Preface: Greetings, all! This is the second chapter of the tale that began with “Not Alone – Chapter 1,” and is the second story is a series that began with “What You Don’t Know,” also located on this site, although it features a mostly-different cast of characters.
As always, my standard disclaimer: The monster girls featured in this tale, and many elements of the setting, are based off of the works of Kenkou Cross, and as such this work is intended to be a tribute to his creativity. The characters, however, are my own. Pray neither sue nor steal; I have very little to take, but I love that which is mine.
Chapter 2 – Budding Feelings
The wind that blew over the mountain peaks was frigid, and sliced through even armor like a blade, chilling any that stood in it to the marrow. Though hardly the match of mountains farther to the east, this range was tall enough to loom over the surrounding landscape, and this particular peak was one of the tallest within sight. Through other parts of the year, it would be capped with snow, but even when it wasn’t the path leading to the summit was not an easy one, with any reasonable route quickly eroded by the spring thaw.
That’s why it had been so surprising to find the ruins of an ancient temple there.
Ceann Alpestria shielded her eyes against the morning sun as she surveyed the dilapidated structure, similar in style and decorations to another such temple she had recently visited. This, too, was a temple to the older gods that humanity had once worshipped, before the creation of the Church of the Holy Martyr, before even the Last War of the Demon King. It had been abandoned during that war, and once the current Demon Queen had ascended to her throne, humanity had begun to cluster together for protection, a habit made only more intense by the creation of the barriers decades later. Ancient cities and places of worship like this one had been left to the elements, and soon became home to wandering monsters.
Even now, she could see several such inhabitants: griffons circled in the air above, and a golem stood motionlessly near the door, her emotionless face watching the entrance as she likely had for years. Gargoyles perched on the walls framing the main entrance stared with stoic solemnity into space, paying no mind to the others, or her for that matter. Ceann knew that none of the monsters here would likely react to much aside from an intrusion of a certain sort; any human man that approached this once-sacred site would be soon overwhelmed, and at least one of these monsters would claim him as her prize.
And yet, when the doors to the ancient temple swung open, and the knight stepped out, none of the monsters moved to seize him.
The golem’s eyes passed over him, and the gargoyles stayed stone-still on their perches. No ringing cries came from the griffons above as the man walked towards Ceann, his sword sheathed and his arms swinging at ease at his sides. Ceann was the only one to pay him any mind, her arms crossed as she waited for her partner to draw close enough to share what he had found within the temple.
“My apologies for keeping you waiting, Lady,” he offered smoothly as he neared her. She could all but hear the smile he wore behind his fully-enclosed helm. “And you as well, mistress kunoichi.”
Ceann couldn’t help but jump as she felt the presence behind her, and she whirled to face the other person nearby. Sure enough, standing a short distance away was another woman, one that could have passed for a human if not for the long, thin, spade-tipped tail that waved behind her. The woman was attired, albeit briefly, in clothing that revealed her origin to be far to the east, likely the distant realm of Zipangu. More concerning to Ceann was the weaponry that the kunoichi bore; for the scantiness of her dress, hilts and blades peeked out from every crook and cranny.
The kunoichi’s mouth was covered by cloth, but the crinkles at the sides of her eyes revealed her mirth at Ceann’s reaction. “Greetings, my lord, lady. I bring word from our Mistress.”
“As I had supposed,” the knight admitted, taking a place beside Ceann. “I had wondered if my reports had reached the Demon Queen… or if she had taken the time away from her husband to read them.”
“She has. She shares your concerns over the Order’s interest in these ancient temples, though she does express doubt that they have the manpower to seize them from the wilds, and the monsters that dwell within them.”
“Your mistress would do well do remember this isn’t the Order of old. The new church is something else, thanks to the man they have come to follow.” The knight sighed deeply, shaking his head. “They have the zeal to use these temples for very ill purposes, and, thanks to one old fool, they have the knowledge, as well.” Bitterness dripped heavily from his words.
“My Mistress understands this as well.” The kunoichi bowed slightly in acknowledgement of his worries. “She has pledged more resources to the nascent resistance you have been working with, and has offered to send some of her most powerful lieutenants to keep an eye on some of the more remote temples while we seek alternative solutions for the locations the church may move to seize.”
“Like this one,” Ceann interjected. “I’m afraid your ‘alternative solutions’ may come a little late for the monsters that inhabit this area. The monster hunters haven’t shown much in the way of consideration for anyone that lives near these temples. We’ve already had to evacuate all the inhabitants of the forest near Olympus City.”
“We are well aware,” the kunoichi responded, her tone even as a shadow passed over her face, a flitting regret quickly subdued. “I have recently checked up on those who were relocated. As a matter of fact, I bring a missive as well from a concerned arachne who was hoping for word from the man she had claimed as a mate…”
Ceann glanced over at the knight, who absolutely refused to meet her gaze. “The mapmaker. We never should have sent them back into the city.”
“I know.” The knight tensed, his hand absently straying to the hilt of his sword. “I should have realized they never would have been allowed to go free, once they understood what was behind the lies the church had been telling them. They’ll be imprisoned, at best.”
Silence reigned over the trio for long moments, even the whistling wind pausing in mourning. Finally, the knight turned to look again to the kunoichi. “If you see her again, let her know as soon as we get any information on his fate… his wellbeing, rather, we will send word to her immediately. I will find out what happened to him.” When the kunoichi nodded, he sighed, still ignoring the icy glare his partner was still directing his way. “And what of, ah, your ‘other’ master? How is he doing?”
“The Hero is doing well; my Mistress keeps him quite busy.”
“Though he did ask me to pass you a message. He said,” she coughed, her voice deepening as she mimicked another’s tone, “’Tell my old friend that things will work out in the end. Vengeance is a poor quest to accept, because it has few rewards. Love is far better-‘”
“He knows why I can’t do that,” the knight interrupted, his voice again sharpened. “I am glad he is doing well. I only hope that things go as well as he dreams, so he can continue to enjoy his own peaceful reward.”
The kunoichi bowed slightly in response. “I will pass him your words. If you have no further need of me…” When neither of the others spoke, she swiftly drew a small globe from the sash at her waist and dashed it to the ground. The resulting explosion of smoke was quickly whisked away by the mountain winds, but as it cleared the woman was nowhere to be seen.
“I really, really want to know how they do that,” Ceann murmured, glancing all around for the slightest hint of cover nearby that the kunoichi could have slipped behind.
“Thinking of leaving behind your family’s traditions of knighthood for the shinobi arts?” the man asked teasingly, chuckling. “I wonder how you would look in one of their outfits.”
“I…!” Ceann blushed incandescently, shaking her head rapidly to the point he was concerned it might fly off. “I would never!”
“Of course not, my Lady.” Inclining his head in respect to her, he moved to return to the temple, his voice still carrying the smile he wore behind his helmet. “Though they do share your love for dramatic entrances…”
Harrumphing and crossing her arms, Ceann turned away from him. Her juvenile pique slipped away, however, as she noticed something in the near distance. Far below them, she could see signs of life: roads carved as faint lines on lower mountains, speck-people travelling back and forth, even the wisps of smoke climbing skyward from cooking fires. If the church did send its agents here, she knew, it wouldn’t be only the wild monsters here that would suffer.
Dread weighing on her shoulders like second pauldrons, Ceann turned back to her tasks, hoping to find some way of hiding the existence of the temple from those who would seek it for evil purposes. As she left, she glanced back one final time at the thick black smoke rising from the town in the hills below.
For now, at least, the forgefires of Goslar continued to burn like the hopes of those who shared the town, ignorant of what may come to dowse both.
Roger left the road heading out of Goslar behind, instead following a dirt trail that was frequently concealed behind the tall grasses and untamed weeds that dominated the hillside below the elder forest near the town. It was a familiar path to him, though few others of the town would say the same; only those with business with the forest dwellers came this way, and their capriciousness was well-known enough to keep most away.
As the shadows of the forest began to seep towards him, shortened by the sun’s arc yet dark even at the woods’ edge, he kept his eyes more firmly on the ground before him. Though this forest was hardly the match of those he had heard of in stories, he knew people had a tendency to find themselves helplessly lost within its confines… especially men. Those didn’t always come back out, though they often sent word to their friends not to come looking for them.
Roger had learned the signs that marked the way, and the forest complied with his unspoken hope that they wouldn’t shift on him; here was the familiar patch of mushrooms, there the fallen log, and there, at last, was the closely-knit grove of trees that surrounded Rosa’s Garden. It was hardly the best location for a business, but that didn’t especially seem to bother the proprietor overmuch. After all, what need did an alraune have for wealth?
As Roger entered the ring of ancient trees, he was once again amazed by the variety of plant life that grew here. Though his own work often relied more on extracts than herbs themselves, he was familiar enough with sundry sources for his concoctions to know that the vast majority of the plants that grew here had no business flourishing in this place: either the climate was wrong, or the lighting, or the composition of the soil. Still they all grew in abundance, patches of plants teeming and spilling out organically, yet separated enough into their own cloisters to grant each bed an identity to itself, as if the flora here respected each other’s desire for privacy and space.
Situated in a sunbeam that speared into the center of the grove, one plant in particular drew his gaze as its massive bulb began to open, petals pirouetting to part coquettishly, revealing a human-like form in place of the enormous flower’s pistil. As the pale pink petals descended, the alraune was unveiled: she was a woman with vibrantly green skin with long hair the color of leafbottoms, said hair and a languidly-upturned petal all that served to preserve her modesty. Other than that, she was attired only in clinging vines that did less to conceal and more to draw the eyes in disastrous directions, an effect that the alraune no doubt intended, judging from the lustful mirth in her eyes as she noticed Roger conscientiously gazing away from her. The fragrance emanating from her bloom did little to help his self-control, however, and the lilac-tinted haze seeping into his brain suggested that he draw closer to the flower, closer to the warmth of the sun and the warmth of her skin, especially her abundant green-
“Ahem. I, ah, I’m here for the dark lavender plants I ordered a couple of weeks ago,” Roger stammered, adamantly refusing to return his eyes to the rose-tipped wonders he had almost been ogling. The alraune’s tinkling chuckle let him know she was well aware of his discomfort.
“Ah, Roger, it’s good to see you again,” she purred, leaning forward against the petal before her in a way that threatened to uncover her chest, bringing a crimson bloom to his cheeks. “I was almost afraid someone around here had managed to snatch you up. Picea the dryad has suggested she’d love to wrap her limbs around you, but her bark is worse than her bite.” Pleased by her joke, she laughed out loud, covering her mouth as she did so. “Though, if you wanted to put down roots, I know just the bed for you…”
“I’m really sorry, Rosa, but I have to get those plants back to my shop if I’m going to fill my orders,” the chemist insisted, still not looking her way as she rested her chin in her hands, smiling indolently at him.
“Of course, of course. We would hate to keep your piggy princess waiting, wouldn’t we?” Rosa sighed in disappointment, her petals drooping sympathetically. “Really, I had always taken you as more of a vegetarian than someone who would prefer pork…”
Roger gave her a baleful look, his pride injured enough by her thorny banter to inoculate him against the way she mischievously swayed her hips as she met his gaze. “Pardon me, but I don’t see how my eating habits have anything to do with this.”
“Oh ho, but that’s just it; it’s painfully obvious you aren’t really eating at all!” The alraune’s haughty laughter rankled Roger, but it was obvious she was far from finished. “You just need something to… improve your appetite. You should tell little miss piggy I have plenty of alraune nectar that could help with that, and for a bargain: she would just have to loan me your labors for a little while. I could use strong hands like yours around here… I have a fertile bed in need of seeding, for one thing.” As her eyes traced his body, Rosa’s pink tongue parted her lips like a sprout emerging from dark soil.
Roger’s blush returned, burning like a brushfire in dry weather. He wasn’t entirely certain as to the meaning of her euphemisms, but his guesses were likely accurate, judging by the ironically carnivorous way she was examining him. “Really, I just need those dark lavender plants…” He jumped as he felt a vine brush against his leg, curling against his upper thigh, and stepped away, just within range of another vine angling in from the opposite side.
“Of course, of course; business before pleasure. Or during, if you would like?” Rosa giggled, but Roger was relieved to see another tendril unfurling from a nearby branch, extending towards him a bundle of lavender stems bound together with a withered vine. As the bushel of fresh herbs came closer, Roger quickly appraised it, pleased to see the deep purple color of the blooms tended to be streaked with livid blues. These were just what he had wanted, exactly as he had described to Rosa.
“They’re perfect,” he assured her, gazing intently at the flowers. This was just what he needed to complete his project.
“I’m sure you know this,” Rosa stated offhandedly, casually inspecting the pale green nails on one of her hands, “but dark lavender is very different from the normal variety. The demon magic that altered them intensified the soporific effect they have more than typical lavender, but it tends to be… unpleasant on the stomach. I’m certain you know better than to mix a sedative from a fast-acting laxative.”
“Yeah, I’m not making that mistake again,” Roger said, shivering. “No, you’re right, which is why I’m not using this for teas or anything similar.” He reached into his pocket, pulling forth one of the diffusers he had bought from Mari. “However, if rendered into an extract and properly diluted into a water vapor, dark lavender can produce a soporific mist that could help anyone sleep, without those nasty side effects. These devices will do just that!”
Rosa’s eyes sparkled with genuine appreciation as she listened to his words, and the vine that had been stroking his lower back paused for just a moment. “Marvelous!”
“Thanks,” Roger grinned abashedly. “Actually, it was your pollen that gave me the idea, I have to admit.”
“Well, then,” Rosa said, holding one hand to her chest, “I am flattered. I am so glad that my plants can serve you so well.” Long ago, just after they had met, Roger had asked Rosa if she had felt any compunctions about selling her plants for use in his tonics, considering her closer relationship to the fruits of her labor, but she had assured him that plants held a very different perspective on things. To them, she had stated, sacrifice was an inevitability of existence: part of a plant may be consumed by wandering grazers, but serve to spread seeds or fertilize the earth for its offspring. So long as the plant survived and produced progeny, it could ask for no more. Her emphasis had been on ‘progeny,’ and her gaze at him had been decidedly passionate.
Now, though, he knew that his efforts might increase the demand for dark lavender, and that would see it spread further throughout the land; a fair bargain, from the plant’s perspective, he supposed. “Well, thanks, Rosa. I brought the fertilizer you asked for from my shop, along with the remaining payment in this pouch.” He pulled a small bag from his waistband, and a vine reached to take it, as well as the small sack he held in the other hand.
“Of course, of course. Remember, I am always open to… alternative means of payment-”
“I really, really need to be getting back to my shop-”
“Could use some tender hands to help with the pruning and shaping-”
“And have a good day, and I will be back to see you later about-”
Rosa sighed in surrender, even as her trailing vines grasped gently at Roger’s retreating figure. “Very well. I will be here, when you need me.” She smiled suggestively at him one final time as her petals began to close once more. “Feel free to bring your orc with you next time, to introduce us. I bet she would appreciate my help with… persuasive techniques.”
As the bud sealed itself around Rosa, a lingering luring scent wafted past his nose once more, and Roger swallowed loudly, his face wooden as he stood stiffly, uncomfortably holding his hands directly in front of him as images danced in his mind. He would imagine that last suggestion vividly, whether he wanted to or not. He resolved never, ever to do that, even if he couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Until a vine smacked smartly against his backside, and he jumped, quickly returning to the path that led back to Goslar, and safety.
“It seems you have quite the few female admirers, my friend.”
Roger grumbled around his food, rolling his eyes. “You’re one to talk.”
Mithal Tirel chuckled, a pleasant sound almost consumed in the general hubbub of the crowded tavern. The man, young for his culinary talent and rarely spotted outside his kitchen sanctuary, leaned against his friend’s table, watching the chemist as he devoured his meal. His grin was as much about his friend’s appetite as the troubles Roger had shared with him; he had always appreciated watching someone enjoy his food, especially someone with tastes more refined than the typical protein-starved miner.
“I suppose,” the chef admitted. “A few of my customers have offered me compliments on… things aside from my cooking.” A faint blush stole onto Mithal’s thin, pale cheeks. “But mostly that can be avoided by focusing on my art.”
“Of course,” Roger agreed, taking a deep swig from the flagon beside his wooden plate. “But I see you’ve hired a new goblin tavern maid, eh?” He motioned with the cup to a blonde-haired goblin girl who was haphazardly balancing an assortment of cups and bowls as she staggered towards tables as tall as herself.
“Meri Meadspiller; aptly named, tragically, but earnest. She is particularly eager to prove herself here,” Mithal admitted, blushing slightly as the goblin saw him watching and offered him a toothy smile.
“Particularly eager to please, more like,” Roger insinuated, nudging his friend hard enough that Mithal grunted his displeasure, reaching up to adjust his white cap to cover his sweat-drenched blonde hair. “And how about another goblin, hmm? Mari asked me to pass along her good wishes.”
“Ah, yes, the potter,” Mithal said, faintly smiling despite himself. It hadn’t been long after he had arrived to serve as a cook in this once-run-down tavern that Mari had started visiting, first for the food and then for the company, with all of her sisters in tow. Declaring him her inspiration, Mari had even presented him with a clay ‘likeness’ of himself, albeit considerably more heroically proportioned with tighter-fitting clothing, that he had graciously accepted and then promptly concealed in a storage cellar under two sheets and behind a stack of empty produce crates.
“She’s pretty curious about you, you know,” Roger teased his friend. “Sounds serious. Watch out, or you’re going to have a half-sized bride before the year is out. Or, like, five of them.”
“Keep that up and next time you come you’ll get the rock soup,” Mithal responded, his smile baring his gleaming white teeth in a flat line.
“Oh, please, anything but that!” Roger replied, his horror only mostly feigned. Truth be told, he had come to deeply appreciate Mithal’s cooking; it was definitely out of place in this mining village, but it was a taste of home for an expatriate like Roger. His current dish, freshly-caught fish in a cream-based sauce garnished with local herbs, was common enough in the city that Mithal had been born from, and had even been prepared by Roger’s family’s chefs when he had grown up. Here in Goslar, however, “poisson a la crème” went over poorly compared to, in Mithal’s phrasing, “boar, cooking optional, hair removal optional, portioning also optional.” There was no accounting for taste, apparently.
“Another ale, sir?” suggesting a sugar-coated voice from Roger’s elbow, and he nodded down to the blonde-haired goblin with a smile a la crème before he thought to wipe his face. “Anything to serve a friend of Chef Mithal,” Meri said with a saccharine smile, and Roger returned it with deviousness in his eyes.
“You know, Mithal, I think someone like her is just what your dream restaurant needs: a cheerful face to brighten the customer’s day,” Roger commented generously, and the smile Meri offered him in return showed him he was likely successful in once again selling out his friend, this time for what would probably be surreptitious free refills on his ale for the next few visits.
Mithal regarded him with an even stare, fully cognizant of what his pal was doing, mostly through experience. “Of course. Although, I believe the dwarven miners at table six are looking a tad dry…”
“On it, boss!”
Mithal sighed as she departed, aware that the exaggerated rolling of her diminutive hips was intended for his benefit. “You are rather quick to shift the focus onto someone else, aren’t you, Roger? Tired of pork jokes for the day, and decide to have someone else suffer?”
“I figure, hey, dinner and entertainment at a bargain,” Roger suggested glibly. “The fish was superb, as always, though. Just perfectly moist.”
“A simple enough recipe. I could teach it to you, since you are cooking for two these days…” There was a lilt to Mithal’s voice, revealing his jest, but Roger nodded, considering the offer. He had already availed himself of Mithal’s culinary advice several times when it came to preparing dinner for himself and Priscilla. Idly, he wondered if his new roommate enjoyed fish, before standing from the table and clapping his friend on the shoulder.
“I’ll take you up on it, I think. But later; I really do need to return to the shop.” He drew a few coins from his pouch, pressing them into Mithal’s hand. “And I’m sure they’ll set the kitchen and all of the ingredients on fire soon if you don’t get back in there.”
“And no one would even bother to complain about the taste,” Mithal huffed, but his eye fell to the glittering in his palm. “Ah, you overpaid again-”
“Consider it an investment in your dream restaurant!” Roger called back, already headed for the door. “And a tip for the very best service!” He winked at Meri, who thrust her chest out proudly, hands on her hips, as she beamed at Mithal. As he closed the door leading out from the tavern, Roger saw his friend muss the hair on Meri’s head as he walked by, returning to his sacred kitchen.
As Roger set out onto the streets of Goslar once more, his belly pleasantly heavier, he found himself wondering if Priscilla would be waiting for him when he returned to the shop. Shaking his head to dispel the thought, he hurried on his path, grinning despite himself.
“I just don’t get him.”
This declaration was punctuated by the ringing crash of a pewter tankard slamming down in front of Priscilla, frothy ale surging up the side of the cup to crest over its edge, flowing down to darken the wooden worktable she sat at. She paid no mind to the spill, instead lost in her own complaints, which were offered loudly enough to be heard over the ringing of forgehammers from the interior of the smithy she sat outside. Her companions were close enough that they hardly had any trouble hearing her; instead, her volume was largely driven by the intensity of her frustration, along with the surprising potency of the ale she was imbibing.
“I mean, it was supposed to be so simple. I didn’t have a clan any more to worry about. I had a cave all to myself. If I had just gotten a male, then I would even be doing better than Berala and her flunkies.” Priscilla took another deep gulp from the tankard, the taste in her mouth soured by uttering the name of her former leader. “And then, nooo. He just had to be so… so… nice!”
Her drinking companion chuckled at her as she lifted her own, smaller container, a shallow bowl full of clear liquid with a sharp odor that stung the nose of any who passed by her. Draining it dry, she quickly refilled it from a huge jug she wore strapped to her back. “That’s never stopped us ogres,” she proclaimed, jerking a thumb back towards her own mostly-bared green chest. “Them being nice just makes it easier to grab them. Not that I need a man, mind you.” She patted the side of her wine jug, which was the size of a child nearing adolescence. “This is all the boyfriend I need!”
Her cawing laughter caused the last member of the group to roll her eye, a gesture accentuated by the fact that she was a cyclops. Mutely shaking her head, she continued to rhythmically tap at the glowing piece of metal clamped in front of her, creating a basket hilt to complete the crossguard she was finishing. All around her were swords and axes in various stages of completion, a visible laundry list of tasks awaiting a master’s attention, but such was typical at Bronda’s Bladeworks, one of the more popular metalworking shops in Goslar. Inside the main body of the shop, apprentices and journeymen added their own hammerchimes to the cacophony, but Bronda’s finishing touch was conducted at a small workspace just outside the primary building. She kept only a small forge and a few workbenches there, such as the table her two friends had claimed for their drinking. Bronda’s mug sat unattended beside her, nearly full even though she rarely took the time to walk over to the ale keg the ogre had brought with her.
“I thought that, but…” Priscilla paused, her thoughts wading through the alcohol she had consumed over the past hour. “But he’s so nice! I don’t want to…”
“Yeah!” Priscilla nodded furiously at the ogre, who gave her a skeptical look. “You get it, Kana!”
The ogre snorted, sending sake waves crashing against the low lip of her sakazuki. “No, can’t say that I do. I’ve always heard you orcs were all about the three Fs: Fighting, fucking, or fawning. Doesn’t sound like you’re doing much of any of those these days.”
Priscilla didn’t respond for a long moment, staring at her wavering reflection in the shadows of her mug. “I know, but… I don’t know what to do. He’s been so good to me that I don’t want to hurt him. He could have left me up there to starve. He’s fed me, and given me a place to sleep, even bought me clothes.” She glanced down at the tunic she was wearing. She had been forced to make alterations to the garment, of course, and had been deeply confused at his reaction when she had started removing the unnecessary parts of it, but she had taken very good care of it after that. “I don’t want to hurt him, but… he’s not stronger than me. I’ve always been told that weaker men are to be conquered, stronger men are to be obeyed. That’s the orc way! But…”
“We’re talking about that chemist, right? The one with the long black hair hanging in his eyes, sort of skinny, wears loose clothing all the time?” Kana followed her question with a loud sip of her alcohol.
Priscilla nodded with a blush, still peering into the depths of her cup. “Yeah.” The wistfulness of the word implied she had a fair higher appraisal of the man than the ogre had.
“Well, he looks weak to me. I say jump him.”
“Kana!” rumbled the third member of their group from her place at the forge. Bronda glowered over at the ogre, her single eye narrowed as she continued to work the metal in front of her without a glance. “She is pouring her heart out here. Take her seriously.”
“I am!” Kana shout back, downing her sake with an uppercut-lift of her bowl. “Everything would be a lot simpler for them both after that. No more worrying, just…” She tripped over her words, vaguely making an obscene motion that her drunkenness left lost in translation. “Jus’ think of it as paying him back for everything, if that makes it easier.”
“I’ve thought about that, but… I get nervous when I try anything,” Priscilla muttered, slumped in her seat. “What if he doesn’t like it, and makes me leave? I would be fine outside the city, but not being able to be with him…” She shivered despite the midday heat, rubbing her bared arms.
“That’s really pathetic,” Kana stated bluntly, tilting her bowl up again and frowning up at it when it refused to produce any further liquor, her eyes focusing less and less as the amount she had already consumed began to wreak its mental havoc.
“Don’t listen to her,” Bronda consoled the orc. She hesitated, setting down the nearly-finished hilt she had been working on. “You’re not the only one struggling with their love life, you know. I’ve tried to find someone who doesn’t mind a girl with…” She motioned to her face, and Priscilla blinked for a long moment at her, finally realizing that the cyclops was pointing at her single eye. Priscilla had long ago grown accustomed to that feature, and had always considered Bronda to be very pretty, if a bit on the large and muscular side, though not nearly as much as Kana. “It’s really hard to find someone single around here like that, and it’s starting to get to me.” She faltered, hesitating to confide what was on her mind, then finally caving to the undeniable need to confess to someone. “It’s even starting to affect my work. A few nights ago, I was working on a personal project to blow off some steam, but I couldn’t get my mind in the right place, and…” Sighing in shame, she motioned towards a sword, wrapped tightly in thick cloth, atop a nearby worktable. She said nothing further as Priscilla unsteadily walked over to it, drawing it by the hilt and beginning to unwrap it. As the cloth fell away, Priscilla found that it was an unfinished blade attached to a rough hilt, clearly not a finished product; it was little more than an unblunted bar of metal at this point, though the tip had seen the first attentions of Bronda’s hammer. It was that end that drew Priscilla’s attention as the shape slowly began to make sense to her: a flared, bulbous tip, with a notch at the apex, irrefutably anatomical in design.
“Ha! It’s a, a thing! It’s a dick sword!” Kana guffawed, leaning so back in her seat that gravity nearly wrenched her to the ground. Her laughter was so cacophonous, especially when Priscilla joined in, that people from the streets near the shop tried to peer in to see what was the matter, as did a handful of apprentices from within the smithy. Throughout the torment, Bronda said not a word, her cheeks blazing like molten metal. “You should- hah, ah- you should make more of those to sell! You could call it the Penetrator!” Now even Priscilla collapsed back against the table she had shared with Kana, clutching her sides as they ached from her own laughter.
It took entirely too long, by Bronda’s reckoning, for her friends to regain control of themselves. Every time they glanced at the blade laying on the table between them, their mirth flared up once more, until finally Priscilla finally draped the cloth over the obscene metal. As the orc and ogre fought to regain their breath and composure, Bronda sat mutely, intensely regretting sharing her own troubles. Finally she noticed a small form standing just inside the main shop, hesitantly waiting for a chance to speak to the store’s master.
“Come on, Muri. Girls,” Bronda called out sternly, hoping in vain that a newcomer might prompt her friends to recover their calm. “This is Muri Metalbanger. She’s one of the new apprentices here. She’s just been doing small things recently, like kettles, but-”
“Metalbanger? Hoo boy! Your boss has just the thing for you!” Kana crowed, and Bronda picked up a small ball-peen hammer, clearly calculating the proper arc she would need to fling it at to reach the ogre.
“Muri, I’ve heard of you,” Priscilla jumped in, hoping to forestall violence as Kana continued to laugh. “Your sister runs the pottery shop nearby, right?”
“That’s right!” the orange-haired goblin girl piped up, grinning broadly. “My sis might already have her own shop, but I’m learning from a master!”
Kana started to respond, but the heat of Bronda’s glare finally burnt through the haze of the ogre’s drunkenness, so she reached for her colossal wine jug to remedy that issue by becoming even more intoxicated. Forgoing the use of her sake bowl, she instead turned the entire wine jug skyward effortlessly, even though it was easily the size of the goblin girl. Her throat worked audibly as streams of clear wine flowed down the sides of her mouth, running like spring thaw flowing down the cliffs of her chin and neck to the expansive foothills of her chest.
“Oh, yeah, sorry to interrupt boss, but I wanted your advice on the last project you gave me. I think I’ve gotten the shape mostly right, but I need some work on the balancing. Do you care to help me with this weathercock?”
Priscilla’s aborted chuckle died in her chest as she saw the panicked look on Bronda’s face, but Kana’s reaction was far more delayed, and dramatic. Her sprayed plume of liquor flew far enough to cause Bronda’s small forge to flare to greater life, and her laughter flew even farther. “You came to the right person!” Kana bellowed, her green cheeks darkened as she unsteadily pointed at Bronda, who was clearly not so amused. “She could really put the… the…” Kana paused, wobbling, as she seemed to study the table in front of her. The wine jug bounced hollowly on the floor as Kana’s horns traced circles in the air, until she slumped forward with an idiot’s smile plastered on her face. In just a moment, tectonic snores began to emanate from the fallen ogre.
“Anyways,” Muri said, eyeing the downed ogre with faint curiosity, “I’ll just wait inside for whenever you get the chance. Thanks, boss.”
“I’ll be right in there,” Bronda responded, shaking her head as she met Priscilla’s gaze. As the goblin returned to the shop’s interior, Priscilla removed the phallic blade’s cloth covering and instead draped it over the slumbering ogre’s shoulders. “Anyways, Priss, didn’t you say your boyfriend was going to be back at his shop after lunch? It’s nearly noon, and you said you wanted to be there to greet him when he came back.”
Her head swimming pleasantly, Priscilla nodded. “Yeah, I wanted to make sure he got back okay. I’ve heard that alraune in the forest can get a little clingy, y’know?” The orc shook her head, an ember of jealousy burning in her stomach. “I don’t want anyone else to get him, because I know he’s worth fighting for.” She blearily looked up at the cyclops, who offered her a gentle smile in return. “Thanks for hearing me out, and taking me seriously, Bronda.”
“Anytime, Priss. I’m always here for you. Although, if he has a brother, you could keep me in mind…”
Both girls laughed at that, and Priscilla felt a warmth within her that had little to do with the ale coursing through her veins. She had been profoundly lucky to run into Bronda shortly after she had first been able to explore Goslar. She had met the cyclops in the past, and Bronda had recalled her from that meeting, which had started a conversation that had led to their current friendship. Kana had also been a friend of Bronda’s, and had quickly accepted Priscilla as a friend as well, especially when she learned she had a greater alcohol tolerance than Bronda, although a far shade of the ogre’s own.
It was surprising to Priscilla that her relationship with Bronda had developed as it had. After all, their first meeting had been far less comfortable: Bronda had been travelling the mountain roads with a shipment of tools for a nearby town, and Priscilla had been in the party of orcs that had ambushed her. When Bronda took up some of the weapons she had been hauling, prepared to defend herself and her shipment, it had been Priscilla that had suggested that they leave her alone, and instead, as thunder rumbled over the mountains, pleaded with her leader to offer her shelter for the evening. She had known a worthy opponent at the sight of her, and even amongst the bandit tribes the craftsmanship of the cyclops was respected; Priscilla had known that, even if they managed to overwhelm the smith, her fellow orcs would pay a steep price. The high orc leading their clan had, for once, agreed, and so Bronda had spent several days with them, even giving the high orc a valuable weapon she had forged herself as thanks for their hospitality.
And now, Berala Blackaxe was sitting on a pile of loot in their lair, and her former lieutenant was getting drunk in Bronda’s shop. But, at least, she had a man. Sort of.
“Yeah, I should be getting back now,” Priscilla slurred, hazily noticing a dull commotion outside the shop. She paid far more attention when Muri ran back into Bronda’s workspace, her eyes wide.
“Boss, boss! There’s trouble in the town square!” Muri jabbed a thumb behind her, her speech incredibly rapid. “Some people said they saw a fight about to break out!”
“Not really anything new around here-” Bronda started, calmingly.
Muri wasn’t to be reassured. “No, boss, it’s those knights! The Holy Whatsits! A whole bunch of them are ganging up on a couple of girls, and they’ve got tons of weapons. This could be bad!”
Bronda blinked, considering what to do with this information, but a low chuckling from behind her drew her attention away from the panicked goblin. She turned to find Priscilla sitting upright, a dangerous gleam in her eyes and a feral grin on her face. “Priss, what are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking a fight is just what I need to get my mind off of everything else!” Priscilla stood suddenly, her seat tipping over to crash against the ground. She reached over to grab the hilt of a nearby sword. “I’ll be borrowing this, Bronda, but I’ll be right back!”
Before the cyclops could say another word, the orc dashed for a low wall adjoining the road, and vaulted over it, her landing favoring her injured leg despite her drunken numbness. She sprint-hobbled down the road, unfortunately correctly headed in the direction of the town square. Bronda sighed deeply, glancing to the slumbering ogre before turning back to the goblin before her. “Muri, I need you to do me a favor. Do you know the way to the chemist’s shop near here?”
Priscilla ran down the road, her pace set to the drumbeat of excitement pounding in her skull. At long last, a good fight; just what she needed to forget her problems and burn off her anxiety. Gripping the hilt of her borrowed weapon, she ran onwards, the milling crowd coming into sight as she neared her destination.
She didn’t stop until she burst out of the crowd, alone and directly in front of the six armored knights standing with weapons drawn.
Continued in “Not Alone, Chapter 3“
Author’s note: Thanks again to all of you for reading! I hope you continue to enjoy this tale, and will be returning in a couple of days with the third chapter. I’m currently writing Chapter 8, so I should be able to maintain this pace for a while, yet.
One thing of note: there is a tag that I am strongly associated with, yet is left off of this tale. In my other works, I tend to write about polyamory, harem endings, the Tenchi Solution, etc. That will not specifically be a part of this story, beyond certain allusions, and so it will not be tagged thus, but it is something I intend to include as a part of later tales. After all, it is often a part of the setting itself, especially with certain monster girls. For those who have strong feelings about such a thing, either for or against, I decided to make note of it now, so they would be prepared for what is to come in the sequel works to “Not Alone.”
Once again, I thank you all for reading, and shall return soon with more in hand. But first, I must sleep…