Not Alone, Chapter 4

Preface: Greetings, all! This is the fourth chapter of the tale that began with “Not Alone – Chapter 1,” comes immediately after “Not Alone – Chapter 3,” and is the second story in 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.

Not Alone 

Chapter 4 – Holding Hands

     The women entering the cavern hung their heads as they came, defeat written in bold letters across their faces.  They had been sent out from their home on a mission, and returned now empty-handed, preparing to face the wrath of their chieftain.  The leader of the band wore a particularly stricken expression; she had been promoted to her position of lieutenant all too recently, and desperately wanted to avoid the exile her predecessor had been given.  After all, they were orcs, and the tribe was their strength.

     As they made their way into the heart of the cave, they stepped into the glow of numerous torches arranged in a wide semi-circle.  On either side of the chamber were the long tables they shared with the rest of their tribe at dinner times, the crude wooden benches stained and splattered with grease.  Centered between the two tables, against the back wall and at the apex of the curve of flaring torches, was a conqueror’s throne: a looming monolith of a chair, with its high apex crowned with a bull’s skull, with the long arms and squat feet carved with images of snarling beasts.  All around this barbaric seat were strewn the fruits of larceny, with piles of coins commingled with chests of gems, with murals and tapestries thoughtlessly interspersed, porcelain and gold and silver and ivory all glowing in the light of the fires.

     The woman that lounged upon that grim couch was no less barbarous in nature.  Her head was crowned with a boar’s skull, and the cranium of a great raptor rested on her left shoulder, but otherwise she wore little in the way of armor.  Black strips of cloth crisscrossed over her nut-brown skin, covering only her most intimate places and struggling to restrain her immense chest; the rest she left bared, as if to defiantly show her unscathed flesh to any potential enemies.  Her wrists and ankles were covered with beast pelts, the tufts of fur flaring out from their edges dyed white to match her voluminous hair.  A massive blacksteel axe sat across her lap, the weapon long enough to pass as a bardiche, but with a boar-skull-shaped counterweight on the back of the blade.  Despite its significant heft, the woman held the mastercrafted weapon like a scepter of state, resting her head on her other fist as she stared at the newcomers, a beast-queen awaiting her supplicants.

     The orc in the lead of the procession bowed deeply to the high orc that sat upon the throne, as did the others following her, those latter women glad they were not the ones that had to break the ill news to their chieftain.  Swallowing loudly, the lieutenant looked up with fear in her eyes, finally forcing words past her gripped throat. “Berala-”

     “So, ya failed again, didja?” Berala deduced bluntly.  She rolled her citrine-color eyes dramatically. “Why do I bother with ya, hunh?  Can’t do anythin’ right.” Huffing, she stood from her throne, the butt of her axe clanging against the podium her chair sat upon. “What am I goin’ to do with ya?”

     The orc in front lowered her head, her lavender hair covering both of her eyes, instead of the one it usually concealed. “I’m sorry, boss.  We tried, but those stupid lizards are escorting caravans now!”

     “And ya’ve never heard of an ambush?” Berala demanded, her axe falling into her other hand with a meaty slap.

     “I’m sorry-” the lavender-haired orc began, squeezing her eyes shut to avoid the disappointment in her leader’s eyes.

     “Times like these, I ‘bout miss that stupid girl that ya replaced,” Berala grumbled, frowning to the side as she chewed on her lip.  Her former lieutenant had definitely been capable.  Maybe too much so; it had led her to confront Berala for leadership of the tribe, and Berala had barely managed to defeat her.  She had been forced to exile the girl, but ever since that day their coffers had gradually diminished.  Once, their main hall had all but glowed with wealth.  Now, they were forced to buy what they needed from unscrupulous merchants willing to trade with bandits, and it was bleeding them dry.  Berala had considered leading her gang of orcs somewhere else, but the money flowing out of Gsolar’s mines was too tempting of a target for her to stray.

     Hope ignited in the eyes of the lavender-haired orc. “Well, about that, boss…” She looked up, and saw she definitely had Berala’s attention.

     “Go on, Viola,” Berala prompted impatiently, sitting back down.

     “Well, it was the weirdest thing.  The girl we had doing lookout at the northern post saw one of those mercenary patrols.  The strange thing is that they had an orc with them, one with brown hair.” Viola smiled as she noticed Berala sat at the edge of her seat; their failure was all but forgotten in the face of this news. “Seems an old sister of ours has signed up with those Forked Blade brutes.  And that’s not all, either.  We did run into one of our contacts from the city, and we asked about old Priscilla.  They said she was involved in some trouble a few weeks back, with those holy knights, and would have died…” She paused, ready to savor the impending reaction, even as much as the news had originally galled her as well. “Except her man saved her.”

     “Her what.” Berala’s flat tone belied the warring emotions in her eyes: rage, terror, envy.  That civil war was soon eclipsed, however, by a swelling savage hope.

     “Yeah, it seems she’s been living with a man in town.” The orcs behind Viola grumbled out loud, obviously bitter that their estranged sibling would have greater luck than their entire tribe, but they had not come to same realization that Viola had, the same that Berala was obviously on the road to discovering.  After all, while Priscilla had been the tribe’s best strategist, she had lacked a deviousness that Viola possessed amply.

    “Is that so?” Berala mused, seeing her subordinate’s wicked grin and nodding, pleased they shared the same idea.  A flame was kindling in Berala’s heart as she thought about this issue.  She had been almost bored recently, despite their struggles; leadership had become bureaucracy instead of battle, and she was only well-suited for one of those.  Here, however, was a challenge she could embrace. “How about that? Our little sis has gone and got herself a man.  Shame she forgot that what she gets, she has ta share with the tribe.” At this, the other orcs looked to her, surprised; after all, it had been Berala that had exiled her former lieutenant. “Jus’ imagine the look on lil’ Prissie’s face when we snag that man out from under her.” A coarse laughter rippled through the orcs, and a new lust began to burn in their eyes. “Now, get on with ya!  Seems I’ve got me some planning ta do.” At this, the orcs scattered, bawdy conversations erupting as they made their way to their own dens, all thoughts of their previous failings forgotten.

    Left alone, Berala sat in silence, staring intently into the dark.  A terrible excitement had sent her heart to drumming on her ribcage, and she shifted in her seat, her lips parting around her flicking tongue.  She had no idea what this man looked like, but anyone Priscilla thought worthy would be a decent entertainment for her, as well.  Truth be told, as much as Berala’s body craved a man to subjugate, it was the thought of crushing her ambitious rebel of a lieutenant that made her body flush with heat.  Her breathing heavy, the high orc grinned ferally into the shadows, staring in the direction of the slumbering town of Goslar.

     “Jus’ ya wait, Priss.  I’m coming for what’s yours.”

 

******

 

     The sun was descending on the mountains as Roger wearily made his way up the stairs of his store, carrying with him his usual implements of healing, along with two bowls of a meat-thickened soup that trailed steam as he climbed higher.  Not an hour before, Priscilla had returned to the store for the evening, but had mentioned needing him to see to a new wound after the store closed.  The last customers of the evening had finally just departed, and he had bolted the door behind them, before turning to the stewpot that had been simmering, all of his culinary arts practiced in the still moments between visitors seeking his vast and varied selection of chemicals.  It was at moments like that he noticed the similarities between his profession and Mithal’s, though thankfully he had never confused the two; he would hate to send someone home with a vial of his finest boeuf bourguignon instead of an expectorant, though in his defense he did firmly believe in the healing potential of a fine, warm stew.

     As he came to the stairs’ summit, he quickly discovered Priscilla lounging upon his bed, clutching her arm as if trying to conceal the wound from him.  He lowered the two bowls to a nearby table with two mismatched chairs waiting across from each other, table and chairs placed against the far wall where her bed had once been before it had moved continually closer to his own.  He also rested the majority of his healing tools as he took up a clean rag and bottle of purified water. “Alright, show me,” he prompted sternly.  Priscilla didn’t respond, her head hanging low enough for her eyes to hide within her bangs. “Come on, it can’t be that bad,” Roger prodded, reaching out to gently pull her hand away.

      As her hand shifted, he spotted the wound she had warned him about earlier: a shallow abrasion, barely pinker than the surrounding skin, with a bruise already ghosting away surrounding it. “I told you it wasn’t bad!” Priscilla laughed, dropping her façade of being badly wounded in favor of enjoying his surprise.  He rolled his eyes at her grin, beginning to walk back to the table. “Hey, no, you still have to treat it!  Infection, infection!” she protested behind him, drawing him to a faux-resentful pause.

     “You are really milking this,” Roger sighed, dashing the water onto the rags despite himself.  “I spoil you.” She didn’t disagree as he turned back and began to clean the scratch, dabbing at the ‘wound’ and applying a dash of one of his poultices before taking up a bandage and winding it about her upper arm.  She watched him despite her familiarity with these acts, and regarded his finished work with pride, wearing the bandage as if it were a silken ribbon. “There, all better,” he declared, and she offered him a brilliant smile in gratitude, before swinging her legs off the bed and heading with him towards the table that bore their dinner.

     As they both sat down, quickly devouring the stew, Roger stole an occasional glance at her, watching as she savored the extra chunks of meat he had generously ladled into her bowl.  To his relief, all the bruises across her body had faded without residual marks in the weeks that had passed the day when she had been battered by the Purifier knights.  He had been relieved when the visiting doctor had declared her free of any broken bones or serious internal hemorrhaging, and had left her bruises to the mending ministrations of the great physician Time.  Still, Roger had been relieved to see the dark stains turn lighter before disappearing, as it seemed that since that day she had born a mournful darkness in her heart that had lightened with the fading wounds.

     Now, however, she tasked him daily with new wounds to tend.  Her apprenticeship with Lacerta had begun soon after that day; she had accepted his suggestion of the arrangement with a fatalistic resignation that had deeply concerned him, but had refused to tell him what was behind her melancholy.  It seemed the release that physical activity granted her had dispelled much of the clouds hanging over her mood, and these days she came back to his store with a smile on her face, even though sometimes he thought he glimpsed that earlier depression when she didn’t notice him looking.

     The tales Priscilla shared with him about her time with the mercenaries showed that his idea about her working with the Forked Blade had been a wise one.  Lacerta had brought a small class of new recruits with her; apparently she had assumed the assignment that kept her near Goslar, whatever it may be, would be calm enough for a while to give her time to show her initiates the ropes of their profession.  Priscilla had quickly earned her place among the lizardman neophytes, taking to the training with a talent beyond her experience, even surpassing her peers who had been with Lacerta for a while longer. 

     That, along with a few other incidents, had led to a bit of strife between her and the other budding mercenaries.  In one such instance, Lacerta had had them all wear padded armor for their sparring matches; the lizard girls wore theirs easily, but Priscilla’s ample chest had made even the largest set they had physically incompatible with her, which had led to surging irritation among the lizardwomen… her trainers included.  Her bruises from training had been especially plentiful that day.  Her berserker tendencies had also caused a few issues, though Lacerta had managed to drill discipline into her somewhat enough that she was less of a danger to her allies.

     She had progressed enough despite her short time with the company that they had even been taking her on patrols of the area with more experienced members, and Lacerta had assured Roger that in no time Priscilla would be a worthy addition to any mercenary band.  His orcish roommate had taken that news as a badge of pride, though Roger quickly learned that discussing the upcoming completion of her training tended to lead to her showing sorrow in unguarded moments, the cause a mystery he had not yet solved.

     She cast a hopeful glance up at him as her spoon clattered against her empty bowl, and he nodded to her. “Go ahead, there’s plenty left.” As she enthusiastically rushed down the stairs, bowl in hand, he watched her with a melancholy smile of his own.  He didn’t know what to do when it came to her.  Over time, he had gotten accustomed to having her in his life, so the thought of her joining Lacerta’s company and leaving him filled him with unease.  Even the single occasion when she had gone on a longer patrol and spent the night afield had left his home feeling hollow, ringing with silence like the curved shells he had seen on a visit to the ocean as a child.  That restlessness had tormented him at nights worse than Priscilla’s snoring, even though it now came from a bed almost close enough to touch from where he rested, her inexorable inching progress leaving only a narrow aisle now between the beds.

     As Priscilla returned up the stairs, delicately balancing a teeming bowl thick with meaty chunks, he laughed and turned his attentions to his own meal.  A stray thought crossed his mind as he bit into a broth-softened carrot: he had almost forgotten the message he had received earlier in the day, brought to him via a familiar orange–haired goblin messenger.  It seemed his special order was all but complete, and in record time; it would be delivered the following afternoon, likely while he was still off purchasing supplies and materials.  Roger knew it would be best if Priscilla would be away, to save her from the curiosity of such a massive package being left at his store, but she had told him the previous day that the members of the Forked Blade were to take that day off to enjoy their pay. 

      It was with that in mind that he made his offer to her. “So,” he began, sipping the broth lingering at the bottom of his bowl, “tomorrow I have to restock supplies again.  You have the day off, right?”

     She nodded, swallowing hesitantly. “Do you want me to run the store?” she asked, her concern plain in the waver of her voice.  He had once allowed her to help him during a busy evening; it had not ended well.  She was clearly afraid that being left alone with the shop for the day might have apocalyptic results.

     “Well,” he started, with a painfully-sculpted indifference, “if you wanted, you could come with me and help me carry the supplies.  If you wanted,” he repeated, studying the bottom of his stew bowl with profound interest.

     Silence gripped her for but just a moment. “Yes!” she exploded, dropping her spoon into her stew. “I mean, if you need the help.  Yes, I’d be happy to!” She beamed at him. “It’s a date.” She froze at her own words, and they both wore matching blushes for a long moment.

     “Well,” he finally spoke, “I’m going to get ready for bed.” He stood from the table, pausing long enough for her to drain the last vestiges of her broth and hand him her bowl to return downstairs.  As he made his way down the stairs, his still-burning ears could hear the soft linen whispers of her changing into her nightclothes.  He placed the bowls in the washbasin, rinsing them clean of the last splatters of stew as he choked down his own eagerness at their planned outing.  Once he had sufficiently calmed himself, he started back up the stairs, just in time to hear the scraping shriek of a bed being moved just a tad closer to his own.

     When he emerged into the bedroom, having changed his own garments and extinguishing the candles as he went, he found Priscilla still getting settled into bed.  He had to turn sideways to make it down the aisle between the two beds, but that spared him the embarrassment of facing her direction overmuch; he had already noticed the gleam of moonlight off of pale, curved skin bared by her disorderly shift.  She thankfully covered herself with her blankets as he was climbing into his own bed, though she left her arm hanging out into the gulch between them, hand drooping listlessly as she fought to find her comfort.

     Roger found his own struggles in that regard to be fruitless almost immediately.  His heart still pounded from their earlier exchange, and he stared in mute frustration at the ceiling.  His periodic tossing and turning was echoed occasionally by hers, a portrait of two exhausted souls running sleep to ground without any success.  So it went, until finally Roger sprawled out across his bed, his right arm stretching into the abyss, and his fingers brushing accidentally against hers.

     Two hearts started in fear at that ghostly touch, yet neither moved.  He had not realized her arm was once more hanging out from that side of her bed, had not planned that contact between them.  Any thought of sleep was, for the moment, utterly vanquished.  It was then interred by another such touch, as she brushed her hand against his, intentionally this time, though any further purpose was hidden from him.

     Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Roger sought answers in the darkness.  He had spent so long worrying about the future recently, about what was troubling Priscilla, about what was the right way to act around her, that his mind felt as though it had been driven onward without rest for weeks now.  His heart had throbbed, and raced, and hung heavy in his chest.  He was exhausted, and yet he felt a pulse of energy from that brief brushing kiss of their knuckles.  It was just enough power for his heart to take the reins from his tired brain, and so he moved his hand against hers, and kept it there, as they mutually fumbled for just a moment, until their hanging hands were linked with interwoven fingers.

     It was if that contact gave him the succor he had sought.  He felt the tension in his back muscles unwind, his shoulders sinking into the bed, and he heard a sigh of contentment from across the gulf.  Both shifted in their beds, finding comfort at last, but their hands stayed as still as a lodestar.  Sleep pressed against Roger like a fleece blanket, and he accepted it with a relieved heart, his breath slowing as he drifted into his final thoughts.  Perhaps he even drifted into sleep, but couldn’t tell, submerging into slumber and resurfacing with the subtleness of a turtle in a stream.

     Even then his sleep-hazed mind pressed on.  He had worried so much lately about Priscilla, but there was a lot in his fears he had hidden from himself.  His currently-lowered defenses bared those truths to him now, opened the floodgates to his secret admissions.  He wanted her to take a position as a guard in Goslar.  He wanted her to stay here, with him.  He wanted her to meet his friends, and he hers.  He wanted her to have a future where she came home from her shift, and he treated her bruises and scrapes and listened to her stories over a bowl of stew, exactly like now, or maybe even something more.  He wanted… her.

     This final truth gleamed like a torch in the darkness, and he opened his eyes, forgoing slumber to face it directly.  He had come to know it, but he hadn’t accepted it.  Living with Priscilla had come to be part of him, and he didn’t want to lose that.  Even if Lacerta was right that trouble was coming to Goslar, then he wanted them to stay together, whether they left or stayed.  And he thought she felt the same, even if she had felt distant lately, even if she had ceased her more direct approaches on him; those two changes had been particularly worrisome, but the feeling of her hand in his warded those fears away.

     In the silence, his own breath slow and even, he could tell she wasn’t sleeping either.  Her breathing had changed, taken on a faster rhythm than his own, one that was somewhat irregular.  He heard her shifting under her blanket, though her left hand stayed bound to his.  She sighed in contentment, though her breathing became more ragged, pulsing and heavy, and he could hear her bed creak as she moved again.  It was when she moaned gently that he realized what he was hearing, and he stared wide-eyed upwards in shock.

     He heard her shift in bed to glance in his direction as she ceased her activity, trying to peer through the darkness to see his face, to detect if he had heard or if he was sleeping soundly.  Apparently, she couldn’t notice the way his eyes were screwed shut in a poor facsimile of rest, nor the beads of cold sweat pearling at his forehead.  Relieved, she settled back in bed, and he could tell that within moments she was back on task from the faint trembling of the hand that held his.  He resolved to suffer in silence through this as the pace of her breathing increased, and more and more seductively soft sounds escaped her lips, though he prayed the moonlight would not betray him by revealing the glowing crimson of his cheeks, nor the other area that had siphoned off the remainder of his blood, raising his blanket heavenward.

     His delectable torture continued for just a while longer, until, with a shudder that passed down her arm into his, she climaxed, gasping for breath.  It was in that frozen moment that he smiled, feeling a pleasure of his own he couldn’t explain.  Perhaps that was why, moments later, as she melted in exhaustion into the softness of her bed, he squeezed her hand.

     All movement from across the gorge between them stopped, her very breath snared by his movement.  She stayed frozen for a moment that was stretched like taffy, until finally her head swiveled just enough to face towards him.  He didn’t look in her direction, but didn’t hide his all-but-imperceptible smile, either.  Instead, he tightened his grip once more, caressing the back of her hand with his thumb.

     Many moments passed before she squeezed back, a grateful press that she held for many long heartbeats.  He didn’t have to look over to see her smile, because he knew its twin was on his lips.  Instead, they both sank into their beds and into sleep, their relief freeing them from the chains that had held them apart for so long, and together in peace they savored the best sleep either of them had enjoyed in ages.

 

******

 

     The town had been called Fairhaven, and fair it had been, once.  Centered in a wide valley that had been carved eons ago by the now-gentle river that burbled at its banks beside the town, Fairhaven had been all but self-sufficient, featuring mines in the nearby mountains, farms across the wide river, fish and hunting keeping even the burliest of tavern-goers well-pleased, all of which had seen to it becoming one of the largest towns in the region.  It had been fairly removed from the greater towns and cities further west, but that had spared its halcyon existence from the politics and corruption of those realms as well.  All in all, it had been a good place to grow up.

     The only oddity about the town had been the stone tower atop a small hillock at its center, which had been there for as long as any could recall; perhaps it even predated the town, or perhaps the town had sprung up around it.  This tower was the tallest thing in the valley, casting its shadow like a colossal sundial over the extent of the village.  It had once been the home of the village’s defender, the man that had watched eastward for signs of the coming storm.

     But he had failed to defend the town, had died in the attempt, and now Fairhaven was no more.

     The knight walked through the ruins of Fairhaven, glancing about him as he trod down familiar streets, now long choked with weeds and bulging roots.  Nature had had its way with the ruins of the town, reabsorbing the fallen timbers and scattered stones and redecorating to its taste.  As he walked, his eyes meandered across the empty spaces that had once held people’s lives, and it may have been just a trick of the moonlight but he would almost swear he could see phantasms of those forgotten souls drifting between homes that now existed only as collapsed cairns. 

     It had been centuries since Fairhaven had died in smoke and screams and shadows.  Very few of its residents had managed to flee the hordes that had defiled it, and of them, only a couple yet remained to remember as it had once been.  The knight could still recall the night it had happened, the coursing terror that had filled him as he had flown from his only home with nothing more than what he had been carrying,  The armies of the Demon King had been relentless and ruthless, killing man, woman, and child where they ran.  The last the knight had seen of his adoptive father had been him standing defiantly in front of a wave of the creatures, fury crackling within his eyes.

     As the knight ascended the hill towards the tower, he heard the whispers of that night ringing in the wind.  He had sworn to never see that happen to anyone else, and he too had failed… he had seen it again and again, until the war had ended.  Things had changed since then, but as much as the world evolved, it kept mostly the same shape: atrocities still occurred, and people with power still lusted for more.  Now, matters were on the other hand, and he was determined to stop the holy hordes aiming to commit the same crimes that had ended Fairhaven.

     He arrived at the tower, and the door swung open at a gentle push of his hand, the hinges freshly oiled and cleaned of rust.  As he made his way into the room at ground level, he glanced about, his mind filling in the furniture and artifacts that time had claimed.  He could all but see the sternly-demanding lord of the tower, his lips set in a thin line as he lectured the boy he had taken under his wing.  Those stentorian tones still echoed off the unforgetting stone walls, and the knight took a measure of comfort from them as he made his way higher into the tower, steps unfettered by the ghosts that clung to him.       

     As he reached a higher level, he noticed a presence in the shadows, a hulking male form with a massive stone brick in his hands.  The knight paused, but the man had already seen him, and turned towards him, the moonlight gleaming both off of his bald head and the bared blade in his other hand.  The figure made no move toward the knight, who waited patiently.

     “Evening, sir,” spoke the figure in a thick accent, smiling broadly before turning back to his task.  Crouching, he pressed his bladed trowel against the wet mortar before him before hefting the brick into place, the movement smooth despite the fact the stone was nearly a boulder unto itself.  The burly man obviously felt no need to speak further, focused entirely on his task, his eyes focused under his bushy eyebrows, his lips pressed somewhere under his dense mustache and beard.

     “My thanks for your help with the repairs, Claude,” the knight offered, pleased to see the man’s diligence.

     “You gave me and wife a place to live.  Least we can do, fix it up.” At this, the Frank gave another guileless smile to the other man. “Miss Gellie is upstairs, I think.  She cleans the floors.”

     The knight didn’t mention it, but he was pretty sure that the man’s wife had been through this area rather recently, judging from the spotlessness of the stonework before him, along with the faint traces of blue gelid residue in Claude’s mustache and beard. “Well, then, keep up the good work.  I think we may have company, soon enough.”

     “Already do.” The Frank nodded past him, and the knight started, suddenly noticing the presence behind him.

     “I must say, I am impressed,” he said, turning to face the kunoichi. “You’ve gotten even better at that.”

     The woman nodded her gratitude, not hiding her flush of pride at the compliment. “I bring further word from my Mistress,” she said directly, before reaching behind her to retrieve a bundle she wore strapped over her shoulder, “along with correspondence from Mistress Mephis.”  She quickly removed it from the pouch, revealing it to be a stack of letters, the envelopes in various shades of lilac and pink, with a potently-sweet scent wafting from them, mixed in with other muskier fragrances.  The knight accepted the hefty linguistic bouquet with a long-suffering sigh, not sparing a glance towards the letters themselves, most of which were signed with great flourishes that incorporated hearts into many of the letters.

     “I trust she is doing well?” he asked, exasperated tolerance tinging his concern.

    “She wanted me to say,” the kunoichi’s voice spiked in pitch, “’Tell my darling that I miss him terribly, and that he should come visit me and forget this whole wretched mess.  And leave that stuffy old dullahan standing guard in a corner somewhere.’” The kunoichi coughed, struggling to return her voice to the proper serious tone. “She does have a more pressing matter that she wanted to alert you to: a young girl appeared in one of the chambers of her chateau, and Mistress Mephis believes it to be someone connected to you.  She describes it further in,” the kunoichi drew another letter from her attire, this one all but indistinguishable from the others in the heart-speckled bundle, “this missive here.”

     The knight nodded his gratitude to the kunoichi for sparing him from wading through the rest of the letters to find the one of immediate importance.  “Very good.  If it is who I believe it to be, we’ll make a more permanent home for the girl here.  Soon enough, many more-” Before he could respond further, however, a squelching liquid sound interrupted him, and both of them turned to see a translucent, viscous blue liquid descending from a crack in the ceiling onto the bald pate and shoulders of the laborer behind them.

     “Ah, Gellie, Boss is here,” Claude protested, but still the fluid oozed down, covering him in sapphire hues that contrasted with the redness in his cheeks.  A beaming blue face soon formed from the spreading mass, drawing close to her husband and pressing her lips to his.  The laborer could only make protesting sounds and glance frantically to the watching pair as the slime overwhelmed him with her gelatinous affection. 

     “Shall we leave them and head to the summit of the tower?” the knight suggested, chuckling.  The kunoichi was slow to respond, staring in fascination with her tail waving as Claude plopped back onto his rear, his eyes closed as he met the slime’s kisses hungrily.  It took the knight clearing his throat, already climbing the stairs to the next floor, before she hastened to join him.  Behind them, the rocking fluid sounds of the hungry slime swallowed even her husband’s voice.

     The cold wind whipped harder against the knight as he emerged onto the flat apex of the tower, but it didn’t stop him from walking right to the edge to rest against the merlons, wavering a bit unsteadily as he adjusted to being far taller than he had been when he had last done this, so long ago.  His eyes flew over the shadowed ruins of the town again, painted with the bright hues in his mind’s eye, resurrected by the necromancy of nostalgic memory.  For so long, this town had been dead, and nothing could bring back what had been lost that bloody day.

     But he hadn’t been the only young man to escape the town’s demise.  Another, one with grander dreams and a greater future, had come to dream of an end to an ancient conflict, and even now worked to make that true.  If that childish man could dream so big, imagine a future when man and monster didn’t only tolerate but loved, then the knight could at least pave the way for that happy ending.  And, just as before, it would all begin here.

     “Sorry,” the kunoichi apologized, her face red in the darkness.

     “Working in the home of the Demon Queen, one would think you used to such… activities,” the knight supposed.

     Her veil hid a wicked smile, and her tail flicked like a cat up to mischief. “That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy something I haven’t seen before.” Still, she shook her head, returning to the grave business that had brought her back west. “My Mistress is prepared to support you in your endeavors here, and agrees with your plans for this place.  However, she warns against direct conflict with the Holy Orders, if it can be avoided.”

     The knight’s voice was colder than the wind, and cut deeper. “It can’t.”

     The woman eyed him cautiously. “Refrain as much as you are able, at the least.  They both ask that.”

     The responding chuckle was divorced from humor. “No direct fighting, got it.” He glanced back at her, and for just a moment she thought she could see a shimmering golden gleam around his left side. “But it will come eventually.  I can’t hold that back.  They won’t hesitate to kill innocents, so I can’t hesitate to kill them.”

     “That just makes you both killers.” The kunoichi sighed, feeling the weight she had seen in the eyes of both her Master and her Master’s husband. “I will return when I have further news.” This time, the kunoichi did not bother with a smoke bomb; instead, she seemed almost to blend into the shadows, and then she was gone.

     The knight stood without moving for a long moment, before finally turning once more to gaze off the eastern side of the tower.  In the skies in the distance, he could see the pale shimmer of the Great Veil, a relic of the war that had saved both humanity and monsters.  A great man had sacrificed his life to make that barrier, and it had been thanks to that sacrifice that any of them had survived to see the new world they lived in.  Perhaps, to make an even better world, it would take another such sacrifice, and even if it called for his own soul, he was willing to pay that price.

     Without a word, the darkened knight turned from the edge of the tower and prepared to leave Fairhaven behind him, yet knowing deep down that he alone might never be able to do that.

Continued in “Not Alone, Chapter 5

Author’s Note:  Greetings once more.  I return with another chapter, almost to the midpoint of this particular tale.  When I began this work, never did I imagine it would be the size it has become, but such is ever a sin of mine: I cannot create something small and simple, but have to make it elaborate and detailed.  The same is true for the story arc I have planned for these, though I admit that any concepts beyond the connecting narrative and the third story are still in their infancy. 

     Once more, I thank all of you for reading.  I love how active TFT is; I get way more feedback here than elsewhere.  With that said, soon enough my posting will slow, once it catches up to my writing, which is currently beginning chapter 9.  That may be for the best, as I would hate to anger the powers that be with my storyspam.

But, as I drift off at the keyboard preparing this draft for release on a busy Saturday, I bid you all farewell, and hope that you will return for my next installment.  Now, I simply must sleep…

~Wynn Pendragon

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