Wizardquest Part 15: What Matters Most

Chapter 137

 

As the sky grows dark you finally see Fort Carlsbad in the distance.

It’s an imposing creation of stone, augmented by wooden expansions stretching out for about half a mile. Braziers lit on the ramparts illuminate multiple men on guard patrolling the battlements and towers or working on catapults and bolt throwers as they go about their nightly duties. As you approach you can see a flurry of activity- seems they noticed you.

Your party is intercepted by a small patrol sent out from the fort, who verify your identity via Blake. They don’t seem overly enthused by your Monster companions, but they also don’t make much of a fuss as one Wolf Girl and a Lizardman are hardly threats. You make certain to hide Delilah in your [Sack of Holding +1], away from anything with semen. Wouldn’t do for them to see an animated head, would it?

They lead you in through the main gate of the fort, stable boys taking your wagon as you dismount. Before you even have time to dust yourself off, you’re greeted by the fort Commander himself, Darlish Creador. He’s a tall man of middle age with a strong build from years of military training. His crisp uniform and shining breastplate speak of great discipline, something you hope he’s imparted on the men under his command.

He smiles and tips his wide-brimmed hat when he sees your group,

“Good evening! What brings this intrepid group to my fort?” He asks jovially, although his eyes say that he’s scanning you for trouble. Blake steps forward and bows to him, showing his Order sigil.

“Thank you, Commander. I am Hero Blake of the Order of the Heroic Brotherhood and we are merely stopping through on our way further north.”

The Commander’s eyes go wide. “You can’t mean to say you’re going… But lad, haven’t you heard? Monsters are stepping up for an Invasion! Hells, even south of here is dangerous. We just had an outrider return, missing her horse and-“

Your eyes go wide and you step forward, interrupting him. “What did they look like?”

Creador studies you for a moment. You can’t help but notice how is hand drifts to his sword as he says in a slow voice, “Carla is of average height with black hair and-“

“By the Gods.” You whisper, knowing exactly who he’s talking about.

The Commander looks about your group, his face serious. “What are those looks for? Speak now, quickly.”

You lick your lips, wondering how stupid this is about to sound, “We think that this “Carla” may not actually be Carla… it might be a Monster impersonating her.”

The Commander nods as if this is perfectly rational and barks a nearby soldier. The man dashes off and the Commander turns back to you. “Thank you for the warning, we’ll keep her locked up until we can-“

He is interrupted as another soldier runs up, panting before throwing a quick salute, “S-sir, beg your pardon, but we’ve found a corpse or… well, a skeleton of all things near the barracks hidden in a side corridor under some rags”

“A… skeleton? What nonsense is this?”

“Sir, I don’t know, but we also found most of a uniform nearby. We think it belonged to Carla.”

All assembled go deathly quiet. The Commander glares at your party and then raises his voice.

“Initiate Lockdown!”

A furious bustle of noise echoes in the fort as gates are barred and men move about to secure the fort. You feel an echo of power thrum in the air and you realize that magics wards are being set up- powerful ones. Surprised, you turn to Commander as he gives orders, transitioning from the cautious officer to a stalwart warden in moments. When a lull in the orders comes, he turns to Blake and grunts,

“Nothing gets in or out. Sorry Hero, but until this thing is found and dealt with, we’re on full lockdown.”

The entire fortress is a mass of movement as soldiers begin to move to and fro while orders are barked down the chain of command, defenses are prepared, and people begin arming themselves. It’s an organized chaos but, you have to admit, despite having no true Invasion for generations, these men and women are very well trained and coordinated. It speaks volumes of the Commander and of the true horror of a Monster Invasion.

A runner takes a written order from Creador, taking off further into the complex before he rounds upon your team again.

“Hero! I need information, now. What did you bring into my fortress?”

Blake blinks, a little surprised, but he quickly slips into a parade-ground stance and looks the man in the eyes. “Sir. As far as we understand it this is an unknown type of Monster which has a highly corrosive body and can change forms at will. It’s natural state is black and leaks corrosive capable of eating away metal in moments.”

Creador curses. “So you’re telling me we have some kind of Slime in here? Some kind of shapeshifting Slime who killed one of my soldiers and… What, wore her skeleton?”

Blake looks to you and you cough into your hand before taking a step forward. “That is a reasonable conclusion from the available data, yes.”

The Commander eyes you up and down again before frowning and nodding to Blake. “Who is this?”

“This is our Wizard, a companion upon our quest further north.”

Creador narrows his eyes, “Wizard? That some kind of sorcerer? Phah, we have enough trouble with that holy terror, Margurette-“

“I’m sorry, what was that, your lordship?” Says a smooth, imperious voice from behind the commander.

Everyone turns about to spy a short, lithe woman walking toward your group. She is maybe 5’6″ with creme colored skin and short, black hair that hangs around her neck. She has brown eyes which are hard and focused entirely on the Commander as she grits teeth in a false smile.

She can’t be older than twenty years-old you guess, but she wears a suit of heavy armor as if it weighs nothing. Along with the armor, at her side is a small hammer, obviously used in her duties. You can’t help but notice that she’s also absolutely covered in Suns of Solos, some which seem quite unnecessary.

It seems fairly obvious she has a holy connection.

“Well? What is this all about?” She demands, looking over your group. She pauses as she looks to you, but soon goes back to the Commander. She’s about to speak when Veronica coughs into her hand.

“…Hello Margurette.”

The shorter Aspirant looks to Veronica and then sniffs, pointedly ignoring her before going back to Creador. Your Aspirant blinks a few times before clenching her fist, her face twitching as she stares at the ground, obviously furious at being so readily dismissed. These two seem to have some history together.

Creador eyes the two, then sighs. “We were merely speaking of wanting your opinion on the situation, Aspirant. There is a Monster loose in the fortress, one that could be impersonating our personnel and is impervious to steel.”

Margurette looks to the Commander with a look of disdain. “That seems like a gross negligence on your part, sir. I had expected better of you.” She sniffs, “So, you require the light of Solos to purge this beast from our midst, hmm? So be it, if it will allow me to return to the chapel all the swifter.”

You take a step forward as she lifts her hammer from her holster. “Easy now, easy now. This Monster is probably scared and confused. If we handle this situation poorly, it could start really hurting people. I’d recommended against attacking it so openly. Instead, I say we trap it.”

Margurette narrows her eyes. “You are some form of Hedge Mage, yes? Clearly from your robes, I can tell, but what possesses you to believe that capturing this…” She hisses the next word, “abomination, would be beneficial rather than simply destroying it? You sound as if you care for the beast.”

Your mouth goes dry and you look down, clenching Harmony. The staff sending out sympathetic pulses. “I just… think that maybe we’re being a little hasty is all.”

The Aspirant looks you over and then sniffs, turning about. “I see. Very well then, we shall try it your way, Mage.”

“Wizard, actually.”

She looks at you over her shoulder and raises an eyebrow. “Did I stutter?”

You blink in confusion for a moment before sighing as the Commander shrugs sympathetically. He nods and points at you. “You, Wizard, and the Lizardman, go with Margurette and scout out the barracks and see if you find anything odd. She’s been here long enough to know most of the people so see if you find anything out of the ordinary.”

He then points to Blake. “Hero, you, the Wolf Girl, and the other Aspirant head off down to the mess hall. Head counts are being performed so see if anyone is missing with the sergeants.”

The two Order warriors snap a quick salute before dragging Hala with them. Tabitha steps up and looks the Commander square in the eyes.

“I will require a new blade if I am to be of use in combat.”

Creador blinks at her. “I am not in the habit of giving away weapons to Monsters, you’ll have to forgive me, miss.”

“Oh just give her a sword, not like it will matter much.” Says Marrgurette as she starts walking off to the interior of the fortress complex.

Creador rolls his eyes and stops a passing soldier, demanding his blade. The soldier complies before running off. The Commander looks it over before grunting and tossing it to Tabitha, who catches the short blade deftly, looking it over before grunting herself.

“Man didn’t use this much, did he?”

“Hunh, yes Vickers always preferred the spear.”

Tabitha attaches the sword to her belt and nods. “A cowards weapon.”

Creador looks at Tabitha with approval before snorting. “Perhaps true, but it’s a very effective weapon.”

“Still not a sword.”

The two eye each other for a moment, appraising the other’s strength before Margurette utters an impatient sound and you walk forward, tugging on the Lizardman’s arm. She nods and simply turns about, heading with you into the interior of the walls.

 

Chapter 138

 

The walls are a confusing honeycomb of tunnels and passages leading to multiple rooms of varying purposes inside the fortress itself. You find it staggering that someone can navigate something like this until you realize that’s the point. If you can’t figure it out, how could an enemy? Of course the enemy are Monsters, so perhaps navigating is a little easier when you have like, a dog’s nose or something.

Margurette takes point, guiding through the tunnels which are mostly absent at the moment. Most of the soldiers must be posted at more critical locations or reporting for headcounts. She stops at various intervals, looking down passages, before choosing her path. You feel she’s being overly cautious as she goes but your spawn could be anywhere, so maybe it’s warranted. A shiver runs down your spine thinking about that, and you became acutely aware of all the sounds around you.

A creaking noise plays out from behind and you jump, staff blazing to life, to see Tabitha standing behind you, a concerned expression on her face. She looks to where you’re staring and narrows her eyes, hissing, “What?”

You raise your finger to your lips, moving slowly toward a small side tunnel, ready to blast whatever is there with magic if necessary. Taking a deep breath, you quickly turn the corner, raising your staff high in the air to see the source of the sound!

A rat pops its head out from some wooden planks, then squeaks and runs away, making more creaking sounds. Bubs snickers in your pocket as you heart begins to calm down. You glare at the rat as he picks his nose out from your pocket.

{Geez, calm down Big Guy, it was just another rat.}

{Clearly.} You grumble internally, angry at yourself.

{Well at least it smells like she was a fine specimen, let me tell you that.}

You raise an eyebrow, looking at your pocket. {Don’t tell me you’re looking for a girlfriend?}

{What? And let you have all the fun with your kitty-cat?}

You roll your eyes and turn around to come face-to-face with Margurette. She taps her mailed foot on the ground, her arms crossed against her chest. “Are you quite finished?”

You blink and nod slowly. “Sorry, I thought I heard something.”

“Clearly. Does this Monster frighten you so much that you jump at every little shadow, Mage? It is just an abomination, isn’t it? Clearly the light of Solos is more than suited to purge it.”

“Wait, I never said I wanted to purge it, I just… feel responsible for her.”

The Aspirant raises an eyebrow, “Her? Ha, you speak of it as if it were a creature on par with a human.” She casts a glance to Tabitha who doesn’t respond with anything but a cool stare.

For some reason you grow a little angry at that. “Listen here little girl, Monsters aren’t all bad. Yes, we have our differences, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit there and let you slander this child because you have your damn convictions.”

She lifts a lip in a sneer, “Child? Ha, what is it, your daughter or something?”

Before you can think it through you snarl back, “And if she is?”

The Aspirant blinks, taken aback by your statement. She continues to blink her eyes multiple times, looking like someone slapped her across the face. Her body seems to convulse for a moment before looks about, utterly surprised. Shaking her head and turning around, she places a hand to her brow and shudders.

You, feeling concerned, take a step forward, but she raises a hand to stop you, still holding her forehead. “Stay. I am merely filled with… such righteous rage at the moment. It will pass.”

You look to Tabitha who shrugs, removing her hand from her sword hilt. Clearly she had assumed the possibility of an altercation breaking out. Good ol’ Tabitha, clearly on top of things and having your back.

Margurette shudders one last time before taking in a deep breath and continuing on.

“This way, mage.”

You sigh and continue after her.

It’s a short trek to the barracks from there. When you arrive, you see a few soldiers carefully working on the skeleton the soldier had mentioned before. The damn thing is picked clean of all muscle and tendons, and the eyeless skull’s gaze bores into your own. You shudder to think that a human used to be around this, used to be living and breathing mere days ago. And now your… you hesitate to use the word “daughter,” but that’s basically what she is, had eaten and worn these bones like the person who had inhabited them beforehand.

You feel a little sick thinking about the fact that she could very well have already claimed another victim and is wearing their bones around this very moment.

As you approach the men, they throw crisp salutes to Margurette, who simply sniffs.

“His Lordship’s orders, we are to investigate the skeleton and this area for signs of this rogue Monster.”

The assembled soldiers look between themselves before a man with sergeant’s stripes walks forward. “Of course, ma’am. We discovered the remains as well as the uniform a little over an hour ago, but no sign of the creature.”

“Tell us about Carla when she arrived to the fort.” You ask as Tabitha nods next to you.

The man rubs his chin thoughtfully. “Well, she seemed a little worse for wear when she arrived- of course we didn’t know at the time she was…” He points at the skeleton. “She was sort of confused, didn’t seem to know where things were really, forgot people’s names at times. We attributed this to her condition.”

You nod, thinking about this. “Did she look different, any abnormalities you might have noticed?”

“This hardly seems useful.” Sniffs Margurette as she looks to you with disdain. Seems it’s her favorite expression.

“Well, no. She seemed her usual self, although she did seem to stumble a few times, like her balance was out. We left her to her bunk, thought she might need some time to recover, you know?” He shakes his head, “Didn’t expect this though.”

You rub your chin in thought. “No one is missing from here, are they? Anyone off on their own?”

The man shakes his head. “No, it was mess time for most of us, this area was empty save for her.”

You nod your head and turn to your companions. “Well, it looks like we won’t find much here, let’s head further down…”

“Uhm…” Comes a diminutive voice from behind. You turn back to see a small man dressed as a private holding his hands together. “Permission to speak sir?”

The sergeant sighs, “Damnit Frankie, you know you don’t have to ask every time you want to say something.”

The man nods as if to say he’ll always ask for permission. “Of course, sir.” He looks at your sheepishly before taking in a deep breath. “I- I might have seen something.”

You turn around fully, excited. “You did?”

“Uhm, yes, sir, uhm. Well, you see, I was the one who found the skeleton and I uh, noticed that on the wall there was a sort of… Spot missing? Like something had gouged a mark into it.”

You furrow your brow. “What do you mean?”

“Well, this was new, let me tell you I’ve had to wash all these walls, so I know, but this mark was fresh, like something… I dunno, corrosive? Dragged against the wall.” He points further down the hallway. “It seemed like it made the mark heading toward the inner complex.”

The sergeant frowns at the man. “Damnit Franklin, these are the kinds of things you tell people!” He rubs his chin. “Hrn, that way lies the command chambers, the mess hall, and the chapel. Looks like our guest might’ve made its way there.”

Margurette huffs, “Toward the chapel? Such an unruly beast, should it defile but a single candle in my sanctum…”

“Of course, of course.” Says the sergeant before he sighs in a similar manner to Creador. “I just hope they find this damn thing and lower the wards in the command chamber. Knowing something that did this to poor Carla is in here… sends a shiver up my spine.”

“Perhaps you need more of Solos’ light in your life then.” Sneers Margurette before she turns about. “Come, Mage, lizard. We have places to be.”

You exhale in annoyance before nodding to Tabitha and heading behind the Aspirant. What a fucking bitch, holy hells. Maybe she really did resent being up here as the Order’s “sacrificial lamb.” Or well, perhaps she just loves Solos that much. Either way, you continue followed the armored woman, your nerves on edge.

 

Chapter 139

 

The tunnels further ahead are also clear of people. It seems a slim chance that she’s around here when there are more people ahead, but you feel it’s wise to be cautious. Tabitha keeps her normal, alert-yet-cool attitude, but you can tell she feels something is off also.

As you turn a corner, you see Margurette suddenly stiffen, her hand on her hammer. You quickly channel power into Harmony, heart beginning to pump quickly as the Aspirant cries out, “There! It ran down there!” She springs forward faster than you can believe in all that armor, tearing down the hallway and around another corner.

Surprised, you see Tabitha peel off before you can move, her powerful legs carrying her forward with blinding speed as she chases the Aspirant. You start moving behind them, picking up speed when you hear a loud cry of pain from Margurette. When you hear this you run faster, rounding the corner and seeing Tabitha standing over the Aspirant, sword out as she scans before her.

Nothing is in the tunnels but Marguette, who lays on the ground, coughing with a hammer-shaped in her breastplate. You quickly help her up and she points down the hallway. “There! It was the Commander! He hit me with his weapon and ran off, clearly not expecting me. The damn Monster must be impersonating him!” She grits her teeth.

“He must be heading to the command chambers to shut down the lockdown and escape!”

You look to Tabitha who narrows her eyes. “I didn’t see anyone, but this creature has shown remarkable speed beforehand.” She stares down at Margurette, inspecting her armor before helping to lift the Aspirant up. The smaller warrior nods and looks down the hall.

“We must hurry!”

With no time to question it, you run down the hallway after the armored warrior, quickly running into people as you reach populated areas. They shout and chase after you, but they back down by a barked command from Marguette. Clearly the Commander must have not been questioned as he ran through, but why aren’t the other soldiers already on alert?

You quickly reach the command center, where two guards before the door have their spears leveled at your approach. Marguette grunts as she comes to a halt. “The Commander, did he just enter?”

The guards look between themselves and before nodding. You curse and take a step forward, but they hold their spears to you. You snarl, “Damnit, the Commander might be the Monster! He’s going to turn off the lockdown!”

They blink and look to each other, concerned, before one nods and opens the door quickly. Your group steps inside quickly to see Commander Creador look up from a panel filled with runes. He narrows his eyes and asks,

“Who let you in here?”

Margurette steps up and backhands the man across the cheek with her mailed fist, causing him to fall to the floor, clutching at his face. The guards behind you gasp, their spears ready, but Tabitha halts them, calling for them to gather your party instead. One of them curses and leaves to do so, the other slamming the doors shut, sounds of alarm starting behind you.

“What is the meaning of this?!” He snarls, hand drifting to his sword.

Margurette, with strength belying her frame, takes the man by the arms and screams a prayer to Solos before slapping a seal from her belt on him and pushing him away.

“Now wizard!” She screams.

You raise your staff and cast [Ice] sealing the man up to his chest in the stuff. He struggles but is unable to move, his body quickly shivering at the cold.

“W-what are you doing? G-guar-!” He starts but is quickly cut off by another backhand from the Aspirant, the force of it causing him to black out.

Panting, the Aspirant smirks, a mad glint in her eyes. “There! That seal should keep the energies of the Monster from allowing it to shift for a time. Well done…” She looks over at the panel and frowns.

“Damn, I think he started turning off the lockdown. I should look to it- in case he wakes up.” She continues to grin as she inspects the panel

You rub your head and walk over to the frozen Commander, kneeling down to look at him or well, her. This went…much smoother than expected. Something just doesn’t seem right about all of this though. How could a simple attack knock out such a Monster? Surely a human would drop unconscious but this? And now that you think about it, where is the hammer the Commander used to attack Margurette? Come to think of it, you’ve never seen him with anything other than a sword.

You stand up and look at Tabitha, who is standing over your shoulder. “Tabitha…” You whisper, “What kind of hammer did the Commander use to attack the Aspirant?”

The Lizardman narrows her eyes and looks at Margurette. “By the dent in the armor, one like the one sitting loose in the Aspirant’s very belt.”

Both of you trade a glance and then look up to the Aspirant who is staring at both of you. She seems to sense something in your expressions and furrows her brow. “What? Can’t you see I’m busy? She did major damage here, Wizard.”

“Margurette…” You start slowly. “Didn’t you call me Mage before?”

The Aspirant blinks and then narrows her eyes before sighing and stepping away from the console. “You couldn’t just let me finish, could you father? I was almost done too.”

Your eyes go wide as a popping sound echoes in the room. Margurette’s hand shifts and changes into the blade of a sword, one she must have picked up somewhere and hid in her body. As this happens, one of her brown eyes shifts into that of a very familiar arachnid’s, giving her a truly monstrous visage.

“I suppose I’ll have to make this quick so I can break this accursed lockdown. I didn’t think I’d be stuck here while I took a better body. The last one was fine, but it didn’t feel like me, you know?”

You grit your teeth and raise Harmony, “Damnit, that’s not how any daughter of mine should act!”

“Oh? Are you to punish your little ‘mistake?'” She snarls, flesh rippling.

“Well, daddy dearest, I don’t think so.”

 

Chapter 140

 

She bursts forward, blade hand out to pierce your chest. Before she can reach you, she’s intercepted by Tabitha, who parries her strike with contemptuous ease. Your spawn growls and strikes again, but is blocked by the clearly superior swordswoman. She steps back, sword clattering to the ground as instead her hand begins to secrete black fluid. It eats away the gauntlet on her hand in moments and corrodes the floor as it dribbles down in droplets.

“Damnit, don’t do this!” You shout, taking a step forward, Tabitha protecting you. “Look, I’m sorry about before, I was taken off guard, alright? I didn’t mean to call you a mistake. I wasn’t prepared for you was all and-“

She snarls, flinging corrosive liquid about. “Is that so? I’m just an abomination, right? Something you accidentally made in a damn bowl!” She puts a hand to her head, eyes shifting back and forth. “It… It hurts. There’s too many voices in here!”

You raise a placating hand. “Calm down. Look, I’ll help you, just don’t do anything rash.”

She blinks, black tears running down her cheeks. “Help? How you intend to help? Can you make the voices stop? I don’t even know what I fucking am, and you ask to help?” She raises her hand, the other starting to dribble corrosive blackness as well. A wicked smirk comes to her lips.

“I think you just want to destroy me- yes, yes, you’re using your trickery like you did with the Swamp Horror. I know these things, I can hear the voices of everything that comprises me.”

“Please, I promise you-” You begin before Tabitha snaps,

“Get your head in the game Wizard!”

Your daughter leaps toward Tabitha, who avoids the corrosive hands deftly, but is unable to land a blow that isn’t repelled by the armor she still wears while trying to avoid being hurt. The Lizardman ducks and weaves, making the other Monster even more furious as she attacks, destroying maps and tables with her corrosive blows.

As you watch, torn while the two battle, you realize that the situation will quickly go sour if you don’t do anything. You quickly pull out a piece of [Wizard’s Chalk] and begin to draw two wide circles as they fight. Quickly adding in a few anchor points, you make them stronger, but don’t infuse any power into them. Instead you watch the flow of the battle, and grunt towards the Commander as corrosive fluid hits the ice, eroding it. Well, seems like it would be stupid to try and trap her in ice. Why would you do that?

And yet that’s exactly what you do. You raise your staff and channel [Ice] before yelling to Tabitha to dodge. The experienced swordswoman does so without hesitation and your magic hits the corrosive Monster around the legs, causing her to slip forward as the ice coats her armored lower half.

She snarls and turns to the bonds, which you defrost with a fire spell. She blinks and then glares at you, her mismatched eyes glinting dangerously.

Tabitha backs off, shouting a warning as your spawn picks herself up and charges at you. You merely stand in place as she gets closer and closer. Her hand is mere inches from your face when it hits a solid, invisible wall. She rebounds, slamming in between the small confines of the magic circle you had made and activated as she entered it. She looks about, trashing back and forth before letting out a cry of despair and placing her hands on the invisible wall, trailing black ichor as tears continue streaming down her face.

“No…” She cries, sinking down onto her knees, arms falling to her side.

You sigh and then tap the second circle you drew around the first, causing it to flare to life around you. Tabitha pauses as she walks up to your wall, tapping on it with a frown.

“Wizard, what are you…?” She asks, hand still on her sword.

You sink to your knees, placing Harmony on the ground next to you. Then, with deliberate slowness, you lower the circle around your daughter and lean in, hugging her while making certain to avoid her corrosive touch.

She gasps and then shudders. A moment later you feel her arms encircle you as more tears pour from her cheeks. Even though your robes are splattered by them, you didn’t notice any corrosive effects, which is great! You figured she’d be able to control the corrosion if she tried, which was a gamble. Looks like it paid off!

She weeps like this for a long while before whispering, “Why? Why didn’t you destroy me? I could have eaten you- it would have been easy.”

“Nah, even if you’re not truly from my loins, you’re my daughter, and no daughter of mine would do that.”

“But… But I ate those two-“

“Shhhh,” you say, stroking her misbegotten hair. “I’m sure there will be consequences for that, but I won’t let them hurt you, okay? I meant what I said. I’m sorry for last night. I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I obviously wasn’t ready for such a responsibility.”

You sigh and pull back, wiping a black tear from her arachnid eye. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was unfair of me to let you out in this world alone. I know what that’s like, and it’s miserable.”

She nods, sniffing cutely in a strange way. “Yeah… I didn’t know what to do, I was just so angry and the voices said… they said…”

“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m here.” You rub at your cheek. “I didn’t really think I’d ever be in this position, but you know what, that’s fine. Things will be difficult but, if you’re willing, I’ll do my best to be the proper father and help you stabilize yourself, whatever you need.”

She looks at you with an odd expression, “You… you mean it? You… you’d want an abomination like me around?”

“Of course I do, don’t I uncle Bubs?” You say, the rat poking his head out of your pocket. He hops down and crawls up to the Monster, sniffing her before looking to you and then crawling on her leg. She smiles and picks him up, to which he gently licks her nose, eliciting a small chuckle from her.

Saya clearly needs a skeleton to hold a cohesive form at the moment, possibly forever, but letting her keep the current one will be tricky. Hells, you’re going to have the hells of a time convincing the soldiers in the fort to let her live. The trials of parenthood start immediately you suppose, but that’s alright. For some reason you feel a strange sensation within you as you watch the slime creature play like a little girl with the rat. It’s a good feeling, one magnified as she looks at you with those mismatched eyes.

“What’s my name?”

You lean back, considering. What was is her name? Wow, what a question that is. You think of some off the top of your head but it occurs to you that this is probably one of the more important questions of your life. Whatever you name her will stick with her for her entire life.

What if you named her something like Blade? Gosh that would be embarrassing and edgy. Alexandra? No…no that seems too formal, it just doesn’t to sit with you. What about after a Goddess? Dolly? Pfff, oh hells no.

You frown in deep concentration, sweat starting to drip from your brow. Oh Gods this could be an even more important decision than when you chose to walk the path of the Wizard, and that was some serious thought. Well you were also a teenager, but still, it was a rough decision.

“Uhm… Are you alright?” Your daughter asks, cocking her head. As you look at her expression, you nod your head slowly as something comes to you. Yes… yes it could work.

You take a deep breath and slowly place your hand on top of her head. She blinks, a little confused.

“Alright! From today on, your name is… Saya!”

Saya looks at you with wide eyes for a moment before breaking out into a wide smile. “Saya… Oh, oh thank you daddy!”

She gives you a big hug, squishing the rat in her hand who squeals under the pressure. Feeling her arms around you, you return the hug, a tide of emotions threatening to swamp you in a flood of good feelings. You can’t even describe it, but for some reason seeing this smile just fills you with joy.

It’s not like you ever really wanted kids, because that would imply women and sex which is not Wizardly. Not in the slightest. But when she called you “daddy,” it just sent a flutter up your spine. What an odd sensation! Even if she’s not your biological daughter, you’re determined now to take care of her. You’ve never felt more sure of something in your life.

Tabitha just stands outside, scratching her head in confusion as the door bursts open, your party coming in with more guards. They stop as they see the scene before you.

Veronica throws up her hands, expression disgusted.

“What the fuck is this?”

 

Chapter 141

 

Yep, there’s going to be hells to pay. But you’ll worry about that in a moment.

You stroke Saya’s hair as a loud coughing sound comes from behind you. Rolling your eyes, you turn around, an annoyed expression on your face. You see Veronica, hands on her hips, leaning forward and glaring at you. Blake stands to the side, eyes closed while he rubs his forehead with one hand.

“Wizard, what the hells are you doing?” Asks Veronica, clearly furious and only barely keeping from exploding. “Why is the Commander half frozen in ice while you’re sitting there hugging Gods damned Margurette…” She trails off as Saya looks at her, blinking her insectoid eye.

Veronica’s eye twitches and she hisses, “That’s the damn Monster you fool!”

You narrow your eyes and place a hand on Saya’s head. “No, she’s my daughter.”

Blake groans, “You’re a Wizard, you CAN’T have a daughter.”

“He can too!” Huffs Saya, crossing her arms. “I mean, yes, he made me in a bowl, but fuck! That still counts.”

You raise a finger, chiding her, “Language.”

She blinks and then quirks an eyebrow, “Really?”

“You bet your fucking ass really.”

She smirks and Veronica growls, “Well whatever it is, why the fuck does it look like Margur…” Her eyes grow wide, “She killed her!”

You turn to Saya and she looks away, features shifting as she says softly, “I… we… at the time it was the best course of action and we… I had thought that it would be best to…” She looks down at her hands and then up to Veronica, both eyes now that of Margurette. “Vero, I’m sorry.”

Veronica’s eyes widen even further and she breathes deep with her nose as she stares at the Slime thing. She opens her mouth slowly before saying, “H-how did you know that name?”

Saya’s eye twists and changes back as she replies, “She is part of us… me. The eating you see, it fuses and…” She places a hand to her head and winces in pain.

You quickly put a hand on her shoulder in response. She shudders before taking a deep breath and then looking up at you, shimmers of tears in her eyes. She whispers, “Too many voices…”

More soldiers begin to storm in, surrounding you and your party. Creador is freed from what’s the left of the ice, the soldiers waking him up while others level spears at you, making their intentions quite clear. Of course, they can’t get past your barrier with such simple weapons-

A loud clanging sound comes from outside and you turn to the door to see a thin, mechanical creature made of stone laced with bars of steel. It has the vague outline of a woman, which you find odd, but no distinct facial features. From behind it walks a man in robes marked with the seal of the fort, the construct responding to his verbal commands. You watch as it clambers forward before stopping in front of the barrier.

The man directing the machine sniffs and calls out in a nasally voice, “Come out of there sorcerer, or we shall be forced to take you and that vile creature out by force.”

You narrow your eyes again and turn to stand. Saya grabs onto your arms and you gently pat her on the head. She nods and lets go of you as you face the man.

“I will come out, but you must promise not to hurt her.”

“Phah! The creature has killed one of our soldiers and from what I hear, even devoured one of the Order’s soldiers! How can you protect this thing?” He turns his large nose up and sniffs. “Honestly I should kill all of you for treason.”

You grit your teeth. Damn, this is what you had feared. You can’t deny that she killed people, but she’s just a child! Sort of. Look, the long and short of it is, you won’t let them hurt her, but resorting to force would end badly for you. This man is likely a sanctioned sorcerer and that construct, whatever it is, is likely not to be trifled with.

You look over to Blake who watches the event passively, his hand on Lionsedge. No emotion marks his face, but you’re certain he’s trying to think through the situation. Thankfully, Blake’s slow-witted thinking is exactly what you need at the moment.

“Stay your hand!” You say, holding up yours. The man looks at you, eyes narrowed as you point to Blake. “I require consult with the Hero. Do not invade the circle or I shall be cross.”

The sorcerer’s lips peel back and he spits out, “Such arrogance! I will destroy you and that-“

“That’s quite enough.” Says Blake, giving the man an imperious stare. The sorcerer blinks and steps backward, taken aback by the force of Blake’s words. “I shall speak with the Wizard. Stay your blades for now.”

The man blusters, trying to put together words but Blake cuts him off with a gesture. The sorcerer looks about for help before grumbling and crossing his arms. Blake gestures and you lower the circle, allowing him to step in before you close it again. With a swift gesture you cast [Privacy Barrier] and everything goes quiet.

“Wizard, I’ll be blunt. Do you want to die?”

You blink and look at Blake, confused. The man rubs his forehead before continuing, “Because that’s what it looks like to me. Use a little diplomacy man.”

You huff, “I was trying to, but you’re much better at this. This is me calling it in for that punch you gave me back in Cair.”

Blake’s eyebrow lifts and he shakes his head with a little smirk. “Fine. Explain the whole ‘daughter’ thing.”

You sigh and look down to Saya, who rises slowly, clutching your shoulder. Blake gives her a small smile and she blushes, holding onto your arm. Oh no, you’re going to have to talk to her about having better taste in men.

“Well, as you can infer, this is not my biological daughter.”

Blake waves a hand at the magic around him. “Clearly.”

“However, you remember the event two days back? Well, I hadn’t quite realized at the time the implications of what I had done, but in mixing those materials-“

“And a spark from Victoria’s brain.” Saya puts in quickly.

“And a spark from Victoria’s brain…” You concede, “This amalgamation of consciousness created the being before you.”

Blake studies her carefully. “Why did she kill those two women?”

Saya looks down, clutching your arm. “We… I was scared, confused. I can’t hold a shape without a framework and a voice inside us… Me, said that it was the right thing to do.”

She presses a hand to her head. “But Carla and Margurette, their voices speak loud and we- I, feel the pain of their consciousness in me. It’s… difficult.”

You look back to Blake. “She can’t help it, she’s a damn child. Yes, she has the brains of grown women merged with this Swamp Horror and fused with some kind of monsterizing plague-“

“Which I will never understand why you kept” Blake hisses and your heart skips a beat before you hold up a hand.

“Aha, well, she sort of ate it all anyway. Look, it’s inactivated somehow and I think it managed to be the driving factor to create the whole new consciousness that is Saya.”

Blake looks at the girl for a long while. The whole time your heart beats furiously in your chest as you worry about whether or not Blake will accept her. Gods, what’s going to happen if he says no?

{Oh it’s fine. If he says no, you have my permission to stab him.} Says Chaika from your pocket. You ignore her and she huffs, {Hey! Hey listen you asshole, I’m talking to you!}

{Oh no you did not, that is my line} Sends Harmony, bursting in on the scene.

{I think…she cracked a rib…} Mutters Bubs off in the corner.

You wait patiently as the voices jump back and forth in your mind before you mentally snarl,

{Shut. Up.}

They do. Well, looks like you probably have something to teach Saya about keeping voices in your head quiet after all.

After what seems like an eternity, Blake lets out a long, deep sigh and shrugs. “I can’t bring myself to call a death sentence upon her, I can’t.”

You sigh in relief, but Blake raises a hand sharply. “However, I do not condone her actions. She committed murder Wizard, do you understand? She must atone for this sin if she is to make up for her actions.”

You nod slowly, gripping a hand on her shoulder. “I understand.”

Saya lowers her head with a glum expression, “Yes sir…”

Blake nods before turning back around. “We’ll discuss what that means later, assuming we survive our journey together.”

“Of course.”

Blake raises a hand and you lower both the [Privacy Barrier] and the circle, sounds rushing back to you. By this point the Commander is conscious, although shivering. His face has a massive bruise on it and he grunts in pain as he adjusts his jaw before speaking to Blake.

“Hero, you better have a damn good explanation for what occurred here.”

 

Chapter 142

 

Blake nods, “I do. The Wizard, in his ignorance, was tricked into believing that you were the Monster. Circumstances seemed to point to you working at the lockdown console and you made an excellent scapegoat for the real infiltrator.”

You raise an eyebrow. Damn, you hadn’t even told him this and he figured it out. Maybe he is isn’t slow-witted after all? You listen on as he continues,

“It appears, however, that you have not sustained lasting harm before the Wizard could subdue her.”

Creador snorts, wincing a little as he does. “Phah, says you. Look, I’ll be frank, this Monster needs to be put to the sword for what it did. We exist to stop dangerous Monsters and this one certainly is so.”

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that Commander,” says Blake with a totally straight face.

The Commander glares at Blake. “Excuse me, Hero?”

“I cannot allow you to dispatch the Monster. She is under my protection.”

Creador’s face turns red. “What is the meaning of this?”

Blake raises a hand, palm up. “Although these circumstances showed unexpected flaws, this creature is a new Order weapon, designed for deep infiltration. It appears to be a Monster, but in truth it is an advanced magical device. I had not expected to reveal this information however, but given the situation…” He shakes his head. “She managed to slip her bindings and needed to be sedated by the Wizard. I assure you, she is no longer a harm to you and yours. I cannot take back what she’s done, but sadly she is too valuable to be destroyed.”

The Commander stares at Blake, incredulous. “That is the fattest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard.”

Blake looks at him impassively, his features betraying no emotion as he whispers, “Are you sure?”

Creador reels back, looking between Saya and Blake before he licks his lips. He seems about to say something, but the fortress sorcerer interjects,

“Sire! The… Wizard… called this creature his daughter! Clearly this is not an impartial resolve.”

Blake doesn’t break eye contact with Creador. “Our Wizard is a little attached, yes, but tell me, have you known a practitioner who wasn’t a little mad?”

Creador searches Blake’s eyes before looking at the sorcerer, who is fish-mouth gaping in shock and outrage. The Commander sighs and rubs at his head. “Aww fuck this. You put me in a damn pickle you asshole. I can’t go against the Order, especially after this, but to let two deaths slide…”

“After our mission, I assure you that I will have the device brought to you for proper punishment, so long as she is not harmed.”

Creador takes in a deep breath before exhaling. “Fine. You win, the damn thing gets to live. Or whatever it does. Kill, apparently.” He glares at Saya before shaking his head and being lead off by a pair of medics.

Blake looks back to you and shakes his head as Saya sticks her tongue. You gently push on her head and she sighs, disappointed. What was with you and attracting troublemakers? Well, not that you really had any right to call the kettle black.

Clapping your hands together, you smile amicably. “Well then everyone, shall we find lodging for the evening? Personally I could use a good nap, hmm?”

Veronica shakes her head and stalks off while Hala tugs on Blake’s shoulder. “Hey, hey, the Wizard has a kid, why not us?”

Blake ignores the question as he leads the whining Wolf Girl away to find rooms in the fortress. Tabitha looks at you and then walks up, staring down at Saya. She returns her gaze intently, eyes shimmering back and forth between human and insectoid. Tabitha shakes her head and looks back up at you.

“You better know what you’re doing here Wizard.”

“I do.”

She smirks. “So you say. Going to be rough keeping this little fighter in check.” Then, without warning, she ruffles Saya’s hair to the bewilderment of everyone before chuckling and walking out.

Saya blows a stray strand of hair out of her eyes before looking at you. “What was that about?”

You shrug, still a little surprised. “No idea. Come on, let’s get going. They’re probably going to keep us somewhere easily watched.”

“Of course we are you two bit…what are you again? A Wizard? Phah, a fictional creature if I’ve ever heard one.” Says the sorcerer from behind you, hand on his construct.

You roll your eyes but Saya glares at him and bares her teeth. The man lifts an eyebrow. “Oh? You wish to fight then, little Monster? Be my guest, Darling Mk VI hasn’t seen combat in quite some time.” He pets the construct, which doesn’t react. “Have you?”

You stare at the magical device and then place a hand on Saya’s shoulder, calming her. “What is that thing anyway?”

The man sniffs. “Thing? Phah, uncultured swine, this is a Halcyon Pattern mobile defense construct Mk VI. Build centuries ago, these robust creations serve the greater good of Deleor as indomitable defenders!”

“Why is there only one in here?”

The man blinks. “Well, they are quite rare and not made anymore…”

“No but, for a fort this old, why is there only one?”

The man waves a hand, “Bah, well there are more but this one is the only one with a core that is functional…” He pauses for a moment before his eyes narrow. “Never mind you that. It’s none of your business.”

“What’s this core you speak of?” You press, interested.

He scoffs, “It’s only the artificial intelligence that powers these wonders! It allows them to operate independently, run simple orders and protocol-” He scowls again and stamps his foot. “Stop that!”

You rub your chin, a thought coming to you. “So if someone put in a new intelligence core into one of these derelicts, then they might work again?”

“Well theoretically ye- Wait, no I never said that.” He point to the door. “Just get out of here damnit.”

You shrug, knowing you hit your limit, and you look to Harmony. She pulses confusion. Smirking in response, you take Saya’s hand and lead her out to find a solider who swiftly takes you to rooms which, as you expected, has guards posted. How nice of them.

The quarters are obviously for visiting guests who are not soldiers, likely merchants and suppliers. Despite this, it’s only a simple affair, there being just two beds and a little wash stand. You stretch and walk over to one of the beds, sitting down and staring at the ceiling. What a day, what a day.

“Saya, I think we should look into your little multiple personalities issue in the morning, but for now-“

You’re interrupted as you hear the clanging sound of armor hitting the floor. Looking over, you see Saya stripping off her misbegotten armor with the ease of a novice who’s done this maybe once or twice before. She huffs as she pulls off the breastplate and you realize that Aspirant Margurette had a better body than you gave her credit for now that her armor is off. As Saya manages to get the last piece of armor off she begins to take off her undershirt. You cough, looking away.

“Dear, perhaps you should leave your under clothes on. You wouldn’t want to catch a cold would you?”

Saya chuckles, “I don’t think I can catch a cold. Besides, this woman is wearing underclothes, although they are a little frilly…”

“Yes well, do it for daddy, okay?”

She shrugs and then plops down onto the bed, rolling around on it with a short sleeved undershirt and trousers. She rolls up onto her arms and stares at you. “This is really comfortable.”

You smile. “Yes, it is. We won’t have this luxury for quite some time after this, so please enjoy it.”

Saya continues to stare at you before she whispers, “Do you really mean what you said? Are you sure you’re okay with me, even though I’m not really your daughter? I mean, we’re just… I’m just an amalgamation of personalities attached to a borrowed skeleton.”

You take in a deep breath and then stand up slowly, walking over to Saya before kneeling down next to her, your eyes level with hers.

“Saya, I don’t care how you were brought into this world. When you called me your father, I knew that I had to protect you, no matter what. And if that’s not the hallmark of a parent, then I don’t know what is.”

She looks into your eyes and nods, smiling softly. You smile back and then pat her head before turning to the little candle in the room and blowing it out. “Goodnight, Saya.”

“Night, dad.”

You settle into bed, thoughts restless as you imagine the responsibility you just took upon yourself. Wow. A father huh? For some reason that thought makes you think about Selene. You wonder what she would think about this, wonder she she’d think you made the right choice. These thoughts make you feel an odd mix of emotion between elation, fear, and dread.

“Hey dad?” Saya asks in the darkness.

“Hmm?”

“I love you.”

You pause for a moment before saying back, “Love you too. Go to sleep.”

You hear a rustling of sheets before you close your eyes and sleep takes you, a smile on your face.

 

Chapter 143

 

The morning comes far faster than it has any right to.

You groan as a knock on the door rattles your thoughts awake. Rolling out of bed, you yawn as Blake enters the room, looking about. He sighs and rubs at his head.

“Honestly Wizard, I know you’re late to rise, but can’t you teach better habits to Saya?”

You give Blake a mocking face before you look over to Saya’s bed. She somehow crawled under the sheets and curled into a lump. You call out, “Saya, wake up.”

The lump shudders. A moment later you hear a garbled, “G-give me a minute.”

You look to Blake who shrugs. Getting out of bed, you walk over to her and shake the blankets, which seem to jiggle oddly under your touch. “Are you alright?”

“D-don’t do that!” Saya cries and you narrow your eyes before slowly pulling back the sheets. Saya lets out another squeal and you let go, letting the covers form over her again.

You swallow, shocked a little by what you saw. It seems that in her sleep, she reverted to her normal form of a mass of black, gelatinous goo wrapped around bones. You interrupted her as she’s trying to form herself back together. Guess that was probably rude of you.

“It’s alright, uh, h-honey? I’ll give you some time. I’ll be back in a bit, okay?”

She shuffles before muttering, a little more coherent, “Okay. I won’t be long.”

You look to Blake who just gives you a concerned look. He doesn’t say anything however as he turns on his heel and walks out the door, motioning you to follow. You do so with hesitation, a little nervous to leave Saya alone, but you feel she can handle herself. You…think.

{Bubs, stay with her.} You send just in case. The rat lazily crawls out of your pocket and lays on your bed,

{You got it booossss.}

You roll your eyes as your familiar falls back asleep. Guess he’s the lazy uncle. Grabbing up Harmony and Chaika, you continue following Blake as he leads you to the others.

On the way there he goes over your supply situation, gear for the trip ahead, your planned route, etc etc, but you’re too tired to pay attention. When you turn down the corner of an intersection, your eyes lock with those of the sorcerer from last night who is walking down the hallway alone. Grateful for the opportunity you deviate from Blake, who doesn’t even notice you missing, and intercept him.

“Heeeeeyyyyy buddddddyyy.” You say, sliding up next to the man.

He stares at you like you’re walking garbage. He sneers, “What do you want?”

“Well, last night I got to thinking, gosh, that Durla Mk XII-“

“Darling Mk VI.”

“Yes, yes, look that construct is quite useful, but goshes, if you have others just collecting dust, why don’t I try to activate one? We could sure use the extra power on our trip you know.”

The man gives you flat stare. “You think you can power one.”

“Yep.”

“You think you can create and implant an artificial intelligence core.”

“Mhm.”

“An art lost for centuries.”

“You got it.”

The man’s eye twitches before he throws up a hand. “Sure, why not, sure, okay! If you can activate one of the derelicts in warehouse B, then you can have it.” He cackles, “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

You snap your fingers at him and make little back and forth pointing gestures as you walk backward until you run into Blake, who seems to be talking about ice fishing for some reason. Bastard didn’t notice you were gone! He blinks in surprise at the intrusion, then rolls his eyes and keeps talking until you reach the others of your party.

“Where’s your abom- I mean daughter?” Asks Veronica. She still looks a little mad.

“Oh, you know, girl time.” You say nonchalantly before blinking. “Actually I guess you do know don’t you? Well, anyway, look I know she ate your friend and all-“

Veronica’s upper lip twitches and you shut up as Blake holds up a hand. “Veronica you can berate the Wizard for his lack of conversational skills later. I already advised him of the situation, at least for the parts he was present…”

You smile sheepishly. Ah, he was only pretending to be retarded.

“Anyway, we should be set to leave soon. This is the last stretch. We’ve already been through a lot together and the road ahead will only get worse. Three Temple Guardians remain before us. Tolosh, the Hunter, and the final guardian whom we know nothing about,”

“Oh, that would be Third, a Chimera.”

Everyone looks at you with surprise and you cough into your hand. “Communion Matrix.”

Blake eyes you before addressing the others again. “Well, Chimera or no she must be powerful, so you will need to be prepared to fight. Our goal is to kill the Lady and come home alive. Any questions, concerns?”

Hala shakes her head and cracks her knuckles, “I’m itching to tear out some throats!”

Veronica nods grimly. “I do my duty to Solos. And if that requires me to bash in a few skulls, well…”

Tabitha shrugs, “I’m following you.”

They all look to you and you blink, realizing you’re on the spot. You clear your throat and say, with some conviction, “I’m here until I’m not. If it requires killing a Dragon, then so be it.”

Everyone nods in agreement. There’s nothing else for it- you’re committed to this task now.

“Alright then.” Blake says, straightening. “Finish up any preparations you need, because we’re leaving in an hour.”

The others give confirmation and head away to gather their things. You have an inexorable pull to go back to check on Saya, which is a new and odd feeling, but there’s something you still need to do and you it appears that you don’t have much time in which to do it. With a sigh you look to Harmony and she pulses in confusion.

{Uhm. Hello?} She sends, hesitation in her voice.

{Hello Harmony. How do you feel about a little surprise?} You send, perhaps a little overeager.

She pauses before replying. {I’m not certain I’m comfortable with your tone of voice.}

{Oh, oh.} Cuts in Chaika with enthusiasm. {If she doesn’t want it, can I have it?}

You rub your chin and think about that. This thought lasts for all of one whole second before you realize that would be horrifying. No, no Chaika is being helpful but she does NOT deserve what you have in store. That could and would end poorly for everyone.

Still, you should probably give her something.

{Afraid not, but hey, thanks for helping out, in your own, psychopathic, little way.}

The dagger is silent for a moment before you feel a sort of…embarrassment? {Tch, well, you know, I’m sort of stuck to your hip or something so whatever…}

{Aww you do care.}

{Bah. If you’d really like to express some gratitude you’d let me have some of that sweet white. Come on, just a little sip?}

You roll your eyes as you continue down the hallways of the facility. Eventually, and with much asking of directions, you end up in front of a set of large, guarded doors with the letter, “B” painting on them.

As you approach, one of the guards holds up a hand. “Easy there, best turn around and not cause trouble.”

Chaika stirs. {Oh, oh instead of the semen can you just stab one of them? That would work too.}

{Maybe later.} You think back, studying the man.

“I apologize for my sudden visit, however I have business in… This is warehouse B, yes? The dear sorcerer gave me leave to study the derelict constructs inside.”

The guard looks to his friend, who rolls his eyes. The first guard lifts a hand as he asks, “Who? Sorcerer you said? You mean Herschel?”

You snap your fingers, “Ah, yes, him, Herschel, of course.”

“We ain’t got no Herschel here.” The man says flatly, staring at you without amusement.

You throw up your hands and look around before turning back to the man. “Okay fine, I don’t know his name, but come on, those damn things are just gathering dust, right? You aren’t using them and he basically dared me to try and activate one, come on.”

The man blinks in surprise before chuckling. “What, you want to ACTIVATE one?” He looks to his companion. “Hey get a load of this guy, says he want to ACTIVATE one of the old clunkers.”

The other guard snickers and the man turns back to you with a smug expression. “Hey now, how about you just turn about and head on back to your quarters. Thanks for the laugh though.”

You narrow your eyes as a surge of anger goes through you. Chaika needles you with a sly, {Sure you don’t want to stab them now?}

{MAYBE LATER.} You think with annoyance before schooling your thoughts. You take a deep breath and look back to the man with a forced smile.

“Come on, I’m sure we can be reasonable. If it’s as crazy a venture as you say, then I can’t possibly make it work, can I? What do you lose by letting me go in there? Not a thing and I guess you’d gain a few laughs or something if I fail.”

The man holds up a finger. “When. When you fail.”

You huff and tap your foot as he confers with his companion. They both look at you for a long moment before he shrugs. “Fine, why not. Not much in there but old trash anyway. Come on, but know that we’re watching you.”

He opens the door and you nod your head, grumbling as you slip inside.

 

Chapter 144

 

Soft light emits from tiny, enchanted crystals placed along the inside of the large room, playing over multiple shelves covered in layers of dust. You notice in the corner some larger, cloth draped figures along with other piles of parts and weaponry that are no longer in use. Looks like they gave up cleaning this place either because they’re lax, or more likely this is just a warehouse of glorified junk.

You cough as some dust hits your throat. Rubbing at your eyes, you steel yourself and walk forward looking at the shelves. Covered in cobwebs are old trophies, helmets, outdated weaponry, and other armor. You pause as you see what looks to be the horn of some great beast, but you’re quickly pushed forward by the guard who chides you for gawking.

He leads you before one of the figures covered in dusty cloth. You look to the guard who shrugs, waving at you. Gently setting down Harmony, you firmly grasp the sheet and pull it off, showering the area in dust, blinding you as the guards snicker and cackle at your bumbling. Fuckers.

When you finish flailing about like an idiot and clearing your eyes, you blink to see what you’ve unveiled.

Sitting before you in a fetal position is a magical construct similar to the Darling mk. VI. This one, however, is obviously different. It has a feminine shape to it, true, but it’s much more pronounced, the body smaller in size but the curves easier to see. You’re not certain why someone would make a battle machine with roughly C-cup breasts, but okay. The exterior chassis is a light blue metal that seems delicate, yet sturdy enough to weather battle, as evidenced by a few scrapes and dents here and there. You squint down in the dim light and see that it has a faceplate locked into a feminine neutral expression as opposed to the Mk VI which doesn’t have much of a face to speak of.

“Let’s see here… Ah, that’s one of the ol’ Mk II’s right? Heh, thing must have been sitting here for centuries. If the damn things weren’t made of adamantium, it’d probably be rusted out by now.”

You look to the man and wipe some dust off your shoulder. “Why is this model so much more…” You roll your hand. “Built, than the Mk VI?”

The guard chuckles, “Way I hear it, these things were often used to fight toe to toe with the biggest of the Monsters. Felt it was rather appropriate to fight a lady with a lady eh?”

The other guard shakes his head. “Nah nah, way I hear it is what with men deserting for them wiley Monsters, they wanted something a little bit more eye catching so the men stayed on their duty eh?”

His friend snorts. “Oh, so you’re saying the soldiers back then used to jack it to the bots eh?”

“I’m sure one or two tried to fuck ‘em too. Strange times before we went co-ed eh? Hear they even made pleasure ones at one point, although I ain’t never seen one.”

The first guard chuckles, “Heh, if there was then I wouldn’t have to hit up ol’ Laura now would I?”

You leave the two to their inane banter as you study the machine. Overall it appears to be in good condition. Moving the joints, you to find them a little creaky, but generally well serviceable. You scan it with your [Mage sight] and find it to be perfectly devoid of any power. Yes, you can sense some aethertic nexus points inside the thing but there’s nothing running through it. Looks like its core is dead as a doornail and, as you realize opening up the chest compartment, it’s probably because it’s missing.

You scratch your beard, some flakes of dust falling out. Hmm, so if the core is the only thing missing then it should still work for your purposes, but how to go about it?

{Uhm. What are you going to do?} Asks Harmony, a little curious.

{Harmony.} You send, oblivious to her question. {What do you think about this construct?}

She seems taken aback for a moment before answering carefully. {Well, it’s not like I can actually see it, but from your thoughts it seems sleek, powerful and in fairly good condition. It would be an interesting asset if it worked.}

{Well then.} You send slowly, {Would you like to try it on?}

Harmony is quiet for a long while before she whispers in your mind, {What?}

{Well, I figure these things use artificial intelligence cores, right? Perhaps something similar to the core of this staff, though you’re are an actual intelligence. I bet these things were never very fast or agile because their cores were dim-witted. You, however-“

{B-but this isn’t! No one has ever!}

{Bah!} You send, mentally throwing up your arms. {I know you resent being stuck in that staff for so long. Come on Harmony, what do you say?}

{I… I won’t be a staff anymore, I can’t help your magic!}

{Sure, but you’ll be happy. That’s far more important to me.}

You get the sense that Harmony is very, very embarrassed all of a sudden. Her emotions pulse over you in a wash of joy, fear, trepidation, and excitement. Instead of being overwhelmed you smile. She sends back, almost at a whisper.

{Okay… Let’s try it.}

You nod, smiling. {Alright. Now then, the real question is how to transfer you from the staff into the machine. I’m not certain I’d want to rip open the staff but perhaps…}

{Just take the gem off. I can concentrate my essence into it.}

You nod and gently grasp the sparkling gem in the top of the staff, feeling Harmony’s essence slide into it under your fingers. With a grunt of effort you pull it out of its socket and feel the staff go inert in your hand. With gentle ease you place it on the floor and stare at the gem, feeling the pulses of power from it as Harmony stirs within.

{Hey, hey how come she gets a body, I want one!} Yells Chaika, whining like a child.

{When you’ve spent a few centuries as a knife we’ll talk.} You reply, working at cleaning up the core chamber.

{Baaaaaaaah!}

Ignoring her whining, you study the components of the chamber. You assume the large, empty, circular area is where the core should go. While the old core must have been larger than Harmony’s gem, you still think you can make it work. With gentle hands you place the gem into the device, attaching some threads that go to the nexus points. They seem to shiver at the touch of Harmony’s gem and the construct begins to hum faintly to your magical senses.

Harmony’s gem ripples with faint aetheric pulses in front of you. {This… is an odd sensation. I’m- I’m not certain this is safe Wizard. It feels like it’s trying to drag me out. I’m scared!}

You gently touch the little gem, fear running through you too. Still, you’ve got to try this. “It’s okay Harmony, shhh, it’s okay, you’re stronger than this thing, you can dominate it.”

“I- I don’t know it’s… Oh Gods it’s-! Wizard, I… I can’t feel you Wiz-!”

Harmony’s essence vanishes from your mind.

 

Chapter 145

 

A wave of panic washes through you. You shake the device, thinking loudly, {Harmony? HARMONY?!} Your heart thunders in your ears as the weight of what you did races through you. Oh Gods no, you just wanted to have her be happy, you didn’t mean to-! No! No this can’t be! You didn’t mean to!

You slump headfirst onto device. Despite yourself, you begin to cry as the cold metal touches your skin.

No… No, no, no, this wasn’t supposed to happen!

The guards behind you look between themselves but leave you be, wondering what the hells you’re doing as you hug the device. The damn currents must have dispersed her essence through the machine to the point where she became unstable and the spirit known as Harmony was gone. Damnit, you should have seen this coming! You were so damn hung-ho though that you couldn’t stop for a second and think it through! And now Harmony is… is…

You feel a hand gently touch your shoulder and a feeling of rage passes through you. Gods damned guards, don’t they see you’re inconsolable? Bastards probably think you’re crazy! Well fuck them! You turn about to snarl at them but you feel another arm wrap around you and pull you close to the construct.

You flail for a moment in panic before you realize the arms holding you belong to the construct. Tears still in your eyes, you slowly turn back around to see a pleasant, if impassive face.

{Shhh. It’s me.} Sends Harmony, her essence appearing again in your mind.

A wave of shock and relief flows through you. Your whole body feels limp at the sudden shift in emotions, so you just slump onto Harmony who pulls you into herself. She sighs mentally and applies more pressure as she hugs you. At the point your back feels like it might snap you grunt and she lets go with dexterous speed.

{Oh! Sorry!}

You cough and pull back from her to the sound of amazement from the guards. It’s not like you were supposed to do that, right? One of them coughs and steps forward, giving an awkward bow as he addresses you.

“Uh, begging your pardon sir, but uhm. Wow.”

You lift an eyebrow at the man as you wipe tears from your eyes. Oh, now he’s polite. Looking back to Harmony she nods slowly, then rises on creaking joints. She looks about at her arms and legs, apparently able to see by her gestures.

“Oh wow, having feet and hands is weird!” She says, audibly.

The guards jump back and even you lift an eyebrow. So, these things had external auditory devices? The old magic engineers must have been some impressive people- that or the wars demanded impressive technology. You do a cursory scan of the device with your [Mage Sight] and find nothing outwardly wrong. Of course, it’s not like you’re a magical engineer or anything- no one is, not anymore.

She puts a hand to her mouth and squeals. “Oh my goodness, I can talk!” She dances around about, flexing her fingers. “Oh and I have fingers! Can’t feel anything, but wow!”

You smile broadly. “You like it?”

“Oh I love it!” She says as she tackles you for another hug, throwing you to the floor.

You gasp some at the pressure and she jumps back, alarmed. “Oh goodness, I’m sorry Wizard, I don’t know my own strength now!”

Coughing, you stand up again, smirking and wincing. “Ah… Owwww, it’s okay, it’s okay.” You roll your arm and feel it pop a little. Damn is she strong.

“Oh can we go outside? I want to see sunlight again!” She says, the construct’s curvy body waggling back and forth in excitement. The guards stare slack-jawed as Harmony dances, obviously never imagining this to occur.

You smirk and pick up the now useless [Staff of Gregory the Great] and twirl it about before you offer your arm to Harmony, who looks down and accepts. The lack of emotion on her faceplate is an odd dichotomy to her eager hums, but whatever, this is fantastic. You tip your hat to the guards and stride out, construct on your arm.

————————————————————————————–

As you walk down the halls you can’t help but notice all the soldiers staring at you. You just smile like it’s your birthday. Fuck with you would they? BAH! You’ve got yourself a badass protector now! And it seems you’ve made Harmony happy, judging by her step. Yes, she still creaks some and misses every third step, but that can be fixed with some oil and time. Still beaming, you hear a gasp as you turn a corner and see the sorcerer with his Darling Mk VI.

The man’s eyes go wide when he sees Harmony’s Darling Mk II. He stutters, “H-how?”

You pat the man gently on the shoulder. “Yes, yours is a newer model and bigger, but I think mine has more charm, don’t you?”

He stares at you, mouth open, inaudible sounds coming out. You just stride past, beaming like a madman. Harmony lets out an audible, if pleased sigh.

“Oh Wizard, you shouldn’t be so mean.”

“Phsaw, he deserves it. He’s just jealous of your shiny new construct body.”

“I… I suppose.” Says Harmony as you continue to walk. Soon enough, (with asking a few directions) you find your way back to your quarters. Knocking on the door, you hear from within, “Coming!”

The door opens and you blink as you see Saya, yet… not quite. She’s the same height and body structure as the woman she’s impersonating, however the facial features are a little different. They seem younger, more relaxed. Her hair was a different shade too, more black like Carla’s and her eyes are now dull brown. Well, the human one anyway, she still sports the insectoid eye, or at least one like it in the right socket.

“Oh, hey daddy!” She says before she jumps, noticing Harmony.

“Hello!” Harmony says cheerfully.

“Uh…uh…” Utters Saya, clearly confused.

“Saya, this is Harmony. She was the essence in my staff, now put into this form. Say hello.”

Saya looks at her a little warily and then nods her head slowly. “How do you do?”

“Quite well!” Replies Harmony in a pleasant voice. “A pleasure to meet you!”

You nod your head in agreement before clapping your hands. “Alright Saya, time to get your things together and go. We have a long day ahead of us.”

She nods and then looks over at the bed. “I don’t actually have anything. Well, the armor I guess, but it’s kind of annoying to wear.”

You rub your chin and then shrug, “It’s probably fine to leave it then. Besides, I think staying nimble is better for you anyway.”

She smiles and then blinks as Bubs runs up her shoulder to nibble at her ear. She squeals and playfully pushes at him before the rat looks to Harmony.

{You got taller.}

“You got shorter.” She replies audibly.

The rest of your party is just as amazed to see Harmony the construct as the rest of the fortress. Thankfully they take to her remarkably well, even after you explain that she’s been in your staff the whole time. Blake acts the perfect gentleman for Harmony, not missing a beat after you introduce her. The others only seem to tolerate her, but you all pitch in to load the wagon with some supplies Blake requisitioned from the fort. Turns out with a construct the process is a quick endeavor!

Once you finish loading up the last of the supplies that Saya destroyed, you decide to make sure your own belongings are sorted. Opening up the [Sack of Holding +1] you blink in surprise when you see Delilah, who says with a casual grace, “Boo.”

Both of you just stare at each other until you sigh. “Oh, right, you’re here.”

“Very nice of you to notice. Yes, no, I had a great time last evening. Trapped in a bag that smells of shit, thank you for the experience.”

You smirk some at that but her expression doesn’t change. “No, really, it smelled awful.”

“You’ll live.” You say, taking her out of the bag and placing her out of sight of any soldiers.

“Ha, ha, very funny.” She sighs in response as Blake gets the wagon moving. “Why couldn’t you have killed me so I could just go home?”

 

Chapter 146

 

“Hey Harmony?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you need to sleep in that new body of yours?”

Harmony tries to gently put down the stick she’s holding in her new hands, attempting to figure out the nuances of fingers. She fails at doing so however and the stick snaps in half before dropping violently to ground. Harmony huffs which, now that you think about it, is an odd gesture for a construct, before she replies with a sigh, “No, I don’t believe so.”

“Oh, alright then.” You say before leaning back against the little tree near your campsite as you keep watch for the night. The day traveling from the fort was uneventful, thankfully, and you spent much of the time speaking with Saya. Maybe it’s because of who she ate, but she’s surprisingly intelligent! You’re surprised just how much fun you had with her today.

A chilling night-wind blows through, forcing you to pull your robes tight for warmth. Blake was right, it is getting colder and colder the farther north you go. You wonder if you’ll see snow, because that sounds pretty neat. You always liked snow but to interact with it would have meant going outside- a daunting prospect.

Ah, oh well, might as well enjoy it if you see it this time, or at least try not to die in an avalanche. You hear those things happen.

Harmony cocks her head and, you swear to Solos if she had eyes she would have blinked, asks, “Why do you ask?”

You shrug, “Oh, you know, it’s just, if you don’t need to sleep then you’d make a good sentry is all.”

Harmony considers this, the metal of her frame creaking as she moves to make what you think is some kind of philosophic pose. Honestly you think she’s just having fun moving around.

“Well, true, I suppose that’s partially what this construct was meant for, but…” She rolls a hand, an awkward and violent gesture for her. “It’s just… It would be rather lonely.”

You chuckle softly, “Yeah, that’s why I didn’t pursue it. Wouldn’t be fair for you to be the only one to suffer the boredom.”

“Yeah, although I’m told more often then not you got into risky business at night?”

You grimace at that and peer at her with an odd expression. Was she making a reference to your nightly visits by Selene or just the other, more mundane attacks by Monsters? Choosing not to delve further into the subject, you instead look over at the sleeping form of Saya in her blanket. Sure, some of her features are starting to run a little as her more “viscous” nature takes form, but damnit she’s cute!

Harmony follows your gaze for and then sighs. “You two are adorable together.”

You smirk and hang your head, “Is that so? Guess all it takes is stopping a little homicide to form a strong father-daughter bond, huh?”

She chuckles, “Guess so.”

Harmony lets that hang in the air for a moment before she sinks down onto her belly and props up her chin with her arms. She kicks her feet back and forth, the picture of the primmest and most proper Queen, as she looks wistfully out into the night.

“I still can’t believe Harmonious had a daughter. I mean, I guess I should have figured since I’m sort of her and we are both amazing, but it’s very… powerful, you know? To know that somewhere there’s a strong, healthy young thing that looks like you.”

You close your eyes, smiling at the thought. “Yeah… It is a good feeling.”

“A shame that Harmonious got to have all the fun in making her though.” Harmony grumbles.

You open your eyes and look over to her then back to Saya. “Fun” huh? That would have involved intercourse which would have thus robbed you of your powers. Would you have traded your magic for Saya? The question makes you shiver inside as your mind wars about the subject.

Truly, it’s getting harder every day not to contemplate such things and it scares you, it really does. Choosing to run away from your insecurities again, you instead pick up your copy of [Defensive Magic: Volume 2] and pick up where you left off.

“The counter circle is the cornerstone of magical defense in duel situations, however most direct threats to a practitioner will come from mundane means. True, a circle made in advance is the superior method of protection from all forms of violence, however in combat situations this can be impractical and more than one practitioner has perished mid application of a circle. To this end, the most practical solution is a portable circle, or a shield.

“Shields are made from circles drawn in a similar fashion to the counter circle. The difference however is that the anchor point is formed by a smaller circle on the north point of the central circle. By adding this point and chaining off it, the effect of the shield and positioning can be increased. One can also continue to use the effects of the counter circle as well, however the concentration and mana required is quite large.

“When applied, the shield circle will allow the wielder to project a small barrier at a focal area in space around themselves. Projecting wider and more powerful barriers requires more mana and additional inscriptions on the circle, which can be daunting in combat. Typically most practitioners will use one large shield and move their bodies in time to project it in a necessary space. While a wide, circular or dome shield can be used, it is very difficult to manage and even the authors of this book do not recommend it.

“If the shield should be broken by sufficient force, the wielder will likely face tremendous backlash. This could cause severe mana drain or force the wielder to lose consciousness. Please use this technique only in appropriate situations!”

You put the book down and draw out a circle on the air with your will, applying the new circles learned. You feel a small strain on your mind as an area of space before you appears to warp out. Gingerly, you reach out and touch to feel an invisible barrier. You move about and feel to follow you and you nod, satisfied. This is similar to your [Defense of Defecation] but it could be used much more modular fashion and doesn’t require base materials. Besides, magical barrier.? Hell yeah!

{Hmmm.} thinks Chaika as she inspects your barrier. {Passable, I suppose.}

You cock your head and reply back, {What’s that mean, snake tits?}.

{Cute. Very cute, come up with that one all on your own?}

{Seemed appropriate.} You reply like the cheeky bastard you are.

Chaika mentally sighs, {How delightful, I’m stuck with a giant child.}

{Chaika, just because Harmony got a construct body and you didn’t doesn’t mean you should pout.}

{HELLS YES IT MEANS I SHOULD POUT!} Chaika replies, quite indignant.

You guess she has a reason to be like this. You’d probably be pouty too if you saw what was essentially someone in your condition be liberated from the chains of immobility. It is kind of mean now that you think about it, and Chaika is behaving… for her anyway.

What can you do for Chaika though? You look down at the [Staff of Gregory the Great] sitting next to you and a light sphere goes off in your head. Of course, it’s so easy!

Sure enough, without a core, the damn thing is basically just a stick even compared to your weaker [Wizard’s Staff]. You look the thing over and see the insert where the gem had been before. Perhaps with some effort…

{Chaika, you’ve been such a good girl recently that I was wondering if you’d like a little present.}

{Gee, thanks dad.} She grumbles in your mind, obviously prepared for some trick. {Just like my real pa… Err, father.}

You blink but let that little quip slide before you huff. {Well, if you don’t want what I have…}

{Oh don’t be petulant, let’s have it.} She says in exasperation.

{Very well then. Do you know what this is?} You hold out the staff, not that she can actually see it.

{It’s the staff that the damn bird was in. Pretty inert now.}

{Yes, well, what if I told you I could put you into this staff?}

Chaika thinks about it for a moment. {Ehhh, I kind of like having sharp edges}

You sigh. {Yes, I know, but what if I could put your dagger onto the staff?}

{What, and be some kind of crazy… stick… blade?}

{Civilized people call then spears, but sure. Stick-blade works.}

{Harr, harr you chuckle fuck.} Despite this, she considers the proposition gravely. {Hrm… Well I guess it couldn’t hurt….}

You beam and grab both the dagger and the staff, {Works for me!}. You then proceed to place said dagger into said staff.

The blade’s hilt does not fit into the insertion. In fact it fits so poorly the dagger tumbles to the ground and you look like a Gods damned idiot. Chaika doesn’t say a word and neither do you. It’s too embarrassing. Instead, you slowly scoop up Chaika and remove her from her hilt, placing the blade into the recession.

This fit better, although it’s not quite snug yet. Still, you can feel a sort of power between the staff and the blade. The two hum in different aetheric tunes before slowly and steadily coming together to form a single aetheric pulse. You blink and shiver as you realize the pulse is not as energetic as it was with Harmony, but instead dark. It kind of makes your skin crawl.

{Hora hora this is interesting.} Chaika says from her new position. {I can feel my own power magnified in this, no wonder they slapped the bird in here.} She focuses on you intently and seems to inwardly smirk.

{Heeeeeey. I think I can get into your head now.}

You raise a finger, {No. Bad snake. Bad.}

{Hora hora… But it would be so much fun! Besides, I almost feel like I could project some of those snake tits you like so much in there…}

{I can take you out of there pretty damn easily you know.}

Chaika sighs and rolls her figurative eyes. {Such a bore. Honestly if you’d just use dark magic this would be so much easier.}

{Yeah, no, still not doing that.}

{You’re no fun!} She pouts.

{We’ve come full circle then?}

For some reason this makes her mentally smirk.

{Of course! Oh and thank you I suppose. You deserve at least that much.}

You let that hang in the air before you sigh and work on an aetheric paste to secure Chaika in place. It isn’t a long process, but it kills the remainder of time before your watch is alleviated by a bleary eyed Hala and Tabitha, who just stare into each other’s dead eyes, ignoring you entirely.

You and Harmony just shrug and head to the campfire, where you sidle up to Saya and brush her goopy hair. Crawling into your bedroll, you watch Harmony try to figure out how to hold sticks again before you once more drift off to sleep.

 

Chapter 147

 

You trundle down the road at a brisk pace. Blake had complained earlier about Harmony’s weight slowing you down, but you alleviated that by adding a [Sigil of Reduction] to both her and the wagon, making the vehicle much faster and the horses’ lives much easier.

You lean back, smiling as Saya rests her head against you, dozing off. The women in the cart give you strange looks, obviously not used to seeing someone like you in such a situation. You can’t really blame them for that, all things considered, although Veronica still looks disgusted. You can’t really blame her for that either.

Smirking, you glance down to Saya, who is wearing a warm cloak and clothes from the cold weather supplies that Blake had appropriated from the garrison using some of the money you’d gotten from the Troll. You stroke her head softly and she murmurs in her sleep. She spent most of the day talking again with such inquisitive passion until she fell asleep. Aww, she’s just adorable.

That is, until her eyes fly open and she starts clutching at your wrist.

Your heart speeds up and you take her hand, looking her in the eyes. Tabitha notices first, her hand going to her sword. You hold up a hand, watching the girl as she looks around sharply, facial features starting to twist and blend. A few tears appear in her eyes and she groans before slumping and panting.

“Saya? Hey, are you alright?”

“I… I think so I-Yes.” She puts a hand to her head. “It’s becoming so painful though. Sometimes it feels like we… I am losing myself.”

“Shhh, it’s alright… honey.” You say, pulling her in close to you. Taking in a deep breath, you look to Harmony, who nods sharply. Her voice pulses in your mind,

{She needs all those raging voices in her head to quiet down.}

{How are we supposed to do that?} You send back, scared, though not for yourself.

{Remember how I entered your mind for our chat? If she allows us, I can take us into her consciousness.}

{That sounds really dangerous, we could seriously fuck things up!}

{I know, I know but…} Harmony looks over at Saya, who’s crying while holding her head. {Is this much better.}

Closing your eyes, you pull Saya in close to you. You haven’t known this life very long and you’re still having your doubts about this whole “father” thing, but damnit, you’re going to do better by her than your own father, then it’s time to step up to the plate.

Pulling away from Saya, you lift her chin. “Listen to me. We’re going to help you, but I need you to let us into your mind. Will you do that for daddy?”

Saya blinks in surprise for a moment before wincing and saying, “I- Alright. I… I trust you.”

You smile and put a hand on her head as Harmony does the same. She begins to hum in your mind as aetheric energy builds up about you. You feel something pull at the edges of your consciousness, which scares you, but Harmony’s gentle humming puts you at ease. Veronica shouts something at you while Tabitha shakes your arm but their voices get progressively quieter until they, and your consciousness, vanish.

————————————————————————————–

You wake up to darkness. Not like, darkness of night, no, this is darkness of the soul. As corny as that sounds when you think it, it’s honestly the truth. You can see just fine, but what you feel is… A thick, cloying sense of things being unright. Is that a word? No? Well it is now.

You look about at your surroundings and see that indeed, you are no longer in the mortal world. Or to be more precise, you do not perceive that, because you are now inside Saya’s head. Looking down, you see that you stand upon a tiny island of green grass surrounded by a lake of black, sludge-like material. Ahead of you are more islands, connected by bridges of silk that stretch on far into the horizon, which appears to be a mass of yellow clouds that formed a solid wall all around you.

“Well, this is certainly odd.” Comments Harmony next to you.

You turn over and see your former staff in her mental form, that of a regal Thunderbird. She rubs a wing at her chin and considers the area as she tentatively takes a step about. She pauses, staring at the sludge around her before frowning.

“It seems that these all represent the dominant personalities of her mind. I suppose we always knew she wasn’t one full consciousness, but an amalgamation of many, right?”

You nod and take a step next to Harmony. “I suppose so. Still, it’s a little daunting to see all of this.”

She looks at you and smiles, “Well, when your inner space looks like a room with a chair…”

You raise a hand in a flippant gesture. “Bah! Fine, fine, yeesh.” You take another look around and then look back to Harmony. “Sorry your new body doesn’t have wings.”

She blinks and then blushes some before smiling. “Oh, don’t worry about it! The fact that I can move at all is… Well it’s amazing.”

“Is the bird-lady mama?” A voice says behind you.

Both of you whirl about to see a young girl standing there, perhaps only eight years old. She wears a white dress that covers her bare feet. Her face bears a striking resemblance to that of Saya, even with two human eyes, and your heart beats as you recognize this as the personality you had come to know in this short period of time.

You get down on one knee and look her in the eyes, smiling. “Ah, I’m afraid not uhm, honey. This is Harmony, you’ve met.”

Her eyes go wide as she regards Harmony. “The metal lady? You’re so pretty!”

Harmony blushes and bows slightly. “Thank you very much, Saya.”

The little girl beams and you chuckle before asking gently. “Saya… Do you know why we’re here?”

Her expression becomes a little sad, “You’re here to make the voices go away, right?”

“That’s right. But we don’t know where they are. Can you lead us to them?”

She considers this for a moment, looking tense. “I… I could but they wouldn’t be happy. They might try to hurt you.” Some tears start to form in her eyes. “I don’t want them to hurt you.”

“Shhh, shhh, it’s alright, it’s alright.” You draw close to hug her but she shuffles away, crying while looking at you. “D-don’t! I might hurt you here too.”

You blink, confused. “Saya, what are you saying?”

She shakes her head back and forth and you see a row of insect-like eyes appear on the right side of her head. “She speaks so strong in here, she might come out if I’m not careful.” She shudders and the eyes vanish.

“Please…help me.”

You reach out a hand to her but she runs away, vanishing into nothingness. You stand there, hand outstretched, staring off after her with a pained expression. You slowly drop your arm as you feel the touch of Harmony’s wing on your shoulder. You look up to her and she nods.

“The poor thing is absolutely tortured. Come Wizard, let’s press on, see if we can’t find those which inhabit this space with her.”

You nod and take a deep breath, standing slowly. “Right then. Let’s get this show on the road.”

 

Chapter 148

 

You look out over the sea of sludge and then down to the silk bridge. With a tentative step, you place one foot on the bridge to find it strong as steel. With a sigh of relief you start to cross only to find yourself walking from an island into a battle.

You blink in confusion as you take in the scene. Where a sky of yellow stood, now only fire against a moonlit sky appears as multiple buildings burn. You take an instinctive step backward to see a man dressed in his nightclothes charge down the street with an old, rusty sword before being snatched up, screaming, by a large Minotaur who laughs at his feeble attempts to try and escape. She throws him to the ground and unceremoniously rips off his trousers before raping him in the dirt.

Your eyes widen in horror as you look about to see more of the same as multiple Monsters of similar type walk through the town with minimal resistance. One seems to take notice of you and bellows, charging. In reaction, you instantly raise your hand to cast a spell but nothing happens. You blink, confused, before the sound of hooves forces you to turn and run, panic in your mind.

What the fuck is going on? This is fucking insanity!

You look behind to see the Minotaur gaining upon you. You’ll have to try and defend yourself or you were surely to be raped. Thinking quickly, you stoop down to scoop up a fallen spear and level it at the charging Minotaur. She bellows out a protest and prepares to batter it aside when you quickly pull the spear away at the last second and dodge to the side, tripping the Monster with the haft.

You feel like your arm is going to be pulled out of its socket, but the Minotaur screams in protest and falls to the ground, bellowing in pain and confusion. You cheer for a moment, “Serves you right jugs for brains!” before you see her start to rise and you quickly turn tail.

You find some cover in a nearby tavern and run, hiding behind the bar as you think over your options. Okay, so, Minotaur attack in a town, check. Raping men and possibly stealing them away. Double check. And for some reason you’re here, cowering under a bar without your magic. Sounds pretty good you suppose.

You really wonder where Harmony is, but your train of thought is cut off as you notice a shape next to you pull away. You take in a sharp breath and focus on the sound, your hands ready in fists to fight if needed, but you stop when you recognize what it is.

Before you is a little girl with dark hair and brown eyes, pulled back against the bar, staring at you with tears running down her cheeks. She sniffs and whimpers at your presence and you note that her dress is stained with blood and cut in multiple places.

You gently lift a hand as say quietly, “Shhh, shhh. I’m not going to hurt you.”

She flinches some and then looks about, shaking.

“Hey, hey now, it’s alright, we’re safe for now.” You smile some. “What’s your name?”

She clenches her hands as she sniffs. “C…Carla.”

Your eyes narrow. Carla… That was the scout that Saya ate, right? Damn was this a memory of hers?

“Carla, can you tell me what happened?”

“W…we were having a nice dinner with mama and papa when… When uncle came in and… And said that Monsters were attacking and then… Then a Monster came in a took him.” She sniffs, “Papa tried to fight but this spider lady she- she bit him. He fell to the floor and stopped moving.

She rubs at her eyes. “Mama… She took mama! She said she was good quality and- I want my mama!”

She starts bawling and you panic before making quieting gestures. As you do so, you hear a sound outside and you quickly slap your hand over her mouth, going very still. Her eyes widen as she looks at you before seeming to understand. You nod back at her as the sound gets louder.

On the other side of the bar you hear the sound of sniffing followed by loud hoofbeats. Glass shatters underfoot and your heart thunders in your chest as you try to keep very still. You hear the creature come closer and closer and you hold your breath as you feel her near the bar, leaning on it. The sniffing sound comes again, louder before everything goes quiet.

As you feel your lungs about to burst a loud shout echoes through the streets. “Servants! The human soldiers approach! It is time to leave with our spoils!”

The Minotaur on the other side of the bar grunts and steps away, leaving the way she came. You wait a few seconds before taking a deep breath. You’re safe, for now. You look back to the girl and she stares at you, her eyes wide.

“Y-you saved me.”

You smile, wiping sweat from your brow. “Not yet, but the army will be here soon.” Your expression turns serious then. “Carla, do you know where you are?”

“I… I’m in my home, in Drexler, north Deleor.”

You take a deep breath. “Carla, do you remember being a soldier?”

She looks at you oddly. “N-No, I don’t…”

“Do you remember being attacked while on patrol?”

She looks around, her face a mask of fear. “N-no, I was never, I didn’t-“

You place a hand on her shoulder. “Carla, look at me.” You take her chin when she doesn’t and she struggles. “Look at me.”

She does and you continue. “This isn’t real Carla. You know this, don’t you?”

Her eyes well up with tears and suddenly a grown woman appears, dressed in uniform. “But it was real… And it just keeps happening.”

You let go of her face and she curls up into a ball. You sigh and lean backward.

“Carla. Do you remember what happened after you were attacked?”

“I… I remember darkness and… And then I felt a coldness wash over me and then voices. Telling me to submit and join. To become one. I- I was scared and so I ran away but… Then I found myself here, back all those years ago when she attacked and stole my life from me.”

She sniffs. “I was just a child.”

You take a deep breath and place a hand on her shoulder, to which she flinches. “Carla. This might be hard to accept, but you’re dead. Or rather, you are the memory of the real Carla.”

She shakes her head eyes wide. “N-no that can’t…that can’t be.”

“I’m sorry, but it is. Unfortunately you were killed on patrol and devoured, part of your essence being joined into this body.” You put on a grim expression. “I know it’s scary, but your fear is causing you to relive this over and over. You’re afraid of losing yourself again like you did before and this fear rules you.”

Taking a deep breath, you whisper,

“Carla, you need to let go.”

She sniffles and holds herself in a fetal position. “B-But then I won’t be… I can’t be…”

“Carla, I don’t know what will happen. No one does. I’m so sorry for what happened to you, but you must let go. The pain will stop, the fear will stop. I know it doesn’t mean much to you now, but letting go will also help a little girl and allow you to become part of her. You may not be the same, but you’ll be able to help stop things like this from happening again. Don’t let tragedy happen if you can help it. That’s an order.”

She looks down and stares at the floor before sniffing. “You… You’re right. I can’t help what happened by living in the past.”

She takes in a deep breath and looks up to you with a sad smile as she closes her eyes. “But I’m still scared.”

You nod, “I know you are.”

The world around you fades from existence again and you find yourself finishing the step onto the new island and you stumble, falling in your confusion. Harmony catches you with a wing and shakes her head.

“Wizard, be more careful. You almost fell in.”

You blink and look about. Nothing had changed yet…that did happen, right? Wait… The clouds seem less… Agitated, possibly more of a shade of green than yellow? Did you actually do something? You look up to Harmony and she seems concerned,

“Everything alright?”

“Harmony… Did I go anywhere just now?”

She cocks her head, “Uhm. No? Are you sure this place isn’t getting to you?”

You shake your head. “Maybe. I don’t know, I feel like I was just taken somewhere and spoke to Carla in some memory of hers. I… I think I gave her peace? Perhaps if we encounter more then we can fix this.”

Harmony considers this gravely. “It sounds as if each of the entities in here has its own little island of consciousness. Perhaps that’s what this is, some big metaphor.” She sweeps her arm out over the lake of sludge and you grimace.

“Ugh, what is a metaphor is not a poorly worded simile?”

She rolls her eyes, “Honestly Wizard. I suppose even in this strange place I can count on you to be inappropriate.”

You sigh and then look to the next island. “If this is the same thing, then who knows what we’ll see on the next one. We should cross together, so hopefully we don’t get separated.”

She nods and you hold her wing, which makes her blush furiously. You try not to think about the implications of the horrifying act and gingerly cross the bridge at the same time.

 

Chapter 149

 

Your foot hits a stone and you blink, taken aback by the abrupt shift. You stand in a large chapel to Solos, complete with statue of the God of man holding a sun in the center altar. All around you sits elaborate mason work and stained glass, with candles and scripture lining the walls and empty pews. In fact the entire place is empty, save for one soul who kneels in the front of the altar, surrounded by a ring of candles.

You step forward gingerly and find that you are still holding Harmony’s wing, the Thunderbird appearing to be on cloud nine. You cough and she blinks, letting go of your hand with a start. As you do so, the person in the center of the circle bolts upright, armor clinking as she draws a hammer from her side and shouts,

“Intruders! Leave this holy and sacred ground before I bring the light of Solos to bear upon you!”

You stare at the woman and find her to be Margurette, the poor Aspirant killed by Saya. You feel a twinge of guilt, but dam it, this is for Saya. Slowly you raise your hands and say in a gentle voice. “We don’t mean violence, we only wish to speak.”

She snarls back, “Peace? With a Monster in tow? Hah! Next you’ll probably tell me to submit like before. Well, I’ve grown tired of your little games. Perhaps if I destroy you I shall be let free of this infernal prison.”

She steps forward, prepared to attack as you wave your hands back and forth. “Woah, woah, woah, easy now! We don’t want a fight!”

She doesn’t seem to care about your protests and dashes forward, hammer held high. You jump back as Harmony pushes forward, a surge of electricity flying from her strike at the charging Aspirant.

The other woman bats the bolt aside with ease and continues forward, forcing the Thunderbird to fall back and dodge swift blows of the little hammer. Harmony attempts to take flight in the large chapel but the holy warrior grabs her by the leg mid-air and throws her to the ground, causing Harmony to gasp in pain. As Margurette lifts the hammer to deal a mortal blow, the Thunderbird cries and a field of electricity flies out, throwing the warrior back with a snarl.

You attempt to cast magic again and fail, much to your anger. Why isn’t it working damnit? Is it because this is in someone else’s mind?

You look around for a way to help as Margurette rises, chanting litanies. As she does so she starts to glow a soft blue, her eyes matching the glow as it increases in intensity, the glow rising with the tempo. As she begins to burn a powerful blue she raises her hammer again and shouts a cry of pure rage.

Right up until you hit her on the back of the head with a Book of Creation. The unabridged version of the holy text of Solos quite… voluminous. It also makes for an excellent bludgeoning weapon, as evidenced by the fact that the glow around her fades sharply and she staggered to a knee, dropping her hammer.

Harmony pounces upon her quickly and pins her to the ground before she can react. The woman struggles, but even her holy might cannot overcome that of a Thunderbird in this position. She growls out a string of litanies but Harmony gives her a jolt of electricity which causes her to clench her teeth shut.

You kneel down next to Margurette and sigh, placing the book on the ground. You never really read the thing, but you had been to church a few times. It’s a rather stuffy affair to be honest, and you’d rather spend the time asleep or on the Communion Matrix. It’s not like you owe much to Solos anyway.

“I’m sorry I had to do that.” You say softly as her eyes switch to you.

“Heathen.” She hisses through clenched teeth. “He who lies with Monsters shall face the lash of retribution in the fires of the Hells.”

You raise a finger, “Well first, I haven’t laid with Monsters or anyone, so there’s that. Second, we never wanted to fight you, we just wanted to talk.”

“Talk with Monsters is the beginning to acceptance and acceptance is abhorrent in the eyes of Solos.”

You look at Harmony who’s eye twitches. She doesn’t say anything and you shake your head. “Margurette, do you know where you are?”

“How do you know my name you swine?”

“Answer the question.”

She growls, “I am in the great Chapel of Solos in Galmathoria of course. But I don’t expect heretics like you to know that.”

You take in a deep breath before studying the woman. Her delusion is strong, strong enough to allow her to believe that she’s somewhere that could not possibly be. It’s almost obvious that even if she was in Galmathoria, the Chapel would have been destroyed or desecrated. With a heavy heart you began to speak again.

“No. You’re not. Margurette, it’s hard to accept, but you’re dead.”

She stares at you with a blank expression. “Don’t be obtuse. If I were dead I would be resting in the bosom of Solos as one of his chosen.”

“I don’t know what you think, but you were killed in your chapel in the fort. You were attacked and eaten, your corporal form devoured while part of you entered here.”

“Impossible!” She snarls and Harmony sends another jolt into her to shut her up.

“I assume you felt a darkness overcome you followed by a slowly spreading warmth? Then you found yourself being called to submit, yes?”

She narrows her eyes at you. “How do you know that?”

You shake your head, “You’re not the only victim here. I’m sorry to say but you were killed and absorbed into the Monster who killed you. She… She made a wrong choice, but your refusal to accept your fate is tearing her apart.”

You look her in the eyes with a sad expression. “Margurette, I need you to let go.”

She continues to stare at you for a long time before you notice her lip twitch. You blink as she escalates slowly into a chuckle, then full-blown laughter as she rocks back and forth inside her hold by Harmony. The Thunderbird grunts and keeps her in place until the laughter subsides into snickers.

“Me? Dead? By a Monster? And you want me to HELP her? Are, haha, are you simple?”

“Look, you have to-” You begin but are cut off as she snarls,

“NO! I don’t have to do anything!” She struggles even more and the blue power appears around her again. “I refuse it!”

Harmony’s eyes fly open as the woman easily throws the bird off her, slamming the Monster into a pew, the impact causing her to slump down in mild unconsciousness. The Aspirant then turns to you and picks up her hammer, recanting litanies again.

You may panic a little. Actually, you panic a whole fucking lot and you try to blurt out the [Irate Frog Song], but it doesn’t even slow her, forcing you to run away toward the far end of the chapel near the doors outside.

You hear a whistling sound and duck as the hammer flies past you and slams through the door in a clean motion, creating a massive hole in the wood. You stare at the hole and see- Oh that’s interesting.

You break from your stupor quickly as Margurette gains on you. Yelping, you dash forward toward the door as fast as your Wizardly legs can carry you and you hit the door, trying to open it, but it’s locked. Just your luck.

You flip back around to see her readying a fist to slam into you and you duck down, her hand splintering the wood. She cants a litany before throwing another punch which you bend your body out of the way to avoid. Thankfully her armor slows her… some. If she hits you though, you’re certainly dead. However, that could be used to your advantage.

You position yourself specifically and watch as she readies her fist. As she throws it, you quickly dive to the floor as you hear a loud, grating sound of metal on metal followed by a cursing noise. You look back up to see the woman growling, however the door before you now has hole right where the lock was and it lists slowly open.

“Look outside!” You shout and, despite her better judgement, she glances up- and freezes in her tracks as a look of utter shock appears on her face.

“W-what is this?” She says as she begins to shake violently before crashing to her knees. “This…can’t be right.”

She begins to start whispering litanies as you pull yourself up and look outside. You see nothing. Not just nighttime, but NOTHING. The door swings out over a black chasm, headed down for eternity and you gulp, pulling back. It was a gamble, but it looked to have paid off and now the poor woman is reeling from what she had seen.

You kneel down next her again, slowly. You don’t say anything as she continues to babble words of faith, tears streaming down her eyes. You distantly hear Harmony stirring awake but stay next to the crying woman, her voice becoming hoarse as she comes to terms with what’s happening. Soon enough, she quiets down and just… stares blankly.

“We’re not in Galmathoria, are we?” She whispers.

“No.”

“I’m not in heaven either, am I?”

“No.”

She just sort of deflates then, looking defeated. Her tears hit the stone floor, pooling in tiny puddles under her as she weeps. You look back to Harmony, who nods her head gently but makes no move to come closer. Licking your lips, you once more place your hand on a woman’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”

She shudders before whispering, “But I believed… That I would go to heaven, everything I ever did was meant for this. Now I’m, I’m stuck here and…”

Clenching your jaw, you suck it up and embrace the Aspirant, who takes in a sharp breath before sniffing. “I know. I know. It’s hard, it’s very, very hard and I can’t imagine what it feels like. But Margurette, even if part of you is here, the rest has gone to Solos. Please, just let your anger go, and rest. End the torment around you and in your heart.”

She whimpers and nods slowly. “I… I will.”

She bows her head then begins to vanish. A moment later you find yourself stepping across the bridge again and both you and Harmony stumble forward onto the other island in a heap.

“Owwwww. Okay, wow.” Says Harmony as she stands up, rubbing her head. She blinks and looks around. “Does everything seem… brighter to you?”

You both look about to see the clouds looking whiter and thinner, but still obscuring something in the distance. You still feel that oppressive feeling about you though and your skin crawls at the thought. Still, you sigh and stand up, helping Harmony next to you.

“Oh, that feels so much better.”

You turn around and see the little Saya again, this time with a gentle smile on her face.

“The voices are so much quieter, and they seem to understand! Oh, oh thank you daddy!”

You smile and so does Harmony as you kneel down. “Anything for you. Did we do it? Is the pain gone?”

She shakes her head slowly. “No… She remains.”

You cock your head. “She? Who?”

“The spider…” Saya whispers before she seems to look about in panic. “Oh no. She knows the others are gone, she’s yelling again! She’s so loud!”

You hold out a hand as Saya panics, but before your hand touches her, she vanishes. You sit there, hand outstretched before you clench your fist and look to Harmony.

“We have to go. Now.”

Harmony nods and the both of you join up together and run toward the next bridge, your feet stepping across the grass and onto…

Your feet hit damp earth and you feel a sense of oppressive heat and humidity upon you. Instantly you begin to sweat as you look about to get your surroundings. You’re in a swamp, very similar to the swamp you had been in when you met Victoria, but all around you are webs. Tons and tons of spider webs, coating all the trees and plant life.

And it’s all scorched and burned.

 

Chapter 150

 

You look to Harmony, who also notices the scene and she returns the gesture before nodding forward. You take a deep breath and look resolute as you try to produce magic. Damnit, nothing again. Well, you’ll manage, somehow.

The two of you walk down a path in the swamp, seeing more and more webs about you. You can’t help but feel like you’re being watched somehow and you keep looking over your shoulder. Damn, if she’s as scary in this place than she was in real life, you’d be in trouble indeed. In fact, you’d have a damn hard time beating her. But damnit, Saya needs you!

As you step into a clearing, Harmony quickly grabs you and pulls you back, making a silencing gesture. You nod, heart beating before you slowly look around the corner.

Sitting in the middle of the clearing, surrounded by a massive web, Victoria. She merely sits there, back toward you as she works at something. You look to Harmony who nods briskly. Maybe she’s too busy to notice you? Something feels off about this but this, but it’s clearly her… The best chance for success is to attack with initiative and you both know that.

Taking a deep breath, you count to three with your fingers, then quickly turn the corner as Harmony charges her lighting. As you do so however, Victoria slowly turns about in place and you freeze, feet sloshing in the wet mud.

Victoria is as you remember her, however on the right side of her face, the side that was burnt by the explosion, nothing but a sea of blackness swims, splitting her visage into two. She smiles as she sees you, her visage growing even more horrific

“Ahhhh, Wizard! How good of you to visit me in my new home! I do hope you’ll pardon the mess, I’m in the process of cleaning up some vermin.”

You grit your teeth and wave to Harmony to stop her attack and she does so before you growl out, “What are you doing to Saya?”

Victoria cocks her head. “Saya? What is this Saya? All I know is that something wishes to control me and I can’t have that.” She smiles wickedly and points at you “All I have to do is find and kill the little girl and I will rule this miserable place. However… Before I do that, perhaps you’d like to make good on my offer? You know, the one I made before you killed me, of course.”

You narrow your eyes. “I think I’ll pass.”

She huffs as a predatory smile comes upon her face, “A pity. Oh well, I suppose I’ll just have to kill you to make things even.”

The maniacal smile appears upon her face again and she dashes forth faster than even when she was alive, her chitinous arm raised to grab you. Before she can grasp your body, she pauses, narrowing her eyes as she turns about.

“Ah, the vermin is here. Attached to him are we?”

Behind her stands Saya, clutching a flower in her hand as she stares at the larger Monster. The little girl sniffs some and then stands up straight as she looks Victoria in the eye.

“Leave my daddy alone!”

Victoria snarls and rounds on her, stepping close. “Your daddy hmm? You have the nerve to destroy my rest and then ask me to spare your daddy? Ha!” She lowers her head, blackness coming level with Saya’s face. “Well, after I take over, I think I’ll fuck him so hard that he starts calling ME mommy, hmm?”

She pulls back, wicked smile returning as she chuckles. “Oh but thank you for saving me the effort of finding you. I suppose you really do love your so called papa, don’t you? Ah well, let’s dispense with the formalities then.”

In a fluid motion she slaps Saya, sending the girl flying into a tree. She bounces along the ground, crying out in pain.

You shout and run forward to help, but you’re also slapped away with contemptuous ease as Victoria, easily more insane than she was in the flesh, begins to cackle as she deflects a bolt of lightning from Harmony. She snickers as she slams the Thunderbird aside with a swish of her abdomen. Before Harmony can regain her feet, she dashes to Saya and picks the girl up, holding her in one hand to the sky.

“This is my body now! I shall return to the flesh!”

You feel a soft ripple in the air around you followed by a whooshing sound. You look up to see a hammer slam into Victoria’s back, forcing her forward and dropping Saya. The spider screams in pain and turns about, the blackness of her face reacting and turning a bright red.

“How about you pick on someone your own size, you monstrous whore?!” Says Margurette as she steps up next to you, armor clanking into the mud.

Your eyes go wide as an arrow suddenly embeds itself in Victoria’s back and she screams again, reaching at the projectile. You look into the trees and see Carla, holding a crossbow and loading another shot with skilled hands. She smiles down and hollers, “this is payback bitch!”

Victoria’s face contorts in rage and she rushes for the trees, but as she reaches the webs, Carla drops out of sight and before Victoria can get far enough to chase her, she has to dodge another hammer blow by Margurette. The spider turns back about to smack her, but instead meets another arrow, this one embedding itself in her shoulder.

She screams and stumbles, brushing aside a blow from the Aspirant with some difficulty. You scramble up, body aching and grab a tree branch, looking for an opening. As soon as you see one, you dash forward, screaming obscenities and whack the spider in a leg as she attempts to flee, causing her to fall over into the muck. She trashes about, sending everyone scattering before she screams in psychotic fury and falls into the mud.

“You’re loud.” Says Saya as gently takes the flower in her hand and drives the stem into Victoria’s chest.

The Arachne looks down at the thing and watches as her blood flows down her chest. She laughs then as she scoops some of it up and watches it pool through her fingers.

“Oh. So I’m to die again am I? Is this a sick joke, I wonder?”

“No. It is merely a call to know your place.” Says Saya as the other two absorbed women walk up next to her. They all look into Victoria’s insectoid eyes as she slowly closes them, chuckling.

“Is that so? I guess that’s how it is then… Perhaps I can finally rest now.” Her eyes close and she slumps to the ground before fading along with the swamp and the other two, leaving you alone with Harmony and Saya.

The island you sit upon is now bathed in a gentle light and above you sit a marvelous blue sky with white clouds. You blink and look down at the sea of sludge to see it still present, but all the islands have fused together into one mass.

“Is… Is it over?” You ask Saya and she beams.

“The voices are quiet now! Yay!” She runs up and hugs you.

“Where did they go?” Asks Harmony as she looks about

Saya looks up at her oddly, “Go? They’re all still here! They’ve just accepted what happened.” She taps her head. “All of them are now truly part of me as I am of them.”

You nod slowly as you look into the little girl’s eyes. She beams and you return the emotion. “I’m glad to hear it. I’m so relieved to hear you’re feeling better honey.”

“Yup!” She pauses then and looks over into the sea of sludge. “Oh. It wants to speak with you.”

You cock your head, “It?”

As you say this the island shudders and you fall back as the muck swirls together and forms a funnel that slowly coalesces into the form of an adult woman. You stare at the inky black creature and it bows to you before speaking in a voice that sounds as if from far away,

“Thank you for freeing us from the trouble that plagued our form.”

You blink and look to Saya, who nods. Licking your lips you reply slowly, “Who… What are you?”

The form doesn’t move as it replies, “We are the creature known as the Swamp Horror. The binder, the body which granted refuge to the souls resting in it.” It points to Saya slowly. “That is the personality. The virus made reality by incorporation and hunger. It has been hurting, but now it is whole.”

You put a hand to your head, thinking. “Wait, wait. So when I mixed the spores with your essence and cast magic…”

“You created this body.”

You point to Saya, “But she, as the personality…?”

“Is formed of the plague merged with the souls it has devoured.”

Saya nods slowly and you look back to the Swamp Horror. “She… She’s not in danger of spreading to other people, like the plague was intended?”

“No. She has already created new life. She is not needed for that function. Now, she commands this body and we adapt and feed.”

Saya smiles. “I get to be me!”

You look down and then nod sharply before looking to Harmony, who just shrugs. You look back to Saya and ruffle her hair. “That you do, that you do, but I think it’s time for us to leave, alright?”

She nods her head. “Okay daddy, I’ll see you on the outside.”

You smile as everything begins to shimmer around you,

“Good girl.”

————————————————————————————–

When you return to consciousness, you find yourself in your bedroll in camp, night having come while you were away. Groaning, you blink about for a moment before gasping and looking around for Saya. You find her in a bedroll next to you, her features melting as sleeps, but she looks peaceful once more.

Harmony stirs behind you as well, her creaking form attracting the rest of your party’s attention. Blake hurries over to you and kneels, putting a hand on your back.

“Hey! Take it easy, you’ve been out for awhile. What happened?”

“Huh? Oh.” You say, shaking your head. “There was a promise I had to keep.”

Blake rubs his head and looks around to the others. Sighing, he nods to you. “If you say so. You going to be alright?”

Your gaze drifts to the sleeping girl next to you and you gently rub her melting cheek before smiling.

“Yeah. I think everything’s going to be alright now.”

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