Wizardquest Chapter 21: What Lies Beyond

You look around, trying to find the source of the voice when your eyes spot an old man wearing a chef’s apron, sitting on a stool which was not there moments before.

He was a rather large man, his apron barely contained around his bulky form, but you could tell that underneath his large gut were slabs of muscle which were covered by the loose-fitting clothing he wore underneath. He had a long, white beard beneath rosy cheeks and his eyes twinkled softly with a sort of cheer born of experience in the art of joy.

You just… Stare at the man. It wasn’t that you were overly surprised to see him, or even that he stood out or anything, because he just seemed to… Belong there. Like seeing a deer in a forest or a fish in the water, you noticed them because they were animated, but you aren’t surprised to see them. Which made it all the more strange.

The man chuckles before speaking in a cheery voice, “You seem surprised there Wizard, but I guess I would be too were I in your position.”

You rub at your head, speaking slowly, “Hey, so uh, what’s going on, you know..” You shake your head and start again, “Okay who are you and where are we?”

He strokes his beard, “Well you know, it’s usually manners to introduce yourself before you go asking someone else their name.”

“Okay, I’m a wizard who is really confused here, who are you and where are we?”

He smiles widely, “That’s better! Now then, I think before I answer your questions, maybe you should look to your friends there. Seems some of them are in some bad shape.”

You frown and then suddenly remember the battle in the keep. Third, Veronica’s possession, Tabitha’s injuries, the avatar of Dollora… Valinitha, everything.

You snap around to look at your party, seeing the rest of them unconscious still. Tabitha was laying over Veronica, who’s breathing was slightly labored. You looked over to see the limp form of Harmony’s construct, broken and abused while Blake and Hala lay next to each other, their hands locked as they slept.

You rub at your head and reach down to see Bubs was quite in pain but breathing. Thankfully you all were. This must not be the realm of the dead at least because one, it was way too happy, and two, you weren’t in quite enough pain.

You sigh as Delilah speaks up, grumbling, “You know Wizard, if you’re going to latch me onto your belt, you should refrain from landing on me.”

You shake some at the sudden speech and then look down, frowning. “Oh, you were here?”

“Always. Anyway, the creep is right, Veronica especially isn’t doing so well.”

The man laughs heartily, “A Dullahan! Here! My what are the times coming to?”

Delilah rolls her eyes, “This man is too happy for his own good. This place is too happy. Can I have your pipe?”

“Later…” You mutter, navigating the ruins that came with you apparently, heading toward Veronica. You probably should have made an effort to wake the others, but if this guy wanted to do something to you, he obviously could have done so ages ago.

As you reach Veronica, you roll her off Tabitha, who grunts a little, and you put a hand to your mouth as you study her condition.

Her eyes were sunken and her breathing was incredibly shallow. The wound in her abdomen wasn’t bleeding anymore, thank the gods, but it was horribly disfigured due to your hasty cauterization skills. You perform a <fast scan> and see that again, being impaled in the abdomen doesn’t sit well with someone. You just didn’t even know where to start with this.

“Hmmm. That’s pretty bad.”

You look over to see the man squatting down beside you, poking at Veronica, who shudders in pain with every touch.

“No shit, but I don’t know what to do about this, my healing skills aren’t up to par.” You say, fear fueling your frustration.

“It’s not like you lack the magic, merely the knowledge.” He strokes his beard. “Oh but I think I can do something, at least to help her a little.”

He rummages at his belt and pulls forth a small water skin which he unscrews and puts to Veronica’s lips, holding her head up. A small trickle of sparkling green liquid flows from the container into her mouth and she coughs slightly as it flows down. He stops, barely giving her a cup of the stuff before pulling it back and stoppering it.

“Uh, I’m not healer, but I think she needs more fluids than that.” You say, confused.

He puts a finger to his lips and points at Veronica. You frown and look down as her breathing starts to stabilize, her color mildly improving. You blink and <fast scan> again, seeing that incredibly her humours are in better balance, or at least she’s not in immediate danger anyway.

You breath out before turning to the man, clapping him on the shoulder. “Whatever that’s was, thank you, she’s much better.”

“Oh now, I think she still needs a healer, this mountain elixir is only so potent.”

“Wait…” You begin, confused. “Mountain elixir? Healing?” You put a hand to your head. “Okay, no, better question, what are you doing with Mountain elixir? Are you a Wizard?”

He chuckles, “Oh naw, not born one, not even raised one, but some say there’s a little magic in what I do.”

He waves a hand, “Let me see your rat, he needs some too.”

You reflexively hold a hand over your pocket. “How did you know I have a rat?”

“Oh, well I told you this was my magical realm, yes? I know everything here.” He holds up the container, jiggling it. “Well?”

You grunt and pull Bubs out, and he receives the same treatment. You had feared for the little guy before, but he seems to become a bit more relaxed after drinking.

“What’s your game?” Delilah asks, eyes narrowed. “Im fairly certain this isn’t the heavens, and I know for a fact this isn’t one of Nerg’s hells, so we aren’t dead.” She pauses for a moment, well, they aren’t anyway.”

“Wait, before that.” You say, interrupting. “Can you fix Tabitha’s back, heal the others?”

He smiles wanly, shaking his head. “I’m afraid not. There’s much and more I can do, but the children of Dollora are past my power. I can provide some succor to the man, but he doesn’t seem like nothing a few days in bed with some good food can’t cure.”

You put a hand to your head, groaning. Alright, it was time to get some answers now, and you weren’t going to delay much long..

{Wizard…} Chaika sends, as if from far away.

You look down at your knife stick and frown. The staff was in fine condition, so why was Chaika speaking so softly?

{Chaika, are you there?} you say, forcing your voice as if through sludge.

{Yes, but… There’s something pushing on me, keeping me dormant.}

You scan around with your [Mage sight] but see… Well, nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing different at all. You switch between normal and magic vision goggles, but everything looks the same. Fuck.

{I don’t know what to say Chaika.} you press. {Just lay low, alright? I’ll think of something.}

{Very…well….} she sends, voice getting fainter in your mind.You sigh. Well, at least she’s alive anyway.Or… whatever.

You look back to the man, suspicious. “Alright, first things first, what’s your name?”

He pats his voluminous stomach. “Why, it’s Daniel Hardinclouse.”

You stare at the man. Not like, just look at him, not merely use your eyes to recover light and interpret it as sight, no you instead STARE at the man, trying to peer into his very fucking soul. You see a jolly man with a big belly, rosy cheeks, and the body that could swing a battle axe all day and not tire.

You lick your lips. “Hardinclouse?”

“Yes.”

“The baker.”

“Correct.”

“The creator of the ultimate heated bread pouch.”

“‘Twas my finest work.”

You put a hand to your head, looking down as you processed that. Wow. You sit there for a moment before taking in a deep breath.

“Okay… So… Well then, I don’t know where to begin.”

“Why don’t you ask him where we are, faggot.” Delilah sends, annoyed.

“That sounds wonderful.” Hardinclouse says, chuckling. “As I said before, you are in El Dorito, land of mystical snacks and everlasting wonderment.”

“El… Dorito?” You say, confused, “I’ve never heard of the place.”

“I didn’t think you would have, and yet it has existed for millennia, created by Solos for his faithful.”

You frown, looking up at him. “Created by Solos? His faithful? You mean Wizards, right?”

He claps his hands, “Indeed! Even when I was alive, wizards had forgotten this fact, and thus the place became devoid of their presence many, many years ago.”

Delilah frowns deeply. “Wait, when you were alive? You died? How is it possible you’re not in one of the hells?”

He raises a finger, chiding Delilah. “Oh but madam, not all souls are bound by such stringent laws as such. Those who please the gods may gain their blessings, as you well know.”

She narrows her eyes, “True…”

“Well, it seems that my work in life pleased Solos, and he decided to entrust this land to me.” He looks down, a hint of loneliness flashing through his eyes. “It has been quite some time since I have seen others though.”

“Uh… Okay.” You scratch your chin. “So you said this place was made for wizards, but shouldn’t someone else be around here then? I guess wizards who pleased him in life could stay here?”

“Oh no, you see, this place is connected to the realm of the living. You aren’t dead at all.”

“Told you…” Mutters Delilah.

Hardinclouse continues, “You see, Solos built there ways to enter and exist this place for those who know its secrets, taking time to relax here and enjoy the fruits of the land.” He shrugs, “Being a wizard is to sacrifice, in the end.”

You think about that one for a moment, feeling the truth of it weigh upon you. Giving up love and the affection of a woman in exchange for the very power of a god. Guess it was a sacrifice, wasn’t it?

You shake your head, putting those emotions on the backburner. More pressing matters at the moment demanded your attention.

“So, if we aren’t dead, then how exactly did you get here?”

Hardinclouse strokes his beard and points at your [pocket dimension]. You frown and look at it, to find that it was utterly empty. Infact, as you peer inside, you notice that you heard a soft wind blowing.

“A few years ago, I had noticed someone had made a breach, a sort of pull into this realm, of course, it wasn’t much, but it leaked some of the heated bread pouches from this land.” Hardinclouse smiles widely, “Of course, someone decided to mess with this, and opened the rent even wider. I thought perhaps a wizard had found his way in after all this time, but would you believe it, he then has the gall to dump the ultimate elixir in there!”

“Uh… Yes?” You say, feeling a little foolish. “I thought I had cut into the flavor dimension, not this place…”

The old man rubs his chin, “Is that what kids these days call it? Well, never mind, see as the magic energies seeped into this rent, it leaked out heated bread pouches infused with raw magic. Much power to be gained in that with the downside, but it must tear apart one’s insides.”

You rub at your stomach, looking pained, “Tell me about it.”

“Oh? Well, that magical power destroyed the last remaining threads keeping this world from the one of the living. Basically, you done made a gateway my boy.”

You rub at your forehead before taking a deep breath. “If that’s true, why didn’t we enter it before when it was made? Why right when the plasma blast occurred?”

Suddenly you look around, scared. “Oh shit, is that’s the case, is Valinitha here? A big fucking dragon, not one of the old dragons but…”

He raises a hand, “Calm yourself, calm yourself. There is no dragon here. I do not know about the world outside, but I know much about here.” He points at you, “As for the why, well, when you left your bag open, it responded to a large burst of magic, and the barrier between broke down violently, sucking you in here.”

“Oh…” You, suddenly feeling tired. You sit down on the stone and take in a deep breath. “Is it possible to go back?”

“Of course! Who says you can’t go back? Been all around here and as a matter of fact, you can go back. It’s not that difficult I’d think, especially since you have a a gateway already.”

You look down at the pouch and then back up to him, nodding. “Alright. Seems like something I should get fixed though, don’t want to get sucked in here for no reason.”

He waves a hand, “Oh it’s fine, let me see the bag.”

You hand it over and he starts inspecting it, speaking up as he does, “Why would you want to leave anyway? We have just about anything you could ever want here, all the delicious food a wizard could crave, Rivers of mountain elixir, a warm, inviting climate all the time.”

You sigh, looking around. Gods, after being the the frozen north for so long, you really, really liked the sound of that. Still, you had this nagging feeling in your chest, like… Like you didn’t really belong here.

You look over at Selene, and your expressions softens as she curls into a ball, one of her tails held in her furred hands as she sleeps. You smile gently and look to see Hardinclouse giving you an odd, sad smile.

“Ah, so it’s like that is it?”

You look down, smiling softly in return as you whisper, “I’ve thought about giving it all up, for her.”

He leans back, taking a deep breath at the implications of your words. “You’d give away your power then? Go back to being a normalfag?”

You feel your hands shaking as you gulp. “Yeah. I…. I mean, I don’t want to lose my magic. I’ve met so many people, done so many things because of it.” You look into your pocket, seeing Bubs sleeping there. If you gave away your magic, your [Familiar link] would be gone and if Saya had anymore issues, you couldn’t be there to help her.

Worst of all though, would Selene still love you? You were certain she would, but a nagging nugget of doubt pressed into your chest at the thought of having no magic. You didn’t really know how or do much else, but… You would still do it in a heartbeat.

“Ah, love. I once knew it back in the day, although I was no wizard.”

You raise an eyebrow as he fiddles with your bag, “See, back on my quest to make the ultimate heated bread pouch, I had decided to get milk straight from the Holstaur Queen. Of course, this wasn’t exactly easy you know, can’t just walk up and ask for a bottle of the good stuff, no, you have to get in good with them for that.”

He shrugs, “One thing led to another and there we were, laying out in a straw pile, under the stars, not wearing a scrap of clothing.” He sighs then, looking away. “Of course, I had to go and finish my quest, but unfortunately before I could return an invasion had occurred… Heard later she was killed in infighting afterward by the warring remains of the horde.”

“Wait… You screwed a monster and Solos let you in here?” You say, incredulous,

“Haha, well, it’s not that the big guy hates monsters, it’s just an issue with Dollora is all. A god of gods doesn’t hate anyone, merely feels the need to protect those who can’t protect themselves from predation, or at least give them a fighting chance.”

You look down, gritting your teeth. “Then why give magic with such a high price, yet so easy to lose it?”

“Well, I reckon early on it was too dangerous to allow wizards and the newly formed monsters to be together. They were the shield of humanity, that which allowed them fight back against Dollora’s new legions.” He finishes whatever he was doing and hands the [Pocket Dimension] back to you, smiling sadly.

“Of course, the time of wizards is long past I suspect.”

You peer into the pouch, seeing the rent much more stable looking, and place it back on your belt. “Well, there’s more than you’d think, they just don’t get out much.”

“Is that so? Well then, maybe the good lord might change his tune.”

You bark out a sad laugh, “I wouldn’t count on it. I prayed to him before, even in a time a desperation, and didn’t receive anything from it. I believe in the gods, but they don’t believe in me.”

Hardinclouse pokes your chest firmly and you look into his eyes as he says, “Well then, perhaps it’s time you take destiny in your own hands.”

You blink, confused. “I don’t see what…”

You cut off as you hear a groaning noise and Blake sits up, rubbing at his head. “Ugh…feels like I was hit by a Minotaur.”

You walk over to him and squat down as Hala begins to stir also. “You’d know what that feels like, wouldn’t you?”

Blake blinks at you and then looks around, eyes wide as he whispers, “Are we?…”

You chuckle, “If we were, I certainly wouldn’t be here.”

He shakes his head before wincing. “Agh… Probably wouldn’t hurt so much either.” His eyes go wide as he looks to you. “The Monster Lady, is she?”

You shrug, “Probably, but I don’t know. Not until we go back anyway.”

“Go back…” He whispers, looking about. He sees Veronica and shudders, starting it rise when you push on him.

“Easy now, she’s alright, no one is dying today on my watch, although she’s going to need some serious medical attention later.”

Blake nods. “We… We’ll get her to the High Hospitalier and…and…” His eyes had just locked on Selene who was still curled into a little ball, a smile on her face. “Is that… Is that the Hunter?”

“Don’t act so surprised, you kind of were saved by her and then watched me kill a dragon with her and all. Her name is Selene by the way.”

Blake rubs at his head, frowning. “I guess I was just so focused on everything, I never really cared to notice. I mean, dragon, dead comrades, it’s kind of been a long day.”

You shake your head, chuckling, “Tell me about it.”

“Mmmmm.” Hala murmurs, opening her eyes as she stretches out. She blinks a few times before yawning and then putting a hand over her mouth, wincing in pain.

Blake looks at her critically and she sits bolt upright, turning away from him. He furrows his brow and turns her about slowly, where she continues to hold her mouth. Gently, he lowers her paw to see blood smears around her mouth and she firmly closes her jaw, the cheeks seeming swollen.

“Hala…” He says calmly. “Let me see your mouth.”

She shakes her head.

“Hala, if you don’t let me see your mouth, no sex for you.”

Real, true concern appears in her eyes and she looks around, terrified before she takes a shuddering breath and slowly opens her mouth.

Both of you stiffen as you see that her front teeth were shattered along with two of her canines, their jagged ends sitting in her mouth like daggers. The pain must be… Excruciating.

“Hala…” Blake whispers before she closes her mouth and pulls away, tears forming in her eyes. Blake takes a deep breath and pulls her in close, stroking her head as he calmly whispers in her ear.

“Hmmm, that’s not much good now is it.” Hardinclouse says, squatting down behind you, again. “Nothing I can do for that I’m afraid.”

Blake looks up at the man, frowning. “And you are?”

“A friend.” You say, not wanting to go through this rigmarole. You shuffle up to Hala and place a hand on her cheek, sending a quiet [Soothe] and [Mend]. She seems less pained than before and you sigh out once again in relief.

“Just relax a bit Blake. We’re safe here at least and everything is edible.” You look down at the grass then to Hardinclouse, raising an eyebrow. He nods his head.

“Okay wow, yes, everything.”

Blake nods his head, holding Hala close to his chest again. “Alright, but how do we get home?”

“I’m working on that.” You say, standing up and turning to the big man. He shrugs.

“Now you don’t need to be leaving so soon do you?”

You rub at your chin and sigh, “Once everyone is on their feet anyway, yes, we do.”

He rubs at his beard in mimicry of you and then sighs. “Oh very well. Still seems your little lovely over there has yet to awaken anyway.”

Blake furrow his brow. “Little lovely….” His eyes go wide. “Wait a moment, I saw her kiss you!”

Hala pushes Blake’s face toward hers and she shakes her head before whispering in his ear, a little twitch of pain coming over her face as she did so. Blake’s expression softens.

“Well, I had no idea.” He says, dumbfounded.

“That’s why you’re so cute.” Delilah says, a twinkle in her eye. Blake and Hala merely frown at that. They obviously have no sense of humor.

You shake your head as you feel a soft poking at your shins and you look down to see Saya, fully in blob form jiggling at you. You blink a few times before smiling and leaning down to stroke the goo. She felt warm to your touch, her body rippling under you fingers.

“Hey pumpkin… Are you alright?”

Saya pauses for a moment before jiggling in a possible affirmative. You nod your head, relieved.

“I’m glad to hear that, I really am. I… I’m sorry about your body though. We’ll find you something else though, I know it must be hard for you.”

She jiggles again before turning and sliding over to Selene. You blink, looking up as she circles the sleeping cat and you shake your head before sitting down and gently stroking Selene’s head. You hear her softly begin to purr as you work your fingers around her ears, and she lazily rolls over toward you, nuzzling her face into your lap.

You continue this for a moment before you get the bright idea to rub her belly. Cats love having their belly’s rubbed! With a gentle motion, you move one hand to Selene’s smooth, tanned stomach and slowly start rubbing in a circle, feeling her smooth skin under your rough hands. You feel yourself shudder a moment as a wave of something runs through you at the sensation and you smile broadly before Selene gently lifts a paw and bats you on the nose.

You pull back, startled to see one of Selene’s feline eyes crack open slightly, a wicked little smile on her face. One of her tails starts swishing back and forth behind her as she purrs out, “Oh, thought you could sneak something in while the kitty was asleep, hmm?”

You raise a hand in a defensive gesture, “What? Me? No, of course not!”

Selene opens her eyes further before looking at Saya, who was beside you. “Saya… Is your father lying to me?”

Saya looks back and forth between the two of you and then jiggles slowly at Selene who’s smile becomes positively devilish. You put on a face of pure shock as you put a hand to your chest, wounded, “Saya! How could you do this to me, your only father!”

She seems to jiggle delightfully as Selene wraps a tail around your neck and drags you to the ground next to her. You smile as your face is directly next to hers and she lightly kisses you on the lips. You feel a familiar tingle of lost energy, but you allow it. Hell, you might have to allow a lot more than just this.

“She’s such a good girl, a shame about her body though.” Selene murmurs, her face inches from yours.

“Yeah, but at least she’s unharmed… I suppose I’ll have to go grave robbing or something.”

“Hmm… I could carve something for the girl, give her whatever she’s like since if doesn’t really seem to matter…” Selene muses, thinking it over.

“Oh, could you get a body for me too? No head please, I’m on a diet.” Delilah says, sandwiched between the two of you. Selene rolls her eyes and gently lifts the head up off your belt with a tail and flicks it toward Blake who shouts a curse before a sold “thwack” is heard.

“Mmm that’s better, Selene says,” pulling in closer to you.

“The others might say things if they saw us like this…” You whisper.

“Oh let them talk.” She says before kissing you again, deeper. You reciprocate the motion, feeling your inner lust grow within you before you pull away, leaving Selene panting slightly, a wild hunger in her eyes.

“Selene.. W…wait.” You say, a little out of breath yourself. “Not in front of Saya…”

“She’s a big girl.” Selene says, almost purring it out as she “Besides, I’m not hearing a no…”

“O…okay, no, please.” You say, pulling away some. She searches your eyes, her own expression a little hurt.

“Oh… Of course. The Wizard thing…” She seems to release some tension before sighing. “Right, I forgot.”

You groan a little. “Look, it’s not like I haven’t,.. Thought about it. I love you Selene, please believe me, it’s just… Well at least we need the magic to leave here.”

“And after that?”

You take a deep breath. “I don’t know yet.”

She closes her eyes before gently letting you go and you sit up, rubbing at your neck, your cheeks a little flushed. Saya was hiding behind a rock, obviously watching you as while jiggling, obviously giggling at the whole affair while Blake and Hala just stared at you, mouths open in shock. Delilah was facing the ground face first. You don’t think she chose that position.

You look over your shoulder to see Tabitha sitting up, staring directly at you. She frowns deeply before sighing and laying back down. You look to Selene who shoos you away and you get up to walk over to Tabitha as she just stares at the triangular Suns.

“So, we won did we?” She says, monotone.

“I think so.”

She pauses for a moment before sighing. “Well that’s good.”

You lean down and put a hand on her shoulder. She just stares at it before looking up at you. The two of you stare into each other’s eyes before she looks down. You sigh and prop her chin up to see her… Crying. As in, legitimately crying.

“Wizard…” She says, sadly. “Wizard what am I going to do?”

You close your eyes, taking a deep breath. “Tabitha, I… I don’t know yet. We can see the High Hospitalier back in Sanctifrond and…” You know your words don’t have the meaning you want them to convey. The look of sadness in her eyes was destroying you.

“I can’t fight… And I know that I can’t be his wife, I always did… But now… Now no one would take me. Look at me! knocked out of a fight so easily and now broken!” She sniffs, rubbing at her cheeks, her eyes becoming puffy. “I’m worthless as a lizardman.”

You seize her shoulders fiercely and look her straight in the eyes. “Tabitha, listen to me. Don’t you dare say you’re worthless! You’ve fought with us through thick and thin and I would always trust my back to you. I know you’ve bottled your emotions up for so long because that’s what your people do…. but it’s killing you inside. I’m sorry I can’t fix this, but I… We’re all going to help you and we won’t think less of you because of it.” You smile, “Hells, I’m sure you of all people could come back from this stronger than ever.”

She sniffs a few times before crying into your chest. You stroke her head softly before you feel the soft touch of a furred paw on your hand and look back to see Selene standing there, Saya, Blake, Hala, and even old Hardinclouse smiling wanly and wiping their eyes beside you as Tabitha finally was able to let go of her pains.

A short while later, you sit atop a pastry rock, eating of it while gently stroking Harmony’s crystal core. Her body was unusable at this point, and since Chaika was in the staff… you’d have to find something else. At least she seemed as dormant as Chaika did at the moment, so hopefully she was at some kind of peace for now.

Selene was playing with Saya, which gods be damned was the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, while Blake, Hala, and Tabitha hung out near the edge of the river of mountain elixir, the lizardman dangling her legs into the stream, apparently not feeling any cold while the wolf swam about in it.

You look down to see Bubs chewing on everything, moving with an abandon that you felt was mildly dangerous as he hopped from one edible treat to another. Ah, whatever, he had a big day and he deserved a treat. Or many.

You look up as you hear the soft pattering of a giant man walk up and Hardinclouse pats his belly before you. “Seems like everyone is enjoying themselves, eh?”

You look over to see the sleeping Veronica and you shrug, “Well, not everyone.”

The old man nods. “Oh, aye, aye. I suspect you’d like to leave soon I figure?”

You nod your head. “It’s wonderful here, but… I’m afraid we can’t stay.”

“Of course, of course. Well, let me teach you the spell to travel back. You’ll end up near where you entered, which I take is somewhere cold, so remember to bundle up!”

You laugh. “Will do.”

“You can always return you know, take a little time off here and there.”

You shake your head. “I don’t think I’ll be returning.”

He looks at you before smiling wanly and looking down. “Right, right, the wizard thing.”

“That’s what everyone says.” You mutter bitterly.

“I stand by what I said before.” The man says softly, but with a seriousness he hadn’t had before.

“If you feel so strongly about something, then you need to take it in your own hands to change the balance of fate. The gods don’t always give you what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.”

You stare at him like he’s a fucking idiot. “What the fuck does that mean?”

He shakes his head. “Think about it when you get back to the Keep. But anyway, let’s show you the way home.” He begins showing you the process to use your [Pocket dimension] to open a gateway here, which is fairly easy and straightforward. You should tell the communion matrix about this… Although it could get real fucking odd if they did come, seeing each other in person.

Ah, whatever.

>You learn [Destination Dorito]

>You can now travel to El Dorito whenever you wish!

“Hey isn’t this like teleportation magic?” You muse, looking over your bag again.

“Nope.” The baker says, stroking his beard.

“Are you sure?” You say, giving him a flat look.

“Pretty sure.” He says again, looking away.

“Cause it kind of seems like…”

“It’s just a gateway, don’t think much about it. There’s no such thing as teleportation magic.” He says sternly, not looking at you.

“O…Kay…” You say, shaking your head. The baker sighs and looks back at you.

“You ready to leave, or would you like anything else?” He says, his voice back to its genuine tone.

You muse this over for a moment, seeming to have forgotten something… Hmm…

You tap your chin a few more times before shaking your head.

“Mmm, not much else really now that I think about it.” You say before looking the man in the eye. “Well, actually I think I have something.”

“Oh?” The big man asks, a cheery smile still on his face. He pats his chest, sitting nice and pretty for you. You eye him for a moment before continuing

“Just to be sure, could I say, leave here, go somewhere, and then return to El Dorito where I left?”

Hardinclouse taps his chin, thinking for a moment. He then nods his head, smiling. “That sounds about right. Would be a tad inconvenient otherwise, hmm?”

You shrug. “That’s magic for you.” Hardinclouse laughs as you start again. “Well, I think it would be best to leave Tabitha and Veronica here while we head out to get back to someone to heal them, right?”

You don’t wait for him to continue before you nod. “Right mhm, that’s the correct call.”

Hardinclouse chuckles and pats you on the back. “I like that level of confidence my boy. So then, anything else?”

“Uh…” You say, scratching your chin. “Could you teach me some Culinarimancy?”

The man makes an odd face at you before bursting out into laughter. He rocks back and forth next to you, slapping his knees, his belly, his cheeks in some kind of hilariously odd fest. Apparently uh…you said something so funny that you broke the man. Broke him so hard he was flailing around like some kind of fat child who had too much sugar which, being where you are, is entirely possible.

He begins to calm down soon enough, although not before you had scooted over a little to give him some room so he could… do whatever the fuck it was he was doing. Once he was breathing in a normal fashion, he wipes his eyes, speaking slowly.

“Hah… Culinari…haha… what? You think… ho ho…ha…” He takes a deep breath, “Okay… okay… there’s no such thing as that first off, second off, even if there was, I think it would be easier to just give you a recipe.”

You look down, feeling a little embarrassed. “Oh… I just thought that…”

“My cooking was said to be so legendary that I used magic?”

“Well, you did just teach me a return spell you know.”

He waves a hand. “That’s that, this is this, that is that. I just use secret ingredients is all.” He leans over and speaking in a conspiratorial voice. “The secret is brown leaf.”

You stare at him oddly as he pulls back, chuckling again. You blink, thinking about it, then look back up at him, frowning. “Uh… really?”

“No.”

You frown deeper, prompting him to pat his belly, smiling. “Look, I used high quality ingredients with excellent tools. I know my craft, and I love it, so of course I get good quality food.” He sighs wistfully, “It’ a magic in its own right you know?”

You nod your head slowly. “Alright then…” You tap your chin. “Actually I guess those recipes would be kind of awesome…”

He cuts you off by shoving a list of papers at you. You blink at them and slowly take them, seeing things like, “Distilled elixir” and “Heated Bread Pouch.” There were others, more than you cared to go through at the moment. You look at the man and smile, knowing that you probably wouldn’t cook this up. Come on, you’re not a chef or anything! Still…

>You gain [Divine recipes]

>They aren’t actually divine, but the handwriting is immaculate

“Thank you for everything.” You say, nodding your head. “You didn’t have to save us, or give us this help. Hells, you could have trapped us in here and we’d never know it.”

Hardinclouse takes a deep breath before breathing out slowly. “I didn’t do anything but answer some questions and give some succor.”

You give him a flat look before you stand up and stretch. “Alright, whatever you say.” You tap him on the shoulder with your staff before walking over to Selene, smiling as she tosses Saya into the air. Okay, so she looks like she’s tossing around thing of dough, the way Saya flips into the air, saucers out, and then flops back into Selene’s fluffy arms, but hey, it’s still cute.

“Well, if it isn’t my two favorite girls.” You say, smiling as you lean on your staff. You feel a few pulses of indignance from your staff and Harmony’s stone in your pocket, but uh… damnit. You’d have to apologize them later.

Selene smiles and catches Saya again before forming here into a ball and setting her on the ground. The black goo that was your daughter slowly sunk into a usual blob before quivering and jiggling up and down a little, obviously overjoyed. You smile and rub her before looking up at Selene who uses a tail to move a strand of your hair out of the way.

“Been awhile since I’ve played with kids, forgot how much energy they have.” She says, crossing her arms while smiling at Saya. “Honestly though, we should teach her how to make a cohesive form without a skeleton though.”

selene

You shrug. “I mean, it’s not like there’s a boarding school for this or anything.”

Selene chuckles, “I guess not. Oh well, for now I’ve asked her to think over what she’d like to look like. It’s not that hard to carve a simulacrum of bones anyway.”

Saya jiggles in a sort of contemplation and you sigh shaking your head. “Oh alright. Just no dragons.”

An eye appears, made from her body, which she promptly rolls. Both you and Selene stare down at her, then back at each other before you both sigh deeply and then start laughing.

“So,” Selene begins, looking to you. “What do we do now?”

“Well, for starters, I found a way out of here, and a way to return.” You explain the spell to Selene and she frowns at you.

“This sounds like teleportation.”

“I know, right? Well, whatever. We’ll leave the wounded here, check out the Keep and then speed off to Sanctifrond. You’re crazy fast and stuff, so it shouldn’t be too bad, right?”

She taps her chin, musing it over. “Oh my, a romantic dash across the land, seeing all the sights, allll alone with you?” She smiles wickedly, “How could I say no?”

You uh… well when she put it like that, it was actually much more appealing than it was before, which was already very appealing. Gods damnit this fiery little kitty knew how to push your buttons.

Still…

“Well, anyway, before anything… untoward…” Selene raises her eyebrows as you continue, “Occurs, we need to see people to safety.” You think for a moment. “I’d also like to retrieve my horse.”

“Poor thing.” Selene says, sighing out. “And again, you’re right, you’re right.” She rubs at her neck with a tail. “I just… well, it is what it is.”

You know what she’s talking about, and you take her hand in yours, smiling. “Hey, Selene, it’s fine. We’ll think of something.” She smile slowly in return as you remember something. “And I don’t know, but Hardinclouse… he seems to think that there’s a way… I don’t know he says ‘To take matters into my own hands.” You frown,

“I just don’t know what that means.”

Selene is quiet for a long while before she narrows her eyes in concentration. You look at her curiously before she sighs out, “Well, no sense worrying about it right now. Lets tell the others and be on our way then.”

 

You do just that, informing Blake of your decision. He agrees, and seeing how he’s the only fully hale one, or something like it, he felt it would be best to stay with them until you returned. You decided to leave Saya behind also, mainly to make the load lighter on Selene. Bubs waaaaaaanted to go, but he ate himself into a stupor. So in the end you brought along Chaika and Harmony, figuring that leaving them would be mean.

You take a deep breath and caste [Destination Dorito], and from your [Pocket Dimension] a bright light spills forth, coalescing into a gateway that opens before you, showing you the cold, shimmering wasteland that was where the Keep of the Forgotten resided. You take Selene’s hand amidst all the others giving their farewells, and step through the portal.

The cold hits you like a physical force as soon as the two of you step through, and you shiver as the cold slams into you. You maybe should have taken Hardinclouse at his word, because now that you weren’t fighting for your life, you were uh, cognizant of such things.

Of course, this only really mattered up until you realize that you were falling. Quite the distance too. You scramble for something as the rushing feeling hits you and gravity, the mean little bitch that she is, tries to claim you very soul. Or your bones, whatever.

You feel Selene’s strong arms wrap around you and a few, terrifying moments later you hit a stone floor with a soft thump. You blink as Selene grunts a little before gently setting you down. You shake your head before touching her shoulder. She nods at you, apparently fine, and the two of you survey the area around you.

Half the keep was missing. Not like, oh, it was ruined by a blast haha, no it was just gone. Like it was never there. True, there were sections of crumbling walls now, but mainly it was a clear, circular area of just… scorched stone covered in a coating of snow that had invaded the keep like ants finally let into a jar of honey.

“By the gods…” you whisper, looking about. “Did… did we really do this?”

“Seems so…” Selene says softly, her ears twitching. You frown as she does so, seeming to try and pick something out. After a while she sighs and shakes her head.

You put a hand on her arm, “What is it?”

She sighs, “I was checking to see if I heard anything from my la… I mean, Valinithia, but… there’s just no way she could have survived this. Or… whatever she was anyway.” She shrugs, smiling faintly. “Looks like we did it. I went against my millennia old oaths and killed the Monster Lady.”

You pull her into a tight embrace at that, knowing that she was still conflicted inside about the whole affair. Both of you knew it had to be done, or she wouldn’t have done it, but… come on. That’s just how these things worked, you didn’t just stop feeling regret, you never could…

“What’s going to happen now…” Selene whispers, her voice scared.

You stroke her head softly, kissing her hair. “We’ll take it one step at a time. Maybe… maybe this is a chance for peace. The monsters need a new Lady and… well, you’re the most senior of them all, they know and respect you and…”

Selene pushes back, cocking her head. “Me? Oh, I couldn’t possibly…”

You give her the look of a man who knows that his citadelball skills are far superior to such a menial task, and she rolls her eyes before relenting. “Alright, alright, one step at a time. Come on, let’s check on the Nexus.”

You nod and she picks you up, jumping through the ruins of the keep to the lower levels where the chamber of the elixir lay. The tunnels beneath were intact thankfully and you reach the place in short order. The two of you enter the room to see a display of lights and power slowly humming in the room. As you look up, the hole in the ceiling was closed with a large rock, obviously from above, and the power had nowhere to go but stay there in its little well.

You walk forward to the dais, but as soon as you brush against a streaming current of power, your eyes go wide and you breath out in shock as your mind is assaulted by something great and powerful. You stagger to a knee, feeling it coursing in you. It wasn’t malicious, just… just vast. So… so very vast.

Selene hops over to you, putting a hand on your shoulder as she shakes you gently. “Wizard, hey… hey are you okay?”

You slowly shake your head as you try to process all of this. Dear gods… perhaps just dear Solos, but it was so much. You could feel it as it pulsed through the land, the energies of the nexus. You could feel Valinithia’s touch upon it, feel the strands she had corrupted to change her form and the preparations to unleash her final solution. You could feel the link of wizards, tapped into the Tether, using the communion matrix through it, feel the very heartbeat of magic in this world.

And it could feel you.

You whisper to Selene, “I’m…fine.” You of course, were not fine, but that seemed trivial as you tried to make sense of everything with your limited, human brain. How could Valinitha have controlled this? It must have driven her mad to do so! Either multiple wizards had taken charge of such a thing in the past or… or they knew what they were doing with it. Either way, you could feel this power, released and trapped in this room, seeking to be guided and channeled, and if that meant you, then so be it.

With this at your command you… you could do anything. Valinthia thought small, at least for the fight against you, trusting that you were beneath her strength. Her overconfidence was her true weakness, despite everything she cried out about, but you… you had vision.

“Take it into your own hands to change the balance of fate…” You hear echo in your mind, and you look over to Selene as the power flared through you. In the spectral light of the chamber, you saw her face of concern, her tanned skin and red hair flickering through the blues and purples of the energy, her beautiful complexion shining against the coolness of the surroundings.

She was so beautiful, and you could hardly believe things had turned out the way they had, but there was still the matter of losing your magic should you… you give her what she wanted. What both of you wanted, to be honest. You had felt prepared to settle for being a normalfag, that was as it must be, but… You had the power of the gods in your hands.

You’re dimly aware now of Selene shaking you, apparently not at all convinced by your words. It’s okay though, it’s all okay

Well, not really, but it was getting there as you processed everything that tried to roam through your head at speeds you found fairly mind-boggling. Literally, if you weren’t careful. You saw through eyes embedded into the very land itself possibilities of what could be done with this… this power. You felt like your thoughts beforehand were beginning to slip as many other ideas started to flow through your mind.

It felt so immense that it seemed as if you could do anything with it, be anything. You could restore those lost, break the hold of the gods, set yourself up as one even! Think about it, the god of shitposting himself! No one would ever call your waifu shit again and get away with it…

Oh and you could do so much more. Destroy the monsters? Perhaps not immediately, but you could figure something out as a slow burn right? Hah, you could even have fun with this…

You faintly hear yourself cackling slightly as the thoughts pour through your mind. You feel the shaking even more, a annoying distraction to be sure, and you turn a cool gaze upon the source. Who would dare mess with you on the eve of your ascension?

Selene had tears in her eyes as she shook you and something seemed to click within your head. Oh… oh wow.

You take a step back, putting a hand on your head. Perhaps what they say about power corrupting is true, because you were this close to sitting back and starting to fuck with the very nature of the world, perhaps in incredibly petty ways. The god of shitposting? That couldn’t have ended well.

A shiver ran down your spine as you remembered the tales of Mootatrix.

You look to Selene, who wipes at her eyes and you take a deep breath before gently taking her paw in your hand before you sigh out, shaking, “S..Selene, I’m fine… I really am.”

“You don’t look fine!” She says, teeth grit together. “I can see the energies trying to twist your thoughts, it’s too much power for you, I’m taking you out of here!”

She wraps a tail around you and you hold up a hand, “Wait, wait! No, please!”

She looks at you with concern and you shudder for a moment, “Selene this… this could be our chance. Think about it, if… if Valinthia could change all the monsters… couldn’t we change the laws governing wizards? We… we could finally…”

“Not if it means you losing your damn mind!” she says, trying to pull you away again.

You struggle for a moment, trying to hold firm when you hear a monotone voice from your belt, “By the gods, you two are way too dramatic.”

You both freeze and look down at your belt. There sits the severed head of Delilah, looking at nothing with a flat glare as she swings slowly back and forth at your waist. The colors of the magic in the room play off her pale white visage and she sighs again as you clear your throat.

“D…Delilah, you were here?” Both you and Selene say, incredulous.

“I’m getting real tired of this shit.” She mutters, looking at the ground. “You just tie me on your belt and go around, forgetting me while you fall on top of me, make out around me, expose me to dangerous magic. Honestly it’s really, really annoying.”

You and Selene just stare at the head before both of you begin to chuckle, and then escalate into a full-blown laughter, the two of you bending over and holding your stomachs as you belted out the laughter. Delilah doesn’t do much of anything, just sitting there and taking it until the two of you finish, wiping tears out the corners of your eyes.

Delilah sighs, rolling her eyes. “I should have requested the Hero just leave me on the side of a road somewhere.”

You feel the power of the Nexus still pushing at you, but apparently such emotions were able to push it back, for now, as you close your eyes, focusing. It tried to make you do things, act upon your desires. Damnit, you so wanted to just fix everything, heal Veronica, fix Tabitha, give Chaika and Harmony bodies of the flesh. You try to distract yourself though as you put your thoughts together. Such things would surely not be beyond you, but you did not know how to do it, you didn’t know what would happen if you just let loose like that. For that reason you focus deeply on Delilah.

“Why did Blake keep you anyway, for all intents and purposes you were just a head?”

Delilah rolls her eyes, “I think he felt sorry for me, the idiot. That or I reminded him of his mother.”

You frown deeply at this. “His… mother?”

“Sure, he told me she died when he was a kid, guess she looked like me.”

You look at her skeptically and she sighs, blowing a tuft of hair out of her eyes. “Look, if you don’t believe me, just ask Nerg or whatever.”

Just as Nerg? Uh… what? That was a really silly idea, how the hell would you go about asking a god something like that? You’d either have to have a direct line via divine worship or activate and appropriate ritual. Doing that though requires someone very knowledgeable in the subject and a lot of power. Like, tons of power, gained through the use of artifacts and mana, or…

Or using the Nexus.

You think about this and the power reacts, swirling within you, moving to do your bidding and just waiting for you to make it happen. However you didn’t… know how to make it happen. You felt like it was asking you to just let it loose, channel it somehow, but you managed to keep it in check and not do anything rash, not yet anyway.

“Delilah… how would I go about speaking with Nerg?”

She looks up at you, narrowing her eyes. “Heh, so you get some crazy power and suddenly you want to summon Nerg himself.” She shakes her head. “Well, whatever, if you want, it’s not so hard. Just get me some intestines and we’ll get this started.”

“No intestines.” You say, firmly.

She pouts, “Well fine then. I’ll be a conduit I guess.”

You nod your head and move to remove the head, holding it out before staring into her eyes, which slowly begin to burn with a soft, green light. You move to push power into her, trusting she can make this work properly when Selene touches your shoulder.

“Are you sure about this?” She says softly, squeezing down on you.

You look to Delilah who stares you straight in the eyes. “She’s right, if you give me this energy, I could do anything with it, I could kill you or open a minor portal for a servant of Nerg. It would probably be easy too.” She stares straight into your soul as she speaks slowly.

“So, do you trust me?”

You close your eyes taking a deep breath before you breathe out, and in doing so inject power into Delilah. Her eyes grow wide and she slowly rises into the air as power flows around her, turning a sickly green as it shivers and twists all around, growing larger and more potent. The smell of rot seems to pervade the room then and a soft smoke begins to pour from the head’s neck. She turns about for a moment before tilting to the side, her eyes whirling about in her sockets before they lock onto you, and you notice with shock that they are not the same as her usual eyes.

The eyes that looked back at you were bright and clear, the iris a deep green as they took you in. You were utterly surprised to see that they glinted with a gentle soul, similar to that of Hardinclouse, but bespoke of a wisdom that spanned eternity. You take a deep breath as Delilah’s head opens her mouth slowly, and a low, rasping voice spills out,

“Ahhhh, the child of Solos, the wielder of mine might, the Plagamancer. My daughter has told me much and more about you…”

You gulp, feeling as the power was diverted from you, into this channeling. It helped you clear your mind, but this manifestation, while not actually Nerg in this world, able to influence it directly, it was still mildly distressing to see a god before you.

You lick your lips and say, “Nerg… god of plague and death.”

“Of course it is I child. I speak through my daughter’s voice.”

“You… you aren’t still mad about that whole thing in Cair are you?” You blurt out, not even thinking about it. As soon as you do, your eyes grow wide as the thing that was not Delilah began a throaty chuckle.

“Ahhhh, the plague… I was disappointed, but I knew that perhaps something far greater would occur otherwise.” Delilah’s tongue licks her lips. “I am not angry for such a thing, forgiveness is freely given.”

You sigh out, leaning on your staff as you feel relieved, and a little happy for some reason, at the words. You then look up to Nerg and ask slowly, “Does Delilah look like Blake’s mother?”

Nerg smiles widely, a distressing look on Delilah’s face, before speaking again. “Of course. The Hero has a soft heart, yet he sends so many to my realm…” He chuckles, “But that is not truly why you summoned me, is it? No… you feel something else resounding within you.” The head moves forward, the stench of death and decay increasing exponentially as it floats mere inches from you.

“Tell me your desires, he who has summoned me and spread my might. Tell your God your woes that I may provide your succor.”

You look to Selene, who is staring hard at the head, her tails bristling, obviously on edge. She didn’t like this at all, perhaps no one should. This was death personified, speaking directly to you, looking into your very eyes. In some ways, it was a horrifying concept, but… but you needed this opportunity. You’d just have to get over the smell you guess..

You nod and begin to speak, “Lord Nerg, I feel you have had your eyes upon me for some time, and you may know about what I wish to speak with you about, but… there is something wrong in this world. It is, in a way, a sickness brought upon by the war between Dollora and Solos, translated into a battle between men and monsters. For millennia we have fought and died so the monsters could take humans away to be their lovers, to produce more of them. I understand this, and I do not hate them for it, but it has driven this world to the point where even the Monster Lady would go and try to change things back, before Dollora’s spell.”

“A hatred runs deep within the veins of men for these creatures, but… but they are not all evil, just as not all men are good.” You gently take Selene’s hand in yours and she tightens her grip on you, relaxing somewhat.

“We wizards were given our power in order to protect humanity from the monsters, to give us a fighting chance against those far more powerful than ourselves, to survive. Truly, I’m sure you’ve seen the ranks of your realm rise greatly in the times of the Monster Invasions but… but I don’t think one such as you truly wishes to see everything burn as the two sides mutually destroy each other.”

You take in a deep breath and look the god of the dead in the eye. “I would beseech upon you, oh God of the plague, lord of the damned, give upon me your knowledge that I may use this gift I have taken up to enact change upon this world.”

Nerg is silent for a long time before he begins to laugh. It started slow and deep, but as he continued it trailed into something richer, more powerful until it felt like it shook the chamber itself.

You merely stand there with Selene, holding her hand as he does so, the two of you standing together as a pillar against him. When he finishes, his eyes turn upon you and he speaks slowly. “Child, you wish to end a history of war between men and monsters? Ask me to meddle in the affairs of mine father and estranged sister? Deny myself the boon of souls ripped from the slain?”

“Tell me then, why would I wish this?”

You look to Selene before you take a deep breath. “Because I speak of a plague.”

Nerg smiles and nods for you to continue.

“I speak of something not deadly, but equalizing. Something that would not destroy, but merely level the playing field. You wouldn’t be brought into their little war, instead you would merely put humans and monsters on equal-terms. If this form of equality was brought forth, the invasions surely wouldn’t be as fierce, but instead a form of co-existence would be forced upon the land.”

Selene looks down, squeezing your hand. “Nerg… though we monsters do not spend much of our time looking upon the gods, we do understand your power and wisdom. We are strong, far stronger than humans, yet our fates are intertwined with their own. For monsters to thrive the way we are, humanity must as well, and this cannot be accomplished by putting them on the brink of fear at our shadows, for instead it will only incite hatred.”

She takes a deep breath and looks up at Nerg. “I love this human and I know that many of my sisters love humans as more than just fathers for their children, but this joy cannot be made manifest truly until both sides respect each other, something that cannot happen so long as monsters can so easily dominate men and we do not fear the arm of the gods for our might.”

“Though there will be resistance, and though it will be difficult, I would sacrifice my strength to be closer to this man.”

Nerg seems to consider for a moment before nodding. “You wouldst wish that a plague be created, one which saps the strength of monsterkind, lowering them to that of humanity? Taking away their hubris and staying within them for generations?”

His eyes shine, “And thus bring them to realize that death is a possibility much more real…hahaha, yes, yes I can see it now.”

He licks Delilah’s lips again, which again is super fucking creepy, and then says, “You will be patient zero then, cat o’ nine tails. You will harbor this and spread it to your people.”

Selene looks to you, then to Nerg and nods her head slowly. “I accept.”

Nerg chuckles, “Good… I will instruct my daughter on what you must do. Being in the mortal realm is… tiring for one such as me.”

“Wait!” You say, holding up a hand. “Before you go, I just had a few more things to ask.”

Nerg rumbles before speaking, “Say it.”

You hold up Chaika and Harmony, the two objects radiating their wills in your hands. You feel their calm silence, basking before the god of the dead and you can feel what they must be thinking, the deep dread that lies within everyone, now standing before those who were technically born after the event of death.

“These women, locked into these stones by death, their personalities imparted from those who once lived… what becomes of them once they once more leave the mortal coil?”

Nerg stares at the two before grinning. “Ah, revenants. The lost children split from that which is whole. Their true souls lie within my realm, and if they are removed again they will rejoin their spirit, to make themselves whole as they were in life.”

You feel Harmony and Chaika seem to… feel relieved and yet forlorn at such news. Perhaps the knowledge that they would not remain as they are now and combine back to who they once were was a little much. If you had to go through such a thing, perhaps you’d feel such as well. It wasn’t a pleasant thought honestly, and you didn’t want to dwell on it terribly much. Of course, nothing about this situation was overly pleasant. But you must persevere…

“I see… Thank you, my lord.”

Nerg nods before looking upon you with a grandfatherly expression. “Child… though I do this for you, you must understand that I cannot break the hold which Solos has over your magic. I can give you the tools to further my realm, but not that which will preserve yourself.” he licks those lips again, “A shame though, I expected more great things from you.”

You take a deep breath and look him in the eye. “I would not worry about that, my Lord.”

Nerg studies you critically before Selene speaks up, rather timidly for herself. She bites her lip momentarily before speaking slowly, “Lord Nerg… I…I wish to ask…”

Nerg smiles the power starting to dissipate around Delilah’s head. “Your people have found solace within mine realm, child of Dollora. Do not worry on this account.”

Selene gasps, putting a hand to her mouth as she starts to cry again, obviously overcome by emotion. You couldn’t really blame her all that much, had you been in her position, you’re not certain you’d be able to take it without breaking down some. At least she finally had that peace straight from the mouth of a god.

The smell of rot began to fade as the power recedes, and the strange eyes roll back into Delilah’s head. You hear a deep rumble from nowhere in particular and you hear, as if from a great distance, a faint whisper, curling around the air and into your ears,

“Treat poor Delilah to something nice, she doesn’t want to come home yet…”

And with that, Delilah’s head falls from the air. Selene snaps a tail forward, catching her before the head could collide with the floor and you sigh out in relief as Selene pulls the Dullahan in. You walk over to her to see the head stir, her normal eyes appearing in the sockets as she looks around. She takes in a deep breath, which again, why should she, before she exhales.

“That’s always an experience… Seems Nerg wishes me to teach you something.” She cocks her head, thinking about it for a moment. “It’s quite… complex.”

You shrug and take up Chaika, who still seems to be in contemplation about all of this, and you face Delilah, the power rushing back into you as it once more seeks a conduit. You grit your teeth and then say slowly, “Show me, oh child of Nerg.”

“Ha, ha.” She says flatly before reciting to you the words that would change the essence of the very world. It began by taking the blood of a man and monster, provided easily by Selene cutting both of your palms with one of her tails. You feed power into this rent into your very beings, touching the core that is both you and Selene, and in doing so, you connect it with the aether of the Nexus.

In this moment, you can feel Selene’s heartbeat in time with your own as the two of you are connected by something more than just passion, but instead by ties that reach into the very heart of creation itself. You feel the pulsing of energies between the two of you, the dark, yet powerful essence of a monster and the light, yet weaker spark of a man, the two pushing upon each other until they created a sort of duality that was bred a neutrality. It was, in a way, beautiful. However there was something more, some component to your essence that stood out, that made you shine brighter than what you somehow KNEW was correct for humanity. It pushed against this darkness, yet in the end was eclipsed by it.

Selene’s shadow settled over you, eclipsing your inner being. It wasn’t your fault, you were only human, it was the soul of humanity, the humours, if you would, which were just weaker in power than that of the monsters. It was nothing you could or could not be blamed for. It was how you were made, in the image of Solos himself, just as Selene was made this way by her own god.

But if such things were the humours of a very race, then even they could be susceptible to plague.

You reach out with your mind, touching into the very essence that is Selene, and the power of the Nexus shakes, drawing within her. You feel her heart racing, pulsing in time with the magic that you poured into her, displacing her humours which could only be seen in this way, creating a essential aura, something that concentrated within her and then, without warning, burst out.

Selene gasps as her strength, that which monsters were feared for began to dwindle. You felt the Nexus shift in time with this, pulsing outward taking the pieces of this contagion and replicating it, disseminating it through the land like a pathogen in the blood, flooding through the body to reach the far corners of the very earth. There was a tremble, like a great pressure was applied to the land, and then it was silent.

The swirling of energies returned to a dull throb within you, somehow pleased that it had been used. You once more feel Selene’s heartbeat in time with yours and when you look upon her, her essence that is, you find with shock that it is no long the all encompassing dark that once dominated you. To be fair, the shadow was still present, but it was not nearly as great as it was before, now it stood beside the light, YOUR light, on equal footing.

You look into Selene’s eyes, glowing faintly with the echoes of such power flowing through her and she gently raises a hand before looking it over and shaking her head as she whispers,

“I feel it. I feel the effects of your plague. What have we done?”

You sigh, taking her hand, feeling a gentleness in her soft fur. “I don’t know, but what’s done is done.”

She looks to you before biting her lip. “Let’s leave this place, please.”

You turn around, shaking your head. “One last thing.”

You slowly walk toward the dais, standing before it, the power of the room swirling around you, eagerly awaiting it’s next command. You take in a deep breath before calling out, “SOLOS! HEAR ME!”

Your voice echoes through the room, bouncing around the chamber, filling your ears with your the resounding echoes, but nothing responds. You didn’t think he would, in fact, it wasn’t his way. You merely continue speaking, knowing that you were heard, whether the big man liked it or not.

“Solos, I stand here, surrounded by the very essence of the magic seeded upon this land, channeled by one of your chosen. I did not know the significance of my calling when I chose it, how could I? But whether I knew it or not, I had fulfilled your vision, haven’t I? As we speak I’m certain the plague of Nerg sweeps this land, borne upon wings of magic, seeding this very land.” You bow your head, taking a deep breath as you continue,

“Perhaps this will make things difficult with Dollora, she will not appreciate what I have done, what I had to do, in order to achieve this. She will believe it a plan of your design, for am I not a wizard? One of your guardians? I would not blame her, but something had to change and I took the reins.”

“I do not seek boon, or power beyond me, I was merely content being alone, practicing magic in my home, but now I cannot be so content. I seek only one thing, to be freed from this restriction that keeps my brothers in check, what keeps us from realizing our true potential. With what I have done here today, there is no reason for us to merely stay alone, hidden in our isolation forever. You once loved Dollora, or so I am told, and perhaps it is time to once more re-kindle this love as you will see upon this earth.”

“The problems we face will not be solved overnight, that is impossible, and perhaps I have caused even greater troubles by doing this, but I don’t care. I’m tired Solos, as must you be. I wish only to be with this woman, my daughter, and my friends. Is that so much to ask in life?”

Once more, you are greeted with silence, yet you feel somehow the air around you felt… warm, gentle even.

“So, if you will not grant me this, I will change it for myself. I do not disparage you or your means, but I will put fate into my own hands. I will not yield your gift, nor will I squander it, yet I will not give away this treasure beside me either. So, I with this gesture…”

You put a hand on your chest, and power flows into you, coalescing around that which made your soul, flowing around the mana that was placed there, a link to Solos himself, granting you the power of a wizard, and you draw it forth before you, the power draining from you as you hold it before you. You feel an incredible weariness in your very body as you look upon it, that which made you a wizard.

“I break my chains.”

With a gesture, you isolate a portion of the glowing sphere and pluck it out before it is eaten and dissolved by the powers of the Nexus. You then gently place it back within you, and as you do, your eyes go wide as you feel your body charged by power. It courses through your very being, driving you to scream out with emotions you had kept buried and hidden from the world, from your very self. You had denied them for 32 long years and they nearly tore you apart as the mana suffused the core of your being once more.

You feel your knees grow weak and you kneel down as you start to breathe a little hard. The power of the room seems to recede for some reason, giving you a respite as you pull yourself together. You feel the gentle warmth in the room recede, but despite this, your heart feels full of joy for some reason, like the feeling when Nerg smiled at you, but… more pure. Perhaps Solos had… well, you weren’t a theologist.

You feel Selene gently put a hand on your shoulder as she leans down to be next to you. She gently puts a hand on yours and you feel her warmth as she gently sits beside you. You turn slowly, looking into her green eyes and you both search each other for a moment before you move in to kiss her.

You stop midway though when Harmony pulses a warning the same time as Delilah growls and the two of you pause before turning your heads toward the dais to see the form a tall woman with long, brown hair and a complexion that was unearthly beautiful, crossing her legs as she sat upon the dais, leaning forward on one elbow.

She smiles at you with teeth that nearly glowed at their perfection and she slowly shifts her legs, her flowing white silk dress barely concealing her as she does so. You both stare in incomprehension as she waves a hand toward the two of you.

“Oh no no, please, don’t stop on account of me, please, I just adore such things.”

You blink, confused at the sudden turn of events. How did she get in here without you noticing? Furthermore, why was she… familiar for some reason? You furrow your brow as Selene growls out, “Who the hell are you?”

“Me?” she says, mocking surprise. “Oh, I’m just the Goddess of love, and I do so love what you’ve done here little wizard.” She giggles slightly before putting a hand to her cheek. “I did say to my dear husband that his wizards would accomplish something great someday, and here we are, handicapping the monsters of my dear sister.”

You look utterly confused for a moment before your eyes go wide in recognition. “Holy hells, you’re… you’re Phallia.”

“Correct! Oh but it’s been awhile since I’ve spoken to a mortal. Being a goddess of plants can be dull at times.” She shrugs, “Still, I came to congratulate you on all you’ve done here today. Keep up the good work little Wizard and know that you have your God, and Goddess’s blessing as you do his work. Truly, we will one day see the perfect world, but for now, live your life, have your indulgences.”

She seems to fade into nothingness, smiling wickedly as she does so, “I’m sure we’ll meet again!”

And like that, she was gone. You and Selene both stare at each other, not able to comprehend what exactly transpired here. Did a goddess just… appear before you? What did she mean about a “Perfect World.?” For some reason the thought of meeting her again seemed odd as well. Maybe… maybe you’d just had a long day.

Selene was frowning deeply as she stood up, helping you rise as well. She looks to you before looking back at the dais and shuddering. “I felt something within me, a stirring sort of anger at seeing that Goddess, yet I cannot explain why.” She shakes her head, “It’s of no matter now, come lets go.”

You nod, picking up your things as the power once more tried to seep into you, apparently as soon as Phallia had left. You ignore it though, your task done here. With deliberate steps, you, Selene, Delilah, and the two revenants leave the chamber. You look upon the tablet next to the door, a faintly wizard shaped dent in the material standing out, and you touch it again. It shudders gently before closing. You frown at it as you feel the power cut off from you, receding back into its well.

“This is too dangerous.” You say, looking at the door. Selene puts a hand on her hip, tapping Delilah’s head with a finger with another. She seems to consider something for a moment before nodding.

“Might as well test out how much this ‘plague’ has crippled me, huh?” You wince as she puts it that way before she ties Delilah to your belt and then gently picks you up, her strong arms still feeling smooth and powerful under you before she leaps forward down the hallways. You feel that she isn’t quite as fast as before, but obviously this wasn’t a power intensive activity, because she was dashing down the hallway quick as can be, and some part of you felt relieved at that.

Soon enough you find yourself at an intersection of tunnels where Selene stops and looks back before looking down at her hand and then nodding. She raises one hand, holding you with the other and then fires a bolt of power down the hallway you came from. Before even looking at the results, she scoops you up and the two of you dash down the hall as a series of crumping noises sounds behind you, and as you dash out the structure rumbles, fire lashing down the hallway. You stare as the tunnels begin to collapse around you, broken by the weight of her magic and time itself, until you find yourself bursting forth from the tunnel exit, a rush of cold wind before you mixing with the hot wind behind you. The two of you look back, staring at the Keep which had changed the destiny of the very world, and then you both look once more into each other’s eyes.

A horse neighs in the distance, but you don’t even care as you both meet face first in a furious passion of lips and tongues, the only sensation you feel the burning of desire inside you. Delilah merely sighs as the two of you writhe in the snow, crushing the poor head. She groans and the two of you look down at her before giggling to yourselves and breaking off with one last kiss before Selene picks you up and jumps you over to your poor steed, all the while whispering things into your ear that made Chaika titter like a schoolgirl and Harmony blush. If she could anyway.

A short while later you had reunited with the two, very cold horses as were busy feeding them and warming them up before transporting them to El Dorito. It would be an issue if you just brought them from freezing cold to hot so suddenly. They might get laminitis or something. That would be bad. Besides, they couldn’t actually eat the grass there without getting sick, so best to feed them some hay and grain first.

Mr. Ed was positively ecstatic to see you, going so far as to nuzzle your hand for a moment before becoming disinterested again. Gods, it positively warmed your heard to see that! Gawain merely was stoic as usual, eating with a dignity he probably deserved. Well, he was kind of a badass horse you guuuuueeesss. That or Blake was that awesome an equestrian. Probably both.

As you brush down your horse, Selene peeks over the side of Gawain, who apparently gives no shits about the monster, while Mr. Ed gives her the stare of a horse about to make a bad decision. She speaks gently, ignoring the horse as you continue your cold work.

“What exactly did you do back there, with that ball of magic you pulled from yourself?”

You shrug, brushing your horse again. “I unlocked wizards.”

She frowns, “Unlocked huh? Like, you freed them from Solos?”

You shake your head, “We were never really bound to him, no, instead I just removed the restriction on sex.”

She smiles, “But doesn’t that defeat the purpose?”

“Not really, for I didn’t remove the requirements either.” You sigh, rubbing at your head. “We don’t even know what we’re missing out on, oftentimes filled with an anger or deep sadness toward women, often born of just not knowing. But when we do know, it tears at us.” You shrug.

“Perhaps you come to appreciate it more when it does happen then. You must make sacrifices to get anything, right?”

She leans over the horse, her weight apparently not bothering the guy. “I suppose that’s true. It would defeat the purpose to allow people to become wizards without having given something up first, huh?”

You nod. “It will be known soon enough, but it’s fine, by the time people realize it, the world will have already changed anyway.”

Selene nods before cocking her head. “Hmm, I wonder too, why did you not use the power for anything else?”

You close your eyes before replying, “Like what?”

“You know… healing the others, making things for yourself, etc.” she looks at you, eyes searching, “You could have done anything, right?”

You take in a deep breath and exhale slowly. “Not anything… Besides, if I had indulged in such things, even for selfless purposes, what would you have thought of me?”

She frowns before looking down. “I guess… maybe I would have kept on thinking about what else you might do, what else you would allow yourself before you started doing something more terrible.”

She lifts up one of her tails, the one that was severed before by Valinitha before she sighs, “Perhaps battle scars exist to remind of things for a reason.”

“That doesn’t mean we have to like them.” You say, finishing your brush job. Mr. Ed neighs softly before stamping a hoof, clearly pleased. You put the tools away in the frozen wagon before reaching for your bag. “Come on, let’s be on our way before we really have to worry whether or not there was more I could have done.”

The horses brought back to the others, and your deeds related to a stunned Blake (who also seems horrified that Delilah told you what he THOUGHT was a secret…), you return to the mortal world with some provisions and begin your journey with Selene, back to the South toward the capital. As you travel in leaps and bounds, the snow covered landscape sliding beneath you, you begin to reflect upon your adventures and everything that led up to where you were now, held in the arms of the woman you loved, protected by her warm body and soft fur.

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