Umbra, Chapter 26

“Beautiful city, isn’t it?”

It certainly was, but being kidnapped and shackled by some enigmatic pretty boy and his band of emotionless maids put somewhat of a damper on Aaron’s sightseeing. The iron-haired swordsman sat opposite of Wes, who was flanked at either side by a maid.

The first thing Aaron tried to do was spring at Wes, but a quick series of sharp jabs all over his chest and gut courtesy of the maids seated him and dissuaded him from pulling the stunt again.

Valerie and Kiera were in the carriage trailing behind theirs and they were both presumably still out like candles… if what Wes told him wasn’t a lie, that is.

“Ahem… beautiful city, isn’t it?”

Ignoring the diminutive pretty boy’s question a second time, Aaron looked between the thin iron bars separating him and the outside world. Peering past the busy streets full of merchants and hagglers, his attention was inevitably drawn to the awe-inspiring structure towering above them from its spot on a hill.

The University of Ellsworth. While black magic was strictly prohibited in the Legion, the church had funded an entire school to allow the study of how to counteract it and improve the efficiency of their own holy magic.

If I had stood up to Lucero on the ship… Douglas might be studying there.’

Feeling the burning pit in his stomach gnaw at his heartstrings, Aaron shook the sullen thoughts from his head and returned his attention to his abductor.

“So, what’s your deal?” Aaron asked, acid dripping from his gruff voice.

“Excuse me?” Wes responded, pushing his glasses back up on his nose with a single finger.

“You heard me. What’s your deal? We’ve already passed the town square, so you’re not going to execute us publicly. You gonna torture us, or what?”

“I’ve already told you, Mr. Axenus. We’re going to have dinner.” Wes reminded, his cold, professional eyes sparking with a hint of malice, “After that, however…? Well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”

Dark clouds began gathering in the sky, blotting out the setting sun. Passing by the academy and markets, the bumpy carriage ride brought Aaron and his abductors to the very edges of the city, where a winding cobblestone path led them up to a towering estate.

With thick stone walls topped with intimidating iron spikes protecting its outer perimeter, only the third and fourth stories peaked out from over it’s defences. Watching the rain drizzle down and run off from the navy-blue shingles of it’s roof, a crushing sense of dread bore down on Aaron.

The carriage came to a halt before the black iron gates of the estate. The passengers of the carriage sat there in silence for a moment. The only sounds were the soft pitter-patter of raindrops and gentle rustling of Wes fishing around in the pockets of his coat.

“Oh, come now, where’d I put it…” the redhead muttered to himself, now checking in his pants pockets.

“So, uh… is anyone going to open that gate?”

“I’m working on it, Mr. Axenus… aha! Here we are. Watch this.”

Wes pulled something from his pocket- some kind of small metal tab, its corners rounded off into soft curves. It’s only distinguishing feature was a large red button set in the center. Clicking on it with his thumb, Wes grinned to himself as the sounds of metal grinding against stone erupted in front of the carriage.

“W-what the hell?!” Aaron muttered, scooting to the other side of the carriage and peering out. There, set in the side of the wall before the gate, was some kind of metal box with a glass orb in the center. A red glow signaled the gate to its left to slide open of its own.

“T-that’s some kind of relic! Citizens aren’t allowed to keep those!”

“I know, I know. All relics must be handed over to the church. If they are holy, they’re to be filed away for display; if crafted with black magic, they’re to be destroyed immediately. I’m well aware… but I’m afraid this is neither. This is a relic of my own making. I call it the gateopener. You like it?”

Aaron held his tongue, having half a mind to make a cheeky remark about just how tacky the name was, but instead choosing to simply glare at the redhead sitting before him.

“I never particularly enjoyed using those dusty old tools anyhow. I’ll gladly study any interesting ones to improve upon my designs, but the satisfaction of activating your own inventions never gets stale.” Wes chuckled a bit, looking out at the rain falling into the garden of the estate, “I haven’t the foggiest clue if those dusty things were made by god, man, or something else entirely… but some of my most impressive designs have been worked from old relics I’ve come across in my studies.”

Aaron remained entirely silent as he was escorted out of the carriage. He had the urge to look over his shoulder to see what they were doing to Kiera and Valerie, but he was sure that wouldn’t end well for him. So, biting his tongue, he kept his head and eyes straight forward and walked between the two maids.

Walking in front of him, Wes held up an umbrella to protect himself from the rain. They walked through a small garden, its wide array of fauna and marble art soon dripping with water as it really started to pour down.

“Oh my. I hope you don’t catch a cold, Mr. Axenus.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow. Wes actually sounded like he was genuinely concerned about his health…

“I just can’t stand it when my subjects get ill. It makes all the testing so much more difficult.”

Aaron sighed rather loudly. Of course that was the reason.

It was only a short time before they reached the protection of the front porch and it’s roof. Hurrying up the stairs, Wes turned around and stared Aaron dead in the face.

“Ah, this won’t do. You’re thoroughly soaked… as are the maids.” Wes muttered as he closed his umbrella and shook off the water, “Can’t have you tracking water into the mistress’ house, now can we?”

“And that’s my fault?” Aaron shivered, rattling the shackles around his wrists.

Ignoring his snide comment, Wes raised a single hand towards Aaron. In the mage’s palm, a miniature typhoon began forming.

Aaron doubled back, only to be caught by the maids. Struggling against their grip, he could only stand and watch as the spell came towards him…

But instead of being torn to shreds by a mighty gale like he had envisioned, Aaron and the maids were only blown dry by a hot, arid wind. In just a few seconds, Aaron was left blinking his dried eyes as he processed what had happened.

His clothes were no longer soaked through, but instead warm and moist. His hair was in a similar position, blown into a wicked, spikey mess.

The maids at his side quickly straightened out their own hair and uniforms before doing the same for him.

“H-hey! Get offa me!” Aaron grunted, unable to fight back the impossibly strong and firm hands of the dainty little maids.

“Ah, there we are. I’m afraid that’s as presentable as we’re going to get you, however.” Wes snickered, hanging his umbrella on his forearm and opening up the door to the manor.

Aaron couldn’t help but be impressed as he was escorted inside. The large foyer was well lit by an intricate, oversized chandelier. With each step against the checkered marble floor, an echo was sent ringing throughout the room.

Waiting for them at the foyer’s heart was a portly woman just as short as Wes. She was clad in a puffy violet dress and plumed hat that matched her garish garb in color.

“Oh, Mr. Axenus. Welcome!”

Aaron barely refrained from cringing as he drew closer to the ugly woman. She seemed to think caking her face in makeup seemed to lessen her piggish appearance- but in Aaron’s humble opinion, it only served to make her look like some sort of demented clown.

Although Aaron was initially too stunned and confused to reply to her, an elbow in the ribs from Wes urged him to do so.

“Err… nice to meet you.” Aaron said, sounding rather disingenuous.

That didn’t seem to bother the pig in fine cloth, however, “The pleasure is all mine, good sir. I’m Otha, genius businesswoman and selfless entrepreneur.”

Aaron cast his cold glance around the expensive furnishings and fine art surrounding him at every corner, “Selfless entrepreneur, huh? Yeah. You’re sure living like a pauper here…”

“Watch that tongue, boy. Or I’ll have it cut out.”

Compared to the overly-cheerful tone she greeted him with, the pure acid she just vomited at him nearly made Aaron double back. Seeing the shocked reaction on his face, Otha bellowed out an obnoxious laugh that grated on his eardrums.

“Don’t be like that, my dear. I still have inquires he can help me solve- we can discipline him afterwards.” Wes urged.

Much to Aaron’s disgust, the redhead sauntered over to the pig of a woman and planted an uncomfortably long kiss on her wretched lips.

The initial repulsion was soon replaced by confusion. Wes was on the short side and his personality left quite a bit to be desired, but despite that, he was undeniably handsome. Certainly enough that if he desired companionship, he could do better than Otha. Unless, of course, he was a golddigger.

Yeah… that must be it.

But Aaron had to admit, Wes’ shit-eating smirk and Otha’s disgustingly wide grin were the perfect match to infuriate him.

Led further into the fine manor, the shackled Aaron followed close behind Wes and Otha, flanked by two maids as to ensure that he didn’t try anything clever.

“I specialize in a wide variety of products, Mr. Axenus. Unfortunately, most others in the Legion aren’t as… open-minded as Wes and I.”

“Yeah. This place is filled with relics, isn’t it? Relics powered by black magic.” Aaron spat, looking all along the walls and finding odd blue lanterns that lit the hallway like it was in perfect daylight.

Wes, for whatever reason, found Aaron’s accusation quite humorous.

It was Otha that elected to respond to him, however, “Oh, so you’re not as stupid as you look. Honestly, the Holy Legion is so provincial when it comes to the application of demon energy and the dark arts. Without harnessing their power, I wouldn’t have half of my conveniences and high-quality wares to sell.”

Wes strode at Otha’s side with a wide smile, obviously proud of his work.

Otha motioned down to the next hallway, where a mix “Come, Mr. Axneus. It’s dinner time.”


Being the son of a fisherman and growing up in a tiny, backwater hamlet, Aaron had never experienced the slightest taste of the high life. He was relatively well-traveled for one of his station, but he couldn’t even dream what life was like for nobility.

When Otha, Wes, and the two emotionless maids escorted him into the dining room, his breath was nearly taken from his chest. It was the first time he had ever laid his eyes upon such a fine feast. To his shock, it seemed not all the rumors passed down to him from by his fellow legionaries were exaggerated.

Wine and ale flowed into glasses like water, countless stews, pies, fruits, soups, stews, and bread were laid out on a variety of dishes. At the center of it all was a fat, honeyed pig with an apple stuffed into its mouth.

The medley of aromas wafted up into the steaming air, sending Aaron’s senses aflutter. For a few short euphoric seconds, he had almost forgotten that he had been assaulted and abducted.

Somehow, the hungry Aaron managed to tear his gaze away from the table for long enough to spot two more men that were seated at the table across from each other.

The bald, bearded man to the left was an old fellow, clearly wizened by his many years. But if the quick, sharp glint in his eyes were anything to go by, father time hadn’t had gotten the better of him just yet.

The brunette man to the right couldn’t have been more plain and unremarkable in appearance. His garb, however, struck Aaron like lightning. The man was wearing the robes of a High Inquisitorial Officer.

“Mr. Axenus, I’d like to you meet my dear friends. Faust, the headmaster of our city’s dear academy, of which I am a proud and generous sponsor…”

She motioned one of her pudgy hands over to the old man, who chuckled and gave Aaron a small nod, “Nice to meet you, Aaron. You’ve stirred up quite the bit of trouble up north, haven’t you?”

Aaron responded only with a sour frown. His attention was brought from Faust to the High Inquisitorial Officer as Otha motioned to him.

“…and this, as you could most likely tell, is the High Inquisitorial Officer of Jalam, Percy.”

“It’s Percival.” the Officer corrected, sounding quite perturbed at the nickname.

Aaron’s thoughts raced at a million miles an hour, ‘What the hell is a High Inquisitorial Officer doing here? This place is filled with illegal relics! Is he in bed with them too? And the damned headmaster of the magic academy? This is fuckin’ insanity!’

A sudden clicking sound broke Aaron from his thoughts. Looking down, he saw one of the maids crouched at his feet, chaining his leg to the table- which was, of course, nailed to the floor.

“Of course it is…” Aaron mumbled in frustration, “Exactly how many ‘dinner guests’ do they drag here…?”

“Please have a seat.” said the other maid that escorted him, holding up a steaming bowl of stew atop a silver plate. Sitting it in an empty space on the table before him, she pulled out a seat and motioned towards the cushion.

Suddenly feeling very awkward with being the focal point of the diners, Aaron hurriedly took his seat. Still feeling the inquisitive gazes still locked in on him, the swordsman slumped down. He lowered his broad shoulders and tried to make his large form as inconspicuous as possible, staring blankly into the steaming broth of his stew.

Yet still, the four around him jeered.

“What poor posture! Didn’t your mother ever teach you table manners, boy?” Otha sneered.

Cutting into a slice of liver, Percival sighed and shook his head to both sides, “What did you expect from such a baseborn hick? Honestly, I don’t know why you insisted on inviting him here, Wes. He’s spoiling my appetite.”

“As I’ve said, Percival, he has answers I need. And torture and threats aren’t my cup of tea… but don’t mistake my kindness for weakness,  Mr. Axenus. If you decide to be uncooperative, I’ll be forced to do something quite… unsavoury.  Have I made myself clear?”

“Crystal.” Aaron responded. He was more concerned with what the stumpy redhead would do with Valerie and Kiera than him, so he figured the safest course of action was to play along.

“Where are your manners, dear? Offer the man a drink before you start prodding him with questions.”

Wes pointed to the maid standing behind Aaron, “You. Get him a drink.”

“What would you like, sir?” the maid asked, her voice still devoid of even the slightest trace of emotion.

Aaron remained silent for a few moments, rolling the question around his head. His jangled nerves cried out for a tall glass of liquor, but accepting a drink from his kidnappers didn’t exactly seem like the pinnacle of good judgment.

But then again, they clearly wanted him alive and unharmed. Not to mention it would be quite easy for them to just force whatever they could lace his drink with down his throat.

“Just brandy, thanks.”

Aaron’s eyes darted around the table, still feeling a sinking feeling of terror as the four unlikely friends stared him down. If he was going to die, at least he could go out with nerves steadied.

But when the maid set the small glass of amber liquid before him, Aaron took only a few small sips instead of chugging it down in a single gulp. While it burned like fire as it went down, he was more concerned with looking afraid before his captors.

Gotta keep some semblance of confidence…’

After he set his drink down, the Inquisitorial Officer was the first to question him.

“So, Axenus, allow me to ask you a question first. What happened to Brennan? We never recovered his body.” Perceval asked, tracing a small circle in the air with his fork as he did so.

“My friend let him go. She told me he was planning to grab all his savings and flee the country. Bastards probably living it up somewhere in Lusitania by now.”

“Oh? So you didn’t kill him?”

“I’m not a murderer. Not like you.”

Aaron inwardly grimaced as he let his anger slip at the last comment. Percival seemed far from insulted, however.

“Really? I think all the rotting corpses you’ve left in your wake would serve as sufficient evidence to the contrary.”

Trying his damnedest not to lose his bearing, he stared Percival dead in the eyes and fired back.

“They either deserved it or came after me first.”

“Oh? Self-defence, is it? Well, that’s a reasonable excuse, I suppose.” Percival sighed, returning to his dinner, “Hundreds of monsters and blasphemers have died under my orders, many far more innocent then the men you’ve killed, so I suppose I have no right to judge you.”

A sour taste emerged in Aaron’s mouth. The inquisitor spoke calmly and earnestly, but with an undertone of patronization that was enough to make his blood curdle.

Otha was the next to speak. But instead of a question, she aimed a sausage finger at Aaron’s untouched dinner.

“I had some of my special sauce mixed in with it. Go on… try it.

Aaron remained silent, staring silently at meat, potatoes, and carrots swirling around in the steaming brown gravy. He reached for his silver spoon, dipping it into the stew and stirring it about.

“We can’t have a guest going hungry. Eat.” Otha demanded once more, not satisfied with his sluggish pace.

With no other option, Aaron lifted his spoon and tried some.

Aaron had to admit, he was pleasantly surprised. Whatever this secret sauce was, it gave the stew a pleasantly spicy punch that left behind a sweet, smoky aftertaste. Aaron couldn’t even remember the last time he had something so delectable. He was even tempted to start spooning the hot stew into his mouth with reckless abandon. But it wasn’t so good as to gratify the fat cow and her pretty boyfriend grinning at him from across the table.

“So? How is it? Give me your honest opinion…” Otha asked.

Aaron scooped up a chunk of potato, putting it into his mouth and gingerly chewing it into mush before his simple reply, “S’good.”

From over the grading sounds of Otha and her guest’s worthless prattling, the sounds of claws clicking against marble reached Aaron’s ears. Looking up from his stew, he peered into the doorway connecting the kitchen to the dining room, finding a young woman standing with a bottle of vintage wine cradled in both hands.

“More wine, mistress?”

Aaron thought it was another one of those stone-faced maids for a moment, but upon closer inspection, he found that wasn’t the case. She was a maid, but not like the others… they were at least human. The woman that had just entered the room was a monster.

And a strange one, at that. With the colors of white and brown and a mix of feathers and fur covering her body, Aaron couldn’t help but remember the stern face of Kiera.

But this new monster’s face wasn’t filled with steely resolve like the griffon’s but was instead soft and tender. Despite that, she still had that same one thousand yard stare and small frown like the rest of the maids.

Her talons, shaped almost like high-heels, clicked against the checkered floor as she strode forward, her feathery tail wagging behind her.

Percival smiled as he watched the odd creature near the table, “Oh, what a rare species. A kikimora, correct?”

“Right you are, Percy.” Otha said, her disgustingly wide grin only increasing as she watched the officer grimace at the nickname.

“W-why do you have a monster?” Aaron cried, unable to hold back his piqued interest. It was borderline surreal, seeing an inquisitorial officer not only sit on his ass and chug down wine in the company of black magic practitioners but a monster as well.

Wes, holding out his empty wine glass for the kikimora to refill, answered Aarons inquiry, “These maids around us…? Their bodies have been infused with demonic energy, but not so much as to transform them into monsters. While their power and endurance has shot through the roof, the process we use leaves them… well, rather dull. They follow orders plainly enough but need a figure of authority to guide them. That’s where she comes in… in the cleaning department, at the very least.”

A final drop of wine fell into the glass right as Wes hit his last syllable. Smiling, the redheaded mage took another sip. The maid smiled back, but it was quite clear to Aaron that the monster was forcing it. Walking over to Otha, she refilled the fat woman’s glass and set the wine bottle on the table.

“And what a delightful little maid she is~” Otha laughed, pinching the monster’s cheek and stretching it back and forth. The maid kept silent, not so much as flinching as Otha let go and snapped her cheek back into place.

That’s when Aaron finally noticed it- set right on the kikimora’s neck was a thin metal collar, a blue crystal glowing softly in its center. Aaron wasn’t sure what the chainless collar’s purpose was but was damn certain it wasn’t a fashion statement.

“Not to mention she’s pathologically obedient- just watch.” said Otha as she picked up a bowl of steaming hot soup before pouring it at the monster’s feet, “Go ahead and clean it all it all up dear. With your tongue. Now.”

The kikimora only solemnly nodded, “Y-yes ma’am…”

The maid dropped to her hands and knees, lapping the hot soup off the dirty floor with her bare tongue. Even as she flinched in pain as it was scalded, she kept on licking it up.

“Fitting for a beast, wouldn’t you agree?” Otha asked her dinner guests.

Aaron, however, didn’t find it so amusing.

Jittering in place with his head held low, he peeked one cold eye past his hanging iron locks and locked in on Otha.

I’m going to kick your fuckin’ ass.”

Otha’s wide grin sunk like a stone, “Excuse me?”

Aaron shot up from his chair, slamming his cuffed hands against the table, “I’m gonna paint these floors with your blood, you ugly fuckin’ pig!”

The image, only there for a split second, was still thoroughly burned into Aaron’s mind. Percival, grimacing at the sudden burst, nearly choking on his baked salmon. Faust and his wise, sagely mein not bending in the slightest as he waited for what would come next. Wes, looking absolutely mortified and reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose in exasperation.

Otha, her fat face scrunched up in sheer fury. Shooting out of her chair, she looked towards the kikimora.

“Punish our guest, won’t you dear? And shut him up while you’re at it.”

“And try not to maim him, please. I need my subjects in top shape for examination.” Wes added.

Before Aaron knew it, the kikimora was behind him. Grabbing the back of his hair, the maid slammed his head down onto the table. Yanking him back up, she cocked her fist back while Aaron sucked in air.

With that cold, vacant expression still on her face, the kikimora kept her grip on his hair and delivered a rain of sharp jabs to Aaron’s gut, making his face scrunch up in pain.

“She’s quite strong for a maid, isn’t she?” Percival mused as he watched Aaron’s gut being pounded.

“As all monsters are, I suppose. How does it feel, Axenus? Can she hit as hard as your whores?” laughed Otha.

Aaron kept quiet. He wasn’t about to give the ugly pig her sadistic pleasure by hearing his cries of pain and pleas for mercy. After another few punches, the kikimora reared back her arm farther than the last few punches.

Throwing her fist forward one last time, she landed a hard hook right underneath Aaron’s ribcage. Finally breaking face, his mouth flew open in a silent scream.

Shortly after, bile poured from Aaron’s lips, splattering into his bowl of stew. Sucking in a pained breath, the kikimora dropped Aaron’s face into his dinner, wiping his loose gray hairs from her palm.

“Good. Now make sure he doesn’t open that big mouth again.”

Lifting him back up, the kikimora slipped behind him and popped something round into his mouth before he could resist.

“I’m sorry I have to do this. I admire your bravery, if anything. But I left my daughter with my father-in-law, and until I can escape this hellhole and get back to her, I have to do whatever it takes to survive.” she whispered into his ear, securing the straps behind his neck.

Blinking in confusion, Aaron ran his tongue over the hard orb in his mouth to figure out what it was. After a few short seconds and an amused smile on Otha and Percival’s faces, it suddenly dawned on him.

A ballgag.

Aaron’s face immediately lit up with humiliation and ground his teeth down onto the degrading item in rage.

“There. Is there anything else that requires attention, mistress?” the kikimora asked, turning and bowing her head to Otha.

“That will be all, dear. You may take your leave.”

Standing back up, the collared monster turned and exited the room.

“Anyway… Axenus, I was going to ask you about how you got that odd demon energy in your soul, but it seems you just couldn’t keep your temper in check. Oh well. I’ll just have to ask you before your examination.” Wes sighed, taking another sip of his wine.

Dinner passed slowly for Aaron. Watching his kidnappers merrily enjoy their fine booze and lavish meals, he could only stew in rage and gnaw down on the ballbag forced into his mouth. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the hands on a grandfather clock tick by as slowly as they could go…

But in spite of how slowly itpassed for Aaron, like all things, their meal came to a close.

“Dinner was excellent, Otha.” said Percival, setting down his fork and knife on his empty plate. Faust and Wes did the same, the later dabbing away some crumbs that had gathered at the corners of his lips.

“Oh, our meal isn’t finished yet. It’s time for dessert~” Otha cheered, clapping her hands together twice in a row. At that summon, five maids walked into the room, each holding a glass bowl of what looked like yellow shaved ice.

Otha pointed to one of the maids, “Be a dear and take that one back. Mr. Axenus here has been a bad boy.”

The fifth maid nodded and left while the others delivered a bowl to each of the guests.

“Do you like it? Keeping food like this is only possible through my cold storage system.” Otha bragged, spooning some of the frozen treat into her wide maw.

Faust, having been nearly silent throughout the whole meal, threw in his own comment,  “Incredible, isn’t it? If only the Legion would throw away their ignorant preconceptions about demon energy and learn how to harness its power, it would conquer the world in less than a year.”

Wes, finished with his meal and dessert, stood and approached Aaron from behind, “The Holy Legion’s church are such hypocrites. Do you want to know the difference between their ‘holy’ magic and my so called ‘black’ magic?”

Aaron couldn’t respond on account of the ballgag jammed in his mouth, but Wes answered his own question.

“Absolutely nothing. They just limit their studies to healing, wind, electric and force magics, just because it matches what their pathetic gods used in their precious little fairy tales.”

Wes lifted both hands as a demonstration, a burst of fire popping up in his left while a sparking current of thunder crackled in his right, “These elements may be different, but they’re both manifestations of the same energy- mana, which flows through all living things…”

Aaron’s cold eyes nervously glanced at the fire crackling in the mage’s left hand, beads of sweat starting to run down his forehead. Noticing this, Wes leaned forward, moving the flame dangerously close to Aaron’s face.

“What’s the matter? Bit of pyrophobia…? Odd. You consort with a hellhound, don’t you? Doesn’t she spark that fear? I think this requires a bit more research.”

With dinner and dessert coming to swift finish, Otha stood once more, merrily clapping her hands together, “Gentlemen! Thank you for joining me this lovely evening. But before it comes to a close, I have one last present for you…”


When he was first chained to his chair, Aaron wasn’t exactly sure where he was.

It was dark, only a few scant lanterns here and there giving the spacey, circular room any sort of light. A series of chairs curved along the back wall, each row descending further and further before they rested right before a large wooden stage and massive set of drapes hiding whatever was atop it from view.

Aaron, seated right in front of his kidnappers before the stage, looked around, finally realizing where he was.

An auditorium? I’ve heard of places like this. For plays and music and shit like that. Is Otha so fuckin’ rich she can put one in her own damned house?’

He wasn’t left stewing in his thoughts for very long. The great red drapes parted, revealing empty stage with a few female forms hidden in darkness.

“Gentlemen, I’d like to present to you my favorite dancer! She came all the way from the land of Zipangu. She was worth a pretty penny and stirred up quite a bit of trouble when she first arrived, but her dancing never fails to entertain.”

Seated in the shadows, Aaron saw a small group of maids ready to play their instruments. They included a flute, drum, and some sort of lute. While all of the instruments looked familiar, they had an odd alien design he hadn’t ever seen employed in the bars and taverns he had frequented.

But he saw no dancer… that is, until she stepped into the light of the stage.

She was quite the sight to behold. Both her scanty dress and wild hair were a collage of different shades of blue and black. She bore the face of an easterner, no doubt hailing from Zipangu just as Otha had said.

And judging from the fuzzy blue tail and triangular ears atop her head, she was a monster.

The only thing that marred her otherwise hypnotizing beauty was the thick, ugly metal collar planted firmly around her neck.

“A raiju, huh? Thats a rare one.” laughed the headmaster from behind Aaron.

“Begin.” Otha commanded, clapping her hands together.

The instruments in the back began ringing out in perfect harmony, producing a calming, exotic tune. Releasing the breath pent up in her chest, the monster began swaying to the rhythm behind her.

Aaron watched completely entranced as the monster began her routine. It was slow and methodical, but had an undeniable beauty and flow to it, almost like spring water flowing over smooth stone.

Soon, the music’s tempo picked up, as did her dance. And with the movement of her arms, she let a faint trail of blue sparks floating in the air.

“Isn’t letting her use her powers dangerous…?” Percival asked, looking quite nervous.

“Not at all, good sir. I’ve adjusted the collar so she can release no more than faint sparks. She might be able to give a guard a light zapping if she got close enough, but well… she learned her lesson from the last time she tried that.” Wes replied.

Aaron’s eyes sparkled, and he almost felt like a child gazing up at a starry sky. The music hit its crescendo, and with each quick, graceful step, another floating orb of blue sparks joined its brethren in the air above the raiju.

Taking a final bow, the sparks of thunder burst around her, basking the whole room in a soft, navy-blue light.

“Bravo!” Otha cheered, being the first to applaud. Soon, the others joined in. Aaron thought to do it himself for just a moment, but then he looked down at his bound hands and figured it might not be the greatest idea.

The maids behind the raiju stood from their seats, packing away their instruments and walking further into the depths of the darkness. Squeezing her eyes shut, the raiju bowed to Otha and plodded after the maids.

Although it was the most entrancing display of grace and beauty he had ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on, the monster’s eyes couldn’t have been any more cold and distant.

But being stuck in this hell? Aaron couldn’t blame her.

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