Updated: Sep 29
The following morning had a low, icy fog greet them as they lazily rose from the scattered cots. Elena and Skelly were up first, the former complaining of how the Wayshrine reeked of tobacco, the later reminding the young priestess that smoking wasn’t a sin.
“It should be!” She spat, gathering her bathing essentials from her satchel. “Wrecked his health, stinks wherever we go… and the things are expensive!”
Dressed out of her robes and leathers, she wore a loose men’s long-sleeved work shirt and what Melfice would gamble were the shorts for a young man. He barely registered what they were arguing about, rolling about in his cot to get comfortable once more, perhaps to get another hour of sleep.
Such thoughts were derailed when Elena walked by and kicked his head from underneath the cot’s stuffing.
He opened his eyes to peer up at her, as she was standing over him, hands on her hips.
Melfice paused, not sure how to respond to that. “I’m sorry?”
“Did Wheeze and Needles rope you into trying their drugs?” She demanded, forcing Melfice to look over her shoulder towards Skelly.
Who was shaking his head and making an X symbol over his chest with his crossed arms.
Melfice looked back and gave her what he hoped was his most charming smile. “Um, yeah. Kind of had a headache after, you know… thought they might have something that would help with it.”
Her stern expression softened slightly at the reminder of what she’d done yesterday, but doubled back and grew intense when she reached down and dragged him into a sitting position. “I can’t handle being around that stench all day, come on! You’re coming to the river with me.”
“But it’s cold!” Melfice whined, pulling back. Or at least, he tried to.
For such a small woman, Elena had a surprisingly powerful grip on him.
“I have Hot Rocks, we’ll be fine.” She said, dragging him up to his feet. He shivered; his heavy robes having been pulled off before coming to bed. He stood in a sleeveless Jerkin shirt and long woolen pants. “Come on, get your soap and whatnot. Not going to wait forever.”
Melfice, resigned that he would have to be awake now, spared a glance at Skelly. “Do me a favor,” he said, pointing to his pack, “I have tea in there, and a kettle. Make me some for after my bath, would you?”
“Sure.” Skelly agreed, walking up to pat Melfice on the back. Melfice felt a few coins slide down his spine and stretched his hand back to catch what he could feel were heavy gold pieces before they could jangle too loudly. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” he replied, leaning down to fish out a towel and soap, along with a dagger and mirror. “Might as well shave too, been a few weeks.”
“Lucky Elven blood…” Wheeze groaned from his cot, turning to hack and cough onto the floor. “Gotta shave ev’ry day, else the ladies get lonely.”
“I don’t even want to know…” Elena shook her head, walking past Wheeze as he reoriented himself on his cot. “Stay asleep for a while, you stink.”
“Y’say the loveliest things…” Wheeze yawned, slipping back into blissful sleep.
Melfice followed Elena out into the shroud of icy mist, shivering as they traipsed along the edge of the low wall to the small bridge, they’d walked over to get into the village outskirts. The river flowing underneath hadn’t looked deep and had a few large rocks to brace themselves against while they cleaned up.
Stepping down the icy slope, Elena called over her shoulder. “Brought a drape to separate us, can use that if you don’t know any illusions that can prevent us from seeing each other.”
Melfice, still fighting the dusty sleep feeling between his ears, shook his head as he processed the question. “I can create an illusionary painting depicting anything I want, should block line of sight so long as we don’t walk too far.”
“Saves me time hammering nails into the bridge supports to hang the drape from. Go for it, you take one half and I’ll take the other.”
She’d motioned to the ten feet long, eight feet wide expanse that the bridge covered, and the slight rises of stone and masonry that supported the steps up to the old-fashioned bridge. The water was perhaps eight feet wide and flowed slow enough that bits of ice had formed on the surface, bobbing and drifting about as the water continued from higher ground.
Melfice turned just as Elena was untying the ties at her throat on her shirt, earning a scowl from the young priestess. “Throw up the illusion, you’re not getting a free show.”
Melfice rolled his eyes. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
He snapped his fingers and funneled some of his pent-up energies to flow out over the expanse separating the Eastern and Western halves of the bridge. Coalescing into an image more resembling a topographical map than a portrait, Elena nodded and took her bundle of bathing supplies to the other side of the illusion.
Melfice shucked off his clothes and, knowing that it was better to get adjusted fast than slow, jumped into the shallow river with a loud splash.
“By the Gods, that is cold!” He shouted, shivering enough that he could feel his ear tips trembling.
Elena laughed from the other side of the spell. “Oh, don’t be a child. Here, let me cast my spell.”
Melfice, ever curious, wanted the chance to see the spell being cast. While he couldn’t manage priestly spells with his training, he knew of a few weaker incantations that had been observed and replicated for arcanists. He stood up, sloshing through the water to get close to listen, when he learned something new.
A caster could see through their own illusions, should they have the desire.
The map became slightly translucent, revealing Elena standing topless before the bank of the river, holding a flat stone, and channeling a golden light from her palms into it.
Melfice’s eyes were yanked from the display of Primal magic and onto her heaving chest, however. While she wasn’t large, she seemed to have a need for chest bindings when out and about. Melfice panicked when her eyes opened and she stared across the divide at Melfice.
Expecting her to scream, or swear, he flinched and braced for the worst. But then…
“Here!” She called out, tossing the glowing stone over the illusionary map in a lazy throw. “Watch out!”
Melfice jumped to the left to dodge the incoming rock, heaving a sigh when he felt the rock sink close to his feet and instantly warm the surrounding water. Eyes still locked onto Elena, dancing between her eyes and her assets, he winced when she removed her shorts.
“Wait!” He called out, not knowing what else to do.
She stopped; eyebrow raised. “Why? What’s wrong?”
Melfice paused, knowing that the truth could get him killed. “Um, I have… another spell! One that can prevent frostbite, works great with Hot Rock!”
“Oh,” she said, crossing her arms beneath her breasts. Melfice had to fight a groan when he saw that and turned to not stare. “Well, cast it then.”
Melfice, facing away to give Elena her privacy, recast the illusionary portrait spell, layering a new one over the old one and, once again, halting his vision as intended. He heaved a sigh of relief when he lost sight of her. “Okay, that should help.”
“Whatever… odd to cast it now, Hot Rock should have kept us fine.”
“Y-yeah, just wanted to t-test it, you k-know?”
Elena hummed in agreement, and the two cleaned themselves with relative ease and light conversation. Melfice had finished shaving when Elena had poked her hand through the map. “What?”
“Oh,” she said, moving her hand closer to him now that she heard where he was. “Here, some Gumroot.”
Melfice took the small knotted plant without a word, tossing into his mouth to chew.
Gumroot was a cheap, easy to get starchy root that cleaned teeth when chewed while also tasting vaguely sweet. Kids loved them as treats, and it made Melfice smile to think Elena carried a supply around with her.
“More for children, right?” Melfice asked after he finished the root.
Elena audibly swallowed the plant, her voice wafting over the divide. “What, the root? No, I like to keep my teeth clean.”
“Huh,” Melfice said, curious. “Odd, never really met a lot of humans are into hygiene. That something the Red Harvest preach about?”
“Helps prevent sicknesses, so I do what I can to make whatever healer eventually sees me have an easier job.” Elena answered. “I mean, we’re out and about now, right? What if we all get hurt, me included, and you all need to carry those that can’t walk back to a healer somewhere?”
“We pay them to fix you?” Melfice ventured to guess.
Elena snorted. “Well, yeah. But wouldn’t it be nicer for him or her to just be able to ignore basic issues because I take care of myself?”
Melfice frowned. “Makes sense, I suppose.”
“Wait,” Elena said, and he could hear the growing irritation in her voice. “what did you mean by ‘humans aren’t into good hygiene?’”
Melfice winced at the question, shaking his head. “Look, forget I said anything…”
“Tell me, before I come over that and beat you with one of these Hot Rocks!” She hissed from beyond the illusionary wall.
Melfice laughed. “Wow, I thought you were supposed to be all nice and prim and proper! What happened?”
“Melfice,” she growled, her voice getting dangerously low, “I will kick those perfect teeth in if you don’t tell me what you meant!”
“Noted.” He chirped, reaching down to fish out the bar of soap from his bucket. “Well, it’s like I said. Most humans I meet don’t seem to care how they smell or look. Not your fault really, as from what I’ve learned, you guys don’t even realize you stink.”
“That’s crazy!” She countered, a slight dunking of water and her suddenly gasping telling him she’d slipped under the water to wet her hair. “I would know if I smelled bad, I take a bath every other day!”
“And you walk around in heavy robes of leather and fur, all day, every day.” He argued, lathering up his arms. “Don’t execute the messenger, just telling you what every Elf knows after spending time around you humans: you guys don’t realize how loud, messy, and smelly you are. And again, not your fault, your senses are all weak.”
Elena, on the verge of swearing again, fell oddly silent as Melfice ended his lecture.
This worried him.
“El?” He called out, curious where she was. He didn’t want to take a peek on her side just to keep track of the little spitfire, but he would… “You, uh, you doing okay?”
“So, you can smell humans?” She asked, her voice more controlled and even than he thought it would be, given the subject.
This can’t be good, better be honest. “Yeah,” he said, stepping back as quietly in the running water as he could, to get some space between them should she follow her earlier threat. “Not and a full-blooded Elf, but yeah, I can smell a difference between everyone in our group. Their scents even change slightly with however they’re acting, though haven’t pegged what scent means what yet…”
“And how good is your hearing?” She asked, the sounds of her washing herself easing his worries. “Can you hear, say, Wheeze snoring in the building thirty feet away? Or his heartbeat?”
“I can hear your heartbeat, even over the sound of the river,” Melfice said, trying to figure out what she was feeling. Her heart rate always fluttered about faster than what most humans had, but it was steady now.
Never a good sign.
“After all this, I might need to hire you. For something.” She said, her tone clipped and her heartbeat strong. “You have any other jobs lined up?”
“Can’t say I do, I’m new to the region. Came here because of all the turmoil, you know? So many new villages and forts blocking the two surviving governments, plenty of work for people willing to risk their own necks. Do you?”
“Not exactly, more like a lifelong quest. Could use someone who can track by scent and has good ears. The fact you can light the air on fire… kind of bonus.”
Melfice chuckled. “Yeah, I can see that. What would we be doing?”
She stayed silent a second too long, her heartbeat jumping in intensity. Melfice knew she was about to lie.
“Can’t say but I’ll get some stuff together to show you. Be a good way for you to make some quick coin.”
“Can’t be mad at that.” Melfice agreed, stepping out of the water. He muttered a brief Elven nanny charm, drying and warming him instantly. He turned, speaking over the map hovering halfway into the river. “Getting out and dressed now, illusion will remain up another ten minutes, maybe fifteen? Either way, don’t linger unless you want to give Wheeze a show.”
“Thank you.” Elena called back. “Now stay smelling fresh! No smoking!”
Melfice laughed, pulling on his clothes. “Yes ma’am!”
As he strolled through the cloying mist and back into the Wayshrine, Melfice grew tense as he heard the muttered argument going on inside the sleeping area.
“I don’t know,” Needles whispered, somewhere close the latrine behind the building.
“Guys seem real nice, no need to do ‘em in, I say. Let’s just get a good bit of work done, fatten the coin purse with whatever ain’t nailed down, try to set some roots.”
“The Sapling needs ta go,” Wheeze slurred, the word Sapling spoken with utter loathing,
“damned thing makin’ me nervous, y’see the fire it threw? Not right, bein’ able ta do tha’!”
Melfice’s frown grew deeper when he heard Needles sigh. “Fine, you have time to slip in combat and give him a cut, I’ll back ya up. But no throat-slittin’!”