The house shook in time with the two women as they huddled together in fear. Neither dared speak, instead staring ahead with wide eyes, sweat dripping from their brows. Loud, metallic footsteps thudded against the wooden floors as the object of their fear stalked closer. An almost palpable wave of anger radiated out from this being, and it forced the women to shudder once again, holding up their tails, eighteen in total, before them. Through the gaps in the bladed appendages, they could still see her, feel her, and yet they could not flee. One of them dared to open her mouth, to try and appease the furious form.
“Ch…Chaika, we’re sorry, we didn’t mean to…”
The being of rage and hatred loomed before them, appearing far taller than she truly was. A hissing sound, more static than anything, issued from her unmoving lips as she said, “You two little brats think you can get away with this? I’ve been too lenient with you. I think it’s time both of you learned a lesson.”
“No Chaika, please!” The other woman cried, holding her delicate hands up before her, despite the wall of bladed tails.
“It’s too late for that!” Shouted Chaika, and the two whimpered in response. “I think it’s time for you two to take responsibility.” Her arm shot out and grabbed something with a wooden handle and, with a motion so fast it was hard to follow with the eye, she thrust forth the shaft toward the women, causing them to scream in terror as the head of the implement struck the first woman and…
A soft, whisking sound issued as the bristles of the broom settled between the feline ears upon her head. The woman blinked a few times before looking up at the tool, then to Chaika, then back to the broom. Licking her lips a few times, she asked in a cautious tone, “U…uhm. Is that a…?”
“A broom, yes.” Chaika said. “You use it to sweep things.”
“Oh, oh Gods Chaika, I thought you were going to-” The other woman cut off as she too had the broom smack the top of her cat-eared head. “Oww! Hey!”
“Shut it you little whiner. I ought to paddle your butts, but you’re too old for that now.”
Chaika sighed and placed the broom back on the ground before shaking her head and looking over the two women before her. Despite calling them women, Sophie and Sylphie were barely twenty years old and to her eyes, were still girls. They were identical twins, both a race of Monster known as Cat o’Nine Tails. Though they looked mostly like young, rather well developed, women with sparkling green eyes, they each had long, auburn hair and feline ears, black furred hands, and feline paws for feet. Their most striking feature was their namesake, the nine, black furred tails tipped with an assortment of blades as strong as metal.
Yet, looking at the two one would never guess they were indeed identical twins. Sophie stood with an elegance reflected in her bearing and choice of clothing that was both fashionable and revealing, something very popular in Monster culture. Her sister, Sylphie, had a carefree attitude and wore black robes, a rosewood staff never far from her hands.
Now the two stared at Chaika with confused, wary expressions, waiting to see what she did next. Their ears twitched as she waited, letting the uncomfortable silence finally drag on to the point where Sylphie broke down and cried, “Aggghhh! Sorry Chaika!”
“Do you even know what you’re apologizing for?”
“Uhhh.” Sylphie looked about with a nervous expression before whispering, “Psssst, Sophie, help me out here.”
“I have no idea, dear sister, but I believe Chaika will tell us.”
“You’re damn right I will!” Chaika growled, stomping her metallic foot onto the wooden floor. The lumber barely creaked against the force of the blow thanks to the enchantments weaved upon it by the Master of the house, who was tired of his housekeeper breaking the floorboards. “You two never do your damn chores! I told you I expected both of you to have this place cleaned spotless by this afternoon and instead I find you’ve been running around town shirking your responsibilities!”
“Aww, can’t Harmony just do it?” Sylphie asked, wincing when Chaika slapped her head with the broom again.
“No, she can’t, because she’s off with those damn shockbirds again.” Sighing, she shook her head and continued in an exasperated tone. “I swear to Dollora, I can’t believe your sister is already married and you two are still lounging around home without a care in the world.”
“Father spent thirty-three years of his life in isolation, I do not see-“
“Your FATHER was an idiot who had to be dragged outside so he could change the Gods damned world. YOU two should follow the example of your Mother!”
“We should join as the bodyguards of the Monster Lady and destroy the walls of Sanctifrond?” Sophie asked, raising an eyebrow. Chaika gave her a flat look, (despite the fact she only had one facial expression), and the feline chuckled nervously in response.
“You know what I mean.” Rays of sunlight shined through the windows upon the three, the warm beams heralding the beginning of the sun’s descent toward nightfall. Afternoon had begun.
“You uhm… said you had to go somewhere this afternoon, right Chaika?” Sylphie asked, trying not to seem hopeful.
“I believe she said that she was to travel to a shrine of Dollora, was it not?” Sophie chimed in, to which Chaika nodded her head.
“Yes. I was hoping to have this place cleaned in case your parents happened to come back while I was away, BUT I can see that is not the case. I have half a mind to stay put and WATCH you two clean.”
“Awww, come on Chaika, you don’t ha-” A black furred hand shot out, silencing Sylphie mid sentence. Her sister gave her a wary look as she turned to Chaika.
“We are deeply apologetic for our lack of action. We understand you do not ask us much, and that we have failed you. However it would fill us with too much guilt if you were to miss what is clearly an important day for you. We shall see to it that this house is cleaned and even have the outside foliage trimmed before you return.”
Sophie held out her hand and gave a smile that could melt even Chaika’s metal heart. “Please.”
Chaika looked down at the broom, then to the woman, searching her eyes for any signs of trickery. She’d known these two since before they were born and she could smell deceit from them. Today however, there was nothing, not a drop of insincerity marred her words or expression, and Chaika was forced to relent. With a slow gesture, she handed the broom over to the Cat o’Nine Tails.
“You have a journey ahead of you, no? I believe the shrine is in Feldersgrod, yes?”
“Yes, it is.” Chaika admitted, looking back to the afternoon sky. “I should be able to make it by nightfall.”
“Oh take your time, I know this is very special for you.” Sylphie said, nodding her head in a undeserved sagacity.
Chaika gave the two one last, scrutinizing look before turning and walking outside. They waited there a long while until finally Sylphie let out an explosive sigh, using one of her tails to wipe the sweat from her brow.
“Ugh, that was awful. I thought she was never going to leave.”
“She almost caught on I’m afraid.” Sophie muttered before smirking. “Still, I think we’re in the clear.”
“You have all the supplies ready, right?”
“Of course my dear sister, of course.”
Cocking her head, Sylphie asked with caution, “You didn’t really mean that when you said we’d have the WHOLE house cleaned, right?”
White, pointed canine teeth showed as Sophie flashed her sister a predatory grin while flashing a couple of silver coins. “I merely said the house would be clean. I never said we would be the ones doing it.”
“Ha!” Sylphie exclaimed, smiling broadly. “Well, what are we waiting for?” She turned and opened a cabinet where a two [Bags of Holding] lay. Tossing one to her sister, she said, “We have our own journey to make, right?”
Chaika thought about turning around, just to make sure those two weren’t slacking off. Somewhere deep inside her said that they were fooling around instead of doing their damn chores, but another voice, a small and often wrong voice, said to trust them. Still, they were their parent’s children…
She sighed and looked down as spots of reflected sunlight danced on the ground. While the two she cared for were flesh and blood, she could no longer make that claim. Having “died” over twenty years ago, at the hands of their Father no less, she had been reborn as a kind of spirit, a “revenant” and placed in a construct of metal and magic.
Her current form was that of a lithe, very attractive human woman with cobalt-blue metallic plating. The original construct form she wore had a visor for the visual sensors, but this upgraded version had an emotionless faceplate with glowing red eyes that gave her an almost menacing appearance. Well, she wanted to believe that anyway, it helped her image as a menacing being.
Walking through the little town of Havenforth, she waved at the inhabitants, both human and Monster, and they waved in reply, used to the construct. This place used to revile Monsters, but ever since the Grand Wizard had returned and started his family here with the Monster Lady, they had grown more accustomed to their presence. The fact that the Grand Wizard had also built a Magitek foundry here, drawing in many jobs and prosperity, may have also helped.
In short order she made her way to the outskirts of town, where a long road stretched out toward the city of Feldersgrod. Tapping her foot on the ground, she stretched her servos before crouching down in a sprinter’s position. Flaps on her back popped open and small thrusters poked out, humming with magitek energy as they charged with mana from her core. After a few seconds, they burst to life with thrumming power and Chaika snapped her head up, dashing forward on her feet. The thrusters made a dull, “boom” and her velocity skyrocketed, her form propelled forward down the road.
What would have taken hours, days even, on foot suddenly blew by in a blur as Chaika hurtled down the road, kicking up a cloud of dust in her wake. A traveling caravan had to halt and cough as the indistinct blue form shot past, coating them in the wake of her passage. More and more of the ground was eaten up, though despite her speed it was still a long way to travel, and she did not arrive until the sun was one with the horizon, its last rays slowly sinking down to herald night.
Shutting off her thrusters, she dug her feet, coated red in the dirt and clay of the road, into the ground. She created a long furrow as she ground to a halt before the walls of the city, her feet smoking faintly. Surprised looking guards leveled a variety of weapons at her, one even holding a rare magitek rifle, but she paid them little mind as she shook off the majority of the dirt from her frame. Faint steam rising from her back, she walked up to what appeared to be the Guard Captain and said, “May I please enter the city?”
The Captain, the only one who looked anything but shocked, rolled his eyes. “Damnit Chaika, every time you come here you always spook my men. Can’t you be like a normal machine for once?”
“I’m keeping them on their toes.” Chaika said, a smile implied in her voice. Craning her neck to the side, she whispered, “Boo!” at one of the guard, who yelped and dropped his spear. The Captain groaned and waved a hand, to which the great gates opened. She walked by, waggled her metallic hips a little, and entered the city.
Feldersgrod, perhaps due to its early “friendly” outlook on Monsters, or perhaps due to its proximity to Havenforth and the Grand Wizard, had grown into one of the largest and most influential cities in Deleor. While not a grand port city to far away countries such as Port Dorning or Hudson, the amount of River traffic that went through the city was staggering. With the connection Varruck reestablished, all sorts of land-based goods could also come through there before heading off to the other southern areas of Deleor, making it an economic powerhouse.
Much of the city used to be divided into two districts, the Monster side and the Human side of town, with the two rarely intermingling all that well. Now the distinction was blurred to the point of being non-existent, though certain accommodations and items could only be found in one side or the other. It was for this reason that Chaika walked down into the darker cobbled streets of the old Monster district.
All manner of Monsters, large and small, common and uncommon, walked past her, nodding in greeting as the construct passed by. Many were the accustomed to constructs due to the foundry’s proximity and knowing Chaika herself. That being said, though constructs were commonly seen with richer members of society and in work yards, etc. they were not often seen alone and most would balk at seeing one with such a lewd form as Chaika’s.
Most people and Monsters were returning home as the evening set in, going to their loving families to eat dinner and rest for the evening. Chaika, on the other hand, plowed on through the crowds of people and Monsters. She even had to leap over slow moving herd of Centaurs, the most populous variety of Monster in the city due to their new Queen residing here. They gave her annoyed looks but decided not to mess with a construct that could jump over forty feet and do a 1080 double helix spin while sticking the landing. Chaika liked to show off every now and then, kept things fresh.
Eventually the crowds thinned out and she arrived in a dark section of the district. Even when the sun was high in the sky, this area was cast in a perpetual gloom by the shadow of the walls surrounding the town. Many would call this area depressing or unlivable (likely the intention of the original district planners), but to many Monsters it fit perfectly, for they were after all the children of the Goddess of Darkness.
For this precise reason, in this very corner of Feldersgrod, stood one of the few shrines to Dollora that formally existed in Deleor.
Perhaps formally is a poor choice of words. Thought Chaika as she looked over the building where the shrine was located. Originally a housing structure, over the years it had been repurposed into a worship site for devout Monsters. Unfortunately this was a mostly volunteer labor, as Dollora was the one Goddess that the Kingdom refused fund shrines for. Even Jackor had a few official shrines, though they were by far less elaborate than any of the others and often filled with various bodily fluids from the drunkards that visited them.
Despite this the shrine keeper here had taken care of the place, keeping it fairly well cleaned and maintained, though there were obvious areas of dilapidation. Large doors, easily able to admit a centaur at full height, stood open and a soft light played from within, inviting passers by in for worship.
Chaika stood outside, taking the place in for a moment longer when a smooth, feminine voice called from within, “Come on inside child. No sense standing in the middle of the street.”
Stirring to action, Chaika shook her head and walked up to the doors, stopping by a old statue in front of the portal. A woman, half beautiful human and half furred Monster stood there, holding her arms out as if inviting Chaika in. She bowed her head and rubbed her fingers with a gentle motion upon the statue’s forehead, which had turned black from years of the same treatment. After her moment of silence, she entered the shrine to be bathed in the soft light of candles.
The shrine appeared larger on the inside than it did from the outside. A set of stairs ran to an upper level next to the entrance, but otherwise a short hallway lead into large, open room with multiple rows of pews. A section of the floor was bare with some blankets, open for centaur-like Monsters to kneel down during sermons. The walls, which had no windows upon them, were lined with shelves with various skulls from all sorts of humans, Monsters, and beasts of the land. Atop their heads or in inside the eyes danced the candlelight, giving the place enough light to see by, but not enough to make the place be anything more than, “dimly lit.”
Chaika stopped at the entryway to the shrine room and her eyes were attracted to motion as a long, sinuous form slithered out from behind a central dais where a larger version of the statue out front stood, multiple candles burning along her body. With a grace that could hardly be believed, the serpentine Monster managed not to disturb any of the pews, candles, or skulls in the shrine, her form coming into focus before Chaika as she said, “Ah, it is not a lost child, but instead the mistress herself, how fortunate.”
Chaika mentally frowned, as she could not perform the motion herself, and looked over the Monster. Her torso, like most Monsters, was that of a beautiful woman with long, raven black hair. She wore a purple robe that revealed a startling amount of cleavage with long sleeves that down to her hands, which were covered in scales akin to bird feet and equipped wicked talons. Her serpentine body was short compared to most lamia-like Monsters, but her brilliant purple and blue scaled tail ended in a feathers like some kind of bird. As if this wasn’t the oddest part of the whole ensemble, upon her face she wore a large, golden mask shaped much as the statue’s with the eyes closed, a serene expression upon the face.
“Edda, you persist in calling me mistress, why?”
“Because, no matter what had happened in the past, you were the High Priestess of Dollora once.”
“Phah, that was quite literally a lifetime ago you silly Basilisk.” Chaika said, waving her hand dismissively. “I am merely here to worship, not to lead a sermon.”
“A pity.” Edda said, no expression showing through her mask. “Though I am afraid you missed the congregation as it stands.” She cocked her head, serene face scrutinizing Chaika. “The children again?”
“Damn brats need to get out of the house honestly.” Chaika grumbled, walking past the shine keeper to the dais. “Seriously, how can their sister be so successful and they just stay at home?”
“Ufufufu, my my, to hear such things from the mighty Chakrandas herself.”
Chaika turned her head to regard the masked Basilisk, realizing this must be how people felt when talking with her. It was actually kind of really infuriating. Still, she merely made a clicking sound and said, “The name is Chaika now.”
“Oh? You will not deny being Chakrandas then?”
“You know I’m not, not really. But I won’t pretend to be so far removed as that annoying birdbrain is. Perhaps it’s just that there hasn’t been enough time since is all.”
“Mmm, perhaps, perhaps.”
“Ugh.” Chaika said, continuing her walk up to the Dais. Before her stood the statue of Dollora, Goddess of Animals and Monsters, who looked down upon the construct with open arms. She looked around the dais to see a collection of smaller figurines, depicting the other Gods, with the noticeable lack of Phallia. Paying it little heed, she knelt down before the statue and looked up at her Goddess, unblinking eyes taking in her twisted form.
“Some say she is disgusting you know. Mainly the men who follow their wives here to make them happy.” Edda said, slithering up next to Chaika. “They believe they can keep it a secret, but I can tell. She makes their skin crawl.”
“I don’t see it that way.” Chaika muttered, eyes not leaving the statue.
“I can only view her when others are not present of course, but whenever I do, I stop and take in the majesty of her form. The perfect duality of woman and beast, the Mother of whom we, her children, resemble.” The Basilisk, though she could not see, craned her head toward the statue’s face. “To declare her ugly is to declare ourselves ugly.”
“You know that is not to what they refer.”
Edda chuckled softly. “Of course not. They call her disgusting for her actions and not her form.”
Chaika paused for a long while before letting out a static-laced sigh. “I have had decades to ponder over it, but I am no closer to understanding why she did what she did. No High Priestess, even those who have spoke with Dollora, have been made privy to her betrayal of Solos.” She exuded consternation as she said, “And yet, I do not believe her to be a being of malice.”
“Hmm. So you say, and yet you were also a High Priestess, one chosen to extol her virtues. Were you not yourself a sadist who drove Varruck to Monster Dominance? What of the Monster Invasions of the past? Surely, if she did not wish for her children to do these things, would she not have given over a modicum of her power?”
“…Yes, I was like that before. It was part of my expulsion from the Monster Nation, for I took what I believed to be her word of such things too far. It has only been recently that I’ve realized I have not thought hard enough about the things she did after she created the Chasm of Regret.” Chaika sighed and shook her head. “It was only my intention to give worship but I find myself…” She turned her head to the Shine priestess and asked, “Sister, you do not mind speaking theology with me, do you?”
Edda chuckled softly before waving her arms about the room. Clacking her tongue for stupidity, Chaika took a moment to gather her thoughts before continuing.
“Dollora created the beasts of the land, but when Solos created Man, she helped him to create women. This is the basis for how Monsterization of women can occur, and likely why we have taken on forms so similar to human women, correct?” Edda nodded her head in agreement. “It would stand to reason that she could not convert the male beasts into male Monsters, since she did not have the link to that kind of magic. She did, however, have access to Phallia through being her twin, and thus Plant-Monsters were made.”
“Yes, this is considered correct by our current understanding.”
“With no Male monsters left, they had to breed with humans, whom we had originally seen as nothing more than prey before. Instinctively, our ancestors found these men irresistible and copulated with them forcefully, but often leading to loving relationships. In fact, love is one of the strongest drivers of Monster behavior even to this day.”
Edda nodded her head again. “Indeed, half of my troubles are helping young Monsters understand their feelings of love and how to approach them sensibly.” She crossed her arms and said, “You have laid out knowledge we all know, so what did you wish to discuss?”
“I’m getting there, I’m just… thinking.” Chaika muttered again, getting the words right. “My concern grows that if Dollora truly hated Solos, why would her children so fervently lust after the greatest of his creations? Why would they love men?”
“Instinct, perhaps? Some speculate that she wished to punish him by having her children breed his out of existence.”
“Then why make them reliant upon men? Why not leave us as beasts and make us stronger and more able to kill humans? I had not considered any of this before, much to my shame. I believed us to be the stronger lifeform, to use men as a tool to power our lusts. Gods, she even made it so we must imbue the reproductive fluid of men to fuel our power, as if begging us to milk them dry.” She chuckled,
“Even now I still get a little bothered when my olfactory sensors detect semen in the air.”
“So Dollora ,made us strong, beautiful, dependent upon men to survive. She changed out forms that we may be better at attracting or appropriating mates among humanity. A wicked jest, perhaps? Maybe a way to stab Solos in the side once again?” Asked the Basilisk, a faint amusement in her voice. Chaika could tell she was enjoying this game of rhetoric, but for her part she merely felt tired.
“You speak as if she was Jackor. Gods above know that it would be a supreme prank to make all of Dollora’s most powerful children into horny sluts.” The construct shook her head. “No, I don’t believe that either. She did this with purpose, but the pieces do not add up. It has been known for milennia what she has done, but the only thing I can think of is that…”
“There is more to the story than we can know.” Edda said with an air of finality.
With surprise Chaika looked up at the Basilisk, whose mask was staring right into her eyes. Edda began to speak again, slower and with more seriousness than before. “You are not the first to contemplate these things, nor will you be the last.” She sighed, tension leaving her voice, replaced with a weariness that mimicked Chaika’s own.
“That we worship a Goddess of darkness and primal lust does not sit well with many. Monsters themselves have lost their faith in recent years, preferring to give blessings to the other Gods, or even Solos as the Father of the Gods. I have heard tell some Monsters worship Phallia, as she is known as the Goddess of love.”
“Who can blame them?” Edda continued, a wry chuckle escaping her lips. “Life is good now that the Invasions are over, that integration with our beloved humans has occurred. Dollora represents the old ways, the dark and brutal days of our past. Even the great strength she had imbued in us has vanished. What do we owe this aloof being who only gives power to those who seek destruction?”
“I… have had similar thoughts.” Chaika said in a soft voice.
Silence filled the room as the two stared off at the statue of Dollora and her warm, inviting embrace. The candlelight flickered against the twin sides of the Goddess’s face, creating a mask of darkness upon one side, then the other in random intervals. When the light accentuated the woman or the beast, Chaika could not tell which was more fitting.
The silence was broken as Edda said, “Do you know why I choose to keep the faith?”
Edda nodded her head and slithered forward, using her sinuous tail to raise herself up so she could stroke Dollora’s face. “Because she gave us the capacity think, to feel, and thus to love. How could such a being be evil?”
Chaika froze in place, absorbing that one statement. After a long pause, her servos whined softly as she turned from Edda to the statue. Clapping her hands together, she bowed her head and began to speak a prayer to her Goddess.
“Mighty Dollora. I have spoken with you from many places in life. A devout believer, a fanatical Priestess, and a confused spirit. My life, such as it is, has been filled with questionable decisions. I have sinned, believing it was your word, and yet as I reflect upon my actions I see what a fool I was. Ironically, only in this state of afterlife and living with the Wizard and his family do I truly understand you. To see the love they share, and the love which they give to those wonderful little girls of theirs, it fills me with a joy I cannot express.
I had missed my chance to live such a life, and perhaps this is my punishment, one which I must bear. I had questioned your wisdom, damned you for my fate, and even lost my faith for a time. Now I come to give you thanks. I know that I was never fit to be the vessel of your word, and I begin to doubt many others understood their position either.
But I do not seek your blessings for myself, no, I only ask now that you may continue to give your blessing to those I love now and to keep the Wizard and Selene, wherever they may be, safe from harm.
May Darkness cover… no, may Love cover the land.”
Tingles ran through her core as she changed the traditional ending of the prayer to Dollora. Somehow it felt right saying that though, as if it was supposed to be that way. She basked in the feeling of contentment, of being under the power of something greater than herself for some time before she nodded her head and made to stand.
“Chaika… born of my sweet child. Go forth with my blessing and protect that which is in your heart.”
The construct froze in place as the whispers resonated within her spirit stone. Despite stabilization servos, her metallic hand trembled as she placed it upon her chest. She could swear her heart was beating, yet she knew this to be false, for she had no flesh. And yet, she was suffused with a warmth she couldn’t describe, as well as a sensation of dread.
“Ah… I have felt that before, if rarely.” Edda said, claws clicking as they came to rest upon Chaika’s shoulder. “Dollora has spoken to you.”
“I… I think I need to go.” Chaika said, standing with uneasy feet. “I have a feeling that something is happening… that I need to return home but…” She looked at her form, which was having trouble standing straight. “I think I’m malfunctioning.”
“Ufufufu.” Edda chuckled. “Dollora does not do things without reason. Give your body time to recover and your mind time to process her words. You will be there when you are meant to be there.”
Candlelight flickered around them again and Chaika looked up on a whim. Both sides of the face were fully illuminated, showing a line of candle wax that had run from a candle above the human side of her face. It caught upon her cheek and slowly trailed down her face before hardening, becoming one with the statue itself. The ominous feeling in her core remained as she whispered,
“I suppose I will have to have faith.”