The five Chlevbri were gathered around each other in a circle. A single light crystal illuminated the isolated chamber — this was a private space. As much as they liked the attention of others, this was something even they couldn’t ignore. This was a matter that only other devils could deal with.
The object of their attention was the second in the group — a young devil with dark blue hair, tanned skin, and black horns. Shame ran across her features like a canvas; her tail wrung the leg of the steel chair she sat upon. Her name was smeared on a laminated name card: Metztli.
The third one in the circle crumpled a script she had been reading from. Her chitinous claws tore through the flimsy parchment — a single tear ran down her blue-tinted cheeks. “Metztli, you can’t keep going on like this. I know it’s hard, but… you have to fight. I… I just want my friend back…”
Metztli hung her head and heaved a sigh. “I’m trying my best, okay? Just…”
“I haven’t seen you in weeks — every time I see you, you’re always on that… stuff. This can’t go on…”
The fourth devil, a woman with luminescent azure hair and thumb-sized horns, reached over and took Metztli’s hand. She was resolute — her eyes shone with a pale purple light. “You’re stronger than this, Metztli. I’ve known you my entire life — we’ll fight with you. We’ll find another way. But you have to stop it. It’s an addiction.” Her blue tail reached over and intertwined with Metzli’s. “It’s destroying you.”
“I don’t need help.” Metztli’s breathing grew strained. “I-It’ll be fine.”
The first devil stood up. She was a blonde woman with bovine horns and stood twice the size of the others. In a single motion, she lowered herself to her knees and wrapped Metztli in a tight hug. “We can’t support your habit, but… we’ll support you. It’s alright to have vulnerabilities and weaknesses. I know it better than anyone. But that’s what friends are for, aren’t they?”
“Kali…” Metztli sobbed and hugged her friend. “I’m weak, please, I don’t want to be alone…”
“We’re here for you.” “Yeah!” “You’ll make it!”
Their intervention had worked. They all gathered in a group hug and sobbed in each other’s arms.
I watched all of this from behind a one-way mirror, monitoring the situation. The devils had given me their confiscated goods shortly before the intervention with Metztli. I double-checked the contents to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating or, you know, dreaming a very bad dream.
Inside the bag they gave me were stacks upon stacks of books with illustrated covers. I felt my soul glaze over as I read some titles.
WED BY DAYLIGHT: NO MERCY
UNDER THE EASTERN GATE: A STORY OF FORBIDDEN TRUE LOVE
AN ONI PRINCESS’ AFFECTIONS ARE CRAZY STRONG
HAND HOLDING EXTREME: UNCENSORED
I pinched my brow and felt the death of a part of my soul that I didn’t even know I had. “What the actual fuck.”
The Origin Spire — a place trapped between this reality and the next — had suddenly come down with an epidemic.
According to my inside agents, a certain subset of the women had suffered a severe impact to their productivity. They spent most of their days passing contraband around, speaking in tongues, and desperately seeking more. They were addicted beyond any hope.
Xorrog stared deep into the pages of a contraband book. Then, he turned it sideways. Then he took off his head and held it upside down in front of the book.
“I mean, it’s alright,” he said, flapping his skeletal wings, “I don’t really see the big deal with it.”
Til’girol looked over it next. He stared out from underneath his visor and frowned. “Nope. I’m not getting anything. It’s cute, at least.”
The old guard had gathered over a game of cards. We threw the contraband into the pot for entertainment’s sake — but it was a lot less fun than we thought. Achernar joined us tonight; he was on break from his fashion design hustle.
“I don’t get it. Don’t get it one bit,” I said, looking at my side of the table. We were in the middle of a harrow shuffle — a game in which fate is determined by the cards. Whoever has the best fate wins.
I had won a fair amount in this round. The first two hands went to me with two consecutive draws of The World, and The End cards. My winnings sat beside my current hand; 18 copper, 72 silver, 28 gold, 32 platinum pieces — and 47 copies of HAND HOLDING EXTREME: UNCENSORED.
In a sudden moment of depressive dissociation, I realized just how ridiculous I looked.
“This can’t go on,” I said, rubbing my temples.
“Raise.” Achernar pushed forward a small pile of books, his expression unreadable. “Five copies of WED BY DAYLIGHT and three copies of HAND HOLDING EXTREME.”
“Oh my fucking gods,” I mumbled.
“We do have to get off our asses and solve this eventually,” Xorrog said. He pushed forward twelve gold pieces. “I’m not exactly sure how, though. Hum.”
Til’girol sighed an ethereal sign of disappointment. “Many of the current afflicted were creatures who tempted mortals into darkness.” He pushed forward twelve gold pieces with a gauntlet. “Something like this was inevitable, but I didn’t quite expect it to play out like… this.”
“We’ll have to cut off the source and find where these damned books are coming from in the first place.” I matched the bet of twelve gold. “Seriously, I’m not sure why these girls aren’t satisfied. There are plenty of bachelors here, right? What’s the big deal?”
I revealed the hand of fate; three of us lost miserably. Xorrog smirked and claimed the entire pile of books and coins.
“According to Vaska, the content of these books are better than anything they can find in the Origin Spire.” This round, Achernar pushed twenty gold forward. “From what I can tell, it’s like trying to compare coppers to platinum. A… wholesome relationship, per se, requires a lot of time and investment compared to a quick-you-know-what. These books are doses of things these girls have never experienced. Utterly irresistible.”
I locked eyes with Xorrog; he had the same thoughts as me. “Achernar,” he asked, “are you involved in the distribution of these books?”
“What? No, no, no, I’m too busy to deal with that. Man, I’m already in a relationship with Vaska, too.” He threw up his hands. “How else do you think I know about this stuff?”
I stared at Achernar. He was a Griffon who dressed as sharp as a scalpel. I doubted that money would be any of his concern. Plus, I figured he’d get involved with Vaska at some point — they both had lion blood running through them. “Alright,” I decided. “You’re in the clear. You’ve also given me a place to start this investigation, so thanks for that.”
Xorrog matched the twenty piece bet. “We should check the perimeter of the Origin Spire at some point. Maybe an outsider is throwing this stuff in to cause chaos.”
We nodded, all coming to a silent agreement. A place to start is more than a welcome place.
“It’s that time of night,” Til’girol decided. He broke his usual stoic glower and grinned. “Raise. One ultra-rare copy of THE NIGHT PRINCESS AND THE ONI KING.”
Wait a second.
I jolted back to full sitting height. “What kind of title is that? Where did you get that from?”
I reached over, but Til’girol placed the book firmly on the table. “C’mon, Hask. You know the rules.”
So it came to this. I cracked my knuckles and eyed my winnings. This would be a tough fight — many games lay ahead. I took a platinum coin and flipped it forward. “You’re on.”
Once upon a time, there was a Princess of the Night. She alone lorded over the darkness, but she could not see in the dark. She hated who she was, but she hated the fact that she couldn’t change even more.
Once upon another time, an Oni King ruled over his kingdoms in the eastern lands, where the sun never truly set. Despite his ferocious appearance, he was a kind and righteous individual who harboured a calloused heart.
The Princess of Night soon slipped into madness, and in her madness, commanded her forces to attack the lands of the day.
Thus began a lengthy battle between the forces of light and dark.
The Oni King, along with his allies, experienced much loss. He lost everything short of his life — and just as the Princess of Night fell to her madness, he was consumed by vengeance.
At the end of a perilous and epic tale, the Oni King and his allies met the Princess of Night. A battle that shattered the earth marred the lands. Near the end of the battle, the Princess of Night realized the error of her ways and banished herself back to the abyss.
But the Oni King raced into the abyss to finish her, never to return to the light of day.
He found the Princess of Night, who gladly accepted her fate at the end of his blade. But the Oni King’s vengeance had burned out, and he saw that the Princess of Night was a creature that had been alone for her life. He forgave her and decided to spend the rest of eternity in the darkness with her.
He taught her many things. He spoke of the light they would see when fate allowed them. He spoke of the world, the weave, and the power of the stars in life — the celestial bodies commanded wills of their own.
When the Princess of Night inquired about the foreign concept of love, the Oni King was happy to teach her.
I kept reading on. “And then they… Oh.”
Most of the story up to this point had been told through a combination of pictures and writing. I had only reached the end of the first quarter. I flipped to the next page. And the next page after that. Only images.
Oh dear gods there were a lot of images.
I slowly closed the book, unsure how to feel. Some of those plot points hit close. The art was good, but dear gods did it suddenly take a turn for the graphic.
This was my prize. I looked down at my table — which was now cluttered with over a hundred copies of garbage like this — and heaved.
I closed my eyes, rested my hands against my nape, and looked up towards the ceiling. After questioning my sanity for three minutes, I let out my first genuine prayer in a very long time.
“I hope to the gods that nobody has used this book for its intended purpose.”
I knocked on the door of the first person who came to mind after that book. When she didn’t answer — as she usually never does — I let myself in.
The Origin Spire is a strange place. Sometimes doors don’t lead where they should. Sometimes you stumble into a throne room in the middle of a dorm.
Obsidian pillars lined an endless red walkway. Shapes moved in the dark — the distant glimmers of the past, perhaps the future. The shadows animated into watchful beasts as I approached, leaving my path and animating as guardians all around me. Above, the top of the cathedral was nowhere to be seen.
“Fufufu… What an adorable morsel…”
A husky voice rang out through the empty hall, surrounding my mind. I found my gaze pulled towards the now-revealed black iron throne.
An orange-eyed devil sat on the throne — she sat cross legged, clad in an elegant one-piece dress. Her hair was a pale gray streaked with orange — and today it was tied back in a long french braid that her spaded tail idly played with. She gave a single flap of her wings and bludgeoned me with a wall of wind from across the hall.
Her grin grew sinister; black balls of concentrated mana formed in the air and hung threateningly. “My, my… there is no turning back. Not when you’ve entered the court of the Lady in Shadow!”
I knew this song and dance. As intimidating as it was, I had survived much worse.
I reached deep into myself and produced a wicked cackle. “The time for hesitation has passed, foul demon.” My staff emerged from beside me with a gesture — an unnervingly bright bolt of silver lightning. A localized storm whipped around me as I channelled my mana. “You face Haskel — the Magus beyond time!” With a roar, I aimed my staff at her. “I challenge you, Lady in Shadow!”
“Oho? Come, then.” The Lady in Shadow stood up, summoning black blades from the ground around her. A glaive rose into her hands, a wicked scythed of darkness. “Come! Show me your extolled strength, Magus, and I shall expose the darkness within your heart!”
It would always come to this. The time for words had passed — I summoned a wall of magic circles in the air and rushed forward, declaring my war cry.
“The light shall prevail!”
The Lady in Shadow’s last generals emerged from behind the throne’s pillars.
From the left, a ghostly suit of armour carrying a demonic red blade. The master of my love’s murderer. A Gravelord.
From the right, an undead dragon in humanoid form. He wore a baleful smirk and bone-riddled armour.
The silhouette of the Lady in Shadow erupted into mocking laughter, still atop her throne. “I shall take my time breaking you pitiful heroes and turning you into my pets.”
I stood with the other Rings of Cosmos, battered, wounded, yet unbroken. This is the future that Rei pushed me towards. I raised my staff one more time and channelled all the spells I could remember.
Protection. Haste. Greater Life. Cat’s Luck. Spellbane. Mind Blank. Freedom. Foresight. Her love gave me the strength required to go beyond my limits. Even though she had died long ago, her spirit still lived on in me. I wouldn’t let her down.
It all came down to whatever last minute-advantages we could edge out. In this fight to the death, I would become the chess master that would have to lead our side to victory.
My allies looked to me, sharing their resolve.
“Haskel. I believe.” Vidhyne said before turning and raising her shield.
Rohese pat me on the shoulder and stepped past me. We never really got along due to our mutual pride, but just this once, we could work together. “Just this once, I shall leave my back wide open, Sir Haskel. Try not to stab it.”
“Go fuck yourself,” I said, grinning. “Try not to die, asshole.”
“You heard him!” Rohese spun his lance, spreading crackling blue lightning across the floor, and rushed forward. “Let us ‘try not to die’ and bring freedom to this world! Rings of Cosmos! Advance!”
And so, we rushed forward, meeting the forces of evil as our hearts commanded us to.
The Lady in Shadow slipped through the shadows, dodging the barrages of spells I threw. My cascade kept her at a distance at first, but she knew my tricks. Once she found a gap in my spells, she rushed towards me with her glaive poised for a lethal strike.
But that’s where she made her mistake.
I let my staff fall, and in the half second before she reached me, my enhanced speed allowed me to adopt the Stance of the Falcon. I stepped to the side and dodged her incoming blow — her eyes went wide as I delivered my strike.
Nobody expects the mage to be a master of martial arts.
Tensed muscles. Tap into the memory of discipline. Bring the move into the mind’s eye. Inner strength. Avoid the outside to rupture the interior. Strength into weakness.
I rushed forward towards her still-reeling body — and swept her off her feet.
The Lady in Shadow was defeated in an instant. Her eyes fluttered shut as her glaive clattered to the floor.
“I have been… slain…” The devil goes limp in my arms, releasing a death rattle. “Curse you, hero…”
I walked with her in my arms towards the throne, chuckling heartily. “Good to see you too, Tsumia.”
Tsumia, the Lady in Shadow, held her arms to her chin and practically glowed with cheer. She was smiling like the little theatrical gremlin she was. “Hi~hi~” She tilted her head. “What brings you to… the realm of darkness?”
“More like realm of dorkness.” If my arms weren’t busy carrying her, I would’ve pulled on her ear. I settled for poking her in the ribs.
She let out a giddy yelp and banged her horns against my shoulder. “I’m not a dork. You’re a dork.”
I groaned. “What are you, five?”
“Probably.” Tsumia giggled mirthfully and nestled her head into my shoulder. “Are you into that kind of thing? An experience like that can be… arranged. Hmm? Interested?”
I smiled, walking to the nearest window. Then I dropped her.
Tsumia bounced a half empty tankard on her thighs, smiling like an idiot. “…Pwah! Nothing like a cold beer, yep.”
I took a swig of my tankard, reveling in the cold wheat ale. “Say it ain’t so.”
We were in her private quarters — the place she actually spent her time these days. Just like her, it was a bit of a mess. There were wrappers, notebooks, and pencils absolutely everywhere. She had a leynet terminal and main desk set up in her room, but the rest was just cluttered garbage. I had to step around a miniature maze of trash on the way in.
We sat together on her unmade bed, drinking beer I had pilfered from the bar several floors down. The crystal lights were dim — the sheen of her eyes cast everything around us in a gentle shade of orange.
I nudged a pile of pencils with my foot. “You holding out alright in here? Some of the other devils, demon, succubus types — they haven’t been faring too well as of late.”
She took another swig of her ale and smiled. “You come in here and ask that question every day, regardless.” Pulling up her legs, she hugged my arm. “You’re my overprotective mom at this point.”
Ever since the incident, I’ve been keeping up with Tsumia daily — and it’s been a long while since then. I had good reason; she was mentally unstable and practically drowning in isolation.
I sighed. “If you went out and got your own food, cleaned your own clothes, and picked up after yourself, I wouldn’t have to babysit you.”
“Why do I need to do any of that when you’re around?” Tsumia suddenly got up and stood in front of me. She leaned down, hiding her hands behind her back, smirking like a goddamn cheshire cat. “Admit it already. You’ve fallen for me.”
I responded with an uninterested sip of beer. As an Ogre, or Oni for some, I could handle a lot of booze. Drinking was in our genetics. I kept sipping until the smirk on her face fell.
“Ugh.” She spun around, looking away from me. The long french braid she wore swung around her waist. “You’re hopeless.”
“Nrgnhrgnhrgngrh,” I mumbled through my sip, which roughly translated to ‘No, you’re hopeless.’
This was the same woman who once wore elaborate ten-piece dresses emblazoned with spikes, gems, and enough accessories to make a tailor go mad. Now she’s wearing nothing but boxers with a hole for her tail and an oversized white hoodie. I at least kept myself presentable — the crime family boss look doesn’t maintain itself.
Her tail coiled behind her, snaking up her left arm. “Still… I’m glad you’re here for me. I’m thankful that you come in and take care of me every day. I really am.” She lowered her voice to a rough whisper. “I get scared sometimes… I don’t know where I would be without you. Not just you, but… everybody here. Every time I get scared, I remember that you’re all still here, and…”
I set aside the now empty tankard and stood up. “Alright, alright.” I concentrated for a moment, then summoned a feather duster, trash bag, and some of my other of my animated tools. “If you want me to clean, you could just say so.”
“Muhaha… Fuhahahaahah…!” Tsumia turned around and struck a pose. “You have fallen to the mind-rending charms of the Lady in Shadow, fool! Prepare to become my puppet… for the rest of time!”
I cleaned Tsumia’s room with her faux evil chuckle rebounding off the thick stone walls. Somehow, even as the de facto leader of this little pocket civilization, I found myself taking care of this recovering dork.
There were plenty of reasons to worry. Her memory was better these days, but there are still plenty of holes. She can remember me plenty well, but she has to be reminded of other people almost every day. The other day, some of us had to give her a lecture on what a toilet was.
Then there were the lapses.
Tsumia was the last creature in this world who suffered the Old Ones’ corruption. Sometimes a murky shadow of herself emerged and slipped back into her old persona. She still wears a collar and restraints tied to sap her mana should another lapse occur, but she’s the one most affected in the end.
I would say I can’t even begin to imagine her struggle, but I can. It’s a special ability of mine, you see. To put it briefly, I can take glimpses into other people’s inner worlds. Their souls, essentially.
Every time there was a lapse, the confidence Tsumia built up shattered. She wore her restraints out of her own free will — she was deathly terrified of going back to how she was before. I suppose her recurring memory problems tie into that; her mind is shielding itself from false positives, erasing things at random.
That’s why I didn’t mind being the butt of a few jokes. I still held a certain disdain for her somewhere deep in my heart, but I was slowly working to get over that. If this was technically our afterlife, we may as well work on doing afterlife things.
“By the way, got a question.” I summoned the copy of THE NIGHT PRINCESS AND THE ONI KING I had won earlier out of pocket space and held it in front of her. “Do you know anything about this?”
“Eh—” The sight of the book froze her mid-laugh. She looked at me like a statue for a concerningly long time — she didn’t even blink.
I waved the book infront of her. “Tsumia? You… doing alright?”
“Nope,” she said. “Never seen it before.”
Dubious. “You sure about that?”
“Yep. Never seen it in my life.”
“I’lltakeitoffyourhandsifyouwant,” she said, jittering closer to me.
“Nah,” I said, holding her back with a palm pressed to her cheek. “I need to investigate.”
We bickered until I cleaned her room, then I excused myself via a summoned trap door.
Hey, you have to change your exit strategies once in a while.
After that, I decided to tap into my inner investigator. With the other old guards, we set out to save the un-innocent minds of our local succubi from the wholesome terror that had settled into our home.
The first problem we had to deal with was the books themselves. There were just so many.
We searched for several days and pieced together the clues. It was a pretty grand mystery. The abandoned magical printing presses. The strands of hair at the sites. Interrogating for alibis. Deducing who had the abilities to produce such content. And the all important twist — after we caught a green-haired harpy who we thought was responsible, another book came out. And it was even more terrifyingly wholesome than before.
I can’t even mention the title because of the potential to instantly slay any succubi in the nearby region.
And you know what happened? The culprit just confessed. Right in the middle of the last stretch of the investigation, they just came up to us and told us everything.
It was Metztli — the devil who’s intervention I first watched. She had relapsed on her addiction and sought to find the print the most risque thing possible before going cold turkey. After finding out an innocent was blamed, she cracked underneath the pressure and turned herself in.
I don’t want to call her a spoilsport, but she definitely spoiled a sport.
She pointed us to the manuscripts she had collected, polished, and redrew. She found them discarded outside the Origin Spire, realized just how powerful they were, and wanted to spread the word of the original artist-author.
And that’s the story of how the old guard managed to bust an addictive succubus substance ring.
We definitely do have better tales. Please let me tell you a better one later to make up for this.
But back to the topic at hand, there was still one lingering mystery. We had no idea who the original creator was. With no hints or leads, the old guard shelved the mystery for another day. For now, the private eyes had other business to attend to.
Little did they know that there was a deceiver in their midst. I had withheld the last lead from them for personal gain.
It was their fault for trusting an Ogre. We tend to be fiercely loyal to those we’re dedicated to.
I had one last case to crack — the last job before retiring the old pipe.
It was a dark night when I came in to investigate the final scene, but I was no stranger to the darkness. Places like these tend to drain ya. They’re the kinds of places where filth gathers, and nobody bothers to clean it up. Nobody but people like me. Name’s Haskel the Second, private eye.
I’ve spent my life in this magic-riddled merry-go-round watching the same crimes play out year after year, day after day, like a radio station that only plays a single song. Even the crooks ‘round here get tired, tired enough to slip up. That’s where people like me get ‘em. We just follow the trail like an addict on their way to their next high, hit that sweet release of dopamine and serotonin for shelving a tough case, then we’re back to the grind.
And lucky for me, as I came into that ending scene, I caught ‘em right in the act. Crept up like a mouse, I did, a six foot something mouse with a mean case of testosterone overdose.
The crook was a dame lost in her own world, sketching away her crimes with a pen and a pad. She was a demon, the sort of demon that drags you kicking, screaming, then begging, all the way down to hell. A man could get lost in the invisible webs she spun, but unluckily for her, I was already heading for a suite on the thirty-seventh level of hell.
It was then that the revelation hit me — my job was done. A private eye doesn’t take the shots; we let the others bear the bad news and decide for themselves. So I made the call. Let my dear client Haskel the First know their mark was around and disappeared: a puff of smoke in a smog-filled night. Forgotten and alone, but hey, maybe I was better off that way.
I felt terrible for sneaking up on Tsumia as she was listening to music, but I had a sneaking suspicion she was the original creator of those strange manuscripts. The stacks of notebooks had been growing in her room for a long time, and out of respect, I never touched them.
It was different now. If anything, I should scold her on her littering habits. Who throws things out the window like that?
I usually knock three times before I enter any room as a force of habit, but I didn’t this time around. She didn’t even notice me.
I could have crept around and snuck peeks at what she was up to, but I didn’t want to do that to her. After some deliberating time, I decided to just walk up and tap her on the shoulder.
Have you ever snuck up on a cat before? They tend to have this… habit when they’re startled. Catch ‘em front behind and they’ll start clawing your face off, or they’ll panic and jump to a top shelf and refuse to come down for at least an hour. Maybe I’m just bad with animals.
Tsumia did something close to a cat flip. She yelped, then somehow ended up clinging to the roof. She stared down at me with her mouth stuck in a perfect o.
I waved. “Hi.”
She realized I was looking at her sketchbooks. “Ha. Haha. Hahahahahaaahhaahah.” Then she screamed.
“I’m going to die,” Tsumia muttered, hiding her face in her knees, “I’m dying. I’m die. Diediediediediediediediedie…”
I pat her on the head and sighed. “There, there.”
We sat on her bed, weathering a storm of awkwardness and cloying despair.
“Uuuuuuu…” She curled tighter into a ball — her tail came up and slapped my shoulder aggressively.
In all the time I’ve spent with this girl, I have not once seen her blush. She could say and do the silliest things without hesitation, throw out the very basic concept of shame — and suddenly, her entire body was blushing like a wilted marigold.
Her sketchbooks were records. They were barely cohesive jumbles of clipped thoughts and messy sketches; I could barely tell what she was actually trying to go for. There were floating paragraphs. Drawings of everyday things. All sorts of unorganized content, shoved into enough books to fill an entire archive.
She drew herself. She drew me. She drew Xorrog, Vaska, Til’girol; Tsumia must have drawn everybody in the Origin Spire at least once.
As far as I could tell, she was trying to create a record of her life.
“I really didn’t think you were a creative type.” I shook her by the shoulder. “This stuff is really good. Seriously.”
“Shuuuuut uuuuuup.” She peered at me over her knees — she was sweating from embarrassment. “Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up…”
Although there was a great variety of sketches, most of the drawings were of her closer friends. She was still ostracized for her past — she didn’t have too many people that would willingly spend time with her. There were many sketches of Vaska and Achernar, of a Nogitsune and Dhampir whose names I couldn’t remember, but most of them were of me and herself.
There was more than just recreations of everyday scenes; she had drawn countless scenarios and images completely referenceless, as far as I was aware, and invoked such detail that I couldn’t help but stare.
She envisioned us elsewhere. As foreign knights, fighting with honor and testing the mettle between the lines of life and death. As scientists, indulging in the research of yet-unknown sciences and using it to change the world. As travelers, probing the causality of time. Explorers of the stars. I flipped through entire lifetimes and worlds, brushing past them with the tips of my fingers.
I was speechless.
“Urrrgghhh…” I heard her groan after she less than subtly snuck peeks at me while I was reading. “I-It’s just a bunch of sketches… You’re gonna actually kill me at this rate…”
“You kidding?” I closed the sketchbook I was going through and waved it with a tut-tut. “This stuff is amazing — you could sell this on the leynets. Just these sketches are better than what some artists achieve in a lifetime.” I couldn’t help but feel a wave of second-hand pride. “Maybe I’ll go about putting up a gallery somewhere in this spire. Seriously.”
“Nooooooooo.” She looked at me and pouted. “Stop praising me. Stop it. Stoppit. I know what it is — don’t try to fancy it up…”
“Hmm.” Clearly, Tsumia had already come to conclusions about her work. I can see why — any artist who works off their own judgement alone is bound to have a skewed opinion about their work.
Some people don’t know how to take a compliment to save their life. But I figured that was also a good point — humility is a virtue.
“Say, what’s your inspiration?” I placed the sketchbook back on the pile and took a seat beside her. “Better yet, why haven’t you told me about this?” I furrowed my brow. “…How long have you been doing this?”
“Nnnnnh.” Tsumia crossed her arms and stared defiantly.
“If you tell me, I’ll get you one of those new leynet tablets,” I offered. “The ones where you can instantly store images in memory crystals.”
“Nnnnnnnnnnnnh.” Her tail swayed behind her.
“Can whip up some new ink. The stuff that you can use with a projector crystal.”
“One condition.” She pulled up her knees even further and hugged them against her chest. “Don’t… don’t tell anybody else about this, will you?”
I held out my gnarled fist. “Deal.”
Tsumia looked at her own fist, looked at mine, and hesitantly bumped her knuckles against mine. It was almost comedic how big my hands were compared to hers — but hey, I’ve spent my entire life and then some fighting.
She took a few moments to gather herself, then nodded. “Right.” She used her wings to push herself back to her knees, hopped off the bed, and paced away from me. A foreboding giggle echoed through the cozy chamber as she slowly turned around. Then she struck a pose.
“Behold! The collection of the worlds captured by the Lady in Shadow! I have captured endless realities, holding them prisoner at the end of my brush! I am the creator and the destroyer. Fuhahaha… hahahahaha…!”
I feigned shock — put my hand to my shoulder and gasped. “How could you? Is there no end to your cruelty?”
“That’s right. A woman such as the Lady in Shadow would never back down — it is her destiny to wreak havoc!” She struck an even more dramatic pose. Covered her eye and everything. “Witness the ultimate technique, the ultimate genocide; Divine Pen: Ultimate Creation! You have already stepped within its boundary!”
“N-No way! Such power… this is impossible…!” I clenched my fist against my heart and began doubling over. “How could I, the Magus Beyond Time, have fallen for such a trick…!?”
“I shall trap you in a painting — a world of my creation — for all of eternity!” She broke into an evil cackle, raising her hands and basking in her victory. She cackled as I made some pained death sounds, cackled as she did a victory lap, cackled as she flopped back onto the bed.
We sat together for a while, all smiles and no words. As much as I hate to admit it, goofing off like this once in a while was really fun.
Back when I was actually a hero, I never called out the names of my spells. I was too good for that — imagination was good enough to summon the arcane rites required to launch arcane death.
Don’t get me wrong, I was raised by a blustering idiot who used every chance to brag about herself and put on a show. Used to hate how showy she was, but now I can understand. It was fun to put on a show. Inspiring others to pick themselves back up was a magic that was never taught, but desperately needed across the world.
After all this time, I suppose some of that rubbed off on me. She was Tsumia’s mother, after all.
I never got to say goodbye to Ezina, either. Hell, I was probably the reason she ran off and started this whole mess in the first place. After my first love, another Ogre named Rei, died on a mission of her design, I was furious. Beyond furious. I did a lot of things that I would regret for a long, long time.
These days, I’d like to think I made up for my mistakes. Although I could never apologize to Rei or Ezina, honoring their last wishes and looking after this idiot would have to do. Maybe I’ll be able to fix what I’ve done if we meet again, somehow and someway, but that won’t be for a very long time.
Tsumia covered her eyes with a sleeve, still smiling. “Truth be told, even these days, my memory gets a bit hazy. At first, I was still afraid to call on others, to call on you, and I tried to leave a record for myself. I started drawing and writing everything I could remember to leave… something behind, if I lost it. It sounds so silly in retrospect.”
It was a coping mechanism, in other words. Probably one of the most productive coping mechanisms I’ve ever seen.
“There are still huge gaps in my mind,” she continued. “Some days, I wake up and don’t remember who I am — and it’s scary, real freakin’ scary. But you and the others always anchor me back down.” She splayed out on the bed, looking at me tenderly with her luminous orange and black eyes. “After that, I guess it just became a habit. Nothing but free time these days, so…”
It made sense, but that didn’t explain the recent influx of too-wholesome books. “What about the manuscripts? I know they’re yours, but what’s the story about them?”
“Mhm.” She sits up and stares at the ceiling, at the lone floating crystal sphere giving the place a warm golden glow. “I guess the memory loss left me a bit… extra creative. After a while, I started filling in the gaps. When I was working away on recording my own life, sometimes I would get carried away.” She chuckled to herself. “Real carried away. Ideas and memories would just… come into my mind, and I’d write those down in a fury. Ended up throwing those out as nothing more than rough drafts.”
“Guess that solves the mystery,” I thought out loud. I fell back onto her bed and let out a lengthy sigh. There were hints of unwashed flesh and citrusy perfume in those sheets — I’d have to go and wash her bed again after this. “All in a day’s work.”
“All in a day’s work,” she echoed, falling back onto the bed with me.
We lay there for a bit, occasionally sneaking awkward glances at each other. The braid she wore her hair in nowadays snaked out behind her like a python — the rest of it fell messily across her face. I couldn’t help but wonder who taught her to braid her hair like that.
“Hey Haskel,” Tsumia said, after a while. “I wasn’t kidding about that part.” She looked away from me, and her tail bounced up and down on the bed. “I’m thankful. I really am.”
I wasn’t completely dense — I could sense when other people were trying to tell me things. “Mh? What’s wrong?”
Although I expected her to launch into something strange again, she just turned back to me and smiled wistfully. “I wanted you to admit that you liked me as much as I like you, but… eh. Can you do me a favor? Can you just… tell me if you’re not interested?”
Tsumia hit me with a verbal Cicada Block. A Kabedon. I had nowhere to go.
I had underestimated her — her ability to read the mood was beyond comprehension.
Even so, my feelings were conflicted. She had a genuine charm to her goofy antics and airheaded nature, but I couldn’t let go of my past that easily. The scars run deep, all the way down to the soul.
When Ogres make a promise, we take those to our graves. I was a stubborn bastard; after Rei died on the battlefield, I swore I would never truly love someone again. Even though I was involved in several involved relationships after that point, my emotions were stunted. Vidhyne saved me back then. She dealt with my bullshit and showered me in unconditional love for her own reasons. Had I not met my fate at the Origin Spire, she might have broken down that stone wall in my heart. I swore I would finally take responsibility. Raise the family we conceived in the passions of the last days before battle.
As you can see, things didn’t go quite as intended.
As I lay beside Tsumia, I realized I didn’t know what to feel. Maybe I was just scared to get attached — but it wasn’t like we could lose anything here. We were immortal. We’d be stuck here for a very long time, regardless of what we did.
No matter what, I would still love Rei. She was the girl that turned me into the man that I would be for the rest of my life. Losing her broke me — it took nearly five years just to snap out of my catatonic state. Much longer to summon the will to fight. And when I returned to the battlefield, it was the ghost of her love that kept me going through all of it.
But I figured Tsumia wouldn’t get any of that. It also struck me that I had never properly explained my life to her — I told others, but I suppose I must have forgotten about it. She had arrived after the denizens of the Origin Spire figured out what to do with their newly granted eternity.
I took a deep breath and looked her in the eye. “It’s a long story, but if you’re willing.”
She reached out and placed her hand on my arm, squeezing gently. “I’m listening.”
So I told her everything.
Took a while, but I straightened out my feelings as I spoke. It might be a bit cliche, but a mage has to know themselves in order to cast their magic.
I was still afraid of Tsumia. Afraid of getting attached and losing, afraid of failing the memory of Rei. The threat that she could succumb to her otherworldly corruption was still very real — I knew what I’d had to do if that ever came up. Loving her in the typical overly attached ogre way of love — beyond platonic enjoyment of her company — would make that so much harder. And I didn’t want to betray Rei’s love for me. I felt getting attached to another person would be a betrayal of the utmost level.
Now that I could stare clearly at my heart, I knew I was being irrational. Rei knew that I’d go through heaven, hell, and all the other planes of existence just to get back to her. Loving another person wouldn’t diminish that love. Tsumia vented her desires into her manuscripts; she created a hundred stories for others to enjoy, but never once received what she wanted.
I admired her. I admired the way she’d make a fool of herself and laugh it off. I admired the way she kept fighting against all odds, even against herself. I admired the genuine smile she wore — she learned to be happy with what she was. I admired that she wasn’t afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve — most of the time — and how she went from her former self to an outgoing, cheerful, goofy, and maybe a bit too excitable girl.
And more than anything, she was willing to trust me with her inner world. In turn, I was willing to love her with whatever I had left.
Not that I’d ever say any of that out loud. An Ogre isn’t anything without his pride.
After I finished my story, I stood up abruptly. Tsumia watched me curiously as I marched to the center of the room. And then, I did the unthinkable.
I struck a pose.
“Beware, evil creature of the night!” I declared — my voice rattled like thunder in the small chamber. “I am Haskel! The Magus Beyond Time! Our war continues for all of eternity, but I will admit defeat in this one battle.” I didn’t have my kanabō, so I settled for smashing my fists into one another. “Lady in Shadow! You have stolen my heart with your foul trickery and unholy charms — and I still stop at nothing to reclaim it!”
Tsumia stared at me in abject shock. Then, in confusion. Then — wings flapping and tail swishing aggressively — she broke into a crude, wanton smirk.
She launched her attack without warning. She pounced on me at the speed of thought. Her black and orange eyes, now filled with unbridled joy and need, bore into my very soul as she hugged me. She licked her lips, then dived in for the kill — she pressed her lips against mine. It was a plush, warm embrace; I held her closer and closed my eyes.
She was burning up against me, squirming as she made her next attack. It was a directed assault with her tongue, a beer flavored charge that breached my defences and explored; wiggling, pulsating, a bumpy and ribbed beast that terrorized my mouth. She was passing off her heat to me, and I fought back the only way I knew how. I pushed back, sliding my tongue underneath hers, brushing past the warmth of her lips in the fight for control. I inspected her adorable little fangs and poked underneath the base of her tongue — she gasped for air and moaned.
We reached a stalemate — Tsumia pulled back with a trail of mixed saliva connecting us. She raised a single finger, claimed the strand of saliva, and lowered it onto her orange tongue. The muscles in her throat contracted in a twitch, and I felt something I hadn’t for the first time in a long time. Warmth spread from her body directly to my loins — and most importantly, my heart. I really loved her, I realized. This stupid, goofy, brave girl.
“Now you’ve done it,” she said, panting and drooling with rosy cheeks, “You’re mine now. All mine.”
Drunk on the finality of her victory, Tsumia pushed me back down onto the bed — she was much stronger than she looked. With her eyes glowing brighter than they ever have before, she straddled me and sat on my stomach.
She was wearing nothing but boxers and a pink shirt underneath a white hoodie. The restraints she wore melded to her skin — two silver bands around her wrists, two against her ankles, and one around her neck. A comfortable and acceptable fashion choice most days, but the signs of her need leaked through the black fabric of her undergarments. She moved back and forth, smearing her warm slick across my abs, scratching gently against my skin. Her arousal left a cool buzzing in my body, which promptly sank to my loins.
In a single jerk, she tore my yukata open, then ran her palm down my bare chest.
“Ahhhh… Haskel… You’re built like a monster.” Her voice dripped with a husky smile as she traced the divots between my muscles. “My monster.” She looked like she was about to say something else, but she just giggled and pressed down on me with both palms. “And here I was, thinking you were a mage.”
I rested my hands on her hips and massaged the supple skin underneath her hoodie; she let out a gentle coo as I slipped a finger into her boxers and touched the base of her tail. She twitched, and the long braid of her hair bumped against my thigh.
“Knowing magic is no excuse for staying in peak condition.” I smiled and breathed through my nose. I could smell her arousal in the air, a thing of femininity and mind-rending flowery pheromones. An ordinary man would’ve lost will to resist, but am no ordinary man. This only awakened my spirit even further. “A man must master his body before mastering the arcane.”
I said that, but my erection pushed through the folds of my yukata and was nearly pressed against her rear. It was so hard that I thought I’d lose my mind at any second — I could feel my blood throbbing within, the exposed head twitching in the air, the warmth emanating from Tsumia’s body.
“Oho?” Tsumia flapped her wings excitedly and grinned. ”Then show me what you’re made of.” I felt the spaded tip of her tail wrap around the base and squeeze. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel droplets of pre running down my length; her tail continued to encircle me and slowly spread my arousal.
The talons on her wing bent to her waist and made an incision in the fabric. She was too horny to take off her pants properly; she used her wing to tear off the love-soaked undergarments and fling them to the side. Her sex drooled directly onto my skin, hot and needy, and she poised herself directly over my head. The grin she wore grew wider as she watched her juices coat my mast — I twitched from the aphrodisiac effects of her body. I ran my hands back from her hips, traced her clothed arms, and took her sweaty palms into mine.
Tsumia blushed even further as I squeezed her hands. She looked like she might just burst into tears or laughter from the sheer audacity of the act; I only nodded. “Whenever you’re ready, Tsu.”
She replied by lowering her hips and allowing her weight to force my length into her slit. She gasped and arched her back as the inhumane bumps and ridges of my Ogre’s cock slipped inside and rubbed against her erect clit; I bottom out against her deepest depths and groaned in pleasure. Her insides are hot and wet and the muscles gripped me tenderly, sliding over and massaging my entire length in a blisteringly warm embrace. The soft wall my head was pressed against suckles and kisses me, slurping up my leaking pre greedily.
She forced herself to make eye contact with me and smiled tearfully. “Let the Lady in Shadow… No, Let Tsumia take care of you.” She leaned closer to me, speaking between brief moans and gasps of joy. “I-I love you. I love you with everything this worthless body has to offer, so please, let me… before, eventually, I… disappear…”
She breathed in sharply and rolled her eyes back in her head; churning contractions stroke and swirl around my massive cock. Irregular, powerful, but unexpected pulsations milk me with a loving desperation. I had experienced nothing like it before; not even with my greatest lovers — her insides were begging me to paint them with my love. I grunt in approval and pulled Tsumia closer by the hands, close enough to get another taste of her plush lips.
Even though her mother was a Salamander, she was born a corrupted thing. What corruption entails depends entirely on the type of otherworldly influence one suffers from; because of the tragic circumstances of her birth, Tsumia herself was born with a cross between an unadulterated need to destroy and desecrate — and a terrible lewdness. There was nothing else like her in this world.
The fierce milking continues for several moan filled minutes. The fluids of our motions mix — the bedsheets grow damp spots and the room fills with the oily scent of sweet sex. Sweat glistens on both of our skin and I let the waves of pleasure slowly build up within; ripples of a carnal joy that I had long forgotten.
But I couldn’t help but notice one thing.
Even though Tsumia was writhing and sinking deep into the pleasure of milking me, she was tense; she was too concentrated on pleasing me to let loose and enjoy herself.
Even now, her heart must have been clouded with guilt. I knew what I had to do.
I let go of one of her hands and gently caressed the side of her face. She looked up at me, confused — the contractions inside her grew slow, more deliberate. With my thumb, I wiped away some tears that had formed when she wasn’t looking directly at me.
“You’re worthless?” I growled. “Who decided that?”
A pang of doubt crossed her beautiful face. “…What?”
“You’re going to lose to the influence within? Who decided that?”
I called upon my muscles to do what had to be done; in a gentle yet firm motion, I rolled Tsumia onto her back, pulled out, and pressed my hips against hers. My length nestled between her raised legs, nuzzling against her slick folds and rear entrance. She was so shocked that her hand went slack in mine.
This time, it was my turn to straddle; I put my knees on both sides of her hips. We weren’t exactly in the missionary position — we were closer to the mating press.
“You’ve made a terrible mistake, falling in love with an Ogre. An Oni. I will decide.” I leaned down and planted a kiss on her forehead. “No matter how much you fall, or sink into despair, this Oni will come and drag you back. No matter what.” I moved to the side and nibbled on her ear. “This is your fate now,” I purred. “Accept it.”
I couldn’t see her face, but I heard a breathy sigh brushing past my left. Tsumia pushed her thin hands underneath my armpits and held onto my shoulders — the fight flooded back into her. “The Lady in Shadow does not surrender,” she murmured, arching her back and pressing her clothed breasts against me. Her erect nipples scratched through the fabric and poked along my skin. “You must force me to accept such a selfish fate.”
A challenge. I raised my hips and guided my cock to her drooling lips; she giggled and squirmed in anticipation. I watched the desire in her eyes grow wanton, and then, desperate. The primal need for her arose — the intoxicatingly sweet scent of her clouded my rational thoughts. Grunting, I slowly spread her molten folds around my girth, savouring the clenching embrace of her slick walls. Tsumia’s entire body trembled — her claws dug into my thick hide as her gaze grew unfocused.
An inch at a time, I eventually pressed my waist against hers and felt the sticky sliminess of her slit smearing all over my skin. The little folds inside her stroked and caressed my cock, gliding and savoring me like hundreds of little tongues. The entrance to her womb latched onto me and began to gently suck — Tsumia made indescribable breathless sounds and opened and closed her mouth. Her tail found its way to my leg and coiled around my thigh, squeezing tight.
I buried my face in her neck, wrapped my arms around her back, and nipped her neck with my teeth. “Mine.”
“Hask, I’m—” She shivered and squeaked; her folds clamped down around me, wringing the bumps and ridges of my cock — I felt nothing but warmth as girl cum leaked from her nethers and dripped down our legs. Her face was lost in half-lidded bliss as she whispered my name over and over, basking in her first orgasm.
But we were just getting started. I pulled out, then began to repeatedly thrust into her spasming folds, sneaking my hands underneath her now-soaked hoodie and caressing her wings. Her swollen clit prodded my loins with each thrust, leaving sticky lines of love juice all over my crotch. I focused, resisting the urge to give her my everything, listening to her delightful reactions. Her body grew more animated the more I fucked her, until she broke into almost pained pleas, “M-More, more, more, more — Breed me! I love you, love you, love you… paint me with your thick Ogre cum! S-Stay with me forever, and — nnnngh…!”
I feel a sudden painful jab in my thigh and something cold flowing into me — the drive that was pushing me forward grew until it took over my mind. I felt an unfounded heat in my lions; within seconds, my loins kicked into overdrive until they felt swollen. I realized that she had stabbed and injected me with something from her tail, but I no longer cared.
I couldn’t take any more. Her words, combined with rapid clamps of her folds and endless kisses on my sensitive crown, pushed me well over the edge. I pressed up against her needy womb; her legs pressing against my rear and forcing me closer, my hands clutching against her back, drowning in her femininity — and I let loose. I twitch — waves of icy fire erupting upwards from my groin — and release a rope of thick cum directly into her womb. She mewled in delight and her folds milked me even harder, sucking and soaking up all of me. My balls clenched as I delivered almost endless ropes of cum into her — by the sixth, I could feel the result of our love spilling out onto the bed sheets in a pungent mess.
Both of us were gasping, sweating, steamy messes — but I didn’t feel even a little exhausted. There was an unfamiliar cold energy stirring inside me. I could go for round two, maybe even more. With my still-hard cock embedded inside her, I looked into her smiling luminous eyes.
“Is that it?” she said between gasps, recovering her breath. “I gave you a dose of my special—”
I closed the distance between our lips and kissed her deeply. I already knew what she did to me; she injected me with a type of poison that afflicts the soul — although calling this version a poison would be quite rude. She’s entrapped me in her clutches for the next little while; I couldn’t leave, even if I wanted to. Soon, I’d lose control of all my inhibitions and think of nothing but her.
But Ogres are prideful bastards. While she was distracted with the tangling of our tongues, I reached back and hovered my hand over her groin; with a single thought, I crafted a rune in my mind.
Truth. Desire. Heart’s ambition and boundless vigor. To own and be owned.
She gasped as I engraved my crest onto her. Her eyes widened; an experienced combatant like her could probably tell that I mirrored her poison and inflicted it back onto her. “What have you—”
I finally pulled out of her — with an audible ‘pop’ as cum oozed from her entrance — and admired my handiwork. Tsumia’s body was overheating — she struggled to wrestle off her soiled hoodie and undershirt. Her pillowy breasts were flush, her slightly luminescent areola and nipples bounced up and down as she struggled. And right above her nethers, a lewd crest drawn in glowing pink. Had a little heart and everything.
“Now we’re even,” I declared. I felt Tsumia’s spirit venom twisting my body — even the faint breeze in the room sent sparks down my spine. I gave my length an experimental squeeze; just a touch sent a bolt of lightning straight to my brain. This would be tough.
Tsumia wasn’t faring much better; she was squirming underneath the crest’s effects and panting like mad. Her hands took handfuls of our mixed love and smeared them across her bare body — she smeared the off-white fluids across her delicate skin, coated her breasts, then squeezed her delicate mounds together. She didn’t bother hiding the lecherous, needy look on her face as she spread her legs, tweaked her nipples, pulled at the bright collar on her neck, and licked her fingers. “I, the Lady in Shadow, declare war… I won’t lose, not here — I’ll love you more than you can love me!”
Her little show left me so hard that it hurt. I kissed her once more, not caring that I was tasting the mixture of our love, and stared her in the eyes. “You’re on.”
The rest was all hazy and disjointed as we bred late into the never-ending night; there were moments one of us lost consciousness while the other had their way, different positions — we went through every act in the book. We rutted like beasts for hours, augmented by lewd sorceries, determined to mark each other with more than just our scent. I filled up all of her holes — and then some. At some point, both of us passed out in each other’s arms.
I woke up, sore yet satisfied, cuddling against Tsumia’s bare body. We were covered in half-dried fluids, stained beyond belief. Even her braid and horns were caked in dried love.
Tsumia’s eyes fluttered open at around the same time; she stirred and groaned. Realizing she was already in my arms, she dug in closer and nestled her face in my shoulder. “Let’s call it a draw,” she muttered in a quiet, carefree voice.
“We’ll settle it next time, for sure.” I pulled her in and kissed her again on the forehead like the giant sap I was — she giggled her approval. Another thought crossed my mind then. “If anybody found out that an archmage was using their magic for this kind of stuff, they probably wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
Tsumia’s hands crept around my back. “That’s because you’re a dork. My dork.”
“No, you.” I whispered. “Idiot.”
“Dumb magic Ogre.”
“Dumb mega devil.” I pat her on the back of the head, sighing. “My little devil.”
We lay there for a long time, still basking in the afterglow of last night. Her magic left some lingering effects on me; notably, my drive was forcibly reawakened. There was more than just a simple infatuation — I was sure that I loved Tsumia. I wanted to keep doing this to her, to let her know that I loved her. To sear those memories of love deep into her body and to hold her close to my heart.
It was an Ogre’s selfish, overbearing, almost demonic love — but it was all I had to give.
I saw her idly picking at the restraint on her neck; I placed my hand over hers and held her thin fingers. “I’m sure you won’t have to wear those, soon enough.”
“I… kinda like them, actually.” Tsumia guided my fingers to the warm metal, then smiled. “They’re reminders that you’re always with me… Also, kinda sorta fashionable.”
I grinned. “That crest isn’t going away for some time, you know. Not until I dispel it.”
“Oooh, chains, collars, and now, a womb crest. Aren’t you the kinkiest bastard around?”
“You asked for it.” I pinched her cheers and she made a sound of mild annoyance.
“There’s still one more thing I want to try,” she murmured. She pulled herself and leaned in real close — her glowing eyes were brimming with excitement.
“Just hold still.” As we lay beside each other, she leaned in and in and in — until our horns hit each other with a dull clunk. Just like mine, hers were warm and rugged to the touch. The patterned ridges rubbed up and down across the irregular myriad of bumps, faults, and angles of my Ogre’s horned — the sensations reminded me that I needed to go polish these things.
It felt like a gentle massage on muscle I didn’t know I had. I could feel the closeness of our mana, almost close enough to touch. And given the expression on Tsumia’s face, I think she liked it as well.
“This is some real kinky shit,” I commented, hugging her closer.
She kept nuzzling me with her horns, grinning mischievously. “We’re going straight to hell, we are.”
“Technically, I think we’re already there.”
Tsumia wiggled her eyebrows as though to give a shrug. “Oops,” she said.
We cleaned up in the shower together, got dressed, then set upon our day.
Technically, there weren’t really days since there was no sun, but we kept a clock around just for tradition’s sake. And since we lived in a damn big tower, walking always took a while.
“I know it’s been a while since I’ve done anything,” Tsumia said, walking beside me with her hands in the pouch of a new red hoodie, “but have there been any new construction plans?”
I walked with my hands resting on my nape, idly staring at the flickering torch crystals on the walls. Even though the Origin Spire was a pretty intimidating place — all black obsidian almost everything and built with too many dead ends — it was cozy to me.
“The old guard decided on a nursery first. We don’t know if it’s possible for new life to actually come into existence in a place like this, but hey, better safe than sorry.”
“A nursery?” Tsumia looked at me, mildly bemused. “…Has it really been that long?”
I couldn’t remember the date either. “Yeah, probably.” I tried to think of something else that wasn’t such a depressing topic. “Oh, we’re thinking about building a better communications station. We can communicate with the outside world right now, but we might be able to go beyond that at some point.”
“Beyond that? Whaddya mean?”
I nodded to Tsumia herself and continued. “I’ve been wondering. Since the Old One’s influence still reaches here, despite being… theoretically closed off to all outside influence, I was wondering if we could exploit this somehow. I doubt it would lead to our escape, but… maybe it’ll make things more interesting around here.”
“Hmph.” Tsumia stepped in front of her and crossed her eyes, smiling defiantly. “You’re not concentrating on the important things.” She flapped her wings once and gestured around her. “We could expand out the edges of the Origin Spire. It wouldn’t infringe on the outside world, but maybe we could… I don’t know, create new terrain? A jungle? Something new all together?”
“Hmm.” I cocked an eyebrow. Tsumia had better ideas than anybody gave her credit for.
It was around 2pm when we reached the cafeteria. Even though none of us actually needed to eat, it was still one pleasure nobody could give up. Cooking gave the more outgoing types something to do — and any time waster was welcomed with open arms.
We entered through the eastern entrance — and were greeted with a sudden bang.
Party poppers showered us in magical sparks and harmless ribbons; people were already waiting for us at the cafeteria. They all wore paper party hats and had little noise makers. Some of them were cheering enthusiastically.
Me and Tsumia were so shocked that we didn’t know how to process this — we just stood there.
Across the back wall, two imps flew up and unveiled a banner written in fancy cursive:
ABOUT TIME. GOOD JOB.
“What’s going on?” Tsumia said, crossing her arms.
“What the fuck,” I said.
I saw stacks of books and sacks of coins exchanging hands at one particular table with the people I knew — I marched over and demanded an answer.
“We were betting on when you two would consummate your relationship!” said Xorrog, who was collecting his winnings of platinum and copies of HAND HOLDING EXTREME: UNCENSORED.
I didn’t know how to respond to that. “You what.”
“It started off as an in-joke between me and Til’girol, and it went from there.” Xorrog pointed at Til’gorol, who was sadly sipping on some flavored ectoplasm. The Gravelord looked so pitiful in his fuzzy purple party that I couldn’t even laugh. “Everybody hedged some form of bet.”
I looked around, breathing a deep sigh. Everybody looked like they were having a pleasant time, at least. “Is there a single person who isn’t in on this?”
The people at the table avoided my gaze.
“Pfweeeeee…” said Vaska, blowing on a party horn. A golden party hat settled between the lion’s ears on top of her head — it said WINNER.
Me and Tsumia looked at each other; she was confused, but not that bothered. She seemed to like the attention.
I couldn’t say the same.
“Wait,” I said, pointing accusingly at the people at the winner’s table, “How the hell did you guys find out?”
My closer friends at the table — Vaska, Achernar, Xorrog — they looked at each other. Then they looked at me. I looked at Tsumia, who looked back at them. Then the group looked at each other again.
Achernar and Xorrog bolted. Both took flight and shot towards the exits so fast that they produced a small gale in the cafeteria.
I was about to chase after then, but Tsumia grabbed my arm and gave me a goofy grin. “Our subjects have thrown quite the feast for the Lady in Shadow, haven’t they?”
“Oh, fine. Whatever.”
I took a seat beside her and helped myself to the leftover snacks. Tsumia read some of her published books as she nibbled on doughnuts.
“How’d you figure out we liked each other?” I asked Til’girol, eventually. “Seriously. Was I really that obvious?”
The Gravelord looked at me with his stupid party hat bobbling on his helmet. “You kidding? You’ve been joined at the hip for months upon months. It was only a matter of time with you Ogres.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Haskel’s dick is way bigger in person,” Tsumia said nonchalantly, flipping to another page.
I began violently choking on a piece of teriyaki chicken.
Author’s Note for TFT:
These pairs of stories were written in six mad dash days of hard work. But that’s not really what I’m here for.
For those of you who don’t know who I am, I’m John Fong. A mysterious man from the eastern seas.
Although I’m relatively new to this site — and writing as a whole — I’ve been working hard on pursuing my dreams of actually becoming an author. I’ve been heaps of more support than I ever expected for my goofy little stories, and for that, I gotta thank all of you. This little community (among others) has given me the support and willpower to go on and finish one book with many more on the way. Even if this may just be a fleeting dream of a man who wishes for monster girls, I want to thank everybody who’s been there to add fuel to the flames. I never want this dream to end.
My first book: ‘Weave Point Null (Only Volume 1, since I’m a little ambitious)’ is entering final editing stages and awaiting images. A story about a Satyros knight and jaded old detective in a future that (hopefully) isn’t our own. There’s more on the way, maybe even a VN or two. Who knows where the future leads?
Stay tuned, folks.
John Fong out.