Waking up some time later to hear my companions regale me with the remainder of the battle was quite pleasing, specifically because none of us had perished. Though we were not without injuries, that was only to be expected.
The elf Ailen was first to comment when I asked how the battle went. “After determining the weaknesses of the metal golem’s attack patterns, I was able to injure them more effectively with my limited use ammunition.”
“Is that how you shoot arrows that come from behind things?” I asked.
“No. That is one of my class abilities.”
“As a Scout?” I asked.
“I never said that I had the Scout class.”
“I suppose that is true,” I said from my position reclining on some nicely stacked leaves.
“… I killed one,” said the most unlikely of my companions. Specifically, Ceira.
“How?” I asked. Maybe she wrapped it in vines or something… but she didn’t have any offensive magic that I knew about.
“After…” It took her a moment to ready herself. “After I was no longer being shot at, I ran for cover behind one of the trees and hid.”
“Sensible,” I commented.
“… Yeah,” Ceira replied. “Um, and then I was looking through the spells I could learn. They all seemed a little too… uncertain. Some fire and lightning, but you already had that and they weren’t doing enough. So I picked Rust without thinking about it. These robots are probably non-ferrous and rust resistant.”
“That does seem like Doctor Doomsday’s design sensibilities. So how did you kill one?”
“Well… one came around my tree and I panicked and… it worked anyway. At least on some of it.”
“How did you get past the AEGIS?” It should have at least been partially functional even if it was attacking.
“I don’t know,” Ceira shrugged.
For that, Senan had an explanation. “They have to let through low kinetic energy motion, or they would burn through all their power just walking around in atmosphere,” he explained. “I did not bring it up because I did not expect anyone to try to touch them.”
“But we did,” Midnight said.
“You certainly did,” Senan agreed.
“I didn’t kill it entirely on my own,” Ceira admitted. “Sorry, Midnight.”
“Having help doesn’t mean you didn’t kill it,” Midnight said. “You did not stop after just causing a small amount of damage.”
“That’s great,” I nodded. I looked towards Izzy, sitting up on a nearby root. “Did you get to stab any?”
“I need magic swords,” was her answer. So not as much as she wanted, then.
With all of that out of the way, we could move onto the next most important thing. “Did anyone level up?”
I got a full 60 experience, but that still put me only halfway to level 31. At that point I would be able to use 18 mana for a single spell, but that was still short of what Gate needed without a recent portal or something similar to work with.
“I did,” Ceira reported. “I’m level 10 now.”
That was unsurprising. It was also as expected that most of us did not. Izzy had apparently been close enough. I’d just recently gotten a level, so I wasn’t surprised. And Midnight didn’t get as much combat experience as I did. He was actually fairly close, though. I didn’t know what level Ailen was, but a couple of fights over the course of what I presumed to be centuries probably didn’t change much. The elf was probably higher level than all of us by a good margin. And Senan didn’t have a class or levels, so obviously he wouldn’t level up. How unfortunate for him.
We sat in silence for some time, exhausted. “So… why are we all just sitting out here?” I asked.
Oh right. Shelter was down. Fortunately this forest was flush with mana, and I’d regenerated enough in the time I’d been unconscious and however long our talk went.
Hopefully we wouldn’t get attacked by more robots. Ceira did her best to patch up the worst of our wounds before we went to sleep, then everyone passed out in the conjured beds.
It was a shame we couldn’t bring back bot parts to be analyzed, but we were already pushing our limits for what we could carry. None of us were experts on what was important, so carrying around a bunch of hunks of metal wouldn’t be practical anyway. Dragon scales would have been better. This was why people made magic bags.
Or bags at all. Though Ailen had helped us make semi-functional packs, so we weren’t limited strictly to what we could hold in our arms and Storage.
We fell back into a typical routine of travel, finding food where we could and dealing with dangers we came across. Though avoidance was a main components of our efforts there, and we even avoided several fights through Ceira entangling things. We didn’t need to kill things after all, and most creatures wouldn’t chase us far. The wilderness savvy Ailen would know which were which.
By the end of the month I had run into enough scenarios where Stoneskin seemed prudent that I was down to the last two little baggies.
I noticed a gradual shift in our surroundings, from ancient forest to the intrusion of rocky terrain. However, the plantlife continued to be plentiful and massive, there was simply more exposed rock and vertical movement in our daily treks.
We spent several days walking up a river, until we came to a waterfall that stood out from the surroundings, water dropping from at least a hundred feet. It was majestic, but also kind of in our way.
“We will climb this,” Ailen said as if it were just that simple. And while I was confident in my physical fitness, I didn’t really have much practice with climbing cliff faces in particular. However, the confidence of the elf was high, and so far we hadn’t done anything beyond our capabilities. Even for Ceira, who was at least able to keep up with us on our daily treks now.
Before saying anything more, Ailen pulled out a coil of rope. They had a proper pack, which was something we should have probably thought about before we had left behind the elves… but then again, they did provide help even though we were random people who showed up where we should not be. Perhaps asking for more would have been pushing it.
Regardless, the coil of rope was quickly affixed to an arrow. It seemed like it would be impossible to fire the bow, but with a great bit of both skill and magic the arrow sailed over the top of the cliff, impaling itself in a tree.
“Wait here,” Ailen said. Instead of climbing up the cliff, it looked more like they were running up it while barely laying a hand on the rope.
I wondered why the arrow didn’t pull out of the tree. At first I thought it must be deeply embedded, but Ailen pulled it out with ease when at the top. Then the rope was secured around the tree, leaving quite a good bit dangling on the ground.
Before we could decide what we were supposed to do, Ailen had slid back down the rope to us. “You can make ice that is not slippery, correct?” they asked Senan.
“That’s right,” he nodded. “Though if I have to maintain much of it, it can begin to melt.”
“Let me describe my plan. You will create footholds along the way, sufficient for people to step on. Can you maintain that many?”
“I should be able to,” he nodded. “I can know for certain by the time I reach the top.”
He seemed confident in going up on his own, which made sense. With the ability to create his own footholds it was less like climbing and more like walking up very steep steps. He held onto the rope, pulling hand over hand, but most of the work seemed to be done by his legs. And I learned that he didn’t have to create ice from his hands. Actually, that was obvious when he created an armored shell around himself, but I hadn’t really thought about it.
Ceira went next, upon confirmation that the ice would hold. It took her a bit longer, but the footholds were sufficiently large to require almost no balancing.
Next was Izzy. “… I can definitely climb that,” Izzy said. “But the footholds are kinda far apart.”
“I have a magical solution for you,” I said, holding out my hand. She reached out to let me do my magic, and I cast Enlarge. After which, she was a little bit taller than Ceira.
“I always forget you can do that.”
“Your fighting style doesn’t benefit from being bigger so…” I shrugged. Most people didn’t, actually. It came with strength, but also being a larger target.
It didn’t take her long to climb up, and then I went with Midnight on my shoulder. My upper body strength was probably sufficient to climb only with the rope, but that was much more difficult than using the cliff to brace against, and the footholds were another step easier. It was odd, stepping on ice that tightly gripped my shoes, but it worked.
Ailen followed up the rear, and then all of us were ready to continue onward.
Not long later, we got an announcement. “We’re here,” Ailen declared.
“Already?” I asked. “It doesn’t seem close to dark. Will we be camping already?”
“Not camping. We have arrived,” Ailen said.
“Oh.” It had been so long, I almost began to imagine we would be hiking forever. It was a continuous routine.
But soon enough I saw a wooden palisade, the river flowing beneath it. Ailen yelled something I didn’t understand towards it. That was odd, because Translation was very used to elven. And it wasn’t anything like common.
A small gate opened up next to the river, behind which stood an armored guard. Armor which made no attempt to conceal tusks. An orc, then. But Translation didn’t immediately pick up on orcish, though I’d used it before. It seemed to be a different version, though I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Humans on Earth had myriad languages, and where I’d come from there were still regional variations in the languages.
Ailen led us into the fort- or whatever was the proper name for it. The wooden palisades surrounded a number of other wooden structures built on bare stone and dirt, clearly carved out of the surrounding wilderness. The occupants watched us curiously, more orcs.
Finally, we ended up at one of the structures, not the smallest nor the largest example, but with a different aesthetic. Bone appeared to be a common decoration, but this also had plants woven into the structure.
“This is Comhghall’s,” Ailen said as we approached. Before we could even reach the door, it burst open and an orc tumbled out past us. I heard a voice from inside, the only snippet of which Translation managed to get was ‘try again’. Then a figure came into view. Tall and muscled, but also heavily scarred and with gray hair. And of course, greenish skin.
“Comhghall,” Ailen said. There was a word before that. Perhaps a title? I got the vague sense it was that. “… outsider come for aid.” Oh good, it was getting better.
“Very well,” the old orc who was apparently Comhghall said. He looked over our group, then locked eyes with me. His eyes narrowed. No doubt mine did as well.
We focused on each other to the point I couldn’t hear my companions speak, nor did I immediately notice them moving away. I was pretty sure I didn’t like this guy, and that he didn’t like me. But no matter how much I instinctively wanted to punch him in the face, he was our best ticket out of here. So I didn’t do it, or even mention how much I wanted to.
Because of my restraint, I lost the opportunity to throw the first punch. I managed to react as powerful muscles tensed, but I was still too slow to avoid it. At least I tensed enough to stop the wind from getting knocked out of me.
A moment later my fist hit him in the jaw. Since he started it, I might as well.