We followed the river along its course for the next ten or so minutes, as it snaked its way from the depths of forest-land to the shallows of… elsewhere-in-the-forest-land. Hey, I can’t always be a poet.
Keeping my balance on the waterhopper was a lot easier than I expected it to be. I would have thought that ten minutes of uninterrupted T-posing would have been a pain, that I might lose my balance at some point and tilt too far in one direction and send myself crashing into a riverbank, but no. I briefly wondered if magic was helping me stay perfectly balanced.
Or maybe I just had a better sense of balance than I thought. It’s not like my corporate desk job gave me many opportunities to see how long I could stand straight up with my feet together. So on we went down the river, Master T and T-pprentice, unwitting maestros of mobility.
It still looked dumb as hell, though. I loved every second of it.
“So why are these called waterhoppers?” I asked. “We’re not exactly hopping across the water, here.”
A few feet ahead of me, Bohriam shrugged. “I dunno. It was catchy? Also, ‘waterglider’ was already taken.”
I was about to ask what the hell a waterglider was when I heard a disturbing sizzly sound at my feet. The pale yellow static discharges that my waterhopper had been giving off were now a pale shade of orange, and getting darker by the second. “Uhh, Boh? Is the waterhopper supposed to do that?”
Boh glanced over his shoulder at my feet, careful not to rotate his body too much. “Hmm? Yeah, that just means it’s running out of charge. Don’t worry; we’ll be there soon.”
Normally I would have been fine taking his assurance at face value, but I have a bad habit of worrying about things when people tell me not to. “What’ll happen if it runs out of power before we get there?”
“Then it’ll drop and you’ll fall into waist-deep water…”
“… Full of creatures you couldn’t possibly imagine…”
“… Mostly harmless fish species you probably don’t have on Earth.”
“You’re just fucking with me now, aren’t you?”
Bohriam twirled around and tilted backward to keep advancing. “I swear, I’m telling the truth. This river really has things like trout and salmon.” He was trying really hard to keep a straight face, and utterly failing.
“Fuck off,” I said, smiling just as hard.
A minute later, the town of Gostrey was finally within sight. As we left the thick foliage of the forest behind us, I could see that the river opened up ahead into a lake in the middle of some wide-reaching grasslands. The town stretched around the left side of the lake, a mile or two of houses and I guess whatever else a lakeside town on Era would have. Businesses? Movie theaters? Okay, probably not movie theaters.
The fields on the right side of the lake (and extending along the river) looked like they were mostly farmland, considering how uniform the flora over there looked compared to the rest of the plains. Also, there were a couple barn-ish looking buildings. That helped give it away.
I wondered why it didn’t look like anyone was living on the farm side of the lake. At least on Earth, I was under the impression that old school farmers would live in the middle of or right next to their farmland, so they could be out and working it as quickly as possible every day. But maybe that wasn’t as important in a world where you could just hoverboard yourself across the lake every morning.
All in all, it looked like a quaint little RPG starting town—not that its inhabitants would think of it in those terms, probably. More than anything, I was looking forward to having a real place to rest for the night and—hopefully—get something to eat.
Bohriam piloted his waterhopper to the town-side edge of the river and stepped off it, onto dry land. I followed his lead. Goodbye, Master T.
“We can walk the rest of the way from here,” Bohriam said. “It shouldn’t be too long.”
“I’m starting to think sentences like ‘It shouldn’t be too long’ and ‘We’ll be there soon’ mean something completely different in Beleric than what they mean in English,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“I take it you’re not a fan of traveling?”
“More like, I’m not a fan of walking. On Earth, humans have invented all sorts of machines to help us get from one place to another faster.” Honestly, my legs were still a little sore from our escape from Speedy before. I was kind of amazed that Bohriam still had the energy to keep going.
“Well, unless you’re about to invent a landhopper, we need to do this the old-fashioned way,” Bohriam said. “Which to us in Beleria, is the current-fashioned way.”
“Fiiine,” I sighed.
“I could always pick you up again and carry you the rest of the way,” Bohriam sarcastically suggested.
I actually thought about it. “Would it make you look more heroic to your townsfolk? And is it good to look heroic here?”
Bohriam simply shook his head and sighed. “We better hurry if we want to make it before nightfall.”
He manifested his lightning sword again and touched its electrified tip to the waterhoppers on the edge of the river, recharging them in an instant. Their static sparks became pale yellow again, and they started hovering back down the river in the direction we came from. “Waterhoppers are usually scripted to return to their point of origin after you’re done with them,” Bohriam explained. “It’s good courtesy to send them back for future travelers.”
And so we started the next leg of our journey, on our own four legs. I opted not to further interrogate Bohriam about life on Era for now; I was too exhausted. To our right, the sun was finally receding behind distant eastern mountains—snow covered peaks against a backdrop of deep sunset pink. For a second, I regretted spending so much of my life on Earth indoors and in the dark. How much beauty like this did I shun on Earth in favor of spending yet another evening playing video games that didn’t matter?
Maybe that was something else I could fix with this second chance.
Bohriam also opted not to ask me further questions about Earth yet, though I could tell he had plenty. I didn’t know Boh very well, but I had the feeling he was distracted thinking about something a lot more serious. Whatever it was, I decided it probably wasn’t my place to intrude.
With the full departure of the sun over the horizon, a series of bright lights ignited on the top of the mountain chain. Three different lights on three different peaks, each one a different color: red, green, and purple. At this distance I couldn’t tell whether the lights were from magic beacons or magic fires or even just plain colored LEDs—but that didn’t stop me from snickering to myself and thinking Heh, Gondor is calling for aid.
Then a bunch of lights turned on in the river right beside me—and they were moving!
“Looks like the phosfish are waking up,” Bohriam said, casually glancing at the river. “Do you have those on Earth?”
I looked more closely into the water, and now I could see that each of the little white lights was actually a fish, merrily swimming up- or down-stream. Each fish emanated a soft white glow from its fins, scales, its entire body. “Phosphorescent fish? No, I don’t think we do.” I watched as one of the little tykes swam around aimlessly, guided by the light of all its neighbors. It was pretty cool.
“They only glow like this a couple weeks of the year,” Bohriam said. “The rest of the time, they’re absorbing sunlight and biding their time before the next, uh…” Bohriam trailed off, looking away awkwardly.
“… The next mating season?” I guessed out loud. Bohriam’s bashful reddening of the face was enough to tell me that I guessed right. Aww, Boh was shy about biology around girls. How cute. “It’s okay dude, I’m a big girl. I know all about the birds and the bees.”
The color drained from Boh’s face and he suppressed a shiver. “Well I’m glad you’re not entirely unprepared for the wildlife on Era.” He forced himself to look ahead and focus on our destination once more.
… Umm. What the fuck was the deal with birds and bees on this planet?
After another minute or two of walking, we finally—seriously, FINALLY—made it to the edge of town. It’s not like there was a fancy entrance archway we were able to walk under and suddenly be in Gostrey; it was more that the grass we were walking on slowly turned into dirt, and then into stone, and then we started passing the most outlying buildings.
Part of me was disappointed that there was no special fanfare to herald our arrival. The rest of me thought well, that’s only logical. Everyone in town is probably getting ready for bed right now. But still, this was my first RPG town! Couldn’t I at least get a small overview cutscene when I walked in?
As if on cue, a villager came running down from a side street and turned toward us, his expression simultaneously awash in both relief and urgency. “Bohriam!” he shouted as he ran. To my side, Bohriam did nothing to indicate that this unnamed villager was a threat, so following his lead, I calmly waited for the villager to reach us. As calmly as I could, at least.
When the man did reach us, he paused for a couple seconds to catch his breath. The way he hyperventilated after that sprint, I wondered if he was related to Bohriam. Or maybe heavy breathing after running was more common in this world, as a side effect of whatever the Seven Sevens System did to people’s bodies. Or maybe—
“Thank Kelenor,” the villager said between breaths. “I came as soon as Rikaine said she saw you from the watchtower. Are you okay? Where’s the rest of the Aegis? And who’s this?”
“My name is Ash,” I said. “I’m from another world. Your friend Bohriam saved my life.”
The villager looked back and forth between me and Bohriam, astonished. I couldn’t tell whether he didn’t believe me or whether he was surprised that weak Stone-rank Boh was able to save anyone. Either way, I counted it as a victory in my “score Bohriam some cheap hero points” personal quest—because I knew what came next wouldn’t be easy for him.
Bohriam cut through the villager’s bewilderment with grim conciseness. “Sollimer, send for Elder Hammond immediately. There’s no easy way to say this, but… Everyone in the Aegis is dead.”