Umbra, Chapter 22

Sometimes, Aaron had to figure he must have profaned a god somewhere down the line and profaned it hard. Or was the Legion in the right? Did Ganymede or one of his flunkies watch him lay with demons and were seeking to punish him for it?

But then he remembered his run of rotten luck started far before he ever even met Valerie or Kiera. Still, if the man standing opposed to him was anything to go by, his fortune had taken another nosedive just when things were starting to go his way.

William Highwind. His old war buddy and one of the closest friends he ever had the pleasure of knowing. But now, Will bore the immaculate iron armor of a paladin trainee and was aiming his trusty winged spear right at Aaron’s heart.

“Been some time, hasn’t it?” the lancer asked, the pale starlight and flickering torches around them dancing on the reflective surface of his armor.

Aaron swallowed the lump resting in his throat, managing to summon up some choice words in his defense, “William… I don’t know what you’ve heard about me, but-”

“The things I’ve heard about you? Like what? All those soldiers you slaughtered? The time you busted into a temple and murdered bishop and priest? Oh, how about when you took the mayor and that little girl hostage just yesterday?”

Aaron stepped back, that lump racing back up from his stomach and setting itself in his throat once more. The only thing that stopped his knees from shaking was a warm, fuzzy paw slapping itself on his shoulder.

Looking over, the overwhelming stress and pressure seemed to lift just a bit as he looked at Valerie’s supportive smile.

“-or fucking a dog…?”

That hit a soft spot. Val’s supportive smile rocketed into a mean frown, and two gouts of hellfire spouted from her previously soft, caring eyes. As the hellhound stepped forward, Aaron had to hold out an arm to hold her back

“Please, William. Just hear me out! Do you know why I rebelled? I need to kill Lucero! The bastard who killed our friend! Its… it’s not too late for you to do the same! You can join us!” Aaron pleaded with his old friend.

“Look. I’m not going to stand here and argue that Lucero isn’t extreme, Aaron. It’s completely true. He loves nothing more than to give slow, painful deaths to heretics and monsters.”

“Then why are you still working for the Legion?!” Aaron exploded.

“Because… Lucero is just what this world needs, Aaron. I used to believe monsters needed to die because they and humans simply couldn’t coexist. That one had to perish for the others survival. That there was simply only room for one dominant species on this planet.” Williams’ spat. He slammed the end of his spear against the ground, continuning to rave.

“But that idea was weak! Toxic. Monsters may walk and talk like humans, but the only thing they crave is to seduce men and spread their filthy kind! They’re no better than animals! I was trying to humanize mindless beasts.”

Will cast a fierce glance towards Valerie, and her eyes flared up in reaction. She bared her fangs at the lancer, a low growl echoing past them.

“By making monsters out to be victims of circumstance, I was only a step away from pitying them, then… ending up like you, Aaron. We need someone like Lucero. Someone who’s not only brave enough to deal back all the pain and suffering monsters have caused us since the dawn of time, but do it with a smile on his face.”

“I… I can’t believe I’m hearing this… you’re talking about the fucker who murdered Miles, Will! Are you out of your mind?!” Aaron roared.

“Miles killed himself the instant he decided to lay with a monster.”

His nostrils flared up. William obviously wasn’t aware of what happened to Aaron’s little brother, or the implications of what his statement brought to the late scholar-in-training’s name.

 

Aaron was nearly raving at the point, his face burning red and spittle flying from his mouth with every word,  “Will… my brother Douglas married a mermaid while I was gone! They had a beautiful daughter, and she was the most precious, innocent thing in the world… and Lucero slaughtered them! He burned my brother and his wife at the stake and murdered my niece right in front of me!”

“Then I’m sorry to say, Aaron, but your brother deserved it too. And… it’s unfortunate… but your niece would’ve just grown up to be another demon whore. She needed to go.”

Aaron had only one answer to that. Stomping forward, he wrapped his hand around the handle of his claymore.

“Stay back, Val. He’s mine.”

Val opened her mouth to protest, but seeing the raging inferno in his icy pupils, Val could only step back and hope for the best.

“Give it up, Aaron. I was always stronger than you- and I’ve done nothing but train since we stepped off the boat!”

“Yeah?” Aaron snarled like a mad wolf, drawing his claymore, “What, do you think I was just sitting around, relaxing?!”

Aaron punctuated his last word by launching himself forward, slamming his claymore down on Will. Blocking with the shaft of his spear, Will pushed Aaron back and thrust his weapon forward.

Leaning away from the blow, Aaron swung his claymore at Will’s head, screaming in rage all the while, “After you fuckin’ pigs murdered my family in cold blood?! I’LL MAKE YOU PAY, YOU BASTARD!” Aaron roared like a injured beast, slamming his claymore down on William’s spear, ignoring the pain wracking his arms and striking at his old friend again and again, relentlessly hammering Will with his furious blows.

Eventually, the paladin-in-training had his fill of blocking and went on the attack. Sliding the shaft of his spear down, he caught Aaron’s sword between the blade and quillon, pressing both of their weapons down.

William placed his hand against Aaron’s chest, “Get… back!”

That unseen divine force that was so common a holy spell among casters in the Legion sent Aaron sliding back, and the swordsman was barely able to catch his footing before the head of his old friend’s spear came flying towards his ribcage.

While the spear came right towards him, the enraged swordsman heaved caution to the wind and leaned forward, bringing his claymore down. Forced to lean to the side, Aaron’s blade hit Will’s armored shoulder while the lancer’s winged spear sliced into Aaron’s side.

Both men sprung away from each other, banged up, but managing to escape any major injury.

“Is… that all?” William panted… but from the smile on his face, it was hard for Valerie to tell how much of that ragged breathing was from excitement rather than exhaustion.

You fuckin’ wish.” Aaron heaved, sucking in his own breath through clenched teeth.

It took every ounce of Valerie’s self control not to spring into battle herself- but William had spat upon the graves of Aaron’s late family, and that wasn’t something the swordsman could forgive.

He wanted to make William pay for his transgressions on his own, and unless Will triumphed, Valerie intended to keep her promise to stay out of the duel. So, she stood on the sidewalk, the sounds of clashing metal and the screams of two enraged men ringing in her sensitive ears as Will and Aaron rushed each other once again.

While William held the definitive ranged advantage, Aaron’s rage fueled hatred spurred him onward, pushing himself through the stabs and prods from the spear and slicing at his former friend at close range. However, neither managed to get in a clean blow.

After another few minutes of the deadlock, the two panting men broke away from each other once more, both catching their breath and staring their enemy down. William’s iron armor was bent and cut, and Aaron’s shirt had been torn to near shreds, blood leaking from the small cuts in his chainmail vest.

“Not bad at all, Aaron. But I still have a few tricks up my sleeve…” William laughed between labored breaths, “From the first moment I heard you turned against the Legion, I knew deep down I would have to fight you… bearing that in mind, I prepared a little surprise for you.”

“Bring it on…” Aaron growled, brushing a sticky strand of sweat-soaked hair from his eye, “…asshole.”

Making a grand display of his next divine incantation, William twirled his spear around his body- in front of him, behind his back, at each side… and with every rotation of it, the golden runes that appeared beneath his feet spun as well, shooting up sparks the same brilliant, gold-tinted white.

Finally planting the spear before him, William lifted both hands into the air and unleashed a final grunt of exertion. Sitting back, Aaron was ready to dodge whatever it was his former ally was about to toss his way…

But those small lights hovering around William like a swarm of fireflies rose skyward, gently floating down around their battlefield and hanging in place, lighting up the dark street.

Valerie watched the scene in awe, almost finding it beautiful. But no matter how heavenly light show was, she still could feel the pit in her stomach grow as Aaron was left surrounded by the sparkling marbles of light.

“W-what the hell is this?” Aaron muttered, watching three hover gently before his face.

Not liking the look of the floating things, Aaron hopped back, crouching on a single knee and ready to spring to safety from any direction at a moment’s notice. Keeping his gaze locked on one, Aaron plucked a loose stone from near his feet and lobbed it up at the luminous spell.

The little orb went off like a cannon, the small burst leaving Aaron with ringing ears and stars floating in his eyes. Even from his distance a few feet away, he could feel his skin tingling from the reaction.

“I call them- Light Mines. I came up with this spell specifically to beat you, Aaron- not that I couldn’t have done that with just my spear.”

“Legionaries aren’t allowed to invent new spells without permission from the church! And you’re calling me a hypocrite!?” Aaron roared in accusation.

“You’re even more delusional than I thought, Aaron. You really think anyone from the clergy would consider my new spell as great a sin as what you’ve done? Of course, they wouldn’t. My Light Mines were all cut from existing holy spells, without profaning any Gods or implementing black magic. I’m sure they’ll pardon me once I drag your corpse back.”

Aaron snarled, trying to find an open space. But no matter where he looked, there wasn’t a gap large enough that left him comfortable enough to step next to one.

“I know how much you love to swing around your sword like a maniac. Go ahead- the instant you touch one of them, they’ll blow!”

Despite his opponents spurring, Aaron still couldn’t find an opening to exploit.

“Not much room, eh? Fine- I’ll take your turn!”

Through a small gap in the mines, William stabbed his spear forward. Knowing several of the floating bombs were hanging behind his back, Aaron had no choice to raise his claymore and deflect the blow.

However, it connected with such power Aaron was sent grinding back, nearly falling into the mines anyway. Sucking in a nervous breath, Aaron wildly flailed his free arm about in an attempt to regain his balance, falling forward and catching himself in the nick of time.

“BABE! Be careful!” Valerie cried.

Laughing like a madman, William paced around his trap, thrusting his spear at Aaron in an attempt to push him into one of the floating bombs. Pushed on the defense, Aaron was forced backward, having to constantly check behind his back while blocking and weaving out of the way of Will’s spear.

That was until he was sent tipping over.

He lost his footing. The last one of Will’s thrusts- it had pushed him into a pool of some thick liquid, causing him to slip. Looking down in that split second, Aaron found his answer to what had caused it.

Blood.

Will had pushed Aaron right behind Grandmore’s decapitated cadaver and into the pool of crimson gathered beneath it.

Aaron couldn’t stop himself. Stumbling back, his shoulder rubbed up against one of the mines.

It went off like a firecracker, flaying burned skin from Aaron’s shoulder with a deafinig bang. Grunting in pain, he stumbled forward and grabbed at the injury…

He inadvertently approached a cluster of three, all of them blowing up in his chest and blasting him into the dirty street.

Having seen enough, the furious Valerie was ready to leap into the fray-

“STAY BACK, VAL!”

Against all odds, against his sore, damaged body screaming at him to give up, Aaron stood. Ripping away the tattered remains of his tunic, he pounded his fist against the torn chainmail vest over his torso.

“I’ll defeat him… with my own strength…”

Stupefied beyond words, Valerie could do nothing but shiver in place, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.

“A-Aaron….”

Will shook his head like he was teacher giving back a failing grade, “You never did know when to call it quits, huh Aaron? I suppose you always patched up your shortcomings with sheer tenacity….”

The lancer twirled his weapon around, thrusting it forward and letting the momentum carry him forward, “But you’re not the only one with gumption around here!”

The last thrust, stabbing past his chainmail and sinking into his flesh, had Aaron cry out in pain and collapse to his knees. He wasn’t there for long, however. William kicked his foot out, knocking Aaron onto his back with a bloodied nose.

The grey-haired swordsman could only lie there, gasping for breath and shuddering in pain. Looming over him, William’s piercing gaze took a look at Aaron’s face for a final time as the Light Mines surrounding them fizzled out.

“I’m sorry, friend. May the Gods have mercy on your soul…”

William lifted his weapon, the spearhead glistening in the pale moonlight…

“GET AWAY FROM HIM!”

Before Will could plunge the spear into his friend’s heart, a bone-chilling roar brought his attention to the inky shadow barreling towards him like a cannonball.

Val came flying in with a drop kick, the paladin-in-training barely having enough time to block with the shaft his spear. The pole bent and crack, and although he deflected it, the sheer force sent Will flying onto his back.

Aaron, watching the battle from the corner of his eye, propped himself up, ripping off the blood-soaked scraps of his tunic and leaning up against a nearby streetlamp. His initial annoyance of Valerie’s intervention was soon replaced by relief, however.

Val… you saved me again.’ Aaron thought, watching the hellhound crash into his old friend with an otherworldly speed and fury.

“Eat… this!” Val snarled, hammering a blow right into the lancer’s temple, rattling his helm and knocking him onto his rear.

The instant he hit the ground, Will rolled back and hopped up… only to see the hellhound had vanished. His vision started darting around the street to see just where the canine had disappeared.

From out of the inky blackness of the city street, William spotted moths circling a streetlamp, Grandmore’s decapitated body, his old friend watching the battle a few meters away… and finally, a pair of flaming red eyes burning through the darkness.

Valerie’s leg shot up, kicking William’s chest before he could catch his bearings and double back. Yet again, the proud legionary was sent flying. Only this time, his helmeted head was knocked against the curb and sent his brain rattling against his skull.

“You stupid bitch!” spat the dazed lancer, stumbling back up, “You’re going to pay for that, and you’ll pay in blood!”

Will squared his feet, reared his free hand behind his back, then lashed it forward. Seeing a miniature whirlwind spin his hand, Valerie squatted down and prepared to dodge.

THYONE’S GALE!

But when William thrust his hand forward, that tiny maelstrom shrunk even further, and what ended up firing was a tame breeze that did nothing but gently blow back Valerie’s hair.

William trembled back, his unflinching warrior’s glare dropping into a look of aghast shock.

“I-I’m out of mana already…?” he muttered, staring in disbelief at his shaking palm.

“Looks like you overestimated your abilities…” Val snickered, her cracking her knuckles and stepping forward, “Don’t worry. I’ll make this quick.”

Will reached for his spear, but Val smashed her fist right into the lancer’s nose, shattering it with a sickening crunch. Yanking her fist back, the hellhound threw her other one forward, slamming it into the side of Will’s helm and finally sending it soaring from his scalp.

William caught himself as his helm crashed back against the cobblestone. Grinding his heel into the street, the paladin-in-training grabbed hold of his spear with both hands and thrust it forward.

Reading the attack like it was the most obvious thing in the world, Val stepped to the side and let the spearhead pass her. Will pulled the spear back, holding it to his chest. He quickly realized that was a big mistake.

The iron shaft of his spear, already cracked from Valerie’s dropkick, had reached it’s limit and broke like a dry twig.

The spear might have snapped down the middle, but Val’s fist soared onward and smashed into William’s chestplate, the iron cracking upon impact. Gasping for breath, Will was sent sprawling onto his back yet again.

Vaulting into the night air, the hellhound twirled before the moon before slamming herself back down, crashing into Will and leaving two fiery trails in her wake.

Impacting into the lancer like a flaming star, his cracked chestplate hit its breaking point and shattered like a clay pot. Will cried out to the heavens, blood blasting from his mouth before the sticky crimson succumbed to gravity and came splattering back down over his face and chest.

“Holy… shit…” Aaron could only mutter.

Standing back up, Val grabbed the broken man by the hem of his shirt, yanking him onto his knees.

Do it.” William snarled, “Go ahead… prove what a monster you are…!”

 

“Don’t do it, Val!” Aaron cried as he stumbled forward, grasping at his bloodied chest, “Don’t… don’t kill him!”

Although he was bloodied and beaten, the look of shock overroad Will’s pained grimace, “W-what?”

“I wasn’t planning on it. This bastard wouldn’t be worth washing the blood out of my fur.” Valerie said, letting the man fall from her grasp.

It was almost a sad sight for Aaron. William Highwind, one of his closest friends that had stuck with him through thick and thin, the one he saw firsthand paint battlefields red with a winged spear as his brush, was crawling away, vomiting blood and bile. He shook like a leaf, but Aaron couldn’t be certain if it was from pain or rage.

“W-why… why are you sparing me?!” he tried to scream, but it came out more like a pained whisper. Still, he crawled forward, reaching for the broken shaft of his spear.

“Will… I… I just can’t do it. I don’t think I can take losing someone else so close to me. Even… even after all those things you said, you’re still… you’re still my best friend.”

“Ha… ha… HAHAHA!”  

Laughing like a madman, Will turned to stare Aaron dead in the face, “I… I don’t need pity from some demon, or her whore! That’s all you are now, Aaron! Some soulless bitch of a bitch!”

Propping himself up on his broken shaft spear, his body erupted with pain. But those sharp stings didn’t force him to relent his ranting and raving. Valerie was at Aaron’s side, slipping under his arm and propping him on his feet.

“Why? Why was my life more important than everyone else you’ve murdered? You fucking hypocrite! I hate you, you traitor!”

“You’re right, William. I’m a hypocrite and a murderer… but no matter what I do, Lucero still needs to be taken down, and I have to at least try.”

Grinding his teeth together, Will span around. Using his broken weapon like an old man would use a cane, he hobbled away, leaving a trail of blood behind him, “You’re… you’re going to regret letting me live, Aaron. Mark my words, you’ll regret it…”

Those words seemed to ring in Aaron’s ears as he watched Will limp around a corner.

William… I probably will regret it, but… I… I couldn’t watch another friend die…’

“Babe? Are you alright?”

He several cuts and stabs all over his body, and four large burns where the Will’s light mines had went off on him… but they were all flesh wounds, and with proper care, would eventually heal without problem.

“Yeah. I’m fine. Now, let’s go find that stable…”

If there was something aside from her fighting prowess or mind-boggling speed that Kiera was proud of, it was her vision. Her golden orbs were just as sharp as a bird of prey’s and could pierce through the inky darkness of night like a cat’s.

Still, despite how amazing her vision was, she just couldn’t manage to spot any sign of Aaron of Valerie.

Perched in a large oak above their campsite, the griffon scanned the landscape sprawling out before the city, but saw not a hide or hair of her two friends.

Clenching her eyes shut, the griffon’s brow twitched.

“V-Valerie… she would’ve already rushed to the city by now… just like she did yesterday! Aaron might’ve already been killed if I had waited like I said… maybe… maybe a bit of rashness isn’t so bad.”

The griffon shot to her feet, “They could be in trouble right now! That’s it, I’m going after them and-”

Kiera stopped her impassioned speech to herself when she spotted something riding right up the campsite from out of the city- a large, sturdy brown horse, carrying her two companions on it’s back.

Settling back down onto the branch, the griffon breathed out in relief and smiled towards the twinkling stars.

After cleaning his wounds and dressing them up, Aaron put on a fresh tunic and joined the monsters for dinner. A salty stew made with dried beef, apparently.

Kiera’s pretty good at working with limited ingredients…’ Aaron thought as he spooned some into his mouth, watching the dancing flames of their campfire as he enjoyed his supper.

“Do you want some more of Beatrice’s potion, Aaron?” Kiera asked him, snapping him from his musings.

The memories of wildly slamming himself into the griffon came rushing back to Aaron. Certainly not his proudest moment. While he had no moral grievances about the casual affair of bumping uglies with a friend, doing so while either was under the influence of some demon magic was still something he wasn’t quite at home with.

Not to mention how quickly the situation would devolve with a single sip of the vile brew. First, he’d start writhing around with a growing erection. No doubt both girls would want to help ‘alleviate’ his problem. They’d inevitably duke it out. Then, while they were rolling about, his lust-addled self would rise up from behind them, his erection out and ready to ravage both of them at once…

He could imagine the scene right then and there, ripping away the squealing girls clothes and stacking them atop each other, breasts smushing together as each monster hugged their rival for support. His engorged cock, slipping between the space of their leaking pussies and sliding between both of their needy labias at once…

Banishing the lewd thoughts from his head before they delved any deeper into depravity, Aaron only sighed and shook his head from side-to-side.

“No way. I’m still recovering from the last time I drank that damned potion. My injuries aren’t too nasty. We should save it for when I’m knocking on death’s door.

Aaron wasn’t a gambling man, but he would’ve bet good money that he saw disappointment on both of the girl’s faces. Blushing a bit, Aaron cast his gaze back down to his dinner and shoveled another bite into his mouth.

“Ohh~ pretty girl, aren’t you…?”

Having finishing her supper, Kiera stood up to stroke the snout of their stolen steed.

“We’re going to have to let her go. A stolen horse would make us too easy to track- not to mention a pain in the ass to take care of, and that’s assuming we manage to slip her by the border guard.” Aaron said.

“But why let it go…? I mean, that’d be a waste…” the griffon mumbled sadly.

Valerie, finishing her fifth bowl of stew, popped the spoon from her mouth, “What are you talking about, Kiera?”

Shifting uncomfortably, the blushing griffon looked away, “We could always… you know… eat it.”

The camp was blanketed in an uncomfortable silence for some time, Kiera fidgeting nervously under the cold blue and blazing red stares of her traveling companions.

“I… I really like horse meat, alright?! I can’t help it, it’s in my genetics!” the blushing griffon hollered, hugging the horse’s snout even tighter.

Just as Aaron and Valerie were about to burst out into laughter, they heard a little girl call out from above them.

“Yoohoo~!”

Ina, seated upon her broom, descended from the dark sky, the living doll Beatrice clinging to her back. The ghostly spirit Grace floated right beside them, and all three came to a stop before the campsite.

Even before proper greetings were made, Ina stuck out her hands and wiggeled her fingers, “The Astral Crown, pretty please~”

“Fine, fine…” Aaron muttered, fishing around in his back until he felt the fragmented metal pieces wrapped up in a brown cloth. Pulling it out, he tossed the package to Ina, who tore it apart like a child unwrapping a gift.

“Oh my… this is the real deal… even in this sorry state, I can feel the magic coursing from it…” the little witch awed, holding up the broken pieces.

Kiera stepped away from the horse, walking up to the trio, “Where are you three going?”

“Off to Lusitania. Somewhere that doesn’t discriminate against monsters, hopefully~” the doll sang.

“I’m going to be so rich~” laughed the witch, hugging the broken pieces of the astral crown against her flat chest and giggling maniacally. As Beatrice and Grace waved goodbye, Ina spun her broom, letting out a mad cackle as she took off towards the waxing moon.

“Wait a minute…” Aaron grumbled, shooting to his feet as he suddenly remember a very important question he had neglected to ask, “THAT POTION BETTER NOT HAVE GIVEN ME ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION, BEATRICE!”

The little doll, far off in the distant night, only shrugged her shoulders and laughed.

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