Chapter 55: Plan of Action
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Walking… Almost a whole day of walking. They had to stop many times for rest, if not for the food and water they were given the task would have been impossible with their condition. At first they were wary of the Direwolves but they have grown to trust in them after they protected them from various dangers from monsters. The place was as hostile as any untamed lands could be, even the pricks from the earth underfoot felt as if they wished to taste their blood. Leading their convoy the strange being who did not eat or rest and possessed the body of an arachnid, yet hid in a human form. Did it not wish to frighten them perhaps? One thing was for sure, it was something more than human.

Gloom and darkness dominated the woodlands as the sun sank beneath the horizons. As each ray of light faded, their worry seemed to swell more and more. Before panic could set in;

  • “We’re close.”

For the first time in a while the being spoke. It promised a place to stay and though not a vow of protection, it would at least tolerate their presence. After a long day of walking, the news of a place to rest was like music to their ears.

Through the dark foliage they could just barely make out a beacon of light, a lonely island amidst a sea of darkness. A rectangular lodge made mostly of wood, beams of its porch holding aloft a pair of torches. On a closer look  light poured out of the windows revealing its interior.

  • “Here we are. The individual rooms will be built at a later date but for the first night you all will have to sleep in the hall. I’m sure you all must be exhausted. I’ve already made your beds for tonight. It's on the floor unfortunately but bear with it. You’ll have proper rooms  soon.”

Alicia’s introduction elicited some exclamations and amazed whispers among the group. Not knowing how to address her, meekly one of them near the front spoke up.

  • “Uhm… your excel-”
  • “Alicia. Just Alicia. No weird titles needed.”
  • “Ah! O-of course… Do you mean to say… that we all will get our own… room?”
  • “That’s the idea, if there are any who are related, I’m hoping they could share a room. I’m guessing that’s what they would want?”

After confirming her statement more gasps and bewilderment followed with some breaking into tears which baffled Alicia.

  • “Please! That is too generous, have it in you to at least put two in a single room!”
  • “Are you sure?”
  • ““““Yes!””””

Everyone was in agreement, evident from their overlapping and overwhelming sounds of affirmation. While she was struggling to comprehend the situation the same girl added to Alicia’s already full plate.

  • “Thank you! I… We won’t forget this!”
  • “Oh…kay?”

‘I mean that’s over all less materials needed and I’m all for it but… Why’s everyone acting like I missed an important meeting? I think they’re still recovering from the shock maybe…? I mean they were just freed recently.’

Within the wider culture of the continent slaves and servants of freemen, merchants and even some nobles are expected to live in what is known as the servants’ quarters or the stable floor. Which often had one or more communal rooms where up to dozens of servants could be expected to share. Even in the home of the most generous master one would have to use a single room in common with, at the minimum three other thralls.

This did not mean there weren’t any that had a room for themselves. An honored guest, high ranking dignitary, retainers, a servant and of course  secret lovers and concubines would get a room of their own from the master of the house. Them getting a separate room from Alicia meant they were at the status least well regarded retainers. They couldn’t even begin to imagine implications. But one thing was for sure, their once hopeless future had taken an unexpected turn for the better.

  • “It’s gonna get a lot colder soon, get in.”

Alicia invited them in, smoothly swinging open the double doors. Truthfully they were astonished to see that the large doors opened without any creaking. Beyond the entrance an otherworldly plane awaited them rows of neatly prepared beds & blankets were arranged on the floor, each impeccably white. Walls and floors were spotless clean and although plainly finished their evidently fine quality still shone through. Number of thick wooden beams held up the roof each had a simple metal sconce holding a wax candle. Along with the pleasant scent of wood, the whole place gave off a welcoming atmosphere. Lacking in other furniture the interior had ample space. Even wealthy merchants would think twice before renting the place, such was their impression.

Something was off though. A lone building in the middle of the Exile’s forest, unspoiled by surrounding greenery. The place didn’t seem like it was a part of a settlement that was here in the past, especially with the scent of fresh linseed oil. Nor was it a homestead with the clearly barren interior & lack of any signs of previous occupation. Together with the immaculate beds and fresh scent of lumber it could only mean that this place was created recently. Task of this magnitude was impossible for a single man to handle. But of course, their host was not a human. Place felt more like a realm created in the arcane image of a spirit design than human construct. Like that hunters of the guild venture into.

Should they step a foot in, it was in question if they would be able to exit and nearly all of them hesitated. With that being said if they were to turn back now there was nothing waiting for them. They once thought they had a home until it was burnt down. They had a family until it was taken from them and in some cases, slaughtered in front of them. They thought they had a king and nation to unite under until their countrymen came for them. They realized that they had only a precious little to their name until it was robbed from them, now they had nothing but their lives - if it could even be phrased as such. They were - effectively - dead men walking as the world forgot about them in the human world. They had no place in their former world, so what if they can’t go back?

With her mind set, Alia boldly took a step forward others soon following her lead. After everyone had entered;

  • “Rest for tonight, then we’ll go over the future of you lot tomorrow. Restroom is to the right, behind that door. Wolves stand guard outside. I’ll return when daybreaks. Anything else…? Nothing? Good. Then…”

Mysteriously some of the candles flickered out startling some and dimmed the overall lights. Magic. It had to be. Their exposure to the subject was extremely limited beyond the general knowledge common among peasantry. Yet even they knew that the way she used it was out of the ordinary. No words, no actions, it was as if… she willed the flames to bend to her wiles. Her act left a strong impression, though it would completely floor any other common sorcerer who would understand the significance of her abilities.

  • “You can blow out the rest when you’re ready. Have a good sleep.”

Having said so, she exited the lounge closing the doors behind her and leaving the bewildered girls. After getting used to the new environment they put down their lightening packs, some having a light meal from the remaining supplies. As they themselves lied down upon the beds, many nearly dozed off as soon as they hit the pillow.

Soft silken beds & blankets were filled with light airy wool that had no odour to speak of, indicating excellent quality wool and use of fuller’s earth. Both are a rare luxury to get a hold of to create such a product not to mention the fabrication process. Even the pillow had the same quality. The beds seemed to drain the exhaustion of walking and harsh treatment out of them, leaving only relaxation. It felt as if they were staining it just by lying their filthy body upon it. Most had found themselves in between rock and a hard place of wanting to just sleep on the floor to not sully the bed and giving in and indulging in the comforts. The irresistible lure of the coziness won out in the end however. Soon enough the whole place was overtaken by the peaceful snoring with no one left conscious to turn the candles off, all drifting through the dreamscape of slumber…

‘Phew. That’s one thing taken care of for now.’

  • “Good job today you guys… I’ll have to ask you to hang around here for as long as they get used to my own, anyway, hungry? No? Are you sure, cause I’ve got some extra Cave Lion meat?”
  • “……!? ………”
  • “Nonsense you’ve helped me quite a bit today so little treat won’t hurt. ‘Sides, Rufus already had his share I'll send someone over.”

‘Let’s go see what Alice and Faenas brought back…’

Whilst she and everyone else were putting together the lodge, Alicia entrusted Faenas and later Alice to lead the dismantlement and bring back everything usable from the brigand camp with help from her familiars to carry the load. While she did roughly estimate what there was in the camp, she wished to properly sort and inventory everything. A task which her familiars - while being highly intelligent sorely lacking opposable thumbs - could not do very efficiently. They didn’t have an appropriate storehouse where they could hold everything either. So she simply made their treehouse and burrow into a temporary depot until.

With her limited testing of Void vault, she knew she could have used the spell to relocate almost everything in a single trip but because of the strange change of Dauntless she refrained from using it for now. Ingin seemed relatively fine, though when she presented it to Dryssia she only commented on the living core of the bow being quote full of satiety and confused about what day it was unquote. With her link to Alice she had her set aside items of interest. Though having to decode Alice’s crude descriptions were particularly challenging. Apparently when they were at the camp the unaccounted three leftover men came over. They were dealt with summarily by the Araneae in the premises, according to Faenas. They were alive… but truthfully they may wish not to be.

‘Ignoring the perishables there's a map of the area, somewhat outdated it seems with how many addendums, edits and annotations are added to it. Sort of an accounting ledger of sorts, seems to be either written in a cipher or a red herring to throw off officials.’ She didn’t realize it but she could read and understand parts of the language, thanks to tidbits of knowledge stolen from the minds of the prior use of the cold reader. And strangely it didn’t feel unnatural at all. ‘Few empty scrolls I could use to jot something down, forget 0.5 mechanical pencil, I don’t even have something to write with…’

Loose local currency and other valuables had been sorted into a bag which amounted to surprising quantities in discrepancy with their ledger of slave deals suggesting that the extra funds were most likely plundered directly. As they had been tucked away from sight, possibly as a hidden cache. They popped up everyone now and then while Faenas was taking apart the encampment.

Alicia struggled to understand the map at first as there was no landmark she was familiar with but apparently the forest just took a small part of the map as it was hidden under the huge text with the following phrase that Faenas translated to; Hic sunt dracones1Latin for “Here be dragons”. Apparently often used in maps to denote unexplored or treacherous lands. The latter in this case as the forest specifically the mountains located at the heart of the forest was supposedly home to a dragon. ‘It was an older than time ancient fire spirit in the form of a dragon but I can see why people didn’t want to verify it. You’re either getting scorched or vaporized. Either way you’ll end up as fine ash.’

‘According to this map… centered around the kingdom of Pyrinia which is to the south of here maybe a little to the west too. On the opposite side to the east there’s the edge of what’s only referred to as The Empire. Down south there’s a collection of city states called the Calaian states. Further up north from here across a sea there’s Skerrigar or the Northern Thrones. And an addendum saying way to the east there’s the place called Great archipelago which I can only imagine seeing as how it’s not illustrated here and what the hell is this little dot…? Is that a city state?

First of all, where's the legend? What is a major settlement, what is a village? Where do the borders between nations end? What ratio is this, is one centimeter 100 meters or 100 kms? Where’s the topology? Is that bump a hill or a mountain? Water, hello? Did you forget about water? Lakes, rivers, deltas Hello? My issues with this ‘map’ aside, I now know where in the world I’m located… That girl, Rosalia said that she wanted to be returned to her family or something along that line. Sounded like she was someone important, probably from Pyrinia or the empire, should ask her. Regardless she’s not gonna get there without me finishing my work here first.

There’s also the three stooges to deal with. During that fight back at their camp it felt like I constantly misjudged my strength, I know even with my self defense training few cracks here and there expected, but I don’t think a bone should crack as it did back then. I might actually have broken a few of them. Why did I just randomly pick a fight with a bunch of dudes, that’s the first rule of self defense. Don’t fight with multiple people and what did I do? Pranced right in the middle and started fighting them. If not for the fact that I could tell where they were with Pallesthesia I probably would’ve caught a rusty dagger to the back and a tetanus by now. Ideally I want to get a little bit more practice out. I can try Soul Echo on those guys and few of the girls. I need to see how different I am from a regular human, well… a variant of a human at least.

Tons of work and… damn… haven’t felt this tired in a while…’

>Alert. Energy levels: 29%. Suggested action: Recall Gemini Image.

‘Yeah I should meet up with Alice… Just when I thought I had some free time, work after work to deal with and I don’t think this is going to be the last of it either…’

Rough week of exams and some Covid shenanigans. But I'm free now and I plan to ramp up my activity. This is technically the end of the first Arc. You can guess where we're going next from the map. And me trying to find neologistic yet believable name for nations took considerable time. I'm not all too satisfied with how this chapter turned out but I also can't afford to wait and fix any longer. Cuz right now this is looking mighty similar to a filler to me. Might just be me thing but do me a favor and tell me where I fucked up eh?

It's 12:47 am on a saturday. I'll read and fix things in the morning.

Also I think my readers might relate to mr Hannity is saying... just a hunch...