[ Just a warning, things edge into more mature territory. Some language and questionable content ahead!]
“This seems like a bad idea.” Krill muttered those words for the third time in the many hours of their trip as they rode hastily by Tusk’s small rattling wooden cart. Both the ancient looking horse named Edgar, and the rickety cart he was pulling looked just about as old as Tusk himself. Which was to say, very old.
The two companions were headed eastward towards the coastline harbour town of Skila and away from the safety of the western mountains where Tusk had made his secluded cavern home. In fact they would be heading back in the direction towards the capital city of Crestfall and the Mages College. Which seemed to be a bad idea to Krill no matter how many times Tusk had tried to convince her.
Luckily the main road would keep them a few hours distance from the main city and hopefully safe from being noticed. Plus there was the added benefit of just how common the two uncommon people could look, if they had to.
Going the long way by cart was far less obvious and in a lot of ways it was also less complicated then travelling by any magickal means. Although it could be argued that the long stretch of hours by cart was harder on the old Orc’s bones it was far less risky then subjecting his body to a blind teleportation spell. Those things were often times much harder on the body then people assumed.
Wrapped in his travelling robes, pouch belt, floppy hat and scarf he looked less frail and far more common. It also helped that the sly and cunning old hermit had enchanted his travelling robes long ago with a slight illusion charm. It had cost him more then a few coins, blood, sweat and tears to do so – but it had proved to be his most valuable asset.
To to small minded (and thus majority) of people he looked common enough to completely overlook. While not a true invisibility effect it worked well enough to keep certain people from asking the wrong questions.
Krill had no enchanted travelling robes or illusion spells to help her case any. Magick was always fascinating to her but relatively out of her reach. The few trinkets and spells she came across were usually pieces she found or stole or things Tusk had gifted her.
The only true magick Krill had ever managed was in her slick wit, unusual luck, a reputation for being unkillable, and a very good sense of stealth. The latter would be a bit more difficult now since her charcoal black eyes and short spiky white hair wasn’t exactly on trend. It made all of her other strange characteristics a bit more noticeable unfortunately.
Luck won out however and the roads had been relatively quiet and Edgar was keeping a good pace even while complaining much of the way.
Krill spent the majority of the trip keeping one arm on the seat and the other on the brittle reins while her partner in travel had his long pointy nose stuck into his journal as he scribbled away. He was likely taking plenty of meaningless notes simply to pass the time.
“I can’t believe we are on the bloody main road like this. Are you sure this woman of yours knows anything?” She shifted on the seat. Her left hindquarters felt like it had fallen asleep again.
“Look, Kelle is a brilliant woman with a keen mind and an expertise in all things alchemical! She’ll be able to tell you how best to use.. or not to use.. that damned Oracle without blowing your foolish head off your even more foolish shoulders!”
“I’m unkillable, remember?”
“Do you really want to test that theory? I mean we don’t know if you can grow body-parts back. We haven’t tried that yet…”
“Good point. You said yourself she deals with the College, what’s to keep her from ratting us out before we even get through the door? She’s probably one of their pawns they keep available in case idiots like us try to get advice!”
She glared at him when he didn’t answer and was about to repeat herself a few octaves louder but it was clear he had heard her. A wide crooked grin had developed on his usually grumpy looking face. It looked rather out of place, even aside from his bottom tusks.
“One thing you will learn about the esteemed Mistress Kelle… she is no one’s pawn. She has various customers all around the map. The College is just one of many clients she keeps on the books. So to speak.”
“So she works for them, right? See where the problem is? She’s probably a pawn and we are going to end the day in irons!”
“Every day has the possibility of us ending up in irons. That’s sort of our thing isn’t it?” She didn’t disagree as he had quite the valid point.
“Look,” he continued. “She doesn’t work for them! At least not anymore. They are one of her many clients. She’s far more likely to back-stab them then she is to back-stab us since she’s always had issues with authority. Well unless it’s her own authority… Mistress isn’t just a nicety after all. It’s official.” There was a coyness to that crooked grin which became more evident by the odd purplish hue developing on the apple of his cheeks. It looked ridiculous with his tusks which made it suddenly clear why most Orcs looked grumpy all of the time. “We can trust her.”
“…you are blushing?!” Krill yanked the reins which nearly broke as the elderly horse gave out a half startled neigh in protest. “Stars above! Tusk how long have you known this woman? You didn’t mention any Kelle before.”
He rolled his eyes and dramatically flopped his journal down upon his lap and motioned with a flourish at the reins with his calloused hands. “It’s none of your business. Are we stopping for any reason? Or do you want my old bones to wither to dust before we get anywhere?”
It took a few moments for her to coax the horse to return to it’s pace before she cleared her throat and tested the waters once more.
“So… exactly how much history do you have with her? I mean, if we are to trust her and all I should know a bit more about her.”
“I met her at the College actually. In my third year.”
“Oh, classmates?” she grinned. “You sly green skinned–”
“She was one of the teachers.” He cleared his throat and turned his head as if he had suddenly found the foliage beside their cart far more interesting. The purple hue on his olive skin grew a bit deeper. “But I mean, we saw each other a little socially as well. I mean it was very– nothing ‘obscene’ happened in class. For Powers sake girl, watch the road!”
The cart had drifted off to the right and Krill quickly corrected with a firm pull on the reins that nearly flipped them both right off the substandard cart seat. Edgar, the ancient draft horse let out another snort of annoyance.
“I’m sorry, it’s just– I mean, there are so many questions.”
“Yeah well, you can keep most of them to yourself!” he picked up his journal again and stuck his nose into the pages at a failed attempt to end the conversation entirely. This time he made no scribbles, but instead pretended like he was engrossed by reading his own notes.
“I bet she was an Elf. Maybe a High-born? That seems strange, I mean they don’t tend to date outside–”
“What? No! She wasn’t a High-born! She wasn’t of Elven blood at all that I know of. And we weren’t dating! We.. just.. why are we even talking about this!”
A long pause.
“It’s a long trip.” Krill of course was right. They had left mid-morning and had been on the road for most of the day. The trip had stretched over a few river crossings and taken them past the High Gate Woods and into the Eastern Valley. Possibly there was at least another few hours of travel time to get through, more if Edgar and Tusk needed another half dozen rest stops before they got to the village of Skila. Horse and Orc both seemed to have remarkably tiny bladders when travelling.
“Seems to be extremely long now.” he chided back. The horse let out a whinny in agreement.
“Okay, okay… who cares what she is. I’ll meet the old fossil at some point anyway.” She grinned at his snort. “Actually I’m surprised she’s still kicking around is all. I know you’ve aged far better and longer then anyone expected – not sure even those in the best of health could hope to keep up. You’ve outlived plenty of your classmates so it’s just a lot to take in.”
“The path of Magick leads to some very dangerous professions…” he used a thumb and pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. The added weight of the various contraptions kept them sliding down once in a while. “The smart ones tend to survive longer.”
“I don’t know. I bet my money more on dumb luck.” she chuckled.
“Well thank you for being so considerate! Considering it’s -you- giving your advice on lifespans–” he arched a sarcastic eyebrow. “How old are YOU again, Krill? I seem to have lost count…”
She shifted uncomfortably. The truth was that clearly neither of them had any idea how old she really was. They had known each other for close to forty years now and she didn’t look a day older then when he found her badly injured and lacking any real memories. Sure she healed quicker then anyone expected but the memories had never returned.
It was another quirk to her already quirky set of circumstances in her life that she hoped to sort out. It was a bit of a touchy low blow that she grunted at and redistributed her weight once again.
“How is your backside not bruised by now? Anyway… the point is,” she cleared her throat. “Did you care for her? I’ve known you a long time my friend. I’ve never seen talk of a woman make you blush. Is this going to be hard to see her after all this time?”
His crooked grin waned slightly. It settled back into his usual thinking grimace as he continued to bury himself in his own ornate and complicated words written in his leather-skinned journal.
“We were all young and foolish once.” The answer he didn’t need to give was; Yes. It would be hard.
“As for the backside.” Tusk continued with a louder exclamation. He braced a hand against the cart, lifted, and showed a small round cushion squashed and hidden under his robe. “I planned ahead.”
“You sneaky bastard…”
The last few hours of the trip was spent in a volley of sarcastic retorts and spurts of tired laughter before the smell of salt water revived the stale country air and the harbour town of Skila opened up before them just before the darkening hours of the evening.