Child of the Australs: A Kobold named Blue (1)

“Wake up!”
 
You groan, pulling the light blanket over your head.
 
“Come on Adz! Get up get up get up get up!”
 
With every ‘Get up’, your assailant pushes at your torso insistently. “It’s your birthday! Adz!”
 
“Mmmmfuggoff…” You grumble, rolling yourself away from the source of your misery… A mistake, as her next push lands directly in your crotch. You sit bolt upright with a pained shriek of surprise, before curling up and moaning pathetically. Your assailant is revealed as a young kobold, her pawlike, furred hands held to her wide-eyed face in apologetic horror.
 
“Oh Maou I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to are you OK please don’t be mad but you’re supposed to be up and…” She babbles, large sky-blue eyes wide under short, tawny, pixie-cut hair, her short, pointed ears flat against her scalp and her coarse-furred tail held between her legs. You take a breath, raising a hand towards the kobold, who fixes you with a hangdog look. Sighing, you gently place the hand atop her head, mussing her short hair slightly.
 
“S’orright Blue.” You murmur, wincing as the pain dissipates. “You’re right, I should be up. What time is it anyway?”
 
“Sixish” The Kobold answers, leaning into your hand, her eyes closed and her smile dreamy as you pat her head.
 
“Sixish?!” You echo incredulously “It’s my rest day! In the middle of winter! Holy Tyris HIMSELF hasn’t got both bloody shoes on yet.”
 
Blue resumes shoving at you with her paws. “It’s your birthday! C’mon! Get up!”
 
“It’s everyone’s fucking birthday…” You rejoin, grabbing a pair of rough hide pants and a woolen shirt and pulling them roughly over your smallclothes against the early morning chill. Today, the winter solstice, marked the day when Humans collectively counted themselves a year older.
 
“So? Don’t care about everyone else. C’mon! You said we were going into Port Fremantle today!”
 
You sigh resignedly, the fantasy of a lazy morning spent abed now thoroughly shot. “We’d better go check in with Dad first, make sure he hasn’t got anything he needs me to do.”
 
“You said it was your rest day!” Blue objected with a whine.
 
“When’s that stopped Dad when something needs doing?”
 
Blue gives a harsh whine of disappointed resignation. You head out of your room barefoot, padding gingerly over the frost-covered grass, lush and green with recent rain towards the malodorous outhouse which served as the homestead’s privy to relieve yourself. Finishing, you work at the creaking hand-pump near the door, filling a nearby bucket and washing your face and hands thoroughly in the chilly, mineral-tasting water.
 
“Oi Blue, seen my bootUMMFFF” Your question is interrupted as the kobold pushes a coarse bread roll loaded with fried egg, cured meat, and sharp, crumbly cheese into your face.
 
“Breakfast!” Blue exclaims with a sunny smile. You murmur thanks, chewing on the unexpected offering. She was being awfully pushy today.
 
“Have you seen my boots?” You repeat.
 
“By the front door where you left them last night.” Blue sighs, rolling her eyes.  Honestly we go through this every bloody day.”
 
“Yeah yeah… cheers.” You chuckle, heading through the homestead towards the front door, because bugger getting your feet colder and wetter heading around.
 
“Thanks for brekkie Jen!” You yell in the direction of the kitchen as you pass. A gasp and a rushed clopping of cloven hooves was your only warning before you were enclosed in woolly arms and abundant cleavage.
 
“Happy Birthday Adam!” The weresheep offers excitedly, squeezing you to her with abandon.
 
“Heh… Thanks Jen.” You murmur to the homestead’s head cook, gently extracting yourself from the soft if enthusiastic arms entwined about your neck. “You know where Dad went this morning?”
 
“I think he said he was going to the west nine… Oh DO say you’ll be back for dinner! I’m making your favourite!”
 
“I’ll do what I can Jen…” You offer non-committedly. “But the ceremony, you know…”
 
“Honestly, you humans…” The weresheep sighs, shaking her horned head, her curly white hair bouncing with the movement. “…and don’t you dare accuse me of hear-say, I know it’s cultural, not religious, so there!”
 
“It’s Heresy Jen, and I wouldn’t dream of it.” You laugh, patting her on the head in farewell.
Heading out the door, you bang your boots on the wall, something dark and multilegged, having been summarily evicted from its new home, skitters for the shelter of the weeds.
 
“Reckon that one was dangerous?” You chuckle at the kobold
 
“Probably” Blue replies nonchalantly, looking after the unknown crawly with mild interest.
 
 
You spy the unmistakable figure of your father astride a stocky draught horse at the top of a hillock, his broad-brimmed hat pulled forward against the glare of the early-morning sun. Touching your heels to the sides of your own horse, you ride at an easy canter up the hill, Blue running effortlessly alongside you.
 
“You know she’ll seat two, Blue…” You offer.
 
“Every time you say that I give you the same answer Adz.” Blue sighs.
 
“I know I know, if Maou didn’t intend for you to run she wouldn’t have given you feet.” You chuckle.
 
“Honestly I don’t know why you insist on that silly animal. It’s jumpy, it eats way too much, and the meat you get isn’t worth the bloody trouble.”
 
The horse snorts, laying its ears back and looking suspiciously at the kobold.
 
“She’s smarter than she looks though…” You rejoin, patting the beast on the neck as you rein in near your father’s horse.
 
“Adam.” Your father offers in greeting, not looking at you.
 
“G’morning Sir.”
 
“Understand it’s your twentieth today.”
 
“Yessir.”
 
“Happy Birthday.”
 
“Thank you Sir… OI SIMMO! WATCH YOUR LEFT!” You yell, spying your eldest brother in the paddock below being borne down on by a massive lizard.
 
“I see it cunt!” Comes the distant yell, the man below wheeling his horse and delivering a sharp kick to the snout of the lizard, which yawns its maw in pain and irritation before turning back towards the milling pack of its brethren. “Skye! Git a-way round! I want them in the gate, not tearing up the paddock.”
 
“Gotcha boss!” sounds a female voice, and a muscular kobold sprints at the herd, a long pole in her paws which she uses to jab at the lizards’ flanks, driving them towards the gate.
 
“Thought I’d better get you something” Your father offers in the same calm tone, reaching down along the side of his horse and retrieving a long, wrapped bundle.
 
“Thank you Sir.” You offer sincerely, accepting the bundle, unwrapping it, you reveal a large, heavy bladed knife, almost a machete, it’s point wickedly curved and serrations adorning its thick spine. You gasp in pleasure and surprise. “Sir! It’s too much!”
 
“Fuck off it is boy. Y’ain’t gonna be shovelling out stables, fixing fences and dodging bungarra bites the rest of yer life. Fact is we’ve got enough hands around here.”
 
The coldness of his words strikes you to the core. “Sir, if I’ve been at all lacking…”
 
Your father looks at you for the first time in the conversation, his grey, discerning gaze unreadable. Then he does something you have rarely experienced in your time at the homestead, since the day you first came, shaking with nerves and escorted by the Faith Militant, to be presented as his son. He reaches over and puts his hand on your shoulder, squeezing warmly and offering you a small, affectionate smile.
 
“I’d kick some other hopeless cunt off me land before you, boy. But you’re meant for better things than a common hand’s work. Don’t wanna see ya waste yer life.”
 
The shock of his earlier bluntness turns into an uncomfortable lump in your throat with this unexpected warmth. “T-thank you sir”
 
“Now, what did you come out here to see me about? I know it wasn’t the knife, I didn’t even tell Simmo about that.”
 
“Just wanted to see if you needed me for anything today, I suppose… Sir.”
 
“Nah. S’yer rest day anyway… Since you’re being so obliging though…”
 
Your father raises himself in the saddle. “Oi Simmo!” he yells.
 
“Yessir?” your brother’s voice rings from the paddock as he and the other Kobolds herd the remaining lizards through the gate.
 
“Need Adam and Blue for anything today mate?”
 
“I’ve got to brand a bunch of surly fuckin’ Bungers Sir, what’s the runt gonna do?”
 
“Oi!” you yell, incensed. “Don’t fuckin’ bully Blue, cunt!”
 
“Who says I was talkin’ about Blue?”
 
Blue points at you and howls with unrestrained mirth, and your father suppresses a smile, leaning down to muss her short hair just on the rough side of a pat. “Behave Blue.”
 
“Yes Boss.” Blue replies with instinctive obedience, the laughter shutting off like a switch.
 
“Have fun in Fremantle. Oh, and if you wouldn’t mind, hitch up four and eight to that old two-train wagon I’ve got out back of the stable. I’ll try and flog it off after the ceremony this arvo.” Your father remarks, turning his attention back to the penned Bungarra below.
 
“They’re behaving?” You ask in trepidation.
 
“You’ve dealt with worse horses. On you go.”
 
Dismissed, you murmur ‘Sir’ at him one last time, wheeling your horse, Blue running after you as you head back to the homestead.
 
 
“Gerrinthere you scaly shit!” You snarl, shoving at the lizard which snaps at you irritably as you try and get the traces around its thick body.
A taloned hand grips the Bungarra by the snout, and a tall, muscular lizard woman hisses something sibilant at the beast, which quiets and allows you to finish affixing its traces.
 
“You sure you’ll be alright handling these two on your own, Adam?” The reptilian asks, her slitted, yellow eyes set in a surprisingly feminine face, long, flexible spines atop her head rustling as she turns her head to look at you.
 
“Yeh, I’ll manage, thanks Shariss.” You reply, offering a lopsided grin as you clamber aboard the wagon. “Your indenturehood ends this month, yeh?”
 
The reptilian nods her head gravely, her expression unreadable.
 
“So… Plans?”
 
“Home” She answers. “I miss the desert.”
 
“Well, The Blessings of Holy Tyris go with you.” You offer sincerely.
 
“Thank you, Adam.” Shariss replies with another inclination of her head, before turning and heading back into the stables.
 
“Welp, nothing for it…” You murmur. “…C’airn Blue, let’s eat some highway.”
 
The Kobold sprints from the side of the stable and vaults effortlessly onto the long bench seat next to you, throwing her paws around your waist impulsively. Chuckling, you pat her head again, flicking the traces at the Bungarra, who start forward, their weird scrabbling gait bringing the wagon to lurching motion.
 
“Do we have to take the highway?” Blue asks as the paddocks of your father’s holding give way to wild bushland.
 
“For some of it, yeah…” You reply, “It’s the quickest and safest way to Fremantle from here. I guess we could turn east and go out to the coast through Baronial land, but it’d be a bit of a dogleg.”
 
“I’ve SEEN the highway, Adz.” Blue groans “And today’s kinda special. Surely we can spare the time?”
 
“Yeh, you’re right.” You concede, pulling the Bungarra away from the highway.
 
 
The road becomes more unsteady as your wagon trundles along the lesser-used baronial road which weaves through the river valley towards the coast. Scrubby bushland and sparse eucalypts give way to lush vegetation sparsely interposed with the occasional orchard or vineyard. The winter-fruits were in season, and Blue eyes their fat, ripe bounty with open avariciousness.
 
“No Blue.” You murmur warningly.
 
“B-but they’re not gonna miss just a few!” The kobold moans pleadingly.
 
“Probably not, but I’d rather not listen to you complain because you get sore guts from gorging yerself on oranges again.”
 
Blue faces forward again in the wagon, folding her furred paws against her modest chest. “Fuckin’ Bullshit…”
 
Seeking to distract her, you reach over, scratching her behind a coarsely furred ear. “So, thoughts?”
 
Blue looks at you uncomprehendingly, her face still set in a sullen pout.
 
“The fuck am I gonna do with meself? You heard Dad, if there was a more plain ‘Go forth and be fuckin’ fruitful’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard it.”
 
“Surely he isn’t gonna kick you out NOW…” Blue replied, her sullen look becoming troubled.
 
“Well I’m sure he’d give me a day or two, tonight’s gonna be a biggun, after all. But I think he definitely expects me to find me own way once the tattoo’s on.”
 
“Idonwannathinkaboutit.” Blue suddenly snaps, avoiding your gaze and spinning on the bench, facing away from you.
 
“Hey… Blue…” You murmur.
 
“GOWAY!” Blue growls.
 
“Oi!” You bark authoritatively, “Manners, pup!”
 
“W-who’re you calling pup, Human? W-we practically grew up togeth… togeth… WAAAHHHHUUUHUUHUUUU!” The kobold suddenly howls in abject grief, latching around your waist as her slender body is wracked with sobs.
 
“Shhh… It’s OK Blue… It’s OK…” You murmur consolingly, patting her head.
 
“I d-don’t want you to gooooooo!” Blue cries pitifully.
 
The realization suddenly hits you. Wether today, tomorrow, or some few days from now, you were going to be leaving. Just like the time you walked out from the Abbey’s doors some eight years prior, you were once again leaving the place you had called ‘home.’
 
Blue sniffles, wiping her runny nose on a furred arm. Sighing, you hunt in your pockets for something to clean her up with.
 
“Angonamo…” You murmur, fishing a crumpled piece of parchment from your pocket and unfolding it.
 
Be it herein knowne that the Kobolde naymed as Blue has been offered unto the Holderre Herein Naymed as Indentured Servante, by herre owne free wille and accorde or by authoritie of the Council offe Matriarkse…
 
“Whazzat?” Blue sniffles, distracted momentarily from her grief.
 
“Declaration of Indenturehood… Yours…” You murmur in curious astonishment. “But the signature’s blank…”
 
You read through the document, flipping it over on unthinking instinct. Handwritten in a corner on the back is a note.
 
”Little-dog’d be fucking useless without you around. Do the holding a favour and take her with you, runt.
Happy Birthday,
Simmo”
 
“My fucking brother…” You laugh helplessly.
 
“What?” Blue demands, grabbing the parchment from you and reading intently. Squealing with delight, she throws her arms around you again, squeezing you tightly.
 
“Alright, alright, down girl…” You chuckle, gently pushing at the ecstatic Kobold.
 
“Sign it sign it sign it sign it!” Blue demands, shoving the parchment roughly in your face.
 
“Now hang on Blue. I can sign it, but I’ll need someone official-like to witness it when we get to Freo. Or…”
 
“Or…” Blue echoes, looking at you with the beginnings of injured suspicion.
 
“Or I can have it annulled.”
 
“W-what are you saying?!” Blue whines, looking at me with large, limpid eyes.
 
“You could be free. To come with me or to do your own thing as you like.”
 
Blue ponders that for a moment, resting her delicate chin on a paw as she stares into the middle distance.
 
“I wouldn’t be FREE free…” She answers finally “…I’d still have to answer to the Pack-Leaders and the fuckin’ Succusluts on the Council.”
 
“Fuck, you’re game, pup! I’d be flogged if I spoke about the Lord Baron or the Church like that!” You exclaim in shock.
 
“Yeah well, fuck ‘em, they ain’t here. S’long as I’m indentured though, I get to hand-ball everything at you and have you deal with the complicated shit.”
 
“Ta. Muchly.” You mutter “Never mind the fact you’d be considered my property. Hang it Blue, you’d have all the rights of me bloody knife!”
 
“You’re not planning on selling that, are you?”
 
“Tyris fuck, course not!”
 
“Then I’d be fine. You like me more than the knife anyway…” Blue rejoins, fixing you with a cheeky grin “…Still. I guess you’re right. Lemme think about it.”
 
You nod, reining in the Bungarra, one of whom takes a crunching bite of a nearby bush and begins chewing noisily.
 
“Fuckin’ garbage disposals with legs…” You murmur “…Watch the wagon, Blue.”
 
“Where are you going?”
 
“That’s between me and Ma Nature.”
 
You walk a few metres off the side of the gravel road, freeing your manhood and sighing as you relieve yourself. The bungarra hiss and grumble in their traces, clearly fighting over a choice morsel one of them has obtained. Hoisting your trousers back up, you turn back to the cart, Blue looking at you with feigned innocence, an apple halfway to her mouth and a pile of pilfered fruit in her lap.
 
“Wasn’t me.” She declares ingenuously.
 
 
“Unhhhhh” Blue moans, her head in your lap and her paws on her slightly distended belly.
 
“I warned you.”
 
“Don’t be mean…”
 
You laugh. “No sympathy.”
 
“You’re a terrible master.”
 
You rub one of her ears affectionately. “Not yet I’m not.”
 
Blue gives a belch, before moaning again. The red-brown skeletons of the Ruins become visible from above the trees, pennants of House Reinhardt luffing from their more reachable heights.
 
“So where we gonna go? After Freo, I mean.” Blue asks, looking up at you from your lap.
 
“Hadn’t decided, I’ll be honest. I mean, I suppose I could hit Tristan up for a recommendation to the Waylanders, but that’s a fucking mongrel of a gig even if you pass the trials, or so he says.”
 
“You’re too dodgy to be a Waylander.”
 
“Fuck you pup.” You snicker, flicking the tip of Blue’s ear lightly.
 
“We could just head for the Horizon, see what we run into…” Blue murmurs, snuggling into you.
 
“With what supplies? I’ve got lunch and enough water to reach Freo, pup.” You chide.
 
“Details are your problem Adz.” Blue sniffs, closing her eyes and beginning to doze.
 
You frown as the road ahead forks, a bored looking militiaman waving at you, bearing a pike and wearing rough ringmail, little more than chain links sewn onto a thick woollen gambeson.
 
“Who’re you?” The Militiaman asks.
 
“Adam, third Son of the Gibson Holding. Heading to Port Fremantle.”
 
“The Kobie?”
 
“Indentured, got the writ if you need to see it.”
 
“Nah she’s right mate. If you’re going to Freo I’d take the Memorial trail from here though.” The Militiaman indicated the road winding into the hills. As if in understanding, one of the bungarra turned its blunt head to regard you reproachfully.
 
“That’ll add two hours to the trip and we’re not exactly running early…” You reply with a slight frown.
 
“Your call mate, but there’s been some reports of weird shit happening on the river road, patrols have reported something down there, and considering the legends…”
 
“Oh Sure, Wagyl’s stirring in Her sleep.” You snicker. Legend going back millennia stated that an obscenely powerful Mamono, Wagyl, the Rainbow Serpent, dozed in the eddy of the river as it passed under the shade of Mount Memoriam.
 
The militiaman shrugs “His Lordship doesn’t pay me enough to give a fuck either way mate, but the warning’s free. Tyris go with you either way.”
 
You could see absolutely no reason to take millennia-old legends at face value. Fact was, keeping to the river and heading through the lowlands to the coast would be easier on the Bungarra and much faster than going through the hills. That being said, the militiaman wouldn’t have warned you if there wasn’t something down there…
 
“Hey, Blue…” You shake the Kobold gently as the Militiaman begins to meander up the Memorial trail towards a squat brick structure, clearly the local watch house.
 
“Mmm?” Blue’s sleepy murmur answers as she cracks one azure eye to look at you questioningly.
 
“Did you hear that?”
 
“Mmm…” Blue mumbles in affirmation, her face twisting slightly as a muted burble sounds from her stomach.
 
“Thoughts?”
 
Blue sighs, opening her eyes and sitting up slightly. “Adz, did you leave your brains in your other pants this morning?”
 
You blink, slightly surprised by her response. “Manners Blue.”
 
Blue rolls her eyes. “Think about it. According to legend Wagyl carved out the rivers on her way to the coast.”
 
“According to legend…” You scoff.
 
“Yeah well, point of it is, the legends say She’s fuckoff huge. If something THAT big was moving about, don’t you think there’d be reports of more than unknown weird shit?”
 
“Fair point.”
 
“And if that weird shit was that dangerous, don’t you think it’s a bit of a giveaway that enough patrols have made it back to report on it, and yet the danger’s not significant enough to have mounted some kind of reprisal? It’s a baronial road, after all.”
 
You chuckle helplessly, patting Blue on the head. “You’re right Blue, I must’ve left me brains back at the holding.”
 
Blue yawns, remaining upright yet resting her head on your shoulder. “Honestly Adz… The whole point of indenturehood is that YOU sort out the complicated stuff.”
 
“You still want to go through with that then?”
 
“Mthinkinboutit” Blue mumbles.
 
Damn. Upstaged by a Kobold. You’re secretly glad the Militiaman was out of earshot for that little exchange. You pull the reins over slightly to the left, guiding the bungarra down the lowlands trail. Seemingly relieved to not have to drag the wagon up the hill, the lizards acquiesce without incident.
 
The road stretches alongside the river as it winds under the shadow of the mountain, on the opposite bank you can see a few small fishing villages, the buildings mere dots of colour at this distance.
 
A harsh cry from some waterbird brings your attention back to the road, and you jerk the bungarra from where they had begun meandering towards the riverbank, clearly in search of third breakfast. As they grudgingly obey, you notice the grey and brown bird stalking back and forth on stiltlike legs, glaring at you as you pass. Behind it, a nest which held three large eggs.
 
“So that’s what they were after.” You mutter, chuckling to yourself.
 
“S’goin on?” Blue yawns, stretching as she comes awake.
 
“Bungas trying to get some heron omelette.”
 
“Bloody lizards.”
 
You both laugh at the seemingly unquenchable appetites of the Bungarra. Blue pauses, cocking her head to the side.
 
“Do you hear that?”
 
You listen intently, yet all you hear is the sound of the water, the light breeze through the trees and the occasional animal, nothing seems out of the ordinary.
 
“Nup.” You reply simply.
 
“Sorry, forgot. Human.” Blue grins at you cheekily.
 
“Blue am I gonna have to get cross with you for all this smarm?” You ask sternly, looking down at the kobold.
 
Blue fixes you with a wide-eyed, hangdog look, her lower lip trembling.
 
“You’re a bloody cheat.” You grumble, shaking your head. “How’s yer guts?”
 
“Better than earlier, still trying to do –urp-… backflips on occasion”
 
“Still say it serves you right.”
 
“Mean.”
 
“Deal with it. Now what do you hear?”
 
Blue cocks her head again, closing her eyes, her pointed, furry ears turning this way and that as they try and pinpoint the sound beyond your human hearing. Suddenly, her eyes open and she turns to you.
 
“There’s someone up ahead, and he’s not happy about something.”
 
You sigh, praying to Tyris you weren’t about to be embroiled in some dispute. The road wasn’t wide, and if two traders were having a fight in the middle of it, you could kiss the time you would have saved going through the lowlands goodbye. Still, nothing for it but to press on, you couldn’t turn around even if you wanted to.
 
The road makes another gentle curve, and there you saw the source of Blue’s warning. A shabby man dressed in torn rags and patchwork clothing stands in the middle of the road, ranting at the sky. His scruffy beard and wild hair are streaked with grey, and every exposed inch of him is coated in filth.
 
“Phwaugh…” Blue exclaims, holding her nose, her girlish features twisted in a moue of distaste.
 
“Not wrong…” You murmur, even from here you can smell the sour reek of the fanatically unbathed.
 
“What’s wrong with him?”
 
You shrug, “Too hard on the grog? Something else? He’s just a mad old bastard in any case, just hope he’s got the sense to move.”
 
You flick the reins at the bungarra’s flanks, and the lizards begin to trundle towards the ranting old man, who remains in the middle of the road. He glances at your wagon, clearly dismissing it as unimportant.
 
“C’airn old boy, off the road, don’t want the bungas thinking you’re lunch!” you call out to the hermit as the bungarra approach. The hermit turns in slight irritation, gesturing at the animals who stop suddenly in their tracks. You frown, flicking the reins at them, and yet they refuse to budge a further inch.
 
“Didn’t know Simmo’d trained them that well…” You mutter, swinging yourself down off the wagon “…Watch the wagon Blue.”
 
“Be careful Adz, something funny about this guy.” Blue calls after you.
 
“Come on old mate, off the road with you, yer gonna get yourself hurt…” You offer, placing a hand upon the man’s arm. He pauses in his ranting, staring at your hand and then at you with a look of extreme umbrage. Then, his expression takes on an odd note…
 
…Something kicks you like a pissed off Kangaroo, and you sail backwards though the air, striking the ground roughly, the breath whooshing from your lungs.
 
As you lie there gasping, you hear a snarling scream from the wagon behind you. You pull yourself up to see Blue sprinting at the Hermit, murder written on her face as she raises clawed paws to strike. The Hermit pauses again, seemingly puzzled by the presence of yet another intruder, and he fixes Blue with the same odd expression…
 
…You swear you see a ripple in the air as the same unseen force impacts Blue in the torso. The tan skin of her face seems to take on a greenish hue as she doubles over, before projectile vomiting a veritable geyser of half-digested fruit right into the hermit’s face.
 
The Hermit staggers backwards, wiping at his eyes, and by instinct you rush forward, seizing this opportunity. Gripping the stinking, puke covered hermit by one shoulder, you swing a furious right handed strike at his dripping face. Your strike lands true, and the hermit is knocked to the ground, out cold. Breathing heavily, you hurry over to where Blue is still doubled over, holding her paws around her ribs.
 
“Blue? Are you alright?” You murmur, placing a gentle hand on her back.
 
“M-my tummy doesn’t hurt any more…” Blue whimpers, a slight smile on her face as she looks up at you in relief.
 
Returning the smile, you gently remove her paws from around her torso. “Lemme check those ribs, pup.”
 
Blue reluctantly lets you move her paws, and you gently feel around her torso.
 
“Watch those hands Adz!” Blue chides, the familiar, mischievous twinkle returning to her eye.
 
“Don’t be lewd, Blue.” You laugh, satisfying yourself that nothing’s broken.
 
Blue pushes your hands away. “Let me check your back, you hit that road pretty hard.” She insists.
 
You nod, turning away and taking a knee so Blue can look at your back. You hear a slight creaking of the wagon, yet the bungarra thankfully don’t seem to want to move very far.
 
“Ooh… hang on, this’ll probably sting.”
 
You give a groan as pain blossoms along your left shoulder. Blue reaches around, holding a small stick which is coated in crimson in front of your face.
 
“Bleeding much?” You ask.
 
“Nah, you’ll have red on you but it’s just oozing a bit.” Blue assures you.
 
“Still, should probably put something over it.”
 
You head around to the back of the wagon, hunting in the supply chest for the small bottle of spirits and some clean cloth. Finding them, you offer them askance to Blue. Nodding, the Kobold gestures for you to turn around again, dabbing at the minor wound with the spirit-soaked cloth. You hiss as the cleansing spirit stings in the wound. Hearing a tearing, crunching sound from the front of the wagon, you chuckle slightly.
 
“What’re they eating now Blue?”
 
Blue jumps up onto the back of the wagon. “Maou’s Ample Bosom!” she cries, her eyes wide with shock.
 
“What, what is it?” You demand, scrambling around the wagon to be presented with a scene of carnage.
 
“Oh Tyris…” You groan, feeling slightly sick to your stomach.
 
Bungarra were primarily scavengers, and whilst the domesticated ones were highly unlikely to seriously attack a Human or Mamono, the presence of a prone body, particularly one as malodorous as the hermit, must have seemed a surprise and welcome treat to them. Gore and Viscera is splattered everywhere, and the two lizards in the traces are currently engaged in an impromptu tug of war over the butterflied torso of the hermit, a bloody, chewed arm dangling limply from the one in the left trace. Suddenly, the body tore, and the remaining flesh holding the arm attached came loose, sending it sailing with a splash into the river. Ignoring the lost morsel, the bungarra continued their grisly feast.
 
“Four! Eight! Gerroutavit ya shits!” You yell in disgust, smacking at scaled flanks. ‘Eight’, the bungarra in the right trace turns its head to regard you with disinterest, bones crunching and gore dripping from its powerful jaws before it swallows.
 
Suddenly, a rushing sound is heard, and a surge of river water swirls around your ankles, washing the remains of the hermit away, much to the bungarras’ displeasure.
 
“Lose Something?” A rich, echoing voice drawls. You feel blue’s paws cling to your shirt as she whimpers in abject terror beside you, her eyes wide as saucers as she stares towards the river. Swallowing, you turn, a feeling of dread building in your guts.
 
The Serpentine being before you has its torso raised onto the bank, the remainder of its long, scaled body somewhere in the murky waters beyond. But what a torso! From the juncture of its hips to the top of the flared hood which frames its ageless, feminine face it must be almost four metres in height! One hand supports its massive frame on the soft ground of the riverbank, the other dangles the hermit’s severed arm from two taloned fingertips.
 
“G-Get behind me Blue.” You stammer, stepping in front of the Kobold and pulling the large knife your father had given you from its sheath on the seat, your hands clammy with fear and adrenaline. “W-we have no quarrel with you, Lady Wagyl!” You declare in as steady a voice as you can muster, even though you’re pretty sure you’re about to soil yourself any second. “we seek only to go from one place to another…” Your mind scrambles to remember the words of the travellers ritual “…w-we do not seek to take the beasts that are yours or the mates of your…”
 
Wagyl emits a smooth chuckle of amusement. “Brave little human, to protect your little friend so well.” She throws the arm to the Bungarra, who seem amazingly undisturbed by the Colossal Serpent-woman who has just pulled herself out of the river, and proceed to once again fight over the morsel. The opalescent scales of the Rainbow Serpent shift and swirl in an almost mesmerizing fashion, and her slitted, sliver eyes are near iridescent with suppressed power. “And how quickly you adapt to my new things.”
 
“New things?” you echo unthinkingly.
 
“I am the Spirit of this Land. What fate creates is mine to mould.” She replies with vague disinterest, scratching ‘four’ along the jaw with a delicate talon. The Bungarra seems ecstatic at the contact. “Still, little morsels… What to do with you…”
 
“PleaseMaouPleaseIllbeagoodgirldontletmebesnakefoodpleaseMaouplease…” Cries Blue, clinging to you like a drowning man to a rock.
 
Wagyl gives that same smooth laugh at the Kobold’s terror, pulling her body with taloned hands to stare you directly in the face, her hooded head eclipsing most of your body. A forked tongue slides out from between lush, full lips, testing the air between you. You find yourself lost in those silver eyes, the knife suddenly falling from nerveless fingers as they seem to peer into your very soul.
 
“Such an interesting little human…” Wagyl muses, her massive head retreating. “…you will get something for me.”
 
“I… Uh… youwha?” You blurt in stupefaction.
 
“A Leviathan skull…” Wagyl continues, seemingly uninterested in your interjection. “..You will bring it here, that My work might continue.”
 
“I don’t… I mean I can’t see how…” You stammer, still utterly overwhelmed.
 
“The phrase you are looking for, morsel, is ‘Yes, Lady Wagyl.” The Rainbow Serpent declares.
 
“Yes, Lady Wagyl.” You echo dumbly.
 
“Such a good boy. Bring it back here and summon me again.”
 
“…h-how?”
 
“Blood. Human. I am the Cycle and the Rebirth. Cast your blood into the water and I will come. And your obedience will be… richly rewarded.”
Was that a hint of lecherousness you caught in her eye at the last? No, it couldn’t be… that would be ridiculous. With a final smile and flick of forked tongue, the massive serpent turns and sinks beneath the swirling waters of the river.
 
 
“Hey Blue, you OK now?” You murmur softly to the Kobold beside you as the lush vegetation starts thinning to coastal scrub. The quickening breeze brings with it a hint of crashing waves and the scent of the sea.
 
“Yeah… Yeah I’m OK… except…”
 
“What’s up pup?”
 
Blue murmurs something inaudible.
 
“Sorry?”
 
“I pissed meself!” Blue barks, her face flaming with embarrassment.
 
You give a short burp of laughter, forcing yourself to tamp it down as Blue stares at you with injured fury. “Can I tell you a secret Blue?”
 
“What?”
 
“I had to leave me smalls back there aways, on account of me shitting myself in terror.”
 
“Really?” Blue stares at you suspiciously
 
“Really.” You affirm. “There’ll be a change of clothes in the back there somewhere.”
 
Blue gives you an enthusiastic hug before diving into the back of the wagon. “No fuckin’ peeking!” She commands.
 
“Tyris be my witness.” You reply with mock solemnity, raising your hands in the sign of the sunburst.
 
After much scrabbling and swearing, and a mortified shriek as you instinctively turn your head to check on her after a particularly jolting pothole, Blue re-joins you on the bench.
 
“Rider.” Blue states bluntly, pointing to a speck on the road.
 
“Ah fuck’s sake. What now?!” You lament, raising your eyes to the heavens.
 
Blue eyes you suspiciously. “Don’t tell me that mad cunt’s crazy was catching…”
 
“Adam!” The rider calls, waving with one hand while his horse gallops towards you. You sigh with relief as you recognise the form of your brother Tristan. His horse is blowing hard as he reins in next to the wagon, he must have really pushed the beast to catch you.
 
“What the fuck happened to you, cunt?” Tristan demands. “Dad was expecting you in Freo two and a half hours ago!”
 
“Tristan… Tyris be fucking merciful am I glad to see you!” You breathe gratefully.
 
“Don’t change the fuckin’ subject. Dad missed three opportunities to sell that fuckin’ wagon. ‘e sez, and I quote ‘Fuckin’ Adam can sell the fucker ‘imself and I’m fit to take the loss out of his fuckin’ hide.”
 
“Shit…” you murmur “…Old man was really that worried about me, eh?”
 
“Course ‘e fuckin’ was!” Tristan spat. “What the fuck happened? Why are you all over claret on your back?”
 
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
 
“Try me.”
 
You give Tristan a recount of the events of that day, interrupted momentarily by Tristan unceremoniously pulling a few apples from what remains of Blue’s pilfered horde.
 
“Oi!” Blue barks in objection.
 
“Shaddup Blue or I’ll do you for theft.” Tristain grunts, a mischievous smile on his face.
 
“Y-yes Waylander.” Blue concedes meekly, looking at Tristan with shy eyes.
 
“…And so now I’ve gotta go seek absolution from the fuckin’ Church as well as all the other shit which I’ve somehow got to get done before the ceremony tonight!” You exclaim, lashing viciously at the reins to keep Four from wandering.
 
“Why?”
 
“Did y’miss the bit where I made a fuckin’ deal with a Mamono Demigod?”
 
“Blasphemy.”
 
“No shit.”
 
“No, I mean referring to her as a Demigod, but I withdraw my denunciation because you’re a daft prick.”
 
“Your Grace is Received… The fuck are you talking about?”
 
“Think about it logically, now that the face-melting terror’s out yer system. Did she do anything which would suggest she’s anything other than a gigantic fuckin’ lamia?”
 
“Well Four and Eight didn’t seem bothered by her at all, and she referred to them as her ‘new things’ and…”
 
“Pfft. Shariss could kick a Bungarra right in the fuckin’ parts and it wouldn’t do anything but give her a hurt look. Reptilians’ve got some kinda… thing… between ‘em. How do you think Dad managed to corner the market on Bungarra so quickly after taking the Holding?”
 
You had no answer to that, and could only sit there and nod in dawning understanding.
 
“No doubt this ‘Wagyl’ is a fuckin’ handful, and she’d probably have turned you into a smear on the road if you’d pissed her off. But she wouldn’t be the first and she certainly won’t be the last to buy into her own legend. I mean shit, you wouldn’t BELIEVE the kinda crap I hear from the Aestenlanders about Zipangan Mamono. But a Demigod?” Tristan chuckled, shaking his head. “Scarier assholes than some hundred foot snake-woman have found themselves screaming on a pyre. To be perfectly honest, I’d have been more afraid of the fuckin’ Resonant, and Four and Eight didn’t have any problem with him.”
 
As if on cue, Four raises its tail, dropping a stinking, steaming mass of dung onto the road, which disappears under the wagon as you roll over it. Tristan laughs, gesturing as his point is illustrated, and you can’t help but feel somewhat more comfortable with the situation.
 
“So I should just ignore her…”
 
Tristan shrugs ‘It’s up to you. Just because she’s not exactly who she pretends to be doesn’t mean she’s not capable of delivering on that reward. Might find yerself in a position where a rapport there comes in handy in the future… Just Remember The Pax.”
 
Suddenly, Tristan breaks off, chuckling softly. “Faugh, listen to me, got me fuckin’ Waylander hat on.” He leans over, pulling your broad-brimmed hat down over your eyes. “I’m glad you’re OK, little brother.”
 
“Thanks mate.” You reply, re-adjusting your hat. You can’t help but smile as you see the tips of buildings come into view as you crest over a small hill. Gulls called in raucous demand as Port Fremantle, the hub of trade in the Western Australs grew in your vision. The day wasn’t over yet though, you reminded yourself. But with so much to do, what to do first?
 
 
“I’ve gotta get back to it mate, no doubt the office’s fuckin’ backed up to the proverbial by now, what with the Dominus being stranded down in Port Albany and all…” Tristan declares, clapping you on the shoulder in brusque farewell as you tie the wagon outside the ramshackle structure which served as Port Fremantle’s largest inn.
 
You nod at your elder brother. “Yeh, no worries Tristan. Thanks for the advice.”
 
Tristan pats Blue on the head absently as he skirts the wagon, the Kobold gazing at him adoringly as he walks up the busy street.
 
You snicker “Are you STILL holding a torch for my brother, Blue?”
 
“W-what?” The Kobold gasps, flushing crimson. “Of course not! Don’t be silly! He’s just…”
 
You shake your head, still laughing. Tristan had been instrumental in raising Blue and her sisters after their pack first indentured them to Gibson Holding, when they were little more than pups. All of them held a certain adoration for the man but you couldn’t help but feel a little astonished that the feeling had persisted even for the five years of his absence as a Waylander.
 
“C’mon Blue, let’s get squared away and then you can go drool as much as you like.”
 
“You are so MEAN Adz!” Blue yells, giving you a half-hearted punch with a furred paw.
 
You pull her into a hug, disregarding the looks some of the passers-by shot at you.
 
“Thanks pup, you really pulled my bunyas out of the fire a few times today.”
 
“W-well what are friends for?” Blue answers, looking up at you with a gentle smile.
 
Mussing her hair, you head into the common-room of the inn. A corpulent man heaves himself from behind the desk at your entry.
 
“By Tyris, Adam! I haven’t seen you for what, six years?”
 
“Yeh, ’bout that. How’s shit been treatin’ you, Cicerello?” You reply, slightly astonished at the man’s instant recognition of you.
 
“Oh fair to well. Your father was in here earlier, he’s already booked a room for you.” Noticing Blue, his bushy brows lower slightly “Though I’m afraid your Kobie will have to stay in the Hostel with the other Mamono.”
 
“The Hostel?!” Blue laments “You fuckin’ serious?”
 
“Now come on Blue, the beds there are pretty nice, I’m told.” You reply placatingly.
 
“Have you ever tried sleeping next to a snoring Yowie? Aaaaaadz, pleeeeeease? She whimpers, looking up at you with those big azure eyes.
 
“No way you could make an exception?” You ask, your heart crumbling beneath that gaze.
 
Cicerello shakes his head, his jowls wobbling. “Baronial policy’s baronial policy, sorry mate. Your father’s a good friend, but not so good that I’d take fifteen of the Waylander’s best if I got caught committing a Secular Sin.”
 
“But I’ve seen Mamono staying at inns before!” Blue objected.
 
“Bodyguards, chamberlains and the like, little Kobie. Direct Indentures have… Special rules attached.”
 
Blue grabs your wrist “Adz! The contract!”
 
You dig in your pocket for the parchment, handing it over to the fat inkeeper who looks over it intently.
 
“It ain’t signed mate…”
 
“Aw c’mon Cicerello, help a bloke out.” You lament.
 
Cicerello looks at you slightly suspiciously. “You know if I was a cynical man I might think there was something… untoward between you two.”
 
“Untoward?” Blue exclaims.
 
“Blasphemy!” You declare.
 
“Challenge.” Cicerello replies evenly. “And you’re no Noble to be making denunciations, Holdsward.”
 
“Fine… fine… I’m sorry, I withdraw.” You sigh, holding your hands up in apology. “Blue’s me friend. I’d feel a lot more comfortable with her around, is all.”
 
“Your Grace is Received, and you’re lucky I’m not in the fighting form of my youth, boy!” Cicerello declares, patting his paunch and giving a belly-shaking chuckle. “Look, I’m not unreasonable. Get that notarized and both of our arses will be covered, orright?”
 
“Righto. Thanks Cicerello…” You offer sincerely before heading back outside.
 
“Well that answers that for me.” Blue declares as you exit onto the street.
 
“Really? You’d sign away your freedom for the sake of a night with me?” You snicker, jostling the Kobold.
 
“Snoring. Yowies.” Blue declares, looking at you evenly. “I’d sacrifice my freedom for a night with a fuckin’ Archangel to avoid that.”
 
“Tyris Blue…” You murmur, stung to the quick for some reason at her response. A pair of furred paws slide their way around your waist.
 
“Also I will not have the habit of thirteen winters getting to sneak under your covers broken by a bloody secular policy.” The Kobold snickers up at you, as if reading your injured thoughts.
 
You smile down at your friend, patting her head before extricating yourself from her embrace. “Not in public pup. Townsfolk get a bit pearl-clutchy about that shit.”
 
“Fuck ’em.” Blue growls, but releases her hold on you.
 
“You’re sure though…” You press
 
Blue whuffles slightly in exasperation. “If you think that’s the first time that kind of thing is going to crop up, you’re going to NEED me around to keep you alive. To remind your dumb arse to keep breathing if nothing else.”
 
“Oi!” You exclaim
 
“Gotcha.” The Kobold snickers with a cheeky grin.
 
“Right… Well we’d better see about Dad’s wagon. We’ve still got a few hours and Tristan can deal with the Notary for us.”
 
Blue’s tail wags in anticipation of seeing the Waylander again, yet says nothing.
 
“Unless of course, you’d prefer to get that done first?”
 
“W-whatever.” Blue blusters, flushing again
 
 
“Next!” You hear Tristan yell from the bench table in the smoky taproom which he ostensibly titled his ‘Office.’ An oily man in a varicoloured robe scurried forward, bowing sinuously.
 
“Most Noble Waylander, I would make it known to you that under the terms of the Solemn Covenant which binds the protectorates of the Australs…” He wheedles.
 
“Point in one sentance or I’ll split you.” Tristan growls.
 
The oily man stammers in surprise, his face paling at the threat. “C-captain Josiah of the Seagull is three weeks late with very… perishable cargo. Cargo I paid for in advance.”
 
Tristans eyes narrow and he leans forward. “It’s neither the Baron’s purview nor mine to settle a dispute because the IMFC laughed you out of their office. Fuck off. NEXT!”
 
You blink, surprised at this side of your brother, now fully dressed, metaphorically speaking, in his mantle of Waylander of the Australs and Baronial Judicator. Clearing your throat, you step forward.
 
“And what can I… Oh. Adam. Make it quick mate I’ve got official business to attend…”
 
“This is official, Waylander. I wish to solemnise this writ of indenturehood and need you to notarize it.”
 
“Fucking FINALLY, something straightforward, though I didn’t expect you to do it so soon. Who’re you indenturing to?” Tristan asks, grinning at you mischeviously.
 
“Not me Tristan!” You groan. “Simmo drafted this one up for Blue. Since tonight’s, well… tonight, I won’t be back to Gibson for a while and… well… We thought we’d better stick together.”
 
“You know what this means, Blue?” Tristan asks, looking up at the Kobold.
 
“Hmm?” Blue murmurs, a dreamy look on her face.
 
“Oi! Blue!” Tristan barks, clicking his fingers in front of her face.
 
“Yehboss!” She snaps, blinking back to attention.
 
“Serious business now. Do you know what this means?”
 
“Yeah, means I get to blame Adz whenever something goes pearshaped and he’s gotta put me up and keep me fed and he can’t ever leave me. So there.” Blue sticks her tongue out at me at the last.
 
Tristan chuckles helplessly. “You. Get that one in line.” He declares, pointing a finger at you. “And you,” he continues, pointing at Blue “It also means that he gets blamed for any shenanigans you get yourself into.”
 
“Shenanigans? Me?”
 
“Don’t fuck with me, Blue of Nulla’s Line. I grew up with you and your sisters, remember?”
 
“Yehboss.” She concedes meekly.
 
“Standard Indenturehood for a Holding would be seven years.” Tristan continues, looking at me. “Since in about three hours you’ll be a Freeman, I’d say three and a half would be appropriate. Of course, as the holder of her indenturehood you can still annul it at any point.”
 
“Why would anyone indenture for so LONG though?” Blue asks incredulously.
 
“The money, mostly. Baronial Indenturehoods go for ten or fifteen at a pop and the resultant payout’s usually enough to keep a struggling Mamono tribe fed and watered for at least a generation.” Tristan replies, looking over the writ of indenturehood as he talks.
 
“So… er… how much am I up for?” You ask in slight trepidation.
 
Tristan grins “Well Dad or Simmo will be paying pro-rata on the contract to Gibson, so that’s covered. Three and a half years, barring anything unexpected, for a general assistant role? I’d say about seventy five Gold.”
 
“For over three years work?!” Blue exclaims in shock.
 
“Remember, I’m footing the bill for everything else. That’s seventy five clear. That’s enough to buy a house, for Tyris’s sake.” You grumble at Blue.
 
“It’d be more if you had some kind of specialized skill, s’why we have these things notarized in the first place Blue. Stops unscrupulous cunts from fleecing the timid.” Tristan adds. “So. If that’s all to your liking…”
 
Blue studies you for a moment, before dropping to a knee and placing your hand atop her head. “My spirit and my strength, let them be yours to command.”
 
“For Maou and Mamono” comes a muttering from some unseen Mamono scattered throughout the taproom.
 
You glance about the room, suddenly speechless at Blue’s sudden ritualistic behaviour.
 
“The Beneficence is standard at this juncture, Adz.” Tristan murmurs softly
 
You clear your throat. “I accept this boon and this gauge which has been placed upon me. Know that I shall ask nothing of you which shall cause you to violate the Holy and Binding Commandments of the Pax Deus, nor shall I ask of you to ameliorate a breach of mine. I shall hold your needs and my obligations to you as sacrosanct. So help me Holy Tyris, and keep me steadfast.”
 
Blue looks up at you with surprise and not a little admiration at your fluent reply. A rustle of motion as Tristan stands, his rough hands forming the Sign of the Sunburst.
 
“All Glory to the Most High.” He declares, before bringing a baronial seal down on the document and gesturing for you to sign. You bend, inscribing your mark, which he then hands to you.
 
“Thanks, Waylander.” You offer sincerely. “Oh… Do you know where Dad might be?”
 
“Saw him at Breyten’s earlier, if you hurry you might catch…”
 
“Waylander!” A harsh yell came from outside.
 
“Ah balls…” Tristan grumbled, heaving himself to his feet and heading purposefully outside. Curious, you follow, Blue close behind. Outside, you see a pair of Kangaroo, rough leather garments covering their humanoid torsos, and bracers of similar material, banded with grey iron around their delicate forearms. Between them is a kneeling human, his face a mass of bruises, chains binding his wrists, each held in the clawed hand of one of his captors.
 
“Well…” Tristan muses.
 
“We finally got him, Master.” One of the Kangaroo declares with almost girlish glee “He was raiding the hill-road just after the ruins. Bribed one of the Militia there to direct choice targets his way too.”
 
You swallow as you realize how easily you could have been one of those targets.
 
Tristan gestures to the bandit’s rent leggings “You girls didn’t have fun with him did you?”
 
The second Kangaroo makes a face “Credit us with SOME taste, Master.”
 
“B-blasphemy!” The chained bandit slurs. “B-blasphemy!”
 
“Detail your denunciation, cunt.” Tristan demands, folding his arms impassively.
 
“They’re Mamono, Waylander! I’ve been assaulted in breach of The Pax!” The bandit insists.
 
“They’re MY indentured. My voice is their voice. My hands, their hands. My feet, their feet.” Tristan hisses. “Your denunciation is without merit.”
 
“Good thing to know, that.” Blue murmurs. You put your hand on her paw briefly, shushing her.
 
“Yes Master…” Blue conceeds cheekily. You can’t help but shuffle slightly at the honorific, sarcastic or not.
 
Tristan looks around, seemingly searching for something. Spotting you, he points at the large knife strapped to your leg.
 
“Adz! Be a sport and loan me that pig-sticker for a sec? I’ve left me tools inside.”
 
Wordlessly, you unsheathe your knife, handing it hilt-first to Tristan, who tests its weight in his hand and grunts approvingly.
 
“Stand him up.” He commands the Kangaroo, who haul the bandit, now blubbering and pleading to his feet.
 
“Freeman Omar, you are charged with banditry, murder, assault, defilement of a priestess, defilement of a baronial official, infanticide, and interfering with a Magisterium Missive. I, Tristan, Waylander of the Australs and Baronial Judicator of House Reinhardt do declare you guilty and sentance you to die.”
 
The bandit’s screams were raw and wet as Tristan used your knife to open the bandit’s throat back to the spine. The pool of bright crimson grew before him and surprisingly quickly the body went limp in the kangaroo’s impassive grip.
 
“Good knife that…” Tristan remarks, wiping it unceremoniously on the bandit’s body and handing it back to you. “You alright mate?”
 
“That’s a bit, er…” You murmur, unable to tear your eyes from the corpse as you numbly re-sheathe the knife.
 
“That laundry list of charges aren’t the only things he’d done, Adz, just the shit I can argue to the Baron. With things like him in the world, sometimes I don’t think we have any right to call Mamono monsters.”
 
“You have to do that a lot?” You ask.
 
“More than I like.”
 
“I feel like one would be too many for me.”
 
“S’what I said mate. More than I like.”
 
“Waylander! Whaddaya want to do with the body?” One of the Kangaroo interjected
 
“Chuck it in the refuse, let the ghouls and the bungas fight over it.” Tristan declared. “Well Adz, I’m gonna get a drink. Tell Dad I’ll be at Joe’s tonight if you manage to catch him.”
 
 
Yelling and swearing greeted you as you and Blue approached the neat if simple building, the wooden sign outside reading ‘Breyten Trading’. A man burst through the door, snarling “Not even blind drunk, you mad cunt!” back over his shoulder as he stormed past.
 
“Wow…” Blue murmured “…do we even want to…”
 
“He’ll be able to tell us where Dad is at least. C’mon.” You insist, heading through the door. A tall, slender man with a shock of wild black hair is staring helplessly at a ledger in front of him.
 
“Not enough… It’s just not enough…” He murmurs helplessly.
 
“Er… you right there?” You offer tenatively.
 
“Oh! Sorry, what can I do for you?” The man replies somewhat absently, barely taking his eyes from the ledger to acknowledge you.
 
“I was looking for Breyten, my Father’s Robert of Gibson Holding. I was told he was here?”
 
“I’m Breyten, and you’ve just missed him.” Breyten replies, raising his head to look at you. “You must be Adam, he thought you might be popping around about a wagon, asked me not to fleece you too badly…”
 
“Bloody hell, Old man can’t delegate to save him-fuckin-self, can he?” You murmur. “Well, yeah, since I’m here…”
 
“I’m sorry Adam, but I can’t help you. I can’t tie up any more liquidity in assets right now.”
 
“Uh… Alright… Look mate is there something the matter? Me brother’s a Waylander if someone’s done you the dodgy or someth…”
 
“No, nothing like that. I’ve just got a lifetime’s work about to literally turn to dust in my hands.” Breyten laughs bitterly. “Dominus Ian was supposed to be attending tonights Midwinter Ceremony, but now I find out he won’t be here and Lord Baron Thomas will be standing in for him.”
 
“You don’t strike me as young enough to be concerned about the bloody manhood rites mate.” You chuckle slightly, not understanding the slender man’s predicament whatsoever.
 
“Fuck’s SAKE!” Breyten suddenly snarls. “I should be annointed Baron of Esperance tonight! All I needed is the Dominus’s seal…”
 
“Wha? You’re a Trader though mate…”
 
“And it took a LOT of money to have the selection committe in Magisterium overlook that fact.”
 
“You’re telling me you bought a Barony.”
 
“Well it’s not a case of walking into the High Lord’s Council, smacking a purse down and going ‘One Barony Please’.” Breyten replies venomously “It took YEARS of bribes, favours, and enough Gold to cast myself in effigy!”
 
“So what’s the issue then?”
 
“Without the Dominus’s seal, the declaration’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Baron Thomas’s useless fucking nephews have already started riding for New Botany. If I don’t get that seal within a month there’s no way I can get it to Ambassador Ling-tan in time to have it ratified by Magisterium.”
 
“Hey Adz, didn’t Tristan say…”
 
“Shaddup Blue!” You hiss sharply, a plan formulating within your head. The Dominus wasn’t in New Botany, he was stuck in Port Albany, less than a week’s travel away! “Jog off back to Tristan, and ask him ever-so-nicely to not mention that thing you just remembered to anyone for a few days.”
 
Blue murmurs aquiescence, looking at you in puzzlement as she heads back outside.
 
“Now Breyten, what would you be willing to offer if I said I could get you that seal inside of the month?” You ask evenly, trying to keep the eagerness out of your voice.
 
“What, are you some Resonant or something? Got a Dragon under indenturehood to fly you to New Botany or something?” Breyten laughed mirthlessly.
 
“Let’s just say I’m confident enough to put the promise in writing, as long as you’re willing to pay enough for it.”
 
“Hundred and Fifty Gold is what I offered that SNAKE that just stormed out my door.” Breyten curses, flipping a number of rude and possibly heretical signs at the open door.
 
“A hundred and fifty… Sounds reasonable…” You muse, fighting valiantly to keep yourself from exulting. A Hundred and Fifty gold! You had scrimped and saved and worked tirelessly to amass the mere fifteen gold currently secreted at the bottom of your pack!
 
“Well then, if you’ll kindly make your mark here, for one hundred fifty gold, payable on delivery of the sealed document…”
 
“On delivery? Yeah nah. Half up front.”
 
“Half?! Don’t be absurd! Ten percent, and that’s because I’m desperate.”
 
You snort derisively. “Please, I couldn’t supply a trip to bloody Jurien with Fifteen gold.”
 
“And how is it my fault that you don’t have the capitol to fund your own bloody convoys?”
 
You look around the trade office slowly, pointedly. “Because I see SO MANY other options here. Come on Breyten, you’ll be giving me the money anyway. Call it a downpayment on the future.”
 
“Why do I feel like I’m being fucked here?”
 
You snicker at that. “Did you miss the part where me brother’s a Waylander? I’m fully aware that I’ll be flogged to the damn bone and forcibly indentured if I fuck you on a solemn agreement. Quit acting like the victim and lemme feel the fibre of your fabric.”
 
Breyten looks at you for a moment and then bursts out laughing. “Tyris be fuckin’ glorified. If it were any other situation, I’d apprentice you on the damn spot, boy! Alright, you win. Half up front.”
 
You pause as he modifies the trade agreement, initialling next to the change and signing the bottom. Breyten pulls out a scrap of parchment with an unknown seal on its base, scribbling ‘Seventy Five Gold’ and signing the bottom.
 
“Underwriter’s note eh?” You murmur.
 
“Yeah, should be honoured at any business around here if you don’t feel like hitting up their office. If nothing else Cicerello’ll cash it for you.” Breyten mutters, handing it over. “Have you got a line of credit with any yet? I can just forward it on if it’s easier.”
 
“Nah, not as yet.”
 
Breyten chuckles. “Keep fleecing people the way you’re going and you’ll need one soon.”
 
You blink in surprise. “You reckon?”
 
“They don’t make pockets strong enough to deal with the kind of numbers a successful trader deals with, easier on everyone to go through underwriters. Oh, and watch out for Tanuki.”
 
“Goes without bloody saying…” You agree, rolling your eyes. “…Leafheads tried to pull a fast one on Simmo when we were selling bungas here two years ago.”
 
Breyten gives you a studying look for a moment. “Just as an aside mate, how much experience do you have with the nobility?”
 
“Prince Edward used to do the rounds around Gibson, why?”
 
“Right. I’m going to run you through some shit. Pay attention.”
 
“Giving away trade secrets Breyten?” You chuckle
 
“Doesn’t cost me anything, well… anything MORE. And if you’re successful it’s not going to really mean much to me anyway. Call it insurance on my ‘investment in the future.”
 
You laugh. “Fair call…”
 
 
“…That’s a breach of the Solemn Obligations of the Protectorate though.” You point out, tapping the parchment with a finger.
 
“Fuck me you’re a quick study!” Breyten exclaims in amazement. “If this all goes south I am forcing your damn indenturehood… Maybe I could buy an island somewhere.”
 
“No chance, My Lord Baron.” You snicker.
 
Breyten smiles beatifically. “I’m gonna get used to that…”
 
“Yeh well…” You murmur, before glancing out the window at the fading afternoon light. “Oh Tyris I’m blowing time! Out of curiosity, how much would you have bought the wagon for?”
 
“If it’s the one outside Cicerellos, ten gold, twenty with the beasts attached.”
 
“That’s a bit of a difference…” You murmur, astonished.
 
“Gibson’s known for quality Bungarra.” Breyten replies “I’m still not buying it though. I can’t tie up any more capitol only to have to liquidate it, probably at a loss, ESPECIALLY now, you little thief.”
 
“Oh cry more.” You snicker. “And I know, just getting an idea. Thanks, My Lord Baron.” You sketch a mocking, florid bow.
 
“If I ever see you in Esperance, I’m not sure if I’ll host you in the Ambassador’s quarters or the fucking jail…” Breyten snickers. “…Garn, piss off.”
 
You pause as a thought occurs to you. “Say, Breyten, do you know anything about Leviathan?”
 
Breyten frowns, “Oceanic garbage disposals, although they sink more ships than the IMFC likes to admit. Basically Bungarra of the sea, except fifty times fucking bigger.”
 
“Any reason someone’d be after parts from them?”
 
“I hear their bile ducts are used in metalworking… Flesh is edible, if no delicacy. Armour, structural supports from the treated bones I suppose…”
 
“What about the Skull?”
 
“The teeth I’d understand, but the whole skull? Probably not much more than a vanity.”
 
You nod. Figures…
 
You wave in farewell, “Thanks Breyten.”
 
“What kept you?” Blue demanded from where she leaned on the wall near the door.
 
“Oh, y’know, just becoming despicably wealthy at the drop of a hat.” You reply nonchalantly, before putting your arms around the Kobolds waist and lifting her in the air, spinning her about.
 
“Eeek! Put me down!” Blue squeals.
 
“I’m stinkin’ fucking rich Blue!” you exclaim gleefully.
 
“What did you do?” Blue demands as you set her down, looking at you suspiciously.
 
You outline the agreement you made with Breyten to the Kobold, whose eyes widen in astonished understanding.
 
“Ohhhh! So that’s why Tristan laughed fit to bust a gut and called you a conniving, sneaky little sod!”
 
“Fuck, that’s a bit harsh…” You exclaim, suddenly deflated.
 
“C’mon, let’s go find someone to buy the wagon.” Blue offered with a grin.
 
“Actually…”
 
“What?”
 
“Think I might keep it. We’ve got a bit of a trip ahead of us, and I don’t think I fancy being on horse or lizard-back the whole way there. Plus, y’know… supplies.”
 
Blue ponders that for a moment, before looking at you quizzically.
 
“What?” You demand.
 
“You’re making sense… Who are you and what have you done with my Adam?”
 
“Why you…” You grumble, mussing the Kobold’s short hair roughly. “I do have an hour spare though, and I wanna track through the trading posts on the way back to Cicerello’s.”
 
Blue’s brow furrowed in puzzlement. “Why bother? If you’re not selling the wagon…”
 
“I wanna find out more about the Leviathan skull Wagyl asked for…”
 
“Asked…” Blue snorts derisively.
 
“Yeh well, if we can figure out why she wants it, we’ll know if it’s a good idea or not to actually follow through with it.”
 
Your efforts are prodigious, and you learn a wonderful sounding recipe for Leviathan gumbo from a spice-reeking Suudenlander, his white teeth shockingly bright against his dark skin as he raves about the taste. Sadly, however, none of the traders who’ll give you the time to ask have any idea what possible use a Leviathan skull could be. The general consensus seems to be, as Breyten initially inferred, a pointless and probably gaudy item of vanity. One foaming fanatic denounces any potential use of such an item as proof of guilt of the Sin of Pride, and exhorts you to confess before Holy Tyris.
 
You quickly depart, leaving him to preach to the empty air.
 
You stop in briefly at Cicerello’s, the innkeeper grunting acceptance and assuring you he’ll have a cot made up for Blue in your room. Blue seems about to go into what she thinks of that idea, before you silence her with a stern look.
 
Remarkably, she acquiesces… Maybe she was taking this indenturehood more seriously than she outwardly behaved. With everything sorted you head with your Kobold towards the sprawling structure on the dockline, an ancient, pitted, and oft-repaired sign reading simply, “Joe’s”.
 
“That’s an ugly thing…” Blue remarks.
 
“The sign? Heh. Joe claims that it’s been the same for over five thousand years.”
 
“And all the managers just ‘happen’ to be called ‘Joe” Blue snorts disbelievingly.
 
“Story is, whenever the owner’s son is acknowledged, he changes his name to some derivative of Joe. Keeps the mythos up.” You explain, pushing the door to a seated area adjacent to the noisy public bar open.
 
“Stupid practice.”
 
“S’made him the biggest tavern in the West Australs…”
 
“I’m pretty sure the gold thrown around by drunken Freelancers did that.”
 
“You just have no time for mythology, do you?” You chuckle.
 
“Adz, our last encounter with mythology could have EATEN us.” Blue shoots back, a slight tremble in her voice at remembered fear. You scratch her behind the ear briefly.
 
“Hey, sworn to keep you safe now, remember?” You offer softly. Blue smiles at you with shy gratitude.
 
“You’re a damn thief, Robert!” Comes a booming roar from one of the tables, and you look over to see a hulking man standing over your father, face outlined in fury.
 
“Siddown fuckya, and stop making a scene.” Your father demands.
 
“Last year it was only ten a head!” The man near-howls.
 
“And I fuckin’ told you, this winter was going to be cold, replacement stock was going to cost more. But you’ve gotta have those dinners with your extended bloody family, doncha?”
 
The large man collapses back into his seat, taking a deep draught from his tankard. “You and those lizards will beggar my Barony, Robert.”
 
“With the amount I pay in baronial tithe? Like hell, my lord.”
 
The baron chuckles helplessly, before his gaze falls upon you. “Ah. Looks like your youngest’s arrived finally.”
 
Your father swivels in his chair, spotting you, his eyes narrow, and he points to a space of floor near his chair.
 
With the immediacy born of years of obedience, you walk over with as much dignity as you can muster.
 
“You’re late, Boy.” He grates.
 
“Yessir, sorry sir.”
 
“Tristan tells me you ran into a Crazed Resonant. Didn’t damage my beasts, did he?”
 
“Do you count indigestion?” You remark without thinking.
 
“What?”
 
“Nothing sir. No sir, four and eight are fine.”
 
“Good. The wagon?”
 
“I’ve got a buyer offering twenty, including the bungas.”
 
“Tell him fifteen, and he can’t have eight. She’s good breeding stock, she’ll be going to auction tomorrow.”
 
“How am I… er… How’s HE…” You catch yourself “…gonna handle a two-train wagon with only one bungarra?”
 
“Fifteen through twenty-three are all in the pens for sale… Which you’d know if you took the Highway instead of going on adventures along the coast.”
 
“S’myfault boss.” Blue mumbles, shuffling a canid foot on the ground.
 
“Blue, liability for the actions of an indentured falls on the holder of their contract. Did you not pay attention earlier?”
 
You blink in surprise, “Sir, you know about that?”
 
“You think I wasn’t watching? Nice work with that agreement with Breyten, by the way.”
 
“I happened upon… a chance advantage.” You reply nebulously.
 
“You’re welcome.” The Baron rumbles.
 
You turn your head to the hulkingframe of Baron Thomas. “My lord?”
 
“How do you think nobody but the waylanders know about a certain… delay in transportation?”
 
Your lips pursed as realization rankled within you. “Sir, My Lord… You set this UP?!”
 
Your father and the baron double over with laughter, your father standing and embracing you before roughly pulling you down to sit at the table. Their laughter continues for a few more moments, Blue looking utterly confounded from where she stands at your side.
 
“Not entirely. Let’s just say a few wheels were greased. You’d have found dozens of other arrangements all over Port Fremantle for your peers, if you knew where to look. The first part of the Midwinter ritual is completed.”
 
“That? That was part of the ritual, sir?”
 
“Can’t spend all that time raising a boy to manhood and have him completely shag the pooch… no offense Blue… on his first time out the gate. Doesn’t reflect well on the Holdings. I’ll admit though, I expected you to follow your Brother and become a Waylander.”
 
“I was tempted, Sir.”
 
“At least your boy’s remaining under baronial purview. My youngest’s just signed on with the fucking pirates of the IMFC.” The baron grumbles. “Freelancers’… Faugh. Still, it was that or the Faith Militant, and he’s never been the most religious lad.”
 
“My Lord, is Breyten…” You ask hesitantly, feeling slightly guilty at the prospect of fleecing the trader as part of this elaborate farce.
 
“He’s a better choice than those useless twats my brother acknowledged as sons. Tyris be Glorified, the fucking Faith Militant wouldn’t take them! I can only pray fervently that something eats them on their way to New Botany.”
 
“Isn’t it drop-bear breeding season, my lord?” Your father mused.
 
“It is…” The Baron replied with an expression of forced innocence.
 
“The Ways of The God are unknowable.” Your father replies, suppressing a grin.
 
“Amen.”
 
The two men chuckle softly as they clank their tankards together.
 
“I’ll… er, leave you to it then.” You murmur, standing and inclining your head respectfully to the baron and your father. “My Lord… Sir…”
 
“Don’t drink too much boy… And remember the lesson this teaches. There are those who have been at this game for longer than you’ve been alive. Keep that in mind.”
 
“Yes Sir.” You reply, nodding again, before heading into the much noisier taproom.
 
“What in the name of Maou was that?” Blue demanded as you signalled the bartender for two tankards of bright, foaming beer.
 
“Stick around, Blue, I’ll tell you as soon as it starts making sense to me.” You chuckle helplessly, accepting the tankards with muttered thanks and passing one to Blue.
 
“Humans…” Blue sighs irritably, before guzzling a decent draught, smacking her lips and sighing happily.
 
“C’mere, you’ve got head…” You murmur, wiping her top lip with your thumb.
 
“You wish Adz.” Blue snickered, the innuendo bringing an unwelcome blush to your cheeks.
 
“Blue?” A woman’s voice rang out in pleased surprise from behind you.
 
“Mother!” Blue squealed, dashing past you to embrace the matronly, hide-clad Kobold. They clung to each other for a moment, before Blue pulled her by a tawny paw over to you. “Mother, this is… Wow, it still feels weird to say… My new Master, Adam of Gibson Holding.”
 
“Freeman.” The Kobold inclined her head politely, her ample curves a contrast with the slender wildness of her daughter.
 
“Madam.” You reply politely, placing the tankard on the bar. “Though technically it’s still ‘Holdsward’ for an hour or so.”
 
Blue’s mother chuckles, making her ample bust jiggle slightly. You make pains not to stare. “Please give your Father our regards, he has always been generous to the Kobolds of Nulla’s Line.”
 
“I will, Madam, and Blue and her sisters have earned whatever largesse your tribe has accrued, and then some. Simmo’d be a Bungarra’s dinner by now if Skye and Rey weren’t there to watch his arse.”
 
Blue’s mother smiles proudly, smushing her daughter into her ample cleaveage again. “My clever little girl!”
 
“Mum!” Blue objects self-consciously, staring at you with a mortified look on her face.
 
“You’ve been drinking… come Blue, you must take meat with your people.” Blue’s mother pauses, looking at you “Assuming that’s alright with you, Master Adam?”
 
“She’d be cooling her heels here or back at Cicerello’s anyway… from what I understand the next part of the ritual’s Human only.” You muse. “Sure, doesn’t bother me any. Keep out of trouble though, yeh pup?”
 
“Yes boss…” Blue glowers, putting all manner of subtext into that simple phrase, before allowing her mother to lead her from the taproom.
 
“So you’ve met yer lapdog’s mother…” A mocking voice catches your attention.
 
You turn slightly, taking a swallow of beer as you study the dark haired young man before you. “You insinuating something cunt?”
 
“And what if I am?”
 
“Then denounce me properly and we’ll go fight about it.” You declare, setting your tankard down and walking over, “I’m still bigger than you.”
 
The youth makes a show of bristling, before doubling over with laughter, putting an arm around your shoulders and leading you to a table with other young men sitting around it. “Seven years and she’s still attached to your hip. I didn’t think you were that interesting!”
 
“Yeh yeh, good to see you too Matt.” You grudgingly reply, smiling in spite of yourself. “G’day lads.”
 
“Adam!” A well-dressed young man exclaims. “Good to see you, it’s been too long.”
 
“Two years, my prince.” You answer respectfuly.
 
The Prince makes a face, “Adz, we’ve spent weeks digging firebreaks together, you know you can call me Eddie.”
 
“Thought you might wanna get as much out of the title as you can before your Lord Father disowns you for signing on with the IMFC, Prince Edward.” You retort, grinning.
 
“It was that or the church.” Edward shrugs.
 
“Blasphemy!” a blond youth exclaims in outrage.
 
“Challenge.” Edward answers smoothly “You’re not a Paladin yet, Will.”
 
“Withdrawn.” The blond recruit of the Faith Militant mutters grudgingly.
 
“Your grace is received. As is your buy.” Edward drawls with a smug grin.
 
Will stands, muttering, fishing in his pocket for coins as he heads up to the bar.
 
“Was it his round?” You ask, sliding in next to the noble.
 
“Running bet. He promised he’d grant us the Peace of Tyris to talk about whatever we liked today. Eddie bet him a round of beers for every denunciation that he couldn’t do it.”
 
“Poor Will.” You murmur with a slight chuckle. You couldn’t exactly blame him, you’d get religion too if you were raised on a holding beneath an unstable cliff that teams of men and mamono hauled tonnes of stone out of every day. The four of you had been fast friends for as long as you can remember, growing up in the communal nursery-come-boarding school of the Abbey of Blessed Innocence, before having the obscenely good fortune to be acknowledged as sons of the same barony. Edward had always seemingly resented his role as a prince, and eagerly awaited the times his Lord Father had sent him to work with the other young Holdswards, under the claim that it built character for him to learn ‘an honest day’s living’.
 
“What’s the real reason though Eddie? Son of a Noble house, you could ‘prentice anywhere in the known world. Tyris, even Will’d have to defer to you for officerhood in the Faith Militant.” You demand, taking another drink.
 
Edward opened his mouth to answer, before a spideresque shape dropped from the ceiling, making you all jerk back in surprise. The Arachne looked at you all in turn, mocking amusement in her crimson eyes, black hair hanging to the table as she hung inverted from a silken strand. Turning to Edward, she passed him a piece of parchment. “Dock twelve. After the Marking. Captain’ll be pissed if you’re late, and I’ll be AWFULLY upset.” She drawled, before skillfully clambering her way back up the thread and out of sight among the maze of rafters.
 
“Well that was a thing…” You muse, freezing with your tankard halfway to your mouth as you saw the young noble looking after the spider-woman in abject adoration. “Eddie!” You hiss “Have you lost your fucking mind?!”
 
“Oh sure, like nobody saw you with the Kobie traipsing around at your heels.” Edward chortles.
 
“I’m not having continuance with her, and she’s my indentured! A Prince and a Free Mamono? That’s gonna raise some questions mate.”
 
“S’none of your business, plus, maritime law overrides The Pax.”
 
“Fuck man! You’re not in a free city! If that gets out they won’t just lash you! You’re a fucking Noble’s Son! They’ll fucking BURN you!” Matt insisted in a harsh whisper.
 
“Then you’d better make sure it doesn’t…” Eddie muttured in a low voice.
 
“What doesn’t?” Will asked, doling out the ales and looking at you all questioningly.
 
You pause in thought for a moment. It was one thing to betray your friend’s confidence, but this was his life. There would be a lot of alcohol tonight, and emotions would run high. Docked here in the Port, Edward’s new captain would have to defer to The Pax and Baronial Law if the star-crossed lovers were to be caught. Perhaps better for a confidence to be broken now and keep his honour, and more importantly, his life?
 
“Well?” Will prompts, looking at you all with slight suspicion.
 
Fuck it. You were not going to be the one to open this Matango spore-pod. You direct a ‘Your call’ look at Matt, before taking another drink. The look he returns speaks volumes towards the questioning of your heritage and the probability of your father having coupled with some form of loathsome parasite to spawn you.
 
Matt gives an apologetic sigh. “That last year Eddie had continuance with that priestess you were eyeing up earlier.”
 
You’re blown away. The best part of his deception is it wasn’t even a lie! Though technically all of you could have been called upon to perform the Rite of Continuance from the age of sixteen, such was usually reserved for the Sons of Noble Houses and prominent businessmen, which made sense from an ease of logistics perspective, if not the suspected-but-never-outright-admitted eugenic goals of the Mistresses of Bloodlines. Edward HAD been called last year, and if Will was even mildly infatuated with his potential partner in the rite…
 
“Fucking really?” Edward groaned at Matt, and it was hard to tell if his disappointment was sincere or feigned.
 
“You git.” Will growled, shoving his way between you and the young prince. “You fucking held out on me all year? Come on, spill the beans! What’s she like?”
 
“Ease up turbo!” Edward exclaimed in surprise, “There’s no guarantee you’ll even be part of the sowing tonight, let alone paired with her.”
 
“Considering there are only twelve to be marked tonight, the odds are in my favour, and let’s just say there’s… an understanding amongst the Faith Militant when it comes to selection.”
 
“Oh the rot of sin and corruption in our Holy Mother Church!” Edward laughed, and everything was alright again.
 
Another round came and went, and you returned with filled tankards to find the other three singing.
 
“Twenty four kids, nine adults and fifteen dogs
A drop-bear in the wagon and a cartload fulla grog
Now we gotta get used to living next door to Yowies…”
 
“I’d love to see you blokes sing that with one in the room.” You snicker. To be honest it would be a coin toss as to whether the temperamental, Ogrish Mamono would find the song mortally offensive or hilariously funny.
 
“Initiates of the Faith Militant!” A voice booms, and you look up to see an armoured Paladin standing in the door, his surcoat spotlessly white and bearing a golden sun, overlain with a silver sword. “Retire and properly attire yourselves for the marking.”
 
“Woo. Formal dress. What fun.” Will grumbles softly before calling “Yes, your worship!” in a louder voice, the acknowledgement echoed by a couple of other young men in the taproom. “I’ll see you blokes there then.”
 
Will’s farewell was acknowledged with grunts and upraised tankards, and the remaining three of you remained quiet until the Paladin and his new charges had left earshot.
 
“Gee fucking thanks Adz, really fucking appreciated having to lie to my mate.” Matt snarls at you.
 
You make a noise into your drink. “Think about it Matt, you’d have been doing him no favours putting it on him. He’d either be responsible for forcing Eddy to join the Faith Militant as an avoidance of Heresy, or responsible for flat out catching him in the act of it. I don’t wanna see my mates unhappy, and I definitely don’t want to see one screaming on a pyre!”
 
Matt grumbled in acceptance.
 
“And you.” You continue, pointing at Edward. “I can’t help what you feel, and who you feel it for, but so help me Tyris if you don’t keep your member firmly inside your pants until you’re at least a fuckin’ mile off the coast I’ll beat your arse so badly the fire will be a welcome relief… My Prince.”
 
“Threatening a Son of a Noble House?” Edward snickered “Pretty sure that’s…”
 
“Shaddup and finish yer beer Eddie.” Matt demanded.
 
You sat in silence for a moment. Each of you nursing your drinks.
 
“I never did ask you Matt, what’ve you got planned after tonight?” You venture, hoping to break the uncomfortable quiet.
 
“Yer brother’s ‘prenticing me. I’m to be a Waylander.” Matt answers flatly, “And I think I just failed me first test.”
 
 
Tak tak tak tak tak tak tak tak tak tak…
 
The feeling of the needled rod being driven repeatedly into your skin was beginning to reverberate up your entire arm. You grimaced with discomfort.
 
“Bit itchy…” You hear Matt grumble somewhere from your left.
 
“After today? This is a soothing skin massage.” You murmur in response.
 
“Orright gents, pipe down.” The Baron rumbled from where he sat atop a platform, flanked by two wimpled High Priestesses. Grunting slightly, he heaved his muscular bulk upright. “In the Name of Dominus Ian, duly appointed Regent and Supreme Justice of The Australs and of the Protectorates and Tributaries under its banner, By the Will and Command of Magisterium, I, Baron Robert of House Reinhardt, beseech the Representatives of Our Holy Mother Church to invoke the Blessing of Tyris upon those present.”
 
One of the High Priestesses stepped forward, raising her arms to the sun sinking into the western sea.
 
“Praise and Sacrifice unto thee, O Tyris, Eternal and Most Holy, Thou who art Lord and God of Humanity. Let thy Children now and forever render unto Thee Glory, Glory and Ever Praise, Thou who art the wellspring of Truth and Goodness, unto whom Time doth concede its dominion, the depth of the Sun hold no mystery, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Bless these, Thy servants, who as the Sun which is Thy continual reminder of Thy beneficence doth sink and Night covers this land, do in turn cast aside their youth, to no longer be as Child of the Australs, but instead rise as Free-Man.”
 
A spark of brilliant white shot from between her hands, arcing into the sky where it exploded, the crowd bathed with soft light as they raised their hands collectively in the sign of the sunburst.
 
“All Glory to the Most High” The crowd surrounding you intoned as one.
 
“Tyris!” One of your fellows breathed in surprise and awe.
 
“Ease off mate, she’s Resonant, it’s just theatrics.” Another muttered.
 
“Oh just spoil it for everyone cunt” A third grumbled.
 
“Can it…” The Paladin growled from where he stood near the baronial platform. The Baron stepped forward, bending to kiss the palms of the High Priestess who had just invoked the blessing in deference before squaring himself before you on the platform.
 
“From the burned and sun-parched land…” The Baron intoned.
 
“…We Come.” The crowd answered.
 
“Through Storm, Flood and Fire…”
 
“…We Persevere.”
 
“For Home, God, and Neighbour…”
 
“…We Fight.”
 
“In the names of our forefathers, going back to the beginning…”
 
The tattooist finished your markings with a final firm TAK, making you wince. You stood with the remainder of your newly marked peers.
 
“…We Rise.” You intone with the rest.
 
“Against all odds, through every Trial and Tribulation, By the Grace of The God, as Men of the Australs…”
 
“…WE REMAIN!” The last a roar as tattooed arms were raised to farewell the sun as its last light vanished beneath the horizon.
 
“Turn, newly marked, and greet your fellows as Freemen.” The Baron commanded, bringing the ritual to a close.
 
Smiles, handshakes and rough hugs were the coin of the realm for you and the dozen other new Freemen. Somehow, through the melee and noise, your father found you. Wordlessly, he offered you a tankard.
 
“Thank you sir.” You sigh gratefuly. “That’s thirsty work for some reason.”
 
Your father gives you one of his rare smiles. “You’re not my ward any more, Adam. For once, call me dad.”
 
A heaviness weighed in your chest as your father embraced you firmly.
 
“Dad…” You choke, squeezing shut stinging eyes.
 
 
Back at Joe’s, things were getting a little out of hand. Someone proposed a toast to the Baron. The Baron responded with a Toast to the Dominus. Someone else proposed a toast to those who rest in the Bosom of Tyris. One of the Paladin-initiates proposed a toast to the Holy Mother Church. Another person proposed a toast in thanks to Joe of Joe’s for supplying the beer and food. Yet another, a toast to Magisterium.
 
“Someone’s gonna propose a toast to the fuckin’ bungas in a minute, and I’ll know we’ve completely gone off the far end…” You slur.
 
Tristan belched softly, fixing you with a wicked grin.
 
“Yer Reverences, Gennlemen, Assorted nobs…” He began, lurching to his feet.
 
“That’sh not the right way to do it Waylander!” Matt objected.
 
“Who’s the fucken ‘prentice here, me or you?” Tristan demanded in mock umbrage. “To the New Freemen!”
 
“The New Freemen!” The lairy response boomed, and everybody drank again.
 
“Hold it down…” The Paladin boomed. “…Her Reverence, Sister Superior Rachel would address you.”
 
The drunken babble died down as the High Priestess stood. “It would seem that now would be an appropriate time to draw the lots for The Sowing, before the candidates become too incapacitated.”
 
“The night’s still young!” A landholder declared.
 
“Then they can rejoin the festivities after they are finished. In my experience, it won’t take long.” A small smile crept onto her face at the last. Hooting laughs and half-coherent objections as to individual stamina answered that veiled jibe.
 
“Orright Orright.” The baron rumbled. “New Freemen, step forward. Sir Nigel, please draw the lots.”
 
The Paladin stepped forward, a basket bearing paper slips in his hand. He made some show of muddling the papers. “William, initiate of the Faith Militant” He intoned, drawing the first name.
 
“Fuck me Will wasn’t kidding!” You heard Edward murmur as Will stepped forward, a smug grin on his face.
 
Another two names were drawn, and then Matt’s name came up. Surprised, he joined the three others in stepping forward.
 
“Well… Maybe it’s not ALL rigged.” Edward snickered.
 
“Freeman Adam, of Gibson Holding.” The Paladin intoned. For a moment it didn’t register, and you wondered why everyone was looking at you.
 
“Now I know it’s not rigged.” Edward drawled mockingly, clapping you on the shoulder and propelling you forward. You didn’t hear the last name drawn, but you’re sure it wasn’t Edward.
 
“Gentlemen, Follow me please.” The High Priestess ordered politely, turning and leading you from the taproom.
 
 
“Sodding hell, midwinter is the wrong time for this…” Matt grumbled as he reluctantly removed his clothes with the rest of you.
 
“Least the water’s warm.” You reply, picking up a sponge from a steaming bucket and starting to scrub yourself off. The High Priestess had left the Six of you in an austere room containing a number of buckets full of hot water and coarse sponges, and ordered you to strip off and bathe before departing.
 
“Yeh but my manhood’s still making threats to crawl back up inside… Oi! Watch where you’re splashing cunt, I wanna wear those later!” He barked at another young man.
 
You shake your head, gingerly washing the area around the tattoo, still shiny with soothing sap.
 
Soon enough, you were all done, and if signalled by that fact, the High Priestess breezes nonchalantly back into the room.
 
TYRIS FUCK!” One of the young men exhorts, clasping hands over his manhood in shock and embarrassment.
 
“Language.” The High Priestess snaps, passing each of you a white woollen smock. “Put these on, and at least make an attempt to comport yourself with a little dignity. You are in the Chancel of the Sun, after all.”
 
“Yes, your reverence.” you all murmur.
 
You traipse out, forming a rough line before a hallway, lined with unmarked doors. A Paladin dressed in a simple robe, identified only by the sigil about his neck entered, standing before you.
 
“You will submit to the scrutiny of The God, by the instrument of the Benedictus. You will then enter one of these doors, where you will perform the Rite of Continuance.”
 
He points at Matt. “You. Step forward.”
 
Matt shuffles forward with clear trepidation. The Paladin chuckles slightly. “Relax mate, it’s just continuance.” He murmurs assuringly. As he raises his hand, a nebulous glow seems to extend from his arm, which he passes over your friend, before grunting in satisfaction and gesturing for him to continue on.
 
“Next, you.” He commands, pointing at you. You step forward, and a strange sensation passes through you as he waves the light around your body, as if alien eyes were inspecting you to the very core of your being.
 
“Go on.” He states simply, stepping slightly to the side to allow you to pass.
 
“Eeeny meeny miney mo…” You murmur to yourself, finally giving up and grasping the closest doorhandle. You enter, closing the door as a Priestess stands from where she was reclining upon a simple wooden cot.
 
“I am the instrument of your duty, Freeman. Together let us fulfill the Commandments of the Pax.” She intones, before raising the veil covering her face.
 
“Sister Liane?” You gasp.
 
“Hello Adam.” The Priestess responds with a familiar smile. “Is something the matter?”
 
“Well, no… Just I wasn’t expecting… Y’know…”
 
Sister Liane gives a warm chuckle. “Port Fremantle might be the largest city in the West Australs, but it’s still the West Australs. Were you really expecting to see someone you didn’t know?”
 
“Yeah but I mean we were kids together, kinda a funny situation, doncha think?”
 
“Makes it easier to be comfortable around each other, in my view.” Liane replies, walking towards you and putting soft hands on your shoulders. “Now, are you familiar with the Rite?”
 
“N-not really.” You admit.
 
“First time?”
 
Well there was that one time with the harpy in the back eight where your brother caught you and whipped you all the way back to the homestead, but you wisely conclude it’s probably not the best idea to go into that.
 
“Yeah…” you reply, suddenly aware of her closeness. Strange, the room seemed awfully warm now.
 
“Can I confess something wicked, Adam?”
 
“Sure.”
 
“I know this is a Holy Duty, but… I kinda like first-timers… I find it awfully… exciting.” She breathes throatily, trailing her hands along your shoulders as she walks around you.
 
Your heart is pounding in your ears, and your body is clearly responding to her alluring touch.
 
“See?” Liane remarks, gently brushing your erection through the smock. “Like falling off a horse.”
 
In a simple motion, she sheds her shift, standing unclad in front of you.
 
“Remove the garments of the penitant.” Liane breathes, her eyes locked to yours as she reclines again on the cot “And Join with me, that new life be breathed into the world.”
 
You pull the smock off over your head. “All Glory to the Most High.” You intone absently, your dick throbbing in the cool air, your body drawn to her as inexorably as the tides.
 
You joined in that ancient ecstasy, but yet like all pleasures, all too soon, it was over.
 
“You did very well, Adam.” Liane murmurs encouragingly, running her fingers through your hair and giving you a light smek on the cheek.
 
“Feels like we barely got started.” You murmur, rising from atop her and gathering the smock to pull back over your head.
 
“I know right? For such a small thing we do make SUCH a deal over it.”
 
Not quite what you were implying, but you murmured affirmation, straightening the smock over your softening member.
 
You vaguely remember re-dressing yourself and walking back to the taproom with the other young men, all of you seemingly lost in the same puzzled thoughts. There was something… missing about the whole experience. Something you couldn’t quite put your finger on. Something you had no words to describe.
 
“The men of the hour!” Edward yells drunkenly, seeing you and your fellows re-entering. You were greeted with jocular hoots and firm claps on the back, someone put a tankard in your hand, and you drank deeply, still lost in your own thoughts.
 
 
“Bugger!” You hiss, clipping your toe on the door-frame as you drunkenly enter your room at Cicerello’s. In the dim light you could spy a tawny-haired shape where it lay on the bed, facing away from you, a tail hanging slightly out of the covers.
 
“You’re drunk.” Blue’s voice sounds in the darkness.
 
“Yeh…” You admit.
 
“Who is she?”
 
“Huh?”
 
“Whoever you stink of.” Blue demands, rolling over to face you, her eyes glowing green where the dim light reflects within them.
 
“Was jus’ continuance Blue. ‘m a Man now. Gotta do m’duty before Holy Tyris, praise his bollocks.” you slur, attempting to pull your pants off and raise your hands in the sign of the sunburst simultaneously. Unsurprisingly, you land in a tangled heap on the floor.
 
Something breaks within you and you give voice to a racking sob. A furry-eared, pixie haired shadow looms over you against the swarming black. “Oh Maou, you’re a fucking mess, aren’t you. Come on.”
 
“M’sorry.” You sob as she leads you to bed.
 
“What for?”
 
“Whaddever I fucked up in this shitter of a day that’s pissed you off.”
 
Furred paws slide around your torso. “I’m not mad at you for being drunk. I’m not mad that you did continuance, or however it’s called. What I am mad about is that you left me. Alone. All Night. With my mother.”
 
The surprise of that jerks a little sobriety back into your foggy head. “You wha?”
 
“Do you know what taking meat is?”
 
You shake your head, unsurprisingly she sees it.
 
“It’s bringing down a kill and sharing it with the pack. It has to be a wild kill though, no cheating with livestock. Do you know what kind of wildlife there is in Port Fremantle?”
 
“Fish?”
 
“Try again”
 
“Seagulls?”
 
“Keep Trying”
 
“Coast Rats?”
 
“There you go. I spent tonight eating rats. Raw. Do you know what raw rat tastes like, Adam?!”
 
“No I don’t.”
 
“Well I do!”
 
You put your arms over the paws around your chest. “T’morrow I’mma buy you the biggest, greasiest breakfast in the city t’get the taste outta yer mouth then.”
 
“You’d better, boss.” Blue murmured, and you dimly feel her tail wagging under the covers.
 
Tomorrow… Tomorrow was the start of a whole new life. Sure, you were heading south, but what else? Seemed an awful waste to make that trip with nothing but a parchment you could probably carry in your pack. Sure, you had to buy a bungarra, but what else could you do to take advantage of the fact? You sigh in frustration as your drunken mind refuses to co-operate.
 
“Whazzamadder?” Blue mumbles.
 
“M’thinkin.” you reply
 
“You think loud.”
 
You chuckle at that “About tomorrow, pup. What we’re gonna do, where we’re gonna do it…”
 
Blue gives a cute little yawn, nuzzling her face into the side of your neck. “Worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Go to sleep now.” she breathes in your ear.
 
“Whatever you say Blue.”
 
“Damn right boss.”
 
 
“Urghhhhh…” You groan as sleeps blessed anesthesia slips away, letting last night’s excesses make themselves known.
 
“Oh good! You’re awake finally!” Blue exclaims joyfuly, her canid rear legs quivering in anticipation and her tail wagging frantically.
 
“Now c’mon! Breakfast! I think I’ve still got whiskers between my molars.” The kobold insisted, face twisting with remembered distaste.
 
The thought combined with the roiling mass in your guts, and you held up a trembling hand.
 
“Giz a sec Blue… I think I might… Hurrrk!” You gag, bolting for an alcove in the corner of the room and emptying your seething guts into the privy.
 
“Eeeew… And I thought you stank before! Bath first then.”
 
“What bath?” You gasp between contractions. You’re sure you felt a toenail come up with that last one.
 
“There’s one downstairs. I don’t know HOW you managed it but I woke up smelling like that woman” Blue whuffled in displeasure.
 
“Fine, fine… Wait…” You pause, looking yourself over, feeling a slight current of air caress you far more intimately than you were expecting. “Blue… Why am I naked?”
 
“You really WERE drunk last night, boss!” Blue laughed.
 
“Oh Tyris…” You moan, wiping your mouth and turning to the Kobold in alarm “…did we…”
 
Blue saunters up to you, her paws behind her back and a playful look in her eye. “Master… If we did…” She breathes, her big blue eyes locked to yours. “…Trust me, you’d remember.”
 
With a giggle, she unceremoniously dumps a shirt and a pair of trousers into your hands. “You threw your smalls away after that little encounter with Wagyl, remember? Now come on, I wanna eat sometime today.”
 
You grumble acceptance, blushing slightly as you pull your clothes on, your head pounding. Stumbling downstairs, you allow blue to direct you to door in the rear of the inn. The air was humid and smelled very slightly of mould.
 
“In there. I think you’ve got it to yourself. Everyone seemed real eager to be somewhere else when I went in this morning… I can’t think why.” Blue looked up at you with feigned innocence.
 
“I’m sure. If I’m not out in fifteen make sure I’m not dead, yeh?” You murmur, rubbing your temples.
 
“Is it that bad?”
 
“I’m sure I’ve had worse… Can’t remember them right now though…” you wince, before pushing open the door.
 
The massive wooden tub which sits steaming in the middle of the room looks like the very gates of heaven, and you sigh happily as you strip off and sink yourself in its hot liquid embrace. You lean your head back and close your eyes, feeling the headache begin to recede. You crack one eye as you hear the door open, grunting greeting at the freeman who enters, one of your fellows from last night.
 
“Water good?” The man asks.
 
“Tyris yes.” You groan.
 
Slight splashing as the man steps in. “Ohhhh God.” He moans ecstatically. “This feels better than that priestess.”
 
“Heh.” You chuckle noncommittally, still not entirely sure how you feel about last night’s proceedings in the chancel.
 
You both luxuriate in silence for a few minutes, before you decide that you feel as human as you’re likely to feel without a big, greasy meal in your belly.
 
“No rest for the weary, eh?” The man asks.
 
“Yeh, can’t let the day get too much of a head start on me.”
 
“Shouldn’t worry. Half of Freo’s probably in the same boat as us, I hear the festivities were still going strong as the sun started coming up.”
 
“Mad Bastards.” You snicker, pulling your clothes back on and heading out the door, almost running into Blue. She unashamedly puts her face in your chest, inhaling deeply.
 
“Much better!” She declares. “Now come on boss, they’ve got bacon!”
 
“Bacon?” You murmur incredulously, “Like REAL bacon?!”
 
Blue nods at you with excitement and you both pick up the pace.
 
Breakfast was more expensive than you were expecting, but well worth the cost in your opinion, your plates loaded with beans, sausage, mushrooms, fried potatoes, and generous rashers of the treasured cured pig meat, glistening with fat.
 
“For what we are about to receive…” You murmur in thanksgiving.
 
“Rub-a-dub-dub thanks for the grub, Yay Maou” Blue blurts irreverently before hoeing in with gusto.
 
Shaking your head, you join the kobold in eating, both of you realizing that apart from a few absently snagged items for you last night, and Blue’s rat-feast, neither of you had really eaten since breakfast the previous morning. Before long, you both sat before clean plates, the pleasant discomfort of a full belly making you sigh happily.
 
“Thanks boss.” Blue hiccups, smiling blissfuly.
 
“No problems Blue… Now, we’d better grab our gear and get moving.” Blue nods, snagging one last slice of warm, soft bread and running ahead of you up to the room, the bread hanging out of her mouth.
 
 
Cicerello was slightly less exuberant this morning, the jolly man bearing red, bleary eyes and a croaking voice as he slid the tally sheet to you in shaking hands. You checked it over, nodding and handing him the underwriter’s note Breyten had presented to you the previous day.
 
“Seventy five eh? Hang on…” Cicerello groaned, turning and heading into his office. You heard the faint musical sound of coins being counted into a pouch.
 
“Minus the eighteen silver for your charges, that’s Seventy Four and eighty two back to you.” He declared, placing the jingling pouch in your hand, which you quickly stashed in your pack next to your existing, much lighter pouch.
 
“Cheers Cicerello… Why don’t you get one of your staff to take over mate? You look like death.”
 
Cicerello gives a rasping laugh. “When a hangover can stop me from doing an honest day’s work, I’ll bloody retire.” He declares.
 
“Fair enough, thanks again.”
 
“Good fortune, Freeman.” Cicerello declares, before taking another sip from a ceramic mug filled with a steaming, acrid liquid.
 
“Seems a bit steep, boss…” Blue murmured as you stepped into the brisk morning air outside.
 
“Cicerello’s ain’t exactly a low end joint, Blue. Also considering the dents the next few days are going to put in his supplies, as well as how cold the weather’s been, I don’t begrudge him a little profi… OI!” You yell, spotting a hooded figure loosening Eight’s traces and leading it by the bridle away from the wagon. “Gerroff the bunga you theivin’ prick!”
 
The figure stops and calmly turns towards you as you storm towards them, Blue at your heels.
 
“Hello Adam.” A female voice greets you as she pushes back her hood to reveal yellow slitted eyes and long flexible spines in lieu of hair.
 
“Shit! Sorry Shariss, didn’t recognise you.” You apologise, recognising your father’s indentured Stablemaster.
 
“Clearly. My apologies for not informing you ahead of retrieving Eight, but your father was most insistent that she go on the first lot in the auction. ‘Before the bastards have time to clear their heads’, I believe his words were.”
 
You chuckle “Canny old sod… In fact that’s not a bad idea… Hey Shariss, reckon you could hook eight back up if you’re going to the stockyards anyway? I may as well take four and the wagon down there if I’m going to load up.”
 
The Reptilian nodded wordlessly, turning eight with a sibilant hiss in that unknown language. Eight docilely allowed itself to be re-affixed to the traces, and you and Blue clambered atop the wagon.
 
You reach a hand down to Shariss. “Need a ride?”
 
Shariss gives a small, demure smile. “Thank you.” She replies simply, putting her taloned hand in yours and accepting your assistance into the wagon. The scaled skin of her hand was smooth, and much softer than you were expecting as she lightly moves to sit on the bench next to you.
 
Flicking the reins, you direct the wagon towards the stockyards, some few people braving the ravages of last night’s excesses. There were a number of shaded eyes, and pale, drawn faces which acknowledged you with the barest courtesy as the suffering denizens of Port Fremantle begin going about their daily business. With a slight pull, you turned the wagon to point it at a mooring near the commodity factors’ offices. With Blue and Shariss both looking at you askance, you tie the wagon up to the long, sturdy crossbeam.
 
“Cheers Shariss. Would have sucked to have made two trips.” You state simply.
 
“Uh… Adz, the stockyards are over there.” Blue points at the sprawling pens a couple hundred metres further down the road.
 
You grin at the Kobold. “Yeh, but I’m not even gonna TRY and buy Eight, Blue.”
 
Shariss gave a hissing ululation, and you look at the Reptilian in surprise, before realizing she was laughing. “YOU’RE who bought the wagon!”
 
“Er… Yeh?”
 
“Your father has been wracking his brain all morning trying to work out who purchased it.” Shariss near-crowed. “Oh I shall have SUCH fun in teasing him with this.”
 
“Did I not tell him yesterday?” You cast your mind back over your hazy memories of the previous day.
 
“Clearly not.”
 
“Also Dad doesn’t strike me as one who’d take teasing well, Shariss.”
 
“You may have noticed that he’s a man of little expression and few words. He has a flair for subtlety that we Lizardfolk can appreciate.”
 
“Y’like him, doncha?”
 
“He has been a fair and decent master. And a good friend.” Shariss declared bluntly, the unreadable mask back over her features. Clearly this was as much as she was willing to divulge. Shariss hopped lightly from the wagon, untethering eight and leading the bungarra towards the stockyards, the lizard and the Mamono’s reptilian tails swaying in time as they walked away by some miracle of universal whimsy. You chuckle at the coincidence.
 
“Are you pervin’ on Shariss Adz?” Blue mocks, jostling you with a furred paw.
 
“What? No, just the tails, y’know…”
 
“Uh huh. So, what’re we doing?”
 
“We’ve got this whole wagon to transport a piece of paper. I thought it might be a good idea to take more advantage of it.”
 
“Oh Maou… What did Breyten fill your head with? You’re starting to sound like a trader.” Blue mocked with false exasperation
 
You pause at that. Trader eh? It was a respectable enough profession and if you kept your wits about you, one that could see a fair bit of money coming your way. A hidden bell chimed as you headed into the factor’s office, to see a man slumped over the desk, head resting on his arms.
 
“Whatever you want, I beg you, for the love of Tyris, ask it quietly.” The factor groaned, raising his head to look at you with sheer suffering written across his face.
 
Something inexplicable tells you that being straightforward with the factor will yield the best results. “I’m kinda new to this.” You admit “But I’m heading south, thought it might be worth loading up with some cargo.”
 
The factor smiles slightly “Y’know if I was feeling altogether well I’d probably fleece you for admitting that. Still, guess I’ve gotta be grateful for Tyris dropping a solution to my predicament straight in my lap.”
 
“Predicament?”
 
The factor nods “Got two hundredweight of weresheep wool bound for Port Albany collecting dust in the warehouse because the dumb cunt contracted to move it broke his damn leg on the sauce last night. Receiver’s desperate. They’re offering a three gold bonus to get it moving before the price drops.”
 
“Three Gold?” You echo, unsure if this is a good offer.
 
“Yeh. It’s well and truly above the profit margin. I think they’re insane, but it’s their purse.”
 
“Well hell, sign me up I suppose!” You exclaim, stunned at your good fortune.
 
“Bless you. That your wagon out front?”
 
You nod.
 
“Two Hundredweight’s about all she’ll carry safely. You could go up to three but you’re putting yourself at risk of damaging it. Also if you plan on doing this regularly, make sure you check the trader’s post for weather conditions and local news. Agents for larger concerns will usually offer contracts to smaller operators there too, if they find themselves short of wagons. Benefit of that is you’re not out the cost of the cargo, though you’re still liable for it if anything should happen.”
 
You nod. “Good to know, cheers mate.”
 
“No charge. Now, if you can make your mark here, I’ll arrange for the cargo to be brought up and loaded into the wagon.”
 
You scribble where indicated, leaving the factor to suffer in his hangover.
 
“Is this supposed to be this easy?” Blue murmured suspiciously
 
You shake your head. “No. Which is what’s amazing, still, I’m not one to look a gift centaur in the chest. C’mon, let’s go sort out another Bunga.”
 
Blue nods, and follows you as you walk towards the stockyards. The expected din of the auction block is muted, yet the suffering of the townsfolk seems to be lessening. The Auctioneer steps up to the podium, rapping his gavel against the wood for attention.
 
“Really?” sounds a pained plea near the front.
 
“Next Item. One and a half year old Male from Gibson Holdings.” The Auctioneer announces, and a bored looking reptilian leads a Bungarra onto the block. The ox-sized lizard ruffles its frill slightly at the milling crowd before it, and you spy the marking on its flank as it is turned on the block.
 
“Twenty!” You hiss excitedly.
 
“Whu?” Blue murmurs, looking up at you.
 
“Just wait and see.” You insist.
 
“We’ll start the bidding at Two gold” The auctioneer announces.
 
“So low? Shit. Maybe eight didn’t pull as well as dad thought it would…” You muse, cursing the missed opportunity to gain such a valuable beast.
 
“Two.” Someone croaks from behind you.
 
“Two and fifty” Comes an answer from ahead
 
“Three and twenty five” Another voice sounds from your right.
 
“Uh… boss?” Blue murmurs, nudging you.
 
“Just wait…” You assure the kobold, patting her paw.
 
“Three and fifty” Another voice.
 
“Three and seventy five”
 
“Five Gold.” You declare, raising your hand.
 
“Shit mate, bit of a jump…” a man to your left murmurs in slight umbrage.
 
“I hear five gold, do I have an advance on five?” The Auctioneer declares, looking about. “Five going once, five going twice… Sold!” He raps his gavel on the lectern, ending the auction.
 
You grin, heading towards the gate where the reptilian was leading the Bungarra.
 
“Five gold, Adz?” Blue asks uncertainly
 
“It’s about market for a male of twenty’s age. I would have had to fight harder had everyone been entirely well.” You explain to the kobold. “Plus, Twenty’s got a trick.”
 
“Huh?”
 
“Wait and see.”
 
You take Twenty’s bridle from the reptilian with murmured thanks, leading him back to where four was idly staring at not much in particular. You manage to get twenty into the vacated trace with little resistance, the Bungarra shifting against the padded leather.
 
“Now watch. Twenty! Fuckimup!”
 
The Bungarra opened its mouth with a snarling hiss, the frill at its neck expanding and spreading as it bared its yellow, dripping teeth.
 
“Maou’s ample bosom!” Blue shrieked, ducking behind you.
 
“Down boy.” You laugh, Twenty calming and lowering its frill. “Let’s see if we can get four to copy him…”
 
“You sure about this?” Blue asked timidly.
 
“Think about it Blue, how much better would it have been if we could have just scared that crazy old resonant bastard instead of getting into a scuffle with the cunt?”
 
Blue nods slightly, “Just… Be careful, yeh boss?”
 
You pat Blue’s head reassuringly, before turning again to the Bungarra. “Twenty! Fuckimup!”
 
The Bungarra gives the same threat posture as before, and you quickly turn to four. “Four! Fuckimup! Fuckimup Four!”
 
Four gives his younger sibling a sidewards look, opening his mouth and raising his frill slightly.
 
“C’mon four! Fuckimup!”
 
Seemingly comprehending, Four mirrors twenty’s threat posture and you laugh gleefuly. “Orright, down, down you scaled shits!”
 
The Bungarra relax their threat postures, looking a little confused as their tiny reptilian minds try and puzzle out exactly what the funny human with the food was doing.
 
You dig in your pack, coming up with a cloth wrapped bundle.
 
“Whazzat?” Blue asks, still clinging to you.
 
“Yesterday’s lunch, it’s a bit curly but they’ll eat it.”
 
You give each of the Bungarra one of the stale rolls, which they gleefuly snatch, you having to take pains to avoid your hands being caught in those foul mouths.
 
“You shits.” You chuckle fondly, scratching each animal above the eye ridge. Suddenly, you notice Blue isn’t behind you anymore.
 
“Hey Boss!” you hear from atop the wagon, and you see a tawny, bushy tail wagging frantically.
 
“What are you doing up there?” You demand, and clamber atop the wagon to see Blue has pulled back the waxed canvas cover and is cuddled into a thick, heavy bale of weresheep wool.
 
“Fuck tents! Fuck tents forever!” The Kobold declares, smushing her face into the famously soft wool.
 
“We’ll sort something out…” You laugh, taking the Kobold by the paw and gently pulling her from atop your cargo, before re-attaching the cover. “…Right now though we need supplies, unless you plan on ‘taking meat’ the whole way there.”
 
“Wash your mouth out, boss!” Blue exclaims in horror, before re-joining you on the bench.
 
You steer the wagon back past the trading post and its attached bazaar. Ordinarily you would spend some time looking at the curios and various items for sale throughout, but with a loaded wagon and two very profitable reasons to be in Port Albany as soon as possible, you decide to forego sightseeing this time. You rein the wagon in outside the sizable general goods store, lashing it once again to the ever-present crossbars.
 
“O-oh! Welcome!” A girlish voice rings out as you enter the store. Looking around, you frown, not seeing the source.
 
“Hello?” you venture
 
“Uh… Boss?” Blue murmurs, tugging at your sleeve and pointing upwards. A young Arachne has positioned herself on the roof above your heads and quickly lets herself down on a shining length of silk.
 
“H-how can I help you today?” The Arachne stammers, clearly out of her element.
 
“Uh, yeah, we’re heading south and we need to fit out some supplies.” You reply with slight uncertainty. You weren’t one to judge on looks but a human-spider amalgam still flicked some switches back in the primitive part of your brain.
 
“Oh! Well that’s easy enough!” The Arachne smiles, delighted to not be out of her depth at last. “Beans, cured meat, cheese, flour, salt, sugar, water… Can’t forget water! Even in winter it can be difficult to find!”
 
“Right…” You agree. “You seem to be pretty well across it.”
 
“Well I usually only handle tailoring but I listen to Master Chris while he’s supplying traders and Waylanders and the like, it’s not that difficult. Poor Master Chris though… Would you believe that he was so sick this morning he forgot to charge two traders for a week’s worth of supplies? I had to tie him to his bed to make him rest. Really, he’s so careless after a night on the grog.”
 
“Ah. Yeah. Shame.” You mutter, silently cursing the missed opportunity. “Speaking of tailoring, reckon you could fit me and Blue here out with a bit more kit? We’d get a bit fragrant wearing the same clothes for a week.”
 
“Of course!” The Arachne exclaims enthusiastically, before seizing you in her chitinous hands, making you jump in surprise.
 
“Oh stop, I don’t bite… Much.”
 
Blue stifled a snicker at your discomfort as the Arachne held up a length of silk, skilfully getting your measurements. “No worries! You though…” She pauses, studying Blue. “…You’re going to have to come into the back with me.”
 
“Really? Why? You sure?” Blue stammers, suddenly wild eyed. You fix the Kobold with the smuggest grin you can muster as the Arachne pulls Blue by the paw into the rear of the store.
 
You hum tunelessly, tapping your fingers on the counter as you wait for the Spider and the Kobold to finish whatever it is they’re doing back there.
 
“Oh Maou boss look isn’t it the best ever?!” Blue crows as she dashes out into the main store area. You choke slightly as you take in her outfit. Her modest bust is held by a series of padded leather straps which leave very little to the imagination, whilst her lower half is clad in a pair of form-hugging shorts.
 
“Tyris Blue, you didn’t have to show me your bloody smallclothes!”
 
Blue’s delicate brow furrows. “These aren’t smallclothes, this is my new outfit! It’s so comfy! Feels like I’m wearing nothing at all!”
 
“Because you nearly bloody are!” You declare. “You’ll bloody freeze to death!”
 
“I’ve included some heavier items against that.” The Arachne advises, placing a folded bundle of clothes atop the counter. “As well as a heavier jacket for you. If you’re heading south like Blue tells me, you’ll need more than just that wool shirt.”
 
You give your Kobold a nonplussed stare. “Blue…”
 
“M’sorry” Blue murmurs, giving you those eyes.
 
“One day that’s not gonna work, pup.”
 
“But not today?”
 
You laugh helplessly, defeated. “What’s the damage?” You ask the Arachne.
 
“Let’s say five silver per day for the supplies, let’s call it a full week just in case, so that’s thirty five, and ten for the clothes.”
 
“Orright… Make it fifty and throw in a couple swags?” You entreat.
 
The Arachne smiles. “Only because you’re cute.” Blue grabs your arm possessively, and the Arachne gives a smooth chuckle which belies her obvious youth, before scrambling up the wall and away to gather your supplies.
 
 
“Isn’t that your Dad up ahead?” Blue asks, squinting into the distance. You can dimly see a speck on horseback, but there’s no way you can confirm it from this distance.
 
“If you say so.” You shrug, snapping the reins to speed the Bungarra’s pace towards the rider. As you approach, you do indeed recognise your father, his characteristic stillness unmistakable.
 
“Trying to skip town without paying me for the wagon, Adz?” Your father muses as you approach.
 
“Shariss told ya then? Was gonna sort you out, cargo’s kinda urgent so didn’t wanna waste another day hunting through Port Fremantle for you, Dad.”
 
Your father holds out a calloused hand. “Well let’s keep accounts current, shall we?”
 
Nodding, you count fifteen gold out of your pouch. Your father nods, cramming the clinking coins into a saddlebag. He studies the wagon with a practiced eye. “Keep an eye on that left axle. It’s fine now but there’s a bit…”
 
“Bit of birding on the join, I spotted, should be good for another month at least, but I’ll get it looked at.” You finish. Your father grunts approvingly.
 
“Heading south, aren’t you forgetting something?”
 
“Supplies, cargo, warm clothes, Blue… Can’t think of anything.”
 
Your father sighs. “Adam, what time of year is it?”
 
“Winter”
 
“And what happens in winter?”
 
“Drop bear mating season, but I’ve got a jar of vegem…”
 
“NO!” Blue shrieks “Boss, you wear that and I will fuckin’ puke. Every Day. All. Over. You.”
 
Your father gives a slight chuckle. “Simmo’ll be able to rig something up if you swing past Gibson, and I’ll only charge you cost.”
 
You ponder that. Whilst it would be nice to say goodbye properly to everyone, you’d be sacrificing a full day to do so. And surely with the weather like it was, there couldn’t be THAT many drop bears. Plus, you had the vegemite, and regardless of Blue’s revulsion, she couldn’t be serious about throwing up all over you… could she?
 
 
“So Simmo, who’s handling the stables now that Shariss’s done?”
 
Your eldest brother looks up at you from where he is coiling a length of jagged, razor-edged wire. His chainmail-lined gloves rustle as he gingerly picks up the coil, taking pains to keep it away from his body.
 
“Couple of offers.” He remarks in his regular clipped fashion. “Y’saw the red-headed Taurean who was waiting for dad?”
 
You nod, picking up the wooden slats where your brother nods at them. “Cowtits? For a Bungarra and Horse stable? Interesting choice…”
 
“Don’t dismiss the Taureans, Adz. They’re tougher than they look. ‘sides, the only other one worth looking at was another reptilian, and I’m not sure I like the look of that one… She’s… mouthier than I’m used to. Reckon there might even be some Dragon in her. Now see that bracket? Chuck the long end in there for me, willya?”
 
You grunt affirmation, sliding one of the longer slats into the waiting bracket. Your brother begins attaching the wire in bouncing loops around the slat, before having you insert the next, then the next, then weaving the razorwire overhead like deadly netting.
 
“Fuck, that’s positively terrifying. At least you know you’ve got a future as a Church Inquisitor if this Landsholder’s Heir gig falls through.” You snicker.
 
“Shaddup fuckya.” Your brother grins.
 
“Yes, Inquisitor Simon.” You reply timidly, cowering in mock terror.
 
“I’ll fuckin’ test it out on you in a minute runt.” Simon threatens through his laughter, swiping at you with a mailed fist.
 
You dodge away, “And get claret all over me cargo? You’re a bad man Simmo.”
 
“Yeh dad mentioned you’d had yourself a pretty good start. Gonna make some filthy lucre as a trader then?”
 
You shrug, “I seem to be doing alright at it… well, as much as one day and two unfulfilled contracts indicate but… It’s looking orright. Blue seems keen enough to stick around.”
 
Simon snorts. “Blue would stick around with you if you were shovelling stables into your seventies. I’m not sure if she thinks of you as a big brother or a potential mate half the time. If we’d let you go without her she’d be crying for months. MONTHS. And even then we’d never get a real day’s work out of her after that.”
 
“Where is Blue anyway?” You ask, looking around “I kinda lost her after Jen tried to kill me when we got through the gate.”
 
“Little-Dog’s with her sisters, gotta admit though, that hug of Jen’s… Thought she’d take your head clean off” Simon agrees. “Never seen a weresheep with a chest like hers, must come from living in the damn kitchen.”
 
“Good cook though.”
 
“Tyris yes. I’ll be sad to see her go, she’s done her seven years next summer. The way dad’s talking her entire herd won’t have to work for at least two generations after she brings home her wages.”
 
“So that’s it done?”
 
Simon nods. “If a drop-bear has a crack, it’ll cut itself up something fierce on that meshing. From there just use a pole to knock it onto the ground. They’re nearly helpless from there.”
 
“Seems awfully simple…”
 
Simon shucks the mailed gloves from his hands, shoving you back towards the homestead. “We’re not dealing with the brains trust of the animal kingdom here, Adz. Vicious they are, deadly, sure. But if we can handle these fuckers…” A swat to the flank of twenty where it is feasting on something malodorous, making the bungarra snort and look at simon reproachfully. “…Then a two foot marsupial that’s thirty percent claws and teeth is fuck-all.”
 
“Thanks mate. I really appreciate it.”
 
“Appreciate it with the accompaniment of a handfulla silver. That wire’s not cheap.”
 
“Skinflint. Did Dad have continuance with a Tanuki accidentally when you were born or something?”
 
Simon laughs, kicking you solidly in the backside, making you yell and grab at the injured buttock. “I’m gonna miss you, you little cunt.”
 
“You too Simmo.” You say sincerely, wincing as you rub the throbbing muscle. “Now unless I’m mistaken, that smell is Jen making something I’ll not get to have for a very long time.”
 
 
“Oh thanks be to Tyris…” You murmur eagerly as Jen bears the steaming roast in and onto the table.
 
“Hello the Holding!” Comes a yell from the front door “Room for the Baron’s Justice?”
 
“Come in Tristan.” Your father replies unceremoniously. You turn your head, looking over your shoulder in surprise as your brother tromps in, your friend and his new apprentice Matt in tow.
 
“Hullo Matt, how’s your first day of Training?” Your father greets him politely.
 
“If I have to hear ‘Legislation of the Solemn Agreement of the Protectorate’ one more time, Sir, I’ll bloody scream.” Matt replies honestly, earning a shove and a chuckle from Tristan.
 
“And you!” Tristan drops a hand on your shoulder, shaking you slightly. “Gonna fuck off to Port Albany without even saying bye?”
 
“Well I figured I’d have to come straight back once… The contracts were fulfilled.” You reply nebulously, still wanting to keep the nature of your trip unspoken.
 
“No need to get secretive. The only other people who were interested in Esperance are already well past Nulla’s Line, from what the Kobies’ Mum told me last night.” Tristan declares, taking a seat. “And even if by some miracle they found out the Dominus isn’t in New Botany, even if they turned around today they wouldn’t beat you.”
 
“So why’re you so shirty that I didn’t say bye now instead of next week?” You drawl.
 
“Because, prick, I’ve got a directive for you.” Tristan answers, dropping a waxcloth wrapped bundle on the table in front of you. “Get those to Port Albany, and put them in the hands of the Waylander on duty down there.”
 
“Why me?”
 
“Because I said so. Waylander finds out where you’re going, we’ll probably give you some non-urgent packages to deliver. Small shit, directives, updates to legislation, minor news from the Baronial Court. Pay’s about 1 silver a message depending on distance, so as someone who’s just gone through the cost of supplying a trip, you can appreciate that it’s not worth getting dedicated couriers unless it’s bloody urgent.”
 
“So about 20 silver for this lot then?” You venture, looking at the bundle before you.
 
“What a coincidence! Just what you owe me for the razorwire!” Simmo declares. Tristan raises an eyebrow at you, and you nod. Tristan shrugs, tossing a small, jingling pouch across the table.
 
“So, any news from the south road, by the same token?” You ask as Jen brings out the remainder of the meal, her assistants bearing plates and cutlery for the Waylander and his apprentice, their cloven hooves clopping softly on the wood floor.
 
“Drop Bears, but you seem to have that in hand.” Tristan remarks. “Couple reports of the harpies going a little batty down Mount Barker-way but honestly if you yawn too hard you’ll miss that place. Part from that, cold, wet, thoroughly miserable. ’bout standard for the south this time of year. Anything else?”
 
“I’ve got a question.” Matt interjects, before pointing at the roast. “What in the name of Tyris is that?”
 
“Camel… What, you’ve never had camel before?” You reply, puzzled.
 
“No. And if that tastes as good as it smells I’m straightaway goin’ to ask me dad why not!” Matt declares, eying the juicy meat avariciously.
 
“Eric’s guts don’t agree with Camel.” Your father answers with a slight chuckle, standing as he begins to carve the steaming meat.
 
“Wonder what he did to piss The God off to that degree. I’ve been missing out!” Matt declares.
 
“Orright orright…” Your father declares, “…For what we are about to Receive, May Holy and Eternal Tyris make us truly thankful…”
 
 
“Oof… Blue still with her sisters then?” You grunt, leaning back in your chair as the last plates are cleared, a mug of beer held absently in your hand.
 
“Yeh, they’re doing a Kobie thing… Think she’s gonna miss them more than she’s been letting on.” Simon replies, rubbing his own distended stomach. “They mentioned ‘Taking meat’.”
 
You snicker. “Hope she finds more than rats this time.”
 
Simon shook his head, grinning at you. “I may have told Skye where I saw a brace of bush turkeys this morning.”
 
“You don’t get wild bush turkeys this far west.” You reply, slightly puzzled.
 
“But they don’t know that.”
 
You laugh, raising your mug to applaud Simon’s small deception before draining it. “Welp” you declare, belching slightly “I’d better turn in. Thanks again Dad, Simmo, in case I don’t see you in the morning.”
 
“G’night Adz, sleep well mate.” Simon declares, your father merely nodding at you wordlessly.
 
Bidding farewell to the rest, you head up the dim hallway to what would be potentially the last night in the comfortable room you had rested in for eight years. Closing the door behind you, you spot a figure under the covers in the near-dark.
 
“Thought you were still with your sisters…” you murmur, patting the figure on the head absently, before exclaiming in shock. Your hand touched soft, curly hair, brushing against curved, ridged horns. “Jen?! What’re you doi…”
 
“Shhh…” The weresheep insisted, putting a finger to your lips. “…This is possibly the last time I’m going to see you before I return to my herd, Adam… You were always my favourite, and I was… hoping to get a little something to sweeten the memory.”
 
The weresheep raises herself up onto an elbow, and you spy her naked form barely hidden by the light blanket as she gives you a come hither look with her large, luminous hazel eyes.
 
“Jen…” You begin, somewhat taken aback by her forward proposal.
 
“Adam…” Jen breathes, leaning up with half-shuttered eyes, moist lips pursed to kiss you.
 
You place a gentle hand on her shoulder, pushing her away softly. Jen looks at you with a mixture of hurt and astonishment.
 
“W-what?” She stammers.
 
“Look Jen. It’s not that I’m not flattered, and if the circumstances were different… I mean… Phwoar!” You entreat, gesturing to her undeniably alluring figure. “But… Things are a little touchy at the moment.”
 
“Oh come on! If the kobie was going to jump you, surely she would have done so by now!” Jen laments in frustration and injury.
 
“Leave off Blue, Jen.” You grumble warningly “This has nothing to do with her.”
 
“Then why?” Jen demands, folding her arms over her ample bust and pouting adorably. You must admit, it takes a significant amount of will not to take that pendulous lip between your teeth.
 
You briefly outline your experience with continuance, the uncertainty and emptiness you felt at the ritual copulation. The odd yearning for something you had no words to describe.
 
“But it wouldn’t be like that with me!” Jen insists.
 
“And if it was?” You rebut quickly, dodging her attempts to snare you in an embrace. “You wanted a sweet memory. How would you feel if there was nothing but awkwardness between us afterwards?”
 
Jen lowers her eyes, and soon soft sobs begin to shake her shoulders. You put your arms about her, trying to wordlessly express your admiration for and empathy with the weresheep without encouraging her to return to a romantic outlook. “Look Jen…” You breathe “…I might wake up tomorrow and curse myself for missing out on a wonderful experience, but I’m too fond of you as a Mamono… as a PERSON… to risk tainting my admiration for you for a night’s pleasure.”
 
“C-can I ask a favour then?” Jen sobs.
 
“Of course.”
 
“H-hold me? Just for a little while…”
 
You slide in next to the weresheep, wrapping your arms about her. “You held me through my nightmares when I first came here, Jen. What man would I be if I couldn’t return the favour?”
 
Jen clings to you, her tears wet upon the pillow. “I don’t want to go…” You hear her whisper, before your mind and body succumbs to fatigue and the weresheep’s undeniably somnolent embrace…
 
“…It stinks like sheep in here!” A petulant voice decries, making you stir in your sleep and crack an eye in the dim predawn light. The familiar silhouette of Blue’s fuzzy-eared form greets your blurred, half asleep vision, and you note detachedly the absence of Jen, who has clearly snuck from your room sometime in the night.
 
“Calm yer farm pup. Nothing happened.” You murmur, throwing an arm about the Kobold.
 
“Fuckin obviously. I could smell the frustration all the way up the hall! You should have just fucked her, boss. Breakfast is gonna be salty as shit with all the crying she’ll be doing into it.”
 
“S’too early for your shit Blue. Go to sleep.” You mumble, making yourself as comfortable as you can as the Kobold presumptively clambers beneath your covers.
 
“Don’t be catty boss.” Blue replies, nuzzling into you. Something tickles your face and you absently wipe at it, coming away with soft down in your hand.
 
“Blue, you’re covered in feathers.” You remark, sleep dragging its heavy blanket over you again.
 
“Bush Turkey’s boss” You hear the kobold reply, her sweet breath warm on your ear.
 
 
“Still say you should have gone through with it…” Blue remarks as the solid gravel of the highway gives way to the packed earth of the southern road.
 
“Oh will you leave off that?” You groan “Keep yer damn eyes on the trees like I asked.”
 
“It’d be a shame and a half if that ridiculous continuance thing turned you off sex.” Blue continues, clearly enjoying the ribbing she has been giving you since you left Gibson.
 
“Fucken Heresy.” You grumble “The Rite of Continuance is a Holy Duty commanded by the Pax Deus.”
 
“Then why don’t we do it?”
 
You turn your head, fixing the Kobold with a level stare. “And what you lot do when the Bulls are in season is any different.”
 
“T-that’s… Not our fault.” Blue stammers, blushing furiously. “When a Male comes into season we don’t get a choice. W-we…” She gazes at the boards below her feet. “Our bodies just… respond.”
 
You ponder that for a moment. Maybe it was a crueller fate to watch as an absent observer as your body just submitted to the mindless lust of the astonishingly rare male Mamono. At least Humans had the comfort of religion to fall back on.
 
“I’m sorry Blue, that was a bit out of line of me.” You offer apologetically, putting your hand on the Kobold’s furred paw.
 
“It’s OK… but surely it wasn’t just The Pax that made you shoot Jen down. I mean, you did continuance just a couple nights ago and…”
 
“Don’t ask me unless you really want to know the answer.” You interject, staring at the road ahead.
 
“And what if I do?” Blue asks with a curious intensity.
 
You sigh. “All I could think about is how shitty it would feel if you came in and saw me with her. If it hurt you, Blue… I… I don’t think I could handle that.”
 
“M-me?” Blue stammers, “Oh come on Adz, we’ve been friends now for how many years? W-why would I… would I feel… I mean it’s not like…” The Kobold blusters, her cheeks flaming crimson as she squirms next to you. A rustling in the branches above you breaks the reverie. “LOOK OUT!” Blue shrieks as a grey shape plummets towards your head with a harsh, screaming snarl. The wire jangles discordantly as the drop-bear is caught in the mesh, crimson splashes falling all around you as it screams and snarls in pain and mindless, furious hunger.
 
“S’why I asked you to watch the trees!” You growl, hunting in the back for the hardwood wagon-pole you had stashed against this occurance. You jab upwards, forcing the snarling horror from the meshing, new rents opening in its furred flesh with every movement. The drop-bear falls to the ground, and you rein the wagon in.
 
“What are you doing boss?” Blue demands, staring at the thing with horror.
 
“Discouraging its mates.” You answer, hopping down off the wagon and drawing the large knife strapped to your leg. The drop-bear stares at you, its dark eyes filled with a savage hatred. One forelimb useless, it drags itself towards you with its three remaining limbs, its head seeming to hinge as its huge mouth snapped and slavered. You plant a boot upon its skull, pinning it to the ground before driving your knife through its spine. The muscular body shudders once, then goes limp.
 
Taking some of the blood, you paint a rough stripe across your breast, before giving a bestial howl at the trees ahead. Rough movement is seen in the trees’ branches as your wordless message is received. You toss the body unceremoniously in front of the bungarra, who waste no time in devouring it.
 
“Adz, what in the name of Maou was that?” Blue asks, looking at you with slight trepidation.
 
“Telling the rest of them there’s something nastier than they are coming through, and to avoid the damn trouble.” You reply, re-mounting the wagon and lashing at the Bungarra with the reins. Sure enough, as the wagon moves forward, you spy grey, furred faces which bear frightening teeth as you pass, but none make a move to attack.
 
 
“Nother one.” Blue remarks, a keen eye on the trees above.
 
“Huh… Didn’t see it. Thanks Blue.” You reply sincerely. The drop-bear gives that snarling scream at you, seemingly pondering whether to attack or no. Blue bares her teeth, her canines white and sharp and meets the snarl with a body shaking one of her own.
 
“Tyris Blue, that’s something I’ve never seen from ya.” You exclaim, surprised.
 
“You think you’re the only one who can get mean here, boss?” Blue quips, before wrapping her paws around your arm and nuzzling into it affectionately.
 
“There’s a clearing up ahead, maybe we ought to break for lun…” You begin, before a larger shape plummets at the wire mesh, bouncing clear and landing in the back of the wagon with an agonized shriek.
 
“Aw shit…” You grumble, drawing your knife and turning around.
 
“Adz!” Blue cries, “That’s not…”
 
You pause as you look upon the intruder. Her ears are round and furred, and her clawed hands are twin-thumbed like the drop bears, but her form and face is humanoid. Clearly a Mamono, but one you had never before seen, and thought never to on this side of The Australs.
 
“Koala!” you gasp in astonishment.
 
The Koala grabs at her leg, torn deeply and bleeding profusely from her impact on the wire. Fixing you with a feral glare, she bares her teeth.
 
“Human” She growls “Don’t touch me!”
 
“Oh quit.” You demand, the Koala taken aback by your dismissal of her threat. “Lemme look at the leg.”
 
Timidly, the Koala extends her curved, muscular leg for your inspection. “Blue, gimme a hand.” You command brusquely, the Kobold jumping into the back with you obediently. You inspect the gash, the Koala whimpering with pain as she feels your hands upon her injured flesh. “Gimme a bandage and the green salve.” You order, putting your hand out presumptively.
 
“W-which one’s green again?” Blue asks timidly.
 
“The square bottle, pup” You smile at her, having momentarily forgotten her limited field of colour-vision.
 
Blue nods, digging through the first aid kit and producing the items you requested. You slather the salve generously over the cut, the Koala crying out in pain, clinging to the Kobold who holds her shoulders with murmured reassurance. Quickly, carefully, you bind up the wound, satisfying yourself that the bleeding has been contained.
 
“T-thank you.” The Koala murmurs when it is clear that you have finished your ministrations. “I’ll just be goAAAHHHAAAA!” She screams, collapsing back to the decking as she tries to stand on that injured leg.
 
“Like hell.” You murmur sympathetically. “Looks like you’re stuck with us for a while at least. We’re heading back this way in about a week, we’ll drop you off when you’re better.”
 
“W-why would you help me?” The Koala asks, suspicion in her eyes.
 
“Commandment of the Pax. ‘Yea, render thine aid unto the weak and infirm, for verily, such is pleasing unto Tyris.” You intone, before flashing her a lopsided grin “Plus it’d be a fuckin’ dick move of me to leave you bleed out after you fucked yerself up on me wagon.”
 
“What were you doing acting like a drop-bear anyway?” Blue asks, her azure eyes alight with curiosity where she stared at the Koala.
 
“The branch was unstable… It was a stupid mistake.” The Koala replies, chagrin written on her face. “I’ve been studying the behaviour of Tyrannoarctus Cinerus for five months now, charting their patterns throughout the mating season. Remarkable creatures! Though I suppose we are related in some distant way they have a method of communication that simply defies all attempt at semantic decoding…”
 
…Her name, you discovered through her verbose babble, which only increased as she warmed up to you, broken only by her ravenous consumption of lunch, was Cally. She was, as you suspected, originally from the Eastern Australs but had recently finished an indenturehood to a Resonant who needed a research assistant.
 
“Never heard it called that before…” Blue snickers.
 
“Oh no!” Cally replies. “He was very polite… For a human… But between us girls, I think he might have liked a bit of the other… you know…” The Koala holds her twin-thumbed hand out flat, rocking it back and forth suggestively.
 
“Still here…” You drawl. It wasn’t the first time the Koala had seemingly forgotten the other of you existed when embroiled in conversation.
 
“Oh Maou! I’m sorry Adam, I didn’t mean any offense.”
 
“S’orright.” You chuckle, studying the sky as the sun rapidly sinks towards the horizon. “It’s gonna be dark soon and unless I miss my guess it’s gonna be a cold one. We should probably work out what we’re gonna do in terms of sleep.”
 
“Dibs on the bales!” Blue crows “Cally can keep me warm tonight!”
 
Cally raises her eyes to the clear sky “Adam’s right… but it’s going to be VERY cold.” She answered, her breath already steaming in the air. “We should… we should probably…”
 
Blue looks between Cally and you with a mischievous grin. “Tryin’ to get my boss in a compromising position, adorabear?” The Kobold demands.
 
“N-no!” Cally exclaims. “I mean, I didn’t realize you two were mated!”
 
“We’re not.” You interject “Blue’s just giving you shit.”
 
“I reckon we could all squeeze in…” Blue replies “…So long as everyone keeps their hands to themselves…”
 
You knew that look. Blue was up to something, and the way she licked her lips was positively lascivious. Maybe it would be worth taking the magnanimous route and offering to simply take a swag on the ground while the girls shared the weresheep bales. Still… If the night was going to be half as cold as Cally feared…
 
 
“Whoof… That wind’s got a bite to it!” You remark, shovelling dirt over the spark-spitting remains of your cooking fire, the icy wind whipping at it as if insulted by its attempts at warmth. You had barely been able to boil water, the wind seeming to rob the heat from the metal pot as quickly as the fire licked at its flame-tarnished surface. Blue had given the bungarra the remainder of her fruit, now starting to spoil after a few days with nought to protect it. Beans, cheese and a little meat had been the simple fare of the evening, none of you willing to remain with the fire long enough to bake damper.
 
“Make sure that sugar-crock’s sealed Blue, we won’t need it tonight.”
 
“Yehboss, now quick, get in here so I can close the cover!” The Kobold demanded insistently, covered in thick woollen smocks and leggings. Cally, the Koala you had rescued, being much shorter (And much more curvaceous) than the Kobold, had to make do with wrapping herself in blankets.
 
Grunting acceptance, you clambered atop the wagon, shaking your head at the bungarra who simply stood in their traces, their reins lashed to a sturdy metal spike, completely unphased by the inclement weather. The stupid beasts could somehow bear extremes of temperature that would kill most other animals, and there were rumours of them somehow managing to survive being frozen solid. Getting on hands and knees, you crawled into the space atop the soft weresheep bales, Blue having erected a rude tent from the cover which kept the cargo protected from the elements. You pulled the makeshift ‘door’ closed, engulfing you all in the stuffy, wool-smelling darkness.
 
You started to relax. Though it wasn’t exactly warm, the soft, yielding wool beneath you was comforting, and you had almost drifted off to sleep when you heard a squeak of surprise from Cally.
 
“Whu? Whazzamadda?” You grumble.
 
“Nothing Boss!” Blue answers quickly with a slight giggle.
 
“Honestly Blue,” Cally protests “I’m not adverse to being cuddled but I really don’t think…”
 
“Okay, what about if I did this instead?”
 
“Now that’s just completely unneccessarAAhhhnnn~” The Koala’s protest trailed off into a lewd moan.
 
“Girls.” You growl “Behave. I want to get some sleep tonight.”
 
“I’m behaving, it’s just so hard to find somewhere to cuddle on her that’s not covered in tit!” Blue snickers, a shuffling sound from the two Mamono somewhere to your right.
 
“I-I really don’t see how rubbing like that helps an-anything… Oooh Maou… Blue please, this isn’t what I had in mind!” Cally pleads with the Kobold.
 
“Aren’t surprises fun?” Blue giggles, before letting loose a squeak of her own. “Cally! That’s not fair!”
 
“Oh sure, now it’s about fair…” The Koala growls throatily.
 
Sighing, you reach out, touching soft flesh. The curve indicates you’ve grabbed the Koala and she jumps slightly at the unexpected contact. “Cally, roll over, take my spot.”
 
“Boss!” Blue laments in the dark.
 
“If you two can’t behave, then I’mma separate you. So there.”
 
“You’re being unreasonable.”
 
“I’m also in charge, so MIND me, Blue.”
 
“Yes Boss.” Blue sighs sulkily.
 
You take a position between the two Mamono, absently reaching out with both hands to pat them on the head. “Now goodnight.”
 
Blue relaxes into your ministrations, snuggling into your torso and surprisingly, Cally mirrors the action, resting a small, clawed hand on your chest. Before too long, your breathing evens out and you drift off into a deep, dreamless sleep.
 
 
“…w-wake up Adz! P-p-please!”
 
You are dragged from sleep by the sound of Blue’s voice. Strange, your body was shaking all over, your teeth chattering uncontrollably.
 
“Oh th-thank Maou! H-he’s awake!” Blue gushed in the dark, you could feel her shivering against you.
 
“Good, I’ve f-f-finished on this s-s-side, strip him off!” Came Cally’s presumptive command.
 
“W-wait, what?” You demand, trying to prop yourself up on arms which felt weighed down with lead.
 
“T-temperature’s gone well below freezing boss” Blue’s teeth chattered in your ear as she pulled your shirt over your head. “We’ve gotta strip down and get in one of the bales or we’ll freeze.”
 
“Tyris fuuuuck…” You groan, batting Blue’s paws away and beginning to undo your trousers. “I can manage Blue, get yourself sorted ou…” You pause as your fending hand comes into contact with the firm, yielding curve of Blue’s breast.
 
“Ahead of you on that front Boss…” Blue murmurs, her voice strangely throaty as you jerk your hand away with a mumbled apology.
 
“And we’re done!” Cally exclaims, “Come on you two, and Blue, if you bump my leg again I shall be most cross with you.”
 
“Said I was sorry, fuck’s sake…” The Kobold mumbled as you both scrambled with the koala into the hastily formed nest within the wool bale.
 
You quickly found yourself surrounded in and enclosed by soft skin as the Mamono clung to you and each other for precious warmth, your trembling subsiding as the temperature began to rise.
 
Something tickled your nostrils as you started to relax, a sweet smell, pervasive… almost cloying. Blue whimpered, sliding a leg across your body, her hips grinding into yours.
 
“Settle down now Blue…” You murmur, patting her head. The Kobold caught your hand in a furred paw, bringing it to her mouth and licking your fingers, again with naught but that helpless whimper.
 
“Y-you smell… REALLY good… Adz…” Blue whispered in the dark, her voice honeyed and dripping with lust.
 
“Blue, come on, is now really the time to… Oh… Oh my… He DOES smell good, doesn’t he?” Cally responded, her own voice melting into a lascivious drawl.
 
“Blue? Cally? What in Tyris…” You demand as both girls now grind their pelvises into your hips, breasts pressed against your torso.
 
“I-it’s the wool…” Cally moaned, her lips trailing along your neck. “Someone didn’t wash it properly before bailing it up… S-someone is v-very naughty…”
 
“Mmm… Naughty…” Blue echoes, her mouth hunting for yours with eager passion, her soft lips pressing against yours in desperate need.
 
“I’m really very sorry Adam… this is frightfully inappropriate… but… I’m afraid we… Oh Maou!” The Koala moaned, and Blue broke her kiss with you, gasping as she wriggled her hips, her womanhood almost dripping as she ground against your leg.
 
“I’m surprised… Hah… Hah… You’re not… affected.”
 
You became intensely aware of the warhammer your manhood was valiantly trying to re-enact, every motion, every touch of the Mamono causing it to flare and jerk.
 
“I thought it was just being naked between two pretty girls…” You drawl, some distant part of your brain surprised at how lust-drunk you sound.
 
“You think I’m pretty Adam?” Blue whimpers in the dark, her mouth so close to yours, her sweet breath on your face.
 
“Yes…” You breathed, meeting those lips again with your own. You feel a twin thumbed hand grasp at your member, roughly jerking up and down as blue slides her slender body atop you in the confined space of the bale.
 
“Come on…” Cally moans, crushing herself to you as she works at your cock, Blue shimmying her way down your body eagerly, until her hips are above yours. You feel every last agonising moment of pleasure as Cally gently inserts you into the Kobold.
 
“Uhhhhhhhnnnnn….” Blue cries out as she forces herself down on you. “Toobigtoobigtoobig…”
 
“Go… Hah… easy Blue… Don’t… Unh… Hurt yourself.” Cally advises between pants, your hand having somehow found its way between her legs, fingers working inexpertly at the sopping wetness there.
 
Blue begins writhing atop you, the velvet embrace of her most intimate secrets tight around you, burning with white-hot fire as you seem to draw the very air from each other’s lungs.
 
“Oh… Anh… Oh! Adz! I… I think…” Blue stammers, before collapsing atop you, her legs shaking uncontrollably as she whimpers, overwhelmed with sensation. As she clamps around you, you feel your own beefswelling building… different from the detatched, ritual release of Continuance… This was primal, instinctive, something of the long-forgotten precursor of humanity…
 
“Not inside…” Cally whispers gently, easing Blue off you, eliciting yowls of protest from you both, until the Koala somehow, miraculously, in spite of her injured leg, manages to take you between her ample breasts, your tip between her lips as she works you frantically. Blue, breathing heavily, showering your face with kisses.
 
“Cally… I’m gonna…” You gasp, and the Koala takes you firmly within her mouth as you erupt, your entire body shaking with the release, your heart hammering as Cally greedily swallows every last drop of your issue.
 
“Guts.” Blue pants, realizing what has just occurred.
 
“Don’t complain… I could have… fucked him too…”
 
“Heh.” Blue chuckles, wet sound of the Mamono kissing in the aftermath of lust from somewhere above you. The two monster girls collapse atop you, Blue’s helpless whimpering become happy sighs, Cally’s light panting becoming slow, deep breaths. As the hammering of your own heart began to slow, you suddenly felt intensely weary, something in your mind telling you to close your eyes…
 
…Close your eyes and sleep
 
 
“She’s avoiding me…” You grumble as you walk Four around the wagon, the Lizard’s muscles almost seeming to creak as you warm the animal up.
 
“She’s not sure what to make of it.” Cally answers from where she sat atop the now-restored wool-bales, wrapped again in a cocoon of blankets.
 
“You seem awfully philosophical about the whole fuckin’ thing…” You spit almost accusingly.
 
“Don’t get shitty with me just because I’m not acting irrationally.” Cally demands imperiously.
 
“Fuck you. You’ve gotta go and be RIGHT on me as well, doncha?” You retort, chuckling helplessly at your own absurdity.
 
Cally smiles at you with gentle affection. “One way or another, this was going to come to a head, Adam. We are what we are, and you and Blue are very close. The only real question is, where do you go from here?”
 
You nod at the Koala “I’d probably better check on her… Thanks Cally.”
 
You lead Four back towards the traces, the Bungarra no longer moving as if mired in mud. “Oh.” You remark in afterthought. “How’s the leg?”
 
“Much better now, thanks to you.” Cally replies with a slight smile.
 
“Don’t you mean no thanks to me?”
 
Cally laughs at that, standing atop the bale with little more than a pained wince.
 
“Hold the fuck on, your leg was ripped up good and proper… How in the name of Tyris…” You demand in utter astonishment.
 
“What, you didn’t feel it?”
 
“Feel what?”
 
“When I… y’know…” Cally gestured with a twin-thumbed hand, pink blush colouring her rounded cheeks.
 
“Oh I felt that alright, but I’m still not seeing how that has anything to do with your leg!”
 
Cally sighs, rolling her brown eyes at you. “Honestly you humans are so DENSE sometimes. When you and Blue were… together, did you notice anything… unexpected?”
 
You cast your mind back to the lust-fuelled romp in the bale the night before. “Yeah, come to think of it, there was a point at which it almost felt like we were breathing the same air, if that makes any sense at all…”
 
Cally nods. “When Human and Mamono join, there’s a… transference. You give some of yourself, and take something of the other. It’s what your churchy-types can sense when they wave that glowy thing at you.”
 
“Better keep away from the Paladins then…” You mutter, suddenly feeling a crawling up your spine at the prospect of denunciation.
 
Cally shakes her head. “I shouldn’t worry. Blue’s not… potent enough to leave much of herself behind.”
 
“But somehow you swallowing me ball-batter’s enough to half-heal yer leg overnight?” You retort bluntly.
 
“No, there was something… else in you. Something that came out when you… well… when you…” Cally gestures again, clearly slightly embarrassed by the topic. “Did you do that continuance thing?”
 
“Couple days ago, yeh.”
 
“With who?”
 
“Priestess, someone I grew up with but that’s not the point.” You veer off, still confused about your reaction to the rite.
 
“I’d be… careful of her. There’s something powerful there.”
 
“Go Liane… Not like I’m going to see her again if that’s the case, I’m sure.” You chuckle mirthlessly.
 
“Possible…” Cally concedes “…but that, combined with your ‘energy’, sped up the healing of my leg.”
 
“So… This whole thing with the Pax not liking Humans and Mamono getting too friendly…”
 
“It’s all about the transference of energy. Honestly do you think the Council of Matriarchs would have agreed to The Pax in Maou’s name if it was a simple case of bigotry?”
 
“So what’s the problem? I don’t remember anything about curing near-mortal wounds overnight that’s forbidden by the bloody doctrines of Tyris.”
 
“It’s about what that energy does when it enters a human woman. It doesn’t ‘cycle’ like the pairing of Man and Mamono. It brews there… grows… eventually, if enough of it accumulates, she’ll change.”
 
“Transmutation.” You reply as the revelation strikes you.
 
“Oh I like that word so much better than what SOME call it.” Cally exclaims.
 
“I bet. How d’you know all this shit anyway?”
 
Cally affects a superior look, made almost comical by her already short, curvy frame being bundled in blankets. “I plead the peace of Tyris.”
 
“You’re a Mamono, you don’t get to do that.”
 
“I don’t recall that anywhere in the bloody doctrines of Tyris…” Cally drawls in mockery of your earlier statement, winking at you.
 
You laugh, reaching up and squeezing the Koala’s uninjured leg. “Thanks Cally. And… last night… thanks for… helping.”
 
“You and Blue saved my life, Adam.” Cally replies sincerely. “There are plenty who would have just let me bleed out on the road. That little bit of restraint was the least I could do to show my thanks.” She pauses for a moment, and her soft smile grows wicked. “Plus, there wouldn’t have been much good in BOTH of us being unable to walk today.”
 
“Oh you reckon…” You snicker. “Orright, gonna go hug a Kobie. Keep an eye on the lizards for us, yeh?”
 
Cally nods, taking up the reins and planting herself on the bench at the front of the wagon as you trudge into the scrub after Blue.
 
 
The Kobold poises herself, her tail stiffly erect as she focuses on the rabbit pop-hopping amongst the scrub, lush and green with winter rains. Suddenly, she launches herself forward like a bolt from a crossbow, striking the rabbit with furred paws, its frantic screaming cut short as she efficiently snaps its neck.
 
“Nice haul, Blue.” You remark.
 
“Thanks boss.” The Kobold replies mutedly, throwing the rabbit into a pile of five other limp bodies.
 
“I think that’ll do though, yeh?”
 
“Yehboss.” Blue agrees emotionlessly, bending to pick them up.
 
Wordlessly, you take her paw, pulling her into an embrace. She stands limp for a moment, before pushing at you, her movements becoming frenzied as she snarls and sobs before finally succumbing and clinging to you, sobbing as if her heart should break. Raising her chin, you look deeply into her teary eyes, bending and kissing her soft little mouth with as much tenderness as you can muster.
 
“I’m still here, Blue.” You whisper.
 
The sobbing resumes, and you stand there silently, holding your dearest friend as her bottled emotions spill over.
 
“Can you talk to me now?” You murmur as the tears subside. Blue nods, her head nestled into your chest.
 
“I-I knew it would happen… sometime… but like that? I didn’t want it to be like that. I didn’t want to just TAKE you, Adz! I… I wanted you to want me.”
 
“Blue…”
 
“You don’t have to lie to me to spare my feelings. It was the wool, I know. We’ll just pretend it never happen…”
 
“Bugger off!” You declare vehemently “I won’t lie to you Blue… I wanted it as much as you did.”
 
“R-really?” Blue murmured, her sky-blue eyes wide and vulnerable where she looks up at you. “Then why haven’t we…”
 
“Because there are a million different ways this fucking world could tear us apart. Think about it, if Simmo was just a fraction more of a cunt than he already is, he wouldn’t have given a high-flying shit about your feelings and given me the indenturehood. I could have been drafted to the Faith Militant because fuckin’ reasons. Your Mother could have demanded you go back to Nulla’s Line.” You pull her slender body tighter against you. “I couldn’t share that with you and then have to watch you leave, Blue. I just couldn’t. You’re me best mate, pup… I can’t imagine a world without you in it.”
 
“But won’t the Pallies have your head?” Blue asks in concern, pushing away from you slightly.
 
You snort. “If the Holy Mother Church killed every cunt who got frisky with a Mamono, there wouldn’t be much of a Humanity left to preserve. Then there’s the business with Dad and Shariss, and I’ve got no proof but I swear to Tyris that Simmo and Skye are keeping company. Also, remember the Harpy in the back eight?”
 
“That bitch still owes me…” Blue mutters, her head still pressed against your chest.
 
“YOU set that up?”
 
“In exchange for five eggs, which the feather-brain never delivered on.”
 
“Okay… I really think we need to talk.” You mutter, releasing the kobold and plopping down on the ground, Blue curling up in your lap as if afraid you would disappear if she didn’t remain in contact. “What we did… what’s that mean to you lot?”
 
“Us lot what? Kobolds or Mamono?”
 
“Take your pick.”
 
“It’s complicated.” Blue replied, playing absently with the soft leather of your pants. “And considering that was my first time, I’m not exactly an expert on the subject.”
 
“That was… whuh?” You blurt in confusion “But what about the bulls? The ‘Kobie stuff’ you and your sisters bugger off to do every few months?”
 
Blue smacks you in the chest with a furred paw. “We’re not horses put to stud Adz!” She growls. “I didn’t go for that poor mindless fucking thing because I didn’t WANT to. We’ll survive, Maou willing, and we’ll do it WITHOUT turning our entire fucking species into a brood-farm like you Humans.”
 
“Phwoar… Bit rough… Still I probably deserved that.” You admit.
 
“Damn right you did…” Blue sulks, yet nuzzles herself into you.
 
“So… I mean what’s it mean? I don’t want to sound insensitive, Blue. I just… I just don’t wanna do the wrong thing by you is all.”
 
“Fuck Adz… I dunno. I mean first time and all, and even then just because the wool turned our bloody brains to mush.” Blue laments, leaning into you. “I dunno what I’m feeling… I’ve got no words for it!”
 
Hearing that phrase from Blue brings an involuntary bark of laughter to your lips. Blue looks at you with injured anger.
 
“Don’t fuckin’ laugh at me!” Blue snarls.
 
“I’m not Blue. I promise.” You insist, holding the Kobold to you. “Just I’ve been feeling the same thing, and I didn’t even have the stones to admit it out loud.”
 
“Because you Humans are fuckin’ tapped.” Blue grumbles.
 
“Be nice, pup” You reply, booping her nose softly. “I tell ya what. You take one end, I’ll take the other, and see if we can’t find some sense in the middle, yeh?”
 
“Mmkay.” Blue sighs, her expression truly happy for the first time that day. “Oh. And Adz?”
 
“Yeh Blue?”
 
“Next time, if there’s a next time, it’s just us. No wool or booze or fuckin’ Manty-spines or anything to let us justify it as shit that just happened by accident. If it happens again, it’s because we both want it. Fair?”
 
“Fair.” You agree, kissing the kobold’s tawny hair and hugging her to you.
 
“Better get these rabbits back before the bugs come a-sniffin, yehboss?” Blue murmurs, standing and holding her paw out to you.
 
“Whatever you say, Blue.” You agree, taking your best friend’s paw.
 
The rough field butchery of the rabbits provided plenty of welcome treats for the Bungarra, and the wind had died down enough that your meagre dinner the previous night was made up for by a hearty, meat laden rabbit stew, bush greens ‘provided’ by Cally, as still unable to walk, she imperiously pointed them out from a vantage point atop your shoulders.
 
The night passed without incident, Blue and Cally both behaving themselves, cuddling up to you atop the bales without the previous evening’s friskiness. When you asked the two Mamono what that was all about, they glanced at each other, Blue murmuring something about ‘sorting out the top girl’ before falling silent, and no amount of wheedling or flat out insults would persuade them to elaborate further.
 
The rain came on the fourth day, all of you covering yourselves in waxed canvas, the wet chill seeming to seep into your very bones.
 
“Whazzat?” Blue murmurs, looking at a shadow off the road ahead.
 
“Dunno…” You reply, reining in as the shadow grew closer.
 
“Hello the wagon!” A male voice rang out.
 
“Gudday, who’re you?” You reply with mild suspicion.
 
“Port Albany Militia, we’ve been asked to assist with a little trouble in the Mount Barker township. Their Rooster’s gotten loose, and we’re offering free board and a hundred silver to anyone who can bring it in.”
 
“Cally? Whaddaya reckon?” You ask, turning to the Koala.
 
Cally purses her lips. “Got any nets?”
 
You shake your head.
 
“I’m sure you can find someone willing to sell you some, s’not the first time a harpy’s gone for broke” The Militiaman interjects.
 
“Assuming you get some, it shouldn’t be TOO difficult…” The Koala muses “…We’ll probably be sacrificing the better part of tomorrow looking for it though”
 
“Fuck it boss, it’s a damn rooster.” Blue groans, her teeth chattering.
 
“Dry bed tonight though Blue… It’s not gonna be comfortable bedding under the wagon tonight.” You reply, tucking your waxed canvas tighter around you.
 
“Hundred Silver’s nothing to be sneezed at…” Cally muses.
 
“The hell with it boss. I’d rather be a little cranky and get into Port Albany tomorrow than spend time faffing about looking for some dumb harpy.” Blue spits venomously.
 
“Gotta say Blue, I’m thinking the same thing…” You murmur aside to the Kobold. Turning again to the militiaman, you shake your head apologetically. “Sorry mate, I’ve got two hundredweight of cargo that’s reliant on the price not going through the damn floor. We’ll be back this way in a few days though and we might look at it then.”
 
The militiaman nods, the hood of his sea-cloak dripping water. “Fair enough mate. It’s a bit of an ask but orders are orders. Tyris go with you.”
 
“And with you. Keep warm, yeh?”
 
The militiaman snickers mirthlessly, making a rude gesture at the weeping sky. You give a sharp flick of the reins, urging the Bungarra forward.
 
 
“Well this sucks…” Blue grumbles, shivering next to you as the three of you attempt to fashion a small area of dry and warm beneath the wagon, Your swags unravelled and lashed together to accommodate Cally.
 
“We’ll have to bear it Blue, we’ve got a little over two weeks to make it back to Fremantle and I don’t know how easy getting in to see the Dominus is going to be.”
 
“I… Might be able to help with that.” Cally offers hesitantly “My old master was Resonant Council to the Dominus.”
 
“Might?! Cally you’re fuckin sent from heaven above!” You exclaim, hugging the Koala to you.
 
“Don’t get too enthusiastic.” Cally warns, though her soft body accepts the embrace without objection “The reason he annulled my indenturehood was because there were rumors he was to be replaced… And I will NOT be serving the person they’re sending, Maou as my witness!”
 
“Eh? Bit of a prat?”
 
“He is a VILE man who if the universe was just, should have been incinerated when he tested himself against the Matrix.”
 
You whistle at Cally’s vehemence. “So you got to know a bit about resonance and stuff serving the Councillor then?”
 
“Yes, though I’m afraid I’m sworn to secrecy. He put a lot of trust in me, and I hold him much too dear to break that oath.”
 
You respond with the native eloquence and subtlety known to generations of Australians. “Caaaaaarn? Saved yer life?”
 
Cally’s cherubic face drops into a frown as she looks at you with disapproval.
 
“Orright orright. Sorry, that was off value.” You murmur in apology.
 
“OK Adz, move. I’m freezing over here.” Blue demands, shoving her way between you and the Koala.
 
“And I’m gonna be any warmer?” You protest.
 
“I’m only little!” Blue whimpers, looking up at you with that damn hangdog expression.
 
“SHE’s only little…” Cally mutters darkly, cuddling into the Kobold for what little warmth she can steal.
 
“How’d you survive this in the trees anyway?” Blue asks the Koala.
 
“I didn’t. I had a nice little shelter in the trunk of an old tree. Had to share it with a bat on occasion but bats are better than spiders when it comes to keeping the mozzies away. Oh! Incidentally can we please stop past there on the way back up to Fremantle? There are some things I would HATE to lose.”
 
You blink in surprise “Thought we were dropping you off on the way back through?”
 
“I thought I might tag along… You two are much more interesting than drop bears. Plus the Mating season’s in full swing, I don’t feel like persuading horny boars that I’m not one of their sows.”
 
“Ewww.” Blue remarks, her features twisted in distaste.
 
“Yes.” Cally remarks, a similar expression on her face.
 
 
“AAACHOO!” you sneeze, wiping your nose on your sleeve.
 
“Bit crook boss?” Blue mocks gently, tucking the blanket around you as you huddle on the bench, the wagon trundling towards the dim shape of Port Albany on the horizon.
 
“Shaddup and let me die…” You groan.
 
“I’ll see if we don’t come across something for that.” Cally assured you “Ideally I’d want to stick you in a hot bath to sweat it out.”
 
“S’just a cold.” You mutter, sniffing. “And of course I get one the day I’m gonna have to actually think.”
 
“Awww, poor Adz… We’ll stick you in bed and feed you broth and dab your forehead like a feverish pup.” Blue snickers.
 
“Blue, yer a fuckin’ bully when you set your mind to it.” You grumble. “Still, shouldn’t be too hard to offload the wool at least.”
 
“I don’t the price is going to drop, considering the cold.” Cally muses.
 
“Or a skiff comes in with a hold fulla wool and completely knocks the ass out of the market.” You retort. “Well, let’s press o… AATCHOO!” You sneeze, groaning and sniffing.
 
Blue looks at you with concern. “Yeah nah boss, we’re getting you into an inn.”
 
Cally nods agreement. “The contract can wait, you need to rest somewhere warm and dry.”
 
“And here comes the bullying…” You chuckle, breaking into a coughing fit.
 
It didn’t take long to find yourself an inn, the sign reading ‘White Star.’ Blue and Cally helped you down from the wagon, despite your objections that you were not a bloody invalid in need of coddling.
 
“Gudday mate.” You groan at the neat man behind the counter. Gonna need a room that sleeps three, for… shit… let’s say three nights? With the possibility to extend?”
 
“Three nights?” Blue echoes.
 
“I dunno how long this is gonna take, Blue.” You explain to the kobold, “We could find ourselves in a buncha bureaucratic bullshit or we might just get lucky.”
 
The man behind the counter shuffles parchment deliberately. “Rates will be twenty silver a night, meals included.”
 
“Twenty shit!” You exclaim, the surprise giving you a burst of energy through the fog of mucous which clouded your brain. “D’ya think yer running a Baronial Exchange here mate?”
 
“Weather’s forced a lot of ships into dock, I’m afraid.” The man replies evenly, unperturbed by your outburst. “And the only rooms large enough to accommodate three are of the more opulent sort, if you’re following me.”
 
“Fifteen mate. If you’re bunking sailors then you’re not gettin’ in the kinda clientele which is gonna be paying that for rooms.”
 
The man sighs slightly, a guilty look on his face “Is it that obvious? To be honest nobody’s stayed in those rooms for months. It’s almost not worth keeping them clean. I suppose I can put you down as a factor and fudge the figures a little. Not like the IMFC’ll check when they’re dealing with Solar Marks on a regular basis.”
 
“Whazzat Boss?” Blue murmurs curiously.
 
“Big money Blue. You could buy most of Gibson for a couple of them.” You murmur in response.
 
“Mark here…” The man continues, pointing to a section of parchment. You scribble a signature after scanning through the document and initialing the change in fee. The man hands you a key, and you make as dignified an exit as you can, Cally valiantly trying to mirror Blue’s support of you despite barely being able to reach your armpit and sporting a pained limp.
 
“You Boss. In there.” Blue points to the large, comfortable looking bed imperiously, before sniffing and stacking the two cots which the inn clearly intended for Mamono attendants.
 
“Oh, so I’m sharing am I?” You chuckle, putting a hand to your forehead which was now becoming clammy with fever. You let out a pained groan.
 
“Adam? Are you alright?” Cally asked.
 
“Room… s’spinnin…” You murmur, your vision blurry as fatigue overwhelms you.
 
You have a few moments of clarity as the fever runs its course, Blue wiping your face with a warm, damp cloth, sneaking a gentle kiss when she thinks Cally’s not paying attention. Cally rubbing something into your bare chest, her ample breasts jiggling as her small, clawed hands massage the substance into your torso… Burning there, but a cleansing burn, rather than the murky, clammy humidity of feverish sickness. Sounds and shapes, a spoon being pressed to your lips, warm, flavourful broth dribbling into your mouth…
 
…Then, seemingly between one instant and the next, you return to clarity, to find yourself in a large, steaming tub, the two mamono naked beside you, washing you with coarse sponges.
 
“What the… How the bloody hell…” You begin.
 
“Welcome back boss.” Blue grins at you, pecking you on the cheek.
 
“Told you it’d burn it out of him.” Cally replies smugly, her breasts squished up against you as she washes your torso and neck. “How are you feeling?”
 
“Like Four and Twenty’ve been chewing on me for a couple hours…” You take an experimental inhale, exclaiming in surprise as you notice yourself no longer congested. “…Hey! I can breathe again! How’d you do that?”
 
“Trade secret.” Cally remarks smugly “Incidentally we raided your coinpurse, I owe you ten silver.”
 
“I’ve been abducted by thieves…” You chuckle helplessly, relaxing in the warm water. “…How long was I out?”
 
“All of yesterday and most of today, it’s just after lunchtime.” Blue replies. “And I still say you paid too much for that root thingy.”
 
“Well it was urgent…” Cally murmurs, blushing.
 
“And didn’t that theivin’ Aestenlander just know it. I swear he was fit to turn into a Tanuki right in front of us the way gold started dancing in his eyes. I’m halfway tempted to dob the Waylanders on him, that can’t be legal.”
 
“How’d you get me down to the bathhouse anyway?” You ask, trying not to think about how badly fleeced the Koala got if BLUE picked up on it.
 
“Look Boss!” Blue gestures, pointing at the open door, your room visible beyond it. “The nice man at the counter called it an ‘Ohns-Wheat’… Weird bloody name. Anyway, private bath!”
 
“Bloody hell… I wonder how desperate he was to get some coin through this room!” You mutter, closing your eyes before snapping them back open “OH TYRIS! The messages for the Waylanders!”
 
“We took the liberty, Adam, not to fret. Blue wanted to talk to the cargo factors as well but I convinced her it would be better to wait until you were up and about.” Cally remarked, her hand stilling you where you attempted to rise.
 
“Sodding hell, I really was out of it…” You mutter in astonishment. “Thanks girls.”
 
Blue gives you a sunny grin “What are friends for?”
 
 
“Factor employee or Contractor?” The bored looking factor intones.
 
“Er… Contractor.” You reply, shuffling slightly in the spartan, slightly dust-smelling office.
 
“Original Agreement stated arrival on the fourteenth of the month, it’s the fifteenth.”
 
“Original Agreement was also for a contractor who failed to deliver, see here…” You growl, jabbing at the agreement “And it also specified that the cargo was fit for transport.”
 
“W-what?” The Factor gasped, suddenly alert “Liability for damage is the respon…”
 
“Yeah nah mate… That wool wasn’t washed. I’m gonna have to season for a damn month to clear it outta me. Shoulda seen what it did to me poor Kobie.”
 
“T-that’s unfortunate, but I don’t see how…”
 
“Corruption of another is still a Sin” You interrupt “even if it is through negligence… I wonder who’ll demand an audit first? Baron Thomas or the Holy Mother Church?”
 
“Oh! Silly me, of course there’s a provision for compensation!” The factor gushes “Shall we say three and fifty?”
 
“Where did you say the nearest Chancel of the Sun is?”
 
“Four?”
 
“Much better.” You drawl smoothly, scooping up the four gold pieces the factor places on the counter. “Have yerself a good day now…”
 
“That was quick!” Blue remarks as you clamber aboard the much lightened wagon.
 
“Was it? I feel like I was in there for hours.” You groan, fatigue setting in as you sit on the bench.
 
“Hmmm. Dinner and an early night. Your body had to work pretty hard to kick that sickness out.” Cally declares, studying you. “And keep the drinking to a minimum.”
 
You peer at the Koala suspiciously. “Dammit if you don’t sound like the Mothers back at the Abbey right now Cally. How old ARE you?”
 
“That’s a frightfuly rude question to ask a lady, Adam.” Cally sniffs imperiously, folding her twin-thumbed hands atop her uninjured leg and holding her button nose in the air, yet failing to keep the smirk from her generous mouth.
 
Despite the fatigue, you feel somewhat uplifted. Messages to the Waylanders had been delivered, and hell, you even managed to bully an extra 30 percent out of the wool contract. Though not without incident, it was a good start, and you allowed yourself a feeling of smug self-satisfaction.
 
 
“Adz! Get up get up get up get up!” Blue insists, pushing at you. You groan, pulling the blanket over your head.
 
“Does she always do this?” Cally mumbles from where she has ensconced herself in the crook of your arm.
 
“Only every other day…” You reply, stretching and rubbing the sleep from your eyes.
 
“C’mon adorabear! You too!” Blue demands, diving under the covers to get at the Koala, who shrieks, beginning a tousle which winds up with you sitting on the floor in your smallclothes, staring at the heaving linen with a sigh of resignation. Standing, you begin padding towards the door to the bathroom.
 
“Where’re you going?” Blue demands, sticking her head out from the covers.
 
“Bath.” You grumble, still not fully awake.
 
“Don’t spend all day in thEEEEK! Cally!” Blue’s admonishment turns into a squeal. “That tickles!”
 
“Oh really?” The Koala muses, the shrieking giggles from Blue speaking louder than words that she has redoubled her efforts. You mutter something about the situation being a set of dirty underwear and feather pillows away from that dirty story that Bard used to tell when he thought the Faith Militant had gone home, before pausing as you spy the water, sweet smelling bubbles coating it like a white, glistening cloud.
 
“Blue, what’d ya do to the bath?” You demand.
 
“Dunno, smells pretty though!”
 
“What if I don’t wanna fuckin’ smell pretty?”
 
Cally tumbles from beneath the covers, landing with a thud on her generous backside. Standing, she takes a sniff. “You’ve smelled like worse.”
 
You strip off your smallclothes and step into the foam-filled tub, grumbling something about Mamono ganging up on you.
 
“Don’t grizzle Adam… Oh… Oh dear.”
 
“Whazzamadda?”
 
“My tunic’s a little the worse for wear… Adam do you perchance have a needle and some thread…”
 
You smile as an idea forms in your mind. “Nup, but I’ll do ya one better.”
 
 
“You SURE we can’t take the wagon?” Blue moans, rubbing her distended belly and gazing up at you imploringly.
 
“You were the one who insisted on thirds at breakfast Blue.” Cally quips from her position atop your shoulders. “It’s your own fault if you’re feeling sick.”
 
“Shouldn’t bother Cally, she’s never listened to me when I tell her that.” You add, squeezing the Koala’s non-injured leg. “How’s the leg?”
 
“Oh, I’m fine to walk Adam.” Cally replies simply. You stop dead in your tracks.
 
“Then why am I…”
 
“Well you seemed so insistent, I thought it impolite to refuse.”
 
“Right then, off ya get.” You declare, making to lift the Koala off your shoulders. She digs her clawed hands into the sides of your head slightly, making removal impossible.
 
“Nope. Comfy now.” Cally declares sunnily.
 
“One of you is a terrible influence on the other, and buggered if I can work out who…” You grumble, walking again.
 
“Mean!” The two mamono lament in unison, Blue smacking you in the hip with a furred paw.
 
“Where are we going anyway boss?” The Kobold asks, curiosity overtaking mild umbrage.
 
“Well I can’t have my employees wearing tattered rags if I need to go somewhere posh, can I?”
 
“Funny…” Cally drawls in your ear “…I don’t recall getting paid.”
 
“Well feel free to start paying your way any time, Cally.”
 
“I’ll be good.” She replies rapidly
 
“Damn right.” You snicker.
 
Blue ponders that for a moment. “Adam… Are you taking us shopping?”
 
“Don’t you ever tell my brothers. Either of them. The mockery would be able to rend fuckin’ flesh.”
 
Blue squeals as she hugs you excitedly, dashing in front of you and back as if trying to spur your pace.
 
 
“The blue one or the green one?” Cally asks, turning to and fro in front of a mirror.
 
“I say the green one.” Blue replies, turning to you. “What do you think Adam?”
 
“They both cost way too much to be made of such little fabric.” You sigh in resignation. You had given your studied opinion, then your honest opinion, then your indifferent opinion, then your resigned opinion, and now you were fresh out of proverbial fucks to give.
 
“Don’t be such a grouch boss.” Blue sniffs. “Definitely the green one, he stares at your arse way more in that.”
 
“BLUE!” You exclaim in shock.
 
“What? You do!”
 
The Koala studies you with a slightly smug grin. “The green one it is then.”
 
“Praise Tyris…” You sigh, heading towards the counter. The slightly cadaverous man scribbles on a piece of paper, sliding it discretely across the counter to you. You fight to keep from shrieking as you read the figure he has written. Counting out the silver, you place the neat stack upon the counter.
 
“Coin… How quaint.” The man muses with an indulgent smile.
 
“Gotta reduce the weight on me wagons somehow mate. Thanks for seeing to the girls.” You reply without pause, leading the Mamono from the dressmaker’s store.
 
“Fuckin’ smug cunt” You snarl as you leave earshot.
 
“What’s wrong with people’s eyes here?” Blue asked, somewhat puzzled as she passed a silversmith’s stall.
 
“Howd’ya mean pup?”
 
“Everybody seems to want to look at us through their nostrils.”
 
Cally gives a peal of laughter, doubling over and catching at your wrist to steady herself before embracing the Kobold affectionately. “I-I am stealing that one, Blue.” She gasps, before calming herself. “The reason is, Port Albany deals in two markets. Fish, and Luxury goods from the sou’west townships and holdings. Here at the top of the hill you find the latter. The fishmarkets are down there.” Cally points to the smoky, crowded estuary nestled at the base of the hill.
 
“Oh… So why’re we up here?”
 
“Because I’m spoiling you two rotten and also I’m not lugging two hundredweight of fish all the way back to Port Fremantle for 1 brass on the kilo.” You interject.
 
Cally gives you a pinch. “You DID sneak off to the Trading Stalls when we were at lunch!”
 
“I plead the peace of Tyris. Plus. I have no idea what you two were eating and I’m not sure I want to.”
 
“Crayfish is a delicacy.” Cally sniffs.
 
“Looks like a love affair between a Crabgirl and a cockroach.” You declare.
 
“Admit it boss. You’re having fun.” Blue snickers, hugging your arm.
 
“I’m enjoying your company. The shopping I could take or leave.”
 
“C’mon… You seemed to enjoy that Arachne sizing you up.”
 
You shrug, brushing at the sleeve of your new outfit. “She said hold still, and those fangs were a little too close for argument.”
 
“Looks good on you though Adam…” Cally admits with a demure blush.
 
“And you girls both look like a million gold. I won’t deny there is a distinct chance my ego will be so swollen walking with the two of you that I may have to enter the door sideways in order to fit.”
 
Blue and Cally both flush pink, Blue with a slight giggle as she grips your arm, Cally tentatively reaching up to take your other wrist.
 
“Ah, here we are…” You remark, nodding at the slightly opulent establishment you were approaching, the fading sunlight at your backs. “Comes very highly recommended amongst the factors when they’re trying to get concessions out of the IMFC, so behave, yeh?”
 
“Why does everyone always look at me when they say that?” Blue sighs forlornly.
 
“Because we know ya, pup.” You chuckle, mussing the kobold’s hair.
 
 
“And I’m telling ya mate, I appreciate the recommendation but I really would prefer…” You patiently yet firmly explain to the waiter.
 
“Sir! The Camel Haunch is our Chef’s SIGNITURE dish! To muddle the flavours so…” The waiter responds, Blue and Cally both looking at you in surprise.
 
“What is wiz ze arguing over here?” A large man in a white linen apron demands, approaching the table.
 
“I’m just saying to yer bloke here. Wine’s well and good but there’s one way to enjoy a Camel haunch. Nearly bloody and washed down with a big, dark ale.” You explain, irritation colouring your voice.
 
The waiter looks between you and the aproned man with mortified horror. The Aproned man pauses, before throwing his arms around you and bussing you noisily on the cheek.
 
“Zis man knows what it is to live!” The man declares “Go! Go and bring him what he wants.”
 
“Y-yes Chef Fontainebleau…” the waiter stammers, scurrying away.
 
“Ah… So yer signature dish… Um… No offense?” You offer to the chef, who sits presumptively next to you, pouring a glass of wine for himself.
 
“Faugh!” The chef declares, gesticulating with his wineglass. “I will not be ze one trick centaur. Ze dish is simple enough zat ze cretins in my kitchen will manage. But I am begging your pardon. I am Gustave of ‘ouse Fontainebleau.”
 
“Adam, of Gibson Holding. Glad to meecha mate.” You offer sincerely, shaking the man’s massive hand. “Yer a bit of a way from home, from the accent…”
 
“Ah yes… Many years away from ze courts of Orleans and Magisterium… Ze politics in ze continental ‘ouses… You are understanding, yes?”
 
“Not really mate… To be honest yer the first bloke not from the Australs I’ve met who isn’t signed with the IMFC.”
 
“Ah yes, you Australians ahve ‘ow you say, ze reputation. ‘Nozzink can survive zat hellscape!’ zey say in Magisterium… but ‘ehre you are, no? Ze politics I say, zey will not follow me here.”
 
“Got yerself in a bit of bother then?” You venture.
 
“One or two razer ungallant fellows looking for my head, perhaps…” Gustave drawls nonchalantly. “…But zis is depressing, and zis wine! Why you are selecting zis?”
 
“Recognised the vineyard, s’close to where I grew up, I know Blue likes it.”
 
“No no no no… Zis will not do. Two lovely young ladies such as yourselves must ‘ahve ze Pinot Noir from ze coastal vineyards. Plenty of balls, yes?”
 
Blue is looking at Gustave like he has three heads. “It’s like he’s trying to talk…” The Kobold mutters aside to Cally, who snerks into the goose-liver pate she has halfway into her mouth.
 
“She iz ze feisty one, yes?” Gustave gives a rumbling belly laugh. “Permit me, Cherie…” He entreats, before turning his head towards a waiter “Garcon! Allez!”
 
 
“And you say ‘e iz selling zem for fifteen a ‘ead?” Gustave remarks, refilling his glass along with the two Mamono.
 
“Yep.” You confirm, taking another draught of the rich, dark ale. “Why, what’s the price down here?”
 
“My butcher, ‘e tells me ze price is thirty.”
 
“Yer getting robbed mate. Even a fertile female won’t go for much more than twenty on auction.”
 
“Ze man is a thief.” Gustave groans.
 
“Well reckon he won’t stop now… Tell you what, next time Dad’s a-droving… what say I point him south?”
 
“You are truly sent from Tyris to bless me, Adam!” Gustave crows. “Ladies, ‘ow is your meal?”
 
“Really good! What is this?” Blue demands, her mouth half-full.
 
“Ze Bush Turkey, marinated in ze suudenland spices and a white wine jus.”
 
“Bush Turkey can taste like THIS?!” Blue gasps in astonishment “Are you a Resonant or something?”
 
“Like we’d ever have him.” A new voice intrudes.
 
Gustave stands with a laugh to embrace the newcomer. “Adam, ladies, please let me introduce my friend…”
 
“RAOUL!” Cally shrieks, nearly clambering over the table in her eagerness to greet the man. Chuckling slightly, the man takes a knee, Cally embracing him fervently. “I thought you went back to Magisterium!”
 
Raoul smirks slightly. “I’ll remain a thorn in the side of Isaac for as long as I can. Ian’s no fool but I don’t want him taking his advice too seriously.”
 
Your ears perked up at the Dominus’s name. You stand, hand outstretched to the Silver-haired, elegant gentleman. “So… Cally, this is the bloke you were telling us about?”
 
“Uh huh…” Cally beams.
 
“Councillor Raoul, Grand Lodge of Resonance.” Raoul introduces himself politely, taking your hand.
 
“Freeman Adam, of Gibson Holding” You reply, pumping the man’s hand warmly. “From the way Cally tells it you’re twenty feet tall and shatter stones with a scowl.”
 
“I’m in disguise.” The man grins.
 
“Raoul! Come! Sit! ‘elp me convince this delightful Kobold to try my cheesecake!” Gustave entreats.
 
“Cheese and cake don’t go together, don’t care what you tell me.” Blue insists, shaking her head vehemently.
 
Raoul gives a slight shake of his head in apology. “I would love to except I’m trying to avoid being cornered by…”
 
“Brother…” A snide, venomous drawl sounds from nearby, and a dark-haired man dressed similarly to Raoul begins approaching the table. Cally stares at him with a mixture of disgust and fear.
 
“Isaac I presume…” You murmur.
 
Raoul nods. “I’ll see Cally back to… where are you staying?”
 
“The White Star.”
 
“We’re not letting Cally out of our sight, right Boss?” Blue almost snarls, and you swear you can see the hackles rise on the back of her neck as she curls her lip.
 
“Cally I can protect. I’m… familiar with her. The rest of you… He’ll use anyone he can to try and needle me. Please understand, I’m only looking out for your wellbeing…”
 
“Faugh!” Gustave declares. “Councillor to ze Dominus, Councillor to a High Lord, I don’t care! Zis is MY restaurant, ‘ehre I am king! I decide who gets to stay and who must leave!”
 
“Y’know what? Bugger it.” You declare suddenly. “Gustave’s got the right of it. Yer a free citizen, aincha?”
 
Raoul nods, seemingly puzzled by your position.
 
“Then as a fellow free citizen, enjoying the company of friends, I for one am not going to let some bloody interloper spoil my damn night.”
 
Blue leans over, hugging you fiercely “Thanks Boss.”
 
“Not going to scurry away then?” Isaac drawls, having reached your table. “I’m so glad… Hello Cally, it’s good to see you again.”
 
Cally grips Raoul’s sleeve, glowering at the dark haired resonant.
 
“Zis is a private soiree, Sirrah, and you were not invited. Please return to your table or wait to be seated.” Gustave demands with surprising restraint.
 
”Chef Fontainebleau, I’m surprised.” Isaac replies with a feline grin. “Surely you can make an exception for the NEW Resonant Council to the Dominus, considering you seem to be hosting the old one…”
 
“I em not hosting ze Old Councillor. I em hosting my friend. I don’t know you and frankly you are beginning to try my patience…”
 
“It would be such a shame if the Dominus couldn’t have… Oh what’s that dish with the Bungarra Fillet and the Garlic Prawns again?” Raoul interjects, clearly warming to Gustave’s argument.
 
“Mer et Terre” Gustav answers shortly. “’e does so like it. And I will not be making wiz ze secret zat it is you who causes me to refuse ‘is booking!”
 
“So this is how it’s going to be? In a crowded restaurant? Oh you DO have a penchant for the dramatic, Brother. I’ll try to keep the collateral damage to a minimum…” Isaac almost purrs, the threat of violence clear in his voice.
 
Blue snarls, gripping a glass and leaning forward.
 
“DOWN!” You snap at the kobold, who blinks in astonishment at you, sitting back in surprise.
 
“You’ve trained your pets well.” Isaac remarks.
 
“My EMPLOYEES and I were enjoying a nice meal and company, Councillor.” You reply in an even tone. “What friction exists between you and Raoul here is frankly none of my business…”
 
“I’m glad one of you is able to see sense.” Isaac muses
 
“…HOWEVER, I’m sure you are able to appreciate that when stuff that ISN’T my business interferes with stuff that IS my business, I’m liable to get a little miffed. Now I’m sure Gustave here doesn’t want to involve the Waylanders, and I sure don’t want to involve the Trade Factors…”
 
Isaac curls his lip, “You don’t have that kind of authority.”
 
“The way I hear it, Councillor, you aren’t exactly makin’ too many friends around Albany. Blue could probably get a trade embargo levied against you.” You grin smugly, mussing the Kobold’s hair familiarly.
 
Isaac paused, before straightening with an amused chuckle. “Well played, for an amateur. Alright, I’ll concede this… For now. But this is not over, brother. The Master wants you home.”
 
“And The Master is capable of communicating that request through PROPER channels. Until then, I’m a free citizen… Brother.”
 
“Later then. Gentlemen… Cally…” He pauses, looking at the kobold witheringly. “Dog.”
 
You grab Blue’s leg beneath the table as her ears flatten against her head and she fixes the Resonant with a glare of incandescent fury. Isaac snickers, heading back through the crowd.
 
“Zat is a thoroughly dislikeable man.” Gustave spat, pouring another glass of wine “And we are empty. Garcon!”
 
“You calm now Blue?” You murmur, stroking the Kobold’s leg soothingly.
 
“Why didn’t you let me glass the cunt?” Blue grates through clenched teeth.
 
“He’d have splattered you all over the table if you’d tried, dear.” Raoul replied, patting Blue’s paw. “I told you that he was a needler. One legal opening, that’s all he needs to do unspeakable things.”
 
“Y’didn’t mention you two were related.” You remark, finishing your ale.
 
“An affectation of the Lodge, from when resonants were much more… insular. The term doesn’t denote any kind of affection.” Raoul answers, sitting next to Cally and absently stealing a wedge of some seasoned vegetable from her plate.
 
“Fuckin’ clearly.”
 
“Well clearly ze night requires assistance to bring it back to festive spirit.” Gustave declares. “Garcon! Le Cognac! Rapidement!”
 
“Whazzat then?” You ask in puzzlement as the waiter brings over a heavy bottle of gold-brown liquid and several balloon glasses.
 
“Spirits.” Gustave grins.
 
 
“Oh Maou this is better than sex!” Blue moans as she stuffs herself with some kind of fried, cinnamon coated thing dipped in melted chocolate.
 
You laugh, “This is gonna leave me fuckin’ broke…”
 
“Ah faugh.” Gustave waves magnanimously “We will call it ze ‘business meeting’ and I will claim it against my baronial levies.”
 
“Were we discussing business?”
 
“You are going to speak to your father about ze lizards coming south more often, no?”
 
“Well yeah.”
 
Gustave sits back in his chair, swirling the cognac in his glass “Zen is ze business meeting.”
 
“Criminal.” You chuckle.
 
“You are only ze criminal if you get caught… Remember zat one, my friend.”
 
“Fair call…” You agree, standing a trifle unsteadily. “…if you’ll excuse me.”
 
You head out the back to relieve yourself, sighing as you rest your head against the cool stone. Finishing, you turn to head back inside… Only to find yourself unable to move… and a foot off the ground.
 
“You know you really should have taken his advice and run…” a smooth voice sounds somewhere in the darkness.
 
You struggle against the invisible bonds about your body, your legs futilely kicking at air. “You…”
 
“Me… You’re good material, Adam of Gibson Holding, and I do hate to waste good material.” Isaac muses slightly regretfully.
 
“Whaddaya want cunt?”
 
“And there’s the farmboy, straight to business.” Isaac chuckles. “Bring Cally to the Wolf’s Head tavern by tomorrow evening, and I’ll take you to see the Dominus myself. Refuse, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure you never get within shouting distance.”
 
You turn your head this way and that, trying to see your captor. “You’d foil a solemn obligation? You’re a bit rusty on Australian law…”
 
“Oh I’d be MOST apologetic after the fact, and willing to recompense any damaged party… but you can’t unbreak a contract, can you?”
 
“That’s blackmail. Why shouldn’t I go straight to the Waylanders and denounce you for that?”
 
“Because I haven’t shown you the bonus. I can be very generous to those who work with me, or for me, as the case may be.”
 
“Talk straight already ya fuckin’ snake.”
 
“Power, Adam. Unlimited Power. I have a Matrix of Resonance in my possession. I can awaken you…”
 
The invisible bonds holding you seem to fall away, and you collapse heavily to the stones below, the darkness swallowing you.
 
“Think it over.”
 
 
“Are you sure it’s alright to bring him here?” You hear a voice say, as you felt yourself being carried into a room somewhere.
 
“Please, after the dressing he gave Isaac? It’s my pleasure.”
 
That must have been Raoul.
 
“Hey boss… boss… you with us?” Blue’s voice sounds to your left, her furred paw on your face.
 
“W-what?” You murmur.
 
“Since when did you get so soft with the booze? Raoul found you passed out back in the jakes!”
 
“He did?” You murmur, your head still cloudy.
 
“You can stay in here with him, Blue. Cally can have her old room.”
 
“Oh… I thought…” Blue murmur
 
“Me and Cally? Oh… Oh no. I have… different interests.”
 
“Deviant.” Cally snickered fondly.
 
“You love me.”
 
Soft sound of Raoul’s laughter as he heads up the hallway. The bed is so soft… if you could just focus your eyes…
 
“Y’know if you weren’t falling over drunk this would be a perfect time to try it for real…” Blue mocks, half regretfully.
 
“Blue…” You mumble, before feeling soft lips upon your own.
 
“Sleep well boss…”
 
 
“How’s the head?” Blue asks smugly as you stir to wakefulness.
 
“Fine” you mumble, rubbing at your eyes. “Where the bloody hell are we?”
 
“Raoul’s suites in the upper quarter. You don’t remember?” The Kobold replies, looking at you uncertainly.
 
“The last thing I remember is… Oh Tyris.” You groan. “Where’s Cally?!”
 
“Up the hall a ways… Adam wait!” Blue calls after you as you bolt up the hallway.
 
“Cally!” You cry, bursting into the Koala’s room.
 
“Whu?” The Koala grunts, sitting upright in her luxurious bed, before blinking and studying you with a smug grin. “Love the outfit Adam…”
 
You look down, noticing you were still clad in naught but your smallclothes.
 
“Don’t be lewd. C’mon, this is important, get up!” You demand, dashing back to your room to dress.
 
“Adz, this is the most energetic hangover I’ve ever seen from you.” Blue snickers as you scramble into a pair of pants.
 
You throw Blue’s clothes unceremoniously at her, “Not hung over. No time. Get dressed.”
 
“Ok, now I’m worried, what’s going on boss?”
 
“Fucking bullshit is what. C’mon. Where’s Raoul?”
 
Cally enters your room, still lacing her buckskin tunic. “The room at the end of the hall… But I wouldn’t…”
 
The rest of her statement goes unsaid as you bolt up the hallway, soft voices indistinct from the other side. “Raoul! Mate, I’m sorry to wake you but this is urge…” You babble intently as you reach for the doorhandle. You’re not sure what happened from there…
 
…Something kicked you. Hard.
 
You come to in a comfortable armchair, Raoul studying you intently, the two Mamono hovering behind him with looks of concern.
 
“You are a sturdy young idiot, you know that Adam?” Raoul grumbles at you with concerned disapproval. “That ward could have killed you.”
 
“M’sorry… Important…” You groan, blinking and shaking your head slightly.
 
“Is he usually this rash with a hangover?” Raoul snickers.
 
“Not hung over…” You groan “…Last night… Isaac…”
 
“Yes, he’s a twat, I don’t see how…”
 
“No!” You urge “He caught me in the jakes, dropped me on the floor and scrambled my brains… But not before…”
 
“Not before what?!” Raoul urges, his weird grey eyes locked to yours.
 
“Not before he told me to bring Cally to him… Said if I didn’t, he’d stymie my efforts to see the Dominus.”
 
“You’re a trader Adam, and no offense but still a pretty small-time one at that. What possible business could you have with Ian?” Raoul asked with slight suspicion.
 
You outline the solemn obligation you have with Breyten, and the need to get the Dominus’s seal on his Baronial writ in the next five days.
 
“That was a gamble and a half… To be honest I’m surprised you even know he’s here, we were keeping that under wraps because of… well… Because.” Raoul offers lamely.
 
“Why the fuck do I feel like I’ve stepped in something sticky? And who the hell were you talking to in your room?” You demand.
 
Raoul stands, looking at you with a stern expression. “There are forces in this world beyond the ken of most of its inhabitants. Pray they never notice you. You’re not… equipped to deal with them.”
 
“Oh really… Would this have anything to do with why you’re the EX-Councillor?” You drawl, spotting the dodge a mile off.
 
“Yes! Fine! I made… A mistake.”
 
“Look mate, Deviance isn’t exactly looked upon fondly but shit, it’s a pretty strict Paladin who’ll get stroppy about it.”
 
“I’m not a deviant.” Raoul snarls “I just choose to let people think I am because the truth is… More complicated.”
 
Your eyes narrow. “Raoul, mate, I’m not exactly the most religious lad, but if you’re in something deep enough that people thinking you’re alp-bait is a less stressful option…”
 
“You couldn’t possibly understand…”
 
“If you’re putting me as a party to potential fuckin’ Heresy I don’t want to fuckin’ understand! Now who was in your room?”
 
“Are you a Paladin of the Faith Militant?”
 
“Of course bloody not.”
 
“Then mind your fucking business is who.” Raoul hisses.
 
“Raoul!” Cally gasps. “I think we all need to calm down a little here. We’re all still friends and Isaac’s still our common concern.”
 
“I trusted you, Cally.” Raoul mutters accusingly. The Koala’s eyes narrow and she walks up to the resonant, promptly punching him in the groin.
 
“My Strength and My Spirit, Raoul.” Cally growls as Raoul doubles over in pain “I have NEVER given you reason to doubt that pledge. Don’t you DARE start now.”
 
“You’re right. I’m sorry…” Raoul gasps “…things were left… unfinished this morning.” Stumbling to a shelf, he pours himself a measure of whiskey, downing it in one gulp.
 
“I’m sorry too Raoul. It’s not every day you land yourself in a situation like this… or that a door kicks you first thing in the morning.” You offer sincerely.
 
“Forgiven. Believe me Adam, your soul is in no danger with me, and what I can tell you, I will. But there are things, for your own safety, that you simply cannot know.” Raoul replies, resting a hand on your arm, his grey eyes almost luminescent.
 
You nod “Yeh. Fair enough. So I guess the question is, where do we go from here?”
 
“Well we’re not giving adorabear to that crotch-rot!” Blue declares abruptly.
 
“Adorabear?” Raoul echoes.
 
“Don’t you dare!” Cally cries in embarrassment.
 
“Why not? It suits you so well!” Raoul snickers, picking Cally up and bussing her soundly on the cheek.
 
“Put me down now, Resonant, or so help me Maou I will claw your face onto the back of your head!” Cally squeals indignantly.
 
“Oh pish. You know I love you… Adorabear.”
 
“Cunt.” Cally grumbles, her cheeks flushed.
 
“You two are a terrible influence on her.” Raoul chides, his face alight with amusement.
 
“Moving right along…” You insist
 
“Right. Well. The first question would be, what does Isaac want with Cally?” Raoul mused, taking a seat opposite you.
 
“Should think the answer to that would be obvious…” Cally murmurs with a shudder of disgust.
 
“Flirt with Heresy as well as three Secular Sins just to get his wick wet? Not likely. I’m pretty sure a few words in the right ears would get him called up for Continuance” You muse.
 
“Maybe he prefers Mamono?” Blue offers, “Adz didn’t seem too thrilled with the proceedings when he was called up.”
 
“Nuffa that Blue!” You retort sternly “It’s… complicated.”
 
“It is.” Raoul agrees “I’ve been called for Continuance enough times to know that even the most satisfying Rite leaves you feeling somewhat… unfinished.”
 
“You humans are tapped.” Blue mumbles.
 
“Remember the Pax, pup.” You chide gently, booping her nose. You feel slightly relieved to know that even someone as highly placed as Raoul could admit to the discomfort of the act. “Well that’s one option… We pretend to go along with him to find out what he wants exactly, have someone with sufficient chops present to witness a denunciation?”
 
“Put Cally at that kind of risk?” Raoul exclaims incredulously “Over my dead body!”
 
“I’m shocked at you, boss.” Blue chides disapprovingly.
 
“Fuck me, I’m not saying it’s a GOOD idea, it’s an idea though. What else have we got?”
 
“Go to the Waylanders?” Blue suggests.
 
“This isn’t Freo, Pup” You reply, ruffling the Kobold’s hair. “Tristan’d take me at my word, but I don’t even know the Albany Waylanders. Put yerself in their shoes. Some two-brass trader comes in telling you the Resonant Councillor is engaging in some seriously convoluted dodgy over a Koala because… reasons?”
 
“Also there’s no guarantee he hasn’t bought them off.” Raoul muses.
 
“There’s always Gustave’s suggestion…” Cally remarks
 
“What, rice and Taurean milk? I don’t see how that’s…” You begin.
 
“Don’t be dense, Adam. Pursue a slightly less… legal option. Why play his stacked game when we can avoid the board altogether?”
 
“Wait a second.” Raoul interjects. “What’s the easiest way to get someone to open a door?”
 
Your brow furrows in confusion. “I’m afraid I don’t follow ya mate.”
 
“Walk up to it and knock.” Raoul explains. “The only people not IN Port Albany who know the Dominus is here are the Waylanders, Nobles, his Councillors, and his Seneschal. People who have a reason to talk to him would just go straight to Francis.”
 
“If yer worried about Waylanders on the take, this Francis bloke could just as easily have been paid off… Or threatened to be wrung out like washing.” You reply thoughtfuly.
 
“It’s a possibility, but a scale weighted one way can always be weighted the other…”
 
“I’m not sure I have that much coin…” You groan.
 
“Either way, it costs us nothing to try. And he DID say he’d give you the day. It’s an obvious move and one likely to be overlooked, not to mention one he’s not likely to even know about.”
 
“Hang it all Raoul, if it’s that simple, why don’t we just go see the Dominus directly?”
 
“Because of one pertinent problem.”
 
“Whazzat?”
 
“I don’t know where he is.”
 
“In the quiet words of the Brides of Tyris, Come again?”
 
“The nature of the… Mistake… which has landed me in my current ignoble position means we were keeping his exact location secret until such time as the problem… went away.” Raoul replies almost apologetically. “He is moved around. Last fortnight, he was in the room you stayed in last night, now? I’m not kept abreast of it.”
 
“Angonamo…” Blue interjects “…One thing all of yez seemed to jump right over. How did felchscrape know what we were here for anyway?”
 
“Iunno…” You shrug “…Resonants can read minds, right?”
 
“Sure, why not?” Raoul replies, his shrug mirroring yours.
 
“Uh, maybe I’m missing something, but you’re Resonant?”
 
“Doesn’t mean I know everything there is to know about it. The Logos of Resonance is infinitely complex. The Lodge has been able to ‘Use’ it for millennia now and it’s still like we’ve only scratched the surface of what it’s capable of. A Resonant’s ability is based around their own understanding. The more you know, the more you can do.”
 
“And a slimy thing like Isaac would be all about fossicking about for hidden knowledge.” Cally adds.
 
Raoul nods at the Koala, “Occam’s razor suggests a simpler solution.”
 
“Whazzat?” You ask.
 
“He bribed or bullied it out of a trade factor last night. He had the time between our little encounter and when he caught you in the jakes, after all.”
 
“Don’t think I mentioned it to anyone but Dad and Tristan who ain’t in this room.” You muse.
 
Raoul gives another shrug. “Either way, it’s kind of moot. Point is, he knows. Question is, what do we do about that fact?”
 
“Why suddenly ‘we’, Raoul?” Blue asks, “That’s another thing I can’t work out. You’ve been almost falling over yourself to help us out since last night.”
 
“Short answer, I annulled Cally’s indenturehood two years ahead of schedule to keep her out of his hands, severely impacting my own… work. Anything I can do to make sure that counts for something, I’ll do.”
 
Raoul reaches over, ruffling blue’s hair. “Plus, you tend to grow on one, little Kobie.”
Blue giggles, blushing slightly.
 
“Quit charmin’ the pup.” You chuckle. “Back to the subject at hand though, I like your option the best to be honest.”
 
“Oh?”
 
“Yeh. Sometimes the simplest solutions, as it were. What do we do about Cally though?”
 
Raoul strokes his chin, “What indeed…”
 
Blue throws a furred paw around the Koala’s shoulders. “She comes with us, and you go to the Wolf’s Head.”
 
“There’s no guarantee Isaac will be there. That tavern’s an IMFC front, by and large. Everyone there’s owned by someone.”
 
“So what if he isn’t? Even if he’s working through someone else, he knows there’s a good chance Adz turned canary at the first opportunity, right? So he’ll be keeping an eye on you just as much as us. He sees you parked at the Wolf’s Head, he figures you heard about it, and plan on confronting him directly. How can he resist?”
 
“Last time I go demonstratin’ me fuckin’ loyalty…” You grumble. Blue gives you a light smek on the cheek.
 
“If we do fight, the results could be somewhat… messy.” Raoul warns.
 
“That’s a job for the waylanders to sort out.” Blue waves dismissively, “And plus, more confusion in the city means it’s easier for us to hide.”
 
“Who are you and what’ve you done with my Kobie?” You demand, astonished at the forethought of Blue’s plan.
 
“Well it’s just like hunting, isn’t it? Gotta think like your quarry so you know where it’s gonna go.” Blue replies, shuffling her canid feet bashfully
 
 
“Do you think he’ll be alright?” Cally mused from under the deep hood which concealed her face as you drove the wagon down the winding hill towards the fishmarkets at the base of the hill.
 
“You kidding? It was almost like he couldn’t wait to get into a scrap with him.” You chuckle, gripping the Koala’s hand where she held yours. To a passing observer you could easily be mistaken for a man and his child. Four and Twenty, not used to crowds, gave surly hisses as you drove along the busy streets, further discouraging anyone from getting too curious about you.
 
“This is a weird place for a Seneschal of the Dominus to be hanging out…” Blue murmurs, peering at the rougher dwellings around you.
 
“Makes it harder to bump into someone who’d know him in a professional capacity. Plus I hear the man’s got a weakness for squid.” Cally murmurs.
 
“…Said the Heretic to the Priestess…” You snicker lewdly.
 
“Adz!” Blue groans, rolling her eyes.
 
You pull up outside a nondescript fishmongers “This the place?” You ask.
 
Cally peers at the sign, “It matches what Raoul told us.”
 
“Funny…” You remark drily “…I was expecting a pub.”
 
The three of you disembark the wagon, heading into the cold, fish-smelling storefront.
 
“Raak! Raak! Hi people! Raak!” A harpy squawked with mindless amusement from where she was perched atop the counter.
 
“Er… Gudday…” You reply “Is yer boss in? Kinda need to ask him something.”
 
“What fish? What fish? Raak?” The harpy screeched uncomprehendingly, steel-grey feathers rustling as she shifted her wings, yellow eyes staring at you with a blissful absence of intelligence.
 
“Ah fuck this must be wrong…” You grumble “…Let’s just…”
 
“Hold on Adam.” Cally insisted, pushing her hood back, looking quizzically at the harpy. “It’s a convincing act hun, but we’re supposed to be here.”
 
“Oh thank Maou!” The Harpy gushed in a much different tone. “What gave me away?”
 
“Seagulls don’t say ‘raak” Cally snickered “It’s ‘AAAAHHHHH! MINE MINE MINE!’ And nobody with a quarter of a brain would trust them unsupervised to watch the ‘till of a fishmonger.”
 
“Drat. Will have to remember that.” The harpy noted, shifting her clawed feet on the counter “I’m sorry for being obtuse, you have no IDEA how busy we’ve been this morning. Thought I’d have a little fun.”
 
“Er… Yer boss won’t mind that?” Blue asked, peering at the harpy uncertainly.
 
“Boss?” The harpy echoed in puzzlement. “Oh! No, I own this store clear dear. But the act does help squeeze a couple more silver from out-of-towners.”
 
“Can’t haggle with something barely capable of speech. I like it.” You chuckle. The harpy throws you a saucy wink and Blue shuffles into you possessively.
 
“So, what can I do for you?” The harpy asks, dropping from the counter with a single fluttering flap of her wings, pert breasts barely contained by a midriff wrap-around which leaves her wings free.
 
“Need to see himself.”
 
The harpy nods, gesturing with a jerk of her head towards a nondescript door beside the counter. You murmur thanks, heading through into the dim hall beyond with the two Mamono in tow.
 
“So what was she then?” You ask
 
“Stormhawk” Blue mutters, “Fuckin’ dirty birdy…”
 
You groan, patting the Kobold on the head. “Come on Blue, she just winked at me.”
 
“Stormhawks have a reputation for being somewhat underhanded.” Cally interjected “Probably why she agreed to have the Seneschal here. She’d forgo a week’s profit for the thrill of pulling the wool over people’s eyes.”
 
You shake your head at that “You Mamono and yer priorities…”
 
“I mean can you believe it?” A man’s voice rings out from the room ahead “The absolute gall of him!”
 
“Still didn’t hear you squeak at it though Frank.” A woman’s voice replied, smooth and almost liquid in tone.
 
“Well what am I supposed to do? Seneschal or no, Isaac’s a Tyris-damn Resonant. I’ve no desire to be boiled in my own juices for going against him.”
 
“Fuck!” you hiss, pausing with your hand halfway to the door. “He fuckin’ beat us here, the cunt!”
 
“What do we do boss?” Blue murmurs, looking at you with her azure eyes.
 
“Lie?” Cally suggests.
 
“Solemn Obligations are serious Tack, Cal…” You reply, scratching at your cheek, stubbly from a week of neglectful grooming. “…Might be enough to convince him Duty’s more important.”
 
“Smugglers might be in the know…” Blue added “…if they’re hiding the Dominus I hardly think they’re moving shit through official channels boss.”
 
Bugger it.” You mutter, gripping the handle.
 
“You sure boss?” Blue murmurs uncertainly.
 
“I’m a small-time operator with a solemn obligation. Whatever mess of the hoi-fuckin-polloi I may have fallen into is none of my bloody concern. It’s time I started acting like it.” You reply, swinging the door open.
 
The man leaning idly against a stack of crates looks up with slight surprise, his light brown hair wavy and shoulder length, his cheeks clean shaven.
 
“I take it you have business with me?” He ventured. A grey-blue tentacle looped from behind him, seizing another pallet of fish effortlessly in its muscular grip.
 
“Would they be here if they didn’t, Francis?” the owner of the tentacle drawled in that same liquid tone as she rounded the crates, humanoid hands whetting a vicious looking filleting knife casually as her remaining tentacles heaved her bulk across the stone floor. Positioning herself next to a smooth stone bench, her hands became a whir as she filleted and diced, her cephalopodan lower half swaying below a surprisingly girlish waist as she worked.
 
“Fair point.” Francis admitted.
 
“Yeah, Your Honour. I’m Adam of Gibson Holding, I need to see the Dominus about…”
 
“No idea how you found out he was here, but that’s not gonna happen sorry mate… Not anytime this month anyway.”
 
“Seneschal…” You interject a little more forcefully “…As I was saying. I have a Solemn Obligation upon me in relation to Baronial Succession of Esperance. By the Laws of the Protectorate you are obligated to render me any assistance in fulfilling it.”
 
“He’s got you there, Francis…” The Kraken chuckles, her mantled head turning to regard you with alien eyes.
 
The seneschal lets out a sigh. “Look, you seem like a decent enough bloke. But I’m afraid you’ve found yourself swimming above a Leviathan fight. First day of next month I’ll be happy to help you, but until then my hands are tied.”
 
His hands were tied eh? Seneschal of the Dominus? You smile inwardly, you knew how to play this… You give a sigh, flipping a silver towards a surprised Blue. “I guess you win, Councillor does outrank Seneschal.”
 
“What?” Francis demands, his insulted pride rendering him blind to Blue’s obvious confusion.
 
“Oh nothing, Just that new Resonant Councillor put the hard word on me last night… Guess I’ve got no choice but to sign on with the IMFC and hope they’re aiming for the other side of the world.” You reply resignedly.
 
“Isaac was…” Francis blinks in surprise “…Why?”
 
“No idea… Took an interest in me Koala there.” You jerk a thumb at Cally nonchalantly “Now I’m not the most religious of men but even I’m not gonna be a party to potential monstrosity. Plus I LIKE her.”
 
You slide an arm around the Koala, hugging her fondly. Cally giggles, blushing slightly. Francis is staring at the Koala, clearly recognizing her but keeping his mouth firmly clenched.
 
“So before I go, I’ve got to ask, why even HAVE a Seneschal when clearly The Grand Lodge of Resonance is basically running the Protectorate by proxy?
 
“NOW WAIT JUST A BLOODY MINUTE!” Francis roars, veins sticking out on his forehead and his face crimson with fury. “I am the Right Hand of the Dominus and Clerk of the Protectorate’s Justice! I am not gainsaid by mere advisers or emissaries or councilors, regardless of their origin!”
 
“In that case, who’s tied your hands?” You drawl, leaving the statement hanging between you.
 
The Kraken erupts in a peal of burbling laughter. “He’s REALLY got you there.”
 
“Shaddup Opal…” Francis grumbles, passing a hand over his face in frustration.
 
“Seneschal, I don’t know what games Isaac’s playing, or what he thinks he can get out of me.” You offer sincerely, pulling the parchment from your pack. “I don’t know what started the fight between the leviathans underneath me, right now I’m just praying to Tyris for a friendly wave while thrashing madly for shore. I’m not asking you for anything other than to uphold the Law and grant me my Due under it as a Freeman.”
 
Francis studies you for a moment, his discerning green eyes intent upon your own. A slow smile begins to spread across his face.
“You know what? You’re right. Fuck that Resonant twat. My duty is to the Law and the Australs.”
 
“Surely The God will look favourably on your duty, Your Honour.” You reply, returning his smile.
 
“Right, well. If you head…”
 
“Wait…” The Kraken Francis had referred to as ‘Opal’ interjected. “…Don’t tell him.”
 
“Respectfully madame, why the bloody hell not?” You exclaim incredulously.
 
“Plausible Deniability. That Resonant flea’s got… gifts when it comes to pulling information out of people’s heads. If he comes back, Francis can honestly say that he told no-one where the Dominus was being hidden.”
 
“That’s sophistry, Opal.” Francis muttered.
 
“But it’s GOOD sophistry…” The Kraken replied, tentacles slithering about you as she put her smooth, lush lips almost in contact with your ear, her tentacles writhing in a mass of blue-grey flesh all around you, obscuring your vision, her voice whispering… whispering…
 
 
“Was that really necessary?” Blue demanded.
 
“She needed to make sure the information was secure… There WERE windows there after all.” You reply innocently.
 
“She had to grab your arse?”
 
“Jealous?” Cally drawls, draping clawed hands over blue’s slender shoulders.
 
Blue fixes the Koala with a withering look. “And what’s this ‘your’ Koala business?” She demands
 
“Uncluttered the field a little. Meant Francis wasn’t all tied up with how the hell Cally was back. You DID spot that he recognised her, didn’t ya pup? You moved in some pretty illustrious circles, didn’t ya adorabear?”
 
“That’s MY name for her! I’m still here!” Blue interjects desperately before Cally can respond. “I-I’m your indentured. Me.” She sniffs.
 
“Ohh pup…” You breathe, putting your arm around the kobold and holding her close for a moment. “…are ya feeling a little backgrounded?”
 
Blue nods sulkily against your chest. “I just… Cally’s smarter than me, and has all these people she knows in high places… I don’t wanna be useless.”
 
“Blue… if I didn’t have a treefull of supplies up in the forest where you met me, I’d have starved to death. Look at me, I’m not much of a hunter, and I couldn’t protect Adam against an errant sneeze! Meanwhile I’ve seen you run alongside the wagon for six hours straight and barely even break a sweat!”
 
You nod at Cally, patting Blue on the head comfortingly. “You’re still my Kobie, Blue. Nothing’s gonna change that.”
 
Blue whuffled softly in dismissal, but the look on her face was smug as she leaned on your arm and chest, Cally still resting a twin-thumbed hand on both of your shoulders familiarly to steady herself as the wagon rolls along the route whispered to you by the Kraken, Opal. “If anyone asks…” She had sibilantly threatened “…You found out any way but Francis. I like him, and I would like him to be able to come back someday.”
 
Yeah, technically Seneschal wasn’t a noble, but even if it was, you weren’t going to denounce squat with a forest of muscular tentacles waving around you…
 
“That it boss?” Blue asks, breaking your reverie.
 
You peer at the distinctive red door. “Certainly looks like it.” You agree, pulling the wagon up and tying the bungarra securely, Blue and Cally following you inside. A number of individuals were seated around small tables, conducting whatever business concerned them in hushed voices. Some paused, looking at you warily as you passed by, not resuming their conversations until satisfied you were out of earshot. Seeing no need to trouble them, you made a beeline for a set of stairs at the rear of the room, a reptilian leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe.
 
“Help you?” The reptilian hissed, planting a brown-scaled arm across your path, the flexible spines on her head in lieu of hair rustling as she turned her head to study each of you in turn, her pale yellow eyes slit-pupilled.
 
“Are the Blobfish in season?” You ask innocuously.
 
“No. The Leviathan ate them all.” She replies, lowering her arm. “I’ll be listening, be in and be out.”
 
You nod, heading up the stairs.
 
“Just be aware…” Cally murmured as you knocked on the door upstairs “…he might be a little…”
 
Cally’s statement is lost in a squeal of surprise as a pair of meaty hands grip her by the shoulders and drag her inside.
 
“Cally!” Blue snarls, dashing in ahead of you. After a moment’s surprise, you pursue. Inside the room, you see a large man, long, black hair and thick beard unkempt and neglected, holding Cally by the shoulders still “Where is she?!” He demands. “Where?! So help me Tyris I’ll…”
 
“Oi! You leave off my Adorabear!” Blue snarls, her hackles rising and furred paws spread, her claws clearly visible.
 
“Blue! He’s…” Cally gasps warningly.
 
“Blue! Heel!” You command, understanding.
 
“But Adz!” Blue objects.
 
“NOW!” You bark, and Blue obediently if reluctantly returns to your side.
 
Bowing slightly, you approach the hairy man. “Please don’t shake the Koala, my Lord Dominus.”
 
The man looks at you in puzzlement, before straightening, the madness leaving his eyes. “I’m sorry Cally.”
 
“We told you it would be hard, Dominus Ian.” Cally replied, gently removing his massive hands from her shoulders. “You’re almost finished though. It’s been getting easier, hasn’t it? You almost don’t remember her name…”
 
“But I don’t want to forget!” The Dominus objected loudly “I… It was…”
 
“I know…” The Koala murmured sympathetically, patting his massive hand gently in her small, clawed ones. At any other time the appearance would be comical. Now though…
 
“What in the name of Maou, Cally?” Blue demands, stepping forward and sniffing the air. “It’s almost like…” Suddenly, her eyes go wide and she darts behind you, her hands shaking where she grips your shirt. “Adz! Do the thingy and let’s go, please?”
 
“Blue? Cally? Your pardon, Dominus, I don’t know what they’re on about.”
 
“A miracle, Freeman.” The Dominus drawls harshly “A Miracle, torn from me when…”
 
“Ian!” Cally snaps “Don’t!”
 
“Aaaadz!” Blue almost begs, tugging at the rear of your shirt.
 
You turn slightly, patting Blue’s paw before retrieving the writ from your pack. “Dominus Ian, I thus complete my Solemn Obligation. Breyten of Port Fremantle has been accepted by the Court of Magisterium and needs your seal to ratify his title as Baron Breyten of House Esperance.”
 
The Dominus takes the writ, looking it over. “The Trader? Huh… Thought one of Baron Thomas’s nephews would have been all over that like corpseworms on a ghoul’s breakfast.”
 
“I’m given to understand they are riding for New Botany.”
 
“In drop bear mating season?”
 
“Baron Thomas said ‘The Ways of The God are Mysterious’ when advised of that, Dominus.”
 
“Amen.” Ian grinned. “Breyten’s got a good head on his shoulders.” He sighs as he hunts through scattered and neglected supplies for a seal. “I must tell you, Freeman…”
 
“Adam, of Gibson Holding.” You reply
 
“Adam.” He nods “It almost feels good doing something this mundane.”
 
“Mundane, Dominus?” You reply with a raised eyebrow as he locates his seal, dripping wax on the base of the parchment. “Ratifying a Barony’s not what I’d call mundane.”
 
“If you knew the year I’d had…” Ian chuckles
 
“Dominus…” Cally murmurs warningly.
 
“Seems the Mamono want me kept blissfully ignorant on this… whatever it is.” You remark.
 
“You don’t want any of it boss. Really.” Blue yips fearfully, still trembling as she eyes the Dominus with suspicion.
 
“Can’t say I blame them…” The Dominus admits, pressing the wood and lead seal into the wax. “…There. Done.”
 
“Thank you, My Lord Dominus.” You breathe, rolling the decree gently and sliding it into a protective wooden tube.
 
“I probably don’t look very lordly right now.” Ian admitted.
 
“Not my Leviathans.” You chuckle
 
“Eh?”
 
“Oh, just something Senesch…” You begin, before the door bursts open, the Reptilian guard tumbling through, before picking herself up with a groan.
 
“No more games!” A voice growls, and Isaac emerges through the door. “I couldn’t take it from Raoul’s mind, but I’ll take it from yours!”
 
“What did you do with Raoul you vile thing?!” Cally shrieks, running at the resonant with claws extended.
 
Isaac smirks, staring at the Koala, whose charge slows as her eyes cloud over. Grabbing her by the arm, he puts a hand on her throat. “Now… I’m going to do what I should have done from the beginning.”
 
“Isaac…” The Dominus growls.
 
“Won’t take but a moment My Lord. I WILL find out what’s happening here!”
 
“I don’t think I want you around anymore.”
 
Isaac laughs, a tinge of madness in that desperate snicker. “You may not get a CHOICE, Dominus… If what I find is what I suspect… Oh the Lodge will LOVE this… two in a generation.”
 
“Dammit man as Dominus of the Australs I command…”
 
“My Lord!” The guard cries, as her body jerkily turns to pin the Dominus against the desk as he rounds it towards the resonant.
 
“Dammit Kessie, lemme go!” The Dominus roars.
 
“I… Can’t!” The Reptilian replies helplessly.
 
“Yes… just give it up Koala… Let me see…” Isaac almost purrs, Cally whimpering in his grip.
 
A tawny blur appears behind Isaac, and with a furred paw like a hammerblow, Blue strikes him with all her might across the back of the head. The man’s eyes cross, and he goes down like his legs have just turned to water. Blue shakes her hand slightly, before kicking the insensible resonant in the face with a canid foot, pulping his aquiline nose.
 
“That’s for ruining things last night and for scaring my adorabear.” She snarls, before pulling the still slightly mazed koala back towards you. Freed from compulsion, the Lizard guard stammers apologies as she moves away from the Dominus. Ian straightens his clothes, before pulling a pillowcase off the bed and stuffing it over the groaning man’s face.
 
“Whazzat?” you venture, still slightly overwhelmed.
 
“Resonance needs concentration.” A new voice answers, and you spin to see Raoul, his face a mass of contusions as he clambers through the window. “He can’t use a glyph if he can’t see.”
 
“Raoul!” Cally cries, rushing into the silver-haired resonant’s arms.
 
“That’s a second story window… how did you…” You begin, before pausing. “More stuff nobody’s going to tell me?”
 
“Actually I climbed up the drainpipe…” Raoul chuckles before wincing “…Ouch… Cally, I’m a bit tender.”
 
“How in Maou’s name did he get one over on you?” The Koala demands.
 
“He waited until we were properly engaged, then got a half dozen footpads to blindside me.” Raoul answers, crossing swiftly to where Isaac is stirring with a groan. He fixes him with a weird expression and Isaac’s limbs stiffen into immobility. “What did you hit him with?”
 
“A Kobold.” You drawl.
 
“Tyris be glorified, I’m surprised you didn’t pulp his skull!” Raoul exclaims.
 
“Well move over and I’ll finish the job.” Blue growls.
 
“There will be no base murder in my bloody room.” The Dominus orders.
 
“Your Will, Dominus.” You and Blue murmur in unison. Ian chuckles in spite of himself.
 
“Isaac’s deported. I don’t want to see him in my protectorate ever again.” Ian states simply.
 
Raoul looks at him hopefully. “Then does that mean I…”
 
“You gonna bring her back?”
 
“Dominus, you know I can’t do that.”
 
“Then nup.”
 
“You’re being unreasonable.”
 
“Then I’ll answer to Tyris when He calls me home, but until then, I’m still the Bloody Dominus. You will take that…” he points to Isaac’s immobile form “…Back to Magisterium, and you will inform the Grand Lodge that I don’t wanna so much as HEAR the words ‘resonant councillor’ out of their mouths for the next ten years.”
 
“Your will, Dominus.” Raoul sighs dejectedly.
 
“It’s not his fault!” Cally objects.
 
“I know Cally…” Ian sighs “…but just SEEING him reminds me…”
 
“I’ll make the preparations.” Raoul accedes, raising Isaac’s body with resonant power and walking it down the stairs.
 
 
“Maou, am I glad to be out of there.” Blue sighs as you drive the wagon back towards the White Star.
 
“Mmmm…” Cally murmurs.
 
“I know you all keep saying I’m better off not knowing, but I can’t make heads or tails out of half of that.” You mutter, snapping the reins at four where it starts snuffling at something on the cobbled road.
 
“Probably for the best.” Cally sighs moodily
You look at the Koala with concern. “You alright Cal?”
 
“Raoul asked me to come with him to Magisterium. Says I can still help him with… his work.”
 
“Oh…” you reply, a tumult of emotions within you. You had known the Koala for less than a week and yet the tribulations of the trip had rapidly brought you much closer than expected… Not to mention the wool-fuelled romp on the southern highway. “H-how you feeling about that?”
 
“I don’t know. I mean I’ve never left the Australs… It would be an experience and Raoul’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had, even if he was my Master for most of it.” Cally sighs “I guess I’m looking…”
 
“For what?”
 
The Koala turns dewy eyes towards you “For a reason to stay?”
 
A reason to stay… You pondered that as the Koala looked at you. Her knowledge had proven truly invaluable over the course of this week and her connections, though a two-edged sword in the last couple of days had indeed sped up a process you were concerned could take the better part of the week. But were you just being selfish in your desires? Would it not be a better option for her to get to experience the wider world with her good friend, who was, let’s face it, much more capable of keeping her safe and comfortable than you?
 
“I’ll give you a reason” Blue’s voice cut into your musing. “If you leave I’ll be sad. And you don’t want to make me sad, do you adorabear?”
 
Cally chuckled fondly as the Kobold threw her furred paws around her affectionately.
 
“If you’re asking for a better option Cally, I can’t offer you one…” You state honestly, Blue flashing you a withering look.
 
“But…” you interject, holding a hand up against Blue’s obvious objection “…I can say that I genuinely like having you around. I can’t promise more than a guarantee of a warm swag and a share of dinner, but if friendship’s enough, I’m glad to offer it.”
 
The Koala smiled almost shyly. “Magisterium would be an experience, but what would I be there? I may as well indenture myself to Raoul for the rest of my days. Far from home, probably buried in the Library of the Grand Lodge while Raoul continues… his work.”
 
There’s that pause again… Part of you wants to press the issue, but the rest of you concludes that it’s hardly the time.
 
“Adorabeeeeaaaaarrrr….” Blue whines petulantly, giving Cally both barrels of her most pitiful hangdog expression.
 
“Alright, alright…” Cally laughs “…I’m staying free, that I’ll insist on, and I’m sure you won’t be averse to cutting me into anything I bring your way?”
 
“Wouldn’t be fair otherwise.” You agree.
 
“Then done.” Cally agrees, holding out a clawed, twin-thumbed hand. You take it solemnly, before pulling the Koala into an embrace, bussing her on the cheek with abandon, Cally squealing and laughing.
 
“Hey boss… Isn’t that Silver-Fox?” Blue offers as the White Star comes into view.
 
“Who?”
 
“You know, Rezzy-Raoul.”
 
“Nicknames again pup?” you sigh.
“Oh I am STEALING those.” Cally snickers “I told him to meet us here, after I’d had a chance to talk to you. I’ll be having dinner with him tonight.”
 
“Sounds good, just give us a bit to wash off and change, I still smell like Krake…”
 
“No Adam. We’ll be dining alone.” Cally interjects solemnly. “This will be the last chance I get to see him and I’d like the evening to be without distraction. I’ll meet you back here in the morning.”
 
“Oh… Yeh… Fair enough I guess.” You admit. Of course she’d want the chance to say goodbye properly.
 
Raoul grabbed Four’s bridle as you reined in, stemming the bungarra’s inevitable questing bite with a casual elbow.
 
“That was a day, wasn’t it?” Raoul grins, his face surprisingly unmarked.
 
“ere, how’d you heal up so quick?” you demand in astonishment.
 
“Resonance, m’laddo. It’s a beautiful thing.” The silver-haired man drawls with a winning smile.
 
“I thought you said you couldn’t…” Cally begins, before snapping her mouth closed. “Right… Of course. Well dear friend…” she states simply, holding her arms out to Raoul to assist her from the wagon “Shall we?”
 
A whole sentence is put into those two simple words and Raoul’s eyes widen, tears forming at the edges of his eyes.
 
“Of course.” He chokes, helping the Koala from the wagon, his hands lingering as he sets her down, before turning to you.
 
“Adam, I’d say ‘until we meet again’, but I’m afraid that’s unlikely.”
 
“Way of the world mate.” You reply philosophically, and with a note of genuine regret.
 
“Too true” Raoul agrees, holding a hand out to you. “Tyris watch over you.”
 
“And you as well.” You reply, taking the man’s hand fondly and shaking firmly.
 
Raoul releases your hand, crossing and kissing Blue fondly on the cheek where the Kobold leans out of the wagon to hug him, tail wagging enthusiastically. You both watch as the Koala and the resonant walk hand in hand down the street and into the thinning crowds.
 
“Guess it’s just you and me tonight pup” You remark, patting blue on the head.
 
“Yeh.” Blue agrees, leaning into your hand.
 
 
“We didn’t have to eat at the Inn…” Blue remarks as you enter your room, the bedding changed and your scattered gear neatly stacked against a side wall. The room bore the neat disapproval of a fastidious cleaner.
 
“I’m payin’ for it Blue, we may as well take SOME advantage of the fact.” You chuckle. “Reckon it was a Kiki cleaned the place?”
 
“Nah.” Blue grins “Floor hasn’t been sanded back a quarter inch.”
 
You chuckle, hugging the Kobold, the embrace lingering until you both began to blush slightly.
 
“We’re just gonna ignore the wombat under the floorboards then?” Blue asked, looking up at you, her expression surprisingly mature.
 
Your pulse quickens and you feel your hands start to shake. “I-it’s not that I’m avoiding it Blue… I just… Tyris… this isn’t some rite or mazed romp… we’re… we’re doing this deliberately.”
 
“Yeh.” Blue agrees, reaching up and stroking your stubbled cheek with a furred paw. “I figured it was on the cards when you didn’t dive into the closest beer-keg.”
 
“Little miss ‘I’m fine with water” you snicker, tickling the Kobold gently “You know Merfolk fuck in that stuff right?”
 
“Don’t joke your way around it, boss.” Blue giggled, twisting in your embrace, her paw pushing at your head gently. “I want to hear it.”
 
You swallow in a throat suddenly dry. Maybe a couple more drinks wouldn’t have gone astray. Still… You had promised.
 
“I… Want you.” You croak.
 
The Kobold pulls your head down into a fervent kiss, your tongues duelling as your breathing quickens.
 
“There…” Blue breathes, breaking the kiss as she leads you to the bed with smouldering eyes. “…that didn’t hurt at all, did it?”
 
You both shed your clothing together, your hands busy on each other’s bodies. You had seen each other naked many times throughout your lives together yet for some reason every detail burned itself into your awareness as the Kobold reacted to your caresses with whimpers and half-lidded eyes. Her tawny hair, growing much faster than you thought possible, now properly short instead of the spiky pixie cut she always maintained back at Gibson, her skin, astonishingly smooth, her modest bust rising and falling with her breathing, nipples perky and erect where they brushed against your palms. Her lips so soft, meeting yours with equal parts passion and nervous hesitancy.
 
“C’mere…” She breathes, gripping your throbbing manhood with her paw, feeling almost velveteen against your aching member.
 
“Just a sec Blue…” You murmur, trailing kisses down her body where she lay on the bed.
 
“What’re you…”
 
“Wanna try something…” You reply, meeting the juncture of her thighs, the scent of her yonic temple between them maddeningly sweet.
 
“The fuck do you plan on… Oh MAOU!” she groans as your lips and tongue brush experimentally against her sex. “D-Don’t you dare stop!”
 
With the eagerness borne of lust, you continued lavishing her soft folds with lips and tongue, curling it around the stiff bud of her clitoris and relishing in the feeling of her paws clamping on your head, encouraging you beyond the ability of her wordless whimpers. You continue speaking that ancient language of passion from between her thighs, until her whimpers turn to squeals and her toned, silky thighs clamp on you, her furred, canid lower limbs locking across your back as her whole body shudders.
 
“Oh… Oh Adz… Oh please… I need it…” She whines as her body settles, pulling you urgently up and licking her juices from your mouth and jaw. A paw seizes you and roughly aims you at her entrance, her legs pressing down on your buttocks.
 
You both moan in concert as you enter her with agonizing slowness, the furnace heat of her insides near-scalding on the sensitive flesh of your shaft.
 
“Fuuuuuuck… You’re huge…” The Kobold whimpers, her furred paws about your neck, grimacing with a mixture of discomfort and passion.
 
“You orright?” you breathe, gently rubbing a furred ear with one hand as you hold your weight off her with your other arm.
 
Blue nods. “Just… Go gentle, yeh boss?”
 
You answer with a soft kiss on her parted lips, gently pushing forward with your hips as you begin the first steps of that ancient, primal dance, burned into the very cells of your body. Before too long her whimpers become enthusiastic moans, and her hips begin to buck to meet yours. Again the weird sensation of breathing the same air overcomes you, and you seize a furred ear between your teeth, biting gently.
 
“Ohhhh Maou! Adam! I’m gonna…” Blue squeals, and her legs lock around your waist, her tail darting between your legs as if to press you further into her. Her body shakes with paroxysms of ecstasy, and her silken walls clamp and shudders around your length. The sensation sets off fireworks behind your eyes and you gasp in sheer pleasure.
 
“Tyris… Blue… I’m…” you gasp, beginning to push yourself off her.
 
“No!” She cries, her arms and legs gripping you tightly “In me…” She demands, her eyes fierce as they gaze into yours.
 
The sheer eroticism of that final forbidden act drives you headlong over the edge, and your entire body tenses with the blissful agony of orgasm as you erupt within her, your involuntary thrusts spurting stream after stream of boiling seed within her waiting depths.
 
You lie there, joined still, panting, still staring into each other’s eyes as the world around you begins to return.
 
“That was…” You venture.
 
“Yeah…” Blue agrees, stroking your face tenderly with her furred paw. “I’m glad I waited for you.”
 
That brings a blush to your face for some reason, and Blue giggles, kissing you on the end of the nose.
 
“We stink.” The Kobold states softly.
 
You inhale with a snicker, the scent of musk and rut heavy in the air. “We should probably take a bath.”
 
“Good idea!” Blue agrees girlishly, scrambling from beneath you and off the bed. Throwing a coquettish look over her shoulder at you, she begins to saunter towards the bathroom.
 
“Coming?” she drawls.
 
You chuckle, moving to follow her as you feel the faint stirrings of recovery in your loins.
 
Clearly the night was not over yet…
 
 
“Well well…” A smug voice breaks the blissful oblivion of sleep. You crack an eye to see Cally grinning down at you. “…Someone had fun last night.”
 
“I admit nothing.” You groan, stretching. Blue makes a small noise of protest at your movement, cuddling into you.
 
“So… How was he?” Cally insists, pushing at the Kobold-shaped lump next to you.
 
“Can’t feel m’legs.” Blue mumbles, turning her head into the pillow. The Koala snickers knowingly.
 
“I’ll admit, part of me wishes I was here to see it.”
 
“Uh, Cally…” you murmur, rubbing the sleep from your eyes “…I’m still here.”
 
“Aren’t you just?” Cally drawls, pecking you on the lips cheekily.
 
“Whazzup with you?” You query, sitting up slightly “You’re awfully forward this morning.”
 
“Call it a side effect of the company I was forced to keep last night.”
 
“What company… OH MAOU’S LUSCIOUS BUTTOCKS!” Blue exclaims, bursting from under the sheets in apparent shock. “Cally! You smell like…”
 
“Shh, Blue, not in front of the Human.” Cally admonishes gently yet insistently.
 
“Oh not this shit again…” You groan. “I’m taking a fucking bath.”
 
“I’m shocked there’s any water left in it, considering how wet the floor is…” Cally calls after you.
 
“Shaddup fuckya” You snicker, heading towards the bathroom.
 
 
“Sodding hell Cally, thought your head was gonna split in half with that one!” You snicker, mussing the yawning Koala’s mousey-blonde hair, streaked with grey where it blends with her round, furry ears.
 
Cally finishes the yawn, giving you a gentle punch in the side. “Don’t be mean.”
 
You grin, steering the Bungarra-drawn wagon expertly through the densening crowds. “Well I’ve got to make sure the tradition is held up, your usual bully’s out for the count.” You jerk a thumb to the rear of the wagon where Blue is dozing happily in the morning sun where it peeked through scattered cloud, a rolled blanket under her head.
 
“You’re in a sprightly mood this morning Adam.”
You nod at the Koala. “I won’t lie, I feel like I could run ten klicks and not even break a sweat… Probably that ‘give and take’ thing you were talking about.”
 
Cally gives a slight grin. “Maybe. More than likely it’s just the fact you got ample opportunity to let off some steam last night. The last week’s been pretty stressful.”
 
“Bloody hell, and then some!” You agree, before giving her a suggestive grin and a gentle nudge with your elbow. “Speaking of enjoyable evenings though, what did you get up to last night to make Blue jump like that?”
 
“It doesn’t matter” Cally answered shortly.
 
You give a slightly frustrated sigh. This shit again?
 
“Cally, I don’t wanna push you, but look at it from my perspective. Blue was eyeing you like you’d grown spines until you got out of the bath, and then she wouldn’t so much as let me go NEAR it until you’d drained the water. Twice.”
 
“It’s not that I don’t trust you Adam. Really. But it really is with your safety in mind…”
 
“Cal, I’m a Freeman of the Australs, and small-time or not, I’ve got a business to run.” You interject seriously “if there are concerns related to safety, I need to know everything about them.”
 
“Boss’s got a point…” Blue mumbles, stirring in the bed of the wagon.
 
Cally turns around, sighing “I made a promise Blue… and even if I didn’t, wings-and-tits over in Thealiss gets a bit funny telling humans about this kind of thing.”
 
“Fuck ‘em. Didn’t see the Council of Matriarchs exactly leaping to your aid when that cocksmear resonant was trying to stick his brain-dick through your ears.” Blue retorts hotly.
 
You suppress a burp of involuntary laughter at the Kobold’s colourful description of Isaac, the now-ex councillor to Dominus Ian, the Supreme Justice of The Austral Protectorates.
 
Cally seems to ponder this for a moment before passing a twin-thumbed hand over her face resignedly. “Angel.” She grudgingly offers.
 
“Eh?” You blurt uncomprehendingly.
 
“That’s what Blue smelled on me this morning. Raoul and I had… Company at dinner.”
 
You stare at the Koala, gobsmacked. “Wait. You’re telling me you had dinner with THE WORD OF FUCKING TYRIS MADE FLESH?!”
 
“Shhh!” The Koala demands, gripping your leg with her clawed hand and digging in insistently, eliciting a wordless yelp of pain from you. “Yes. But I’ll thank you not to yell the fact to the whole bloody port!”
 
“Sorry… Sorry…” You apologise, rubbing your leg gingerly.
 
“Well that explains Blue’s reaction… Tyris knows Mamono ain’t on the best of terms with the Hosts of The Heavens” you murmur in a lower voice.
 
“It’s the Succubi and other Hell-Born they don’t like.” Cally corrected “The rest of us they look at much the same as you Humans.”
 
“And how’s that?”
 
“By and large, like a kitten who may or may not be three seconds away from pissing on an expensive rug.”
 
You snicker at that. “See Blue? Nothing to worry about.”
 
“Plenty to fucking worry about boss.” Blue disagrees, no longer attempting to nap as she clambers to sit between you and the Koala. “You don’t know what it smells like.”
 
“And what’s that?”
 
“Power. Unrestrained, merciless power. Like you’re in deep, deep water and there’s a wave so big it seems impossible heading towards you and there is nothing, NOTHING you can do to stop it.”
 
“Tyris fuck…” You exclaim softly.
 
“If Cally wasn’t my Adorabear I would have chased her out of the room instead of just insisting she bathe. Every part of my body was screaming at me to either run or kill.” The Kobold admitted, looking at the Koala with her big blue eyes.
 
Cally throws her arms around Blue, squeezing her fondly “I’m so glad you didn’t”
 
“Me too Adorabear.” Blue agrees, returning her embrace.
 
Cally crinkles her nose “You two really DID have a big night last night!”
 
“Shadaaaaaaaap!” Blue moans, yet her tail thwaps absently against the wooden bench. “I can almost feel my feet again!”
 
The Koala looks at you speculatively “That good?”
 
“If you’re real nice to me maybe I’ll let you find out.” Blue drawls with a salacious grin.
 
You choke slightly at that. “So! We can expect somewhat more illustrious company at times then?” You bluster, desperate to change the subject.
 
Cally shakes her head. “No. She… works with Raoul.”
 
“This ‘Work’ that you keep mentioning?”
 
The Koala nods, looking at you beseechingly “Please don’t ask me about it. I really did promise.”
 
“S’fine Cally. He’s bound for Magisterium and I think you’re right, this is well and truly over my head. Hell, maybe when he’s done he can come back and we can all have a good yarn about it.” You suggest, pulling Four and Twenty absently back towards the middle of the road.
 
Cally shakes her head, sadly this time. “He never told me exactly, but the way he used to talk about it, it’s going to be measured in Millennia. One time he got drunk and complained that he wasn’t going to be able to be here to see it finished.”
 
“Even resonants get old, I guess.”
 
“Mmm…” Cally replies. “Can we not talk about it any more?”
 
“Sorry Cal.” You offer sincerely, reining in. “We’re here anyway.”
 
Blue peers at the fishmonger you had visited the previous day when you were looking for the Seneschal. “Didn’t we do this already?” She groans at you.
 
“I wanna ask that Stormhawk about Leviathan. We DID promise Wagyl, remember?”
 
“YOU promised.” Blue grumbles.
 
“Be nice pup.”
 
“Wait! Wagyl’s real, and you met her?!” Cally demands, her eyes suddenly alight “Tell me everything! I have to know! What was it like?”
 
Blue puts her furred paws on the Koala’s shoulders. “Adorabear, remember when I described Angels as an impossibly huge wave in deep water?”
 
Cally nods.
 
“Give that wave teeth.”
 
Cally’s eyes widen even further. “D-don’t play with me Blue.”
 
“She’s not. I flat out shit meself…” You interject. “…still, as you know, a promise is a promise.”
 
The Stormhawk screeches at you mindlessly as you enter the fishmonger, “Mine? Fish? Fish Mine?”
“Really?” You drawl.
 
“Oh, it’s you three again. What can I do for you?” The Stormhawk asks, recognising you and dropping the act.
 
“Leviathan.” You reply with a grin.
 
“Don’t quite have the shelf-space, sorry darl.”
 
“Even so, I’d like to know a bit more about them.”
 
The Stormhawk purses her lips, flapping her steel-grey wings absently and taking a few pop-hopping steps along the counter. “Fraid I don’t really trade much in deep-water fish… Not really built for it, y’know.” She spreads her wings for emphasis, and you can’t help notice her pushing out her chest suggestively.
 
“Please…” Cally drawls, adjusting her ample bust absently with a twin-thumbed hand.
 
“Bloody Koalas. How do you even walk upright?” the Stormhawk demands sulkily.
 
“Moving right along…” You interject, desperate to head that particular conversation off “…Do you know anyone that does?”
 
“You could ask Opal…” The Stormhawk admits, gesturing with a wing-thumb towards the side door.
 
“Would you mind?”
 
“Oh not at all. Hopefuly you interrupt something.”
 
“You mean…”
 
“We’re business partners and she’s not sharing. If I’m not getting any neither is she.”
 
“That’s evil.” Blue snickers in spite of herself.
 
“You know it Kobie.” The Stormhawk agrees with a wink.
 
You shake your head, murmuring thanks and heading down the cold, fish-smelling hall towards the back of the fishmongers.
 
“You sure?” Opal’s liquid voice sounds through the door.
 
“Raoul says he’ll be fine by the time we reach New Botany. We were never going to stay here forever.” Francis, the Dominus’s Seneschal replies apologetically.
 
“You know I could MAKE you stay.”
 
“And breach The Pax? C’mon Opal.. even in the Australs there are lines you just can’t cross.”
“Fucking leggies and your stupid fucking rules.”
 
“That’s Blasphemy”
 
“You know we don’t have to worry about that in the deeps. I know a sea-witch. Honestly it won’t even hurt that much!”
 
“That’s Heresy.” Francis interjected, yet there was no anger in his voice, only a regretful sadness. Soft sound of lips upon lips, an irritated noise of objection from the Kraken as Francis clearly pulled away.
 
“Goodbye Opal. I’ll always remember you.”
 
Soft sobbing at that. “Y-you’d better.”
 
The door opened and the Seneschal jumped to see the three of you lurking there.
 
“You again?” The Seneschal exclaimed.
 
“Er… Sorry… Needed to speak to Opal.” You reply hurriedly “And not that we were deliberately listening in or anything but… Safe travels?”
 
“Thank you… And excuse me. I… need to go.” Francis sighed heavily, the last choked with emotion as he slipped past you.
 
“Whaddaya want?” Opal spat shortly at you as you hesitantly entered.
 
Without a word, Blue walked calmly up to the Kraken, not even heeding her powerful, writhing tentacles playing threateningly in the air as she threw her furred paws about the pale, blue-grey flesh of the Mamono. Opal froze in surprise, before bursting out in tears, clinging to the smaller form of the Kobold with arm and tentacle and weeping as if her very heart should break.
 
Cally’s small, clawed hand hesitantly found yours as you patiently waited for the Kraken’s grief to pass. Eventually, the Kraken calmed, releasing Blue and sniffing slightly.
 
“I’m so sorry.” Cally offered sincerely.
 
“It’s not a total loss…” Opal replies, a touch of her earlier smug nonchalance returning as she rested a hand upon her slightly swollen abdomen.
 
“Don’t you dare.” Cally hissed at you, gripping your hand tightly.
 
“I ain’t saying shit. That can’t have been easy on either of them.” You replied bluntly.
 
“Good. Humans tend to bleed a lot and I’d HATE to have to wash all that off my filleting bench.” Opal’s liquid voice drawls with no small hint of menace.
 
You gulp at that.
 
“So.” The Kraken continues “What do you want?”
 
“Leviathan, I need to know more about them. Specifically why anyone would want a skull from one of them.”
 
“Skull? Not head?” Opal replied sharply, crossing to you faster than you thought possible, her tentacles surrounding you again. “Who’s the client?”
 
“Just some second son up Kalbarri waURK!” You choke as a tentacle whips around your throat and starts to squeeze.
 
“Sorry? Could you say that again?” Opal asked sweetly, her voice dripping with implied violence.
 
“Opal… Don’t you hurt my Boss!” Blue demanded, yelping as another tentacle wrapped around her.
 
“Blue!” You choke, struggling.
 
“Let’s all remain calm now…” Cally shakily entreated.
 
“I haven’t been able to keep anything down for a week, and I am VERY delicate right now.” Opal exclaimed, constricting ever so slightly. “Now… Be honest with me. Who’s the client?”
 
“Wagyl!” you gasp
 
“I said Honest.”
 
“Tyris as me witness! It’s Wagyl!” You gurgle, feeling consciousness begin to pack its bags. Opal releases you and Blue, and you gasp and cough, rubbing at your throat.
 
“So the Rainbow Serpent’s looking for a Leviathan Skull.” Opal muses to herself, tapping a long, delicate finger on her lush, dark lips. “Why?”
 
“Fucked if I know, I was hoping you could tell me!” You groan, breathing deeply and gratefully of the fish-scented air.
 
“She said ‘that her work may continue’.” Blue offered hesitantly.
 
“Well she’s fuckin’ imposing, and a dinner plate made out of a Leviathan’s brain-pan would be pretty fuckin’ mean.” You suggest. “Maybe it’s like Tristan said, she’s just buying into her own legend.”
 
“A legend which exists for a reason.” Cally answers, her own face a picture of studied thought. “Wagyl’s unique. Throughout all of our legends, histories and myths, she exists. Everywhere and everywhen, before Man or Mamono.”
 
“That really doesn’t mean anything, Koala. Immortality’s not common but hardly unheard of.” Opal mutters dismissively “Maou, we Kraken can live for centuries without too much effort.”
 
The concept of ‘Before Man or Mamono’ was technically Blasphemy but you held your tongue. “So you think it’s vanity?” You insisted, trying to pull the Koala and the Kraken away from their metaphysical musing.
 
“Well she’s not after tableware Adam. Leviathan don’t HAVE a brainpan.” Cally replies absently.
 
“Seriously though…”
 
“She is being serious.” Opal replies “Leviathan are too big to have a brain like you or I. The way I understand it, their nervous system is distributed throughout their bone marrow…”
 
“Oh Maou that’s it!” Cally exclaims
 
“Eh?” You and Opal voice in concert.
 
“The skull’s the densest bone in the Leviathan’s body. Let’s just assume the legends about Wagyl being connected somehow to the ‘spirit’ of the Australs is true…”
 
“Fairy tales…” Opal spits.
 
“Also technically Blasphemy but since nobody here’s bending a knee to her I don’t think it makes much difference.” You drawl with a slight grin.
 
“There is no Queen in Hell nor Earth but Maou, who by Her Word, swears Pax with The God in Heaven.” Opal insists stubbornly.
 
“As you say…” you offer diplomatically “…but since we’re all skirting blasphemy now I see no reason for Cally not to at least finish her thought.”
 
Cally smiles at you briefly. “Assuming that the legends are true, she could use the skull to see into the very essence of the Leviathan.”
 
“And make new ‘things’.” You muse.
 
Opal and Cally both look at you askance.
 
“She said that the Bungarra were her ‘things’, and was surprised how quickly humans adapted to them.”
 
Blue frowned, a discomforted look on her face. “Yeh but Tristan said that was just her pulling a swifty with her lizard-ness.”
 
“My brother’s a Waylander, not a scientist.” You reply with a slight shrug, crossing to hug Blue briefly “In any case not to fret Blue, we’re just talkin’ about it.”
 
“But you said you promised…” The Kobold whined.
 
“I did, pup, but it’ll be on my terms.” You assure her. “In any case, even going waaay out and assuming she actually CAN do what she claims to, and isn’t just some massive eon-old lamia whose brain’s turned, if her ‘things’ are as useful as the Bungarra, I don’t see any reason why not to let her play with nature some more.”
 
“Blasphemy.” Opal grumbled.
 
“Pretty sure that’s my line, Madam.” You chuckle at the sulking Kraken. “And Tyris, if you don’t believe any of it, why were you so keen to know anyway?”
 
“It’s an unusual request, and unusual usually means dodgy…” The Kraken offered lamely.
 
“Weren’t you the one banging on about ‘honesty’ earlier?”
 
“Don’t push me Human.” Opal hisses, her alien, cephalopoden eyes narrowing.
 
“Seriously” you reply sincerely “If you’re concerned, I’d like to take that into account. I’m not interested in keeping a promise if it’s gonna mean hurting people.”
 
Opal sighs, her tentacles playing slightly in resignation. Her mantled head raises to look at you. “A Leviathan skull is a… significant item amongst the Kraken. Years, even decades can be spent fashioning it to look just right, before bringing the recipient to see it. I thought maybe… maybe Francis had…”
 
A single tear drips from her eye and her lip quivers. “I think you all need to go.”
 
“Opal I…” You begin.
 
“Now.” The Kraken insists, turning her back on you and grabbing a pallet of fish almost violently in her muscular tentacles.
 
 
“Do you think…” Blue murmured, looking back up the road towards the fishmonger.
 
“Whazzat pup?” you asked absently, reaching over to rub the Kobold’s ear.
 
“Nothing… Just… It doesn’t seem fair.”
You nod seriously. “S’what gave me pause… y’know, with us. Can you imagine having to feel what she’s feeling right now?”
 
Blue hugs you tightly “Donwannathinkaboutit.”
 
You chuckle, patting Blue’s head fondly, before reining in at a wharfside tavern. “This looks like a good place.”
 
“For what?” Cally asked, leaning against you familiarly.
 
“To make contact with the Freelancers.”
 
“Uh… Adam…” The Koala replied, looking up at you in confusion “Don’t they have offices and stuff? Like official ones?”
 
“Yeah, if I was interested in getting the very shirt fleeced off my back.” You snicker. “Dad always said you talk to the stablehands before you talk to the squatter. I figure the advice’ll ring true here as well.”
 
“Well if nothing else, it’s a WONDERFUL place to get robbed.” Cally replies drily.
 
“You’re such a fuckin’ optimist Cal.” You drawl, hitching the Bungarra securely to a ring.
 
The air of the tavern was smoky and close, a din of half-drunken laughter and conversation nearly completely overpowering a bard who picked only half-seriously at his instrument.
 
“Maou’s tits!” Blue exclaimed, nimbly dodging a lumbering sailor as he turned from the bar, arms laden with tankards.
 
“Careful Blue.” You chuckle, passing the Kobold and the Koala a tankard each, leaving some brass coins on the counter.
 
“Why are we drinking?” Cally asked.
 
“Why not?” you responded, scanning the room. Suddenly, your eyes widened. “Blue, over there, the bloke in the hat getting cozy with the arachne… is that…”
 
“Oh wow it is too!” Blue exclaims.
 
“Will someone PLEASE explain what’s going on?” Cally begged, hurrying to keep up as you crossed the crowded taproom, the large tankard held uncomfortably in both her small, clawed hands. A dusky-skinned crab-girl with intimidatingly massive claws put a chitinous hand on your chest as you headed towards the table.
 
“Private gathering mon.” She stated bluntly in an islander patois.
 
“Ease up, I’m just looking for a word with my friend there.” You explain, gesturing towards the man who chuckled unnoticingly as the arachne stroked his jawline with a black-armoured hand.
 
“E gots nuttin’ to say to you.” The crab-girl retorted, shoving at you roughly.
 
Your face twists in umbrage and you swagger up to her, your faces inches apart.
 
“Try that again, I’ll make you regret it.”
 
“Ow you gonna do dat with no legs, babylon?” The Crab-girl chittered, seizing you below both knees with those massive claws.
 
“Let go my boss.” Blue snarled “Or I’ll crack you open and fucking eat you hollow.”
 
“Orright orright, Who’s starting shi…” The man grumbled, finally noticing you. His eyes widened in recognition. “Adam?! Blue?!” He exclaims. “What in the name of Tyris are you doing?”
 
“Having a disagreement with this one.” You grumble, not breaking eye contact with the crab.
 
“Getting ready for lunch…” Blue snarls simultaneously, her teeth bared and her hackles up.
 
“E is not bein’ known, sir.” The crab replied, backing away from you slightly “Is me duty to…”
 
“It’s your duty to assault a lawful freeman in clear view of two Waylanders?” You retort, pointing at the brown-clad individuals making a point of not looking in your direction. “You might want to tell your people to rein it in a bit, My Prince.”
 
“Stand down, Chitika.” Prince Edward ordered, standing and moving to embrace you fondly as the crab-girl reluctantly backed off. “And it’s not ‘My Prince’ any more. Did you not hear?”
 
“If I haven’t been on the road I’ve been embroiled in chicanery the likes of which I didn’t know existed since last week Eddie.” You laugh, seizing the man in a rough hug. “But hear what?”
 
“I’m a cut branch!” Edward replied with suppressed glee “I’ll never have to worry about continuance again in my life! My Father allowed me to surrender my title when he heard. I’m free Adz!”
 
Cally looked at Blue with utter confusion. The Kobold circled her lupine ear with one furred digit. “Humans are tapped.” she uttered simply.
 
“G’day Blue.” Edward chuckled, patting the Kobold’s head.
 
“Hi Eddie.” Blue replied happily, closing her eyes at the young man’s ministrations.
 
Edward turns again to you. “You know you took a risk there. Chitika could have ripped your legs clean off.”
 
You chuckle, putting a finger low on Edward’s torso. “Crabs’ve got a nerve cluster right there. Hook a punch into it, they splay out. Stick a knife in it, they pretty much drop like a stunned mullet. But of course she knew that, didn’t you?”
 
You flash a cheeky grin at the Crab, who looks at you with eyes now as wide as saucers.
 
“S-sorry mon, I didn’t know you knew de first officer.” she stammers, her dusky skin going pale with fear.
 
“No harm done.” You wave magnanimously. “Blue would have probably eaten you anyway though.”
 
The crab-girl seems to remember a pressing engagement somewhere else, as she suddenly skitters from the tavern, her legs loud as she scrambles away.
 
“First Officer eh? You’re doing alright for yourself.” You mention as you and the mamono take the offered seats, the other members of Edward’s crew moving out of your way with clear deference.
 
“Being raised noble is more than digging firebreaks with you between performing continuance Adz.” Edward chuckles “Who’s the Koala?”
 
“Fuck, where are me manners?” You exclaim, smacking your forehead with an open palm “This is Cally. Believe it or not she’s probably forgotten more about plants, animals and Mamono than is contained in your Lord Father’s library.”
 
“Madam.” Edward inclines his head politely
 
“Your Honour.” Cally replies demurely, smiling shyly at the ex-noble.
 
“Cally, this is Prince… sorry… This is Edward. First Officer of the…” You look at the young man questioningly.
 
“First Officer of the Albatross.” Edward responds.
 
“Right. That.” you continue, taking a drink. “And a dodgy, dodgy prick as Tyris is my witness.”
 
“We’re working on that…” The Arachne muses.
 
“Bosun Medea! I’m hurt! Here, in my heart! Not usually my most vulnerable point.” Edward jests, putting a hand to his chest in mock injury.
 
“Glad to put a name to the face, and the face the right way up.” You say to the Arachne, lifting your tankard in greeting. She responds by lazily waving her chitinous fingers at you with a small smile.
 
“So what are you doing in Port Albany?” Edward demands.
 
“If I had another week there wouldn’t be enough time to explain it all. Let’s just say ‘trader bullshit’ and leave it at that mate.” you laugh. “What about you?”
 
“We’re transporting… something important back to New Botany.” Edward replies, trying valiantly to keep a poker-face.
 
“Wouldn’t involve the word ‘Dominus’, would it mate?” You grin.
 
Edward’s eyes go wide. “How did you…”
 
“Trade secret.” You reply with a smug grin.
 
“Not even two weeks and he’s turned into a fucking factor.” Edward laughs, shoving at you.
 
“Kinda why I came over here on spotting you.” You begin.
 
“Oh, so our years of friendship had nothing to do with it?”
 
“Oh, it might have entered into it.” You jest. “But in all seriousness, I was looking to touch base with the freelancers. Figured you guys might know where I could land myself a Leviathan’s head.”
 
Edward purses his lips in thought before turning to the Arachne. “Didn’t Cap’n Josiah say something about the Kestrel hauling one of those fucking things in yesterday, hun?”
 
“Probably. I know the Kestrel’s still in dry-dock from the damage. If it’s hauled out, they’ll probably be taking bids on the carving later this afternoon. Head’ll be one of the last to go, must be at least two hundredweight unless I miss my guess.” Medea replied nonchalantly.
 
“There you go!” Edward grins. “Seems like Lady Luck’s making bedroom eyes at you.”
 
“First time this week…” You mutter.
 
“Don’t be a grump boss.” Blue murmurs, drinking from her tankard.
 
Edward looks at you speculatively. “Hey Adz… We go back a ways, right?”
 
“Name a thing that didn’t involve continuance that we didn’t do together.”
 
“Well there was last night…” The Spider drawled.
 
“You too?” Blue exclaims
 
“Medea!” Edward hisses.
 
“Blue!” You bark.
 
Edward looks at you and you both laugh helplessly. “Well, we all knew it would happen sooner or later.”
 
“So I’ve been told.” You reply, nodding.
 
“So you know you can trust me, right?”
 
“Yeah… Eddie what are you playing at, mate?”
 
Edward stands suddenly, gesturing to his crew who throw back their drinks and begin filing out of the tavern. “You’ll find out.” He says over his shoulder “Just wait here a bit, yeah?”
 
You mutter, taking another drink as you find yourself between the two Mamono at the now empty table. A scuffle breaks out near the doorway, someone yells ‘knife!’ and the two Waylanders you noticed earlier begin making their way purposefully towards it.
 
“Sooo… What are we doing?” Blue asks, taking another drink.
 
“Beats me.” You admit
 
“You know I’ve never had ale before, this is surprisinBEURRRRP” Cally belches suddenly, putting a hand over her mouth and blushing furiously.
 
“Okay, that was probably the cutest thing I’ll see all day.” You laugh, rubbing the Koala’s furred ear as she sits there mortified.
 
“Adorable, I’m sure.” An urbane voice muses as a well-dressed man takes a seat at the table with you.
 
You frown with slight suspicion. “Help you mate?”
 
“Perhaps. But that remains to be seen.” The man replies enigmatically.
 
“Look mate. I’m not here to play fuckin’ word games. Why don’t you go do your little act with someone who’s got the patience?”
 
The man steeples his hands in front of his face with a smug smile. “Why would I do that, Master Adam, when I’m here to see you?”
 
“Who are you?” You demand, sliding your hand down your leg towards your knife-hilt.
 
“There will be no need for violence, I’m sure.” The man replies in an almost bored tone “And as to who I am? Just an agent, for parties who have noted your… discretion in certain matters. We are always looking for people upon whose discretion we can rely.”
 
“You’re IMFC?”
 
“My clients are myriad and varied, and the discretion we insist upon necessitates that we do not often deal in names. The Independant Merchant and Freelancer’s Combine is a legitimate organization governing the Free Cities of the known world. I would not presume to speak for such an august body.”
 
“Tell me no secrets and I can tell you no lies, eh?”
 
“You have a quick mind, Master Adam. It is my task to make contact with traders who can be trusted in transporting items of a certain… Delicacy.”
 
“Smuggling.” You respond, leaning back and taking a drink.
 
“Smuggling is a secular sin, Master Adam, surely I would never suggest a relationship be established upon a breach of the Laws of the Protectorate.” The man replies without a pause.
 
You give a short ‘heh’ of laughter. “Yeh yeh… So what are you after?”
 
“Only that you give consideration to certain offers which my associates throughout the Australs make known to you. Of course you are under no obligation to accept them should they be beyond your ken, but we are positioned to reward your efforts, and your discretion, handsomely.”
 
“If I refuse?”
 
“Then I shall bid you good day. Think for a moment however. This meeting was established because a mutual acquaintance vouched for your discretion. If you refuse, you will be stating that said discretion cannot be relied upon, and we shall not contact you again.”
 
You nod, gesturing nonchalantly. “Yeh, orright.”
 
The man smiles. “Excellent. I am so glad that you are willing to be of assistance. Now if you’ll permit me, I have a request from…”
 
“Nah.” you interject.
 
The man blinks “I’m sorry?”
 
“I’m busy this week. Get yer blokes to talk to me later.”
 
The man frowns, leaning forward slightly. “Master Adam, I’m not entirely sure you’re taking this as seriously as it dem…”
 
“Oh, I understand mate. You’re some fixer’s fourth toe and completely expendable. You also need MY services, not the other way around. I can run salted fish to Nulla’s line for a silver on the kilo, pretend you don’t exist, and never have to worry about Waylanders. I’m taking all the risk, so I decide where and when I ‘assist’, savvy?”
 
The man seems slightly taken aback before nodding approvingly. “Your proposer was right. You are indeed a shrewd individual. We look forward to a long and mutually profitable relationship, Master Adam. Indeed, as an offering towards that, allow me to buy you a drink and offer a few pointers as to the best ways to ‘secure’ your discretion.”
 
 
“What was that business with the cards?” Cally asks, her brow furrowed above cherubic cheeks.
 
“That walkin’ oil-cask was showing the boss how to distract people. It’s like this…” Blue begins, before moving her paw slightly in front of Cally’s eyes.
 
“Why are you waving at me Blue?” The Koala asks, her face twisted in confusion.
 
“No reason Adorabear, though isn’t it a little cold to be riding around with your shirt undone?” Blue drawls.
 
Cally looks down at her bared chest with a sudden shriek, quickly moving to re-secure her dignity and blushing furiously. You laugh helplessly, slapping your leg with unsuppressed mirth. Cally fixes you with a pout, folding her arms with lower lip thrust out sulkily.
 
“What’re we doing Boss?” Blue asks, ignoring Cally’s reaction.
 
“Gonna see about that Leviathan head.”
 
Blue whuffles in trepidation, looking at you uncertainly. “We’re… we’re gonna go through with that then?”
 
“Tyris, I don’t see why not. Wagyl did say ‘richly rewarded’ and apart from being large and fucking terrifying, she didn’t exactly act like she wasn’t going to deliver on that.”
 
“Unless she steals you.”
 
You fix the Kobold with a nonplussed look. “Blue, she’s eons old and could probably swallow me whole. What makes you think she’s looking for anything like that?”
 
“I dunno boss, you are pretty big…”
 
Cally gives an abrupt burp of laughter as you blush furiously at the Kobold’s lewd innuendo. The lower docks were a hive of activity as you secure your wagon among the others, the few draft horses drawing those clearly owned by richer teamsters rolling their eyes uncertainly at the veritable host of gigantic lizards surrounding them.
 
“Looks like Leviathans are popular.” You mumble.
 
“Honestly I’d imagine half the people here are just here to gawk.” Cally replies, gripping your hand in one twin-thumbed appendage and Blue’s furred paw in the other.
 
“Hand holding in public?” You drawl mockingly.
 
“D-don’t get me wrong, All I can see is a sea of backsides. I don’t want to lose you in the crowd.” Cally stammers in reply.
 
You smile at that, squeezing the Koala’s hand fondly. You push your way through the sea of people to where a titanic corpse was laid out on the ramp of a dry dock, its rear half still in the water.
 
“Tyris be fuckin’ glorified! I was expecting big but this is bloody ridiculous!” you gasp as the full reality of a Leviathan is revealed to you.
 
Its colouration was a blue-green, fading to pale on its underside where it had slumped half-rolled, thick hooks buried securely in its flesh attached to thick ropes which had clearly been used to haul the massive thing. Its head was blunt, spadelike, mouth lolling slightly open and a long, slimy tongue trailing limply along its underslung lower jaw, serrated teeth like broken roof tiles nested in uncountable number within that horrific maw. Fat, irregular pectoral fins lay in three pairs along its length, supplemented with spined fins half-extended with rigor mortis along its spine. Its long, powerful tail moved with the rising and falling of the ocean in which it lay, its exact end hidden in the murky water of the port.
 
“Orright!” Yelled a burly sailor “We’re about to cut this beastie to peices, and since not even our three lovely ladies back there can eat the whole thing…” A pause as the muscular yowies bearing intimidating iron saws groaned at the jest “…We’re gonna take bids from folks as to the parts.”
 
“Fifty silver for the bile ducts!” came a yell to your right.
 
“Getting right into the ugly part! I like it!” The sailor yelled. “Edwina! Open this bitch up for me, there’s a love.”
 
One of the yowies handed off the saw to one of her compatriots, pulling a bladed hook from a pile of tools as yet unseen behind the Leviathan’s bulk.
 
“Yez blokes better pinch nose, unna. Dis ‘ere gonna stink some, yeh?” The yowie grunted in the pidgin common to the barely literate ogrish Mamono, before burying the hook in the underbelly of the beast and ripping it open with a powerful yank. Python-like intestines boiled from the rent, along with organs you had no name for, accompanied by an odour so potent it could almost be seen.
 
“Maou’s ample BosULP!” Blue retched, clamping her free paw over her nose and mouth in utter revulsion.
“Cally, why don’t you take Blue somewhere a little less… fragrant.” You offered, your face twisting as the smell hit you like a physical blow.
 
The Koala nodded, a greenish hue on her face, her lips clamped together, clearly not trusting her stomach to answer out loud, before leading the Kobold away. A number of others, Human and Mamono, seemed to have similar ideas, and the crowd thinned to a more eager number.
 
The Yowie strode towards the crowd bearing a glistening organ which she dumped unceremoniously in the burn-spotted hands of a pot-bellied man in a leather blacksmith’s apron. The man grimaced, stuffing his gory prize in a burlap sack before handing over a number of coins.
 
“Ten Silver for testicles!” An Aestenlander accent sounded from the crowd.
 
“Trust the bloody Aestenlanders…” The sailor chuckled, before gesturing again, another yowie bearing an evil-looking knife tromping heedlessly through the gore now coating the dry-dock to retrieve the prize.
 
You sigh, patting the head-feathers of a juvenile harpy absently, watching the crowd of scavengers, beast, mamono and to your surprise, human, make quick work of the remaining flesh around the Leviathan’s head. You had gotten into a momentary bidding war with a butcher over the item before realizing he was only after the eyes and tongue, which you gladly surrendered to him for assistance in dividing up the wad of meat around the neck and jaw. The hard, ridged skin was likewise snapped up by a leatherworker, who made short work of flensing the beast. The cheeks were taken by a supposed gourmand, and what was left you threw open in weary frustration to any who would take the effort to remove it.
 
Juvenile harpies screeched and argued, grabbing choice morsels and shoving them into greedy mouths. A ghoul, its pale corpselike form unsettlingly human sucking away at the nub of the spinal column, draining it of nourishing fluid and tissue. A momentary squabble between a Reptilian feeding a young, outrageously pampered bungarra and a Lich likewise stuffing a swarm of carrion beetles, where the former’s charge had eaten a few of the latter’s in its mindless gluttony.
 
“Waste not, want not eh?” You murmur softly to yourself.
 
“Why want skull? Why? Why want?” the young harpy demanded, preening traces of gore from its feathers.
 
“Someone wants to buy it off me” You reply indulgently.
 
“Not for eat? Not for play? Dumb. Big dumb.” The avian girl declared.
 
You give an involuntary chuckle. “Yeh, I guess…”
 
“You come play? Meet mum? Come play?” The harpy asked hopefully, fixing you with a precocious expression which would put Blue’s puppy-dog eyes to shame.
 
You pretended not to notice the mature harpy off to one side glancing at you as the juvenile asked the seemingly innocent question. Yeah sure. Just step out of sight for a moment and whoops! How did you end up at the top of this cliff? Oh well, while you’re here… Oh, and have you met my sisters? You might have been born at night but you weren’t born LAST night.
 
“I’ve got a long trip soon little one. Sorry.” You apologise, patting the harpy’s head-feathers again. She sulks for a moment, before noticing one of her siblings seizing a choice piece of meat.
 
“Mine!” She shrieks, “Mine mine mine!” Wings beating frantically as she launches herself at the other harpy who flees at top speed.
 
 
“What should we do with him?” You hear a female voice drawl.
 
“Let’s shave him.” Another replies with a barely suppressed giggle.
 
“See how fuckin’ far it gets you. Go on, fuckin’ dare ya cunt.” you growl at your supposed assailants, rubbing sleep from your eyes and scrambling to your feet from where you had dozed off against the pier, blinking as your two mamono companions come into focus against the glare of late afternoon light.
 
“Boss!” Blue replies in exaggerated shock “Why would you be so mean to me?”
 
“Well I didn’t know it was YOU.” You bluster, untying the rope from about your leg where you had secured it to the skull. “Who knew that apparently ‘Free Food’ means ‘I wanna shag’ in so many mamono cultures? Was easier just to pretend I was sleeping.” You stretch languidly. “Apparently I wasn’t pretending long”
 
Cally giggles. “It doesn’t. But most mamono know humans don’t know that, and since ‘honour the traditions of your neighbour’ is a pretty well known directive of the Pax, seems some decide to get a bit creative with it.”
 
“Now I know why the fuckin’ pallies get so salty with you lot.” You snicker, patting Kobold and Koala on the head. “Bloody dodgy bunch.”
 
“You got it then?” Blue remarked, inspecting the skull where it sat, cleaned of flesh on the dock. “Stinks like ghoul slobber.”
 
“Better ghoul slobber than rotting meat, pup.” You justify. Blue nods grudgingly in agreement. “What did you two get up to anyway?”
 
“Oh, you know… just occupied ourselves…” Cally replied nebulously.
 
“Uh huh…” You snicker “How much will it cost me and how many people are chasing you?”
 
“Well I DID win a bunch of money at this dice game…” Blue admits
 
“Blue!” Cally hisses.
 
“What?”
 
“Don’t just SAY it!” The Koala insists, glancing about guiltily.
 
“Why?”
 
“You’re indentured! Technically It’s a secular sin to gamble without your master present!”
 
“…And I told you to leave the dice alone after Dad and Simmo had to run off that Kangaroo you fleeced last year.” You add, frowning at the Kobold.
 
“Wasn’t indentured then…” Blue mutters, shuffling her canid feet guiltily.
 
“But you are now pup.” You sigh. “Are we in any trouble?”
 
“She MAY have fleeced the proverbial shirt off the back of the Sandpiper’s Bosun.” Cally admits timidly.
 
“Ah fuck. I think our welcome is well and truly worn out. Lucky supplies are about the only thing we need to grab on the way. Blue, Cal, go get Four and Twenty and let’s see about getting this ugly fuckin’ thing in the tray, yeh?”
 
 
“I still don’t know that you needed to encourage it.” Cally murmured uncertainly.
 
“Whazzat?”
 
“You know she’s only going to spend the money on grog.”
 
“So? She helped us get the skull in the back, I don’t think a little thank you’s unreasonable.”
 
“So do you want to encourage a drinking problem?”
 
You chuckle. “Cally, she’s a Yowie, not some bloody Human mendicant.”
 
“I wonder if they wouldn’t be more tractable if they didn’t drink so much.”
 
“Yeah and Mihirungs would be much easier to farm if they didn’t attack everything that moved.” You snicker, steering the wagon towards the trading post.
 
“Mihiwha?” Blue’s voice sounded from the rear of the wagon where she was inspecting the skull in fascination.
 
“Remember that big bird Baron Thomas hauled in two, three summers back?”
 
“The one that fed pretty much all of Joe’s?”
 
“And killed five workers on Mandoon Holding. Yeah. That’s a Mihirung.”
 
Blue’s head appears between you and the Koala “Adz, we’re not farming Terror-Birds.” The Kobold declares insistently.
 
“No Blue, we’re not.” You agree, rolling your eyes at your thoroughly ruined analogy, reining in and hopping down off the wagon. “Cally, I’m going to need your eyes on this. Blue, watch the wagon.”
 
“But I want to see…” The kobold began to object.
 
“MIND me, Blue!” You interject firmly.
 
“Yehboss…” Blue concedes sulkily as you headed into the simple structure which housed the trading post.
 
“G’day!” The sandy-haired human behind the counter of the trading post declared. “What yez after?”
 
“Gonna need supplies for a trip up to Port Fremantle. Probably about four days worth.” You reply, mentally calculating the non-perishables already stowed in your wagon.
 
“Too easy mate…” The man replied “…Anything else?”
 
“Yeh, we’ll need a swag for this one…” You put your hand on Cally’s shoulder familiarly, your brow furrowing as you remember the inclement weather on the way south “…also what’ve you got in the way of tents?”
 
The man nods. “Can do you a solid canvas number for seven silver, Sleeps four if you don’t mind being cozy, keep out anything but a cyclone or hungry bungarra.”
 
“Sounds good. Got apothecary supplies?”
 
“Round the side there. ‘Fraid I can’t help you on the specifics, I just stock the shit.” He snickers.
 
You nod, gesturing to Cally to follow you over to the indicated shelves.
 
“This is what you needed me for?” Cally asked, looking up at you.
 
“Yep. I know the basics but you’re the botanist here.” you reply with a grin.
 
“A basic field kit isn’t exactly advanced medicine, Adam.” The Koala replies.
 
“I know, but I figure it wouldn’t hurt to look at a few other possibilities. It was sheer luck I had the right astringent to stem the bleeding in your leg.”
 
Cally nods, rubbing her now-healed leg absently. “Fair enough.”
 
“Can I leave you with that?”
 
“Yessir!” Cally mockingly replies, two clawed fingers against her brow in a faux-salute.
 
You head back towards the counter as the owner of the Trading post comes back in, his eyes wide.
 
“Crikey!” he exclaims “Why’ve you got a bleedin’ Leviathan skull in yer tray?”
 
“I don’t ask those questions, I just fill the orders.” you reply with a grin. “One other thing, what’ve you got in the way of trapping supplies?”
 
“If it’s drop-bears you’re worried about, that horror you’ve got strung over the front of yer wagon looks fuckin’ effective enough.”
 
“Yeh, it’s me brother’s design, he’s an evil prick when he sets his mind to it.” You chuckle, “But not quite drop-bears… I was thinking more along the lines of nets… Maybe even something to blind an attacker as well.”
 
“Nets I can do you. Got an arachne-silk number that’s too thick for fishing, I was worried I’d have to throw it out.”
 
“And I REALLY hope you’re not going to try and fuck me on the cost, if that’s the case.” You grin.
 
“Ahhhh… Ya beat me to it mate. Yeh, gairn, take it off me hands, it’s just filling shelf anyway.”
 
“Much appreciated, and the other?”
 
The man rolls his eyes slightly. “Tyris… nothing that I’d actually STOCK, but it’s not too difficult. Grind yourself down some pepper, dried chilli, whatever, stick it in an old sock and smack a cunt in the face with it. He ain’t seeing shit for a good couple minutes.”
 
“Yeh… I suppose they wouldn’t at that.”
 
“By the way…” The man adds in a lowered voice “…there’s a Waylander outside who’s looking your wagon over. D’ya need to use the back door?”
 
You laugh at that “If only I was that interesting mate. Nah, I’m on the up-and-up.”
 
The Trader nods. “Rumor is the ‘Osprey’ was trying to move some stolen pearls out of port… Someone leaked it to the Waylanders. I feel sorry for the poor bastard who takes that bait.”
 
“Good to know. Thanks.”
 
A clatter of bottles and jars as Cally dumps a series of unguents, creams and elixirs on the counter.
 
“Tyris be fuckin’ Glorified Cal… I ain’t opening a Hospital!” You exclaim in surprise.
 
“You said prepare for eventualities, and there are a few items here nobody should be without.” The Koala declares with a superior sniff.
 
“Fair enough. So what am I up for?”
 
“4 days supplies, swag, tent, half a hospital…”
 
“Oh come ON!” Cally groans as the Trader joins in on the ribbing, eliciting a laugh from the sandy-haired man.
 
“…Let’s say 50 Silver?”
 
“Whew, thats a touch steep!” you exclaim.
 
“Yeh well your Koala’s got a good eye for my rarities, it seems. No idea what half this shit DOES but I know it’s bloody hard to get.”
 
“Trust me, they’re worth it.” Cally assures you.
 
You dig into your pack for a coinpurse, reluctantly counting out the silver, which makes an impressive pile on the counter before the Tradesman scoops it up.
 
“Cheers mate. Me boy’ll be out in a minute with the tent and the rest of the supplies. Safe journey.”
 
“Yeh, thanks.” You reply, helping Cally scoop up the first aid supplies.
 
“…Telling you, I’m a Waylander of the Australs, and I have a right to inspect this Wagon!”
 
“Not without me Boss!” Blue growls from where she is perched atop the Leviathan skull, hackles raised and teeth bared.
 
“S’orright Blue.” You chuckle as you approach the wagon, loading the first aid supplies into the chest behind the bench.
 
Blue whuffles, flinging one last suspicious glance at the Waylander as she sits back down on the bench.
 
“Checkin’ for those pearls eh?” You ask the Waylander nonchalantly.
 
“Tyris, does the whole port know?” The Waylander groans, unfastening the canvas cover presumptively.
 
“I only know what I hear at the pub mate.” You reply with a shrug.
 
The Waylander seems to accept that. “Yeh well… Nothing to declare?”
 
“Apart from the stinkin’ great head in me tray? Nah, basic supplies.”
 
“Where you headed?”
 
“Port Fremantle. Any notices going that way?”
 
The Waylander shakes his head with a chuckle “Nothing that hasn’t already gone. Seems someone beat the regular wool-traders to the punch this winter, market got DOUSED with weresheep wool before they got here. The Salt was palpable.”
 
“Nature of the beast unfortunately.” You reply philosophically as a warm feeling of smugness fills you. The Waylander grunts agreement as he works his way around the wagon. You check the Bungarra’s traces absently, smacking twenty as it moves to take a bite.
 
“Hey Trader, C’mere a sec?” The waylander’s voice sounds from behind the wagon. You frown. What could possibly be the matter?
 
“Whazzamatter?” You grunt queryingly as you approach.
 
“Word to the wise…” The waylander murmurs in a hushed tone. “…Sandpiper’s Bosun was looking for an easy scalp, but that doesn’t change the law. Unless you’re with her, keep that Kobie off the games tables. Yeh?”
 
“Sorry mate, yeh. I’ll make sure she gets the message.” You reply sincerely, wincing internally as you anticipate the fine.
 
“I’ll let you off with a warning this time, if only because of the pleasure it gave me to see that smug cunt crying into a beer someone else had to pay for.” The waylander concedes graciously with the ghost of a smile. “She fleeced him but good, by Tyris!”
 
“Really appreciate it. Sorry again, there won’t be a repeat. Promise.”
 
The Waylander nods. “See that there isn’t. Safe Journey.”
 
“Cheers.” You reply, re-attaching the canvas as the waylander moves to halt a horse-drawn surrey which was doing its best to carve a wide berth of the trade post.
 
“Because that doesn’t look suspicious at all…” You snicker, shaking your head. Sure enough, as you swung yourself up onto the bench and gathered the reins, you heard the Waylander’s voice ring out
 
“Halt! In the Name of the Baron’s Justice!”
 
Sound of a scrambling figure diving into the bush. High, ringing sound of a shot. Screaming from the would be smuggler as he collapses to the ground.
 
“Fuck me, they’re packing shard pistols down here?!” You exclaim, flicking the reins of the bungarra as the wagon begins its trundling roll up the southern highway.
 
“What’s a shard pistol?” Blue asks.
 
“Something you never want pointed at you.” You reply simply. The intricate devices were usually only wielded by nobles, who treated them almost like heirlooms. Only a handful of smiths in the known world had the ability to craft new ones, so most were years, some centuries old, and fetched a frighteningly high price, and that was when they were available for sale. They fired scorchingly hot fragments of a crystal known only as Shadrium, a rare and valuable mineral that was difficult to find and even harder to mine successfully.
 
“S-so what did the Waylander want?” Blue asked timidly. You turned your head to look levelly at the Kobold.
 
“Don’t pretend you didn’t hear, Blue. We’ll discuss it tonight.” You reply as evenly as you can. What to do though? Though sapient and humanoid like all Mamono, Kobolds still held things in common with their bestial canine cousins. A prolonged punishment would just fixate her upon what she had been denied, rather than on what she had done wrong. What would Tristan do? He had practically raised them… The memory of a howling Rey across Tristan’s knees as he soundly spanked the young kobold for raiding the Holding’s pantries rose to the forefront of your mind. But Blue was your friend, surely you couldn’t…
 
…You sigh inwardly. She wasn’t just your friend anymore, she was your indentured, and would look to you for instruction as her leader, and society would expect leadership from you as her master.
 
 
“Cally, can you see to dinner please? I need to have a word with the Kobie.” You sigh resignedly as you finish banking the fire, your new tent rigged securely beside the wagon, Four and Twenty contentedly chewing on leafy bushes infested with some kind of swarming insect. It wasn’t entirely clear which they were enjoying more, but such was the way of the stupid lizards.
 
Blue was peering at you from beneath the canopy of the wagon, her large, blue eyes dialled up to eleven.
 
“C’mere Blue.” You insist, pointing at the ground in front of you.
 
“No.” Came the sullen whine in reply.
 
“Blue…” you growl, deepening your voice. The kobold slinks from beneath the cover and hesitantly approaches you.
 
“Now I don’t need to go over exactly WHY you’re in trouble. What I WILL repeat is that you’re indentured, and you need to realize that I’m responsible for you. I need you to realize how much trouble you could have gotten us in today.”
 
“B-but Cally…” Blue stammered in justification.
 
“I will deal with Cally in a moment. You’re indentured, Blue, not a toddler. I need you to THINK about what you’re doing. Like Tristan said with his Kangas, I need to be able to rely on you as an extension of my own arm, not to worry that you’ll get yourself in trouble the moment I stop paying attention.”
 
“M’sorry…” Blue mumbled, her eyes downcast.
 
“Thank you for the apology, but I’m afraid a lesson needs to be learned this time.” You breathe resignedly. “Submit.”
 
“Adz…” Blue whines.
 
“Submit, Blue of Nulla’s Line.” You command, surprised at the forcefulness in your own voice.
 
Blue drops to her knees, hands on the ground and head bowed. You leave her there for a moment, rummaging in the chest. Finding the jar you were seeking, you walk back over to her, sitting on a large rock to the side of the road.
 
“Now come here.” You order, Blue standing and shuffling over to you, her head still bowed.
 
“Take your pants off and lie across my knees.”
 
Blue does as commanded, her rounded, toned buttocks bare in the cool night air, her tail tucked quivering between her legs.
 
“You will keep your tail raised and take your lesson like a good girl. Do you understand?”
 
Blue whimpers something incomprehensible.
 
“I can’t hear you.”
 
“Y-yes… M-master…” She whines, shaking with trepidation as she raises her tail. The sight of your childhood friend like this strikes you to the very core, and for a moment all you want to do is take her in your arms and forget all of it ever happened. No… You steel your resolve… this is something that you have to do.
 
Your first swat seems shockingly loud, and Blue’s yelp pierces the air. A red handprint stares accusingly at you from her pale buttock. Taking a breath, you spank her again on the other cheek. With every strike her piercing yelps tear at your heart… Seven… Eight… Nine… Ten.
 
Blue’s legs are trembling uncontrollably, her paws gripping your legs, a soft whimper escaping her lips. Her buttocks are an angry red, visible even in the dim twilight of early evening. Reaching over, you unscrew the jar you had retrieved earlier.
 
“Have you learned your lesson?” You ask softly, keeping the trembling from your own voice.
 
“Y-yes Master.”
 
You take a generous dollop of the soothing cream from the jar, spreading it delicately over Blue’s punished flesh. Blue’s moan of relief is a welcome salve from her pained whimpering. You gently work the ointment into her skin, nodding approvingly as the redness fades and the quivering stops. You gently pull her leggings back over her buttocks, gently working around her tail.
 
“That’s my girl.” you breathe, rubbing one of her ears affectionately. Blue slides from your lap, looking at you with teary eyes.
 
“I-I’m still your girl, boss?” Blue asks tentatively.
 
“Oh Blue!” You gasp hoarsely, taking the Kobold in your arms. “Of course you are! Tyris… that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
 
“Y-you don’t hate me?” Blue whimpers.
 
“I could never hate you, pup.” You insist, holding her to you and stroking her gently “Never.”
 
You sit in silence with the Kobold in your arms, her breathing becoming regular as she drowsily cuddles into you. Holding her with one arm, you unfurl a blanket with the other, wrapping it around her and carrying her back to the tent, laying her down in her swag with a soft kiss.
 
“Dinner’s almost ready.” Cally notes demurely. “Is Blue…”
 
“We’ll make sure to save her some. I’ll wake her up in a moment. I need to talk to you now.”
 
“Adam, I’m a free Mamono, not your indentur…” Cally begins in a lecturing tone.
 
“I KNOW that, Cally.” You interrupt sternly “Which is why I’m so very fuckin’ disappointed in the shocking lapse in judgement you displayed today. You KNEW what Blue was doing was a Secular Sin. You KNEW if she was caught it would come back on me like the stern judgement of Tyris. But you just went along with it.”
 
“I’m not her keeper!” Cally objected.
 
“No, but I thought you were her friend. Mine too. And friends don’t let friends do dumb shit. Especially not with the stakes involved!”
 
“What are you talking about?”
 
“Seizure of assets isn’t an unknown punishment for Secular Sin. Can you imagine the kind of merry HELL I could have been dealing with if Blue had fleeced a Baronial attache instead of some salty IMFC bosun?”
 
Cally looks at you still without comprehension.
 
“Maybe you don’t understand because your master was so highly placed when you were indentured. Blue is classified under Magisterium Law as Property. They could take Blue away. Legally. The absolute BEST I could hope for would be to throw myself on the Baron’s mercy and pray to Holy Tyris that she gets sent back to my father. Can you imagine what would happen if her contract was assigned to someone like Isaac?”
 
Cally looks at you with mild horror. “S-surely her matriarch would never allow…”
 
“Her Mother’s a fuckin’ Kobie from Nulla’s Line who’s only ever dealt with Gibson, and only then because Dad was so fucking generous with them! How in the merry fuck would she know any different, let alone recognise all the humans in the West Australs by name?”
 
Cally looks at the ground as revelation overwhelms her. “I’m sorry Adam… Things have just been so serious lately…”
 
“I know Cal. And fuck me I’d be the biggest liar on the face of Tyris’s green earth if I claimed to have never bent the rules, but not when it’s putting my best friend on the line!”
 
You sigh, kicking at a pebble. “I’m fond of you Cal. You’re a good friend. I like having you around and by Tyris you’ve certainly pulled my bunyas out the fire a couple times. But this isn’t a holiday or some jaunt with Raoul where he can wave his hand and magic problems away.”
 
“Resonance doesn’t work like tha…” Cally begins
 
“So not the bloody point!” you interject. “I need to be able to RELY on you, just like I need to rely on the Kobie. I’m a small time trader and I don’t have the political kick to dodge the heavy arm of the law if it decides to take a swing at me.”
 
“Yet you’re willing to hear out Smugglers…”
 
“There’s a difference between questionable cargo and flat out Secular Sin, Cal.” You retort, rubbing your forehead in frustration. “Look, this isn’t a debate. I don’t WANT to leave you behind, but you need to make a choice. If you’re with me, it’s as someone I can rely on, not as a loose bunga thrashing about my stables.”
 
“Oh good…” A new voice drawls from behind you, making you spin in surprise, hand flashing to the knife at your leg. “…I do so HATE babysitting pushovers.”
 
A tall, brown scaled reptilian steps into the light of the fire, presumptively dumping her pack and holding her hands out to its gentle warmth.
 
“Kessie, right?” You venture, recognising the reptilian.
 
“Kessiah to you if you please, Trader.”
 
You frown slightly at her aloof response. “My name’s Adam.”
 
“Good for you. It doesn’t matter though. The Dominus has instructed me to ensure you reach Port Fremantle without incident. You made quite an impression on him, it seems.”
 
“He’s sending his bodyguard to escort me…”
 
“Bodyguard? I WISH. I’m just a mercenary, and you’re just another job.”
 
“Bonza.” you mutter darkly, annoyed that your conversation was interrupted.
 
“Mmm… That smells good.” Kessiah remarked, sniffing at the pot.
 
“Damper’ll be ready by now…” Cally remarks, standing and heading towards the tent. “I think I’ll turn in, I’m… Not hungry for some reason.”
 
“Cally…” You begin.
 
“Don’t…” The Koala interjects “…You’re right. I screwed up… I have some thinking to do.”
 
You sigh, taking a seat near the fire and spooning some of the beans and cured meat bubbling in the pot onto a plate. You chewed mechanically, the taste not registering.
 
“Not going to spank the Koala?” Kessiah drawled from around a mouthful of damper, eliciting a choked splutter from you.
 
“How long were you fucking watching?” You demand.
 
“Long enough.”
 
“Fucks sake…” You grunt, dumping the rest of your meal in front of the bungarra and storming into the tent.
 
“You’re right…” Kessiah calls after you “…She’d probably enjoy it.”
 
 
Dawn came with the discordant chorus of twittering birds. You felt the warm, comforting weight of both Mamono against you as you stirred to wakefulness and sighed with relief. You had stared at the swarming dark in the tent for what seemed like hours the night before. Had you been too hard on them? Had you gone too far? The feeling of their closeness was a soothing balm against your doubt.
 
Blue stirs, her big blue eyes opening and looking at you. “Morning Boss…” She mumbles with a small affectionate smile.
 
“Hey Pup…” You reply fondly, rubbing her ear, the kobold making small, happy noises at the contact.
 
Blue opened her eyes again, frowning slightly. “Who’s outside?”
 
Cally stirred, opening her eyes and groaning. “Oh Maou… I was hoping it was all a nightmare.”
 
“Whazzat Adorabear?” Blue asks, clambering halfway over you presumptively.
 
“That bloody lizard is what.”
 
“Lizard?”
 
You strain your ears, and a faint hissing and panting could be heard over the insistent birdsong.
 
“She’s up earlier than I would expect, considering the cold…” you muse.
 
“She’s hardier than any damn scaly has a right to be.” Cally sulked.
 
You chuckle in spite of yourself. “Bigot…” you drawl, patting the Koala’s head.
 
“Am not!” Cally objected, before furrowing her brow in thought. She rolls over, her cherubic face above yours, her hair framing her face in the dim light of the tent. “But I got the chance to think last night, while you two were snoring away…”
 
“I don’t snore!” Blue cries in objection.
 
“Then Adam grew two heads last night and you ate one.” Cally drawls, flicking a glance at the Kobold.
 
“Mean.” Blue pouts.
 
“Anyway. You were right. I was irresponsible. I’m sorry…” She bends, kissing you quickly before you can react “..and I’m with you.”
 
For some reason that uplifts you tremendously. “Thanks Cal.” You smile, cupping the Koala’s cheek affectionately.
 
“Don’t think I can’t hear you three canoodling in there! C’mon out or I’ll dob you into the Pallies.” Kessiah calls from outside.
 
“The fuck does this lizard think she is?” Blue grumbles, hauling herself off you and stamping out of the tent.
 
You groan, moving to get up, before giving a yelp of surprise as Cally pulls you to her, kissing you more thoroughly.
 
“Let’s hope Blue feels like sharing soon though…” She whispers, giggling as she exits the tent.
 
“When it rains it fucking floods…” You sigh with a helpless chuckle, rubbing your forehead, the ghost of Cally’s kiss still lingering on your lips.
 
“Down Kobie, or I’ll swat you…” You hear Kessiah demand sibilantly.
 
“Tyris Fuck…” You grumble, scrambling into your outer clothes against the chill.
 
 
“What in the name of Tyris are you doing?” You ask the reptilian as she moves through what looks like an intricate dance, the long, flexible spines on her head looking almost like hair as she whirls about, her tail whipping audibly through the air.
 
“Training.” Kessiah answers “M’not gonna get soft just because the Dominus sent me on a grocery run.”
 
“Grocery run? It wasn’t exactly a spring stroll on the way down!” You object, smacking the razorwire lattice which stretches over your bench. “Y’think this is for bloody aesthetics?”
 
“Drop bears. Heh. Skewer a few and the rest get the message.” Kessiah retorts nonchalantly, finishing the dance and moving to where you had put her lunch on a fallen log at her ‘Request’. Eating gracelessly, she glances at you.
 
“You any good with that pig-sticker, Trader?” She asks bluntly, nodding at the knife on your leg.
 
“I know how not to cut me fingers off.” You reply carefully.
 
“Good enough. I need a sparring partner. You up for it?”
 
Yeh… Orright.” You shrug.
 
Kessiah grins broadly. “Make sure we camp somewhere with tasty dirt then, Trader. You’re going to be eating a lot of it.”
 
“Y’never know, I might surprise you.” You rejoin. Kessiah gives a hissing ululation, clearly the reptilian equivalent of laughter, before stowing her gear in her saddlebags and mounting the ornery bungarra she was riding.
 
“Where’d you get that crotchety prick anyway?” You ask, flicking at the reins. The lizard refused to let anyone but Kessiah near it, and Blue had very nearly suffered a serious bite when she ignored the Reptilian’s blunt warnings to that effect earlier in the day.
 
“Up north.” Kessiah replied simply, and that was the end of that.
 
“Adam did you leave your brains back at the White Star or something?” Cally asked incredulously.
 
You turn, looking at the Koala askance. “How d’you mean?”
 
“Kessiah’s a Pilbaran. Probably some of the best fighters in the West Australs!” The Koala hissed.
 
You shrug “I’ll probably pick up a thing or two then. Don’t worry Cal, she’s commanded to get us to Freo safely.”
 
“Guess it depends on your definition of ‘safely’ then…” Cally murmurs worriedly “…You know scalies regenerate right? She might not think a missing limb or two at the end of the day’s a big deal.”
 
“Cairn, she wouldn’t be that ignorant…” You chortle, yet a worm of concern commences its wriggling in your guts.
 
“Let her try… She’s gotta sleep sometime…” Blue snarls.
 
“Easy pup…” you reply softly, stroking the Kobold’s furred paw soothingly.
 
Your wagon trundles steadily north, the winter sun in the noonday sky still battling to avert the chill. You’re glad for a moment you took the opportunity to buy the tent. Sleeping in the open would not be fun at all, and you wonder how the Reptilian does it with such ease.
 
The turn-off to Mount Barker approached, the Militiaman still waiting at the intersection.
 
“Least it’s not raining this time eh mate?” You call out to the man.
 
“Cold enough to freeze the tits off a succubus though!” The man replies with a laugh.
 
“Any luck on that Rooster?”
 
The militiaman shakes his head. “The breeders are getting fucky about it too. Starting to become an issue. Reward’s up to five gold.”
 
You whistle in amazement. “Blue… Reckon you could sniff out a Rooster?”
 
“Sure I can, but are you serious Boss? Have you seen the size of the spurs those things pack?” Blue asks, looking at you uncertainly. You pat the rolled up net where you had stowed it underneath the bench.
 
“If I get my way, we’re not getting anywhere NEAR it.”
 
 
“This is your plan.” Kessiah asks dubiously.
 
“What’s wrong with it?” You ask, tightening the girth on four where you have released it from the traces and prepared it for riding.
 
“Someone’s obviously never seen a chicken-harpy corkscrew…” The reptilian mutters. “…Orright, well if you’re so intent on killing yourselves, I’m going to the pub.”
 
You watch Kessiah stalk away in stunned silence. You look to the Koala with slight uncertainty. “Cally, I thought you said we could do this, and that was WITHOUT the net.”
 
“I still think we can. It’s a chicken-harpy, for Maou’s sake. How dangerous can it be?” The Koala answered, looking slightly ridiculous where she sat mounted atop Twenty’s lumbering bulk.
 
“Famous Last Words!” Kessiah yells over her shoulder.
 
“Fucking Scaly…” The Koala grumbles, shooting a venomous look at Kessiah’s back.
 
“How you doin’ there Blue?” You ask with a slight chuckle. Blue is stretching out, her long, sleek limbs rippling with an athlete’s musculature.
 
“Please Boss. Me and Skye herded thirteen of these things…” She slaps Four on the forequarter “…Whilst hungover as SHIT. It’s not getting near me. It’s you and Adorabear I’m worried about.”
 
“I have a large deterrent.” You chuckle, patting the machete at your leg. “…and if all else fails, I can gob a wad of vegemite at it.”
 
“Well then I’ll take my kiss for luck now then. Before you go eating raw sewage.” Blue demands, her face a moue of revulsion.
 
“There’s no sewage in vegemite” You snicker, walking over to the Kobold.
 
“Tell that to the smell.” Blue mumbles, throwing her arms around your neck and kissing you soundly. A passing townsman coughs uncomfortably.
 
“Help you mate?” you drawl, fixing the man with an even look. The man makes a face and keeps walking.
 
Blue looks up at you speculatively. “Takin’ a risk Boss?”
 
“A kiss isn’t even denounceable. He’s just being a cunt.” you reply, patting the Kobold’s head.
 
“Well if you’re handing out flirtations with Heresy…” Cally calls from atop Twenty, holding her clawed, twin thumbed hands out presumptively.
 
Blue laughs, pushing you towards the Koala. You put a familiar foot on the bungarra’s forelimb, leaning up to the Koala, who seizes you with her small hands, kissing you fiercely.
 
“Pack it in Adorabear!” Blue laughs mockingly
 
“Count’s still two-nil in your favour, Blue…” Cally drawls suggestively. Blue’s laughter shuts off as she blushes beet-red.
 
“Not in public girls.” You chide softly, making sure nobody was around to hear that exchange. Someone of your relatively low station was not likely to be bothered about it, Paladins in the Australs tended towards the ‘realist’ side of Tyrisian ideology, after all. Not like the foaming fanatics you had been told about in the Westerlands and Continental baronies… Still, didn’t hurt to mitigate the risk.
 
Blue stretched her arms out, closing her eyes before bringing her paws up, held before her face in a seemingly ritual manner, chanting softly in a harsh, growling dialect you didn’t recognise.
 
“Whatcha doin’ pup?” You ask in surprise, pausing as you re-mounted Four.
 
“Calling to the Spirits of the Hunt to aid her.” Cally answers as Blue continues chanting. Her eyes snap open and you swear something… different hangs in the air about her. Something primal. Savage. Throwing her head skyward, she lets loose with a ringing, bell-toned howl, disquieting coming from that delicate, girlish face.
 
Blue sniffs the air, turning her head this way and that before squaring her shoulders. Looking over her shoulder at you, she grunts ‘Come.’ In a harsh, slavering tone.
 
“There.” Blue growls, pointing with a furred digit at a rustling in the long grass ahead.
 
You unravel the net carefully, passing one end to Cally.
 
“No matter what happens, keep it on your right, Cal. I’ll take care of the rest.” You murmur softly, barely above a whisper.
 
A feathered head pokes up and you curse internally. It heard you from here? You crouch lower on the Bungarra, trying to reduce your profile against the horizon. It might not be concerned about two bungarra, but raised in captivity, it would definitely know the shape of a mounted human.
 
You give a low whistle, Blue glancing at you and nodding, as she stalks low to the ground, making a wide circle around the Rooster. You took a moment to study it, and for a moment you almost felt like laughing. It looked like nothing more than a callow human youth! Well… Apart from the feathers… And the wings… And the teeth… Tyris, the teeth!
 
Blood coated the chest of the rooster as it hunkered over something. As you nudged the bungarra closer, you saw what it fed on. Though the corpse was unrecognizable, you notice with a moment of revulsion that it had hands…
 
“Ready?” you breathe at Cally, who nods, a nervous smile on her face.
 
You give a sharp, piercing whistle, and Blue’s form bursts from the grass, snarling and yelling as she charges the Rooster. The rooster gave a crowing screech, flapping its wings before running… Directly at the Kobold.
 
“Watch yourself Blue!” You yell in concern.
 
The Rooster flaps its wings once, leaving the ground and aiming a clawed, horny foot at the kobold, an intimidatingly large spur pointed right at her heart… Which, with a blindingly dextrous dodge, the Kobold promptly seizes in her teeth and rips from its leg. Shrieking with pain, the Rooster reverses its charge, heading straight for the net.
 
“That’s my girl!” You crow, your breast swelling with pride. “Put boots to that lizard Cal, let’s wrap this nasty thing up!”
 
Cally thumps her heels against the Bungarra’s sides, and aroused by the smell of blood, the bungarra willingly ups it scrambling pace. You pull four to the right, stretching the net out, the rooster left with nowhere to run… Assured of victory, you begin wheeling around, when the rooster suddenly flaps its wings and corkscrews straight up a good twenty feet in the air.
 
“Tyris FUCK!” You swear vehemently. “I thought these things couldn’t fly!”
 
“They can’t fly WELL, Adam!” Cally’s frightened reply sounds to your left. “I can’t see it! The sun’s in my eyes!
 
“Rein in! Pull twenty to the left! I’ll wheel around, see if we can’t make a run for it when it lan…”
 

Feeling of impact behind you, you turn instinctively to see the Rooster mantling you with its bloodstained wings where it perched on Four’s hindquarters, gore-dripping teeth reaching for your throat. You draw your knife from its sheath on your leg, reversing the blade and jamming the spine into the Rooster’s gaping maw. The mindless male harpy’s dim eyes clouded with confusion as its teeth meet the unexpected resistance of unyielding steel. With your offhand, you deliver a ringing blow to the side of its head, tumbling it from the bungarra… and straight into the net.

 
The Rooster shrieks as it finds itself tangled. Cally and you wheel your lizards to further bind the rooster, the sturdy arachne silk restraining its struggles effortlessly.
 
“FUCK YEAH!” You yell, sheathing your knife and jumping from Four’s back, adrenaline hammering through your bloodstream. “THAT’S WHAT YOU GET CUNT! FIVE ACROSS THE FUCKIN’ EYES!”
 
“Kill… Kill…” You hear Blue snarl as she stalks closer, her teeth bared, pointed canines frighteningly sharp.
 
“Down Blue… Down…” You order firmly but softly, putting a restraining hand on her shoulder. For a moment her head snaps around with a violent glare and a small part of you fears she may bite you… then her expression softens. She dashes back a ways into the grass, retrieving something.
 
With a soft growl, she holds the Rooster’s spur out to you in her furred paws, looking up at you expectantly, the end still bearing strands of bloody tissue.
 
“Thanks Blue…” You smile, accepting the gory ‘gift’ and patting her head gently. “You back with us?”
 
“I…” Blue begins hesitantly, blinking slightly. “I… Yeah… wowza… I’ll never get used to that, no matter how many times I do it.” She breathes, her voice and mannerisms returning to normal.
 
“So that’s why you and your sisters ‘take meat’ privately, eh?”
 
“Part of it.” Blue admits with a slight grin.
 
“Cally, pass me the ropes out of your Saddlebag…” You murmur presumptively, holding your hand out.
 
“Uh… Boss…” Blue ventures, pointing with a furred digit.
 
“No! Bad Twenty! Bad Lizard!” Cally screams, kicking at the at the Bungarra’s flanks and hauling on the reins impotently from where it and Four stood blissfully consuming the remains of the poor sod the Rooster had killed.
 
“We’re not getting them away from that, are we…” You sigh in revulsion.
 
“Nah boss…” Blue admits, shaking her head slowly.
 
“Someone’s gonna be pissed…”
 
Blue looks at you with a cynical smirk. “Only if you told.”
 
 
“I think that’s got it.” you state simply, balling up the rag you had used to clean the gore from the Bungarra’s mouths.
 
“I’m not comfortable with this…” Cally mumbled
 
“It’s that or face the risk of saying ‘Yeh, that missing person? Not only did the Rooster get ‘em but the Bungas kinda ate what was left, our bad.” You retort.
 
Cally seems to grudgingly accept this. “Still…”
 
“I know Cal, I’m not exactly thrilled about the prospect of having to lie to someone’s relative either.” You admit, walking up to the thoroughly trussed Rooster where it is lain across the back of your lizard.. “Open.” you order.
 
The rooster screeches, snapping at you, and you promptly stuff the wadded rag into its toothy maw. “That’ll keep you quiet, you fucking freak of nature.”
 
“Adam!” Cally exclaims in surprise.
 
“Look, we humans aren’t exactly given a whole lot of opportunity to study the Doctrines of Maou, but as Blue knows, our head cook back at Gibson was a talker for a weresheep. She referred to your bulls as ‘Maou’s Shame.’ Gotta be something behind that.”
 
“That’s an… apocryphal passage…” Cally admits reluctantly.
 
“Yeh well, regardless… that thing feels… wrong somehow.” You shake your head. “Something in me guts. Can’t explain it.”
 
You put heels to Four’s flanks, and the three of you begin the journey back to Mount Barker, Blue strolling nonchalantly between the two lumbering lizards.
 
 
“No offense Trader, but I’m astonished you managed it.” The Waylander who served as sort of de facto mayor of the small township admitted as he placed five golden coins on the table in front of you.
 
“Fucken oath!” Kessiah exclaimed with a slight slur, tankard in her scaled hand. “I thought we’d be holdin’ a fuckin’ funeral for this lot.”
 
“Love your confidence, Kessiah.” You drawl. “By the way… Saw what you meant about that corkscrew.”
 
“Ain’t it a cunt of a thing?” The lizard drawled, hissing with laughter.
 
“Some protector you turned out to be…” Cally grumbled, glaring at the Reptilian.
 
Kessiah waves dismissively. “Ah don’t be salty, shortstack. I’m paid to get you to Fremantle. Any adventures you choose to have between here and there that don’t involve pointing your wagon due north are not my concern.”
 
“She’s right Cal. She’s protected as well as bound by the conditions of the contract the same as an indentured. We’ve got no right to ask her to do any more than what she’s been paid to. In fact some Mercs have even gotten into trouble for ‘over-servicing’, as the obligation doesn’t cover their arses.” You explain to the Koala.
 
“Thanks Trader.” Kessiah smiles at you slightly “What he said, shortstack.”
 
“I’m… sorry then Kessiah.” Cally apologizes with a note of reluctance, “I wasn’t aware.”
 
The reptilian makes a ‘Pffshh’ noise of dismissal, but the ghost of that smile hangs around her mouth.
 
“I still can’t believe you’re not penalizing them for the damage done to my property…” A grey haired rancher complains.
 
“Because bringing it back in was SUCH an easy task.” The waylander drawls, his tone positively dripping with disdainful sarcasm. “My apprentice still hasn’t reported back from where he went scouting after the thing!”
 
Your heart sinks slightly… Shit. It couldn’t have been something uncomplicated like the damn baker’s boy, could it?
 
“Still, a ripped out spur? Chipped teeth? An eye swollen shut? I’m surprised its skull isn’t fractured!”
 
“Noice…” Blue murmurs approvingly in your ear.
 
“You too pup.” you reply quietly with an affectionate grin.
 
“Ah shaddup Ryan. Be thankful you got the cunt back still able to breed.” The waylander growls. Ryan, the rancher huffs, storming out of the smoky taproom. “Well, the offer still stands.” The Waylander continues, looking at the four of you. “Free bread, beer, and board tonight for all of you if you want it.”
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