The Spider Girl’s Toilette
Corporal Helvetia, Jumping Spider Mamono, crouched in front of a table in the Porter Barracks Common Room. On top of the table in front of her, were various items placed in a sort of semi-order. These items included several sheets of writing parchment, an ink bottle, a container of quill pens, a small framed picture, and a pair of cardboard boxes, one much smaller than the other.
Currently, she was writing a letter home. Or, she was attempting to finish writing a letter home. Oh, to be sure, she had completed most of what she wanted to write, it was that last, annoying, paragraph that was giving her the most trouble.
That paragraph was the one in which she needed to make a decision between, being honest, or being nice. In the last letter from home she’d received the news concerning Dame Zrihea’s recent passing at the advanced age of 91, a month ago.
Tia just crouched there leaning her head on one hand, staring off into space with a blank expression. Her other hand endlessly twirled a feathered quill back and forth between her thumb and fore finger. She’d been in a state of writer’s block for the last half hour.
Finally, with a sigh, she placed the quill down upon the parchment and covered her (main) eyes with her hands in frustration.
‘Seven years.’ She thought to herself, ‘Seven years it’s been, since Zrihea’s “Prophecy”, and what do I have to show for it?’ she asked herself. “In the city of the center you will find, the brother you seek from ancient time.” She quoted from memory the one line of the “Prophecy” that she could remember, without having to consult the parchment she’d written upon what she could recall of the rest.
‘That was the easy part. “City of the Center”, that’s what Cynosure means.’ Tia uncovered her eyes then, frowning. ‘It didn’t take a Spell Researcher to make THAT connection. Particularly after the Overlord’s DART (Demon Army Rescue Team) from Cynosure showed up to help the colony.’ After learning of that information, Tia ‘just knew’ that she was destined to join the Overlord’s Army, and directed all of her energy to gaining acceptance.
Blowing out her breath that she hadn’t been aware she was holding, ‘Considering that it’s been, what? Three years. Yes, Three years, since I came here, and what do I have to show for it?’ she thought angrily. ‘Everyone else, other than Kaori and I, who joined up at the same time, has gone home with a husband. SHARDS! Ina the White Horn has already had two children, one born and one on the way!’
Ina being a fellow recruit who had ‘captured’ a husband in one of the Anti-Order counter attacks a year and a half ago.
Tia clenched her hands tightly in frustration, ‘All I wanted was a brother: My Krampus Day gift wish. I endured Zrihea’s “Prophecy” and all the pain that it caused me, both physical and mental; then and since. Face it, Tia. You’ve become a Ripster.’ Tia grimaced sadly at the thought.
Tia then stiffened herself up, ‘I give up Zrihea. I’m not going to look for a brother anymore. This must have been some kind of practical joke you played on me. I just wish I could figure out what the punchline is.’
With new determination, Tia dipped her quill into the bottle of ink then proceeded to complete the last paragraph. She wrote, “I also wanted to thank you for telling me about Dame Zrihea’s passing. If it wasn’t for you, I’d probably never have found out about her. I did remember to send off a condolence card to her estate.”
Porter Barracks, Room #24
Biting back her tears of frustration, she was able to maintain her composure long enough to seal her letter with wax and placed it into the larger of the two boxes in front of her. She was about to place the picture in as well when she was interrupted by the sound of a friend’s voice.
“How ya going Tia?”
Tia looked towards the sound and smiled at what she saw. It was Vola, a Peacock Jumping Spider-Girl from an island to the south and east of Kumari Kandam. An island called, “Straya”.
Vola, like Tia, was covered with fur like most Jumpers. But unlike Tia’s black and white stripes, Vola’s fur was a riotous assemblage of multiple colors, particularly on her cephalothorax. Her always cheerful personality was a match to her coat. Tia could always count on her to cheer her up in just about any situation.
“Hello Vola, I’m fine. How are things with you?”
“Oh, I’m just peachy keen.’ Vola said, then peered over Tia’s shoulder, “What’s with the lot in front of ya, mate?”
“Oh this?” Tia said turning back to the table, “I’m putting together a package to send home.”
Vola picked up the picture and smiled at what she saw.“’Ere now, ain’t that a sight! Who’s the pretty girl?” Vola said with a wink, looking sidelong at Tia with one of her side eyes.
Tia laughed, it felt good to laugh for a change. “Me, silly!” she said with a smile starting to form.
“’ey now! This here ain’t one of them…Dagger Types, innit?” Vola said quizzically with a tilt to her head, peering closely at the photo.
“What makes you say that, Vola.” Tia said with a sly smirk.
“I’ve seen plenty of them types, but none of the lot have anything like color. This here one does. I can see the blue of yer main eyes, along with the blue of yer eye band.”
“If you look closely, you can even see the blue of my lips.” Vola squinted her main eyes, and held the framed picture even closer to her face.
“Oi, there it is! By Golly Tia, this is a ripping piece of art it is! Who’s it for? Your Fiancee back at home?” Vola noticed Tia wilt at that question.
“Oh darling, I’m sorry! I clean forgot.” Vola frowned, all worried about her thoughtlessness.
“It’s alright Vola.” Tia smiled to let Vola know that she wasn’t hurt (too much), by her remark. “Actually it’s for my family back home. They’ve been asking me for a picture of me in uniform. So they can ‘have something to show off’ to everyone.”
“Ah that’s sweet as! So is it a Dagger Type? I understand you can have them painted if you so desire.”
“No it’s not.” Tia grinned in triumph. “It’s much better than a Daguerreotype. It’s a Cowfeatype!”
“Cow-Fee-a-Type? Hang on! I think I’ve heard of ‘im! Innit that the new bloke down at Artist’s Square?” Vola asked curiously with her tongue sticking out, in thought.
“That’s the one! As you can see, Monsieur Cowfee does some excellent work. He’s taken the Daguerreotype process and improved it to include colors. The best thing about him? He’s not that much more expensive.”
“Oh Crikey, I think I may have to go and get one done up of me then, you know, for me mate back ‘ome.”
“Oh please do! He could use the business, and he’s also quite the hard worker. He does nothing less than his best when he works.”
“Good on ya! I’ll do that. So, what else are ye be sending off to yer Oldies?”
“Well other than the letter, I’m sending them off a box of my newest favorite chocolates”
“Newest’ favs? What could be better than Toad Crunch, Tia?” Vola asked, all curious.
“It’s a brand imported from the Musume world, the proprietor of the Chocolate Shoppe highly recommended it, though she did mention that it is rather expensive.’
“Fair enough, what’s it called?” Vola said peering once again over Tia’s shoulder.
“It’s called: S.E.Sweets, hand made by a Holstaur by the name of Rinaata.”
“Oh, interesting name Tia, care to fancy me a bite?” Vola asked all hopeful.
“Sorry Vola, but I’d prefer to keep this box unopened.” Vola looked a bit crestfallen, which Tia noticed. “But I promise that the next time I purchase a box, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Fair enough?” Vola perked back up at that.
“Ah I was just wanting a nibble is all..” she said hopefully.
“The problem Vola, is that when I tried one piece from my first box, I couldn’t stop.”
“Get out Tia! You’re a battler!”
“Honestly Vola, once I had a taste of it, I just practically gobbled them until they were all gone. Once you’ve had a taste, you’ll find out why, I’d bet you’d not be able to stop with just one piece either,” Vola looked thoughtful.
“Fair Enough Tia! Care to make a wager? If I don’t find it as good as you say it is, you’ll buy me a whole box of Toad Crunch?”
“That I will Vola.” Tia said, “And when I win?”
“I’ll buy you a box of ‘em S.E.Sweets.” Tia just smiled a wicked smile in response. Vola seemed a bit surprised at that. ‘I wonders what I just got meself into.’ She thought to herself.
Seeking to change the subject, Vola asked, “Hang on, any news about that Mentoree of yours, whasers name again?”
“Annwyfn Arawn. The last update I got of her is that she’s relaxing at a spot called: The Covet Corner Hotel. I’m not sure I know of it.”
“Oh get out!” Vola said excitedly, “I’ve been there! It’s a fair dinkum spot! In fact I’d be surprised if ol’ Arawn doesn’t show up dragging ‘erself a bloke from there!”
“Really?” Tia asked quickly, her eyes widening with interest.
“Bloody Oath, Tia! Though there ain’t no guarantees ‘bout ‘ow long you’d be there, anyone who has gone and stayed invariably gets themselves the bloke of their dreams, I did!”
“Oh my.” Was all Tia could say to that rather intriguing idea. She stayed silent in thought for an extended time.
“Is there any word on the repair status of the Spider-Bath, Vola?” Tia asked, suddenly.
Vola was Fort Eequor’s number one Repair-Mason. Or as Vola put it, ‘The Fort’s best ‘Chippie-Brickie’. It seemed like that Cynosure in general, and Fort Eequor in particular, was always suffering either an attack from the Order, or a magical mishap or two from some blundering idiot of a spell caster, so something always needed repairs.
“Fraid not Tia, it’s still all chock a block since Kaori’s big night, I’ve been flat out like a lizard drinking, battling it.”
Kaori the Ushi-Oni, against all the rules, had snuck in her human lover to the Spider-Bath after hours; for some ‘privacy’. The result being, she had gotten a bit rambunctious in her enthusiasm and ended up breaking a few walls and columns.
“Shards. I had hoped to be able to get in a decent bath, what with all of the dust of late.”
“No worries, Tia. I know of a bath that serves us Mamono that is a right beaut. It’s just outside the East Gate. It be called: The Diving Bell.”
“Oh, I think I’ve passed by that a couple of times. I never paid much attention to it before.” Tia replied.
“Aye, it’s a joint run by some of them Orderites. But don’t let that worry you any.”
“Are you sure?” Tia asked concerned.
Vola spoke with enthusiasm, “Ay! No wuccas! I’ve been there at least half a dozen times since they opened. I never had me a problem. In fact, they seem to go out of their ways to make us Mamono feel welcome. Also, they have a sheila on hand to help us Spider Mamono out with our scrubbings. As we always need an extra hand or two for a proper washing and all.”
“Ok, thanks Vola, I appreciate it. I’ll be sure to give them a try.”
(The next day).
‘Great Maou! It’s just one Damned Thing after another!’, Helvetia thought to herself at the controls of her Teleportation Platform (#11).
Tia took a quick break while her platform ran its automatic internal self-diagnostic. Looking over at Sundia’s platform, she saw that a pair of Red Oni, were having trouble keeping their own newly teleported Damned Thing under control. ‘It’s good to see I’m not the only one having to deal with these obnoxious creatures!’ None of the Damned Things cared for the Teleportation process and let everyone and everything around them know about it.
Damned Things are a six legged, 4 meter tall, exo-skeletal animal native to the plains of Royal Makai. They tended to be as black as sin, with an attitude comparable to a Dragon, and (fortunately) utterly delicious as a meat animal.
They were also known as: The Makai Long Pig, due to their superficial resemblance to the Terrestrial Hippo. They were one of the few holdovers from previous Demon Lords that had survived the regime change.
The Fort’s Mess Hall, kept a large pen of them to augment the protein needs of its soldiers and support staff, and today was one of their sporadic delivery days. This meant that the ‘Porter’s had their hands (or equivalent) full teleporting them in from their native habitat. One distinct advantage of these creatures was the fact that they liked to be eaten! As such, they were more economical to maintain until needed. If not for these obnoxious animals, the Demon Army would have had to resort to the overabundant yet bland, sea animals, to fulfill its constant protein needs.
‘Fifty down, twenty to go!’ Tia thought to herself wearily, ‘Good thing the Damned Things only need to be brought in once in a great while.’
Just then, her platform controls signaled its readiness for the next arrival. Tia waved to a pair of Red Oni who had standing by to get ready to take control of the next beast. She had to wave, since the squeals and buglings of the Damned Things in the Teleportation Pavilion made it near impossible to hold a proper conversation.
After the last Damned Thing had been hauled away, Tia Looked down at the pathway in between the Teleportation platforms. She noted with a sour look, that this season’s especially thick storm dust had mixed in with Damned Thing dung, and as a result had created a nasty quagmire of oozy muck that had splattered onto nearly every surface. Running a hand through her fur, she noted that she had acquired a thick coating of grime.
Never mind the fact that it was a couple days ahead of her normal weekly bath time. She decided that she really needed to clean up. Jumping spiders, whether tiny like the ones you normally see scuttling about in nature, or large like Tia was, are fastidious when it comes to personal cleanliness.
After checking at the Fort’s Demonic Postal office for any incoming correspondence, Helvetia decided to head to the Spider-Bath before getting something to eat; despite her skipping her normal breakfast of a Large Isopod in the morning before her duty shift.
‘I probably wouldn’t be allowed to step into the Mess Hall as dirty as I am now, anyways. That Postal employee did seem rather green around the edges.’ She mused to herself. ‘But then Lizardmen usually are.’
So, after that, she went to her Barrack room and divested herself of her duty uniform (gorget). Tia picked up her bathing kit, including her new long handled curry brush, that she was happy she found. It was of the kind that held up so well to the depredations that a furry Jumper Mamono subjected it to. She was halfway to the Fort’s Spider Bath when she suddenly remembered.
‘Oh No!’ she said to smacking herself on her forehead, ‘Kaori!’, Tia winced in remembrance, ‘I guess it’s time to try out that new bath house that Vola recommended.’
So, Tia changed course and headed to the Diving Bell. Along her route of the alleys, she noted that though the ever-present city cats were in evidence, none of them allowed her to get within arm’s reach of them.
Tia frowned at the memory of her first few weeks at Eequor. ‘I thought that all of the cats were vermin, and that no one would mind my eating a couple.’ She groused. ‘I’ve learned since then what they mean to the city folk. I wish I could find a way to make it up to them.’
Within a short order, she was standing in front of, “The Diving Bell.” It looked pretty much like every other Cynosure Style Bathing House. A plain façade on the outside marked only by the entrance and the universal logo of an onsen: A tub with idealized steam rising up from it.
Before entering, she winced as she paid her entrance fee. It wasn’t a price out of the world, but it was a bit more than she expected. She then handed over to the locker attendant her ever present bandolier and loincloth. This was a Human woman with red hair streaked with grey with a cheerful attitude.
The attendant asked, after giving her a chit for her belongings, “Will Madam require a Washing Attendant?” Tia looked quizzically at her, the human woman just smiled and explained, “It is someone to assist you in washing, as we are aware that Spider Mamono often need an extra set of hands. There is no additional charge for the service.” Suddenly Tia remembered what Vola had said yesterday concerning a ‘sheila’. Tia nodded and thanked her.
Moving on to the main bathing area she was met by a dark-haired woman dressed in a leather bikini, who introduced herself (with a bow) as her Washing Attendant, “May the Light of Her Truth Fall Upon you, oh Spider Mamono. My name is Toromo Unsala, and may I please inquire as to your name?”
“Thank you Toromo, my name is Helvetia. But call me Tia, please.” Tia was a bit unsure about the woman, there was something ‘off’ about her that she just couldn’t pin down, try as she might.
“As you wish Tia. If you would, follow me to the Spider-washing chamber.” She then moved off looking over her shoulder to indicate that Tia should follow her. Tia did.
No more than a couple dozen (human) steps later, Tia was in a tile covered anteroom just off the main bathing area. She could see several other (non-Spider) Mamono and humans in various stages of bathing. Nothing untoward seemed to be occurring to any of her eyes.
Using an overhead spigot and a hose, Toromo began to rinse Tia off with warm water. “Just please stay still Tia, I will be the one doing most of the work for your cleansing.” Toromo smiled as she spoke.
“Why would you do that?” Tia asked curiously.
“We are well aware that Spider Mamono do not care to dip themselves into the main pool to either rinse or wash. I believe it has something to do with the way you breathe?” Toromo said, concentrating on getting the worst of the muck off of Tia’s abdomen. The greyish water flowed off of Tia’s fur and down onto the floor of the anteroom, then subsequently into a convenient square drain.
“You are correct Toromo, it is.” Toromo smiled. “It’s mostly due to the fact that I have two sets of lungs.”
“Oh? How is that?” She asked, curiously.
“Well, I have the set of lungs here in the human-looking part of me.” Tia said, tapping her chest. “But I also have another set down in my cephalothorax.” Tia said raising same. “Those are called, Book Lungs.”
“So shouldn’t all those lungs allow you the ability to hold your breath longer?” Toromo asked, moving her rinsing to Tia’s Cephalothorax.
“With my human looking part, I can and do. But the spider part of me has spiracles, and I don’t have that kind of control over them I’m afraid.”
“Ah,” said Toromo. “Thus you would drown if you were immersed in water too long then?”
“Correct. In fact, I find that if there is something that smells offensive, I have no choice but to bear with it until I can get away.” Tia didn’t notice then, Toromo’s quick smile of glee. Toromo then went and rinsed Tia’s human looking parts. Tia relaxed at that point, it was nice to have someone else in charge for a change! All she had to do was stand there.
Toromo had by now finished with the rinsing off. She then reached for a large bucket filled with a soapy froth. She then took a sponge and started to work it all into Tia’s fur.
“Oh Great Maou! That feels nice!” Tia exclaimed. Toromo merely smiled.
They were both silent for a while, as Toromo worked on getting every square centimeter of Tia’s fur good and properly worked with soap.
After a while longer, Tia asked, “When I entered you said something about Light and Truth?”
Toromo replied, “Yes I did. It is a benediction that we of the Heilar-Orderites bestow upon all who enter here…is there something wrong?” Toromo paused, as she felt Tia go all tense.
Tia looked over at her nervously. Toromo then smiled and said, “Ah I think I can understand your reaction. You were not aware of us. Let me please reassure you that we are not of the same kind of the Orderites who attack Mamono. They, are the ones who follow the foul words and deeds of the one called Father Hakon.”
Tia relaxed a bit then, but she was still a bit unsure. Toromo noted that and continued, “I and my family, along with the others who work here at the Diving Bell, are all adherents of the Order who follow the words and deeds of Father Heilar.”
“And how are the two different?” Tia asked, all set to start jumping out of the place.
Toromo didn’t take offense, or didn’t appear to. “The Hakon followers believe much as the followers of the Order do in the lands to the West. That they have the right to murder Mamono because their own misinterpretations the Holy Words of the Chief God, Ilias.”
By then, Toromo had finished with the working in of the soap, and resumed her use of the overhead spigot to rinse Tia off
She continued, “Father Heilar, on the other hand, has shown us, that Hakon and the rest of the Order are in grave error. He has demonstrated to us the superiority of his readings of the Chief Gods’ Holy Words.”
“For example, I quote from Ilia’s Holy Book: ‘Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the Chief God of love and peace will be with you.’ 2nd Lusitanians 13:11.” Toromo quoted.
Tia decided that she did feel a bit better, after hearing that from an Orderite.
“Are you also aware that there are in fact Spider Mamono who can swim?” Toromo asked Tia
“Yes, there are,” Tia replied, “But I cannot recall what their name is.
Toromo replied, “I do know, they are called: Diving Bell Spider-Mamono. “
“Oh!” Tia exclaimed, “I take it…?”
“Correct Tia, our bath house is named after them. Our leader, Father Heilar did so expressly for the purpose of trying to help the Spider Mamono. Father Heilar has pointed out that since the Chief God created Mamono along with Humanity, that the Order should instead find ways to not only accept the inevitability of The Great Maou, but to do what we can to encourage munificence between our two peoples.”
“Thus, this is the Light of the Truth that I wished bestowed upon you, at your arrival.” Toromo finished, not only with her speech, but also with the rinsing. Tia thought this was all odd, but kept her silence.
“I believe now is the time for the obligatory shaking?” Toromo inquired of Tia.
“Yes, I will wait until you’re clear.” Tia did, and gave herself a good shake. The anteroom was filled with a spray of water droplets, most of whom bounced off of the walls, but only a drop or two made it back to Tia’s fur. Toromo returned to Tia, carrying a long handled curry comb. Tia smiled at the sight.
Later, after an extended combing, Tia was feeling much better when she left the anteroom. After fastening on her loincloth and latching on her bandolier, she thanked Toromo for her kind words and help.
“Thank You Toromo, your washing and combing of me was wonderful!” Toromo merely smiled and bowed to Tia.
Tentatively, Tia spoke in farewell, “May the Light of Her Truth Fall Upon You Toromo!”
Toromo replied automatically, “I worship Her Divine Truth. Come again Corporal Tia.” And with that, Tia smiled and departed, totally not noticing that at no time during her conversation did she mention her rank.
Toromo watched the Spider Girl depart and once she was out of sight, she looked over to her right. There a short distance away, was a man dressed in the standard Order Priest outfit of black cloth. In addition to the black outfit he also had a black mask that covered his face and head. Seeing him, Toromo gave a single sharp nod. The man in black bowed in acknowledgment and set out to perform the deed she had silently commanded him to.
Following the same path home that she took to get to the bath, Tia felt that there was something odd along the way. Stopping, she observed in that manner that all Jumping Spiders were good at.
After a while she realized what was wrong. ‘Cats. There are no cats here. Why?’ Carefully, she calmed her breathing, and Listened. There was nothing other than the sounds of the nearby streets. But not one cat sound. ‘How odd.’ Normally there would be at least one cat meowing.
Suddenly her ears perked up- there was some cat screeching. But it too, sounded- Wrong. Changing her course she followed the sound as best she could. Turning one corner after another in the maze of alleyways she soon came across an interesting sight: Two men were working on putting a struggling alley cat into a cloth bag. The cat obviously didn’t like that, as it was still screeching and scratching as much as it could at the man trying to hold it still. The one holding the bag was doing what he could to keep another cat in it from getting out.
Tia saw it all and her first reaction was to shout, “HEY!” The two men stopped and looked over at her. “Stop That! Let him go!” she cried. It was then she noticed that the two men were wearing the Orderite clothing of all black.
The first man looked at the second and then dropped his cat, who ran off. The second man drew the strings of the bag and its cat, and dropped it on the ground. They then turned to her and smiled.
The first man said tauntingly, “Oooh lookie here. We’ve got ourselves an Itsy Bitsy! Whassa matta Itsy Bitsy? Are you wanting some more pussy to eaties?” He then started to approach her.
The second man kept silent as he too started to approach Tia.
Tia replied coldly, “I want you to let the other cat go.”
The two men laughed at that together, still walking towards her. “Oh no worries bout that Itsy Bitsy! We have every intention of letting them poor pusses go, after we get back to base. After all, our Master has a good use for them!” He stopped at one side of the alley about ten feet from her, but the other stepped to the other side, at the same distance.
Tia decided that things were working up as expected with these two bullies. She then reached into one of her bandolier pockets and pulled slightly out of it a leather covered rod, and maintained her grip.
She also lay down her bathing kit upon the cobblestones beneath all of her feet. She just kept her main eyes on the first man, and one of her side eyes on the second, remaining silent all the while.
The first man stopped smiling and then reached into a bag at his belt, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on her. He then pulled out what appeared to be a ball of some kind. Focusing her eyes, it appeared to be a yellowish bladder filled with a liquid that made the bladder slosh about. She also noticed that the second man paled at the sight. “Elis, No!” he whispered.
The first man/Elis ignored him and made as if to throw the ball at Tia. Tia decided then was the time to act. With a well-practiced motion, Tia drew forth her Demon Silver Sword out of her bandolier pocket, despite the fact that there was no way that such a short sword could have fit into it.
Tia had chosen to invest in a sword-sheath sized Pocket Dimension; that investment of hers more than paid for itself that day.
Elis completed his throw and Tia watched it begin its trajectory towards her. The second man froze, all agape at his companion’s action. Tia didn’t panic as the projectile came towards her, despite the fact that it was some kind of weapon.
Instead, she chose to be ‘In The-Moment’ that Andra, her Salamander Arms-Instructor had drilled into her with countless hours of exercise, along with several hours of battlefield practice of her own, had taught her to find.
Effortlessly, she caught the bladder with the flat of her blade and then, flipping her blade over with an extended flip of her wrist, she ‘allowed’ the forward momentum of the bladder to continue onto a new arc- directly towards the second of the two men. He didn’t notice its new course, until just before it impacted him, which was too late.
Just then, with one of her lateral eyes, Tia noticed, several other men running towards her from behind. They too were all in black, only they had their heads and faces covered.
Tia then did what came naturally: She Jumped, causing her to sail over the first two men by several feet. Elis was frozen in shock at the sight, where his companion had started to scream, at what, she couldn’t see.
She couldn’t see, because Tia had chosen to focus her attention on grabbing the bag that the second man had dropped to the ground, the one with the cat still in it, squirming away trying to escape.
She landed precisely where she had intended to, on top of but not impacting the cat bag. With her free hand, she was able to swiftly pick it up as she continued running down the alley away from her pursuers.
Stowing the bagged cat under one arm she continued running down the alley, all the while pulling out another item from another one of her bandolier pockets: a whistle. She then raised it to her lips and blew out the alarm.
She continued running down the alley towards Eequor proper, but it didn’t take long before her alarm was answered. A team of Kunoichi soon appeared leaping from and climbing down the walls of the alley nearest her. Their leader deftly jumped down into Tia’s path, who then stopped before plowing into her. Turning, Tia pointed behind her towards her pursuers. It was then, she noticed that they had chosen to not follow her.
Naturally, the Kunoichi leader was curious as to the source of her alarm, and so Tia explained as quickly as she could what had happened. While doing so, she crouched down and undid the drawstring of the bag. The bag’s prisoner quickly took advantage of the situation and leaped out in a grey furry arc, then took off running as fast and as far away as her paws would allow. Not once did she look back. Tia couldn’t blame her.
The Kunoichi leader sent half her squad to investigate the spot Tia had run from. A minute later one of them returned motioning to have them follow, both Tia and the Leader did so. There was quite a sight to behold near the spot where Tia had left her bathing kit.
Where the second man had been, was now a large red tinged mass of foam, out of which several bones and black cloth were sticking.
Naturally, neither Tia nor the Kunoichi got too close to it all. There was no sign of Elis.
‘I’m SO GLAD I invested in that pocket dimension’ Tia thought to herself as she smartly placed her sword back into it and its proper spot in her bandolier.
Tia crouched dejectedly next to a bench outside the Fort’s commanding officer’s Office (General Scathach (Dullahan)). Her immediate supervisor, Sergeant Andra (Salamander), sat next to her, trying to cheer her up. Tia had been brought up on charges of failing to obey General Order Number One: “Keep them alive. (Humans)”
“Look Corporal, this Court Martial won’t affect your chances of making Sergeant. It’s just protocol. Yes, you were involved in an action that resulted in the death of a civilian. But it was a death that could’ve been avoided if he or his friend hadn’t attacked you.” Tia kept silent. Finally, after a few seconds, Tia looked up from her funk and stared into Sgt. Andra’s face.
Tia replied, “I’m not depressed about my career chances, Sergeant. I’m depressed about the fact that I killed a man. Yes, I know it was practically unavoidable, but still…” she trailed off.
“Well yes, that can be rather hard to learn to live with. Just to let you know you’re not alone, I too have had to do that.” Tia looked over at her with surprise. Andra gave her a sad smile.
“Yes, it’s true. This isn’t the first time some of the Orderites have tried to kill a Mamono. I imagine that it won’t be the last either.” Tia just grimaced at that bit of news.
“Some fool of an Orderite attacked some Mamono children with a sword once. I was there. He chose to attack me when I got in his way.” Tia smiled. “The main thing to remember is that you also didn’t kill the other male, what was his name? Elis?” Tia nodded.
“And,” Andra continued. Tia looked over at her, “We also got an idea of what weapons The Orderites have in store for us. This will give us a leg up on finding a way to counter them in the future.” Tia did give out an honest smile then.
“And most importantly,” Andra continued, “You demonstrated that all of my training of you wasn’t wasted. Good job.” Tia, for some reason, felt much better then.
As it turned out, Sgt. Andra was correct. Tia was found innocent of violating orders and was allowed to return to duty the next day. Taking the rest of that day off, she went off to purchase herself a box of chocolates to keep her promise to Vola.
Turning a corner along the way to the Chocolate Shoppe, she noticed a white and orange cat sitting in the middle of the alley facing her. Tia stopped and looked at it, it just sat there looking back at her, unmoving. Suddenly, the cat got up from its sit, and sauntered over to stop just in front of her. Tia stood there in astonishment. The city cats had NEVER gotten that close to her before!
The cat looked at her for a second more, then blinked up at her. It then went over to her foremost leg and rubbed itself against her. After doing so, it launched itself down the alley behind her, passing underneath her legs along the way, going to wherever cats need to be-immediately.
This, cheered Tia up something fierce. Smiling, Tia proceeded along to her own destination, albeit at a much less rate of speed than the cats’.
Deep underneath the limestone hills of Cynosure stood a man dressed in the black robes of a Priest of the Order. He was just standing there with his arms behind his back, in a large cavern that was filled with towering columns and piles of flowstone. Next to him was a lit torch affixed to a stand that illuminated the rock pillars.
The floor of the cave was carved into rectangular blocks interspersed with smaller blocks acting like a form of cement. This resulted in an almost perfectly level surface. The smoothness of the blocks’ surface was marred by innumerable Stalagmites and Stalactites that had, over untold numbers of Millenia, dripped into existence atop of it. Off to one side, sat a large metallic-looking ovoid about a man’s height. It too was covered by the marks of flowstone, just not as thickly. It was almost as if it were a relatively recent adornment.
But the man paid no mind to these wonders. Instead, all of his attention was focused upon the shaft of odd light that arose from the floor in front of him and then projected upwards to the distant and unobservable ceiling above.
The light was odd in that it never reflected off of any of the wet surfaces of the flowstone or the metallic ovoid. It was almost, as if it wasn’t really there, thus the need for the torch. Despite all that, the column of light was difficult to look at, it being so bright-but only when you looked at it. But what lay suspended inside of the light, was odder still.
At first glance, it would appear as a sword supported by nothing more than air. It spun laterally and slowly in an endless cycle. If someone dared to look closely enough, that one person would note strange runes running from the pommel all the way down to the point. The runes themselves were of a language that the Order Priest did not recognize, despite the fact that he considered himself a scholar of ancient and forgotten runes.
These runes did not act ‘normal’. Normal runes would remain in place once inscribed. These runes acted as if they were playing a child’s game of hide and go seek with the observer. Focus on one, shift to the one next to it, then return, and the original rune would have been replaced with another. It was akin to that strange sensation you would get trying to watch your eyes move in a mirror.
Every day, the sword was a different sword. Today, it was a one-handed Rapier. The day before that, it was a Scimitar. The day before that, a Gladius. If you stared at it long enough, you’d get the nagging notion that the sword wasn’t really there. Or, that was the opinion of the Order Priest who stood gazing in lustful admiration of it.
The man stood there for a long while and then said out loud, “Come now Father, I can hear you breathing behind me. Surely you’re still not angry about what happened so long ago in Arcadia?”
An unseen voice answered savagely, “How can I not be? He was my Son!”
The first priest replied in an even tone, “As I recall, your son was the one who usurped the position meant for you. Remember? That position of prestige and power that you ‘worked’ for, nearly all of your life.”
The unseen voice, merely growled in response. The first priest patiently kept his peace, until finally the second priest spoke again, “I cannot forgive you for what you did.”
“What I did was necessary. After all, your Son broke his word. And when he did, he imperiled our mission and our ultimate goal. If not for your own quick actions, we’d not be here today.”
The second priest stepped forward into the torch light. He was a man twenty years younger than the first priest, but his face with marked with many a worry line and wrinkle. His hair was starting to turn grey, unlike the totally grey hair of the first priest. The face of younger man was marked with a frown of loathing directed at the older.
The second priest spoke bitterly, “And what do we have to show for it all? Half a world away from my home, in this beastly hot hell hole! Preaching the Word of Illias to a bunch of uncaring fools! Scraping by, on the leftovers these fools knock off of their tables. And for what? Just so that we can stand in front of an ancient artifact that we can’t even touch?”
The first man just stayed silent, allowing his underling to vent. The indulgence was necessary occasionally. Otherwise that young fool might be tempted to do something stupid. That, would require the first priest to expend precious resources that would divert him from his true goal. Such, was something he would prefer to not do, yet.
The first priest continued, “I take it that by your furtive entrance into this vault, the test was less than successful?”
“I’m afraid so.” The second man replied.
“Report!”, the first commanded. The second priest stepped forward and positioned himself to the right of the first.
He said sarcastically, “The test of the Contagion was a success in that we now know that it works as well against Humans as it does cats.” Getting no response, he continued.
“We lost a man.”
“Anlas, Elis’ companion. The spider Mamono was able to deflect the Contagion Balloon that was thrown at her onto him.”
“According to Elis, she used a sword.”
“A sword? I commanded that any chosen test subjects were not to be armed.”
“Apparently this Spider Mamono kept her sword in a pocket dimension on her person.”
“Interesting. The Mamono show yet another bit of creativity.” The first priest sighed. “And agility. Therefore, we will have to find another method of delivering the product, and another way of choosing test subjects.” He stayed silent for a bit longer.
After a few seconds, he continued, “Elis, you say? He wasn’t supposed to be part of the testing team. What happened?”
“Apparently the Spider Mamono was distracted by the sound of Elis and his companion collecting more cats for your testing of this ‘artifact’ of yours.” The second priest gestured to the ‘not-sword’.
The first man sighed again, this time he spoke with a hint of anger. “Elis again. I am finding myself growing quite perturbed with his bumbling. Was he identified?”
“According to him, no.” The first man’s countenance darkened.
“Investigate closer. If it turns out he’s lying, then well…he can take the place of one of the cats.”
“What of Anlas?”
“What of him?”
“He died in your service. Surely his family deserves to have something for his work?”
“He died in service to Ilias, undoubtedly he is in Her arms now. You can always give his family your condolences.”
“Why not you?”
“It would hardly be fitting for me to give them, after all, we preach two different ideologies of Her,” he said with a smile.
“And what is the point of us teaching two different interpretations anyways?” The younger man demanded.
The older priest drew a deep breath and turned to look at the younger directly into his eyes, speaking with a barely controlled ire, “The point, Father, is a variant of the ‘Good Guard versus Bad Guard’ argument dynamic. If we both preached the same Word I do, no one would pay attention to us. If we preached your Word, we’d get the attention of the City Guard. We both don’t want that, now do we?” The second Priest kept silent as he broke eye contact.
The first continued, “With our synergistic Preaching, we gain attention and donations from both sides of those concerned with the Mamono question in Cynosure: Scandal Sells. Try to keep up.” The second priest seethed at the first’s mocking.
The first Priest spoke dismissively, “That will be all Father Hakon. May the Light of Her Truth Fall Upon You.”
Father Hakon spoke automatically, “I worship the Light of Her Truth. Good night Father Heilar.” He moved off and away, thinking to himself, ‘Somehow, some day, I will make you pay for what you did to my Son!”
Father Heilar ignored the younger priest as he departed. Instead, he continued to contemplate the beauty that lay before him. ‘Someday, I will find a way to access your secrets. On that day, Ilias will bless me and my efforts on Her behalf!”