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Author's Chapter Notes:

The terrible secret is revealed.

64th of Sunspeak, 3418, Grimath's Grave, Markus' Journal

Our latest job request was rather unusual compared to our team's usual work of tracking down and killing troublesome beasts. We'd really only gotten it because ours was the only Guild-affiliated adventuring team nearby with more than one high elf. Bandits. Specifically, bandits who had moved into an old dwarven fortress and were using it to rob and kill countless unwary travelers in nine different elven queendoms. Being dwarf-made, there was just a single entrance to access the fortress, and taking it would put any normal army in full view of the fortress' artillery for hours before they managed to find a way in. And that was without taking any of the undoubtedly nasty magic traps laid by the stout slaver folk. In short, it was a nightmare enough just approaching the place, trying to clean out the bandits would be impossible for most warriors.

Most warriors who aren't high elves anyway. The siege weapons were still a problem, but high elves are the biggest and most magical folk that exist. That immunity to magic that guarantees my job security also guaranteed that none of my companions gave two shits about what runes they were stepping on, regardless of what it would do to any river elf a bit less than half their size.

But it wasn't the fortress that had me feeling sick with sudden worry, it wasn't even that we weren't likely to be paid by the destitute queendoms who had been victimized by these bandits for so long. It was my own team that worried me, more specifically-

I set the quill down on the page where it magically adhered itself to avoid getting lost, and stared long and hard at my previous journal entries. Was it proper to speak of that? Perhaps it was some great dark secret? I certainly hadn't known of this particular facet of high elf culture even after traveling with them for so long. Yes, that must be it, for my own safety, I'd have to keep my audience as in the dark about this new viscerally terrifying insight into high elf culture as they'd kept me in for so many years.

We weren't getting paid not because the queendoms couldn't afford it, if nothing else the Guild would happily reimburse us for increasing their fame in a region that would soon experience an economic boom with the bandits gone. No, we weren't getting paid in gold because my teammates were more than happy to be paid with the bandits themselves. Aure specifically said that live humans were a delicacy that they rarely got a chance to indulge in. And all four of them were certainly eager to indulge. Never before had I felt so vulnerable in Elya's bosom, just a dozen spans away from what was apparently a tomb for any human she deemed worthless, like these bandits. I was safe of course, since I was the party alchemist and the furthest state from worthless for as long as the team drank my work faster than a fish drinks water. But still, what a thin defense that truly was once you thought about it.

As I stared up in thought at her, she happened to glance back down and the tomb in question smiled brightly. “Bet you're happy about getting to lounge all day today, huh Markus? Want me to tuck you in deeper so you can pretend to help moving my boulders while I actually help move these ones?” She was of course, speaking up the work that the elves were doing to block the only entrance to the cratered mountain. Already their makeshift barrier went up past their knees, as humans only came up to the midpoint of a high elf's ankle, it was a formidable obstacle, but not an insurmountable one. All four of them agreed that they didn't want a single bandit to leave this place on the outside of a stomach.

“That won't be necessary, Elya. I'd like my hands free so I'm able to write.” She snorted at that.

“Right, that memoir idea of yours. I don't know why you're bothering, surely you're cute and smart enough to persuade some cousin elf into taking care of you in your old age. Or even a human woman, I don't know.” Elya scrunched her face up in thought for moment, it was a rare sight, she was usually rather sure of what she had to say. “Human women do do that right? That's how marriage works for you little things?”

“How am I supposed to know? I've never been married.” My parents were but neither of them were old enough to require care just yet.

“Aye, and color me surprised at that. Surely the short and pudgy bookworm would be high in demand, aye?” Elya said in that typical elvish style of wordplay. “You're so cute and helpless I'm surprised your first caress of a woman was when I unceremoniously wedged you there so I could use my bow that first week.” I felt my face heat up at the memory, as ordinary as it was now, back then it felt like some grand milestone had been shattered and desecrated.

“Oi, back to work you slacker! You can seduce the alchemist later.” Thank the goddess Elya didn't think to look down at me that moment, or she'd have seen my blush at Teale's remark.

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