Umbra, Chapter 2

I’d like to think I’m not greedy, but to me, nothin’ sounds better than a whole bag fulla coins clackin’ around.’

Standing in a long line, a squadron of gruff, worn-out soldiers baked in the tropical heat as the hot sun beat down on their heads. They came equipped with uniform armor; a light chain-mail suit with an iron chest plate, boots, and gauntlets. A yellow surcoat was draped over each man’s armor, the caricature of a crimson hawk stitched across the chest. Although they were all standard issue, each was torn, singed, stained with blood and dirt, or otherwise defaced in its own unique way.

At the very end of the long line, a small shack stood, a wiry little bald man distributing payment to each soldier that stepped up. Reaching into a war chest to his side, the skinny man removed a small burlap sack and slammed it down on the counter in front of him, the soldier in front of him’s eyes lighting up as they claimed the bag for their own. 

Near the end of the line, one of the younger members of the group stood. He was a slightly above average height, rugged face, and was muscular enough to fill his light armor well. With his chain-mail hood down, his wild, metallic-gray hair stood and shot up every which way.

One of his cold blue eyes clenched as he felt the salty sea breeze agitate a wound on his cheek as it blew in from the north, where the troops who had received their payment returned with a happy smile etched on their faces.

He shifted uncomfortably as the hot sand in boots shifted in his boots. The clack of each heavy bag of coin hitting wood made his whole body itch. It was as if the anticipation was eating him alive from the inside-out, and time seemed to slow to a crawl as he watched each man in front of him inch forward.

As the young soldier finally reached the shack, the little bald man slammed the bag of coins on the counter between them, “Aaron Axenus, right? Spend it wisely, young man.”

Taking his payment in hand, the gray-haired soldier nodded towards him,  “Thanks.”

Aaron chuckled as he felt the weighty sack of the coins nicely in his cupped hands. Walking away from the shack, a familiar face raced up to him. The newcomer was yet another soldier in worn armor like Aaron’s own. The man’s dark violet hair was slicked back, his skin tanned from time baking under the intense rays of the sun.

“Aaron!”

Looking up from the sack of coins cradled so lovingly in his arms, the gray-haired soldier beamed up at his fellow soldier.

“William. How’s it going?”

“Hehehe. Well, I’m mostly feeling glad we finally got paid.”

Joining up with Aaron, the two continued back towards the shore. Palm trees lay all along their path, their leaves shielding them from the harsh sun.

“So, what’re you going to do next, Aaron?”

“I’m moving back to my hamlet to live with my little brother. With this money, we can finally repair our family boat and buy some new harpoons and nets. What about you, William?”

“I’m going to try to join up with the Inquisitorial Office in Graeme. The captain said he’d put a good word in with High Inquisitorial Officer Brennan. They were old war buddies, I hear.”

“Well, if anyone in this unit could get in, it’s you. I’ve never seen anyone handle a spear like you can. I’m a little jealous. After all my time handling harpoons, I’m still no good with a javelin or pike.”

“Ah, shucks. Don’t worry about it. You ain’t too bad with a sword yourself, Aaron.”

“Nah.” Aaron said, drawing the steel blade, taking a good look at its dull surface. It had drawn the blood of many heretics in his short stint with the Legion’s army, but he’d part with it by the end of the week.

“I just swung the damn thing around like a madman… it’s just not… powerful enough for me, ya know? I’d prefer something with a little weight behind it.”

The two exited the shaded path, walking along a sandy shoreline.

“Like something the captain has?”

“Something like that. But I’d never get strong enough to swing a sword as big as the captain’s around, especially since yesterday was the last time I’ll ever draw a blade… well, except to gut fish.” Aaron said with a small chuckle, plopping himself down on a rock.

“Sorry to hear that. The Legion could use more good men like you.” William sighed, sitting down on the rock next to Aaron, kicking at the sand, “But if you want to hang up your sword for a net, then I can only wish you luck and pray for your health.”

“Thanks, buddy.” Aaron smiled, patting William on the back, “I’ll do the same for you.”

Draping his arm over Aaron’s shoulder, Will lifted him to his feet and began walking down the beach, “C’mon, let’s see if we can head back to the village, go pick up some ale, some pretty girls and-”

The two men were sent stumbling back as someone shambled past them a bit too close. Bumping into the man, golden coins and chain-mail clinked from the impact as the shambling man fell to the sandy beach.

“You alright, pal?” Aaron asked, looking down at the man. Like both he and William, his gauntlets and greaves were dented and scratched, his tunic torn and ripped. Unlike them, the front of his was stained almost totally brownish-red with dried blood.

The man reeked, he hadn’t even attempted to wash out his tunic… he was in serious violation of the army’s personal health codes. But taking a good look at his face, his hygiene was the last thing anyone would be concerned about.

With a muddied face, sunken, stringy, unwashed red hair, and bloodshot eyes, he looked as though he had just witnessed the dead rise from their graves. Admittedly, in their line of work, it was entirely possible that he had.

“Hey… is that you, Miles?”

“Y-yes. I’m sorry.” he whispered, completely stone-faced.

“Miles… fuck, what’s wrong with you, man?”

“I-I killed them…”

Will grabbed the shell-shocked man by the shoulder’s, “What are you talking about, Miles?”

“Monsters… the monsters. S-since I was backing up the main line and picking off heretics and monsters with a crossbow, I felt… I don’t know, guilty, I guess. That I wasn’t sticking my neck out like you guys… s-so… after we finished them off and captured the village… I… I offered to help with the executions.”

“Dear gods, man. You know that’s not in your contract. That kind of dirty work is for the inquisitional officers.”

“T-they may have been monsters, but… but they were just children.” he sobbed, “They were innocent children. They wouldn’t even dream about hurting anyone… and… and I murdered them… it was too late for me to back out after I picked up the sword, they would’ve branded me a heretic too if I didn’t go through with it!”

“It’s alright, man.” William assured Miles, embracing the redhead and patting him on the back, “You did what had to be done. Even if monsters don’t threaten us with violence, their mere presence corrupts. It’s either them or us, man. Nothing to feel guilty for.”

“Y-yeah. Don’t beat yourself up over it, Miles.” Aaron added, and although he tried to be reassuring, he ended up sounding rather unsure of himself.

“Have you gotten your payment yet?” Will asked the shell-shocked soldier, who looked up at him with pleading eyes and shook his head from side to side. Propping him up, William pointed back towards the shack, “Well, c’mon. They’ll close up shop in a few hours, then you won’t get your money. After that, we’ll get you and your armor cleaned up and into a fresh tunic. The captain would have a fit if he saw you like this! How does that sound, buddy?”

“T-thank you. You’re a good man, Will.” Miles mumbled, shuffling behind him as they backtracked away from the dock.

Turning back, William waved at Aaron, “See you later, pal?”

“Uh… yeah. Sure thing.”

With his two war buddies gone and all the other soldiers milling around in the ship’s hull or back at the village, Aaron was left near the dock with nothing but his sack of gold and thoughts. Sitting back down on his rock and staring out at the rolling waves of the sea, Aaron could only stew on the deep confusion nestled in the back of his mind, eating him away like a bunch of termites.

He never had a deep hatred of monsters, although he had spent the last three years killing them and their husbands. While he fell a few in the heat of battle, Aaron wasn’t sure he had the stomach to finish off ones that couldn’t fight back, especially children. He inwardly thanked the gods that it never came to that in his experience.

But as William had said, there was no way for monsters and humans to coexist. It was grim, dirty work to be sure, but Aaron convinced himself that it had to be done. Even in Miles’ case.

Aaron looked back up towards the caravel bobbing next to the recently constructed dock. The Hangman’s Bastard. A grim name for a rather unimposing vessel, but Aaron supposed it had ferried enough men to bloody battlefields to earn it.

Grunting as he stood from the rock, Aaron picked up his money and approached the docked vessel. He knew it wasn’t his place to question his empire and had neither the desire or ability to challenge that position.

He thought himself as a simple and honest man, and he was planning to use that money he earned well and live a quiet life with his brother for the rest of his days. 

Undoing the thick knot sealing his bag shut, he removed one of his gauntlets and stuck a hand in, running his calloused fingers over the rough, hard surface of the coins. Finding them pleasantly cool despite the tropical environment around him, Aaron removed a few from the rest, holding one up for inspection.

Like all other gold pieces, printed in the middle was the face of the legendary Sir George. Circling between the coin’s rim and the kingly fellow’s head was a series of words in a dead language.

Being born a commoner as the son of a fisherman and a housewife, his ability to read was a privilege that many of the same social statuses didn’t have. Squinting through the harsh glare of the sun bouncing off the coin’s shimmering surface, Aaron examined the letters closely.

Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to learn the language that was printed on his empire’s currency. All but three words.

Sanctus Imperialem Legion. 


“Wait, what? The heck does that mean?” Valerie asked, chewing on one of her spare bones, which appeared to be the femur of a coyote or other wild canine, “And what’d you say was in the middle? Sir Jorbe?”

Aaron blinked, being brought out of his near trance. Looking over to Valerie, it suddenly dawned on him that she likely would have never seen any Legion currency.

“I know most call this empire the Legion or the Holy Legion, right? Well, that’s just for brevity’s sake. The full name is the Holy Imperial Legion, and that’s what ‘Sanctus Imperialem Legion’ translates from.”

“Ah. I ‘ve heard that the Legion started out as just a religion, right?” Valerie said between the nibbles on her bone.

“Mhmh. It did start out as a small religion of a thousand fellas, but that guy I mentioned? Sir George? He became the first paladin and used his holy sword to unite the kingdoms of this continent under one flag.”

Valerie snapped open her chewed bone, sucking out the marrow. Through a mouthful, she murmured, “Uhhm… okay, I get that you needed the money… but why was the Legion killing monsters in some tropical islands? Don’t they keep their own lands monster-free?”

Aaron pinched the bridge of his nose, “Have you taken a look in a mirror lately, Valerie?”

“Pft. I meant aside from me.” Valerie said with a roll of her eyes, popping the empty husk of a bone into her mouth and munching up the remains.

“Well, there’s the thing. The Laris Archipelagos were just a stepping stone for the Legion… they wanted to colonize them and use them for outposts to transfer fresh troops and supplies to Lusitania. That’s where the real war is.”

“Yeah, but… why are they going to war with Lusitania?” 

“Our Emperor… his names Maximus the 13th. Around ten years ago, he said that the birthrate monsters would never stop spiking. That they’d just keep raping men and taking over the land until humans went extinct. Most people in the empire already hated monsters and believed that too, so it wasn’t difficult for him to start the war effort.”

Aaron breathed out his nose. Lacing his fingers together, he clenched his hands and struggled to get the words out.

“Some lands in Lusitania are hotbeds for monster breading. But since no kingdom wanted to officially fund the effort to get rid of the monsters, Maximus said that we needed to strike ourselves before Lusitania was completely overtaken…”

Aaron looked to be fuming at that point. His shame for serving such a cause was clear on his face, and Valerie could do nothing but stare into his eyes and listen as he went on.

“He said we’d be next if we allowed it to keep happening. That we had to do it for the good of the world. I don’t know if I didn’t buy it or just didn’t care, but I… I was just in it for the money. Like that’s a fuckin’ excuse…”

With his broad shoulders slumped, Aaron leaned forward and began to shake with shame and fury, “I… I killed innocent people… for money… gods, what happened to me… I deserved it…”

“Aaron… you don’t have to go on if you don’t want to.”

The human looked up. Her voice, usually bubbly and just a tad gravely, had dropped in pitch as she spoke calmly and comfortably to him.

“No. It’s fine.” Aaron assured her, taking a deep breath to calm himself, “The army was short on men. The generalissimo offered everyone who joined for three years to clear the archipelagos two-hundred gold pieces… that was insane! If you’re frugal, you could feed a whole family for a month with a just one gold piece.”

Aaron swallowed the lump in his throat, the face of all the bright-eyed opportunists that had rushed into battle with him flashing in his mind. Few made it back to their homeland, “Yeah. Everyone knew it was dangerous, but you would more or less be set for life if you made it out alive.”

A silence crept over the two. Scootching closer to the human, Valerie let her wagging tail tuck between her legs and her ears fold down. Letting her head rest in Aaron’s lap, she mumbled sleepily, “What happened next?” 

“You’re too tired. You’ll fall asleep if I tell you any more…” the human replied with a heavy sigh, backing up and resting the hellhound’s head down on the skins below.

“N-no I won’t. I need to know what happens next! I can stay up and- and…. an… zzzzz….”

Continuing to spout nonsense between soft snorts, the hellhound soon curled up into a little ball and fell into a deep slumber.

Great. She’s asleep.

Aaron had never been more careful in his life. Hellhounds had extremely sensitive hearing, so even the slightest noise would awaken her. Removing his boots and tip-toeing away, he scooped up his rucksack and made his way towards the exit of the cave.

“Aaron… you’re so naughty…”

The man froze. Panic quickly bubbled in his chest and a cold sweat dripped from his brow. He slowly twisted his torso around, taking a look over his shoulder at the hellhound, expecting her to be right behind him with a fist reared back.

“Please…” she mumbled, stirring on the furs as she continued to snooze away, “N-not with all our friends watching…”

Aaron breathed with relief, wiping the sweat from his brow. Of course, he didn’t hate her. She tried to impede his mission, but she was just following her nature.

After all, while it was fleeting, and a bit forced on her part, she had provided him great comfort that day. Even though he was a bit reluctant to share, and it was merely the beginning, it felt somewhat therapeutic to share his story with the cheery girl. Not to mention the sex was mind-blowing. A small part of him begged to stay, but he knew he’d end up regretting it for the rest of his life.

I’m sorry, Valerie.’ he prayed, hoping she’d somehow receive the apology and understand why he had to leave. Stepping around any fallen leaves and sticks, Aaron crept away from the cave as quickly as he dared.

After he was certain he was out of earshot of the hellhound, Aaron strapped his boots back on and sprinted like hell back towards the coast. By the time he saw the waves lapping against the sandy shores, it was well past the middle of the night and into the wee hours of the morning, but Aaron had little choice but to accept the bitter cold bath that awaited him. He had to cover his scent before Valerie awoke and tracked him down.

Building a campfire by the shore, Aaron quickly and desperately jumped into the sea, scrubbing himself down with the salty water. After hustling back out, he sprinted back over to his campfire, sliding over and shivering like a leaf in front of its warming heat, drying himself off with his old clothes.

He looked down at the nasty things. Aaron realized they were far too soaked with his sweat and scent to keep around, and he hadn’t the time to wash them.

“I’ll just buy a new set of spares when I get to Tellum.” the gray-haired man told himself, ripping the clothes to shreds and tossing them into the ocean. There. The fragments would be lost to the waves until they eventually decomposed.

Breaking out his trusty rucksack, Aaron sorted through the bottom until he pulled out his set of spares. He whipped on a black tunic, brown trousers that were a bit baggier than his last pair, and a similar pair of socks and loincloths. Strapping on his boots afterward, Aaron hopped to his feet and set off once again.

His eyes were droopy and red from lack of sleep, but that couldn’t matter less. He had wasted enough time stagnating in this backwater neck of woods in this backwater country. Even if it was his home, he’d be more than happy to leave it behind.


A seven-hour march later, Tellum came into sight a few hours before noon. A sleepy little farming community, Aaron watched the villagers tilling away at their fields on the outskirts of town. There wasn’t a single two-story building to be found. Even the mayor’s house at the village’s heart looked to be no bigger than what a small smith’s shop would be in the city.

“Looks like much hasn’t changed since last time I came here…” Aaron muttered to himself from his perch on a distant hilltop, staring across the green meadows and fields of golden wheat.

Aaron had placed his priorities in order. After two days of sleepless travel on foot, he’d have to get some rest. The tavern in town was nothing more than a bar for the local farmers to kick their feet up after a hard day of tilling and cultivating, but if he remembered correctly, the plump old man running the joint should still be renting out his few spare rooms.

They weren’t exactly a grand throughway, so providing lodgings for passersby wasn’t at the top of their priorities. The only regular visitors they received were from his little hamlet of Bandele, some of the other fisherman and his father dropping in every now and again whenever they needed to sell some of their salted fish and ended up staying the night.

He had fond memories of the place. His first fist fight, the first time he got hammered, the first time he kissed a girl, and the first time he fucked a girl. All on the same night, no less.

Aaron stared at the straight stretch of land leading right up to the gateless community, taking a step forward. Within the Holy Legion’s borders, they feared no bandits, no pirates, and no monsters.

Hey, handsome… you’re stepping in me!”

Jolting up in surprise, Aaron found his boot sunken in a blue puddle. Yanking his leg out and falling onto his behind, the human scrambled back to his feet and drew his shortsword.

That was no puddle. Slowly but surely, it began jiggling like a bowl of gelatin in an earthquake.

With each violent wiggle, the pool of jelly rose higher and higher, all until it reached a height of around five and a half feet. Twisting around, the blue goop soon took the shape of a full-breasted, wide-hipped, and all around gorgeous young woman.

Aren’t you going to say sorry?”

For half a moment, Aaron had the mind to write a formal letter of complaint to the Legion Inquisitorial Office. For being a branch of the most powerful military empire on the planet, they sure did a shitty job at keeping monsters off the eastern coast. However, it wasn’t like anyone would read his hypothetical letter. They were so busy double-checking the cities to the west that no monster had likely ever had the privilege of glancing at in a good hundred years.

As long as the Legion Border Guard kept monsters at bay, the office could just get away with dispatching a squadron to take care of any monster that managed to slip through and cause trouble.

Aaron always suspected there would have to be a few slippery monsters that have avoided attention between Bandele and Tellum. But what were the odds of encountering two in a row? Did the gods have something against him?

Heeeeeeeey, handsome~ are you listening?

Of course, he knew no monsters short of ghosts were more low profile than slimes. They could survive purely off water, hide away in small cracks and crevices, and were immune to most forms of physical damage, making an encounter with a foot soldier or common citizen easy to escape from

Keeping his sights set on the monster, Aaron slowly circled around her and muttered to himself, “She’s going to be tricky to beat… I wonder if I can…”

Handsoooooooome~!

“Gah! Could you just shut up?!” Aaron barked, quite sick of her needed, whiny voice.

W-why are you so mean…?

Despite being a massive pile of translucent sludge, the teary, distressed look she shot him practically melted his heart on the spot.

‘N-no! I can’t be seduced again. I was lucky I escaped from the hellhound, I can’t get dragged off by a fucking slime…’

Grabbing the hilt of his shortsword, Aaron roared, rearing it behind his head and bursting forward. But when he reached the slime, he just couldn’t find the will to bring it down.

‘I-I can’t do it. I can’t fucking do it!’

The faces of the monsters he had killed before his homecoming flashed in his eyes. Then, their husbands and daughters. The guilt weighed down on his heart like a chunk of lead, and he even felt his movements began to slow because of it.

Oh, handsome! I knew you couldn’t hit a girl~

The slime tackled him to the ground, blue goo splashing in the green grass around them. Aaron ended up staring at the even bluer sky through the girl’s translucent head. The slime’s body was almost the opposite of Valerie’s, it felt cool and refreshing like a mountain spring.

It didn’t even matter that he couldn’t bring himself to strike the grinning monster before him. He knew he couldn’t win.

He couldn’t escape. He was too crestfallen; too tired to even lift his blade. The miserable little dull thing couldn’t cut through wet parchment, and it certainly couldn’t defeat the translucent seductress slowly creeping over his body.

She had consumed his whole lower half in her gelatinous form, giggling as she traced her fingers across his chest. Each digit left a small, wet, and pleasantly cool trail of liquid seeping through his shirt and hitting his skin.

The feeling was odd, but still incredibly pleasurable, and left the human shivering and shuddering underneath the monster.

I… I can’t beat her. D-do I even deserve to? How many happily wed monsters have I killed? How many of their husbands, their daughters?’

No. He didn’t deserve to run free after all he had done.

I was a fool to think I could defeat Lucero. I never even would’ve made it to Paxton, much less cross Misr and find the Lost Archives…’

Wallowing in self-pity, a small chortle escaped the slime as she realized Aaron was a broken man.

“J-just do whatever you want with me…” the human muttered under his breath, rolling his head back into the soft grass below, “Whatever you think up, I deserve far worse.”

Trust me, handsome, I will. Now… it’s time for some fun~

“GET. OFF. MY. MAN!”

Oh gods.’ Aaron thought. He knew that voice.

A fuzzy black paw swung over Aaron’s torso, scraping off the mass of goo and sending it flying off the hill, where it landed into the grassy field below with a soft thud.

What the-?” the slime muttered as she rose up, wiggling and jiggling as she pieced her liquid body back together. As soon as she had returned to her semi-solid form, she was swiftly in pieces once again as Valerie launched herself from the hill, landing atop the slime and sending it splattering all across the hillside.

After reforming once more, the gelatinous monster shook wildly. Barely able to hold herself together from the onslaught, small droplets began falling off as she lost her mass, “W-what? Who are you…?

“One mean bitch.” Valerie growled, clawing the slime’s gut away.

The hellhound slashed the slime apart faster than she could bring herself back together. Sticky blue droplets began raining down as the slime was torn asunder by Valerie’s razor-sharp claws.

Looking down on the one-sided battle from the hilltop, Aaron’s blood run cold as he watched Valerie lash out, her burning eyes leaving a small trail of flame lingering in the air as she threw herself forward with every strike.

The gooey mass finally crumbled, unable to retain a solid form. All that was left was a head sitting in a blue puddle, shivering and bubbling like it was a strain to keep itself together.

W-wait! I’m sooooorrrrry! I… I didn’t know he already had a girlfriend. P-please, forgive me…

Valerie tapped a slimy claw against her chin, “Hrm… usually, I’d scoop you up, toss you into a pond, then watch you dissolve, but… since you’re a fellow monster and I’m in a good mood, I’ll show some mercy for once. Go. Get outta here.”

T-thank you…”

The remains of the slime melted into a single blob, then slithered back towards the hillside. Ascending the small mound, it slipped and vanished into a crevice between two stones.

“Come down here, babe.”

“Oh fuck…” Aaron muttered under his breath, looking down at the hellhound with pupils he was sure were dilated with fear. Running was futile. He wouldn’t be able to make it to the village in time to get any help.

Although he couldn’t be any further from silver-tongued, he supposed he had to talk his way out of this one. Sliding down the hill, Aaron ended up standing before Valerie, shrinking under her fierce gaze. Arms folded over her chest, she looked ready to rip out his heart at any given moment.

“V-Valerie…”

“Aaron.”

The venomous way she spat out his name drove a shiver down his spine. Valerie took a step forward, and the human clenched his eyes shut and braced himself for the pain.

“H-how could you try to leave me?!”

Tears forming at the corners of her eyes, Valerie tackled Aaron to the ground, pressing her face up into his chest and sobbing, “A-and without even saying goodbye?”

“H-how did you even find me….” Aaron heaved, trying in vain to pry the hellhound from his chest, “I washed off my scent in the sea! I put a good seven hours between us! I-I even destroyed the clothes I was wearing! How did you track me down so quickly?!”

“Oh, that’s simple.” Valerie sniffled, wiping away her tears. She sat up on his midsection and pulled a wad of black cloth from behind her back, “You left this. Your scent was all over it.”

His cloak. His torn up cloak. He had left it in the cave.

Aaron slapped himself in the face so hard he nearly broke his nose

Damn! How could I have been so stupid?! Even if I had completely gotten rid of my scent, that thing is still so musky she would’ve picked it back up the instant I started sweating again…’

“Hey, no need to hurt yourself, baby. We all make mistakes.”

“B-but how did you know which direction I was going? The wind shouldn’t have carried my scent that far…”

“Well, you were heading south, right? The only town in that direction is Tellum, so I figured it would be my best bet.” she snickered, leaning back down. Feeling the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as her soft breasts pressed up against his chest, Aaron could only swallow his strange mix of fear and arousal as he stared the hellhound straight into her crimson eyes.

“What? You didn’t think I was that dumb, didja?”

“N-no. I’m sorry I left you like that, Valerie. I was just afraid you wouldn’t let me go. Like I said, I have something I need to do… and if I die trying, so be it. But I can’t continue to wallow around in the mud, rotting away, knowing I did nothing as my brother’s killer is still running around and slaughtering innocent people.”

Aaron’s muscles tensed up as Valerie sat up once again, only this time, she scooted up higher, resting her rump on his chest and holding down each arm with one of her bottom paws.

He thought of kicking the back of her head. But right above her soft paw-pads, her deadly claws rested right over each of his veins. She could easily shred through his skin and slit both of his wrists. By how strong she was, she could’ve crushed his skull in a single punch, or jammed her claws into his throat. In any way she wanted, she could’ve taken Aaron’s life in a split second.

But against all of his primal instincts, any fear melted away as she shot him a bright, cheery smile.

“What? Do you think I’d just fuck you all day while Lucero still has a head on his shoulders? Do you think I’m that cruel? That selfish? No, babe. We’re in this together.”

Hopping off his chest, Valerie grabbed the man’s collar and yanked him back onto his feet.

“W-what?” Aaron stuttered, regaining his balance, “Look, I appreciate the offer, but… like I said, Lucero is more powerful than a hundred of us put together. I can’t just go fight him head on like some dumbass.”

“Then where are you going?” the hellhound asked, her ears perked up.

“I’m following the eastern coast until I hit the port city of Paxton in Var. From there, I’m going to hitch a ride over to the nation of Misr. Past there, deep within a desert, there’s an ancient library called the Lost Archives. If there’s a way to beat the Sol Saber, then it has to be recorded in there.”

“Sounds like fun. Let’s get going!”

“H-hold on a second! So you’re willing to cross multiple countries, most of which would instantly put your head on a pike, without even knowing the full reason why we need to go there? To fight a guy who could kill us both by blinking!?”

“Of course. As long as you’re with me, babe. I trust you.”

“Even… even after I tried to abandon you?”

“You had a good reason.” she went on, tail merrily wagging behind her back, “You’re just so freakin’ nice you don’t want to put me in danger! And that makes me happier than I can put into words, but… I won’t let you just run off on your own. We’re in this together.” 

“Valerie… you know, there’s not even a guarantee the Lost Archives has what I’m looking for. The path is dangerous. I set out knowing I more than likely would die on the way there. I’m risking my life for what could be a wild goose chase out of sheer desperation… s-so why… why are you so dead set on helping me?!”

“Isn’t that obvious, dummy?”

“No, it isn’t, actually. In fact, I’m beginning to question both of our sanities. Yours more than mine.”

“Hmm… then maybe I’ll tell you if you tell me the rest of your story.” she chuckled, tail wagging behind her as she spun on her paw, “But that comes later. You do whatever you need to in Tellum and I’ll go get us some eats!”

And like that, Aaron had a traveling companion. A companion that would doubtlessly both give him valuable assistance and make his life a living hell.

Letting out a deep grumble, Aaron realized he was going to have to sleep in the woods yet again after he picked up his supplies in Tellum.

‘It ain’t like I can exactly sneak a hellhound into the village. Fuck… and here I was, looking forward to a warm bed. Oh well.” he murmured in frustration

However, seeing the hellhound’s perfect rear bounce and jiggle as she skipped towards the woods, Aaron figured that it might not be too miserable.

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