Book II - Chapter 0

 

Chapter 0

 —————————-

There are Gods among the trees below.

Beings who walk without flesh among the smoke. All around us, as the blood boils and the flames rise higher, I can hear their laughter.

Voices, loud enough to make me wish I could scream, silent enough to seem a whisper.

They know I’m here.

They know I’m still alive.

[CRITERIA MET]

 [UNIQUE TITLE: GREATER FAMILIAR – GRANTED]

[UNIQUE TRAIT – BOUND BY BLOOD – GRANTED]

[LEVEL UP]

From the center of the storm, as thunder roars and multicolored flames dance, the dead cackle.

The longer I listen, though, the more I understand.

[CRITERIA MET]

[UNIQUE TITLE: WITNESS OF BABEL – GRANTED]

 [CHAOS LANGUAGE COMPREHENSION – GRANTED]

[LEVEL UP]

Their laughter is like ten thousand words, each tumbling over-top one another, cascading as if a dam giving way to the oncoming flood. Thoughts and images all wrapped up among a language no mortal should ever know.

[CRITERIA MET]

[COMPLETE – ACCESS GRANTED]

[STATUS: AFFLICTED]

[HIDDEN AILMENT – LESSER INSANITY]

I can hear them, as they shout.

They wanted this to happen.

They’ve wanted this for a long time.

Centuries… millennia… they’ve watched on in silence, waiting patiently.

Yet, that's not the only thing they howl: hidden beneath their glee, there is surprise.

It was not meant to happen here.

Not today.

It’s whisper as much: to themselves, to each other.

Not today…

[ADDITIONAL CRITERIA MET]

As pleased as they are, I can hear the concern growing. All around me, their wonder is turning to suspicion, is turning to outrage.

And yet, still: they laugh.

"Trespasser."

The word repeats like an endless mantra, as they reach for me.

Hands in the smoke reaching atop one another as they accusations only grow. Voices ushering in a gift I do not wish to receive.

"Catalyst."

[COMPLETE – ACCESS GRANTED]

[UNIQUE TITLE: HARBINGER – GRANTED]

[AFFLICTED AILMENT ADVANCED – INSANITY]

I understand it now, what I’m seeing. They shout the answer, filled with pride. Happy to show the consequences of this foolish bargain.

Blood was paid.

Power was granted.

So, it must be given.

As heat and flame. As force.

We are still rising.

Higher.

The laughter turns towards something worse, as they fail to reach us. Their hands fall short, back down to the flames by which they emerged: writhing in fury.

How dare we flee? They ask, they shout.

They curse.

[UNIQUE TITLE: ENEMY OF CHAOS – GRANTED]

[AFFLICTED AILMENT ADVANCED – GREATER INSANITY]

Higher and Higher, as this power spreads, it rises.

So far, that we’re above the world, and beneath us… beneath us, is everything.

[UNIQUE TITLE: ASCENDED – GRANTED]

The fire, the voices? They’re furious we’re escaping. Enraged beyond belief, that their own actions are carrying us away: that the flames they’re so proud of can’t touch us.

It’s a kind of hatred that doesn’t need language.

Only purpose.

[CRITERIA MET]

[AFFLICTED AILMENT ADVANCED – MADNESS]

[UNIQUE TRAIT – UNSTABLE]

Brimstone and multicolored flames, heat billowing out in all directions: they take whatever can be taken.

But not what they wanted.

Not us.

We’re leaving them behind, surpassing the clouds until there are no more clouds.

Only cold.

The air is thinning.

It’s kept away from us, but I can feel it. Freezing cold, burning heat- back and forth. We’re still not stopping, even as the lights are changing.

The sky isn’t blue, but black.

I don’t know if anyone has ever been this far out.

The edge of the world, the border between reality, and nothing.

Or, everything?

There’s no right answer.

Go far enough, and there is no below. No up, or down.

Everything just is.

[LEVEL UP]

[CRITERIA MET]

[TITLE ADVANCED - GREATER ASCENDED]

[ADDITIONAL MENU ITEMS - UNLOCKED]

Everything is, until it’s not.

When weightless turns heavy.

I think I’m falling… we’re falling.

Will I remember this, when we land?

Am I even able to remember what I think, now? Have I already forgotten everything but the last, and don’t realize it?

I don’t know.

[LEVEL UP]

[ADVANCED CRITERIA MET] [!]

[PENDING]

Strange thoughts.

They’re always there, I think. Hiding in the background of every day. Their uncertainties keep creeping back in.

Endlessly.

Even when I try my hardest to fight them off. To redirect, adjust, explain when possible… I do try, you know.

For some time now, I have been.

Part of me makes that effort: to fight, to stand my ground and resist. That I throw my head back and shout.

But, I can’t.

My voice is only a whisper, and the ground I used to stand on

It’s gone.

Maybe, it was never there

Ah

The fall, though: that’s here.

[CONSOLIDATION OF TITLES]

[STARTING - ASSESSMENT]

[DIVINE BEAST, LEVIATHAN, CALAMITY, GUARDIAN, ENEMY OF MANKIND, GREATER FAMILIAR, WITNESS OF BABEL, HARBINGER, ENEMY OF CHAOS, GREATER ASCENDED]

[PENDING]

Faster and faster now, as the wind screams.

No longer is that air cold

We’re held within rush of heat and smoke billowing. The clouds are back, then gone, then back again

Layers giving way as we plummet.

My eyes are open as we approach the end of this journey, and they have the answer to one question

It seems the ground does exist, after all.

—————————-

[CONSOLIDATION OF TITLES – COMPLETE]

[…]

[ACCESS DENIED] [!]

[CONFIRMATION – PENDING]

[RESTRICTION – LOCK IN PLACE] [!]

[TITLE EXCEEDS CURRENT LEVEL]

[RESTRICTION – SECONDARY LOCK] [!]

[0/100] [!]

[RECONFIRMING - CONFIRMED] [!]

[RESTRICTION – LOCK IN PLACE] [!]

[SERVANT OF THE WORLD - PENDING] [!] [!]

[PROGRESS 0/100] [!] [!] [!]

[PROGRESS 0/100] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!]

[PROGRESS 0/100] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!]

[PROGRESS 0/100] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!]-

 

Book II - Chapter 1

 

Chapter 1

 

Memory is a funny concept.

The longer time lapses, the farther away from an actual event, the less I can recall. Everything starts to fade.

I really do mean everything.

Had a whole life before this mess, you know? An entire stretch, from birth to death, back when I was human.

Arms…

Legs…

Internet…

You name it.

Long time ago, now. Or at least, I feel like it was.

Being human…

You know what’s strange? I can barely even remember how it felt. Things like the day-to-day, the mundane, what life was like.

It’s all foggy and misted over.

Is that weird?

I feel like it is.

I mean, I remember some things. Things like…

Opposable thumbs!

Oh my GOD, those were convenient.

A tail just isn’t the same, you know?

Maybe you don’t.

Doesn’t matter.

Existence is a tricky concept, I guess.

Where was I going with this?

Being human.

That’s right.

It feels like a really long time ago. Yet, for some reason, the memory my death is still crystal clear.

Pain.

First and foremost, I remember the pain- but I remember what came after it, too.

The long dark.

Falling into the unfamiliar. Descending, as if thrown overboard with heavy weights: pressure all around me.

Deeper…

Deeper still…

Then, gone. Just like that.

Simple, right?

Waking up in pitch black, unable to see even the slightest detail.

To be honest, process was a lot like this.

At first, there’s nothing.

Just you, alone. Waiting, in the dark. Thinking your thoughts.

Just waiting.

Then? Before you even realize it, you’re back.

So…

Am I dead?

There’s a question.

If you die once, and get reincarnated… what happens when you die again? I’ve never really thought much about this.

I was a human, once upon a time.

Then, I was a snake… so, what’s next?

Maybe a barnacle, or something?

Or sort of bacteria?

Man, that would suck.

Ug.

No… thankfully, I don’t think I’m any of those.

Bacteria probably don’t get the urge to shed their skin, or wriggle, for that matter.

Pretty sure I’m still a snake.

“Sssss.”

Ah, confirmed.

Still some sort of serpent.

So, the question to circle back to, is if I’m dead- currently.

Tough one.

Technically, I think some votes might have to logically say “yes.”

If you die, you’re dead… right? Isn’t that how it works?

I mean, I died when I was a human. Beyond any reasonable doubt, I remember being shot, collapsing… the long and somewhat-humiliating process of lying there…

So, I’ve already died, regardless of whether I died again.

So, I’m dead.

Am I double dead?

No, that’s stupid. You can’t be dead, and then dead again. You can either be one or the other… unless you’re a ghost.

Woah.

Am I a ghost? A ghost in a snake’s body? Have I been looking at this all wrong?

“SSSSSS-“

Woah, woah, woah… chill. Relax.

Tiny Snake God loves you. Gotta take a deep breath, get your head on straight, flick your tongue a bit…

There.

No, just swallowed some dirt with that.

Ghosts can’t eat dirt… probably.

I don’t think I’m currently dead.

Not double dead, either, because that’s not a thing. No, I’m either in the sandy version of snake-afterlife, or I’m lying in a pile of dirt.

So, let’s think about this for a moment.

What’s the last thing I remember, before being here.

Where here happens to be…

I was in…

The forest.

That’s right.

Great Forest party with the elves. Okay, so far so good.

Drank too much, was a terrible life-choice. Yup, yup…

Party with the elves turned into a blood ritual, complete with sacrifices. First monsters, a frog, then the Chief brought out humans…

It’s all muddled.

I remember the humans were there.

That Chief wanted to use them for something, and I told him not to.

Then, the Swordsman came and started killing everyone…

What the hell happened after that?

Magic couldn’t get us out.

Us?

I remember trying to escape something, but we were trapped.

Us… we…

Who is we?

Seems like a pretty darn important detail, right?

And…

No, I really have no clue.

Wow.

You know, I suddenly feel as though I just had a terrible nightmare.

That’s what this is.

Not very helpful, but you know what those are like, right?

It’s not something tangible, really. I can’t hold onto what happened, but I can still feel it. Like an aftertaste of the dreamscape: this uncomfortable shade of dread, just lingering, echoing…

Echoing…

Really, the only solution is to wait it out.

Bit by bit, breath by breath.

Slowly, surely…

Gradual decline, as the waking mind takes over.

There.

It’s almost gone.

Bit by bit…

Like nothing ever happened.

Phew.

Alright, so: I’m not a barnacle, still a snake… next question.

Where am I?

This is sand, isn’t it.

All around me, it’s warm, but not too warm: soil has wrapped me up. Snuggly wrapped…

I kind of like this.

Comfy.

If I had to place a guess, I think I’m buried in the ground.

Yes, that’s exactly what this feels like. Wrapped up in sand.

Safe.

Friendly.

I like this, I do.

Buried in warm dirt…

Unable to see anything but… dirt…

Can I move?

Uh…

No.

Okay, so, not really able to move.

Hmm.

You know, being buried in dirt, deep enough that I can’t see or move.

Can I wriggle?

I can wriggle.

Wriggling.

Wriggling?

It’s not working.

This is probably not such a great thing.

I’m wriggling more aggressively!

Wriggling! Help me!

HELP!

Panic is setting in!

I’m trapped! Help me Tiny Snake God!

Help-

“-SSSSS”

Oh.

Hey, I’m out.

That was easy.

I don’t know what I had myself all worried for.

I’m in some sort of hole, but there’s a sky overhead. Some sloped walls all around me, circular.

All that wriggling and… ah.

Hindsight is calling to me: I could have just used magic.

[Earth Sculpting] basically exists to solve this sort problem. Magic intended for moving and molding dirt and stone, that would have made more sense.

Like “this.”

… “this?”

… like “this?’

Well… huh.

Earth magic isn’t working?

I don’t think I’ve ever had this problem before.

Okay then.

Don’t freak out or anything, just stay calm and consult the greedy magical jerk. It’ll all work out.

Just stay calm, and [Voice of Gaia] on.

[Voice of Gaia] tell me my status.

[LOCKED] - [CONDITIONS NOT MET]

Uh… what?

[Voice of Gaia] what’s my status?

[LOCKED] - [CONDITIONS NOT MET]

… That’s different.

[Voice of G-

[LOCKED] - [CONDITIONS NOT MET]

Woah- okay! Okay!

Holy.

Calm down.

Man, that’s super weird.

I can feel my magic, in reserve. Pretty sure that spell should cost mana, but my reservoir didn’t really dip much. Just a little, then… nothing.

Which is strange.

Far as spells go, [Voice of Gaia] normally doesn’t hesitate to take as much as it can. So, this is quite a bit about this is outside the norm.

I mean, here I am, sitting in a hole in the ground, and I don’t even remember how I got here.

Last I checked, I remember we were on a big tree stump…

We, again.

Who the heck is “we?”

You know, actually? What was I doing before all of this?

I seriously can’t place it.

Falling?

That’s the answer my mind is jumping to, but that doesn’t make much sense. Why would I be falling? I certainly don’t remember climbing anything.

I don’t remember anything at all.

It’s this messy jumble of random events.

Can I backtrack?

The blood ritual?

I mean, there was something that happened… didn’t it? Something went wrong.

There was too much blood and…

Boom?

Seriously?

Boom?

That’s what my mind jumps to?

Why the heck do I feel like I was falling?

A result of the nightmare, confusing me?

Ug.

I can’t remember.

The more I try, the more it disappears: like grabbing smoke, there’s nothing left.

First [Earth Sculpting] and now [Voice of Gaia] are on the fritz.

Magic isn’t cooperating.

A side effect of whatever went down after the ritual went bo- combusted?

What the hell.

Come on magic! Work!

Tiny Snake Staircase out of this stupid hole in the ground!

Please?

Ssssss?

Shit.

Okay, so all that effort and, what?

Some dirt is spinning.

That’s… something, I guess, but not what I was trying to do.

Maybe I’m just frazzled.

Something big happened before all this, I might have some weird status attribute I can’t see.

That’s happened before. Not quite like this, but still.

Not impossible.

[Voice of Gaia] would tell me, but I guess it must be impacted too.

Reasonable explanation. No need to stress, just wait it out. Keep testing things in the meantime.

This is okay.

Don’t panic, stay rational.

Are my other spells working?

Super small [Leviathan Breath] test attack?

Green flame, puff of smoke.

Okay, good. That works.

[Heal] check?

I… think?

Pretty sure that worked.

Not really hurt, but I’m sure I felt that go off.

That’s two, alright. So…

Water magic?

Uh… Hmm.

No water around here. I guess I could try to draw some out of the ground but it looks pretty dry.

…yeah, I’ll come back to that one.

Okay.

In summary, some of my magic is on the fritz, but not all.

Got it.

Problem, yes: but not the immediate sort.

Much more pressing, I still don’t know where I am.

Hole in the ground doesn’t really give me a great view, but I can see the sky.

No clouds, dusty scents… wind…

Interesting.

No trees up there, which isn’t what I was expecting. The Great Forest had trees…

Trees, and it was also surprisingly lacking in dirt.

Considering I appear to still be mostly buried in that very substance, I should probably call that unusual.

Okay. So, that’s weird too.

Noted.

What else?

I smelled dusty, but it also smells a bit like… charcoal?

Like burning… stuff. Metal maybe? No, that’s not quite right.

My [Leviathan Breath] isn’t the source of this, it’s coming from the dirt. This sand is weird.

Up the walls, there are places that look as if the soil was melted. Weird crystalline patterns, digging in here… and there…

Could I always see this well? I feel like the longer I’m focusing, the farther in I’m looking.

Like I’m able to tune in way further than I should.

Bizarre.

Did I [Level Up] when I was out? I don’t see any snake skins, but maybe they got buried?

Or burned?

If I leveled up, did that give me some skill points or something?

Hey, [Voice of Gaia] tell me…

[LOCKED] - [CONDITIONS NOT MET]

Oh, yeah.

You’re not working right now.

That’s fine, it just means I need to… to…

Wait.

Oh.

I don’t know how to get to the menus.

It only ever opened after I leveled up. Without [Voice of Gaia] there’s no other way back to it.

Wow.

This is weird. Uncomfortably weird.

Okay.

Okay: the best thing I can do right now is not freak out.

If I level up again, maybe it will open. That was how it worked, way back at the start of this, right? Just level up, and it opens briefly. I can use it then.

No problem.

Then again, I’m way higher leveled now. Advancing further is going to be a serious challenge, and my magic isn’t working right.

How the hell am I supposed to fight monsters strong enough to prompt another level up if my best magics aren’t working? Fire doesn’t solve everything, I need some sort of defense-

No.

No panicking, this is okay.

Fire is still operation, we’ve got our main weapon online. We can still heal, which is a painful sort of defense- even without earth magic. No [Voice of Gaia] is going to make things difficult, but… ah.

[Spirit Attendants] respond, over.

“…”

[Spirit Attendant #1] do you read, over?

“…”

Shit.

Okay.

No panicking.

Don’t freak out.

This is fine. Everything is fine. Everything is-

“Great One?”

Holy S-

-SSSSSS!”

 

Book II - Chapter 2

 

Chapter 2

 

Samra.

No, that wasn’t it.

Lamra.

Nope, that isn’t right either.

Welsa?

Layla?

What the heck is wrong with me, I totally know this.

Do you even know how awkward it is, to have someone groveling before you, and not remember their name-

“GREAT ONE!”

Where?

“I bow before you, humbled and awed by your generosity!”

Ah. You know, I almost forgot about this.

“That I should be spared, despite my tribe’s actions! You are too kind!”

Was I really that convincing, as a Forest God? Seriously?

“I, Imra, daughter of the Lukra’Dotreka’Suma, thank you!”

Duh.

Imra.

There it is, that’s the name.

I knew that.

Imra, the loyal warrior Elf: only one in her tribe who didn’t try and have me murdered.

Friend, not foe.

Nothing to be scared about.

“Great one: though you punished the heretics, you have spared me. I have great debt.”

Heretics…

Okay… okay.

Clearly, she thinks I did something.

I don’t remember doing anything.

Does she remember something I don’t?

All I remember was the blood ritual going wrong and the human killing everyone.

“Great one?”

Right, she’s still bowing.

Awkwardly long, at this point.

Blanked out for a second there.

[Spirit Attendant #1] come up with something to keep her…

Ah.

Ssss…

This is a problem.

Should I just talk snake?

I mean, I’ve heard of that. Like some prophet, speaking in tongues, or whatever?

“Ssss?”

There- oh! It worked.

She’s sitting up, dusting herself off.

… Heck of a lot easier for her to do than it was for me.

Man.

I miss having limbs.

“Great One? Is something wrong?”

Ssss…

Alright.

Without communication, this is going to be difficult.

“Forest God?”

Okay.

Well, this leaves me two choices.

One, I can try to bail out now.

Not exactly heroic or anything, but the moment she finds out I’m not a God, this could go south for me pretty quick.

Trouble is, the hole we’re in isn’t very big, but it’s steep. I’m probably not going to be able to slither away from this problem.

Tactical retreat is going to be difficult.

Which leaves option two:

I can work with Imra for a little bit, until I get a chance to part ways.

Just long enough to get myself back to working Tiny-Snake condition. You know, magic, the works…

Might be feasible.

She’s not bad, for someone who’s tribe tried to end me with an evil ritual. We can get along for now, and at least I can understand her.

With all my magics apparently hanging up out-of-order signs, I guess it’s a good thing the language comprehensions haven’t stopped working.

“Forest God?”

Then again, she keeps trying to get me to say something.

“Ssssss…”

Ssssss… talling…

Alright.

She looks sort of… considering, of whatever she thought “Sssss” means.

Good enough.

Bigger fish to fry.

I need to get my magic working, get out of this hole, and try and figure out exactly what that ritual did when it went ass over tea-kettle.

Let’s work this out, bit by bit.

Earth magic still isn’t cooperating, and that isn’t great: but it is doing something.

I’m trying, and though all I’ve managed to get happening is dust… just sort of spinning… aimlessly. Listen, that’s progress. It’s like a very slow, very small twister. If I push more magic, the twister gets larger- which is interesting.

Absolutely not what I want it to do, but interesting.

Could be something there.

My stone carved staircase out of this hole is apparently not going to happen, though.

She’s looking at me funny.

“Great One… where are we?”

“Sssss.”

In snake tongue, that means: “I seriously don’t know, now shush.”

Sssshush.

So, why

“The air is wrong.”

The air? I mean, yeah. It tastes sort of dry, but-

“The wind speaks a different voice than I remember.”

She’s looking at me funny.

“Great One… where are we?”

“Sssss.”

In snake tongue, that means: “I seriously don’t know, now shush.”

Ssssssshush.

I mean, for Tiny Snake God’s sake, wait a bit.

Shoot.

Man, I wish this hole in the ground wasn’t so freaking steep. I can’t just flail around against the wall here and seem godly.

[Voice of Gaia] are you sure you don’t want to-

[LOCKED] - [CONDITIONS NOT MET]

[FINAL WARNING ISSUED]

[REVOKED]

What?

WHAT?

The hell does that mean?

Hey!

[Voice of Gaia!]

God damn it.

This is getting ridiculous.

Fussy magic, can’t climb out of this hole, Imra keeps staring at me-

“Great One-“

“SSSSSSS.”

Snake language: “STILL DON’T KNOW, IMRA.”

Instinct, come on good buddy. I know you’re in there, somewhere.

You’ve helped me out of tougher spots.

Got anything?

… ?

Okay, maybe not.

[Spirit Attendants?]

“…”

Oh, come on!

I don’t get it.

Obviously, I’m going to have to accept it, but I don’t get it.

My best magics just went AWOL on me.

Makes no sense.

Should I be trying for water again? It seems awfully dry here, but maybe I could find a drop or two. A basic sort of confirmation to be sure…

“Great Forest God, where are we?”

For fuck’s sake, Imra. Enough.

“SSsss.”

Snake language: “Still not a God and still don’t have an answer for you, Imra.”

“What?”

I seriously don’t have time to deal with this right now. I’m not a baby-sitter, or an Elf-sitter: I’m a snake monster from the dungeon with a human mind that’s constantly battling an existential crisis.

I have other priorities to deal with before Q&A sessions.

Many of them.

Magic needs to start working, soon, or I need to find a work around or some variation of a functional replacement to fill that role, because heading back out into the world without my earth magic is not an appealing concept.

I’m already the bottom of the food chain. I don’t care how many monsters I might be able to torch: no earth means no defense.

No defense = eaten.

“You’re not… a…”

Imra’s stopped asking questions and moved towards muttering incoherently.

Great.

I can see an expression of confusion, all while her hands are reaching up to cover long, pointed, ears. Covered… then uncovered, then covered again.

What the heck is she doing?

“Sssssss?”

Snake Language: “What the heck are you doing?”

“The voice… the voice... Great One: it speaks of heresy.”

Uh… what?

“It said… you are not… a God?

“Sssss?”

Snake Language: “What did you just say?”

Imra is staring.

Intensely staring.

Normally I might not mind this.

I mean, if let’s be real: there’s no such thing as an ugly Elf, but this isn’t exactly an appealing sort of look.

“A voice, Great One… a voice is in my head.”

This is a slow fade to horror.

Not a fan.

Sort of freaking me out.

“Sssss… ?”

Snake Language: “What the heck are you talking about?”

Some sort of post-ritual side-effect?

I remember I had a terrifying nightmare, so maybe she did too? Maybe she remembers something?

“Questions… Great One: it questions…”

“Ssssss?”

Snake Language: “What kind of questions is this voice asking, Imra…?”

“What kind… of questions… is it asking… Imra?”

“Ssssss…”

Snake Language: “Exactly. What kind of questions is… it… asking…

Oh.

Oooh.

This is awkward.

 

Book II - Chapter 3

 

Chapter 3

 

“Where is the forest, Great One?”

“That’s a really good question, Imra. Still, if you would just listen to me-”

“The trees! They’re gone! They’re all gone!”

“I can see that, and I while I appreciated the lift, now is the time-”

“It must be the spirits, their work… the madness. Oh, what have they done? What did my tribe do?”

“If you calm down for just a second-”

“Instead of offerings, they tried to bargain… with the old ways, they tried to bind you! I remember! To bind you, Great One!”

“Try and take some deep breaths. Deep, calming, bre-”

“Why would they strike such a terrible bargain? Why would they ever…”

Alright.

You know, I think I’ve totally lost her.

She could clearly hear me a second ago, but if this is the game she wants to play, so be it.

Not getting anywhere with Imra right now.

Sss… Well, no. That’s not true. We’re out of the hole, at least. So, I’d call that progress, at least in one respect.

Quick reaction-time on my part.

All that practicing my [Tiny Snake Bite of Justice] got me along for the ride, and I’m now a fabulous piece of appended forearm jewelry.

Shiny and blue.

Clinging for dear life as she keeps pivoting.

This way-

Nope, now that way.

This way, again!

Tiny Snake God, help me. I’ll just settle with feeling motion-sick for the time being.

If I was having a panic attack earlier, Imra is putting me to shame.

“No trees… there are no trees.”

Yeah.

I mean, she’s not wrong.

There is a full count of zero, in respect to trees around our local proximity.

Trust me, had the 360, 720-degree view at this point. No trees, no bushes, no green related things. Nothing but dirt and rocks in any direction.

Not even a single shrubbery.

Sss…

I’m not sure how to process this many things at once.

My magic still isn’t working. Imra can understand Snake Language. We’re out of the hole, but I still don’t recognize where we are.

Oh, and now the blood’s rushing to my head, on account of being…

Airborne.

Why the hell are we…

Ah.

Imra is apparently able to jump, really, really high.

“Still no trees.”

Wow.

I guess that’s one way to increase field of view.

Just jump twenty feet in the air.

Don’t we have to land, now?

Like, I’ll heal you, but seriously-

Okay.

Elves are terrifying.

Never mind.

There aren’t any trees.

Fine, let’s start with that. We’ve established fact, at this point, so “why?”

Having landed back down in the middle of a field, human logic can handle this sort of problem.

The power of accumulative observations. Get a few of those together, and I’m sure we’ll have a suitable answer.

Let’s see… this field is pretty… flat.

Yes.

Well done, that’s one.

Distantly, I think it’s broken up by the occasional row of withering stalks. The occasional post, or boulder.

Some weird looking structure over there… old supports of some kind? Weathered away to nothing?

This was a… farm, or something?

An abandoned farm?

This would be a whole lot easier if-

“Imra, would you please stop turning around?”

“Why won’t the voice cease? Why?”

Uh…

Alright.

Never mind.

No trees.

No forest.

Nothing green for miles.

Some sort of farm, maybe.

Clearly, this isn’t the Forest, so I think it’s safe to assume we-

Hey.

Hey!

Imra!

Stop running!

Stop! We don’t even know where we are!

Oh, for Tiny Snake God’s sake.

I’m gonna be sick.

 

 

 

Book II - Chapter 4

 

Chapter 4

 

There’s nothing but dusty fields for miles.

Really, that’s if you can even call them fields. Looks to me as though most of these are on their way back to being barren soil. Just abandoned acres. They’re barely recognizable “paths” cutting between them on rare occasions.

Where in the heck are we?

Obviously, this isn’t the Great Forest. Doesn’t take much to realize that, but now there’s a lot more to it.

The sun is too high. The angle is different, I think. Almost directly overhead, instead of sort of… off to the side a bit. That’s a noticeable difference.

As is the heat.

Very hot.

I’ve been known to puke fire on occasion, so trust me when I say it’s getting warm. We must have gotten up in the earlier half of the day, because this has only gotten worse.

Almost… desert-like.

Not quite, but close.

“Well on the way” would probably be the best way to put it.

Still no trees.

Like, at all.

Far as I can tell, the only thing that breaks the terrain here up is the occasional farm house.

Some are just abandoned, or very poorly maintained. Roof caving in or just entirely gone, missing walls, supports... I’ve seen several of those so far. Some odd stone posts here and there probably serving to mark property lines.

It’s… weird.

There have been a few rare exceptions.

Every so often, we’ve passed what must be wealthier land owners, or something. They’ve got additional buildings, barns, hugged glass windows, and big wooden gates.

Weird choice of material, wood, considering how much they used stone for everything else, but maybe that’s a classier.

Keeping up with the Jones or whatever.

I don’t see any obvious source, considering the complete absence of trees. So… Imported, I guess?

Even these wealthier looking ones seem like they’ve seen better days. The best of them have a weathered look, paint discolored.

Don’t think they’re occupied.

Just a general feeling, but it’s something.

I can’t really imagine people making a life out here, but it must have been possible at some point.

Probably

I’m soaking in the sights as we pass them by.

Managed to climb my way to a better vantage point. Special technique [Scarf-Mode] has once again been activated, and I’m wound up around Imra’s neck.

Surprisingly difficult to accomplish.

She’s still running, there’s wind… at least I’m feeling less motion-sickness though.

I’d call it sprinting, but that would be by human standards.

For her, I think this might just be a jog or something.

I told her to stop a couple times, but she’s either not able to hear me or she’s just not listening.

And so, our trek continues.

Inhumanly fast, down the first… road…

Sss…

It’s as much a “road” as those last worn-away foundations were farmhouse, but yeah. I’ll just call it that.

The first road we managed to find.

On, and on…

Pretty sure Imra’s just hanging out on the verge of a massive panic attack and running in a random direction is the only thing that’s preventing this.

I mean, it’s hot as hell and we’re in a biome I’m starting to classify as a dustbowl, without a single source of water anywhere… but if it helps?

Don’t blame me if you shrivel up into an Elf-raisin.

Sss.

She won’t listen to a single thing I say, so I guess the best thing to do is wait.

Not much else I can do.

Every so often I use [Heal] on her.

Partly, to make sure the magic still working, but also to keep her feet from… well, tearing.

Brutal, right?

It’s gravelly, though, this road. There’s some sort of laid-stone under there, but the surface is mostly sand and a bunch of broken “stuff.”

Stuff? What kind of description is that?

Well, I don’t know what to tell you. Not really sure what half of it even is. Here and there, looks like ceramics or lost cargo. Random bits and pieces, glass maybe?

Not good for shoeless runners.

Really not.

Healing aside, the water issue is probably going to be a bigger problem. Still having no luck with that.

Not to say the magic is broken, because I’m pretty sure it’s not.

Managed to get a little bit of vapor to collect in an organized fashion, unlike Earth, which doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. The trouble is really that this place, where ever we are, is dry.

Holding onto it is super difficult. The water just evaporates. Wind, plus movement, and I’m sort of struggling with it.

Can’t pull water out of the air, if there isn’t any in the first place.

Sss… I should have practiced with this more when I had the chance, but I’m not sure how much of a difference it would really make.

“Imra, you ever gonna take a break, or…?”

… guess not.

She’s gonna be sun-dried Elf jerky if she keeps this up.

The only living things I’ve seen are some dying crops, and a couple weird animals.

Fox-like beast things, couple of them. Those seem to run around in pairs. Way off in the distance, they don’t seem inclined to get near the road.

Some large looking lizards, bright red colors. Travelling in packs, look pretty big. Thankfully, not interested in us.

A couple boulders…

Suspicious boulders.

Various shapes and sizes, but I swear some seem to get up and move.

Not sure I like that concept.

Sort of worrisome.

As a whole: this place? Really not my cup of tea.

I’ve seen enough, and I don’t like it.

Haven’t hit an ocean, or a lake, or a pond… so, water is going to be tricky. Terrain means that shelter is going to have to be improvised, which is trouble.

Our chances out here, without earth magic, are probably not so good.

Harsh, specialized sort of area.

Honestly, it’s quite difficult to believe people lived out here at all. I don’t know how they did it- magic maybe?

Some sort of magical irrigation system I haven’t spotted?

Or, maybe the crops are were really hardy?

Not sure.

Imra’s been running for hours, and nothing’s changed.

Maybe deeper into it? Maybe out of it?

Absolutely uncertain.

Still, last few minutes, I’m pretty sure I can make out “something” in the distance.

Way ahead of us… might be a mirage, but it looks like a large…

Mountain?

Bit flat for that.

Long plateau?

I’m not quite sure, but there is some sort of shape on the horizon. Uniform… rising up a bit.

Don’t know.

Whatever that is in the distance, it’s still far off enough to be irrelevant, and our surroundings now are still just the same old.

Road… some rocks… sand… dust…

More dust…

More sand… the road-

Woah.

Scratch the road.

Imra’s banking a hard turn.

What the heck.

At least the road had to lead us somewhere, you know?

Like, people wouldn’t make a road for no reason. It had to go and end up somewhere.

If we follow that, eventually-

Ah.

I get it.

She found a tree.

 

Book II - Chapter 5

 

Chapter 5

 

I had wondered what perks might be associated to Elves.

Race, class, starting abilities, other things like that.

Monsters start out with a couple, at least in my experience. I don’t think I’m different in that respect, other than not being devoured early. Live long enough, and you’re going to find some weird perks popping up here and there.

Humans have a boatload of them, clearly, so I don’t see why it would be any different for the rest of this world’s inhabitants.

Other monsters, Elves… I’m pretty sure they’ve got to have a few.

Like

[Tree Locator]

The legendary passive skill, that helps the user find trees.

Large trees.

Small trees.

Withered and almost dead trees, out in the middle of nowhere.

Yes.

[Tree Locator]

I made up that title. [Voice of Gaia] still isn’t working- but I think I’m pretty close to whatever Imra’s skill really is.

In front of us is a particularly nasty looking example of what might have once been a willow tree… or, whatever species in this world looks like what I mentally associate to be a willow.

One than root in the grave, just like pretty much everything else we’ve seen so far. Only, somehow, it still has some leaves. They’re all yellow, mostly dried out, but they’re still hanging on.

Kind of impressive.

This reminds me of a nature documentary I watched once. Pretty sure that was a broken-down sofa and a take-out Chinese food, night… right?

What was it… Desertification of the Sahara?

Probably…

Having trouble remembering, for some reason.

“Where are the others?”

Well, well, well. We’re on speaking terms again? You run for hours without responding to a single word, and now we’re just “cool,” huh?

“What happened here?”

Here? Like, to the other trees?

“You are the last…”

I’m the… oh, come on.

The tree?

Imra is talking to a tree.

Ssss…

Now, she’s listening to the tree.

Great.

Just great.

Go ahead and stare at the bark, sure. Heck this this, I’m finding some shade.

Big ol’ tree like this has got to have some roots, or something.

“No rain… for how long?”

Sss…

At least she’s asking good questions.

Pretty clear to me: this area used to be a lot livelier. Add that with the sun, and complete lack of dinosaurs has me thinking there’s no way we’re near the Forest, either.

So… we got relocated, somehow.

Probably, a good distance from where we were before. This would be the much-preferred assumption. I can mentally cope with being relocated.

Magic’s a real thing in this world. Weird shit can and does seem to happen on a regular basis. Giant undead skeletons wandering around, humans that swing swords heavier than small Hondas…

Then again…

If I’m going to go there, and open the can of weird on the back shelf of the potential possibility pantry…

Time Travel…?

No.

Nope.

Absolutely not.

I’m not made for that sort of life. This has all been stressful enough without getting fourth dimensional on me.

We got moved somehow.

Magical stuff happened, went wrong, and now we’re here.

I’m not about to throw a thumbs up in a vat of magma.

Not happening.

"A place of tragedy..."

Imra is still going.

[Lorax] skill, or something.

Either she’s completely lost her marbles.

“Great One, we have been so terribly betrayed.”

Yeah.

Well, I’m used to it.

Besides, betrayal might be a bit of a harsh term, considering the situation that brought it to come about. Bit fuzzy on the details-

"The Chief and Elders: what could have misguided them so?"

Yeah… see, you say that, but I think they probably had a valid point-

"And this horrible voice!”

… You ever going to let me talk?

“It haunts me, slipping through my mind!”

Are you talking about the tree?

"Is it mocking me? Great One, it follows my every waking thought. It murmurs madness!"

Wait, do you mean MY voice?

“Was I corrupted by the old ways?”

Seriously?

What about the whiny tree over there? That’s thing’s voice is okay, and mine’s not?

“The madness… it must be the madness. The old magics, slowly corrupting my mind…”

Imra, listen, you need to calm down.

“Why did they do it? Altering the magics of our ancestors. For what? Misguided desire? Jealousy of your greatness?”

Imra. Stop pacing. We’ll figure this out, just keep your cool-

"God, where are your great spirits of flame? Where are your empowered gifts of Earth? Why do you not speak to me? Do not lose yourself to sorrow God! I will serve you! Even in madness, I will!"

Oh boy.

Pretty sure she could hear me before, but I might as well be talking to the damn tree right now.

“Ask… the tree?”

For real.

That’s the one line that gets through to her? You have got to be f-

"This voice… it does not leave. Forgive me God, the ritual must have shattered my mind. All I can remember were the screams, the fire, and terrible, terrible laughter."

Okay, okay…

Just sit down and talk to the tree, Imra.

Stop talking, sit down, and let me figure this out.

“I’m mad. I’ve gone mad.”

You and me both, at this point...

Good, she’s finally stopped pacing.

Sitting down… alright. I think she’s talking to the tree again.

Progress.

Yes.

I’m going to have to take point here.

Captain Snake, and his mentally unstable first mate, sailing through the deserted lands of who-the-fuck-knows-where.

Where.

I already figured that the Sun’s position is different. That means something.

If this world is a globe, like my last life- that means we’re closer to the equator. That’s a solid point towards relocation. Time Travel probably wouldn’t… well… huh.

No. Screw Time Travel.

I don’t think it would.

So, we’re by the equator. Probably.

You know…

Unless of course the world is actually flat… and there’s some elephants… and a really was a large turtle involved.

Ug- no.

No.

No time-travel. No flat-earth.

I’m going to assume we’re on a planet.

Big, round, floating in space somewhere.

For my own sake, that’s what I’m going with.

So that probably means relocation. Long Range.

Teleportation?

I’ve never seen any of that yet, but magic is real. Can’t rule it out.

If we’re not anywhere near the Forest. Humans or something that farms lived around here, sort of recently. There don’t appear to be super dangerous monsters roaming everywhere- no dinosaurs spotted.

Some big lizards, but no dinosaurs.

I’ve never seen a map of the world, but if we were on the Northern Continent before, I can guess we went relative “South.”

The East or West thing isn’t clear.

Terrain is so different though…

Ssss…

Think. I gotta think.

I’ve poked around with [Voice of Gaia] for hours and hours before all this. Every time I had a bad case of mana-crystal stomachaches, I just asked questions. Lots and lots of questions, so there’s got to be something it gave me that can clear some of the situation up.

Right?

For all the time I spent on interrogating that weird spell, you’d think I must have something useful to show for it.

Humans… language.

Ah, there we go.

Great Forest was North, on the Northern Continent. Miss Paladin spoke that dialect.

There was a Southern Continent, language options, but there was also another one. The hell was it called? I didn’t buy it when I had the chance, it was too expensive.

[Old Tongue] or… something?

That doesn’t necessarily prove anything. Could be useful.

Sheesh, my head’s killing me.

All that healing gave me a migraine for some reason.

Maybe it’s sun-stroke?

What the heck is the plan, here?

Imra just ran a marathon, magic’s on the fritz, and there’s nothing but dirt and sun for miles in any direction.

If we run back out into that, we’re going to have Elf jerky.

Snake jerky, too.

No.

No way we’re getting answers today.

Calling it here, right under this root.

I proclaim this as Tiny Snake Camp [Dust Bowl]

 

Book II - Chapter 6

 

Chapter 6 

Snake Report:

 

It’s been about a day, here at Tiny Snake Camp [Dust Bowl].

The sun set, weather took a turn for the really chilly. Then, it eventually it rose again… and got really hot.

From one extreme, to the other.

Nothing in between.

As neither really cold or really hot are much good for us, we haven’t done much with our time here.

Remarkably unproductive, gotta say.

Compared to my normal routine with a new Tiny Snake Camp, this is almost embarrassing.

All we’ve been doing, is hanging out under the tree.

The bar has been set, and it is LOW.

I wish I said I got some sleep, but I can’t.

Nope.

Settled down for a few minutes last night, only to wake up from a god-awful nightmare. Magnified how my headache from earlier tenfold.

I was almost completely sure that I saw some sort of [Notification] too, but by the time I tried to grab it, the thing was gone.

So, I’ve really just been sitting here.

Sitting here at [Camp Dustbowl] and wondering what the heck we’re going to do.

Sss…

Yeah.

Anyways, this started out well-enough.

I crawled under, then Imra decided she was done talking to the tree for a bit and needed shelter too. So, she followed and started moving some dirt out of our way by hand.

Of course, she abruptly found out we weren’t the first living things to try and make this place our residence- and we both got attacked by a giant scorpion.

It was terrifying.

The usual.

Luckily, Imra destroyed it.

No… that’s not quite right.

*Decimated* it.

Physically…

Emotionally…

Pretty much a thorough as something can be ruined, that’s basically what she did.

Tried to sting her? Ha.

She caught the fucking stinger mid strike, broke it off.

Tried to clamp her? Same story. Broke both its claws off with her foot.

Then she picked the poor thing by its stump, hauled it out, and hurled the sucker a solid fifty slithers off into yonder dusty horizon.

It didn’t move after that.

Well, until a lizard showed up and started eating it, upon which, Imra then dispatched with a rock.

Again, from fifty slithers.

Bit terrifying, but I’d rather eat lizard than scorpion.

Actually, I’d rather eat nothing, than scorpion.

I tried my best on improv cooking.

Barbeque turned out more like… charcoal-que.

Even fine-tuned, [Leviathan Breath] tends to lean past crispy, and into “burnt” territory. Not quite as good as I was hoping for.

If I had Earth magic operational, I could have just made an oven.

And a real cave, instead of a hole in the ground.

And a well.

And everything we would ever need to make this the best Tiny Snake Camp ever.

But I’m not bitter, or anything.

Not me.

Anyways: scorpion, lizard, Imra’s Elven capacity for sudden acts of terrible efficient violence... each of those are good reasons to keep things peaceful.

Strong motivators to just let Imra simmer a bit longer.

Nice and calm.

No stress.

No big revelations.

Just try to keep my thoughts to myself and let her talk to the tree.

Everybody is totally cool.

Totally calm.

I mean, yes… at some point, somehow, it might be good to clear the air.

Tell Imra that she’s not crazy.

That the voice that keeps talking to her is just me.

Then, maybe ask her if she knows why our brains are a bit scrambled like that, because it’s weird.

General stuff.

After that, though…

Well, maybe we might have to have a chat about the whole “Great One” business.

I am pretty great, am I really “Great One” great?

Could I have, possible, a little bit, exaggerated for the sake of convenience? Elevated my status, ever so slightly? Enough so, that maybe the over-reaction from her tribe might almost- from some perspectives, have been justified?

It’s possible.

Then again, Imra sure is efficient in the way she’s taking that lizard apart with her bare hands.

Piece by piece.

Bone by bone…

And, isn’t the truth subjective?

Yeah.

Maybe I’ll take my time.

Start small.

That’ll come, sooner or later.

I’ll tell her.

No yet.

Of course.

I’ll tell her.

Eventually.

Sss…

I guess there have been some slight improvements to Tiny Snake Camp [Dust Bowl] in the past couple of hours.

After evicting the previous tenant, Imra dug out what she could.

I supervised.

For reasons currently unknown to me, Earth magic still won’t cooperate, but luckily the soil here is mostly sand. Easy enough to move around by hand, so Imra’s expansion wasn’t too troublesome.

The gap in roots has turned into more of a… sitting area? Enough space for Imra to lie down and push her arms out a bit, with enough headroom so she won’t bonk herself by accident.

HersElf?

Ha! Ha…

… Ah.

I’ll stop.

No, this place isn’t ideal, but it’s better than being roasted alive. Or freezing to death, for that matter. The regional temperature shift is unforgiving, but anything that can buffer it, helps.

Still, despite how it sounds, I haven’t been making Imra do all the work. I’ve had some projects of necessity to work out on my own, and I have managed to confirm a few things.

First, and most important: turns out, my water magic definitely still works.

Yes.

Finally, some good news.

Now, it might not have exactly been my go-to magic even before all this, I’ll admit. Unlike Earth, I didn’t bore my way out of the hell with water magic. Really, I only used it when Miss Paladin was in trouble, or when I was bored. At best, I you could say that I figured out a couple tricks for convenience and I left it alone afterwards, so there’s still some serious need for improvement with it.

But it does work.

Which is good.

Another good thing, is there’s some moisture content in the dirt. Not a lot, and not in the top layer- I mean deep in there, but very much a real presence.

I think this explains why the tree is still alive, despite the odds. It’s positioned right above some sort of “bump” in the water table or something, and if I look deep enough, I’ve got free rein to start pulling it out.

As a bonus, this tree has some large roots, which gave me something of a head start. Headway has been made with this.

After some… still not fully understood communication, Imra dug these out a bit, and we’re currently taking shelter under them as the sun sets.

Working on that.

Slowly.

Not the water thing, the communication thing.

I figure it can’t hurt to poke at it, but it is… uncomfortable.

I don’t quite get how this works yet, but it’s feels similar to how I remember communicating the [Spirit Attendants] for the minor exception that Imra’s not a dumb orb of ghostly fire.

And Imra also talks back, occasionally.

Like, in my head.

By accident, I think. Very least, she doesn’t seem to realize she’s doing it.

Sometimes with words, sometimes with… images?

Yeah.

Something’s going on there, but for now I’m just going to let her talk to the tree.

Baby slithers.

In a nutshell, that’s the day or so. I’d say twenty-four hours, but I’m not entirely convinced that the day and night cycle line up in that manner.

Not like I’ve got a clock to check, either.

Outside the sun’s starting to come down completely, so the cold is coming back.

Neither of us have had anything to eat but some poorly cooked lizard, though Imra and I have at least managed to get water- at an irrationally high mana cost, that’s really all we’ve had to work with.

This isn’t a sustainable lifestyle.

I’m aware of it, and I’m aware the Imra is also aware of it… which again, is weird.

Really weird.

But so be it.

Something is going to have to change soon, or we’re going to end up wasting away under this tree.

I’ve been thinking that maybe, if we can find a way to boil water? Or just find a flat rock I can heat up?

Might be easier to cook.

Prolong things for a bit… I mean, we could keep digging in for water…

I don’t think we should just become hermits in the middle of the wasteland, here, but it’s better than dying. Could buy us some time until we can figure out where the hell we need to go, and what the hell we’re doing here.

Sss…

I don’t know.

Imra’s propped herself up in some sort of meditative pose for the moment. I’ve been keeping watch, but nothing’s happening outside, and the cold is really making me feel tired…

Nightmares or no, I’m going to see if I can sleep for a bit.

Maybe things will make more sense in the morning.

 

[RESTRICTION – LOCK IN PLACE] [!]

 [MENU ACCESS – RESTRICTED]

[NOTIFICATIONS – PENDING]

[STATUS – ACCLIMATING]

[UNIQUE TITLE: GREATER FAMILIAR]

[UNIQUE TRAIT – BOUND BY BLOOD – ACTIVE]

[…]

 [AFFLICTED AILMENT ADVANCED – MADNESS]

[UNIQUE TRAIT – UNSTABLE – RESISTED]

[…]

[RECONFIRMING]

[CONFIRMED] [!]

[RESTRICTION – LOCK IN PLACE] [!]

[CONDITIONS NOT MET] [!]

 [PROGRESS 0/100] [!] [!] [!] [!] [!-

 

Book II - Chapter 7

 

Chapter 7 

Snake Report:

 

Day two here at Tiny Snake Camp [Dust Bowl.]

I swear to Tiny Snake God, I saw something again when I woke up.

There was absolutely, with 100% certainty, some sort of message.

I know it.

Of course, by the time I was awake enough to realize it, whatever was there, was gone.

Fishy, to say the least.

Anyways, as is apparently becoming routine now, I’ve finished my checks.

In summary:

[Voice of Gaia] is still uncooperative.

[Spirit Attendants] are still uncooperative.

Earth related magic is also uncooperative.

Fire, Healing, and Water seem to be cooperative.

Passive skills are probably cooperative, but I’m not super interested in finding out.

Imra is… kind of cooperative.

By that, I mean she’s not talking to the tree or muttering about losing her mind. Together, I take these as a good sign.

She’s meditating.

I think it’s some sort of skill.

If I focus on her long enough, I start to see an image of a… pool.

No, a pond.

Something like that.

One very calm body of water…

I think.

Makes me feel super strange to try and look at it, so I haven’t tried again.

Also, a bit thirsty.

Really weird.

That’s pretty much the reason why I’m sitting lookout by the root entrance to camp [Dust Bowl.] Farther away from Imra I go, the less it seems to reach me, and I’ve had enough weirdness for right now.

I’ve been trying to come up with a goal for the day.

Sure, I can sit around and wait. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pro at that, but I’ve been thinking today I might try something else.

See, catching the sun as it’s coming up: I spotted the outline of... something.

I wasn’t really looking up until now. I mean, for trees and monsters, sure. Of course, I was looking for those, but this seems like...

Well, I just kinda want to take a closer look.

It doesn’t seem as though it’s that far, and I haven’t seen anything out here that I won’t be able to handle.

Little bit of hot sun shouldn’t be trouble. Foxes don’t scare me. Lizards… okay, maybe those lizards do sort of scare me, but I literally barbequed and ate one last night, so I’m slightly less intimidated.

This place might be inhospitable, but it’s no Dungeon.

I’ve seen worse.

Ssss…

Imra is… still meditating.

She might just be trying to conserve her strength.

For someone who recently ran close to a marathon in distance, I’m entirely sure she hasn’t had enough water. Doesn’t matter how hardy Elves are, there’s no way she can just bounce back from that.

Besides, I can only draw out so much water before it starts to get difficult. The little water I can get to seems to need time to fill back in. Think of it like a normal well, minus the magic-aspects, but one that is almost completely tapped.

Plus, I suck with water magic.

It’s coming from at least a few feet of dirt: there’s a lot of resistance.

Troublesome.

What’s even more troublesome, is for all the time I’ve spent using that magic, I haven’t even gotten one notification.

Usually I’d have seen some by now. I know I would have.

Just a “rank up” sort of thing.

Instead, it’s been radio silence. On all fronts, really.

Nothing.

Does it feel like it’s getting easier?

I don’t know.

Maybe a little? I’m used to seeing proof, though.

Something.

Anything.

Just like [Voice of Gaia] has been, the messages I’m used to seeing, are staying quiet.

I don’t like that, one bit.

Makes me nervous.

I’ve been taking a lot of these things for granted, ever since I got here. Magic working, weird messages popping up. Stuff like that.

Sss…

Whatever.

I’ve still got fire, and healing. Lopsided magics 101.

Either set something on fire of save its life, or I guess I could splash them a bit.

Not a great combination, but more than enough to go investigating, and I’m not going all that far.

Yeah.

I got this.

Imra, keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.

For me, it’s Tiny Snake Adventure o’clock.

I’ll be back soon.

… Hopefully.

 

Book II - Chapter 8

 

Chapter 8

Snake Report:

 

Man, look at me go.

Sliding over sand, and rocks, and things.

Normally, I’d be burning my mana away, building out a shelter. Expanding things, solidify the walls into some denser stone, get some furniture in place…

Instead, I’m slithering out into the great unknown.

It’s almost… fun.

Not to say I’m not still completely paranoid that some monster is going to come out of the blue and try to devour me, but this way less stressful than I expected it to be.

Almost therapeutic, really.

I’ve only panicked and set two boulders on fire so far.

Old habits die hard.

Feels good to move.

Ssss… I did not expect sitting around and being lazy to bug me so much.

Maybe it wasn’t the sitting around, so much as the inability to make progress. Even when I was in a bad spot before, I was never completely out of options. There was always something I could be doing.

Practicing magic, or building something…

I’m going to need to come up with some work arounds.

Without [Voice of Gaia] or my [Spirit Attendants] in working order… If we run into humans, it’s going to be tricky.

I won’t be able to talk to them.

Imra being an Elf, I’m not sure they’re going to want to talk anyways.

Could be difficult situation.

Plus, I’ve been thinking back to what happened, before we woke up here.

Obviously, something went wrong.

Memory is still jumbled, but I remember the Elven Chief. The blood ritual was clearly enacted with some sort of plan. Imra seemed to know something about it. She mentioned “binding” me, somehow.

So, I think whatever he was trying to do, was working.

He definitely had us trapped, towards the end. I know I tried to get at him with Earth magic, but then that stupid orb cut me right off, and nothing I tried to do was working to break us out.

But he didn’t just kill me.

I have to assume that if he’d wanted me dead, he could have just done that. So, he probably wanted something else…

I guess it was a good thing the swordsman showed up.

Same time, maybe it wasn’t?

I mean, that guy killed pretty much everyone who didn’t have the common sense to run away. Buckets of extra blood poured on top of magic apparently fueled by blood.

Might explain why I keep remembering “boom.”

Boom.

What the heck.

Like that’s supposed to help.

It’s weird, I just can’t remember what happened at the end.

Knocked me out?

Good thing I’ve been testing [Heal] so much, because I hear that’s super bad for a person.

Ssss…

What’s worse though, is that the harder I think back to what happened, the more creeped out I get. That awful nightmare feeling keeps slipping back into my head.

Screams… fire… laughter.

Laughter.

Terrible laughter.

I can’t remember what happened, exactly. Not the sounds or the sights, but instead: I remember the fear.

The same fear I had when I woke up: a shiver that runs down my spine. Ties my stomach in a knot and makes me want to try and escape.

Irrational terror.

I’m practiced in that sort of thing. People, creatures, mushrooms, rocks: every possible example I can come up with, have been trying to murder me non-stop since I reincarnated. Paranoia is my day to day, minute to minute.

But this is… intense.

After dying once and coming back, I’ve thought myself a little less intimidated by existential dread.

Apparently not.

I’m getting freaked out just thinking about it.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I know exactly what happened, and I just don’t want-

No.

No, gotta change the subject.

Focus on something else.

Something else…

Ordinarily, I would just play with Earth Magic. That was my go-to method of distraction, but that’s out.

Water Magic?

No, soil is too dry.

Healing magic?

I mean… I guess?

The spell goes off, regardless of whether I actually need to [Heal] or not…

[Heal]

Yeah, my belly feels a bit better.

Maybe I had a little sand burn?

[Heal]

No difference, that time.

[Heal]

Actually, now my head sort of hurts.

[Heal]

Sssss!

Ow.

What the heck? It was doing this yesterday, too.

Like a migraine, but not…

Must be some residual mess leftover from that stupid ritual-mishap.

Hey, I wonder if I get a headache, does Imra get one too?

There’s a thought.

Ah, well, timing is good. I’m almost there.

The mysterious shape on the horizon is revealed at last.

It’s what I thought.

Looks like someone left a wagon out here.

 

Book II - Chapter 9

Chapter 9

 

Snake Report:

 

After all the crap I have been through, you would think I’d be due for a win by now.

Right?

I mean, statistically speaking.

Here I am, reincarnated on the bad-side of a fantasy world. Surviving all the monsters, the traps, the magic, the danger…

I finally find a treasure chest, and I have no way to get it open.

Come. On.

It’s not even locked.

The latch is just old and rusted, and my tail is just not meant for this.

Lifting a weirdly shaped bit of metal up, and back…

You have no idea what a pain this is.

See, there’s this wagon.

At first, I wasn’t sure what it was, just that it looked weird, but that’s because it’s busted. Got partly covered in sand after someone must have abandoned it out here.

But, they didn’t take everything.

There’s a box.

Maybe my time as a human is fading, but at the center of my being: I know boxes left out in the desert have treasure in them.

Clearly, this is loot.

Sss…

Yet, ten minutes of fumbling around like a total clutz, and I’m still stuck trying to get it to cooperate.

There’s just no good way to get this without opposable thumbs.

It’s like… almost impossible.

You have to do a loop, and bite your own tail, and then drag it sideways…

There.

Okay, now… pull…

Any second now…

Gotcha.

HA! How about that?

Who needs to use magic for everything? Not this snake.

Sweet victory.

Now, what do we have…

Oh… right.

I didn’t think this through.

Latch problem is solved, but how the hell am I going to lift the lid?

Shoot.

Uh… tactical [Leviathan Breath] might do it?

No, who am I kidding. Even if it works, I’ll just set the whole thing on fire. Dry wood, sitting out in the sun for ages. This is kindling.

Ssssss...

You have got to be kidding me.

All that work, and no treasure?

Come on!

I am so mad right now.

This must be the biggest rip-off, ever.

This is exactly why we can’t have nice things, because we can’t open the treasure chests.

Fine.

I’ll just use my head.

Literally.

I’ve got tough scales. If I wedge my head against the corner of this latch piece, and push…

Push…

Keep pushing…

Open up already, you big, stupid, wooden, jerk-

It’s working?

It’s working!

Yessssss.

And in this awesome box of loot, I have found a… a…

Clothes?

What is this? Some shirts?

Seriously?

Is that it?

There’s gotta be something else, right? This was the only thing on the wagon! I looked high and low! IF there’s only one treasure chest, it’s gotta be a good one!

Wow.

This is so… underwhelming.

It’s just clothing. Some shirts, pants, a cloak…

No.

I refused to believe this. There’s gotta be something else.

Somewhere.

Maybe it’s hiding something?

Like, a bag of gold.

Or a secret map!

Or a mysterious ring of keys!

Or a false-bottom piece, hiding treasure! Or-

THWACK

Can I…

No… guess not.

What if I…

Nope.

Suppose I-

CLICK

Ah.

Yep.

That was absolutely the latch falling back into place.

Not a single shred of doubt in my mind.

God damn it.

Book II - Chapter 10

Chapter 10

 

[Imra]

 

Cursed by the old ways.

Damned by foolish whims of dead or eternally wishing to die…

Imra tried to ignore the distortion which crept within her mind.

Tried, and failed.

Her tribe had struck a most foolish pact, and now she paid for it.

Distantly she could feel the sights and smells. First heat and then, then of dust, then cloth… but it was the voice which truly distressed her.

The demon, which haunted her mind, speaking in a language that was not her own.

“Bound… by… blood.” Imra let the unfamiliar sounds reach the air in front of her.

She could comprehend, if only just.

It was not her people’s tongue, she had just spoken. Neither was it that of those who lived beneath the Great Forest, or even of the Cursed Blood’s language. At least, not those she knew of. What was more, is that they were just a few of many.

The first she felt which held some true significance, hidden the storm of thousands. Words that crashed down in her mind with gales fierce enough to send Imra’s own thoughts into disarray. Leaving her to understand nothing.

But… that was changing.

Bound.” Imra felt along the sound of it, cautiously.

It was not familiar, and yet it was.

Somehow, she knew what it meant, but only while she spoke the word aloud. For just that instant, she could hold onto the meaning.

Nothing more, nothing less.

“Bound… bound…”

Imra stopped, as words were turned to images.

Senses.

In her nose, on her tongue, she could taste the scent of fire and ash.

Smoke, so thick it blinded her.

Yet, looking around, there was nothing.

Why?

Motionless, Imra had let the day slowly pass her by, as she prayed for the Great One’s return. She had started no fire, nor was there anything to burn- less she go and end the tree which sheltered her.

But, in her nose: she could smell flames.

Acrid.

On her skin, she could feel burning, and pain.

… but not her pain.

It could not be.

She felt a rush: of power, enough to wipe all that pain away.

She felt that power smash back down and bring a different kind of suffering.

One that lingered.

That fed and grew…

Imra blinked.

It was gone.

As suddenly as she had found it, the sensation was lost.

She was simply waiting, as she had been. Patiently, beneath the lonely tree, where there was no fire. No pain. Not flames on her skin.

All that, had been replaced once more by an uneasy peace.

Frowning, Imra considered this.

Why was that?

Rising, slowly, she pulled herself towards the entrance of the hollow. Peering out into the hot sun of afternoon.

The sun was blinding.

Staring towards the distance, the air shimmered and glowed… but, was there something more?

Billow of ashen gray, cutting into the uninterrupted expanse of dry blue sky…

Real, or illusion?

From where she was, Imra wasn’t sure.

Conserving her strength, she moved back beneath the tree, settling in against the roots. Imra settled the beating in her chest, and let her mind run itself empty once more.

Empty, but for that strange word.

“Bound.” Imra repeated. “Bound.”

By the time the Great One returned, slithering back among the roots and join her in the shade, Imra could almost remember what it meant.

Almost.

Book II - Chapter 11

Chapter 11

 

Snake Report:

 

When you leave the camp feeling like you can take on the world, only to slink back a couple hours later smelling like burnt treasure and shame, sometimes all you can really do is accept it.

Win a few, lose a few…

It is what it is.

Some days just aren’t going to be the best.

I love setting stuff on fire as much as anyone, but it happens to be a lot less fun when you’re stuck in the middle of it.

It’s important to try and look towards the Brightside, though.

Brightside, is [Passive Healing] must still be working.

Mostly recovered from when the wagon collapsed on me… and then, out from under me.

Yeah.

[Heal] is a great spell, but if it’s going to make me feel like I’m getting hit with a cluster headache every time I try and use it, I’d really rather not.

Ssss…

Also: [Leviathan Breath] got the chest open.

I mean, it worked.

Not the right tool for the job, but that could have been a lot worse.

I’m not forever trapped inside a box.

Would have been an embarrassing way to go.

The long slither of shame back to camp dust bowl gave me some time to reflect on that.

I am really not used to this.

Being helpless, I mean.

Getting reborn as a monster has had its ups and downs, but I’ve never been this completely… weak?

Not since I was a super low level, way back when.

Truly, a box should not present any significant challenge for me.

I’m a monster from the depths of… well, the depths! The natural disaster himself, slayer of dinosaurs, destroyer of sanctuaries, lord of Goblins and Elves alike!

All that, and I almost got stuck in a treasure chest.

Not even a good one: a lame one.

Ssss…

How the great have fallen.

Yeah.

I need help, but I really don’t think any of that is on its way.

So what if Fire still works?

[Voice of Gaia] just won’t answer anymore. First were those weird messages, but now it’s just quiet.

At best, I get a brooding sort of silent: “…”

My [Spirit Attendants] aren’t much better. Sometimes I almost feel a “tug” from those, but there’s never a response. No glowing orb of shouting fire appears, or anything.

Earth magic is good for nothing, and Healing keeps making my head hurt.

To make matters worse, I think we’re officially running out of water. Been trying for the last couple minutes, and I can barely get more than a few drops at a time.

While I’m alright, Imra’s probably starting to feel it.

Seems like all she’s been doing is sitting very still and breathing as slowly as possible.

So, not much to drink.

Not good.

No more lizards have been foolish enough to get close to this tree, either. Therefore, no more food…

Also, not good.

Ssss…

This isn’t sustainable.

I hate to admit it, but without Earth Magic: Tiny Snake Camp [Dust Bowl] is a bust.

We need to leave.

This is a pit-stop detour area at best. At this point, our next move is to pick a direction and just start. Abandoned or not, people were travelling along these roads. If we head back that way, we’re bound to run into something. Get on one of those roads, and see if they don’t intersect with a village, or settlement.

The wagon I found was probably a good sign, in that respect.

Someone has got to still be living around here.

Somewhere.

I know leaving is a risk, but we gotta take it.

Otherwise, our options are already looking like a slow death.

“Great One: the wind is speaking.”

Seems Imra has come back to reality.

At least, a little.

I mean, the wind is speaking.

“Something approaches.”

Well, that’s ominous.

Sssss…

Over-sized ears are good for something. She’s right. I hear it too.

If I listen closely…

Not sure what that sounds like.

Rumbling?

Hard to tell while under a tree. I’ll have to poke my head out to take a look.

Better not be one of those lizards.

Been waiting on those suckers way too long for them to just show up the moment I stopped paying attention.

Weird noise, though.

If it’s lizards, it’s gotta be a whole stampede of…

Ah.

Not lizards.

Sssss…

Far off, but I’m going take a guess and say my misadventure with the wagon attracted some attention. Unintentional smoke signal, maybe.

Lizards don’t carry torches.

Those are people.

Book II - Chapter 12

Chapter 12

 

Snake Report:

 

Here’s a question:

If you’re a group of well-armed, muscular, scary-looking humans, and you stumble upon a monster and an Elf, what would you do?

Ponder that.

I’m pondering.

None of the answers I’ve come up with sound like fun.

Not one.

Yeah, this isn't an ideal situation.

Seems like they’re looking for… I don’t know. Probably survivors, or whatever set the wagon on fire. Prowling about, torches in the air, shouting…

It’s not just a couple, either.

Turns out that rumbling sound was pretty much an entire caravan. Like some sort of medieval convoy of wagons. Each of those is pulled along by some boxy looking creatures.

Considering I can make them out from here: they’re huge.

Like if you took a horse and a water buffalo, and then you squished them together into one unfortunate body. Then, gave it an extra set of legs.

“Cursed blood.”

Imra isn’t loud, but she could be totally silent.

That’s the smart thing to be, in a situation like this.

Silent.

“Ssss.”

In snake language, that means: “Be quiet.”

“…Ssss?”

Also: “… What the heck does cursed-blood mean?”

“Humans.”

Oh.

I knew that Elves didn’t like people, but I guess they resort to name calling.

At least she’s listening to me, for the moment.

There are over a dozen of them, at best guess. All covered head to toe in wrapped, so it’s difficult to make out features. I can make out a few details.

Guess all that time slithering around in dark caves paid off.

Torchlights keep reflecting… sword hilts, I think. Couple have bows… those gotta be quivers or something on their backs.

Dangerous appearances.

The carts themselves, though, aren’t really that scary.

They’ve got this strange wood. Almost looks reminiscent of Papier-mâché, with a lot of rough, irregular patterns. An unpleasant but functional, sort of look. Not quite covered by tightly drawn coverings, straps of leather wrapped the occasional metal piece mounted to the under-belly of the boxy frame.

Functional, in a rigged-up way, nothing fancy.

Expensive cargo, maybe? Is this area really so dangerous? This seems like a huge escort for some beat up looking caravan.

“What is your command, Forest God?”

Uh, what? My command?

“Do we attack?”

What? Are you serious?

“While I still cling to my sanity, Great Forest God, by your order I will give my life to your service. I will kill as many as I can. Your enemies will know fear.”

Woah- woah! Stop, hold on a second.

Imra, chill out.

“Ah!”

She’s reaching for her head again.

“This voice! Even now, it tortures me! It tells me to stop!”

… that’s me.

“Great One… I fear I am not strong enough to resist.”

Imra. That’s me. I’m right here.

“It… taunts…”

Ug.

“Command me, Great One. I know you must mourn in silence, but please. Now is the time.”

Like talking to a wall.

She won’t listen.

She hears, but she doesn’t listen.

Ssss…

Here we are, at the crossroads.

Little bit earlier than I would have liked, but Imra is about five seconds away from sprinting towards the caravan.

I know she is, because I can hear her thinking it.

Visually… hear.

You know what? I’m not even going to try and explain- I just know that she’s crazy enough to actually go through with it, and the searchers from that damn caravan are getting closer.

And closer…

Yeah.

Not good.

If I know anything, it’s that humans are scary.

I don’t care how strong she is, there are over a dozen of them, and they’re clearly alert.

Meanwhile, Imra is unarmed and a few days into the process of becoming jerky. She’s going to end up full of arrows.

She’ll die.

“This voice, this voice…”

Imra, seriously: do not go.

“Why does it say this? Why…”

Again, she’s not listening.

In a few seconds, she’s going to run out there.

If she does, where does that leave me?

From a cold and rational standpoint, what the hell am I going to do?

Ignoring the guilt and damage to my already-in-question psych that’s going to follow watching my Elf buddy get turned into a pincushion. Am I really going to survive alone in the wasteland while missing a large portion of my magical firepower? If I find civilization, then what?

I can’t communicate.

I can “hiss.”

Not helpful.

No.

For both our sakes, clearly there is only one thing left for me to do.

It’s come to this.

So, I solemnly pray.

Tiny Snake God: when I said I was done tricking people into worshiping me, I meant it. I am nothing but your humble servant, not some deity to be pampered. I know this now: learned this lesson twice over.

I pray that your froggy chosen prophets continue to guide me, and forever lead me along the path I must slither.

In dire times like these though, a man- nay, a snake must take dire action. So, while I’m pretty sure I swore an oath never repeat this, I pray that you forgive me.

Yours truly… uh… all hail…

I’ll just get this over with.

Ahem.

“THE GREAT ONE HEARS YOUR WORDS, LOYAL SERVANT! NOW, HEED THESE, AND OBEY!”

Book II - Chapter 13

Chapter 13

 

Snake Report:

 

Good news, is last night, Imra didn’t die.

Not quite up to the bar my original [Spirit Attendant] set, but my words were apparently moving enough to convince Imra to stay put.

Bad news, is I’m a terrible person.

Well… snake.

If the species didn’t have bad enough reputation before me, at this point I’m just enforcing that stereotype.

Ug.

“Great One, I believe there’s something here, in the wreckage.”

Good- I mean, LET ME SEE.

Ssss…

I’ve found Imra to respond a lot better if I’m loud.

Well, mentally loud.

Projecting.

Right now, it’s early morning.

After spending the entire night wide-awake, waiting for something terrible to happen, it didn’t. So, now Imra and I are going looking through what was left behind by the humans. We haven’t found much, but I figured it was worth checking.

One man’s junk might just be a tiny snake’s treasure.

“It is broken, but sharp.”

Imra just dug up a… piece of pottery?

Couple pieces, looks like it was a plate before it broke.

“Not glass, but it will serve us.”

She’s wrapping it in some cloth.

Ah.

Now it’s like a +1 [Elven Prison Shiv] or something.

Cool.

Cool, cool…

Guess the Humans didn’t leave much.

Pretty sure I saw few of them stop and eat something, but then they loaded back onto their convoy. Didn’t even make a real camp.

All we’ve found as proof of that, is an empty bag. I’m presuming that had was holding whatever they ate. Grains, or something.

There was a strip of leather near the road, which is potentially useful? Must have come loose from a wagon. There are also traces of what might have been a campfire.

Maybe.

I don’t know how they made one without wood, so it was probably magic of some type.

But, nothing much else.

All this makes sense, considering the humans never even made camp. Not really what I was hoping for.

Probably treasure.

Sssssss…

I’m still mad about that box.

“Great One?

Yeah? I mean: YES, LOYAL ELF?

How did [Spirit Attendant #1] do this so easily? I keep forgetting to use the voice.

“What of the wreckage? Should I search there as well?”

What?

Oh. She means the wagon I burnt to a crisp.

Hmm… saw the humans poking around that for awhile last night. Really doubt that anything-

“Great One, look!”

-Survived?

No kidding.

I take it all back: maybe that stupid box really did have something useful, after all. Despite having been set on fire in an improvised escape maneuver, some of the contents didn’t burn up.

Looks like it was dyed with literal charcoal, but that’s a cloak.

Most of a cloak.

Okay, it burned a little bit.

[Cloak of Barbeque]

Still, nice find.

I mean: EXCELLENT FIND, YOUNG ELF.

Ahem.

Well, we’ve got some starting gear, I guess.

Bandai Namco feel to it, far as basic equipment goes, but still.

This should be enough.

Sss…

We should probably get going.

Morning only lasts so long.

Just got that feeling, know you?

Today is gonna be a hot one.

Book II - Chapter 14

Chapter 14

 

Snake Report:

 

So, it turns out that following a convoy of presumed-traders across the flatlands without so much as a single road-side bush for cover, is surprisingly difficult to do while remaining undetected.

Not impossible, mind you. That's not what I'm getting at here.

It’s completely within the realm of possibility, just…

Tedious.

Imra and I caught up to them fairly quickly, considering their head start. Took about half the day until we could see their dust trail, and then another quarter to get within eyeshot.

Elves can run like… really fast, and those things pulling the wagons apparently don’t care much for speed.

At best, I’d give them a brisk power-walking pace.

Then again, they’re each hauling what must way a metric crap-ton, so who knows.

After that, I made Imra slow down.

For better or worse, unlike the chase scenes of Hollywood: when there's no one else around but a bunch of flat land and some weird looking boulders, an Elf with a blue snake on her shoulder is an easy thing to spot- even if we’re wearing a sweet looking burnt cloak.

Caution is needed.

You don’t want to fall so far behind you lose sight when night falls, but get to close? They might realize something’s up.

The balance of too close, and too far is a careful one.

Almost entirely confident that guy with a longbow sitting on the last wagon is waiting to take a quarter-mile shot at something.

Is it possible?

I’m honestly don’t know.

Maybe?

Not worth the risk of getting any closer to find out.

So, like I said: tedious.

Too close, too far- too much of either, and the whole thing all falls apart.

Oh, and you also need someone who can keep moving for hours without stopping.

Loyal Imra! How do you fare?

“I am well, Great One!”

Are you, though, Imra?

Are you?

She doesn’t even have shoes.

Really wish she had shoes.

I guess Elves don’t wear those.

My headache keeps hitting me, every time I heal her because of that. Getting worse, I think.

The cloak was a really good find, honestly, as Imra doesn’t really have much of anything. Her clothing consists of some forest-leather armor, and she didn’t have any weapons.

Well, aside from the [Elven Prison Shiv] but I really don’t count that.

The moment any real combat comes up, we just gotta run away.

Tough deal, but we gotta stay safe.

Safe, and alert.

Headache is killing me, but I should really be paying more attention. Imra’s watching the wagons, so I need to keep a lookout for other potential concerns.

We’re not in the dungeon, but it’s not like there aren’t some dangers out here.

For all I know, we could stumble onto a giant herd of hungry lizards. Or, one of those weird boulders we keep passing could leap from the ground and devour us.

Suspicious bastards.

Never a great idea to make too many assumptions on what can or can’t happen.

Sssss…

Doesn’t ever hurt to ask though.

[Voice of Gaia] is that rock over there a monster?

“…”

You mad?

“…”

Wanna talk about it?

“…”

… Yeah, that’s the fifth time today I’ve received a muted “talk to the invisible hand” answer.

[Spirit Attendant #1] do you copy?

Still nothing.

Can’t blame a snake for trying, I guess.

Sss…

[Voice of Gaia] took a little, but barely anything, and [Spirit Attendant #1] took a portion that was almost too small to notice.

Far as proof goes, that’s pretty much all I have that they’re still there at all.

Which bothers me, quite a lot.

Far as I can tell, they’re still active somewhere… but where? And “active” could mean a lot of different things.

Are they broken, or maybe just disabled, due to some status I can’t see?

Are my spells really broken?

If it was a status condition, shouldn’t I have recovered by now?

Are they just out of range and unable to reach me?

Out of range and unable to reach me… and travelling towards me at their own leisurely pace?

There’s a thought.

We’re probably nowhere near the forest, so… that would be bad.

Two balls of glowing flame, occasionally shouting out random nonsense that I had ordered them to say. Terrifying passerby as they float along. Terrorizing the countryside, ruining the Tiny Snake God’s good name.

[Spirit Attendant] road trip…

Ssss…

Regardless, I need to accept the facts.

Some of my magic is not working.

This is more than unfair, but life is unfair sometimes.

It might not be fun.

I don’t have to like it.

I do have to accept it.

Even if it is complete bulls-

“Forest God? Did you say something?”

No, Loyal Imra.

“As you command, Great One.”

Ahem.

Which… brings me back to the other problem.

Unintentionally taken up as a follower of The Tiny Snake God by Proxy: Imra.

First offering of the Elven tribe. Chosen to serve the holy duty of her people, no matter the cost.

I have strong suspicions that her role, at some point, was intended as the unfortunate individual destined to be eaten alive by a giant owl.

Of course, by slaying this fowl beast, and then inserting myself into the role it once filled, I not only saved Imra from a terrible fate, I also deceived her entire tribe. So… maybe that makes for a net “0” on the moral scale?

Saved her life…

Ruined everything…

Course, now I’m still lying to her…

Puts things back in the negative.

This isn’t exactly the best foundation for a healthy bond of friendship to prosper.

This is the kind of troublesome relationship, based not only on lies and deception, but blood rituals and secretive cult-worship.

Quite a pickle, I tell you.

Imra might be loyal snake subject #1 right now, but it’s important to not overlook the fact that she’s an Elf warrior raised in the Great Forest: a location know by dungeon-fairing humans as “a place humans really shouldn’t go.”

She could just as easily be classified as a dangerous and deluded individual under the influences of divine-level Stockholm syndrome.

When I first met her, she almost killed me.

So… this will need to be dealt with carefully.

I can’t just outright tell her: “Just kidding, I’m really just a snake. Sorry I killed your god and potentially lead your tribe to total annihilation.”

No.

That would end with my death.

Imra would have a very nice snake-skin belt around her waist, and then she’d go off and get killed by some humans. That’s pretty much guaranteed.

At the same time, lying about this forever might not be much better.

Lying to someone so that they’ll serve me. More than just serve me: worship me.

No matter how I spin it, this is more than a little bit messed up.

I’ll have to rip this bandaid off eventually…

Eventually…

Sssssss…

Still, I can’t really abandon Imra. Maybe, if I had my magic all working, I could technically slither off into the sunset and duck out when she was asleep.

Maybe.

I don’t have my magic, though, and what’s worse: I’d pretty much be leaving her to die.

Which is also messed up.

I’m not evil.

She’s an Elf, in human territory, lost without a single clue as to where they are. Also, middle of the dustbowl here: no water, no food, no shelter. If she didn’t die in a fight with humans, she’d die from one of those previously mentioned problems.

Sure, Elves seem to be mystical and ridiculous creatures, but they still need food and water. Despite their weird race-driven nature perks, that’s still a thing.

Especially after running a Marathon Des Sables equivalent.

Loyal Imra, do you need to rest?

“No, Great One!”

Hmm…

She’s lying.

Don’t ask me how I can tell.

I just can.

Thinking about whatever is scrambled between our minds is… more than a little weird.

Sun’s set, it’s getting colder. There’s some weird stuff moving, way off the road, and we’ve pretty much entirely lost visual on the caravan… not that it matters, anymore.

We know where they’re going.

Yeah.

See, the heat mirage on the horizon? The weird plateau I mentioned.

No longer just an untrustworthy illusion.

That’s a giant wall.

Book II - Chapter 15

Chapter 15

 

Fire.

Dark, deep red, among flashes of something worse.

It burns.

Heat that threatens, no matter how quickly I heal against its touch.

There are the voices.

Swimming freely about the red: I can hear their screams, howls and laughter all mixing into one horrible symphony of the damned.

Elven… human… beast… others.

“Blood had been spilled.” They say. “Blood has been paid.”

So many voices… so many voices…

I can’t block them out.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t keep those voices out of my head.

"Servant of the world... no..." Quiet as a whisper, heavy as a mountain shifting. "No... something else..."

This amuses them.

My skin is burning now, scent of brimstone mixing with the taste of iron. Scales peeling in the heat.

"False one..."

The chaos is all around me, swirling like an orb beyond the barrier as faces and eyes turn within it.

They’re cackling.

"Outsider..."

The tempest shifts, massive forms passing by in the shadows of fire and death.

Things I should not see.

I am broken before them, to stare is to seek death, but no matter where I turn there are more. If I close my eyes, it makes no difference.

They are there.

All that protects me is the thin barrier.

What was once a prison is now an unintended act of protection

"Impersonator..."

The whispers worsen, clarity of their words rising above the storm of madness.

"Creature, but not so simple..." The chorus grows. "Divine, but not yet of Gods..." Their song captivates my thoughts until there is nothing but a rising note of tragedy. "A lost soul, but not of fate...”

“An intruder?"

The pressure suddenly crashes, heavy waves against a hollow stone as the voices answer. Like the clapping of thunder, deafening a question to the core of whatever place I've come to witness.

"Usurper... or mistake?"

Alone, the question stands within the fires and blood, the smoke and darkness of deep shadows and abyss. It stares at me, with rows of fangs and teeth and splinters of reality, lips turning towards a terrible grin.

"All and none!" It shouts back at itself, laughter twisting on the noise. "Mind and body! Both, and neither!"

Perhaps the joke is at my expense, for I can only watch helpless as the currents around my prison stretch on forever. An abyss below, and an abyss above, to either side: I am lost in an endless ocean of writhing chaos, and yet I feel it in my bones: the pressure of silence.

The voices have stopped, but that red of deep and dark grows still.

Eyes and faces, contorted visions within the roiling madness withdraw, to leave me amid its vastness of quiet nothing.

Nothing but the color of blood.

Silence.

Alone, once more.

I turn my body, I twist to stare- seeking something, anything. Instinct within me no long speaks, only screams, and my mind feels itself moving not far behind. This thin barrier, meant to hold its contents, now the only thing keeping them from danger.

Is it enough?

Would anything be enough?

My body shakes.

I feel the tremble of a force beyond mortal knowledge, summoned up with a distant sound of violence that rises, and rises, and rises. The quake before an eruption: a last warning for those to make their peace with the coming grave.

The orb cracks, splinters breaking and resealing, breaking and resealing: but is it quick enough? Is it strong enough?

The scent of blood and madness is creeping in towards me, but no matter what flames I throw back, they simply reform. Crawling like insects, clawing inside towards their chosen prize.

Power is beneath me, and I see them now in the distant depths of a dark red ocean. The maw of their entirety: with jaws of doom opened for one final howl.

"TRESPASSER!"

AHHHH-

-SSSSSSSSS!

[RESTRICTION – LOCK IN PLACE] [!]

I’m awake!

[CONDITIONS NOT MET] [!]

I swear, I’m awake!

[PROGRESS 0/100]

Only a dream! Only a dream…

I remember fire, and blood, and voices, and… and…

What was that?

Just a nightmare?

God, it was horrible, whatever it was.

Deep breaths…

It’s gone.

I’m okay.

That was just a messed-up dream. Nothing real, nothing to worry about.

We’re okay.

Everything is fine.

Imra is quietly sitting in that pose of hers and I’m curled up in a warm patch of sand, where nothing bad has ever happened.

I’m still curled up.

Nice and safe…

Sss…

That’s right, I remember now. Imra was tired from all the running, and I wanted to see if we could find a decent spot to settle down, by the road.

We stopped here before we tried to get to…

The wall.

Ah.

Morning hasn’t come yet, so it’s still dark, but looking closely: I can still see the outline.

It’s insane.

Still at least a mile away from it, but that thing has got to be a couple hundred feet tall, and I don’t even know how far it goes for. Ten? No, fifteen or more miles, in either direction?

Unnatural behemoth of a structure.

Probably good we stopped short.

Intimidating.

Sss…

There were more signs of people, along the road. More humans, I’m assuming. Nothing useful, but traces of them seem to be pretty much everywhere.

Ragged lumps of abandoned clothing, worn to shreds by the sun and wind. Odds and ends of broken things, like pottery, or pieces of wood. Animal bones scattered around, near burnt pits beside the road. There are even a few clusters of what were once, probably buildings of some kind. They’re all broken down and half buried by sand, but they’re noticeable.

I think there was a small town.

Little unnerving, really.

So many signs of people, but no actual people.

Not even dead ones.

[Voice of Gaia] you listening?

“…”

I guess there’s no chance of mystic insight, anymore, is there?

“…”

Apparently, I won’t be getting any answers, but I feel like [Voice of Gaia] is listening. Giving me the silent treatment, almost. Passive-aggressive… or close to it.

Sss…

Imra won’t be ready to move yet.

She needs to rest, and she’s so thirsty that I’m feeling thirsty. Which is quite uncomfortable, especially because I really don’t ever get bother by that sort of thing. I’m not used to it.

But, that’s fine.

We’ve still got plenty of time before the sun starts coming up.

If Imra’s recuperating, I’ll be productive.

Time to scout ahead.

Book II - Chapter 16

Chapter 16

 

Snake Report

 

Monsters were likely cut from a tougher cloth when it comes to survival. Especially monsters with a biological heritage of only eating once every week or so.

For example: my tactic of eating whenever and just digesting between binges doesn’t work for a lot of other species, so far as I know. That’s a strategy pretty much solely reserved for just snakes and college graduates.

Which is why, we’re really in a bind.

If I had my Earth magic back, I know I could slither off into the desert no one the wiser.

Heck, just a bit of it cooperating and I could probably survive easily compared to the nightmare I'd had in the Dungeon. Throw me back to the basics, I’m sure I could make it functional.

But the guilt.

Imra sitting there in a trance…

Maybe a couple of days, at best, but she’s not going to survive out here.

That’s no good.

Exactly how we ended up here, whatever the reasons: it was clearly my own fault.

At the heart of it, I was the one who decided to play God.

There’s the selfish argument, that if Imra hadn't grabbed me and forced the entire snowball of a lie to start rolling down, we'd probably have never wound up in this mess.

True… sort of.

If I had wanted to, badly enough, I’m sure I could have escaped.

Looking back, I could have managed to find a patch of stone, tunnel my way back into the dungeon, and gone on from there. Instead, I was selfish. Being a God was too good a gig to pass up.

Now, I’ve got to take responsibility for the consequences.

Ssss…

I can’t really justify abandoning someone who honestly thinks I’m a deity. If I really was a God, what kind would that make me?

“Look, there’s the guy who couldn’t keep one follower alive…”

“What’s he the God of, again? Being a jerk?”

Nu-uh.

This is at the core of the Tiny Snake God Teachings.

Don’t leave people behind.

Except, you know, if they literally throw you away and tell you to run.

Or, temporarily, like, when you go and slither towards this freaky wall to try and figure out what we’re going to do next.

Sss…

Man, this wall freaks me out.

Freaks me out, bad.

I know I’ve said that before, but I feel like I really ought to stress that point.

It’s abnormal, in all ways.

I’ve gotten a lot closer, but I can tell you there’s still not a single visible seam. The entire structure was probably raised up and molded together with Earth magic. Which is nuts.

My bet is a thousand years.

IF- big if, my Earth magic was cooperating, I think it would take me a thousand years to make something like this.

Hell, I’d probably come up short.

I’m not even sure how long it goes, in either direction. At this point, I’m guessing that this is a big circle. Seems like a slight curve…

Is this thing a walled city?

Seems the likely option.

Just because we haven’t seen them, I’m confident that there were people here.

Lots of people.

There’s junk, old fire pits, trash- it even smells like people, in a bad way. I’ve probably been slithering through a lot more evidence of my spiritual kin, here, than I’d really like to admit.

Plenty of stuff left out to the elements, to rot out in the sun.

Another broken wagon…

Pile of rags…

Weird looking bones, cook pits…

Voices…

Wait- voices?

Someone’s shouting… orders, maybe? It’s like, drifting in, on the wind…

Where the hell are those coming from?

I don’t see anyone on the ground…

Up?

Are there people on top of that wall?

Wait a second, is that a torch? Is there someone standing guard up there?

Seriously?

For what?

What the hell you post someone on top of a wall this tall for? Thing’s seamless, without a single handhold anywhere! Nobody is going to try and climb that!

… That’s excessive.

Shoot.

Maybe we took the wrong direction.

I’m sure there’s a gate somewhere, but if this is a walled city of humans, I don’t know if the Elf and monster companion are going to fit right in.

Not like we can really turn around now, though.

Sss…

I just don’t… don’t…

That’s weird.

Instinct is acting up, for some reason.

Don’t… move…

Been awhile since I felt this.

Is it worried about the guard on top of the wall? Maybe he’s got a bow, or something?

No… that’s not it.

Behind… me?

What’s behind me-

Oh.

Hello.

Fine night for a stroll beside the giant wall, don’t you think?

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

Trust me, I do.

So, for both our sakes, I’m going to be upfront about it.

From one monster, to another.

Tasty as I might look, I am the last thing you would ever want to eat.

Book II - Chapter 17

Chapter 17

 

Snake Report:

It’s a frog.

No.

Toad?

I’m not sure.

What’s the difference between these, again?

Doesn't matter.

It’s about one full slither away, and looming.

Big.

More than large enough to swallow me whole.

Don’t move.

No shit, instinct.

I’m not going to move.

I learned my lessons.

Why isn’t it doing anything?

Could this…

Could this be a sign?

Tiny Snake God? Are you listening?

Is this a sign?

Is this a-

Oh shit.

It’s looking at me.

Don’t move.

I’m not going to move, instinct! For Tiny Snake God’s sake, you think I’m crazy? Huh?

I mean, maybe I am- a little, but anyone would be by now!

Tiny Snake Life is a struggle!

Sign from the Snake in the Sky, or not: I’m going to torch this guy if he doesn’t hop right on down the line.

It better back off, or else.

I have been through way too much crap to survive this long. I am not about to be swallowed up by some pleasantly plump looking desert frog-toad-thing, who hasn’t had to work a day in his life.

Bet he was just born, already adapted to his environment. Silver spoon in froggy-hand.

I mean, look at him. Blends right in.

Camouflage.

Weird skin, makes him look like a rock, or dirt.

Or both.

Convenient.

Sss… come any closer, though, and you’ll be dirt for real.

[Leviathan Breath] is officially primed.

Ready to fire.

Sss…

What is it doing?

It’s turning away?

Hopping… away?

I’m not worth it.

OH snap.

How’s that?

I’m not worth the trouble!

Tiny Snake, flexing on potential predators!

Go pick on someone you own size, you hear? That’s right you stupid frog-toad! Hop on off- and keep hopping!

Right on towards the… wall?

The wall?

Wait, frog-toad!

Stop!

That’s dangerous!

Don’t do it!

From one monster who doesn't want to eat the other, turn around!

Oh, he’s so dead.

Any second now, an arrow, or some sort of magic attack…

Any second now…

Have the guards up on the top of the wall noticed?

There’s movement up there. I see a torch shifting about a little, and…

What the heck is that?

Above the wall, there’s something flying up there, behind the wall… it’s got sails.

Is that a flying boat?

Did Miss Paladin mention those at some point?

I feel like she did.

That’s awesome.

Sss…

Where’d the frog go?

It was just there, I know it was… Seriously, where did it go?

How the hell can it blend in so well?

I only looked away for like, three seconds.

Shoot.

The Tiny Snake God sent me a sign in my hour of need, and yet somehow I’ve already lost it.

I can’t believe this.

It just blends in so well, that-

Ah.

Book II - Chapter 18

Chapter 18

 

Snake Report

 

Young Elf, behold your God's genius.

“Yes, Great One.”

It’s still dark, but that’s for the best. I decided we should move quick. Another caravan came through, just recently.

Not really a chance we can afford to pass up.

Imra is walking along the road, now. Ahead of us, it looks like a few others intersect and widen out a bit. More signs of people, and now a lot of evidence that wagons have been along this way. Grooves and paths in the dirt.

Pretty much confirms what I’d been assuming.

Up ahead, cut into the wall, is an entrance.

More specifically, a gate.

Wrapped around Imra’s neck, peeking out from underneath this cloak, it’s not all that obvious.

I mean, the roads had to lead somewhere- I knew that much, but compared to the enormous nature of the wall itself: the gate is small.

It’s just an arch, molded right into the stone.

Okay, maybe now that we’re getting closer, it’s not that small.

Small, relative to the wall.

Probably like twenty slithers high?

I see some torches out there now, but they weren’t before. I think whoever is there, is just responding to the caravan ahead of us.

Like a weight-station.

Or, a check point.

Gotta say, instinct is wigging out on this one.

They’re not a fan.

No trust.

Okay.

I gotta duck low.

We’re no longer Elf and snake. We’re “human.”

Remember Imra?

We’re just an ordinary traveler.

“Yes, Great One.”

Good.

Sss…

This better work. Between the cloak, and the scraps of cloth we managed to find…

Distance?

“We approach.”

Imra is whispering back, but she’s walking normally.

Steady and regular pace, I think. Her breathing is a little still raspy, but considering she’s been on her feet and moving without water for a full day, whatever meditation trick she had pulled while I was surveying must have done wonders.

Remember what I told you. Let me do the talking.

Our pace is beginning to slow.

Unease… I think. She’s stiffened her posture a little.

We have to be pretty close, now.

Elf warriors didn't get nervous over just anything.

“Humans.”

One quiet word, barely audible.

That my queue.

“___ ____ _____?”

Uh…

Shit.

Didn’t expect this. Someone just shouted at us, but I don’t know the language.

“___ ____ _____?”

Another shout.

Crap.

“I said: who goes there?”

OH! I know this one.

It’s a stern voice, from somewhere ahead.

“I said: WHO GOES THERE?” The stern voice has adjusted itself from request to command.

Slow down, Imra.

Okay, good. She’s slowing down.

I’ve been I trying to project loud enough for her to hear me, consistently. Sometimes I’m not sure if it goes through.

Carefully raise your hands.

“Stranger! Identify yourself! Final warning!”

I interpret whatever is being shouted as the Southern Continent's Human Language.

Pretty sure.

I’m not going to question how I can tell, but this is the one I'd bought using [Voice of Gaia] and found totally useless.

Just remain calm, and don't move suddenly. Keep your hands and arms raised. Walk closer. Bow slightly, while you're at it.

“I do not bow to humans.”

Woah.

That made her mad.

Bow for me, then.

I’m urging Imra on from my perch, but I really can’t see a damn thing.

My eyes are pretty much against the fabric.

All I can tell is the direction of the torchlight.

“Are you alone? It's rare someone comes approaches the city at this hour."

Suspicious tone. Clearly noted.

Nod.

"The beasts roam the plains at night. Traveling alone is foolish."

Keep calm, don't move much. Let him talk.

"What in gods and light are you wearing? Into the light with you.”

 

Take a few steps forward.

The voice from in front of us is hardly ten feet away, from my best guess. Through the fabric I can’t really tell, but I think they’re the one holding the torch.

“Alone, and unarmed? That's close to lunacy… don't you know the kind of things outside of the walls at night?”

Just keep your arms raised, keep nodding.

Whoever this is, they’re lecturing us.

Probably not a bad thing.

Footsteps… they’re coming closer.

I can make out the shadow of a figure standing before us. Larger build with some sort of spear? Or maybe a halberd? It’s hard to tell.

“And… you're a woman? Light have mercy! A woman- traveling alone and unarmed in these times?"

The voice has turned itself about. Complete 180 now, from stern and harsh, to incredulous.

"Ha! First King fix my eyes, how in the name of Gods did you even get here alive?”

Uh… they want a response.

Imra, can you understand anything he's saying?

No, wait, don’t try and answer. Just nod and point to your neck.

Keep calm.

“Are you a mute as well?”

Oh, that’s good.

I think I just saw the Guard’s posture slip a little. Pretty sure.

“Ah, my sister was born that way. Sickness sent by the Dwarves, in the village. It was a difficult burden.”

This is so claustrophobic.

I can’t really see, but I think he’s waving.

At others?

Several boots are moving away from us.

Oh…

I didn’t even know they were there.

No wonder Imra’s nervous.

“You must have come a long way, and as a lone woman in these times. Are you an Adventurer?”

The Guard gestured something.

I don’t know what.

Nod.

I’m faltering a bit here.

“Rare to see in the present day. While our enemies bring ruin and the very world is said to seek our demise."

He’s paused slightly, shouldering his weapon.

Uh…

Nod at that. Try to look proud.

"So, you are! Out to seek fame and fortune in the Fabled city of the Emperor, the nerve of you!”

The nerve… okay.

That had to be a joke.

He’s laughing, it was a joke.

“Well you're not a beast or heavens forbid- a [Construct] or Dwarf.”

What the heck is a [Construct]?

“All humans are welcome, so you're free to enter, but...”

He’s hesitating on that last bit.

I can all but feel his eyes peering at Imra, leaning in a bit.

“This is a bad time to be coming to this place, I think.”

Advice?

“The Guilds are in turmoil, and the drought has been running the Royal granaries down. Be very careful on the streets.”

Arm motion.

I think that was a wave "on-through."

The perfect prompt.

Bow a bit and then go.

I do not bow to cursed blood.

Woah.

Did Imra just say that in my head?

Bow for me, then?

“You’re… free to go.”

Oh, we’ve been standing here awkwardly.

Go, Imra.

Go, go, go!

Walk with confidence, and don't look back-

“Hey, Adventurer!”

Hisss-!

Shit, did I just hiss out loud?

It’s the nerves.

Oh crap.

They didn’t notice, did they?

Imra’s frozen.

I can tell, her feet are glued right on that point of indecision: between running like the wind, and turning towards combat.

Stay still. No fighting. Just hold still.

“One last word of advice, you can take it or not."

The Guard spoke from his post, weapon shifting like a pointer in our direction.

"If you think you're up for it, there should still be food and water at the Empire's station. Straight ahead four streets and then another to your left. Emperor’s decree, they'll give anyone food and drink if you wait your turn.”

Nod… now, walk… slowly.

Phew.

Keep walking…

Keep walking… little further…

Are we in?

I’m going to take a quick peek.

We’re through, right?

Ssss…

Holy crap, I can’t even believe that worked.

The wall is behind us, we’re through the tunnel gate.

Without being cut to ribbons or worse, we’re in. I don’t know where "in" is, exactly, but there’s food and water somewhere nearby. That’s a start.

We’ll lay low. Get something to eat and drink, get some answers. It’s a city, so someone here is bound to be able to help us.

Thank you, Tiny Snake God.

I knew you wouldn’t lead me astray.

Everything is looking better already.

Book II - Chapter 19

Chapter 19

 

Snake Report

 

Never thought I’d live to see the day I’d be in a human city again.

Living in the Dungeon for so long… honestly, finding out that humans still existed was pretty much where the line stopped for me.

Getting up to the surface and getting to a real city, seemed like a stretch back then.

I wonder if all human cities are like this?

Walled up, I mean.

Now that we’re inside, I have a bit of a better idea of what that’s about. The walls seem to stretch all the way around. Way off in the distance, I can see that “plateau” just like when we were approaching, only it wraps off to either side of us too: the city is surrounded.

Aside from some sort of structure in the center, they’re also the tallest things around.

Maybe some sort of castle?

Miles and miles away, plus we seem to be heading into a slight downhill on this street, so I guess we’ll have to find out more later.

Castle… no, a palace.

That would make sense.

Any crazy magical city should have a palace.

I mean, they have flying boats.

Sss…

Those are super cool.

Flying boats.

Seems like there are a couple of them floating around up there. They’re a lot like ordinary ships, but more elongated. Like, they could set down in water, but aren’t really intended for it. They seem to be circling a couple specific areas.

We’re heading towards one of those, now.

There are store fronts and boards. Lamps, of some variety. I think they have mana crystals in them… everything is closed, probably on account of it being nighttime, but we’ve been walking along, following the guard’s directions.

I’m excited to see what this place is like during the day.

Really wish I could read the signs. The artwork for the last one seems to suggest it sells something mystical.

Man.

To be back in a place that makes sense. I can’t even believe it.

Humans.

Humans like me- well, not like me, exactly, but close!

Once I can figure out how to speak again, I can turn everything around. Imra and I can get some sort of job, and we’ll go from there. Maybe save up, get some pennies together, open a food-stand- no: a bakery!

The Snake’s Baked Cakery.

Yeah!

I’ll get my Earth magic back, build some ovens, use fire magic to heat them. All we’d need is the raw materials, and we’d be in business.

Was this our turn?

Imra, I think this was our turn.

Oh, this is so great. I mean, look at all of these buildings. Stone- I can work with that. Rooftops of ceramic and… copper? I think that’s copper! Windows? Not that many, but some sort of composite shuttering and how do these street lamps work?

Do they run on some sort of magic current, like electricity... or is this some sort of chemical reaction?

How much can people do in this world, without magic?

Hmm.

Why would they bother to learn, when the easy way is readily available? If you could just use magic to solve a problem, you’d probably never bother to try and find another way to do it…

“Great One.”

Yes, Imra?

“Danger.”

Danger?

Now, what does she mean by...

Sss…

Yeah, okay, never mind.

Fantasy Magical City, or regular boring city, I forgot what all of them have if you look hard enough.

Bad neighborhoods.