"A Secondary Spark?" Ikaris repeated stupidly.
Sensing the teenage boy's unquenchable curiosity, the warrior tentatively explained,
"Don't ask me about it, I don't know any more than you do. Something to do with optimization, repetition, or whatever. Basically, if you cast the same spell often, after a while you'll realize that it's easier to cast and less tiring than other spells. People with little talent like me decide early on to cast the same spell over and over again to at least be good at something."
The aborigine's explanation immediately brought to mind the second Black Veil he had cast a little earlier. Still, wasn't the difference a little too great? The resulting exhaustion had practically been halved!
Sadly, the barbarian had no intention of answering his other questions. His patience was running out and the night was drawing near. If they didn't want to find themselves in a very nasty situation at nightfall, they'd better hurry up.
Ikaris idly watched him skin, then chop the second goblin into thin slices and put them to dry in the sun above the campfire on a high tree branch.
" Careful with the sinews! Don't damage them!" The teenager snarled from time to time as Krold inadvertently severed a tendon.
The aborigine grunted, but he paid more attention after his whining. A moment later,
"If you're not going to eat the bones, don't roast them with the meat, I could use them later."
A few minutes later,
"The skin too."
" ... Fine."
While Krold worked hard, Ikaris finally had time to remember why he was here.
Because of that life and death struggle against those two goblins he had momentarily forgotten his thirst, but as soon as he remembered it an acute pang of thirst assailed his senses, his parched mouth reminding him at every turn that he needed to rehydrate urgently.
With a sickened expression, the boy walked over to the pond and for the first time saw his reflection on its surface.
'Is that me?'
It was his face all right, but he looked far too young. That explained why everyone else looked so tall to him. His smooth hands and skin had already set him thinking, but now he knew for sure.
'What happened to me?' he wondered in a wistful mood.
Ellie and these other prisoners did not seem to have grown miraculously younger. However, he would have to interrogate the chicken lady to be sure.
Ikaris had so many questions and yet so few answers, but he couldn't let himself fall apart like that. He took a deep breath as he closed his eyes, then exhaled slowly until he was empty of air, then repeated the process a few more times before slapping his cheeks one last time. When he opened his eyes again, his gaze was bright and clear.
'Let's take care of that water.'
"Krold, do you have a waterskin or a container I can store water in?" He asked the only person present who could solve his problem.
An annoyed grunt greeted him.
"Look in my bag, there must be an empty wineskin in there somewhere.
Ikaris spotted the tatty bag a few feet from the campfire. The outside looked like buckskin, with a roughly sewn-on leather strap so that it could be worn over the shoulder. The sack felt hard to the touch, like it was made from an old dried hide of some sort. It smelled of the surrounding jungle, humid and earthy, but also of sweat, dried blood and other even less appetizing odors.
Holding his breath, he cautiously opened the bag and after rummaging around a bit he found an empty wineskin at the bottom. He could hardly tell what kind of skin it was. For all he knew, it could also be the belly of a pig or another large mammal. In any case, there was a capacity of 2 or 3 liters. More than enough for what he intended to use it for.
Despite his obsessive thirst, he refrained from drinking. He was pretty positive that he would regret it if he drank that water now. His water secured, he went back to watching the warrior, then when the second goblin was completely butchered and the meat hung about dried, they returned to the village.
"This goblin jerky is not as cured as I would have liked, but it will do for today." Krold groaned under his breath as he stuffed the food into his bag after wrapping it in leaves.
He grumbled a little when he saw how much space the bones and sinews took up, but having gained two goblins almost for free he swallowed back his complaints and crammed everything into his bag until it was full to the brim, except for the waterskin full of water that Ikaris was carrying around.
When they returned to Karragin a few dozen minutes later, the sun was about to set. Krold didn't even say goodbye, nervously rushing to his tent to hide inside.
"Come and collect the things you wanted in the morning." The warrior's voice shouted one last time, then fell silent.
Recalling vividly what had transpired last night, Ikaris suddenly felt anxious. As he remembered all the free tents available, he too hurried to choose one.
Just as he reached his future tent, a blurry mass suddenly rammed into his stomach and knocked him completely off his feet, sending him tumbling to the ground.
lightsΝοvεl ƈοm"IKARIS! Wuwuwwuwu! I'm so sorry! I'm so glad you're alive!" A high-pitched, nasal voice began to sob.
Sprawled flat on his back, Ikaris lifted his head and saw a young blonde woman with pale skin holding him in a tight embrace. Her face was covered in tears and snot, and she seemed intent on rubbing it against his chest to spread her lacrimal fluids as much as she could.
Who else could it be but Ellie Lundel.
Upon seeing her sobbing, the teenager remained inexpressive. He didn't hold a grudge easily, but it was impossible not to resent the young woman after what she had done. Even though he understood that fear was not something one could control, he still felt betrayed.
"Let go of me."
She meekly let go of him. Meeting his cold gaze she lowered her eyes and a shameful, guilty expression suffused her face, new tears quickly pooling at the corners of her wet eyes. With her about to cry again, Ikaris' anger melted away, leaving only weariness.
"Whatever... Just leave me alone."
Looking up at the sky, he knew they didn't have much time left, and without further ado he chose one of the free tipis. These tents were the most remote from the village, and Ikaris immediately figured that it was probably not without reason. His paranoid sixth sense kicked in and he decided to rearrange the positioning of the nearby free tents to prevent any unpleasant surprises.
Ignoring Ellie, who was following him like a shadow, he moved his tipi as close as he could to the other occupied tents, then moved all the other tents, which he placed in a tight formation around his own tent. By the time he was finished with the layout of his new home, his tipi had become so protected, that no matter where he entered from, he would have to go through at least three successive layers of tents to get to it.
"This... What are you doing?" Ellie asked slackjawed.
"Whatever it takes to survive." Ikaris replied tersely, as he gave the unsuspecting kneeling prisoners a sympathetic look.
Ellie was fearful not foolish. As she watched him barricade himself behind a sea of tents, she began to realize that sleeping in a tent might not be safe. Except that when the idea of following his lead came to her, she realized it was already too late.
Night was about to fall. Biting her lip as she struggled with her inner dilemma between returning to her tent or squatting in Ikaris', her gutless cowardice finally won out over her guilt and she snuck into the tent after him.
When he heard his tent's fabric rustling, the boy jerked his knife, but he relaxed when he recognized the young woman. Because of all the tents he had stacked up, one had to get on all fours to get to his, and for that reason he was able to get a clear view of her cleavage.
Noticing where his gaze wandered, Ellie turned beet red, but gritting her teeth she ignored her discomfort and crawled inside.
'What the hell are you doing here?'
That was what Ikaris wanted to bark, but he had to settle for glaring at her. Now that it was dark, he didn't want to make any noise that would draw the Crawlers' attention. Ellie was also aware of the danger, and she mouthed imploringly,
Ikaris rolled his eyes, but after giving her one last scowl he made room for her on the dirty fur bed and closed his eyes, as if to say 'don't talk to me, I'm sleeping'.
Several hours passed, but neither of the two youths dared to sleep for real. It was not because of the promiscuity between a man and a woman with raging hormones, but because of the screams of terror and monster roars outside.
The noises alone reminded them of what they had been through the night before, and even when the quiet returned they couldn't get a wink of sleep. At some point, the urge to urinate started to torment them, adding to their hunger and thirst, and neither of them found the courage to leave the tent.
Heck, they weren't suicidal! If they wanted to go to hell, this was the shortest route.
They endured this sensory torture as best they could and eventually the night came to an end and a new day dawned, unveiling with it its new batch of victims.