Child of the Australs: A Gremlin named Emmy (4)

“So where are we goin’ Boss?” Blue asks excitedly, her tail wagging behind her.
 
“You’ll see.” You reply with a grin, fastening the saddlebag across Four’s back. The Bungarra turned towards you, mouth slightly agape. Rolling your eyes, you smack the big lizard firmly on the nose. “There are days I get real damn tired of that.”
 
“Shariss used to say that if you weren’t bleeding after a snap, it meant they liked you.” Blue offers, clinging to your waist with furred forearms.
 
“You didn’t see Shariss almost soil herself laughing when Tristan took her seriously on that.” You chuckle. “Bloody reptile had one weird sense of humor. ‘Course the same could be said of half the folks back home.”
 
“Do you miss it?” Blue asks, clambering presumptively into your lap as you mount the Bungarra.
 
“Gibson? Yeah… There are days. But then again, would we be who we are if we’d stayed?”
 
Blue looks over her shoulder at you quizzically. “You REALLY have no idea how long I’ve carried a torch for ya, do ya Boss?”
 
“Oh, so all the dreamy eyes at Tristan were what, just trying to make me jealous?” You drawl, digging tickling fingers into Blue’s ribs.
 
“Nooooo! Hahahahaha!” Blue giggled helplessly, squirming against you. “Waylanders are hot, what can I say? I’m only Kobold. But I’m YOUR good girl boss…” She punctuates that statement with a kiss “…I really wish you weren’t so sensitive about your brother.”
 
“Mmm…” You muse. “…Adrian, Matt, Tristan… Hell even young Scotty, Tyris Rest his Soul, it’s like they’re all a breed apart. They’re… Better than us, nobler, like they’ve got a purpose. Kinda rankles sometimes when I’m hauling The God knows what, freezing my arse off or getting cooked, depending on how Mater Australis decides to try and kill me that week…”
 
Blue looks over her shoulder at you with an expression of incredulous disbelief. “I’m sorry… I guess trivial stuff like surviving a conversation with Wagyl, being able to tell reality to sit down and shut up, bullying near-gods out of a bar fight and surviving something the spirits of my people back to the beginning tell us is bad news doesn’t count at all, does it?”
 
“Well I guess when you put it like THAT…” You concede, patting the Kobold’s head.
 
“Remember boss, I turned down the bulls in my own pack. I don’t just give myself to someone because they can get growly and make demands. You take to being Alpha like you were born to it. I’d say you were meant for great things but it’d be lying, because…” The Kobold pauses, blushing “…Because you’re already great to me…”
 
“Blue…” You murmur, your heart melting within you. “…I’m supposed to be spoiling you, pup!”
 
“You are. This is… personal. I couldn’t say this around Adorabear or the Succusluts in Thealiss. This… Today… Just us… It means so much to me.”
 
“I love you, girl.” You breathe fervently, turning the Kobold’s face up for a kiss which she eagerly returns. You kiss for a moment, before she makes a slight noise, turning from you and pointing into the middle distance with a furred digit.
 
“Boss! Look! Dingoes!” She yips in joyful surprise.
 
You follow her gesture, spying the tall figures against the silhouette of a nearby hill. “Oh? Shouldn’t we be worried? They’re all feral, aren’t they?”
 
Blue giggles, “They’ve told every representative of the Council to go fuck themselves with a splintered hogweed branch, so yeh, so far as the Succies go…”
 
“Why would they do that?”
 
“They’re… a bit odd. I mean I take the spirits seriously but them? It’s like they barely live in the same world as the rest of us. Real quiet too, unless they’re singing.”
 
“Should we go say g’day then?”
 
“I’d never get you back if we did.” Blue chuckles, pinching your leg. “They don’t tend to let potential breeding partners go easy.”
 
You look at Blue in puzzlement. “I think I can handle five Kobolds…”
 
Blue gives a mocking sound in her throat. “Dingoes aren’t Kobolds, Boss… They’re bigger, faster, stronger, and I’m pretty sure they can run for a straight month without tiring. Also the five we see there are all that they’re letting us see. The rest of the pack could be anywhere and we’d never know it.”
 
“Even you?”
 
“Even me.” Blue assured you. “This isn’t their range though, so they’re just letting us know they’re here, and won’t bother us if we don’t bother them.”
 
You chuckle, raising your hand slightly to the figures on the ridge. “Sounds like a fair deal.”
 
“Yehboss.” Blue agrees, nuzzling her back happily into you.
 
“Meanwhile you’ve spent the whole bleedin’ trip on me lap, Getting lazy on me pup?”
 
“Cuddles now, running later.” The Kobold hums happily.
 
 
“Blue! Quit it!” You demand, shielding your face as the Kobold splashes you mercilessly. Shrieking with laughter, the Kobold swims away, poking her tongue out at you.
 
You narrow your eyes. “You’re just tryin’ to make me chase you.”
 
“Maaaaybe…” Blue drawls cheekily, floating on her back, her toned, athletic body naked and glistening in the crystal clear water, her azure eyes smouldering with an unspoken challenge. Taking a deep breath, you dive beneath the water. The light, softened by the shadows of the gorge played in beautiful patterns, soft fronds of freshwater plants drifting amongst the rocky bottom. A large turtle, disturbed by your presence, shoots you a look of reptilian displeasure, before trundling away into the murky gloom of the waterhole’s depths. Kicking for the surface, you seize the Kobold around the waist.
 
“Got you.” You gasp, panting as you recover your breath. Surprisingly, Blue floats frozen in your arms, whimpering softly.
 
“Whazzamad…” You begin, before likewise freezing, noticing the blunt, diamond-shaped head, easily a foot across, regarding you both with serpentine eyes. Balls. Wonambi.
 
“It’s OK pup… You murmur, calling upon the Logos, not taking your eyes off the colossal snake. “…it’s gonna strike, but I’ve got a surprise for it when it does.”
 
Blue nods, still trembling slightly as you begin to swim back towards the bank with your free arm. As if awaiting your movement, the snake launches itself forward with a powerful swirl of its muscular body, toothed mouth impossibly wide… and promptly collides with the wall of force you had erected in front of you. A dull ‘crack’ is heard, and the snake begins thrashing uncontrollably in the water, coiling end over end, splashing and flailing.
 
“Broke it’s neck.” You remark.
 
“Yehboss.” Blue agrees.
 
“Gonna have to eat at least some of it now, aren’t we?”
 
“Yehboss”
 
“It’ll take a while to settle down though…” You add, coming to your feet as you reach the shallows.
 
“Yehboss” Blue admits, shaking the water from her furred appendages and tail.
 
“Well in the meantime…”
 
“…I’m sure we’ll find something to do.” Blue announces, launching her wet self into your arms, her mouth firmly against yours. “My Hero…” She breathes, before bending into another kiss..
 
 
You look down in surprise as Blue belches loudly where she leans on you. “Pardon you…” You chide gently, mussing her still-damp hair.
 
“Ancient Kobold Tradition!” Blue insists.
 
“Yeh? How ancient? Considering you never did it at the dinner table back at Gibson.”
 
“…’bout five minutes.” Blue answers without a hint of chagrin.
 
“Yer a worry…” You chuckle, before letting loose with your own belch, the echo bouncing off the walls of the gorge. Wisps of smoke from your extinguished cooking fire dance lazily skyward, before dissipating in the light afternoon breeze.
 
“Good snake.” Blue mumbles.
 
“Was trying to eat you not an hour ago!” You declare incredulously.
 
Blue makes a noise of affirmation, trailing a claw along your leg lazily. “Yeh, but that was then, this is now.”
 
“You’re proper philosophical about this sorta thing, arencha?”
 
“The Wonambi wasn’t evil for thinking Kobold probably tastes better than turtle. It’s just the way life works.”
 
“Bit fatalistic… Though I agree with it on one thing.” You murmur, bending your lips to the nape of Blue’s neck.
 
“W-whazzat?” Blue whimpers as you trail your lips down her neck and along her shoulder.
 
“Kobold tastes pretty bloody good.”
 
Blue gives a happy whine as she submits to your ministrations.
 
 
“The whole thing though?” Blue declared incredulously
 
“Why’s that surprise you pup?” You ask as Blue runs effortlessly alongside Four, her tawny hair, now grown past her shoulders streaming behind her.
 
“There must have been five metres of snake left! I thought we’d at least get the skin…” Blue remarks, making a noise as a lock of hair blows into her face “…Blech, I need a haircut.”
 
“Ever heard the expression ‘there’s no such thing as a full bungarra?”
 
“I thought that was just Simmo being cheap with the feed.”
 
You shake your head with a chuckle. “Bungas are like Crocs Blue, give ‘em enough food and nothing to kill ‘em and they’ll keep growing. Dad reckons there used to be a lot of cases of idiots letting Bungas get to the size of small houses and then getting ‘emselves chewed.”
 
Blue gives a snort. “Nothing in our histories about that.”
 
“Probably because you lot have a habit of bringing ‘em down when they’re big enough to make a decent dinner.”
 
Blue’s eyes narrow. “What’s wrong with that?”
 
“Not a thing Blue, between you Kobolds and the Reptilians, how do you think we Humans learned how to farm ‘em?”
 
“Oh… Really?” Blue whuffles, preening slightly in pride as she runs.
 
You smile affectionately at your indentured. “Tyris take me if’n I’m a liar.”
 
 
“Whose place is this?” Blue asked, peering around uncertainly as the red sky of twilight lent the surrounding ramshackle buildings of Thealiss an almost prosaic softness.
 
“Nobody’s really, it’s used by occasional residents, ambassadors and the like. Sal thought we might like to have somewhere to ourselves this evening.”
 
“For a hornhead he’s kinda nice, isn’t he?” Blue remarks with a slight smile.
 
“I’ll admit, I feel kinda bad about how we first met.” You concede, knocking on the door. After a small pause, it swings open. The Mamono within looked at the pair of you briefly, before smiling in welcome, bowing at the waist, the featherlike cuffs at her wrists rustling slightly against her alien clothing.
 
“Master Adam, Miss Blue. Welcome. Please, do come in and sit. I shall begin serving shortly.”
 
“Thank you… Danica, wasn’t it?” You ask. The Mamono smiles and nods.
 
“Yes sir. Now please, right this way.”
 
“Maou’s tits boss! A Kikimora? For real?” Blue whispers in excitement as you follow Danica inside, her feathered tail rustling beneath her long skirts.
 
“Sal says she’s training for an indenturehood. Thought she could use a little ‘work experience’.”
 
“…M’not sure how to feel about that.” Blue murmured, frowning slightly.
 
“Please, Miss Blue, in truth you are doing me something of a favour. The diets of the majority of Thealiss’s residents are… simplistic, aside from the rarity of the ingredients themselves. I welcome the opportunity to prepare a more traditional cuisine.” Danica interjected, stopping in front of a heavy table, its wood so dark as to be almost black. Smiling, she pulled out a chair, gesturing for the Kobold to sit.
 
“Oh. Well… I mean if m’boss says it’s okay…” Blue accedes, looking at you questioningly.
 
“Go on Blue, take a seat.” You smile.
 
“M’kay!” Blue beams, almost wriggling with anticipation as she sits down, looking almost childlike against the large, elaborate chair. You move to your own chair, which Danica pulls out for you, and take your seat, murmuring thanks.
 
“The degustation this evening will comprise of multiple courses served at specific intervals. To assist in this, one would ask that any rituals you choose to partake in are performed now, prior to the beginning of service.” Danica asks in a pleasant, polite manner.
 
“For what we are about to receive, may Holy Tyris make us truly thankful.” You prayed briefly, raising your hands in the Sign of the Sunburst. “All Glory to the Most High.”
 
Blue also closed her eyes, chanting something in the gruff, guttural Kobold tongue, before ending with the harsh bark which had always punctuated her thanksgiving to the spirit of a slaughtered beast. You did your best to mimic it, respectfully.
 
“No ‘Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub, yay Maou?” You grin at the Kobold, lifting the glass of pale wine that Danica had unobtrusively poured in a toast.
 
“Thought it was the kind of night to take seriously, Boss…” Blue smiled, almost demurely, raising her own glass in response.
 
 
“What’s the matter?”
 
Blue looked at her plate in slight puzzlement, “Not that I’m complaining, but scrambled eggs?”
 
“Oeufs d’aigle et fromage… A continental delicacy from House Orleans.” Danica corrected, though her slight smile belied the fact that the pretentiousness was not lost on her.
 
Blue took a mouthful, her eyes widening. “Boss… Boss… We need to find the chicken that lays these. Yesterday.”
 
“Eagle.” You grinned, tucking in yourself.
 
“Umf… Tomorrow then.”
 
 
“Who’s Vindie-lou?” Blue asked, nostrils flaring as the strong smell of the dish rose from your plates.
 
You frowned in puzzlement. “Not sure… Danica?”
 
“I’m given to understand the word was derived from the native dialect surrounding House Portucale, Master Adam, though the dish itself is from the Aestenlandish Subcontinent.”
 
“Wow… How did you humans ever manage to communicate with so many languages? At least we always had Pandemonian.”
 
“You don’t speak Pandemonian though Blue.”
 
“True… Still…” The Kobold acceded, taking a mouthful and chewing, before swallowing quickly, fanning at her mouth and making high, squeaking noises. “Hothothothothot!”
 
“Oh dear… I’m afraid it is quite piquant. The yoghurt will cool your tongue, Miss Blue.” Danica stated apologetically. “I am sorry it is not to your taste. I shall remove it and bring forward the next course.
 
“I-I don’t know that you need to do that…” Blue objected, looking at the dish and picking up her fork again hesitantly.
 
 
“Now we’re talking!” You exclaim, gazing hungrily at the juicy (if small) cut of Camel on wilted greens before you.
 
“Right?” Blue grinned, digging in. The Kobold paused, a strange expression on her face. “Boss… This doesn’t half taste like…”
 
You too put a slice of the succulent meat in your mouth, marvelling in the flavour… Strange, it tasted oddly familiar… almost as if…
 
“Danica…” You began after swallowing “…where did this particular dish come from?”
 
“This is actually an Australian dish, I’m told. The Recipe was apparently provided by a Weresheep indentured to a holding in House Reinhardt, West Australs. I have been informed that it has proven VERY popular amongst the Continental Nobles.”
 
“That right?” You remarked, keeping your face neutral as you and the Kobold finished the cut.
 
“Reckon we should tell Jen she’s famous?” Blue giggled conspiratorially as Danica left to fetch the next dish.
 
“And have some outlander pinch her out from Gibson? Yeah nah.” You grinned.
 
 
“Stone the crows!” You exclaim from around a mouthful of food, quickly filling your fork with the creamy white meat and pasta dish in front of you.
 
“Strewth! This is magnificent!” Blue cried in agreement.
 
“A Fowl-Breast Fettuccine, made with one quarter Taurean milk. The recipe does call for full Taurean milk but considering the… side effects, I did feel it best to err on the side of caution in this case.”
 
“I can see why… I don’t reckon I could handle it any richer!”
 
“I am pleased you agree with my conclusion, Master Adam.” Danica smiled. “This dish is from a landholding in the Westerlands. An unsurprising quirk, considering the contents, it has the highest concentration of Taureans per capita than anywhere else in the known world.”
 
“Really?” You remark, somewhat regretfully eating the last forkful. “Any reason for that?”
 
“An old legend involving a Chef and a Holstaur. Apparently the herds consider the area almost sacred.”
 
“Holstaur?” You echo.
 
“A pre-paxian species of Taurean. I’m given to believe that before the advent of the Pax Deus there was actually a fair bit of distinction between their different tribes.”
 
“Similar with us Kobolds, boss.” Blue added, slurping the last of her pasta.
 
 
“Whoof…” Blue exclaimed, rubbing her stomach and taking a sip of wine.
 
“I hear ya. That ‘Fried Tofu’ thing was deceptively bloody filling.” You agree.
 
“Foxes. Never trust ‘em.” Blue declared.
 
“…And for our last item…” The Kikimora entered bearing a covered tray.
 
“Danicaaaa. I think I’m defeated, hey.” Blue whined mournfully, giving her devastating azure eyes to the Kikimora.
 
“Oh. Well I suppose it is only Coffee and Cake. I can put it under cover for the morn…”
 
“Coffee?!” You gasped.
 
“CAKE?!” Blue squealed.
 
“Should I take that as a change of heart?” The Kikimora asked with the ghost of a smile.
 
 
“Wow… This is nice boss…” Blue murmured, gazing around the candlelit room.
 
“Mmm.” You agreed. “Bed’s pretty big too.”
 
“What’re we gonna do on the bed, Boss?” Blue asked, feigning wide eyed innocence.
 
You smiled despite yourself. You could feel your own heartbeat begin to increase, and the heaving of Blue’s modest bust spoke to her own arousal.
 
“Strip.” You ordered.
 
“Not beating around the bush, are ya… Maaasterrrr…” The last word drawn out in a throaty growl as she began removing her clothes, her eyes smoldering and coquettish.
 
“Lie down.” You ordered, Blue obediently reclining on the bed, bending a knee as she propped herself on one elbow, a furred paw absently teasing a nipple as she licked her lips at you, desire clearly burning in her eyes. Gently, you took hold of that hand, stretching it out towards one of the bedposts, securing it there with a length of silken cloth. Slight alarm flashed behind her eyes.
 
“Adz…” She whimpered, unsure.
 
“Don’t fight me now, pup.” You near-purred, taking her other arm, making her lie flat on the bed as you repeated the process. Blue whined, but allowed you to position her, sprawled out on the bed, her furred limbs tied securely to the bedposts.
 
“W-what are you doing, Master?”
 
“You took SUCH good care of me over the last couple of days. Thought It’d be only right for me to return the favour, yeh?”
 
Blue’s azure eyes flicked around in uncertainty. “I…”
 
“Now what do good girls say when their masters offer to take care of them?”
 
“T-Thank you… Master…” Blue whimpered in a small, soft voice.
 
“Good girl, Blue.” You praised her, taking a small jar from a bedside table, scooping a generous dollop into your hands. “Good girl.”
 
Blue moaned as you began working the ungent into her flesh, starting with her arms, where the fur turned to soft skin. Her muscles relaxing at first, then tensing as your caressing massage became more and more teasing. She whimpered as you worked your way down her body.
 
“Please Master… Please…” She begged, trembling.
 
“Now now, lie still. You want to be a good girl for me, don’t you?” You drawled. Blue nodded fervently, desperately trying not to writhe with pleasure under your touch. As you reached her thighs, her hips bucked slightly, as if with a mind of their own.
 
“Ah! I said still.” You chided gently, delivering a light swat to the side of her thigh.
 
“Unh! M-master… I’m s-sorry… M-my body’s moving on its own…”
 
You gave a low chuckle, your hands working their way up her legs from her knees. “You can control yourself pup, I believe in you.”
 
“M-master! Master! I’m… I’m gonna….” The Kobold squeaked, as her thighs spasmed and nectar flooded from her dripping womanhood.
 
“Poor puppy… You’re all overwhelmed!” You tsked, sitting on the bed next to her. “Now. Who’s my good girl?”
 
“Me…” Blue answered in an almost kittenish tone.
 
“And who does my Blue belong to?”
 
“You!” This time stronger.
 
“Oh really?” You mused. “How long for? Three years isn’t it?”
 
“N-no! F-forever!” This statement desperate, almost aggressive.
 
“Forever.” You agreed, leaning down and kissing her, the Kobold rising her torso, desperately pressing her mouth to yours as she whimpered with need.
 
“You’ve been a very good girl Blue. I’m so proud of you. Now lie still while I untie you.”
 
The Kobold did as ordered, but as the last length was undone, she curled up into herself for a moment, shuddering with the overload of sensation.
 
“Are you orright?” You asked.
 
“Yes… Yes Master… But please…” Blue begged, propping her backside in the air as she positioned herself on knees and elbows. “…I need you, Master.”
 
“After being such a good girl, I’m not gonna deny you your reward, am I?” You chuckled, sliding your own pants off and pulling your shirt and jerkin over your head, before grabbing Blue by the hips and thrusting your throbbing shaft home within her.
 
“Unf!” Blue grunted, gripping the pillow in a mixture of pleasure and pain as your manhood stretched her out. “Y-yes… M-more!”
 
“Anything for my good girl.” You breathed as you began moving within her. Both of you, brought burningly to arousal by the foreplay quickly approached your limit, Blue collapsing first into a rolling orgasm which seemed to go on forever.
 
“Come for me Master…” Blue begged as she regained equilibrium, giving you a sultry look over her shoulder.
 
“Taurean Milk pup… Take me in your mouth.” You gasped, pulling yourself reluctantly from the depths of her velvet embrace.
 
Blue nodded in understanding, enveloping your head and shaft as best she could in her small mouth, her furred paws working the remainder almost frantically.
 
“Blue…” You grated, feeling the swelling build within you. Blue pushed her mouth as far down your length as she could, and you felt the back of the Kobold’s throat against the head of your member. As if that were the only thing holding you back, you erupted directly into Blue’s gullet, the Kobold gulping spasmodically as she greedily drank your seed.
 
“Oh Sweet Tyris…” You groaned, flopping back on the bed.
 
“You came lots, boss.” Blue declared, coughing slightly, wiping at the corners of her mouth with furred digits before cleaning them off with her tongue.
 
“You don’t say.” You chuckled.
 
“That was different… I thought I was gonna lose me damn marbles for a bit there though.” Blue mumbled, cuddling into you.
 
“Mmm-hmm… You’ve only got yourself to blame, keeping me tied up like that though.” You chide gently, rubbing one of her tawny-furred ears.
 
“You said you forgave me!” Blue declared in an injured tone.
 
“And I do… Still gave me the idea though.” You chuckle, kissing the Kobold on the nose. “Love you pup.”
 
“Love you too boss.” Blue whuffled happily, nuzzling into the crook of your arm and promptly falling asleep.
 
 
“Well, look who’s back with us!” Salethiael chuckled, lips pulled back from daggerlike teeth. “Did we have a good time yesterday?”
 
“Fucken oath.” Blue drawled with a dreamy smile.
 
“Cheers again mate. Was just what the apothecary ordered.” You offered sincerely.
 
“What can I say? I know my shit.” Salethiael drawled, waving your praise away dismissively. “C’mon, they’re waiting.”
 
“…Something of a change of heart, Lord Dumat.” Telia’s voice mused as you entered.
 
“The authority’s mine to use as I see fit, and compassion is a virtue in the eyes of The Most High, after all.” Raoul replied, pausing as the three of you entered that rear room. “Adam…” The resonant began. Strange, he seemed more nervous than you…
 
“Blessings upon Blessings unto your name, Morning Star.” You intoned, kneeling and raising your hands into the sign of the sunburst.
 
“Please…” Raoul near-begged, “…after everything, let’s just pretend…”
 
“That I don’t know?” You interjected, standing again. “You of all people should know why that’s not in any fuckin’ way possible, Illustriousness.”
 
Raoul nodded, face twisted in a self-deprecating grimace.
 
“Adam?” A small voice intruded, Cally peering uncertainly at you from the other side of the Master Resonant. A tumult of emotion filled you at the sight of her. In your mind she had played you just as much as any other… But she was still Cally…
 
“Hey Cal.” You murmured, forcing yourself to smile at the Koala, and seeing her face light up in return.
 
“Oh good. I won’t have to summon Hell’s Legions to chain you all to the wall.” Telia sighed in mocking relief. “Now. On to business. Adam.”
 
The Lilim stretched forth a hand, two platinum rectangles within it. “These are yours. With my utmost thanks.”
 
“My pleasure, Excellency.” You replied, forcing yourself not to snatch the obscenely valuable markers, before stuffing them securely into your pack.
 
“Some good news, next. It seems you were right, Resonant…” She let that last word linger, relishing in the suppressed frustration on Raoul’s face. “…The Esteemed Lord Dumat has volunteered the aid of the High Heavens in stabilizing Wonderland against The Nothing. Wasn’t that nice of him?”
 
“Shall we dispatch messengers to inform your Royal Family, Highness?” Salethiael asked deferently.
 
“By my Mother, no!” Telia purred. “I want to SEE the look on Lyra and Xera’s face when they hear what I’ve accomplished.”
 
Salethiael nods. “As your Highness wills.”
 
“Now, onto further matters. It seems the Handmaiden Emerelisa is having… Some difficulty in the task I have set upon her. Raoul, as a representative of the Grand Lodge of Resonance, I would beseech your assistance in the matter. Her work is complex, and will seemingly take more time than I am prepared to spend on the task. I would request the aid of two Resonants and a Cogitator.”
 
Raoul frowned in thought. “The Cogitator I can do… Convincing the Grand Lodge to send another Resonant though… I had to talk very fast simply for them to allow me to seek out the Matrix of Resonance secreted away in The Gap, once it became evident to us that the Fragment of God-That-Was no longer kept it hidden.”
 
“Well will you look at that…” Telia mused, looking pointedly at you. “…it would seem I’ve already found one.”
 
Your eyes narrowed. “Why’s it feel like you had this all lined up from the beginning, Excellency?”
 
“The Beginning? No… Boulder… Perhaps.” the Lilim grinned smugly.
 
“All things aside…” Cally interjected “…This is to save lives. Adam…” She looked at you pleadingly. “…Father…” She turned her beseeching gaze to Raoul. “…Please…”
 
“Yeh. Orright.” You shrug.
 
Telia blinks in slight surprise. “I’ll admit Adam, I was expecting a little more resistance.”
 
“We’re helping Emmy, and we’re helping the folks in the Wonderland, as His Illustriousness pointed out, compassion’s a virtue in the eyes of Holy Tyris. Now considering that metal thing with the tentacles she rides around in, I’m assuming that means building something or breaking something.”
 
“Not an unfair assumption.” The Lilim agrees. “And ‘Building’ rather than ‘Breaking’, just to clarify matters.”
 
You nod. “And to address the other Leviathan in the fish-pond. Magisterium.”
 
“I believe there are a couple of solutions to that.” Raoul interjected. “The first and simplest, is, of course, you coming back with me.” The resonant held up a hand to stem the inevitable protests from Blue and Cally “…Which, I understand, is not the preferred option. So we move on to the others.”
 
“Which are?” You prompted.
 
“You could remain here.” Telia almost purred. “I am sure the Hells can find PLENTY of work for a man of your caliber. Indeed, at the very least you could assist in… improving some of the rather… simplistic constructions around here. You and Blue will want for nothing, I promise you that.”
 
“The lodge will never agree, in principle. If you were to ever leave, I’m sorry to say it would be as a fugitive… Likely branded Heretic…”
 
“But I’ve committed no Sin!” You protest.
 
“Did you forget High Priestesses are Resonant? They hold seats in our assembly the same as I do. And they are not beyond mixing their roles when it suits them.”
 
“I don’t think I want Adz to become a hornhead… uh… no offense Sal.” Blue added, glancing at the incubus.
 
Raoul shakes his head. “Unlikely. The Logos provides Resonants a certain level of… protection against transmutation. He’ll likely remain Human.”
 
“Either way I’m a prisoner.” You grumbled. “Fuckin’ Bollocks.”
 
“There is a third option, though…” Raoul added hesitantly. “…I have found a rather obscure section of our governing legislation which allows for the presence of a covert agent.”
 
“You want me to spy for the Lodge.” You remark drily.
 
Raoul’s grey eyes widen in surprise. “You’re quicker than you look, Adam. Essentially yes. We would inform you of actions we wish you to take, information we wish to be gleaned. You would action them, no questions asked.”
 
“And I’m assuming I’m not exactly going to have a pack full of ‘Get out of Secular Sin free’ cards either.”
 
“No.” Raoul admitted. “If your task requires you to circumvent secular law, and you’re caught, the Lodge will deny all knowledge.”
 
“The Morning Star asking me to be a fuckin’ Bogart… Tyris be Merciful…” You mutter, shaking your head in disbelief.
 
“I will never ask you to do anything untoward, Adam… But it won’t just be me you’ll be answering to. I will have to declare you an Agent in Open Lodge. Any Resonant will have the capacity to make demands of you, should it be the interests of the Lodge.”
 
“So what’s to stop fuckin’ Isaac from makin’ me put Cally on the next boat to the Continent?” You demand incredulously, referring to the unscrupulous Resonant who had sought to stymie you those few months prior.
 
“Apart from the fact he’s currently on trial before the Court of the High Lords of Magisterium for assaulting the person of Dominus Ian?”
 
You blink, “Shit eh? Reckon he’ll burn?”
 
“Probably, and hopefully before he dies of old age.” Raoul quipped, and you saw a resurgence of the witty, charming man you had met in Port Albany. “But you see the potential shortfall of this choice. However, at any point, all you have to do to be free of this is be recognised before the Grand Lodge of the Resonant in Magisterium and submit to training. You will be a full Brother in the Lodge, with the same Rights and Privileges as any other Resonant.”
 
“…Or return to Thealiss… Or Zipangu for that matter.” Telia added.
 
“You really after pissing yer sister off that much by having a wilder in yer pocket, Excellency?” You quip with a slight grin.
 
“Oh, that’s only part of it, I wasn’t lying when I told you Hell could find plenty of use for you and your talents.” Telia assured you.
 
“I’ll have to think about it.” You murmur, taking Blue’s paw in your hand absently.
 
“Of course.” Raoul conceded. “As Her Excellency so… vehemently… pointed out to me the other day, Thealiss belongs to Hell. Even as Lord Dumat, I’m an agent of Heaven. I can’t touch you.”
 
“Am I committing a Sin if I say that actually kinda makes me feel better?” You ask hesitantly.
 
“Wouldn’t blame you if it was, my friend.” Raoul replied with a sincere smile.
 
 
“So that business with the Dominus…” You begin, glancing up from your drink at Raoul, now bathed and dressed in a simple black tunic with the eight-winged sun symbolizing his rank emblazoned in silver thread on the breast.
 
Raoul looked at you with a studious expression, taking a long draught from his tankard. “I suppose I owe you something, for taking such good care of Cally if nothing else. She’s changed so much, even just in these few months.”
 
“Dunno where we’d be without her.” You admit nebulously, still not entirely sure where your feelings on the Koala lay.
 
“How much are you prepared to handle?”
 
“Are we getting into the ‘if you see them they’ll see you’ thing everyone keeps warning me about?”
 
“Not quite.”
 
“Then how about we set that as the ceiling for bloody revelation and go from there.”
 
“Wise.” Raoul agreed, taking another drink. “How much do you know about the Angelic Orders?”
 
“Enough to know when Lord Dumat shows up it usually means someone’s about to get killed in the face.” You mutter, taking a drink.
 
“An… Unfortunate necessity of my role.” Raoul admits. “Believe me when I say that it’s not by choice.”
 
“Mmm.” You concede. “So the Dominus?”
 
“Would be Lord Gabriel, had I not forbidden it.”
 
“Why?”
 
Raoul looks at you with a slight frown of puzzlement. “You really can’t envision what having the Regent and Supreme Justice of The Australs answerable to none shy of the very Brides of Tyris would do to international politics? Especially considering the rather… unique position the protectorate is in?”
 
You raise an eyebrow in incomprehension. “The Australs are just… The Australs! We’re like the Rusland, too much trouble to bother having to oversee, so the world just lets us carry on.”
 
“That’s a simplistic view. Accurate in the overall sense, I’ll give you that, but the ‘Why’ is much more complicated.”
 
“How so?”
 
“Do you really want a lecture on the last five centuries of the machinations of the Magisterium Court?”
 
You make a noise of disdain, “Not particularly.”
 
“Didn’t think so. There are… Forces here… forces which have changed the land, the animals… We’re not entirely sure but we think even the Humans may have been… altered somewhat.”
 
“Heresy!” You declare without thinking.
 
“Adam.” Raoul chides gently. “Who am I, and where are we?”
 
“Oh. Yeh… Sorry. Withdrawn.”
 
“Your grace is received.” Raoul chuckles.
 
You ponder for a moment. “Who’s ‘we’ then?”
 
“The Church, the Grand Lodge… Take your pick.”
 
“They’re that incestuous?”
 
“Eighty percent of our female members are High Priestesses Adam. Not to mention the ‘Official’ representative in the person of the Lord High Arbiter.”
 
You drained your tankard, turning slightly to face the Master Resonant. “So let me get this straight… The Angels wanted to give Dominus Ian the nod, and The Church and Magisterium and the Lodge all went ‘Yeah nah get fucked, The Australs ain’t getting that kinda kick’ so you told Their Blessed and Gloriousnesses to pull their heads in.”
 
“That’s… a good summary…” Raoul admitted, suppressing a chuckle. “You’ve been in Thealiss some time now, if you think the Politics of The Hells are a mindfuck, try being the Lord of an Angelic Order.”
 
“Pretty sure that’s Blasphemy.”
 
“Won’t tell if you won’t.”
 
You smiled genuinely, mentally welcoming the return to rapport. “I was thinking… could stand me well to grab a few pointers off you…”
 
“Well I was resigned to that as soon as you agreed to assist the Gremlin.”
 
“I’m not a complete amateur!” You cried in objection. “Sat Morrie and Bella down pretty damn smoothly didn’t I?”
 
“Mmm. I recognised the glyph. How many chapters of ‘On Reality’ have you read?”
 
“Four… wait… Five? Sorta. Thermodynamics is a bit of a cunt.” You admit.
 
“When you can recite chapter fifteen backwards, I’ll be impressed.” Raoul drawled.
 
“Bit harsh.” You grumbled, your ego stung.
 
“Accurate though. Which is why I really must stress again how important it is that you’re trained properly…”
 
You made a harsh noise in your throat, signalling to Leperia for another drink. “Fucks sake, I said I’d think about it!”
 
“I know, I know… Australians have always been gifted Resonants. You could make a real difference, not just here, but in the world, Adam.” Raoul noted, finishing his tankard and standing. “Just something to consider. I’m heading over to… Emmy, is it? Emmy’s workshop to get a rough idea of what we’re looking at. No need to rush, if you want to talk to the girls first.”
 
“That’s a point, where are they?” You admit, looking around the common room of the tavern.
 
“I saw Telia pull Blue aside as we were coming out, I assume she’s still there. Cally? Well… She’s avoiding you.”
 
“Why?”
 
“Because she figured by now you’ve put a few things together. Things that don’t exactly paint her in the best light.” Raoul admitted.
 
“I… Well… Probably best to come clean about it here, rather than you find out later…” You begin hesitantly.
 
“Find out what, that you’ve been sleeping together?” Raoul replied smoothly.
 
“Wha? How the bloody hell’d you…”
 
“Come on Adam… what do you think this is? She’s a grown woman, she can make her own decisions. Sure, she’s Mamono, so in the strictest interpretation of the Pax it’s not ideal, but you’re not refusing Continuance because of it, are you?”
 
“No… Been on the bloody road too much for it to have even been an issue.” You reply. Admittedly, you were telling the truth, turning down the Ambassador had been due to the Alarune Essence which had healed you after your first training session with Kessiah.
 
“Then there’s no problem. Besides, it’s just sex. Outside of continuance, when have we ever attached any meaning to it whatsoever?” Raoul chuckled, heading outside.
 
When indeed? For some reason, that felt… wrong, and you wondered how much your relationship with Blue had changed your outlook on those sorts of things.
 
 
“Wonder how Bella’s keeping on?” You mutter to yourself, draining your tankard and standing. Although hardly a ‘friend’, you still felt somewhat responsible for the Griffon’s current position. Heading outside, you wandered in the general direction you assumed the Infirmary to be, but unfortunately quickly found that apart from a few basics, any signage in the area was written in unintelligible High Pandemonian.
 
You peered at a sign, trying to puzzle it out by sheer force of will for a moment before giving up. Spying a succubus walking past, you waved slightly to get her attention.
 
“S’cuse me, Just wonderin’ if yez could point me in the direction of the infirmary?”
 
The Succubus looked you up and down with an interested, even slightly hungry expression. “Well now, where did you spring up from honey? Sure, it’s right through this alley here…”
 
Oh sure… You might have been born at night, but you weren’t born LAST night. You cursed inwardly. Having been so used to interacting with the denizens of Thealiss in the relatively safe environment of the ‘Warren’s common room, where the presence of your companions and Telia encouraged them to be on their best behaviour, you had forgotten their true, predatory natures. Still, she hadn’t really done anything wrong, and you wanted to avoid a confrontation if at all possible. You call on the Logos, feeling it respond within the whirling maelstrom of glyphs in your mind. The Succubus gives a high shriek of surprise as an invisible force yanks on her thin, spade-tipped tail.
 
“Sorry, where again?” You drawl.
 
She stares at you as the pieces click together in her mind, her eyes widening with recognition and a little fear. “R-Resonant! I didn’t recognise you! Sorry, you said the Infirmary, right? My mistake, I thought you said something else!”
 
“Yeh, righto.” You concede. “So… the infirmary?”
 
“Down this road, first right, second left. Big red sign out the front, you can’t miss it.”
 
You smile at the succubus. “Thanks for yer help, miss.” As you continue down the road, you feel her eyes on you, prickling growing between your shoulder blades. You say a silent prayer to Tyris that she’s not impulsive enough to try anything. Thankfully, as you turn the corner, you feel the sensation recede. Sighing in relief, you stroll the remaining couple of blocks in the direction given, the large red sign bearing a crudely painted caduceus signifying your destination.
 
“Gudday”. You murmur to the mamono standing behind a desk near the entrance. Her hair was a pale grey, but if not for the fretted, conchlike ears it was tucked behind, you would almost mistake her for human.
 
“Symptoms and duration…” She drones with the bored monotone of frequent repetition.
 
“Eh? No, I’m looking for…”
 
The mamono raises her head, inhaling deeply, her eyes flashing a feral yellow as she looks at you.
 
“Warrrrmmmmm” She hisses, smiling impossibly widely in a mouth suddenly filled with long, pointed teeth… “Blood… Pulsing…” She leans forward, her fingers elongating, the nails sharpening to talons. You call upon the Logos, feeling it respond, ready and waiting to meet this new threat.
 
“Nasha! Go take your damn blood-break before you eat someone!” An irritated voice rings out as a more ‘familiar’ shape intrudes. The dusky-skinned succubus deliberately puts herself between you and the Mamono behind the desk, now monstrously transformed. The grey-haired Mamono blinks, her features quickly returning to normal.
 
“Sorry hun. Birds’ gotta fly, girl’s gotta eat.” She says by way of apology, evaporating into a smoky mist which drifts from the room.
 
“Vampires. Ugh.” The Succubus rolls her eyes. “Still, best pathologists in Hell, can’t be choosy. Now… What can I do for you, lovely?”
 
“Juliet, right?” You offer, recognising the Succubus from Telia’s chambers in the rear of the ‘Warren.
 
Juliet smiles sunnily. “Why yes! It’s so nice to be recognised.”
 
“G’day, again… I was looking fer Bella, the Griffon. Thought I might pop in, see how she’s travelling.”
 
“Certainly, right this way!” Juliet replies, gesturing for you to follow her. A few moans and grumbles meet your ears as you follow Juliet along the hallway, as well as one or two cat-calls, slurred, you assume, from the medication the unknown Mamono within are on.
 
“Few patients then?” You ask, somewhat surprised by the number of clearly occupied rooms.
 
“Mmm. Mostly magical injuries, planar twisting, mana-burns, overdoses on this, that or the other. Usually nothing that a few days with a nice clean source can’t fix.” Juliet replied as she sauntered ahead of you. Your eyes were drawn to the movement of her swishing tail, her pert, rounded buttocks moving beneath the leggings which clung to her like a second skin. In and out, back and forth… Body built for a Chancel Cot indeed…
 
“Enjoying the view?” Juliet drawled, flicking you a glance over her shoulder.
 
“Sorry.” You apologised, feeling the heat of blood rushing to your face. The Succubus chuckled knowingly, continuing on before opening a door.
 
“Good Morning Bella…” Juliet near-sang.
 
“Demon!” Bella’s indignant screech answered. “I will splay thy breastbone open, yea, and carve thy pretty features e’en unto a screaming mask of horror! I will force feed thee thy posterior, yea, which e’en as now doth undulate, bovine, to twist the hearts of the pure to undue lust!”
 
“You think I have a pretty butt? Thank you dear!” Juliet replied, utterly without concern. “But you have a visitor.”
 
“Keep the tides of Hell from me! I am not some novelty to be gawped upon by thee and thine!” The Griffon snarled, cutting off in surprise as you entered.
 
“You’re in fine fuckin’ voice Bella. Had about enough of this joint eh?” You chuckle.
 
“Adam!” Bella cries in surprise, her golden eyes wide. Faster than you thought possible, she springs from her bed, throwing her taloned arms about you. “Prithee! Bear thou me away from this den of torture and deprivation, yea, or I shalt lose mine senses!”
 
“Bella…” You remark, feeling her ample bust and toned, muscular torso pressing against you, nothing but a thin linen shift covering her modesty. Glancing over her shoulder, you noticed not only her wings, but her tailfeathers and shapely buttocks protruding from the open back “…Love the outfit.”
 
Bella shrieks, pushing herself away from you and covering herself with her raptorial arms, her face flushed with embarrassment. “Pervert! Son of Iniquity! Look thou not upon me with such unseemly desire!”
 
“You are all over the damn shop.” You laugh. “Feeling better?”
 
“I am feeling fit to raze this city to the ground, yea, as Maou giveth me strength!” Bella growls, fixing Juliet with a surly look.
 
“One hour. No more.” Juliet replies, and you raise an eyebrow uncomprehendingly. The succubus gestures discretely, indicating for you to wait.
 
“Turn thou away, that I may clothe myself properly.” The Griffon demands primly. Shrugging, you turn away as asked.
 
“And thee, demon. I have seen thine eyes upon my flesh.”
 
“Spoilsport.” Juliet chuckles, turning away also as Bella dresses. After a few minutes of rustling fabric and creaking leather, a grunt from Bella indicates that she is finished. Turning around, you whistle appreciatively at the hide and cloth tunic, stopping just shy of rude armor.
 
“Thou dost approve?” Bella asks, almost a plaintive hint in her voice.
 
“Looks pretty mean, won’t lie.” You admit. Bella’s smile is genuine at your praise.
 
“Now, if thou wilt excuse me…” Bella sniffs haughtily.
 
“One. Hour.” Juliet insists, her tone brooking no nonsense. “If I have to come and get you again…” A pause as she looks at you with a mischievous smile. “…I’ll let Adam give you a good spanking.”
 
The Griffon gives a mortified shriek as she barrels from the room at top speed, sounds of surprise ringing from the hallway at her rapid exit.
 
“Even if I was a mind to, she’d take me fucking arm off if I tried.” You chuckle, shaking your head.
 
“Oh… I wouldn’t say it’s a certainty…” Juliet muses, a secretive smirk on her lips.
 
“Tyris be fuckin’ merciful…” You groan, rolling your eyes “…Whatever. Notice she’s not bangin’ on that bloody ‘Ilias’ nonsense anymore.”
 
“She’s remarkably attentive to the Codex Pandemonius… The Gremlin’s been reading to her from it. Lovely girl. Well… When she’s sober.”
 
“Who, Em?”
 
Juliet shakes her head with a laugh. “No. Bella. She’s currently… How would I put it in the Australian vernacular… ‘Completely fuckin’ off chops’, is that right?”
 
“And you let her OUT?!” You exclaim incredulously. “What if she tries to rape Phil again? Morrie ain’t exactly gonna play gentle a second time.”
 
“Oh! No… That won’t happen. To stabilize her, Philip and Salethiael, as well as a number of we Succubi poured a VAST amount of untuned energy into her system. Energy from Incubi and Succubi carries a little of our… Nature… within it.”
 
“Oh yeh. I know this song. S’why we tend to get set on fire if their Worships catch a sniff of yez on us.” You nod in understanding. “Way they go on youse lot are more infectious than Matango.”
 
“Well! I’ll forgive the insult!” Juliet sniffs with distaste and slight umbrage.
 
“Shit. Sorry. Didn’t think about how that’d come out.” You apologise quickly.
 
“I said I’d forgive it… But thank you.” Juliet smiles. “We’ve been experimenting with different… harmonics? Sorry, it’s so hard to describe the process in Magisterian, you don’t really have the words when it comes to magic.”
 
“Hard to describe something your whole species doesn’t have.” You admit.
 
“I suppose. In any case, today was a blend of Wedge-Tail and Salamander essences.”
 
You nod “Hence the aggro and the bouncin’ off the damn walls.”
 
Juliet nods, an impressed expression on her dusky features. “You know, you’re really a lot smarter than you look.”
 
“S’pose you owed me one there.” You chuckle ruefully. “So how is she… Really?”
 
Juliet sighs. “She spent thousands of years sustained on nothing but cyclical divine energy fed by a memory anchored in her own faith. A faith beaten into her from years of torture and psychological manipulation. She may look normal, but inside? I’m shocked she survived the trip to Thealiss.”
 
“Tyris be Glorified… Poor fuckin’ thing!” You exclaim in genuine dismay. “Reckon she’ll pull through?”
 
“There’s the rub. There aren’t enough Griffons left in the world to really get a good supply of essence… Not without killing some, which Maou will NOT stand for. Her Transcendent Majesty has wept through enough extinctions… So we have to go with best-fits. It’ll take longer, and she’ll experience some pretty wild mood swings…”
 
“Case in point.” You drawl, gesturing towards the door.
 
“Mmm. The biggest problem is the confinement. We don’t have a choice, she’s almost uncontrollable after she’s been given a dose, but it’s killing her just as surely as her withdrawal would be otherwise.”
 
“Huh. Think I’d have learned better than to hope for good news by now.” You mutter darkly.
 
“Hey. Don’t be defeatist. She was very happy to see you.” Juliet chides, giving you a gentle shove. “She’s been wondering why you haven’t come to visit her.”
 
“Really?”
 
“Well, her exact words were ‘Verily, I pray I am blessed to see that silver-tongued rogue of a human, that I may deliver unto him appropriate chastisement for depositing me in this vile den.’ but the sentiment was there.” Juliet admits.
 
“Sounds like it.” You chuckle.
 
“She’s had a very trying time, Adam. Much of what she says is in the nature of armor. She’s never had friends or comrades, her own family was used as a lever to ensure her good behaviour. It’ll take her some time to be honest with herself.”
 
“Family!” You groan, smacking yourself in the forehead. “She got um… she managed to…”
 
“It was a very beautiful ceremony, even if she did threaten to eviscerate anyone who came within a hundred metres of it.” Juliet assures you.
 
“Heh. That’s Bella. Thanks Juliet.”
 
The succubus smiles, “My pleasure, Adam. Do feel free to come by again… even if just for a… checkup.” The last delivered with a lingering touch to your wrist and a coquettish look.
 
“You lot are gonna be the fuckin’ death of me.” You laugh, waving farewell as you walk back up the hallway. “The utter fuckin’ death.”
 
 
“The utter fucking death…” You swear as a crossbow bolt ricochets off a nearby rock with an angry buzz of fletching. “Oi! Cally! Man on the fuckin’ range!”
 
“Adam? Oh Maou I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you there!” The Koala’s voice called out apologetically from a small ridge in front of you.
 
“Koalas and their piss poor bloody eyesight…” You grumble, picking your way up the rocky ground to where the Koala stood in the questionable shade of a gangly gum tree. Cally fiddled with the now-discharged crossbow, refusing to meet your eyes.
 
“Um… H-hi…” She murmured hesitantly.
 
“Avoiding me?” You murmured, leaning against the tree.
 
Cally blustered unconvincingly. “W-who told you that?”
 
“Raoul.”
 
“…Fuck.”
 
“Yep. So. We gonna do this or what?” You ask shortly.
 
“Do? What do you mean?” Cally blinks in surprise.
 
“Well in the past when a mate pulled the wool over me eyes in such a spectacular fashion, we’d have a fight, then we’d get drunk and make up. Though all things considered…” You rubbed one of her ears, slightly more roughly than usual “…I think it’s probably an idea to skip the former.”
 
“Resonance nonwithstanding.” Cally murmured, pulling away from you.
 
“Is it? Fuck’s sake Cal. I don’t know how much is wool and how much is real! Were you in Telia’s pocket the whole time? Raoul’s? Who’s tellin’ you where to pull my strings? Do you even CARE about me? Even a little?” You spit venomously.
 
“FUCK YOU!” Cally shrieks, launching herself at you. For all her diminutive size, she’s surprisingly densely packed, and her weight drives you to the ground with an inrushing of breath. You grab her wrists, keeping her clawed, twin-thumbed hands away from your body. “How dare you!” She wails, tears welling in her eyes. “H-how fucking DARE y-youuuuuuuuu”
 
Her screams turn quickly to sobs, and her struggles subside. Soon she is openly weeping atop you, clinging to your shirt as her tears soak into the cloth. “I’m sorry…” She whimpers “I’m so sorry… It was never supposed to be like this.”
 
“The truth now, Cal. From the beginning.” You state simply, lifting the Koala gently off you and sitting her on the ground next to you. Cally looks at you, then at the ground as she takes a deep, shuddering breath.
 
“I wasn’t studying drop-bears. I was trying to get back to the East Australs after Raoul had ‘Freed’ me to keep me out of Isaac’s grasp.” She begins. “I had met with a… friend… in Port Fremantle a couple of days before Midwinter. She had come along the northwestern road from Thealiss, through the old Barony of Kalbarri, and had gathered up a few others from Lancelin Holding after the Matango outbreak had started to become beyond the holding’s ability to control…”
 
“Before the Faith Militant could get up there and start indiscriminately making with the fire.” You interject in understanding. Cally nods.
 
“As much as The Australs isn’t like most places, the Faith Militant are who they are, and ‘accidents’ are too frequent in occurring.” The Koala added seriously, before continuing. “She told me what Princess Telia was doing, and why. I knew right away that Raoul would be in the best place to assist. So I borrowed a horse from someone who owed me a favour, packed my things and set off back down south. Drop Bears don’t attack Koalas, I thought I would be alright. In my haste…”
 
“You forgot about the horse.”
 
“…Yeah. Managed to find an old tree to stow my gear in and construct my story after the drop-bears had torn the poor beast to ribbons. I knew the wool traders couldn’t be more than a few days behind me. I knew a quick sob story and a pouty plea would be enough to snag a free ride out of most of those sedate old duffers. What I didn’t plan on is the branch breaking, that horrible contraption you had above your wagon… Or you… and Blue…”
 
“Gotta admit, should have smelled a rat when the ditzy mamono-scientist act didn’t last past the first night.” You admit.
 
“Are you going to insist on the running commentary? This really is hard enough without it.” Cally asked shortly.
 
“How badly do you wanna come clean with me? I’m good either way.” You forced yourself to affect an air of nonchalance, though you knew it to be false.
 
“That’s not true and you know it.” Cally rejoined, the ghost of a smile on her lips. So did she, apparently.
 
“No.” You admit. Cally squeezed your leg with a twin-thumbed hand.
 
“You’re hurt. I understand. Now… Once we had gotten back to Port Albany, I had to find Raoul, so your obligation to find the Dominus was heaven sent. I thought I had somehow been granted the greatest lucky streak in the world, not only would you put me exactly where I needed to be but… Maou’s ample bosom… I LIKED you! Both of you!”
 
“Feeling’s mutual.” You murmured, rubbing her ear, but gently this time. Cally made a small sound, whether of comfort or grief you couldn’t tell. She did however, lean her small, curvaceous frame against you as she continued.
 
“That first night, after Isaac mazed you and we all thought you were drunk, I tried to get Raoul to help, but Ramiael was still out there, trying to… contact… Ian. Raoul couldn’t leave until he was sure that didn’t happen. After I went to bed he was up all night talking to Cassariel… That’s his…”
 
“Lover.” You stated shortly. Cally recoiled in surprise.
 
“How did you…”
 
“No fooling Blue’s nose. She’s a smart pup though, knows when to keep quiet. Even to me, it seems.”
 
“You know that even MENTIONING that in public is.”
 
You nod. “Heresy. I know. Believe me, I know.”
 
“One of the many self-serving aspects of the Church of Holy Tyris.” Cally grumbles.
 
“Holy Tyris may be Perfect and Just in all things, but a human is just a human. And the church is run by plenty of ‘em.”
 
“That’s deep.”
 
“That’s doctrine…” You chuckle “…Anyway.”
 
Cally nods. “So then the whole business with Isaac and the Dominus and the whole giddy-go-round of it happened. Isaac got poleaxed by Blue, and I thought ‘FINALLY! The whole thing can come out and I can STOP this charade.’ But then, Dominus Ian… That STUBBORN bloody human… Raoul ultimately saved his position, if not his life, but he’s not going to let him see Ramiael, so he’s out.”
 
“So Raoul had to be seen to be leaving, and you had to keep up the act.”
 
“I… may have encouraged Blue to take a few rolls on the dice tables, knew you’d hurry along if you found out.”
 
You frown at the Koala. “I tanned her bloody hide for that, and now you’re telling me it was your idea all along?”
 
“Oh please.” Cally snorted. “Blue had imprinted on you so hard I wasn’t doing anything but speeding up what would have already occurred. Sure, Kobold essence doesn’t soak you like a Succubus or Alarune, but do you think you’re entirely unaffected? Haven’t you noticed certain… preferences?”
 
You pondered your sudden predilection for dominating the Kobold, frowning. “You mean everything between me and Blue…”
 
“Of course not! Don’t you DARE cheapen it by insinuating you’ve been fooled into anything. It doesn’t change who you are, just awakens what’s already inside you!” The Koala interjected vehemently.
 
”You take to being Alpha like you were born to it…” Blue’s voice echoes in your memory.
 
“You’re right. I was being stupid.” You admit.
 
“Damn right you were!” Cally agrees with a sniffle. “In any case, when we got back to Fremantle, I was resigned to having to wait for word from Raoul. Then everything seemed to happen at once, you tested yourself against the Matrix, after I told you not to… Then that offer for the coin shipment to Boulder came up from the Tanuki… I knew you’d take it, Jurien wasn’t worth the time or the risk, Esperance was WAY too far for the profit margin… I knew the Caravan would be there, it was just a matter of telling Osun that Billy had shorted him and making sure you got there in time to buy him out… As well as making sure you weren’t going to turn into another Isaac.”
 
“So you WERE testing me along the road to Boulder.”
 
“Of course I was, I even told you as much.” Cally admits with a slight frown of puzzlement.
 
“If I don’t… Who will? It’s too easy to become like Isaac, Adam… and I care about you too much to let you start down that road.”
 
“How though?” You demand. “Dammit, there’s too much DISTANCE involved in any of this!”
 
“Adam, think for a moment. What kind of Mamono would care SO MUCH about Wonderland that it would be the first thing she’d tell me about? What kind of Mamono can ignore distance and appear and disappear in an instant without a trace?”
 
“Cheshires… “ You answer, a number of pieces falling into place. “…Which is why you were always so excited to see them. You thought they might have word about Raoul.”
 
“Precisely. Then, again, you nearly ruined the whole thing by agreeing to go to The Gap…”
 
“Which is when you decided to call in your original plan.” You grumble sourly, a heavy, twisted feeling in your guts.
 
“NO!” Cally cried, grabbing you by the lapels and pulling your face to hers. “Dammit Adam, I called him to SAVE you! Even if I’d known that Bella was slowly dying and the Curse was starting to fail, the Matrix in The Gap had been there for thousands of years! Why would Raoul go out of his way to retrieve it now and risk the Lodge’s reputation in The Australs by disobeying the Dominus? It was for you!”
 
“You… and him… did all of that… for me?”
 
Cally nods. “You Matter to me… I won’t deny that you’ve been… convenient… often times almost suspiciously so. But as a Handmaiden of Hell’s Throne…”
 
You recoil in shock. “WHAT?!”
 
“Oh yes… My whole family, for many generations. It’s part of what made me so important to Raoul’s work. Out of all the beings he could have rescued, why would he save some random Koala cub from a fire? Think about it Adam. Heaven and Hell, working together in secret, towards a goal so inexplicably complex I can’t even begin to understand it.” Cally explained, “But as I was saying… As a Handmaiden, I couldn’t look a gift centaur in the corsetry. Wonderland needs saving. But it’s only a small part of a much larger picture.”
 
“Oh Tyris…” you moan, taking your head in your hands as the revelation overwhelmed you.
 
“I hope you understand the trust I’m placing in you here. Even Telia doesn’t know the full picture. Maou makes sure that her daughters each only possess a single piece of the puzzle, and sibling rivalry, germinated over countless millennia takes care of the rest. If either of us even spoke of this outside Thealiss…”
 
“We’d fucking burn!” You declare incredulously “It’d make Arch-Heretic Joshua’s pyre look like a smouldering twig!”
 
“And probably a good percentage of anyone who’s ever spoken to us, for fear of the rumor spreading. The Pax is only stable because it’s unchallenged… and sad as it is, deranged as it may seem at times… for the moment, it’s the best option for both our races.”
 
You chuckle helplessly. “This is not what I had in mind when I wanted you to come clean. I thought you’d tell me you were paid to seduce me, push me in a direction, sure… But to find out we’re both pawns in some stupid-huge fuckin’ game…”
 
“We’re all pawns, Adam, but I’ve never lied to you about what you mean to me as a person.” Cally insisted, kissing you softly. “Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?”
 
“At the end of the day… Bollocks… Your heart was in the right place. Doesn’t matter how I feel. The Doctrines are clear, as even the bloody Angels have to admit, I can’t revile you for a virtue.” You admit, bending and kissing the Koala more seriously. Unexpectedly, you feel a twin-thumbed hand pushing you away gently.
 
“Thank you Adam… But…”
 
“But?” You echo, pulling back in surprise.
 
“Believe me, there’s nothing more I’d like to do than move on to the ‘Make up’ part of the fight.” Cally smiled softly. “But… I have to be honest about my feelings… I’m… in real danger of falling in love with you, and that’s a luxury that neither of us can afford. Not right now.”
 
“So what are we gonna do about that?” You mutter, picking at the sparse, dry grass between the rocks.
 
“I’m gonna need some time…” The Koala admits “…to sort out what I need to do from here on out. But you have my word. No more secrets.”
 
“I’ll hold you to that Cal…” You state evenly, standing and brushing the dead grass from your trousers “…Because it’d break my heart if it were to ever happen again.”
 
 
“It’s fuckin’ bollocks is what!” You hear Emmy yell as you approach the ‘workshop’ where she had absconded herself since your return.
 
“How so?” Raoul’s tired voice sounds in response.
 
“Because I said four lengths of steel, eight by three by one and a half, not seven and three quarters by just shy of four by a ballpark of bloody two!”
 
“So we just grind back…” Raoul began
 
“And completely ruin the tensile bleedin’ strength, set fuckin’ dissonant harmonies through the whole thing… Sodding Bollocks, I thought you ‘Resonants’ were supposed to be a bit more clued in than the fuckin’ primitives crawling about!”
 
“You’re dealing with a technology that BARELY existed in theory at ANY point in known history!” Raoul roared. “Our Best’ is all we can fucking offer!”
 
“Fuck me sideways, I don’t have the tools to fix your bloody mistakes! I need it spot on, first time, every time, or we’ll be here for another twenty fuckin’ years, and I don’t think our friends on the other side of the glass have that much time!” Emmy retorted.
 
“Look. I’ve got a rough idea. When I bring the cogitator he’ll be much better positioned to…”
 
“Oooh, lookit, the caveman’s gonna help me build a bloody spaceship, is that it?”
 
“Hold on, nobody said anything about the Dark Beyond!”
 
“Oh! So you DON’T think the world’s flat? There’s a promising revelation, me old china!”
 
Sound of swearing and of the ringing of metal jangling across stone floor as the door suddenly flung open and a sulphurously swearing Raoul stamped from within. Spotting you, he nodded curtly, muttering “Good Luck” as he passed.
 
“Angonamo… Where you off to?” You demanded in surprise, all thought of protocol fled.
 
“To go get the Cogitator before I destroy something breakable… like the northern half of the Australs.” Raoul snarled, not turning.
 
“Shit…” You breathed, heading inside, to find Emmy grinding her teeth at what looked like a random pile of scrap metal lying on the floor. “…Hows’goin Em?”
 
“Orright Skip?” Emmy grumbled testily. “You here to fuck up me day too?”
 
“You know what? Let’s take a smoko.” You offer.
 
“What’s that?”
 
“I’ve got no bloody idea but it’s what we do in the Australs when folks are looking to visit violence on each other on the job.” You chuckle. “C’mere and talk at me for a bit.”
 
“I’m in over me head, Skip, I won’t lie.” Emmy lamented, her curious ‘exo’ floating over towards you. “I’ve got to try and build a mechanical bloody miracle without the assistance of ANY kind of precision manufacturing… Maou’s tits… Do you have any idea how much dick I would suck right now just for a simple laser level?”
 
“Telia believes in you, and I haven’t seen any reason to doubt her judgement.” You offer gently. “But let’s leave that. What are we doing? Maybe there’s another way to look at it.”
 
“You mean they haven’t told you?” Emmy asks incredulously. You shake your head. “Hell’s Throne… Telly wants to punch a hole between worlds, walk what’s left of Wonderland’s population through it.”
 
“…Oh.” You blurt after a long pause.
 
“Oh? Fuckin’ OH?!” Well move over Wordsworth, we’ve got a fuckin’ Poet on our hands here!” Emmy cries out in sheer frustration.
 
“C’mere.” You sigh.
 
“Or What?” Emmy snaps.
 
“Or I’ll pull you out your bloody chair and MAKE you.” You retort.
 
Sulkily, Emmy drifts over, disengaging herself from the exo and standing in front of you, gloved hands on her waifish hips. Wordlessly, you wrap your arms around the childlike Mamono, holding her against you.
 
“As relaxing as this is…” Emmy admits, melting into your embrace, her slight arms moving about your waist. “…A girl could get the wrong idea.”
 
“Not gonna happen.” you chuckle, patting her head.
 
“Gah! Why does every git insist on treating me like a feckin’ child!” Emmy snarls, pushing away from you.
 
“Because you’re what. Twelve? Thirteen?”
 
“Twenty eight, and that’s WITHOUT the thousands-a fuckin’ years in the Bacardi!” Emmy corrects you hotly.
 
You blink, totally taken aback by that. “Oh…”
 
“Maou’s luscious buttocks… I’m shocked they don’t have you composing operas with eloquence like that, Skip.” Emmy drawls witheringly.
 
“I’m sorry, I just assumed… And I’m sure you’re across the fact that diddling a juvie’s pretty much the worst possible thing a bloke can do.”
 
“Yeh, I read that, as well as a bunch of other laughably mental shit.” Emmy snickers. “Marriages don’t exist any more? Humans fuck by lottery? Yer whole bleedin’ culture is administered by a bunch of human trollops half a world away? The whole thing is BARMY!”
 
“H-heresyyy…” You chortle, almost doubling over with laughter.
 
“An’ that too! Fuckin say the wrong thing and get the shit beaten out of ya! And that’s when cunts are feelin’ NICE!” Emmy continues. “What the fuck! What the… a-actual… f-fuck!”
 
Collapsing to her knees, the Gremlin covers her face with her hands and starts to cry.
 
“Hey… Hey… S’gonna be alright.” You murmur, putting your arms around her shaking shoulders.
 
“The fuck you know Skip? You’ve never s-seen the doors closing. Screamed so loud your own voice rang in your head… felt the cold rise up… all you can feel is your own fear… Then… they open again, and for a minute you think everything’s going to be alright… Then you find out your whole world is GONE!”
 
“I’m so sorry Em… That was a horrible, horrible fuckin’ thing to happen to you.” You murmur sincerely. “If I could take it all back for you I would.”
 
“But I wouldn’t! I can’t!” Emmy sobs “B-because now I know… Now I know it’s what I was supposed to do the whole time.”
 
“Handmaiden.” You state simply. Emmy nods, rubbing at her nose.
 
“And to think…” You grumble. “…I used to envy you Mamono, how light a weight it seemed Maou put on you compared to what Tyris gave us. Now I find out it’s fucked all over.”
 
“B-blasphemy…” Emmy whimpers.
 
“That’s my line.” You chuckle, patting her head again. “C’mon, we’re gonna go engage in an ancient Australian tradition.”
 
“F-fucking like rabbits on a full moon?” Emmy asks hopefully.
 
“No.” You shake your head apologetically. “We’re gonna go get falling over pissed.”
 
 
“Leperia! Line ‘em up and don’t stop ‘til we’re horizontal!” You declare as you walk into the common room of the Rabbit’s Warren, the slightly more composed Gremlin in tow. “Where’s me bloody Kobie?” You question aloud. “Blue!”
 
“Where have you been Adam?” Morrigan demands as she steps around a group of Succubi, her segmented, barbed tail lashing irritably. “Blue’s been looking for you all day!”
 
“Well she wasn’t looking very hard!” You chuckle, “That girl could sniff me out in a midden heap.”
 
“Well, she was clearly on a timeframe, Maou knows the letter took enough effort for her.”
 
“Letter? What letter?” You ask, a cold feeling seeping into your guts. “Morrie, where’s Blue?”
 
The manticore shoves a piece of parchment at you with a glowering glare, before stalking from the bar. With shaking hands, you unfold it…
 
aDz,
 
pRinsess TiTtyWinGz tolDe me thAt we neEdz to do a thiNge in tha DingOse raYnge. I kan spEek diNgo olRite so im gOnna go taLk too theM. I WonTed too teL yu in perSen but yu were dUin oveR fiNgs wot wAs prOlly reeLi importente so i sEd yes.
 
Dont tri aN Follo me, thA dinGose woNt liKe it aN i dOnt waNna hAv toO wuRry aboWt yu too. Yu wiL be wIf me in Mi hArt. I Wil be bAk as sOoN as i kAn.
 
I LuV yu foReVer, boSs
 
Yor BLuE.
 
“…Oh pissing bollocks…” You moan.
 
“Orright Skip?” Emmy asks, a drink halfway to her mouth.
 
“Ask me after about half a dozen-a these…” You murmur, your heart in your boots.
 
 
“Aaaaaaaaaboard the good ship Venus, by Maou you should have seen us. The Figurehead was a whore in the bed and the mast was a rampant penis!” Emmy sang drunkenly, the large tankard in her hand looking almost comical as the Gremlin swung it back and forth.
 
“I got one! I got one!” You declare, clearing your throat.
“The Bosun’s name was Mandrake,
His manhood was a pisstake,
The only one to whom the mons
Said ‘Not now, I’ve got a headache!”
 
Emmy and the couple of other mamono who had joined you in the impromptu drinking party groaned, shaking their heads and chuckling pityingly.
 
“Not muchava poet, is ya Skip?” Emmy sighed, before hiccuping.
 
“Meh, had a crack. The God, He loves a Tryer.” You state imperiously, puffing out your chest and raising your chin defiantly.
 
“Go on ya fuckin’ sandgroper.” Emmy chortled. “Ere… Giz a song from ‘straya then.”
 
“Straya?”
 
“The fuckin’ Australs, whatever, Maou’s tits… How’d the name get so bloody mangled?”
 
“S’always been the Australs… S’what happens when The God says ‘hold m’beer and watch this.”
 
“Three thousand years and you geezers ain’t changed a mite. SONG SKIPPY!” Emmy demands, smacking you on the arm with her free hand.”
 
“Orright pushy…” You concede, pondering for a moment.
“They came down from Meekatharra in a clapped out four-train cart.
The driver cocked ‘er leg and then the fucker fell apart
Right next door t’the Baron’s.
 
When the dust’d cleared a voice said “Eeeh, dis place look orright…
We’ll ‘cast the Council and claim it as a sacred site.
Fuckin’ humies gonna run from da mana, unna.”
 
“Gooday Mr Humie man, allo Priestess Miss!
Eh we’re your bran’ new neighbours
(Oi Dardy, giz a kiss)
And I think you gonna like it now
Living next door, to Yowies”
 
Twenty four kids, nine adults and fifteen dogs
A drop-bear in the wagon and a cartload fulla grog
Now we flash as fuckin’ dragons, living next door to Yowies
 
“Now the first thing that we gotta do is get another cart,
Cos me drunken fuckin’ sister just ate the Bunga’s hearts.
…We’ll ‘cast that Lilim from the Council again, she’s alright eh?”
 
So they casted to the Lilim whose in charge of subsistence,
And the next day in on the traces was a fuckin’ Montmorence
“Eeeh come an’ git a looka this one, this one’s got CURTAINS! Lookit dis ay!”
 
Emmy howled with laughter “D-do they really talk like that?”
 
“Tyris take me if’n I’m a liar.” You declare.
 
A thick, meaty hand lands on your shoulder, and you turn in surprise to see the thick, tusky features of Yara, Osun’s enforcer in the caravan. You felt dread sink in your guts and your testicles were performing yeoman duty in their attempt to crawl back up inside your body.
 
“Finish song, unna…” Yara grunted, fingering the wicked looking scourge at her belt.
 
You swallowed, taking another draught from your tankard before taking in a deep breath.
 
“So where’s Mr Baron? Up in me sister’s room.
And judging from the noises ‘e aint comin’ back real soon.
Guess he finally got used, to living next door to Yowies.”
 
He’s been howlin’ and yellin’, you won’t believe the shit he says….”
 
“BUT NO FUCKIN’ HUMIES GETS AWAY ‘THOUT BUSTED PELVISES!” Yara interjects vociferously, and you burst into relieved laughter, throwing an arm about her massive shoulders.
 
“So now we gotta get used to not living next door, to Yowies….” You both sing together as the room erupts in laughter and applause.
 
“Like dat song, unna.” Yara declares, taking your tankard and draining it without asking.
 
“I can fuckin’ buy you one.” You object, staring at the empty mug.
 
“Yeh” Yara agrees. “But only one. Boss gonna get mad if Yara drunk wit da grog, you-know?”
 
“Well then, madame skintaker…” You drawl, gesturing to Leperia to pull you another round, your hand pausing in the air as you saw the white rabbit heading calmly over with an armful of drinks. “…If you’re not here to drink yerself sick, what can I do for ya?”
 
“Caravan leavin’ tomorrow. Boss Osun sez you dog-cunts can fuck off but is worried about the Koala, yeh”
 
You blink in surprise. Truth be told you hadn’t really given any thought to the Caravan’s departure. “Shit… well. I’m otherwise employed. Tell him he’s got three less mouths to feed on the return trip.”
 
“You workin’ for The Mother, unna? Int dat sum Hurrysurry?” Yara grumbles, raising a thick brow questioningly.
 
“Nah. Saving some lives. Got it on the best authority that me and mine don’t have an issue.”
 
The Yowie grunts in affirmation, and you wonder how much intelligence is truly hidden behind those brutish features and pidgin Magisterian. Yara takes her tankard, guzzling it inelegantly before setting it down and seizing the front of your shirt.
 
“Giz a kiss, dardy” She grunts, pulling you towards her and pressing her mouth to yours. Though you were frozen in shock, a detached part of your mind did note that her lips were surprisingly soft…
 
The Yowie broke the kiss, grinning at you before heading back outside.
 
“Oh so the fuckin’ Ogre gets a kiss, and I’m left here holding me nethers? Fuckin’ bullshit is what that is!” Emmy declares.
 
“She’s a Yowie, not an Ogre, an’ you got one on the way back from The Gap, Emmy.” You retort, pointing with your tankard at the Gremlin “And a bit more than that, fuckya!”
 
“Ooh!” One of the Succubi gushes eagerly. “Is he…”
 
“Like a fuckin’ mule.” Emmy declares smugly, striking the blade of her hand against her lower thigh suggestively.
 
“Really…” The succubus purred, and you felt the prickle of a number of eyes studying you hungrily.
 
“Oi! Manners or I’ll put th’lot of ya on the fuckin’ ceiling.” You declare, pointing somewhat unsteadily about yourself. “Next Song!”
 
Without warning, a mellifluous voice rang from the air around you, it’s beauty stunning you and the Mamono to utter silence.
 
“We are one
Although not many,
And all of, the lands on earth we spurn
We share a dream
Of Pacem Deo
I am
You are
We Are Australian…”
 
“Bloody Hell!” You exclaim, your jaw hanging open in awe. “Who invited th’angel?”
 
“Adam!” The voice cries in mock umbrage, the alien perfection of Telia shimmering into existence beside you. “And I thought we were friends!”
 
“Yer Excellency!” You exclaim, your slight intoxication lending you to boldness “You have a fuckin’ set of pipes on ya.”
 
“Thank you dear…” The Lilim chuckles, patting you on the cheek. You do your utmost to keep from swooning at her undeniably alluring touch, yet a lusty sigh escapes your lips.
 
“Telly! That’s cheating!” Emmy sulks.
 
“Even I’m allowed to play once in awhile, Emerelisa.” The Lilim rejoins, flitting a lock of white hair behind her horn. “I’m surprised, I didn’t expect you to be finished reading to Bella so soon.”
 
“Aw PISS!” Emmy curses, smacking herself on the forehead. “With everything that’s happened today it completely flitted out me head.”
 
“Well that won’t bloody do!” You declare, standing. “C’mon, we’re gonna go read to feathers.”
 
“We?” Emmy echoes in surprise.
 
“Well, you read to her, and I promise not to act like a bloody Pally about it.”
 
“The Worship of Maou IS recognised under the Pax, Adam.” Telia chides.
 
“Yeh, but if anybody asks I was still a cunt about it.” You reply, draining your tankard as an afterthought. “Comin’ Em?”
 
 
“I got a question Skip…” Emmy ventures as she floats beside you, the low, usually barely audible hum of her exo loud in the silent desert night.
 
“Shoot Em.” You reply absently.
 
“Do you… Do you think I’m pretty?”
 
You sigh, pausing and turning to face the Gremlin, Emmy returning your gaze with her strange, lurid eyes.
 
“Yeh, you’re cute. Show me a Mamono who isn’t. But I’ve spent enough time around yez to know that’s not what you’re after asking me. You wanna know why I keep turning you down for a ploughin’, even though I know you’re not a juvie.”
 
Emmy’s blush is immediate, visible even in the dim light from the surrounding houses and ramshackle buildings. “W-well yeah… I mean y’know, a girl’s got needs, innit?”
 
“I know you probably devoured the Doctrines of Tyris and the entire volume of the Terms of the Holy Pax in an afternoon, so you know outside of continuance it doesn’t mean fuck all to us, right?”
 
The Gremlin nods. “Which is what’s so bloody frustratin’ about you! I don’t get it, if you’re free, why not me?”
 
“Blue.” You answer simply. “It doesn’t… didn’t… mean anything to me, but it matters to her, and SHE matters to me. And she ain’t here to run it past.”
 
“I thought you were her bleedin’ master!” Emmy grumbles irritably
 
“And part of being a good master is knowing that it’s your DUTY to look out for your indentured. People may make light of it but… You’ve read the Pax. It’s the sincerest gesture of trust between our people. She’s trusting me with everything, and what kind of man does it make me to be nonchalant with that trust?”
 
“Oh sure… Go ahead and make SENSE, ya geezer…” Emmy sulks “…Maou’s luscious arse, I just want me itch scratched, not like I’m asking you to marry me.”
 
“It’d be heresy if you did.” You reply without thinking.
 
“Cor Blimey! I was just…” Emmy erupts incensedly, before shaking her head and floating ahead of you. “…The future fuckin’ sucks.” she mutters as you amble after her.
 
You open the door of the infirmary to see the Vampire… Nasha, that was it… Swearing at a sheet of parchment, her face partially transmuted into the rapacious horror of her feeding guise. She glances up, seeing you both, and after a moment of seeming deliberation, allows her features to return to ‘normal’.
 
“Either Maou Loves that Griffon or you two have a spy-hole somewhere. Get.” She grumbles shortly, jerking her head towards the hallway.
 
“That sounds ominous…” Emmy remarks, a note of concern evident in her voice.
 
“Ya reckon?” You exclaim, wasting no time in heading up the hallway. You hear the low hum of Emmy’s exo close behind you.
 
“Well double it anyway!” You hear Juliet exclaim as you enter Bella’s room, the Griffon moaning and twitching beneath the light sheet which covered her modesty.
 
“She’ll Overdose…” A second succubus warned.
 
“So what, won’t be the first time I’ve been raped by something mana-drunk beyond reason…” Juliet quips without a hint of concern.
 
“No, the bad kind.” The other Succubus explains.
 
“Hell’s throne! We can’t lose her! We need a sovereign specific. We need…”
 
“Human.” The other Succubus blurts, looking up in surprise as she notices your entrance.
 
“Oh sure, that’d be perfect. Tell you what, you find a human that’s willing to get themselves raped an inch into the floorboards by a mad Griffon and I’ll… Oh… Adam!” Juliet trails off as she follows her colleague’s gaze. “Surely Maou has sent you to us. We need you…”
 
“Uh huh…” You drawl. “….I heard the other bit too. What in the Blessed name of Tyris is goin’ on?”
 
“Bella’s dying.” Juliet states bluntly.
 
“No!” Emmy declares in horror. “Whatever it is, Skippy’ll do it.”
 
“Did we not just have this bleedin’ conversation five fuckin’ minutes ago Em?” You exclaim incredulously. “And don’t you think Bella might wanna have some say when it comes to someone rollin’ up her little ball o’yarn?”
 
“I won’t lie to you Adam, it’s that, she dies, or we go knock some poor sap out in the caravan, then wipe his memories before the morning. Which do YOU think Bella would prefer?”
 
Your mouth works fishlike. “I won’t take advantage.” You finally blurt lamely.
 
“Honestly Adam, we’re going to fill her so full of Hellhound that it’ll be a hard time keeping her OFF you.”
 
Your mind raced. You couldn’t let the Griffon die, yet the idea of just sacrificing some unwitting rube for the matter felt… off. But there was Blue… How would you explain what had happened?
 
“Look, if all you need is me sprog, do we really need to put both of us in this position?” You offer quickly, holding your hands up and moving away from the approaching succubus. “Gimme a vial and a fiver, I’m pretty sure I can… work something out.”
 
Juliet purses her plump lips in thought before turning to her colleague. “Thoughts?”
 
“We’d lose some to the bleed…”
 
“Point. Look Adam, the fact of it is, it MAY work, the question then, are you willing to risk Bella’s life to keep your own less complicated?”
 
“Way to make a bloke feel like a cunt…” You grate through gritted teeth. “…Orright. Fine.”
 
“I knew you’d see sense. Now strip.” Juliet orders presumptively.
 
“Eh?” You grunt
 
“You’re aware of those talons on the ends of her arms, aren’t you? Unless you’d like to walk back to the Warren naked, I’d advise putting as little as possible between her and… well… you.” The other succubus interjects.
 
“Fuck’s sake…” You sigh in resignation, stripping off your clothes to stand naked before the two Succubi and the Gremlin. “…Y’right now?”
 
“Hell’s throne!” Emmy gasps, her eyes locked to your manhood.
 
“It’s just a fuckin’ dick Em…”
 
“I-I know… but… Maou’s ample bosom, Skip. You could beat someone to death with that thing!”
 
“Anybody else got somethin’ to fuckin’ say?” You snarl, feeling very self-conscious.
 
“Cute butt…” Juliet’s colleague remarks. Juliet tsks, trying to suppress a smile. “…What? He asked!”
 
“Come on ladies. I’m going to apply the essence, and I think we should be well and truly out of here by the time it takes effect.” Juliet muses.
 
“Really? I thought… maybe… you know…” Emmy laments.
 
“Handmaiden, I can almost guarantee that Bella’s going to be faster, meaner, and more vicious than anything shy of a bloodlusting Dragon. Do you want her to see you as a threat?”
 
“Well no, but…”
 
“Then out.” Juliet interjects, pointing an elegant finger at the door.
 
Emmy curses as she leaves, you could swear she lapsed into about three different languages. Juliet’s colleague waits by the door, holding it open as the Succubus takes a length of quartz from a nearby reliquary, its length glowing with a dark, smoky luminescence.
 
“Are you ready, Adam?”
 
“No pressure…” You murmur, eyes locked upon the moaning Griffon.
 
Juliet murmurs a few magical phrases, the glow from the quartz seeming to leech into Bella’s upper torso as the Succubus holds it above her. Bella’s breathing grows deeper… a growl begins to rumble through her frame…
 
“That’s my cue… Be gentle, won’t you Resonant?” Juliet quips as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, leaning up to peck you on the cheek as she and her colleague exit, the sound of the latching door sounding like nothing so much as the Gates of Hell themselves. Bella’s stirrings intensify, and her golden eyes snap open, focusing on you with frightening intensity. In your youth, you had watched as a tiger snake hunted a mouse. The tiny rodent had trembled, seemingly unable to move as the snake reared above it… You found yourself sympathising with that mouse.
 
“Gudday Bella…” You blurted, more for the sake of saying something that wasn’t a frightened whimper. Suddenly all the stories you had been told in your adolescence came flooding back. Mamono would rape until the very life gave out in their victims… Bones shattered, Pelvises ground to dust, spines wrenched beyond any hope of repair.
 
The Griffon cocked her head, an odd chuckling noise in her throat…
 
…You were on the floor… Funny, you could have sworn you were standing not a moment ago, and Tyris be merciful, did the back of your head hurt.
 
“Neeeeeeed” Bella snarled, one Talon about your neck, the other pinning your right arm to the floor. “…NEEEED!”
 
“C’mon then Bella, I’m right here.” You mumbled, blinking to clear the swarming spots from your vision. The Griffon panted, her wings mantling you like some amalgam raptor, grinding her hips inexpertly against your flaccid cock.
 
“Bella… Hey… Lemme help…” you offered, reaching your hand up. The Griffon released your throat, slamming your free hand to the ground in her other talon and screeching in your face. Well this was not working one fucking bit.
 
Suddenly, something clicked in your understanding. Her behaviour, her overeagerness, even through the mad lust of the Hellhound essence, it was abundantly clear.
 
“You haven’t done this before, have ya?” You remark, a slight smirk spreading across your face. Another deafening screech was your only answer.
 
“And…” You continue, as equilibrium returned to you “…You forgot something.”
 
Your words seem to penetrate the fog of mindless lust currently possessing the Griffon, and she pulls back slightly, cocking her head again.
 
“Reality plays by my rules.”
 
LEVITATE
 
The Griffon shrieks and struggles as the power of the glyph lifts her off you. Sliding from beneath her, you flip her over so she is thrashing on a bed of pure force a meter or so above the ground.
 
“Emmy really should have been reading to you from the Doctrines of Tyris, in retrospect. If we could treat this like Continuance the whole thing would’ve been done much quicker… Still… as it stands…” You remark, trailing your hands along Bella’s torso, cupping her sizeable breasts in your hands. “…Looks like today I’m teaching the first-timer.”
 
Bella panted against your touch, flailing, trying to gain purchase upon the empty air. Her wings buffeted around you, each beat a near gale. You heard something breakable fall from a nearby shelf with a tinkling of glass. Helpless like this, the need in her eyes… It reminded you of Blue that night previous, her arms and legs bound to the bedposts.
 
”M-Master…”
 
You felt the swelling in your manhood as your own arousal built, a combination of the memory and the undeniably alluring sensation of the Griffon’s body beneath your hands bringing you to readiness…
 
…No. This wasn’t right. Using Blue to get yourself hard? Did you really care that little for Bella? You forced yourself to think of the Griffon, her earnestness, honesty, and hopeless innocence. She was here. This was her. Look at her Adam. She’s beautiful…
 
“Bella…” You murmur, bending your head and pressing your lips to hers. A helpless moan vibrates against your lips, and you feel your glyph falling away. Suddenly, talons, paws and wings surround you, and the Griffon once again clumsily slams her crotch against yours. You grunt with discomfort.
 
“Bella, I know you can hear me. Let me help you with this…” You entreat once again, sliding your hand between your bodies and feeling between her thighs. Soaking wet, but then of course she would be, and not entirely by choice. Taking yourself in hand, you guide your stiff, throbbing member towards her most intimate secrets. Screeching in… triumph? Bella drives herself home atop your shaft. Resistance there, then it gives way to a near scalding heat as her maidenhead parts and you are buried deep within her. Bella screams, her talons once again digging into the flesh of your back, her flailing wings actually carrying you a few feet into the air.
 
“Shhhhh….” You entreat, stroking the Griffon’s heart-shaped face, trying to block out the pain of her talons. “…Easy girl… S’gonna be orright… Just lets take it nice and easy….”
 
Bella relaxes her grip on you, and you begin to move within her, your first, tenative steps of that ancient dance bringing small cries of mingled pleasure and pain.
 
“You’re so pretty Bella… Anyone ever told you how pretty you are?” You murmur, kissing at her neck and between her breasts which loll and bounce with your movements. Bella pants, moaning and gasping, her thighs quivering where her leonine hindquarters are clamped around your waist. Gradually, you pick up the pace, taking a pert, pink nipple between your lips and flicking your tongue across it. Bella whimpers, and you feel a talon clasp around the back of your head, pressing your face into her ample bosom.
 
“K-kuhh… Kuuuhhhhh…” Bella mumbles. You break away from her breasts to look at her askance, your hips keeping their easy, rocking motion as you work within her.
 
“K-kuuuhhh… Kiss… Kiss me…” She moans, and you give a slight smile, bending your lips again to hers. Her tongue, though inexpert, is eager within your mouth, and she begins bucking against you. Suddenly, she gasps, breaking your kiss, and you feel that odd, yet slightly familiar sensation… as if you were both breathing the same air.
 
“C-coming!” She cries shrilly, her thighs positively shaking an instant before it seems like her entire body clamps around you, your penis worked by her roiling internal muscles. Overwhelmed with pleasure, you manage to gasp ‘Bella…” before you too succumb to shuddering orgasm.
 
Panting, you both lie upon the floor, Bella’s wings still around you. Her eyes are half-lidded, yet a sleepy, happy smile rests upon her mouth.
 
“See? Told you it’d be orright…” You murmur, kissing her on the forehead. Bella chirrups disapprovingly as you attempt to extricate yourself, gripping you tighter with limbs and wings.
 
“Welp.” You murmur resignedly “Guess I’m not going anywhere.”
 
 
“Tyris be fucking merciful…” You groaned, squinting as you studied the rude diagram before you. “…Hey Em, is this really supposed to be…”
 
“Shhhhhh!” The Gremlin insisted, pinching the skin between her eyes and wincing. “Stop being so loud.”
 
“You’re the one kept drinkin’.” You snicker unsympathetically. Truth be told you had little memory of the remainder of the night after your successful copulation with Bella. You remember hands separating you from the Griffon, something carrying you, then you awoke in your own bed, the fresh cuts on your back stinging and your bedding stained with dried blood. Cally, once again, was absent, though that was hardly surprising.
 
“Don’t take the fuckin mickey Reson… Hey… There’s blondie… Ooooh… Whossat then?”
 
You followed the Gremlin’s gaze, seeing the approaching form of Raoul, a slightly shorter man following behind him, looking here and there yet seemingly uncaring or uncomprehending of his surrounds.
 
“Yer Illustriousness.” You greet Raoul with a grin, before turning your attention to his companion. He was a dumpy looking fellow, dressed in unassuming garb, clearly focusing towards comfort rather than style. “And this would be…”
 
“Bjorn. Cogitator to the Grand Lodge of Resonance.”
 
“Gudday mate.” You offer with a genuine smile and an outstretched hand. The Cogitator looked at you distantly for a moment, disregarding your hand. You lowered your arm with a shrug, such was the way of things after all. The Cogitator’s attention turned to Emmy’s exo where it sat against a wall of the rude warehouse which comprised her ‘workshop’. His eyes flaring with interest, the man made a beeline for the alien contraption.
 
“Oi… OI! Leave off me fuckin’ exo!” Emmy demanded, running from where she had been inspecting a length of coiled copper to confront Bjorn.
 
“Mnemonic alloy, woven to specification, fashioned circa three thousand BPD. Not released. Unsanctioned. Must be dismantled.” Bjorn murmured, ignoring the Gremlin.
 
“Dismantl… Do you want a fuckin’ hook in the gabber?!” Emmy shrieked in outrage, grabbing the man by the arm. Bjorn looked at where the Gremlin was grasping him with an expression of pure horror.
 
“Doesn’t touch! It doesn’t touch!” Bjorn demanded, trying to free himself from Emmy’s grasp.
 
“Fuckin’ nobody threatens to dismantle me Exo!” Emmy continues, her hung-over features fixated in fury.
 
“REEEEEEEEEEE!” Bjorn screeched. “RRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
 
“Emmy… Let him go, please. He’s… not like other people…” Raoul entreated.
 
“Like fuck! Not until I get a Maou-damn apolog…”
 
Bjorn fixed the Gremlin with an odd expression, and you sensed a Resonant Glyph being cast. Emmy grunted as the air whooshed from her lungs, and her petite body flew back through the air. Before you could react, you sensed Raoul’s glyph catching her, slowing her descent and lowering her gently to the ground.
 
You rush over, holding out a hand to help the Gremlin up. “Tyris! Y’orright Em?”
 
“I dunno what I was expecting…” The Gremlin admitted, coughing and waving away your assistance “…Some ‘By will alone I set my mind in motion’ shit, sure… But you’re tellin’ me your human computers are Resonants with fuckin’ AUTISM?!”
 
“Ow-Tism?” You echo uncomprehendingly. You turn to Raoul, looking askance, the master Resonant shaking his head in puzzlement.
 
“Don’t fuck with me here, lads, I am FAR too hungover to entertain some kinda stupid Pax shit.”
 
“Blasphemy” You and Raoul both blurt instinctively.
 
“Challenge” Emmy snaps back.
 
“On what grounds?” Raoul retorts with a note of surprise.
 
“Grounds? Oh bollocks, I knew I forgot something…” Emmy groans.
 
“Withdrawn…” Raoul chuckles. “…What’s this ‘Autism’ you’re on about?”
 
“Fuckin take a eyefull at Cap’n Sperg there!” Emmy declares, gesturing at the Cogitator, who has picked up one of her scribbled diagrams and is studying it intently.
 
“S’how we know a bloke’s been Called to become a Cogitator, Em.” You explain. “Yea, and The God did anoint those who would be Cogitator to dismiss the mundane world, that their eyes may truly see the intricacies of the Pattern woven by the Divine.’ Blessed be the wisdom and Foresight of Holy Tyris.”
 
“All Glory to the Most High.” Raoul responded absently. “Bjorn’s a good sort, just don’t go grabbing at him. He could probably put you on the backside of the moon if you annoyed him enough.”
 
“Unrecognised.” Bjorn’s voice intruded, and you looked around to see the dumpy-looking man staring at you. “Rectify.”
 
“I trust you know how to reveal yourself as Resonant, Adam?” Raoul murmured with slight amusement.
 
“Yeh, picked that up.” You chuckle, focusing your thoughts.
 
RECOGNITION
 
Bjorn grunted as the glyphs forming 4RB1TR1U5 glowed upon your forehead. You felt his own glyph being cast, and the glyph 3LUC1D0 appeared in luminescent lettering upon the Cogitator’s brow.
 
“Will require networking. Need to study gathered material. Girl will assist.” Bjorn declared.
 
“Girl?!” Emmy huffed.
 
“Be nice Em.” You grinnned.
 
“Oh, I’ll be nice…” Emmy drawled smoothly, looking at the Cogitator with a smirk.
 
“It doesn’t touch.” Bjorn repeated, picking up another scribbled sheet of parchment.
 
“Hey! Hey Succubutt!” Blue’s voice suddenly rang from outside. “Where’s m’boss?”
 
“Urgh. Kobold. Don’t you have a tree to piss on or someth…”
 
Sound of flesh striking flesh, a body hitting the ground.
 
“Wiliwily ask you question. You answer.” A harsh, unknown voice demanded.
 
“Oh sodding bollocks, what in the Name of The Most High has she gotten herself into now?” You moan, shaking your head in disbelief.
 
“Better go sort this out. Won’t be long…” You mutter.
 
“Don’t be.” Raoul warns, fixing you with a serious look. “You’ve heard the colloquialism ‘Tear the place apart looking for you?’ Bjorn’s likely to actually do it if you keep him waiting too long.”
 
“Inaccurate. Error in third decimal place.” Bjorn’s deadpan voice carries from the far side of the warehouse.
 
“I was just ballparkin’ it, fuck’s sake… You try doing spatial analysis at a molecular level in yer head!” Emmy rejoins incensedly
 
“No try. Mathematics is boolean variable. Correct or incorrect.” Bjorn states with a note of finality. “I will assume duty of calculation going forward.”
 
You peer over, looking at the Gremlin who is glaring daggers in the back of the dumpy Cogitator’s head, her hands clenching in frustration… Yet… She was rubbing her legs together quite fervently…
 
You suppress a chuckle as you nod at Raoul, heading outside, to be confronted with the image of an infuriated Succubus dabbing blood from a cut lip with one hand, the other bearing an orb of smoking magical energy.
 
“Fucking dogs… You’re going to learn your place…” She promises. You recognise Blue’s slight frame, looking even more diminutive between two tall, stoic figures.
 
They were clearly female, yet their build was near-amazonian, each easily two metres in height, with long, red-gold ears which stuck straight up, modest busts hidden behind tight hide bindings, every inch of them rippling with athletic musculature. Their eyes, unblinking where they stared at the succubus were so pale a blue-grey as to be almost white, Their canid-fanged mouths spread in a mirthless smirk which was more rictus than grin. The meaning however was clear.
 
Try it…
 
“Let’s not be fuckin’ dumbcunts about this.” You state in a clear, even voice. Four sets of eyes turn to regard you in surprise.
 
“Boss! Bossbossbossboss…” Blue yips gleefuly, running from between the two Dingoes to throw her arms around you. “…How’d you sneak up on us? All I could smell was angels and snootywings and… hold on… Boss…” She murmured in slight concern, pulling back slightly “…Why do you smell like a LOT of snootywings?”
 
“In a moment, pup. Promise.” You assure her, sincerity written in your face “Gotta stop someone from bein’ a dumbcunt.”
 
“Resonant! These… FERALS assaulted me, in clear Violation of the Pax! I am allowed to answer in kind!” The succubus demanded.
 
“I fuckin’ heard what you said about me Kobie too…” You answer evenly. “…So the way I see it, you’ve got three options. The way I hear, the Dingoes’ve kept clear of the Council since about a day before forever ago. Not a mean feat, if you think about what that means, and they don’t look exactly intimidated. So you can walk away and we all pretend this never happened, you can fight them, which you might lose… Or you can fight me… which you WILL lose.”
 
“You’re confident…” The Succubus snapped, clearly stung to the quick.
 
Blue squeaks in surprise as you rise a few feet into the air, releasing her grip as if you’ve just become red hot.
 
“Gairn, havago…” You snarl, doing your best to replicate the rictus displayed by the Dingoes.
 
“Princess Telia will hear about this! Maou be my witness!” The Succubus hisses, glaring at you murderously before vanishing in a swarm of arcane energy.
 
“Yeh, tell yer story walkin’…” You mutter to the empty air. Blue smacks you gently as you return to the earth.
 
“WARN me when you’re gonna start flyin’ Boss!” The Kobold Harrumphs.
 
“Sorry pup, thought it was the best way shy of blowing something up to say ‘don’t fuck with me.”
 
Blue peers at you studyingly. “You’ve gotten better…”
 
“Guess so.” you nod, feeling a knot in your guts as the Leviathan in the fish-pond grows ever more evident.
 
“So…” Blue prompts, folding her furred forearms over her modest chest.
 
“Reckon we can talk without the walkin’ Karri trees in audience?” You murmur, glancing at the Dingoes who are staring at you impassively. One of the Dingoes gives a sharp sniff of amusement. Fuck. They understood Magisterian, even worse.
 
“Nup, I kinda sorta ended up being their official representative so apparently I warrant bodyguards…” Blue replies with a note of smug pride.
 
“Blue! You little wonder, where’ve you been hiding the bloody political acumen?” You exclaim in praise, patting the Kobold on the head. Blue smiles broadly at your praise, eyes half-lidded beneath your touch. Suddenly her eyes spring wide and she pushes your hand from her head.
 
“Don’t change the subject Adz, or I’ll think you’re trying to lie to me!” She warns seriously.
 
“I’m not. Promise.” You assure her, before giving a gallows sigh. “You know how Bella’s been pretty sick since we got back from the Gap?”
 
“She’s been mana-drunk on the bleedin’ daily, you mean.” Blue harrumphs.
 
“Well, yeah. Because she is… was… dying. She came pretty close last night. Me and Emmy went to read to her and apparently she was gettin’ ready to run down the curtain and join the Choir Invisible.”
 
“Still not seeing how you smell like she’s been all over you…” Blue replies evenly.
 
“I’m gettin’ to that. Juliet, she’s one of the Succubi workin’ at the infirmary… She said it was the last chance to cure her, she needed… Well… Me.”
 
Blue blinked as the pieces clicked together in her head. “So you’re saying you had no choice in it?”
 
You shook your head. “I’d be lying if I said yes. There were other options, not as sure, I’ll admit, but I didn’t HAVE to do it. I chose to. To save her life. I swear to Tyris, I wish you were there to run it over with, but you weren’t.”
 
“To save her life.”
 
“The God as me witness.”
 
Blue’s eyes narrowed, “You’re telling me you didn’t enjoy it?”
 
“Tyris pup, I’m Human, I’ve been RAISED to take that sort of shit philosophically.”
 
“You’re a helluvalot more stable than when you did the continuance thingy.”
 
“Well that was me first time!”
 
“And you were mine.” Blue retorts sharply. “Where is she?”
 
“Now c’mon Blue, don’t do anything stup…”
 
“Adz! This is important! You say you love me, if that’s true, you won’t fuck me about on this, Where. Is. She?”
 
“Here.” Came a voice from above, and the Griffon landed with a whooshing of wings and a cloud of dust. You were taken aback by the massive change in her appearance. Gone was the dogged fanaticism from your first meeting in the desert. Gone the peaky near-madness from her time in the Infirmary. This was what a Griffon was supposed to look like. Regal, Proud… Powerful.
 
“You following him?” Blue demanded.
 
“Nay. Certes, I was following thee.” Bella answered evenly, her features a mystery.
 
“Oh? Reckon you’d get the drop on me?” The Kobold mused, pacing slowly towards the Griffon.
 
Bella returned Blue’s gaze, Golden and Azure eyes locked together. “…Nay.” Bella admitted, dropping to knee and Talon before the Kobold. “I hath taken that which was not mine to take, and I am ashamed.”
 
“Hmph… He saved yer life…” Blue Admitted.
 
“Certes, and I am forever in his debt.” Bella replied, glancing at you with surprising warmth.
 
“Welp. This means you owe me.” Blue declares.
 
“Ask what thou wilt, yea, as mine life and mine hono…”
 
“Lemme touch your wings.”
 
Bella blinked in shock. “W-What?”
 
“Yer wings, lemme touch ‘em.” The Kobold repeated.
 
Bella made a noise of confusion, yet spread her expansive wings out. Blue squeals in delight, grabbing one without hesitation and burying her face in it. “It’s even softer than it looks! Boss I’m downright jealous, looks like Adorabear’s got some competition when it comes to cuddles.”
 
“…I fuckin’ missed something there.” You blurt in utter incomprehension.
 
Blue gave a whuffling sigh. “Boss, was Adorabear so average you forgot all the times you’ve had yer dick up her? I was your girl first, but I’m not stupid enough to think I’m going to be the ONLY one.” Almost reluctantly she releases the Griffon’s wing, walking back over to you and pulling your head down presumptively into a kiss. “You told me the truth. That’s enough for me. Sure, it’s not the best way it all could have happened, but…” The Kobold shrugs, before turning once again to Bella.
 
“Now. You and me are gonna be friends.” She declares.
 
“Verily… I do not understand.” Bella frowns.
 
“It’s that or we fight, them’s the rules.”
 
“Thou art… aware of what I am?” Bella asks with a note of slight umbrage.
 
“Yer fast, and yer strong… But I reckon I could still run ya into the ground.” The Kobold replies evenly.
 
Bella cocks her head, before a sound you had never heard before bubbles from her breast, shaking her body as it spills from her mouth.
 
The Griffon is laughing. Not the cynical, mirthless snicker she had derided you with in The Gap, but genuine, joyous laughter.
 
“Certes, friends then?” Bella offers, extending a talon.
 
“Friends.” Blue replies, ignoring the talon and burying her face in the Griffon’s wing again.
 
“Alpha.” One of the Dingoes addresses you softly from where she has appeared beside you. You start in surprise, you didn’t even see them move!
 
“Boss, this is Adina and Illuka” Blue gestures absently, her voice muffled within the Griffon’s feathers, Bella bearing her ecstatic attention good-naturedly.
 
“Gudday.” You offer respectfully, giving a polite nod to the two Mamono. Cripes, they’d give a Yowie pause…
 
“We talk now. Wiliwily talk with…” An odd barking sound you don’t recognise.
 
“Uh, yeh… Sure.” You offer.
 
 
“…See that’s the part I don’t get. Why Blue?”
 
Illuka snarls something in her native tongue, Adina answering briefly before turning again to you.
 
“Reasons two. First. Understand Magisterian, but… not… speak well.” Adina replied, holding up a furred digit.
 
“Ye’ve noticed we ain’t exactly fuckin’ poets ourselves, yeh?” You grin cheekily.
 
“Should be all more reason.” Adina replies with a growling snicker.
 
“Fair call. And the other?”
 
“Politics.” The Dingo answers. “Great Pack… Foresworn to… Higher power. Cannot submit to Maou-Whelp. Recognise Kobold. Kobold Packs submit to Maou-Whelp. Kobold speak to Maou-Whelp for Dingo. Hole-in-fence.”
 
“Hole-in-fence?” You echo confusedly.
 
“Not break rules but go around.”
 
“Loophole.” You reply, understanding.
 
“Loophole.” Adina echoes “Understand. Yes.”
 
“Gotta admit, I’ve never heard of Mamono referring to a greater power than the Council, and Maou behind it. Whazzat about?”
 
Illuka looks at you cagily, snapping something in her harsh tongue. Adina replies at length, and the Dingo narrows her eyes.
 
“Living do not speak name.” Illuka growls, “She Heart-Eater. Alpha-of-Alphas. Great Justice. Matriarch of Spirit-Pack. Ancestors sing to stars for Her.”
 
“Ilias again?” You groan. Illuka snarls in utter fury, launching herself at you.
 
“Tyris fuck!” You exclaim, hastily calling upon the Logos.
 
Illuka impacts on that invisible wall of force, yet snarls and continues her assault, clawed paws slashing and tearing at the unseen barrier.
 
“Sorry! Sorry! Take that as a no! Really didn’t mean to insult ya!” You babble desperately. Adina growls a few phrases to the other Dingo, who, somewhat mollified, whuffles darkly at you before ceasing her assault.
 
“NOT False-One. NEVER False-One.” Adina insists. “Would kill you myself if you not Alpha for Wiliwily.”
 
“Again, I’m REALLY sorry.” You insist. “Bella… the Griffon back there… She was Illian, though not by choice. I just thought maybe…”
 
Adina grunts. “Outlander beaten. Can see spirit. Many years spent beneath lash. Much pain. You… Give hope to Outlander. Mercy. You good Alpha, if thick as iron-rock.”
 
“I’ve been called worse.” You grin.
 
Adina meets your grin with another wordless grunt. “Can see what Wiliwily sees in you.”
 
“There’s that name again, what’s with that?” You ask, dropping your glyph.
 
“Desert Twister. Runs around without direction, makes lot of noise and disturbs tents.” Illuka answers shortly.
 
“L-leave off me Kobie…” You laugh, gripping your stomach as mirth overwhelms you.
 
 
“Whew… That was a thing.” You remark as the whirling mass of seemingly incomprehensible glyphs subsides in your mind.
 
“I’ll never get used to it.” Raoul admits, rubbing his temple with two fingers, blinking as if to clear his vision.
 
“Oi Em, how’re you coping over there?” You call out to the Gremlin, currently staring at a piece of crystal with a face like a thundercloud.
 
“Oh you DO remember my name!” Emmy spits. “Thought I was gonna be resigned to being called ‘Non-Platform Biological’ for the remainder!”
 
“Eh?” You grunt in confusion.
 
“The Network.” Raoul clarifies.
 
“Oh.” You respond. Bjorn had insisted on a curious type of meditation, after which you remembered surprisingly little, your mental focus insistent on a curious latticework of Resonant Glyphs. Your initial attempts to build on the lattice were clumsy, yet as time progressed, you found yourself weaving the glyphs together at a speed which amazed you. You stretched, your muscles surprisingly sore.
 
“Bugger me, I feel like I’ve gone ten rounds with a bunyip.” You declare.
 
“It’s been a long day.” Raoul admits.
 
“Day? It’s only what, midmor…” You pause as you notice the dim light of twilight beyond the workshop door.
 
“Fucks sake!” You exclaim, “We’ve wasted the day!”
 
“Wasted?” Emmy declares, gesturing with a mechandrite “Well fuck you too, I think we did pretty well!”
 
Following her gesture, your breath catches at the half-built structure lying on the floor. Circular in shape, concentric rings of varying substances worked inward from an intricately etched metal housing.
 
“We… did that?”
 
“And the ‘Non-Platform Biological’ says you’re welcome, though ‘Thanks’ seems to have fallen from your bleedin’ vocabulary, ya gits.”
 
“Girl did well.” Bjorn admits, patting the Gremlin on the arm. “Girl is competent.”
 
Emmy gives the Cogitator a look of pure poison. “Oh Maou, you’re so welcome… What?” She demands, looking at your slack jawed expression of shock.
 
“From a Cogitator?” You murmur. “That’s high fucking praise…”
 
“And he touched you…” Raoul adds. “…I’ve never seen Bjorn deliberately touch someone.”
 
“Really…” Emmy almost purrs, looking thoroughly smug.
 
“Well…” You groan, stretching again. “…I’m gonna go find food, and hopefully Blue feels nice enough to work on me back, I’m all over knots.”
 
“Same time tomorrow.” Raoul murmurs absently, stretching out with the ease of long practice.
 
“Yeh.” You grin, heading through the Door and almost colliding with Bella.
 
“Adam! Thank Maou!” The Griffon exclaims, a look of horror on her face.
 
“What? Whazzamadda?” You demand.
 
“Verily! Something is wrong with Blue! She sitteth yon, yet certes, she will not speak unto me!”
 
“Ah, she’s probably just being stroppy.” You chuckle, ambling towards the small figure on the other side of the rough square. As you approached, a worm of concern built in your guts. Blue wasn’t sulking… She was gripping her legs, rocking back and forth, a keening whine coming from her throat.
 
“Tyris be glorified, what did you do?!” You demanded, sprinting towards the Kobold, ignoring the pain in your legs.
 
“Naught! We were discussing hunting, yea, for ‘tis a noble and most pleasant pastime. Verily, Blue did express interest in mine methods, and thought I t’was indeed a gracious offer to show her in person.”
 
“Hunting…” You echoed. “You… took Blue for a fly?”
 
Bella makes a small sound of affirmation, and you launch into a string of epithets. In retrospect you were quite proud of yourself, you must have sworn for a full minute and a half without repeating yourself once.
 
“What is the matter?” Bella sobbed, nearing tears in worry.
 
“I’m a dense cunt who deserves a fuckin’ boot in the arse. Blue’s scared of heights.”
 
“Afraid of… Truly?”
 
You grunt in affirmation. “Takes all KINDS of bribery just to get her on a second floor balcony.”
 
“Oh! I abaseth myself before thee for my…”
 
“Yeh nah, this one’s on me, Bel.” You interject, bending down in front of the Kobold. “Blue… Blue… Hey… Can you hear me pup?”
 
The Kobold ceases her rocking, and looks up at you with tear-streaked azure eyes, before throwing her arms around you with a wail, her body shaking with sobs.
 
“F-Feathers took me up Hiiiiiiigh!” She keens into your shoulder.
 
“Feathers?!” Bella squawks in umbrage.
 
“Not now Bella.” You interject. “She didn’t know pup, and I’m sure she’s real sorry.”
 
“Certes!” Bella gushes “I beg thy forgiveness, yea, for e’en as much as…”
 
“Cuddles.” Blue harrumphs petulantly.
 
“W-What?”
 
“I get wing-cuddles, and Maybe… MAYBE… I forget you tried to stop me fuckin’ heart.”
 
“I-I… Do not get a choice in this, do I?” The Griffon murmurs.
 
“Not likely… Fair warning, she’s a fidgeter.”
 
“Mean.” Blue sulks, pinching you with clawed digits.
 
“Oh, now thou art timely with thy warnings.”
 
“Life’s a heretic like that…” You muse, unable to keep the grin from your face.
 
 
“You’re serious?” Cally exclaims.
 
“No word of a lie, Blue’s makin’ a bed outta Griffon wings as we speak.” You chuckle, draining your tankard and running a piece of coarse bread around your plate to soak up the rest of the gravy.
 
“Do you think she would mind if I…” The Koala muses hesitantly.
 
“She’s missed you Cal. Reckon we both have if truth be told.” You admit, putting a hand atop the Koala’s twin-thumbed appendage. Cally’s answering smile is warm.
 
“I don’t mean to be standoffish, it’s just…”
 
“It’s a funny old world Cal, but something today made me realize how much you really mean to Blue. Did she ever give you the ‘Be my friend or I’ll fight you’ speech?”
 
“I… No.” The Koala admits, her own mug paused halfway to her mouth. “I think… I mean we were friends from the beginning, there was never any thought about it.”
 
“Mmm. Me mates in Gibson were the same. First time we met, was like we’d known each other forever. Something special in that, I reckon.”
 
“You’re a very deep individual when you’ve had a few, Adam.” Cally giggles, leaning up to kiss you on the cheek.
 
“Got a reputation as a dumbarse to maintain, keep it under yer hat.”
 
“Well, prepare to be disappointed.” Cally snickers, pinching you cheekily on the backside as she leaves to find Blue.
 
You chuckle, signalling to Leperia for another tankard. Drinking it slowly, you took in the almost homely atmosphere of the common room. The White Rabbit, somehow, inexplicably, brooked absolutely no nonsense in her tavern, so the mood was subdued, polite… bloody pleasant if you had to put a word on it. In fact if not for the fact all the voices were female, you could almost close your eyes and pretend you were back in Port Fremantle. Would it be such a bad life here? Tyris knows you’d be damn well off on Hell’s payroll. No having to hide your relationship with Blue… You could even have children. Openly… Raise them together…
 
“Body of me… Now I feel human again.”
 
You started guiltily at the sound of Raoul’s voice, your face flushed, as if he could hear your Heretical thoughts, impossible as it was.
 
“There’s not a man alive who hasn’t thought it.” Raoul murmured indulgently… Perhaps not as impossible as you thought.
 
“Dunno what you’re talking about, Illustriousness.” You mumble into your Tankard.
 
“Of course.” Raoul accedes. “You haven’t seen Bjorn and Emmy since this afternoon, have you?
 
“No.” You admit. “I can check with Cal though, she’s been wanderin’ about more than me after all.”
 
“Might be an idea. Would you mind? After a bath and… well…”
 
“Don’t wanna know!” You blurted in near-horror.
 
“You really don’t. Angels are something else.” Raoul mused almost lazily, his eyes half-lidded and a smile on his face.
 
“M’goin.” You mutter, draining your tankard and hurrying from the common room. The cool desert breeze was refreshing as you crossed the courtyard to the simple house you were sharing with Phillip and Morrigan. You grunt a greeting to the pair as you pass them embracing on a thick fur rug before the low-burning fireplace. It is not returned, but you didn’t really expect it to be. Low voices give you pause in the act of reaching for the doorhandle.
 
“Then how did you do it?” That was Blue.
 
“Certes, from what I understand, I was imbued with some large amount of Hellhound essence. It filled mine veins with need and mine loins with fire and yea…”
 
“Oh stop, you’re getting me all antsy… Your dialect could drive a girl to distraction!” Cally, clearly.
 
“So what happened?”
 
“Thou wantest details most lewd and lurid?”
 
“Uh… Yeah…” Blue again.
 
“He… made use of those arts which yea, do eclipse mine understanding, rendering me powerless against him. Penetrated me did he then, yea, rupturing mine maide…”
 
“Waitwaitwait… Feathers, you’re telling me Boss bullied you out of your VIRGINITY?!”
 
“S-such was not his intent I am sure…”
 
“Ohhh Maou… Adorabear… this is REALLY not fair.”
 
“You’re telling me.”
 
“Certes, I do not mean to cause thee discom…”
 
“Oh bugger that. Did he put his mouth on you?”
 
“He kissed me, aye, and shocked was I that lips could be so ten…”
 
“Nonono… ON you…”
 
“Verily, have a care where thy paws fall, Kobold!” Bella screeches.
 
“Why, you getting as antsy as we are?” Blue giggles.
 
Right. You weren’t getting any answers out of anyone if you were to head in there now. In fact you probably would have significant trouble walking for the remainder of the week if you did. Turning on your heel, you left the house, your manhood no doubt looking at you askance as if seeking explanation for this betrayal. Ignoring little Adam, you meandered in the general direction of the workshop.
 
“Good a place as any to start, I reckon.” You mused to yourself.
 
The door was still open, dim light shining through.
 
“It doesn’t touch!” You heard Bjorn’s voice ring out “It d-doesn’t t-touuuuuuuuuuuuaahhhhhh.” His clipped denunciation trailing off into a low, lewd moan.
 
“Shhhh… Ye’ve worked really hard today, m’lord Cogitator… Surely yer lookin’ fer somethin’ to relax them tired muscles…” That was Emmy, you saw her waifish profile straddling something against the dim light behind them.
 
“Not Ideal. Does not follow Continuance protocol.” Bjorn objected desperately, his voice trembling.
 
“It’s okay… We’re in Thealiss so you get to be naughty… And I know you can’t do Resonance if you can’t concentrate… And I feel real good right now, don’t I mate?”
 
Well this was a conundrum. Technically this was Rape, a breach of the Pax, yet here in Thealiss? Who’s to say what counted? Mind you though, in more concrete terms, if Bjorn got a head of steam on him, he could literally tear the Gremlin apart, or worse. Did you really want to sit here and play guard duty as the Gremlin violated him though?
 
Ahh hell with it. Not your chancel, not your acolytes. You paused in the act of turning away, thinking for a moment. Emmy’s race was pretty well unheard of in the world as far as you were aware, and you weren’t entirely sure if she had any kind of predilections which could do the Cogitator a mischief… And then there was the fact that he was entirely capable of turning her into a wet smear on the far wall if he was of half a mind to.
 
Bugger. You were stuck here, weren’t you? Bjorn was able to turn Emmy’s disjointed and seemingly contradictory instructions into the instantly comprehensible ‘language’ of Resonant Glyphs, but without her instructions the project was trashed.
 
…Plus, despite her rampant thirst and abrasive nature, sod it, you LIKED the girl. Couldn’t see either of them come to harm. You sighed, easing yourself into the building and hiding in the shadows amongst the haphazardly piled materials.
 
“Orright Bjorn… Don’t fight me, ya git…” Emmy grumbles, the sound of hands fumbling at a belt, scraping of booted feet on the floor. “…Oh sodding… Here, this should calm you down…” Soft ‘zzzzzip’ of a clasp-locker being hastily undone, and you saw Emmy’s silhouette grab the Cogitators hands, pressing them to her chest.
 
“Soft.” Bjorn remarked, almost thoughtfully.
 
“Hehehehe… I might be… but SOMETHING definitely isn’t.” The Gremlin remarked smugly. More sounds of clothing being removed. “Yeah… There’s the candy baby’s lookin’ for… Now don’t worry M’lord Cogitator, I’ll take real good care of y…”
 
“Phase one of Ritual non-standard. Advise girl to re-examine doctrines for optimal future performance.” Bjorn remarked in an almost chiding tone.
 
“Phase… What? What are you…”
 
“Phase two salvageable. Stand by.”
 
“What are you… Whoa! Hold on n…” Emmy cried, and you saw the dumpy man flip the diminutive Mamono onto her back. “…Hey! This isn’t…”
 
“We are absent the garbs of the penitent. All Glory to the Most High.”
 
“E-easy there, no need to ruhhAAAAAhhhhhh Oh Maou! Easy! Easy!” Emmy begs, yet her voice is tinged with arousal. “…Oh Maou! G-go slow… Please! It’s been a wh-whOOOOOOHhhhhhh My Goddess!”
 
Bjorn does not answer, giving regular, nasal grunts as he mechanically thrusts at the Gremlin who is desperately clinging to his shoulders as her body is tossed about beneath his movements.
 
“P-please! I’m gonna come too faaaahhhaaaaaaaa!” Emmy squeals, her legs locking about the Cogitator’s waist as he continues to pound at her, his movements mathematically precise… Tyris be merciful, you could set a clock to the precisely rhythmic slapping of his hips impacting on the slight mamono beneath him.
 
“Oh! Oh! Oh! W-where did you… Oh! Hell’s throne, I’m…” Emmy’s squeal is long and shuddering as orgasm rocks her again.
 
“Phase two… nearing completion…” Bjorn pants.
 
“Yes! YEEEESSSSSSS!” The gremlin howls, and Bjorn gives one final thrust, his dumpy body shaking with his own release.
 
“Vocalizations not required. Rite is concluded. Time marker for rest period approaching. I shall retire.”
 
“Ohhhh… Yeah… C’mere…” Emmy groans languidly, holding out her arms, beckoning for the Cogitator to return to her embrace. Bjorn ignores her supplication however, standing and re-fastening his clothes.
 
“Oi! Where ya goin’?” The Gremlin demands, propping herself up on her elbows.
 
“Rest is required for satisfactory application of analysis. Recommend girl retires to ensure peak efficiency when work resumes.” Bjorn answers, not deigning to face her. You hold your breath as he passes you, praying he doesn’t turn…
 
Bjorn pauses. “Wilder Resonant, Recognised. Repeat previous instruction. Tomorrows Labour will be intensive.”
 
You curse under your breath. “Yeh. Righto mate.” You sigh resignedly. Bjorn nods, exiting without further comment.
 
“SKIPPY!” Emmy snarls, “GET ‘ERE!”
 
“Not what you were expecting?” You chuckle, standing from behind the pile and walking over to the Gremlin. “Tyris Em, put yer gear on.”
 
Emmy glares at you, still unashamedly naked where she half-sprawls upon the floor, the light of a pile of nearby mana-crystals providing the illumination you had noticed earlier. She raises a hand, flipping a gesture at you, her index and middle finger forming a ‘V’. You had no idea as to its significance, but you guessed that it was hardly a benediction.
 
“Itch scratched then?”
 
“Fuck you!” The Gremlin snaps “I wanted cuddles! What was all that bullshit about Rites and Phases and w-why did he just walk off? Was I… Bad?”
 
“Em…” You sigh, squatting down next to the Gremlin. “…That was Continuance.”
 
The Gremlin looks at you in utter horror. “That was… Maou’s Arse! I’ve met MACHINES that had more warmth!”
 
“Effective though…” You smirk mirthlessly, gesturing at her legs which are still trembling slightly in the aftermath. Truth be told you had to agree, there was nothing erotic or even loving in Bjorn’s actions. He was enacting a protocol. Following a procedure. There was nothing of Humanity in it. “…That’s Cogitators for you. Perfect efficiency, no deviation from procedure. They say Tony, Baron Thomas’s Cogitator is so precise in his day-to-day duties that his feet fall in the same place every day.”
 
“Autists like routine, that’s no shock… But… That’s what humans do to each other now?”
 
“Well, most of us aren’t as precise as Bjorn there, but…” You quip, attempting to inject some levity into your reply and largely failing. “…yeah.”
 
The Gremlin hugs her knees to her chest, pulling her shed coverall around her with a troubled expression on her face. “C-could you carry me to me exo, Skip? I… I don’t think I can walk right now.”
 
“I’m not givin’ ya round two…” You joke gently. The Gremlin shakes her head vehemently.
 
“I don’t want it.”
 
“That’s a change.”
 
Emmy holds her arms out to you and you scoop her waifish form up in your arms. “First, fuck you, ya git.” She chides with a slap to your chest. “Second, that fuckin’ Sperg shagged me into th’bloody floor, I don’t even wanna think about dealin’ with your tree-trunk.”
 
“Must you?” You groan, blushing self-consciously.
 
“Third… I… That didn’t feel… good.”
 
“You could have told him to stop.” You remark, slight concern on your face. Emmy shakes her head, gripping your shirt as she wipes unshed tears from her eyes.
 
“He had me comin’ like a belt-fed mortar, won’t lie. I mean, sure, the whole pretend ‘is arse is a metronome thing’s not what I’m used to but shit. I’m a Gremlin, innit? I can deal with Mechanical. What hurt was when he just… Left… like it didn’t mean anything. Like I didn’t mean anything.”
 
“He’s a Cogitator, Em. Who knows if anything’s ever meant anything to him? What’s beyond the learned responses is anyone’s guess…” You offer, putting the Gremlin into the weird ‘seat’ of her curious contraption. “…But it’s better than the alternative. Before they take them for training, some candidates can barely speak, it’s like they don’t even know you’re there. We had one in the Abbey where I grew up, nearly beat another kid to death because he messed something up, was like he didn’t even know what he was doing.”
 
“I thought it’d be cured by now…” Emmy sniffles, giving a slight whimper as her chair fits itself to her, whirring to life.
 
“Who knows if it’s something we’re supposed to cure?” You offer prosaically, not really knowing what else to say. “The Doctrines of Tyris do say that they’re Called by The God for the role.”
 
“You don’t sound like you believe that.”
 
“You won’t catch me admitting it outside Thealiss, but the Doctrines also say God-Before-Tyris created the world, and there’s a fuckoff-huge snake in the river back home which is a big middle finger to that claim.”
 
“You met Wagyl?!” Emmy exclaims in surprised interest.
 
“Tell ya about it tomorrow. You gonna be orright?’
 
“Yeah. Gonna go cry into Telly’s tits and make her pamper me.” The Gremlin replies with a wan smile.
 
You blink at that. “You’re game. Sleep well Em.”
 
“You too Skip, and thanks for not being a COMPLETE Gormer about the whole thing.”
 
“Happens on occasion…” You drawl, not rising to the bait, waving to the Gremlin as you turn back towards Philip’s simple abode.
 
 
“Ow! Fuck!” You hiss, grabbing your knee as it impacts against a low-lying bench with a dull ‘thunk’. Biting back curses, you limp into the house. Trying to be as subtle as possible, you tiptoe up the hallway, cracking the door to ‘your’ room and peeking inside.
 
Bella is sprawled on her back, her arms and wings covering the entirety of the bed and some distance to either side for good measure. Cally and Blue are each cuddled into the soft feathers of a wing’s underside, all of them breathing with the deep, peaceful rhythm of sleep.
 
“Looks like I’m not gonna fit. Thanks girls.” you mutter under your breath, turning and pulling the door closed behind you. Maybe Leperia had a spare room at the Tav…
 
“Boss. Get back here.” Blue’s sleepy voice demanded.
 
“Shoulda known I couldn’t fool your nose pup. Not a lot of room in there though…” You remark, opening the door.
 
“W’ll finda spot.” Cally mumbles.
 
“Certes.” Bella yawns.
 
“You girls didn’t stay up on my account did you?”
 
“Can’t hear you boss, Sleeping. Can I have a cuddle now?” Blue rejoined, beckoning at you presumptively. Shaking your head, you strip off your shirt and trousers, making a noise of surprise as six pairs of arms and two wings wrap themselves around you.
 
“No funny business.” You order with a snicker.
 
“Thou smell’st of regret and confusion. Yea, also Gremlin…” Bella remarks.
 
“Emmy had an adventure, didn’t go to plan.”
 
“With you?” Blue demands, an Azure eye cracking to look at you seriously.
 
“Would I push my luck like that pup?” you chide, patting the Kobold’s head gently. “No. She’s… coming to realize just how much the world’s changed since her time, I think. How much we’ve changed, humans I mean.”
 
“Verily, the changes of thy people hath been on the whole most welcome as I see it, Adam.” Bella states with confusion, her lurid golden eyes almost luminescent in the dark.
 
“Not surprising, I get the feeling you didn’t exactly see us at our best.” You admit, patting the Griffon’s headfeathers without thinking. Both of you freeze as you realize what had just occurred, then Bella makes a small noise of contentment, pushing into your hand.
 
“You’re right, there isn’t much room.” Cally admits, her head poking over Bella’s torso to regard you studyingly.
 
“Yeh, I’ll see if…”
 
“Pish.” The Koala sniffs dismissively, presumptively plopping her short frame atop your torso and nuzzling into your chest.
 
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss this…” You chuckle thoughtfully.
 
“Oh? Are you suuuure you’re that tired?” Cally drawls wickedly.
 
“Yes.” You declare, removing your hand from Bella’s head, eliciting a noise of sulking objection from the Griffon, before cupping Cally’s cheek and rubbing her soft, grey-furred ears.
 
“Sometimes you’re no fun.” the Koala complains, yet resumes her position atop your torso.
 
“The God’ll forgive me… Oh… Blue, where’s yer Dingoes?”
 
“Around.” Blue yawns absently.
 
“Not very good guards.”
 
“Y’kidding? What kind of guards let everybody know they’re there boss?”
 
“Guess I never thought about it like that…” You admit as sleep weighs heavily on your eyelids.
 
 
“Are you ABSOLUTELY sure?” Emmy insists.
 
“Girl has already received confirmation. Stand ready to assis…”
 
The Gremlin glares at the Cogitator. “Don’t fuck with me Spergy, if there’s even the slightest chance of…”
 
“Mathematics is a Boolean variable. Stand ready to assist.”
 
“You’re not gonna get a fight outta him Em.” You murmur gently, squeezing the Gremlin’s hand.
 
“Would you believe he’s acting like NOTHING happened last night?”
 
“Eh? What happened last night?” Raoul enquires, overhearing.
 
“Nothing.” Emmy replied quickly.
 
“Girl made non-standard initiation of Continuance.” Bjorn remarked in the same deadpan tone.
 
“You…” Raoul began, pointing between the Gremlin and the Cogitator as if he scarcely believed it. “Oh… Oh dear. Nobody’s injured?”
 
“Stung me pride a bit, plus I’m firmly convinced yer all fuckin’ berks now.” Emmy mumbled reluctantly.
 
“Mmm. Well. Lesson learned.” Raoul remarked with a slight sigh, whether of resignation or relief you couldn’t tell.
 
Emmy turned to him, hands on her hips, the mechandrites of her exo mimicking the motion. You bit back a laugh at the unintended comedy. “Howd’ya mean, Blondie?” Emmy demands.
 
“He could have killed you.”
 
The Gremlin stares at Raoul in shock. “If he’s that sodding dangerous why’re you lettin’ him wander around like he owns the place?”
 
“Because it’s Hell’s problem. Not mine. Princess Telia made the demand, I merely fulfilled it. If I had demanded a legion of Hell’s most potent Demons be brought into Magisterium, who would be responsible for their actions? Me. I am LORD DUMAT, LEFT HAND OF THE GOD, AND I GROW WEARY OF BEING TREATED AS HELL’S LACKEY.” The last delivered in an echoing roar, his eyes blazing with golden light as Angelic power surged from him. Emmy recoiled, her mechandrites forming instinctively into those intimidating cannons.
 
“Illustriousness!” You cry warningly “Wanna dial it back a few hundred notches? Don’t wanna break all yesterday’s work.”
 
Raoul turned his blazing gaze on you, and you felt that POWER wash over you. Then, as if by some titanic force of will, he squeezed his eyes shut, tamping down the energy radiating from him.
 
“Sorry… I’m… Sorry…” Raoul grunted, passing a hand over his face wearily. “It was… Something of a late night last night.”
 
“Analysis reveals…” Bjorn began, looking with the same unconcerned expression at the Resonant-come-Angelic Lord.
 
“Break. Discontinue Analysis. Purge.” Raoul barked at the Cogitator.
 
“Compliance.” Bjorn replied as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
 
“Well that was a fuckin’ auspicious start.” You grumble. “C’mon, let’s get this finished before one of us does a fuckin’ violence on someone.”
 
“Skip, sometimes I think you’re not as dense as you act.” Emmy remarks, her mechandrites returning to the less-threatening manipulators.
 
“Platforms will begin networking protocols. Stack vote in thirty seconds.” Bjorn instructed. You took a deep breath, summoning the series of glyphs you had meditated upon the previous day. You felt your awareness of your surroundings begin to drift away… yet today there was a new addition. A strange, choral note rang through your mind, maddeningly distracting, causing your hold on the glyphs to slip.
 
“Oi Bjorn, reckon you could keep the delightful fuckin’ singing down a bit mate?” You grate through clenched teeth.
 
“Tyris Fuck!” Raoul cursed, stunning you with the uncharacteristic expletive. “That’s me… Hold on… I’m trying…”
 
Gradually, the note faded until it no longer threatened your concentration. “Stack vote in ten, nine, eight, seven…”
 
 
“Non-Platform Biological will apply nanolathe to G8…” You heard yourself remark in a curious monotone.
 
“Yeh Skip… Keep yer pants on… Or don’t… In fact it’s pretty warm, why don’t you take them off?”
 
”Comply.”
 
“Hell’s Throne. If Telly ever, EVER asks me to work with Resonants again…” You heard the Gremlin mutter as her mechandrites performed some kind of infinitesimally precise task. Funny. You didn’t remember being able to see what was happening yesterday. For a moment you almost panicked, yet… you felt some other part of your mind continuing to work on the latticework of glyphs, unceasing, regardless of your apparent separation.
 
“I’m really not sure I like where this is headed” That now-almost familiar dry voice echoed within the vaults of your consciousness.
 
“You again?” You remark. ”You’d better not sod this up, there are lives riding on it!”
 
“Haven’t we grown brash?” The voice chuckles. ”I know the necessity of your task. It will, however, bring about an eventuality which I… Do not look forward to.”
 
“How do you mean?”
 
”Don’t concern yourself. Just remember, a hole, once torn, even if patched, is easier opened again.”
 
”By what?”
 
”Nothing you will ever need to worry about…”
 
”Then why tell me?”
 
The voice paused. ”I’m not sure… Maybe I just needed to hear myself say it out loud.”
 
“Are you ever going to tell me who you are?” You demanded in frustration.
 
”By the time it makes sense to you, it won’t matter any more.” The voice replied enigmatically.
 
”As much as I love our little talks, ya witty cunt, did you have a point or are ya just starved fer conversation?”
 
A formless chuckle at that. “You remind me so much of him… Now I see where he gets it from.”
 
“What?”
 
“I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise… Don’t worry, it’s a pleasant one.” The voice chuckled. “That being said, the following days may result in some hard choices for you. You’ve a weight upon your shoulders, and every shrug sends ripples through reality.”
 
“I’m Resonant. Get the feeling it comes with the territory.”
 
“So much like him… Just remember, your Will is yours, as are the choices you make. Neither Heaven nor Hell can gainsay you… The God be with you Adam. I cannot tell if we shall speak again…”
 
The harsh cawing of a raven cuts through your consciousness as you return to reality.
 
“…But what about if.” Emmy laments, staring at you.
 
“The shock alone is going to be… Oh… Adam…” Raoul trails off, noticing your return to cognizance. “…Now I want you to listen to me.”
 
“Give a bloke a second…” You groan, raising your hand to your forehead, only to have a charred stump smear across your face. “AAAAAHHHHH!” You scream. “TYRIS FUCK! ME HAND! WHAT HAPPENED TO ME FUCKIN’ HAND!?”
 
“Calm down!” Raoul orders. “I can fix it! Just breathe… I can’t work while you’re flailing about!”
 
Screwing your eyes shut, you force yourself to take a deep, sobering breath, holding out the stump in the general direction of where you assumed Raoul to be.
 
“…I’ll thank you not to punch me in the face with it.” Raoul’s slightly miffed voice rejoins. A chuckle spilled involuntarily from your mouth, and your arm felt strangely warm. You opened your eyes and gasped.
 
A golden light was surrounding the ruined mess that used to be your left hand. Slowly, it began to take form, flesh and muscle regenerating at an amazing speed, soft, pink skin spreading across it, until it was again whole, pale and unmarked as the most pampered noble’s.
 
“Can’t do much for the conditioning, I’m afraid, you’re going to get a lot of blisters working those callouses back.”
 
“Thank The God for you, Illustriousness!” You gush in genuine gratitude. “Now what the sodding hell happened?”
 
“Imperfection along the final join.” Bjorn interjected. “Platform 4RB1TR1U5 was unable to raise protective barrier in time to prevent injury. Reflexes surprisingly rapid, however, managed to save cranial integrity by sacrificing hand.”
 
“Caught it like a fuckin’ ninja!” Emmy crowed, her eyes glowing with jubilant praise. “…Course, then it did burn yer hand clean off…”
 
“Noticed that.” You drawl drily. “Wait… Final join. So we’re done then?”
 
“And dusted, skip.” Emmy replies smugly, gesturing to the circular device which now takes up a large amount of the warehouse floor. You marvel at the artisanship present. Two days to create nothing short of a miracle…
 
“Emmy…” You declare, striding up to the Gremlin and taking ahold of her by her waifish shoulders “…Yer fuckin’ tops.” You pull the Gremlin towards you, kissing her soundly.
 
“Oh… Bloody ‘eck…” Emmy blusters, blushing to the roots of her hair.
 
“Now I think we all deserve to engage in an ancient Australian custom.”
 
“Drink until we can’t stand up?” Emmy giggles demurely, seemingly not able to meet your eyes.
 
“I was gonna say ‘Fuck like rabbits on a full moon’ but that’s probably a better option…” You concede jokingly.
 
“Now hold the phon…”
 
“Nope, if drinking’s what yer after, then drinking we shall do, and this time the girls are here to join us.” You declare presumptively.
 
“As amusing as that sounds, I think I’ll pass. I have to get Bjorn back to Magisterium. I don’t think I want him confronted by Wonderland refugees. Wouldn’t help to have him reduce half of them to paste before they realize he’s not for fun. I’ll be back to make sure everything goes to plan. Besides, I promised Heaven’s assistance, and I’ll be damned if I give Hell the satisfaction of a broken oath.”
 
“Pleasure working with you, yer Illustriousness.” You offer expansively, bowing low. Raoul chuckles, placing his hand over his breast and bending slightly from the waist.
 
“Bjorn, follow. We return.” He states shortly.
 
“Compliance.” The Cogitator remarks. “Platform.” He murmurs, giving you the faintest glance. “…Girl.
 
Funny, you could have SWORN his eyes lingered upon the Gremlin there… No, couldn’t be.
 
You kept the smile on your face, waving pleasantly as the two resonants left the warehouse.
 
“Hey Skip… I wasn’t actually serious about the…”
 
“Listen to me Em!” You hiss, your demeanour changed in an instant. “I don’t know what’s happening but I smell some SERIOUS fuckery in the air. Whatever happens from here on out, stick to Her Excellency like a damn lamprey.”
 
“O-orright…” The gremlin concedes, her face a mask of incomprehension “…but why?”
 
“Because I worked too damn hard getting you out of The Gap for you to get caught in the crossfire… Plus. Kinda like you, kid.”
 
“Don’t call me kid.” Emmy mumbles, but her lips can’t help but smile as she continues to demurely avoid your gaze.
 
 
“Yer Excellency? Whereareya?” You call wearily, sticking your head into the rear rooms of the tavern. Even the short walk from Emmy’s workshop had revealed how taxing the day had been on you, and this fruitless searching wasn’t helping.
 
“Mister Adam!” A disembodied voice intruded, the floating head of one of the adolescent cheshire quintuplets meeting your surprised gaze.
“Are you…
“…Lost…”
“…Or Something?”
You force a smile. “Gudday girls.” you greet the cheshires, now floating around your head with curious looks on their innocent young faces. “I’m looking for her Excellency… er, Telia. Seen her about?”
 
“We think…”
“…The White Queen…”
“…Is still through there…”
“…She’s been in there a while.” The cheshires conclude, pointing to a thick wooden door at the end of the hallway.
 
“Thanks girls. Must dash, don’t get up to too much trouble, yeh?”
 
The Cheshires share smug smiles between them before popping from existence, the ghost of their smiles the last image to fade. You wonder if that idiosyncrasy was universal amongst their kind or whether it was just a shitmouse kid thing.
 
Huh… You’d never seen this room before. Wonder what it was?
 
“Your Excellency? Y’in her… OH SWEET TYRIS!” You exclaim, staring bug-eyed into the dim, steamy room before you before frantically averting your eyes “Sorry! I’ll go…”
 
“And will you have somehow have seen me less naked for leaving, Adam?” Telia’s rich voice filled the air, her carmine eyes seeming to glow in the dim light of the bath where she stood, naked and shameless, a pair of succubi likewise displaying a distinctly noticeable lack of attire sponging her achingly perfect form down, anointing her body here and there with oils and unguents you couldn’t begin to name. “Now come in and close the door, you’re letting the steam out.”
 
Swallowing, you did as bid, closing the door behind you. An additional two Succubi appeared as if from nowhere, grasping presumptively at your clothing.
 
“Oi! Gerroutofit…” You growled, pushing hands away.
 
“Oh stop, Adam.” Telia sighed, “It’s only fair, besides, you’ll sweat through your clothes in no time flat otherwise, and you smell bad enough as it is.”
 
“Yeh?” You murmur, lifting your arm slightly and taking a whiff. I mean sure, you smelled like dust and sweat but that was hardly unusual.
 
“We won’t bite…” One of the succubi teased with a naughty smile, hands upon your clothes once again. “…Well, unless you ask us to.”
 
“Behave…” Telia chided gently, but her own mouth curved into a smirk, forked tongue licking at her elegantly pointed eye-teeth.
 
“So.” Telia continued as if the sight of you being rapidly divested of your clothing while being bathed and oiled by her attendants was the most natural thing in the world. “What can I do for you, Resonant?”
 
“Well, couple things really. Firstly and most importantly, the thingumy’s finished.”
 
“Hmm?”
 
“You know, the sodding great whatever we’ve been building to kick a hole in reality.” You continued, feeling somewhat self-conscious as the succubi began laving your body with water and sponges.
 
“Oh! Heh… How droll. Thank you Adam. I shall begin arrangements immediately.”
 
“Yer welcome. Now. Blue…”
 
“Oh?” Telia quipped, arching her back deliciously as the succubi poured water over her gravity-defying bust. You swallowed in a mouth suddenly dry, trying not to stare hungrily at the Lilim and praying little Adam didn’t do anything stupid.
 
“Yeh. She’s my indentured. Y’can’t just go nicking her like that.”
 
“I am sorry Adam, but time was of the essence. Ducks in a row and all that.” Telia mused, stepping from between the succubi langouriously and pacing slowly, elegantly towards you, her movements practiced, sultry. “I’m sure you can forgive a tiny lapse of protocol… for the sake of something SO important…” She was almost close enough to touch, and your eyes helplessly drank in her alien beauty, her chiropteran wings spreading and shaking slightly to rid themselves of excess water “…I’m EVER so grateful for your understanding.”
 
“Y’did this deliberately, didn’tcha?” You grumble, your face flaming with embarrassment as your traitorous body begins to respond to her undeniably alluring presence.
 
“What’s that?” Telia giggled, a slender, delicate finger held playfully between her teeth.
 
“Made sure I’d find ya here… Take the wind out me sails, so to speak.”
 
“You know you’re right! You would be a lot more intimidating without a certain… intruding presence souring your chastisement…” Telia mused, glancing down at your erect member. “…You know there are a number of Incubi who would be put to shame over…”
 
“Please don’t…” You near-beg.
 
“Make him beg some more, Highness…” One of the succubi grinned, and you recognised her as the one who had been socked in the mouth by the dingoes the previous day.
 
“Bucket could use a new friend…” You spat beneath your breath, the Succubi and Lilim sharing looks of utter incomprehension at your response.
 
“I’m only teasing Adam…” Telia chuckled. “…We’ll speak further later, I’m sure.”
 
“Excellency.” You accede, ducking your head and gently pushing a succubus out of the way as you reached out to snag your pants.
 
“What’s the rush?” The Succubus drawled, taking your hand and pressing it to a firm yet yielding breast. Your heart hammered in your chest as you removed your hand from her grip, stepping past her slightly and delivering a ringing swat with your open hand to her rounded backside. Her cry was a mixture of surprise and lewd pleasure, and she stared at you with smouldering eyes.
 
“So help me Tyris I will sit the lot of you the fuck down…” You warn, calling upon the Logos and feeling it respond.
 
“Highness…” The succubus lamented, squirming her thighs together with frustration and arousal.
 
“Don’t tease my attendants Adam, or I’ll let them off their leashes, so to speak…” Telia chided, a hard, warning edge to her voice.
 
“We’ll talk later, Excellency.” You echoed, scrambling into your pants and grabbing the remainder of your clothes, ducking your head again before near-fleeing from the room.
 
“Boss!” Blue exclaims, running over as you enter the taproom, pulling your shirt roughly over your head. “Why’re you all wet? If you were gonna take a bath you could have brought me and… Boss… why are you hard?”
 
“Hell’s bloody politics.” you grumble, giving the Kobold a brief cuddle with one arm, kissing the top of her head.
 
“Did Princess Tittywings…” Blue growls, her eyes narrowing.
 
“No Blue…” You assure the Kobold “…was just me head she was fucking with.”
 
“Good. Because it’d be a real shame if her agreement with the Dingoes suddenly went all to smash.”
 
“Blue!” You exclaim in amused surprise.
 
“She is an ambassador at the moment Adam, Recognised by the Council of Matriarchs and everything…” Cally quipped with a cheeky grin, folding one rounded leg over the other as she turned on her seat to face you.
 
“Why did I ever buy that bloody wagon…” You laugh helplessly, hugging the Koala and gratefully accepting seat and cool cider.
 
 
“You’re after what?” Cally asked in confusion, tapping absently at the space next to her cards.
 
“Bit of History on Theallis… I mean if we’re gonna punch a hole in things, why here?” You clarify, studying your hand. “…Yeah, hit me.”
 
“Well I dunno about now, three millennia off the marker and all…” Emmy began, absently flicking cards at yourself and the Koala. “…But s’why the Lodges o’History set up the research facility here in the ruins of the old satellite base… ‘The Gap’, as yez call it. They got… anomalies… weird glimpses into other worlds. Hell wanted to know what they were having a bush-chook at, hence me.”
 
“Verily… What doth these icons portend?” Bella whispered to Blue, holding her cards out to the Kobold. Blue’s eyes went very wide, and she started making strangled noises in her throat.
 
“Fold…” Blue sulked, throwing her cards onto the table. You and Cally shared a look, wordlessly placing your own cards down.
 
“Again?!” Emmy exclaimed, throwing her own cards down.
 
“Hath I given offence?” Bella asked, her wings shifting as she studied the cards held clumsily in her taloned forelimbs.
 
“No Feathers… You just keep winning…” Blue lamented, pulling the Griffon’s talons down to display the cards. “Look at this! A Full Chancel in Swords!”
 
“But verily, I simply place the pretty ones together… this seems to be an oddly simple game.” Bella answers confusedly.
 
“Boss I don’ wanna play no more.” Blue laments with a slightly sick expression.
 
“Poor puppy…” you chuckle, patting the Kobold’s head comfortingly. “…So Telia’s telling the truth? This is just the easiest place to punch a hole?”
 
“As I said Adam, the ease of transition was why Thealiss was formed. If passage to Hell is so simple, why not other realms?” Cally replied with a shrug.
 
“Probably doesn’t hurt it’s months outta the way for anyone who wants to get muscular… I’d put a deep-sea on that bein’ why Chief-Bitch-Wingaling stuck poor Bella there. Humans started complainin’ that the white-shirts got too expensive to keep fed.” Emmy added, jerking a casual thumb at the Griffon.
 
“Verily…” Bella conceded, the word little more than a small, hurt sound.
 
“Now don’t you start!” Emmy chided vociferously, throwing her arms about the Griffon in an attempt at comfort, though the difference in their statures did look slightly comical. “There are flights in the Carpathians, I’m sure of it… Well… assuming they learned to get along with the Wamphyr…”
 
“Carpathians? Wamphyr?” You echo confusedly
 
“Oh bollocks…” Emmy cursed, plopping back into her chair, a hand on her small chin in thought. “…The Carpathians are a mountain range in eastern Europe… What’s that now…”
 
“They just call it the Continent.” The Vampire Nasha murmurs as she materializes from mist in a nearby shaded corner of the taproom. “As for Wamphyr, that’s us… Well, they’re the ‘old blood’, poncy gits.”
 
“How old ARE you, fangs?” Blue demands. “You and cheeky seem to know a lotta stuff about the olden times.”
 
“Cheeky?!” Emmy echoes in slight umbrage. “You’re gutsy, pupper.”
 
“I’m cute and I’m the favourite…” Blue smiles smugly, before barking a brief phrase. “…And I’ve got these two.”
 
“These two wha… Maou’s tits!” Emmy exclaims, suddenly flanked by the two imposing Dingoes who seem to have appeared as if from thin air. The Dingoes look at the Gremlin for a moment before returning their attention to Blue.
 
“Not here to fight your…” A weird growling phrase “…Wiliwily knows this.”
 
“Illukaaaa…” Blue wheedles, giving the Dingo her most devastating look.
 
“If I had pup like you…” Iluka chides, folding her paws across her chest “…I put over knee for presuming.”
 
“Yes…” You agree, looking impassively at the Kobold.
 
“I’ll be good.” Blue concedes, wriggling slightly in her chair with embarrassment.
 
Adina attempts to suppress an amused grin. “Him good Alpha.” She sniffs the air briefly. “What is drink?”
 
“Wongi and Bush-Apple cider. S’good shit.” You reply. The Dingo grunts, jerking her head to her companion before heading over to the bar.
 
“…Well she doesn’t exactly have an account, I suppose I can put it on Freeman Adam’s tab though…” You hear Leperia muse thoughtfully.
 
“Of bloody course…” You groan, taking another drink.
 
“Love you Boss?” Blue offers hesitantly, fixing you with her most winsome smile.
 
“Isn’t this lovely?” A new voice intrudes, a garishly dressed woman plopping herself down at the table. “The anticipation of a new world, the formation of new friendships, and nobody doing violence on each other.”
 
“Yeh sorry, who’re you?” You ask with a slight snippiness at the unexpected addition to your table. You study the woman, her purple hair and feral eyes belying her non-human origins. Tyris… Her clothes were just TERRIBLE. The Australs weren’t known for being the hub of high fashion, but you’d have to be very drunk to be convinced to put on something similar. Your eyes pan up, and you suck breath through your teeth as you shove yourself back from the table, desperately calling on the Logos.
 
“MATANGO!” you roar, pointing at the fleshy gills on the underside of the creature’s ‘Hat’.
 
“Where?” The new addition blurts in astonishment, turning this way and that.
 
“Adam… No… Please… For the Love of Maou… Sit down before you do something phenomenally stupid.” Cally groans, gripping your sleeve with one twin-thumbed hand and pinching the bridge of her nose with the other.
 
“Me?!” The new addition huffs. “Well I NEVER! And here I was thinking that I’d spied a human whose brain hadn’t rotted from millennia of mindless rote tradition.”
 
“Good luck with that…” Nasha interjects, sipping from a large goblet, the expression on her face one of displeasure as she studies the cup disappointedly.
 
“I think you owe someone an apology…” Cally sighs.
 
“Ah Bollocks…” You groan. “…Madame, You’ve got my sincerest apologies. I’ve never seen anything with gills on its head that wasn’t a plague birther. Please, let me buy you a couple to apologise.”
 
“That cider does look good…” The Mamono concedes. “…I’ll write it off to having a silicate entity using your neuropathy as a repeater station.”
 
You glance in puzzlement at Cally, who merely spreads her hands in confusion. Emmy meanwhile, has collapsed from her chair in sheer mirth, holding her stomach as she howls with laughter.
 
“Y-you hatters are fuckin’ tops…” Emmy gasps.
 
“Hatters?” You echo.
 
“Mmm…” The new addition mumbles with a smug smile, pulling gently at the fleshy, garishly coloured cap atop its head you had mistaken for a hat previously. “…Although I would ask that you call me Wendy.”
 
“Wendy…” You echo. “…I’ll admit, I’m surprised, the other Wonderlanders I’ve met all have Zipangan names.”
 
“And where’s the fun in being like everyone else?” Wendy asks pointedly, crossing her legs elegantly as she takes the cider from the (oddly deferential) Leperia, the white rabbit almost genuflecting as she returns behind the bar.
 
“So whadda you do?” Blue blurts without hesitation. “I mean Fluffy-ears keeps getting time messed up, and the kitties bounce ‘round the shop, and the Dragons with the mouthy things make the world go wonky…”
 
“…How do you know all this pup?” You ask incredulously.
 
“What, you think I sat on me thumbs while you were doing things with cheeky and blondie?” Blue quips cheekily “C’mon Boss…”
 
“Pointed question, to be sure.” Wendy accedes, taking a drink from her tankard before smoothing the front of her costume. “When.” She begins, pointing to the White Rabbit behind the bar. “Where.” She continues, gesturing to where the cheshires are playing the curious game of ‘Go’, black and white stones clacking on the wooden boards. “How.” She concludes, placing an oddly elegant hand upon her own chest. “I can see possibility, choices, the paths that reality takes…”
 
“…So you knew I’d make the mistake earlier?” You drawl, resting your cheek on your palm as you look levelly at the Hatter.
 
“…Also that I’d get a free drink out of it…” Wendy smiles smugly.
 
You laugh helplessly. “Gotta pay that I guess…”
 
“Mmmhmm… Do you want to see?”
 
“Sorry?”
 
“Reality.” Wendy repeated, leaning forward and looking at you with an unreadable expression “Do you want to see it?”
 
“Adam…” Cally murmured warningly “…There’s a reason they’re called ‘Mad’ Hatters… Mortal minds aren’t equipped to deal with seeing reality unfettered… I can’t say you’ll be able to see it and remain sane.”
 
“Still Cal…” You reason, “…That’s a hard offer to pass up, and Tyris knows my brain’s taken a battering before without packing it in.”
 
“You spent three days strapped to a bed when you found out Raoul was Lord Dumat.” Cally reminds you, folding her arms over her ample bust.
 
“And two of those were unnecessary.” You drawl in reply, reaching over and rubbing one of Blue’s tawny-furred ears.
 
“Are you EVER gonna let me live that down Boss?” Blue laments self consciously, squirming in her chair.
 
“You ever gonna give up on Bucket jokes?”
 
“S’different…” The Kobold sulks adorably.
 
You laugh, turning back to the Hatter. “Sure Wendy. I’ll have a squiz.”
 
“Goody Gumdrops.” The Hatter declares, clapping her hands with pleasure, before drawing what appears to be an ornate teakettle from seemingly nowhere.
 
“The fuck did that come from?” You blurt in astonishment.
 
Wendy opens her mouth, then cocks her head to the side slightly, as if listening to something almost too soft to hear. Turning back to you with a wry grin, she shakes her head, her mouth curving in a mysterious smile.
 
“Why do you ask questions you’re not going to believe the answer to?”
 
“Did you just…”
 
“Shh. Gotta get the brew juuuuust right.” Wendy interrupts, holding an imperious finger in front of your face.
 
“How long’s that gonna take?”
 
“How long’s a peice of string?”
 
Your mouth works fishlike for a moment, before your attention is caught by a nauseous grunt from Nasha, who has fished something out of her goblet and is looking at it in horror.
 
“Marsupial mouse…” Nasha hisses to herself. “…I am going to drain that succubus dry and whip her through the streets with her own intestines…”
 
A slow smile spreads across your face. “Cal, how much blood do Vampires normally take in a sitting?”
 
“Only about a pint, they’re really rather efficient as far as hematophages go… Hold on… why do you ask?” The Koala demands, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.
 
“Got an idea.”
 
“That’s NORMALLY, Adam!” Cally hisses, gripping your wrist intently “What if she decides she likes the taste?!”
 
“Blue love, if I sing out, can you ask the Dingoes real nicely to put the boots to Nasha until she stops biting?”
 
“…kay…” Blue agrees, but her brow is furrowed with confusion.
 
“Hold on, until WHAT?” Nasha demands, staring over at your little group, suddenly realizing that you’re all talking about her.
 
“S’orright Nasha.” You assure the vampire, before standing and walking over to her. “Couldn’t help but notice you’re not exactly a fan of the local vintage.”
 
“Did you happen to notice the sky was a pretty shade of blue while you were at it?” Nasha quips drily.
 
“I did, in fact.” You reply, not rising to the obvious bait. “I also noticed you let slip you’ve been around for much longer than most. Gotta say it sparked my curiosity.”
 
“Mmmhmm. Did someone paint ‘Itinerant Storyteller’ on my forehead while I wasn’t looking? Why are you BOTHERING me, human?” The Vampire demanded, her lips curling back slightly and teeth extending with irritation.
 
“Thought ya might be amenable to a classic exchange. Wet yer whistle to tell me a bit about it?”
 
Nasha looks at you with utter incredulity. “Have you lost what small amount of cognizant ability was in that monkey-brain of yours? I don’t drink cider…”
 
“I’m perfectly aware of that.” You reply evenly, rolling up your sleeve and flexing your forearm to make the veins stand out.
 
Nasha licks her lips involuntarily, her eyes flicking from your arm to your face, widening as the penny drops. “You’re offering me… Human… Fresh… Just for a story?”
 
“What a beaut idea Nasha!” You tease.
 
“Want me to take my pants off and play with myself while I tell it?” Nasha gushes eagerly, almost drooling with anticipation.
 
You blink rapidly, dumbfounded. “I uh… What?”
 
“Human. If you had any IDEA how long it’s been since I’ve had it with a heartbeat behind it…” Nasha sighs lustily “…Yes. Yes. Please. Whatever you want to know.”
 
“Reckon I’ll be right with the story, wouldn’t help me to be distracted and miss half of it thanks to something delicious in front of me, would it?” You muse softly, barely above a whisper. Nasha lowers her head slightly, a slight quiver in her breath.
 
“D-don’t tease me or I’ll thrall you…” She moans, yet her expression is pleading, almost desperate.
 
“Boss! Don’t bully fangs!” You hear Blue demand from the table “Or at least if you’re going to, let me get involved.”
 
“Don’t you dare!” The Vampire demands with a look of sheer horror “I’d never live it down!”
 
“Orright, orright…” You laugh, loud enough for your companions to hear. “…Sorry Nasha. I couldn’t resist.”
 
“Hmph… Well… What do you want to know?” The Vampire asks almost clemently, her equilibrium restored.
 
“Why don’t you start with when you were Human?” You offer, leaning back in the chair opposite the grey-skinned mamono.
 
“That will be difficult.” Nasha admits, pursing her colourless lips. “I wasn’t.”
 
“Eh?” You blurt in confusion. “I mean I don’t know a lot about Vampires, it’s true, but I know you don’t have children, at least not in the conventional sense.”
 
“That’s true. Still. I was never Human.”
 
“I don’t see how…” You begin, shaking your head in puzzlement.
 
Nasha’s mouth twists in a mirthless smirk. “So it’s finally happened… We’re forgotten.”
 
“We who?”
 
Nasha points to her ears, their pointed tips extending at least halfway up the side of her grey-haired head, the fleshy, fretted lobes conchlike in appearance. “Use the brains Maou granted a flea, Human.”
 
Your brow furrows in thought as you try and make sense of the Vampire’s obtuse statement. Pointed ears? Obscenely long lifespan?
 
“Tyris! You’re… Elven?!” You gasp in utter astonishment “…But they’re extinct!”
 
“…Because that’s not likely to be a sore spot or anything…” Nasha almost growls, her eyes flashing with hurt and irritation.
 
“I’m sorry… I just… Strewth! Did you know the Abbeys spend a good three months finding new ways to trash God-Before-Tyris for letting you die out?”
 
“And we spent three centuries doing the same… and Edhel is a much more versatile language than Anglisch… I mean Magisterian.”
 
“We?”
 
“What’s left of my hosse’ai…” Nasha sighs “…And I really shouldn’t be letting it get to me. Realistically what else would you ask me, and where else would I start?”
 
“Tyris be Glorified Nasha, I really wasn’t expecting this. If it’s too much, I mean, we can forget the whole thin…”
 
“No.” Nasha states, gripping your arm with amazing strength. “I’ll put up with more pain than this to put my teeth in something red.”
 
“Well, if you’re sure…” You muse, pausing slightly. “…Also leggo me arm? Won’t do you much good if the prick falls off… again…”
 
“Again?”
 
“Buy ME one later and I’ll tell y’bout it.” You grin.
 
Nasha laughs genuinely, releasing her grip on you. “Fair. Where was I?”
 
“Your Hossy-oy were trashing God-Before-Tyris.”
 
“Oh yes, your accent is foul by the way. My sire was… Is? I haven’t seen the old bat in so long… something of an… environmentalist, you see. Always looking to preserve little fragments of the world so they might be remembered. The Tel’Quassir… that’s us, ‘Elves’, I mean… we’d always been… closer with humanity than other Mamono, I mean, half-elves were a thing there, in places. Almost like we were here… before? I’m sorry, I wish I could tell you more, I was there when it happened, after all… but it’s like… my memory’s confused. I know our realities merged millennia ago but it’s like a dream, with my waking mind insisting that we’ve always been here.”
 
“Brutal.” You murmur, more to say something than to make any kind of point.
 
“Mmm.” Nasha agrees. “In any case, Even when the Order of Ilias… That’s ‘God-Before-Tyris’ by the way…”
 
“Yeh, her ghost… memory… whatever was what was giving youse shit out in The Gap.”
 
“Really? Huh…” Nasha remarks in mild interest. “…The Order had all but taken control of Humanity’s systems of government, and even then, as now, Mamono didn’t really care enough to try and establish an alternative until it started directly impacting upon them. By then it was too late.”
 
“The Scourging of Hell…” You remark.
 
“More like ‘The Bastardization and Attempted Genocide of Entire Races’, but I guess that doesn’t make for such pretty sermons.”
 
“Fair. Technically Blasphemy, but fair…” You grin.
 
“Well denounce me properly and we’ll fight about it.”
 
Your grin broadens. “She’s right ay.”
 
“Thought so. Anyway, The Order turned a blind eye to the Tel’Quassir. We just fit so WELL with Humanity, and our magic was nearly indistinguishable from the abilities of Human priests and paladins… Not surprising, considering the Seldarine were the only Divines that Ilias could purportedly stand the presence of for more than five seconds without unleashing a cataclysm… So we kept our heads down, pretended we didn’t see… told ourselves we couldn’t do anything about it. And it worked, Maou forgive us, it worked… We were welcome, or at worst grudgingly tolerated in human society.” Nasha gives a gallows sigh. “We should have known better…”
 
You drank absently from your tankard. “What happened?”
 
“Our magic… stopped. I don’t know if Gods can have ‘friends’ like mortals, but The Seldarine were the closest She had, ruin be upon Her… And She just… ATE them.”
 
“Ate them?”
 
“It’s the closest equivalent I have. Then she made the declaration ‘Through Me Alone do All Blessings Flow’, and ordered the burning of the Aina’orn. When that happened, we knew the horrible trap we’d been placed in. When the Aina’orn falls, the Tel’Quassir MUST…” Nasha pauses, squeezing her eyes shut in deep thought.
 
“Y’orright?” You murmur in concern.
 
“Shockingly, which is more upsetting than the memory, if I have to be honest.” Nasha admits cynically. “The act is ‘Aut-Nan Annûn’. We go… Somewhere else. But without the Seldarine, that ‘place’ wasn’t there any more.”
 
“So she was…” You prompted gently, still not understanding.
 
“Human, you’ve seen Angels. Do you think any Human is capable of coupling with one and surviving?”
 
“Well…” You mumble, not entirely sure if you should reveal the details of Raoul’s celestial trysts… did he really count as ‘Human’ though?
 
“I thought not.” Nasha states, clearly misunderstanding your meaning. “Ilias was the Mother of Angels. How much less able would you be to lie with a God?”
 
“But… The First Unclean… The Greatest War…” You blurt, barely comprehending.
 
“True. Her greatest champion succumbed to Maou’s embrace. Became Incubus Primus. Iscariot Diabolus, in High Pandemonian. He who should have sired the New Heaven, now the consort of the Queen of Hell… We hoped, hoped against hope that maybe She would take Lord Larethian, our ‘Chief God’ as consort… But her intentions were much more direct. As city after city, tribe after tribe, hosse’ai after hosse’ai performed Aut-Nan Annûn, She was waiting… and we made the perfect candidates for ‘Ascension’.
 
“So the Elves…”
 
“…Became the new Angels, the Celestial Choir swelled and the Tel’Quassir were no more. Except for a rag-tag hosse’ai hiding in the Carpathian mountains, torn by the agony of rejecting Aut-Nan Annûn, starving… DYING in a way few of our race had ever experienced in living memory. We thought even the judgement of Tari’kelvar-Gurtha preferable to an eternity worshiping our destroyer. But as fate would have it, mercy wore a curious face that day. She was so ancient the word ceases to mean anything, but she stroked our hollow cheeks so tenderly… Said we would soon have nothing to fear, that she would never let our people die. Beautiful sentiment, too bad she failed.”
 
“Failed?” You echo, gesturing at the Vampire.
 
Nasha laughed bitterly. “She was Human once too… So it doesn’t surprise me that you don’t understand either. You Humans are so adaptable, so FLEXIBLE, genetically, socially, spiritually… It’s like ‘Human’ is some kind of incomprehensible idea, rather than a species. She couldn’t understand that as we awakened to Vampire, the part of us that was Tel’Quassir was gone forever, just like the Angels. At least we kept our memories, for all the good it did us…”
 
“I’m sorry…” You offer. “For all the Litanies of Castigation I can’t believe the church would just let it STAND though. Someone must have known.”
 
“Someone did. Too bad they were all in the High Temple of Ilias telling her how wonderful She was and how grateful they were that She would deign to manifest physically amongst their disgusting selves and offering to peel their faces off for her amusement…”
 
“Really?” You grunt in disgust.
 
“Probably, there’s no sycophant like a fanatic.” Nasha shrugs. “Anyway, the Lodges of History and their fellow Human Rebels and other Mamono sympathisers had decided that after around half a millennia of pogroms, tyranny, one sided war, historical revisionism and rampant jaywalking, they had just about enough of this shit, and decided if Ilias was going to play to her own ego like that, they’d show her what happens when Humans are given an ass to kick.”
 
You chuckle slightly in agreement. “You sound like you were there…”
 
Nasha shook her head with a soft smile. “Not THERE there… but my Thrall was… Idiot of a man…”
 
“Lover?”
 
Nasha shakes her head. “More like a son. The relationship’s complex, you’d have to be Vampire to understand. In any case, whether through whimsy or desperation, they took a page out of an old religion in the region, long since purged, and a few desperate men flew a stolen aircraft straight into the temple loaded with enough nuclear ordinance to turn not just the temple, but the entire area for miles around to smoking glass.”
 
You frown in puzzlement “Air… Craft? Nuke-leer?”
 
“Flying machine… And… whew… How do I even describe a Nuke? Think ‘The Wrathful Fist of Tyris’, that’s probably a good analogy.”
 
“Why the bloody hell would anyone develop a weapon like that?!” You gasp in utter horror “The fuck kind of wars did the Ancients even FIGHT?!”
 
“Big ones. Then lots of little ones, with the threat of a REALLY big one to stop them getting too far out of control. Humans have always been good at war.”
 
“Fuck me backwards, shit’s fucked ay.” You exclaim, shaking your head. “Thank The God for the Pax.”
 
“Seems to be the going opinion.” Nasha agreed diplomatically.
 
“Why do the doctrines say that Ilias fell from Heaven then, if these ‘Lodges of History’ stuck a god-weapon up her clacker?”
 
“That didn’t kill Her, just pissed Her off to an immense degree. She simply could not comprehend an insurgency against Her. So She ripped Her anointing from the majority of Her followers, killing them or driving them into wall-chewing insanity and went wherever it is Gods go to sulk. The Order such as it was collapsed around the world’s ears, but one thing about Humans is, they won’t let something as minor as catastrophic failure stop them if they think they have a good idea. Luckily, or unluckily for the world, depending on your perspective, three very major things happened in relatively quick succession.”
 
“I’m gonna guess ‘The Fall of God Before Tyris’ and… Huh… Nope, that led to the Age of Apostasy…” You trail, trying to make the story fit with History.
 
“They called it the ‘New Century of Peace’ but… hindsight, I suppose.” Nasha quipped, draining the rest of her chalice with a shudder. “Urgh… I am REALLY looking forward to my drink, Human.”
 
“Yeh yeh, finish the story Fangs.”
 
“Fangs?”
 
“Well if you’re gonna keep calling me ‘Human’…”
 
Nasha gives a small, tight smile. “As you will, Adam.”
 
“Better. So. Three big fuckoff things…” You prompt.
 
“Firstly. The Lodges of History discovered Resonance and became the Grand Lodge of Resonance.”
 
“Ohhhh!” You exclaim, the pieces fitting together. “And promptly told the Order to go fuck themselves.”
 
“A few times. What was left of the Order’s leadership was a bit thick though. It took the new Resonants dropping a comet on a city before they started taking them seriously.”
 
“Bugger me… How’d they even do that?” You murmur, pondering the act.
 
“You’ve got to remember, the Lodges of History were formed as secret societies to protect knowledge from Ilias’s rabid attempt to remove everything that didn’t feature Her as front and center.”
 
“And The God said, ‘Yea, Seek thee not in thy zeal to obscure Truth for My Name’s sake. For I am Truth and Order, and if seekest thou wisdom with praise unto Me in thy heart, shalt the pure light of enlightenment be surely granted thee.’ All Glory to the Most High.” You intone.
 
“Mmm.” Nasha nods. “I’ve read the histories, the early church states Holy Tyris was VERY strict in enforcing that one. Personally I think the High Priestesses just used the excuse for old Resonant habits dying hard. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.”
 
“We are?”
 
Nasha nods, “Believe it or not I’m actually enjoying telling you this. It’s bringing up a lot of… Fond memories. One being the next two things. The Fall of Ilias, and the birth of the first Bulls.”
 
You frown at that. “I can understand Ilias, but Maou’s shame is a fond memory?”
 
“It ended the war. Officially. Even without the undeniable sight of a God screaming and burning before smashing into the ground somewhere, The Order had no leg to stand on with Mamono no longer being reliant on Humans for breeding, thus the possibility of transmutation became a bogeyman, and any remnants of the church were promptly driven out. Probably with torches and pitchforks. The Lodge had been playing liaison between Mamono, Humanity and the other fractured groups for ooh… fifty years at that point? So they established Magisterium, and basically took over governance.”
 
“Just like that?”
 
“They had all the technology, and the ability to tie reality into pretty little bows, who was going to tell them otherwise?”
 
“Fair call.” You concede.
 
“That was what the Histories call the Age of Apostasy, as you said before. Humans had an utter GUTFUL of religion after about seven hundred years of theocratic war. Even the most zealous had to admit that they as a species were on the ropes. The world’s population had dropped by almost two thirds on both sides, whole species of Mamono had been driven to extinction or… went away…”
 
“Went away?”
 
“Aut-Nan Annûn wasn’t something uniquely ours. A surprising number of Mamono races just flat out left… Where to? Some say The Ledans still swim on the dark expanse of the Dead River in the Underworld, but who’s to know?”
 
“Well, I mean… You ARE Undead…” You offer delicately.
 
“Am I?” Nasha replied evenly. “Sure, my body might sit at room temperature, but so do most reptilians. I might not need to breathe, but neither do Sandworms, at least, not as you do. I drink Blood nearly exclusively, but Succubi can live indefinitely off nothing but a human’s… heh… ‘spirit energy’.”
 
Your eyes widened with the revelation. “Oh. I thought…”
 
“You might be right…” Nasha admits “…But I don’t know for sure. We live in a twilight world between two states, never really belonging to either. Even my sire would prefer to argue the point for a century or two rather than give a straight answer on it.”
 
“I know Priestesses who use the same technique to dodge fiddly questions…” You grin conspiratorially.
 
“Mmm. In any case, things started looking up. The Bulls were violent, mindless, and territorial, but it was easy enough for Mamono to keep them away from Humans at first. We… Made up. Mamono and Humans I mean, and for a long, wonderful time, we thought we might have gotten through it.”
 
“But…”
 
“But indeed. Populations were increasing, surprisingly fast in some instances. We didn’t know what had gone wrong but ‘Nulls’ started to appear. Mamono without gender, completely absent of magic and in some cases seeming to totally lack self-agency, like there had been some horrible magical trade-off for the Bulls.”
 
“Sound like you have some opinions there.” You drawl
 
“Mmm, but unlike you, I can still be done for our equivalent of Blasphemy. We’re in Thealiss, not the backside of the Moon.” Nasha adds pointedly.
 
“Fair, I mean, it’s not exactly things I don’t already know.”
 
“True, let’s move forward a bit. We Vampires don’t really do ‘Groups’ so much. We might form a coterie for a few decades if we’ve found a common interest or threat, or we’ll go bother a blood-sibling, childe or sire on a whim, but mostly we keep to ourselves.” Nasha explained, “So it came as a complete surprise to us when whole TRIBES of Mamono regardless of species seemed to lose their Maou-damned minds all at once and go rampaging through Human settlements. What they didn’t rape, they ate, what they didn’t eat, they set on fire, and what they didn’t set on fire they broke into very small pieces.”
 
“The Winnowing of Sin.” You remark, nodding.
 
Nasha groaned. “The One Church of Eternal Tyris does just LOVE its euphemisms, doesn’t it?”
 
“Makes for pretty sermons.” You reply with a sly grin.
 
“Well, this ‘Winnowing’ resulted in almost as much death in two centuries as the entire, concentrated efforts of the Order did in over seven, so you’ll forgive me if I’m not flippant about it.”
 
“Death really bothers you, doesn’t it?” You remark thoughtfully.
 
“No, I work in an infirmary because I like smelling blood I can’t eat.” Nasha rejoins sarcastically. “Of COURSE it bothers me! I’m a Vampire! I NEED life around me, healthy, vibrant, well-fleshed life, otherwise I’d… Urgh… I don’t even want to think about it.”
 
“Sorry. So what then?”
 
Nasha peers at you. “Of all the bits I’d expect you to chime in on, this would be it. Little thing called Day of the Midnight Sun? Tyris appearing in His Glory in the Heavens, Maou supplicated at His feet?”
 
“All Glory to the Most High.” You intone automatically, raising your hands in the Sign of the Sunburst. “So… It… Actually happened like that? I mean I know there’s a lot in the Doctrines and Histories which is metaphor and allegory for stuff that’s just… Y’know.”
 
Nasha nods, “I know, and you can rest assured that it was EXACTLY like that.”
 
“How was it?” You ask breathlessly.
 
Nasha taps a long finger against her colourless lips, her feral eyes meeting yours. “Loud.” She announces finally.
 
Your jaw hangs open for a moment, before a laugh seemingly boiling from the bottom of your feet shakes your entire body with paroxysms of mirth.
 
“I don’t see what’s so funny…” Nasha remarks with a nonplussed look on her face.
 
“Loud!” You echo, holding your stomach. “I’m gonna piss meself! Loud!” You thump on the small table, desperately gasping for breath.
 
“Fangs, did you break my Master?” Blue calls from where she is sitting with your companions, the Hatter, and the two Dingoes.
 
“I have no idea, small-dog.” Nasha answers bluntly, peering at you “Are you alright?”
 
“I’m Okay… I’m Okay…” You declare, taking a deep breath. “Loud.” You murmur, another fit of giggles seizing you.
 
“Stop that!” Nasha demands “I really don’t see what’s so funny.”
 
“The Breath of God which Made the World… Bit windy…” You chortle.
 
“Oh… I suppose that was something of an understatement, wasn’t it?” Nasha admits, her own mouth curving into a smile.
 
“It was the most Australian thing I’ve ever heard, and I was born here.” You declare.
 
“Well. If you’re satisfied, my mouth is a little dry after all that.” Nasha ventures.
 
“Course. Promise made…” You accede, holding out your arm to the Vampire, whose face rapidly transmutes into that rapacious, hinge-jawed horror. She looks at you for a moment.
 
“No giggling.” Those mantrap jaws order. Of course this sets you off again but you manage to tamp it down in short order. Nasha rolls her feral eyes and sinks those horrible teeth into the meat of your forearm.
 
“Sweet Merciful fuckin’ Tyris an’ his balls, That fuckin’ smarts!” You cry. Nasha’s eyes flick to meet yours as if to say ‘What did you expect?’ Gritting your teeth, you bull through the pain, taking another pull on your tankard as the vampire greedily drains blood from your arm. On and on she seemed to go… Funny, you started to feel a little lightheaded… you didn’t think you’d had THAT much to drink…
 
All of a sudden, she breaks her grip on your arm, blood oozing down her chin, her features rapidly transmuting back to those of a comely young woman.
 
“Oh Maou…” She moans lustily. “…I think I came a little there.”
 
“Yeh pack it in…” You murmur “…Can I have me arm back? I’m leakin’ claret everywhere.” You gesture to where blood is flowing freely from the fang-wounds in your flesh.
 
“Umm… S’alright… I’ve… Ahhh… Got it…. Mmmm…” Nasha assures you as she runs her tongue along the bitten area, lapping up the oozing blood.
 
“Nasha, I’m gonna have to put something on that and tie it up or It’s gonna go rank.” You declare, trying in vain to pull your arm from the Vampire’s iron-band grip.
 
“Just wait! I got it…” She insists again.
 
“Don’t make me put you on the ceil…” You begin threatening, before pausing and doing a double take at your arm. You must be seeing things… were the wounds… closing? Nasha kept licking, her tongue busy, not a single drop of blood going to waste. In a shockingly short span of time, nothing remained to suggest she had bitten you except for a slight redness.
 
“Ohhh…. Yummy…” The Vampire sighs, leaning back on her chair, wiping around her mouth and chin with her fingers and stuffing them greedily into her mouth.
 
“You actually look a bit flushed there, Nasha.” You chuckle.
 
“Heehee… S’funny… I feel a little dizzy…” The Vampire admits, blinking owlishly at you.
 
“Nasha.” Salethiael’s voice intrudes, the Incubus having approached the table discretely during the Vampire’s ‘meal’. “If you’re quite done, Juliet could really use a hand with…”
 
“That Succuslut can fellate my foot. Givin’ me rat blood… some bullshit.” Nasha drawls declaratively, a definite slur in her voice, poking a surprisingly shapely foot in the air for emphasis, the tips of her grey toes tinged with slight pinkness.
 
“Alba quid non meretur…” Salethiael groaned with a helpless chuckle. “Adam, how much have you had to drink today?”
 
“Three tankards? Four maybe?” You ponder.
 
“And have you perchance, NOT drunk any night you’ve been here in Thealiss?”
 
You fix the Incubus with a level stare. “Sal. Mate. Think about that question. Think about it REAL hard.”
 
“Aha. So that’s a no then.”
 
“Course it’s a fucking no! Not drinking on the road, fine, but in civilization? Has Hell addled yer brains mate?”
 
“The poor thing…” Salethiael chuckles beneath his breath. “…Don’t let her do anything too silly until she sobers up? I’ll tell Juliet she’s… indisposed.”
 
“Hold the farcaster… You’re telling me Nasha’s pissed?”
 
“As a parrot.”
 
You ponder that for a moment. “But I feel fine…”
 
“Of course YOU do, you’ve still got functioning internal organs.” Salethiael replied as if it should be perfectly obvious, shaking his horned head as he departs.
 
“S’getting warm in here…” Nasha declared, standing unsteadily “…Think I’ll go outside f’rabit.”
 
“Be careful, yeh?” You offer gently, shaking your head slightly.
 
“M’a Vampu-pire. M’thousands-a yearsh old. M’good.” Nasha declares, smushing a finger against your mouth to hush you before leaning in, putting her mouth close to your ear. “Good talk Addie, next time maybe I can bite you with y’dick in me.”
 
“Tyris be fuckin’ Glorified, steady on…” You declare, looking at the Vampire with shock. Nasha giggles girlishly before skipping… yes… SKIPPING from the taproom. Shaking your head, you turn back to your own table to see Leparia setting down a veritable feast.
 
“Who ordered food?” You ask, squeezing between Blue and Wendy.
 
“It’s about that time of the night, Skip, and we’ve got a few here…” Emmy replies with slight puzzlement.
 
“Really? Huh. Didn’t think we were talking that long… Fuck me… I am hungrier than a Bungarra on a salt lake though…”
 
“It happens. Eat up Adam.” Cally encourages you.
 
“For what we are about to receive, so on and so forth…” You offer perfunctorily, raising your hands into a lazy sign of the Sunburst before scooping up a hefty helping and dumping it onto your plate. “One thing though…” You mumble from around a mouthful “…Don’t let a Vampire bite you if you’ve been drinking.”
 
“Oh, I could have told you that.” Cally remarks, chewing on some kind of steamed vegetable.
 
You stare at the Koala dumbly, before pointing with your knife. “You did that on purpose.”
 
“Am I a naughty girl, Master Trader?” Cally wheedles, twirling a lock of hair with a twin-thumbed hand.
 
“I’d threaten to put you over me knee ‘cept I know better.” You snort without thinking.
 
Emmy makes a noise into her tankard. “You’ve shagged the Shortstack?! Has anyone at this table NOT done the ground-and-pound with the Human?”
 
Wendy frowns, raising her hand. “I’m… pretty sure anyway… reality was a little fuzzy a few days back.”
 
The Dingoes look at each other, before Adina barks something at Blue. Blue smiles cheekily, whuffling in response. The two Dingoes give harsh, panting laughs, raising their hands in the air.
 
“Ere, what’s funny about that?” You demand, yet you are unable to keep the grin from your own face.
 
Illuka gives a barking response. Adina nods, giving another laugh “Illuka say, ‘how he still walking if he mated with Dingo?”
 
“Fuck, keep that in mind…” You murmur, blushing slightly as you return to your food.
 
“Oh! Adam, is it? The brew will be ready once dinner’s finished.” Wendy adds, scooping up a spoonful of purple-tinged rice and looking at it curiously.
 
“What is this?”
 
“Rice.” You reply simply.
 
“It’s purple!”
 
“Yeh, dunno why, just grows that way for some reason.”
 
“How unnatural…” Wendy remarks, putting it in her mouth and making a noise of pleased surprise.
 
“Right?!” Blue exclaims, gesturing at the Hatter and looking pointedly at Cally. The Koala rolls her eyes with a chuckle, scooping more food into her bowl.
 
 
“You’re not full boss?” Blue asks you, looking at you with slight puzzlement.
 
“Oddly no…” You reply, filling your plate again. “…’sides, I’m paying for it.”
 
“At some point.” Cally drawls cheekily, grinning at you.
 
“Shaddup you.” You snicker in response before tucking in. Truth be told you had to marvel at your appetite. So much had happened over the last few days that it was impossible to tell what exactly had kicked off this sudden ravenousness. “I can get fat if I want.”
 
“If there’s any fat on you, Skip, it’s under your fingernails.” Emmy drawled naughtily, the gremlin openly ogling you.
 
“C’mon… I’m no baronial bloody scribe but there’s plenty of tread on the wagon-wheel.” you snicker, gripping at your torso before pausing… Strange… you SWEAR you used to be able to grab more than that…
 
“Boss, we’ve been on the road for months now. S’not like we’re eating Jen’s cooking every night, and you know she’s not shy with the butter.” Blue remarks, noticing your confusion.
 
“Food here ain’t exactly awful though.” You reply around a mouthful.
 
“That’s because Liana cheats…” Leperia interjects, scooping up the empty plates, pausing as you scrape the last of the food into your mouth, reluctantly concluding your meal.
 
“Cheats? How?” You declare, washing down the last bites with a draught of crisp, tart cider. “I mean, y’can’t do much with rice, vegies and a bit o’bush turkey… Or was it mihirung tonight?”
 
“Hoop-snake, actually.” Leperia answers with a slight smile, her rabbit ears twitching slightly “Or was that tomorrow? No, no…definitely today.”
 
“But I hate hoop-snake.” You blurt in astonishment.
 
“Thou couldst have fooled me…” Bela remarks, trying desperately to suppress a grin, her chin resting on a horny talon.
 
“Orright, why do I feel like everyone’s havin’ a giggle at my expense.”
 
Emmy’s grin broadens. “Skip, where are the supplies kept?”
 
“Well they’re…” You begin, before trailing off in thought. “…What’s it matter? Clearly there’s plenty, I mean, we’ve been eating here for what, like couple weeks now?”
 
“Give or take… would ya believe me if I told you this tav doesn’t have a pantry?”
 
You snort in disbelief.
 
“Go find it if you can then geezer. While you’re at it, you sink enough piss, surely y’can tell me where the empty kegs get stashed.”
 
You frown in puzzlement. EVERY tavern had a near-wall of dead kegs waiting for some overworked cooper to collect. Yet for some reason…
 
“…Please don’t tell me we’re harvesting from Hell…” You groan, your stomach sinking. The Mamono at the table all burst into giggles.
 
“N-no, you probably wouldn’t survive that. Maou preserve, I probably wouldn’t survive that!” Cally assures you, wiping her eyes.
 
“Then for the love of The God, will someone tell me where the bloody food’s coming from?”
 
“The meat’s legit…” Emmy begins “…Liana’s abilities don’t stretch that far.”
 
You pondered that. As toothsome as the dishes you had eaten in Thealiss had been, they DID seem to stretch more to the vegetarian than carnivore, the degustation provided by the Kikimora notwithstanding.
 
“What is she? Dryad? I can’t believe I haven’t so much as seen her in that case.”
 
Cally shakes her head. “Liana’s shy around Humans, the food’s her way of contributing while she’s here. She’s a Troll, Adam.”
 
Your brow furrows in confusion. “Eh? The big-handed sheilas who hang around bridges?”
 
“Certes! Adam! I expected better of thee…” Bella exclaims with a look of disappointment.
 
“Well stone the bloody crows, forgive me for not knowing the ins and outs of every Mamono in existence.” You grumble. “I’d apologise but apparently I’m scary or some shit.”
 
“Verily, there art none so skilled in the art of summoning gentle verdant life from the slumbering earth.” The Griffon exclaimed. “E’en the Order in their fanaticism were forced, yea, to give unwilling acknowledgement to the beneficence of their touch upon fallow ground.”
 
“It really is amazing Skip, she just has to THINK plants and they grow. Rarity, delicacy, doesn’t make a pickle-pie. She’ll go walk off to sit in the sun somewhere and come back with a positive barrel-load of dinner… Usually with whatever tried to eat her that day dressed and skinned over the other shoulder.”
 
“…Hence the Mihirungs and Hoop-Snakes.”
 
“And there you have it. Feel better now?” Cally smiled.
 
“No, now I want to MEET the girl!” You declare.
 
“She’s real skitty Boss.” Blue insists, “Wouldn’t come near me for near on the whole time you were in The Gap ‘cos she smells ya on me. Only let up after I ripped off a couple legs on a camel-spider that was trying to have her for breakfast.”
 
“Eurgh. Fuck ‘palps.” You declare, shuddering at the thought of the ravenous arthropods which skittered across the deserts of the Australs.
 
“Whaddaya think was in the gumbo that night Boss?” Blue giggles.
 
“And you got shirty about sandgropers?” You cry in mock umbrage, tickling Blue incessantly.
 
“Noooo! Hahaha! She m-makes it taste good though! Hahaha! You t-tried to give it to me on a stick!” The Kobold objected desperately, struggling in your grip.
 
“As homely as this all is…” Wendy interjects with polite firmness. “…We’re ready.”
 
You release the Kobold with a final muss to her tawny hair (It was getting rather long, you had to admit), and turned to face the Hatter, who had placed a delicate teacup before you, a deep brown liquid steaming within it.
 
“So how do we do this?” You ask, picking up the cup gingerly, your hands looking large and clumsy around it. Wendy smiles, picking her own cup up in elegant hands, draining it with a single draught. Attempting not to look like a complete savage in comparison, you drink down your own. It had an odd bitterness, yet not as overwhelming as coffee, and the tannin notes seemed curiously refreshing.
 
“Hey, that doesn’t taste half bad…” You remark. “…So what no…”
 
Without warning, the world shattered and fell to pieces around you.
 
 
“Adam? Are you alright?” Wendy’s voice echoed from somewhere in the weird and lurid expanse which surrounded you.
 
“What the…” You murmured, looking about yourself. Glowing threads of some indescribable material seemed to weave and weft throughout the constantly shifting landscape. You felt a ‘tug’ and looked down, to see one of the threads entering your chest. “What is this?”
 
“The Web of Possibility…” The Hatter’s voice echoed, almost reverent in tone. You tried to move, yet found yourself locked in place.
 
”Why can’t I move?
 
”Because the Future’s over there… and that’s not for your eyes to see…”
 
”Bit cheap… How’m I supposed to cheat at cards with this?” You joke.
 
”You are a funny one” Wendy giggled. ”Think of where you want to go… what you want to see…
 
You pondered that for a moment. A caw broke your concentration, and you saw a Raven gliding overhead, looping here and there through the threads, its bright eyes searching, searching…
 
”What’s with the bird?”
 
“Oh drat…” Wendy cursed. “…Shoo! Go on! Shoo! You’ll only confuse him.”
 
The Raven… chuckled… an oddly human sound, before flapping its wings again and shimmering from view. You shook your head, trying to find something to focus on. Everything had seemed so… Odd since your time in The Gap, and you felt like somehow there was a deeper meaning underlying things that you were barely on the periphery of.
 
“Fuck it, that’ll do…” You mumbled, and the strange landscape blurred around you as the world… Changed.
 
 
“Does this mean anything to you?” You asked the Griffon, holding up the sheet of parchment.
 
Bella peered at the scrap. “Nay.” She answered simply.
 
You sighed in disappointment. “Welp, nothing for it but to start looking…” You concluded, trudging up one of the corridors at random. The place seemed so oddly… clean, the ever-present dust and shuffling boneys notwithstanding. The rooms to either side were filled with machinery which defied your understanding, yet nothing resembling the metal tank which Telia had described. You pressed on, the Griffon strangely… close beside you. Suddenly, your path was blocked by a large set of metal doors with no apparent handle.
 
“Well how in buggery am I supposed to get this open?” You muttered aloud.
 
”Compliance” The bodiless voice which had greeted you in that open area with the odd carts and the boneys spoke suddenly, the doors opening with an oddly soft sound. A small room, unremarkable in its plainness stood before you, mirrors on each wall.
 
“What kinda thing is this?” You ponder as you step inside.
 
“Please state your destination.” The voice insisted, this time emanating from a small black protrusion near the door.
 
“Certes, Human, do not entreat this vile spirit!” Bella demanded, grabbing your arm with a horned talon and attempting to pull you from the small room.
 
“Ease up Bella. I’m sure between the two of us…”
 
”Sublevel Two” The voice acknowledged, the metal doors closing and the room… MOVING!
 
“Tyris be Glorified!” You exclaim in shock, gripping the metal handrail. The Griffon shrieks, clinging to you in alarm.
 
”Sublevel Two” The voice repeats, the doors opening on a corridor that was quite different from the one you had left.
 
“Y’orright Bella?” You chuckle in relief. The Griffon releases you as if you had become white hot, harrumphing and blushing in acute embarrassment.
 
“Well shit… And I thought this place was big before…” You remark, stepping out and looking around. This area was absent the omnipresent ‘boneys’ that shuffled about your previous location. What it did have was bones… lots of them, everywhere you looked.
 
“Well now we know where everyone is…” You murmur, recoiling as you accidentally brush against a skeleton lying across one of the curious stacked cots which lined the room. The Skeleton slithered to the floor, shattering in a cloud of bone dust which made you sneeze.
 
“The God forgive you your sins, and accept you unto the Heavens.” You intone automatically, raising your hands in the sign of the sunburst.
 
“Why?” Bella asks.
 
“Hmm?”
 
“Why do you pray for this… Heretic?”
 
“What makes him… her… a Heretic?”
 
“They stood against Holy Ilias, they were of the Lodges of History, vile Idolaters which sought knowledge unsanctioned by Her Holy Church.”
 
You blinked at that. The pursuit of knowledge? A Heresy? Ridiculous! Still, no sense in getting into that here and now, you had a job to do.
 
“Not my place to condemn.” You mutter noncommittally.
 
“Truly… thou art not like other Humans, Adam.” Bella remarks thoughtfully, following along as you investigated these skeleton-strewn rooms. Suddenly, you came upon an open gate, curious devices placed upright upon shelves along the length of its interior, a door hanging open to its rear revealing a long passage-like room, its far end hidden in shadow.
 
“Whazzis?” You ponder, stepping inside and picking up one of the devices. “Looks almost like a Shard Rifle, but I can’t see anywhere to prime the core…”
 
“Dost thou know what thou art doing?”
 
“Not a bit… still, if it is, shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out… Now… This looks like the feeder… what are these metal things? Wait, there’s one already attached.” You narrate aloud, setting one device down and picking up the other before looking out at the long room behind the thick door.
 
“Stone, sand, bare earth… Looks like a range to me, only one way to find out…” You murmur, shouldering the device and pulling the trigger.
 
BANG
 
“FUCKIN’ BALLS! That’s loud!” you declare, shaking your head to clear the ringing in your ears. Bella asks you something, inaudible over the tinnitus.
 
“Whazzat?” You ask, wriggling a finger in your ear.
 
“I said, is it functional?” Bella repeated.
 
“If it kicks on the front end anything like it just kicked me, I feel sorry for anything getting in front of it!” You remark, studying the ancient weapon with awe. “Bugger me but the Ancients knew a thing or two…”
 
“Certes… Art thou finished? Something down here is making me feel… uneasy.”
 
“Really? I don’t feel anything… well, apart from sore ears and a bruised shoulder…” You jest.
 
“I am serious.” The Griffon insists.
 
“Yeah, I don’t think it’s down here…” You concede, before spying a faint blue glow down a nearby hallway.
 
”Free me!” A soft voice begs on the edge of hearing.
 
“Did you hear that?”
 
Bella nods, yet grips your arm with a vicelike grip as you start towards the light.
 
“Nay Adam… It is Darkness… It is Death… We should leave its tomb undisturbed.”
 
“How do you know?”
 
“When the dead lie disquiet, doth the power of the grave become manifest. In a place such as this, yea, with the Word of God absent to command it be still, it will have grown in power over the years. I cannot fight such a thing, and I must see my treasure secure.”
 
“As you will… Feel kinda bad leaving it here though…”
 
“It is not to be pitied.”
 
“If you say so.” You shrug, and as you turn away, a shriek of fury and frustration seems to chill you to the very bone.
 
“…Good call. Thanks Bella, you probably saved my bacon there.” You admit, as you return to the metal doors.
 
“Certes.” The Griffon agrees.
 
“Uh… Open.” You command the door, which slides open at your word.
 
“Say what you like about her, she’s helpful.” You chuckle. “Now… I seem to remember that ‘recording’ saying something about three sublev… OH BLOODY HELL!” You exclaim as the room shudders to movement again, Bella once again clinging to you. Once again, the doors slide open, and another hallway presents itself, this one lined with those strange vine-like protrusions, tiny lights of flashing colour playing along intricate devices in metal boxes which stretched to the ceiling… and a familiar arcing and crackling at the hallway’s end.
 
“Another Matrix!” You exclaim. “Bella, you’d better stay here.”
 
“What is it, Adam?”
 
“Something dangerous… though not to me…”
 
“How dost thou know?”
 
“Because I can hear it…”
 
Suddenly, reality shuddered, the weird landscape of the web of possibility once again appearing, though this time shifting crazily about you. ”What’s happening!” You cry.
 
”A turbulence in the streams of possibility… too many choices for your mind to assess all at once and remain cognizant… stay strong… it won’t last long… I hope…” Wendy’s voice echoes.
 
”You hope?”
 
”This is your web, Adam… I’m just along for the ride.”
 
The shifting subsided, and once again you found yourself back in The Gap, though this time both Emmy and Bella were travelling beside you as you strolled through the hole you had torn earlier into the bright sunlight.
 
”A Sun! A tiny Sun! Contained and powering this whole place!” You exclaim in amazement.
 
“Yeh, fusion does that.” Emmy remarks with a nonplussed expression as she slouched in her humming exo. “I can’t believe you broke the Server!”
 
“I didn’t break it… it was… finished.” You reply, not really understanding what you said, your head awhirl with information which defied description, the Matrix having transmitted a mass of endlessly mutating glyphs somehow THROUGH you, their intricate forms melding and joining with the whirlwind of the Logos which sat as always in the back of your conscious mind.
 
“Yeh well… Hey feathers, how are you holding up there?”
 
“I shall live.” Bella answered with a grimace, her wings once again stripped to make the funeral garments for the tiny forms she cradled tenderly in her talons.
 
”Come back, Adam…” Wendy’s voice entreated, reality shimmering around you…
 
”But there’s so much! I know so much!” You object.
 
”You don’t want to see what comes next.
 
”Oh c’mon, what could possibly…”
 
”Death.” The Hatter interrupted.
 
”Whose?”
 
”Would it matter?”
 
You pause for a moment, the Web of Possibility once again forming around you. ”No… I suppose it wouldn’t”
 
”We still have some time. Is there something else you would like to see?”
 
You concentrated for a moment… So much had been triggered by, and resulted from your resonant ability… part of you wondered if you were little more than a vessel for a power much greater than yourself, your destiny superseded by the intricacies of the Logos.
 
”Only one way to find out…” You murmured, willing yourself towards that fateful day at the bank of the river.
 
”Adam!” Wendy cried as massive turbulence shook the world around you ”This timeline is a rough sea in a violent storm… I can see very little of what will occur… Be certain this is where you want to be…”
 
”I have to know…” You declared, gritting your teeth and riding the turbulence like a canoe upon a foaming river, your ‘eyes’ fixated upon the calmness ahead.
 
 
“…still think this is an absolutely terrible idea.” Cally remarked, looking pensively at the Mihirung which plodded alongside the Wagon.
 
“Ah. He’s a good boy, aren’t you?” You drawled, reaching up and scratching the Mihirung’s headfeathers. The large, flightless bird squawked, clattering its flesh-rending beak happily at your touch.
 
“It’s not sleeping in the Tent.” Blue insists, folding her paws across her modest bust.
 
“Cairn Blue, I’m not that daft.”
 
”This isn’t where I wanted to be!” You lament, pulling away from the vision like a swimmer breaking the surface of the water.
 
It’s the closest calm patch I could see, as I said, this timeline is fraught with branching paths, snarls, and paradoxes…” Wendy replies. Sighing, you allow yourself to sink back into the reality you have sought out.
 
“Do you think it’s a good idea bringing her along?” A spideresque figure enquired, gesturing casually to where a human man is talking animatedly with a Kangaroo as they walk (in her case, hop) next to the trundling wagon.
 
“Am I paying you to crawl up me about every other thing Rachel?” You chuckle at the Arachne. “What was I supposed to do? Kill her?”
 
“She did threaten you.”
 
“She’d been listening to too many bad stories. No harm done.” You declare dismissively.
 
“Max seems awfully taken with her…” Rachel remarks, the chelicerae at the base of her humanoid torso flaring slightly.
 
“Spidey’s Jealous…” Blue snickers mockingly.
 
“I am going to bite you, so help me Maou…” The Spider-woman seethed.
 
“Leave off me Kobie.” You remark absently, looking to where Max has suddenly dropped to a knee, studying the ground intently.
 
“S’goin on Maxie?”
 
The human mercenary turns his stubbled face to you, lips pursed and an odd seriousness in his eyes. “We’re being hunted Adz.”
 
“Ah, big-bird here should scare ‘em off.” You remark, gesturing at the Mihirung. The terror-bird gives a harsh squawk of seeming agreement.
 
“Full pack of Wolf-Spiders?”
 
“Fuck… Seriously?”
 
Max nods, turning to the Arachne. “Rach? Thoughts?”
 
The arachne swears. “My web will be useless, they’ll pick right through it. Maou Damn it! Fucking Ferals…”
 
“Let them come! The Daughter of the Bandit Lord Theo will not be dissuaded by…” The Kangaroo declares bellicosely, before her voice turns to a wordless shriek as a grey figure leaps from the nearby brush, arachnid legs clasping the kangaroo as fangs hunt for her body, the humanoid upper half chittering with mad laughter as the Kangaroo kicks madly, trying to dislodge this attacker.
 
“No quarter!” You yell, ripping your knife from your leg-sheath. “Birdie! Kill the grey spiders!”
 
The Mihirung gives a harsh, bloodlusting screech, charging at another wolf-spider which is running frighteningly fast towards the wagon. The Feral Mamono and the beast collide in a frenzy of taloned feet, snapping jaws and slicing fangs.
 
“Rachel! Watch Cally!” You order, jumping off the wagon. “Blue…” You begin, but Blue has already started chanting in the guttural Kobold language, her voice becoming more and more rapacious as the Spirits of the Hunt overtake her.
 
“Get ‘em, pup!” You order, gritting your teeth and ducking under the forelegs of an attacking spider. You tear your knife along the join of flexing chelicerae, hot blood and venom spurting onto your clothes as the feral shrieks in pain. You are forced to pause, for an instant seeing nothing but a hurt girl, her delicate face twisted in agony. Then she looks at you again, howling at you through a mouth filled with seemingly hundreds of needle-sharp teeth. Swallowing, you stab the point of your knife through one of her bulging obsidian eyes, twisting as you feel the blade crunch into the brainpan.
 
“Tyris Forgive me…” You gasp, suddenly understanding Matt’s predicament… As once again reality shudders.
 
”Really?!” You declare, holding on as the turbulence sweeps you along.
 
”You expect a battle to be free of choice?” Wendy’s voice echoes.
 
”Fuck… Point…” You concede.
 
“…think that pig-sticker of yours could do that kind of damage.” Max laughs as reality re-solidifies.
 
“Yeh well you can thank Kessiah, a week of getting the shit kicked out of me kinda forced me to learn a few things.”
 
“Such a shame though… That Mihirung really did you proud.”
 
“He was a good bird…” You admit, slicing off another thick helping of smoking meat. “…Which is why, as my Kobie so pointedly reminded me, we honour his spirit and the gift of his flesh.”
 
Blue gives a harsh bark, which you do your best to replicate. “You doin’ orright pup?”
 
“Yehboss.” Blue grins, leaning against you, ripping a piece off your terror-bird steak presumptively.
 
“And the Koala!” Max continues. “Are you sure you’re not a drop-bear in disguise?”
 
“Please refrain from insulting me while I’m stitching…” Cally quips shortly, her face intent as she sutures a bloody gash in the kangaroo’s leg. “…Besides, it was only Rachel’s skill which let me get the drop on it, after all.”
 
“Mmm… There is that. Good work Rach…” Max offers, extending his hand to the Arachne.
 
Rachel studies him for a moment. “Are you noble?”
 
“What kinda question is that?” Max laughs.
 
“Humor me.”
 
Max frowns slightly in puzzlement. “No… not that it makes any difference.”
 
“No…” the Arachne declares, a wicked smile on her face, her obsidian eyes glittering “…It makes all the difference.”
 
“What do you… Ack!” Max exclaims as Rachel slings a length of silk around his legs, her spideresque lower legs working with frightening speed to encase his struggling body in silk.
 
“Rachel! What are you doing?” You demand.
 
“I almost died today, Adam! And if it’s all the same to you, I do NOT want to go to Maou a virgin!”
 
“You could have just asked!” Max’s muffled voice sounds from within his silk shroud.
 
“Shut up.” The spider orders, throwing the human across her shoulder and clambering up a nearby tree.
 
“Hehehehe… Cute…” Blue chuckles, cuddling into you again.
 
“You’re damaged, pup.” You retort with a helpless laugh.
 
“Crikey!” You hear Max declare from somewhere above you. “Now see Rachel has made the first mistake Arachnes need to avoid when dealing with live prey…”
 
“W-will you hold sti… Ahhhhhnnnnn….” The spider’s demand turns into a low, lewd moan.
 
“As you can see, Arachnes are very sensitive around the…”
 
“We can do without the running commentary!” Cally orders presumptively, digging through your medical supplies, the Kangaroo moaning half-conscious on the ground.
 
“Need a hand Cal?” You ask.
 
“Save the hands for later, my neck and shoulders are going to be an absolute MESS by the time I’m finished here.”
 
“Orright, I’ll try and find a waterhole to clean up in the meantime.”
 
“Boss, this is bunyip country…” Blue murmurs, grasping your hand as you stand up.
 
“I know Blue… Figured I might try taming one…”
 
”Damn… it’s fading…”
 
”Yes… We’re out of time, I’m afraid… I only offered you a look.”
 
“…Still I thought… Woah…” You exclaim, putting your hands to your head as you find yourself once again back in Thealiss. “…I felt them… All of it… It was like I was really there.”
 
“You were.” The Hatter replied mysteriously. “The other ‘You’s are going to have some very strange dreams for the next couple of nights.”
 
“The specifics… I can’t…” You babble, screwing your eyes closed in an attempt to hold onto the memories which seemed to shimmer and fade even as you desperately tried to remember them. “Plane-Walking… Beast-Mastery… They’re RIGHT THERE!” You declare helplessly.
 
Wendy gently places her elegant, slender-fingered hand atop your arm gently. “It’s not good for you to remember too much. You can fall into a fugue, forgetting what timeline you should be on… end up wandering the web aimlessly looking for a way back to the ‘You’ that you’re supposed to be.”
 
“You seem to manage.” You remark, cursing softly as the fine details of your experience grow even more hazy.
 
“Do I? Or am I simply following the thread of another reality?” Wendy asks primly, crossing one shapely leg over the other. “THAT will drive you mad of an evening.” The hatter declares, her laugh slightly crazed.
 
“You orright Boss?” Blue asks timidly, her paw on your leg.
 
You nod. “Yeah pup… Just… You know that feeling when you first wake up and you’re not sure if you’re still dreaming? Kinda got that in a big way right now. Nothing feels entirely… Real.”
 
Blue grabs your face between her paws, kissing you soundly. “I’m your good girl, master. This is Real.”
 
“For you…” Wendy interjects.
 
“Stop helping!” Blue growls, “Can’t you see his brains are scrambled? Why’d you even offer it to him anyway.”
 
“So he could see how far I’ve looked to find a way to save my people.”
 
“Your people?” You echo.
 
“Wendilina Anastazia Yasmin Ophelia Ursula Teague, Regent of Wonderland, at your service.” The Hatter elaborates with a slight inclination of her head.
 
“Your Grace.” You murmur deferrentialy.
 
“That’s relieving, usually people react with disbelief or shock when I tell them that!” Wendy laughs in pleased surprise.
 
“Yeh well, me dad calls the Lord Baron of House Reinhardt a cunt on a daily basis… Hats don’t really mean a helluva lot in the Australs, your Grace.”
 
“I’ve seen you defer to the man in the black tunic pretty fervently…” Wendy teases.
 
“Yeh well, that’s more what the title indicates he’s capable of. And how long have you been watching?”
 
“Since the White Queen first brought the idea before me, using your peculiar abilities to open a hole between worlds, disperse what remains of my people amongst Earth and Hell… It’s a last-ditch, but I fear we don’t have too many other options.” Wendy admitted. “Interesting that you looked towards the timeline where you mayhap discovered the means of doing so without the Gremlin’s device, however… One might suspect the hand of Providence…”
 
“If I hear a fucking raven right now…” You mutter darkly. Wendy blinks at that and erupts in a peal of delighted laughter, its edges still tinged with madness..
 
“Whazzat boss?” Blue asks.
 
“Nothing Pup… Listen, reckon I’m gonna turn in for the night… Where’s Em and Cal?”
 
“Verily, Sir Phillip didst summon them with great urgency whilst thou wert entranced.” Bella answers, stretching her wings, the Dingoes giving whuffles of admiration at their span.
 
“Everything alright?”
 
“The Manticore did seem to be more amused than afeared.” Bella admitted with a slight sourness.
 
“You two still at it?” You groan.
 
“Certes, there is… history between our peoples. I shall visit no mischeif ‘pon her, yet I am not compelled to extend the wing unto her neither.” Bella justifies primly.
 
“M’goin’ to bed.” You declare, shaking your head helplessly and standing. The canids and the Griffon likewise rise, and you bow slightly towards the Hatter. “Here’s hopin’ we get your people safe sooner rather than later, your Grace.”
 
“Thank you, Resonant.” Wendy smiles genuinely, pouring herself another cup of ‘tea’ as you begin to leave. As you step outside into the cool night air, a grey hand siezes your wrist, pulling you nearly off your feet.
 
Triune snarls sound at your back, two wordless, the third, Blue’s very clear “LEGGO ME BOSS!”
 
“Oh shhh! M’not gonna hurt him. We’re gonna go nightwisp hunt… ghack!” Nasha’s slurred voice breaks off into a choked gasp as a deadly talon clamps about her throat.
 
“Thou shalt release my boon companion lest I do violence upon thee…” Bella almost purred. Tyris, she was quick when she had to be.
 
“Y’can’t choke me, Andodulin.” Nasha gurgles mockingly around the Griffon’s grip.
 
“Verily, but canst thou survive without thy head?” Bella muses sweetly.
 
“Orright, ORRIGHT. Let’s all settle the fuck down before I get shirty.” You demand. “Nasha, leggo me arm. Bella, leggo the Vampire. Blue, Iluka, Adina, pack it in.”
 
The Mamono do as bid, Blue gazing at you adoringly, the Dingoes and Bella with questioning glances, and Nasha with an almost petulant look on her face.
 
“Thought we were friends…” The Vampire sulked.
 
“Don’t sulk, Nasha.” You chide. “What’s so important that yer tryin’ to snatch me off the street?”
 
“Nightwisps’re running, not too far from here.”
 
The Dingoes make noises of excitement, barking at each other in their curious language. Blue cocks her head, whining a query, which Adina answers, seemingly barely able to contain her enthusiasm. Blue gives a squeal of genuine delight.
 
“Boss! Can we go? Pleasepleaseplease? The Kobold begs, clinging to you and giving you those devastating Azure eyes.
 
“Now hang th’fuck on… I didn’t exactly…” Nasha begins to object, pausing as Bella pointedly flaps her massive wings. “…Well I guess it’s a free desert.” She concedes drunkenly.
 
You girls have fun. I’m gonna pass on this one… whatever it is.” you answer.
 
“Awwww!” Blue laments.
 
“Maou damn it, y’know you comin’ along was the only reason I came back!” Nasha objects.
 
“Yeh, well, ‘preciate it Nasha, but I’m fuckin’ shattered.” You explain. “Plus, let you girls stretch yer legs a bit, I can’t imagine you’ve been run off yer feet the last couple days. Let you burn off the blood a little too, eh Nasha?”
 
“S’not my fault you’re a drunk.” Nasha retorts, flicking a rude gesture at you.
 
“Goodnight girls!” You declare with a laugh, turning and waving nonchalantly. “Blue, Bella, look after Nasha for me?”
 
“By th’Blood of the First, I am a fuckin’ Elder, not some ravening neonate!” Nasha near-howls incensedly.
 
“Thou art drunk. Chide not Adam for seeing to thy welfare.”
 
“He’sh a frustratin’ shit… Cute though.”
 
“Not until you start playing nice, Fangs…” Blue snickers wickedly.
 
“Ah fuck me…” you grumble, heading towards Phillip’s rude dwelling. Even that simple interaction, now you were free of it, seemed unreal, almost dreamlike… Had that actually happened? “…I need some fucking sleep.”
 
“Oh! Adam!” Morrigan gasps as you enter the dwelling. “Nasha was looking for you. Wanted to go wisp-chasing.”
 
“Yeh, sent her off with Blue, Bella, and the karri trees masquerading as Dingoes.”
 
“Really? Heh… to be a fly on the wall during THAT chase.”
 
“M’assuming there’s a story there, but I am fucking shattered.” You declare. “How’s Phil?”
 
“You look it.” Morrigan agrees, “And he’s fine… it’s the change… ordinarily an Incubus is in Hell when it occurs so there are certain ways to ease it. On this plane he has to feel every instant of it, poor muffin. Even I can’t keep him distracted every second of the day. Girl’s gotta sleep sometime..”
 
“I’m sure… So that’s what Em and Cal are doing.”
 
“Ostensibly, they seem to be spending more time dirty-talking about you to be honest.” The Manticore drawls lecherously, her barbed tail lashing behind her.
 
“Goodnight!” You groan, “Fuckin’ can’t walk twenty metres without me cock becoming a fuckin’ talking point… I’mma chop the fucker off, swear to Tyris.”
 
“Pretty sure that’s Heresy.” Morrigan called after you as you stomped up the hallway
 
“Fuck you too, Morrie.” You grunt, pulling the door firmly closed behind you and collapsing into bed.
 
 
It was morning. Thoroughly morning, the light outside your window bright and insistent, not the cool, gentle light of late dawn you preferred to awaken to. A warm lump against your side made a small noise, sleepily reacting to your movement.
 
“Gudday pup…” You chuckle, pulling the blanket back. “…How’d you girls OH SWEET TYRIS!” You scream, recoiling violently at the sight of violet hair and felinid ears pressed against your side. Your scrambling exit dislodges three other similar lumps curled about your person, and the Cheshires make similar yowls of displeasure at being so rudely awakened, rubbing their eyes and staring at you nonplussed.
 
“The fuck are you… Tyris FUCK!” You babble desperately “…Do you have any idea…”
 
The Cheshires exchanged puzzled looks.
“Does he think…
“…What I think he thinks?”
“Ew. I can’t believe…”
“…He’s such a pervert.”
 
“Oi! I didn’t sneak into your fuckin’ bed!” You object. “Y’fuckin subject me to fuckin’ monstrosity when m’tryin’ to have a fuckin’ sleep… “ You rant.
 
“Mister Adam, Kindly…”
“…shut up. If we had…”
“…Done what you think we did…”
“…Then why is everyone still clothed?” The cheshires demanded, folding their amethyst, velveteen paws uniformly across pubescent chests, clad in (rather adorable if you had to be honest) pastel nightgowns.
 
You run your own hands over your body. Yep, apart from the mussing of a night of deep, dreamless sleep your clothes were all still thoroughly secure. You sighed in relief, leaning back against the wall. “Sorry girls, if you knew the kinda day I had yesterday.”
 
“You went into…”
“…The Maze. That’s why…”
“…We asked Miss Cally…
“…If you’d mind us sleeping here.”
 
“The Maze?” You echo.
 
“Where The Regent’s…
“…brew sent you.”
 
“Ohhh. She calls it a web.” You remark, understanding at last.
 
“The Regent has…”
“…an unhealthy fascination…”
“…with spiders…”
“…yuck.”
 
“That a fact?” You chuckle. “Still, doesn’t explain why I’m suddenly preferred cuddlebuddy.”
 
“You smelled…”
“…like home…”
“…And we’ve been…”
“…so scared for everyone.” The cheshires admit, heads hung dejectedly.
 
“Oh girls…” You sigh sympathetically, taking a knee and spreading your arms out to the cheshires, who tenatively approach for a five-way hug. “…I promised Telia, I promised Wendy, and I promise you. Anything I can do to help get your people safe, I’m gonna do. Swear to Holy Tyris.”
 
Happy giggles are muffled against your chest as four pairs of paws squeeze various areas of your torso.
 
“Now, I’m gonna go find me Kobie, because if she ain’t here, she’s probably done herself or up to a mischief.” You declare, mussing violet hair on four heads and standing, grinning cheekily as the cheshires yowl in objection, patting their scalps to try and fix their hair.
 
 
“There you are!” You laugh, spying the quartet of Dingoes, Kobold and Griffon.
 
“Shhh… Boss… Loud…” Blue whimpers, her head in her paws.
 
“You hung over?”
 
“Too many mana.” Adina whuffles, trying to look dignified in her evident suffering.
 
“Verily… we did foolishly overindulge in our enthusiasm yon night prior.” Bella agrees.
 
You nod, trying to keep your amusement at their misery from your face. “Why’re you sitting in the sun then?”
 
“NIGHT Wisps… Sun burn off mana… Human knows nothing.” Iluka growls, rubbing her temples with a shaking paw.
 
“Fair enough then. Y’got Nasha home alright?”
 
Bella grins wickedly, rapping a talon against the long wooden box she is lying atop.
 
“FUCK. OFF.” A clear, pained, voice commands.
 
“We wait until Mana settle. Then we carry blood-drinker home.” Adina assures you.
 
“I can stand a little sunlight!” Nasha’s muffled voice objects.
 
“Boss said take care of you, and a good girl always does what her master says.” Blue retorts primly.
 
“Blue… Have you four been bullying Nasha all night?” You ask levelly
 
The Kobold shuffles her lower paws slightly guiltily. “Well…”
 
“Nay!” Bella insists. “Verily, not ALL night…”
 
“Utinu en lokirim…” Nasha snarls from within the box “…my revenge will be sweet and lingering.”
 
“Don’t threaten me with a good time…” Blue whuffles smugly.
 
“Cally is a terrible influence on you.” You chuckle “And don’t count on me to fight your…” You do your best to replicate the odd Dingo word Adina had used a couple of days prior.
 
“Boss why would I want you to fight my fuzzy blue pebbles?” Blue asks, her face twisted in utter confusion.
 
“Ah, nevermind, joke’s passed.” You sigh in disappointment. “Come find me when you’re feeling a little less fragile, yeh pup?”
 
“Will there be kisses?”
 
“There very well might be…” You grin, waving to the quartet as you head back towards the Warren. You take a quick glance at the sun. It was somewhere around midday, and even if it wasn’t, it was midday SOMEWHERE, and for the first time in who knew how long, you were alone and at leisure. Time to get a drink and try and surprise that Troll.
 
 
“Sodding hell!” you murmur as another succubus barrels from the taproom, clearly wanting to be anywhere but there. Unintelligible yelling can be heard from inside.
 
“I really should just walk away…” You sigh to yourself as you push open the door. To be perfectly honest you are not surprised when a mind-shattering melange of Angelic and Demonic POWER metaphorically smacks you in the face. On one side of the taproom stands Raoul, glowing gold with radiant power, ethereal wings sprouting from his back, the unmistakable figure of an Angel behind him. On the other, Cally, her face a mask of utter fury, holding a chair aloft in her twin-thumbed hands, Telia staring daggers at the celestial, one long-fingered hand holding the ravening Koala back, the other held aloft, a ball of dark, smoking fire held warningly within. Caught up in their standoff, none notice you enter.
 
“This is not for you to dispute, Handmaiden!” Raoul orders imperiously.
 
“Who the FUCK is even talking right now? Is it the man I called father or have you got your hand up his arse, Cassariael?” Cally screeches, pulling against the hand holding her back, the chair hefted like a war-club.
 
“How DAREST Thou?!” The Angel cries, the force of her outrage battering at you like a cyclone wind. “Hath I not in all things indulged thy petulance? Let thee play at thy role… Handmaiden of Hells Throne… Thou art not even succubi.”
 
“No, because The Queen of Hell actually has a modicum of subtlety, and doesn’t use a war-scythe to cut a wedge of cheese.” Telia retorts.
 
“I remember THEE, Lilim, in the rebelliousness of THY youth… Be certain thy conscience is clear before lecturing me.” The angel retorts venomously.
 
“How can you DO this to me?!” Cally demands, hot tears of rage or sadness, you’re not sure which springing to her eyes.. “I LOVE you, Father!”
 
“Cally…” Raoul replies, a little humanity returning to his burning gaze. “…It’s not something I can avoid any longer. Adam will understand…”
 
“Yeh? Whazzat then?” You drawl, quickly raising a shield of Resonant power almost on instinct as four sets of eyes turn to face you in surprise.
 
“Adam!” Cally exclaims, seeming to come slightly to her senses, lowering the chair. “This is… Um…”
 
“Looks like a family blue… Though usually when me and Tristan got into it we didn’t bring the kinda argy that can bust The Australs in two.” You remark, walking to the bar and helping yourself to a tankard of cider. “Thanks Leperia!” You yell towards the rear of the tavern.
 
“If you break anything back there I’ll be cross, Human!” The Rabbit’s voice echoes from some hidden location.
 
“She’s right hey…” You assure the White Rabbit. “Now. Ordinarily I’d say this is none of me business, ‘cept you, Cal, are looking to do a Violence on the Word of Tyris Made Flesh or the Left Hand of God… Or both, either way as a loyal Son of the Church, can’t really let ya, even here.” you remark, slightly apologetically.
 
“Now Adam!” Telia interjects in outrage.
 
“Lemme finish if I may, Excellency…” You continue, holding up your hand beseechingly. “…And conversely, O Blessed and Glorious, and Most Illustrious Worship, y’made me good mate cry, and that shit just ain’t fuckin’ on at a moral level. M’pretty sure it’s even in the scriptures. Not to mention, I heard me name being thrown about.”
 
You take a drink, your audience’s jaws slack with utter disbelief.
 
“So. Here’s what’s gonna happen. I would ask, in the spirit of The Holy Pax, that Her Excellent and Perfect Princess of Hell and Her Blessed and Glorious Messenger of the High Heavens do kindly sod off, and let me and Raoul have a chat about what it is he’s so sure I’m gonna understand, Resonant to Resonant.”
 
“My Heart…” The Angel Cassariael begins, peering at you as one would look at some astonishing new form of insect. “…Is this Wilder so frequently and irritatingly reasonable?”
 
“Seems the stars align to make it so on occasion…” Raoul concedes, the glow about him dimming as he re-alights on the floor of the tavern. “…Does this meet with your approval, Excellency?”
 
“Fine by me…” Telia quips nonchalantly, extinguishing the ball of dark fire in her hand. “…I’m only here to prevent Celestial incursion into Hell’s territory… Again.”
 
It was Heresy to even think it, but you’re sure Cassariael looked slightly guilty at that.
 
“Come Cally, I’m sure you can continue your discussion with your Guardian when your heart and head have had time to cool…” Telia orders presumptively, guiding the Koala into the rear of the tavern.
 
“Adam! Whatever he asks you, say no! In fact, smack him in the fucking chops, Maou knows he’s overdue for it!” Cally demands seethingly, still glaring at Raoul.
 
“Ut ut!” Telia chides, slapping Cally casually across the cheek. “Be careful how you invoke my mother’s name around me, girl.”
 
“Highness…” Cally conceded, as cowed, she allowed Telia to lead her away.
 
“Well, Adam, I’m impressed! Takes testicles of meteor iron to do that. Of course I’d never admit it outside of Thealiss.” Raoul declared, taking a seat in the now-abandoned taproom and gesturing for you to join him.
 
“Thanks…” You reply, shaking your head “…but I’ll stand.”
 
“Honestly, Adam, I was waiting for you! That whole business was that STUBBORN ward of mine refusing to acknowledge reality.”
 
“Yeh nah, s’not that… I am not entirely convinced I didn’t shit my pants there.”
 
“You looked so confident!”
 
“A fucking act, I assure you, Illustriousness.” You murmur, taking a drink, your hand now shaking with the aftermath of adrenaline.
 
“Well fine. The reason behind…”
 
“Can I ask a favour, mate?” you interrupt. “Can we do ‘What’ before ‘Why’? Not sayin’ yer likely to lead me up the garden path but I’d like the chance to process it raw.”
 
“Not an unreasonable request…” Raoul admits, and you sense a Resonant Glyph being cast from the man, a full tankard of cider sailing elegantly from behind the bar to his waiting hand. “…I will miss that.”
 
“What, yer gonna give up the grog?” you exclaim incredulously.
 
“Hah. Only an Australian…” Raoul chuckles, before his face falls to seriousness “…No Adam, I want you to strip me of Resonance.”
 
“What. The. Fuck.”
 
“It’s actually much simpler than you’d believe, the Glyphs are simply a combination of…”
 
You hold your hand out, shaking your head emphatically. “Yeah nah, nah… Not where I was goin’… Have you taken leave of yer fuckin’ mind?”
 
“Quite the contrary. It’s very rare that a Lord of the Angelic Orders is awakened to Resonance prior to… Receiving his title.”
 
“Fucking an Angel and surviving, you mean.”
 
Raoul’s eyes widen in surprise “How did you…”
 
“Once you’ve got all the pieces it’s a piss-poor puzzle mate, and don’t change the subject.” You interject. “Tyris be Glorified Throughout the Ages… no WONDER Cal wanted to brain you with the fuckin’ barstool. We NEED you on this!”
 
“Yes, you do. Which is why I need you to do this for me. When I’m directing the Angels I will be calling on more Authority than I have ever experienced before. The Logos will view it as a threat.”
 
“Meaning…”
 
“It might kill me… Or it might decide to glass everything within a league to ensure the threat is eliminated.”
 
You stumble backwards, thankfully falling into a chair, tankard clattering from numb fingers. What were you to do?
 
“Adam?” Raoul prompts, looking at you with slight concern. “Still with me?”
 
“Oi! Hello up there!” You blurt, rapping your knuckles briefly against your skull “What gives with this shit?!”
 
“Stop that! Have you taken leave of your senses!” Raoul hisses, his eyes wide with alarm. “NEVER attempt to engage the Logos directly!”
 
“Why the fuck not, if it’s gonna be an arbitrary cunt about it?”
 
Raoul shakes his head with a groan. “We don’t understand it… I don’t know what it is, but it’s so profoundly alien that even our best semanticists have been rendered drooling vegetables trying to puzzle out what makes it tick. There’s nothing to suggest that beyond a rude sense of self-preservation it even possesses the ability to reason at all.”
 
“So we just throw glyphs at it and hope it feels like playing then? That’s Resonance?”
 
“It’s as good a definition as any. Let me put it this way though, Adam. Even in the chaos of our first awakening, where the Lodge was the LODGE for the first time in history, the Logos has always done exactly what we ask it… So long as that has been arguably in the best interests of its continued existence.”
 
“So it might go full chastiterum on you for trying to save lives, but it lets Isaac do whatever the fuck he wants, Tyris visit the cunt with piles. Nah, yeh, that’s fuckin’ fair.” you snarl, your voice dripping with sarcasm.
 
“Welcome to the first point of disconnect. The Logos ‘cares’ about method and result. Intent is irrelevant. What’s a mazed non-resonant and a mind-raped Koala against the rest of the world, after all?”
 
You look at Raoul like he’s just sprouted an extra head. “HERESY!” You yell. “Canticle 15 verse 2, “What Sin thou commit against e’en the least of thy brethren hast thou committed against Me.” This is the Word of The God.”
 
Raoul nods, “All Glory to the Most High. The question was rhetorical… and you’d better get out of the habit of throwing around denouncements like that against High Ranking church members Adam.”
 
“Withdrawn, sorry. That shook me.” You apologise.
 
“A true son of the Church indeed…” Raoul smiles in approval. “…Your Grace is received.”
 
“I still don’t get why it’s going to see it as a threat.” You insist.
 
“Because remember what I said about intent? I’ll be pulling a LOT of Angel through myself, in close proximity to a sizeable tear in reality. It’s not the first time the… misunderstanding has occurred, just the first time I’m not going to be able to minimize the ‘threat’.”
 
“Still not quite catching it.”
 
“Do you think I destroyed the Dis Anima out in The Gap?”
 
You paused at that. “You mean…”
 
“I presented the Logos with a potential scenario. Dis Anima won’t just render you insane, they… assume you as part of their feeding. Can you imagine my mind, wired for resonance, becoming part of that Gestalt?”
 
You shudder at the thought, before pausing. “But you said you can’t interact with the Logos in a direct fashion like that.”
 
“Which is, again, why you need to be trained properly. The Logos isn’t omniscient, there are things it has either never encountered or simply doesn’t ‘know’ enough about.”
 
“…Ah. And I’m assuming Heaven falls into that category.”
 
“Thank Tyris, you’re catching up.” Raoul sighs with relief, gesturing again and catching one of the pair of full tankards which sail from behind the bar.
 
Maintaining the presence of mind to snag the second tankard, you take a long drink before continuing. “So would this have anything to do with this ‘Work’ Cally keeps hinting at?”
 
“The part I can tell you about, sort of. It took a lot of very fast talking and even some threats to bring it before The Brides of Tyris for me to be able to keep my Resonant Ability once I… got ‘the nod’ as it were. Turns out the Faith Militant had dropped the ball on me, usually they’re fairly good at spotting potential members of the Angelic Orders whilst we’re still abbey-bound.”
 
“Hence the desire to not repeat it with Dominus Ian.”
 
Raoul nods. “Right again. But it’s beside the point. My idea was, acclimate the Logos to Angelic energy so it no longer deems a surfeit of it as a foreign threat within a resonant.”
 
You blink in confusion. “Why the bloody hell for?”
 
“Come ON Adam! If you’re being deliberately dense right now I’m gonna get annoyed. The amount of knowledge required to use Resonance to heal, cure, or strengthen yourself or another requires years of intense study. But there’s another way to do those things without Resonance.”
 
“The Benedictus.”
 
“Good to see you’re still awake up there.” Raoul smirked mockingly. “Just think of it, Resonant Paladins, High Priestesses able to use the Benedictus as well as their own Resonance… The Church and the Lodge able to fully realize the potential of both their resources working in true synergy. We could remake the very world, Adam. Make a place where The Pax was truly a peace, not the tense treaty we’ve been struggling with all these centuries. Manticores no longer forced to kill their bulls at birth. Vast, winding necropoli for the Undead to do whatever they do without driving their neighbours to shrieking terror…”
 
“Sounds like Paradise, so why the secrecy?” You demand suspiciously.
 
Raoul gives you a cagy look, before chuckling helplessly. “The God must love you. In any other time, in any other place, I’d ignore that question out of hand. But here? Not only CAN I tell you, in order to convince you it seems I MUST. The Pax is a treaty… For Hell to agree, It has to get something in return.”
 
“And what is that?”
 
“Your friend Philip might have made a good Resonant once… Bit late now though.”
 
“The fuck does that have to do with… Oh…” You blurt, your stomach lurching within you as the full gravity of Raoul’s suggestion. “…You’re fuckin’ tapped, Illustriousness! Givin’ Hell Resonance?! To hear Nasha tell it the fact Humans had it and Mamono didn’t was the only thing that let us survive the Winnowing of Sin!”
 
“It slowed the Winnowing, but didn’t stop it. Eternal Tyris saved Humanity. He is the only being who could. Never forget that.” Raoul corrected sternly. “But your reaction isn’t uncommon, which is why I’m forced to be subtle about it. And why The Lodge would offer you no succor from being declared a Heretic should you choose to abandon her for Telia’s questionable sanctuary.”
 
“Why do they want it?”
 
Raoul shakes his head “Even here I’m not saying out loud. You think Angels and Demons are the worst Heaven and Hell can bring to bear? There’s a whole other world out there, Adam, and once you can see it…”
 
“Tyris be Glorified if I had a damn Gold for every time some cunt said that! Fucks sake… When did the bloody world decide to get so fuckin’ convoluted?”
 
“About five minutes before forever ago… The Australs have just had the good sense to stay out of it for the most part. The traditional isolationist policies of the Dominii help as well, no doubt.”
 
“Chapter 1 of the Charter of the Protectorate. ‘Fuck off, we’re full’.” You snicker knowingly. “Bringing it back to the original point though, since you brought me into it, how’re you gonna tell the Lodge about me without Resonance?”
 
“Bjorn forced that particular issue. That’s the problem with Cogitators, they’re proper chatterboxes once you know the right lever, and our Junior Warden is something of an artisan with levers.” Raoul grimaced.
 
You swallow. “So what’d you say I’d do?”
 
“The only thing I could, if I said you were coming, I’d be expected to deliver, and without Resonance I’d either have to bring an army with me, which would mean war, or have to dodge Kobold and Dingo packs all the way to the nearest Chancel thanks to your Indentured.”
 
“…And since I’m not a Heretic, It’s clear you said I’d spy.” You conclude.
 
Raoul nods. “You either will, or you’ll go to Magisterium, or you’ll stay here, and in either other case the point’s moot. Not like I’ll be forced to answer for it…”
 
“…Assuming I agree to strip you of Resonance.”
 
Raoul groans “Please don’t make me explain the whole thing again…”
 
“I won’t, but I still don’t see why Cally’s so damn stroppy about it.”
 
“It means I can’t continue my work, and Hell has to wait for someone else to pick up Heaven’s loose end, for one. The other reasons are… Personal.”
 
You nod, standing pointedly.
 
“Where are you going?” Raoul demands.
 
“To talk personal.”
 
“That’s cheating.” Raoul grumbles darkly.
“Yeh, but… Y’know… Thealiss…” You remark philosophically.
 
 
“…You still hit me, Highness…” Cally sulks at the Lilim, eyes widening as you enter the lavishly furnished sitting room at the rear of the tavern. “Adam! Please don’t tell me you…”
 
“I haven’t decided shit, one way or the other. But I’d be a shit friend if I didn’t at least give you the opportunity to explain why the concept’s got you threatenin’ Angels with furniture.”
 
“Well… You see…” Cally mumbles, her twin-thumbed hands fidgeting in her lap.
 
“C’mon Cal, no more secrets. You promised.” You remind the Koala, folding your arms across your chest.
 
“I did, didn’t I?” Cally accedes with a note of… relief? The Koala turns her head to look at Telia askance. The Lilim brushes a length of ivory hair behind her horn and shrugs slightly.
 
“If you promised, you promised, dear.” She remarks, her face unreadable.
 
“Adam, I know this might be hard to accept, but Angels aren’t what you think. They’re not the physical manifestation of the Will of Tyris… They’re Mamono…”
 
“CALLY! DON’T!” Raoul near-screams as he bursts into the sitting room, his eyes wild.
 
Cally smirks maliciously. “Too late father. I keep my promises, unlike some…”
 
“Heresy!” Raoul blurts desperately. “Adam. By my authority you will disregard…”
 
“Is she lying, Lord Dumat?” Telia interjects sweetly.
 
“What?”
 
“Is she lying?”
 
“Well… I mean… It’s not the same… The will of The God is not for…”
 
“I think, Adam dear, you can comfortably take that avoidance as ‘no’.” Telia concludes with a small smile.
 
“Why do I get the feeling that was another thing I was never supposed to know?” You sigh, pinching the bridge of your nose.
 
“Because you’re not. Mention it… Tyris… THINK it too obviously in public and you’ll burn… over wet wood.” Raoul assures you seriously.
 
“I still don’t see what this has to do with Raoul being stripped of Resonance.”
 
“Because as a Resonant, Heaven has to be careful with how much Angel they let him have.” Cally answers.
 
“I told you this already Adam. See what I mean? She’s simply being unreason…” Raoul adds quickly, trying to usher you from the room.
 
“Did you tell him the other side father? Did you tell him that commanding the Choir to this degree all but assures your… Ascension? Or to put it another way… Adam what was that lovely word you used? Transmutation?”
 
“Tyris be fuckin… That’s a death sentence!” You exclaim, turning on the elder Resonant in shock.
 
“Oh, the church will turn a blind eye to the Celestials, Mother knows they’re pickier than a Kitsune at a banquet when it comes to their men. But you spoke to Nasha, didn’t you Human? You know what ‘Ascension’ entails.” Telia drawls evenly.
 
“At least we kept our memories… unlike the Angels…” Nasha’s voice echoes in your memory.
 
“You’d lose everything. Everything you were, everything you are… Gone… Like it never mattered… like I never mattered…” Cally sobs, confirming your suspicions.
 
“What happened to you, Calliope?” Raoul chides, a note of disappointment in his voice. “I never taught you to be this selfish.”
 
“I’M selfish?!” Cally shrieks, leaping to her feet and advancing on the man “I’m not the one throwing away everything!”
 
“The word you’re looking for is Sacrificing.” Raoul corrects. “And you wouldn’t listen to me before but by Tyris, you will now. There is a very good chance the Logos will react EXTREMELY poorly to what I need to do. Your refugees, stranded. The Wonderlands, Gone. Thealiss, a smoking crater. Her Excellency there may survive… Adam MIGHT be able to withstand it… though Blue would probably end up feeding him broth swaddled in a blanket while he drooled and babbled to himself, his mind shocked into infancy for what little remained of his life afterwards.”
 
“B-but it’s not guaranteed!” Cally rejoined, gripping at Raoul’s tunic and staring up at him beseechingly “Please! Even if there’s the smallest chance…”
 
“Even Blue wouldn’t touch those dice, Cal.” You interject. “I’m sorry, you’re a dear friend and I’d do anything in my power to make you happy… But to take that kind of risk? Me soul’d be better off for me going back to Tristan and asking him to cut my throat for engaging in Monstrosity for even thinking about it.”
 
Cally turns to you with a look of horror. “Get out.” she hisses.
 
“Cal…” you begin, reaching out towards the Koala beseechingly.
 
“GET OUT! BOTH OF YOU! OUT! FUCK YOU!” Cally shrieks, shoving herself away from Raoul and lashing out with her clawed hand, drawing thin lines of blood on your outstretched arm, making you yell and snatch it back in surprise.
 
Raoul sighed, pain in his eyes. “Excellency?”
 
“The Handmaiden’s made her decision. As you have made yours… Did you ever think there was a REASON Tyris let Ramiael go searching for her Bishounen?” Telia replies evenly, her face still unreadable.
 
“You Presume…” Raoul grates incensedly, outraged at the Lilim’s reply.
 
“Oh Lord Dumat… Supremacy amongst Humans still makes you little more than the biggest ant on the apple. You cannot fathom the things I have seen, the things I have learned, in the eons of my life. Let me just assure you that before He became Tyris, I was very well versed in the way he thought.”
 
“The Dominus though…” Raoul begins, his voice now uncertain.
 
“He could have been a saint of your blessed church. A Hero of the Australs. But Politics had to come first, and now? A Wilder Resonant and the One whose Name is Silence will save a world… And nobody will ever know.” Telia concludes in a tone which brooks no disagreement.
 
“How could I have known?!” Raoul cries in shocked desperation.
 
“Maybe you were never supposed to.” Telia sighs, taking the now-weeping Koala in her arms, pressing her comfortingly against her achingly perfect figure. “But you’ve made your choices. Both of you… And you need to be ready to face the consequences.”
 
Raoul gives a gallows sigh, opening his mouth as if to answer before shaking his head sadly. “Come on Adam…”
 
“Time to get drunk?” You suggest, your heart heavy in your breast.
 
Raoul shakes his head “Too much work to do. I’ve got to give you a crash-course in planar physics… and I’ve got less than a day to do it.”
 
 
“Still with me?” Raoul murmurs.
 
“M’head feels like it’s gonna split open!” You grimace, fingertips upon your scalp as if to assure yourself that your head indeed was not about to erupt in a font of gore.
 
Raoul claps you on the shoulder reassuringly. “It will pass, the mind is an amazingly versatile thing. Now… Show me again.”
 
You focus intently, your lower lip between your teeth as you throw glyphs at the illusion Raoul had formulated before you.
 
“No… It’s this…” Raoul corrects, modifying the sequence ever-so-slightly.
 
“But you said…”
 
“Don’t argue with me, neonate…” Raoul barks
 
“The fuck is a neeya-naight?” You demand.
 
“…Never mind, I’m falling into old training habits…” Raoul admits, stretching in place “…Good… now hold that. Hold it… Now I’m going to simulate resistance… Are you ready?”
 
“Fuckin’ just fuckin’ do it fuckin’ had a fuckin’ gutful all-fuckin’-ready.” You snarl, your voice trailing into a low groan with the EFFORT of concentrating as Raoul’s own mind threw confusion and chaos at you.
 
“You’ve got a mind like a bear-trap.” Raoul remarks in praise.
 
“Buy me a fuckin’ drink before you go suckin’ my cock.” You spit, releasing the glyphs at Raoul’s gesture.
 
“Surly fellow when you’re under load, aren’t you?” Raoul remarks with a slight chuckle. “I think we’re as close as we’re going to get.”
 
“So… What was I supposed to be watching?” Emmy asks, her exo floating from where it had reclined against the wall at her gesture, The Gremlin clambering her slight frame into its curious ‘seat’.
 
“You saw Adam’s reaction there?”
 
“Skip looked like he was trying to shit a castle, with balconies, yeh, what’s yer point?” Emmy replies, a puzzled look on her youthful features.
 
“If he starts acting different to that, worry.” Raoul concludes. “Well, I guess there’s nothing else for it.”
 
“…Wait, you want to do it now?” You exclaim “But I’ve barely…”
 
“You know the glyphs. You’ve got the process. Further practice is just going to tire you. We’ve done all we can.” Raoul sighs. “And I want to be done with it before I convince myself that abducting the Dominus and simply GIVING him to Ramiael is a preferred option.”
 
“Out of curiosity…” You begin.
 
“No Adam, as much as it’s killing me to know that the Church and the Magisterium and… Tyris forgive me, even I put our own mundane politicking over what, in retrospect was CLEARLY the intent of the Most High, can you imagine what would happen if I, in my Authority as Lord Dumat, essentially kidnapped the closest thing to a reigning sovereign in the known world and bullrushed him through something it took me the better part of two decades to resign myself to the reality of?”
 
“I don’t… Tyris be Glorified, Illustriousness. I don’t even have a point of reference for that!” You admit helplessly.
 
“There are about seven people in the entire world I know of who do, Adam. There would be a call for Crusade within a week, perhaps even a Crisis of the Faith. The Lodge would Schism, I’d be called to account, Cally, not to mention Emmy here would probably be thrown under the wagon to obfuscate Telia’s involvement… It’s too late to do anything else.”
 
“…Bugger.” You conclude.
 
Raoul nods. “I just hope Cally can come to understand and forgive me someday.” The Resonant sighs. “Now. What I’m about to communicate to you is given only to the elected Master of the Lodge. If you were to ever, EVER perform this without sitting in that august seat, the entire body of the Grand Lodge would seek your utter obliteration.”
 
“Uh…” You murmur hesitantly.
 
“Don’t worry, I’m Lord Dumat. The Brides have been made aware and have communicated… Special Dispensation in this instance. Congratulations, by rights until the sun comes up tomorrow, You’re an acting Arch-Master of the Grand Lodge of the Resonant.”
 
“Go me…” You mutter darkly “…so how do we do this?”
 
“The Act of Unawakening is given thus…” Raoul begins, taking your right hand in his own, placing his other hand on your shoulder.
 
 
“Raoul… Raoul! You orright?”
 
The man, now no longer resonant, groans on the ground, gripping his head. “So… quiet…” He near-sobs. “I never expected… It’s… EMPTY…”
 
“C’mon, pull yerself together Illustriousness. We haven’t got but a few hours until we’ve got to move on this.” You insist, pulling Raoul to his feet, his platinum-blonde hair wild and dishevelled where it hangs in his face, his grey eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot.
 
“Tyris… I need a drink…” He murmurs, staggering against you.
 
“Gonna have to be a small one mate, don’t think we need you pissed on this…” You chuckle, helping the man back towards the ‘Warren, the Gremlin floating silently in her exo beside you.
 
“Boss!” Blue’s voice rings out, the Kobold running towards you, again flanked by her Dingo minders, now looking much less haggard than her earlier woebegone bearing that morning. “Why has Adorabear locked herself in Princess Tittywings’ room? And why is she calling you and Blondie all sortsa names?”
 
“Necessity, Pup…” You sigh, reaching out a hand to pat Blue on the head briefly. “…We’ll try and sort it out after…”
 
“Sal and Phil and the other Hornheads nicked the bungas too. Hooked ‘em to this big flatbed number with a metal circle on it and are feedin’ em some really nasty-smellin’ stuff.”
 
“There thou art!” Bella’s voice intrudes, the Griffon’s landing kicking up a cloud of dust. “Blue, Princess Telia beseeches thee to communicate unto thy cousins the necessity of prompt, yea, e’en instant and immediate flight from grounds which she doth assure…”
 
“Feathers, I don’t unnerstand a fuckin’ word comin’ out your mouth right now.” The Kobold interjects in confusion.
 
“Go tell the Dingoes to get shot of you-apparently-know-where because shit’s about to go sideways.” You translate.
 
“Oh!” Blue exclaims brightly. “I didn’t know you spoke Griffon, boss! You’re so smart!” The kobold leans up, kissing you presumptively before barking a few phrases to the Dingoes flanking her. With a nod, the trio sprints away, faster than you believed possible, Blue’s shorter legs pumping frantically in an effort to keep up with the longer-limbed canids.
 
“T’was not Griffon…” Bella murmurs in confusion.
 
“S’orright Bella…” You chuckle helplessly “…Reckon you could do us a favour? Could you carry Raoul the rest of the way? I think me and Em should probably go with the whatchamacallit.”
 
“Planar interphase toroid, you gormer.” Emmy interjects with a sigh.
 
“Yeh, that.”
 
Bella nods uncertainly. “Certes, though… How is he with heights?”
 
Raoul laughs, taking his arm from where he rests on your shoulder, and staggering slightly towards the Griffon. “I have flown in ways and places you cannot begin to imagine…”
 
“Truly?” The Griffon muses as she steps daintily behind him, her talons crossing over his torso where he has raised his arms to accommodate her. Suddenly, she makes a face. “Verily, thou doth not half smell of…”
 
“You’ll have to grin and bear it, I fear.” Raoul quips drily, lowering his arms over hers. “Not like it’s going to get any lesser any time soon…”
 
Bella makes a noise of disapproval, before launching herself skyward, Raoul hanging oddly comfortably from her talons.
 
“Better get a wriggle on, eh?” You remark, drumming a knuckle against the metal of Emmy’s exo.
 
“Why now though?” Emmy remarks as you break into a light jog, heading towards the unmistakable shape of your trio of Bungarra where they are pulling a large, flatbed wagon in the near distance.
 
“Fucked if I know…” You admit. “…Tyris, I wish Cally was here.”
 
 
“Twenty! Get the fuck out of it!” You demand, stopping and smacking the Bungarra across the snout where it was attempting to take a bite out of a succubus who had strayed too closely. “I told you lot to stay clear of their heads!”
 
“Sorry Resonant, I was reading…” The Succubus explained holding up a sheet of parchment upon which were scrawled unintelligible runes in a language you had never seen before.
 
“Much good that’s gonna do you if he bites yer fuckin’ arm off! Tyris be fuckin’ glorified… What did you feed ‘em?”
 
“Roasted Hellboar.” A nearby Incubus explains to you condescendingly, “Improves strength, stamina, muscle tone.”
 
“And makes ‘em more aggro than a starvin’ bunyip with a hurt ear, clearly. What fuckin’ possessed you lot to just start usin’ me shit without even so much as checkin’ with me first?”
 
“Mind your words, Human…” The incubus growled, baring his fangs. “…You have no authority here.”
 
Right. That tore it.
 
“A moment of silence for the fuckhead…” You hiss, raising your hands into the sign of the sunburst.
 
“You dare challenge a Son of…” The Incubus began, his eyes widening.
 
AGONY
 
The Incubus collapses to the dirt, screaming and writhing as your glyph plays merry havoc with his nervous system.
 
“Oh Maou… Adam, please… do let him up.” Salethiael groans, his black wings beating expertly as he alights behind you on the flatbed.
 
“Yeh nah, think I’ll feed him to Four…” You grunt from between clenched teeth.
 
“I hadn’t picked you for such savagery, Adam.” Philip remarks, Morrigan beside him, the Manticore steadying him in the air where his new wings flew him unsteadily to land beside the elder Incubus.
 
“Me patience is runnin’ at a fuckin’ deficit, and this has not been the best day in the fuckin’ world.”
 
“And there is no provision under the Pax for stupidity to be a death sentence.”
 
“Balls.” You curse, releasing your hold on the glyph. The Incubus regains his feet, panting, staring at you with smouldering fury.
 
“Borael, the rumor that your father was a pit-fiend is already widespread enough in Pandemonium… Are you lend it further credence by being brainless enough to pick a fight with an angry Resonant… Twice?” Salethiael muses candidly.
 
“My Lord.” Borael grunts from between his fangs, flicking another venomous glare at you before stalking off.
 
“Lord, eh?” You remark absently, your eyes following the Incubus with practiced suspicion.
 
“Warmaster of Hell… The ‘reward’ Her Highness was talking about when she pulled me back there after that fight with the Celestial.” Salethiael clarifies.
 
“Oh… Heh. Here was me thinkin’… Y’know…”
 
“Well, that too…” The Incubus admits. “…You know, I’d give some thought to what returning to civilization’s going to mean to you, Adam. You’ve spent a fair while buried to the hilt, so to speak, in the upper echelons of Hell’s Politics.”
 
“More like bein’ pointed at shit and told to go, but I see your point.” You sigh. “I know some shit I think I’d have been happier not, it’s true… But this place is changing me. The thing with big-mouth there? I wouldnt’ve done that two months ago. Cally taught me an important lesson on the road. I’ve got a helluva boot on me, and it’s easy for me to get in the habit of just getting my own way. There’s a bloke who’s due for the stake and the fire over in Magisterium who thought that was a good idea, and there, but for the Grace of Eternal Tyris go I. Think I might be better off where I’ve got someone not as whimsical as Her Excellency to remind me to pull my head in, if it’s all the same to you mate.”
 
“Fair enough. Do look me up if your travels ever put you somewhere like this again. You’re not bad, for a human.”
 
“And for an Unclean Abomination, you’re a pretty good bloke.” You grin in response. The Incubus laughs, clapping you on the shoulder before taking wing again.
 
“Can you go back to a normal life after this though?” Phillip asked, Morrigan’s paws absently about his waist. You looked at them for a moment, the Manticore who was disguised as a Priestess when you first met, The turncoat Paladin, now an Incubus, his brow stained with dark blood where ebon horns were even now growing through the skin.
 
“Phil, mate… Please point out to me where my life has ever been ‘normal’, because I think I lost track of that sometime after me fifteenth birthday.” You chuckle helplessly.
 
 
“How’s he doing?” You murmur to Bella, who is staring suspiciously at Raoul where he stands with his arms raised in the Sign of the Sunburst, his lips moving silently in an unknown prayer.
 
“Verily, he fell asleep in mid-flight!” The Griffon whispers incredulously “And he doth utterly REEK of Angel!”
 
“Yeh, guess he does. Her Excellency got you doing anything specific?”
 
Bella shakes her head. “Nay.”
 
“Feel like heading back to Thealiss, makin’ sure Nasha’s across the infirmary and that… that Cally’s okay?”
 
“Wilt that not appear as desertion? Verily, I do not wish to dishonour myself by fleeing…”
 
“Nah, s’important, and if anybody asks I told ya so.”
 
Bella smiles in gratitude, launching herself into the air as she heads back towards Thealiss, its lights a small, dim glow in the distance against the blackness of night.
 
“No chance of me doin’ the same?” Emmy asks in a small voice where she looks up at you, her Exo’s Mechandrites locked sturdily to the curious device that you had built in concert with her, Raoul, and the Cogitator Bjorn. A smaller mechandrite was extended into a large basket full of glowing magical focii, sucking the light out of them and pumping it into the device.
 
“Need you Em.” You grinned, patting the gremlin’s emerald haired head fondly.
 
“I never thought I’d be disappointed to hear you say that, Skip…” Emmy Grumbles, peering at an illuminated surface on the device. “We’re at seventy percent… probably should get everyone ready.”
 
You lean out towards the edge of the giant ochre dome which sat in the middle of the flat, featureless desert around you. Approaching the feature had filled you with a strange sense of foreboding as the wagon had trundled towards it in the dimness of twilight. Here Kuniya and Liru, sisters of the immense Wagyl, had fought, according to legend, their blood soaking the ground, this massive sandstone rock rising from the depths of the earth as Mater Australis shuddered in protest. Humans had no magic, every child knew it, yet the very ground hummed under your feet with a force beyond your understanding.
 
“Your Excellency? We’re about ready to kick off!” You yelled down the slope of the rock. A small white figure disengaged itself from the sparkling mass of lights, some lanterns, others coldly glowing magical orbs, growing in your vision until Telia hovered in the air before you, her bare, shapely feet alighting daintily upon the rock.
 
“Once again, I cannot thank you enough for this.” The Lilim admits, for once with no trace of mystery or playfulness in her voice. “You’re a good man, Adam of Gibson Holding.”
 
“Y’said you knew how Tyris thought, before He was Tyris. Y’should know that He’d command us to do no less.” You answer simply.
 
Telia smiles, and appears on the verge of saying something else…
 
“Whoop! Ere we go… When yer ready Skip…” Emmy interjects, cutting the Lilim off. In an instant, the veil is returned, Telia’s look of bored amusement once again in place.
 
“Your Illustriousness?” You venture, looking over at Raoul. Lowering his hands, Raoul’s eyes snap open, suddenly blazing with golden fire. You gasp, taking a step back as on ethereal, glowing wings, the man rises into the air, cries of concern rising from the hell-host below.
 
“And Lo, upon the wings of Heaven came Hosts of Angels, and the peoples of the world did cry ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ At the majesty and power, and all would know that Tyris is The God.” Raoul intones in a ringing voice, and an instant later the sky itself seemed to open. Your breath caught in your throat. Angels! Dozens of them, descending towards you on blindingly white wings, their armor brilliant and with weapons aflame with the very light of the sun.
 
“All Glory to the Most High!” You cry, falling to your knees in utter adoration as their presence sweeps overwhelmingly over you, the laments of Hell below fitting counterpart to the presence of such gloriousness! Praise Eternal to the Heavens! Let all peoples forever fall down in abject surren…
 
“Get up, Adam.” Telia sighs. You blink, the enchantment broken, turning to see the Lilim shaking her head and clucking her tongue at you chidingly.
 
“That never happened.” You mutter, blushing to the roots of your hair.
 
“Oh, I don’t know, I might need something from you at some point.” Telia laughed. “Cassariael, Ramiael, Ariael, Melosiriael, Azaliael…” The names continued as Telia looked pointedly at each of the angels in turn. “…It’s been a long time.”
 
“Is this paltriness below the best Hell has to offer?” Cassariael demanded, hovering next to Raoul, her hand unconsciously reaching towards him as if yearning for his touch.
 
“Of course not dear, my siblings and their finest acolytes are waiting in Wonderland.” Telia replies as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. “We’re just waiting for dear Adam here to unlock the door.”
 
“Psst… Skip… I think that’s your cue…” Emmy hisses, yanking at your sleeve from her exo.
 

Swallowing, you nod, focusing on the contraption. You weave the intricate series of glyphs, directing them at the metal ring of the device which begins spinning within itself. The device begins emitting a droning hum, Emmy’s hands busy upon the arms of her ‘exo.

 
“Holding steady… We’re stable…” The Gremlin intones, her youthful face intent. “Hold onto your butts girls!”
 
With a booming of displaced air, the empty interior of the device seems to shatter, reality folding and falling away, revealing a trio standing atop what looks to be a vast mosaic. Two of the figures are unknown to you. Lilim, both sharing Telia’s aching, alien perfection, yet one is black of hair with silver eyes, the other red of hair, her eyes a fel, glowing green, yet the third is instantly recognizable.
 
“Hello Adam!” Wendy, the Hatter Regent of Wonderland laughs insanely, waving at you frantically.
 
“Your Grace…” You grunt through clenched teeth “…Please don’t distract me.”
 
“She did it… She actually did it!” The black-haired Lilim gasps in astonishment.
 
“Oh ye of little faith, Xera!” Telia chides smugly.
 
“Faith? Yours seems to have been markedly displaced, my sister.” The redhead sniffs disdainfuly. “We can’t pass but a few at a time through this pathetic rift. Shows you how far you can trust this… Wilder.”
 
“My sweet little Lyra, I’m not even close to finished.” Telia drawls. “Lord Dumat, if you please…”
 
“Witness thou the Fidelity of Heaven’s Vow” Raoul intones, “Servants of Tyris the Almighty, Lord of Lords, The God Above All. I, The Morning and The Evening Star, The One Whose Name is Silence, Command thy Aid!”
 
“The God Wills It!” Cassariael cries, pointing a flaming sword at the man.
 
“The God Wills It!” The other Angels intone as one, drawing their own weapons and unleashing a torrent of raw power into Raoul’s glowing form.
 
“Holy Tyris, Lord God and Saviour of Humanity… Aid thy servant…” Raoul gasps, struggling to contain the titanic tumult focused upon him. In the back of your mind, you sense a slight whirl of conflicting sensations… Concern? Fear? Trepidation?
 
“Do it, Illustriousness!” You yell, blood dripping freely from your nose.
 
Raoul opens a hand towards the device, bathing it in Angelic power. The view of the window falls away into immensity, the rift swelling beyond all measure of scope, your hold on the glyphs shuddering as the power swells their authority exponentially. You close your eyes, holding to them like a shieldbearer against an army’s charge.
 
“We did it!” You hear Emmy’s frantic laughter beside you. “We did it!”
 
Scarcely daring to believe, you opened your eyes, marvelling at the vision before you. Golden light flowed through the device, and the rift itself was as light through a small window, spreading its scope massively, the rift now dwarfing the rock upon which you stood.
 
“Quick as ya fuckin’ like!” You snarl “I can’t hold this fucker forever!”
 
“Quite right you are, Adam.” Telia agrees. “Sons and Daughters of the Hells, stand ready!”
 
 
“…No! Jabberwocky through the left, Cheshires reconvene at Thealiss!” You hear Lyra demand from somewhere below.
 
“Keep the Alice away from Boreal and Termiganus!” Salethiael’s voice now “…Actually come to think of it, keep them away from all of us, through the right. Send the Dormice, Hatters and Jubjub through the centre!”
 
“Tira ten’ Rashwe!” Another voice commands. “Hosse’ai, if I see you snacking on the wounded, I will stake you for the sun!”
 
“Nikerym’amin Nasha!” An almost military response… Hold on, Nasha?!
 
“Who’s holdin’ down Thealiss if you’re here Nasha?!” You demand through your teeth.
 
“Keep the door open, Usuquener’Edan!” Nasha rejoins, “Cally’s got it in hand.”
 
“That’s our girl…” Raoul groans painedly, and you flash the man a grin, the mirth frozen on your lips as you behold his pitiful form, wracked against the power flowing through him, his skin seeming to split in places, angelic fire pouring like blood from the wounds. Amazingly, he keeps his arm steady, directing the torrent unendingly at the gate.
 
“How are we looking?” Xera’s voice now.
 
“Less than two hundred left” A cheshire answers, blinking into existence next to the Lilim.
 
“How you travellin’ mate?” You call to Raoul.
 
“Never… Better…” Raoul grunts “…You?”
 
“Me Brain may turn to mush at any point and leak out me ears, but that’s future Adam’s problem, we’re almost there!”
 
“Hullo… Skip something… weird’s happening on the other side of the Rift.” Emmy interjects. “Hold on, it’s gonna get a little…”
 
You scream, driven to your knees as something SMASHES against the glyphs you are so desperately maintaining.
 
“Holy Tyris, Give me strength… Give Me Strength… O my God…” You pray fervently, feeling blood drip from your earlobes.
 
“The Nothing!” An unknown Mamono shrieks.
 
“Save the children first! The children!” Wendy orders.
 
“We will hold the line!”
 
“No! We still have time!”
 
“Remember us, My Lady! Remember at the last, the Trumpart stood firm! LEGIONS! FORT WALL!”
 
“Adam…” Telia’s dejected voice. “…You have to close it now.”
 
“Bollocks…” You groan helplessly, letting the glyphs slip from your mental grasp, and watching as the rift began to collapse in on itself. The strangest vision impressed itself upon you at the last, an immense structure seemingly made of oversized playing cards, and emerging from each, a finely liveried mamono warrior, bright plumes of magic flying from outstretched hands, holding desperately, hopelessly against the formless darkness which rolled forward like the front of some terrifying, otherworldly storm.
 
And then it was gone… Wendy’s agonized wailing the only thing cutting through the sudden silence.
 
“Done… It is… Done…” Raoul gasped, the Angelic energy fading as he let his arm drop.
 
A shriek sounded from above you, the beating of massive wings kicking up dust as Bella landed on the rock beside you, a diminutive form leaping from her arms and running towards Raoul’s hovering, ruined frame… Cally.
 
“Father!” Cally wailed “I’m so sorry! I’m so, so sorry!”
 
“Cally…” Raoul sighed. “…You have been such a joy to me. Forgive me that… in the end… I failed you.”
 
“No!” Cally shrieked, running headlong towards the edge of the rock in her desperation.
 
Driving your battered mind to obedience through sheer, dogged will, you snared Cally’s fleeing form in a snare of Resonant energy, pulling her back into your arms and holding her tightly.
 
“Please Adam! Let me go!”
 
You shake your head, your eyes burning. “He’s done Cal… Look at him.”
 
“No Mortal…” Cassariel exulted. “…This Most Worthy Soul Ascends! Rejoice, O ye Heavens!”
 
Raoul screamed in midair, his skin splitting, three pairs of gore-covered wings sprouting from his back, his form swelling, growing… angelic runes tracing their way along his body, his old flesh falling away with the tattered remains of his clothing… until the man you knew was no more.
 
“Rise now Seraphim! Rise, my Heart! Rise… Rhaziael!” Cassariael crowed, joined with the cheers of the other gathered Angels.
 
“Rhaziael… Rhaziael… Rhaziael!” The Angels chanted. The Seraph spread his wings, looking down upon you where you held the Koala to you, Cally whimpering and sobbing in a mixture of fear and utter sorrow.
 
“Thou wert wrong, Handmaiden of Hell.” Rhaziael remarks simply as he raises his eyes to Heaven. “For e’en as The God loves all, so too is Love’s memory never forgotten.”
 
“F-father?” Cally whimpers, hoping against hope.
 
“No more. But I shalt remember thee, and the Love thou shared with me in life… Be at peace.” With a beat of his wings, the Seraph launched himself Heavenward. “Welcome me, O my God… for I come Home.”
 
 
“How is she?” Emmy asked in a small voice.
 
“Sleeping.” You reply. “That can’t have been easy on her.”
 
“I think we’re all gonna have a hard time for a bit…” Emmy agrees, looking to where Wendy sat alone at a table, a single playing card between her fingers, tears carving tracks along her face.
 
“Mmm… Blue… quit it.” You order the Kobold who is almost crawling over you in her attempts to clean your ears and face.
 
Blue shook her head, her face intent. “Fuck no. You’re a Hero, Boss! You saved a whole world! And your good girl’s gonna take such good care of you…”
 
“Me? Nah… I’m just a trader… It was Heaven and Hell, and the Seraphim Rhaziael who saved Wonderland.” You insist, pulling the Kobold’s paws down and fixing her azure eyes with your own. “D’you hear me pup?”
 
“Yehboss… nahboss… Um… I don’t get it.”
 
“Because pup, I finally get what Telia was saying. I accept the mantle of hero, my life as it exists is over. No more lazy days in the wagon, no more pointing the bungas in a direction and just going… No more you and me. And quite frankly, fuck that.” You conclude, booping Blue on her nose.
 
“Oh… Well… I mean when you put it that way…”
 
“That, however…” Nasha’s voice interrupts as she slides an arm about your shoulders. “…Can wait until tomorrow. Right now… For the Love of Maou, a world just got saved!”
 
“Leggo me boss…” Blue growls softly.
 
“Dry off Kobie, I’m plenty stocked.” Nasha snorts, wiggling her chalice. “Would you believe Princess Lyra believes in the therapeutic value of bleeding? I’m gonna be flying for weeks!”
 
“Not all the world…” Wendy remarks softly.
 
“Hatty-Lady… The Card-people stood against something they knew was hopeless.” Blue began, sliding off your lap and putting her furry forepaws over the Hatter’s shoulders. “With us, if a Warrior dies to serve their Tribe, there is no greater honour, no greater privilege… They have a place with the Alphas of the sky-pack. I’m sure they’re being sung home as we speak.”
 
“Great Justice look upon fondly.” Adina insists, holding two furred digits against her left breast. Illuka grunts agreement, mirroring the gesture.
 
“I know… But… I promised… I’ll see their faces every time I close my eyes… every time I walk the web I’ll see all the worlds in which I could have saved them.” Wendy sniffled.
 
“And all the worlds you failed.” You add. “We are who we are, we can be no more than The God has called us to be.”
 
“That’s deep…” Telia remarked. “…Have you been drinking, Adam?”
 
“Oh bloody hell Excellency, not you too.” You groan. The Lilim chuckled, sliding a hand across your shoulders warmly.
 
“So… Since you’re clearly not staying to be lauded as a hero… What’s next for you Adam?”
 
The thought took you by surprise. What next indeed? There was always the West Australs again… but… You were halfway across the country now… Tyris… You could go nearly anywhere…
 
“S’agood question, Excellency.” You admit, pondering for a moment, trying to think clearly as the Lilim gently kneaded your shoulder. “No offense, but that’s REALLY distracting.”
 
“Oh? Sorry dear… Just thinking myself…You know when someone does this much for me I usually find a more… Unique way to reward them.” Telia remarks breathily, her touch becoming more caressing. You feel your thoughts begin to cloud, your breath quickening in response to the Lilim’s undeniably alluring touch.
 
“Leggo me Boss!” Blue growls, before remembering who she’s speaking to. “…Please?”
 
Telia laughs, releasing you with a soft pat to your cheek. “He wouldn’t survive it anyway, Blue… Not if what the heavens’ latest recruit insisted was the case was halfway accurate. Pity… He is a strapping young thing, if somewhat plain.”
 
“H-he’s the best Master ever and he’s beautiful!” Blue objects strenuously, throwing her paws about you. “…I-if that’s alright with you, that is…”
 
“Whu? Me or Her Excellency pup?” You blurt, blinking as the fog lifts from your mind and looking down at the Kobold’s girlish features.
 
“Yes.” Blue answers simply.
 
“Aww… If I could have had you two during the media blitz of the twenty-seventies…” Telia laughs, looking between the both of you with a slightly soppy expression on her face.
 
“…I have no bloody idea what any of that is.” You declare, absently scratching Blue behind a furred ear.
 
“Don’t be a moron, Sister.” The red-haired Lilim Lyra snorted casually, sparing you naught but an arrogant glance as she entered the taproom. “A mouth that foul and primitive on a national broadcaster?”
 
“Worked for the McDavidson lad, didn’t it?” Telia shrugs, unphased.
 
“Zipangu has always had a guilty penchant for the perverse.” Lyra retorts mockingly.
 
“Anderson wasn’t exactly Wordsworth himself… URGH! That man… I can’t believe I got undercut by a Holstaur on that one!” Telia laments in frustration.
 
“Five thousand years and you’re still sore?” The black-haired form of Xera quips as she bursts into existence beside her sisters, shattered fragments of reality turning into little ebon birds which fly in all directions before fading back into nothingness. “Besides, you know it wasn’t a fair fight from the start. SHE always likes to keep those two close, after all…”
 
You shake your head vehemently, taking a couple of tankards and leading your Kobold indentured to a table away from the Lilim. The Triune Thrones of the Council of Matriarchs, nattering like mid-level Magisterian bureaucrats… If nothing else it solidified your earlier conclusion, the sooner you were shot of this crazy place the better.
 
“Do you think we can still catch the Caravan Boss?” Blue asks, seemingly out of nowhere.
 
“If we killed the bungas in doing so pup…” You reply, pushing a tankard towards her, “…Which would kinda defeat the purpose. Whyssat?”
 
“I just feel kinda bad. River and Mister Chad were probably worried about us. I would have liked to say bye properly before they went back up to Kalbarri.”
 
“Huh… Not a bad idea…” You remark, sitting back in your chair as you mulled the idea over.
 
The Kobold looks at you in puzzlement, her tawny brows knitted over big, azure eyes. “But you said…”
 
“Oh, not chasin’ the caravan pup… But Kalbarri. Good horses always fetch a premium and Gilgai Holding was known for the best this side of Nulla’s line.”
 
“Don’t get many horses EITHER side of home Boss…” Blue giggles at you.
 
“Exactly. Rare means expensive.‘Sides, I’m filthy fuckin’ rich now, assuming I can get these marks somewhere near a T&G factor, that is.” You admit, patting your ever-present pack.
 
“Was wondering why you haven’t let it out of your sight since you got back Boss…” Blue begins, drinking deeply before licking her lips in thought. “…But how do you know the centaurs haven’t turned them all into dinner or run them off?”
 
“Who better to spot top-quality horseflesh than centaurs? They might be flighty, proud, far too fond of the grog and prone to doing their fuckin’ quince at a drop of a hat, but nobody ever accused ‘em of being dumb.”
 
Blue whuffles slightly mockingly at that assumption. “Still Boss, how did we go from seeing River to going to Kalbarri to buy Horses?”
 
“Because if Gibson got sacked, I know I’d want it back in the family, s’probably why Chad’d take the very bloody real risk of coming to Thealiss. I’ve lost count of how many times Resonance has pulled me bunyas out the fire since I got here.” You insist, taking a deep drink of your own tankard and patting Blue on the paw. “There’s a matter of personal pride in being from a Holding, probably moreso if you’re anything even approaching Noble… Tyris pup, why do you think Prince Justin joined the damn Faith Militant after the whole thing with the Barony up there went south?”
 
“Dunno Boss, I wasn’t paying much attention to the whole thing…” Blue admits, intertwining her furred digits with the smooth, soft fingers of your newly healed hand.
 
You chuckle, pressing Blue’s paw to your lips briefly before sobering, looking off into the middle distance in thought. “Kinda brings me to my only problem with the issue… Dunno what kinda relationship’s gonna be present between the Humans and… Whoever else moved in when the Centaurs sacked th’joint.”
 
Blue blushes at your gesture before looking at you askance. “How d’you know there are humans there?”
 
“Because I’ve never known Mamono who’ve lived in Human settlements to ever wanna go back to hide tents and wiping with leaves of their own volition…” You grin mockingly.
 
“Hey!” Blue cries in an injured tone.
 
“Sorry pup, but clean, running water and the benefits of halfway-competent stonemasons are the gifts of Tyris’s children exclusively, you know it’s true.” You tease. “And plus, remember what I said about pride before? Wouldn’t surprise me if half of Kalbarri wasn’t busting an arse here or there tryin’ to scrape enough together to buy their old lands back off the Centaur.”
 
“…’cept for Prince Justin.” Blue retorts snidely. Truth be told you couldn’t blame her, the man was a singularly unpleasant individual when he had a mind to be, and Gibson had hosted him for a solid week (at the Baron of House Reinhardt’s pleading), as he refused to live amongst ‘The refuse of that glorified jetty’ as he so witheringly called Port Fremantle.
 
“Mmm, he’s probably me biggest concern. Where there’s Humans, there’s the Church, and where there’s the Church, there’s the Faith Militant, to keep us from getting stolen away in the night if nothing else. I’d put twelve to seven he’s already bribed, bullied and beaten his way into the garrison there.”
 
“No bet boss, prolly still carries a grudge a mile wide too…” Blue agrees.
 
“Grudge about what pupper?” Emmy interjects, her exo humming and whirring where it settles at the table.
 
“Centaurs knockin’ the taste outta the old Baron of House Kalbarri’s mouth for… What’d he do exactly Boss?” Blue answers, turning to look at you questioningly.
 
“Officially? Insulted their Matriarch in one way or another. Realistically? Nobody really wants to talk about it. I get the feeling the Dominus had to pull the mother of all swifties in order to smooth the whole thing over.”
 
“Ah. Sounds like centaurs alright.” Emmy agrees. “And of course you, geezer, are riding straight up its date, yeh?”
 
“S’the plan.” You agree. “Wanna come along?”
 
“Skip! I’m touched!” Emmy gushes, leaning over and hugging you unabashedly. “Long, uncomfortable trip with those three stinking beasts across weeks of burning-ass desert to have to deal with surly bleedin’ Centaurs. Y’really do know how to charm a bird!”
 
“Coulda just said no…” you murmur.
 
Emmy chuckles, ruffling your hair with her hand and planting a brief kiss on your nose. “And miss out on our charmin’ tete-a-tete? Next thing you’ll be tellin’ me yer actually gonna put out.”
 
“If yer that hard up Greenie…” Blue drawls mockingly.
 
“With all these incubi lazing around? He’s cute, but if I’m going to get shagged by somethin’ hung like a damn bear, I’d rather it be one with a few centuries of experience under its belt.” Emmy mocks.
 
“Ta. Muchly.” You murmur, feeling a touch hurt at the Gremlin’s casual dismissal of you. Emmy laughs again, squeezing you tightly, the ‘anchors’ on her exo popping free and dumping her in your lap.
 
“In truth Skip, I was actually on my way to say goodbye… I’ve got a trip of my own to make.”
 
You return the Gremlin’s embrace, before lifting her and plopping her on a proper chair.“Oh yeh? Goin’ east then?”
 
“Not quite. I’m Hellbound.”
 
“…Crikey.”
 
“Mmm, it’s going to be a while I think. From what I hear Her Eternal Majesty doesn’t exactly want me running around unsupervised.”
 
Your mouth works for a moment before you find your voice. “And you’re… alright with this?”
 
“I’m a Handmaiden, Skip. I’m not exactly in a position to be avin’ a giggle with Maou’s direct orders, innit?” Emmy drawls mockingly. “And there are a few things I need to work out how to deal with.”
 
“Like what?”
 
Emmy points at her exo. “Her, for one.”
 
“Her? What, yer exo? It’s a chair with metal tentacles on it, sure it’s a bit weird but s’not like there’s not a dozen other things yed run into any given week which’d top it.”
 
“Not quite…” Emmy corrects, reaching out and touching the device with an almost caressing gesture. The machine begins a convoluted reformation, twisting and reshaping itself almost impossibly… Into the shape of what seems to be a humanoid girl, a little taller than the gremlin, yet made seemingly entirely of metal. The ‘exo’ opens its eyes, glowing with a cold light.
 
“Autonomous mode initiated, how can I be of assistance?” the exo asks in an echoing, metallic voice, sounding like nothing so much as the bodiless voice which you had encountered in the ancients’ vault in The Gap.
 
“Why don’t you introduce yourself to my friend Adam?” Emmy replies without a hint of hesitation.
 
The mechanical thing turns its head to you, bowing politely. “Greetings. I am a class 4 Automata, currently repurposed in service to Handmaiden Emerelisa, It has pleased the Handmaiden to grant me the appellation ‘Gil’. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
 
“Uh… Gudday…” You mumble, pushing yourself away from ‘Gil’ slowly and deliberately, your eyes widening with growing horror.
 
“Why Skip, whatever’s the matter?” Emmy drawls smugly.
 
“Heresy!” You gasp, still backing away. “Heresy!”
 
“Thou shalt not make a machine like unto a mind…” Emmy intones with a slight note of sadness, “…That where you’re heading with that?”
 
Dumbfounded, you can only nod.
 
“Part of why I gotta go. Me and Gil’ve been through way too much for me to just cast her aside like some chunk of scrap. But as you so… aptly demonstrated, ya git, can’t exactly let her be ‘her’ in public, which isn’t fair either.” The Gremlin sighs, turning to the Automata. “Go on back to my quarters, Gil. I’ll be back to feed you soon.”
 
“At once, Handmaiden.” Gil replies, bowing, before turning to you. “It was most pleasant to meet you. I apologise for any offense caused.”
 
Guilt smacks you firmly in the guts. “Y-you too…” You mumble helplessly. Gil nods again, before turning and heading for the rear of the Tavern.
 
“I didn’t…” You begin, but Emmy hushes you with a wave of her hand.
 
“Did you think I was just ‘avin a laugh when I said the world’s left me behind? I can’t adapt to this, Adam. I’m like a turtle on a jolly fencepost. I need to find my place again, and I don’t think it’s anywhere in your Australs.”
 
“I’m sorry.”
 
“Don’t be. Yer orright, if a gormin’ berk half the time.” The Gremlin replies, hugging you about the waist tightly. “Don’t go doin’ somethin’ stupid like dyin’ all over the place, yeh?”
 
“Not if I’ve got anything to say about it.” Blue replies levelly, before forcing her way between you and kissing the Gremlin soundly on the cheek. “I hope you find what you’re looking for Cheeky, I Really, Really do.”
 
“Thanks pupper.” Emmy smiles, before sniffing, a slight sheen in her yellow eyes. “Flippin’ ‘eck but someone’s been cutting onions in here.” She quips, before making her own exit.
 
“Gonna be a few of those.” You sigh, looking after the Gremlin as she departs. Blue whimpers acceptance, before jolting alert, sniffing the air and turning with a low, threatening growl.
 
“Fuckin nope…” She barks.
 
“But Nikerym’amin, are you absolutely SURE he is not to be being…” A pleading voice wheedles as you turn, Nasha heading pointedly towards you, trailed by a second vampire who is staring at you hungrily.
 
“Do you see the Kobold trying very hard to bore holes through our heads right now, Beikaer?” Nasha sighs, pointing to Blue. “She will take it very poorly if you try.”
 
“S-she is just vun Kobold… and he smells…” The other vampire almost sobs.
 
“Australs Kobolds are not the fireplace fops you’re used to on the continent. They’re fast. Mean. Kinda have to be. Isn’t that right small-dog?”
 
“She’ll find out if she tries to gnaw into me boss…” Blue snarls, her hackles raised.
 
“See?” Nasha chuckles evenly.
 
“Not sharing your largess?” You snicker.
 
“Ixnay on the argess-lay!” Nasha hisses, drawing a venomous glare from her compatriot. “I was going to tell them… sometime…”
 
“You are ze VURST kind of Wampire…” The other accused.
 
“Any case…” Nasha sighs. “We’re going to mistwalk while we’ve got a good moon to do so by. You did right by a lot of people human, I wanted to say… Thanks.”
 
“You’re welcome.”
 
“Not feeling markedly unattached to your blood by any chance this evening?”
 
You fold your arms across your chest.“Dunno, ask me after about nine or ten tankards… How difficult is it to turn into smoke when you’re pissed?”
 
“You are a bad, bad man. Gonna miss you, least you’re honest about it.” Nasha laughs, seizing her compatriot by the wrist and dragging her away.
 
“Boss, can we go find Adorabear now?” Blue whines, tugging at your wrist. “I don’ wanna have a whole buncha weird Mamono I don’t know makin’ kissyfaces at you.”
 
“Just ones yer orright with eh?” You drawl, putting an arm about the Kobold’s slender shoulders and allowing her to walk you out.
 
“Course, who do you take me for, Tailpussy?” Blue snorts derisively.
 
 
“Y’awake Cal?” you murmur into the dim light of the room, Blue presumptively leaping into bed and snuggling into the Koala, who makes a curious noise, half sob, half pleased chuckle.
 
“I am now…” The Koala quips, sniffing.
 
“You been crying Adorabear?” Blue mumbles, her face muffled in Cally’s mousey-blonde hair.
 
“No Blue, I like sleeping on wet pillows.” Cally drawls evenly.
 
“Mean.” Blue whuffles.
 
“No biting, pup.” You chide, stripping off and sliding in next to the Mamono with the ease of familiarity.
 
“I’m glad you came…” Cally murmurs softly, sliding twin-thumbed hands about your neck and kissing you lingeringly.
 
“Yeh well let’s keep it sensible, we’ve got an early start tomorrow and…”
 
“I’m not coming with you.”
 
Her words burn through your mind like a bolt of summer lightning, and you sit stark upright in the bed.
 
“That business with the rift must have addled my brains, I thought you said…”
 
“I did. With Raoul gone… My work here is finished. The Council has… other tasks for me.”
 
“No!” Blue near-shrieks, clinging to the Koala tightly “Whatever happened we can work it out! You’re my bestest friend in all the world and you can’t just…”
 
“Dearest Blue…” Cally murmured soothingly, though her own voice has a catch to it, whether grief or Blue’s desperate, constricting grasp you can’t tell.
 
“…There’s nothing I can say to convince you?”
 
“I’m sorry, Adam.”
 
You squeeze your eyes shut tightly, taking a long, shuddering breath as you cup the Koala’s cherubic face in your hands. “What if we came with you?”
 
“Where I’m going, you can’t follow, at least not right away. There’s a number of things I have to set up amongst my own people… It’s about giving some of the Wonderland Mamono a proper home, now that theirs isn’t there anymore.” Cally explained, punctuating the explanation with a soft kiss on your mouth from her bowlike lips.
 
“Tyris fucking dammit…” You curse, Blue sobbing against Cally’s back. Rolling out of bed, you start hunting through your pack. With a small note of triumph, you pull the pack of underwriters notes out, an orb of light filling the room with a soft glow at your casual glyph.
 
“You can’t bribe me to stay Adam…” Cally remarks with a note of distaste.
 
“Wish I could, but I’m not. Fact of it is Cal, I couldn’t have done half of what I’ve done without you there. We agreed on fifteen percent for jobs you brought my way, and paying that is the least I can do in thanks.”
 
“Adam, it’s really not…”
 
“It’s done. Three Hundred Gold.” You declare, tearing off the note and putting it on the bedside table.
 
“Oh Adam… Thank you. Believe it or not, that will help.”
 
“Then pay some other fucker to do it!” Blue cries.
 
“I can’t, dearest friend.” Cally explains, turning and kissing the crying Kobold gently.
 
You swallow spasmodically. “Is there anything we can do for you? Anything at all?”
 
“Come here? Let us have one last night together? Just the three of us?” Cally asks hopefully, her cheeks wet and shining in the soft light of your orb.
 
Nodding, you extinguish the orb, returning to the bed, and the desperate embrace of the Mamono who had become so dear to you.
 
 
Movement stirred you awake.
 
“W’time is it…” You murmur.
 
“Shh… Still early…” Cally whispers, kissing you again, the feel of her naked body against yours warm and inviting. The Koala rolls over, hopping out of bed, her curves almost glowing in the pre-dawn light.
 
“That’s a sight I’ll miss…” You mumble lecherously as Cally bends over to pull up her leggings. The Koala stifles a laugh, smacking you gently on the thigh.
 
“And you, you damn stallion, have set a high bar to follow…” Cally smiles as she continues dressing. “…Kiss Blue for me when she wakes up.”
 
“Of course. The God go with you, Cal, and my love with it.”
 
“I… I love you too. Both of you. I pray you find whatever happiness you seek.” Cally remarks, gazing wistfully at you, before walking out of the room and out of your lives.
 
“You know…” Blue remarks where she is cuddled into you “…I could chase her down. We could truss her up in the wagon before anyone even noticed she was gone.”
 
“Tyris forgive me, I’m sorely tempted pup.” You sigh, rubbing the Kobold’s ears.
 
“I’m gonna miss her so bad…” Blue whimpers, her body shaking with suppressed tears.
 
Your own grief claws at your throat. “Me too Blue… Me too…”
 
 
“So you’re set then?” Phillip asks as you tie down the last rope.
 
“Supplies for six weeks and enough of that sodding Hellboar to put me over a fire for the bungas? Yeh Phil. Reckon we’ve put this one off as long as we can.”
 
The neophyte Incubus nods, extending a hand. “Thank you Adam, for everything. Seems a trifle unfair that the only people who know what you did aren’t Human anymore.”
 
“Came not Pride before the Fall of God-Before-Tyris…” You quote wryly, taking Phillip’s hand and shaking warmly. “…Where’s that Manticore of yours anyway?”
 
“Sulking.” Phillip grins, a much toothier affair now that his change was almost complete “She really thought you were going to stay.”
 
“That a fact? Didn’t think she was that fond of any of us.”
 
“You’re probably the only Human… well, now… that’s ever treated her like a person without getting paid for it. She might not know how to show it but she’s thankful for that.”
 
“Give her a big embarrassing kiss somewhere public for me then.”
 
“Will do. The God go with you, Adam.”
 
“I’ll be sure to thank Him for not giving you a headache for that.”
 
Phillip laughs genuinely, waving as you hop onto the bench, lashing the Bungarra into motion as you set out towards the west.
 
“Goodbye with the Dingoes went well Blue?” You ask the Kobold who sits somewhat listlessly beside you.
 
“Yehboss.”
 
“Ask them for me?”
 
“Yehboss, and nah, they say there’s nothing they’d want you doing they wouldn’t much rather do themselves. I wasn’t kidding when I said they’re not a fan of outsiders.” Blue remarks, leaning her tawny-haired head against your arm.
 
“Ah well… Missing your appointment as Ambassador yet?”
 
Blue snorts, wrinkling her nose and looking up at you “What, and have a buncha too-talls whispering to each other every time I chase something for fear it’s undignified? Bugger that boss. Got all I need right here.”
 
“Love you pup…” You chuckle “…It’ll be interesting, I don’t think we’ve done a long stint with just the two of us since…”
 
A screech interrupts you, and Bella lands on the canvas cover of the wagon, her wings kicking up great gusts of wind.
 
“Bella! Was wondering where you were, thought we’d be forced to leave without saying bye.”
 
“Certes…” The Griffon agrees. “…Though Verily, I admit I had kept myself apart from thee, that I may find a way to properly entreat…”
 
“Spit it out Bel, we’re all friends here.” You grin.
 
“Yea… Which leadeth me to ask… Thou art the first friends I have truly had in memory… Can… Can I come with thee?”
 
Blue’s joyous whoop makes you start in surprise as the Kobold launches herself at the Griffon, squeezing her about the waist with tawny-furred paws.
 
“What happened to ‘I’ve got all I need right here’, pup?” You drawl mockingly.
 
“You can’t give wing-cuddles Boss.” Blue answers your teasing evenly, poking her pink tongue out at you.
 
“Hah. Guess I can’t at that… Glad to have ya Bella.”
 
The Griffon’s smile at your acceptance was like the sun coming up.
 
“Orright you scaly shits, let’s eat some desert…” You snarl at the bungarra, lashing flanks and driving the beasts to a mile-eating scramble across the sun-blasted red earth.
 
 
“Where did you find the crawler Bella?” you murmur around a mouthful of fatty grub-flesh.
 
“T’was drawn to the surface by a dingo kill some distance north.” Bella replies, clearly trying to eat daintily with her deadly talons.
 
“How far can you fly anyway feathers?” Blue asks, belching softly and nestling her head against your arm.
 
“Verily, I have not had cause to test it… I suppose some goodly distance…” the Griffon replies evasively.
 
“Well, at least you’re not telling me you could cross the Australs and back in one go.” You chuckle.
 
“Certes, such would be vain indeed.” Bella agrees “One would have to stop to sleep after a couple of days.”
 
You blink at that. “So why put up with the wagon if y’can keep on the wing all day?”
 
“The pleasure of thy company… surly muttering ‘gainst the sun and all.” The Griffon muses with a cheeky grin.
 
“I like her.” Blue snickers.
 
“Gotta admit Bella, yer much more relaxed of late.”
 
Bella stretches her wings, devouring the remains of the baked crawler-flesh. “I am FREE out here… I can fly where I wish, when I wish… I do not have an endless parade of Demons poking at me… FONDLING me. It grew… Tiresome.”
 
“They were only trying to help I’m sure.” You reply.
 
“Verily, I do not believe their help extends to lamenting their own perceived inadequacies whilst groping at my chest.” Bella replies drily.
 
You choked a little at that.
 
“You are ridiculously stacked though feathers. Even Adorabear…” The Kobold trails off with a morose expression.
 
“She did what she had to, pup.” You assure her, stroking her tawny hair comfortingly.
 
“I know Boss, I just keep turning around and expecting her to be there… And she’s not. I miss her.”
 
“Cally was a gentle and caring soul, it is true. Thou art not misplaced in thy regret at her absence.” Bella agrees.
 
“Yeh, youse didn’t see her try to brain an Angel with a chair…” You mutter.
 
“Hah!” Blue snickers before yawning widely. “I’m sleepy.”
 
“Yeh, turn in pup. You too Bella, I’ll take first watch. I’ll wake you in a few hours.” You agree.
 
“Art thou certain?”
 
“Stars’re beautiful tonight… Kinda see what Chun-hua sees in them.”
 
“Who?”
 
“And leave me with nothing to talk to you about tomorrow while you’re pretending you wouldn’t rather be flying?”
 
Bella blushes, screeching wordless embarrassed objection, talons pressed to her flaming cheeks.
 
“Gairn, sod off girls, get some sleep.” You insist.
 
“Kayboss…” Blue replies with a brief smek to your lips “…Love you.”
 
Bella smiles somewhat shyly, following the Kobold into the tent. After a short period, a dull scuffling is heard from within.
 
“Blue? What art thou doing?”
 
“Nothing…” Blue drawls cheekily.
 
“It doth not feel like noth…” A screech from the griffon “…Why wouldst thou…”
 
“Fuckin’ hell feathers! You could lose a damn wagon between these things…”
 
“Blue…” You call warningly.
 
“I’m behaving Boss… Eeeek!”
 
“Thou art lying, and thou art… Ack! Why thou little…”
 
“Don’t make me come in there!” You growl.
 
“Promise?” A throaty drawl from the Kobold.
 
You sigh, turning your back on the tent and staring at the embers of your dying fire.
 
It was gonna be a long night…
 
 
“Good Morning Adam” Bella greets you as you emerge from the tent, squinting against the early morning light.
 
“Mornin’ Bella.” You mumble in response, rubbing your eyes and stretching. “Tyris, gets bright early out here.”
 
The Griffon nods in agreement. “Certes, although ‘tis to be expected with the  summer.”
 
You pause for a moment, pondering the length of time since you had set out that day in midwinter… The Griffon had a point, the equinox had more than surely been and gone by now.
 
“This country’s gotta eat time as well as everything else…” You chuckle to yourself, digging at the coals in your firepit with a stick.
 
“Prithee, what meanest thou?” Bella remarks in confusion.
 
“Nothing Bella, just realizing I could lose a lot of time in this wagon… Not sure how I feel about that. First time I’ve really thought about it.” You reply, piling tinder against the few remaining hot coals and blowing the fire back into happily crackling life.
 
“That sounds almost pleasant. Yea, for the longest time I refused to acknowledge time’s passage… for reasons which should be evident unto thee.” The Griffon muses, a strange expression on her face.
 
“If I could get you back all those wasted years I would Bel.” You sigh, patting the back of the Griffon’s nearest wing comfortingly.
 
“Tis not wise to lament for an impossibility. Still I thank thee all the same, my friend.”
 
You flash the Griffon a grin, before setting up a scorched metal tripod and hanging a billy above the fire, piling steadily stouter sticks beneath it.
 
“Pass me the canteen?” You remark absently, holding out a hand. The Griffon nods, giving a warning hiss at four whose questing mouth snaps lazily at her as she passes to retrieve the item from the wagon.
 
“Make a Bungarra farmer of you yet.” You chuckle, nodding thanks as the Griffon passes you the canteen.
 
“I thank thee, nay.” Bella replies with an unusual vehemence. “I find these… things… to be most disquieting.”
 
“Huh…” You grunt, pouring a cup or so into the billy, followed by a liberal pinch of crushed eucalypt.
 
“I did not mean to offend thee…”
 
“Hmm?” You query, raising your eyes to the Griffon “Oh! Nah. Everyone’s got something right?”
 
“How dost thou mean?”
 
“Well, Blue’s got harpies… in fact birds in general seem to piss her off, probably part of why she hates heights… Cally’s got scalies of most description, and you’ve got bungas.” You remark, stirring the billy as it comes to the boil.
 
“Thou hast it aright… What then is thine?”
 
“Slugs.” You remark, sniffing the steam arising from the billy with distaste.
 
“Slugs?” Bella echoes.
 
“Slugs. Found a half a one on a stonefruit I was eating as a kid. Can’t look at them since.”
 
“Half? Prithee, where then was the other half?”
 
You give the Griffon a wordless, level stare.
 
“Oh… a wanion tale for thee.” Bella agrees, her nose wrinkled in a mixture of distaste and amusement.
 
“Mmm. Why’re you up anyway? Thought Blue was taking third watch.”
 
“Certes, I was to wake her, but she looked so peaceful nestled in thy arms, I had not the heart.” Bella explained with a soft smile.
 
“Careful, she’ll have you eating outta her paws if you let her bully you like that.” you chuckle.
 
“It is of no great import… I can nap whilst thou drivest should fatigue overtake me. And thou wert correct, the stars were indeed beautiful yon night prior.”
 
“Mmm… Reckon it’s steeped enough.” You remark, taking a mug and gripping the billy with a thick rag, pouring its contents into the mug. Grimacing, you take a sip of the acrid liquid. “Certainly tastes as shitty as when…”
 
“ADORABEAR!” Blue squeals, bolting from the tent, eliciting a surprised oath from you and a short shriek of surprise from Bella. The Kobold scampers around the camp, looking here and there.
 
“Were you dreaming, pup?” You ask gently.
 
“Don’t tease boss! I can smell that tea stuff, and nobody but Adorabear had a taste for…” The Kobold pauses, noting the steaming mug in your hands. Her ears lower, and her whole body seems to wilt in dejection.
 
“Sorry Blue…” You offer with a gentle smile. “…S’just me.”
 
“O-oh…” Blue sighs. “…I guess we’d better start putting the tent away.”
 
“Thanks pup, you’re a real help.”
 
“S’orright Boss.” Blue replies wistfully, meandering back towards the tent.
 
Bella’s gaze follows her, “Will she be alright?”
 
“If she’s not, then I’ve got to find a way to bully the Queen of Hell into letting us have the Koala back… So by Tyris, I bloody well hope so.”
 
 
“So you know what being in Kalbarri’s going to mean?” You stress to the Kobold. Blue sighs, rolling her eyes before fixing you with a level stare.
 
“No Adz, I somehow forgot in the last handful of months how to behave in public.” The Kobold drawls.
 
“…Guess you got me on that one.”
 
“Verily, I believe that is the first time I hath heard thee use his name…” Bella remarks to the Kobold.
 
Blue turns her head to the Griffon, a wicked smile on her face. “I only do it when he’s being especially thick.”
 
“Oi.” You object.
 
Blue grins cheekily at you, and you can’t help but smile, mussing her tawny hair.
 
“What didst thou mean, behave in public?” Bella ventures.
 
“Well it’s…” you pause, pondering the situation. “…Probably an easier way to ask how you’re used to interacting with humans.”
 
“As little as possible and with short, polite answers when questioned directly.” Bella replies quickly and evenly, staring at the canvas of the wagon atop which she is perched.
 
“Ah. Well. S’not quite so bad. You’re free, which means you’ve got all the rights of…” You begin.
 
“Free?” Bella echoes, her voice almost a growl. “Dost thou mean to tell me that such low practices as SLAVERY yet remain?”
 
“Well indentures are a funny one…” You clarify lamely.
 
“What kind of person would engage in such practice?” The Griffon demands.
 
“You mean apart from the trader and his Kobold indentured you’re currently travelling wiGHURK.” Your quip is cut short as Bella seems to suddenly appear atop you, her deadly talons about your throat.
 
“Fie! Though ruth be e’er ‘pon me for ever trusting thy lackaday posturing…”
 
“Bella! Let me explain!” You choke, your mind awhirl, desperately clawing for the clarity to cast a glyph as your hands grasp at her talons.
 
“GET. OFF. MY. MASTER.” Blue snarls, her hackles raised and canines bared.
 
“Hast he beguiled thee to such an extent Blue? Thou art of soothfast heart, how couldst thou submit…”
 
The meaty WHACK of Blue’s paw striking the Griffon soundly across the face seemed to echo in the desert air. Bella recoiled in shock and surprise, staring at the Kobold with mouth agape.
 
“You don’t know ANYTHING Feathers! You want to know what being indentured means? It means if food’s short, he goes hungry so I can eat. If the night is cold, he shivers while I get the blanket. It means I TRUST him with everything I am, and his God, his laws, and his heart commands him to guard it to the risk of his very life!”
 
“Y’should have been a poet, pup.” you cough.
 
“Am I wrong Boss?” Blue demands.
 
“Not at all.” You agree, rubbing your neck. “Blue’s got the right of it Bella. Legally, yes. She’s my property. But a property that’s held in trust. Just as a Noble has to honour his subjects’ fealty with his devotion, so too does a Freeman need to make the welfare of his indentured his number one priority… The God Himself commands it.”
 
“B-but why?” Bella almost pleads, holding a talon to her reddening cheek.
 
“Because shit goes sideways, and the world isn’t always fair.” You sigh resignedly. “The way I understand it, indenturehood’s something that happened because sometimes charity’s not always an option. My father can’t feed every mouth on Gibson Holding for free, but those who help to build it are always welcome at his table. Think about it, do you think a Kikimora could survive in the Australs all alone? Can’t sweep dinner into existence in the middle of the desert.”
 
“But… thou art not incapable…” Bella remarks to Blue.
 
“No. But it means I get to do one thing that I otherwise never could do. I get to tell my Tribe, the Council of Matriarchs… Spirits preserve me, Maou Herself to go jump, because HE comes first.” Blue replies, punctuating her statement with a furred digit in your chest.
 
“I… I have shamed myself…” Bella murmurs, her head lowered.
 
“Y’fucked up, yeh. If the Abbey didn’t teach me numbers I’d run outta fingers and toes to count all the times I do it in a given week. S’part of life. Don’t worry about it.” You reply, spreading your arms. “C’mere, giz a hug.”
 
The Griffon tenuously accepts your embrace, her talons gingerly encircling your shoulders. You feel Blue pushing her way presumptuously between you two, and you look down with a grin.
 
“What? Between the two of you there’s the most bitchin’ hug in existence happening here, and I’m not missing out.” Blue insists.
 
You and Bella laugh, and suddenly everything was alright again.
 
“One thing which doth still elude me…” Bella ventures hesitantly when you had travelled a few more miles
 
“Gohead.” You encourage the Griffon with a smile.
 
“Unless the world hath indeed changed beyond mine capacity for understanding, surely all of humanity doth not share thy pure and goodly heart, Adam…”
 
“Him? Pure? Weren’t you listening last night?” Blue snickers.
 
“We can get to that later.” You interject quickly. “And sure, The God still tests us with cunts in our midst. But there are two words to offset that. Baronial. Audits.”
 
Bella makes a noise of incomprehension, cocking her head at you.
 
“Bugger me, never thought I’d be reciting the lessons of the Abbey back at someone else…” You chuckle. “…Orright, so part of being a noble means making sure yer subjects are conducting themselves properly. Right near the top of that list means making sure they’re not abusing or neglecting their indentured. If they suspect you are, you can find your entire household, down to the meanest privy-digger brought before the Baron’s Justice. Usually involves a few priestesses or pallies to ‘encourage’ the humans to tell the truth, and some… other things… to do the same with Mamono. Then they ask a bunch of questions, and draw a picture from there.”
 
“Wouldst not a Baron cover for the failings of his Human subjects though?”
 
“I’m sure it’s happened… But let’s be honest, do you REALLY think Mamono will put up with bullshit for too long before taking matters into their own hands?” You ask pointedly “I mean we’re heading for the poster child of the West Australs when it comes to proving my point here.”
 
“Certes…” Bella concedes. “…Hast thou… ever seen this Justice?”
 
“Eddie was the Prosecutor for that arsehole in Demarque Holding what, three years back Blue?” You ask, turning to your Kobold indentured. Blue nods wordlessly.
 
“Picture this Bella. Bloke with a good half a metre on me, built like his mother had continuance with some kinda bear, chained over a fuckin’ log, screaming and blubbering while a boy of seventeen scourges him to the fuckin’ ribs. That’s how seriously we take it.”
 
“For abusing his indentured?”
 
“He got off light.” You grumble darkly.
 
“Adz wanted Eddie to stake him out over an anthill… and not the big kind either.” Blue clarifies with a slight note of savage glee.
 
“Penny was a wonderful woman, always snuck us out treats while we were diggin’ the firebreaks on Demarque… Nobody deserves what that cunt did to her.” You grate, gripping the reins of the wagon with white knuckles at the memory.
 
Bella’s talons find their way around your shoulders as the Griffon holds you lingeringly. “They… Never used the word ‘slave’. But verily, I know what I was. Knew that there were none to speak for me. That my life meant only what value I could offer unto the church… The things they did to me… I… I am glad that there are those who will speak for the voiceless at last.”
 
“S’why we’ve got The Pax, thanks be to Tyris.” You murmur, placing a comforting hand atop the Griffon’s talon.
 
You ride along in silence for a moment, the stony ground crunching beneath the endless trundling of the wagon’s wheels.
 
“Prithee… About what thou wert going to address ‘later’…” Bella begins.
 
“Blue, I’m gonna put you over me damn knee…” You groan.
 
“Don’t tease Boss.” The Kobold snickers, pecking you on the cheek.
 
“Thou art clearly… intimate… Yet from what Emerelisa hath told me…” The Griffon continues.
 
“That is one fucker of a can of worms most of us try to avoid addressing directly.” You sigh. “Did she tell you about Continuance?”
 
“Yea, though verily, it seemed to make little sense.”
 
“Probably because Emmy couldn’t wrap her little green head around it.” You grumble. “Orright, so. I don’t need to tell you where babies come from, do I?”
 
“Nay, all know that they spring from cabbages.” The Griffon remarks brightly. You turn to fix the Griffon with a look of sheer incredulity.
 
“I am joking, Adam. Zounds, thou art sensitive about the strangest things…” Bella chuckles, her talons still about your shoulders.
 
“Yeh well, I could quote a buncha scripture at ya, but fact is, there’s not enough of us. We’re taught from a young age that life is precious, that bringing new life into the world and fostering it a Holy Duty for every human. Our Holy Mother Church, Tyris Bless Her, through the guidance of the Mistresses of the Bloodlines in Magisterium makes sure that we get the best chances for that to happen.”
 
“Tis similar to what she explained to me… Yet that doth not include Mamono…” Bella remarks.
 
“No. And for a reason I didn’t really understand until Cally ran me through it… Moreso having seen Thealiss and the kinda power that sits at the top of yer world.” You reply “Demonic… er, MAMONO energy works different with human men and women. In blokes it kinda bleeds through us, unless we’re absolutely soaked in it, then… well… y’met Phil.”
 
“Aye.” Bella nods, her head nestled atop your own.
 
“With women, and me own theory is it’s because they can have babies and we can’t, it doesn’t… bleed. It kinda sits there, swirls around a bit, doesn’t leave unless they actively get rid of it. So the risk of wakin’ up and not being Human one day’s a bit greater.”
 
“Thou art dancing around the subject, Adam…” Bella chides impatiently.
 
“I’m getting to it, because it sounds utterly fuckin’ barbaric without the backstory, and I’ve no desire to get knocked on the canvas again.” You drawl, elbowing the Griffon in the ribs gently.
 
“Hist! I gaveth mine apology for that!” Bella laments self-consciously.
 
“Just havin’ some fun with ya Bel. We tease because we care.” You snicker. “But I get your point. A single bloke can get a flamin’ army of women with child, but sheilas can only have one baby at a time. Women’ve got the harder end of the deal when it comes to making new humans, so we gotta make sure they stay alive and… well… human.”
 
“And when thou lieth with a mamono and a human, thou placeth that at risk.”
 
“Bang on.” You agree. “Now lowborn like me? Not a fuckin’ issue. I mean the Holy Mother Church would REALLY rather we didn’t, but since I’m not liable to even get LOOKED at for Continuance ‘cept at Midsummer and Midwinter, and even then only in a lottery, they really haven’t got the wherewithal to give too much of a fuck what I do with myself s’long as I’m clean when I’m called.”
 
“Then wherein cometh the prohibition she spaketh of?” Bella enquires.
 
“That’s Nobles. Tyris be Glorified, that’s where shit starts getting fuckoff looney, there’s politics and genetic mainstays and a whole buncha shit that Eddie tried to explain to me when we were both half cut… Basically if you’re liable to have a nod at a Baronial throne, ‘Fuckin’ DON’T’ becomes the order of the day.”
 
“What happens if thou art caught?”
 
“Depends on the excuse. ‘I was treated with Alarune Essence because I got eight layers of shit kicked through me?’ Hell, I’ve used that one, and I wasn’t even lying!”
 
“Fucking Scaly…” Blue grumbles.
 
You pat the Kobold on the head absently. “I’m using Taurean Milk to treat a lingering illness?’ Likewise, not really gonna get you in the shit. ‘I like Royal Honey on me fuckin’ toast of a morning?’ Probably not gonna be looked upon so fondly. ‘I’ve been nailing a lamia of an evening?’ That’s liable to land you fifteen in the public square and a month in an oubliette in a chancel basement somewhere as a Noble or Highborn. ‘I’ve been up to me balls in something which can turn worlds backwards?’ That… that is Heresy, and yer not walkin’ away from that.”
 
“How dost thou mean?”
 
“Forsaking your Humanity, or forcing by your negligence or malicious intent another to forsake theirs, is a Heresy of some fuckoff huge magnitude that I can’t even PRONOUNCE the word they use.” You explain with a grim look on your face. “They’ll strip you of whatever you own, dress you in sackcloth, march you onto a dais, tie you to a stake, then promptly set you the fuck on fire.”
 
“M-Maou!” The Griffon cried, recoiling from you in horror. “I-I did not know I was placing thee at such…”
 
“S’orright Bella. As I understand it, Her Excellency did me far worse with a fuckin’ shoulder rub than you did that night in the infirmary.” You chuckle reassuringly. “Plus, I’m guzzling that horrible eucalyptus stuff Phil insists is so effective at getting it outta me.”
 
“T-then thou would not be adverse to…” Bella blurts without thinking.
 
“Feathers! Are you after a little bit of twilight delight?” Blue drawls lecherously.
 
Bella screeches, flushing bright crimson and hiding her face in her talons.
 
“To put it briefly…” You continue, deliberately ignoring that last. “…keep yer talons to yerself as best you can and you’ll be fine. Onus is on us to behave ourselves as much as it is you, so we all kinda work together in the end.”
 
“That sounds surprisingly… Nice…” Bella sighs almost beatifically.
 
“Yeh, s’not bad knowing the worst you’ll get from a drunken Yowie is the possibility of her breakin yer fuckin’ jaw, arms, and four ribs in a tavern fight. Least yer pelvis is safe…” You snicker.
 
“Thou art making fun of me again!” Bella laments, removing her talons from about your shoulders and pouting at you almost adorably as Blue.
 
“Blue… Have you been teaching Bella things?” You accuse.
 
“I admit nothing.” The Kobold smiles smugly, nuzzling into you.
 
 
The days bled into comfortable monotony, the endless parched earth and scrub of the deserts seeming to stretch on into infinity as you followed the sun’s molten blob to where it sank below the horizon each day. As the days began to turn into weeks, you noticed a change in the behaviour of your companions. Blue seemed to be more and more preoccupied with the lay of the land, often leaping from the wagon to study this rock or that shrub with keen interest. Asking about her behaviour lent you no further information than “Just a Kobold thing, Boss.” and insisting further led to a mumbled deflection of the topic.
 
Of course, when the same conversation happens five days in a row, even you begin to get suspicious.
 
Bella on the other hand, was slightly more concerning. The Griffon began to grow… fidgety. She would refuse flatly to sleep in the tent with you, and watches began to comprise the two of you trading places within the warm closeness of the tent. Blue, of course, took advantage of this fact to great delight, but when pressed, would shake her head and flatly state that if Bella wasn’t willing to talk about what was bothering her, it wasn’t her place to say.
 
Frankly, the whole thing put you in a surly mood.
 
“How dost thou know where to go, Adam?” Bella asked one morning as you glowered at a lodestone floating atop a cork in a small bowl of water, regular notches about its edge.
 
“Oh, you ARE talking to me!” You quipped drily.
 
“C-certes…” The Griffon stammered slightly, wringing her talons and shuffling her leonine legs.
 
“Never mind… The Lodestone always points north…” You continue, pointing to a spot on the map. “…So all I need to do is make sure we’re heading just slightly south of west, and we should hit the Murchison river. From there we follow it straight down to Kalbarri.”
 
“Verily, I hath seen a dry riverbank not too far from here, but it doth not look as if water has passed its cooling embrace along its banks in many a year.”
 
“Yeh? How far?” You ask eagerly, all trace of irritation gone at the news.
 
“Two days, perchance, at thy beasts current pace?”
 
“That’s it alright. The Murchison doesn’t run on the surface this far east except after a big wet. Dig a bit and you’ll find plenty of water. Taste of mud and bug shit but it’ll save yer life in a pinch.”
 
“Why then do we bring our own?” Bella ponders.
 
“You wanna drink water that tastes of barrel or bugshit, Bella?”
 
“Thou maketh a compelling argument.”
 
“Bloody oath.” You grin.
 
“Boss…” Blue interjects suddenly. “…Stop the wagon.”
 
“Whazzamatter pup… Hey! Where ya goin?” You yell after the Kobold as she leaps from the wagon, running seemingly in a random direction into the desert.
 
“Trust me!” she calls back.
 
“Fucks SAKE.” You curse. “Well, hopefully she doesn’t take too long doing what she’s doing. Would you mind helping me set up the sunshade Bel…” You begin, turning to look at the Griffon, only to find her gone, a swirling cloud of dust and a rapidly diminishing shape in the endless sky above all that is left in her wake.
 
“I am gonna put them both over me fuckin’ knee… I swear to Tyris.” You grumble venomously, roughly pulling pole and canvas from the rear of the wagon.
 
 
“Have at you! Fuckin’ cunt…” You yell, swiping at the chittering camel-spider with your cutlass. The arthropod was a bit below waist height, a good size, yet had crept up on your unintentional camp with surprising stealth.Was the creature after shade? Water? Food? You didn’t much care. Sure, you could have killed it in a second with resonance, but the caginess of your Mamono companions combined with their sudden disappearance without the benefit of any explanation had put you in a foul mood, and the opportunity to physically take out your frustration on something which bled was far too good to pass up. The stupid beast was leaking pale ichor from dozens of minor wounds, and seemed to have been enraged beyond what paltry reason its tiny brain possessed at this noisy meal’s refusal to be eaten. Its sizeable palps snapped at the air as it charged you again.
 
The beast gathered its legs underneath it, leaping towards you slightly. On instinct, you thrust forward, burying the cutlass deeply between the beast’s dull, tiny eyes, the crunch of carapace shuddering along the length of the blade. Screeching, the camel-spider backed away, though its legs didn’t seem to be responding quite as effectively. Clearly, this new development was about all this thing was willing to endure and it turned and began skittering away from you, your sword still buried in its head.
 
“Oi cunt! Gimme back my sword!” You snarl, drawing your knife and giving chase. With the seeming damage to its nerves, you were able to catch up with it, though not without effort. You flung yourself onto it, burying your knife to the hilt over and over again between panting breaths and sulphurous curses.
 
And then, all too soon it was over, the sour, foul smelling wetness of the beasts ichor soaking through your shirt and trousers as it lay beneath you, its legs curled and twitching in death.
 
“Fucking Palps…” You snarl, grabbing the beast by a hind leg and dragging it back to the bungarra whose dim eyes are staring at the leaking corpse with avid interest.
 
“I make no pretensions, you scaled shits…” You begin, hauling the corpse before them with a final grunt, planting your foot on its head and tearing your sword free “…That if it were me here you’d be fighting the bug for lunch.”
 
The Bungarra did not even spare you the grace of a guilty look as they began to tear the camel-spider apart. But that didn’t surprise you, as you stripped your bug-juice soaked clothing off and hunted through the packs for a change of clothing.
 
Bungarra seldom did.
 
 
“Good evening.” Bella remarked politely as twilight deepened, the Griffon coming to land with the now-familiar gusting of her wingbeats.
 
“G’day. Have fun?”
 
“T’was most fruitful.” The Griffon replied, holding out the bloody form of a crudely dressed razorback juvenile, its porcine head still leaking blood.
 
“Where’d ya find that?!” You exclaim eagerly, accepting the pig and pulling out your knife to finish the job that Bella’s talons had begun.
 
“Near the river thou spaketh of. The adults were of a size to be deemed wasteful should I have brought one back, but this should be sufficient for the three of us.”
 
“Flame-roasted Pork… Blue’s gonna pitch a fit when she finds out she missed out.” You snicker wickedly.
 
“Verily, she hath not returned?”
 
“Not yet”
 
“Thou art… not concerned?”
 
You sigh, looking up from where you were halfway through skinning the piglet. “Course I am, but she told me to trust her, and the most dangerous thing I’ve seen thus far is the damn camel-spider I stabbed in the face earlier today. If she’s not back by morning, then I’ll start worrying in earnest.”
 
Bella makes a noise of acceptance before pausing, shuffling her feet in the dirt. “Thou hast not set up the tent.”
 
“Nup.”
 
“Thou art almost out of light.”
 
“Yep.”
 
“Prithee… why?”
 
You yank the piglets skin roughly from its legs, leaving tattered remains about the feet before tossing it casually at the bungarra, who hiss and jostle, fighting over the morsel. “Because I’m gonna have an answer out of you one way or the other.”
 
“A-answer?”
 
“What the fuck is going ON with you two? I’m getting a bit jack of this secret squirrel bullshit.”
 
“It… I…” Bella stammers, staring at the ground.
 
“It’s partly my fault, I’ll admit. I didn’t go over the fact when you asked to come with, but I need to be able to RELY on you, Bella. Like I can rely on Blue… or at least, like I THOUGHT I could… Don’t worry, m’gonna put the hard word on her too… The fuck am I supposed to think when y’go barrelling off half an instant after me Kobie goes tearing into the scrub?”
 
“Thou hast not taken issue with it prior!” Bella retorts hotly.
 
“Because I wasn’t alone! Easiest way to vanish in the Australs is to go off by yerself. Goin’ to The Gap alone was probably the riskiest thing I’ve ever done in me life!”
 
“I apologise… Verily, it is just… just…” The Griffon justifies lamely.
 
“S’orright. But we’re gonna have dinner, and then we’re gonna sit here. Together. Until you can work out SOMETHING to tell me that’s gonna take the crawler out from between me shoulder blades.” You state with a note of finality that is as close to a crack of doom as you can muster.
 
Bella sighs, sitting herself on the tailgate of the wagon with a thoroughly defeated expression on her face. For an instant your heart melts for the Griffon, but you set your jaw and continue preparing the evening meal.
 
You weren’t entirely sure whether somehow you had turned into a master camp-cook, or Bella had somehow selected the sweetest, juiciest pig you had ever eaten in your life, but for a moment when you announced the pig was ready, all tension vanished between you two as you devoured the steaming portions with gusto, juices dripping from your chins and grunts of satisfaction in your throats.
 
“That final third…” Bella muses, looking at the cheesecloth-wrapped meat, stored well away from sneaky scavengers and not so sneaky bungarra.
 
“Yeah, we’ll save it for Blue.”
 
“Certes, I suppose it is only fair…” The griffon sighed in mock-disappointment.
 
“Wasn’t bad, was it?”
 
“Nay, t’was most toothsome.” Bella smiled… And once again, the silence fell between you.
 
“Get you something to drink?” You offer, to break that looming silence if nothing else.
 
“Stop that.”
 
“Eh? Stop what?”
 
Bella screeches in frustration, flapping her wings in a great gust of wind.“Stop… urgh! Blasted Human! Stop being THEE!”
 
“What in the Holy name of Tyris are you on about?” You retort incredulously.
 
“Stop being thoughtful, stop caring, stop behaving as if thou dost not know how… GOOD thou smellest… Stop acting like thou dost not know how much I want thee…” The Griffon blurts, her golden, raptorial eyes almost ablaze with emotion, before the fire seems to burn out and she stares at the ground again. “…Stop forcing me to have to admit it.”
 
You sit there hang-jawed for a moment, before a relieved laugh boils from your chest, spilling out with all your frustration into peals of mirth.
 
“Thou art not terribly attached to thy life, art thou?” Bella hisses, glaring at you incensedly.
 
You hold your hands out beseechingly, stemming your laughter with a forced cough. “I’m not laughing at you Bella… I’m just… Tyris… Why did you feel like you had to hide this?”
 
“Well after thou told me about the risk which being with Mamono puts thee under…”
 
“Calculated risk, and did you miss the part where I’m not the one those rules were made for?”
 
“…Still, thou art drinking purgatives…”
 
“To bleed weeks of Thealiss out of me. Tyris, I haven’t used anything but time, and I’ve known Blue AND Cally in the bedroom sense, frequently. Still came up clean enough to pass.”
 
“…Yet thy relationship with Blue is not merely physical. Thou art my friends and I would not want to…”
 
“Bella…” You sigh, hoisting yourself up on the tailgate and sitting next to the Griffon. “…You really suck at lying.”
 
“Why thou…” The Griffon seethes.
 
“Shaddap.” You declare, placing a hand on the Griffon’s talon and looking at her evenly. “I’m gonna throw a knife in the dark and you just nod if I’m hitting anywhere close to the mark. It’s around about ‘that time’ for you, right?”
 
Bella freezes for a moment, then nods.
 
“And you are itchy as all get-out, but because of… let’s just say the cunts in your past, you’ve never really had the opportunity to explore what that means.”
 
Another nod.
 
“And yer a bit hesitant because you reckon this time, because it’s deliberate and nobody’s drunk or hopped up on Hellhound, it’s somehow scarier, because it’s a decision you’re making yourself.”
 
A vehement nod.
 
“And you’re worried you’ll hurt me if you let loose.”
 
A shake of the head this time. “I have seen thy power, Adam… I do not fear hurting thee… I have been beneath the will of powerful humans before… If I allow this of my own free will and accord, I fear that thou wilt hurt me.” The Griffon admits in a small voice, her expression incredibly vulnerable.
 
“Bella…” You murmur, barely above a whisper “…A Griffon acting like a priestess fresh out of the Abbey? What will people think?”
 
Bella screeches in embarrassment and umbrage. Grabbing you by the arms, she stares death into your eyes. “Verily, I shall lay chastisement most sound unto th…”
 
The Griffon’s incensed ranting is cut off as you press your lips against hers, melting at once into a low moan against your mouth, those razor-sharp talons faltering and trembling where they fell from your arms as her body seems to almost ragdoll against you. You slide your arms around the Griffon, running your hands through the downy underside of her undeniably impressive wings. As if responding to that caress, Bella’s wings mantle you, encasing you in their warm softness.
 
“Heh…” You murmur, breaking off the kiss and bringing your hands’ attention to the griffon’s shoulders, tracing your fingers teasingly along her neckline. “…Wing Cuddles.”
 
“Wilt thou stop making fun of me?” Bella pleads meltingly.
 
“I’m not, Bel…” You insist, sliding a strap from her shoulder and placing your lips where the padded leather once was, trailing kisses up the Griffon’s neck. “…just thinking out loud.”
 
Bella’s leonine legs are visibly shaking at your ministrations, her shuddering whimpers at the sensation of your lips upon her neckline louder than you were expecting.
 
“Found your sweet spot.” You remark, kissing the griffon briefly with a grin as you slide the other strap loose, her leather jerkin loosening over her impressive bust as the straps move down her arms.
 
Bella moans something unintelligible. You cock your head askance at her. “What was that?”
 
“M-more… Please… Do that again, an it please thee…” The Griffon pants, her eyes smouldering with awakened lust.
 
As bid, you repeat the process on the other shoulder, this time flicking your tongue against her earlobe, almost as an afterthought. Bella scrambles with the straps of her jerkin, pulling her horned, taloned claws from the garment, her torso now gloriously bare and heaving with desire, her small, pink nipples hardening in the cool night air. The Griffon claws at your shirt, whimpering with desperation.
 
“Hold on now, I don’t have so many clothes that I can afford you rippin’ em to bits Bel.” You chide gently, pushing her talons aside gently and taking one of those nipples between your lips as you shoot the cuffs of your woolen shirt, breaking contact briefly to pull it over your head. As it clears your body, Bella pulls you in once again, her mouth desperately seeking yours, her tongue clumsy yet insistent within your mouth, her firm breasts pressed hard against your own chest. You luxuriate in the sensation of the kiss for a moment, sliding a hand between you to tease at one of the Griffon’s breasts, Bella’s answering moan vibrating against your lips, her leonine, feathered tail lashing somewhere behind her. You pull gently away, eliciting a noise of protest.
 
“S’orright… Just relax.” You murmur soothingly, hopping down off the tailgate, your hands leaving her breasts almost reluctantly as you pull her jerkin down along her body, tracing your lips along her muscular torso in its wake. Bella groans throatily, the weight of one of her talons buried in your hair. Pausing to allow her to lift her hips, careful as the leonine length of her feathered tail whispers through it, collecting her smallclothes almost as an afterthought as you pull the tunic down her golden-furred legs. Her sweet, musky scent is palpable as she half-reclines now fully nude on the tailgate, her leonine legs shifting, uncertainty written all over her face, seemingly trying to decide whether to succumb to wantonness or rectitude.
 
“A-art thou going to… Put thy mouth on me?” Bella mumbles, flushing adorably.
 
You chuckle, sidling yourself between her legs and nuzzling into the inside of her left thigh, the soft skin covered by only the barest golden fuzz. “That was the idea…” You drawl, kissing your way up to her mound, crested with a tiny tuft of silken gold.
 
“Heehee! Prithee, abate… That doth tickle… OH MAOU!” The Griffon’s giggling quickly changes to a choked gasp as you take a slow, lingering lick of her entrance… By Tyris, she was already soaked! You feel a touch of sympathy for your new companion. How long had she been this hard up? Still, you were dealing with it now, you conclude, continuing your oral poetry upon her folds, Bella whimpering above you, her hips shaking and squirming so as to force you to grip her hips to remain in position.
 
“Adam! Certes… I am…” Bella whimpers, her Talons gripping your head with a slightly concerning strength as her trembling becomes full-blown shaking, her thighs clamping around you as her body is wracked with waves of pleasure. A slightly morbid thought crosses your mind as you are somewhat yanked about in the throes of her orgasm. Was it possible for a man’s head to be pulled off accidentally?
 
“By the Great Aerie…” Bella pants, talons and thighs slowly ceasing their death-grip on your head.
 
“Been holding on to that one?” You drawl, sliding your hands up her torso and under her arms, guiding her from the tailgate into your embrace. Bella hangs her talons languidly over your shoulders, her weight upon them, as if she did not trust her shaking legs to hold her. The Griffon mumbles something into the crook of your neck.
 
“Missed that Bel.” You prompt, stroking her soft hair (feathers?) encouragingly.
 
“I said, I like those kisses…” Bella repeats, blushing once again.
 
“Good, I’m glad. Like doin’ nice things for me mates…” You tease.
 
“Certes… Nice doth not begin to cover that.”
 
A wicked grin covers your face. “Isn’t this easier than flyin’ off to play with yerself?”
 
“How didst thou…” Bella gasps, looking up at you with horror “…Knave! Villain!” She cries in humiliation, yet instead of pushing herself away, she clings more tightly to you.
 
“You mean you were? Bugger me, that was just a guess!” You chortle, patting the Griffon’s head playfully.
 
Bella squirms slightly, grinding her hips against you slightly. “Thou art going to make habit of this, art thou not?”
 
“Teasing you or kissing you like that?”
 
“W-well…” Bella murmurs, flushing slightly.
 
“Wait a second… D’you LIKE getting ripped on?”
 
“How darest thou!” Bella blusters “Mine honour is paramount and mine dignity above reproach… and why art thou not kissing me?”
 
“Yeh, righto then.” You snicker, kissing the griffon lingeringly as she makes happy noises against your mouth.
 
“Y’know… We can leave it there if yer nervous about…”
 
“Nay!” Bella shakes her head emphatically, a talon pulling at your belt insistently. “I want thee…”
 
You quickly divest yourself of boots and trousers, and Bella gingerly takes your hardening length in a horny talon, breathing quickening as she stares almost transfixed.
 
“I… took all of that in Thealiss?”
 
“Uh huh…” You grunt absently, too distracted by her workings to even object to (yet another) remark on your manhood.
 
“V-verily…” The Griffon stammers in a mixture of nervousness and lust. Swallowing visibly, she puts her other talon against your chest, kissing you as she gently pushes you down onto the sand.
 
“Coulda let me put a blanket down…” You remark as Bella moves to straddle you.
 
“Ruth ‘pon me! I am sorry!” Bella gasps, her talons flying to her mouth in chagrin.
 
“Shhh…” You insist, cupping one of her breasts with one hand and putting the other around the back of her neck to pull her into another kiss. “…Won’t be the first dustbath I’ve taken. Didn’t wanna lose yer nerve?”
 
Bella nods wordlessly, still frozen with her legs on either side of your stomach. Smiling gently, you release her breast, reaching down to tease her nethers with your now free hand. Bella moans at your ministrations, and allows you to push her back, guiding her to where your engorged member is flaring like a cobra in anticipation.
 
“You ready?”
 
“A-aye…” Bella murmurs, lowering herself tantalizingly, agonizingly slowly onto you.
 
“Sweet Tyris…” You groan throatily, overwhelmed with the delicious sensation of being enveloped by degrees.
 
“Put… anh… put thy hands on me…” Bella pleads, her wings opening and mantling you instinctively, like a raptor stooping on its prey.
 
Who were you to deny such a request, you wondered, relishing once again in the feeling of the griffon’s firm yet supple breasts where they lolled above you, Bella’s mouth hanging open and her eyes half-lidded as she began to move atop you, her velveteen walls gripping you oh-so-deliciously. Faster and faster she moved in the steps of that most ancient of dances, your breathing quickening as you arched your back with pleasure, sliding your hands to her hips, fingers buried in the thicker tufts of leonine fur at her thighs, urging her to further excess.
 
“Adam… Nay… If thou driveth me so I shall… I shall…” Bella objected, but her point was lost to the waves of a shrieking orgasm, her wings beating such a cloud of sand and dust from about you that for a moment you were blinded. Your eyes were stinging, your manhood throbbing, the sweet pleasure of her bust pressed against your chest, her breath fast and loud in your ears, that curious sensation of breathing the same air in the core of your being. A small voice spoke up in the dim recesses of your mind. After Blue, Cally, and now Bella, you wondered if you would be able to perform in the rite of continuance, which seemed now cold and mechanical compared to the white-hot passion of Mamono. Perhaps that was the real reason it was so discouraged…
 
“I w-want to feel thee… finish inside me… prithee…” Bella cozened in honeyed tones “…erelong I shall be at my limit and can take… Ah! T-take no morrrrrre….” The griffon insisted, shuddering as yet another orgasm rolled through her. Bucking your hips against her, you drove yourself headlong, panting… all was dust and feathers and her… starlight above, beefswelling building within you until with a groaning cry, you erupted within her, seed fleeing your engorged member in long, shaking pulses.
 
“Tyris be bloody glorified…” You pant. “…how I’m gonna keep this up I’ve got no idea.”
 
“T-thou art like this every time?” Bella asks, lying languidly across your chest, your combined juices leaking from her as she gingerly lifts herself off your softening member.
 
“Well I dunno, I’m not on the right end to judge performance…” You chuckle “…You’d have to ask…”
 
A hint of movement made you look up to where five strange kobolds stood grinning at you openly, and before them, her tawny paws folded across modest chest, her athletic frame glistening with sweat and dust, your indentured.
 
“…Blue.” You remark, tapping Bella on the talon and pointing up and behind her.
 
“So who wants to explain this to me?” Blue states, a nonplussed expression on her face.
 
“Blue!” Bella screeched, leaping from you and trying to cover her dignity from the strange Kobolds (And failing miserably). “Verily, this is not what it looks like.”
 
“What, you tripped and fell on me dick Bella?” You snicker, sitting up nonchalantly.
 
“Thou art not helping!”
 
“Nothing you say’s gonna un-fuck him, feathers…” Blue remarks.
 
“But I… he was… thou wert…” Bella stammers, looking completely mortified by the whole business until she spots the cheshire-shaming shiteating grin you have plastered from ear to ear.
 
“…Thou art not talking about us, art thou.”
 
“Pfft, yeah nah…” Blue scoffs dismissively. “…But I can smell flame-roasted pork, and I don’t see any by the fire, and I want a Maou-damn explanation.”
 
“Saved you some pup, in the cheesecloth behind the sugar crock.”
 
“Thanks boss!” Blue exclaims gleefully, all trace of her previous threatening calm fled as she hunts for the portion. Gleefuly raising it above her head with a note of triumph, she divests it of its cheesecloth cover, setting into it with greedy abandon.
 
“You know feathers,” Blue murmurs around a mouthful of pork “I was wondering how long it was going to take you. Woz even wonderin’ if I didn’t have to pin m’boss down and straight up tell you to do it.”
 
“Id’ve whooped you a good one if you did that pup.” You remark sternly.
 
“Thou let me… both of thee… By the Aerie, Australians! Fie ‘pon them all!” Bella exclaims, snatching her clothing and going to the other side of the wagon to dress… and probably sulk.
 
“Worth it.” Blue concludes. “…This is amazing Boss.” She adds, pointing at the mostly devoured portion in her paw.
 
“Thank Bella, she went and got it.” You reply nonchalantly, dusting yourself off and hunting for your discarded clothing. One of Blue’s attendant Kobolds makes a noise of disappointment, to which Blue gives a snarling bark in reply.
 
“Gotta draw the line somewhere, eh pup?” You chuckle, fastening your belt and pulling your shirt back over your head, making sure the carved totem hangs in clear view. Clearly an agreement had been reached with these kobolds and Blue but still safer not to take chances.
 
“I’M your good girl, Boss. Me. Feathers is m’friend, Adorabear too, but that doesn’t mean I’m just gonna let any rag end Omega have a crack.” Blue explains, glaring witheringly at the strange kobold who shuffles her paws and lowers her head submissively.
 
You are slightly taken aback at this dominant behaviour. “This is a new side of you…”
 
“You’re my Alpha, Boss…” Blue explains as if that should make everything clear, before nuzzling into your chest. “…Whew… Feathers really did a number on you!”
 
“Mmm. Go easy on her, I don’t think she changes tack that quickly.”
 
“I can hear thee!” Bella’s voice snipped from the other side of the wagon.
 
“Wasn’t tryin’ to hide anything Bel.” You reply in as comforting a tone as you can manage. “Why don’t you come on out?”
 
Bella emerges into the dim light of the dying fire, her face still set in a sulky pout. Blue rolls her eyes with a sigh, walking over and throwing her paws around the Griffon’s waist, her shorter stature even more pronounced against the tall Mamono. “Don’t sulk feathers.” She insists. “I’m happy you finally took the plunge. Was just tryin’ to make you see how ridiculous your efforts to dodge it were.”
 
“This seemeth so… contradictory.” Bella finally states, her heart melted by Blue’s barrage of adorable affection. “Thou art fine with some but not all lying with Adam, The Church wisheth him to lie with none, yet he dost, and yet still giveth praise to The God whose church telleth him nay…”
 
“The Pax didn’t stop three freelancers from trying to turn me, Adz, Kitty, Tailpussy and Adorabear into Bunga-chow. Y’gotta follow rules in the human world, but this isn’t their world, it’s ours… well… theirs…” Blue adds, gesturing at the Kobolds as if to clarify her statement. “…And different rules apply here.”
 
“Bugger.” You curse.
 
“Boss?” Blue looks up at you askance.
 
“You just took the wind out me sails.” You reply, “I was gonna give you a proper telling-off for running off without telling me, but now I recognise the markings. They’re Murchison Ferals, aren’t they?”
 
Blue nods “S’why I couldn’t just tell you. I’m not a-sposed to know they’re here. Mum said she doesn’t wanna dob ‘em into the council.”
 
“Ferals?” Bella echoes, confusion writ large on her face.
 
“Tyris be glorified…” you exclaim with a yawn. “…I am too tired to get into that right now. Tomorrow Bella, promise.”
 
“Swags under the stars tonight boss?”
 
“Yeh, since I was the one who insisted on bullying a straight answer outta Bella.” You concede with a slightly rueful tone. “So you girls right or…” You trail, looking askance at the strange Kobolds who turn to each other with puzzled looks of utter incomprehension.
 
“They don’t speak Magisterian Boss.” Blue explains, whuffling something to the largest of the group, who nods, before barking something at the remainder of the band, who melt quietly into the surrounding night.
 
“Escort?”
 
Blue shakes her head, “More like making sure I was telling the truth. Still, we’ve got our rules too. And swags suit me…” she shrugs, a cheeky grin spreading across her face “…Though we’re gonna have to cuddle.”
 
“Oh, what a shame…” You drawl, pulling the rolled swags from the back of the wagon.
 
“I’ll get first watch.” Blue offers as you unfurl the swags near the campfire.
 
“That is… most generous of thee.” Bella remarks with a slight smile as she lies down next to you, her wings massive as you throw the layered canvas and blankets across you both.
 
“Who doesn’t enjoy cuddling after sex?”
 
Bella’s mortified shriek is loud in your ears, and you can’t suppress a snicker as you hold the Griffon to you. Bella grumbles under her breath but her talons cross atop your shoulders, and her wings envelop you as she presses herself against your body. Surprisingly quickly she is asleep, a small, happy smile on her peaceful face.
 
 
“Oh you’re a dirty beast…” You grumble at Two, whose bowels have just released a truly noxious stench. “…Blue, if anyone from Hell ever tries to feed my Bungas anything, ever again, remind me to put a boot up ‘em.”
 
“Yehboss…” Blue agrees vehemently, holding her nose and fanning her other paw in front of her face.
 
“Prithee… Thou wert going to mention Ferals…” Bella prompts from atop the canvas.
 
“Yeh, I was…” You agree. “…C’mon Four! Stop pulling left you wanker, you know how this works.” You snarl, yanking at the reins. “Fucking cunts… Anyway. Ferals. Did Emmy run you through what we Humans call the ‘Winnowing of Sin’?
 
“Of a sort, she seemed unwilling to divulge in any great detail however.” The Griffon adds.
 
“Prolly ‘cos she didn’t believe it herself. Long story short, After the first Resonants took over the world when God-Before-Tyris ate shit, for some reason the Mamono went completely fuckin’ spare and started fuckin’ up humans. Not like the ‘Raid a holding and rape the shit out of ‘em’ stuff we’re used to, but flat out eatin’ cunts.”
 
“How vile!” Bella exclaimed with a look of profound distaste.
 
“Reckon.” You agree. “Our Holy Mother church says it was as a result of our Atheism in the Age of Apostasy… No idea what yer Doctrines of Maou say about it mind.”
 
“Not really mentioned…” Blue adds bluntly.
 
“And yez wonder why some Humans are still shirty with youse even these thousands of years later.” You chide gently.
 
“Because Mamono weren’t being mowed down by drum-fed shardcannons or anything…” Blue retorts.
 
“Hey. Not startin’ a fight pup.” You reply quickly, kissing the Kobold on the cheek in an attempt to mollify her. “It’s academic anyway, thanks to the Pax.”
 
“And grateful should we be that such unseemliness doth no longer stain our souls, but thou wert speaking of Ferals?” Bella prompted.
 
“Yeh.” You admit “The way I understand it, and Blue, feel free to cut me off if I’m off base on this, but when Maou told the Mamono to pack it the fuck in, some of ‘em had their wind up too damn far to listen, and basically kept at bein’ ravening shits. Wolf spiders bein’ the best example here in the Australs.”
 
“That’s pretty much it.” Blue agrees “The Doctrines of Maou are pretty clear that we weren’t always like we are now. She… changed us. Taught us to Love, and told us to always act in Love, for ‘Such is the Purest Light of Divinity’ or something similar.”
 
“For Maou and Mamono…” Bella intones reverently, before looking up at the Kobold with a slightly self-conscious glance “…Is that right?”
 
“Yeh…” Blue giggles “…Cheeky’s a little Pally in her spare time, isn’t she?”
 
“Be nice pup.” You chuckle, ruffling the Kobold’s tawny hair. “Any case, in terms of The Pax, Any Mamono ‘settlement’ that isn’t recognised by our bat-winged beauties in Thealiss and their lot is deemed ‘Feral’. Basically Mamono outside the protection of The Pax, ‘cos Telia and the rest of the Council can’t guarantee they’ll play nice.”
 
“But thy friends yon night prior seemed civilized enough…” Bella ponders, looking askance at Blue.
 
“The Murchison Kobolds are funny…” Blue explains “…living where they do they’re real heavily influenced by Dingo culture, and since the Dingoes forswear the Council’s authority entirely in favour of their ‘Great Justice’, the Murchies’ve picked up on that. Mum sez that the other tribes’ve tried to explain it to the succubutts and the Lilim, but they don’t wanna have a bar of it.”
 
“So you can kinda see how ‘Feral’ is a cause for concern, but ye’ve gotta be REAL careful on how y’choose to react to it. Coulda stuck me cutlass through the guts of any of those Kobolds last night, the Law as it stands couldn’t say shit to me, but me soul? Fucked if I could face Tyris come the end knowin’ I had blood on me hands which had done nothin’ more than disagree with the goin’ political opinion.”
 
“Thou art truly a remarkable man, Adam…” Bella remarks, sliding her talons about your shoulders.
 
“Nah, from what I hear y’get a much different reaction in other parts of the world.” You scoff dismissively. “Here in the Australs we know the importance of working together. Fuck me, y’get a bad enough drought and Lord Baron Thomas’ll pull off his shirt and start diggin’ wells alongside the lowest indentured.”
 
“Will you learn to take a damn compliment, Boss?” Blue chides cheekily.
 
“So it is only Mamono?” Bella asks with a slight note of distaste
 
“Mmm… Nah… not always…” You clarify “…In theory anyone can go feral, though with Humans the Waylanders or the Faith Militant usually fuck ‘em up in short order. Have heard rumors of Human settlements gone primitive… Usually goes along with tales of Monstrosity like cannibalism, infant sacrifice and incest though.” You add with a shudder.
 
“Divines preserve!” Bella remarks with profound revulsion
 
“Amen.” You agree, before pointing ahead of you, doffing your wide-brimmed hat and wiping the sweat and dust from your brow. “And hey girls, unless I miss my guess, that treeline’s the river.”
 
“Still a day before a bath though…” Blue remarks longingly.
 
“You gettin’ soft pup?” You snicker.
 
“I have come to appreciate a certain lifestyle…” The Kobold sniffs haughtily, grinning and kissing you fondly, before leaping onto the canvas and assaulting Bella with insistent tickles. “…Sides, maybe feathers an’ me can catch some more pigs!”
 
 
“I still do not understand.” Bella remarks to Blue as they lie naked atop the canvas, letting the sun dry the cool water from them as the wagon continues its bouncing trundle along the upper crest of the river gorge. “Why dost thou insist upon Adam taking thee in such a fashion?”
 
“Y’don’t feel it?” Blue replies incredulously “You don’t feel him against you and just get this NEED for him to nail you like a loose board?”
 
“N-not in such a vulgate manner…” Bella mumbles with an embarrassed blush “…But verily, he can be so tender…”
 
“I GET tender every day.” Blue sniffs dismissively. “When m’Boss is havin’ his way with me, I want him to show me that he’s the Alpha I know he is.”
 
“I’m still here…” You mutter self-consciously, flicking the reins at the Bungarra more for something to do than out of any kind of necessity.
 
“What’s yer point Boss?” Blue asks in puzzlement. “Why wouldn’t we have this conversation in front of you, considering you were all up in our business not a couple hours ago?”
 
“…Lemme get back to you on that.” You retort lamely.
 
“I love you…” Blue whuffles happily, draping still-damp paws across your shoulders. Suddenly, her head snaps up as she sniffs the air insistently.
 
“Whazzamatter pup?”
 
“Dunno boss… Horses? But… Not?”
 
“Get dressed girls. ‘Horses but Not’ in this country means only one thing. Centaurs.” You order, making sure your cutlass is free in your scabbard and taking a few deep breaths to clear your mind, making sure the whirling vortex of the logos is within your mental ‘arm’s reach.’
 
The Wagon continues its trundling advance, the faint smell of salt coming ephemerally upon the westerly breeze, tantalizing in its nearness. You heard them before you saw them, whoops and yells, sounds of heavy hooves upon the rocky earth. A band of centaurs, rudely armoured and bearing frighteningly effective looking polearms. Whatever they called themselves these days, you knew a raiding party when you saw one.
 
“Hello the wagon!” Their leader called evenly. “You can stop there.”
 
“There a problem, madam?” You reply evenly.
 
“Where you headed?”
 
“Heading west from the interior… thought I’d make a stop off on the backside of the moon…” You muse, before fixing the centaur with an even stare “Kalbarri of course, fuck kinda question’s that?”
 
“Uh huh… What are you carrying?”
 
“Me dick in me fuckin’ hand. Y’aint wearin’ a Waylander’s browns so under the Terms of the Solemn Writ of the Protectorate, either lemme know why yer stoppin’ me or clear the fuckin’ trail.”
 
The Centaur pawed the earth with a hoof, turning her broad-shouldered humanoid torso to glare at her followers where they snickered behind her before returning her attention to you. “The trail, see… Gotta pay the toll.”
 
“Oh fuck me… that’s original.” You snicker “And waddayareckon you’ll get out of me?”
 
“Whatcha got?” The Centaur replied evenly.
 
“Thy ploy is as transparent as a succubi’s undergarments.” Bella almost purred, standing and flexing the deadly talons on her forelimbs, her wings spread to their full, intimidating span as she rises behind you. “Prithee, let sweet reason be thy guide and allow us to continue unabated.”
 
“Sergeant, whazzat?” one of the other centaurs hissed in surprise. “Some kinda mutant harpy?”
 
“DON’T. BULLY. MY. FEATHERS.” Blue snaps with a slavering snarl, gripping the front of the wagon with her forepaws, hackles raised and teeth bared.
 
“Nay my friend, that one is mine…” Bella hisses with naked malevolence.
 
“Youse’ve got guts, gotta give you that…” The leader admits with a nod “…But there’s seven of us, and only three of you.
 
“Six.” You correct.
 
“What?”
 
“FUCKEMUP boys!” You yell, the Bungarra spreading frill and maw in hissing threat displays in response to your command. A couple of the centaur rear in shock, whinnying like common horses.
 
“Get yourselves together!” Their leader snaps. “It’s a bluff!”
 
“You sure?” you drawl, drawing your cutlass, the steel slithering from its shagreen sheath. “You’re gonna wanna be REAL fuckin’ sure… We crossed the desert. Alone… Be REAL damn sure you know what you’re dealing with.”
 
The drumming of hooves from the gorge pass broadens a smug smile on the face of the lead centaur, and for a moment your heart sinks in your chest. “Please Holy Tyris… Don’t make me have to kill them…” You pray silently.
 
“What in the bloody buggering hell’s going on here?” A male, and blessedly human voice demands as a squad of horsemen bearing the livery of the Faith Militant rounds the escarpment, reining their snorting mounts in. Their commander, a powerfully built man in the white surcoat of a Paladin, looks suspiciously between you and the centaur.
 
“Yisbeth, are you shakin’ down traders again?” the Paladin demands.
 
“We’ve got a right to patrol!” The Centaur insists, “And he’s awful ready with the threats.”
 
“What happened to this being a toll road?” You retort snidely.
 
“Shaddup Trader.” The Paladin orders sharply. “Toll Road again, Yisbeth?”
 
“W-well I…”
 
“Don’t wanna hear it.” The Paladin interjects with the clear tone of one used to being obeyed. “This is yer last warning. If I catch you pulling this ‘Toll Road’ shit again, I will have you hauling ore carts outta Boulder until yer greyer than a ghoul’s taint. Am I clear?”
 
The Centaur swears, yelling something in an unknown language to her band as they wheel with a churning of sod and rocks, galloping back the way they came.
 
“Thanks, yer Worship.” You offer sincerely.
 
“Don’t thank me yet, Trader…” The Paladin replies evenly, suspicion still writ large on his face. “…We don’t get many wagons coming up the Murchison, even less coming up it alone… What’re you hauling?”
 
“Boss, didn’t we just go through this?” Blue sighs with resignation.
 
“Verily I say unto thee…” Bella seethes, her blood clearly still up after the encounter with the Centaur.
 
 
“Bella. Leave it.” You interject, turning to put a hand on the Griffon’s talon, looking into her eyes insistently. With a puzzled look on her face, the Griffon concedes, lowering her wings and settling back onto the canvas.
 
“Smart lad.” The Paladin remarks.
 
“With Respect, your Worship, me answer’s the same. Y’aint a Waylander, I’m a Freeman of the Australs, and our Holy Mother Church, Tyris Preserve Her, doesn’t interfere with Lawful business.”
 
The Paladin gives a mirthless smirk. “Have you been living under a rock boy? This is Kalbarri. There is no Barony. No Barony, no Baron. No Baron, no Baron’s Justice. Here, the good arse-kickin’ boot of Holy Tyris is Law. Are you following me?”
 
“…Yes, your Worship…” You concede with a sigh. The man had a point, damn him.
 
“So. What are you hauling?”
 
“Supplies. Nothing else.”
 
“From the interior?”
 
“Yes, your Worship.”
 
“Don’t believe you.” The Paladin concluded. “Connor, search the Wagon.”
 
“Blue…” You warn as the Kobold began to growl at the approaching soldier. To her credit, your indentured did stand down, but still put herself between you and the soldier as he pulled back the canvas.
 
“Water, cured meat, beans… Hey! He’s got sugar!” The soldier remarks jubilantly as he rifles casually through the contents of the wagon.
 
“That’s between him and his teeth, private.” The Paladin grates.
 
“Yes y’worship… Sundries… looks like clothes.”
 
“You keep outta me bleedin smalls!” Blue shrieks in umbrage.
 
“Stop riflin’ through the Kobold’s drawers!” The Paladin orders, stifling a chuckle.
 
“Jus’ doin’ me due dilligence…” The soldier remarks in a slightly hurt tone. “Wait a sec y’worship… Somethin… Phew… What IS this shit?”
 
“Ah piss…” You swear. “…It’s just bunga feed, don’t pay it no mind mate.”
 
“We’ll be the judge of that.” The soldier remarks with an air of superiority. “Y’Worship?”
 
“Giz a look, Connor.”
 
The Soldier pulls out a semi-dried slab of the Hellboar meat you had been supplied as feed for your lizards in Thealiss, bearing it to the Paladin with a look of obvious distaste. Taking one look, the Paladin points to a patch of bare earth nearby.
 
“There. Get all of it, don’t leave a scrap behind.” He orders. The soldier hurries to obey, and in a short span, the remaining hellboar meat is piled on the ground. The Bungarra, naturally, in their dopey single-mindedness, move to make a meal of it.
 
“Stand fast you shits!” You demand, yanking cruelly on the reins.
 
“Well, I can see you weren’t lying about the feed.” The Paladin concedes. “But do you mind telling me how you came to be feeding your Bungarra hellboar?”
 
“It was… All that was available at the time.” You explain.
 
“Right… Where were you coming from again? Against your soul, Freeman.”
 
“Thealiss.” You murmur.
 
“So I can hear you.”
 
“Thealiss, Your Worship.”
 
“Right. You have writs of indentureship for your Mamono?”
 
“Only the Kobie, The Griffon’s free.” You explain, digging through your pack for Blue’s writ.
 
“That what she is? Well there you go… Well come on Trader, out of the Wagon.” The Paladin orders presumptively.
 
You obey, bearing the wax-sealed writ which the Paladin takes a cursory glance at, grunting his satisfaction. “You, Griffon. You’ll want to present yourself before the governing Matriarch.”
 
“An it please thee…” Bella murmurs uncertainly, glancing at you.
 
“Sure she’s not indentured?” The Paladin snickers, eliciting a seething hiss from Bella. “Orright, Trader. You will submit to the scrutiny of the Benedictus.”
 
“Your will, Your Worship.” You accede. Here it was… moment of truth…
 
The Paladin waves his arm across your body, sheathed as it was in glowing, golden light. Once again the sensation of alien eyes studying you to the core of your being. The Paladin frowns.
 
“You having fun with me boy?”
 
“Your Worship?”
 
“You say you’re coming from Thealiss, but you’re clean. Tyris, I’ve seen reef-farmers with higher levels than you.”
 
“Purgatives and restraint, your worship.” You admit with a grin.
 
“Uh huh… And I’m Lord Azrael.” The Paladin scoffs. “Admit it, you took the inland road up from Gibson to avoid going near Lancelin.”
 
“Looks like he got us Boss.” Blue laments from the wagon.
 
“Good Kobie.” The Paladin chuckles. “I dunno what idiot’s handing out Hellboar as feed down in Fremantle, but let him know on your way back that if we catch him, he’ll be warming a square for it.”
 
“Your Will, your Worship…” You blurt lamely, still not sure at what point the conversation took a left turn.
 
“Make yourself known at the Garrison once you’re in town proper.” The Paladin remarks casually, turning from you and re-mounting his horse.
 
“Your Worship?”
 
“Just as a precaution. Helps to know who’s staying where, how long, that sort of thing. Can’t go looking for a missing person if we don’t know you’re there, can we?” The Paladin noted, before turning to his men. “Patrol, move out!”
 
You watched the squadron ride away dumbly, before re-mounting the wagon, flicking the reins at the Bungarra.
 
“Much easier.” Blue notes.
 
“Please tell me in what fit of madness you thought it’d be a good idea to lie to a Paladin, pup?” You demand incredulously.
 
“He was never gonna believe you Boss, it didn’t add up in his head, and what were you gonna tell him, the whole story? If you tried to convince him of the truth you’d have to lie at some point to avoid telling him something he wasn’t equipped to handle.”
 
You suppress a chuckle, patting the Kobold on the head. “Am I this annoying when I’m right?”
 
“Yehboss…” Blue grins smugly, pressing her head into your hand in bliss.
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