“Ah, so you did show up…” A voice called out as Min and I approached.
We had packed up all the supplies we could carry and had them in side saddles on the two horses. Although I still had yet to gain any kind of horse riding skills, I wasn’t too worried. However, none of the men before us had a horse, so that was a bit disconcerting.
“Who are these?” Another man pushed forward and gave the pair of us a glare that seemed less than welcoming.
The party consisted of three men total, including the man I spoke to the night before, Tark, there was a greasy looking guy with long straggly hair that was wearing a robe-like outfit that denoted him as a mage and a bald guy with some pretty impressive muscles that he didn’t seem to mind showing off, as he wore nothing covering his upper torso at all. The sight wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but for a body as nice as this, his face had seen better days. He looked like his nose had been broken a few too many times and there was a wicked scar over his eyes. None of the men in this formation would be called pretty.
It was the greasy mage that was giving the glare, while the bald guy appraised my body in an obvious and dirty minded way. However, I was long past being bothered by men appreciating my body as eye candy. I had gotten used to these stares, and even came to appreciate them when the situation called for it. In this case, if my sex appeal softened his willingness to allow us to come along, then I would happily use it.
“The girl knows some magic. The guy can take a shift at night. Eight gold.”
“Greedy…” The mage wrinkled his nose.
The bald guy laughed and slapped the mage on the back. “Hey, at the very least, things go south and we can eat their horses.”
I gave a sniff. “We’ll handle our own supplies. You don’t need to worry about us.”
“They’ll be a pain to protect…” the mage gave Tark a look.
“We can look after ourselves.” I gave them a frown, a little angry that Tark hadn’t already settled things with the rest of his party.
“Giff’s talking about the horses,” Tark explained, lifting up his hands as if to broker a peace. “Up north the paths get narrow, a horse might not be able to make it. Add to that their skittishness around monsters, and, well, most Adventurers go by foot in these parts, right, Giff?”
Giff’s eyes flashed for a second and then he settled down letting out a sigh. “You’re always greedy, Tark.”
Some unspoken words seemed to be shared between the two, as Giff’s hostile demeanor loosened a bit. The bald one only gave a shrug to the pair of them, and then gave Min and me a smile.
“Ah, should we sell the horses then?” I tried to redirect the conversation.
“Won’t be necessary. We’ll manage.” It was Giff that spoke up first. “I’m sorry for earlier. My friend doesn’t always inform his party members of everything, especially when he’s drunk. My name is Giff. I’m a mage.”
He spoke the words simply, as if being a second-class mage lacked any grandness. His eyes still looked distrustful, but at the very least he seemed to have settled down a bit.
“They call be Dirk.” The bald man spoke up next, looking considerably friendlier as he stepped forward with a hand outstretched.
Min kept his distance, but I took his hand. He shook it with a laugh. His grip only hurt a little bit.
“He’s a skill-less…” Giff spoke up as my hand was being squeezed of blood by the muscular man.
“You know, Giff, if I wanted her to know that, I’d have told her.” Dirk’s mouth tightened for a second as he shot Giff a glare. “No matter. It’s my strength, after all.”
I cocked my head to the side, unclear about the terminology used. “Skill-less?”
“Each level gains skill point. But need not use on skills.” Min interjected.
“Ah, what he said.” Dirk went to shake Min’s hand, but he rejected it. “I’ve never used a skill point on a skill. I instead put them all into Strength and Endurance. I’m a berserker by class. My fighting might not look pretty, but I can hit harder and last longer than any other Adventurer in these parts.”
I grimaced at Min’s rude behavior and gave the man an apologetic look, but he didn’t seem to mind it and only shrugged with a smile as he pulled his hand back.
“And you’ve met me. I’d call myself the leader of this party…” The two other men shot Tark a look and he lifted up his hands. “But that would be a lie. We work together because we’re strong that way. Knifefall is a B class party.”
“Third class.” Min muttered.
Tark made a noise of surprise. “Ah, you noticed? Yes. I’m close to maxing third class, Dirk recently made third, and even Giff is a maxed second. He’ll reach the requirements for third by summer for sure.”
Before Min could respond, Gif spoke up. “As much as I love small talk, we have a few weeks of travel, and I’d prefer to get started.”
Although the situation was just starting to lighten up, Gif seemed to douse it with cold water. At the very least, the tension seemed to be broken. I handed four gold coins to Tark.”
He nodded as if the money wasn’t of any concern, but still made sure to stuff it in his pocket. Giff watched this and snorted before turning away and muttering to himself. Meanwhile, Dirk was making sure all of their stuff was packed properly.
Min had gotten up extra early and everything was already squared away and packed. I simply bid the innkeeper farewell, offering sympathy as she complained that this night had not been as eventful as the previous, handed in my keys, and then joined Min who was holding the horses out in front.
Knifefall wasn’t as prepared to leave as we were, and thus they took an additional fifteen minutes. Since they used no horses, everything had to be partitioned between them to carry. Dirk seemed to carry twice what the other men did. As I admired his strength, he gave me a smile and a wink. I returned it, only to find Min watching me with dark expression. I gave him a questioning look, but he responded with a light shake of his head. He wanted to talk about something, but not in the presence of the adventurers. Well, if it was something dangerous, he would have already said something, so I assumed it was minor.
The group started heading out of the city. The sunlight was only just starting to crest the horizon and I yawned unflatteringly as I guided one of the two horses while Min took the other. Min’s frown seemed to deepen as we continued walking down the road. The village was only just out of sight when he spoke up.
“Good eye.” Tark laughed, “Since this is the most northern village, there are no roads heading north. However, if we head west a bit, there is an old hunter’s trail. It’s quicker than pushing through the forest.”
I hadn’t even realized we were heading in the wrong direction until Min said something. He seemed surprisingly on edge, so I moved over and went to give him a kiss. He turned his head and I only ended up landing one on his cheek. I wasn’t hurt so much as surprised. However, Min wore a guilty look and leaned cautiously over to me.
“Don’t trust them.”
I let out a sigh, but I wasn’t going to berate him for being cautious. The pair of us had quite a lot of bad luck over the last six months, and to be honest, I wasn’t exactly filled with trust either. They seemed fairly normal for Adventurers, but so did Ricardo’s group, and that situation hadn’t ended smoothly either.
We both gave a breath of relief when about an hour later, the hunter’s trail appeared. The roads up until this point had been deserted this early in the morning, and the farther we got from civilization, the more isolated we began to feel. However, knowing that they had spoken truthfully about the hunter’s trail made me feel at ease. I gave a glance over to Min for confirmation and he gave a nod.
“A bit northwest, but expected. The Cambion colony over human border.”
I nodded trying to recall the maps I had seen of the area. This human territory was only a small part of the continent. While the borders were currently shut down from the declining human and demon relations, this far into the wilderness you could cross unhindered. It ran the risk of being attacked by wildlife and facing tough terrain, but we were already planning that in the first place.
“Getting close…” Although Min muttered that to himself, I managed to catch the end of it.
“Huh? Close to what?”
Min jumped at my question as if he didn’t know he had said the words out loud, and then turned away with a blush on his cheeks. However, when I continued to stare at him, he finally showed a bit of resignation on his face.
“Your home is near here?” I asked in surprise.
“No…” Min shook his head. “Home… Aria. But grew up… there.”
“It’s sweet of you to say that… but your parent’s home is your home, right?”
The look on his face suggested it wasn’t. I decided not to pry farther. He wasn’t upfront with the talk and I wasn’t willing to pry. I hadn’t even used Analyze on him since that first time in what felt like an eternity ago. As I became closer and closer to Min, it never felt right to pry into his life. Yes, I wanted to know without a doubt what his sexual kinks were, his turnoffs, his first lover… but these were not things I should discover with magic.
Likewise, his past seemed painful to me, particularly given the look he had right now. It probably wouldn’t be easier now that he identified himself as a guy. I wasn’t sure how transgenders were received in this world, but I got the sense it was uncommon for all except perhaps some aristocracy. I could imagine friends of Julian catering to those kinds of inclinations.
“If you ever need to talk about it.” I spoke up. “I’ll be here.”
Min and I continued to walk for a bit in silence before he responded, “Being here, enough.”
I wanted to give Min another kiss, but he was still likely perturbed by being so close to home. Whatever his story, it bothered him enough that I came to understand a lot of his behavior lately must have been due to the closing gap.
“Would you ever… want to… renew our wedding vows with your parents?”
Min suddenly choked and started coughing. It was a sound loud enough that the three guys leading the way looked back. Dirk chuckled before turning back, while Giff’s look was still mostly sour. Min finally recovered, giving me a wide-eyed look while a blush covered his cheeks.
“Is that not possible?” I tried to give him a light smile to break the tension.
“No…” Min shook his head, but when he saw I had a disappointed look he added, “Not sure… parent’s alive.”
Before Min could stop me, I had already stopped and grabbed his shoulders. “You don’t even know?”
“No.” Min looked a little flustered as I shook him with my hands.
“That won’t do! As soon as I reach my second-class, we must go to your village and see your parents and have a proper wedding in front of everyone!”
“Everyone!” The colors on Min’s face started changing white as she looked in the fervent determination in my eyes. “V-v-vesse knows… elvish weddings…”
“We’ll put on a show so grand that everyone in your village will hear out consummation!” I declared, holding my fist up to him as a show of strength. “Ah, you’re crying!”
Min wiped the tear and turned his face away before I could say anything. “No, would like. But… small, quiet.”
I’m not sure what I said, but it seemed to cheer Min up a bit, as he was now smiling even with tears welled up in his eyes. I was being a little mean. To elves, the ritual for marriage was a mutually consenting consummation. In essence, people who wanted to be wed engaged in intercourse in front of a crowd of witnesses. This, furthermore, occurred when they were most fertile, and it was considered good luck to conceive on that day in front of witnesses. Although I hadn’t heard the details from the normally shy Min, for some couples this desire led to some interesting weddings using special positions to ensure fertilization or when all else fails, repeated acts over and over again.
While I’d feel no shame in conducting myself in front of people, this event could be pretty embarrassing for a normal person, especially someone like Min. To my surprise, he seemed a little bit interested in conducting the ceremony in an official manner. I vaguely wondered about what it’d be like to have sex in front of my parents. I didn’t have to worry about that in this world, but I tried to empathize with Min a little bit.
Unfortunately, my broken Mental Fortitude skill was in full effect even with those thoughts, and I had to give a sigh as I realized I wouldn’t hesitate to do something in front my parents if the occasion called for. It wasn’t like I lacked common sense. I knew it’d make my parents feel awkward. However, if I was something like someone threatening to hold a gun up to our head, I could unabashedly spread myself and satisfy myself regardless who was watching.
“We’re going to stop for a bit.” The voice came from Tark.
I let out a little sigh. I had been walking awkwardly with my knees pressed together. All that thinking about sex was starting to rile me up. Min who was walking next to me had already become aware of it. Whether it was the smell of my aroused sex, some kind of silent pheromones, or simply the horny look on my face, Min knew what I was thinking.
“We could take five minutes…” Although I said it out loud like I was responding to Tark, my eyes were glued to Min.
Min rolled his eyes and gave a sigh, a hand sliding into the saddlebag where he pulled out a large phallic looking object which he kept hidden from sight. He had even packed it so my favorite toy was easily accessible. My wife was the greatest.