“Fuck me sideways. I never thought the day would come that I would be glad to be a midget.” Solus blurted out while looking at her own reflection. The swimsuit had no neckline, but still exposed way too much for her taste.
‘The coast is clear.’ Lith told her via their mind link, mistaking her hesitation for the fear of being seen by strangers.
Solus needed to take a few deep breaths before stepping out of the tower, walking toward Lith instead of floating like usual.
‘I’m barely 1.54 (5’1″) meters tall, whereas Lith is 1.83 (6′), so he shouldn’t be able to see much… By my maker, what’s this?’ The fine sand covering the beach had a silvery look under the moonlight and it got between her toes with every stride she took.
It was then that the thought struck her.
Solus looked at her surroundings, seeing the water along the shoreline moving like a living being, feeling a gentle breeze ruffling her hair while so many new sensations reached her senses, forcing her to a halt.
For the first time in her life, she wasn’t disguising herself as an accessory nor there was anything shielding her from being seen. There were no walls, no trees, nothing that blocked her line of sight, allowing Solus to take in with a single glance more than she had ever seen of Mogar with her own eyes.
The sea with its salty smell and its noises, the coarse yet pleasant sensation of the sand against her skin, the view of the shoreline leading to Vinea and its lights made her dizzy.
The only reason she didn’t hyperventilate was that she had no need to breathe.
“Well, the swimsuit definitely looks better on you than me.” Lith said, making her snap out of it. He was walking around Solus, shamelessly checking her out. Contrary to her expectations, Solus was too scared to be embarrassed.
“Does it always feel like this, being in the real world, like a real person?” She asked while extending her had to Lith, who promptly held it.
“Yes. The outside world is always scary at first. You better get used to being checked out, because once you stop glowing and we go outside together, I won’t be the only one doing it. Ask Tista if you want to hear from an expert.”
Tista, Lith’s older sister, had been a shut-in due to her congenital condition until he had cured her. She had felt uncomfortable as well once she had started living a normal life.
Lith walked Solus to the water, constantly scouting their surroundings with Life Vision to avoid being forced to perpetrate a midnight murder and ruin the mood.
Between her access to Lith’s memories and her mastery over water magic, it took Solus an hour to learn all the swimming styles he knew. Soon she started to swim on her own, putting to the test how far away could she get from the tower before losing her physical form.
Only when Lith called her back because it was getting late did she return to the shore.
“Any longer and won’t be left enough time to reset Invigoration’s effects. Sorry.” Lith said, watching her glowing figure walk out of the water like a goddess emerging from the sea.
“Thank you so much for the wonderful present.” Solus wrung out her hair before throwing her arms at his neck in a tight hug. “Can we do this again, sometime?”
“Sure.” Lith said without thinking. Then he remembered all the things he had to do and the people he had to make time for. “I mean maybe, in a not too far distant future.”
“Gee, can’t you be vaguer? You’re almost making it sound like a date.” Her voice oozed sarcasm.
“What happened to your shyness? Do you realize how embarrassing would it be if someone saw us like this?”
“Do you mean because we look like a couple?” Solus’s cheeks turned slightly red.
“More like a koala hanging from a tree.” Lith pointed at her feet dangling far from the ground.
“Very funny. Bring me home, smartass. I’m tired.” She adjusted his arms with spirit magic so that Lith lifted her in a princess carry while she reverted into her wisp form.
Before he could make a snarky reply, she was already fast asleep. Solus’s human form put a heavy burden on her and the prolonged physical exertion had made it worse.
‘The good news is that if I find a species of Emperor Beast that looks like her, I can introduce Solus to my friends and family now that her range from the tower extends so far.’ Lith thought.
‘The bad news is that she still has feelings for me, which would make the meeting with Kamila extremely awkward. The problem is that once I’m done with the army, keeping the two worlds apart will become much more difficult.’
The following morning, Lith reached the city of Zantia right after sunrise. Because of the undead migration, most local Lords had imposed a curfew. City gates would remain closed and the dimensional magic blocking arrays would remain active all night, unless in case of emergency.
All travelers had to be tested with a simple diagnostic spell.
The undead could change their appearance, but their bodies would still be as dead as a doornail. Their blood core would absorb the light element without letting the spell manifest itself.
Lith was considered a local hero, so the guards let him skip the line and treated him with the highest honors.
Everyone he met wanted to thank him and shake his hand, filling him with small gifts. To reach the manor of the new regent of Zantia, Baroness Mergrave, before sundown, Lith was soon forced to take a stagecoach.
‘Looks like someone is popular.’ Solus giggled.
‘Looks like someone has too much free time, dammit. They were seconds away from throwing me a parade.’ Lith replied.
“Great Mage Verhen I’m glad you made it here so fast.” The Baroness opened the door herself, revealing to be a woman in her late forties with shoulder-length blond hair and green eyes.
She gave Lith a curtsy even though it was custom for the guest to greet their host first. It was a privilege that nobles reserved only to those of much higher status or for the times when they were in dire need of help.
Judging from her impeccable makeup, her cream-colored day dress way too elegant for the meeting with a Ranger, and the tension visible in the Baroness’ sharp features, typical of the northerners, Lith guessed that Mergrave’s situation met both the requirements.
“Normally I wouldn’t have bothered you for such a small inconvenience, but the presence of undead is a game-changer.” The Baroness said.
Based on the information Kamila had given to him, the number of disappearances along the Kusha route wasn’t much bigger compared to the past. If not for a reliable witness reporting that the perpetrators were vampires, the army wouldn’t have cared.
Mergrave led him to her study, where a mahogany desk was covered in orderly piles of documents.
“Indeed.” Lith replied. “Even the underworld is wary of the undead and yet no one warned us. Either criminals and vampires have an agreement or the rats already have abandoned the ship, leaving the Kusha route to the undead.
“The former implies that the vampires might have free access to the populated areas thanks to the black-market channels while the latter might be the indicator that they are plotting something big in the area, like building a Warp Gate.”