(Sorry for yesterday, did not sleep at all at night and knocked out for the day)
Althea's verbal analysis of his actions around the healing spell were not bewildering per se, but they left him in at a confused loss for words. What was she going on about exactly? She made it sound like some grand act but to him he put his hands to his face and it just so happened to work out alright.
His panic quickly cooled when she agreed to no guard involvement. He felt almost guilty for his outburst as if he had lashed out at Althea for it but he knew better than that and brushed it all off. "Thank you." Rising up he took a few steps to regain his footing and test his own legs. "Well, I can walk, just don't ask me to do it quickly," he chuckles.
As he continued he walked a ways down the path and circled back to Althea, "Yep, I should be fine." His voice said one thing and his eyes another. In truth it was difficult to walk but he could push through. "One night's rest and I will be right as rain!" What a weird expression though, unless you were a farmer rain was typically a terrible thing. Maybe farmers made it.
"Well, if you don't mind me saying so, uh, you are quite the powerful shaman aren't you?" Even bound he could see, and feel the energy that crackled around her, and as they said no tome is quite a thing.
Just don't ask him to do it quickly? Althea came very close to snorting in a remarkably unladylike manner, but managed to keep her reaction down to something she could claim was a small cough; the sides of her lips kept trying to quirk upwards, especially to the left side in a sort of half smile that refused to quite become a smile, but in a world-class display of sheer willpower she managed to keep it to that and her tone fairly level when she replied. "I am in no hurry today. I had hoped to spend the afternoon without trouble, but..." the shaman trailed off, not looking quite as despondent about it as she might have. Things had worked out after all, right? She didn't see much of a future in hero-ing for herself, but it was nice to have things go well for once.
"...Well, it seems to have worked out regardless." Althea decided against mentioning the strong possibility that if these guys had been chasing him so hard, they would be back, probably as soon as they had time to regroup. It might even be as early as sometime that evening slash night... given their lack of confrontational actions she didn't think it'd be doing the day, though, at least so long as she kept Aura somewhat in public. "Though I hope you will pardon my decision to escort you for a time... just in case." She didn't elaborate beyond that point, not particularly interested in discussing the subject of what all could go wrong just then. For now, it was more important to get this strange priest to safety.
Though - admittedly - she didn't actually know how to react to being called strong. As a child she had been fairly adept, but her skills had... languished for a good eight or so years in the aftermath. So Althea was actually quite used to being a, well, mediocre mage. Not a complete disappointment, not a prodigy, just a bit above average at best. All this fighting recently had left her somewhat less certain of her standing. What had started off as a businesslike Flux was now turning into... whatever she was doing with Mire, funneling the Nether into rays and beams, ever seeing further improvement. Optimizing efficiency. What... was she, now? And what was the link to Eris, if any?
"I'm not sure about powerful," the shaman settled for with a thin, ghostly smile. Not being coy. It was honesty, in its own way. "I have simply been forced to learn a great deal in recent months to protect myself, and with experience comes a certain modicum of strength. The more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn."
What was she smiling about? He could see her straining her face as she did so. Did he say or do something? Ah who knows. The shaman told him she was i no hurry for the day, and from the sounds of it had no plans, but what was this about trouble in the afternoon? Oh dear, she was calling him trouble. "Oh, no! I won't be a problem at all! I promise, best behavior at all times and all that! Nothing to fear from me!" He promised her clearly not reading the mood correctly.
It all worked out? You bet it did! He smiled at her beamingly, she was his savior after all, his dark savior but savior. "Huh? Escort me?" Just in case? "Hmm... I see. I suppose that there really is a risk but... I really don't want to put you at risk over me. I mean..." He was just a guy with no history, no future, and may have hurt an aweful lot of people. His instincts screamed at him to live and so he did, but that nagging feeling of unknown sin made him give so much of himself up to others as well. No, he could not let her hang around him! His mind went through all this but he ran out of time to say it before Althea went into humility speak.
"WHAT!? Not sure if you are powerful? Pah! You are incredible!" He spoke with enthusiasm and a child like earnest. "Nothing like me..." he muttered abashedly under his breath. She was forced to become strong over the last few months? He looked at her curiously and terribly sympathetically, or was it empethetically? Thinking of his own pitiful display he spoke without thinking. "Do you think I could get strong?"
"Yes, I'm sure." She didn't sound entirely convinced but in the flush of the moment there was no real sarcasm tinging Althea's tones either, simply a minor hint of amusement. The problem wasn't Aura after all, it was who was after him and the possibility of problems attached to him. Still, she had consciously decided of her own volition to aid him, and so she could ill blame the results of the decision on him. "Whatever the results of my actions, abandoning you now will likely do little to assuage them. Best to face them head on," she said VERY uncharacteristically for her, so much so that Althea took a moment to make sure she hadn't actually gone insane. Severe cranial damage, heart attack, mind control... no, she was just apparently pretending to be a good person today. How strange. Must've been something in the food. Or maybe she was just curious about what kind of trouble Aura had gotten himself into...? Yes, that was definitely it, she obviously didn't care what happened to him, it was solely in pursuit of knowledge of his situation.
'Least that was what she was telling herself. For now though, best to get moving, just in case the would-be kidnappers came back. Though of course she did limit her pace to Aura's, since it would defeat the purpose to significantly outspeed him. Even if he was babbling a bit about her strength. It made her feel uncomfortable to be honest, not in a way that angered or enraged her towards the healer, but simply... odd. Althea really just wasn't used to the notion and had no idea how to deal with it. "Whatever... power I have comes with a cost, though. Aura, was it? Dark magic dredges the magical reservoirs of a magus the same as any other school, but also draws on their emotions... and manipulating the Nether directly comes with its own set of limitations in order to do it safely."
None of which did she want to go into immense detail with, but it hopefully gave some understanding of what the cost actually was. "I'd certainly recommend Anima or Light magic over it. Safer, easier, and more versatile. There are many kinds of strength, Aura, not just the ability to destroy."
With Althea's every word he felt an odd desire to protect her. Odd, he was the one that needed the protecting. As the two walked and talked Aura felt his spirits rising again. Human interaction sure felt good, and she was not afraid of him so that was yet another bonus. "Best to face them head on huh? Do you really think they will return to the town? It just strikes me as a bad idea, I mean Etruria is not popular around here." Not really popular anywhere but that would be digressing.
Aura folded his hands behind his back and stared up at the sky as she spoke of costs of dark magic. Oh, he could imagine the costs quite well. Aura hmmd as she spoke her thoughts. Somehow all of this felt strangely familiar to him, as though he knew this all along and she was just preaching to the choir, and yet it was the first he heard. Weird.
Finally he spoke again, "Many strengths other than destroying..." He looked at her. "I have always felt that the greatest strength is when you can protect others. It is why I am happy to know healing magic, even if I am no good at it." But... how could he take care of others if he could not yet handle himself. "You know... ah, never mind." He looked at the ground a moment.
Anima or light over the darkness she is so accustomed to. Did she have an internal feeling of dread or self loathing? He wondered about it but how could he ask something so rude. Drawing him from his thoughts was a man yelling.
"Stop! Thief!" Suddenly rushing forward past them a man with a rather large bag over his shoulder was running to escape with ill-begotten goods.
"Hey!" Aura, despite himself began to give chase, or would have if his legs did not buckle and collapse on him. "Oof!" It was all one thing after another today wasn't it?
"We can certainly hope that nothing else crops up." Althea spoke calmly and coolly, not disagreeing with Aura's wishes but privately doubting they would come true. Even if the kidnappers - or were they assassins? - didn't bother them during the day, they would likely be back in time. Tonight, the next night, a week from now... and she could not guard Aura forever against the phantoms of foes who might not even exist. Nor would she. To live life entirely protected by others simply bred weakness. She had learned that the hard way, too. Across the better part of a decade of relying on mercenaries, her own skills had atrophied, dulled. She had grown too accustomed to relying on others and paid a price for it, one that even in her newfound understanding of the need for strength, was still being taxed.
Though admittedly. Aura's comment about protecting others did come as somewhat unexpected to her. Not necessarily wrong, but not one she had seen coming. Althea regarded him impassively for a moment as she mulled it over in her head. "Perhaps you are right. I certainly applaud the mentality. But..." She looked down at her own hands, silent for a moment. "Freedom is what I would buy with my strength, I think." Althea sighed. "I have had enough of relying on others to protect me in my research. If I cannot even protect myself, who am I to claim responsibility for others?" It was an inherently selfish view, she felt. To consider her own freedom as the ultimate goal of strength. But what else was there? She didn't have anything to live for aside from herself, really. She had seen what living for the inanimate did to people. Wealth, power, religion - when they became the goal rather the means to an end, they consumed men whole.
But neither did she really have anyone to live for, or a particular desire to swear her life to Drei, or Jalid, or Aura, even if he seemed like a pretty nice guy. So in the absence of aught else. Who else could she truly dedicate herself to, save, well, herself?
The shaman's attention was somewhat garnered by the events of a minor crime nearby. It took a moment to recognize what was happening - a thief escaping with stolen goods, probably - but that left the question of what to do. Intercept him? With what? The dark magic that would only draw negative attention to herself, much less an unprovoked attack - by a shaman no less - in a crowded location? And neither she nor Aura were particularly... quick of foot or strong in stamina, so to speak. "...Best to leave it be," she stated in the wake of Aura's fall, not particularly enthusiastic to start a great deal of trouble for herself without a clear goal in mind.
And so, the two would remain uninvolved. From the dirt Aura would watch, powerless, helpless, and useless. Who was he kidding, he did not have the making of a hero, or even a protector, could not protect himself even. Althea was right to just watch, but why help him first? Perhaps it all really was just a moment of whimsy?
Rising back to his feet he was overcome with a look of loss and then, dread? There was no way he could survive in this world like this. "Hey..." he paused trying to organize his thoughts but seemed unable and just stared at Althea. Taking responsibility for others, or oneself. You must take care of the self before you can take care of others. It was very sound and, even obvious logic. Yet, Aura was opposed.
"I think... I feel that people have a responsibility to help others however we can; but each individual has a responsibility to do what they can to help themselves. No man is an island, and if they try to be alone the storms will drown and erase them." It was very metaphorical but he was sure he got his feelings across.
Maybe, he wondered, did Althea want to be alone or did she want companions? Goodness did he know he did, but he could never allow others to be in such danger because of him. He had a responsibility to be an island and eventually be buried and forgotten, it would be for the best.
"Have you eaten yet?" He asked seemingly out of the blue. "If not, I do know how to cook." Perhaps he could thank her that way? The image of the thief kept playing in his head but he had to forget it. They would have their own pair of troublemakers coming soon enough.
Was Aura displeased with her actions, or more accurately lack thereof? Understandable. Reasonable, given the constraints of his mindset. Perhaps even correct. If she had put her mind to it, it was possible that she could have come up with SOME way to stop him, perhaps even without incriminating her magic too strongly.
-But she hadn't.
"...That is the question, I suppose. How does one value duty to self versus duty to the world? The people of Elibe care little for practitioners of dark magic. Had I struck at the thief, I could well have stopped him - but a shaman attacking a man unprovoked in broad daylight, no matter how noble my intent, could have caused trouble with the guard, and the people. And you ill need another enemy right now, I should think." She wasn't disagreeing with his statement, exactly, only pointing out the realities of the situation as she saw them. Playing devil's advocate to a degree. Though that did not change the facts of the matter, at least as she saw them, though as ever the truth of the matter was in the eye of the beholder. "-And in turn, our inaction allowed injustice to blossom, a thief to escape unscathed, and a dirt nap." Was she joking? Her face was carefully neutral, but was there just the smallest hint of a smile there...?
At any rate. The offer of food did pique the shaman's interest. As much as some might believe her to be a creature born solely of dusty papers and musty ruins, a wraith who survived solely on knowledge and danger, she DID suffer from a condition commonly known as 'needing to eat or else you die,' something that could even prove fatal if not treated appropriately. Someday she'd figure out a way to sustain herself on parchment and dust bunnies. In the meantime, it had been a good four or five hours since she'd last eaten. "That would be appreciated, certainly. I... forgot to eat. Again. Have you any plans, Chef Aura?"
She had been so stiff and serious, cautious of her own emotions almost, to what seemed to Aura, seemed to be a fault. As she agreed to having some food and even calling Aura chef he found his own expression softening and smiling, he was not nearly as good as Althea at hiding it.
"Rightyo then, I do not have too much on hand myself, but with ingredients I can put together all sorts of meals. Even those within the church can appreciate a good meal once in a while, even if the staple is gruel." He made a disgusted face like a child complete with a tongue sticking out.
Althea was strange but he liked her despite her philosophy so far, he had to like her, she saved him. Her moral compass was there but her sense of self preservation was too, far wiser than he was. "Well, shall we get down to business then? Whatever sort of meat you prefer I can cook it. Be it a stew or... actually it will be best to stick with stew. Seasoning is a bit expensive so we can't have any of that, but with the right veggies I could certainly draw out a great deal of flavor from it." And off he continued like this getting lost in the idea.
Into the market they traveled and he remembered Althea was in fact still here. "Excuse me, I have a bad habit of rambling." She likely already noticed this for sure. "But, ah, what preferences do you have?"
Oblivious to Aura the two mercenaries had entered the town from another gate and were in the process of recruiting an ally with a very particular set of skills. If they had to contend with a shaman they were going to be certain they had someone that could do it for them.
"A white haired shaman has taken captive of our king?"
"Yeah, sure. Your king. Look, the shaman b**** is not to be taken lightly. She can use strong magic even without a tome." The level headed mercenary was speaking with a cloaked figure in an ally.
"Well, Vadis and my lord would surely grant their blessings upon me if I can recover him. Oh great Hargus! May you return to us soon!"
The two mercenaries exchanged uneasy looks. Money was money but these cultists unnerved even them. "So, you have the power though, yeah?"
"Oh yes. To combat the dark, one simply needs the light. My faith in Hargus will illuminate the shaman and show she is only pretending to wield the nether."
Offhandedly reminded of the old saying that the fastest way to a man's heart was through his stomach (she thought a blast of Mire through the rib cage would be faster, but what did she know?), Althea regarded Aura with a soft smile as he seemed to almost visibly light up at the discussion of cooking. Certainly he took it a lot more seriously than she did. "Ah... I can do the bare necessities, but little else. And I tend to... forget... when busy with my research." The shaman couldn't quite look Aura in the eye at that point, it was a frustration for her that she got SO focused on what she was doing that she could hardly be bothered to break out of that state of consciousness. Easy to diagnose now - not so much in the moment.
In the wake of entering the more populated parts of the town rather than merely the entrance she stuck closer to Aura, if only to hear him better over the rising din. Certainly while it was not a true city on the level of the larger capitals, it was still a good sized town with plenty of people in all directions. And plenty of... meats. "I - I will defer to your expertise," she responded somewhat hesitantly to his queries, not actually sure what manner of meat she preferred if any. Much of her travels had been on rather, er, low budgets, and for the most part she had only ever really seen food as an unfortunate necessity to remain functioning rather than anything to particularly enjoy on its own, so she was definitely out of her depth on the subject. "And Aura, please. Don't worry about it. I tend to get... carried away when discussing my research as well. I can ill judge you for enjoying your own hobbies. Though there is a certain ironic fittingness to a cleric being a master of mood, now that I think about it. Nourishing and repairing the body on multiple levels."
Aura slowly scratched at his cheek to Althea's remarks on his cooking acting as its own way of healing. Well, actually he had to agree with her on that subject, none got far on empty stomachs and a good meal was one of the few luxuries he believed everyone deserved.
"Well, as you have no preferences, you claim, I expect no complaints." He grinned at her. It was not too cheeky but just enough to tell he was making a joke. As he looked at the stalls he focused for signs of devout Elimine followers. He felt mildly guilty for what he was about to do but, he had no money and simply had to.
The first stall he found himself addressing carried an assortment of fruits, Lycian grown from the looks of them too. "Good morning." He began cheerily.
"Ah! A man of the cloth." The owner smiled back at him, "May Elimine's blessings find you many fold."
"And you my friend." Aura placed his hands together and bowed ever so slightly. Suddenly as though it were all a part of a secret society code he was being handed a basket of fruits for free. Just like that! "Thank you for your warm hospitality." He soon returned to Althea's side positively beaming. It felt good to have people smiling at him. "This should cover most of the meal and even some for the road honestly." He began to inspect the fruits for anything inedible and to his delight all of them were fine, even if many were bruised.
"As long as it's edible." Althea didn't feel in the least guilty about her riposte to his little joke, though she wasn't particularly serious either. Well, technically she was, obviously edible was preferable to... non edible, but by edition food WAS edible unless moldy or rotten or - anyways. So long as Aura wasn't actually planning on feeding her donkey droppings, she wasn't going to complain. Much. Probably. Little did he know she was NOT a picky eater at all, as long as it looked like food she'd probably eat it.
The slender shaman followed Aura without complaint as he enacted his master plan. She would ill discomfit him unnecessarily. But it did not stop her from judging nonetheless, not so much at him personally as her general dislike of the Church and its tenets. After what she had seen it capable of, it was difficult to separate the good and the bad, even if intellectually she knew that the shopkeeper was by no means a monster or a murderer, and that 'Eliminism' outside of Etruria typically focused only on its good qualities. None of which would bring back the dead. But she bit her lip and held her tongue nonetheless when Aura returned, not eager to debate the subject. In the end he had used it as a useful tool, though she was not sure if it had been intentional or simply fortunate.
"...I can hardly refuse free food" was all she managed in the immediate response though, her gaze slightly harder than it had been previously.
'...I can hardly refuse free food." The way it was said struck Aura unprepared and he shifted nervously under her gaze.
"I guess I should not have exploited them so. I don't think Elimine would approve either but honestly I do not have any money of my own and... well, charity it useful." He misread the situation and in turn his guilt made him reveal the truth even if Althea was never looking for it.
"There is nothing this little girl can do to me." The elderly sage chuckled. Her voice sounded of age and her raised hood did little to hide the wrinkles. The two kidnappers followed in tow. "Obviously we can not face them in such a crowded locale as this market, but we will waste no time once they have left."
"I hear you are good with illusions?"
"Good enough, yes. My king may see through it but I doubt the feeble minded girl will."
The goons exchanged looks. "Like her or not you should not think poorly of your enemy, they may surprise you. And a surprise in this case is well, fatal."
"Hush!" The woman rounded on them and unleashed her full fury. A wordless casting of shine and both were struck dead, bodies charred crumpled on the ground. "She is not a woman of faith as I am! I have the guidance of the divine!" What would two hired stooges know of it?
Suddenly she noticed what she had done. Oh no! She covered her face with her hands and began to weep. "Oh! My King! I have done it again! Continue to share with me your strength!" Tears, tears of horrific joy.
Exploited? Althea wasn't entirely sure what to make of his initial statement, so Aura's explanation was appreciated even if not necessarily necessary. At least she wouldn't have held it against him anyways. Though slightly ironically it did leave her feeling like the villain of the conversation as well... even if it was admittedly fitting. After all, it was her dislike of the religion that was the problem, not what Aura or the shopkeeper had done, that had caused any issue whatsoever here so to speak. So in some way it did fall to her to try to make it right. If only for Aura's sake.
"...I apologize," she managed after a moment, though it took a moment to gather her thoughts further. She had done wrong and would not back down from confronting it, though. "Eliminism and shamans rarely mix well, and I have had my own... run ins with the Church. Being reminded of it offers me little joy," she added by way of explanation. While she didn't delve into the background details, Althea hoped that that would at least help him understand her reaction and that it hadn't been aimed at him exactly, though then again she wasn't exactly a people person and for all she actually knew it could have been worded as an attack on him and she just hadn't realized it yet. Go Althea!
Though the sight of someone waving to them distracted her to a degree, for a moment hopeful that it might actually be Circe or even Drei as unlikely as it was that he would be capable of normal human interaction like waving. But... neither of them were anywhere near here, as far as she knew, and Althea knew better than any just how unlikely she was to have made any friends in the last few days. A bookworm who stood apart from other people, who interacted with them only as necessary. Not exactly best friend of the year material. But it DID seem that they had attracted someone's attention... which was not a good thing. It was far too quick for the kidnappers to have already come to attack again, she thought, but that didn't mean that there might not be some other trouble afoot regardless. "Unlikely," she responded evenly, "but it bears investigating nonetheless." And so she started to walk over to see what was going on, certainly not combat ready but slightly suspicious nonetheless.
"W-wait, what!? Why are you apologizing!?" He was lost. He did not have to wait long for her explanation. As a shaman she had bad experiences with the church? Well, that would make sense since they are a superstitious lot. The practitioners of the nether, while not outright illegal are viewed with not nut suspicion and contempt. Aura frowned to this regardless though.
"You know, not every believer is like that. I mean, you have at least one friend in your corner!" He pounded a fist to his chest with a smile. "Even if he is useless."
So Althea did not know the person calling them over? Well, that was troublesome from the looks of it, and yet she was off to investigate. "Or, ya know, we can pretend we did not see her?" He proposed. Odd, how unlike him to avoid others who could need help. Something just screamed at him to run far from this.
Aura reluctantly followed Althea a few safe paces behind. As the two reached the woman she continued her waving until they got too close; at which point her figure completely shattered to pieces like glass. Aura's eyes widened in confusion awe, and touch of fear.
Looking frantically around Aura spotted an exact copy of the woman elsewhere waving in the same manner. "I think... I think we should leave." That feeling of fear was beginning to clutch at his chest in a dizzying manner. Even with Althea beside him this did not feel like an invitation to take lightly, or at all really.