Elisandra slept soundly in her bed, bathed in the starlight passing through the open windows of her palace. Her mattress was huge for a single occupant, but she was not alone tonight. The feeling of movement on the bed caused her to stir, and she rolled onto her back. Two hands were pressing down beside her, and she felt legs intertwine with her own.
“Sir Noah,” she whispered as she opened her eyes, gazing at the man atop her.
He wore a gentle smile and gazed with eyes that saw only her. He had no clothes on and was underneath the blanket with her. All that separated them was Elisandra’s thin nightgown. She should have panicked, screamed for her guards, or wielded her magic to force him back, but her mind could not process any feelings or thoughts that would intrude on the moment. Instead, she felt that this man, this suspicious and sinful stranger she had just met earlier that day, belonged nowhere else in the world but her bed.
She reached up and caressed his cheek. “Such a handsome face.”
“My face, and everything else, belong to you.”
He then lowered his head, and their lips met in a tender union. They embraced each other, kissing slowly and gently like the wind kissed the ocean. There was no rush, goal, or end, just the two of them there, enjoying the taste of each other. Elves were such a clean race, producing little to no aroma of any kind, but human males wore a naturally musky scent that now enticed and intoxicated the queen. She had missed the feeling of a man’s weight, a man’s warmth, and a man’s firmness for a long, long time.
Though she felt Noah’s hands wander, he was only finding different places he could hold onto her and pull her closer. She did the same, with her fingers finding toned muscle wherever they roamed. Eventually, her nightgown was discarded, letting her truly feel his body against her own.
The moon passed by overhead, and they rolled back and forth, taking turns on top, but it never progressed beyond that deep, passionate kiss. Though Elisandra felt Noah’s member pressed to her lower abdomen, the only penetration was the swirling of their tongues in each other’s mouths. It was a simple bliss, but one she savored.
Elisandra didn’t know how long they were together. One moment, they were wrapped together in the darkness; the next, she was alone, with the rising sun shining directly into her eyes. She sat up and looked around, finding herself back in her nightgown with no traces of a nighttime visitor. Embarrassment flooded her, unable to believe that she would have such a dream, and of Noah, of all people.
“Those stories he and Leuca told me must have really left an impression.”
She pushed all her thoughts and shame aside and got out of bed. There was no point getting hung up on a dream.
The sound of fluttering wings awoke Valia from her pleasant slumber. She opened her eyes, finding a hummingbird floating in front of her face as though she were a flower. Its feathers were a mix of emerald green and ocean blue, gleaming with stunning beauty.
“Hello there,” she said with a sleepy smile.
The hummingbird backed away and began flying around the room with several others. She spotted Noah sitting in the corner of the room with his hand outstretched. All the hummingbirds flew over to him, landed on his fingers, and vanished into thin air.
“You’ve gotten pretty good at that.”
“Thanks. It wasn’t too long ago that just getting an illusory crow to fly was beyond me. I guess my powers are growing as I do.”
“Maybe you’ll be able to do a flock of wyverns next.”
“First, I’d have to be able to summon at least one. I still have a way to go.”
“Well, we should eat breakfast quickly. If today is a repeat of yesterday, someone will be coming to get us soon.”
They got dressed and ate breakfast with steaming mugs of tea. Outside, the forest was brightening, and the elves of Sylphtoria were going about their daily lives. Once Noah and Valia were done eating, Aithorn appeared.
“You are to come with me at once,” his words were blunt, but his tone lacked the usual iciness. The awareness of Noah’s true identity was starting to sink in.
“Are we speaking with the queen?” Noah asked.
“There is no need for her to see you again. You wish to earn the trust of the elves, and an opportunity has presented itself. For now, that’s all you need to know.”
Noah and Valia followed Aithorn through the city. They were both dressed in elven clothes, further decorated with leaf-shaped talismans marking them as welcomed guests of the queen. It softened the sharp glares of the locals, but after his noisy romp with Valia, they now looked at Noah with a mix of intrigue and disdain.
“Where are Gradius and the other knights?” Valia asked.
“If they know what’s good for them, they’re waiting outside of the forest. I’ve sent word that you've been granted safe haven and they are to remain on standby until further notice. Once you depart from these lands, the protection of the elves will vanish, and you will again be fugitives on the run, and it will be my duty to bring you to justice.”
They arrived at a house built into a tree trunk, just like the one Noah and Valia were living in. Aithorn knocked on the entryway three times, recited a phrase in Old Elvish, and then led them inside. Art, bookshelves, and high-quality furniture decorated the house's interior.
In the candlelit bedroom, thick with the smell of incense, they encountered an elf lying on the bed, with what Noah assumed to be his wife clutching his hand. Neither looked like they could’ve been older than 30, but it was impossible to discern their actual age. The man on the bed appeared ill, as evident by his physical discomfort, the empty potion bottles on his bedside table, and the worried expression on his wife’s face.
Upon their arrival, she spotted Noah and became enraged. “You are not welcome here! Lord Aithorn, why would you bring a human into my home?!”
“The queen believes he can help,” Aithorn said. He then turned to Noah. “Isn’t that right? Yesterday, you said you have extensive medical knowledge. If that is true, you can save this man.”
“I know how to treat humans and animals, but not elves. Still, I will do what I can. Sir, what’s your name?”
“Balil, of House Pielva,” he said, though just talking seemed to hurt.
“My name is Noah. I’d like to ask you some questions if you don’t mind.”
He approached Balil, but his wife intervened. “Get back, human!”
“My Lady, I understand your distrust of me and respect your protective instinct. My only goal here is to find what is troubling Balil and fix the problem. It’s clear you love him, but love isn’t enough to heal him, and it appears neither potions nor magic is doing it either. So tell me, what would you do to save his life? What would you be willing to give?”
“Noah,” Aithorn growled.
“Anything,” she murmured.
“Then give me the chance to try and save him. That is the purpose for which I stand here.”
“How can someone like you save him? You’re just a boy.”
“If my ears were pointed like yours, would you say that? If you tell me you know how to cure this disease and need no help, I will believe you and walk right out that door. But if you’re out of ideas and praying for a miracle, I suggest you take whatever support you can get. What will it be?”
“Meralda, let him try,” said Balil.
“He has been dispatched by the queen and is here under my supervision,” said Aithorn, “so if he does anything I don’t like, I’ll end him.”
“Very well,” she reluctantly said. She wiped away her tears and moved away. “But I’m not leaving his side.”
“That’s fine; you can help answer questions. Balil, can you describe your symptoms to me? Tell me everything you are experiencing.”
“I’m filled with pain and devoid of strength. My skin itches and my insides feel twisted. It’s hard to keep down meals, and sometimes, I can’t tell if I’m awake or asleep.”
“Your cheeks are flushed. It looks like you have a fever as well. When did this all start?”
“After I got back from patrol several days ago. I thought I was just tired, but my head started hurting, and it just grew worse from there. I’ve been taking medication, but it only keeps the worst at bay and doesn’t last long.”
“I see bandages under your clothes. Are they covering skin lesions?”
“They started as blisters. If I don’t apply ointment each day, they grow into weeping cysts.”
“Did anything happen to you on patrol? Any injuries you sustained, unusual foods you may have eaten?”
“We were sent to investigate the appearance of a strange monster reported wandering in the eastern woods. When we arrived, it was already dead and rotting, but nothing was feeding on it. We burned it to ash and buried whatever was left.”
“A strange monster? What did it look like?”
“It’s hard to remember. My mind… my thoughts escape me. We were careful, never touched it directly.”
“Has anyone around here ever shown these symptoms? Other warriors or your family? Meralda, do you know of any?”
“Just me, as far as I know,” Balil said while Meralda shook her head.
“Then it likely isn’t viral or hereditary.” His words went over everyone’s heads. He turned to Meralda. “Tell me every method you’ve used to treat him. If you have any leftover plants and medicines, I need to see them.”
Meralda recited a list of potions, powders, and other concoctions, using everything from plant matter to water from a sacred shrine. Noah committed the list to memory and dug down to his days in the academy library. He had learned almost all of these from various books, and he just had to dust off the memories. He was also shown leftover plants from the multiple potions and recognized many of them from past lives. Oregano, basil, fennel—all herbs with powerful antiviral properties, meaning he could take viruses off the list.
“You gave him heart cloves, dragonsprig root, and wilmer berries? Well, it’s certainly not poison, then. A purification potion like that would be worth a fortune.”
“But it did make him a bit better, if only for a short while.”
“Amending certain symptoms for a short period? None of this makes sense. Valia, I’ll need your help with this. Can you use your detection magic like you did for my leg?”
“Consider it done.” She stepped forward and placed her hand on Balil’s chest. “Zodiac: Avagath.” A magic circle appeared around her and encompassed the room. “What am I looking for?” she asked.
“Any physical abnormalities. Strange growths, foreign items, broken bones that might leak marrow into his blood, and signs of damage.”
“I’ll try, but my power isn’t that specific.”
“I thought you could feel everything within the magic circle?”
“I can feel things outside my body the same way I feel things inside my body, but that doesn’t give me total omnipotence. Can you feel all of your muscles? Your innards? Your bones? An arrowhead is much easier to notice than a lump somewhere. Besides, I don’t have the same knowledge you do. I typically use this spell to detect slight movements in my enemies to predict their attacks.”
“Just trust your instincts.”
“So, can you save him or not?” Aithorn asked.
“That depends. Balil, how old are you?”
“I believe I’m 773 years old.”
“Sir Aithorn, what about you?” Noah then asked.
“Around 810, why?” he asked with his arms crossed.
“Like I said, I know little about elven physiology, so I need another elf of his demographics to compare to. Lie down next to Balil and count to one hundred. I need you to be in a relaxed state.”
Aithorn reluctantly laid down on the bed next to Balil and began his count while staring at the ceiling. As Valia searched for anything unusual, Noah measured the two men’s pulses, finding them much slower than a human’s and with Balil’s the weaker of the two.
“Balil’s pulse is faint,” he said.
“You’re right, but it feels like his blood is under greater pressure than Leuca’s,” Valia added.
“Low pulse, but high blood pressure. It could be hardening of the heart tissue… Before I can begin treating him, I need to run tests, and to do that, I need to construct the right equipment, and that’ll take some time.” He turned to Meralda. “Until then, it would be a great help if you could find at least five other male elves like your husband. They should be of similar age, weight, height, and diet. Once I start performing tests, they will be what I compare Balil’s results to. For now, with your permission, there is something I can give Balil to help block the pain and restore his appetite.”
“Whatever it takes.”
“Thank you. I just need some parchment, ink, water, and coal or charcoal.”
Supplied with stationery, Noah began writing out long runic formulas from within his notes, with all the elves watching him closely. Once finished, he mixed water and charcoal in a cup and set it on the table with his inked scroll.
“Tell me, Aithorn, what do you know about alchemy?”
“I know it’s used for making certain potions.”
“Correct, and we need it to make this one. However, I can only write out the formulas. I need you to activate the actual spell.”
“I’m not foolish enough to trigger a stranger’s spell when I don’t understand it.”
“Leuca, it’s true; we need your help,” said Valia. “Valon can use runecrafted spells, but Noah and I have severe limitations.”
“Honestly, I’m a bit embarrassed this issue came to light only after we left Colbrand. It’s made things rather difficult.”
“I told you, you should have invited Veres and Rosege to come with us.”
“Yeah, yeah. Aithorn, just come here and activate the spell. It’s called Molecular Construction.”
Aithorn was hesitant, but since everyone was watching, he stepped forward and placed his hand on a scroll Noah laid out. “Molecular Construction,” he cast.
Fueled by his mana, the water and carbon fused into a powder. While the process took place, Noah retrieved an apple from the kitchen and carved it into a pipe. He then looked through the various plants used in Balil’s treatment and ground them up. Noah took a pinch of the created powder, mixed it with the plant mash, and poured it into the top of the apple.
“I noticed all the plants and medicinal incense you’ve been burning, but this, you’ll want to smoke up-close and personally.”
“What is this?” Balil asked.
“The powder I made is a naturally-occurring substance found in a specific plant, maybe the one plant you can’t find in this forest. Its effects are quite intoxicating and enjoyable. It’ll keep you comfortable and raise your spirits while I figure out what’s wrong with you. I often mix it with my gonlief.” As a show of good faith, Noah lit the top of the apple with a match, took the first hit, held it in, and released a smoke cloud. “Ah, that’s nice. I probably shouldn’t have done that, considering the work I have to do. Anyway, enjoy. Take a pinch of that powder and mix it with whatever you can smoke. You’ll figure out your preferred dosage in time.”
He handed the apple and match to Balil.
“Thank you,” Meralda said.
“You’ve been taking good care of him; very well done. Keep treating his symptoms as best as you can, and I’ll do what I can to cure him. Hopefully, I’ll be back before nightfall.” His kind words filled her with relief, and Noah turned to Aithorn. “Aithorn, can you please take Valia and me to meet an expert glassworker? There is a tool I need to construct that will help me identify the source of his sickness.”
It looked like Aithorn was going to refuse on instinct, but he couldn’t find the energy for indignation. “Very well, follow me.”
The three left Balil’s home, Noah nearly stumbling on the way out, and Aithorn began to lead them to a new destination.
“So, what are you thinking? Is there anything you didn’t want to tell them?” Valia asked.
“That’s a bit morbid,” Noah replied.
“Knowing you, there is a lot that was left unsaid. So come on, out with it.”
“Even if I can determine what category this disease fits into, that doesn’t mean I can save him. Your society may not understand medical science, but the potency of your medicine is inarguable, and the fact that these plants and potions can treat him but not cure him has me concerned. This disease is likely something I’ve never seen before.”
“Then what good is all that other-worldly knowledge?” Aithorn interjected.
“There is still a chance he can be saved. Once I’ve determined the exact cause of his disease, we can properly fight it. However, I’m surprised. I read that elves were all but immune to mortal ailments. Despite the power of elvish medicine, it’s very rarely used.”
“That’s half correct. We elves do get sick, but not often. They say an elf will cough once a year, blow his nose once a decade, and get a fever once a century. I’m sure you can understand now why Her Majesty is so concerned, and why she’s willing to place her hopes in someone as dangerous as you.”
They arrived at a house on the forest floor, surrounded by realistic and abstract glass statues. Inside, an elf was busy working a kiln, filling his home with hot air. As he had with Balil’s home, Aithorn knocked on the doorframe and announced a greeting in Old Elvish, then led Noah and Valia inside towards the workshop.
“Hoapfa, greetings,” Aithorn said, causing the man to turn around. He was one of the few elves Noah had seen with facial hair.
“Lord Aithorn, what brings you to my humble abode after so much time?”
“This man needs your help.”
Noah stepped forward and bowed while reciting an Old Elvish greeting. “Hail Hoapfa, master craftsman. I am Sir Noah, of Uther.”
The elf crossed his arms, now agitated. “What do you want?”
“I have been tasked with treating Balil of House Pielva, who suffers from a mysterious illness, and I’m here to ask your help in making a tool, called a microscope, that will allow me to identify his disease. I need you to create a series of lenses using a very particular kind of glass. I saw from your work outside that you understand the optical uses of glass and how it can enhance your sight. I also need several flat glass pieces, as smooth, thin, and clear as possible. This is to save a man’s life, so it will need to be your greatest work.”
Hoapfa looked past Noah at Aithorn. “Should I accept this as a personal request from you?”
“And the queen as well,” Aithorn replied.
“Very well, I’ll do it. Just give me the specifics.”
“First, I need to prepare the ingredients for the glass. May I see what you have to work with?”
Hoapfa pointed his thumb at a storeroom. “Everything I have is back there. Just don’t make a mess.”
Noah disappeared into the storeroom, and Valia and Aithorn went after him, finding him looking through shelves of various jars and bottles, each holding materials used to change the color and texture of glass. Not all of them were labeled, so he examined them in the light, smelled them, shook them, and everything else to identify each material.
“He has a lot of good ingredients in here. I can make plenty of stuff with alchemy using this.”
“I suppose you’re going to tell me that you used to be an expert glassblower?” Valia asked.
“Well, not compared to Hoapfa. I spent several years studying and performing various techniques. I even had my own shop for a while. On top of art, I also made glasses for people with eye problems.”
“Eye problems? You mean like Elyot?”
“Yeah. The world was more technologically advanced than this one, but not so advanced that I could make the lenses with machinery. It all had to be done by hand. Books were becoming more widely available, and more people were learning to read, so glasses were a hot market. The problem is that it was such a long time ago that I’m too rusty to make this thing myself. I’m having a hard time just remembering how to make optical glass. My teacher once told me something, some joke I think it was… what was it?”
Noah paced back and forth, rubbing his forehead and mumbling to himself. Valia stood back with an amused smile, watching him dig through thousands of years of memories.
“He said… a glassmaker’s favorite drink is… soda and lime! Soda is…” He thumped his fist against the top of his head as though trying to shake the answer loose. “Soda is sodium oxide, lime is calcium oxide, and glass is silicon dioxide. But what was the ratio again? Fuck.”
While he mulled over the problem, he wrote out multiple alchemy spells to prepare the ingredients and had Aithorn provide the mana. Once the mixture was ready and poured into the crucible, Noah explained the properties and designs of the lenses, talking Hoapfa’s ear off while he stared into the flames of the kiln. It was just like when his sword was forged.
“This is going to take some time, so if there are any other steps to making this microscope of yours, I suggest you work on them now,” Hoapfa said.
“Thank you, I appreciate it,” Noah replied.
He, Valia, and Aithorn left the craftsman to his work and stepped outside.
“What now?” Valia asked.
“The body of the microscope should be steel, specifically a kind known as stainless. For that, I need a substance called chromium, and the best way to do that is by gathering it from food using alchemy. I’d like the two of you to fill up a barrel with fruits, vegetables, grains, and any meat if you can find it. It doesn’t have to be fresh or edible, just intact enough to take up space. While you do that, I’m going back to the house to work on the runecrafting.”
“That’s not how this works. You are not to move out of my sight,” said Aithorn.
“Very well then. I can pick up some ingredients for dinner tonight, so this is taking out two birds with one stone. Care to lead the way? I’d love a proper tour of the city.”
Aithorn led Noah and Valia through the city to find what they needed. Edible plants and spices grew everywhere, and Noah gathered the ingredients for dinner in a bag while Valia carried all the materials for alchemy in a barrel on her shoulder. Thanks to her strength enhancement, a full barrel might as well have been an empty wicker basket. Noah also gathered various materials to build tools with.
While he walked, he absorbed the sights. Being able to see Sylphtoria was a rare privilege, one that he wasn’t letting go to waste. Besides, there were many things Noah had read about in the books of the knight academy library, and he could finally see them up close.
“That is the Cymerian Bow, correct?” Noah asked as they passed by a stone obelisk carved with the image of a bow shaped like a lightning bolt. “It was wielded by the great Enochian warrior Avinor to kill the devil Zyrga towards the end of the Enochian Age.”
“That’s right,” said Aithorn, “and it was destroyed in the Profane War centuries later. They say arrows launched from it could reach the moon. This obelisk was carved by his descendent, an elf lord.”
“Vitoun the Stonemason, using dwarfish techniques learned after he saved a dwarf princess from monsters.”
“Now you’re just showing off,” said Valia with an impressed huff.
“Well, this world’s history is certainly the most interesting of any I’ve ever been to. I couldn’t help but dive right in.”
They moved on, soon coming across a raised relief carving hewn into the side of a colossal tree stump. Though the tree had died hundreds of years earlier, the wood had yet to soften or decay. The figures carved were the size of giants, and rather than elves, they were Enochians, presented like gods, but they were fighting against the most terrifying enemy in all the land.
“This tells the story of the Enochian war against the dragon race, a war that their elven descendants continued for centuries,” said Aithorn. “Though only a handful of true dragons remain, their spawn, the wyvern race, continue to dominate the world of monsters.”
“I heard that a dragon lives in a mountain in Uther. Is it true?” Noah asked.
“Indeed. While powerful, it is a reclusive monster, rarely leaving its den. Past kings of Uther made the wise decision to let it have the mountain and not to upset the beast.”
“It’s a shame that wisdom was lost to time. The royal family certainly could have used the prudence when I was at the academy.”
Up in the trees, while collecting spices, the trio walked by an altar to a yellow crystal the size of a cow’s head.
“I remember this one,” said Valia. “It’s the Union Gem. Supposedly, a son and daughter from rival families fell in love. They wed in secret, and a lightning bolt fell from a cloudless sky and struck a nearby stone, turning it into this crystal. They took it as a sign of the gods blessing their marriage, and their families ended the feud.”
“I can’t sense any mana from it,” said Noah.
“There was a time when it glowed like a star, but after they were killed in a flood, the light faded,” Aithorn said.
They continued through the city, walking by countless monuments and art pieces dedicated to elven history and mythology. There was a statue of Amon Hem, the Firewalker, a legendary priest who raced across a field of molten lava to prove himself to a naysayer of his faith. There was a fountain with carvings of elves dancing under the watch of the spirits of nature. Noah even spotted a glass obelisk, fifty feet tall, depicting the Sword of Lortin, which created a great canyon with a single mighty swing by an Enochian warrior. The city was like a giant museum.
Once they had everything they needed, the trio returned to Noah and Valia’s house, where he began writing out the alchemy spells. Runecrafting was a tedious process, requiring precise calculations and calligraphy, and was understandably the most despised means of magical research and development.
“You remind me of a monk copying ***********ure,” said Valia, watching him write lines of runes.
“Believe me, I feel like one. My hand is cramping, my back is sore, and the smell of the ink and parchment is starting to make me nauseous.”
“Is all this effort really going to save Balil?” Aithorn asked.
“I can’t guarantee you it will. I can only say that having a microscope will raise the odds.”
“Is this what the healing process was like in your world?”
“You could say that. In the worlds I passed through, magic didn’t exist, so humanity had to understand the world through science.”
“What’s the difference?”
“In science, there are no gods or spirits, no divine will or paranormal intent. Everything that happens does so under universal law and cause and effect, not because an almighty being arbitrarily decided it. Humanity is bound purely by intellect and the tools it can produce. Here, if you want to launch a jet of fire, you just name the spell and apply the mana. In my world, you would need large metal containers on your back full of flammable liquid and compressed air, which would shoot out and ignite.”
“That sounds like a lonely, bleak, chaotic world.”
“There is fairness to be found in chaos.”
“But, where do you fit in a world without spirits?”
Noah paused his writing for a moment. “I’ve spent thousands of years trying to answer that question, immersing myself in every faith man could think up. Hopefully, my answers can be found here.”
“And everything you did in Colbrand, that was simply revenge for being denied your answers?”
“You already know the answer to that question. Do you want me to defend my actions so you have a reason to argue with me? Are you waiting for me to say something that will justify further crossness?”
“I just think it sounds rather impertinent for someone of your age to provoke an entire country with such lewd and violent behavior for the sake of revenge.”
“My anger and thirst for vengeance were born from being robbed of my greatest hope, of being denied my direst wish. Is it really so irrational for me to act out in such a situation? If someone were to burn down Sylphtoria, what would you do to them?”
“Are you seriously comparing the destruction of my home city to the burning of your brothel?”
“Did I stutter? Answer the question.”
“I would kill them and be done with it.”
“And you would be fulfilling your own brand of justice. You would be acting only under your own authority, answering to no one, be it a king or God. But when you drive your spear into the culprit’s chest and you’re watching them bleed out, as they glare at you, do you think they’ll have truly seen the error of their ways?
Do you think you’ve wounded them enough to understand what they have done to you? Or will you ignore their cursing of indignant rebellion, letting them stubbornly cling to the belief that their one mistake was not killing you, and that they did nothing wrong? Would you let them die, still thinking they were right in their actions? Would you really be too impatient to discipline them properly and make them fully experience the gravity of their crimes so that they might carry that weight for the rest of their lives?”
“What point is there in going through all that effort? They’re humans, living fleeting lives. Exacting your twisted revenge on humans is pointless.”
“That’s my sentiment most of the time. Believe it or not, I’m usually very forgiving. This was different. This was worth the effort. I got to experience a truly meaningful act. Those come along rarely for me.” Aithorn didn’t respond.
Noah eventually finished his work, and it was Aithorn’s turn. They emptied the barrel of food onto the ground outside, and Noah laid out one of several scrolls beside the pile. Aithorn activated the first spell, expelling all the hydrogen from the material and causing the food to disintegrate as if burning with invisible flames. The second spell removed all the oxygen.
As with all magic, the devil was in the details, and specifying the exact procedure of spells made them easier to use. A spell to evenly break every single molecular bond would require much greater energy and higher quality ink and parchment. It was better to remove the elements individually.
After removing all the hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, there was very little material left behind, but the remaining ingredients were separated and bottled, and Noah collected some chromium.
“I don’t remember how much of this you need to make stainless steel, but hopefully, this is enough.”
The trio moved on to one of the free-use blacksmith shops and melted a mixture of iron, carbon, and chromium in a crucible. Noah cast a mold in the shape of the interior tube of the microscope and poured in the molten steel. Once it had cooled and hardened, Noah broke the tube out of the mold.
“I’ve never seen steel like this,” said Valia as she examined it.
“Like I said, it’s stainless. It’s corrosion and rust-resistant, making it perfect for things like kitchen tools, construction, and protective layering. Though if you were to make a sword with it, it would be more of a display piece.”
Noah polished the tube's inside, removing anything that might ruin the view. The trio returned to Hoapfa’s shop, where he had completed the lenses and slides. They spent the rest of the morning affixing the lenses inside the tube and getting them just right. Hoapfa, a man of few words, became more amiable as he and Noah worked together. Like many craftsmen, he communicated best through the mechanics of his craft. Figuring out a means of adjusting the lenses took some ingenuity, but it worked out in the end.
Noah prepared a slide with a drop of his blood and set it under the microscope. Rather than using a mirror to reflect sunlight, he lit the microscope with an alchemically-created diamond, enchanted to glow when supplied with mana.
“Perfection,” Noah said with a smile as he watched the red cells move about. The application of runes further increased the microscope’s precision, allowing him to see each cell up close and view the organelles.
“Let me see,” Hoapfa said.
“Behold the fruit of your labors,” Noah said as he stepped back.
Hoapfa looked into the lens, with his mouth hanging open. “Incredible. Is this really what blood looks like up close?”
“It's true. The red blood cells take the air you breathe and carry it to every part of your body. The white blood cells fight disease. The smaller particles, platelets, are responsible for clotting and sealing wounds. They’re all carried through your veins by a liquid known as plasma.”
Valia took her turn to look and laughed in awe. “This is incredible.”
“So this really is the device that will help you cure Balil?” Aithorn asked as he looked it over.
“That’s right. People in my world use it to examine lifeforms too small for the human eye, and elf eyes as well. With this, I can begin to see what’s going on in Balil’s body. Now I need to find a box, one that I can turn into a magic tool.”
“I’ll explain later, so I don’t have to repeat myself. Let’s find a carpenter, shall we?” Noah then turned to Hoapfa and bowed. “Sir, working alongside a great elven craftsman like yourself was an honor and pleasure. I couldn’t have made this microscope without you.”
Hoapfa smiled and returned the bow. “The honor was mine.”
Watching them, Aithorn’s permafrost expression thawed a little.
The three left Hoapfa’s home, now with the completed microscope. Aithorn led them to the home of a carpenter, who supplied them with an elegant cabinet. Noah inscribed the interior with magic circles, heating it to a constant temperature. After a few more stops, they returned to Balil’s house, where Meralda had gathered five men similar to her husband. Fortunately, she had already explained everything to them, so they didn’t look at Noah with too much contempt.
“How is Balil doing?” he asked.
“You said that medicine would raise his spirits, and it certainly has. He’s been staring at his hands for the past hour,” she said with a huff of amusement.
“Ah yes, I’ve been there.” He then turned to the other elves. “Thank you all for gathering. I am Noah, and I have been tasked with curing Balil. I appreciate you all answering the call to help, and I’ll explain what will to happen.
I believe Balil is suffering from something called a bacterial infection. Bacteria are life forms so small that they are invisible to the naked eye. You can think of them almost like bugs, with the same level of variety. There are bacteria everywhere, on every surface, and in everything you eat and drink. Your intestines are filled with beneficial bacteria that help with digestion. But, of course, there are dangerous bacteria as well. They enter the body and multiply, causing different body parts to fail.
Now, to find the bacteria currently infecting Balil, I need to take samples and grow them, much the way you would grow mold. This cabinet is magically heated to the same level as the inside of an elf’s body, and I’ve prepared glass containers with a soy-based growth medium.
I will take samples of Balil’s blood, urine, and a few other sources, place them in the medium, and let the bacteria grow. This device here is a microscope; it uses glass lenses to magnify whatever you’re looking at. I’ll be using it to study the bacterial cultures.
What I need is for the five of you to provide similar samples. Your ages, physiques, and diets are all the same as Balil’s. The difference is that I can discount whatever common bacteria you and Balil share and focus on the uncommon bacteria in his sample. Now, collecting these samples will be a bit unpleasant. However, none of you are obligated to stay, so if you are uncomfortable participating, feel free to leave and know that there will be no hard feelings.”
“Why are we even listening to this?” one belligerent man spat. “This is just human trickery. He wants our blood to perform some unholy ritual!”
“If that’s how you feel, then you know where the door is,” Noah replied calmly, which just angered him further.
“He’s probably the one who poisoned Balil in the first place! He wants all of us to get sick so Uther can invade us!”
“Balil was sick before Noah arrived in Sylphtoria,” said Aithorn. “Clemens, this duty has been given to him by the queen herself. Calm yourself.”
“Then she has been deceived!”
“Sir, I’m not going to waste time trying to convince you that your prejudice towards humans is mistaken. I’ve certainly spent enough time among them to agree with your fears. However, I have a job to do, and that is to cure Balil of what ails him. If you don’t want to help, then I must kindly ask you to…”
Noah trailed off, distracted by the pollen in his nose reaching critical mass. He covered his face with his arm and sneezed, inadvertently shielding himself from the punch Clemens hurled his way. His fist struck Noah’s elbow and pushed him back, but before he could attack again, Aithorn grabbed him.
“That’s enough!” Aithorn barked, pulling him away.
“He’ll kill us all!” Clemens shouted as he was dragged out of the house.
“Noah, are you ok?” Valia asked, seeing him rub his arm in discomfort.
“I’m fine; his fist just hit my ulnar nerve. Have you ever struck your elbow against something, and your entire arm hurts? That’s the ulnar nerve. Still better than a broken nose, I suppose.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Meralda. “Clemens’s wife was killed by humans a long time ago, but I thought he had moved past it and would be willing to help. He’s not normally like that. I’ve never seen him so unhinged.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Noah turned to the other four elves. “Now, if any of you share his objections, speak now, preferably with a softer tone.”
“If you truly believe that you can cure Balil, then we will do whatever we can to help,” one of the men said.
“Thank you. I greatly appreciate it.”
One by one, Noah took samples from the elves using sterilized tools, including his titanium syringe, gloves, and a mask soaked in alcohol. Though they winced from their blood being drawn and grunted in discomfort when Noah gave them each a lumbar puncture, their real displeasure came from the collection of urine and stool samples. Elves tended to be rather straight-laced and skittish in these situations.
The skin samples were pretty straightforward, though Balil’s persistent blisters made him grimace at the slightest touch. Noah deposited each sample into a petri dish, fed it growth medium, marked them, sealed them, and put them in the heating cabinet. He also performed various tests, such as checking their eyes, breathing, and reflexes.
“What about me? You used me as a comparison earlier,” Aithorn asked.
“Things like your heart rate may be comparable, but all the time you’ve spent living in Uther and eating foreign food might alter the results of your samples. I need specimens as close to Balil’s as possible.”
One of the tests then caught Aithorn’s eye.
“What are you doing?” he asked as Noah shook up a glass vial of blood with a piece of metal inside. “Is that supposed to show the bacteria in the blood?”
“No, this is to test for something else. Do you know how bees deal with hornets intruding into their nest? They swarm all over them and use friction to cook the intruder alive. Your body does something similar when it encounters disease. The white blood cells attack the foreign organism, and if they can’t stop its spread, your body gives itself a fever to burn away the disease. This is called your immune system.
The problem is that it’s possible for the immune system to get confused and start attacking the body itself. We call these autoimmune diseases. This metal is damaging the blood cells, and if the antibodies start gorging themselves on those damaged cells, then I’ll be able to see it under the microscope.
One of my past lives was in a horribly polluted world. Endless war and the dumping of toxic waste had left the land contaminated with poisons. The air, water, soil, and everything we ate and drank slowly killed us. People’s bodies and immune systems were so messed up that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a full head of hair because it was always coming out in patches.
Have you ever seen a diseased tree with an enormous ugly growth? That’s what my neck looked like, and that wasn’t even what killed me. Anyway, this compound I added was invented by someone who made autoimmune tests cheap and easy enough to do in your own home.”
The four recruited elves exchanged confused glances, but when they looked at Valia, she nodded, silently telling them that Noah’s words were all true. He tested each elf’s blood and compared them to Balil’s sample. “Good, no sign of an autoimmune disorder. Curing him would have been next to impossible. Now that the samples have been taken, we must wait for them to grow.”
The cabinet was sealed within the body of the tree using druidism, protecting everyone from possible contamination.
“I’ll be back tomorrow to check on Balil and the samples,” Noah said to Meralda. “There may still be some things I can do to help him get better while we wait.”
“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” she replied with a bow.
Noah kissed the back of his thumb and touched it to his forehead. “May the spirits smile upon you, My Lady,” he said in Old Elvish. He then turned to the four other elves and bowed. “Gentlemen, thank you for your assistance. Your contributions have been invaluable. With any luck, I won’t need to bother you again.”
“We’re glad we could help,” one of them said as he and the others bowed their heads.
The sun was setting, so Aithorn escorted Noah and Valia back to their house.
“I’ll be back here at dawn tomorrow. If we’re lucky, whatever sickness he has will run its course without our intervention,” he said.
“Thank you for your help today. Feel free to join us for dinner,” Noah replied.
Aithorn paused. “Maybe next time.”
Noah reached into his pocket, pulled out Aithorn’s gold emblem, and then handed it to him. “By the way, since we’re working together, I might as well return this.”
Aithorn paused. “Thank you.”
As he walked away, Noah and Valia stepped inside their home and began cooking.
“Leuca seems to be easing up now that he’s back in Sylphtoria,” Valia said while mashing potatoes.
“I thought for sure he would be baring his fangs at me all day,” Noah replied as he chopped garlic, celery, carrots, onions, parsnips, and mushrooms. “Alexis was paired with him during the Red Revelry. She said he barely spoke at all other than giving orders, not a moment of small talk or a kind word. She also said he was the best knight she could have been paired with.”
“Yes, I can see her saying that.”
Noah heated a pan and started sautéing the mushrooms and onions. “How did he end up a knight anyway?” he asked over the hiss of the oil. “You and Valon kinda just wandered into Uther and decided to stay, but he doesn’t seem very fond of human culture, and clearly, he wasn’t exiled from here for any wrongdoing.”
Valia loaded more fuel into the stove to boil the potatoes and keep Noah’s pan hot. “When Uther began expanding into Handent, the elves worried they would eventually be attacked. As you can imagine, the Anorvan Forest is a treasure trove of resources and has been victimized by invading armies for thousands of years.
If the humans didn’t invade Sylphtoria outright, they still might force the elves to engage in trade. It was Prince Lupin who came up with a way to ensure peace between the two countries. In exchange for all troops staying out of the Anorvan Forest, Lupin asked the queen to send a mighty and trusted warrior to Colbrand to serve as a gold-rank knight.”
“As a hostage?” Noah asked as he added the diced vegetables, beans, peas, and a dash of flower, then seasoned it with spinach and parsley.
“As a spy. Though their skill and power would be used for the good of the nation, they would always be kept near the capital, and never used on the front line. As a gold-rank knight, said warrior would be in the perfect position to observe Uther’s king and military movements and ensure that no plans to attack the elves were ever conceived. Uther gets a powerful elf in their military, and Sylphtoria gets an ironclad peace treaty with the humans. Leuca volunteered for the position, but nobody in Uther knows why.”
After Valia mashed the potatoes, Noah spread them across the mixed vegetables and covered the pan with a lid, leaving it to cook a little bit longer. Once the potatoes began to brown, the vegan shepherd’s pie was ready. The serving spoon broke the white surface and released the pent-up aroma, making Valia sigh in bliss.
“Ooh, you sure know how to spoil me,” she said as he uncorked a bottle of wine.
“Well, I have gotten rather tired of eating like a rabbit. I thought we needed something hot.”
The sun set, and they dined by candlelight as the Nadoku began to sing.
In the dim luminescence of the glowing flowers, water, heated by magic, filled the large alabaster tub set into the floor. The air smelled sweet, enchanted with the aromas of soaps, oils, and perfumes. This private washroom was forbidden to all but the elven royalty, like a sacred altar to a high god. Entering the room was Elisandra, wearing only a thin robe. As the steam filled the room, she undid the robe's belt, and the papery silk slipped off her shoulders. The garment dropped to the floor, brushing across every curve of her flawless body.
She touched the water's surface with her toe and gently lowered herself with a sigh of bliss. Submerged to her shoulders, she took a minute to acclimate to the heat, then immersed herself completely, with her golden hair spreading like ripples. The warmth of the water invigorated her muscles, sped the blood rushing through her veins, and filled her with relief.
She soon rose, her eyes closed and her breathing steady. “Welcome, Sir Noah,” she said. She opened her eyes, seeing her guest standing at the edge of the tub, wearing nothing but a towel around his waist.
“Good evening, My Lady,” he replied with a bow, without his eyes ever leaving her.
She felt no shame, embarrassment, or anxiety of any kind as his gaze pierced the water's surface and took everything in. Her voluminous breasts, lifted by buoyancy, drew him in and excited her.
“What brings you to me on this fine evening?” she asked, if only for the sake of the game.
“Like I told you before, My Lady, I offer everything I am and have in service to you.”
She raised herself out of the bath and sat on the edge, granting him a perfect view of her glistening body. She lifted her foot and pointed it at him. “Then service me,” she purred.
He stepped into the tub and kneeled before her with a piece of fragrant soap. He kissed her foot as he slid the soap across her smooth legs, covering her glistening skin with a layer of foam. His touch made her shoulders tremble, the touch of a man. One hand wielded the soap, and the other hand rubbed it gently and forcefully, whichever would invoke more bliss, always with sensual veneration. He did the same to her other leg and then her arms.
She leaned back, exposing her stomach to him. He ran his tongue up the middle and swirled it around her navel, licking off the bathwater and shaking her breath. His greedy hands then went to work, sliding up and down her front and sides. His powerful hands made her shiver in euphoria, with every nerve ending coming alive from his caress.
She then sat up, wrapping her legs around his waist. She could feel his rigid member, separated from her womanhood by only the thin towel. She could feel every beat of his heart, feel his warmth. Her breasts, each the size of his head, were directly in his eye-line, but he kept his gaze focused on her face.
“Now my back, if you would,” she said.
His sudsy hands moved behind her, sliding across the blank canvas of her back and rubbing intensely into her muscles. While he massaged her, their faces were just inches apart, the two staring deep into each other’s eyes and feeling each other’s breaths on their lips.
“I’m sure you know what to clean next.”
“I do, but first, I want to get them a bit dirty.”
Noah then lowered his head and started sucking on her right nipple, drawing a whine of ecstasy from Elisandra. He pulled hard, his mouth wide open as if trying to inhale the whole mass, while his tongue swept over the supple point. Next, he forcefully grasped her left breast and started rubbing and squeezing it as though trying to change its shape.
He switched back and forth between them, his mouth and hands so strong that they threatened to bruise her delicate skin. He drifted ever closer to the precipice between pleasure and pain, and every time she thought he’d cross it, the boundary would move out of his reach, and he’d continue to inch exponentially closer to it, all the while robbing her of all sense and reason. Finally, she cried out when he brought her to climax, dying her mind white with euphoria.
They both moved back down into the tub, Elisandra straddling Noah’s lap, her back to him as he continued to dominate her tits with his powerful caress. They overflowed from his hands, transforming kinetic force into pure pleasure. She moaned and whimpered, utterly at his mercy. He was only playing with her breasts, but it was enough to make her cum repeatedly.
She could feel his manhood fighting against its cloth restraint like a dog on a leash, wanting desperately to attack her. She could imagine it so easily breaking free and viciously penetrating her slit, so sinfully defiling her with every forceful thrust, and she wanted it desperately.
After yet another orgasm, she finally pulled away, gasping for breath and shaking from head to toe. Despite her fatigue, she looked back at him with a coy smile. “Now it’s my turn to service you.”
As though reading her mind, Noah removed his towel and sat up on the edge of the bath. Elisandra received a bottle of scented oil, poured it on her breasts, and then rubbed them together to make it foam. She moved towards Noah, her eyes glued to his organ, standing erect and pulsing. A coquettish giggle escaped her before her tits enveloped his cock.
Snuggling perfectly in her bosom, its heat and firmness wowed her, unyieldingly strong like a tree refusing to be knocked over by an avalanche. She rubbed her breasts against it from every angle as though trying to smother it, wanting to grant him the same pleasure he had given her. She clapped her breasts, swirled them, slid them up and down the shaft, and used them to bury his cock in softness.
She could feel him trembling, his muscles tensing as she brought him to the brink. Seeing him squirm from her efforts invigorated her, and she worked harder, wanting him to break and submit as she had. Finally, Noah released a grunt and a geyser of seed. It erupted from her cleavage, leaving her face and breasts glazed with his semen, feeling so hot and dense on her skin.
She gasped for air, barely able to think and intoxicated with lust. She picked up a glob of his cum with her finger and stared at it. Enslaved by her desires, there was no way she could stop herself, and she brought it to her lips.
Elisandra’s eyes bolted open, and she sat up, finding herself alone in the bath, awoken from her slumber as though by the feeling of freefall. She looked around wildly, expecting to see Noah standing over her, but she was alone. Her mind was once more her own, even though her heart was racing. She could feel imprints on her breasts and between her legs from how she had touched herself while she slept.
“A dream. It was only a dream,” Elisandra whispered, waiting for her heart to settle while her lust sank back beneath the waves of her consciousness.