During the meal, Sirena realized that Fey had almost successfully diverted her attention from the appearance of a remarkably handsome angel in her life. Determined to get some answers, Sirena pestered Fey about it throughout their meal and afterwards. Despite Fey’s most skilled efforts, no amount of distraction was able to get the mermaid permanently off the topic. Finally, Fey resorted to the non-confrontation method of resistance, making only vague sounds in response to Sirena’s questions.
“It was a date, wasn’t it? Admit it,” Sirena said as they left Seaport.
“If you say so.” Fey sped up her walk to make it hard for her shorter friend to keep up.
Sirena was having none of it. She hooked her elbow around Fey’s arm and latched on. “You can’t escape my questions by running.”
“One, I totally could, and two, I’m not running.”
“Um, where are we going?” asked Blade. Feeling sorry for Fey, he had attempted to change the subject quite a few times, to even less effect than Fey’s distractions (*low manipulation level*).
“Yeah, where are we going?” Sirena repeated teasingly.
Fey gestured ahead with her free arm. “That way.”
“Are you sure you’re not running? Methinks[i] that you’re running.”
“Positive.” Fey did indeed have an intended destination, but to reveal it would add more fuel to Sirena’s pestering fire.
Sirena began to hum the chorus from the song “U Got It Bad”.
Fey rolled her eyes. Other than the title (which didn’t count because it wasn’t spelled correctly), none of the lyrics applied to her.
When she received no response, Sirena ended up singing through the entire song. She switched to telepathy because it sounded better.
<Song completed successfully. Monsters in the area have been attracted.>
Fey sighed in exasperation, drawing her punching blades and letting Amethyst off her shoulder. “Good job, Sirena.”
Sirena snorted, raising her arms in preparation for spellcasting. “As if you aren’t relieved.”
Fey was indeed relieved at the distraction from conversation – right until it arrived in the form of a swarm of giant bees, each the size of her clenched fist. Their collective buzzing was deafening.
Fey screeched and swiped erratically at the air around her. Most of her strikes missed, a few batted bees aside without inflicting damage, and one managed to separate a bee’s head from its body. It promptly exploded with a small boom that stung Fey’s arm (but fortunately didn’t leave her covered in bug guts. She failed to see the bright side).
<Fey has defeated the bomblebee!>
“That’s – not – [censored word] – funny!” Fey snarled between swipes. (The programmers who created the monster from an amusing typo beg to differ.)
Blade, whose sword had a longer reach than Fey’s punching blades, fared slightly better against the bees. “Just how many monsters have to self-destruct?” he grumbled, absorbing numerous small explosions with his arms. (See Chapter 10 if you don’t remember.)
Sirena fared worst of all. She had no weapon to strike out with, and a successful spell required that she maintain concentration from the moment of spell invocation until the mana intensity threshold was met. After her fifth spell was interrupted by a bee in her face, she was well on her way towards hysteria-induced rage. “Cover me!” she screamed.
Fey glanced at her pets to see which one she could assign to Sirena’s protection.
Amethyst was being her usual insouciant self, merrily swatting away with her bubble-arm extended to its full 1.8m length while a bee that had unwisely attempted to sting her triple membrane sat digesting within her cytoplasm.
“Keep the bees away from Sirena, Amethyst!”
The slime squeaked cheerfully, changing the trajectory of her bubble to smash a bee aiming for the mermaid.
Sirena dealt with, Fey continued checking on her pets to see if they needed help.
Boris was unable to do much damage to creatures that could fly out of his way, but he kept himself out of trouble, neatly dodging any incoming stingers. Occasionally, he hit a low-flying bee with Glare, the resulting flinch bringing them low enough to trample.
The glooms were holding their own, leaping into the air and wrapping themselves around a target in order to use Suffocate. Being stung did not seem to affect them much.
Spotting the opportunity, Fey sheathed her blades, picked up a gloom-wrapped bee, and compressed it as if crumpling a piece of paper.
<Midnight has defeated the bomblebee!>
<Midnight has learned Crush!>
Immediately after, the bee exploded, causing Midnight to squeak in pain.
“Oh no! Sorry, baby.” Fey petted the gloom as it uncurled, checking for damage. As this was difficult to visually assess on a shadow-creature, she ended up checking the pet menu, sighing with relief that Midnight had only lost 10% of his health. “Sorry, baby,” she apologized again as she released her pet to the ground.
Showing off under his owner’s attention, Midnight immediately leapt into the air and captured another bee, using the newly-learned Crush skill and uncurling at once, which considerably lessened the damage from the resultant explosion.
The other glooms would not be overshadowed (haha, puns). Copying Midnight’s actions, they each learned Crush and commenced a competition to see who could kill the most bomblebees.
Fey smiled and watched her pets’ antics—
Then a bee landed on her face.
She screamed and swiped it away with extreme violence, actions sufficient to activate Terrify and Vicious Strike (respectively) without conscious intent. The bee in question died immediately (*small boom*), and the entire swarm flinched back.
Sirena was reminded of her bardic skills. Switching to telepathy, she poured all of her agitation into the loudest possible Boom Stun, shouting, :DIE!:
<Sirena has defeated the bomblebee!>
<Sirena has defeated the bomblebee!>
<All monsters in the area have been stunned for 5 seconds.>
<Sirena’s Boom Stun has reached level 2!>
<Sirena’s Boom Stun has reached level 3!>
Sirena had actually managed to kill the closest monsters with nothing but her telepathic voice. The rest of the swarm dropped to the ground, immobile.
Boris immediately began trampling the bomblebees at a rate that qualified for the word ‘rampage’. Fey and Blade belatedly copied his actions, albeit at a slower pace. Sirena then incinerated the remaining insects with a Charge Jolt.
<Boris has achieved level 32!>
Boris was in fact only catching up to the other Feypets in level. Due to his disadvantages in underwater combat, his experience bar lagged behind. Unlike the other Feypets, he was frustrated with the limits of his body.
Boris began to glow.
Fey gasped as she watched a process she had only seen in a cartoon. With a chiming sound, the boar’s outline expanded considerably before the glow faded, revealing Boris’ new form.
<Boris has evolved!>
<Boris, level 32 iron boar>
Boris lifted a hoof and grunted (“Much better.”), the sound much deeper and more resonant than before.
“Wow,” said Sirena. Blade matched her sentiment.
Boris was now level with Fey’s hip at the shoulder and several times as heavy as his owner. In addition, his tusks had elongated, even relative to his size, and he bore thick plates growing out of his chest and along his back. His tusks, hooves, and defensive plates had a metallic sheen that earned his new species the word ‘iron’ in its name.
Fey had yet to say anything, and Boris looked as nervous as an armoured tank of a creature could look (on a scale from one to ‘kid around his/her first crush’, around a three). He definitely did not qualify as ‘cute’ anymore.
Fey knelt down and hugged him around the neck. “We’re going to kick some ass, aren’t we?” she murmured.
Anticipation gave way to a celebratory air as the other Feypets ran (hopped) around, and then over, their newly-enlarged comrade. Boris turned his head to look and dragged Fey with him, causing her to fall onto her derrière. (The author is so snooty. A butt is a butt.)
“Oof. You’re a lot stronger now, buddy,” Fey said as she stood and dusted herself off. Boris nudged her gently in apology, and she patted his head. “That’s okay. Growing pains.” (Erm, people don’t generally inflict growing pains on others.)
Blade looked from Boris to Fey, frowning as he tried to connect the two in his mind. The other pets’ ‘cute and deadly’ appearances fit how he viewed the elf, but Boris’s new ‘strong and deadly’ look clashed badly.
“Does this make sense to you?” he asked Sirena, gesturing at massive boar and delicate elf.
Sirena raised an eyebrow. “Why not? She does have a red belt in tae kwon do.”
Sirena’s other eyebrow joined the first. Raising her voice to carry farther, she asked, “Hey Fey, just how have you been killing things in front of this guy?”
Fey paused to think. “Mostly by stabbing, I guess. Some poison may have been involved. Why?”
“He seems to be physically unable to accept the fact that you do tae kwon do. Why haven’t you been kicking things?”
“Well, I mean, most of the beginner monsters are really small, so it doesn’t work properly. Then we went underwater. I did fight a couple monsters with kicks, but he wasn’t there.”
Fey glanced down at her lightly-used kicking blades. “Huh. I should really find more opportunities to use these.” Just because she could, she slammed an Axe Kick down into the ground, feeling the impact travel up her leg.
Boris performed his version of the same, revealing the new skill he had gained upon evolution. Rearing up, he slammed his front feet into the ground. Several metres away, Blade and Sirena stumbled at the resulting earth tremor.
“What was that?” Sirena asked.
Fey checked her pet menu. “Quake,” she read aloud, “causes an earth tremor to unbalance opponents. Allies in the area will also be affected. Level 1: safe zone 2m radius, quake zone 5m radius.” She looked at the ground under her feet, which had stayed still. “Handy. Good job, Boris.” She patted the boar again.
Hmm… Fey felt like she was still missing some implication of Boris’s evolution. She stared down at his broad back as she thought.
Boris waited patiently, while the other Feypets stared at their owner expectantly, perched around the iron boar’s head and neck.
It was the fact that she was leaning against Boris’s sturdy bulk that finally clued her in. Standing up on her toes gave Fey enough height to slide onto his wide, comfortable back.
Once she had arranged her legs to not drag on the ground, Boris took off at a walk, then a trot, careful not to dislodge his rider.
“Hey!” Sirena yelled indignantly, breaking into a run to close the gap with her party-mate. Blade followed with a muffled laugh.
Fey laughed outright. This was a very good way to avoid Sirena’s questions. “If you’re going to run away, do it in style,” she told her pets.
Leandriel flew through the air on his way back to the Oré Mountain region, unaware of the warm smile he wore. On his head, Magic murmured cheerfully away, the sound soothing to his ears, if completely unintelligible.
The murmuring suddenly stopped.
“What’s wrong, buddy?” Leandriel asked.
“Lee-ann-dree-ell,” came a cute voice. Magic pronounced the name with exaggerated slowness.
Leandriel plucked the mushroom off his head. “You learned how to talk?” After level 40 had come and gone without a single word on Magic’s part, he had assumed it would never happen.
“Lee-ann-dree-ell did not un-der-stand Ma-jic,” said Magic slowly. The mushroom’s delivery was stilted, as if he had trouble forming the correct sounds, but otherwise correct in pronunciation and intonation.
Rather than going through the stages of speech development gradually, he had decided to learn speech, allocated some of his level-84 intelligence towards the task, and immediately jumped to high school-level English. Why Magic had not learned speech earlier was partly because of his formative levels with Fey, and partly because his new owner was not particularly talkative. When Leandriel did speak, however, it was always with impeccable diction, so Magic now strove for the same.
“Sorry, Magic. Did you need to tell me something?” Leandriel was quite fond of his pet, and it bothered him to think that there had been something Magic wanted this entire time.
“Leandriel should marry Fey-Fey.” Perfect diction or not, Fey would always be “Fey-Fey” to Magic.
Leandriel’s flight dipped erratically before he got it back under control. “Ahm… That is…”
“Leandriel doesn’t want to marry Fey-Fey?” Magic asked. His speech was gaining fluency, but still slow. The pace lent a gravity to his words that Leandriel found extremely uncomfortable.
“That’s not it… It’s that— I can’t answer this and fly at the same time.” Leandriel dove sharply towards the ground, landing much less smoothly than usual. The level 50 monsters in the area took one look at him and fled without him noticing.
Leandriel held his pet up and looked him in the eye. “Now, Magic,” he began in a poised tone that quickly degenerated into awkwardness, “I think Fey is… very nice, but we are not going to suddenly get married.”
Magic blinked and cocked his head sideways. “Leandriel is going to get married gradually?”
“No, you are either married or not married. But yes, relationships develop gradually.”
“So… Leandriel is going to marry Fey-Fey later?”
“No! I mean, I don’t know! Maybe!” Leandriel made a sound of agitation, looking away from his pet.
Magic looked at his owner worriedly. Even in the most dangerous of situations, the mushroom had never seen Leandriel display even close to this level of stress. “Is Leandriel mad?”
“Crazy maybe, but I am not angry.” Leandriel’s shoulders drooped slightly with emotional exhaustion. He took a deep breath in and out, trying to calm himself.
Magic wiggled determinedly until Leandriel let him go, then hopped up the angel’s arm and leaned against his cheek in an armless hug. “Sorry.”
Leandriel sighed and patted the mushroom. “You did nothing wrong. Let’s be on our way, shall we?” He launched himself into the air, flying slightly faster than was comfortable, trying to leave his thoughts behind.
[i] The Old English translation of “methinks” (actually “mē thyncth”, from “thyncan”, “to seem”) is actually, “it seems to me” rather than “I think”