift?”

Ryuu scowled. “Is there some concern?”

Ceria frowned at her sister, probably for giving the men cause to doubt, then told him, “I don’t think I could fly myself safely. I’ve never practiced. But I’m able to lift things and bring them to me. I can lift everyone if I do it one at a time.”

I applied a little creative interpretation, and concluded from Ceria’s certainty and Bruna’s hesitation that she was previously unable to lift that much weight, and that she now believed that she could. I was curious how she knew that the power from me was sufficient to allow her to do it now, but I decided this wasn’t the time to ask about it.

Ryuu and Graham were both looking hesitant, so I suggested, “If you are unsure of her ability, you can watch her lift Bruna up first.”

Ryuu gave me a suspicious glare and asked, “You wouldn’t be thinking about stranding us down here and leaving without us?”

I kept the instant anger buried inside and gave him an incredulous stare instead. “Why would I go through all the trouble I’ve just been through to come help you guys, and then turn around and leave you here? That makes no sense at all!”

Actually, I think a little anger may have made it through. I was pretty pissed at the suggestion.

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My wings were still out. I scooped Ceria up into my arms like before and sprang into the air. She was just as nervous about it as before, but she managed to not make a scene in front of the guys.

Flying up close to the wall breach, I told the fox girl who had already reached it while we were arguing, “Stand back a few paces to give me room to land.”

I circled back, then came in with enough momentum to carry me into the tunnel. A short time later, once Ceria had recovered the strength in her legs, she stood near the opening with her staff, chanting, “Upraise the subject I summon / Lifting upon wings of wind / Giving flight skyward and hither / [Wind Porter]!”

Looking over the side, I saw her sister float up, the struggle to suppress her fear of heights spreading across her face as she flew up toward us. She came into the opening easily, landing next to me like a feather.

“Not bad, Sis,” she commented as a grin washed the anxiety away.

The look on Ceria’s face was incredible. It looked like she wanted to break into a ‘happy dance’. She turned sparkling eyes on me that said, That was so cool!

I flicked a glance toward Brigitte, who was still only a few paces into the tunnel, and then leaned closer to Ceria to say, in a low voice, “I would rather they don’t learn about the recent power-up and how it happened, so be careful how you talk about it.”

She nodded and replied, in an equally low voice, “I understand. But it’s really amazing, Lady!”

Even before the power-up, Ceria had begun to impress me. I was still convinced she and Bruna were top-rankers. But now… I wasn’t sure Arken had enough power to do what Ceria had just done, and he is considered a high ranking mage. Nothing like Mother’s level, but for mortal races, very powerful.

“I’ll do the hero guy next,” Ceria called down to the other two. I wasn’t looking over the edge, but she apparently received some visual acknowledgment from below. She stood up, posed with her staff, and repeated the chant.

We sorted out our marching order once everyone was up, and began the long trek back to the surface. Before we reached it, Ryuu insulted me by refusing to respond when I gave him the same apology as Graham. Brigitte had shown me the courtesy to not only respond, but accept it, just like Graham, but Ryuu had just snorted and stomped away. Later, he decided the nightsteel sword would make a nice backup weapon and demanded I give it to him. It certainly would make quite a nice backup, but it was part of my party’s spoils, so I refused. And he continued to demand my provisions for himself and his companions, exhausting my supply by breakfast the next day, and leaving us eating jerky mooched from Ceria and Bruna for the remainder of the day.

In the afternoon, as we rode the wagon down to town from the mine entrance, I was mired even deeper in that sour mood.

- my thoughts:

Petrification did nothing for him. Ryuu is still a jerk. And Tiana is still not cutting herself any breaks, poor kid.

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