Drake and the other three continued to travel along the path to the ruins over the rest of the evening. They hadn’t been terribly cautious on the journey; the Ground Dragons were fast enough to outrun the vast majority of creatures. Truthfully, the only real threat would be monsters like the Wyvern who could travel vast distances in the air.
Regardless of a threat like that, Drake was confident that he would be able to handle just about any creature they came across. If push came to shove, he would simply transform and handle the situation with magic, but then he would have a whole other host of problems he would rather not deal with.
Besides, I actually like hanging around these guys. He pondered to himself. He had always been somewhat of a loner in the old world, never really putting much effort into making friends past what was needed, but the more laid-back attitudes of those who lived in the old world was something that missed.
Despite Drake being lost in his own thoughts for a moment, Yami had been continually poking Drake in the neck. Her patience was clearly beginning to wane.
[Drake…] The tone in her voice was unmistakable.
[I know, I know.] He couldn’t help but snicker a bit at the small imp’s cries. She had been very insistent about wanting to be out in the open more once they left the city, but due to circumstances, had been kept hidden. She would never be able to keep up with them after all. Given that Drake wanted for her to have a proper introduction, he simply couldn’t let her pop up out of nowhere, so she had been simply left to herself, occasionally peeking out of his hood in increasing irritation.
Enduring her occasional cries for freedom, Drake chatted back and forth between the party, as they to travel through the evening sun for several more hours, occasionally stopping to let the Ground Dragon rest. All the while, an obstinate imp continued to squirm and move around in Drake’s hood, which led to more than a few curious stares from the trio.
[Stop already!] Yami was becoming more and more irritated, to the point where she was even starting to pull on his hair. [It’s too stuffy in here!]
[We will be stopping soon.] Drake replied with a tinge of pain as she sharply tugged on him. She wasn’t being lenient on his hair and was starting to pull on it harder and harder in her tantrum.
[You better.] Creases appeared in Yami’s brow. Sensing that after only another half hour or so she’d explode and do something outrageous, Drake suggested to the others to stop and set up camp for the night, which the others agreed to easily. Regardless of their improved bodies, riding for long periods of time wore them out easier than they were expecting.
They each stopped and tied their Ground Dragons to a nearby tree, and began to gather materials for the coming night. As the other members of the group went about their business, Drake took a long breath before sitting down on a patch of cleared ground, and finally pulled back his hood. As he did, they all looked at him with as mild surprise registered on the faces on the trio.
“Drake… you have some unique eyes. Black horns too.” Peter paused before chuckling to himself. “I can see why you were so insistent on keeping the hood up until we were well out of town.” Peter said offhandedly, as he examined him closely. “I’ve only heard of races like yours, it definitely wasn’t one of the common choices among people.”
So, there’s actually others similar to me? Drake’s eyes widened slightly as he took in the information. Certainly, that was something to be filed away for later.
“If I hadn’t fought one myself, I would have said that you were some kind of demon.” Peter laughed as he looked over to Luke and Morgan, who quickly returned his smile as they became accustomed to his intimidating look.
“Well, at least you understand why I had to hide from you guys for so long,” Drake said, as addressed the trio. “If it got around that I look like this, I might get any number of people making trouble for me.”
“And, speaking of demons…” Drake couldn’t help but laugh mischievously, as Yami slowly peeked over his shoulder. “Here’s my partner, Yami.”
“An imp.” They all called out in unison, with Morgan’s eyes especially lighting up at the sight of her.
“Aww, look at her!” Morgan hastily hid his excitement as he quickly ran over, and attempted to get a better look.
“And that explains why your hood was moving so much.” Luke’s reaction to Yami was just a smug smile. “Me and Peter had a bet that you were like us. It just turns out you just had a small friend in there.”
Under everyone’s gaze, Yami stuck out her tongue cutely, as she hid behind Drake’s head again.
[Nice to meet you too, wolfy.] The sarcasm in her voice was clear, as she transmitted her thoughts to the entire group.
“Wait, was she talking about me?” Luke opened his mouth in mock-horror as he contained his laughter as best he could. “Well, that one of the most unique greetings I’ve had.” He laughed heartily, before turning to Drake and Yami with a curious stare. “Really, I’m surprised she’s even talking to us. Most masters give them some kind of stupid order like, ‘Don’t talk with any other people or monsters.’ Makes the poor things seem pretty sad if you ask me.”
“I’d never do that to her.” Drake smiled softly, as he thought over what Luke said. “Besides, like I mentioned, we’re more partners than master and servant.”
Yami was right after all. He had never seen it himself, but just like he kept Yami hidden, he would assume most others would do the same. With the master’s absolute control, imps would be reduced to little more than a novelty in most cases. Of course, given how slavery was viewed in the old world, such masters would obviously not be viewed positively. Keeping the imps out of sight would be a simple course of action.
“Really now? Well, she certainly has her own personality.” Luke commented.
“She sure does, wolfy.” Peter couldn’t help himself as he ruthlessly exploited Yami’s small jab at Luke.
“Oh, shut it!” Luke quickly retorted. “That is not going to become a thing.”
The back and forth between the two had been a common occurrence ever since the two met each other. While neither would admit it, they secretly enjoyed the small jabs at one another, otherwise, it never would have kept up for as long as it had.
Meanwhile, while Luke and Peter were doing their best to mock one another, Morgan was fervently attempting to get a better look at Yami who was perched cautiously on Drake’s shoulder. He seemed to have a special interest in her, although for what reason Drake couldn’t tell. Unknown to Drake, Morgan even took the initiative and began to try to speak to her.
[So, you’re Yami?] The passion in Morgan’s voice was clear. [Just how long have you been with Drake? Do you ever wish you could join someone else?] He obviously wished that he had an imp of his own.
Unfortunately for Morgan however, Yami wasn’t exactly the friendliest of Imps. She had long had an innate dislike for humanoids, but even despite that, an ever so discreet smile grew as Yami took advantage of the link Morgan had graciously given her.
There was a slight pause between the two as Yami gasped silently to herself on Drake’s shoulder. Her abilities concerning those who she was able to spy was dependent on just how connected she was to others. Making a one-sided link to spy on someone over a long period of time would give her the ability to simply overhear their thoughts, but after a considerable increase in those powers thanks to Drake, skimming through the surface memories of someone she had a two-way connection with was a simple enough task.
[You’re… not quite what you say you are, are you?] Yami’s attitude lightened considerably as she spoke to Morgan. [Drake said you were a Transmuter. So, you used that to change your body… although for what reason is anyone’s guess. Were you really that afraid of being treated differently?] She took on an inquisitive tone, neither judging or overly friendly.
Morgan’s eyes widened suddenly at the Imp’s small, bell-like tone, at first clearly happy that she had decided to speak to her in return, but quickly sunk into dread as Yami continued to speak.
[How..?] That was the single phrase that Morgan could manage. No one in the city knew of the secret he kept, he had even chosen the Transmuter specialization exactly to further refine the ability to modify the body.
[You should be more careful about talking to demons. We’re rather fickle.] Yami chuckled, as she quickly floated off Drake’s shoulder and over towards Morgan. Drake didn’t take much notice of it. Yami had wanted to stretch her wings anyway.
[Don’t worry, I won’t tell Drake, or your companions either. Rather, I’m quite happy. It might cause issues if Drake knew given his personality. It seems to be a problem, actually. Make sure to find this person, be nice to others, so many things despite the potential risks. It’s one endless cycle after another with him. And…] Yami paused, as she chuckled to herself. [He also has a tender spot for girls, despite how that tends to work out.] She ended sarcastically.
[You… How could you!] Morgan huffed to herself as her secret was exposed. She had kept up the ruse for close to a month now, fooling both Peter and Luke completely. As a human, she had always had a… flat figure, so it wasn’t difficult for her to pass as a man either.
Morgan was one of the myriad of races that had elven blood. Given both the male and female’s intrinsic beauty, it was a simple matter to modify her face and voice to appear more manly, since male elves looked so androgynous to begin with.
[I… just wanted to talk to you. You looked so cute.] Morgan sighed sadly as she looked over to the imp. She couldn’t believe that she would betray her so easily. She was under the impression that all the imps were sweet and innocent. Certainly not strong enough or malicious enough as to peek into her thoughts at a moment’s notice.
And although she wasn’t wrong, most Imps simply didn’t have Yami’s enhanced abilities to do that. As for Morgan, she was glad that the imp seemed to be happy to keep her secret, anyway.
“Hey Morgan, you alright?” Peter asked out of concern. His friend’s sudden movement was odd to say the least.
“Hm? Yeah, just… clearing my head.” She smiled as she gave a quick, pointed glance at Yami, who was quick to pick up on her feelings, and which left Yami with a strange sense of satisfaction.
As the group climbed off their various mounts, Drake looked to the creature he chose with a satisfied smile. Unlike the others, it gave him minimal issues, even going so far as to modify its leaping run when he complained to the others about his discomfort.
I chose right, after all. Drake scratched the creature under its neck, a gesture that it seemed to enjoy immensely. As he finished, it looked at him in the eyes for a moment, before giving Drake a content cry, and laying down to rest. Regardless of his own thoughts on the matter, the intelligence the creature had most certainly rivaled that of animals like a crow, or raven, rather ironic given its pitch-black color.
Combine that with its willingness to follow his orders, and he was left with a strange sense of attachment to the creature. He had no doubt in his mind that it had briefly seen his true form, every creature in the camp had, but he hadn’t put any thought into it at the time. Aleria had been freed, and even the Harpy had flown away, leaving only those who were less intelligent left. What harm was there to let them simply sell animals off?
Looking back now, it seemed that thought was faulty, to say the least. Without a doubt, this particular creature seemed to idolize him from that, at least from Drake’s perspective. He had briefly asked Yami to ask the creature, but she seemed unwilling. Apparently, it had no real language, which left her with no answers besides what Drake had already guessed. That the Ground Dragon looked to him as a source of leadership.
Well, as long as it’s on my side, that’s all that really matters in the end. Drake laughed reluctantly to himself.
“Aaahhh…” Taking a brief moment to stretch, Drake let out a content sigh. Still, given that they were out in the wilderness, Drake and the others quickly began to set up a base camp for the night. Nothing overly fancy, for tonight, it was nothing more than a hardy piece of cloth to sleep on, eating through a ration or two, and generally ensuring the safety of their surroundings. Given that adventurers had a small assortment of goods that were often carried with them for such an occasion, Drake had made sure to take advantage of that while he wandered through the city earlier in the day.
Happy with how everything looked, Drake decided he was finished setting up for the night, and sat down as he finished lashing his Ground Dragon to the ground to begin to lay down for the night. As he did, a thought crossed his mind as he looked over to Morgan.
“By the way Morgan, I’ve been meaning to ask you, but just how exactly does your magic work? Mine is pretty basic overall. Like you saw, it’s about all I can do to summon my weapons on a regular basis.” Drake looked to Morgan with a relaxed smile.
“Hm? Oh, really?!” Morgan quickly shook herself out of her stupor as Luke and Peter looked to each other with a small sigh as they were finishing up their own preparations. The last thing anyone wanted to do was listen as Morgan went on and on about this sort of thing.
Quickly leaping into a smile, Morgan sat down before happily giving her explanation. “It’s really quite amazing. You see, all wizards need to prepare the magic they will use the day prior. It’s important to know which spells you are planning to use, although given how new I am to it, I still don’t have all that many choices.” She snickered to herself as she continued.
“Remember this, Drake. Once a wizard uses up all their spells, and they don’t have any other form of magic on their body, they’re no different from a typical civilian besides some parlor tricks. I can use some extremely basic attack spells once I’ve run out, Ray of Frost being one of them, but even my higher ranked spells can be more utility based than anything else. Detect Magic is probably one of my most useful higher ranked spells.”
“Really? So that’s how it works.” Drake sat down as Morgan continued to explain.
So, Wizards have a spell to detect magic… but are unable to track the demons in the city. The Sin of Envy really is suitable for subterfuge. Drake thought amusingly to himself. The spells the Humanoids use must have some level of restriction as well, given how this system of magic is balanced. Of course, this is all for just these so called Wizards. Who knows what other rules others may have for their magic.
“Given my elven blood, I have a slight advantage over other magic users as well. Most other races have to physically rest to recharge themselves, but I’m able to meditate for a short time for the same effect, effectively halving the time. The effects really aren’t any different either.”
Drake was a bit surprised in her ability, and he listened with interest.
“Then, using the method that was ingrained in me when I chose this path, my… spirit I guess you can call it, touches the wide grid of energy that seems to flow around the world like a spider web. The more powerful I am, the more nodes I am able to access, which is what allows me a greater variety and number of spells to cast. Of course, this includes the weakest spells as well. While the lowest levels of spells obviously don’t work as well, I can also handle more of those than the handful of rank 2 spells I know.”
Even among the most powerful Wizards, they were restricted by this system. Of course, that only included those who used such a system in the first place.
“That’s really amazing. So, using your spirit, you’re able to connect to some kind of energy field?” Drake said.
“Right. It’s through that field that I’m able to replenish myself. I’m unsure if I would even be able to do so without it.”
So, she uses her spirit… could it be like my connection with my mana core and the natural mana around me. Regardless of that, the spider-like web surrounding everything is definitely new. Could her method allow her to reach farther out than I do and connect to it? Drake pondered over what he learned about their system of magic. Certainly, it had its advantages and disadvantages.
Drake’s magic, before he had developed his demonic mana, was essentially nothing more than a poorer version of the Humanoid’s version. It was entirely possible for him to spend all of the mana in his body in one attack, leaving him completely helpless afterward. The amount of time he spent refilling his body with mana was a gruesome process for him as well.
However, as he was now, he could say that he had an edge over such a system in longevity at the very least. His demonic magic had always trended towards maintaining the level of mana in his body, even going so far as increasing it as he re-absorbed the mana that was converted while he was attacking.
In comparison, their version seemed to focus entirely on brief bursts of differing levels of power. While Drake certainly outclassed Wizards of his own level in most regards, their variety and methods of attack was something that Drake could only hope to imitate. At most, it could give him some ideas, but his path was entirely different from users of magic like Gwyn and Morgan. He would have to progress down his own path, rather than rely on the systems of magic that Humanoids used.
With such a restrictive method of magic, Drake could see that he was rather lucky that such a system hadn’t been set in stone for a long time. If it had, and there wasn’t a conclusive method that was well known to imitate his own mana gauntlets, he would’ve drawn much more suspicion to himself.
“Sorry about that Drake, he can be a little zealous about teaching that system of his to others. God knows how much time he spent trying to get us to learn it.” Peter lamented to Drake. “Every day for a week at one point he tried ‘showing us how to connect’ to the damn thing.” He shrugged. “Just doesn’t work.”
“Same here. Probably has to do with our type of race, but it’s whatever.” Luke joined in, with a sly grin on his face. “More fun getting to fight with such a great body anyway.”
Much like certain races were especially well known for magic use throughout various sources, others were known just as equally to specialize in physical combat, often specializing in that art to the detriment of everything else.
Or to put it more bluntly, trying to teach them how to use magic was like teaching a fish how to climb a tree. One could certainly try, but it would be a waste of everyone’s time. Better to let them focus on what they already excelled at.
The group looked to one another with a growing sense of enjoyment. Talking to each other and bantering among one another over something like magic in such a mundane way was enough to make them all chuckle with one another.
“Hey! I was just trying to help you! The first levels are really useful even to beginners, look!” Morgan yelled out to Peter and Luke. With a snap of her fingers, the small bundle of tinder that had been collected for their campfire instantly came to life, the small flame already beginning to grow.
“See! Like I said, useful.” Morgan smiled triumphantly at her small accomplishment. At the very least, no one could deny that it saved time.
“We know, Morgan.” They responded in unison. The two beast-men had long since grown used to Morgan’s small displays. Given that they had no talent to learn magic in the first place, it was something they reluctantly put up with. Besides, Morgan was very useful in combat. Often, he was the one who was able to attack first, and the one to finish off opponents they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
[Drake.] Yami suddenly called out to Drake, who was leisurely enjoying the conversation between the trio. The warning in her voice was clear to him.
[Hm? What is it?] Drake was put on guard. There was only one other time Yami had sounded so worried. It was when the doppelgangers had quickly come upon them.
[Ten… Twenty… no, twenty-five enemies are coming this way. They’ve surrounded us, and are closing in as we speak.]
[What!?] Drake jumped to his feet and looked around to the encroaching darkness of the night to look for the potential enemies. To his annoyance, whatever Yami was sensing was still well out of sight. Well, it was best that she had such an impressive range in the first place.
He looked to the others to warn them of the incoming fight, but to his surprise, Peter and Luke’s demeanor had already hardened to a tense, wary expression. It looked like their new race was well suited for such a thing.
“You feel it too?” Drake asked inquisitively.
“Hmph. Impossible not to. Although, I’m glad to see that you’re capable of such a thing as well. Or…” Peter gave a discreet smile to the small imp on Drake’s shoulder. “That’s right, imps are just as suited for this sort of thing as we are. Good to see it.” Peter smiled.
“So, what now?” Luke interjected into the conversation. “There’s a lot coming this way, we need to move.”
Drake shook his head, waving that notion away in a moment. “Yami said we’re surrounded. We’ll need to fight our way out if we’re going to have a chance. Still, can’t you tell what they are Yami?”
“Pfft. I only recognize mana signatures, I’m not all powerful. You’d have a better chance figuring out their forms than me, if you used your mana that is.” Yami said to Drake in a sarcastic manner, as she dug a bit into Drake’s predicament about his disguise. “I can tell they’re coming sure, but for something new, and with such little time, I don’t have many options.” She puffed her cheeks up. Given the time, she would be able to identify and track any signature she had some familiarity with. It was already a boon of her abilities that she was able to sense them so far out to begin with. Drake should be more appreciative.
“No good.” Drake looked to the others sourly.
“Drake…” Yami warned.
“Something moved.” Peter stared off into the darkness of the setting sun, the tension palpable in his voice. Both Peter and Luke quickly drew their weapons, as Morgan took put a small crystal, holding it tightly in her hand.
“Where is it?”
“There. Right there.” Peter pointed in response to Luke’s question to a part of the surrounding forest. Since it was shaded by trees, the shadows it created made it difficult to see anything inside, but even so, with Yami’s own warning just before, and their own considerable senses, Drake didn’t doubt a word of it.
[Drake, just listen. This… is wrong somehow. They’re weak, but much stronger than they’re ever meant to be. Something is influencing their signal, that’s why I couldn’t recognize it.] Yami shook her head as she continued to analyze the signal that was radiating throughout the air to her. The presence that was mixed in, it reminded her of the domineering presence of the Draconian.
While they were talking, the forest floor began to stir, and the monsters in question slowly came into view. As Drake saw them, he let out an involuntary snarl as he recognized the creatures immediately. They were goblins, but undeniably larger than the one he killed as it spawned in.
The smaller ones, roughly a dozen or so, were similar to the goblins he had grown used to through games. They surrounded his small group in a semi-circular motion, each with a disgusting, lolling grin on their faces. Their flattened noses, and two visible fangs stuck up out of their mouths. In contrast to the one he killed, these had light brown skin, with clumps of grimy, black hair. Over themselves they wore what looked to be animal hides, with each carrying a club and a wooden shield in each hand. That was only the half of it however.
Another dozen completed the circle behind the group, although these monsters were considerably larger. Their jaws jutted forward, and while they were somewhat more human-like, the feral look in their eyes and the guttural language they were muttering among each other dashed that notion quickly. They carried weapons as well, but compared to the oversized sticks the goblins carried, they carried legitimate threats. Crudely constructed swords and spears, but more lethal nonetheless. The horrid stench from their clothing, to the way that they resembled a twisted hairless chimpanzee left a shudder rolling down Drake’s spine. These monsters were the inhuman race known as hobgoblins.
“What the hell, there aren’t supposed to be any goblins in this area!” Luke lamented their situation.
“We need to kill the small ones first, Morgan. We have time if we hurry. Use sleep on the gobs and we’ll get this over quick before the real fight.” Peter quickly gave an order to Morgan, who responded with a short nod before raising her hand.
“Sleep!” As Morgan yelled out the spell, a violet energy appeared in midair as it surrounded the goblins, and one by one, they began to drop to the ground. Over half a dozen dropped before the four remaining goblins slowly lolled their heads back and forth before quickly snapping to, and looking dangerously towards Drake and the others.
“Dammit, that’s all huh?” Peter muttered to himself before charging forward, with Luke close behind him, sword drawn. “Morgan, slow the hobs down! Drake, you and your small friend there distract the hobs too. We need some time killing the stragglers first!” He shouted loudly, as he ran forward to the remaining goblins, axe and shield in tow.
“Right!” Morgan turned to the opposite direction as the hobgoblins began to fight their way out of the surrounding brush and into the small clearing.
“Heh, right.” Drake said with a smile. He got to play around with the actual threat while they just pointlessly slaughtered the small fry. What more could he ask for?
“Fog Cloud!” Drake heard a shout from Morgan as a large wall of mist emerged from her hand. It quickly obscured the opposite side of the camp, covering the hobgoblins in a thick fog.
Impressive. With Yami, they might not get out of that fog at all. Drake could help but think with approval. The Wizard’s wide spell array along with the seamless teamwork between the other team members, it must have taken them a while to know each other abilities inside out.
Maybe Drake was biased, given his own seamless connection with Yami, but getting anyone to co-operate with one another had always been an issue as people often fought for dominance. Getting everyone comfortable with their own position in a group could be difficult with even experienced groups.
“Drake, do you need any backup from me besides support magic? I only have Magic Missiles, and Chromatic orb as offensive spells for today…” Morgan was clearly annoyed at herself. Besides a few essential abilities she kept for teamwork sake, like sleep, she liked to experiment. Clearly the fog wall was one such case.
“Just support me as best you can. I have my own helper, you know.” Drake chuckled.
“You’re… sure?” The sense of worry in Morgan’s tone was obvious. True, Drake would be concealed, but the fog wall did very little for protection. He could easily be killed if something went wrong. Morgan was uneasy about that.
“Don’t worry. I might not look it, but I have quite a bit of experience as well.” Drake said with a grim smirk.
[Yami, spray the fog wall with shards. I’ll use the stolen Lord’s mana to track those inside and kill them. Easy as pie.]
[Hmph. Finally get to have some fun.] Yami flew up with an evil smile as she quickly positioned herself over the fog. Extending her arms out in both directions, a fan of crystals appeared in the air, as it quickly rained down on those inside the fog wall. Screams of pain and horror quickly followed, as Drake’s mana quickly took effect.
My turn. With a diabolical laugh, Drake quickly launched himself into the fog.