Aya didn’t know how to deal with the thing that kept knocking at her front door.
She first encountered it on a rainy day — as all strange encounters usually go — around the time she was closing down for the day.
“Looks like we actually made some money today,” she muttered, counting the copper and silver coins spread across the apothecary’s countertop. She curled on top of her lamia’s tail, got cozy by the heat stones, then sighed. She had initially written off the day as a complete loss. Those kinds of days tend to happen from time to time; the demand for something such as advanced potions was low in a place like Port Jasington.
Most of the business Aya received was a combination of peddling common herbs and hangover cures. It wasn’t a glamorous life. Too many times has she spent the better part of an hour arguing over the price of a clove of charred garlic. There really isn’t even anything special about charred garlic — the only thing it has over regular garlic is the smidge of ether inside. It’s like advertising something like health food just because it’s got basic nutrients inside. That’s just poor form. It doesn’t even taste good.
But from time to time, she got some actual business. Sometimes, people come in from time to time seeking miraculous brews. Aya has miraculous brews. She has a damn fine level of miraculous brews. If you need a brew that’ll turn your belches into a wyrm’s breath, a tincture to grow back misplaced digits, a drink that can render you invisible (this is the most popular one for obvious reasons, but not the ones you think or hope for), or anything else, Aya is your girl.
Today, a group of adventurers came in. They were a real rough and tumble bunch — they were coming back from a venture into the badlands.
“Miss,” asked their mage, a very un-cute incubus in his late twenties, “Not to insinuate that you’re a snake-oil saleswoman, but are these real potions?”
“Of course!” Aya said, trying her best to erase her usual resting sour look, “Some of these are made by my own formulae, but most of them are royal academy certified. The ones with the weird eye sigil are mine.”
The Mage raised a thin eyebrow and scrutinized Aya with a coppery red eye. “What’s an alchemist from the Paris Association doing in this backwater town?”
“Ask me something I don’t ask myself every day.”
The Mage grumbled something underneath his breath, then pulled out nine silvers for a potion of Jabber’s Cunning — Aya’s personal take (or knockoff) on the much more expensive Swift Cunning formulae.
“Noah, Noah, let’s get all this stuff! Everything is so cheap, uwawaawawawa…!” The party’s priestess, a pint-sized moth girl dressed in blue and white robes, made some mirthful sounds and bounced up and down with her staff. She had off-gray fluff, little black-and-amethyst eyes, and used her other two arms to point towards the party’s meatwall.
Said meatwall was a big hunk of plate armor that happened to have a black-haired Minotaur inside of it. She looked apologetic, quietly holding an armful of potions and tinctures.
Aya studied the group carefully, then made a decision. “You two get a twenty five percent discount for being cute.”
The little priestess raised all four of her chinatous arms and cheered. “Wow!”
“Hold on a dog-gone minute,” the Mage said, “why didn’t I get that discount? We’re traveling together! Oi… why are you giving me that look?”
“You aren’t cute,” Aya said, flatly.
“Wh— What kind of business model is that? That’s discrimination by appearance!”
“Your goatee looks like a quickweed stain.”
The Minotaur smirked and placed all the potions on the counter. “That’s what I’ve been telling him for the past two months. Good to know a scholar agrees.”
The Mage sunk into despair. “Oh, gods, not you too, Merial. This is fashion.”
The Minotaur and Mage began bickering in the background, but the priestess paid and beamed at Aya. “Thank you, miss!”
“Come back anytime.” Aya reached over and patted the girl on the head, ruffling her pale bangs. “Any worshippers of Caethyr are like family to me.” She took out the holy symbol she kept on a necklace and smiled a sad smile.
Soon the adventuring party left, bickering and well-equipped with potions, just as any adventuring party should be. It was the highlight of Aya’s day.
But that was in the day. It was all Aya’s lonesome self in the rainy evening. “I hope that moth girl comes back,” she whined, “So adorable…”
The group paid with a platinum coin stamped with the markers of Talmaii. Aya slipped that coin directly into her pockets — it might not be a good idea to leave that much money in a storefront. Even though she lived on the second floor, the glyphs of protection only covered her workshop and dwellings. Plus, the area behind the counter was a tight squeeze. Her lower body was long, even for Lamia standards; she’d rather not have to risk tearing off a scale on a sharp corner.
And as she was considering shuttering the store for the night, she noticed a dull ringing at the door.
Somebody was jingling the front door’s bell.
And, perhaps out of an equal mixture of boredom and curiosity, Aya slithered through the isles of her shop and opened the front door to the rain.
A flash of lightning corkscrewed through the heavens above. An angry purple flash illuminated the shape at the front door — a half-formed puddle of dark ooze, innumerable luminous yellow disk eyes, undulating sections of flesh that shifted between white, gray, and lavender. It had taken shelter from the rain underneath Aya’s shop, and was ringing the shop’s bell with an appendage of ooze. Beyond it was the gray rain-stained stones of Marakuno Street.
Aya closed the door, counted to five, then opened it again.
The thing was still there, creeping closer to the entrance. It seemed like it wanted to enter the shop, but couldn’t — probably because of Aya’s protection ritual. And it was staring up at her with wordless whispers of a thousand-eye stare.
Calmly, Aya closed the door once more and decided to lock it for the night.
“Nope,” she said. “Nopenopenope.” The first rule of weird things is to ignore them. That’s the lesson she’s learned from all the weird eldritch stories she’s read. She stretched her arms, stretched her tail, slithered up the stairs to her dorm. After a nice cup of quinche-cinnamon-spice tea, leftover strudel, and a workshop checkup, she put on her night stocking, got real cozy, then buried her head in pillows.
“Nope,” she said once more, before drifting off to sleep.
The thing was there the next night. And the next night after that. But only during the night.
And because Aya was a reasonable person, she hired an exorcist the next day.
“So let me get this straight,” the exorcist said, gathering his equipment from the local church, “As of a few days ago, your apothecary is being haunted by an indescribable eldritch mass of slime from beyond Gaia’s comprehension.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Aya said. “Please help.”
This particular exorcist was named Nico. He was a frequent customer at Aya’s shop — holy water wasn’t something that was really easy to come by. Aya always recognized him for his rather peculiar look; he always had bangs of fluffy white hair covering his left eye and a two-layered halo that shone a bit too bright. Some days, he’d wear sunglasses to shield himself from his own light.
Nico sighed, then nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Just like the previous days, the thing appeared as soon as the sun disappeared over the horizon. The ringing began soon after the dull thumps began; the mass was even bigger this time. It covered half of the shuttered windows, casting its near maddening yellow-speck gaze inwards.
Nico sat with an expression of grave concern near the back of the shop. He pressed his hands together, held them near his mouth, and stared at Aya out of the corner of his eye. “If I may, a few additional questions.”
Aya stood at the vanguard with an enchanted broom and kept the necklace dedicated to Cathyr in her hand. “Go for it.”
“Have you participated in any blasphemous rituals as of late?”
“Have you been in any contact with any heretics as of late?”
“Not the regular heretics. These would have to be the, uh… mega-heretics.”
“Hmm.” Nico looks at Aya and his brow creases even further. “Are you sure…?”
“Please just help me get rid of this thing.”
“Very well. Open the door on my command.”
They took up position in front of the apothecary’s door. Nico lowered his hands and withdrew three nails from his robes, held them between his knuckles, and prayed.
“End of life. End of suffering. End of eternity.” He raised the nails and forced them to erupt into full-length swords. Pure white glyphs circled around his wrists.
“The laws of this world will purify you from within.” The blades hung above his head, reaching skyward. Rivets of white ran through the metal. “Long has your time passed. Return.”
This was Aya’s cue to open the door. She slithered to the handle, then pulled the door open to expose the writhing mass beyond.
“Root of heaven, beyond the abyss… ‘Purge: Third Absolution!’” Nico flung the shards of metal. They left a fine trail of golden particulate as they erupted into pure bolts of purifying light — and they struck the slime, piercing through with three explosions.
But the thing didn’t react. The bolts of holy light were embedded to the hilt. The thing twitched, then slowly dragged the entire spell-infused blades into its body. Then it burped.
“Um,” Aya said. “Is that supposed to happen?”
Nico stared for a long while at the thing that was patiently waiting on the porch and still ringing the bell. Then, he clasped his hands, then slowly closed the door on it.
“I see,” he said, calm beyond calm, “I see completely. I see absolutely.”
Aya looked over, silently asking for an explanation.
“It appears that our mortal magic has zero effect on a beast such as this. It is invincible, immortal, and incomprehensible — there is no hope. There can be no hope.” He clasped a fist to his chest and stared at the ceiling. “It seems like my work here is done.”
“But you didn’t do anything.”
Nico took two steps back, adjusted his robe while smiling placidly, then jumped and broke through one of the shop’s windows. Aya stared at the rapidly disappearing figure of the angel running into the night. Then, she slid up to the broken window and shouted after him.
“Nico! Where are you going? Nico!?”
But Aya’s pleas fell on deaf ears. The angel, in his final moments, had transcended to the status of a godling of speed. She slumped back on her coils and mustered all of her strength for one last plea.
“At least give me my money back!”
The next day, after stopping by the Limbo Cafe for a spot of tea and patching up her shop with some cardboard and tape, Aya journeyed down the paved stone main road towards her rival’s shop. Just this once, she set aside her pride. It was a bit of an emergency.
She palmed her only platinum coin, privately wept for her lost wealth, and slithered inside.
Unlike Aya’s apothecary, The Ki Seals was a place that valued form over function. There were disorganized clouds of baubles and floating bits of magical decoration — the floating spheres of ambient light didn’t add much. The isles were unorganized rows where scrolls, arcane trinkets, and leather-backed tomes mingled together with no semblance of organization. Nor were they wide enough for Aya to comfortably slip through — she ended up having to hug herself and slowly wind towards the front desk.
And the entire time, Aya couldn’t stop privately ranting to herself. ‘Just look at this place. It isn’t neat at all — do you see how nothing has a label? There are no categories, no labels, no organization. The only reason they get more business than me is because they’re on a main street. That’s right. This place sucks. Just because magic is profound doesn’t mean you should just leave it lying around haphazardly; that reeks of laziness. I swear I’m going to give—’
Aya reached the front desk, but the person she would shout at wasn’t there. Instead, there was a nervous girl twiddling her claws.
She looked like a therianthrope of some sort — probably a panda-like humanoid. Aya wasn’t too keen on all the different names of races, but this girl had black-furred arms and legs that had strange white sigils written on her palms. A one-piece red dress of seemingly foreign origin hugged her body and draped between her legs, and she wore her pale white hair in buns.
“U-U-Um… W-Welcome, miss… snake… lady…” she said, blushing while avoiding direct eye contact. “Please… Uh…”
Aya couldn’t tell if the girl was dying of embarrassment or just shy, but she wasn’t about to give a stranger a hard time. Especially when that stranger was cute.
“Heya.” Aya peered at the back door behind the counter, which was nestled between two glass cabinets filled with wands and staves. “Is Miss Reiko around right now?”
“R-Reiko-san is busy… I’m sorry, please don’t…”
‘Oh dear gods, this girl is about to burst into tears.’ Aya fiddled with hands, trying to re-approach with the same delicacy as one would approach a skittish rabbit. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before. What’s your name?”
The question caused the werepanda to curl in on herself even further. “Kaori…”
‘Oh dear gods why am I so bad with kids—’ “Say, are you working here?”
“I’m Reiko-san’s apprentice…”
An apprentice. Like that hack of a mage could ever teach somebody magic. But Aya kept that to herself. “Could I get a leynet crystal charge, please? Just one would be fine.”
Kaori started fidgeting so hard that it looked like she might explode. “U-Um, I don’t know what that is… I’m sorry, please, please don’t get mad at me…”
“Oh, it’s fine. I’ve been around here enough times to know where things are… just, uh… please don’t cry.”
Aya excused herself from the counter and rewound herself. The isles were too small for her to go through easily. Behind her, Kaori was sniffling and probably openly sobbing now. And there are two floors to search through.
“Ah. Guess I’ll die,” Aya said to herself, feeling some part of her soul leave her body.
A few hours and ego deaths later, Aya returned to her apothecary. She closed early for the day, went directly up to her workshop, found a cozy spot between all the beakers and tables, then activated her leynet receiver for the first time in months.
She fiddled with the frequencies for quite a while — many peoples and businesses adopted the leynet in recent years. After realizing she couldn’t remember the exact codes required to get through to her contact, she closed her eyes and let muscle memory dial.
Somebody picked up on the fourth dial. “Hello? Who is this?”
The voice was a slightly raspy purr that had the signature Talmaii drawl. It was a woman’s voice — a song that many would attribute to a mature seductress. But to Aya, it was the best sound in the world.
She clutched the receiver piece to her head and nearly sobbed. “Lynne? Lynne!”
“Aya? Did you get a new leynet finder?” Lynne sounded as she always was — just a little tired. “It’s been months. How have you been?”
“It’s been alright over here on the western borders, but listen, I need some help. Desperately.”
“Hm. Well, I’ll try. What’s up?”
Aya explained the situation in broad strokes — she covered the rather mundane activities of the past few months, and the events of the last few nights. She omitted the more embarrassing details for the sake of her own sanity.
“Do you have advice on dealing with an eldritch mass of slime beyond comprehension?” she asked after getting all the details out of the way.
Lynne clicked her tongue over the leynet; there was a sound of some rattling experiment on the other end. “Well, I hate to answer a question with another set of questions, but I feel like this is necessary.”
Aya rubbed her eyes. “Shoot.”
“Have you participated in any eldritch or otherwise blasphemous rituals recently?”
“Well, what about in the past? I don’t really know what you guys did over in the Prometheus sector.”
“Hmm.” Aya thought long and hard about those bygone days, fiddling with her necklace. Once, she studied in one of the greatest academies in the north, but that was a little while ago. It had to have been at least half a decade since then. She barely even remembered why she left in the first place — she definitely graduated past the first degree of alchemy. Maybe she wanted to go out, adventure, and see the world before coming back for even greater alchemical secrets.
It didn’t go out quite as planned. Somehow, she’s ended up an ocean away in a little quaint port-side town that had a thing for shipping out tea, minerals, and fine fabrics in an entirely different empire. Port Jasington wasn’t the worst place; there was running water, plumbing, some arcane circuitry for household convenience machines, but it lacked a certain pizazz. At any one moment, there wasn’t really much going on in Jasington. It was a backwater boonies compared to Talmaii.
Although, now that she thinks of it, her senior days in Talmaii all blended together into a single mass of insanity. Most nights were punctuated with doing silly things with whatever tomes they could get their hands on.
And chugging tinctures. There was a lot of chugging of unlabeled tinctures. They might have accidentally concocted biological hazards in their guts. “You know,” Aya said, “I have the sinking feeling that we might have done something stupid.”
“You might’ve accidentally summoned something and forgot to unbind it,” Lynne suggested. “Or, maybe you did some sort of horrible ritual and now you have a stalker.”
“Hey, I’m just saying. If it’s really urgent, I can ask the elder degrees for teleportation.”
Aya groaned. “No, it’s fine, just… You think it’s safe to communicate with it? It’s been sitting at my front door for days now. Like a lost puppy. A horrifyingly goopy and eye-filled puppy.”
“Probably not without protection.” Scratching sounds. Lynne clears her throat, then softens her voice. “I’ll send over some designs for protective charms that might work. Don’t get eaten, alright?”
A heart-shaped beaker was bubbling over with a pink potion two tables down. Aya runs a hand through her black hair and gently thumps her head against a wall. “I feel like I’m going to go insane before anything like that happens.”
It wasn’t raining that night. It should have been, but that’s just the weather for you.
Like any good mad alchemist/scientist/wizard/witch, Aya was standing in the middle of her shop with her new-fangled creations. Protective wards, mutagens, stabilizers, miniature bombs, she had all of it. All she was missing was the floppy hat. But, just like the ominously missing rain, she supposed she could get along without it.
She made enough charms to protect against a jump directly into the beyond, so dealing with one horrible mind rending slime couldn’t be that hard. And just for the sake of being nice, she put out a little tray with some cookies and tea she had prepared earlier.
She made sure her usual dress was mostly wrinkle-free, her hair presentable, then slowly opened the front door.
The slime thing was there, a blobby growth of fleshy slime, rooted directly in front of Aya’s apothecary. It had infested much of the porch — more self-luminous yellow dot eyes and gaping mouths had formed in the spaces between the planks. And the main mass had congealed into a lump about the size of Aya’s torso and head, burbling silently.
It had suddenly occurred to Aya that she should have not confronted this thing alone. But, in the off chance that this could speak, then she had a shot.
“Um, Hullo,” Aya offered.
“Tekeli-li, tekeli-li,” the thing said in a voice that was not a voice. Then it began giggling incoherently, slowly pressing up against the magical border of the front door. Slavering mouths opened and closed at random, dribbling rivulets of black tar.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Nikaiesse,” Aya said.
Some part of her was screaming. It was screaming after finally inspecting the abhorrent sight of something that shouldn’t exist — the cosmos black dwelled within the undefined and ever-shifting mass, changing the space around to something that it understood. A primordial mass that infringed on sensible reality. It was a creature that would certainly usher in the unknowable beyond the limits of the mind.
The problem is that it didn’t. Aya, mostly, was still sane. So was Noah. The aberration was still bound by the limits of its own existence.
There could only be two conclusions drawn from fact. This creature was a part of their reality, somehow. Or, the more likely answer, this reality, this world, this tiny speck of dirt and rust spinning around Sol was born from the same origin as this creature. The only reason Aya didn’t lose her mind was that she was already on the same wavelength of this creature. The same spark of chaos fueled both of their souls — perhaps Aya’s existence was slightly more refined.
And it sculpted itself before her eyes. A smell not unlike ammonia and sweetness and bitter and sour tinge filled the room — visceral sucking and popping noises accompanied the emerging of features. Arms. Torso. Legs. A head with cerium and yellow eyes and long inky hair. Wide mouths warped in a barely restrained smile.
“You,” it said in a quiet burble, between giggles and screams. “You~”
‘Guess I’ll die,’ Aya thought to herself, frozen to the spot. “Give me a moment.” She closed her eyes, took a very deep breath, counted to ten, then opened them again.
The thing had formed into something more sensible — it looked vaguely humanoid, clad in a white dress made of skin-like frills and ooze. It stood on an amorphous mass that seeped into the cracks of the porch, mouths and eyes opening and closing as though tasting the nearby area.
“Do you want something? I don’t have that much money or any secrets beyond knowing,” Aya said. Behind her, her lower body was coiled so tightly on itself that it felt like her scales might tear themselves apart.
A slimy hand rose and pressed against the barrier — the creature’s features dripped and shifted ever so slightly, but its smile remained constant.
Almost instinctively, Aya raised her hand. “You want me to…?”
It didn’t respond. It didn’t need to respond. Against all the neurons dedicated to common sense in Aya’s head, she felt inexplicably drawn to the thing. It wanted to touch her. The curiosity was simply overwhelming.
She looked down at her hand, clasped the holy symbol of Cathyr, and prayed. She prayed for forgiveness for her inexplicable foolishness, for the fate she was certainly squandering, for the unfulfilled days, then approached. Slowly, scales sliding against the age-old wooden flooring, she raised her hand and pressed it through the barrier.
Her fingers sank into warm tar — but the sensations erupted past her skin. In a mere second, the line between her skin and the thing’s fluid body disappeared. A jolt of cold lightning raced from a thousand points of contact up her arm, down her spine, and into her mind. She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t; a void had appeared inside of her own mind. It dragged her through into a vortex of swirling and impossible colours and endless light and—
Crashed through a perfect pane of glass into eternity. Aya regained her sense of self as she fought against a current of memories — she saw fragments of her life stream by. Graduation, where she promised to leave and see the world. First birthday, where she ate an entire slice of cake in a single bite. Secondary education, where she met her first friends. A birth of forced screams. The opening of her shop. Funeral. Time.
The necklace. A pendant of emerald and sapphire forged in white gold.
She had met another girl shortly after arriving in Jasington. It was a chance meeting at a carriage stop; Aya stumbled into an Aeuslin farm girl, a weasel beastman that hadn’t strayed too far from the extinct humans genetically. She was an excitable green-haired girl with too much energy for her own good.
“Whoah!” she said, one night as they were drinking at the Broken Caliguo. “Are you really an alchemist?”
“Technically,” Aya said. “I’m more of a researcher than the classical interpretations of alchemy. I specialize in transmutation.”
In the tavern’s crummy lantern light, the girl’s luminescent yellow eyes shone like the night sky. “Can you teach me, Aya? Please? Pleasepleaseplease—”
“Absolutely not. Terrible things can happen if you’re not careful — some changes can’t be unmade.” She took a swig of muddy wheat ale. “You’re way too carefree to handle knowledge like that.”
“Well, I’ll make you teach me, one way or another!”
It was a promise.
The next day, the Aeuslin girl knocked on Aya’s then-temporary dwellings with a toolkit and eager smile. “What about tod—”
Aya closed the door.
The same thing happened the next day. And the next day, and the day after that, for many days at a time. They slowly became close friends, but Aya never taught the girl a single lick of alchemy.
One day, the girl stopped asking. That was the day she disappeared altogether. Aya rounded up her adventuring party and embarked on a journey to track down the girl.
Three days later, they found her cowering in a tunnel dug out of the side of a mountain. Her body was withered from some unknown genetic wasting disease — but she still greeted Aya with a flicker of her usual energy.
“I didn’t want you to see me like this,” the girl said with a sad smile.
Aya remembered the grief. The rage. The sorrow from her own failures, and how the girl never quite told her why she wanted knowledge. In a feeble act of defiance, she quit her adventuring-research group — refused to return to the Paris Association — then threw her best effort forward. For two sleepless weeks, she went through every single ritual and formulae to save the girl. She dived deep into the worst of blasphemy and never looked back.
But it wasn’t enough. Despite her best efforts, the curse that had embedded itself deep in the girl’s bloodline sapped at her very soul.
On the last day, the girl spoke once more to Aya. “I know I’m an idiot,” she rasped, “but… please, forget me. I know you’ll be happier with no loss in your life… You’re an alchemist. You can make miracles happen.”
“What kind of request is that?” Aya said, her stoic facade barely holding up. “I can’t…”
“Knowing that you came to see me is all I need. Thank you, Aya. If we’re lucky, one day we might meet… somewhere… else…” And with her last breaths, the girl passed over the necklace and closed her eyes.
“You… You selfish idiot,” Aya screamed, “You’re asking me to give up? How dare you… How dare you!”
But her cries never reached the girl. Nor would they.
In Aya’s rage, she followed a ritual she would have never dared to use on a living creature — to break the weave and produce the miracle of resurrection by filling in a dying soul with something else. Calling out to the gods whose names shall not be said, she scraped her scales raw and drew eldritch runes on the flesh underneath. And even though the ritual was a success — a blackened void from beyond the stars appeared, then disappeared — the girl remained still.
She buried the girl next to the old witherbark tree overlooking the valley, and to honour the girl’s final wish, she concocted a brew to erase all those memories of grief.
It forcibly brought those memories back through some unknown phenomenon; Aya remembered everything. She felt everything. Every detail pierced her skull like an ice pick.
Aya recoiled back, knocking over shelves with her tail. She was back in the present, staring at the abomination underneath the pale red moonlight, tears streaming down her face.
The thing only answered with a nod, then tilted its head.
Aya wasn’t sure if it was Svilia. She took down a few of the wards, just enough to let the thing into the front of the shop. For a while, they sat in the ambient crystal light and stared at each other over cups of lukewarm tea and slightly crumbled biscuits.
Never in her life had Aya seen such a creature before — nor could she recall the summoning ritual that birthed it.
“Is that really you, Svilia?”
The slime was seated in a chair politely, hands clasped on the table. It had ceased its incessant giggling and other sounds; all that remained was the occasional squelch of flesh remodeling itself. “If that is the other name, then I accept. Svilia. Svilia. Sviiiii-liaaaaaaaa.”
Aya asked it some other questions; it answered in memories. Memories of festivals, peaceful days, intimacy — they came up a mere moment after Aya asked. There was a certain lingering mischievousness in the creature’s smile, an energetic bounce and the ghost of cheer in the creature’s yellow eyes.
“Svilia said she would meet you again,” the thing said. “Svilia has come a long way — did many things to return.”
The freshly unearthed memory of that last goodbye stung just as much as she remembered; this unknown creature wasn’t helping at all. It seemed amicable enough, but who knows how it would act if Aya took down the wards completely. She was more or less at a complete loss for words. What is she even supposed to say to the half-reincarnated shade of her friend? Sorry? Forgive me?
“Svilia only asks for one thing — Svilia wants Aya’s acceptance. No more.” Although the look on the creature’s face is seemingly stuck as a placid smile, there was the faintest hint of pain in those monotone words. “Teach Svilia. Take care of Svilia. Love Svilia.”
Aya had dealt with a magic that one should never even dare think of. She attempted to resurrect the dead — at best, this was some partial synthesis between Svilia’s mind and whatever it was at the moment. But even if it was a puppet with her memories, what would be the difference between that and a proper reincarnation? The soul was an intangible thing — especially for somebody as unversed in proper magic as Aya.
This would also be the thing to push her into proper mad alchemist territory. Who knows what would happen if news of this broke out to the Paris Association. Even if they deemed the creature to be harmless, she had still committed a cardinal sin against thaumaturgy and the working mysteries of this world.
She had to take responsibility. If her running hypothesis is correct, then this creature was still technically in mental infancy — it would have to be taught many things once more. And she would have to pry and see exactly how much of Svilia was left in there.
She forced herself to take a sip of lukewarm tea to clear her mind. “I know I messed up,” Aya said. “I messed up real bad. Doing something like this is unforgivable on so many levels — I don’t think I can forgive myself. So I promise, Svilia, I’ll fix you. And if I can’t do that, then… you can do whatever you want to me. I know it’s kind of shoddy atonement, but… I think it’s what I deserve.” She bowed her head. “I’m sorry.”
She slipped off the protective charms, held Silvia’s necklace in her hands, and waited beyond the threshold of her protective fields.
The thing that was Silvia threw itself at Aya — in a mere moment, it was close enough to touch. It wrapped its semi-solid arms around Aya’s back and buried its face in her chest; the rest of its body pressed up against Aya’s scales. It was the same all-encompassing sensation as a hug from a proper slime girl. Warm. Sticky. Tingly. A million tongues licked and squeezed affectionately. Aya hugged back, stroking the folds of slime that served as its hair; there was a faint residue that seeped a bit too quickly into her skin.
“Please just call me Aya,” she grumbled.
“Please don’t say it like that. It makes me feel weird.”
Even though she knew this was a terrible mistake, she had to make some attempt at fixing her own mess. She had to conceal this from the capital at any cost — what better way than to train it as a proper member of society?
Aya remembered Reiko’s new apprentice girl. Aya herself could use some helping hands in the shop, and this slime had more than enough hands to go around.
But she couldn’t help but feel the nagging sensation that her quiet life was over for good.
Aya’s premonition was right. The next morning, she woke up to something sitting on her chest.
Two — no, maybe a hundred — yellow eyes stared down at her from assorted points in her bedroom. The main body of the eldritch slime had formed two arms and was gently shaking Aya by the shoulders.
“Wake up, mas~tah~ a~yaaaa,” it said, smiling a neck-wide smile.
“Let me die,” Aya said, half lucid.
“Silvia has determined that you haven’t been eating properly, sleeping on time, or exercising enough.” The slime raises its arms and forms a faintly luminescent pink heart with goopy fingers. “Your slovenly lifestyle ends to~day~.”
A fate worse than death. This thing is sentencing Aya to a punishment beyond comprehension — it would take away one of her favorite pleasures of sleeping in. Not even Aya’s mother was this strict.
“Noooooooooooo…” Aya came back to lucidity. She suddenly realized she made a terrible mistake — it would’ve probably been better to be consumed and die a pitiful death than experience this every morning.
And with the solemnity of a prisoner marching to a guillotine, she was forced upon her day.
The thing that might have been Silvia made Aya breakfast; a full country-style course of boar sausage, roasted tomatoes and quinotias, and a side of toast with extra orange merragne. It was the same meal that Silvia cooked Aya when she was sleeping off hangovers. And it was just as good as she remembered.
The only real downside was the slime pressing itself against Aya’s shoulder — it was watching her eat unblinkingly, bleeding warmth. Aya glanced up from a bite and watched some strange tendrils cleaning the small plate of dishes that had accumulated over the past few days. The stare got to her around halfway through the meal — she could feel her cheeks blossoming red with a hard blush.
“I can eat by myself,” Aya said, glancing away.
The slime poked Aya in the side — she gasped quietly. “What if you start choking?” it said, smirking even wider.
“I’m a grown woman,” Aya pleaded. “I can take care of myself…”
“You better start acting your age. You’re at that age where you should think about finding a romantic partner and settling down. If you don’t have anybody else to choose…” It somehow crept even closer and breathed a warm breath on Aya’s nape. “There’s always Silvia…”
Aya suppressed a squeal — she felt her coils wrapping tighter around the lamia chair. At this moment, she really did want to die. Never in her life has she been embarrassed as she was at this moment. The slime’s warmth wasn’t helping; it was too comfortable to slip away from. All she could do is hide her face in her hands and try not to cry.
In the afternoon, as Aya was finishing her experiments for the day, she settled down in her favourite cozy chair and put on some tea. There had been a book she intended on catching up on: ‘The Razor’s Curse.’ It was a trashy copper dreadful book that she indulged in a guilty pleasure from time to time — she couldn’t resist the tales of crime and romance in cities much bigger than Port Jasington.
Just as she settled down to read, it appeared again. It dragged her against her will outside and forced her to exercise properly — it forced her into a swimsuit and made her swim laps. After Aya collapsed from exhaustion on the nearby beach, it offered her a picnic basket full of food. Lunch. Aya made good with her promise and taught the thing about alchemy — although she was pretty sure the slime already knew everything she knew.
As she ate, she saw many people she knew — customers, acquaintances, friends — they all avoided her, and she saw them whispering to each other. She already knew what they were talking about; they were going to insinuate that Aya had finally found a romantic partner in a bloody slime of all things.
By evening, she realized she couldn’t escape the thing. It refused to leave her side — she had plans to go out and socialize at the nearest book cafe, but it was always nearby. She never saw it move — it was like it was moving through the shadows. She couldn’t tell it off either. Not after the things she said last night. So she ended up just reading and studying tomes at home, with the slime doting on her to an extent that made her want to burrow underneath the floorboards and hibernate for a decade. It didn’t even let her bathe herself.
Without a doubt, the thing was Silvia. Aya almost forgot how much Silvia doted on her normally — she only showed up once in a while when she was still properly alive. And now that she’s some horrible creature that doesn’t need rest, she won’t stop. It was like having a maid, life coach, and needy student all in one. Good in theory, terrible in practice.
By midnight, as Aya was lying in bed with Silvia cuddling in all of their paradoxically dry goopy love, she realized that she damned herself to a terrible fate. As a naturally lazy person, this rigid scheduling was torture — she enjoyed giving herself free time to laze about between tasks.
‘This isn’t at all like the maid stories I read,’ Aya thought, drifting off to sleep. ‘I’m going to go insane. Somebody kill me before I lose it.’
But her pleas would go unanswered, now and forevermore.
The adventuring party came back for a second round two days later. They were in high spirits — their coin pouches were several factors fatter.
“Yo, snake eyes!” The Mage declared as he entered, with a noticeable lack of goatee, “Your brews really do work! I’ll be damned, they work better than the official stuff! We’re back for more!”
But what greeted the party at the very front was a strange girl in seemingly wet robes — there were self-luminous yellow studs across her stylish hooded shawl. There was a cloying darkness underneath her hood, exposing only a wide smile, messy locks of hair, and two silvery-yellow eyes. Her skin was a sharp shade of lavender — enough to glisten in the afternoon light.
And in the back of the shop, Aya had the bags of sleep deprivation underneath her eyes.
“Welcome back, customers.” The strange girl raised a finger to her cheek and winked. “Would you like a potion, some herbs, or… me?”
“Oh for the love of god please stop doing that—” Aya buried her face in her hands. “I’m going to actually lose my mind.”
“What’s wrong, Master A~yaaaaaa~? Do you not like it when I treat others the same way I treat you?”
“Hrgnyhrngrhngrhnrhrgn,” Aya said.
The party looked at each other, slightly bemused by the show. The priestess looked especially excited to see another girl of her approximate age. “Wow, another girl!” she said, reaching out to shake the strange girl’s hand. “I’m Katrine! What’s your name?”
The strange girl giggled and shook the moth’s hand. “Silvia. I look forward to seeing you in your dreams.”
“I don’t know what that dream part means, but that sounds really cool!” Katrine gave a thumbs up with all three of her spare arms. “Cool name!”
“You’ll find out soon enough, if you stay around. Ehehe~”
The Mage and minotaur looked between the strange girl and Aya, concerned. “Who’s the girl?” The Mage asked, watching the two girls greet each other.
“Get me out of here,” Aya said. “She’s like a toddler on etherite dust — I’m losing my mind.” She looked up pleadingly at the two. “I’ll give you a thirty percent discount to take her off my hands.”
“Erm. No deal,” the Minotaur said.
“I know a therapist a few blocks down,” the Mage offered.
“I’m going to die,” Aya said. She was happy, sure, but she was also exhausted to the point where she could fall asleep at any moment. Taking care of something that can go into your dreams isn’t fun.
Aya rested her chin against the table and groaned. She knew for certain that she would never have another quiet day for the rest of her life. But at the same time, there would never be a boring day either. She wasn’t sure if the end of her life was enough for this thing that had come from somewhere beyond comprehension.
‘Can’t be helped, I guess,’ she thought with a tiny smile, silently watching Silvia bicker with the adventurers.