Far to the west of Angel’s Fall, a mighty, well-garrisoned fortress stood under the bleak night sky. It was Fort Eonoir, the sole military encampment on Graeme’s eastern coast.
Surrounded on all sides by thick stone walls running ten meters high, four watchtowers were built into each corner, an intimidating ballista lying in wait atop each of them.
It was a dark night, and thick clouds still hung in the air from the storm that raged a few nights prior. On the end of it’s stone path, standing vigilant right before the fort’s iron gate, two legionaries stood guard. A javelin, parma, and lit oil lantern hung loosely at each one’s side. While the guard on the right stared straight into the darkness with a cold but alert expression, the left’s eyes drooped down as he looked just about ready to fall into bed.
“Damn… I hate being stuck on lookout duty.” the left guard whined to his partner between yawns, “It’s so freakin’ boring. Nothing ever interesting happens here, ‘specially not in the dead of night.”
“Just shut up and do your job. You should consider yourself lucky you’re in some backwater country like Graeme instead of out fighting on the front lines. I don’t envy those poor bastards.” the one on the right scolded.
“Yeah… I guess you’re right. Better bored than dead.”
Suddenly, the guards sensed movement before them. The one on the right unclipped his lantern and lifted it higher into the air, while the one on the left brandished his shield and held his javelin forward.
“Hey, stop where you are!” the right guard ordered, pressing his lantern forward to illuminate the dark figure before them. It was a man wrapped up in a black cloak, not making a single sound as he creeped towards the gate. His face was masked in shadow, and the wary guards couldn’t make out any of his features.
“What do you think you’re doing?! This place is property of the Holy Legion military, pal. Get lost!” the left guard ordered, aiming the tip of his spear at the man’s belly.
The dark figure totally ignored them, continuing to slink forward until they were only a few feet apart. The left guard snarled at the stranger’s impudence.
“What, are you fucking stupid or something? You know, I should skewer your sorry ass! But I’m in a good mood today, so take a hike right now and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
The cloaked figure stopped, but didn’t respond. With a grunt and sigh, the right guard stepped forward, “Hey, buddy, can you even hear us?”
“Hey!” called a third night guard from the fort’s ramparts, “Is that fella giving you two any trouble?”
“He won’t answer us… I think he might be… well, you know- challenged. Don’t worry, I have a cousin like him. I’ll handle this.” the right guard called back towards his fellow legionary.
Swiveling back towards the stranger, the right guard stepped forward, “So… can we help ya out, pal? You shouldn’t be here, ya know. We can take you back to your family if you’re lost…”
Still no response. If it weren’t for the incessant chirping of the crickets, only a tense silence would have hung over the three.
“Sorry…” the cloaked figure finally piped up, his hood billowing as he looked past both guards and towards the iron gate, “I was just thinking- can I cleave through both of you at once? I’m still having trouble gauging my power.”
Now mad as a hornet, the left guard reared back his javelin, “Alright, that’s it! You’re going down, you son of a-”
With the speed of a hawk and strength of a rhino, something huge, green, and slimy bursted forth from under the stranger’s cloak. His body pivoted in motion with its swing, slicing through both guards like their armor was made of wet paper.
Both of them were knocked against the gate by the sheer force of the attack, dropping to the ground with their guts flayed open. Returning to a standing position from the swing, the figure’s freakish arm came to a rest.
Running down to his knee, it ended with three ferocious claws. It was made entirely of green sludge, but those claws looked like they hardened into stone at the very tips.
The guard atop the wall watched this all with eyes as large as saucers. Trembling in his armor, he turned towards another guard manning the ballista, “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK! SOUND THE-”
Aiming the claw up towards the wall, the cloaked figure fired off one of his massive fingers, and the sharp digit hit the panicked guard right in his jugular. Stumbling backwards, the guard tipped right over the side of the wall and landed within the fort with a sickening crunch.
Hopping from his ballista, the fourth guard quickly pulled a lever to his side. Soon after, a bell in the center of the camp began ringing loud and clear, summoning the fort’s occupants to arms.
“Ah, it’s refreshing to just rush in without worrying about stealth for a change…” the attacker mused, grabbing hold of the gate’s iron bars. With a heavy grunt, he pried them open and stepped through the gaping hole.
As he had figured, Fort Eonoir was organized just like all the other forts in the Legion, although this one was on the smaller side. Looking to the right, he spotted the barracks, already abuzz with awakened soldiers. Checking to the left, he spotted the stables, granary, well, and workshop. The commander’s headquarters lay across the dirt path before him, sitting dead center in the middle of the fort.
Rushing in from the ramparts and pouring onto the dirt roads, the cloaked man was surrounded by the remainder of the night guard.
“Kill this freak!” cried the guards from behind, ten lined up in a row and aiming javelins at his back. Another five approached from his right, aiming loaded crossbows at his head.
“Akami.” the devil of a man called to the night, throwing the legionaries for a loop. It sounded like a name, but none they were familiar with.
“Fire!” one of the crossbowmen cried, shooting out his bolt. His fellows soon followed his lead.
Not so much as flinching under his hood, the cloaked figure hardened his slimy forearm and waved it about, knocking each and every bolt out of the crisp night air. As the legionaries reloaded, the cloaked man made his move.
Unfurling his three monstrous fingers, he launched a flurry of hardened spikes from his palm. Lashing out his hand, he fired off a countless number of the odd projectiles in a single motion and filled the legionaries like pincushions.
“Not bad…” the man in the black cloak mused, flexing out his three clawed fingers and nodding in approval.
“YOU’LL PAY FOR THAT!” roared one of the ten night guards facing his back, all of them stomping the ground as they rushed him.
From out of the inky darkness of the night, a massive string of web, thick as rope and durable as steel, launched out from the side and landed on the wave of troops.
“Took you long enough, Akami.” the cloaked man said towards the shadows where the web had launched.
“Sorry, Cronan~” a deep feminine voice rang back in apology.
Now stuck to each other and the ground, the legionaries could only watch in horror as a monster scuttled out of the shadows, moving across the interior of their fort’s mighty wall with eight, hairy legs. Pushing off from the wall and landing before the webbed troopers, she smiled down at them with a sadistic grin.
The monster took the form of a massive, hairy spider for her bottom half. While her skin was a sickly shade of green, it was both smooth and healthy. Massive swirling lines of black ran all over her body, and it was difficult to tell what was fur, what were tattoos, and what was simply cloth.
But she wasn’t just part arachnid. Out of her messy black hair, a pair of yellowish-green bullhorns extended, as well as a pair of furry cow ears the same color of her hair. A strange red strip of cloth wrapped around her head, covering up her left eye. On that cloth were several strange symbols from a land to the far east, the same land the bovine arachnid originated.
“W-what kind of arachne is that?!” one soldier trapped in the webs cried, struggling against the thick, sticky webbing.
“Arachne? I’m no arachne… I’m an Ushi Oni.”
The webbed down legionaries cried in horror, helplessly watching as the spider swung out her massive hairy claws, reducing each and every one of them to shreds.
“Good to see you again, Akami. Where’s Scarlet?”
“Don’t worry. She’ll get here soon.”
“Soon? When’s ‘soon’? She flew us over here quickly, but she should be ready by now. How much longer until she’s fully rested?”
“Ah, you know. Soon.” Akami answered.
Cronan sighed in annoyance, shaking his head from side-to-side, “Ah, it doesn’t matter. With my new powers, I could raze this whole damned fortress on my own. Everyone here is soft… none of them have seen real combat in their lives.”
“Heh. Don’t get cocky, Cronan.” the Ushi Oni laughed, cleaning off her bloody claw and using it to reach under his hood and rub his cheek, “…by the way, have I told you how well that new look suits you?”
The massive spider demon pulled the man in for a kiss, but he reared away after only a few seconds together, “No. We’ll have fun later. Right now, we’ve got to destroy this place and get that relic from Major Ryder.”
The disappointment was clear in the oni’s face, but she only sighed in disappointment and nodded in understanding.
As the freakish man and spider demon made their way down the dirt path and towards the commander’s headquarters, the four ballistae surrounding the fort swiveled in their direction.
“I’ve got you now, you bastard…” said the legionary who had rung the bell to awaken his comrades during the first moments of the attack, taking aim right at Cronan.
A bestial, otherworldly roar rocked the entire fortress. Stunned by the booming sound, the legionary had to slap his hands over his ears and duck down until the roar ceased. Peeking one eye back open, his heart sank as a house-sized red beast dived down from out of the black clouds.
A dragon. Not some seductress with wings, horns and scales, but an honest to the gods fire-breathing lizard ripped straight from the most ancient of murals and perched atop the granary.
And its amber reptilian eyes were locked right on him.
The legionary cried with both fear and rage, aiming his shot away from Cronan and towards the dragon. But he was far too late. The dragon opened up its great maw, a massive orb of fire launching out from the depths of its belly and consuming the entire tower in licking flames. The ballista, and the soldier manning it, were both blown into smoldering chunks.
The other ballista took aim at the dragon, but it took to the air before the shots were fired, and the legionaries accomplished nothing but further destroying their own granary. The dragon soared throughout the moonless sky, spitting fireballs down at the towers and destroying the only weapons in the fort that had a hope of piercing its thick, scarlet scales.
When the legionaries finally began pouring out of the barracks, ready for combat, they spotted the red dragon and cowered away in an instant. The handful brave enough to fight either went back to grab their crossbows or rushed at Cronan and Akami, but were doomed either way.
With the towers destroyed, the dragon landed on the fort’s wall, breathing a jet of flame down on the barracks, the soldiers cowering within being either roasted alive or crushed by the crumbling roof.
The ones courageous enough to rush Cronan were just as quickly dispatched. Either Akami roped them in with her web and knocked them away with her deadly claws or were sent spiraling to the side by Cronan’s freakish arm.
The three-story headquarters soon came into sight, its windows lit up and shadows within dancing as the residents were whipped into a panic. Snickering at the sad display, Cronan kicked open the doors, immediately coming face to face with a row of legionaries.
“Stay back, or we’ll-”
Not bothering to banter with them, Cronan fired more splinters of hardened sludge from his palm, slaughtering the men with minimal effort.
“Yeesh, you were right. These guys are complete pussies.” Akami muttered, all eight of her legs maneuvering around their twitching bodies as she and Cronan continued to push forward.
Coming to a winding set of stairs that led to the second floor, Cronan looked down the hallway to the left and Akami did the same with the one to the right, both seeing another wave of troops attempt to rush them.
“A pincer attack, huh? That won’t be enough!” Cronan roared, grabbing hold of a bust of some god and flinging it towards the incoming wave of troops. They came to a halt and tried to duck, but not before the marble statue crashed into the first man like a meteor and sent them all bowling over. Akami spun around, firing a massive glob of webbing and pinning her share of legionaries to the ground.
Not bothering to ascend the steps, Cronan grabbed hold of Akami. The spider demon shot a web to the ceiling, climbing up the thick rope and dropping off at the third floor. There, Cronan and Akami met their final hurdle of resistance- a huge, armored captain with a warpick and two legionaries cowering behind him.
“Alright… now that I’m all healed up, its time to make up for my failure at Angel’s Peak!” Isaac growled under his breath. He reared his trusty warpick back and rushed forward,“Get ready to die, you fuckin’ shitbags! I, Captain Isaac of the Holy Legion, will-”
Cronan slapped his sludge hand over Isaac’s face before he could go on, forcing a part of it to slither out from his palm and down the captain’s throat, then tossed the hulking brute behind him. As Isaac landed with a rough thud, Cronan and Akami strode forward without a care in the world.
“You really need to learn how to shut that big fat mouth.” Cronan gave a final piece of advice, snapping the fingers of his human arm.
Still writhing on his back, Isaac’s face scrunched up as his stomach and chest began to bulge outward, “Gragh…GAAAH!”
Just a single moment later, the boulder of a man exploded into a rain of blood and gory chunks, a huge pillar of green spikes at the epicenter.
One of the final legionaries cried in terror, dropping both his javelin and parma and diving out of the nearby window. After a loud thud, Cronan clicked his tongue and looked towards the last one, pressed up against the doors to Major Ryder’s room and shaking like he was naked in a blizzard.
“Your friend was smart. He might’ve broken his legs, but he’s probably alive and crawling away as we speak. So, what’re you going to do? Fight and die with honor? Or flee with your life in shame?”
Before the man could answer, a massive clawed finger poked through the side of the wall, sending a shower of rubble and dust flying everywhere. Peeking inside, an amber reptilian eye darted over to the cowering legionary, who promptly fainted.
“Dammit, Scarlet! I wanted to see what he would choose!” Akami whined, looking towards the dragon looking in on them.
The dragon began glowing with a fierce light the same deep red as it’s scales. Drastically shrinking in size, the former titan of a lizard crawled through the hole it made in the wall before the light vanished and left behind a tall, shapely blonde woman who shared it’s key features.
“Forget about that peon. Let’s just hurry this up. With all the fires I’ve lit, this whole fort’s going up in smoke in the next five minutes.”
“Five minutes is plenty…” Cronan said, kicking the unconscious legionary out-of-the-way before knocking down both doors with a single mighty punch.
Major Ryder sat at his desk, a waterfall of sweat pouring down his forehead and back. He was a middle-aged man with a decent amount of muscle and a fine, curly mustache. He might have carried an air of authority if he wasn’t so obviously overcome with anxiety and terror.
His tabard and armor were hastily thrown on, and the sleep still hadn’t faded from his eyes. Rubbing a few fingers over his bald head, he spat out a string of curses under his breath. His murky brown eyes darted around his sparsely decorated office, unable to see through the thick shadows with only the dim oil lantern in the corner providing any sort of light.
“Damn it. What do they want, what do they want…?” Ryder groaned, tapping his foot against the floor. Money? Government documents? His life? Whatever it was, he wasn’t prepared to hand it over without a fight.
Hearing several loud crashes and screams coming from his last line of defense, Ryder grabbed a special surprise out from under his desk- a heavy repeating crossbow. He took aim at the doors to his office right as they were knocked clean off.
Striding in uninvited was a man in a dark cloak and devilish arm of ooze, a monstrous spider woman and dragon right beside him. Both of the beast’s eyes shone a bright amber through the darkness as they locked in on the major.
Swallowing his fear, Ryder shot up from his desk and aimed the repeating crossbow right at the dragon, planning on taking out the strongest first.
The instant his finger twitched against the trigger, a purple and black claw lashed out from thin air, slashing open his wrist and causing him to drop his weapon.
“GAH!” Ryder cried, the repeating crossbow falling, bouncing off his desk, and firing three bolts into his wall. The major fell to his knees, grabbing hold of his slit wrist in a vain attempt to stop the flow of blood.
“You shouldn’t aim something so dangerous at my friends! Someone could get hurt~” the chesire cat that appeared beside the major mused, rubbing the tip of her tail against his nose.
Roaring in anger, the captain swung his uninjured arm out at the cat, but she hopped right above his blow, twirling around the air before gently landing atop his desk.
Akami sprung over to the major, yanking him off his feet and webbing him to the wall. Her thick string seemed to staunch his flow of blood, but having a sinking feeling of what he was about to face next, Ryder wasn’t sure he was thankful for keeping enough blood to remain conscious.
“Well, well, well… been awhile, hasn’t it, Ryder?” Cronan mocked, hopping on the desk right beside Lorna, folding one leg atop the other.
“Who… who are you?” Ryder groaned, his face already gone pale from a combination of fear and blood loss.
“Ah, where are my manners? I shouldn’t be speaking to such a high-ranking official of the mighty Holy Legion with my hood up.”
Cronan used his human arm to toss the hood off his head. Ryder flinched back, stammering out as he looked upon the man’s face.
“Y-you’re Kane’s boy! No… no, that can’t be! But you just look like him…”
“But what? The Cronan you meet all those years ago was pale and scrawny little runt, right? I always was, just like my dear mother…” Cronan mused for just a moment before returning his attention to the major, “Well, I’ve shed myself of my weak human form and become something… better. I suppose I’ve taken a greater resemblance to my old man in that process, eh?”
“No… you’re not… you’re not human!”
Cronan chuckled at that. Seeing a small hand mirror in one of the captain’s open drawers, he reached in with his sludge claw. He still wasn’t in full control of the big, clumsy thing and it took a few seconds to bring it out. But when he did manage it, he loved what he saw.
A fair, healthy complexion took the place of his sickly and pale skin. His short, spiky brown hair now extended into a long mane that ran down to his shoulders.
His hazel eyes were gone. Two dark miasmas replaced his sclera, and his pupils and irises fused together into a two sparkling emerald circles.
Giving the mirror a toothy grin, he showed off a full set of razor-sharp teeth. Running his forked tongue over them, Cronan chuckled and tossed the mirror away, not giving a damn how many years of bad luck he had just received.
“Not bad. First look I’ve gotten at my new face.” Cronan laughed, gingerly rubbing one cheek.
“W-what happened to you? What the hell are you?!”
“I could explain it to you… but that would take too much energy on my part, considering I’d be handing the info off to a deadman. But as for what I am? I’m the next stage in human evolution. The ideal man to a monster. The thing that your superiors fear the most, what they try desperately to hide from the public. Does that answer your question?”
By the stunned look of confusion on Ryder’s face, he didn’t. Sighing in exasperation, Cronan decided not to bother with it any further.
“Do you know what I want from you? A relic.” Cronan cut to the chase, “The Crystal of Valga. I know you have it. Where?”
Lorna, kicking her legs out, lifted something before Cronan, “Oh, oh, is this it, Crocro? It was laying right on the desk!”
Cronan looked over to the strange object in the cheshire’s hands. A silver stand running up and forming a gyroscope, a perfectly cut blue diamond suspended within it.
“Looks like it.” Cronan said, graciously accepting the garish object from the feline. Those pupiless emerald orbs in his eyes sparkled with an almost childlike sense of wonder.
But that look of wonder soon twisted into an ugly hate. Turning to Ryder, Cronan held the relic up to his face, “Do you have even the foggiest clue of how powerful this thing is? Of how many people it could’ve been used to help? Of course you don’t! You were using it for a fucking paperweight!”
Ryder didn’t answer. Trickles of blood began seeping out from the thick confines of the webbing, and the major’s pale face began fading even whiter.
“What? Cat got your tongue?” the Ushi Oni taunted, flicking the major’s temple with one of her claws and leaving a rather nasty scratch for an otherwise playful action.
“Not funny~” Lorna huffed, her cheeks puffed out.
Chuckling at the scene, Cronan hopped off the desk and raised his massive mutant arm, placing the center claw right up against the major’s jugular.
“Thank you for being such a gracious host, Major Ryder. But I’m afraid we’re going to have to take our leave now. Shame I can’t think up a proper way to express my gratitude for the relic…. ah, I know! I’ll leave you with a little gift~”
Cronan slowly traced his claw across Ryder’s jugular, leaving behind a thin red trail as he sliced into the man’s neck.
The major sobbed, the brave face he was wearing thoroughly crushed. The implications of death seemed to finally dawn on him, and images of his wife and daughters raced through his mind. Cronan wrapped his three fingers around the major’s neck, squeezing down on his windpipe.
“Please… don’t kill me… I have a family…” he wheezed, his air supply cut off by the devil of a man’s titanic stranglehold.
Further tightening his grip on the commander’s neck, Cronan leaned forward, locking eyes with him. His playful, sadistic smirk was gone, clearly enraged by the major’s words.
He had only one thing to say to that.
“Oh yeah? Funny. So did I.”
Aaron found himself stumbling before a humble home in the wee hours of the morning. The heavy bags under his eyes were gone and his muscled frame was considerably slimmer. The only scars he bore were scratches from loose nails and fishing hooks and the occasional reminder of a careless childhood accident.
If Valrie or Kiera had met this version of Aaron, it would be abundantly clear for them to tell he had yet to see the horrors of war. But from the heavy scent of alcohol radiating off his body and the brown bottle clutched tightly in one fist, it was quite evident he’d been drinking as if he had.
Flushed in the face and occasionally taking a swig from the bottle, Aaron grumbled in frustration as he walked up to the door of the home.
“Fuckin’ bastard. I kept the bullies off his scrawny ass when we were kids, and this is how he thanks me? Kicking me out of his house just because I had a little too much to drink?”
Aaron grumbled once again as he shoved a fist into his pocket. After a few short seconds of fishing around, he ended up pulling out a small bronze key and stuck it into the lock without a moment of hesitation. Twisting both it and the knob open, Aaron stepped back into the home and tried to shut the door as quietly as he could.
“Have a fun night, son?”
The iron-haired man’s palm left the knob as he realized his effort to enter quietly had been all for naught.
Standing a few feet away in the darkness was an older man with a similar build and face. While his wild hair and thick beard were a dark brown, those cold blue eyes had clearly been passed down from he to the drunken sot before him.
“Dad…” Aaron greeted, hesitantly, unsure of how to respond, knowing not even the most cunning of strategists or wizened of scholars would be able to worm their way out of his situation with simple words.
“Gale said he wanted you to go over to his house and study today.” the older man wheezed, folding his arms over his chest. While his skin was regularly tanned under the intense rays of the sun, the elder Axenus was looking particularly pale and green at the gills at the moment.
“You should be in bed, dad. Too much stress can make your flu worse-”
“Then stop stressing me out!” his father shot right back, having to cover his mouth and cough at the sudden exertion.
“I’ve told you a thousand times, already. I don’t want to be a fuckin’ scholar, old man.” Aaron groaned, “Just drop it. I’m perfectly fine with becoming a fisherman.”
Even with his stuffy nose, his father’s nostrils were assaulted by the heavy stench of alcohol. Looking down at the bottle in his hand, the older man growled.
“I don’t want you hanging around that Nathan bastard anymore. He’s a bad influence.”
“You can’t tell me who to spend my time with!” Aaron protested.
“I can, and you will. You’ve got a drinking problem, Aaron, and he isn’t helping it. Now, give me the bottle…”
Aaron didn’t dignify his father with a response, instead taking another gulp and wiping the runoff from his chin. They stared each other down like that for a few stifling tense moments, right up until his father had enough.
The elder Axenus decided to take the bottle by force, grabbing his son’s wrist and “Dammit Aaron, listen to me for once in your life and-”
Aaron lashed out, striking his father’s face and sending the sick old man falling to his back.
Glaring down at his father, the pangs of guilt resonating in Aaron’s heart were drowned out by the thundering boom of indignant rage. The old man looked back up at his son, blood running from his busted lip and dribbling down into his beard.
If his father was angry, he didn’t show it. All Aaron could read was pity and remorse.
And that made him even more pissed.
Not saying another word, Aaron turned his back on his father and stormed from the house, slamming the door behind him so hard it knocked a vase from its place on the table.
Coming to a rest against an old pine overlooking the shore side, Aaron stared up at the crescent moon as it bounced its unusually brilliant light off of the choppy black waters.
But even as he stared at the beautiful sight, his father’s face didn’t leave Aaron’s mind. Guilt, rage, and confusion swirled about like a maelstrom in his heart, and seeking any form of relief he could get his hands on, Aaron grasped for the bottle he left standing at his side.
But and as he did, a black gauntlet shot out from behind him, dragging him to his knees. Aaron cried out in pain as the hand crushed his wrist, horrified to find the sea, pine tree, and the whole rest of the world swallowed up by a pitch black miasma.
All but the crescent moon.
First, a pair of burning violet eyes appeared floating above Aaron. Then, the rest of the man burned into existence. It was the terrifying black knight, the same one that appeared to him in a daydream as he soared above Angel’s Fall.
‘You’ve been lingering in Graeme for far too long, boy. You had best start taking this more seriously.’
Aaron kicked out at the black knight, his booted foot crashing worthlessly against the enemies greaves. The black knight released his grip on Aaron’s shattered wrist, and the drunk fell back into the grass.
The adrenaline and booze letting him ignore the searing pain of his broken wrist, Aaron reached out into the darkness for a weapon. Something, anything… suddenly, his hands made contact with his nozzle of his bottle, trace amounts of alcohol still sloshing within.
It wasn’t much, but he might be able to blind the bastard with it.
Aaron grabbed the bottle with his good hand, stumbling to his feet and twirling around to smash it against the knight’s visor.
The bottle slipped from his hand. Aaron’s entire body seized up as pain and shock rocketed throughout his entire being. The foul knight was leaned up against him, skewering him on a crimson-bladed flamberge. Aaron could only stand there with a thunderstruck expression, the shock disappearing and his whole body erupting with white-hot pain. He let out a pained cry to the blackened sky, begging for the ordeal to end.
Leaning over, the knight whispered one last thing into Aaron’s ear.
‘Learn when you’re in over your head, boy. Or else, you won’t last much longer…’
And with that, the dark world shattered like glass.
Aaron’s baggy eyes sprung open, finding himself a good bit older and far more scarred.
“It… it was just a dream.” he breathed in relief.
That black knight was never there when he had hit his father and stormed from out of his home, nor did the threatening figure break his wrist or impale him. The dark warrior had invaded his mind once again, perverting a memory instead of producing a hallucination this time around.
Looking to his left and right, Aaron found himself sandwiched between two monsters. Valerie hugged his left, while Kiera claimed dominion over his right. While the griffon’s superior height allowed her to place her ear up against Aaron’s heart to listen to its rhythmic beat, Valerie had seized control of his hips by wrapping them up with her shapely legs.
‘Well, that’s just great.’ Aaron thought to himself. He didn’t want to wake either. Not only did he want both to get a full night’s rest, they would both surely spark another fight… and Aaron wasn’t entirely sure he could take another one of those until the next sunrise.
He greatly enjoyed each of the girl’s companionship on their own, but the two of them together swiftly proved to be a fatal mix. Squeezing his eyes shut and attempting to wipe his mind clear of any turbulent thoughts, Aaron attempted to fall asleep once again.
But he couldn’t. The images of both his father and the black knight continued to haunt him for a good half hour before Aaron finally threw in the towel and peeled his eyes back open.
‘Who exactly is that black knight? I… I feel like I’ve seen him before, but I just can’t… I just can’t put my finger on it.’
Aaron bounced a number of theories around in his skull. In the end, he discredited it as some sort of vague metaphor his subconscious had cooked up to encourage him to keep pushing forward and avenge his family.
But that didn’t wipe away the knight’s haunting image. While it was still burned into his mind, Aaron decided to quietly make his way out of the tent. Fortunately for him, while Valerie had incredibly sensitive ears, she fell into almost comatose state every time she fell asleep.
No, it was the ever vigilant Kiera he was worried about.
But through a combination of careful and steady wriggling, strategic pillow replacement, and with the blessing of lady luck, he somehow managed to escape the combined death grips of each girl.
Looking back to them before he left, he smirked as he saw the two monsters had snuggled up together in their sleep, his pillow pressed between their stomachs and their breasts and cheeks smushed together.
Aaron couldn’t help but blush at the sight, unable to decide if it were arousing or adorable. Unable to make up his mind, he saved the image in his head and made his leave. At least if one woke up early they’d be too busy screaming at the other to worry about where he had gone.
The night air was brisk, but Aaron wasn’t bothered a single bit. That black knight still refused to leave his mind, and the fresh memories of Gregorio and Cronan striking him from afar flashed before his eyes and made his blood boil.
Looking back at the shadowy lump of his tent in the distance, Aaron decided he was far enough away. He tossed off his cloak, exposing his bandolier and throwing knives. Picking out a rather gnarled, lone tree a few yards away, Aaron bent his knees and removed two knives.
“Alright… practice makes perfect, as they say.”
Tossing the knife in his right hand, the blade glinted under the moonlight as it flew forward. Despite its dramatic send off, it still ended up missing the desired target by a wide margin.
“…and if nobody’s perfect, why practice…?”
Beating back his inner defeatist, Aaron lobbed the knife in his left hand into his right, rearing it back and releasing once more. It came just a bit closer to the mark, but was still off by a laughable extent.
Grumbling in annoyance, Aaron’s thoughts soon drifted back to the horrifying black knight that haunted his dreams… the knight and his dear father.
Taking a long, steady breath in an attempt to calm himself, Aaron fetched his two missing knives and returned to his original position.
Aaron just couldn’t calm himself. If anything, he was jittering even further, and his third toss was the furthest off by far.
He wound his arm back for another toss, but the image of the black knight flashed in the blade of his knife. Stunned by this, he missed yet again. Grinding his teeth together, Aaron pulled out the next knife.
He hissed in pain as his technique soon grew sloppy, causing him to slice his thumb right before he released it. By this point, he was seething with a vitriolic mix of frustration and anger, and yet he didn’t throw in the towel.
He threw another knife, but no amount of target practice could take his mind off the black knight, nor that clear look of sorrow and remorse on his father’s face.
His father, who died from his illness not a full week later. All while he was off staying with his friend Nathan in Tellum, drinking and partying without a care in the world.
Aaron collapsed to his knees, digging his fingers into the dirt and grass below. Hot, heavy tears rolled down his cheeks and dripped from his chin.
“Dad… forgive me…”