“Blue…” You grunt, still half asleep.
“Yehboss?” Came the mumbled murmur from your Kobold in response.
“Get your paw off my face.”
“Mkay…” Blue accedes, its partner joining it in wrapping around your torso, her girlish, athletic figure pushing itself against you as she nuzzles herself into you. To your other side, Cally, the Koala, is sprawled out, dead to the world, her ample bust rising and falling with her deep, slow breathing. This would be cozy in any other instance, but you rapidly felt another need building within you…
…You had to piss like a racehorse.
“Move girls.” You insist, trying to leverage yourself out of the bed without disturbing the two Mamono too much. Blue makes a noise of protest, clinging to you until you insist that you would piss all over her if she didn’t let go. The Kobold concedes with a note of distaste, and you hurry from your room and head outside, picking gingerly over the stone and sand, still cold from the evening’s chill. Finding the outhouse, you relieve yourself, heading back inside. Soft moans and grunts were heard from up the hall, and you spy a sheet of parchment on Phillip’s simple table.
Morrigan decided she was going to stick me anyway. I assume you three can let yourself out, I’ll be otherwise occupied for the next day or two.
Thank you again, words can’t express how much it means to have her back.
The Light of Tyris shine warmly upon you,
“Well fuck…” You remark to yourself.
“Everything OK?” Cally asks as she emerges, now dressed from the guest room, her riding boots surprisingly quiet on the stone floor.
“Yeh, as you can probably hear, Phil’s reacquainting himself with his Manticore.” You chuckle, jerking your head up the hallway.
“How nice.” Cally muses with a gentle smile.
“Either way. I SHOULD be denouncing him for Heresy… But I gotta admit I’m curious. I’ve never seen a Paladin leave the Faith Militant except via grave or pyre… Wanted to bug him about it some more before I made a decision.”
“You can’t just leave them be?”
You give the Koala a level look. “When I get a chance, lemme tell you about Eddie’s predicament.”
“Oh, your friend the Prince?”
“Ex-Prince…” You correct, pondering slightly. Apart from the information she had been obligated to give you during the fracas in Port Albany, the Koala had revealed remarkably little about her past beyond her study of the Drop Bears in the Southern Woodlands. You made a mental note to rectify that as soon as you had a free moment.
“Where’s the pup?”
Cally gives a smug grin as Blue emerges, face like a thundercloud, rubbing one of her modest breasts. Spotting the Koala, she gives a sulky growl of “Mean!” before throwing her arms around your waist, pouting.
“What in Tyris happened?” You groan.
“Blue wouldn’t stop nibbling on my ear…”
“…So she bit me on the tit!” Blue whimpers, giving you her big blue eyes. “She deserves a swatting boss.”
“Don’t threaten me with a good time…” Cally drawls “…I believe the day’s getting away from us, right?”
“Cal’s got a point pup.” You admit, rubbing the kobold’s ears soothingly. “We can deal with it later.”
Blue grumbles slightly, before pausing, sniffing the air. “Who’s fucking?”
“Our hosts.” You reply, scribbling a quick ‘thank you for having us’ at the bottom of Phillip’s note. “So we’d best be off so as not to disturb them.”
“From the smell of it, I’m pretty sure you could send them to meet the bucket and they wouldn’t notice.” Blue quips with a slight grin.
“That joke’s never gonna wear thin, is it?”
“Yeah Nah Boss.” Blue snickers, grinning at you openly now.
“Yer lookin’ a touch peaky there mate.” You greet the Tenno and Goldstein factor, a human only a few years older than you who makes a noise of protest which quickly fades into a cavernous yawn.
“Three in the fuckin’ morning, you cunt. That’s when I eventually got to bed, and you’ve got the stones to bug me this bloody early.” The factor grumbles in response.
“I’m not the one who makes yer rules Jim. Were it me I’d just seal the lock with lead once it’s been counted at one end and call it even if the seal’s intact at the other.” You shrug.
“With a Tanuki on one end? You’re out of your tiny little mind, Trader.” Jim scoffs. “Right, so Twenty gold’s your end. You’ll take credit I hope?”
You shrug acceptance “Nothing stopping me from coming back if I need more in the nature of pocket change.”
“Thank Tyris…” Jim exclaims gratefully “…You have no idea how many people have been nagging at me to cash notes this past fortnight. I tell them, ‘We’re in Boulder, who’s not gonna accept a T&G note?’ but of course the answer’s obvious.”
“Oh yeh? Who’s not gonna accept a note?”
“Y’know, dreamweavers. Mamono who specialize in dream magic. There ain’t much to do in a mining city in the middle of nowhere asides drink, so people pay the Dreamweavers to let them have all kinds of fun in their sleep. Fantasies get to be lived out and the Faith Militant can’t get too salty because what happens in a bloke’s head is between him and Tyris… Course you get the occasional psychotic break but what’s a little madness between friends?”
“Letting someone into me head… Nah… Not a fan hey…” You admit, shaking your head. The factor shrugs, scribbling in a ledger. You purse your lips in thought.
“Saw an interesting thing the other week in Freo. Apparently themselves want five Hundredweight of mining equipment sourced and delivered to Coober Pedy. What’s the go with that?”
Jim sighs, not taking his attention from the ledger. “Old Man Goldstein’s the fucking go with that. He’s made some kind of arrangement somewhere but we ain’t exactly big fish in the East. IMFC have the Thylacine’s share of contracts over there and they’re not shy about haranguing our offices.”
“Oh yeh? Juni never mentioned him.”
“Course not. She wants his directorship, but the canny old bastard’s about three steps ahead of her. Tyris, it’s made my life a fucking trial since I got here.”
“How’d you get the job?”
Jim gives you a studying look. “I asked. The right person at the right time. Pay’s not spectacular but I prefer it to trading. Why?”
“Just curious mate.” You explain, holding up your hands. “So what’s the return on that gig?”
“It’s a percentage on return from the Shadrium mine, if I had to hazard a guess? Two Solar Marks within the first year.”
“Fuck me blind!”
“Yeh. Issue’s with the doing. It’s a lot of gear even if you manage to get the forgewrights to make it for ya, then getting it across the country? Whole ‘nother thing. Course if the thing goes arse up you walk away with nothing.”
“And Goldstein reckons someone’ll bite on that?”
“To be honest I reckon it’s bait. They’ve been fishing to nail Nautilus to the fucking wall these last couple years, and if they can make IMFC do it for them? Even better.”
The penny drops with a near audible sound within your mind. “Nautilus sinks the transport, IMFC is forced to ally with T&G to retaliate.”
Jim gives you a tight smile, “Just a theory.”
“Plausible one. Anything else going, between friends?”
Jim gives a slightly cynical laugh “Friends he says, leavin’ me with less than three hours sleep… Not really, put rocks in yer wagon and take ‘em to where they want ‘em. That’s about all Boulder’s got going for it.”
“How does this bloody barony stay solvent?” You exclaim in puzzlement.
“Well when one of the rocks we pull out of the ground’s eighty percent gold, you do the math.”
“Ah… There’s that.”
“Yeh. We done? I’d like to try and sneak in a couple hours before the fuckin’ mining concerns get over their hangovers and come bugging me for currency.”
“Yeh. Cheers Jim. Oh… One last thing, we got set on by a trio of raiders. Pretty sure they were IMFC.”
The factor shrugs. “You got here with the cargo, they’ll deny all knowledge… Them’s the breaks mate.”
“Figures…” You mutter, giving a half-hearted wave as you exit, somewhat irritated at the blase dismissal of being forced to fight for your life. Still… He was a factor in a small barony whose only claim to fame was pulling minerals from the ground. Realistically, what could he do about it?
“You’re a fuckin’ thief.” You grumble at the impassive innkeeper.
“Hey, it’s a seller’s market, you traders want cheaper rates? Build your own inn.”
You thought that the innkeeper better not fucking tempt you… you weren’t a magnate but you had more scratch than most to hand… And if you could figure out a way around the obvious ambush by Nautilus, much more than that likely to come in within the next few years. You scribbled at a note, which the innkeeper took nonchalantly. Signalling to a bartender, you drank deeply of the bitter ale he placed in front of you.
“Hi!” Came an eager voice from behind you. With a startled oath, you turned in your seat, to see a violet-furred felinid grinning quite possibly the smuggest grin you’d ever seen.
“The fuck did you spring from?” You murmur, taking another drink.
“You humans don’t even have the words for it.” The Cat-Girl drawled, velveteen paws around a glass of something unidentifiable.
“Fair ‘nuff then.” You remark noncommittally, causing her to roll her eyes in exasperation.
“Honestly you Australians. Present you with the impossible and you just shrug it off… You’re so FRUSTRATING!”
“Leave him be, Yuuko.” A richer, more melodic voice comes from your other side. “Can’t you smell the Kobold on him?”
Coughing once again into your beer, you turn in the other direction. Honestly you SWORE you were sitting alone not a minute ago.
“C’mon Suri, you never let me have ANY fun.”
You took in the other intruder. Her figure was lush, curvaceous. Burgundy scales covering her to knee and elbow, impressive wings sprouting from an elegant back, a thick, ridged tail waving lazily behind her… and two…. Things… on thick purple tentacles, grinning at you blindly with large, spadelike teeth bared.
“You Cheshires, always looking to unsettle a client before you’ve even broached the subject.” The Mamono the feline had named as ‘Suri’ sighed with longsuffering patience.
“Yeh well, We can’t ALL be Jabberwocky.” Yuuko grumbled in response, clearly not impressed with the other’s interjection.
“Subject?” You echo, not sure of what else to say.
“Well that’s easy, human… What do you desire?” The ‘Jabberwocky’ mused in a low, honeyed tone.
“Dreamweavers…” You chuckle, suddenly relaxing. “…pitch it walkin’, ladies. My head’s me own and is staying that way.”
“But you don’t even know what we can do for you!” The ‘Cheshire’ insisted, somehow materializing next to Suri in the blink of an eye.
You take another drink, fixing the pair with a level look. “I’ve got Mater Australis beneath me feet, a loyal Kobie, and the Grace of Tyris in me heart. M’good. Cheers though.”
The Jabberwocky gives a slight snort of disappointment, her appendant ‘mouths’ gnashing in apparent frustration before the pair seems to melt from existence, leaving you alone once more. Panning your gaze about the taproom, your eyes are drawn to an island of calm amongst the bustle, a silver and charcoal haired figure at its centre.
“Of fuckin’ course…” You laugh, standing and walking towards the Jinko, who was sitting stone-faced while a wild-haired trader gesticulated madly in front of her.
“I swear by Tyris! I’ll have the coin as soon as the job is done!” He insisted, his voice high and nasal.
“Pay or Go.” Chun-Hua grunted, looking thoroughly unimpressed.
“C’mon… surely we can come to some sort of… arrangement?” The Trader suggested in what was clearly meant to be a seductive tone. You saw Chun-Hua’s mouth curl in distaste, and the deadly obsidian lengths of her claws become visible from her surprisingly soft paws.
Time to head THAT the fuck off right now…
“Heresy.” You stated in a bored tone.
The Trader turns and looks at you with shocked surprise. “The fuck are you?” He squeaked.
“The bloke the Priestess who whelped you acts like she doesn’t know. Fuckin’ challenge or plead.”
“C-Challenge!” The Trader exclaims, fronting up to you.
“By what right?” You reply calmly, placing your hand on the hilt of your cutlass.
“By the right of… Hang the fuck on, why the fuck am I answering to you anyway?”
“Because Dumbshit…” You hiss, gripping the trader by the front of his shirt. “…That is Chun-Hua, better known in House Reinhart’s lands as ‘Death’s Cyclone.’ I’m saving your fucking life. Do yourself a favour and plead.”
The trader’s eyes bulged at your revelation. “I-I Plead the Forgiveness of The God.”
“Granted.” A steely-eyed Paladin grunted from where he was leaning unobtrusively against a wall. “…And be glad it was him and not me who denounced you.”
“Y-your Worship!” The trader gasped, hurrying from the taproom.
“I’m surprised…” You chuckle softly, inclining your head politely to the Jinko “…If I didn’t know better I’d say we were at that tavern back in Fremantle.”
Chun-Hua gives that grunt of affirmation you have come to know so well. “Would only have clawed him a little.” She assures you.
“Yeh, you and ‘a little’… believe it when I see it.” You chuckle.
The Jinko gives you a tight, brief smile. “What I do for you, Sifu?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it…” You begin, taking a seat opposite her. “…You’re good, Chun-Hua, damn good. I can rely on you, you get on orright with Cal and the Pup. Guess I’m wondering if Merc work’s really what you want to be doing?”
Chun-Hua gives a slight exhale, looking at her paws for a moment. “You good man, Sifu. Honourable. But I look for purpose. Maybe in Australs, maybe not. Must find own path. You want me to work, you pay, I do, but no more.”
“Thought I’d throw it out there…” You admit “…Though if I happen to hire someone who isn’t you in the future, they’re gonna have some fuckin’ shoes to fill, that’s for sure.”
“No feel like you have to keep that secret…” Chun-Hua drawls softly, the ghost of a smile on her lips “…I have reputation to keep, after all.”
“Yeh, orright.” You chuckle “Keep in touch. I doubt this is the last time I’ll need someone as good as you to back me up.”
“You Sifu… I doubt very much that true.” Chun-Hua states, inclining her head to you politely. Clearly, you were dismissed.
You spent some time making idle conversation with the other Traders in the taproom. Most there were happy lugging raw ore, though some did make a few noises of interest towards the Shadrium mine proposal. As in Fremantle though, the reward was tempting, but many balked at the risk and the expenditure it would require.
“Hi Boss!” Blue crowed, unashamedly hugging you as she scampered into the taproom.
“Gudday pup, how’d you do?” you chuckle, patting her on the head and ordering a drink which she guzzled greedily.
“You’re right boss. Playing with factors IS almost as much fun as dice!” The Kobold gushes, licking the foam from her lips.
“Details pup, s’why I sent you to go check, after all.”
“Well…” The Kobold began, grasping eagerly at the next tankard before outlining a rather dull and expected stream of figures. Absently, you remarked at how seriously Blue had taken the directive.
“…And then there was this one guy who promised me five points if I let him rub my tummy.” Blue finished with a look of distaste. “But honestly boss… fucker was so oily you could plant a well in his forehead and retire.”
“Not a bad idea that!” You laugh, patting the Kobold appreciatively. “You did real good Blue.”
“I’m a good girl Boss?” Blue gushes at you, almost ecstatic with your praise.
“The best.” You assure her, scratching behind her ear which almost reduces her to a quivering wreck.
“Aww… Really? I haven’t even gotten to weigh in yet!” Cally’s voice sounds from behind you, causing you to turn in surprise to see the Koala sitting at the barstool, her short legs kicking in the air.
“You been taking lessons from the fuckin’ Cheshires, Cal?” You exclaim, signalling the bartender again.
“Cheshires? Really? Where?!” Cally gushes eagerly, looking around.
“Never mind. So what’ve you got?”
The Koala gives a disappointed pout for a moment, before her brow furrows in thought. “Something… Interesting, though of course it’s entirely up to you if you want to take it.”
“Of course. Spill Cal.” You insist.
“There’s a Caravan leaving from Leonora in three days time bound for Thealiss. I found a Trader with cold feet who’s willing to accept a buyout of one hundred gold.”
“One hundred FUCK!” You exclaim in shock
“Against a profit margin of three hundred. Minimum. I spoke to the Caravanserai and he assured me the bloke wasn’t overestimating.”
“Three hundred percent profit? What’s the catch?” You demand.
Cally wipes her mouth after taking a long drink. “It’s Thealiss. Hell’s staff entrance. Not everyone’s got the stones for that kind of trip.”
“Uh Huh… And what makes you think I do?”
“Adam…” Cally muses, leaning closer to you “…I know you’re trying to keep the fact that you’re resonant from everyone else, but it doesn’t do you any favours for YOU to forget it.”
Fuck… The Koala had a point.
“Well shit… That’s a hard one to pass up.” You admit, scratching at your cheek. “Orright Cal. Let’s go sort this out.”
“But you said I did good!” Blue complains as you remove your hand from her head.
“You did pup, but three hundred gold at a minimum? That’s a hard one to pass up.”
“I guess…” Blue grumbles before perking her ears up, her tawny brow furrowed in thought. “…wait… where’s Leo’s norks?”
“Leonora” You correct “Copper mine holding. And the jump-off point for caravans into the interior… Bout a day’s north from memory?”
“That would take us…” Blue mumbled, tapping at her lips with a furred paw. Suddenly her eyes widen. “Boss! I’ve gotta go do a thing! Can I borrow some money?”
“Yeh, sure Blue, lemme just finish my beer and…”
“It’s a Kobie thing…” Blue insists, switching from foot to foot insistently. Wordlessly, you reach into your pocket, handing over some loose silver and brass. Blue leans up, giving you a warm if brief smek on the cheek. “…Thanks Boss! Don’t wait up!”
With that, she near-scampered from the tavern, leaving you staring dumbly after her.
“Well then? Shall we?” Cally asked brightly, her small, clawed hand inserting itself into yours presumptively.
“Hang on Cal, I wanna see if Chun-Hua’s up for coming along.”
“With a whole caravan of people to piss her off? Are you sure?” Cally asks, glancing at the Jinko, still surrounded by that invisible aura of worried peace.
“Ah, I’m sure we can work something out…” You grin confidently. “…Hey Chun-Hua, interested in a gig to Thealiss?”
The Jinko turns her head slowly, looking at you as one would study a horrible new species of parasitic insect. She shakes her head incredulously, babbling in that tonal language of hers before abruptly standing and storming out of the tavern.
“What’d I say?” You blurt, taken aback by her reaction “And what’d SHE say?”
“She um… questioned if you had taken some injury or if you were born that way.” Cally translates delicately. “…She said no force on Earth or Hell would get her within a day of Thealiss.”
You give the Koala a level look. “And you still reckon I can handle it.”
“Of course, Adam. Stop being such a wuss.” Cally insists, tugging at your hand.
“Waylander, C’mon, you’ve got to give me more time!”
“Billy I’d like to, but law’s law mate…” The Brown-clad man replied apologetically, gripping the shabby-looking man’s arm. “…Come along peaceful now.”
“Adam! That’s our client!” Cally hissed insistently, pointing with a clawed digit.
“Ah fuck…” You grunt, hurrying forward. “…Waylander! Please. I’ve got business with this bloke.”
“So’s someone else, and his claim’s not a small one.” The Waylander replied abruptly, sparing you only the slightest glance.
“Hundred Gold’s worth for defaulting on a Caravan?” You interject, putting yourself into the Waylander’s view.
“Well yeh… Wait… You’re looking to buy out his share?”
“No… Waylander… He’s too young!” The Shabby looking man begged, staring at me with a look of horror.
“S’my fuckin’ money mate. Plus, do you REALLY want to do fifteen in the mine?” You retort, fixing the man with a level stare until he drops his gaze.
“As you say.” The Waylander admits, releasing the man’s arm. “Caravanserai’s outside. Make the deal now and Billy walks.”
“It’s Thealiss, you dumb shit! The Mouth of Hell itself! Merciful Tyris if you have any sense…” Billy demands, grabbing at you.
You glance at Cally, who gives you a reassuring nod. “I’ve got this.” You insist, brushing the man’s hand away.
“Tyris fuckin’ be glorified… Thank you… You poor, doomed fool…” Billy almost weeps, staring at his feet in utter self-loathing.
“You SURE about this Cal?” You whisper to the Koala as you head outside. Cally’s clawed hand grips yours slightly tighter, her claws pricking into your flesh.
“Will you TRUST me, Adam? Maou’s ample bosom…” Cally hisses, fixing you with an irritated look.
“Fine, fine…” You sigh, wincing slightly. An older man in a somewhat florid outfit is arguing with a second waylander as you approach.
“Honestly, what’s taking so long? I can’t waste time on this if I’m to meet my caravan on time!”
“Caravanserai?” You ask shortly, pulling your wad of notes from your pocket.
“Yes? What is this? Who are you?” The older man demands shortly.
“Your new contractor.”
“You? What are you driving?”
“Three train wagon, bungas.”
The man gives a slight sniff “And how much are you in hock for that?”
“S’mine…” You reply shortly. “…Besides, that’d be my problem even if I was, wouldn’t it?”
“I suppose… Where are you staying?”
“The Exchange. Bungas are stabled there.”
The Caravanserai’s eyes narrow. “One Hundred Gold to buy in, and I DON’T accept Credit.”
“Well then you’ve got a choice. Take my note now, or take my coin tomorrow.” You sigh wearily, signing the note and holding it up.
The Caravanserai studies you with new interest. “You’re actually serious on this one, aren’t you boy?”
“Serious if you weren’t blowing smoke up the Koala’s proverbial about the profit margin.”
“Well…” He muses, spying Cally “…I’m surprised, librarian, he’s not what I would have expected.”
“He’s solid, Osun. You have my word on that.” Cally replies in a familiar tone.
“Well then… I suppose I can accept your word… and your note…” The man whom Cally had named as ‘Osun’ acceded, taking the note from your hand with long, slender fingers. “…The Cargo will be waiting for you in the morning, we leave for Leonora at dawn.”
“Good enough.” You agree, silently praying Blue didn’t take TOO long with whatever it was she was doing. “Then I’m gonna get some sleep.”
Osun seemed to be satisfied with that, pocketing the note and resuming his conversation with the waylander.
“Librarian?” You ask the Koala as you head back towards the inn.
“You think Raoul kept me around for my wit, Adam?” Cally drawls, grinning up at you.
“You know something?” Cally asks as you pull off your boots, wiggling your toes as you sit on the end of the simple bed.
“I think this is the first time we’ve ever been properly alone together…”
You ponder that for a moment, chuckling. “Think you might be right on that.”
Cally vaults surprisingly nimbly into your lap, straddling your legs, her ample backside wiggling deliciously. “What WILL we do to take advantage of that, I wonder…”
“Cal…” You begin, as the Koala slides her arms about your neck. “…Look. You’re important to me. I don’t want you to be chasin’ phantoms, and I don’t want to be the one who makes you do it.”
Cally’s brow furrows slightly “Whatever are you on about?”
“Raoul. He was important to you, and I can’t help but feel like maybe you might be having a hard time letting that go.”
Cally blinks, looking at you quizzically. “You think I’m… That you’re…” She begins, before bursting into helpless laughter.
“Orright… Didn’t think me being sincere was that funny…” You state with slight injury.
“Oh Adam…” Cally sighs, kissing you gently with her soft, full lips. “…You’re cute, and you’re decent in bed, and I’m really enjoying my time with you and Blue, all things considered. But comparing you to Raoul?” The Koala laughs again, shaking her head. “I never told you how we met, did I?”
“You haven’t told me much of anything about yourself.” You agree, frowning slightly.
“That’s true… Maybe it’s because I wasn’t sure how much you could handle. Raoul saved me from a forest fire when I was less than a year old.”
You ponder that, before recoiling slightly from the Koala. “I haven’t been diddling a juvie, have I?” You exclaim in horror. Defiling a child was the most heinous monstrosity under the Pax, and the thought chilled you to the bone.
Cally laughs, patting your cheek gently. “You’re sweet, but no. I’m about thirty-five, as you humans measure it.”
“Tyris… You don’t look it!” You blurt instinctively.
“And aren’t you just an absolute sweetheart for saying so?” Cally drawls, planting a more lingering kiss on your mouth.
“Hold the fuckin’ farcaster… That would make Raoul…” You trail off, the math impossible.
Cally trailed her claws along the back of your neck teasingly “I’ll answer that for you. Would you believe he’s almost ninety?”
“Yeah nah… Ninety?” You retort in disbelief.
“Uh huh… So believe me when I say for the longest time, most of my life in fact, Raoul has been my everything. Teacher. Father. Confidant. Friend… You’re a part of my world, Adam, but he IS my world, and there is nothing and nobody who can come close to what we’ve shared.”
“Adam… I’m very, VERY wet right now, and you want to talk about Raoul’s age?” Cally murmured, nibbling at your earlobe. “I’ll tell you anything that you want to know, but right now I REALLY would rather you used your mouth for something other than talking.”
“Raises a point though…” You breathe, feeling your body responding to her closeness and obvious desire “…We’ve all just kinda… well… rutted. I don’t even know what you like.”
“Believe it or not, we’re hardier than we look… Koalas I mean… Kinda have to be. I like it… Rougher than would probably be traditional.”
“The spanking and such…” You grunt, grabbing handfuls of Cally’s generous backside in your hands.
“Mmm… That HAS been yummy… though it doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to Blue. She NEEDS to be dominated, it’s the whole Kobold pack thing. I just like the sensation.”
“I ain’t gonna beat on ya.” You state seriously, your hands sliding up to remove the Koala’s shirt.
“I’m a Koala, not a Wombat.” Cally giggles, raising her arms and letting you remove her shirt, her gloriously ample breasts bouncing as the restricting cloth is removed. Bending your head, you lick and suck at her nipples, eliciting a faint gasp from the Koala as she buries her clawed hands in your hair. On instinct, you take a stiffening nipple between your teeth, biting down almost savagely.
“Ow!” Cally squeals.
“Too much?” You ask, concerned.
“Just a little… but the enthusiasm is appreciated.” Cally giggles, hopping off you to slide her leggings off, kicking them to the floor. Reclining on the bed, she spreads her legs slightly, giving you a smouldering look. “Well?” She asks, that one word filled with promise.
You didn’t have to be asked twice. Shedding your clothes hastily, you came to the Koala with harsh kisses, burying yourself in her with a powerful thrust. True to her word, the Koala’s pained cry quickly shifts to a lewd moan, and you feel the tightness of her deepest secrets quiver around your length.
“M-Maou… You are a fucking behemoth down there, did you know that?
“So’ve been told.” You grunt, gripping her mousey hair in one hand and pulling forcefully.
“Ooh… wow… you really take to thi-thi-UNHhhhhhhhh” Cally squeals as orgasm floods her body.
You give a slight grin, taking her soft lower lip in your teeth, pulling back ever-so-carefully. Cally cries out lewdly, her thick legs trying to wrap around your waist. Chuckling, you give an almost absent swat to the curve of her buttock, causing her to cry out again, her clawed hands digging into the muscles of your arms as your thrusts plowed into her.
“P-please… Put your hand on my neck…” Cally begs, pulling your off-hand up to her throat.
You comply, your hand looking massive against the diminutive mamono’s neck.
“Squeeze… choke me… oooh Maou I’m cuh-cuh-cuh…” Cally stammers as orgasm shakes her once more. You squeeze the sides of her throat, being instinctively careful of the windpipe, and the walls of her womanhood seem to return the favour, squeezing at your shaft almost painfully tight.
“C’mere.” You grunt, picking the Koala up and rolling onto your back.
“Whu… wha…” Cally slurs, her eyes unfocused with pleasure.
You give her a cheeky grin. “Wanna try something.”
“What’s tha… OOOOOoohhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHH” Cally shudders and cries as you slam into her from below with jackhammer thrusts, her entire body almost ragdolling as you pound at her, orgasm after orgasm rocking her, her mouth agape and her body slack against you.
“Cal… I’m gonna…” You grunt, feeling the beefswelling within you.
“Not insiiiuuuuggguuuu” Cally manages to groan
Accepting this, you flip her once again, pulling yourself from the vice grip of her yonic temple and aiming your member at her body, thick ropes of seed covering her breasts and torso as your own body shakes with climax.
Cally pants, blinking, trying to bring her eyes back into focus. “T-that… That…”
“Hope you had fun Cal.” You chuckle, kissing the Koala softly. She trails a finger through the issue coating her torso, bringing it up to her mouth and humming happily.
“I really feel like I should buy Blue something nice…” She mumbles, cuddling into you as she begins to drift into sleep…
“…Honestly Boss, shove over.” You hear Blue’s impatient voice demand.
“Sorry pup.” you grunt, your own voice thick with sleep. “Didja do what you needed to?”
“Yuh huh… Hope you left Adorabear able to walk, I could smell the sex from the fuckin’ street.” Blue answers, cuddling into you.
“I’m still your girl, aren’t I?”
You cup your Kobold’s cheek in your hand, kissing her small mouth tenderly.
“Then s’orright. Night Boss, I love you.”
“Love you too Pup…” You yawn, sleep throwing its dark blanket over you again.
“So wait a second… You were the Librarian for House Deakin?” You exclaim incredulously, staring at the Koala as the wagon trundled across the red dirt road towards Leonora
“It kept me busy…” Cally mused mildly.
“The largest collection of the written flamin’ word on the whole sodding continent… I bloody well would think so! How’d you land that?”
“Raoul prevented a coup. Entirely by accident, mind you. The Baron and the Dominus wanted to shower him with title and land and all manner of complications that he was far too busy to accept. So he had them name me Librarian as a reward.”
“That does sound like Blondie.” Blue admitted.
“Yeh, but how the fuck do you stop a coup by accident?”
“In that case, you freeze the air at about shin level while they’re sneaking through your laboratory and leave the entire rebellion with broken legs.”
You wince visibly at the concept. “How the fuck do you even do something like that?”
“Do you know anything about air density, dew point, barometric pressure?”
“Then YOU don’t, unless you want to…”
“I know I know, extinguish all life on the planet…” You groan, rolling your eyes. “…Honestly if we can do all this shit how the bastard hasn’t some tosser smashed the world like a dropped plate?”
“I asked Raoul the same thing… Apparently it’s one of the many common factors that the Grand Lodge can’t isolate. For whatever reason, regardless of culture, temperament, or intelligence, successful resonants are instinctively cautious with the power. Raoul theorized that wherever the Logos is coming from is unbound in time and can see into the future. Me personally I think it just knows when it’s being fondled by an idiot.”
“Don’t make that mistake, Adam…” Cally remonstrates gently, gripping your arm to drive her point home. “…As much of an unabashed…” She hunts for the appropriate invective.
“Fucksplatter?” Blue offers helpfully.
“That’s a good one!” Cally grins, hugging the Kobold with one arm. “As much of a Fucksplatter as he is, he’s not stupid. The merry run he led us on in Albany should testify to that.”
“Fair point. You keep mentioning Raoul ‘working’ on something though… Can’t clue me in now I’m resonant?”
“That’s… Something else. Not related to Resonance really, the fact that he WAS helped, but it’s not something I can talk about Adam. I’m sorry, I know I said I’d tell you anything, but that’s the exception.”
“It’s to do with the Angels, isn’t it?” You insist.
Cally frowns at you. “Adam. Don’t poke, or I’ll get cross with you.”
“The fuck did you become a priestess?” You grumble softly to yourself, conceding the point.
“So where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever gotten a stiff one up ya?” Blue demands suddenly.
“What? Where did that come from Blue?!” Cally demands, laughing and flushing with embarrassment.
“Hey, you said anything.” The Kobold grins, nibbling at the Koala’s ear.
“Well it WOULD have been in the freezing wind of the southern Highway in a bale of weresheep wool if SOMEONE hadn’t hogged all the action.” Cally laughs, trying halfheartedly to escape the Kobold’s teasing assault.
“Don’t bitch, Adorabear, I haven’t even so much as sniffed about being left out last night.”
“Maou’s pert Buttocks Blue! You’re still like five up on that tally!”
“Because I’m the favourite.” Blue drawls smugly and without a hint of humility.
Cally draws in breath to retort, yet pauses as Blue’s expression changes. “What is it, Blue?”
“Boss… pull the lizards in?” Blue asks, rummaging through the packs for something.
“Why? What’s goin…Tyris fuck, where’d you lot spring from?!” You exclaim in surprise as you realize the road is suddenly blocked by a small pack of Kobolds, vicious looking obsidian spears gripped in dusty, calloused paws. Their skin is deep copper, and their fur bleached to a tow colour from the harsh sun and wind of the arid interior.
“I knew we’d be close, but I wasn’t sure if we’d actually cross into their range.” Blue explains, jumping down off the wagon and walking calmly towards the spear wielders. One of them, half a head taller than the rest, growls insistently at your smaller indentured. Blue answers with a surprisingly respectful sound, halfway between a bark and a yawn. The taller kobold flicks her lupine gaze over the wagon, her eyes lingering on you. In that harsh, barking language, she jerks her head towards you.
“Boss?” Blue calls, not giving the pack her back “Can you c’mere please?”
“Yuh huh… Well, I reckon so… Nobody’s tried to fight me yet.”
“Kobold politics” you snicker, hopping down off the wagon.
Digging into the front of your shirt, you make sure the carved spur is easily visible as you approach the pack. As you come closer, a few eyes widen as they see the carving bouncing on its leather thong against your chest. Curious faces are upturned as the Kobolds lean in, sniffing at you. One of the Kobolds grabs your forearm presumptively, barking something at the leader with a lewd chuckle. The leader rolls her eyes, smacking the Kobold across the head with an open palm before pointing at the Carving and giving a harsh bark. Your ‘Assailant’ whines, withdrawing with tail between her legs.
“Lemme guess, hands off unless you wanna start a war?” You murmur aside to Blue.
“Yehboss.” Blue agrees, suppressing a grin as she keeps her eyes on the copper-skinned pack.
“You’ve brought bad magic to our lands…” A new voice sounds from amongst the Kobolds, and the pack respectfully parts to allow an old Kobold to pass through. Clad from head to toe in meticulously beaded hides, the old woman shuffles towards you with the aid of a staff. “…And I would like to know why.”
“Blue… What’s the Honorific?” You hiss aside at the Kobold.
Blue makes an odd liquid grunt, presenting the old woman with what she pulled from the packs, two intricately carved bone totems. The old woman hands off her staff without looking to a nearby Kobold, taking the icons in paws streaked with more grey than tow, a pleased noise in her throat.
“You Honour our Spirits… Blue… of… Nulla’s line?”
“Yes, Speaker.” Blue answers with more deference and humility than you have ever heard from her. Surprised, you stare at her, mouth agape.
“Knew your Great Grandmother. Fine Kobold, Fine Matriarch… Still. Why?”
“Is she talking about me?”
“Did I smell anything different on you?” Blue replies softly.
“There you go… We haven’t bought anything… Tailpussy was annoying but not bad… Kitty was Kitty… Adorabear’s Adorabear…” Blue muses, paw tapping at her lips in thought.
“Er, madam, where IS the ‘Bad Magic’, exactly?” You interject without thought
The ‘Speaker’ turned her aged head to look at you in slight surprise. “He’s forward.”
“Human Manners, Speaker.” Blue answers politely, her ears lowered.
“You’re giving ME shit about manners, pup?” you chuckle softly.
“Boss….” Blue whines pleadingly.
“Forgive me… er… Speaker. I’m not across your rites but if there’s something that I’m doing or carrying to put the wind up ya, I’d rather know now so I can stop.” You insist.
The old Kobold gives a ‘heh’ of indulgent laughter. “In your wagon, human.”
“Cal…” You call to the Koala, “…Please open one of those cases and see what exactly they’ve loaded us up with.”
You turn slightly, to see Cally opening one of the cases. With a shriek, she falls backwards from the wagon, clutching at her head. The Kobolds around you, as well as blue, give voice to agonized howls as they too clutch at their heads with furred paws.
“Tyris be fuckin’ glorified!” You gasp, sprinting towards the wagon. Vaulting into it, you look inside the case to see nothing but a collection of faintly glowing purple rocks.
“The fuck?” You exclaim with incomprehension.
“C-Close it! Adam! Please!” Cally sobs, writhing on the ground.
You didn’t have to be asked twice. You slammed the lid closed and sounds of relief washed over you as the mamono moan in the absence of pain.
“What the arse was that?!” You demand.
“C-Charged focii…” Cally stammers, regaining her feet. “…P-powerful ones. Those cases must have some amazing seals on them, I didn’t even feel it.”
“You see now, human. This is not Kobold-Magic. We will not have it among us. Our Ancestor-Spirits cry out at its presence.” The speaker pants, leaning heavily on her staff.
You nod, facing your cargo, and calling upon the Logos…
The speaker gasps slightly, her eyes widening.
“It… It is gone!”
“Contained, madam.” You correct her, your eyes not leaving the unassuming cases piled high within the bed of your wagon. “We are heading north, away from your lands. We will be through them and cause no further grief to your spirits as quickly as we can.”
“You will hold this at bay?” The Speaker asks.
“By Tyris the Eternal, I will fuckin’ give it a fair shake!”
The Speaker sniffs, seemingly mollified. “Your respect for our spirits is pleasing. Know that the Souls of the Warburton tribe smile upon you.”
“Cheers Speaker. Blue, Cal, you two will have to drive.”
“A-anything we can do Boss?” Blue asks timidly as she climbs into the wagon.
“Don’t go nibblin’ me ear pup… this is… ungh… harder than it looks…” You grunt, your jaw clenching with the effort of keeping your will focused.
“You can let go Boss… we’re past their lands” Blue murmurs.
You groan as you allow the glyph to collapse, your legs jelly beneath you.
“Now… What the arse…” You pant, looking between the Mamono insistently.
Blue looks to the Koala. “Adorabear?”
Cally purses her full lips in thought, clawed hand absently rubbing a grey, furred ear. “Well… Maou’s ample bosom… where do I even start?”
“Well let’s start with why it made everyone look like they were being subjected to Simmo’s singing.” You drawl, gratefully taking the waterskin Blue offered you and drinking deeply.
“Raw magic is… Think about it like when you first looked at the Matrix…”
“You mean when it looked at me” You respond instinctively.
You wave your hand dismissively. “Never mind. So it’s power… like a torrent inside your head threatening to sweep you away.”
“Well… Yes.” The Koala admits. “That’s a really apt way to describe it. That really makes me think, what if Resonance is just another form of magic for some reason only humans can understand. If so why? I really must…” Cally babbles, her eyes alight.
“One topic at a time, Cal.” You interrupt, patting the Koala’s head fondly.
“Well… You know how Morrigan er… Took liberties with you?”
“Wanked me off with her tail without so much as a ‘please can I’… But yeh.”
“Charming.” Cally snickers “Energy, magic, the flow of power that exists throughout everything, there are many ways to… take it. Sex is the easiest, it’s natural, instinctive, the stuff of life itself. But… With the Pax restricting that, Mamono who are magically inclined have to find other ways of refuelling themselves.”
“I didn’t learn anything about glowing purple rocks in the Abbey.” You point out
“Nor would you, I’m frankly astonished that a human caravan is transporting them.” Cally admits. “Magic… flows around the world like the weather….” The Koala explains, pulling out your map and tracing curving lines on it with a claw. “It moves in streams, which we call ‘ley lines.’ and where multiple ley lines meet, those are places of immense power to those who know how to utilize magic.
“Lemme guess, Thealiss is a meeting point for these ley lines.”
“Fuckin’ stonkin’ huge one Boss…” Blue interjects “…The packs won’t go anywhere near it. The Spirits get awful touchy about it for some reason.”
“Explains Chun-Hua’s reaction then.”
Cally nods. “But it’s still energy, it has no more will to its direction than a river chooses to follow its banks. Some crystals act like eddies in the flow of magic, trapping energy in an endless loop within their structure. Some types of Quartz, Opal… Diamonds of course…”
“Shadrium?” You ask, the glowing blue crystals which serve as ammunition for shard weaponry popping unbidden into your mind.
“Yes… Well done Adam, that’s not one most people pick up on.”
“So Shard rifles use magic?”
Cally shakes her head, “Just the power there. You humans are… funny. You can be affected by magic but you have no innate sense for it, and for the life of me I’ve got no idea why.”
“If I was a religious man I’d say it was the Protection of Holy Tyris.” You chuckle.
Cally shrugs “It’s as much of an explanation as any other.”
Your next question is interrupted by a cavernous yawn as fatigue suddenly makes itself known. “Reckon I’ll turn in for a bit… that was hard.”
“You did very well Adam… Very well indeed…” Cally praises you as Blue pulls your head down into her lap, stroking your head and face soothingly as sleep envelops you in sweet oblivion.
“Hi!” A female voice rouses you from sleep. You crack one eye, and to your surprise, Morrigan’s smug smile fills your vision, the Manticore leaning against the wagon, looking you in the face.
“Mmuh? Morrigan? The fuck’re you doing here?”
“Same as you, going to Thealiss” Morrigan replies, the ruff of pale fur about her neck rustling softly in the evening breeze.
“Adam.” Phillip greets you politely with an inclination of his head as he appears at the Manticore’s side. “You’d better get up. The Caravanserai wants to address the drivers before we get started.”
“G’day Phil…” You reply, stretching and rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from your eyes. “Fuck. Why didn’t anyone wake me up?”
“The Kobie threatened to throttle the first person to wake you with their own intestines.” Morrigan replies with an amused grin. “Course I can fly and she can’t.”
“Fuckin’ Tailpussy!” Blue’s incensed growl sounds from somewhere nearby, and Morrigan takes to the air with satisfied laughter.
“Down Blue…” You order absently, hopping down from the wagon and heading in the general direction of a growing crowd.
“Right.” The Caravanserai that Cally had named as ‘Osun’ called in a voice clearly used to obedience. “Most of you know the deal, but we do have a few here on their first trip. This is Yara…” He gestures, and a muscular Yowie gives a tusky grin utterly devoid of mirth, absently swinging a vile looking scourge in a meaty grip. “…She’s named quite aptly as ‘Skintaker’, so bear that in mind when I tell you the rest. Water is strictly rationed. Anyone caught pilfering above their allotment will earn ten of her best. Now we won’t have Waylanders in the desert, so think of me as Holy Tyris’s personal representative on this caravan. Anyone caught Breaching the Pax or in Secular Sin will earn themselves a lashing commensurate with their crime. We all came here to make money. Toe the line and we’ll all walk away much richer. Fuck with me, and I’ll strip you naked and have Yara chase you into the desert. Now. Are there any questions?”
“Could you pass me the billy please Adam?” Cally asks, holding a small pouch in her hand.
“Yeh, sure Cal, whatcha makin?”
“Tea” The Koala answers absently as you pass her the small metal pot. She fills it with water, then dumps a generous pinch of some kind of crushed leaf into it before setting it against your small campfire. The bustle of activity as the other wagoneers set up in the dim light of early evening is a near jarring change from the cozy peace you had become accustomed to whilst travelling alone with your companions.
“GERROUTOFIT!” You hear Blue snarl from the wagon.
“Tyris Fuck!” An unfamiliar voice declares in shock. “Er… Trader? Could you call off your Kobie?”
“That all depends…” You reply, grunting slightly as you regain your feet and walking to the rear of the wagon, where a pullcart manned by a bored looking yowie is piled full of sundries. A nondescript man is looking worriedly at Blue, who has her forepaws planted on the canvas cover, glaring at the man. “…Who’re you and why’re you pokin’ at me rig?”
“I’m one of Osun’s Quartermasters. I’m here to load you up.” The man explains with a slight sigh, as if weary of the question.
“Got me cargo already mate.”
“But not your duty-load of supplies.”
You fold your arms, still slightly suspicious. “What makes you think I’ve got room.”
The man rubs his eyes. “Not this shit again…” he mutters. “Look. You have an obligation to assist in transporting supplies. I won’t load you over capacity, we’ve been very thorough with the math.”
“Oh.” You accede, “Wasn’t across that, sorry mate. Leave him be Blue.”
Blue whuffles, hopping down off the wagon. “Don’t open the crates. They’re loud.”
“So I’ve noticed. Oh… on a related note, keep your eyes open for an arachne who’s a bit mana-crazed. She decided to take a look at one earlier and didn’t get the lid closed in time.” The Quartermaster adds in a tone of practiced familiarity.
“Shit eh? Is that gonna be a problem?” You ask in concern.
The yowie chuckles harshly “Bug gon’ fall over couple times unna. Wake up tomorrow with the headache.”
“Think of it as being falling-over drunk with a side of fever.” The quartermaster adds.
“Poor girl… C’mon Blue.” You muse, leaving the quartermaster and his porter to their work.
“What was that Adam?” Cally asks as you approach the fire. Blue takes a curious sniff at the steaming billy before sneezing.
“Just the Quartermaster. Didn’t know we were gonna be splitting the supplies up… You orright there pup?”
“Maou… Whazzat Adorabear?” Blue gasps, blinking rapidly and rubbing her streaming eyes.
“Just Eucalyptus tea. It should be just about ready.”
You peer at the Koala. “Haven’t seen you drink that before.”
“We’re going to be in the desert for a month. I won’t lie Adam, I miss the trees already.” Cally admits, “Would you like to try some?”
You shrug, picking up the Billy. “Yeh, I’ll give ‘er a crack.” You take a testing sip and it takes all your self control not to immediately spit the bitter fluid from your mouth. Forcing yourself to swallow, you rapidly pass the billy back to the Koala, before coughing and wiping your mouth.
“Well?” The Koala asks.
“Reckon I know what Vegemite tastes like to you sheilas…” You exclaim, swishing a gulp of fresh water around in your mouth.
“No accounting for taste I suppose…” Cally quips, pouring the liquid into a mug and inhaling blissfully.
“Hey Cal, I was wondering a bit about Thealiss.”
“Adam…” Cally groans, rolling her eyes.
“I know, I know, you reckon I’ve got it, just call it curiosity.” You interject, stemming the Koala’s complaint.
“What do you want to know?”
“Well… Fuck… WHY would be the first question.” You admit. “Middle of the damn country’s not exactly the most intuitive place for a settlement, magic or no.”
“You know how that other Trader called it ‘The Mouth of Hell?’ He’s not entirely mistaken. The Council of Matriarchs is dominated by some very, VERY powerful beings, and they can’t remain long in our world without access to magic in one form or another. A location like Thealiss makes it easier for them to… Push through.”
You frown in puzzlement. “Angonamo… I thought the Hellgate was in Zipangu.”
“The OFFICIAL one, yes, but there are a number of places where the barrier between worlds is… indistinct. I told you already that Thealiss is one of those places. The Council couldn’t keep things orderly if everything had to go through Zipangu now, could it?”
“Orderly… Heh. Like those succusluts give a fuck about anything except playing grabass with the big powers over the sea.” Blue snorts.
“When did you get political pup?” You jibe gently, petting the Kobold’s head. Blue whuffles happily, yet doesn’t elaborate further.
“S’odd that the Church hasn’t had a bit of a go about it, they’re not exactly big on Mamono in the first instance, let alone things actually comin’ from Hell…” You continue.
“Well it’s not a one way street Adam. You know about the Cathedral Solar in Magisterium, right?”
“The Footstool of Holy Tyris upon the world. The Palace of His Brides… What human doesn’t?”
“Well… The Heavens have their gateways into the world too…”
You gasp in astonishment. “Angonamo… The Cathedral Solar is a door to Heaven? Why the bloody buggering hell ain’t the Church leadin’ people through it double file?!”
“You’d have to ask our new Paladin friend that one Adam. I for one am born of this world as much as you, and I certainly have no pressing urge to visit Hell, regardless of my Goddess’s chosen address.” Cally grins slightly.
“S’pose I asked for that.”
“So what’s there then?”
Cally ponders for a minute. “I’m not sure…” She admits.
“Wha? You reckon I can handle it and you’re not SURE?!”
“Well the ‘Who’ is more important than the ‘What’. As Blue inferred, You’ll probably see Demons… Real ones, I mean. Succubi, maybe Incubi, possibly Lilim, Baphomet… irritating little brats they are…”
“Nightmares.” Blue adds with a note of trepidation.
“I thought Horrors were kept in Hell.” You demand.
“Don’t conflate the two. Nightmares share a common ancestor with hell-beasts like my kind does with the Drop Bears, but the former is Mamono, whilst the latter is just a beast, albeit one from another world.”
“Centaurs that play with your dreams… I don’t like them.” Blue mumbles, nuzzling into you as if to comfort herself.
“Yeh, can’t say the Dreamweavers really rub me up the right way either.” You admit.
“Which is why I say you can handle it.” Cally smiles, squeezing your wrist with a twin-thumbed hand. “You’re not one to be led up the garden path by rude mentalism. ESPECIALLY considering the discipline you’ve learned already with Resonance.”
“I don’t feel like I’ve learned that much…” You mumble.
“Don’t sell yourself short. You’ve probably learned dozens of things which you’ll find just ‘come naturally’ for no real reason. A bit like how you ‘just knew’ how to break Morrigan’s illusion.”
“That being said, I think I really should spend some time actually getting to understand things a little better. Knowing HOW things work in the world rather than just knowing that they do. Lighting a campfire without glassing the ground would be a nice option.” You pause for a moment. “D’ya think you could teach me a bit?”
“Of course Adam!” Cally agrees, her expression warm with pleased surprise. Licking her full lips, she leans closer to you “And my tuition rates are very… very reasonable.”
“Adorabear, if you wear a naughty schoolmarm outfit he ain’t gonna learn bugger all.” Blue snickers at the Koala.
“Oh… We’ll see…” Cally giggles, a naughty glint in her eye.
“Mornin’ Phil.” You greet the ex-Paladin as you head back from the communal latrine that had been dug the night before. One or two of your fellow first-timers had learned the hard way to use the facilities provided instead of just tossing their night soil beyond the bounds of their camp. The caravan guards were pointed with their lessons, as evidenced from the blistering epithets from the night watch which had awoken you in the middle of the night three days ago when you had set out from Leonora.
“Oh! Adam, good morning. This is Jack. Jack, Adam, he’s another one of the Wagoneers.” Philip offered, gesturing to an older man who bore a steaming jug and a couple of earthenware mugs. The man smiled in greeting, eyes bright amongst a face weathered brown by sun and wind.
“G’day young fella. Cuppa?”
“Eh? Missed that sorry mate…” You admit in confusion.
“You really have to try it.” Philip insisted.
Bemused, you nodded acceptance, and Jack poured a dark liquid, acridly fragrant into one of the mugs, offering it to you. You sniff at the bitter liquid, before taking a sip.
The hot liquid was slightly bitter, yet robust and flavourful, and seemed to fill your entire body with energising warmth. “Tyris be bloody glorified. What the bloody hell is this?!” You exclaim, eagerly filling your mouth again.
“It’s made from a bean grown in a few places around the joint, Southern Aestenlands, Brasil Protectorate in the Westerlands… They call it ‘Coffee’. It’s not easy to get, but s’worth every silver.”
“Oh yeh? How much do I owe you?” You ask, digging at your pocket. Jack waves a hand magnanimously.
“First cup’s on the house, though I’ll be more than happy to talk bungarra when we’re all properly awake.”
“Fucken oath!” You agree, “I can’t believe Cally insists on Eucalypt Tea when this stuff’s around!”
“Wait…” Jack interrupts, his eyes wide with surprise. “Like… proper Koala Gumleaf?”
“I s’pose… Cally’s a Koala after all.” You admit.
“That a fact… Bring ‘er with. If she’s got extra we might be able to work somethin’ out!”
You make a face at the older man. “You like that horrible stuff?”
“Spoon of honey in it and it’s fuckin’ marvelous mate.” Jack insists with a harsh if friendly laugh. “And I’ve got plenty of that, s’what I’m haulin’ after all!”
“Got a hive then? Who’s lookin’ after it while you’re away?” You ask.
“Well… It’s not mine exactly… Let’s say I’ve got an agreement with the Queen.”
You give a slight chuckle “Sorta thing to be admitting to a stranger there mate?”
Jack shrugs, but the smile doesn’t leave his face. “If yer on speakin’ terms with Phil, I reckon yer not the type to go squealin’ to the Pallies about shit that ain’t hurtin’ anyone.”
You laugh openly at that. “How the bloody hell are you still alive Phil?” You ask, shaking your head incredulously.
“I’ve no idea.” Philip admits “I was just saying to Jack that there’s not a night goes by where I don’t wake Morrie with my nightmares, Angels coming to take my head, the Church finding me and putting me on a pyre…”
“Ah quit it Phil. Only a little bit left to go mate.” Jack admonishes gently. Philip nods, sighing heavily.
“A little bit left to go?” You echo
“Later.” Philip states simply, gently inclining his head towards the growing foot traffic as dawn’s light brightens around you.
“Jack! You evil old bugger! Please tell me you’re still pouring that liquid heresy…” A voice still thick with sleep yells from somewhere behind the three of you.
“Gotta go… Unreasonable Profit beckons.” The old trader states with a wink. “Don’t forget about that Gumleaf!”
“I’m telling you Adam, I can’t do this!” Cally insists, her hands awkward against the grip of the crossbow.
“S’orright Cal… just relax, sight down the bolt… Breathe…” You murmur, guiding the Koala’s small hands with your own. “Now, is it lined up with the target?”
“I can’t see that far!” The Koala wails.
“You’re a terrible liar Cal, you’ve made lewd comments about me smallclothes at a further distance.”
“I-I guess…” Cally admits.
“Good… Now hold it steady… and squeeze.”
The Crossbow discharges with a dull ‘thunk’, the bolt speeding through the air and clipping the corner of the haybale which served as your makeshift target.
“I missed.” Cally declares sulkily.
“Hey, you got the corner, at least it hasn’t gone to meet the bucket!” You declare with a warm laugh.
“That joke is not nearly as funny when you make it…” The Koala grumbles.
You wink at the Koala, taking the Crossbow from her and ratcheting the arms back with a metal rod. “Again?”
“No, I think I’m done failing to murder the horses’ breakfast for three days running.” Cally sighs. “But, I think that might be a good place to pick up on another topic. Do crossbow bolts keep going forever?”
“Well no.” You admit. “Nothing flies forever, eventually everything will land.”
“Well for the same reason I can’t fly by jumping… What goes up must come down.”
“Because… Bugger me I don’t know.”
“Alright, leave that one for a minute. Why are some things heavier than others?”
“Uh… Fuck… Pass?”
“What’s heavier, an empty keg or a full one?”
“A full one”
You rub your forehead in puzzlement, “Because it’s got more stuff in it, fuck me blind Cal, are you approaching some kind of point?”
“You’re almost there Adam, you just don’t have the words for it.” Cally smiles “Everything has an amount of ‘stuff’ in it. The tighter packed it is, the heavier it is, and the harder it is to break. That’s why you can pass your hand through water but not stone. Because the ‘stuff’ in water is looser than the ‘stuff’ in a rock. The ‘Stuff’ is called ‘matter’, and the density of the stuff is called ‘mass’.”
“Still doesn’t explain why things are heavy.”
“Because matter wants to be with other matter. It’s why things fall to the ground, because the matter in the ground pulls at the matter in whatever it is you dropped.”
“So why doesn’t a pebble try to stick to me?” You ask, picking a small stone from the ground and dropping it.
“Because it’s pulled towards a bigger object.”
“I’m bigger than a pebble.”
“You’re not bigger than the ground though…” Cally quips, sitting on the ground as if to illustrate her point and patting the red dirt next to her…
“…Nine point eight?” you offer hesitantly.
Cally claps her clawed hands enthusiastically “Very good! But is that constant?”
“No… because of that other thing… First Law was it?”
Cally nods, and you trail your finger in the dirt “If gravity is a force in constant action, then the object will get faster the further it falls… So it would be nine point eight metres per second PER second…”
“Well done. That’s called ‘acceleration’ and I am CONFOUNDED that you picked it up so quickly… You won’t have any need for me before long…” The koala moans in a mock pout. Chuckling, you kiss her pendulous lower lip.
“You were a librarian for years Cal, I reckon you’ll always know more than me.”
“If only we could apply it…” Cally sighs.
You frown, “Come again?”
“I KNOW all this stuff, Adam, but ask me to build a castle? I wouldn’t know where to start… When it comes to applied knowledge, we Mamono… we kind of fall in a hole.”
“That a fact… Why?”
“Because magic is intuitive, instinctive, and we tend towards affinity with it for some reason… like our minds were designed that way. It’s all her fault.”
“Maou’s of course, but I’m teaching you physics, not philosophy… And you have been a very attentive student… I think you deserve a reward…” Cally drawls lewdly, hopping onto your lap and kissing you deeply.
“I reckon he’s got THAT down pat, Adorabear…” Blue chuckles from behind you, a sheen of sweat on her athletic frame.
“Gudday Pup.” You chuckle, leaning back to accept Blue’s presumptive… and sweaty, hug. “Where’ve you been?”
“Scoutin’ with River.” Blue answers simply, referring to a brown haired Kobold from the Kalbarri Barony who was indentured to another of your fellow traders. The two had become fast friends and you couldn’t deny her enthusiastic request for them to spend the day in each other’s company.
“Well don’t keep me in suspense.”
“Camels.” The Kobold answers with a smug grin. You felt your mouth begin to water at the thought. “Looks like the break’s nearly over anyway, but I think they’re aiming for the same waterhole we are…”
“I think everyone would appreciate some fresh meat…” Cally admits “…I know there are plenty who are grumbling about three days of gruel and cured meat already.”
A harsh bleat of an inexpertly blown horn signals the end of the midday break. You clamber to your feet, brushing the dust off your trousers and heading back towards the wagon, where your three bungarra luxuriated in the warm sun of early spring.
“So we goin’ hunting Boss?” Blue insisted, bouncing up and down on the bench next to you.
“Well we’d probably better let someone know what we’re doing pup. Be just like some sneaky bastard to decide we’ve disappeared…” You begin explaining to the Kobold.
“Blue!” A brown-haired blur cries insistently as she rushes up to the wagon, causing four to hiss slightly and jerk in its traces.
“River!” Blue squeals, jumping down off the wagon and hugging the other Kobold.
“Well are we going or what?” River demands in excitement.
Blue turns her azure eyes on you devastatingly ”Aaaaaaadz…” She wheedles.
“Orright Orright… Cal, rein us in for a sec, I’ll take two with me, four and twenty can deal with a little extra weight for a bit.”
“S’orright mate, you won’t need to do that.” A new voice intruded. You turned to see a youngish man, perhaps five years older than you seated comfortably on the back of a sleek thoroughbred, holding the reins of a second in a gloved hand.
“Careful of her Mister Adam. She’s a witchy bitch.” River warned.
“Don’t tell tales River.” The young man chided gently.
“She really is though Boss!” River insisted.
The young man shakes his head with a chuckle, “Only because you think she gets her hair brushed more than you.”
“She also doesn’t have hands.”
“Fucking Horse…” The Kobold grumbled.
“I’m Chad, by the way.” The young man continued, handing the reins to you and then extending his hand.
“Adam. So I take it you’re coming too?” You reply, shaking his hand warmly before inspecting the saddle and reins with a practiced eye.
“And miss out on the opportunity to be everyone’s favourite person for the next week by bringing in Camels? No fear mate.” Chad chuckles.
“Fair point that.” You reply, swinging yourself into the saddle, calming the fidgety horse where she started at the sensation of an unfamiliar rider. “Wait, ‘Camels?’ as in multiple?”
“Osun insisted, wouldn’t be fair otherwise.”
“No pressure…” You snicker, checking the crossbow and the modest supply of bolts.
“You’ve done this before.” Chad notes with approval.
“Gibson Holding. Can’t really avoid it.” You grin.
“Mmm. Gilgai Holding myself.”
“Huh…” You exclaim in thought. “…Dad was mentioning something about Gilgai a couple years back to my elder brother. You’ve got horses like we’ve got bungas.”
“Had.” Chad remarks dryly, before pressing heels to his mount. With a whoop, the two Kobolds begin running effortlessly alongside as you both ride at a practiced canter up the line of the caravan.
“Ah. The thing with the Centaurs?” You ask, pulling alongside Chad’s horse.
“Oh, that’s common knowledge then?”
“Nah, just what dad mentioned. I get the feeling the Barons don’t exactly want it getting out.”
“Typical.” Chad snorts. “Retard climber of a Lord Baron completely humps the bunk, insults a matriarch, and then does nothing while we get raided into poverty, and instead of the minor fuckin’ catharsis of being a pointed lesson in the need to keep the fuckin’ Pax, we get memory-holed. Nice.”
“Hey, I heard the Dominus paid the landholders out pretty damn well though.”
“I’ve got a shard rifle, six horses and two wagons out of it. You do the math.” Chad snickered without mirth.
“And me!” River insists where she runs alongside Chad’s horse.
“You’re not property little one.”
“Legally… Urgh… Are we here to hunt camel or debate secular law?” Chad demands.
“Yours does that too then?” You chuckle.
“Every damn day…” Chad grumbles before catching your eye as you both split into laughter at the shared experience.
“Are they making fun of us Blue?”
“I think they are River.”
“We’ll get them back though right?”
“Quit plotting and find me a humpy to shoot at, Blue!” You demand in mock anger. Sticking her tongue out at you, Blue turns her head to study the ground, before giving a ringing howl, turning toward the north. River picks up on it, echoing Blue’s call and following. You and Chad kick your horses into a gallop, the faint cacophony of small birds in the near distance confirming the presence of the waterhole, Blue and River already crouched down in the scrub ahead.
“There Boss!” Blue hissed, pointed with a furred digit. I could see the large, tow coloured forms of the Camels through the scrub where they bent to drink from the waterhole, small birds angrily chirruping their displeasure at having the available real-estate so rudely reduced.
“Reckon they’ll fight or split?” Chad murmured, unslinging his shard rifle from his shoulder.
“Hit the big bull and they’ll split. Hit anything else and he’ll charge.” You reply, nocking a bolt in your crossbow. “Blue, gitawayround, I’d rather not chase them once they bolt.”
“River, same.” Chad orders simply.
The Kobolds seem to melt into the low scrub as they flank the drinking camels, one of whom raises its head and gives voice to a dopey, harsh bleat.
“Ready?” Chad asks
You nod, sighting down the bolt. “When you are.”
You squeeze the trigger and the crossbow discharges with a solid thunk. Nearly simultaneously, Chad discharges his shard rifle with a high, sharp report. One of the camels gives an odd gurgle, and falls to the ground in a heap, an angrily hissing shard of iridescent blue lodged in its skull.
Your target however was not to be felled so easily. Bellowing in fear and outrage, the bull camel swung about, searching for its hidden tormentors, crimson coating its neck from the hole the bolt had torn.
“Ah shit!” You exclaim as the Camel rounds on the pair of you. You rush to get another bolt loaded. “Chad, would you mind?”
Chad raises the rifle again, which spits another projectile into the Bull’s throat, the beast stumbling as you both scatter. Dumbly, it continues for a few metres more before dropping, giving a burbling low as its lungs fill with blood.
“Owe you one.” You pant gratefully. “How are the girls?”
“RIVER! GO RIGHT!” Blue shrieks, followed by a yelp from the brunette Kobold.
“Shit! Little one!” Chad cries in concern, running towards their voices. You give chase, pausing in horror to see a prone River being borne down on by a wounded camel, berserk with pain from countless bites and rents.
You sight along the bolt of your crossbow, a fervent prayer to Tyris on your lips as you squeeze the trigger. Mercifully, as if in answer to that prayer, your bolt seems to be guided by an invisible string as it flies straight into the camel’s temple, dropping the beast in its tracks.
“River, are you alright?” Chad gasps, rushing to her side.
“I fell down…” The Kobold sobs, clinging to the young man.
“Spirits, River… What’d you hunt back home?” Blue demands, loping to your side and leaning up to plant a sweaty kiss on your cheek.
“I didn’t…” River answers, blushing slightly.
“River lived in the estate with us, she was a foundling.” Chad explains, rubbing the Kobold’s ears soothingly.
“No Pack? No…” A weird gutteral bark from Blue. “This won’t do. Boss, you’re my alpha, but we gotta do Kobie things. Can you and Mister Chad goway for a bit?”
“Don’t eat too much of it… And don’t take all bloody day, the Caravan can’t be more than an hour off.” You sigh in resignation, beckoning to Chad. “C’mon mate.”
Chad frowns at you in puzzlement. “What’s going on?”
River whines, clinging to Chad, who gently disengages her paws, patting her on the head as he follows you away.
“What in Tyris’s name…” Chad demands, as two bell-toned howls ring out from the Kobolds, who have absconded just out of sight with one of the carcasses.
“Ease off mate, they’re just doing stuff.”
Chad eyes you speculatively “Not er… Y’know, THAT kind of stuff are they? Because River’s a good Pax-Fearing Kobie and I won’t…”
“Nah. Their religious shit more than likely. Probably easier for us not to be witnesses anyway. Less chance of being accused of Heresy.” You chuckle placatingly, before grinning cheekily at your companion, elbowing him lightly. “Why? Worried me pup’ll turn her off ya?”
“Turn her off… You mean me and River?” Chad exclaims incredulously “Firstly, she’s like my fuckin’ sister. Second, Heresy.”
“Challenge. Only if it stops you from performing continuance. We’re lowborn, remember?”
“YOU might be. I was in line for the Barony.” Chad responds with slightly more distance than you were entirely comfortable with. “So I take it you and Blue…”
“We’re close, but I’ve done my Duty to Magisterium and our Holy Mother Church. Yer not associating with a heretic here mate.” You assure him.
Chad sighs slightly in relief. “Good. Still. Keep it clean in front of her? She’s impressionable.”
“Aren’t they all…” You chuckle, wryly taking a drink from your canteen and watching as the dust from the Caravan grew ever closer.
“Ouch! Good trick, where’d you learn that?” Philip asks with a wince, twisting away from you and shaking his wrist in discomfort where your snapping strike had caught him with the flat of the blade.
“Pilbaran Blademistress… She did it with her tail but I figure the principle’s sound.” You answer, putting your cutlass up. “Need a break?”
“Just for a moment, I can’t feel my fingers and I’d rather not make a silly mistake that gets one of us hurt.” The ex-Paladin agreed.
“Guess I’ll tag in.” Chad murmured, raising the long, thin-bladed sword he had brought up to his face in salute. You return the gesture and drop into a guard, the young Landholder-come-Trader turning almost side-on, his offhand raised behind his head. The two of you slashed and thrust at each other, until you saw an opportunity and tried to disarm him with a vicious overhand swipe… which Chad deftly parried, pricking you in the meat of your chest with the point of his blade deep enough to draw blood.
“Ow! Tyris fuck… Yield.” You cursed, grabbing at the trivial cut instinctively.
“Should have mentioned. Fencing was pretty popular in the Kalbarri court. Winner got first dibs on continuance.”
“Doesn’t seem like much of a motivation when they sew us once a year…” You quipped.
“You haven’t seen our Priestesses.” Chad rejoined with a grin. “Tyris I miss home…”
“Yeah, this bloody desert is a bit on the bleak side.” You agree, looking around at the harsh, unforgiving landscape, the red, rocky earth dark in the dim light of twilight.
“Boss! The meat’s almost ready!” Blue calls, running towards you, River in tow. The two mamono had mixed the camel’s blood with earth to make a rude kind of paint which they had traced liberally across their faces and shoulders.
“Cheers Blue. Where’s Cal?”
“Talking about bees with that old guy.” Blue replied, her brow furrowed in puzzlement. “He REALLY likes those boiled leaves for some reason. He’s weird.”
“Jack’s a good sort.” Philip offers plainly “Still… There’s no accounting for taste.”
“I’d better go put this up.” Chad remarked, lifting his blade slightly. “Meet you there?”
You nod. “Yeh, sure mate.”
Chad sheathes the blade, before double-taking at the Kobolds and sighing. “River, can you wash that off yet? You look like a damn Feral.”
“Oi! I don’t give you humans shit about the stars on your arms, and they don’t even come off!” Blue retorts hotly.
“Manners Blue.” You chide absently.
“Yeh nah Adz. River can’t be going through life without The Spirits. She can have ours since she doesn’t know hers.”
“It’s important, Boss.” River insisted, looking at Chad near-pleadingly.
Chad rolled his eyes, patting the Kobold on the head absently and heading back towards his own wagons.
“He doesn’t really care, does he?” Blue remarked quietly as she watched the pair leave.
“About River? Of course he does, you saw him today.” You reply
“I mean about our ways. I don’t get it Boss. You and Old-Boss always accepted the spirits, gave respect where it was needed…”
“More to the importance it held to you and your sisters than any acknowledgement of them, Blue.” You corrected gently. “We’re Human, we hold Tyris paramount. River didn’t have a pack like you and your sisters. SHE doesn’t even know her ways, when has Chad had the chance to learn about them?”
“She knows Boss…” Blue insisted. “It’s in the blood, Kobolds know it even without knowing they know it.”
“That would make life much easier.” Philip sighed, sheathing his own blade. “Maybe the Pax wouldn’t be needed if the carnal mind wasn’t emnity towards The God.”
You blink at the sudden frankness from the usually reserved man. “I don’t think Tyris is that bloody stringent.”
Philip laughed bitterly. “I don’t think Tyris honestly gives a flying fuck about us in the first instance.”
“Blasphemy!” You exclaim instinctively, shocked at the statement. Philip looks at you levelly before bursting into incredulous laughter.
“Really? After everything you know about me, THAT’s what you denounce me for.” He snickered mirthlessly “An impassioned Blasphemy that would land me naught but a month in a cell with the Doctrines as my only distraction if I were a Freeman, or a sound flogging. A Paladin initiate does that three times a year without a thought.” Philip stretched his hand forth, and glowing light suffused you, warmth in your breast, the pain vanishing as the wound closed.
“If He honestly cared, would He still let me do that?” Philip asked bitterly. “I abandoned His charge. I put my desires above The Pax. I fell in love.”
“Maybe… Maybe you haven’t transgressed as much as you reckon you have…” You offer lamely.
“Fucking please. If the world worked according to The Pax instead of in spite of it, what would we be doing? We’d work, we’d breed, we’d die. And thanks to those wizened witches in Magisterium a large percentage of the world wouldn’t even get to do the second. All without exercising our will in the slightest.” Philip spat dismissively.
“Yeah nah get fucked, I CHOSE to be a Trader.”
“Do you want the red, blue, or green collar? Either way you’re still a slave.”
“What’s he talking about, Boss?” Blue asked, utter confusion in her azure eyes.
Philip took a deep breath, closing his eyes. “Sorry… I let my emotions get the better of me. You asked what Jack meant when he said ‘not long’ a few days ago. The Pax applies to all Nations of the world. THIS world. Thealiss by decree and treaty doesn’t count. I can be free there. Me and Morrie, we can be happy… on our terms.”
You dumbly watched as Philip walked away. He paused, looking slightly over his shoulder. “You know… You and the Kobie could do the same… Just a thought.”
“To dem Adam and Chad fellas! Bringers of meat!” One of the Yowies howled drunkenly, raising a sloshing tankard. Wordless cheers from the other members of the caravan rang around you as the roasting carcasses were carved and doled out to an eager press of people.
“Hey Eric, you any good with that plinker? Play us something!” An unknown voice demanded of a man fiddling with a stringed instrument.
“Orright you demanding cunt.” The man named as ‘Eric’ replied, “This is a song about a new Hero of the West Australs…”
You should have been surprised when the man launched into a folky ballad about “Blessed Waylander Scotty” but for some reason, you could only sit there, all bemused while Cally and Blue giggled uncontrollably at the enthusiasm of the Humans around them, giggling which lapsed into joyous mirth as the audience half-drunkenly joined in with the chorus.
“Scotty, Scotty! Hero of Mount Barker!
Scotty, Scotty, Twice-Blessed of The God
Whelped by a Bride of Tyris and seven feet in height
His spirit sits aloft and guards The Australs with His Might!”
You sang along good-naturedly, it was a catchy song, after all… until Eric lapsed into a verse which seemed to indicate that Scotty fought off Wagyl with nothing but his fists and Tyris’s Blessing.
Laughing, you shook your head. “I wish I’d seen that part”
“Ere, what’s your problem?” A half-drunk wagoneer demanded.
“No problem mate, I was in Mount Barker when Waylander Adrian performed his funeral…” You retort without thinking.
“You knew Scotty?!” The man exclaimed. “HEY! HEY! THIS BLOKE KNEW SCOTTY!”
Well fuck… Now you’d done it.
“Angonamo!” You cry, holding up your hand. “I didn’t say I knew Scotty, only that I was at his Funeral.”
“Did The Dominus really attend? Was he really Sainted by the Conclave of the Faithful?” A breathless Kangaroo begged, rocking from tail to feet in anticipation.
“’Fraid not.” You explain. “But it was much more beautiful than that. The whole town was there. He’d helped everyone. Everyone. And when push came to shove, he gave his life doing his duty. The song’s a bit on the exaggerated side but he deserves to be held up as an example to Waylanders of the kind of spirit the Protectorate deserves from its lawmen.”
“Yeah nah, fuck off mate.” The drunken man chortles dismissively. “I don’t reckon you were there at all.”
“Oh?” You remark evenly, looking the man in the eyes. “Remember that verse about the host of Kobold Spirits who bore his body back from where he fell?”
“Oh, so THAT bit you wanna try and say happened… I thought I’d had a bit to drink tonight” The man guffaws mockingly.
“The Spirits of Kobold Ancestors WERE in attendance…” You reply nebulously. No sense telling everyone they were spurring Blue to bestial carnage thanks to the young Mamono’s rites. “…And to borrow from the words of a well-respected member of their band…” A pause for Blue to whuffle and blush with the backhanded praise “…Were he Kobold, the spirits would have sung him home with howls to shatter the heavens!”
“TYRIS FUCK!” The man exclaims, looking around with shock, the other humans and Mamono echoing his movements as a chorus of bell-toned howls seems to ring from the sea of stars above you. “Are we under attack?”
“The wild places speak to us… sometimes they speak a little louder than others.” Blue murmurs simply, catching on to your ruse. “Scotty was a good man.”
The mood somewhat subdued from the earlier carnival revelry thanks to the apparent spiritual interjection, people continued eating in small groups, talk blessedly inane and good-natured.
“How did you make the sky sing, Blue?” River demands, scampering up to the tawny-haired Kobold and tugging on her arm eagerly.
“Hear the voices of your people in here…” Blue murmurs, tapping River on the breast with a furred digit “…They’ll tell you how to hear them out here.”
“Oh.” River murmurs, seemingly a touch disappointed. “I don’t think Boss would like that very mu…”
“River, do you want the backstrap?” Chad’s voice rings out across the crowd.
“Yehboss!” River squeals in delight, running back towards her ‘Owner.’
“I don’t like you taking the spirits in vain, Boss.” Blue mumbles softly, pulling you slightly aside.
“Sorry Blue… It just seemed… Appropriate. Shit was getting a little ridiculous.”
“Yeh, it was, and you didn’t let me finish.” The Kobold interjected with a conspiratorial grin “However you did that, don’t forget it. I could persuade Mum to do ANYTHING with the fuckin sky singing at her!”
“Criminal…” You snicker.
“You love me.” Blue whuffles, nuzzling into you
“I do. Dammit… My girl. My wonderful girl. What am I gonna do with you?” You laugh helplessly, stroking her furred ears affectionately.
It beat down on you, even through the linen wraps you had purchased at no small premium from one of your fellow traders. Cally was the hardest hit, her short, curvaceous frame listless on the bench, cowled and wrapped against the blast-furnace sun.
“Here, Cal…” You croak, handing her a canteen, after gently applying a resonant glyph to it.
“Ohhh… Adam I’m not sure wether to kiss you, fuck you, or fall down and worship you.” The Koala moans, feeling the now-icy water lave her parched lips and throat.
“I’ll take the former. I don’t have energy for the second and the third is Heresy.”
“Won’t tell if you won’t.” Cally drawls, yet turns her head up for a brief yet appreciative kiss.
“Whoof… She’s a bit warm…” Blue remarks, seemingly unaffected by the heat apart from a slight darkening of her skin and a light sheen of sweat, still clad in her sparse leather hunting gear.
“Tyris be glorified pup… Does NOTHING the Australs throws at us phase you?”
“Try and make me eat sandgropers again and you’ll see phased, Boss.” Blue retorts cheekily.
“Thought you’d appreciate ‘em after three weeks of gruel.” You grumble “…Honestly, you try and do something nice…”
A sudden weight in your lap as Blue vaults into the wagon, her sweaty hug enthusiastic and unreserved. “And I appreciate it Boss, really I do. You’ve been so nice to everyone this trip but you always find the time to make sure I’m OK. I’m… I’m so happy being yours…”
“Where did this confession come from?” You remark in surprise
“Dunno… Seemed appropriate… Ooh! Whazzat?”
You look in the direction the Kobold was pointing. Two scree-laden hills had crested the horizon, and between them, a blush of green, seemingly impossible in this baked red wasteland.
“Blue, Adam… Welcome to Thealiss…” Cally remarks, swigging again at the canteen as if the very statement had robbed her mouth of moisture.
“Well bugger me…” You remark, reaching over and snagging the Canteen from the Koala’s reluctant grip.
“Whew… That’s nice…” You sigh, flinging back the linen cowl as a remarkably cool breeze sighs through the lush greenery around you.
“Orright you lot!” Osun Bellows from atop a nearby wagon. You stop checking the Bungarra’s traces and turn to face him. “The Council of Matriarchs has advised that there’s a bit of a to-do in the township at the moment. This shakedown area is considered safe ground, you will have the full protection of the Law here, Secular and Religious. Go into town though?” The older man rubbed thinning hair, leaving the rest hanging.
“How in the merry fuck’re we supposed to contact our buyers then, Osun?” A voice rang out from somewhere in the press of wagons.
“Reckon they’ve put down the kind of deposit I insist on and they won’t make the half-hour walk? Don’t be a daft cunt.” Osun fires back in rejoinder.
“Well that’s disappointing…” Cally murmurs, getting herself comfortable.
You resume your inspection of the Bungarra, pausing and swearing as you come across an alien lump in the armpit of Two. So THAT’S why the Bungarra were listless over the past few days.
“Osun! We’ve got a fuckin’ problem…” You yell.
“What?” The Caravanserai barks impatiently.
“Rockjoint Ticks. Me Bungas are all over ‘em.”
“TYRIS DAMN IT TRADER I WILL HAVE YARA STRIP YOU TO FUCKING BONE…” Osun near-howls with fury.
“OI CUNT!” You snarl, rounding on the older man. “My beasts were clean in Leonora! Yell at a cunt who’s not me for this one!”
“TYRIS’S GLOWING FUCKING NUTSACK!” Osun shrieks, pounding impotently on the side of his wagon.
“Blasphemy!” Comes a horrified cry from somewhere within the throng.
“CHALLENGE!” Osun yells, ripping a cruel looking short-blade from his belt.
“Withdrawn… Sorry mate, force of habit.”
“Your grace is received. Strip down your beasts lads. We’ve a quarantine on our hands.”
“Aaaaaaadz…” Blue moans.
“Don’t start with me pup…” You grumble.
“But I’m so BORED!”
“Help Cally clean down Four then.”
Blue snarls, an uncharacteristic sound from her. “Fucking stupid ticks. Fucking stupid caravan. Fucking stupid trading.”
You sigh, resting your head against Two’s scaled flank. Truth be told you were feeling the itch of being campbound as well. Odd creatures in alien garb had come in drips and drabs over the past two days, approaching the varied traders carrying their ordered goods. Still nothing for the crates and their ominous contents.
“Are you Adam?” A deep, rich voice sounded from behind you.
“Yeh, thank Tyris, you’re my buy… OH LORD OF HUMANITY!” You exclaim, recoiling in shock as you see the being who stood there, an enquiring look in uniformly violet eyes. Its form was masculine, yet the twin horns which curled from its forehead and the batlike wings which sprouted from its back spoke to a most inhuman ancestry.
“Ease off. I’m here to escort you to your buyer.” The creature drawled in mild amusement, lips peeling from white, curved fangs, a forked tongue playing in that maw as it ‘smiled’.
“Get thee the FUCK behind me, Demon!” You demand, calling desperately upon the Logos as you scrabbled at your hip for your blade.
“Adam!” Cally shrieked, running towards you on short legs and placing herself between you and the being. “Don’t do anything stupid… He hasn’t given us any reason to doubt him.”
“You know what… This… is?” You gasp incredulously, your hand still tight around the hilt of your cutlass.
“Incubus.” Cally answers simply, bowing her head. “Salve, o dignissima dei famulus”
The Incubus’s eyes, which had been narrowing in irritation snapped wide as the Koala intoned the greeting.
“Et tu puer creationis…” he answered, inclining his head graciously, ebon hair swept back from alien, angular features, behind fretted, conchlike ears. “I’m surprised to meet someone accustomed to a civilized tongue in this… place.”
You bite your tongue to keep from spitting the invective which yelled in your throat.
“As I was saying. I’m here to escort you to your buyer.”
“We’re not a-s’posed to leave the camp.” Blue murmured hesitantly, looking at the Incubus with a mixture of suspicion and fear.
“Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.” The Incubus drawled, and you felt his eyes linger upon you just a touch longer than you were entirely comfortable with.
“Bit of a risky ask… Mate.” You grate between clenched teeth “Why don’t they come themselves?”
“Oh, I can tell Her you refused. And She’ll come, the cargo is too valuable for Her not to… But She’ll be angry… And you don’t want to make Her angry.”
That last… a touch of pleading? No, from this proud sod? Not likely.
“You can handle it.” Cally murmured to you, her eyes insistent.
You sighed, removing your hand from the hilt and gesturing for the Incubus to lead on.
“The fuck’s got everyone so damn arced up?” You mutter in confusion as you enter the ‘Township’ proper, tall, sleek-limbed Demonesses and Succubi rushing hither and thither between the various rude buildings which comprised Thealiss. To be honest, a detached part of your mind was a little disappointed. You were expecting alien architecture, magnificent, imposing structures which would lend credence to the reputation this place had.
“You don’t want to know.” The Incubus chuckled.
“Well would I have asked if I fuckin’ didn’t?” You retort
The incubus pauses, before turning on a cloven hoof and rounding on you.
“Can you remake a world lost to entropy?” He hisses through pointed fangs.
“Yeah nah…” You blurt without thinking.
“Then shut up. You don’t want to know.” The incubus glowered, turning again and stalking forward.
“Don’t tease our guide.” Cally murmured, squeezing your hand comfortingly.
The Incubus heads into a structure and you supress an amused laugh. Even here, there was no mistaking a pub. “The Rabbit’s Warren” was painted in rude Magisterian upon the imperfectly carved sign which rested over its threshold.
“Ooh! I’ve heard about this place!” Cally almost wriggles with excitement as you enter. “I wonder if we’ll see… Oh! Cheshires!” the Koala almost squeals, pointing with a clawed digit at a group of amethyst-furred felinids, their ears pricking and curious heads turning to study your small group as you shuffle through the Mamono gathered within.
“Salethiael… Good to see you again…” A white-haired Mamono greets your Incubus escort, long, rabbit-like ears twitching as she ostensibly polishes a glass. “…Or is this the first time? I do have such trouble remembering…”
“Not today, Leperia.” The Incubus grunts “These are the ones Her Highness has been waiting to see.”
“Ooh! They’re late! They’re late!” The rabbit-girl remonstrates “No time to say it… oh drat, I just did…”
“Fucking White Rabbits…” the incubus sighs, shaking his horned head incredulously. Strange… He seemed almost Human in that moment. “Come on back.” He insisted, beckoning. You noticed a tattoo on his arm, a globe, eagle astride it, with a ship’s anchor behind it, the letters ‘USMC’ in odd lettering beneath. Dismissing it as a demonic affection, you paid it no further notice as you and your Mamono companions followed the Incubus into a spacious, almost palatial room in the rear of the Tavern.
“Oh! Finally! Please tell me my cargo is intact, Salethiael.” A female voice insisted, and your breath caught as you properly beheld the speaker.
Her hair and skin were so pale as to be almost translucent, eyes ruby-red, glowing with indescribable power. Two large batlike wings were resplendent behind her and ebony horns arced gracefully from her high brow. Licking lush, inviting lips, she let that carmine gaze turn upon you and you felt your knees tremble at her sheer presence.
“Prostrate yourself.” The Incubus ordered, dropping to his knees and pressing his forehead against the floor. Cally and Blue mirrored his action, yet something held you back…
“Thou shalt reserve thine Obeisance for The God and None Other.” You remark shortly, though it took all your will not to grovel before the being.
“You disrespect a Daughter of the Womb of Creation?!” The Incubus snarled, leaping to his feet and lunging at you.
The incubus bounces off the hastily raised barrier, gasping where he lay on the floor. “H-how…”
The being chuckled melodically “Peace Salethiael… You’re not going to win a fight with a Resonant.”
“Reson…” Salethiael echoed, his violet eyes wide with terror “…I’m sorry! I didn’t know.”
You allowed yourself a smug smile. “S’orright mate. We know where we stand though, yeh?”
The Incubus swallowed visibly, nodding his head.
You allow yourself a respectful bow. “Yer Excellency… I take it you’re the person who ordered those noisy rocks?”
“Adam! Don’t get fresh with a Lilim!” Cally hisses from her prostrate position on the floor.
“Oh, I welcome the change… so long as the legendary banter of the men of the Australs remains relatively civil.” The Lilim drawls, and you feel that POWER touch you again, rocking you to the very core. “Please. Rise.”
The Mamono and Incubus scramble to their feet, and the Lilim leans forward on the luxurious divan upon which her achingly perfect form is reclined. “I am known as Telia, and yes, human. That is my magic you bear. Magic which I would see brought to my person without further delay. Salethiael, see it done.”
“At once, Highness.” The incubus almost gushed, bowing deeply and hurrying from the room.
“So… A Resonant…” Telia muses, licking her lips again as she studies you. “…and with a will to him… Where have you been hiding, little morsel…”
“L-leave my Adz alone!” Blue stammers, shaking visibly as she puts herself between you and the Lilim.
“W-With respect, Highness… Adam is protected under section eight paragraph…” Cally whimpers, yet she too puts herself between you and the reclined figure.
“Oh this is just ADORABLE!” Telia cries, clapping her hands together. “But… You expect me to believe that a Resonant with the Recognition of the Grand Lodge is driving a wagon like a common trader? He’s a wilder, isn’t he?”
“Y-Yes highness…” Cally mumbles, staring at her feet.
“Er, your Excellency, whazzat got to do with anything?” You blurt in puzzlement.
“If I were my sister, it would mean your time amongst the living was to be measured in instants.” Telia chuckled slightly forbodingly. “You should give thanks to your ‘God’ that I am not Lyra, however… Fate has touched you, and beckoned you to me… How best to use that though…”
“I came to deliver yer rocks, excellency. I’ve done that, and I can be on me way and out of yer hair just as soon as…”
“Pfft.” The Lilim waved in petulant dismissal. “A paltry usage of one of your… talents. I have a proposal. I have here your payment…” A pause as Telia patted a heavy pouch which jingled musically. “You can deny my request, or you can turn that pouch into these…”
Telia held aloft two platinum rectangles in her elegant fingers, embossed with intricate lines of gold, diamond and sapphire.
“T-Tyris be good…” You choked, staring at the objects with incredulity.
“Boss… Whazzat?” Blue whispered in your ear.
“Solar Marks pup… a baron’s bloody ransom in Solar Marks!”
“But there’s only two of them!”
“And most humans would give their left eye for one!”
“So… Now that we understand each other…” Telia mused. “I need someone with your abilities to head to The Gap, and retrieve something… Precious to me.”
“Highness! No!” Cally cries desperately.
“Cal?” You gasp in surprise.
“The Gap is cursed, none who’ve ever gone there have returned. Please Highness, this is cruel!”
“And Thealiss is the mouth of bloody Hell… Yet you reckoned I could handle that!”
“This is different. Let’s just take the money and go. Highness, you can’t ask this of him. In the name of Maou I beg…”
“It is his decision… But by all means, think on it… discuss it with your… friends…” Her easy smile became lewd at that. “Take all the time you need, and enjoy what the White Rabbit can make to wash the desert from your throats and ease fractured nerves. Mother knows it’s why I’m here.”
“You’re gonna give yourself a flamin’ ulcer Cal.” You chuckle as you head into the taproom of the ‘Warren’.
“This isn’t a game Adam!” Cally retorts, her eyes welling with fear. “You haven’t heard the s-stories…”
“Well then enlighten me…” You retort gently, rubbing one of the Koala’s grey-furred ears.
“M-mamono pulled apart by main force… reduced to drooling idiocy… just VANISHING from existence, like they were never even born… Do I need to go into any more detail?”
You make a sympathetic noise. “Sounds like a pickle. Good thing I didn’t say yes then.”
“You didn’t say no either.”
“If’n there’s one thing that watching dad deal with the hoi polloi in freo taught me as a young bloke, you never say ‘no’ straight up to someone who’s title is longer than their dick.”
Cally looks at you with slight puzzlement “Lilim don’t have a di…”
“When did you get literal? You know what I mean” You interject with a slight laugh. “Look. I’m not going to make the same mistake as I made with the Matrix. I didn’t listen to you then and I’m pretty sure I almost died.” You signal to the lepusian bartender for some drinks, passing one to the Koala. “But lets look at this logically. Why would ‘er nibs back there even put it forward if it was a lost cause?”
“Who knows why Lilim do anything?” Blue chortled, taking a long draught of her drink before coughing in surprise “What in Maou’s name is this?!”
“Wongi and Bush Apple Cider” The White Rabbit answers with a slight frown. “You don’t like it?”
“It’s fuckin’ GLORIOUS!” Blue declares, drinking greedily.
“Go easy, little kobie… It’s stronger than it loo…” The Bartender warns gently.
“WOOOOO!” Blue howls, her eyes slightly unfocused. “Assum good shit boss…”
You reach over, taking the tankard away from the Kobold, who whines petulantly, making grabby hands at the tankard held out of reach.
“What’s the rule about getting falling over drunk, pup?” You demand, slight amusement in your voice.
“Not before dinner.” Blue mumbles abashedly.
“That’s right. You can finish this one, but do as the nice Rabbit says and go easy, orright?”
“Yehboss.” Blue agrees, taking the tankard as you return it to her grip and drinking with relish, yet slower than her earlier unrestrained guzzle.
“Right. So…” You continue, turning to face Cally again. The Koala’s terror seems to have been replaced with brooding consideration as she stares into the greenish liquid in her mug. “…I would be the biggest idiot on Tyris’s green earth if I passed up two Solar Marks without even giving the damn thing a look.”
Cally sighs, “Adam… You’re free to make your own decisions. I appreciate that you’re taking my feelings into consideration, but at the end of the day you do what you have to do. I can’t help you on this one though. I’m sorry.”
“Wouldn’t even think of trying to push you to, Cal.” You murmur, hugging the Koala one-armed, her curvy frame soft against you as she sniffles slightly, twin thumbed arms tenatively encircling your waist. “Besides. We’ve got plenty to do just making sure the cargo gets bac…”
“Through the back.” The imperious voice of Salethiael rang out through the muted din of the taproom. You look up to see the incubus pointing towards the rear of the building, a line of Yowies bearing the crates from your wagon.
“Tyris fuck mate, eager much?” You exclaim, releasing the Koala and standing from where you leaned on the bar.
“When my Princess commands, I step the fuck to, Resonant.” Saethiael retorted curtly.
“Still, you made them lug it all the way from the shakedown? Fucks sake, Osun’s gonna have some thirsty fuckin’ yowies to deal with…”
The Incubus smirks, flashing pointed eyeteeth. “Don’t be a fool. I wouldn’t have made them walk that far.”
“Then how did…”
“Your wagon is outside.”
“The fuck you say?!” You declare, crossing the room and sticking your head outside, the bungarra remarkably placid as they shift in their traces, securely tied to a crossbeam.
“Now how in buggery…” You begin, rounding on Salethiael.
“You would have brought it here anyway.” The Incubus shrugs.
You grind your teeth in impotent anger “We’re under Quarantine ya dozy winged prat!”
“From what? In case you didn’t notice, the locals aren’t exactly admirers of horse or lizard.”
Your mouth works fishlike, trying to find a response. The Incubus grins, patting your shoulder briefly. “You’re welcome.” he murmurs by way of farewell, following the Yowies into the rear of the tavern.
You stood there for a moment, before turning back towards your mamono companions. Once again you found yourself immobile with surprise as you discover Blue and Cally sitting with a quartet of violet-furred felinids who seem to have appeared from nowhere.
“Next one! Next one!” Blue insists eagerly. The white rabbit behind the bar rolls her eyes, pulling a number of bottles from under the bar and pouring them into a metal canister, before shaking vigorously, decanting the resulting mixture into a number of small glasses which the six mamono raise, intoning a word you don’t recognise before throwing the liquid back. You groan exasperatedly, planting yourself at the far end of their little grouping, looking pointedly at the Kobold.
“Blue… What did I just finish talking to you about?” You ask in a deceptively mild tone.
“Boss! This is Cho, Etsu, Hana and Maeko.” Blue introduces the felines, whose smug smiles are oddly uniform as they aim them in your general direction.
“G’day. Don’t change the subject.” You insist.
“This isn’t booze though!” Blue insists
“Oh really…” You snicker, taking hold of one of the bottles and raising it to your lips.
“NO!” came four voices simultaneously, four sets of furry paws pushing the bottle away from your mouth. The felines had somehow in the blink of an instant, moved from their chairs to surround you.
“I don’t think…” One begins
“…He drank any…” Another continues, sniffing at your breath
“…Thankfuly…” The third sighs, giving you a reproachful shove
“…Else who knows what might have happened?” The last concludes, facing you with a reproachful stare. “Honestly do you just go drinking anything sitting in front of you?”
“How the… What the… Fucks sake what did I miss?” You stammer, blinking in utter confusion.
“Girls… don’t be mean. It’s not as bad as all that.” Cally giggles.
“…In an instant from that.”
“And how long had they been here?” The Koala insists. “This isn’t… Oh Maou I’m sorry… I only know the Human name for your world.”
“…would it be?”
“Are they talking about Hell?” You venture, pulling up a chair and murmuring thanks as the bartender slides you a tankard of more innocuous cider.
“…a bit dumb…”
“…or did he…”
“…take a fall?” The felinids ask in that curious concert of theirs, looking at you quizzically.
“Adam, Our new friends are Cheshires. They’re from… Somewhere else.” Cally explains
Your brow furrows in puzzlement “Cheshires, what, like the dreamweavers back in Boulder?”
“…Hah, what a…”
“…To make a living.”
“Remember what Salethiael was talking about when he was talking about a world lost to entropy?” Cally asks softly, pulling you slightly away. You nod, and the Koala turns her head slightly towards the quartet. “Meet some of the first permanent refugees.”
“Wait… So Hell’s in trouble?”
Cally rolls her eyes. “No Adam. They’re from somewhere else. The ancient humans used to call it ‘Wonderland’ but even that was a linguistic best-fit. Maou it’s hard to explain… Reality itself doesn’t even play by the same rules there.”
“Which is why they can appear from nowhere and finish each other’s sentences.” You acknowledge, understanding dawning in your mind.
Cally purses her full lips slightly. “Yes to the first, the second… well… trauma does some funny things.”
“Trauma…” You echo, sympathy welling in your breast for the four Cheshires, who suddenly look much younger than you initially surmised.
“We’re the first Mamono they’ve met who aren’t from Hell. I’d really, REALLY like to spend some time with them.” Cally insists.
“Oh, course!” You agree without so much as a second thought… Poor little mites… ”I’ll go get some accommodation sorted for us in the meantime. Don’t drink me into poverty though?”
“We won’t.” Cally giggles, smiling at you in gratitude. You ruffle her hair, before pausing. “Oh, remind me though, I do want to bend your ears about Incubi.”
“Why ask me? Salethiael’s right over there.” Cally gestured to where the Incubus was deftly fending off the muscular advances of a Yowie straggler with an expression of bored nonchalance.
“What’re you trying to do to me Cal…” You chuckle.
“Expand your horizons a little. The world’s an interesting place when you take the time to look at it.”
“Hell’s not this world.”
“Even better reason.” Cally retorted, grinning smugly enough to put the Cheshires to shame.
“Did you have to use vegemite?” Salethiael demands in disgust, wiping the fleeing Yowie’s vomit from where it had splashed upon his trouser leg.
“You’re welcome.” You drawl, echoing the Incubus’s earlier statement, the broadest, most shit-eating grin you can manage spread wide upon your face.
“I suppose I did ask for that…” He muses, sighing “…Look, Resonant. If we’re going to fight, can we get it over with? I’ve got a lot to do today.”
“Actually I’d prefer if we put that to bed. I get the feeling we’re going to be seeing a bit of each other while I’m here and an extended gripe just makes me fuckin’ tired. What say we start over?”
Salethiael nods, extending a long-nailed hand. “Sal.”
“Adam.” You answer, shaking it with a firm grip.
Sal grunts, giving you those teeth again, but there is little mockery in it this time. “Walk with me, Adam. You’ll find this interesting.”
“Oh yeh?” you murmur, your curiosity piqued “Whazzat?”
“The Politics of the Hells.” Sal replies enigmatically, exiting the tavern with you hot on his heels.
“Been meaning to ask… What’s with Incubi anyway? I mean as far as I was aware the only blokes amongst yez are the fuckin’ brainless Bulls.”
“At the moment.” Sal agrees.
“Then why are you… Normal?”
“You Australians certainly don’t beat around the bush, do you?” Sal exclaims, violet eyes widening at the bluntness of your query. “Still, better I tell you than the damn Rabbit… I was Human. Once. Long… long ago.”
“How’d you dodge the edicts of the Pax? I mean we all kinda fudge it here and there, who doesn’t? But Transmutation? That’s a hard and fast trip to a very warm finish, if you follow me.”
“Pax didn’t exist then.” Sal answers simply. You stop dead in your tracks, mouth hanging open.
“You mean to tell me you’re…” You quickly attempt to do the math in your head, quickly giving up on the concept. “…fuck off. NOTHING lives that long.”
Sal points to the tattoo on his arm. “Operation Beatrice. Covert scouting force through the Zipangan Hellgate below the Embassy building… Sometimes I wonder if we were ever meant to succeed.”
“Embassy building?” you echo in confusion. “Zipangu’s a ruin.”
“Wasn’t always… and in regards to my age… well. Time’s funny in Hell.”
“I remember a week… well.. That’s the closest approximation I have. I’d wake up to attend Her Highness and every morning a century or more had passed.”
“Ohhh… So that’s what the church means by that whole ‘suffer for all eternity’ thing.” You muse. Sal’s derisive laughter shatters your perceived understanding.
“Oh please. Why would any of us waste our time tormenting lapsed Tyrisians? The pleasures of the Great City of Pandemonium are far, far more appealing than flaying some mewling human. That whole ‘eternal torment’ is an anachronism older than The Pax, older than Tyris, Older than Ilias, for Maou’s sake!”
“Older than who?”
“God-Before-Tyri… You know what? Don’t worry about it. Maou knows if you brought it up in Human society they’d call you a Heretic anyway. Just know that the world you know is only a small par…”
“…A small part of something much larger and once you see it you can’t un-see it fuckin’ so on and fuckin’ so forth.” You sigh, rolling your eyes. “If I had a Gold for every fuckin’ person who’s told me that in the last month…”
Sal raises an eyebrow at you. “Oh? Like who?”
“Well there’s Cal, Raoul, Juni, and Wagyl of course…”
“You met Wagyl? And survived the experience?” Sal exlaims, looking at you with newfound admiration. “Maybe you’re stronger than I thought.”
“Yeh well… I mean I’m not even sure if they’re talking about the same thing.” You continue, caught up in your gripe. “But what surprised me the most is what… Wait… Phil?”
You stop dead in your tracks as Sal walks calmly up to the ex-paladin, hand-in-paw with his Manticore lover, Morrigan.
“She’ll see you.” Sal says simply, gesturing for Phillip and Morrigan to follow.
“I told you she would!” Morrigan squeals enthusiastically, hugging the man who seems equally as shocked to see you.
“Adam? What are you doing here?”
“Trader shit. If ‘She’ is who my battered fuckin’ brain is insisting ‘She’ is, what the bloody buggering hell are you doin’ goin’ to see a bloody Lilim?” You demand.
“That’s… personal… and… a bit touchy.” Phil mumbles, looking slightly ashamed of himself.
Morrigan sighs, rolling her eyes. “I wasn’t aware that the concept of ‘asylum’ was declared Heresy.”
“It is when you’re seeking asylum from God, Morrie.”
Sal guffaws mockingly where he leads the three of you back towards the Rabbit’s Warren. “Oh please, Paladin. You’re an ant on an apple.”
Phil bristles at that. “Then what does that make you?”
“An ant on the benchtop… and the master is to house.”
“Incubi…” Phil hisses, making the name sound almost like an invective. Wordlessly, you squeeze the man’s shoulder in mute empathy with his frustration. Truth be told, you felt like you understood less about the odd being than when you set out.
“What in the Holy Name of Tyris…” You gasp as you re-enter the taproom, which has somehow changed to a vision of chaotic, otherwordly elegance.
“Nothing to do with Him, I’m afraid…” Phillip swallows, glancing about nervously.
“Boss!” Blue crows, stumbling across the floor which seems to alternate between luxurious rugs and elegant marble with every step. “Wasn’t m’fault!” She whimpers, collapsing into your arms, seemingly intoxicated.
“Tyris Blue, you’re pissed as a parrot!” You chide disapprovingly.
“No… No she’s not.” Cally mumbles, giggling, waving her hands in front of her face, her pupils wide and unfocused. “Telia accidentally the whole thing.”
“Accidentally…” You echo with incomprehension.
“Uh huh… The whole thing… and now it’s gotten everywhere.” The Koala insists, plopping down on her ample backside in the middle of the floor. “Whoopsie… Did you know the colour twelve is really very nice Adam?”
“Well at least…” A cheshire’s disembodied head begins, appearing directly in front of your face.
“…It’s a little…” Another to your left
“…More like home…” And your right
“…Would you like some tea?” from behind you.
“Highness!” Sal calls, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Sally!” Telia’s musical voice rings out, as the tall, achingly beautiful demon near-floats to embrace the incubus. “You know you’re my favourite little soldier-boy… my Widdwe sally-wally…”
“Highness… Please… Hominibus non in ante…” The incubus begs, clearly torn by the ecstasy of the Lilim’s embrace and sheer mortification at her greeting.
“Who’s this then? Ooh! Manticore! She’s so FLUFFY!”
“Lady Telia…” Morrigan grates through clenched teeth, bowing deeply, her face crimson with umbrage.
“And this strapping man… is he a present for me?”
“M-mine!” Morrigan insists, as trembling and defiant, she wraps her furred arms around the ex-Paladin.
“Oh poo.” Telia sulks. “Well… You wanted an audience… what can I do for you? Please excuse the decor… I may have… overindulged.”
“Accidentally the whole bloody thing.” You snicker without thinking. Telia frowns, before an unseen blow knocks you flat on your back.
“Don’t sass me Resonant.” She chides.
“Sorry yer Excellency…” You groan, rubbing the back of your head, your confused psyche not sure if you landed on a soft or hard floor.
“Resonant?!” Phillip yells in surprise and disbelief, before turning to Morrigan. “Morrie…”
“There was this whole thing and I kinda got distracted…” Morrigan justifies lamely.
Phillip gives a gallows sigh. “You know what… It doesn’t even matter…” He takes a knee before the Lilim. “Daughter of Maou. I beg asylum of thee. Surrender I the mantle set upon me by The God, and into Damnation do I cast mine soul.”
“Oh that was just Hideous…” Telia laughs. “Well come here, let me look at you…”
The Lilim makes a quick gesture and Phillip is yanked forward, his chest against her pale, elegant palm.
“Strength there… yes… devotion… and pain… so…. so much pain…” She whispers sibilantly “What did they do to you… Poor child…”
“I am no child…” Phillip objects, his voice stilled by an ivory finger upon his lips.
“Shhh… I accept your pledge. The Hells will embrace you, and you will suffer no mor…”
“TRAITOR!” A choral voice rings out, shaking the room as the warping reality calms, brilliant golden light etching everything in sharp contrast. The four cheshires suddenly appear in mid-air, dropping to the ground and mewling in abject terror. Cally rushes over to them, taking them in her soft embrace, her own face set in a rictus of fear. Blue clings to your leg with a grip like iron, screaming… a sound you had never heard her make before. Dread in your guts, you turn slowly…
…To behold a vision of wonder.
Her form was a mirror of the Lilim’s achingly perfect figure, yet a golden Halo, bright as a star sat in place of horns, and wings of brilliant white spread wide where she hovered above the ground, as if spurning its very contact.
“Celestial Bitch…” Salethiael snarls, violet eyes glowing “…By The God’s own decree, you have no power here.”
“Unclean…” The angel sneers, gesturing casually, the incubus sent tumbling to slam heavily against the wall. He groans, eyes rolling back in his head as he falls unconscious.
“You hit my Sally…” Telia hisses, crimson eyes speaking death. “…Fly away. Thealiss belongs to the Hells.”
“The human is OURS. Only death may free him from his obligation!” The angel retorts, her choral voice positively dripping with power.
Telia smirks mockingly, pushing Philip and Morrigan behind her. “You lie like your Mother, Celestial… Very well, if it’s a fight you want…”
“I will smite you… By His Will…” The angel spat derisively, raising her hands.
Catastrophic energy blazed forth from the hands of both beings as they attacked. Without thinking, you picked Blue up bodily, hurrying over to where the Cheshires and Cally cowered, hurriedly raising a Resonant shield to protect you from the blazing arcs of power with which the two entities lashed at each other.
“Resonant! She has no right!” Telia insists.
“Your Soul belongs to Tyris, Human!” The angel retorts, briefly fixing you with a gaze which nearly stops your heart with awe “You have a duty to obey His commandments! The Heavens do not forget those who stand for Tyris in times of adversity!”
“The Pax decrees his safety here!”
“Make them stop… P-please Master…” Blue whimpers, shaking bodily as she clings to you.
“I keep finding you in the most interesting places…” That calm, dry voice echoes in the vaults of your mind.
“What do I do?” You demand mentally
“Up to you really… this part of reality always was a bit murky. However you choose, you’d best do it quickly, Time’s getting impatient…”
“Who are you?”
“Can you help me?”
“Not really… not without disrupting something very important. I will say this though. The Paladin was wrong. Your will, your mind… It’s yours. Use it as you see fit.”
A raven’s harsh caw drones beneath the maelstrom of catastrophic energy. Something ‘clicked’ into place within your understanding, and you felt the Logos answer, awaiting your command… Right. This had gotten about a mile beyond too fucking much. You were looking at a struggle between two demigods though… what the hell to do?
“A body in motion tends to stay in motion…” Cally’s voice echoes within the vaults of your memory. Why would that come to mind now?
“All light is bent or refracted as it goes from one medium to another…” The words of an old glassblower back in Fremantle… the memory of rainbows upon a wall…
“Gravity varies as to the inverse square of the distance….” Cally again… what on earth was your mind playing at?!
“Magic cannot re-work reality as a whole, only move things outside its constraints…” Morrigan now…
That was it! You called upon the Logos, seeking the glyph which would make manifest your will… There…
The air seemed to ‘thump’ with displaced air as the authority of your glyph dispelled the raw power with which the Angel and Lilim struggled against each other. A couple of succubi who had been watching the conflict with slack jaw and wide eye gave a quick, surprised scream as ‘holes’ in reality opened beneath them, seeming to ‘suck’ them from the world before disappearing.
“That is VERY uncomfortable!” Telia hisses, her eyes squinting with pain and irritation where she glares at you.
The angel picks herself up from the ground where she has fallen, a mixture of outrage and distaste on her imperious visage. “You DARE!” She accuses.
“Blessed and Glorious, with all reverence, shaddup.” You snarl, valiantly keeping your voice steady as you desperately cling to the glyph which is holding the world-shattering power of these beings at bay. “Yer fuckin’ frightening me Kobie, and you’ve got the kittens there in a right state.” You point at where the Cheshire adolescents are sobbing and mewling in Cally’s embrace, terrified eyes locked on the scene before them. “Fuckin’ shame on you.”
“I’m glad you see sense finally…” Telia drawls smugly.
“Don’t you bloody start, Excellency.” You retort. “Did youse forget that there’s a room full of innocent people not two metres away?”
“Innocent… People…” The Angel quips mockingly.
“They’re in their place, doin’ no harm. The Pax acknowledges them. This is the Word of Tyris.”
“You lecture ME on the Will of The Most High?!” The Angel demands incredulously, doubling her efforts to shake off the suppression of your Resonant ability. You grit your teeth, clinging to the glyph with all your might.
“Who summoned you, Blessed and Glorious?” Phillip asks shortly, untangling himself from Morrigan’s wing and limb and walking around Telia to stand beside you.
“You dare address me, Traitor?” The angel spits witheringly
“There are Rules, O servant of The God.” Phillip continues, able to ignore the divine scorn focused upon him thanks to your glyph. “Four Holy Names bear the authority to call you from the High Heavens. I would know my Accuser.”
“…Lord Gabriel.” The Angel grunts, seemingly forced to reveal the name, unable to disobey the strictures of those ‘Rules’ Phillip referred to.
“Impossible!” Phillip gasps, recoiling in shock.
“Lord Dumat prevented our Union… But I am promised! PROMISED!” The angel seems agonized at the revelation, tears filling her uniformly blue eyes.
“Two in a Generation…” Philip murmurs
“…Two in a Generation…” You hear Isaac’s words within the vaults of your memory.
“Phillip! Let’s not let shock loosen tongue too much!” Cally calls warningly. You spare a glance at the Koala… the fuck was she playing at?
“You are right, of course…” Phillip acknowledges “…How did he know of me?”
“He did not. I acted of my own accord. Thealiss may be of Hell by Divine Mandate, but higher law exists. That which is Of The God may NEVER descend unto Hell, yea, lest War breach the Pax once more… And you… Traitor… Lecher… Libertine… IDIOT… Still bear the Benedictus.”
“Is that all?!” Telia exclaimed incredulously. “You know you could have just SAID so…”
“And expect you to deal fairly? O Mistress of Iniquity?”
“By my Mother… Fine! Take it and get out.”
“Your pet resonant…” a withering glance at you “…still holds my power at bay…”
“I’m nobody’s pet. I am a Freeman of the Australs, and my will is my own.” You growl.
“Stop banging your chest, Resonant, and let us go.” Telia snaps, clearly being pushed past her patience. “Urgh… Australians…”
“On that…” The Angel Concedes “…we can agree.”
Reluctantly, you allow the Glyph to slip from your grasp, The Angel’s radiance shining forth once more, causing you to quail as it washes over you like a torrent. She turns to Philip, who stares, wide-eyed, unable to move.
“Thou art no more a Servant of His Divine Light, but a beast to be reviled. And Thou shalt suffer My Burning Will.” The angel hissed, making a curious hooking motion with one hand. Phillip screamed as golden light blasted from his eyes and mouth, the curious blessing of the Benedictus, that mark of Divine favour ripped scornfully from body and soul. He collapses, gasping and gripping his chest as agony wracks him. Morrigan rushes forward, paws on him protectively as she gives a feline hiss, glaring defiantly at the angel.
Sneering, the winged being turns to you. “Why?” She demands.
You point behind you at the Cheshires. “Because they deserve better in this world.”
The angel blinks, taken aback slightly. “Compassion? I cannot revile you for a virtue, Human. But remember this. You are known to me now. Have a care it is for the right reasons in future.”
With a choral note, the angel flaps her wings once, vanishing in a burst of blinding light.
“Phil! PHIL!” Morrigan shrieks, shaking the man by the shoulders, his face ashen, his breathing laboured and shallow. “Please Adam” She begs, her feral eyes teary, “Do something!”
“I can’t!” You stammer “I mean… I don’t know…”
“Oh dear.” Telia sighs, gently pushing the Manticore from the man’s gasping frame. “Do you love him, fluffy?”
“M-more than anything…” The Manticore sobs, her segmented tail lashing behind her.
“Then he may have a chance…” the Lilim murmurs, before pressing her lips to his, holding his limp, twitching body against her.
“What are you doing?!” Morrigan yowls.
“Shush Fluffy, unless you’d prefer him to die.” Telia retorts absently, returning her lips to his. Curious trails of energy trace along Phillip’s skin, and his eyes snap open, muscular arms wrapping around the Lilim’s body, holding her to him, greedily drinking in the power her kiss was pouring into him.
“Enough!” Telia declares, bodily pushing Phillip away from her.
“I should say so…” Morrigan sulks, her eyes filled with hurt.
Phillip seems to almost float to his feet, a curiously hungry grin on his features. “More…” he drawls.
“LIKE HELL!” Morrigan snarls, grabbing the front of his shirt in a clawed paw. “That might have been necessary, but if I ever, EVER see your lips on another woman again, I’ll chain you to the fucking floor and stick you with every barb I have!”
Phillip stares at her in blank confusion for a moment, before his eyes soften with recognition. “Morrie…” He breathes, reaching out to touch the Manticore’s smooth cheek. Morrigan’s lip trembles, and she throws her arms about him, alternating between sobbing and showering his face in kisses.
“Right… What the bloody hell was that?” You blurt.
Telia absently brushes a lock of silken white hair behind an ebon horn. “To use an analogy you’ll understand, the ‘Merciful’ Servant of your God removed a ring from his finger by chopping off his entire hand. I simply gave him a new one.”
“Highness! That much power…” Cally gasps, extricating herself from the Cheshires, now mostly calm with the absence of the Angel.
“He is changed.” Telia admits. “Which is why I asked Fluffy if she loved him.”
“Human, Demon or Undead… It’s Phil…” Morrigan mutters, still holding the man in a crushing, desperate embrace.
“Very sweet…” Telia muses indulgently. “…But to segue from the mutilation analogy…” She grips you by the front of the shirt, lifting you bodily off your feet. “…If you EVER use Resonance on me again, the last remaining moments of your life will be spent cursing your father’s fertility. Am I understood?”
Swallowing, you nod wordlessly. A moan from Salethiael breaks the threatening tension and draws Telia’s eye.
“Oh Sally!” She blurts, dropping you thoughtlessly to the ground, Blue rushing to your side as if to assure herself that you were alright. Absently, you pat the Kobold’s head, watching as the Lilim cradles the half-conscious Incubus to her breast. “You were so very brave!”
“Magnificent and Wonderous…” Salethiael murmurs, blinking owlishly, raising a trembling hand to the Lilim’s flawless cheek.
“I think you deserve a reward.” Telia near-purrs. “Leperia, don’t let them burn down the city in my absence.”
“They wouldn’t have the time… Ooh bother, I did it again!” The White Rabbit curses, reaching up and ringing a brass bell “Happy Hour, everyone!”
The volume of the remaining Mamono’s cheers are muted by a ringing, tearing sound as a violet-smoking hole tears itself in reality, Telia bearing Salethiael rapidly inside before it snaps from existence.
“Fuck me…” You mutter, shaking your head.
“Please?” Blue whimpers “…You bullied a Lilim and an Angel Boss… I’m so fucking itchy right now.”
“Mmm… Careful Blue… I think half the pub might want to take a number on that front.” Cally drawls, running a lingering claw along your leg. “That was still a frightfully stupid move Adam…” She chides, but her eyes are full and sincere “…But thank you. Thank you for caring about them.”
“S’how we’re taught Cal…” You murmur, blushing slightly at the praise. “…Canticle 14 verses 9 through 12. ‘Yea, in all things, it is Pleasing unto Me for thou to…”
“Argh!” Phillip grunts, gripping the sides of his head.
“Might want to ease up on the sermons around him. Even if He’s not directly listening, I don’t think Hell’s newest recruit is The God’s favourite person right now.” Leperia warns, a long, furred ear twitching.
“Sorry Phil.” You apologise.
“It’s alright…” Phillip sighs, “…Morrigan please, I’m not going to vanish into mist if you’re not clinging to me!”
“Says you.” The Manticore huffs, yet concedes to limit herself to simply clinging to his hand.
“So I don’t see too many Rabbits about… Mamono ones I mean…” You remark to the White Rabbit behind the bar, wanting to change the subject.
“Oh… I’m from… Somewhen else.” Leperia offers enigmatically
“Don’t you mean ‘Somewhere?”
You rub at your temple for a moment, pondering the nonsensical answer.
Oh! You’re like the Cheshires, except instead of being able to jump through ‘where’, you can jump through ‘when’.” Cally exclaims in revelation.
“Yes! That’s a really… Wait… Did I tell you about the bottle of Magisterian Cognac or did you already drink it?” Leperia ponders.
You shake your head helplessly. “Is that a way of telling me sideways about a drink you want to give me, or are you genuinely confused?”
“Probably.” Leperia replies with a sunny smile.
“After today? Fuck it, either way, yes please…”
“So hows’t feel anyway Phil?” You slur, pouring another measure from the much-assaulted bottle into the Incubus neophyte’s glass.
“I don’t have words for it. It’s like living in the desert and suddenly getting chucked into a river, there’s power everywhere, and I have no idea what to do with it.” Phillip admits.
“I guess it’ll come with the horns…” Blue cackles, some kind of horrifically sweet concoction between her paws.
“Fuck… Incubi and Lilim and carrying raw magic and fuckin’ doors to Hell and Wonderland popping up… D’you think the Holy Mother Church’d let me season for a quarter-century?” You venture, half-seriously.
“No… That’s why The Go… Ow… I mean, why there are such things as Purgatives…”
“What DID they teach you in the Abbey?!” Phillip half-drunkenly demands, his eyes now shot through with flecks of violet.
“Agriculture, mostly.” You admit.
“Sweet Tyri… OW!” Phil curses, gripping at his head.
“Going to have to break that habit Love.” Morrigan purrs, grinning smugly.
“Yeah yeah… Look, you’re travelling with a Koala. How’d she not put you on to that?”
Phillip rolls his violet-flecked eyes. “Eucalypt Tea. It’s one of the best Purgatives the world’s ever known.”
“It is a cultural Mainstay of my people and I will not have it referred to as some spiritual ipecac.” Cally sniffs haughtily, before hiccuping.
“S’like this right?” Phillip continues, ignoring Cally’s objection. “Y’ever taken two lodestones and pushed them together? On one side, they stick, but on the other…”
“…They push each other apart.” You finish, comprehension dawning through the fuzz of alcohol.
“Exactly. S’why Vegemite is like raw sewage to Mamono. Something in it pushes them away. You probably didn’t like the taste of Eucalypt either, right?”
“I mean it wasn’t me favourite thing in the world…” You admit diplomatically, glancing at the Koala who is looking quite huffy.
“S’cause you’re not fulla Mamono energy, just a smidge from these two ladies.” Phil grins lecherously. “I can smell him on the both of you, by the way.”
“After this long? You’d bloody better be able to!” Blue retorts.
“Hah! You’re adorable. Why did I not see how adorable she was before, Morrie?” Phil demands.
“Change of perspective, love.” Morrigan replies with another smug grin.
“Guess so. Anyway… Give it an… Ooh… About… Hah… Say a f-fortnight on E-eucalypt and you’ll be right as raiiii…” Phillip’s sentance trails off as he grips the table, uttering a throaty grunt.
“Morrigan, were you…” Cally ventures.
“Well you all wanted to socialize. I wanted to go home and fuck.” The Manticore justifies, a wet, sucking sound coming from under the table as she lifts her tail from beneath it.
“Lecher.” You chuckle.
“Hey. After this many years of hiding it? Biting the pillow so as not to alert the neighbours? You’re lucky we’re not fucking in the middle of Osun’s camp!” Morrigan retorts hotly.
“Shit… You know what with everything I didn’t even organize lodging?” You groan, putting your head in your hands.
“Adam…” Cally chides gently. “…Oh well, we’ve done the wagon-bed before.”
“Bugger that!” Phillip declares. “I’ve got plenny-a room!”
“How’d you get a place already?” Blue asks, astonished.
“Pupper, y’don’t think I’ve been planning this for years?” Phil chuckles, blinking owlishly at the Kobold.
“W-would ya mind awfully if we…” Blue tentatively asked, blushing slightly
“I’d feel insulted if you didn’t!” Phillip declares, catching the Kobold’s innuendo. “And just to help things along… Baby, would you mind?”
“Ooh! That’s so sweet!” Morrigan cooed girlishly, clapping her felinid paws together in delight, before smacking you firmly in the leg with her barbed tail.
“M-master… I feel like I’m gonna burst!” Blue whimpers, pushing at you gently.
“Well we can’t have that pup.” You breathe, reluctantly withdrawing from the Kobold. “Whaddaya say Cal? Up for round… Fuck, where are we at?”
“Ran outta… digits… a… while back…” The Koala pants, eyes unfocused in blissful delirium. “And… I’m all over… bruises… down there…”
“Bugger.” You curse, taking yourself in hand and working frantically. “Reckon… She coulda… gone.. A little lighter… with… that spine…”
“Ummm… You could always try…” Cally ventures “…I mean… you could take me… Back there?”
“What, up the date?”
“You don’t need to be so vulgar about it!” Cally exclaims, blushing furiously.
“Well if you’re keen on it…”
“I’ve heard it can be… nice…” Cally hesitantly offers, bending over and presenting her backside to you.
Rubbing the tip of your manhood against the Koala’s swollen and bruised sex, you coat it thoroughly in her juices. Aiming gently at the small, puckered opening of her exit, reason wars with venom-fuelled lust for a moment… Surely there was no way you’d fit…
Cally pushes back against you, and you are squeezed inch by painstaking inch into her rear. The Koala cries out in a mixture of pain and pleasure, her claws carving rivulets into the wooden floor.
“Y’orright?” You venture.
“I’ve never felt so FULL!” Cally whimpers “Maou… Can’t… Think…”
You grab the Koala’s mousey-blonde hair, thrusting authoritatively into her, eliciting harsh panting yowls you had never heard from the normally demure Mamono, her ample buttocks quivering as you drove yourself along with her. You felt a clenching, different from the sensation of her womanhood around the sensitive flesh of your rod.
“I’m Cuh…Cuh… CuhhhYYYAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHH…” The Koala shrieks in a voice which could etch steel as a powerful climax shakes her. Almost as if in response, you felt your own beefswelling clench, as you erupt, your legs shaking as the strength leaves your body, falling away from the Koala as you lay on the floor, panting.
“I think you broke Adorabear, Boss…” Blue mumbles, cuddling into you and kissing your face softly. “…She’s all blank-eyed and whimperin’ over there.”
“M’ok…” Cally grunts, heaving herself over to you “…But… That’s me done… Sweet Queen of Hell, am I done!”
“Fucken oath…” You pant, as oblivion sweeps your consciousness away.
“So which one was it?” Phillip demands as you wince in discomfort.
“Whazzat?” You ask, turning your attention to the new Incubus.
“The Demon you summoned that made all the noise last night.”
“What? Oh… Nah… That was Cal.”
Phillip laughs incredulously. “That’s what Koalas sound like? Morrigan almost wanted to stop and see if everything was alright!”
“Not that almost though…” You grin.
“No. Not that almost.” Phillip agrees “You know ‘He’ll’ probably get sore at me for suggesting this…” A pause for expected pain, a sigh when it doesn’t come. “…But after seeing things from the other side… I’ll just say the water’s pretty damn nice on this bank. You could always come on over…”
“Transmuted for less than a day and you’re makin’ with the temptation? Tyris fuck mate…” You chuckle helplessly.
“Just saying… I feel… free… And it’s a feeling I’d rather more could experience.”
“…Much as I wouldn’t mind stealing him, The Logos doesn’t play fair when it comes to changing its Humans.” Telia interrupts as she bursts through a smoking hole into reality, Salethiael in tow, bearing someone across his shoulders.
“Highness.” Phillip murmurs deferantly, bowing to the Lilim.
“Like a duck to fucking water…” you mutter under your breath.
“What was that Resonant?” Telia demands.
“I didn’t think so. Now. Phil. Help Sally with our new arrival.”
“What do I do?” Philip asks as Salethiael unwraps the blanket to reveal a young Jabberwocky, on the cusp of womanhood, whimpering and shaking, the burgundy of her wings and her odd, mouthed tentacles faded to a near pink.
“She’s exhausted from the transition. Lend her your energy.” Salethiael answers.
“He’d better check with Morrigan first on that front, Sal…” You snicker.
“Funny, Resonant.” Salethiael snips mirthlessly. “Now, Phil, put your hands here… Feel the wellspring of Hell’s power within you… Let it flow… don’t think about it, let instinct guide you..”
A brief moment of jealousy flares within your breast. ‘Don’t think’. You had the power to extinguish entire suns but were forced to do nothing BUT think, you couldn’t even pick up a rock without that you had worked through every excruciating detail in your head… And here’s this new Demon, change so fresh he still looked mostly human, able to bring a Mamono back from the brink with nothing but instinct.
It just didn’t seem fair.
“Well done boys.” Telia congratulates the Incubi as the Jabberwocky’s colour begins to return to ‘normal’. The Jabberwocky blinks, looking around the room at the four of you.
“Where’s mama?” She asks.
“She’ll join us as soon as she can. She asked me to fly you here ahead of them…” Telia answers, her voice surprisingly gentle.
“T-the nothing… It was so strong! It t-took Papa…” The Jabberwocky sobbed, tears streaming down her face.
“Come on, little dragon, let’s get you cleaned up.” Salethiael offers, taking her hand in his, Phillip wordlessly moving to her other side. As they depart, Telia collapses onto a divan with a great sigh.
“Am I so weak, Resonant?” The Lilim asks, looking at you with pain in her crimson gaze.
You blink in surprise. “I’m not following, Excellency. Y’picked me up without so much as a grunt yesterday.”
“And I could have ripped your arms off with even less effort… But today I lost a Jubjub to Entropy… ‘The Nothing’, they call it… Couldn’t have weighed more than fifty kilograms and… I just… Couldn’t hold her… She slipped right out of my arms.”
Gritting your teeth, you venture forward, placing a comforting hand on the Lilim’s arm.
“Powerful as you are, Excellency… You can’t save a world on your own… Why don’t you ask for help? The Church isn’t unreasonable, surely they could…”
“To COCYTUS with The Church and Magisterium and The Rites and Traditions of Humanity and the whole sordid Pax!” Telia hisses, shoving your hand away. “I’m NOT alone! ‘The White Queen’, the Wonderlanders call me. My sister Lyra, the Red Queen. My sister Xera, the Black Queen… The Power and Majesty of Hell’s Elite, all focused on stemming the collapse of their world for as long as we can… Even Mother lends what she can, so far as Her own limitations permit… Whilst your Precious ‘God’ does NOTHING but sit in His Heaven.”
You bit back the instinctive denunciation. “I can’t believe that. I WON’T believe that. Hang it all the Mamono are protected under The bloody Pax same as Humans! There must be SOMETHING…”
“Such loyalty…” Telia half-sobs “…And yet you don’t even know what He is. And the cruellest joke of all is that for the sake of THIS world, none of you can.”
“Look, lemme get Leperia to fix you a good stiff glass of something…” You offer.
Telia shakes her head fiercely. “I don’t need a drink. What I need is for you to go to The Gap and get… What I asked you to.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know much about it, Excellency, and anyone who might ain’t exactly talking.”
The Lilim fixes you with her crimson gaze. “The ‘Curse’ is not what people believe it to be. It’s… something old. Older than The Pax, Older even than Tyris. It is a remnant of Ilias, The Mother of Angels, who you would know as God-Before-Tyris. She put it there, not to keep us out, but to keep what lies there within. For the sake of what remains of Wonderland, it must be set free.”
“You’re askin’ me to go against The God…”
“Not YOUR God.” Telia hissed “If she were here today she’d fall upon this place with fire and lightning for merely daring to exist. But it’s what you Resonants were born for… Not of God, and Not of Demon… The Logos is Of Humanity, and For Humanity, and exists to withstand the Will of Heaven and Hell… Or did yesterday teach you nothing?”
You stood wordless, processing the deluge of revelation that Telia poured upon you.
“I have given you what time I can. I don’t want to bend the knee to the Grand Lodge but I will suck their ‘Master’s wrinkled cock if it means I can stave The Nothing for one more day… Now will you help me or not?”
“You’re a bad woman, Your Excellency.” You chuckle helplessly.
Telia raises a perfect brow, looking at you suspiciously. “Oh?”
“Yeah, you’ve got me over a bleedin’ barrel and you bloody well know it.”
“Do I?” The Lilim breathes, her eyes wide and ingenuous.
“Tyris be fuckin’ merciful… Alright. So. Spill. The Gap. I want to know everything you know.”
“One moment you’re ‘over a barrel’ and the next you’re giving me orders? You Australians are odd creatures…” Telia muses indulgently, steepling her long, pale fingers in front of her lips.
“More you tell me, better the chances of me getting back what you’re after… As well as not getting horribly killed in the face like Cal seems to be convinced will happen to anything that gets within cooee of that joint. What exactly ARE you after, by the way?”
Telia taps her lips with her fingers. “How best to describe it. You’re looking for a metal and glass cylinder, slightly taller than you are and about two metres in diameter.”
“Big…” You ponder “…How’m I supposed to get that back on me own?”
Crimson eyes fix you with a level stare. “You nullified the powers of that Celestial cow AND myself, and you’re telling me you can’t even pick up a big metal tube? Have I misjudged you, Resonant?”
You blush slightly in embarrassment “Sorry, guess I wasn’t thinkin’ properly there.”
“Please don’t make a habit of it. One thing I desperately want to avoid is my sister Lyra being able to say ‘I told you so’ when it comes to Wilder Resonants.”
You swallow nervously “Anything else?”
“It will be marked thusly…” Telia trails her finger in the air, and unintelligible writing forms itself in violet fire upon the empty air behind its motion. “…Do you think you can manage to remember that?”
“Lemme write it down juzzincase.” You mutter self-consciously, gripping at your pocket for parchment and charcoal pencil. “No sense nerves fuckin’ me up and me bringing back the Antient Worlde’s equivalent of a septic tank.”
“Indeed.” Telia agrees.
Another involuntary gulp. “So… ah… what’s in yer tube?”
“It wouldn’t make any sense to you even if you understood the term.” Telia answers, waving her hand with vague dismissal. “The point is, I need it. The whys and the wherefores aren’t part of the agreement.”
“Orright. So what’s this ‘God Fragment’ got in store for us?”
Telia sits back slightly in surprise “Us?” she echoes.
“Well I wasn’t planning on going alone… Risk shared is risk halved after all.”
“Well I wouldn’t take your companions, and I certainly am not going with you. Ilias formed these defences with Me and Mine in mind. Mamono accompanying you would be ‘a dumbcunt move’, as you Australians so eloquently phrase it.”
“Right. Good to know. Now what am I up against.”
“As far as I can divine, you will face three gates. The first, Annulment of Magic. That is what stymies those of us from Hell. With the worlds so… Close around Thealiss, it’s pretty much an instant trip home.”
“And bein’ Human that’s gonna do sweet bugger all to me.” You conclude with slight relief.
“That is my theory…” Telia concedes.
“So y’aint tested it then?”
Level crimson stare again “With whom, perchance?”
“Ah. Fair point.”
“So next up?”
The Lilim tucks a length of white hair behind her fretted, conchlike ear. “Annulment of Will. Ilias was very fond of applying the motto ‘why walk when you can crawl?’ to Her supplicants.”
“Ah bugger. Now that’s a pickle.” You curse “Resonance ain’t like magic, if that’s what Phil and Sal’ve been doing. I can’t do shit if me brains’ve gone to sleep.”
“I suppose, but remember, The Gap was a HUMAN structure. If she didn’t require Humans there, would she even leave it standing?”
“S’pose not, so there must be a way through it, even if I am engaging in pretty significant Heresy by genuflecting to a God other than Tyris.” You reply uncertainly.
“Won’t tell if you don’t.” Telia quips dismissively.
“Phil’s headaches every time he overhears a child’s bedtime prayer at the mo not convincing that The Most High is at least paying a bit of attention at the moment?”
“Not really, that Angel could be hanging around… metaphysically speaking.”
You frown. “Isn’t that a problem?”
“Oh, his rutting with the Manticore will turn her stomach eventually”
“Right…” you chuckle helplessly at her blase encapsulation of the situation. “…And the third?”
“I’ll admit…” Telia sighed “…That’s where things get tricky. About fifty years ago I sent a Yowie Null to The Gap on a hunch.” Telia began, referencing the agendered Mamono, the other half of ‘Maou’s Shame’. “Having no magic and no real will to speak of, it managed to get through the first two gates with little trouble. At the third? Well…”
“Well?” You prompt.
“You… May… Be attacked by something.”
“Love yer attention to detail, Excellency.” You jest darkly.
“By Hell’s Throne, Resonant, there’s only so much you can do with a butterflied ribcage and a smashed skull.” Telia shoots back. “Whatever it is, it’s powerful, and skilled, and… savage.”
“…Shit a brick.” You curse. Still… you reasoned that you hadn’t seen anything in your life that couldn’t be mollified by a quick trip to visit your good friend the bucket.
“Well Resonant? Anything else?”
“Well… I mean, not to give yer sister any basis for being right and anything but as a Wilder? Well what I’ve managed to do thus far is pretty much intuition. On the offchance, you don’t happen to have any Resonant volumes lying about the joint?”
Telia blinks in utter incomprehension. “Resonant… Volumes… Like books? Resonants don’t use books.”
“Beggin’ yer pardon Excellency but yeah we do. Cally had a couple that a family of woodborers made lunch of, but they exist.”
“Astonishing! What do they look like?” the Lilim insisted, her interest thoroughly captured.
“Well like a book, just… you couldn’t ever read ‘em for the life of you.”
“Intruiging… No, sadly I don’t.” She admits. Your heart sinks.
“But… That’s not to say we couldn’t get some. Juliet?”
A shift of movement behind you, and you turned to see a dusky-skinned succubus. Whilst by no means the exquisite vision of the Lilim, her figure was still mouthwatering. ‘A body built for a Chancel cot’ was the common expression, flirting with blasphemy by applying it to a Demon nonwithstanding. The Succubus bent in a low curtsey, decadently generous breasts straining at her brief leather corset.
“Your Highness?” Juliet mused, her voice smoke and sex and lust given form.
“I want you to tell that pretty boy of yours that you’re raiding his bookshelf. Bring back anything you can’t read.”
Juliet pursed her rich lips in thought “A Long Journey, Highness…”
Telia rolled her eyes, throwing one of the glowing amethysts at the succubus, who greedily crushed it in hand, inhaling the particulate vapour which streamed forth from the shattered stone.
“Be right back…” She drawled richly, magical runes suddenly colouring the air around her as with a thump of inrushing air, she vanished.
“Two eights…” Blue states, holding the cards expertly in her furred paws.
“No you don’t!” One of the Cheshire adolescents insisted, having appeared in the air behind the Kobold.
“Kitty Four… I’m gonna get mad if you keep sourin’ me bluffs.” Blue growls irritably.
“The whole point, Maeko…” You sigh indulgently “…is to guess what the other player is holding.”
“But Blue keeps lying about her cards!” Maeko decries, pointing an amethyst-striped paw at the Kobold.
“I’m a-sposed to lie!” Blue wails, dropping her cards and burying her head in her paws in utter defeat.
“I don’t like games with so much lying.” Cho interjects. “Why can’t we play Go instead?”
“Because Cally keeps winning.”
“It’s only math Blue.” The Koala quips innocently, the ghost of a wicked smile on her face.
“I’mma bite you on the tit, Adorabear.” Blue seethes, her azure eyes narrowing.
“Promises promises…” Cally grins smugly.
“Oh Resonant!” Telia’s voice rings from her room in the rear of the tavern.
“No biting.” You order absently “…And… Keep it clean in front of the kittens.”
“Yehboss…” Blue sighs dejectedly.
“Good girl.” You grin, patting her on the head. On instinct, you bend forward, planting a warm if brief kiss on the surprised Kobold’s mouth. Her eyes go wide, her heart within them.
“Well if you’re handing them out…” Cally drawls, opening her arms presumptively.
“Don’t be a bully next time Cal.” You state simply, rubbing her grey-furred ears as you head to the rear of the pub.
“Bloody favouritism!” You hear the Koala hiss at your back.
“…I’ve never seen…”
“…A smile that smug…”
“Did you enjoy yourself, Juliet?” Telia muses impatiently.
The Succubus wipes the corner of her mouth unselfconsciously. “Well I had to say thank you, didn’t I, Highness?”
“I suppose so…” the Lilim chuckles indulgently, her crimson eyes lifting as she notices your entry. “Ah. Resonant. Here we are.”
She gestures to a collection of about half a dozen books on a low table before her. Frowning, you bend down to examine them.
“This is some kind of Suudenlander treatise… Something about having ancestral rights to the Ruins of Hamunapt and Cairo… Author Weiwus Kanges? Never heard of it.”
“Irrelevant then.” Telia waves dismissively. You nod in agreement, inspecting the next one. Your eyes widen in surprise.
“Tyris be Merciful! This is the Karma Sutra of the Aestenlandish Subcontinent! Just HAVING this is Heresy!”
“Oh? Well best give it here then, can’t be having you get in trouble.” Telia muses, holding out her hand. You hand her the volume which she immediately opens. “By my Mother! I never knew Humans were so flexible!”
“Don’t wanna know…” You murmur, shaking your head. “This one’s an Edda from the Nordenlandsreich… Said to be filthy as fuck.”
“Gimme!” Juliet demands.
“You said you couldn’t read it.” You state flatly as you hand over the book.
“I shall learn, Human.” Juliet replies insistently.
“Yeh righto… Whoop! ‘Onne Realitie and the Manipulatione Thereoffe’… Fuckin’ bingo.” You declare in triumph.
“Praise be to Maou…” Telia sighs in relief “…anything else?”
“A Westerlander folk tale about someone named ‘Armstrong’… Went to the Moon? Fuckin’ Westerlanders and their crazy stories.” You laugh. “And something… I guess it’s Ruslander? The only word I recognise is something called ‘Cosmoline’… but it’s referenced like some kind of Holy Ungent.”
“Parts of the Rusland make the Australs look hospitable.” Telia ventures “Who knows what insanity those tundras birth?”
“Who bloody knows indeed? What’s wrong with a tattoo and a night at the pub? Much more pleasing to The God.” You state with firm conviction.
“If you say so dear.” Telia muses with clear disinterest. “Now get to reading, I want you heading to The Gap as soon as you can.”
“Excellency.” You grin, hoiking the heavy tome under one arm and heading back out towards the main bar.
“Adam…” Cally repeats insistently
“Sorry… M’readin.” you mumble as you turn a page, a mug of cider half-forgotten in your other hand.
“I can see that!” The Koala whimpers, seemingly near tears. “That book was the bane of my existence for nearly a decade! I want to know what it says!”
“Wanna sit on my lap while I read it to you?” You drawl, glancing at the Koala with a cheeky grin “Well ask me nicely.”
“Onegai, Adam-Samaaa~” Cally wheedles in a harsh, nasal accent. You blink, turning to the Koala.
“What the bloody hell was that?”
“Zipangan.” Cally mumbles, shuffling slightly as she blushes in embarrassment. “I thought it would be cute.”
“Please never do that again. You sounded like a cat being strangled…” You state flatly, before glancing at the Cheshires “…Er, no offence girls.”
…is rather atrocious…
…to be honest.”
“Last time I take advice from you four…” Cally grumbles, the Cheshires answering her with uniformly smug grins.
“Well come on Cal…” You chuckle, scooping the short, curvy Mamono into your lap “…Chapter three, Particulate matter and appropriate atmospheric concentration…”
“Alone though?” Cally demands, clinging to you as you tighten the girth on Twenty.
“From what Telia says it’s the safest option. I can’t worry about myself and whatever other mug I drag into this. ‘Sides, you said it’s one thing you couldn’t do.”
“I know, but…” The Koala sobs.
“Hey.” You murmur softly, kissing the Koala gently. “This doesn’t sound HALF as scary as Wagyl. Anything has a go? The Bucket’s getting some mates.”
“I still think you should read some more before you leave.”
You shake your head vehemently. “What I’ve already read needs time to… settle. You noticed the furniture on the roof this morning?”
Cally nods, “I thought that was the Cheshires having fun.”
“Nah Cal, that was a brief nightmare, not even a bad one. I can’t overload myself… the glyphs need… time…”
“How do you know that?”
“I just… do?” You answer lamely, truth be told you had no rational reasoning as to why your mind was insisting ‘this much, no more, for now.’ Strapping the cutlass around your waist, you look around the largely empty street. “Where’s me Kobie anyway?”
“I’m not sure, she left before sunrise this morning.” Cally replies, sniffling.
“She’d better not be sulki…” You grumble.
“Boss!” Blue’s clarion call interrupts your gripe as the Kobold comes sprinting towards you, a wooden bowl in hand.
“Gudday Blue, I thought you were havin’ a pout.” You chuckle.
“I was, but then I thought of something. C’mere.” she insists, pulling at the front of your leather jerkin, lowering your head towards her. Chanting in the growling, gutteral Kobold language, she smears something thick and red and not altogether pleasant smelling in an intricate pattern on your face.
“Whazzis then Pup?” You insist.
“Don’t move.” Blue demands, continuing her painting and chanting. “There. If I can’t be with you, at least the Spirits can.” She pulls you further down, pressing her lips to yours insistently. “Come back to me…” She whispers fiercely. “Come back to me… My Love… My Master… My Patriarch.”
“Calm yer farm Twenty…” You order the Bungarra as it hisses slightly in discomfort. The old ruins were spotted in more places than not around the world, yet the onus of this trip lent the surroundings a certain uncomfortableness. Stumps of metal, corroded beyond recognition littered the ground around you… An old fence, maybe? To your right, a sheet of metal, amazingly uncorroded in comparison after so many hundreds… thousands of years?
‘Joi… Def… Fac… Pine Gap… Proh.. Ar… Turn Around Now’ was all you could make out of the strange writing, so maddeningly close to Magisterian. A shimmering seemed to twist the air as you nudged Twenty forward.
“The First Gate…” You mumble to yourself. Suddenly, Blue’s markings upon your face seemed to sizzle, the ‘paint’ flaking away as if under a stream of water. The carved spur around your neck gave a ‘jump’ and a shimmering figure appeared before you.
“Blue!” You cried, before double-taking. No. It wasn’t Blue, but the similarity was startling.
“Hurts!” It cried in an echoing voice. “Place… Taboo… Turn away, Pack Friend!” the shade insisted imploringly.
Ah balls… it looked like Blue’s shamanism counted as magic as far as this ‘Gate’ was concerned. Still, what to do?
“Back up Twenty… Back up…” You ordered, the Bungarra scrabbling inelegantly backwards as you direct it with a practiced hand. The shimmering fades, and the Spirit looks relieved, as it too begins to fade from view.
“Tyris, I dunno if this is Heresy or not so Forgive me ignorance if so…” You pray silently, raising your eyes to the heavens. “…Revered Ancestor! Wait a moment, if ya would…”
The Spirit ‘solidifies’, looking at you askance.
“What would you have of me, Pack Friend?”
“Your Kin has asked yez to be with me, but clearly the totem ‘round me neck is causin’ ya a little grief when it enters… that… “ You wave at the empty air. “I’m gonna take it off, but If ye’d be able to watch me back anyway, it’d be fuckin’ tops, yeh?”
“I do not understand, Pack Friend…” The Spirit frowns uncomprehendingly.
“Ok, so I’mma take this off…” You begin, sliding the totem from around your neck.
“Pack Friend? Pack Friend? Where have you gone?” The spirit gasps, looking blankly through you with wide eyes.
“What in Tyris… I’m right here!” You exclaim in exasperation.
“Pack Friend! What has happened? Where are you?” The Spirit continues, walking straight through Twenty’s head, the Bungarra blissfuly ignorant of the Kobold Spirit lodged in its scaled, wedgelike skull.
“Well I guess that answers that question…” You grumble, sliding off the Bungarra. “Stay.” You order sharply, tying the totem securely around one of the crumbling rust-riddled posts holding the ‘sign’. The Spirit vanishes from view as your hand leaves the totem.
“Right… So let’s try this shit again.” You grunt, re-mounting the Bungarra and nudging it forward with your heels. As you enter the shimmering again, the remaining flecks of the markings drop hissing from your face. A few wisps of violet energy seem to ‘steam’ from your arms, and a pale, smoky essence bleeds from your thigh where Morrigan had stuck you.
“Well I guess I don’t have to worry about drinkin’ that fuckin’ gumleaf…” You chuckle to yourself. “…Oi! Twenty! Leave it alone!” You demand, yanking the reins as the Bungarra bears down on some kind of chittering desert beastie, its spined legs raised in an obvious threat posture. Ignoring both the threat and your command, the Bungarra chomps down on the creature, crunching it in its powerful jaws with obvious mindless pleasure.
“Fuckin’ guts…” You snicker, applying a more forceful boot and rein to turn the lizard back on course. Its mindless gluttony sated for now, the Bungarra accedes to your demand, its clawed feet crunching through the few low, scrubby bushes able to eke out an existence in this barren landscape. You could see the ruins proper on the horizon now, odd, circular bone-white structures, looking like the broken eggs of some monstrous beast, red stains of rust and dirt staining them in rivulets which bore far too close a resemblance to dried blood. You swallowed involuntarily… Come to think of it… the ‘oppressive’ air you had sensed as you approached seemed to be getting downright uncomfortable. You shivered, despite the desert heat.
As Twenty’s mindless scrabbling towards the structure continued, you found yourself panting, clinging to the saddle, the sensation of oppression almost overwhelming.
“HOLD HUMAN!” A massive voice boomed from nowhere, as a gigantic figure suddenly appeared from nowhere directly in your path. Crying out with a startled oath, you tumbled from the saddle into the dirt. Twenty, free from your control, blissfully meandered over to a nearby shrub and began chomping away stupidly. Scrambling to your feet, you beheld the colossus. Her form was feminine, such as it went, but her head was crowned with fire and lightning, an intricate diadem bearing a blood-red stone hanging upon her brow. Her wings were titanic, seeming to encompass acres within their span, feathers like glossy platinum reflecting the sunlight dazzlingly. “I AM ILIAS, GOD OF GODS. FALL DOWN AND WORSHIP ME, THAT I MAY KNOW THY LOYALTY.”
You had prepared yourself for the possibility of some serious mindfuckery, but this? What the being asked was Heresy, and your very soul shrieked against it. The oppressiveness was at fever pitch, and it took all your strength to remain standing. So this was the Second Gate. Annulment of Will. A horrible thought shook you… The first gate had bled you of even the infinitesimal amounts of Mamono energy within your body… Was there any guarantee you would get your will back if you bent the knee now? You gritted your teeth, the desire to just fall to your knees and grovel was nearly impossible to resist.
“Fuckin’ jack o’this…” You curse, calling upon the Logos.
You groan with relief as the oppressive sensation leaves you as if it had never existed, yet you can still feel its ‘force’ beating at the authority of your glyph. The titan above you seems to recoil, before gritting her teeth and yelling “SUBMIT!” in a voice which makes your ears ring.
“Fuck you’re loud! Dial it back a bit, there’s a love.” You quip nonchalantly, somehow keeping the trembling from your voice. Sure, you didn’t feel like a bug on a hotplate any longer, but the figure was still bloody imposing. “Twenty, get here you stupid fuck.”
The Bungarra raises its head, gazing at you myopically with a serpentine eye, before returning to chewing the foliage. You walk over, grabbing its reins and vaulting yourself back into the saddle.
“YOU SHALL NOT PASS.” The colossus insists, planting its feet to either side of the Bungarra, who seems to take absolutely no notice of it.
“Nice legs sheila, what time do they open?” You drawl, a lecherous grin on your face as you stare upwards. Image of a God or not, she had some nice stems, you won’t lie.
“YOU DARE?!” Ilias howls, completely incensed, balling up a fist and driving it towards you.
You shriek, closing your eyes and raising your arms against that impossible blow… Which never comes. Twenty continues its slow plod in the direction you had kicked it, and you experienced the curious sensation of passing ‘within’ the substance of that fist and through the other side.
“Got me on that one…” You admit, the involuntary giggle somewhat crazed. Fuck. You’d better not stick around, even without the domination this bitch was still getting inside your head. Twenty passed between those massive feet, and on sheer, bloody minded contrariness, you raised your eyes as you passed underneath the titan’s legs.
“AWOOOOO! It’s a full moon tonight! You dirty girl, you’re not even wearing any smalls!” You chortle, kicking the bungarra into a faster scramble as you sense rather than see the colossus scramble to cover its dignity, hurling invective at the back of your head.
As you pass beyond the area of the ‘gate’, you feel the constant hammering at the glyph lessen, until it is barely noticeable from what you had come to surmise was the natural ‘flow’ of magic in the area.
“It wasn’t real, was it shithead?” You ask the Bungarra. As if in answer, the Bungarra leans forward, dumping a steaming pile of dung in its wake. Laughing in relief, you lean forward to scratch it under the frill, picking off a dead tick as you do so. A memory, even a memory of a God, had no power that belief didn’t give it… Still. That had rocked you, and you resolved to be a little less cavalier with whatever encounters remained. The sun beat down on you as it passed its meridian, and you lifted your hat briefly to wipe sweat from your brow… Wait, was that a shadow? You didn’t notice any clouds when you looked up earlier… Oh…
Something yowls as its pass is deflected by the barrier you had hurriedly erected around yourself, and a large feathered form makes an ungainly recovery before landing, kicking up a cloud of red dust. Twenty hisses, jerking against your control, its frill extending as it turns its body defensively, desperately trying to be quit of whatever this is. You pondered at what could spawn such a reaction from the Bungarra. Wedge Tail? No, not this far into the desert, plus, whatever it is was too… big… for a harpy. As the dust settled, you got a better look at the creature, and you sucked in air in surprise.
“Chun Hua?!” You exclaimed in shock, before shaking your head. No, Chun Hua was more overtly muscular, and her felinid appendages were snow and coal, not the plains-gold of this creature’s lower paws. The unknown Mamono, for that much was clear at least, spread her feathered arms, horned and taloned at the end like the grasping claws of some great raptor and snarled at you, impossibly massive wings whipping choking dust from the ground as Twenty doubled its efforts to break your control in its panic.
This one was no illusion, that was bloody obvious.
“Human…” she hissed, her accent archaic and foreign. “…I can smell the greed on thee, the ambition… I know not how thou passed the second gate but for the favour The One God hath shown thee I will permit thy flight, yea, to seek supplication before Her image, that thou mayest be purified of such unseemly lusts.”
The fuck? A Mamono? Giving worship to a Human God? And what was this she was talking about?
“Favour?” You echoed dumbly.
The Mamono cocked her head, covered in… hair? Feathers? In confusion. “That thou art not born Monster, of course. Art thou simple of mind?”
“I’m not giving up me bloody free will! That’s… Heresy!” You blurt in uncomprehending shock.
“Verily I say unto thee, none may pass with larceny in their hearts. The treasure that is mine, which The God hath gifted unto me, may not fall to common hand. This is the Word of The God.”
“All Glory to the Most High” You mumble automatically, raising your hands in the sign of the sunburst. The Mamono seems even more confused.
“What response givest thou? This is not known to me… Human, thou makest me suspicious, which I would advise against. Again I abjure thee, return and beg supplication of the Image of Holy Ilias, or prepare to perish.”
“Right. I think we kinda came into this one halfway, on account of you tryna take me flamin’ head off there.” You begin, keeping a watchful eye on the Mamono’s movements. “How about we start things over in a bit more of a civilized fashion, yeh?”
The winged being’s eyes narrow. “Do not think to beguile me with words, Human. My oath is sacrosanct and mine Honour, paramount!”
“Not even gonna try.” You assure her. “Just… Wanna put my end of things forward is all. You said you smelled greed on me, desire, ambition. Guilty. I’m as flawed as any Human, Tyri… Er, ‘The God’ be merciful.” You quickly correct yourself, you didn’t need to be trying to get her to swallow THAT revelation just yet.
“So thou wilt return and supplicate thyself?” The Mamono asked, seeming to relax slightly.
“One thing first.” You state simply, gesturing towards the crumbling, shattered ruins behind her. “You say I shall not pass, that you’re guarding your ‘Treasure’. Issat the whole ruin? Cos if it is I gotta say Mater Australis is doing a better job of takin’ it than I ever could.”
The Mamono bristles with umbrage at that. “Do not taunt me, Human, or I shall open thy chest and make choice morsels of thy organs”
“Just makin’ a point. Fact is, I’m tryin’ to help save a lot of people, and something in there is crucial to that. Fair dinkum. Now that’s a big fuckin’ ruin, so there’s a good chance whatever I’m looking for doesn’t even factor into what yer lookin’ after. Surely we can look at this sensibly.”
“Just allow thee to peruse through my domain, although thy will remaineth. Dost thou think me credulous?”
“T… The God be fuckin’ Glorified woman!” You blurt in exasperation. “You want me proof of devotion to The Most High?!”
“Iad Mozod Zir…” You intone, “Iad Bab Zna, Iad Sor Gru, Iad Ser Osf… LONCHO LOE OL OIAD L-BALTOH LEA!”
“High Angelic!” The winged being gasps, recoiling slightly. You were a bit surprised, any kid of twelve could recite the Angelic Chant of Confirmation assuming he or she had half a brain in their head.
“Thank Tyris, now we’re getting somewhere…” You sigh.
“That name… Who is this Tyris? Is he some recent Saint of Holy Ilias?”
You curse inwardly, your stupid tongue had let that one come out against your better judgement. “Look, I’ll explain that later. I’m serious though, lives are at stake. Feel free to frog-march me the whole bloody way and if I DO happen to be after yer treasure we can fight about it then. Please…”
The Mamono seemed to be pondering your logic, not entirely convinced.
“Look, if it makes your oath any more squeaky, you can consider me a hostage.” You offer, unstrapping your cutlass and hanging it from the saddle horn, before dismounting and staking the still-hissing Twenty’s reins to the ground.
“Verily, I eat my hostages…” the amalgam creature near-purred with naked menace.
“Buy a bloke a drink first.” You quip without thinking.
“Thou art doing it again!” She screeches, her gaze filled surprisingly with pain and frustration.
“Sorry, what’d I say?”
“Thou speakest unto me as if I were equal to a Human. As if I were not cursed as I am, to live as a Monster.”
“You’re Mamono… The Pax dictat… Ohhhh.” You exclaim, the penny finally dropping. “…Out of curiosity, how long’ve you been here?”
The Mamono shook her head “Time is not important. I shall take of the charge which The God hath set upon me, yea, until I am redeemed and my family reborn anew as She hath promised.”
“So I’m gonna go with ‘A Bastard Long while.”
“If thou must…” She accedes.
“The world’s changed a bit. Fact of it is, some eons back, don’t ask me the numbers because I’m not a flamin’ historian, we almost wiped each other out, Humans and Mamono, I mean. The God and Maou set forth a new doctrine called The Pax Deus. We’re all governed under the same law, and in the eyes of that law, we’re as equal as we possibly can be. So if I’m acting like you’re no different from any Human, it’s because all my life I’ve been brought up to SEE you as no different… Obvious shit aside, of course.” You conclude, gesturing to her wings.
“V-verily… that must have been… nice…” She muses, her voice soft and plaintive, before she shakes her head again “…But it is falsehood! Blasphemy! Holy Ilias would NEVER deign to deal with the Foul Mistress of Hell!”
You sigh resignedly, pinching at the bridge of your nose. “Look, that’s one that requires more time and more beer than I’ve got at present. Again, lives at stake. Are you gonna come with or are we going to fight?”
The Mamono’s eyes narrowed, and for a horrible, sinking heartbeat, you thought she was going to attack. Then she straightened, gesturing to you. “Lead on Human, but I say to thee, if thou so much as LOOK upon that which is mine with thought of avarice, I shall flay thee to thy very bones.”
“Yeh well, before ya do that, quit calling me ‘Human’. My name’s Adam and it’s much easier to say.”
“As thou wilt… Adam.”
“…And you are?”
A beat as the Mamono pauses behind you. You look over your shoulder askance, to see her face set in a bland mask, yet behind it a turmoil of emotion.
“…Bella.” She answers finally.
“Gudday Bella, now. Shall we?”
You head further into the ruins, the wind whistling mournfully through the broken structures, ravaged by the elements. On instinct, you head towards a larger more solid looking building, and are rewarded with a megalithic form in its side you can only surmise functions as a door.
“So you know how to get in right?” You murmur, looking at Bella askance.
“Verily, now I know thou art telling the truth…” Bella answers, folding feathered and clawed arms across her chest, tanned hides creaking slightly with her movements. “…Or thou art the worst thief ever given breath.”
“Fuckin’ funny one, arencha?” You grumble under your breath… Well, you know what they say, when life gives you doors, rip them apart with the Logos… Well, you’re sure SOMEONE would have said it, given this situation.
The sound which resulted from your glyph was beyond description. How does one go into the detail of the sound a metre thick block of stone and steel makes when torn like a piece of errant cloth? You clasped your hands over your ears, and Bella makes a growling shriek of surprise behind you.
“W-what ART thou?!” She demands shakily, glaring at you as the dust settles.
“The answer to what the hell Humanity does when beset by beings that can throw small suns at you.” You murmur absently, shaking your head to clear the ringing in your ears.
“I do not understand.”
“To be honest, neither do I. And it won’t matter unless we keep moving.” You admit, heading towards the dark opening you had rent into the structure.
“Fuckin’ dark as a Suudenlander’s taint in here…” You mutter, peering to where the ramping floor descends into utter blackness. You call upon the Logos again, a small ball of light bobbing happily above your head with the casted glyph.
“Magic is Forbidden.” Bella insists “Yea, for Ilias hath said “Through Me alone do all Blessings Flo…”
“Yeah nah, Humans don’t have magic. I don’t… I don’t even really know what it is.” You interrupt, continuing your descent, the sound of the Mamono’s clawed, padded feet close behind you.
“Art thou a Priest? Sent to test mine resolve?”
“Don’t be silly, Men can’t be Priests.” You snicker. For some reason the concept of lying to the Mamono just didn’t occur to you.
“I knew many men who bore the miter… Their lessons… The ways of The One God did not come easily.”
You pause, half-turning towards her. “You… haven’t really had anyone to talk to in a while, have ya?”
Bella appears to be on the verge of another doctrinal exclamation, but instead she pauses, before shaking her head wordlessly.
“Cairn then, let’s get this over with, then we can fight or chat as y’want.” You offer, smiling what you hoped was a comforting grin.
The faintest hint of a smile touched Bella’s lips, then she looked past you, and her face twisted in an expression of revulsion and outrage.
“Abberation!” She snarled
“Youwha?” You gulped in surprise, twisting rapidly to see dim figures at the base of the ramp, one of them shuffling towards you. Its figure was humanoid, yet desiccated, corpselike, non-existent lips pulled back from blackened teeth. Eyes aglow with a faint foxfire, it gave an odd, warbling screech, its arm, coated with irregular chunks of some kind of unknown mineral, raised towards you as it continued its shuffling advance.
“Foul and Defiling wretches… Taste of the Purification of The One God!” Bella snarls, spreading her wings and preparing to launch herself at the figure.
Funny… For an attack, this was probably the most piss-poor effort that the shuffling thing could possibly make. Bella’s words intruded unbidden into your mind.
“I know thou art telling the truth… Or thou art the worst Thief ever given breath”
“Bella! Hold on a sec!” You insist, putting your hand out to grab her feathered arm. Bella shrieks, pulling the appendage roughly from your grasp.
“Sorry, bad touch?”
“U-unexpected…” The Mamono stammers, yet her eyes still hold the wary gaze of a wounded animal.
“Sorry ’bout that. Now hang five. Look at the way it’s approaching us, and its mates aren’t even paying us any mind.” You begin, gesturing at the thing still shuffling towards you, arm still outstretched, still screaming that warbling, hissing screech, seemingly without pause. “Bugger me sideways but I don’t think it actually means us harm.”
“Adam! Certes, look thou upon it!” Bella demands in seeming exasperation, Her face still twisted in a moue of revulsion.
“S’abit harsh… How’d you feel if I knocked you on yer tail… er… feathers… either way, just because of how you look?”
“A monstrous form is a sign of Monstrousness within.”
You look at Bella, feeling almost saddened. “If you actually believe that, I feel really fuckin’ sorry for you.”
What to do though? You could keep it at bay with Resonance, try and communicate with the screaming, shambling thing… But then again it looked pretty fragile. Almost as if you could kick it to bits with main force.
“Fuck… I wish Cally was here…” You grumble, searching through the endless glyphs in your mind. Some seemed almost understandable though most were so utterly alien the warbling screams of the approaching thing seemed almost more understandable.
“Adam…” Bella growled warningly.
“Gimme a mo…” You insisted. Come on, come on… there HAD to be something, Humans built this place after all!
The thing was almost touching you, its hand still outstretched.
“Yeah nah bugger it.” You sigh in resignation.
The thing seems almost confused as an unseen force lifts it bodily from the floor, its legs still impotently working to try and move on the empty air beneath it.
“Now you are bloody well going to stay there until I figure out what you’re trying to say.” You order simply.
“Thou art enamoured of leaving things until the last minute, certes?” Bella almost quips.
“The God be Glorified, was that wit?” You exclaim in gentle mockery. Bella sniffs haughtily, not deigning to respond. Chuckling slightly, you turn back to the floating thing.
“Now, you. Boney. Can you understand me?”
The thing cocks its head, foxfire eyes glued to your face. Slowly, and unmistakably, it nods.
“Praise Tyris…” You breathe. “…Can you speak?”
That warbling scream again.
“No! Can you speak like me?”
The thing gaped its blackened, creaking jaws. “Leeeeexexex… Prrooooo…. Dam-dam-age-ddddd”
“I think I almost got that. You’re saying something’s damaged? You can’t speak because of it?
“Is there another way for us to communicate? That’s not you screaming like a neko being fucked on a tin roof?”
Pause. Nod. Outstretched hand.
“Well, in for a brass…” You mused, reaching out your hand to the things wizened appendage… which siezed you in an iron grasp.
“Tyris fuck!” You cried in shock, your glyph dissipating in your surprise. The thing’s legs seemed to collapse underneath it as it hit the ground, pulling you down on top of it. You smelled the sharpness of summer lightning, dust, and the very faintest trace of decay, like a poorly tanned skin left in the sun. Those foxfire eyes still bored into yours, those blackened teeth mere inches from your own face, and for a horrible moment you thought the thing about to bite you.
“NEAR FIELD COMMUNICATION ESTABLISHED” a cold, metallic voice rang within your skull.
“Fear not Human, I shall smite this beast!” Bella screeched, launching herself towards you.
“Wait!” You implored, holding out your free hand. Bella pulled herself up short, staring at you incredulously.
“Thou art… aware of thy current position, art thou not?”
“It’s talking to me.”
“Verily, I hear nothing.”
“STAND BY FOR RETINAL SCAN.” The thing continued, turning your head back to face it, foxfire eyes boring into your skull “RETINAL PATTERN DOES NOT MATCH EXISTING BASE PERSONNEL DATABASE. UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS. PLEASE TRANSMIT UID TO OVERRIDE.”
Well that might have been Aestenlandian for all the sense it made to you… Still, that one term… UID… You’d heard that before, when the Logos was in your head as you strove against it in that baptism of raw power which awakened you as a resonant. Still… How to show this thing? Wait… Of course! It seemed so simple!
“Thy head is glowing!” Bella exclaimed, drawing back from you. “A-art thou SURE thou art not a Priest? Thou art bound by honour and tradition to tell me if thou art.”
“UID RECEIVED, WELCOME ADMINISTRATOR.” The thing released its grip and you scrambled to your feet. It too, attempted to rise, on legs clearly bending in the complete wrong direction. “DAMAGE DETECTED. AMBULATORY SYSTEMS OFFLINE. BRINGING PRIMARY ADMINISTRATIVE SYSTEMS OUT OF STANDBY MODE”
A deep hum was felt beneath your feet, and strange lights flickered to life along the hallway, revealing a large room below filled with machines which defied your comprehension. Some looked like metal carts, yet with no poles to attach Bungarra or Horses, others, weird boxes with odd vines trailing from them attached to the wall, where rounded rectangular wads of some unknown substance protruded from the stone.
“Systems Online. Welcome Administrator.” A soothing female voice seemed to ring from the air around you.
“Please tell me you hear that.” You near-begged Bella, who only nodded, eyes wide with cautious fear.
“Beginning diagnostics…” The voice continued “…Filtration systems nominal, Fusion reactor at 83 percent efficiency, servers online, cryogenic tanks reporting… three… failures. Testing satellite systems… Warning. Satellite platforms are overdue for routine maintenance by Three… Thousand… and Seventy… Years… Six… Months…Eighteen… Days.”
“If those boneys are the ‘Satty-light platforms’ I can fuckin’ see that.” You mumble.
“…There are… Five… Unreviewed Status Logs. Would you like an audio playback or would you prefer them forwarded to your workstation?”
“Verily… I think it is talking to thee.” Bella whispers, edging closer to you, her eyes wild as she desperately searches for the source of the voice.
“Uh… Yes?” You blurt in utter incomprehension.
“Apologies, I’m afraid that your response did not contain the appropriate contextual cues. Would you like an audio playback or would you like…”
“Fuck’s sake, what even is an audio playback?!” You blurt in exasperation
“Audio playback commencing…” The voice replies, and a new voice begins, this one male, the accent thick, the dialect almost unintelligible. You strain to understand, it sounded so maddeningly familiar, like the sign out the front, you were ALMOST able to comprehend it. Gradually, as you concentrated, the droning dialogue began to make sense…
“…Forces outside the facility. The Order might promise a ceasefire but this is proving their actual intentions are anything but honourable. We’ve found a few Order sympathisers among the staff and we’ve had them restrained. The Chief wanted to execute them but I convinced him otherwise. The United Lodges of History have never been about needless murder and I’m not about to start now. Besides, this is a closed facility, where would we put the bodies? The IT guys have been complaining about some kind of unauthorized access to the system, I’ve given them the go-ahead to do whatever they need to, last thing we need is some Order Hacker shutting off our air filters.”
“HERETICS!” Bella snarls “The United Lodges were vile deniers of the Holy Word of Ilias!”
“..Three millennia and change ago.” You quipped dryly “You’ve been around for a bit.”
“Foul Lies. If it were that long I would know… I would!” Bella insisted, “…Wouldn’t I?”
“Gavin Walden, Senior Research Fellow, Pine Gap Temporal Research Facility, 30th March 2620.” The voice began again. “The IT Guys have located the intrusion, looks like we had a Gremlin down here. SecPol bailed her up, and we’ve drugged her and put her in cryo. The Chief questioned this but I didn’t want to take the risk. Those things can hack a system with a flirtatious glance, and I didn’t want his trigger finger to start itching again. The siege situation has changed somewhat. Somehow, I’ve no idea how, one of the Orderlings got in and planted a whole nest of Griffon eggs in the Gremlin’s exosuit. When confronted, he put a knife through his own eyesocket. Exterior cams show Order forces have moved away from the facility, but the scout squad revealed that we’re definitely not out of the woods yet. A Griffon, clearly lured by the eggs, has taken up residence outside… But there’s something… off about her. Looks like the Order’s attempts to beat loyalty into some of the Mamono’ve born fruit. We’ve tried to engage her but she alternates between spouting the Ilian doctrines at us and attempting to eviscerate anything in sight. The Chief has ordered the facility locked down. None of us are really bothered, we’ve got enough supplies for twenty five years down here. She’ll see reason eventually, I’m sure.”
“That sounds familiar… Griffon eh?” You muse softly, glancing at the mamono… no… The Griffon.
“H-holy Ilias Promised Me! She spoke to Me!” Bella insists, her wild-eyes now half-crazed “Yea, The Innocence of my Sisters Yet Unborn would Sanctify this Den of Heretics, and when I had redeemed mine soul, would we be Reborn anew!”
Your response died upon your lips as the third entry begins playing. “Gavin Walden, Senior Research Fellow, Pine Gap Temporal Research Facility, 2nd January, 2621. Two complications today, The Griffon Eggs hatched. They’re gorgeous little things but the biologists are a little concerned that the rations we have here won’t be enough for them. We’ll do what we can for the little cuties though. Hopefully they’ll be able to help convince that madwoman outside to let us leave. Second, the IT guys went down to do server maintenance while we were doing a system reset on our field generators up here. For some reason the shields failed and all four of them were hit by a pulse of that resonant radiation those things seem to emit at random. They’re unconscious in sick bay, but the doc seems to think that they’re alright. He was concerned about some anomalies in their neural readouts though, but he’s always been a worrier. We’ll… What?”
Soft sound of shouting and of the hard clomping of boots upon stone plays distantly in the background. After a couple of minutes, the muted sound of voices, then footsteps as ‘Gavin’ once again returns.
“System, resume recor… Oh, I never turned it off… “ Sound of a heavy sigh “…The Order prisoners broke out and holed up in the medbay… The sick fucks killed the little Griffons. We’ll keep the bodies in the clean room with the Gremlin’s exosuit while we work out what to do. Fuck me, she’ll never believe us. Great Architect, I wouldn’t believe us, if I were her…”
“Lies!” Bella screeches. “Cease this vile falsehood, spirit! I abjure thee in the name of Ilias!”
“Gavin Walden, Senior Research Fellow…” The voice continued, unperturbed by the Griffon’s desperate ranting. “…20th May 2621. The IT team… Oh Great Architect I don’t even know where to begin… They’ve been a little standoffish since they woke up, meds all check out fine regardless of the neural anomalies the doc keeps harping on about. One of them asked for extra sauce with his rations at dinner last week. The cook explained we were under ration, and then… the container… I swear I’m not crazy and I’m not making this up! It just FLOATED OVER TO HIS TABLE! It seems somehow they’ve all had some kind of latent psionic ability awakened in them somehow. Now I’m going back so far to give you some context… Yesterday the Chief finally had enough of their clannish behaviour and he caught them in the server room with the shields down, screaming in binary at it like some kind of altar. Of course he ordered them detained, who wouldn’t? In the resultant…” A pause as the voice chokes back a sob. “…In the resultant firefight which spread throughout the facility all personnel except for three of my fellow researchers were killed. There’s been damage to multiple systems and I can’t figure out exactly what because the admin passwords have all changed. The system keeps asking for some kind of UID and none of us have any idea what it’s referring to. We’ll keep trying. We have to.”
“Disorder fell upon thee, Heretics, yea, as Ilias promised thee that it would!” Bella intones smugly.
“Nothing to do with Ilias.” You interject bluntly.
“How knowest thou?” The Griffon demands, shifting her wings.
You rub your temple in remembered pain “…Because I know what happened to these ‘Eyetee’ people.”
“Gavin… Gavin W-walden… Senior… Something… 10th… Um… I’m not entirely sure…” The voice continues, yet now it has taken on a crazed, rambling tone. “…M-my colleagues locked themselves in one of the labs and turned on the CO2 systems… Some time ago… I-I’m having difficulty… Time… is… ERROR IN BROADCAST PROTOCOLS: NO CARRIER… SHUT UP! Get… out of my head! I… Went down to the server room… tried to replicate what the Platfor… I mean, the IT team did. I… I think I’m ok though… No… No I’m.. Something’s broken in me. I can’t… I still can’t find what this UID is. I have the control rods for the Constructs that the Gremlin tried to hack, they’re still in cryo… UNACCEPTABLE PLATFORM: DELETION OF UNWANTED CODE… Argh! T-they can interface with most systems… Maybe… maybe they can…”
“End of Status Logs.” The female voice interjected dispassionately. You stood there for a moment, processing this message from the distant past. Barely any of it made any sort of sense to you, but that last message… that reminder of what you had become but for some fluke of chance or fate or whatever… it chilled you.
“Art thou Hale, Adam?” Bella asked hesitantly, peering at you with renewed suspicion.
“Fine.” You answer finally. “Nothing’s changed. Let’s keep going.”
The Griffon beat her wings once, crossing to where you were meandering through the central chamber. “Prithee, unto where?”
“Not a fucking clue. All I have is this marking.” You grumbled, holding the scrap of parchment aloft.
One of the shambling things turned its foxfire gaze upon you, following the movement of your hand.
“System Reference received, opening interface for Cryo system 1-B-13. Your instruction, Administrator?”
“Tyris, I am going to sacrifice a HERD of Bungarra to You if I ever get out of here…” You sighed fervently. “Um… Show me where it is!” You ordered the empty air.
“Acknowledged, please follow directional lighting strip.”
“Is that the green thing?” You ask, staring dumbly at a blinking green trail on the floor.
“…does that mean yes?”
“Fuckin’ guess so… fucking spirits.” You grumble, following the green strip as it blinks ahead of you.
“Dost thou trust this vile shade?” Bella demanded, looking at you with an expression of disapproval.
“Not as far as I can throw her, which doesn’t say much considering she’s just a voice in the air.” You snicker in response. “But it’s all I’ve got to go on right now and there’s something about this place that’s making me… twitchy.”
“Thou shouldst not be here, yea, I told thee this.” Bella chides with a smug note.
“Unless I’m about to do something I promised not to, tell yer story walkin’, feathers.”
“FEATHERS?!” Bella shrieks in umbrage.
“C’mon, we’ll kick the fuck out of each other when we’re shot of this joint.” You sigh, rolling your eyes and not deigning to face her. You followed the lighting along a coldly lit corridor, the dusty, fretted remains of a few crumbling skeletons here and there, and the shambling things in various states of degradation myopically shuffling seemingly directionless, some occasionally turning to stare dumbly at a glowing square, runes of unknown origin moving along its surface. Finally, you came upon an odd door. At first glance it looked like glass, but as you put your hand upon it, you noticed its texture was entirely different. A hissing sound permeated the air as the door moved on its own, opening to the chamber beyond.
Six cylinders matching Telia’s description stood before you. Three were broken, black filth staining their outer surfaces and the floor beneath, yet the other three stood pristine and whole. Inside the one whose markings matched your parchment, you could dimly see a diminutive yet humanoid figure, its features obscured through a rime of frost.
“Welp, that’s what I’m here for. Is this part of your ‘Treasure?” You ask the Griffon, who is staring slack-jawed at the Antiquities around her. Dumbly, she shakes her head.
“Mine now then.” you murmur, calling upon the Logos.
Metal shrieked and popped as anchors tore free from the floor, a snapped bolt whizzing uncomfortably close to your head.
“Warning. Cryogenic security compromised. Please do not attempt to force Cryogenic chambers without proper deactivation protocols.” The bodiless voice sounded, loud with its suddenness in your ears.
“Verily, I do not think the shade approves of thy actions.” Bella mused.
“Right… Er… Deac… um… Deactiv…” You stammer, falling over the unfamiliar term before sighing with exasperation. “Oh bugger it. Open the damn tank!”
“Acknowledged. Deactivating Cryogenic protocols, commencing with re-animation procedures… Tanks one… three… four… critical damage, unable to comply… tanks two… six… opening…” The voice remarked in that same calm, dulcet tone.
The two other tanks opened with whirring, hissing noises, a faint, cold mist spilling along the floor. They were empty, and uninterestingly plain in their interiors.
“Resuscitation commencing on occupant of tank five. Life signs nominal… stand by… Estimated completion in… three… minutes.”
“In the meantime…” You added, the thought springing unbidden into your mind. “…is there anybody else in this, er, place?”
“Clarification required. Do you wish this system to scan for life forms within the boundaries of this facility?”
“Uh… Yeh, sure, that’d be bonza.” You agree helplessly.
“Commencing Scan… Surface level… un-unable to comply… sensors have tim-timeedd out. Sublevel one, Cryogenics, Laboratory Facilities, Clean Rooms, Motor Pool… Three… Life forms detected.”
“Guess that’s you, me and whoever’s in the tank.” You remarked absently to Bella. The Griffon sniffs in distaste. Clearly if this mysterious voice told her the sky was blue she’d go looking for a second opinion.
“…Sublevel Two. Armory, Barracks, Record Archives. ERROR NULL VAR <0 Life forms detected.”
“The fuck?” You remark in puzzlement.
“Sublevel three. Server and Communications infrastructure… Zero… Life Forms Detected.”
Zero you understood. What was that business with the previous then?
“Resuscitation of Tank Five complete.” The voice stated, cutting through your musing. “Applying stimulant. Medical team, please report to cryogenics for routine testing on long-term occupant of cryochamber as per regulation 34C.”
The tank opened with a hiss, the cold mist obscuring the figure within. Two slender hands clad in fingerless gloves gripped the sides of the tank, pulling the body of whoever, whatever it was into the open air.
“FUUUCKIN’ ‘ELL!” The odd creature yelled, breathing deeply of the outside air. “Oim glad yez got some sense in dem fuckin’ bonces o’yez!”
You studied the odd little thing with equal parts bemusement and surprise. She was Mamono, that much was clear, the vibrant, emerald-green hair and large, triangular ears which stood out from the sides of her head gave that away immediately. Her weird eyes focus on you, and she sighs deeply, as if being forced to repeat something she had just said.
“Iz like I said right? I din do nuffin. All I’s doin is joggin’ on the bert and ernie and yez bail me up and lob me in the fuckin’ Bacardi Breezer, innit? Not a fair shake at all, wot?”
You continue staring blankly at the being. She blinks once, and a thoughtful look comes over her youthful features. Shakily, she steps from the tank. Her form was that of a young girl, twelve, thirteen at a rough guess.
“You geezers don’t have the faint and foggiest what I’m on about, do yez?” She demands. “Must’ve been in the fuckin’ Bacardi longer than I thought… What year is it then?”
“Verily! I understood that!” Bella exults, pointing a taloned finger at the figure.
“You ‘avin’ a giggle then love? You extractin’ the Michael, as it were?” The creature demands incensedly, stumbling towards the Griffon. “I’ll fuckin’ nut you, swear on me mum.”
“Keep thy distance, Monster…” Bella snarls, spreading her wings and talons in a clear threat.
“MAOU’S TITS! I was just ‘avin’ a laugh.” The mamono recoils in fear, almost falling over backwards on her unsteady legs. She looks over at you in trepidation. “Wanna tell yer cheese-and-kisses to fuckin’ pull it in some?”
“Firstly…” You begin, your voice finally returned to you as the surprise of… whatever she was dissipates. “Who are you?”
“I’m a Gremlin, innit? Somefin wrong wif yer eyes as well as yer brains?”
You nod at that. “Gremlin. Right. So you got a name?”
“…Emmy.” The Gremlin replies, suddenly less sure of herself. “Orright, this ain’t makin’ eighteen pence… For real, what year IS it?”
“Twenty Four Fifty Five, Anno Paxium…” You reply automatically.
“Stop the banter, mate. I can’t have gone BACK in time inside the Bacar… Wait. Who the rubber-duck is Paxium?”
Two of them… You wondered what Sin you had committed against Holy Tyris to not only have this conversation with one Mamono, but two. “The Two thousand, four hundredth and fifty fifth… give or take… year of the Pax Deus…” You paused, and seeing no comprehension on the faces of either Mamono, reluctantly plowed ahead. “…The Divine Concord between Maou, Queen of Hell and All-Mother of Creation… And Holy Tyris, Penultimate Lord of Humanity and The God above All, Redeemer of the Heavens from the falsehoods of The-God-That-Was.”
“Blasphemy!” Bella squeaked in a small, frightened voice. “Blasphemy!”
“You claimed to know my intentions before, Bella. Search me now… Know I’m telling the truth.”
The Griffon appeared close to tears. “B-But her image!”
“A fragment… A memory… I don’t know myself how or why it’s still here.” You admit.
“M-my treasure! My treasure! My sisters!” Bella shrieked, before launching herself faster than you believed possible back up the hallway.
A tug upon your sleeve, and you looked down at the diminutive form of the gremlin. “That still means fuckin’ nuffin to me.” Emmy insisted. “Got anything else?”
Wait. The Voice!
“Excuse me?” You speak to the empty air. “What year is it?”
“The current date is the twenty-first of December, 5460 CE.” The calm voice replied without pause.
“Three thousand fuckin’ years…” Emmy whimpered softly, her weird eyes distant. “Three… Thousand… fuckin… years…” She collapsed onto the cold ground and began to sob. “Me mates… me mum… Oh Maou, me Muuuuuum!”
Wordlessly, you took the Gremlin into your arms as she cried without abandon into your chest. Murmuring comfort, you stroked her emerald hair softly. Eventually, her grief passed, and she looked up at you with teary eyes.
“You is well good at that, innit.”
“Whazzat?” You asked, still patting her head.
“The thing that you’re doin’… Makes me feel… safe.” She clung to you, and suddenly her mannerisms seemed much more mature than the little girl your eyes insisted was in your arms.
“Monstrosity!” your mind shrieked at you, and you cleared your throat, gently extricating the Gremlin from your arms.
“C’mon, let’s get out of here.” You offered.
“I need a carry, me legs don’t work proper just yet.” Emmy insisted, holding her arms out and pleading with her eyes.
Sighing, you picked the Gremlin up, swinging her onto your back where she clung limpetlike, arms firm around your neck. You began heading up the hallway in the direction you had seen Bella flee.
“Huh? What?” You blurted in surprise, following the Gremlin’s finger. “Oh… The Boneys, don’t worry about them, they just wander around.”
“Boneys? BONEYS?! Fuckin’ heartless git. Put me down!” Emmy demanded, hitting you on the shoulder with a small fist. Surprised, you acceded to her demand, and she staggered, fearless, towards one of the shuffling things.
“Oh petal, what the fuck’ve they done to you?” Emmy crooned in obvious dismay, beckoning at the creature. As if in recognition, the thing turned towards her, kneeling down on creaking limbs to stare into her youthful face with foxfire eye and death’s head grimace. The Gremlin put her hands unhesitatingly on the thing’s face, turning its head this way and that.
“But by Maou, you have been DRENCHED in it… Y’don’t mind if I borrow me a smidge? There’s a duck.” She murmured, pulling the thing’s head forward and pressing her lips to its blackened teeth. You gagged in revulsion, but the vision of the foxfire glow seeming to pass from the mouth of the skeletal thing into the Gremlin overrode your disgust. The glow dimmed from the thing’s eyes, and it collapsed in a pile on the floor.
“WOOOO! Better than a stiff hit of the ol’ pocket watch!” Emmy crowed, much more energetic now. With remarkable agility, she vaults onto your chest, gripping your jerkin with one hand and pointing with the other directly into your face. “If you’ve been doin’ a harm to me petals, mate…”
“What in the Blessed name of Tyris are you on about, kid?” You demand, lifting the Gremlin off you with main force.
“Kid?! Oh… Oh, you’re one o’ those then. Can’t be helped. C’mon, I want me exo.” Emmy insisted, gripping your hand and skipping down the hallway.
“Hold the fuckin’ farcaster. You know what they are?!”
Emmy looks at you as one would peer at an especially stupid Bungarra. “Uh… Yeh. Constructs? Servitors… fuckin’ Golem? Ringin’ any bells up there sport?”
“Never heard of them.” You reply honestly.
“What kinda wasteland fuckin’ horror-show’ve I been fuckin’ cast in…” Emmy laments. “…Orright Skippy, me exo. Where’s me exo?”
“Skippy? My name’s Adam…” You reply, rapidly feeling yourself sinking beyond your depth again.
“Skippy’s better, innit.” Emmy sniffs.
“Tyris be Glorified… Fine. What’s an exo?”
Emmy looks at you with surprise and a hint of mild dread. “Bollocks! I’m not leavin’ her behind!”
“Fair enough.” You concede “But we’d better find Bella first. Don’t want her getting herself in trouble, after all.”
“Pfft. Fuckin’ angry bitch, why bother?” Emmy snorts derisively.
“Because she’s just gotten some very hard news, just like you, kid.” You chide gently, ruffling the Gremlin’s hair.
“Don’t fuckin’ call me kid…” Emmy retorts absently, leaning into your hand. You are suddenly reminded of Blue and a deep yearning to be shot of this place and back with your Kobold fills you.
“Sorry. Still, if you’re the same Gremlin the voice was talking about, you must know a bit about this place. Anything which we might be able to use?”
Emmy looks up at you speculatively. “Promise you ain’t gonna dob on me?”
“To who, exactly?”
“Fair call that… I wanted into the server here. Talk about the tracks said that it had some well shiny alma mater on distortion fields and do you have any idea what kind of…” Emmy’s rapid, babbling description quickly becomes unintelligible, the odd vernacular combined with what you assumed was technical jargon soaring clear above any possible understanding you could muster.
“Uh… beaut eh?” You offer tentatively as she pauses, looking at you.
“Did you unnerstand a fuckin’ word of that?” Emmy demands. You shake your head helplessly.
“Maou’s supple… OH WOW! GET IN SON!” Emmy crows as you approach that large central chamber, the odd traceless carts still standing about its perimeter.
“Kaifer-Ellis APC-LX twelve! Oh this is fuckin’ PORN!” She crows, clambering through a rectangular opening in the side of the nearest, crawling into its interior. “Whoops. Skelly. Sorry mate, shove over.” She mutters from inside, a cloud of bone dust wafting from the opening. “Full Haptic interface, multi-mode driver-positioning… Are these IFF autocannons? Oh Maou I am so wet right now…” she moans lustily.
“These are good things, I’m assuming.” You call from beneath the odd metal cart. Emmy’s head appears from the opening, looking at you incredulously.
“You… Really have no idea what this is?”
“It looks like a cart, but fuck me, the weight of this thing with all this metal? Also the wheels are tiny and there’s all this black crap all over them.” You state disdainfully, gesturing at the ridiculous contraption.
“Black crap… Oh sod…” Emmy groans, scrambling out and inspecting the wheels. “Way to give a girl blue ovaries. Tyres are shot… Aaaaand someone’s pulled the fuel cells. Piss.”
“Yeh well, I highly doubt Bella or this ‘exo’ are hiding in these things. Tyris be good, probably couldn’t even haul a hundredweight with one of these exercises in stupidity.” You snort derisively.
Emmy Looks at you before exploding in a peal of helpless laughter. “Seven… Hundred… Horsepower… “ She pants, before walking away from the thing, shaking her head. Seven Hundred horses to pull this thing? What kind of opulence did the ancients live in to be able to use that many animals?
“Well what you reckon, Skippy? Left or right?” Emmy demanded, looking at the passages spreading opening to either side of the central chamber.
You pull a coin from one of your pockets. “Much of a muchness I reckon. Heads we go right, tails we go left?”
Emmy shrugs, and you flip the coin in the air with a faint musical ‘ping’, catching it and slapping it down on the back of your hand.
“Tails. Left it is.” You declare. Emmy makes a disinterested sound, grabbing your hand presumptively as you both head down the passage. Faint scuffling and snarling can be heard as you progress through the bleakly austere surroundings, the rooms behind those odd, glasslike doors stark white, curious devices hanging from walls and ceilings within them, clearly degraded with the passage of time.
“That sounds like snootywings.” Emmy states, rolling her eyes. “Honestly what’s got her so…”
“OPEN! I demand in the name of Ilias!” You hear Bella’s voice ring out from around a corner. You hurry forward to see the Griffon tearing at the door without success, the glasslike substance not even marked by her furious assault.
“Access Denied.” A metallic voice drones from a metal box to the side of the door, a red, blinking light on its surface.
“More spirits.” You sigh. “Why’s everything fuckin’ spirits in this place?”
“Eh?” Emmy grunts with incomprehension, looking up at you with a raised eyebrow.
“The voices from the walls.” You explain as if that should clarify everything.
Emmy chuckles again, patting your hand mockingly. “No Skippy, not even close.”
Bella turns at her voice, her eyes frantic and filled with rage. “Come thou no further!” She snarls before fixing you with a posessive glare. “Thou hast promised to leave what is mine sacrosanct!”
Bella. Clearly you want in. I can do that for you. I don’t have to go inside, hell, I don’t even have to LOOK at what’s inside.”
“I mean when it comes down to it, wings…” Emmy interjects “…I could probably pop that lock meself, looks like a bit of a tweak should have it playin’ fuzzy-dice.”
“Thou wouldst not touch anything?” Bella sniffs, tears of desperation welling in her eyes.
“Swear by Holy Tyris.” You insist, raising your hands in the sign of the Sunburst.
The Griffon pauses, before nodding uncertainly, moving away from the door. You paused for a moment as you began to call upon the Logos. Your earlier ‘opening’ had been something of a violent affair, and you didn’t know exactly what was behind this door. Perhaps it would be a better option to have the dextrous Gremlin open it?
“Out of respect for… whatever it is you’ve got in there…” You begin, gesturing at the door. “I think it would probably be best if Emmy had a crack at it first off.”
Bella pondered this for a moment, before grudgingly conceding, shuffling away from that blinking box.
“Allo cheeky…” Emmy drawled at the box, her slender arms nimble as they worked at its casing, pulling it aside to reveal a mass of… string? No… It was coloured wire, how odd. The gremlin hummed pleasantly to herself as she set about stripping the coating from the inner metal, winding wire around wire seemingly at random.
“Aaaand… Open sez me!” The Gremlin crowed as the doors opened with a hissing whoosh. Bella let out one of those growling shrieks, rushing past the Gremlin and into the room, bowling the shorter Mamono over in her haste.
“Yer welcome… Jeez Louise…” Emmy grumbled, rubbing her backside and peering into the room. “Oh merry fuck…” She moaned. “…Skip… You wanna come here.”
You poked your head around the door and sucked in breath through your teeth as you saw the Griffon frozen before a metal table. Tiny, wizened corpses were laid out upon its surface and Bella reached out a trembling paw towards them.
“M-my sisters…” she whimpered, her voice the merest whisper.
“Bella… I’m so sorry.” You offer genuinely. The Griffon does not respond. A sound behind you, and you see Emmy pulling at a sheet of… canvas? Whatever it was, it was quickly removed, to reveal an odd contraption, metal tentacles of unknown purpose sprouting from its rear.
“Oh there you are pretty…” Emmy mused, clambering into the chair without abandon. “Come on, wakey wake…unh!”
Out of nowhere, a smaller tentacle has embedded itself in her lower back, sinking into an odd metal socket in her skin you had not seen before. Rather than be shocked at the development, the gremlin eagerly strips her jacket, leaving her waifish torso clad in nothing more than a brief, lime green bustier across her small, budding breasts. Blushing, you quickly averted your eyes. Whatever she was, juvies were off-limits. More clipped moans sound from the gremlin, then an odd whirring noise underneath a satisfied giggle. You raise your gaze in curiosity again to the young-looking Mamono, your eyes widening at the sight.
She appears to be sprawled lazily in the chair, the nonchalant splay of her legs almost lewd as she grins down at you, mechandrites shifting and changing form almost impossibly as they stretch almost like extra limbs.
“Good for you, close yer legs girl.” You grunt shortly, not sure where to look.
“Getting ya a bit bothered am I Skippy?” Emmy snickers throatily “No more of that ‘kid’ nonsense? Well… why doncha come here and do something about it?”
You step forward, reaching up… and planting your hand firmly atop her head, mussing her emerald hair thoroughly.
“Not a chance.” You chuckle. Turning again to the as-yet unresponsive Griffon. “‘Sides, what about Bella?”
“Well she can join in too if she promises to behave…” Emmy sighs resignedly.
“So not what I bloody meant.” You sigh, waving your hand in front of Bella’s face, her eyes blank and unseeing as they stare through you. “Think her cheese might have slipped off her cracker a bit.”
“Yer a fuckin quick one, aincha geezer?” Emmy groans indulgently.
“Have a little fuckin sympathy, girl. If I’m reading it right, those little mites on the table were her baby sisters. That’s a cunt of a pill for anyone to swallow.”
“Well what are we supposed to do about it Skippy? I can’t exactly raise the fuckin’ dead.”
“Emmy, shush yer noise.” You order shortly. “…In fact, why don’t you have a bit of a look around? I’ll meet you back by that metal cart you seemed so interested in.” You suggest, smiling slightly to take the sting out of it.
Emmy looks at you suspiciously for a moment, before an eager grin spreads across her face. “S’not a bad idea Skippy, yer not as much of a gormer as ya look!” Her exo turns ponderously, lumbering clumsily from the room on those metal tentacles. “Sodding bollocks… Gonna need more juice…” She grumbles. “Petals! Oh petals! Emmy needs a pick-me-up…” You hear her wheedle beckoningly as the contraption clods out of sight.
You take a deep breath, turning again towards the catatonic Griffon. “Bella… Hey… Bella!” You murmur insistently, placing a hand ever so gently on her taloned arm. Her head snaps towards you with surprising rapidity, tears welling within those golden eyes. She chokes something in an inaudible whimper.
“Sorry Bella, I missed that.”
“KILL ME!” She shrieked, those tears flowing over “I have failed! I have been weighed in the balance and found wanting! No longer do I deserve the blessing of life! Thou MUST kill me!”
“Not gonna happen.” You state shortly, gripping her talon with what you hoped was a comforting pressure. Bella’s eyes narrowed calculatingly.
“Verily, then I shalt MAKE thee!” She shrieked, launching her full weight into you, knocking you onto the floor.
You gasp as you try and regain your breath, the talon in your hand now pinning you across the chest, the other raised high, those raptorian talons glistening, their points unimaginably sharp.
“Do it, Human…” She snarled “…Or we will both end here.”
You pursed your lips, pulling your hand from under her talon… and throwing your arms about her neck.
“It’s OK…” You murmur comfortingly, stroking the back of her head as you would to soothe Blue awoken from a nightmare “It’s OK….”
“N-no! I have failed! I have fa-ha-ha-haaaaaa…” Her objections turned into sobbing cries as she clung to you, her talons digging into the flesh of your back. You suppressed a grimace, feeling wetness spread down your spine as blood welled from your torn skin.
“Listen to me, Bella… Ilias lied to you. Whatever She was, She’s not any more. This is a new world, with a new God. And the Word of Holy Tyris is clear. To stumble is no Sin. But to give up?”
“W-what about mine sisters?” Bella sniffled, looking at you pleadingly as she pulled herself away from your embrace.
“We’ll honour them. However you see fit.” You assured the Griffon, stroking her head. She pulls away from you, almost reluctantly.
“Prithee, thou must cease that.”
“Sorry, bad touch?” You apologise, regaining your feet.
“N-no… It maketh me feel… strange…” She admitted, a flush of crimson colouring her cheeks.
“Verily, I would have thee retire, there are things I must do for them, yea, in solitude.”
“Well, alright…” You concede, straightening your clothes, wincing as your jerkin pulls against sticky blood and torn skin, “…But if I come back to you opening your wrists…”
“Thou hast my word, Adam.” Bella assures you with the ghost of a sad smile.
“Emmy?” You call as you head along the unexplored hallway, “Where’d you bugger off to?”
Not even the shuffling of the constructs answered you. You had seen them here and there, crumpled to the ground, lifeless… well… more lifeless than before. Clearly Emmy had been ‘borrowing’ for whatever purpose. The hallway terminates at a metal door, the box next to it dismantled and the snarl of coloured wire incomprehensible.
“Uh… Hey spirit… Open the door.” You attempt.
“Unable to c-c-comply…” the bodiless voice replies in a concerning stutter. “The system has been co-co-compromised.”
“Well bugger, I hope she’s OK, I don’t wanna have to rip this place apart looking for her.” You grumble, a worm of concern growing in your gut. On sheer whimsy you try what appears to be a more familiar looking door handle near the metal door… to have the door open with the squeaking of neglected hinges.
“Bugger me, that’s a thing…” You muse, poking your head into the small room. An odd white contraption sat against the far wall, lights blinking upon its surface. To your right stood shelves to the roof, coated in the dust of what you assumed was decayed parchment, whatever knowledge the tomes held lost to the entropy of millenia. Colour caught your eye as you perused the shelves, hoping for some small trinket to bring back for your faithful companions.
“Hello, whazzis then?” You murmur, gently picking up the object. It was coated in some kind of transparent wrapper.
“Nayyy-Tuuure…” You sounded out, peering at the title. The maddeningly familiar writing defied further translation, but there was a tree on the front, the image unbelievably lifelike. What manner of genius artist made this? Whilst part of you lamented the loss of such an art, a small voice in your head had the astonishingly brilliant idea to bring it back as a present for Cally.
“My poor fuckin’ shaft is gonna get such a punishing…” You snickered lewdly, as a noise made you spin abruptly.
In the passage outside, a section of wall had fallen inward, The Exo-mounted form of Emmy coughing and wiping the dust from her face.
“Why’re you cutting the place to bits Em?” You chuckle, relieved to have found her so serendipitously.
Emmy gave a short scream of surprise, before relaxing as she saw you. “Skippy! Change of plans, we gotta dash.”
“What’s your rush?” You asked as a grinding, tearing noise sounded beneath your feet.
“That. Leggit!” She ordered, her Exo now hovering above the ground before she hurtled up the corridor.
“What about Bella?” You call after her, bundling your prize as carefully as possible into your pack.
“Snootywings ain’t me fuckin’ problem!” The Gremlin yelled back.
“HUNGER…” Came a voice of ice and pain from the floor beneath you, you spared a glance behind you to see two impossibly huge claws pulling the massive steel doors apart.
“We’re not bloody leaving her here! How would you feel if it was you?” You demand, doubling your pace.
Emmy sighed, and her exo changed direction with remarkable dexterity. “She better jog on sharpish, I’m not riskin me shapely arse to save her dumb feathers.”
You gave a silent prayer of thanksgiving to Tyris as you bolted up the hallway to where the Griffon remained with the corpses of her infant sisters. “Bella! I hope you’re done, because we really…”
The sight which greeted you stunned you to silence, Bella had ripped great chunks of her feathers from her mighty wings, leaving weeping, bloody skin beneath. In her arms were feathered bundles, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out what those were.
“…We have to go.” You finish, finding your voice again. Bella looks at you askance, yet follows you out into that central chamber, her breath ragged with suppressed pain.
“Oh Maou’s tits…” Emmy moans in horror, and you follow her gaze, feeling your manhood shrivel and retract in sheer terror.
The form which dragged itself into the chamber defied description, seeming a horrible amalgam of bodies. Three skulls, impossibly huge, fixed you and your companions with a gaze which burned with terrible hunger.
“FEED…” It hissed, and an icy wind swept across you, foul with the charnel scent of decay.
“At Last…” Bella sighed, handing the feathered bundles to you reverently “…Mine Death approaches.”
“Don’t be a dumb cunt, woman!” You bark, trying to juggle the bundles and grab her talon.
“I meet my fate with honour, yea, that I may ascend e’en unto the place which hath been prepared for me.”
“She’s fuckin’ bonkers!” Emmy screamed, “let’s go!”
“She’s lost in a lie, Emmy!” You retort, your mind frantically searching for something… anything… which you could use against this horror. Emmy rolled her eyes, and one of the mechandrites reformed itself, a keen needle at its point. Emmy looked at you askance, pointing it at the unaware Griffon in an unspoken question.
You return Emmy’s nod, and the needle-tipped mechandrite flies forward with surprising speed, embedding itself in Bella’s rounded backside. The Griffon shrieks in surprise, grasping at her buttock and fixing the Gremlin with an incensed glare, before her eyes go dim and she stumbles, slumping in a pile on the floor.
“Strewth…” You remark in shock “…Didn’t think it’d knock her out THAT completely!”
“We ain’t here to fuck abou… LOOK OUT SKIP!” Emmy shrieks
A massive claw smashes itself to fractured bone against the wall of force you had erected. A second reaches for the Gremlin, who spewing epithets, raises a pair of mechandrites which are rapidly transmuting themselves into… Wait… Are those shard rifles?
You cover your ears as the clamour rings throughout the chamber, the unseen projectiles blasting the claw to bits, the air thick with the smell of smoke.
“What…” You croak, gazing stupidly at the Gremlin
“No time!” Emmy cries, scooping the unconscious Griffon up almost effortlessly in a pair of metal tentacles before hurtling up the ramped walkway. Making sure the feathered corpses of Bella’s long dead sisters were secure in your arms, you bolted after her.
“Interesting trick back there.” Emmy remarked, looking over her shoulder at you. “Ow’d ye do it?”
“When we’re not running for our bloody lives?” You pant beseechingly, straining to keep up with the hovering exo.
“Fair call skip.” Emmy agrees, doubling her pace. Thump… Thump… Thump… The inexorable sound of the horror behind you dragging itself in your wake put your heart in your throat…
And then, suddenly, you were squinting in the light of the surface.
“Don’t stop ya gormer!” Emmy yells, not breaking her pace as she hurtled through the ruins.
“One second!” You call after her, mentally calling upon the Logos and feeling it respond. On sheer instinct, you fling a pair of glyphs at the archway above the ruined door to the facility’s underbelly. The sound of tearing stone seemed as sweet as an Angel’s choir as you saw the opening fill with tons of stone and twisted metal. Sighing, you hurry to catch up with the Gremlin.
“Wow…” Emmy blurted, her eyes wide. “…THAT was something else. I get the feeling you’re keeping something from me Skip.”
“Later. Please. We’ve got a long way to go before we’re proper dusted.” You insist, putting two fingers against Bella’s throat.
“She’s fine. You think this is the first time I’ve had to slip someone a barbie doll?” Emmy assures you.
You grunt acceptance, pointing to the dim speck in the near distance. “Me bunga’s over there.”
You pause, blinking. Sure, three thousand years was a long time but the thought of The Australs without Bungarra? You couldn’t wrap your mind around it. Shaking your head, you point wordlessly again to the tiny shape of Twenty.
“All’s well that ends well, I suppose.” You chuckle helplessly as the figure grows larger in your vision.
“I never did thank you, Skippy.” Emmy muses hesitantly, looking at you almost shyly. “If you hadn’t let me out…”
“Bah… It’s not me you should be thanking. You came very highly requested.”
Emmy blinks. “By who?”
“Someone it’s very hard to say no to!” You laughed loudly with sheer relief. “Someone who somehow managed to not only GET me to pick a fight with the memory of a God, but gave me enough to get through the other si…”
“And I suppose you think…” A new voice intruded as a tall, robed figure stepped around from the cover of Twenty’s hindquarters “…That was terribly clever.”
“Play stupid!” You breathed almost inaudibly, praying the Gremlin heard you.
“No Shit!” Emmy squeaked “That Geezer’s got a fuckin’ dinosaur!’
“Dinowha?” You grunted. “No, that’s Twen… Never mind, just let me handle this.”
You squared your shoulders, pacing towards the robed figure. “That Bungarra is private property, mate. I certainly hope you haven’t been taking advantage.”
“I know who it belongs to, Adam.” The figure sighed resignedly, pushing its hood back to reveal a familiar… if slightly troubling face. “And do you really think I came into the middle of the Desert to loot a fucking Bungarra?”
“Raoul!” You gasped, recognising Cally’s surrogate father. “W-what are you doing here? The Dominus said…”
“I’m not to return to the Australs… But I’m not in the Australs right now… Legally speaking…” Raoul quipped with a slight grin, his platinum blonde hair ruffling in the light, hot wind. “…Now where is it?”
Where’s what?” You replied dumbly, still shocked by the Master Resonant’s unexpected appearance.
Raoul’s eyes narrowed dangerously “Don’t presume upon our friendship by playing dumb Adam. I sensed Resonant Energy somewhere close. Where is the Matrix of Resonance?”
“Raoul, mate, love to chat but we’re caught between a Thylacine and a pack of hungry wolf-spiders.” You respond shortly, gesturing for Emmy to sling Bella’s unconscious form across the Bungarra’s back.
“Put snootywings on the fuckin’ dinosaur?” The Gremlin demanded incredulously. “Have you gone completely fuckin’ batty?”
“Don’t dodge the issue, there are no Thylacine or Wolf-Spiders in the desert.” Raoul scoffed.
“It’s a fuckin’ metaphor!” You turn to face Emmy, ignoring the white-haired Resonant momentarily. “If you put her on the ground, Twenty’ll try and eat her. Griffon. Bunga. Now.”
“Fuckin’ berks, all of em…” Emmy grumbles, yet complies with your demand. Bella lets out a soft groan, stirring slightly.
“Fuck me dead! I gave her the whole fuckin’ load and it’s already wearin’ off?!”
“Stop ignorin…” Raoul starts to demand, before curiosity grabs him. “Whole load? Of what?”
“Good ol’ pheno, blondie.” Emmy replies with her cheeky grin. “And the bossy geezer’s not wrong, we’ve got somethin’ that Ushi-Oni’d use to get their sproglets to brush their fuckin’ teeth afore bedtime lookin’ very hard to gnaw into our chitterlings. Y’morally objectionable to walkin’ and talkin’?”
“Stop.” Raoul demanded, and you felt the glyph being cast a fraction of an instant before you froze in place. “Nobody is going anywhere until you tell me where the matrix is.”
“Oi! Lemme go! What’s the berkin’ obsession with an old fuckin’ movie from the naughties?” Emmy demanded.
“Adam…” Raoul half-growled, half-pleaded.
“She doesn’t know what you’re talking about.” You grunted, resisting the urge to summon your own glyph to smash the paralysis. “She’s been in a fucking tube for three millennia.”
Raoul pauses, studying the Gremlin for a moment. “Interesting…” With a wave of his hand, he dispels the glyph, and welcome movement returns to your limbs. “…The Matrix of Resonance is a…”
Emmy’s mechandrites whirl around with frightening speed, transmuting into those intimidating guns.
Raoul’s expression is almost pitying as a hail of projectiles hangs in the air in front of him. “Are you quite finished?” He muses urbanely.
“W-what the bloody buggering hell ARE you?!” Emmy almost sobs, the terror from the whole ordeal now beginning to overwhelm her.
“Gentle mate…” You plead diplomatically.
Raoul gives you the ghost of a grin. “I didn’t offload half an autocannon magazine at HER…”
“Autowhat?” You blurt uncomprehendingly
“Ancient weapons. Firing… Huh… Depleted uranium rounds?” Raoul mused, plucking one of the projectiles from the air before wincing slightly and shaking his hand. “Part of a warband, were you girl?”
“N-no… I… nicked ‘em. When Skippy was sodding about with snootywings.” Emmy admitted guiltily.
“Well be sparing with them, you won’t find replacements.” Raoul replied as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Now. If I can continue unmolested?”
Emmy nods, defeated, and Raoul gives her a slight smile. “As I was saying. The Matrix of Resonance is a crystal about so big…” He holds his hands a couple of feet apart. “…Glowing with a light of its own. Did you happen to see one in there, girl? I doubt very much Adam is hiding it in his pocket.”
“Fuckin’ oath…” You mutter without thinking, remembering your last painful encounter which awoke you to resonance. Raoul merely chuckles at your invective, before returning his attention to the Gremlin.
Emmy’s girlish features twist in puzzlement. “Huh? Glowing crystal? You mean a server?”
“Server?” Raoul and you both exclaim in surprise.
“Yeh. Imadium crystal servers. Maou’s tits, what else are you going to run a system on, Solid-state?”
“Let’s… Pretend we understood what you’re talking about…” Raoul ventured.
“It’s the fucking future and you don’t have computers?!” Emmy shrieked, a look of pure horror on her face.
Raoul blinked, “Do you mean cogitators?”
“Depends, how many terries of ram do they have?”
“Terry’s Ram… No… I don’t know any cogitators named Terry, even in Magisterium, and they’re not really much for livestock.” The Resonant admits.
“Isn’t Baron Thomas’s cogitator named Tony?” You ask in an attempt to be helpful.
“Wait…” Emmy insists “…These ‘Cogitators’ are PEOPLE?!”
“Well, yeh…” You admit “…Canticle 13 verse 4. ‘Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a mind.”
“…And we’re getting sidetracked again.” Raoul insists. “If I didn’t know better I’d say you were doing it deliberately. You’ve seen something matching that description though?”
“Dozens.” Emmy exclaims in utter disbelief “Maybe even hundreds. But if you mean the one back there? No. Got chased down by whatever the bollocks that was before I even made it through the barracks.”
“It’s safe then.” Raoul sighs in relief. “I’m so sorry to have troubled you both but that…”
The ground shakes and a cloud of dust can be seen from the facility in the near distance.
“Oh pissing bollocks….” Emmy moans “…Does NOTHING stop that thing?”
Raoul focuses intently, and you feel a stream of glyphs emanating from the resonant, so fast and expertly weaved you could barely follow them.
“Dis Anima!” Raoul hisses, his eyes widening.
“Oh thank Tyris SOMEONE knows what the fuck it is!” You gush gratefuly. “See Raoul, we’ve got to make tracks before…”
“No time.” The Resonant admits. “Now I feel like a damn turtle. I should have listened.”
“Fucking oath.” You agree with a hint of smugness.
“Don’t push it Adam.” Raoul grins at you. “But you’d better run. Fast. Only an awakened Resonant can withstand what I’m about to do.”
“But the gates!” You blurt. “How the bloody hell am I to get Bella and Em past that yelling fuckin’ bitch?”
“Stone up Adam, you made it one way, you’ll make it back… Though I don’t hold high hopes for that exo holding charge through the first gate.” Raoul admits. “If you stay here, unawakened, it will rip the sanity from you when it tries to feed.”
You were torn. Raoul still remained unaware of the fact you were Resonant, yet admitting it to him? How deep did your friendship extend compared to his loyalty to the Grand Lodge, in the far-flung City of Magisterium?
“Raoul… I’d be a dog if I didn’t ask… You SURE you’ve got this?” You ask sincerely, grabbing the Resonant by the arm.
“I’ve got plans A through X already in motion, and Y and Z are only pending on how many heads it has.”
“Three.” Emmy interjects without a pause.
“Thank you girl.” Raoul muses unconcernedly, flashing the Gremlin a wink.
You release Raoul’s arm with a nod. “Well… Tyris bless you then mate. I’d hate to have had to be the one to tell Cal you got splattered.”
“All Glory to the Most High. Now run…” Raoul quips. “…Oh. And don’t look back”
“Do you want to continue seeing?”
“Yep. Now go on, piss off already.”
You vault onto Twenty’s back, shifting Bella’s unconscious form across your knees. The Griffin gives another faint moan, before succumbing once again to the drugs. You kick Twenty into motion, and the Bungarra practically leaps forward, scrabbling in the red desert sand.
“Fuckin’ell Skip, the dino can move!” Emmy remarked in surprise.
“S’what we breed our Bungarra for Em.” You grin, the relief of being clear of this ordeal lightening your heart.
“Bung-Ara~?” Emmy echoes, her exo emitting a soft hum as it effortlessly floated alongside the Bungarra’s scrambling form.. “Weird name… Anyway, ol’ mate back there… What…”
“The term is ‘Resonant.” You explain. “Humans that can re-work reality by will alone.”
“And I’m assumin’ that things falling down when you look at them funny means you’re speaking from experience… And the beating around the proverbial means ol’ mate doesn’t know about it.”
“Bugger it kid, you did that on far too few clues…” You grumble through your teeth.
“Leverage’s leverage. And don’t call me Kid, Skip.” Emmy retorts, a Mechandrite pinching your buttock through your trousers, causing you to yelp and jump in the saddle.
“Yeh well don’t get too fuckin’ imaginative with the blackmail… You’ll find the world’s a bit different to when you took the ice-nap.”
“Oh… I’ll keep it mum for now… Longer if you tell me why he smells of angel.”
You turn in surprise to gawp at the Gremlin, “You er… ‘smell’ that too?”
“You Humans… Honestly I’m SHOCKED you can piss without hitting yourself in the face.”
“Depends how much I’ve been drinking.” You quip.
“Hahahaha… yuk.” Emmy giggles girlishly, before her attention is distracted by something ahead. “Uh… Skip… What’s the fucking Colossus with the metal wings that’s looking at you like you just ate her kitten?”
“Short Story, Ilias.” You grunt with a grimace.
“You what!” Emmy gasps with awed surprise.
“Slightly longer version… A ‘Fragment’, memory… something… that’s been hanging around The Gap for fuckin’ eons. S’why Bella managed to stay alive for three millennia without the benefit of one of them cold-tubes.” You continue. “You’re not afraid?”
“Why? Maou loves me this I know, ‘cos the Codex Pandemonius tells me so…” Emmy sang simplistically.
“BLASPHEMER!” The memory yelled as you approached. “AND RETURNEST THOU WITH FOULNESS IN THY WAKE!”
“Can it do anything?” Emmy asked with mild trepidation.
“Apart from be loud and… unh… pushy?” You answer, gritting your teeth at the oppressive aura which once again battered at you. “Not really. You’re not feeling that?”
“Oh ye of little fuckin’ faith, lad.” Emmy snickered.
Faith! Of course! Ilias was somehow related to Humanity in the distant past, so the power of her memory still affected you. Emmy however, secure in her unswerving faith in the Goddess-Queen of all Mamono, was beyond this fragment’s ability to affect.
“Hmm…” You murmur, “…Gonna try something.”
Raising your hands into the sign of the Sunburst, you begin to chant a litany of devotion to Tyris. A simple prayer, one you had learned amongst a seeming legion of other babbling toddlers at the knees of indulgent priestesses at the Abbey… Miraculously, you felt the oppression lift.
“BLASPHEMY!” The Colossus shrieked, recoiling. “BLASPHEMY!”
“Look who’s talking…” You remarked snidely, before returning to your prayer.
“Lurrr…” Bella groaned, attempting to push off the effects of the sedative as she stirred in your lap.
“Got any more of the plonker Em?” You ask aside to the Gremlin, who has once again transmuted her mechandrites into two odd shallow cones, out of which a keening, mellifluous melody is emanating.
“She took me whole batch, and I was saving that for some proac… Nevermind.” Emmy quickly cut herself off.
“Shh… Ignore it Bella, we’ll be past it soon…” You whisper soothingly, breaking your chant to pat her hair-feathers soothingly.
“Luuurrrrr!” Bella repeats more forcefully, pushing your hand away with a tremulous talon, raising her head to glare owlishly at the colossus. “Lurrr.. Liar… Killed them… B’trayed me… Now call’st m’filth? Deny thee… Abjure thee…”
Emmy’s head snapped around at the sound of Bella’s voice, and she rapidly redirected her exo to float sideways, staring into the drug-dulled eyes of the Griffon.
“Spurn you Ilias and all Her works?” The Gremlin asked intently.
“Em, what the…” You began
“Shut it skip. issiz Mamono business.” Emmy barked authoritatively, flicking you an irritated glance. “Do you, wings?”
“Do so spurn…” Bella Mumbled, seemingly having difficulty holding her head up.
“Accept you Maou as God-Queen and Saviour of Mamono?”
“…accept… Maou f’give me… accept…” Bella near-sobbed, her efforts waning as the drugs overcame her efforts.
The Colossus seemed to pause. Then she opened her mouth and a keening wail drifted from its expanse, as her form shimmered and vanished like a summer mirage.
“The fuck?!” You exclaimed in shock
“Faith, Skip… It’s a beautiful thing. And apparently, all that was ‘olding that memory there.”
Your mouth works, fishlike, Bella stirring slightly and gripping at your wrist with a talon in her drugged slumber. Emmy giggles, pointing at the Griffon with a slender finger.
“Made a friend there.”
“Looks like…” You admit, “…But I’m going to have to disappoint her for a moment.”
Gently, you disengage your arm from Bella’s grip, sliding from the Bungarra’s back, before walking around to its head and delivering a pointed ‘Stay’ as it gazed myopically at you. Twenty gave a perfunctory snap in your general direction but did as you bid.
“What now?” The Gremlin sighed wearily.
“First gate. It sucked all the Mamono energy out of me the first time, but with Bella no longer sitting on the third, and that memory no longer an issue… I wonder…” You explain.
“How are you going to tell?”
“Balls…” You curse “…Em. Got a bit of a fucked up favour to ask.”
“Yer not turning me exo into a lump of inert metal, savvy?” The Gremlin warned.
“It’s that or…”
You gritted your teeth. “Or you’ll need to kiss me.”
“Oh? Is that all?” Emmy laughed, and you felt yourself siezed eagerly in the unyielding metal of her weird contraption’s mechandrites.
“I’m flirting with Monstrosity here, don’t be so fuckin’ cavalier…” You grunt.
“Shut up and giz a snog.” The Gremlin murmured, pressing her small, soft mouth to yours, tongue forcing its way between your lips.
Just for the test. That’s all… Just for the test… Little Adam if you so much as twitch…
“Why me?” Emmy breathed, breaking the kiss, her wierd eyes almost luminescent.
“Reckon Bella’d be able to grok what I’m trying?”
“Suuure that’s all?” A delicate hand crept between your legs.
“Orright, balese, that’s takin’ it too far.” You bark, pushing her hand away. “Put me down, bugger it.”
“Spoilsport…” Emmy sulks, yet obeys “…Has anyone told you that you’re hung like a feckin’ Stal…”
“OH SWEET TYRIS NOT WHAT I NEED TO HEAR RIGHT NOW.” You yell, stomping towards the invisible barrier separating the gates.
You inspected your arms, exhaled heavily into the air. Nothing.
“I think we’re goo…”
Suddenly a flash of white light blazed around you, so bright as to eliminate your vision beyond a few feet ahead of you. Instinctively you threw an arm across your eyes, heard Emmy squeal in shock, Twenty snort and hiss. Then, as soon as it had come, the light vanished. A second later, a crack, and a deep bass rumble. Dread in your guts, you turned to see a column of smoke, lit with dark fire boiling in the distance.
“Tyris be Glorified!” You exclaim. “That must be…”
“Looks like ol’ mate made good on his promise.” Emmy murmured, rubbing at her eyes and blinking.
“Yeh… Hope he’s alright…”
“So what’s with the necklace?” Emmy demanded.
“Me Kobie gave it me.” You answer shortly, fingering the rooster-spur totem after retrieving it from about the rust-riddled pole and sliding it back over your head. You were suddenly overcome with a deep and burning desire to see Blue.
“Innit sweet…” Emmy crooned.
“Demons… coming…” Bella mumbled, blinking owlishly where she sat unsteadily on the saddle in front of you.
“I don’t see anyth…” You begin, as violet energy erupted from the air, revealing the white-haired, crimson-eyed form of Telia, clad in some kind of ancient-looking armor which hugged her already alluring form in a manner you found almost mouth-watering. In her wake, a small army of Succubi and Incubi, likewise armored and intimidatingly armed to the teeth.
“Pervert.” Bella chided with a slur, looking at you with disapproval.
“Don’t fucking start.” You sighed, dismounting. “Your Excellency. May I present your charg…”
“TELLY!” Emmy shrieked, her exo flying forward. In one smooth motion, the Gremlin dismounted from it, seeming to fly the remaining few feet through the air to cling limpet like to the Lilim.
“Emerelisa, we are in company…” Telia mused, though her own perfect arms returned the embrace with no less fervency.
“Oh! Of course. Sorry!” Emmy blurted, extricating herself from the embrace and falling to her knees. “Your Immaculate Highness, Glory of the Evensky.”
“Blessed Maiden of Hell’s Throne, be welcome unto me.” Telia replied gently, turning the Gremlin’s face to hers and kissing her gently.
“Maid… Even… You know what? Fuck this.” You exclaimed.
“Adam!” Emmy and Telia gasp in unison.
“Griffon. Needs patching up. She’s a bit sensitive so be nice.” You declare, pointing at Bella who sat slack-jawed atop the Bungarra, whether from the drugs or the sudden appearance you couldn’t be sure. “And Bella, no fighting. You’re on Hell’s turf so pull your head in.”
“Where is this…” Telia demanded.
“I’mma go find me Kobie. I am ill-fuckin-equipped for any more revelations today. I’ll see yez back at the ‘Warren later.”
“I suppose I can grant you that indulgence. Sally, Philip, see to the Griffon… Gently.” Telia conceded.
“Tyris, when did I start having to get me damn argy on just to see shit done?” You grumble, casting your eyes heavenward as you stomped towards the township of Thealiss in the near distance.
“Bugger.” You cursed, spying the crude sign indicating the “Rabbit’s Warren” swaying gently in the cool breeze of early evening. Your desire to see Cally and Blue… Especially Blue… Had led you right back to where Telia was no doubt awaiting you. You felt as if you had been thoroughly played by the whole experience, and the sensation rankled you.
“Well they can fuckin’ wait a bit. Blue and Cal’ll understand.” You justified lamely to yourself as you turned into a rude storefront at random and made a show of perusing the wares. Leather, leather everywhere. Armor, corsetry, even a few elaborate gorgets which seemed to be more along the lines of a choker or collar than anything serving as functional armor.
“Oh! Welcome!” A voice echoed within your mind as you perused the stock. “We were about to close up but I’m sure…”
You spin, gritting your teeth, hand flying towards the hilt of your cutlass. “Gerrout of me head.” You growl with no small hint of menace… And suddenly feel slightly guilty as the ‘speaker’ comes into view. She was a slight thing, clearly Mamono, her skin and hair a pale blue-grey, her eyes, pupilless, glowing a faint blue in the dim light.
“I-I’m sorry!” The mental voice continued, the Mamono’s hands flying to her mouth in consternation. ”I don’t speak Magisterian and my employer is not here to assist! I assure you I mean no intrusion!”
“No… No… My bad. Sorry. Bit touchy about it is all.” You apologise, inclining your head politely. “To be honest I kinda stopped in on a whim… What’ve you got here?”
“The finest leatherworks in all the Australs! Bungarra, Bunyip… Even Leviathan or Thylacine if such takes your fancy, My Lord…” The Mamono gushed mentally, gesturing towards the shelves.
“Seems a bit catered towards the sheilas though…”
“Oh! Murtai is an artisan without peer! I’m sure if you were interested she could make you something you’ll not find anywhere else, My Lord…”
“At ease there darl, I’m just a freeman.” You chuckle, your ego sufficiently buttered. “So this ‘Murtai’, she’s gone pub for the evening?”
“S-she does not do well with people… ‘tis why she kept me in her employ.” The Mamono admits with a slight roll of her luminescent eyes. As if on queue, a second, insectoid Mamono steps from a rear door, a bundle of new garments in her arms… But what arms! Shimmering chitinous blades extended from each wrist to run past the length of her forearms, and her delicate feminine features were offset by two large, emotionless eyes, above which short antennae flexed and shifted. The new arrival fixes you with an unblinking gaze, her head tilting slightly, before she sets the garments carefully on a nearby shelf, fleeing with a surprising speed back into the rear of the building.
“Murtai, I assume.” You chuckle knowingly.
“Yes.” Blue-eyes admits with a dejected posture. “She really is very nice once you get to know her.”
“Mantis get a bit touchy. S’orright.” You state dismissively. The insectoid mamono were notoriously standoffish, and rarely did they communicate with Humans. Usually they would simply sit there and stare with that unblinking gaze until one or both parties grew too uncomfortable to remain.
“So, You would be…” You venture, trying to turn the mood around.
“Oh! My name is Amara!” The Mamono beamed silently.
“Adam. Glad to meet you. Why don’t you tell me a bit about these ridiculous collars?” You chuckle, turning towards the shelf.
”Hardly Ridiculous!” Amara chides, moving with an odd, flowing gait to stand beside you. ”The Gemstones contain certain types of magic, dependant on the nature of the stone of course. They’re some of my most prized work.”
“An enchanter then? Interesting…” You admit. “So how much would one of these set me back?”
”W-well… I have… A proposition for you.” Amara ventures shyly. ”If you could… um… (WEAR ME) … See your way fit to… (WEAR ME)… Maybe…(WEAR)… think about…(ME)… Possibly…”
“Wear you?” You echo uncomprehendingly.
”Oh! Oh my! Was I that obvious?” Amara gasps mentally, a faint pink flush colouring her cheeks.
“You all but screamed it…” You chuckle “…though I’m not sure what you mean.”
Amara bit her lower lip, her glowing eyes fixated on yours as she hesitantly put her hand atop yours. You looked down to see the shimmering outline of an elaborate gauntlet forming around your hand. Living Armor! You thought them just a legend! The Histories spoke of Diablerists who clad themselves in Armor without equal, the spirit within it lending them a martial prowess unmatchable by even the most skilled Paladins.
“Wear me… And I’ll give you whatever you want as a gift… Just for a while…” Amara wheedled within the vaults of your mind.
You shake your head with an apologetic grimace, gently patting Amara’s hand before removing it from yours. “Sorry darl. Tempting as it is to have that offer from a figure of legend, just wouldn’t be right.”
”O-Oh. Of course. You’re right… It was a silly impulse.” She murmurs, clearly hurt by your refusal.
“I mean hey, if circumstances were different…” You offer, trying to ameliorate the sting.
”You don’t have to patronize me, I’m a big girl, I can stand to hear ‘no’.” Amara rejoins with a slight grin. ”I’m warning you though, you might regret that decision, Mirtai’s work isn’t cheap even without my enhancements.”
“Oh yeh?” You reply, a sinking feeling in your guts “How ‘not cheap’ is the Lapis?”
”Ohhh… Twenty Five Gold, In hard Currency.”
“TYRIS BE FUCKING MERCIFUL!” You exclaim in shock. “Fer a gorget with a bloody rock in it?”
”Do you know the intricacies of weaving magic into the latticework of a gemstone? Purposing it? Tuning it? Harmonizing it to prevent it from shattering and killing the wearer?”
“Well… no…” You admit
”Then don’t complain. That’s the price, and there are plenty who would take it.” Amara concludes, her mental tones overlain with a distinct feeling of smugness.
“Well that puts me in a bind. I don’t carry that much hard currency. Don’t suppose you’d take a note?” You ask hopelessly.
Amara shakes her head, an almost predatory look behind her eyes. Shit. She just might have you here…
“Princess Telia will honor the note, Amara. Don’t act like this is your first time trading with humans.” A rich, male voice chuckles from the entrance to the stall. You turn to see the horned, violet eyed form of Salethiael, the Incubus’s batlike wings shifting as he leans nonchalantly against a cabinet.
“Tu corruperunt. Non erat vir in saecula!” Amara exclaims aloud, her spoken voice soft and mellifluous, despite her obvious chagrin.
“Rursum si vis me semper” Salethiael retorts evenly, a lecherous grin on his face, flicking a forked tongue along his daggerlike fangs.
“I suppose I can accept the note… this once…” Amara grudgingly concedes, holding out her grey-blue hand reluctantly. Sighing relief, you pull the pad of underwriters notes from your pack, filling out the amount and signing it. Amara grabs the collar with the embedded Lapis Lazuli, thrusting it at you almost rudely before snatching the note and stomping off in an obvious pout.
“Sal. Mate.” You gush gratefuly. “Pulled me bunyas out the fire there.”
“You have no idea Adam.” Salethiael laughs. “But come. Your presence is in high demand back at the Warren.”
“Her Illustrious bloody Excellency…” You begin
“Not her, although I’ll thank you to treat my Princess with a touch more respect…” Salethiael warns “…Leperia would like you to stop your Kobold from pacing the common room before she wears tracks in the carpet.”
“Blue…” You breathe, all trace of resistance vanishing. “…Orright. Guess I’ve made my point.”
“Indeed.” The Incubus answers indulgently, gesturing for you to walk beside him.
“So… Why’d you step in? Id’ve thought you would have gotten a right giggle over seeing Amara put one over on a resonant.”
“Ordinarily I would have… But… In this instance I feel I owe you one.”
“Phil. In a large part he owes his continued, and new existence entirely to your intervention. It’s nice to have… let’s say a kindred spirit around for a change.”
“Eh? There were a few other Incubi amongst Her Excellency’s little warband there…”
“Thralls and Lechers all.” Salethiael grunted in distaste. “To find someone else who came to the decision, took it, of their own free will… It’s a rare change. Plus it’s someone who can share war stories that don’t involve a pitchfork and a horny Mamono with me.”
“Huh. Never thought of it that way.” You admit.
“So what was Amara saying back there?”
Salethiael grinned. “She was lamenting the fact that she hadn’t had a man in her in centuries. I told her I would be more than happy to accommodate her if she felt she needed to be… worn in, as it were.”
“She didn’t seem too chuffed with that.”
“I’d dominate her will in an instant.” Salethiael replies without a hint of ego. “Mamono like her LIVE for the struggle of will between them and their wielder. Let me guess, she put on the stammering little girl act?”
“Yeh, she did a bit.” You admit.
“Like a lamb to the slaughter… And here we are.” Salethiael gestures, holding open the wooden door and gesturing for you to precede him into the pub. You make it a mere handful of paces into the common room before a tawny haired blur rushes at you, plowing into your torso and driving you bodily to the floor.
“Boss boss boss boss oh you’re back thank maou thank the spirits oh I was so worried you got no fucking clue…” Blue whimpered, showering your face with kisses, her tail wagging so furiously it was almost a blur “…the spirit couldn’t find you and I thought you had died and I was so sad but you’re back and…”
“Blue… Blue… Ease up…” You gently insisted, rubbing the Kobold’s ears affectionately, before planting a proper kiss on her mouth. The Kobold whined into your lips, her body shaking with the overdose of emotion. Finally you manage to extricate yourself from the Kobold, standing and brushing yourself off, Blue clinging limpetlike to your arm.
“You mad, mad bastard.” A warm chuckle sounded from your other side, and you looked down to see Cally’s hazel eyes smiling up at you. “But you’re safe, and… considering the new arrivals… successful?”
“Yep.” You grin in reply.
“Good. Now c’mere.” Cally demanded, yanking you by the shirt to pull your head down towards her, where she warmly plants a welcoming kiss on your mouth.
“Adorabeeeeaaaaar…. Me first! We agreed.”
“And you got your kiss.” Cally replied with a sniff.
Blue gave a harrumph in reply, and you dug about in your pack with your free hand. “Now it’s a bit… OK a lot ancient… and it might have gotten banged about a bit on the way back, but…”
You pull out the package in its odd, translucent cover, the material crinkling as if the barest pull would send it collapsing into dust. Carefuly, you hold it out towards the Koala, whose round, grey-furred ears prick forward in curiosity as she takes it in twin-thumbed hands. She studies it for a moment, her hazel eyes widening and her jaw dropping in amazement.
“T-this… this is…” She squeaks, her hands trembling.
“Saw the tree on the front, thought you might like it.” You venture.
“Oh you stupid, horse-dicked fucking MIRACLE!” Cally gushes. “The Baron of House Deakin would disown his HEIR just to read this!”
“So… it’s a book then?”
“It’s a ‘Journal’, the collected scientific discoveries of the Ancients. Adam, I am going to suck the SOUL out of your dick later!”
“Cally!” You exclaim, flushing to the roots of your hair. “M’pretty sure that’s heresy…”
“Me first!” Blue repeats, stomping her paw petulantly.
“We’re in Thealiss, doesn’t count…” Cally retorted absently as she wandered aimlessly towards a room in the rear of the tavern.
“Guess I made a good grab there…” You chuckle, before returning your attention to the Kobold. “…Now, Blue… There was nothing in The Gap that I thought you’d be interested in…”
Blue shakes her head vehemently, cuddling into your arm. “Got you back. Don’t want anything else.”
“Well too bad, because I got you something anyway. Lemme go for a second.” You order with a slight grin. Blue obeys, her azure eyes curious and her tail wagging slightly. You pull out the collar, affixing it gently around her neck.
“This will protect you… and there’s a custom, I’m told, amongst ancient humans. It also marks you as mine.” You murmur softly, bending down towards her and patting her head gently. “I have to keep my good girl safe now, don’t I?”
“Y-yours?” Blue whines, her heart in her eyes
“For as long as you want to be.”
Blue gives a squeal of delight, throwing her arms around you. “How’s forever I like the sound of forever oh master I’m so happy I’m your good girl I’ll always be your good girl I didn’t even get drunk while you were away…”
“I missed you pup…” You chuckle, an odd, tight feeling in your chest as the Kobold presses against you.
“Missed you more! Can we… um… I mean… I REALLY wanna…”
“Later pup, I promise. I’ve still gotta go see…”
“Oh! Adam. I’m glad you’re back. Telia was about to start dismantling the continent looking for you.” Philip’s voice intruded.
“Gudday Phil… Wow… Getting a bit long in the tooth there mate.” You chuckle warmly, greeting the Paladin-come-Incubus. Philip gives a grimace, his teeth showing definate points as his lips curl away from them, he reaches a hand towards his temple, scratching vigorously at a lump there.
“The teeth are no problem. THESE things though…” He grumbles, as a hush falls over the amused buzz of the taproom. You turn your head to see Bella, entering hesitantly, the feathers miraculously regrown on her wings from where she had stripped them to make funeral garments for the ancient corpses of her infant sisters.
“Sir Philip…” She greets the Incubus politely.
“Please milady, it’s Just Philip. I’ve surrendered any right to the title.”
“My name is Bella… Why do you fear to use it?” Bella questions, crossing to Phil and putting an oddly familiar talon on his arm. “I have not yet thanked you properly for all you have done for me…”
“All HE’s done…” You murmur under your breath, your eyes narrowing in suspicion at Bella’s easy manner. “…This looks like trouble waiting to star…”
“Phil!” Morrigan’s voice rings out as she bursts through the door “Are you finished running around after her Highness because I would like my husband to kis…” Her voice drops to silence as she sees the Griffon’s talon on her mate’s arm.
“Get. Away. From. Him.” The Manticore hisses, her segmented, barbed tail lashing behind her. Bella turns suddenly, giving a screeching growl as she spies Morrigan.
“Manticore!” Bella snarls, her golden eyes dripping with the promise of violence.
“Morrie, it’s not what it…” Philip begins
“Bella, you’re not…” You add simultaneously.
“You know tittywings?” Blue interjects, “…Hold on, why do I smell her on YOU?!
With warlike screeches, the two mamono launch themselves into the air, grappling with claw and talon, Morrigan lashing with her tail, slashing with her feline claws, Bella slicing and gouging with the bladelike talons on her raptorial forelimbs.
“Fuck up the homewrecker, tailpussy!” Blue barks with glee, shooting you a dirty look.
“Oh pissing bollocks…” You groan, burying your head in your hands.
“Orright! ORRIGHT! Knock that shit off!” You roar, stamping towards the Mamono who are still engaged in their shrieking, clawing catfight in midair.
Morrigan and Bella ignore you, dust falling from the ceiling as their squabble takes them into the rafters.
“I’mma give you until the count of three, then I’m gonna get fuckin’ snakey…” You warn. “One… Two…”
“Uh… Boss…” Blue mumbles, yanking at your sleeve.
“Not now Blue…” You grunt dismissively.
“Don’t you dare hurt her…” You hear Phil grumble warningly.
“I will sit this whole fuckin’ city on their arses if shit doesn’t get a whole bunch more clement, sharpish!” You spit in retort… “Two and a half… Fuck yer noise… Three!”
You fling a pair of resonant glyphs at the warring mamono, separating them and forcibly grounding them with bindings of unseen force. Morrigan hisses and Bella gives a squawk of surprise as they both land on their backsides on the floor of the common room.
“Just ruin all the entertainment…” A nearby succubus grumbles.
“Shut it…” You growl.
“Yes Resonant…” The succubus meekly accedes, biting her lip and squirming slightly. Blue shoots her a look that speaks of murder.
“Don’t start Blue.”
The Kobold shuffles guiltily “Yehboss.”
“Now. First things first. Bella. What in the Holy Name of Tyris are you doin’ hitting on Phil? Didn’t I tell you to keep yer fucking head in until I could come have a chat?”
Bella squirms against her bonds, screeching in frustration… and suddenly pauses, blinking and shaking her head.
“W-What? Adam! What art… Verily, why can I not move? What hast thou done to me?”
“By the throne of hell!” Salethiael interjects, storming from the rear of the tavern on hearing the commotion. “…Bella, I TOLD you to remain in the infirmary.”
“Sir! Certes I had no intention of disobeying thy instructions. I thought it would be nice to thank thee and Sir Philip for thy kindness and then…”
“THERE you are!” A second succubus declared, barging through the door. “You get up and march your mana-drunk arse right back to bed, missy!”
“I WAS!” Bella insists, tears of frustration in her eyes.
“Mana drunk?” You murmur in surprise. Salathiael nods.
“Her entire system was on the verge of collapse. The amount of power we had to pour into her… By rights she shouldn’t even be walking. She’s strong.”
“And probably as horny as a Hellhound on a full moon.” The Succubus sighed, attempting to lift the Griffin to her feet, squeaking and stumbling as she meets the immovable resistance of your glyph. “Let her go, Resonant.”
Odd, she seemed to be looking past you when she said that. You dismissed it as unimportant.
“A moment, before you do.” Philip interjects, strolling over and placing a familiar hand on Morrigan’s head. “Hers. Understand?” The Manticore looks up at the Incubus, her eyes filled with wordless love.
“Yea, Verily!” Bella declares “Certes, I would never THINK of… Wait… Oh sky-pride… I did not… I…” Bella stammers before looking at you… and someone behind you… “Will you two PLEASE let me go?”
Your glyphs crumble as ball-shrinking dread grips your heart. You turn, to behold the platinum-haired figure of Raoul, his arms crossed over his chest, his once immaculate robes torn and singed, his soot-smuged face unreadable. To his side, Cally stands, pinching the bridge of her nose with a twin-thumbed hand and shaking her head in utter dismay.
“Well…” Raoul muses “…Isn’t this an interesting development.”
“You CAN’T just take him!” Cally insists.
“What exactly am I supposed to do, Cally?” Raoul demands. “He’s Wilder. He needs to be trained. A decade or two in Magister…”
“LIKE FUCK!” Blue snarls, launching herself at Raoul. Without thinking, you leap forward, trying to put yourself in front of the Kobold’s charge. You sense Raoul’s glyph a fraction of a second before it strikes you and Blue, bundling you up and planting you on the floor in an ironic repeat of your earlier act.
“You can’t leave me!” Blue sobbed, clinging to you where you sprawled in a tangle of limbs.
“No intention to…” You insist, patting her head soothingly “…Blue’s me legal indentured. Where I go, She goes.”
“The lodge will honour the indenturehood, pay her out. Adam I understand, truly I do, but it’s going to be hard enough keeping you ALIVE let alone…” Raoul tried to explain.
“You are not fuckin’ selling this too bloody well mate!” You spit.
“You can’t even counter a simple glyph, Adam. How do you plan to stop me?”
“You’ve got to get him to a port or a waygate, right?” Blue replied in a low growl. “One well-placed howl and you’ll fight the packs, blondie. I swear by the Ancestors.”
Your heart swelled at that. Blue was actually threatening to declare a national war, as far as the Kobolds were concerned, on Raoul… for you…
“If we’ve all finished threatening each other…” Telia’s voice intruded as she breezed into the room. “…You forget one crucial point.”
“And that would be, excellency?”
“Why, you are in Thealiss, Lord Dumat. You are my GUEST here, and whilst here, you will not so much as pick your shapely NOSE without the assent of the Hells.”
No… she couldn’t have just said what you thought she said…
Raoul’s eyes narrowed. “You walk a dangerous road, Princess. You would spite the Grand Lodge AND the High Heavens by obstructing me?”
“By your own admission, Lord Dumat, You’re not supposed to be here… Or would a well-placed word to Dominus Ian serve to make it a little more concrete…”
You scream, bodily pushing Blue behind you, raising shaking arms into the sign of the Sunburst.
“Oh Maou! Excellency!” Cally shrieks as she rushes to your side “He didn’t know!”
“I don’t see what that…” Telia answers, confused.
“Glorified be the Holy Name of Tyris, God of Gods, Lord Almighty in the Highest… Forgive this sinner and s-show m-mercy…” You babble, utter terror gripping you.
“Boss!” Blue cries, clinging to you “Whazzamatter?”
“He is Silence! The Morning and Evening Star! I’m gonna fuckin’ burn! Glorious God, purify my soul…” You scream, your arms shaking as panic completely overwhelms you.
“By my mother… Fucking humans…” Telia groans, before gesturing towards you.
Your tear-streaked vision falls away as blissful oblivion falls.
“Boss? You awake?” The voice of an angel rouses you to consciousness. Two beautiful azure eyes fill your vision.
“H-he has heard me…” You mumble, attempting to raise a hand to that lovely face… and failing.
“What?” You blurt, attempting in vain to rise from the surprisingly comfortable cot you were bound to. You look around, feeling the familiar weight of Blue atop you.
“We kinda had to tie you up. Princess-lady knocked you out then you started screaming in this weird voice. Blondie says you were trying to rip a hole in the world.” Blue answered, her face a picture of concern “I’ve never seen you like that, Boss… I was so scared.”
“Blue… Love…” You mumble, a weird fog filling your brain. “…Feel drunk.”
Blue nods with a slight grin, nuzzling into your torso. “Yeah, they gave you a big wallop of some really good shit, I think. Princess-lady’s having VERY nasty words with Blondie and Adorabear about the whole thing. Phil reckons you need to rest today and tomorrow, and take it easy the day after that. Maou’s ample bosom, Boss, what WAS all that?”
“Praise Tyris for the drugs then…” You drawl. “…S’what her Excellentits called Raoul… Lord Dumat. He’s the Left Hand of God. Usually means someone’s about to be forcibly set on fire… in this life and the next. Though’was gonna be me.”
“It’s Blondie though!” Blue blurts uncomprehendingly.
“S’why he smells like angels. He can summon ‘em… command ‘em…” You continued.
“Fucks ‘em too unless my nose is lying to me.” Blue giggles.
“Her’sy…” You slur.
“Shhh… I’m your good girl, and I’m gonna take real good care of ya Boss.” Blue murmurs, ignoring your denunciation and sliding the blanket off you, revealing your naked form beneath. “Good girls take real good care of their masters…”
Your groan is throaty as Blue takes your half-turgid member in her mouth.
The following couple of days are a timeless blur of sex, soft kisses, and warm, flavoursome food spooned into you by the attentive Kobold. Slowly but surely, you begin to feel whole again, though formless nightmares brought you shrieking awake once or twice, Blue’s warm form close to sooth you back to blissful peace.
“Mmm… This is real nice, Boss.” Blue mumbles from atop you. “You ready for breakfast?”
“Yeh, reckon.” You agree as your stomach growls.
“Be right back!” Blue assures you, planting a lingering kiss on your mouth before dashing off.
“What in Hell…” an incredulous voice demands. You crane your neck in the direction of the voice, seeing a slack-jawed Philip staring at you in disbelief.
“Gudday Phil…” You chuckle, “…Forgive me for not getting up, Incubus’s orders I’m told.”
“I told Blue she was fine to remove the restraints as soon as you regained consciousness!” Philip declared.
“Bugger.” Blue curses from where she has re-entered the room, bearing a tray of steaming oats.
“Blue…” You growl ominously.
“Love you?” Blue offers hopefully.
“You had fun though, didn’t you?” Blue sulks slightly, rubbing her thoroughly reddened backside.
“Not the point.” You declare, straightening your freshly laundered clothing. “You tried to put one over on me, pup.”
“S’orright.” You chuckle, patting her head in forgiveness. “And yes. That was thoroughly enjoyable.”
“I guess I just missed it being just us… No urgent thing to dash off on, no fuckin’ princes of the bleedin’ universe to placate… Just me and my master.”
“Well I’ve still got today to convalesce, you didn’t lie about that.” You smile. “So what would my good girl like to do, now she’s learned her lesson?”