My fist came up in a right hook, clipping the face of the orc in front of me. I had some idea about her response based on the other few orcs I had been introduced to. But unfortunately, just like them I was quickly subdued. All of them were too strong, moving too quickly. Their level advantage seemed to dominate my training. At least, that was what I thought at first.
But while the way they responded to my attacks seemed wild, the fact that there was a pattern between individuals spoke of some level of martial arts. Unfortunately, I couldn’t drag enough out of them to know how in depth it was. An elbow to my neck threw me off balance, then a hook behind my knee brought me to the ground. And then… there was a hand in front of my face.
“Sadhbh,” she said. Having been briefly exposed to orcish letterings, the vague similarities to common made me have a disconnect between how her name sounded and how Translation thought it was spelled.
Her hand remained in front of my face, unmoving. It took a moment before the dizziness faded and I realized what was going on. I clasped her hand and let her pull me up. “Turlough.”
I brushed myself off. It was not shameful to get beaten by people. Losing to women wasn’t an issue either. But up until now I hadn’t lost a fight based on pure physique to a woman old enough to be my mother. I pondered. Losing to Hammerfist didn’t count, as she was a grandmother and had also used her powers. But Sadhbh wasn’t nearly that old, simply showing some signs of wrinkles and lightening hair, but nowhere close to as much as Comhghall or Hammerfist. And unlike with Hammerfist, this was a fight without mana, which made my loss more convincing. Was everyone here able to beat me in a fight?
Actually, given how people greeted each other, I would be more surprised if they could not. After all, I had one good year of experience in combat, and about a decade or more of pathetic attempts. These people should have much more than that.
“What is that martial art?” I asked.
“Our fighting style? It is an instructive style developed over the grand scale of time.”
“Instructive… so you were going easy on me?” I frowned.
She tilted her head. “Have the orcs of the material plane really forgotten so much?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I replied.
Her face twisted. “I see. That is unfortunate.” She turned her head, “I think you should be finished with introductions for the day. Your companions appear to be waiting for you.”
So it seemed. I could see my traveling companions gathered together. As I went to meet them, Ceira came running towards me. “Are you alright?”
“Clearly,” I said.
“But you’re bleeding! And covered in bruises!”
As she gathered mana to use Replenish, I shook my head. “Most of the bleeding has stopped.”
“Because it’s full of dirt!” she said exasperated. She reached up for my face, and her magic began to spread throughout my head, soothing the aches.
“Thank you,” I said.
“If you need healing magic, you’re not alright,” Ceira chastised me. “You wouldn’t tell the healers at the Power Brigade you were fine if you were bleeding, would you?”
“He would,” Senan said, approaching the two of us. “But beyond physically, how are you doing?”
“I’m exhausted,” I admitted.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. Confused, I guess.” That wasn’t just hiding things. I really didn’t know. I had been angry, for a while. But now I was too tired for that. Nothing made any sense here. I looked over the rest of them. “All of you look better.”
“Well,” Izzy made herself known, “That’s just because they weren’t as friendly with us.”
“Friendly?” I raised an eyebrow.
“None of them even threw a punch. I was ready for it too.”
“You are not one of them,” Ailen said as if that was a proper explanation.
Seeing the elf I was reminded of an earlier grievance. “Hey. Why didn’t you tell me that Comhghall was an orc?”
“Why would I?”
Ugh. I didn’t have the energy to argue.
Ceira continued to poke and prod. “Hey, I can’t see any of the rest. You’re going to have to tell me where you’re bruised.”
“Yes,” I said.
“And…? Oh.” She sighed, and started with my torso. She got two neighborhoods on the front and back before she was out of mana. “You should at least get those cleaned.”
“Mmn,” I grunted. I looked at my fist, with plenty of torn skin, covered in mixed blood and grit. I focused Clean on it, expending a small amount of mana. It got rid of most of the external dirt, but the stuff under my skin mostly remained. That would take more effort, it seemed.
I felt Midnight approaching and lifted him up onto my less-bruised shoulder. “So what have you been up to…?”
“We’ve been getting introduced to the village,” he swished his tail. “There is an open hut they said we can use to store stuff, and room near it for you to use Shelter. They clearly weren’t expecting visitors, but they offered to make us cots if we need them.”
“Either of us can cast Shelter,” I said. “And I think that will be more comfortable.” The dwellings here didn’t seem particularly large, though they looked sturdy at least. I had barely seen inside any of them, as I had been going around introducing myself to people.
Along with the open space, the orcs directed us to bathing locations within the walls. Clean was useful, but there was only so much one could do with it.
Senan, Midnight, and I all stepped into the little side-pools off of the river together. There were shared showers in the Power Brigade so it wasn’t unusual. The girls went off to their own section, and Ailen didn’t seem interested which left a question unanswered.
The water was nice, if brisk. It at least soothed the aches in my body. Midnight paddled around in the water after I helped him brush away the worst of the grime. He wasn’t the biggest water cat, but he more than tolerated it.
“I almost can’t believe we finally arrived,” Senan said.
I nodded. “It was quite a long distance we covered… unfortunately, leaving here will not be as easy as I thought. It seems I will still be responsible for our return.”
“What will that take, 5 levels?”
“I… am hoping for less,” I replied. “But Comhghall indicated it was not a trivial task.”
“Well, isn’t it the highest level of magic?” Senan asked.
“I suppose so. It is just that I was able to partially use it already to rescue Jerome, but it is not enough to do anything now.”
“You tried it already, I know…” Senan nodded. “How bad was it?”
“Let me show you,” I said. “It will be hardly different. Prepare to catch me, if you would.”
I gathered mana, picturing my apartment back home. I began to release it as I did so, creating a sort of shimmering ellipse in the air. But before it could even finish taking shape, let alone show or allow access to the other side, it fell apart. A few moments later some water splashing on my face returned me to consciousness.
“I get it,” Senan said. “Is it really that far short, though?”
“It is supposed to last for several minutes. Never forming indicates… something.” I shook my head. “I haven’t used it that much, but I don’t feel like it will be possible even with the full amount of mana.”
“What did that Comhghall guy say about it?”
“He can’t do it so… I don’t know. He seemed to think I should be able to.”
“Perhaps once it is complete it stabilizes with little expenditure,” Senan shook his head. “Well, nice as this is… it’s also a little chilly.”
“… You have ice powers.”
“It’s not relaxing to insulate myself from the cold.”
I could have offered Energy Ward, but I was also quite tired. It was time for us to go to bed. Fortunately, Shelter’s sheets were as soft as ever, and the mattresses and pillows just right.
There was a rapping on the door in the middle of the night. No, that wasn’t quite right. I felt rested, at least. But it was dark.
“Time to get up!” came the voice of Comhghall. “You’ve got things to do!”
I staggered over to the door, ready to give the old orc a piece of my mind. But once again, I failed to strike first due to hesitation. That resulted in me being grabbed and tossed over his shoulder. I crumpled to the ground in a pile. I staggered to my feet… but he was already on his way. Was that the end?
“Am I supposed to attack you from behind?” I asked as I scrambled after him. “Because I can still fight.”
“… it’s a shame nobody ever properly taught you to socialize. But at least you asked. So no, you shouldn’t attack anyone from behind. Unless you’re still clearly in a tussle and slipped around them, of course.” Here, ‘tussle’ rang in my head the same as ‘polite greeting’. “What do you know about orcs?”
“That’s not a lot to go off of,” the old orc said. “But I would wager at least a few things survived the course of time. You might have figured this out by now, but Aspect of the Barbarian is very common among us.”
“… I did have questions about that. Master Uvithar didn’t know.”
“For us, there are a few that don’t have it. But communally, the purpose of greetings still serves its role.”
“Letting people know who is in charge.” By his combat record, Turlough was at the bottom rung in the hierarchy.
Comhghall turned around and frowned, “Who told you that?”
“It’s how orcs work. The strongest lead.”
“No wonder they couldn’t even manage to pick up an orphan,” the shaman shook his head. “If they’ve fallen that far. Do you actually know this?”
“That is at least the common view.”
“Well, I suppose we won’t solve anything talking about what the orcs might or might not do. But here, everything is for a sensible reason. For the good of the community.”
I waited for him to continue. I had some thoughts, but I was still waking up and I felt like my observations weren’t helping.
“Why would we greet each other as we do?” Comhghall asked. “What do you think?”
I frowned. Given what he said wasn’t true about that… “I don’t know.”
“Speculate. Why would you do it?”
Why did I fight people? “For experience. You did say it yesterday, I think.”
“And yet you forgot already.”
“I just woke up.”
“You’re lucky those golems attacked while you were awake,” Comhghall said. “If you can’t wake up properly. Another thing to work on. Anyway, experience is part of it. It’s growth. But let me ask you, how much experience do you think I got for stomping you to the ground yesterday?”
“Not much,” I said. “So you would have to do it often.”
“Hah! Not much. More like none at all. And no, I don’t mean part of an experience point. You were far enough from being a real threat to not count at all.”
“… How can you tell?” I asked. “Can you see smaller values in your status?”
“It’s the same with all the youngsters. Low levels and lack of skill. Nothing to be ashamed of, unless you stay that way. As for the status, it’s difficult to make it display such things. It’s only an idea, regardless, so you can lose accuracy that way despite gaining precision.”
“Your fighting style… Sadhbh said it was for training. Is it not better to be serious? More serious spars brought more experience for me, so going easy…”
“Training does not mean going easy,” Comhghall chopped me on the forehead. “So don’t insinuate anyone was doing so, okay? It’s as serious as possible precisely for training. A swift defeat might not be pleasant, but there is much one can learn from it, beyond just numbers. But we do attempt to maximize the numbers as well. That is why your training will have different aspects in optimal quantities.” He stopped, the two of us having arrived outside his hut. “Now try to make a Gate home.”
“I can’t,” I said.
“Thus the try. I want to see.”
I made sure there wasn’t anything for me to hit my head on when I passed out, and repeated the same thing I had done the night before. The results were precisely the same, a shimmering field not even completing or getting close to actually opening up.
When my eyes came back into focus, Comhghall was holding me up. “Alright, that one was my fault. That’s never going to work.” I blinked. But before I could spiral into the idea of being trapped here forever, he pushed past that. “What I meant was create a Gate to the material plane.”
“But I came here directly…”
“Not through any old portal, though. This plane is a step more removed from other worlds. So after a quick sit down we’ll have you try the material plane properly, which will be more achievable. Can’t just expect to hop between worlds and strange dimensions however you please if you can’t simply travel between planes.”