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The Night Before

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Now that Adol and Dogi had stopped, Adol could feel every bruise and strained muscle from the long, arduous trek from the base of the mountain. Fortunately, they had not had to scale the mountain to reach the peak, as generations of miners had carved out tunnels and catacombs in search of the precious lumina ore that gave this region its name. That good fortune was leavened by the sheer number of monsters that had made their home in the abandoned catacombs, who had little love for human interlopers. Adol was fast with his sword, and Dogi’s fists were strong enough to crush rock, but there were a lot of monsters.

He sighed in heart-felt relief as he removed his breastplate, fingers fumbling with the latch before it finally gave way. The breastplate had been light when he had donned it this morning, but that was before he’d had to fight his way through a horde of monsters. He lifted the breastplate to the fading light of sunset, angling it here and there to see what scratches had been made on it. The armor captured the light, making it a marvel to look at in its burnished golds and reds, but that luminescence made it hard to see any damage to it. Adol ran his fingers over the surface and found only shallow scrapes rather than the deep grooves he had feared.

He placed his armor on the ground carefully before removing his gloves, interlacing his fingers and stretching his arms up overhead to alleviate the kinks and strain caused by using a sword all day. The gloves went with his breastplate, but he left his greaves on as he started collecting dry wood for the fire. Dogi was already rummaging through their packs for food for them to eat, probably travel bread and dried meat, but fire was Adol’s first priority. Now that they had stopped, he could feel the chill air, and Dogi felt the cold far keener than he did.

He collected an armful of wood, arranged it into a lattice inside a shallow dip in the cave’s surface, and then assisted Dogi in assembling the tent. They had it up in a matter of moments, the process streamlined through years of practice, and Adol left Dogi to rolling out their bedroll while Adol attended to the fire. Fortunately, he had a source of ignition strapped to his wrist, an ancient relic that they had found as they explored the inside of the mountain.

Adol had only picked up the fire amulet a few hours ago, but he had experience in using magical artifacts and this was no exception. Conjuring fire felt like shaping a storm in his hands, all light and power he could barely understand that danced inside the cage of his fingers. He let a small rivulet of that magic strike the wood, and a small fire exploded into being.

“I still can’t get over how easy you make that look,” Dogi said, shaking his head in exaggerated disbelief. “If I tried that, this whole place’d be on fire!” He hunkered down close to the fire and raised his hands up to bask in the warmth. “That feels so good.”

Adol cast his eye over Dogi, looking for signs that he had been injured more severely than shallow cuts and bruises. He didn’t see anything that wouldn’t be eased with a tincture of Roda leaves, which they could attend to later that evening. They had a routine now at the end of each day, and Dogi for all his boisterous energy was peculiarly insistent that Adol continue to follow it unless there were dire circumstances.

Adol stood up and went towards the mouth of the cave, promising to return in a bit.

Dogi nodded. “Yeah! Take a good look outside — you need to be able to describe it properly!”

Dogi was much more interested in Adol describing the world around him as he journeyed, saying that someone with Adol’s skills in writing and sketching shouldn’t be recording their adventures with itemized lists and brief notes. You love this world, he had said so many times over the years. You should write that down!

Adol had to admit that as a consequence of Dogi’s insistence, his journals were better, closer to the stories of adventure that he had devoured as a child growing up in the mountains of Germania. Maybe one day his stories would inspire another person to see the wonders that this world contained. It was a nice thought, if a little embarrassing.

He walked over to the mouth of the cave and looked out at the scenery below. The sunsets were spectacular in this part of the world, and this evening was no exception: the sky was awash in purple and red, the twin moons luminescent pearls against the backdrop of the sky. It was so vast and open that Adol thought that if he stepped out from the cave into thin air he would fall into that sky forever.

The island of Summersea stretched out below, from the sea of trees that stretched from the base of the mountain he was standing on to the village that had rescued him and Dogi after their little skiff had founded on the coral reef surrounding the island. He could even see the ocean that had brought them here in the first place, dark and deceptively calm from this height. If he squinted, he could see what looked to be another village on the other side of the island, complete with a jetty and even a farm. That would likely be their next destination once he and Dogi finished their business with the monster taking residence in the shrine at the top of this mountain.

But for now, Adol just leaned out as far as he dared and drank the scenery in until it was too dark to see. He returned back to their makeshift camp, sheltered from the wind that they were told circled the mountain each night, and sat down next to Dogi in front of the fire. His journal was already out of his pack, the ink and quill beside it in anticipation of his writing.

Adol thanked Dogi for his consideration as he put his hands closer to the fire to warm them. Experience suggested that if he didn’t limber up his hands before writing, his handwriting became increasingly crabbed and difficult to read, and he didn’t want his inability to write clearly to obscure the things they had seen and experienced today.

He wrote about how everything had gone silent as he approached the gray altar, attention captured by the carvings that looked like stylized wings. Another relic from the fallen Eldeen civilization, he suspected, and noted that along with a sketch of the altar itself: an L shaped object as wide as Adol’s arm, with a long back embedded with emelas and carved with glyphs. At the centre of the base of the altar had been the fire amulet itself, a circular object that would just fit inside his palm, studded with rubies like a constellation. He sketched that too, along with a note to himself to look up at the sky and see if it was, in fact, a constellation and to find out what it was called in this part of the world.

He mentioned, briefly, tying the amulet to his wrist, the base of the amulet pressing against the delicate skin of his inner wrist, before donning his gloves once again, and the jolt of power he’d experienced as he did so. He spent less time detailing his experiments on how to control the amulet, reasoning that even the most devoted of researchers likely didn’t care that much about his fumbling early attempts to control magic.

He spent more time detailing the influx of monsters, drawn to him and Dogi as they made their way further up the mountain. The monsters were varied; winged monsters with scaled skin like lizards had bites that itched and burned if left untended, tunneling monsters who would lunge from underneath their feet to try and pull Adol and Dogi into their underground tunnels, and armored monsters that were resistant to Adol’s blade but could be killed by Dogi’s fists.

“You should mention how I took on twelve monsters unscathed!” Dogi suggested, leaning against Adol’s shoulder companionably as he read what Adol was writing. “Come on, you’ve hardly mentioned me at all today.”

Adol laughed and pushed Dogi back upright. He assured Dogi that he would mention him, and that he was going to illustrate that fight on the next page of his journal.

“That’s better,” Dogi agreed. “Future generations should know how dashingly handsome I was doing that.”

Adol politely disagreed that his journals would be that widely read as he started to compose his sketch of Dogi squaring up against the monsters, pointing out that he had grown up a long way from big cities.

His own memories of the fight were brief and disjointed, as Dogi had run on ahead. Adol had run after him, but had only caught up to the small alcove that Dogi had spotted by the time the fight began. At the time, Adol had been more focused on the monsters before him rather than the monsters that Dogi had already killed. However, Dogi had mentioned the fight often enough since that Adol could hazard a guess of how it had gone before his arrival.

“You don’t think people are going to want to read the journals of Adol the Red’s adventures with Dogi the Wall-Crusher?” Dogi scoffed.

Adol hummed, not disagreeing, but not being willing to commit to the idea either.. Were there five or six flying monsters? He thought there were five, because he remembered reaching the cavern that Dogi had run off to and standing briefly as he counted them. There were definitely three underground monsters, which left four armored monsters. That seemed right and so he started by sketching Dogi, fists up in anticipation of striking the first blow before the closest flying monster finished its dive against his exposed bicep.

He then started filling in the details of the monsters, sketching them in savage lines that showed their ferocity. If Dogi was lovingly detailed, the monsters were vague and all the more menacing for it. A suggestion of leathery wings, the harsh outline of scaly armor, ominous moving mounds, that was all. The most interesting part was Dogi, after all, though Adol admitted that he was biased in that regard. The trick in keeping a running journal of his adventures was keeping his relationship with Dogi out of it, though he was sure it bled in from time to time.

He finished the sketch and stretched his hand out. He was particularly proud of the way he had illustrated Dogi today, strong and solid, a cocky grin on his face and a challenging light in his eye as he faced down the twelve monsters. He’d like to color it later, show the way his lightstone cast the monsters in shadow as it illuminated Adol’s path, Dogi’s armor reflecting the light and making him the brightest thing in the little cave, but that would have to wait until tomorrow evening, when they were back in Resteria Village and Adol had ready access to a flat surface.

That done, he placed his book to the side to allow the ink to dry and reached across to his pack. He kept the Roda leaf tinctures at the front for easy access, forethought that had served him well over the years as he needed to patch himself up quickly before finding a safe place to tend to his injuries properly. He opened the first tincture jar one handed — a skill he’d learned in Esteria many years before — and dipped his finger in to the cool ointment.

He asked Dogi to stay still before smearing the ointment across the worst of Dogi’s injuries, a series of bruises that ran along his bicep like a blue-black wreath of flowers from where a monster tried to bite his arm off. Dogi sighed in relief as the tincture started to ease the pain.

Adol told him that he should have said something sooner, as he could write in his journal any time.

“It’s fine,” Dogi insisted. “Besides, if you wrote in your journal second, you’d leave smears all over it.”

That was true, Adol conceded as he finished tending to those bruises, but also pointed out that his journal could weather a bit of grease. He looked over the rest of Dogi’s injuries and, on Dogi’s insistence and establishing for himself that they were not serious, let him tend to those to free up Adol’s hands to remove his greaves. Unlike the armor that they found in old stashes from time to time, the greaves were fitted to Adol’s measurements and so slid off his feet relatively easily. He stood up in socked feet, toes curling against the cold stone underneath, and placed his armor inside the tent. His movements were slow, but the time in front of the fire meant that he was tender rather than sore.

He made his way back to where Dogi had discarded his own armor and placed that inside their tent as well, before suggesting to Dogi that they have an early night tonight.

“Yeah, good idea,” Dogi said. “If what the villagers tell us is true, there’s a wyvern up there to fight. Maybe even two.” He stood up gingerly, and Adol made a note to use more ointment on him tomorrow morning, in the lazy moments before the sun rose and they would finish their ascent, when the two of them were nestled inside their shared bedroll against the cold fingers of the early morning. For now though, the two of them should get some rest. Tomorrow would be a big day.