Wizardquest Part 21: What Lies Beyond

Chapter 200

 

You open your eyes sometime later to see three, triangle-shaped suns staring down at you, basking you in golden light. Turning your head around, you narrow your eyes at the landscape, seeing the ruins of the keep spread across the ground and your companions laying on the rapidly melting snow that stands in stark contrast to the green and glorious field you now find yourself in.

Trees filled with candied fruits sway in a warm breeze as the sound of babbling brook, filled with glittering green water, rushes across rocks that seem flaky and delicious. Bushes grow upon them pastries of all shapes and sizes, glistening in the unnatural light.

You blink and look down to see Selene laying next to you, her eyes closed as she sleeps peacefully, chest slowly rising and falling. Body aching, you make to rise when you hear the voice of an older man call out behind you.

“Ah… It has been too long since one of the faithful has traveled these hallowed lands. Welcome, Wizard. Welcome to El Dorito.”

Blinking, 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’s a rather large man, his apron barely contained around his bulky form, but you can tell that underneath his large gut are slabs of muscle covered by the loose-fitting clothing he wears underneath. He has a long, white beard beneath rosy cheeks and his eyes twinkle softly with a sort of cheer born of experience in the art of joy.

You just… stare at the man. It isn’t that you’re overly surprised to see him, or even that he stands out, because he just seems to belong here. Like seeing a deer in a forest or a fish in the water, you notice them because they’re animated, but you aren’t surprised to see them. Which makes this 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.

Snapping back around to look at your party, you see the rest of them unconscious still. Tabitha is laying on Veronica, whose breathing is labored. You look 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 sleep.

You rub at your head and reach down to your pocket to find Bubs is quite in pain but breathing. Thankfully you all are. This must not be the realm of the dead at least because one, it’s way too happy, and two, you aren’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.”

Startled at the sudden speech, you 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, heading toward Veronica. You probably should make an effort to wake the others, but if this guy wants to do something to you, he obviously could have done so ages ago.

As you reach Veronica, you move Tabitha off her and you put a hand to your mouth as you study her condition.

Her eyes are sunken and her breathing is labored. The wound in her abdomen isn’t bleeding anymore, thank the Gods, but it’s 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 don’t 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 as it flows down. He stops, barely giving her a cup of the stuff before pulling it back and returning the cap.

“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 thats 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 no, 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 is my magical realm, yes? I know everything here.” He holds up the container, jiggling it. “Well?”

You grunt and pull Bubs out to which 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. “I’m 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. “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’s time to get some answers now, and you aren’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 in fine condition, so why is Chaika speaking so softly?

{Chaika, are you there?} You send, 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, 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 she is…

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 receive light and interpret it as sight, no you instead STARE at the man, trying to peer into his very fucking soul. All you see however is 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 process 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.”

 

Chapter 201

 

“Told you…” Mutters Delilah.

Hardinclouse chuckles but continues, “You see, Solos built ways to enter and exit 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 demand your attention.

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

Hardinclouse strokes his beard and points at your [Pocket Dimension]. You frown and look at it, to find that it’s utterly empty. In fact, as you peer inside, you hear 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. “And then, 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. 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, 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, if that’s the case, is Valinitha here? A big fucking Dragon, not one of the ones with boobs 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 say, suddenly feeling tired. Sitting down on a piece of stone from the keep, you 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 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 in the frozen north, you really, really like the sound of that. Still, you have this nagging feeling in your chest, like… like you don’t really belong here.

Looking over at Selene, 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 normie?”

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 give 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’re certain she would, but a nagging nugget of doubt presses into your chest at the thought of having no magic. You don’t really know how to 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. The 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 creations.” 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 and even in a time a desperation, 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. Again.”

Walking over to him, you 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 then and he grabs your arm. “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…” He drifts off as his gaze locks onto Selene, who is 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 are 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]. 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 furrows 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 does 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 something poke at your shins. Blinking, you look down to see Saya, fully in blob form, jiggling at you. Smiling, you lean down to stroke the goo. She feels warm to your touch, her body rippling under your 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. Shaking your head, you sit down and gently stroke Selene’s ears. 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 tanned stomach and slowly start rubbing in a circle, feeling her smooth skin under your rough hands. A wave of delight washes through you at the sensation and you smile broadly before Selene gently lifts a hand and bops you on the nose.

You pull back, startled to see one of Selene’s feline eyes crack open slightly, a wicked 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 is 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 whose smile becomes positively devilish. A look of pure shock comes to your face as you put a hand to your chest, wounded, “Saya! How could you do this to me, your only father!”

She seems to jiggle in delight 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. That annoying tingle of lost energy comes again, but you allow it. Hells, 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 likes 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 her 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 are going to say things if they see 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.

Uh oh.

 

Chapter 202

 

“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. “Besides, I’m not hearing a no…”

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

“Oh… Of course. The Wizard thing…” She sighs, releasing some tension before rubbing at her forehead. “Right, I forgot.”

You groan. “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 and gently lets you go. Rubbing at your neck, you look around, frowning. Saya is hiding behind a rock, watching you while jiggling, obviously giggling at the whole affair while Blake and Hala just stare at you, mouths open in shock. Delilah though is facing the ground. You don’t think she chose that position.

Looking over your shoulder, you see Tabitha sitting up, looking directly at you. She frowns before sighing and laying back down. At a glance to Selene, she shoos you away to walk over to Tabitha as she just stares at the triangular suns.

“So, we won did we?” She asks, 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 gaze into each other’s eyes before she looks away. Sighing, you lift her chin up to see her… crying. As in, legitimately crying.

“Wizard…” She says in a weak voice, choked with tears. “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 is destroying you.

“I can’t fight, and I know that I can’t be his wife, I always did. But now… Now no one will 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 without thinking 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 obviously 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.”

A genuine smile comes to your face, “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 when you feel the soft touch of a furred paw on your shoulder. Looking back, you see Selene standing there with Saya, Blake, Hala, and even old Hardinclouse smiling wanly and wiping their eyes beside you as Tabitha is finally able to open her emotions.

————————————————————————————–

A short while later, you sit atop a pastry rock, eating of it while stroking Harmony’s crystal core with your thumb. Her body is unusable at this point, and since Chaika is in the staff you’ll have to find something else. At least she seems as dormant as Chaika at the moment, so hopefully she’s at peace for now.

Selene is playing with Saya, which Gods damnit is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, while Blake, Hala, and Tabitha hang out near the edge of the river of mountain elixir. The Lizardman dangles her legs into the stream, apparently not feeling any cold while the Wolf Girls swims about in it.

You look down to see Bubs chewing on everything, moving with an abandon that you feel is mildly dangerous given how injured he recently was. Ah, whatever, he had a big day and he deserves a treat. Or many.

The soft pattering of a giant man catches your attention, and you look up as Hardinclouse pats his belly before you. “Seems like everyone is enjoying themselves, eh?”

Looking over to see the sleeping Veronica, 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. There’s too much we need to finish in the real world.”

“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 giving a sad smile 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 tone that wasn’t there earlier.

“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 do come, seeing each other in person and all.

Ah, whatever. It’s not going to be your problem soon.

“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.

“Okay…” 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.

Musing it over for a moment, you ask, “Just to be sure, could I say, leave here, go somewhere, and then return to El Dorito where I left?”

Hardinclouse taps his chin. 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?”

Hardinclouse chuckles and pats you on the back. “That’s some smart thinking, my boy.”

“Okay then.” You say, nodding your head. “Thank you for everything. 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 chuckling softly. “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.” Tapping him on the shoulder with your staff, you walk over to Selene, smiling as she tosses Saya into the air. Okay, so she looks like she’s tossing around ball 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. A few pulses of indignance come from Chaika and Harmony’s stone in your pocket, but uh… damnit. You’ll to apologize them later.

Selene smiles and catches Saya again before forming her into a ball and setting her on the ground. The black goo that is your daughter slowly sinks into her usual blob form, quivering and jiggling up and down, 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.”

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 before 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. But that doesn’t exist.”

“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’s much more appealing than it was before, which was already very appealing. Gods damnit this fiery little kitty knows 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 smiles 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.” Frowning, you shake your head and sigh out,

“I just don’t know what that means.”

 

Chapter 203

 

You inform Blake of your decision. He agrees and, seeing how he’s the only hale one, he feels it would be best to stay with them until you return. You decide to leave Saya behind also, mainly to make the load lighter on Selene. Bubs waaaaaaants to go, but he ate himself into a stupor. So in the end you bring along Chaika and Harmony, figuring that leaving them would be mean.

Taking a deep breath, you cast [Destination Dorito]. From your [Pocket Dimension] a bright light spills forth, coalescing into a gateway that opens before you, showing you the cold, shimmering wasteland that is where the Keep of the Forgotten resides. 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 at the piercing winds. Maybe you should have taken Hardinclouse at his word, because now that you aren’t fighting for your life, you are uh, cognizant of the weather.

Of course, this only really matters up until you realize that you’re 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. Perhaps both?

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 gently sets you down. She nods at you, apparently fine, and the two of you survey the surrounding area.

Half the keep is missing. Not like, “oh, it was ruined by the blast,” no it’s just gone. Like it was never there. True, there are sections of crumbling walls now but mainly you notice the circular area of 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, her feline anatomy trying to pick something out. After a while she sighs and shakes her head.

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

“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 centuries old oaths and killed the Monster Lady.”

You pull her into a tight embrace at that, knowing that she’s still conflicted inside about the whole affair. Both of you knew it had to be done, or she wouldn’t have done it, but… Well, that’s just how these things work, you don’t just stop feeling regret. Perhaps she never will.

“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 now! They know and respect you and-“

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

You give her a flat look 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 lies. The tunnels beneath are 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 humming in the room. The hole in the ceiling is closed with a large rock, obviously from the explosion, so the power had nowhere to go but stay in its little well. As such, it leaks out in wisps that look like smoke, drifting to the ceiling before vanishing.

You walk forward to the dais but as soon as you brush against it a streaming current of power makes your eyes go wide and you breath out in shock as your mind is assaulted by something powerful. You stagger to a knee, feeling it coursing in you. It isn’t malicious, 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… or perhaps, just dear Solos, it’s so much. You can feel the energies of the nexus as it pulses through the land. Valinithia’s touch sits upon it though, and you feel the strands she had corrupted to change her form and the preparations she made to unleash her final solution. Closing your eyes, you feel with each pulse the Wizards tapped into the Groodle Tether, using the communion matrix through it. Hells, you can even feel the very heartbeat of magic in this world.

And it can feel you.

You whisper to Selene, “I’m…fine.” Of course, you are not fine, but that seems trivial as you try 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 this power, released and then trapped in this room as it is, seeks to be guided and channeled. Instinctively, you reach out, and it reacts.

With this at your command you… you can 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 have vision.

“Take it into your own hands to change the balance of fate…” You hear echo in your mind. Your eyes drift over to Selene as the power flares through you. In the spectral light of the chamber, you see her expression 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’s so beautiful. You can hardly believe things turned out the way they had, but there’s still the matter of losing your magic should you give her what she wants. What both of you want, to be honest. You’re prepared to settle for being a normie, that is as it must be, but… You have the power of the Gods in your hands.

You’re dimly aware 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’s getting there as you process everything that tries to roam through your head at speeds you find mind-boggling. Literally, if you aren’t careful. You see through eyes embedded into the very land itself possibilities of what can be done with this power. It feels so immense that it seems as if you could do anything with it, be anything. You can restore those lost, break the hold of the Gods, set yourself up as one even! Think about it, the God of shitweaving himself! No one will 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 to work as a slow burn right? Hah, you could even have fun with this.

You faintly hear yourself cackling as the thoughts pour through your mind. Something shakes you even more, an 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 has tears in her eyes as she shakes you. Looking into that face, something seems to click within your head and… oh… oh no.

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 fucking with the very nature of the world, perhaps in incredibly petty ways. The god of shitweaving? That couldn’t have ended well.

Looking to Selene, who wipes at her eyes, you take a deep breath before gently taking her hand in yours. 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 Valinthia could change all the Monsters… couldn’t we change the laws governing Wizards? We, we could…”

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

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

 

Chapter 204

 

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 visage and she sighs again as you both clear your throats.

“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 laugh. Delilah doesn’t do much of anything in response, 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 are able to hold it back, for now. It tried to make you do things, act upon your desires. Damnit, you want 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 don’t know how to do it, nor do you know what would happen if you just let loose like that. For that reason you focus on Delilah as you siphon the pressure off your mind.

“Why did Blake keep you anyway? For all intents and purposes, weren’t you just a head?”

Delilah cocks her head. “Is this really the- ugh, look, I think he felt sorry for me, the idiot. That or I reminded him of his mother.”

You frown 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 ask Nerg? Uh… what? That’s a silly idea, how the hells are you to go about asking a God something like that? You’d either have to have a direct line via divine worship or activate an 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.

As 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 don’t… know how to make it happen. You feel like it’s asking you to just let it loose, channel it somehow, but you manage to keep it in check and don’t 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 herself. “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 the conduit I guess.”

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

“Are you sure about this?” She asks softly, squeezing 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 rises into the air as power flows around her, turning a sickly green as it shivers and twists about, growing larger and more potent. The smell of rot seems to pervade the room and a black smoke begins to pour from the Dullahan’s neck. She turns about for a moment before tilting to the side, her eyes whirling in her sockets before they lock onto you and you notice with shock that they’re no longer hers.

The eyes that look back at you are bright and clear, the iris a deep green as they take you in. You’re utterly surprised however to see that they glint with a gentle soul, similar to that of Hardinclouse, but bespeak a wisdom that spans 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 is diverted from you, into this channeling. It helps you clear your mind, but this manifestation, while not actually Nerg in this world, is still mildly distressing. One does not often see a God, after all.

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 is 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. Despite yourself, you look up 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 as she’s obviously on edge. She doesn’t like this at all, perhaps no one should. This is death personified, speaking directly to you, looking into your very eyes. In some ways, it’s a horrifying concept, but… but you need this opportunity.

You nod and begin to speak, “Lord Nerg, I feel you have had your eyes upon me for some time, and you may know of 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.”

You gently take Selene’s hand in yours and she tightens her grip on you, relaxing somewhat. “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 look down, frowning as you form your thoughts together. 

“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. Then, like the fitful coughs of a dying man, he begins to laugh. It starts slow and deep, but as he continues it trails into something richer, more powerful, until it feels like it shakes 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.

 

Chapter 205

 

Looking straight into those green eyes, you speak with clarity and resolve.

“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 is brought forth, the Invasions surely won’t be as fierce, but instead a form of co-existence would be forced upon the land.”

Selene looks down, squeezing your hand as she speaks. “Nerg… though we Monsters do not spend much of our time looking up to 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. This joy cannot be made manifest truly however, until both sides respect each other, something that cannot happen so long as Monsters can so easily dominate men.”

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

Nerg considers 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 as a possibility is 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. You can only imagine what they must be thinking: the deep dread that lies within everyone, now standing before those who are technically born after the event of death.

“These Monsters, locked into these forms by death, their personalities imparted from those who once lived… what becomes of them when 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.”

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 is a little much. If you had to go through such a thing, perhaps you’d feel such as well. It isn’t a pleasant thought honestly, and you don’t want to dwell on it terribly much. Of course, nothing about this situation is overly pleasant.

“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 before speaking slowly, “Lord Nerg, I-I wish to ask…”

Nerg smiles as the power starts 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 can’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 either. At least she finally has that peace straight from the mouth of a God.

The smell of rot begins to fade as the power recedes, and the strange eyes roll back into Delilah’s head. A deep rumble sounds 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 can collide with the floor and you sigh out in relief as Selene pulls the Dullahan in. Walking over to her, you 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 will change the essence of the very world.

 

Chapter 206

 

It begins by taking the blood of man and Monster, provided easily by Selene cutting both of your palms with one of her tails. You feed power into the rents, touching the cores that are 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 create a sort of duality that breeds a neutrality. It is, in a way, beautiful. However there is something more, some component to your essence that stands out, that makes you shine brighter than what you somehow know is correct for humanity. It pushes against this darkness, yet in the end is eclipsed by it.

Selene’s shadow settled over you, covering your inner being. It isn’t your fault, you’re only human. The soul of humanity, the humours, if you will, are just weaker in power than that of the Monsters. It is nothing you could or could not be blamed for. It is how you were made, in the image of Solos himself, just as Selene was made this way by her own Goddess.

But if such things are the humours of a very race, then even they are 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 pour into her displaces her humours.

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

The swirling of energies return 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 is still present, but it is not nearly as great as it was before. Now it stands 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. 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.”

Slowly, you walk toward the dais and stand before it, the power of the room swirling around you, eagerly awaiting its next command. You take in a deep breath before calling out,

“SOLOS! HEAR ME!”

Your voice echoes through the room, bouncing around the chamber and filling your ears with the resounding echoes. Nothing responds. You didn’t think he would, in fact, it isn’t his way. You merely continue speaking though, knowing that you’re heard, whether the big man likes it or not.

“Solos, I stand here, surrounded by the very essence of the magic seeded upon this land. 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 I asked for sweeps this land, borne upon wings of magic.” 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- so I took the reins.”

Placing a hand to your heart, you grit your teeth as you continue.

“I do not seek a boon, or power beyond me, I was merely content being alone, practicing magic in my home. Now, however, 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.”

Selene takes your hand and looks in your eyes, nodding for you to continue.

“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 somehow the air around you feels… 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 makes your soul. It shifts about the mana that is placed there, a link to Solos himself, granting you the power of a Wizard. You draw it forth before you, the power draining from you as you hold it in your hand. 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 the remainder 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 thirty-two long years and they nearly tear you apart as the mana suffuses the core of your being once more.

You feel your knees grow weak and you kneel down as your breathing becomes heavy. The power of the room seems to recede for some reason, giving you a respite as you pull yourself together. Despite the overwhelming power leaving you, 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 aren’t a theologist.

Selene gently places a hand on your shoulder as she leans down to be next to you. You feel her warmth as she sits beside you, leaning her head on you for support. You turn slowly, looking into her green eyes and you both search each other’s expression before you move in to kiss her.

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

She smiles at you with teeth that nearly glow with perfection as she slowly shifts her legs, red dress embroidered with vines barely concealing her nether regions 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! 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 is she… familiar for some reason? You furrow your brow as Selene growls out, “Who the hells 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 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 until it hits you, your eyes going 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. You’ve set things in motion I’ve waited millennia to begin. 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 nothing, smiling as she does so, “I’m sure we’ll meet again!”

And like that, she’s gone. You and Selene both stare at each other, not able to comprehend what transpired here. You’d just spoken with one God, but having another show up? And what did she mean about a “Perfect World?”

Selene frowns deeply as she stands up, helping you rise as well. She looks to you before gazing 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 tries to seep into you as soon as Phallia leaves. You ignore it though, your task done here. With deliberate steps, you, Selene, Delilah, and the two revenants leave the chamber.

As you do, you look upon the tablet next to the door, a faintly Wizard-shaped dent in the material standing out. You touch it again and the door shudders before closing once more. A shudder runs through you as the power recedes back into the well, leaving you feeling almost empty inside. When Selene holds out a hand toward you though, a smile on her face, you know that you made the right decision. Taking her hand in yours, the two of you leave the Nexus of the Groodle Tether behind.

 

Chapter 207

 

Selene puts a furred hand on her hip, tapping Delilah’s head with a finger on the other. She considers 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 as fast as before, but obviously this isn’t a power intensive activity, because she’s dashing down the hallway quick as can be. Some part of you feels relieved at that.

Soon enough you find yourself at an intersection of tunnels where Selene stops and looks back. Her eyes flicker down at her hand before she nods. 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 sound behind you. 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 escape tunnel exit, a rush of cold wind before you mixing with the hot air behind you. The two of you look back, staring at the keep which had changed the destiny of the very world before looking once more into each other’s eyes.

A horse neighs in the distance, but you barely notice as you both meet face first in a furious passion of lips and tongues, the only sensation you feel the burning of desire within you. Delilah 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 she whispers things into your ear that make Chaika titter like a schoolgirl and Harmony blush. If she could, anyway.

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

Mr. Ed is positively ecstatic to see you, going so far as to nuzzle your hand for a moment before becoming disinterested again. Gods, its warms your heart to see that! Galahad is stoic as usual, eating with a dignity he probably deserved. Well, he is kind of a badass horse you guess.

As you brush down your horse, Selene peeks over the side of Galahad, 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 steed 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, 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 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 didn’t you 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 terrible.”

Lifting one of her tails, the one that was severed by Valinitha, she sighs, “Perhaps battle scars exist to remind us of painful 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. After putting the tools away in the frozen wagon, you reach for your [Pocket Dimension].

“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 returned to the others and your deeds related to a stunned Blake, you return once more 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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