Umbra, Chapter 29

Aaron had to admit, having someone watch his back filled him with something akin to relief. With even the sharp chill of the basement nipping at his bare skin being drowned out by the overwhelming paranoia of running right into a patrolling guard, the company Nariko provided seemed to at last steady his nerves.

“Do you even know where we’re going…?”

But Nariko seemed to nag him every five steps all for the sole purpose of spiting that relief.

“Well, I know where we shouldn’t be going. And that’s a pretty decent first step in my book.” Aaron responded, taking a peek down the curve in the upcoming hallway and finding it clear.

“A first step right into your death, maybe. Just admit it- we’re lost.” the raiju said. With a deep sigh, Aaron elected to ignore her as he continued to lead the charge and rounded the corner.

What they found at the end was a flight of stairs, only leading up. Aaron turned to Nariko, a cocky smirk of victory on his face.

“Yes, yes. You must be very proud of yourself.” grumbled Nariko.

“Oh, trust me. I am.”

Aaron and Nariko hustled forward and ascended the steps as both quickly and silently as they could. Coming up to another door, Aaron cycled through the keys he picked off his guard until he hit the jackpot.

Soon, they found the maze of cold stone and posse of absent-minded guards replaced by shimmering marble and exquisitely detailed paintings and busts. Aaron took a moment to blink, as his eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the cellar, and the magic lanterns that kept Otha’s manor lit nearly blinded him as he entered the first floor.

“Alright. Only two more stories to go.”

Aaron’s initial feelings of optimism and joy quickly melted into disgust as he looked up and saw a rather infuriating portrait hanging in the middle of the hall. It pictured Otha, although far more thin and beautiful than she actually was, riding atop a white mare as it pranced through a field of daisies and wind-bound petals.

“Well… the artist certainly took some creative liberties with this one.” Nariko said with a haughty laugh, tracing one of her long fingernails down Otha’s face and leaving a long scar in the paint.

“Nariko!” Aaron hissed, seizing her wrist, “Are you crazy? We’re trying to be sneaky here! What if a guard sees that? They’ll be onto us!”

Nariko huffed and placed her hands on her shapely hips, “Alright, fine. Just when I thought you were going to be a little fun…”

Unleashing a huff of his own, Aaron turned his back to the monster and made his way further down the hall, “ We’ll have fun later, Nariko. By the way, Reese warned us to keep our eyes open for any traps. He said he doubts Otha would be this loaded and not put up a few safety measures in case a thief sneaks in here and sees something she doesn’t want him to-”

Aaron’s heart plummeted into his stomach when he heard a loud clicking sound from below.

Feeling Nariko grab his shoulder and yank him back, he barely avoided the trap he set off. Out of a sliding panel in the the wall launched a heavy iron spike that would’ve easily punctured his skull. Fortunately, it sliced through nothing but air before planting itself in the adjacent wall.

“Pft. Yeah, I’ll watch out…” the raiju snickered, reaching around and flicking the tip of his nose.

Aaron nearly deflated as he stepped off the almost unnoticed pressure plate. But unfortunately, their troubles didn’t end there. Just ahead of them, a door swung open and a guard stepped out, having heard the heavy thunk.

“Y-you…!” the guard stuttered, his stunned eyes going as wide as dinner plates.

“Looks like we ain’t gotta choice…” Aaron bitterly spat under his breath. He grabbed the heavy spike that stuck into the wall, yanking it out and brandishing it like a hunter’s knife. With spike and shank in both hands, Aaron rushed towards the guard.

Grunting in surprise, the guard raised his spear a hair too late for a counter. But on pure combat instinct, he raised his leather buckler just in time to stop Aaron’s downward stab with the spike.

With a primal growl, Aaron flipped his shank around and tried to stab the guard in his thigh. Seeing this move coming, he lowered his spear hand and bunted wrists with Aaron, blocking the iron-haired man’s strike.

Then in a grand display of brute force, the guard slammed his forehead into Aaron’s. But the guard was wearing his leather helm, shielding him from the recoil.

Stunned by the sudden blow, the guard took advantage of Aaron’s state to deliver a fierce kick to the escapee’s gut, sending Aaron stumbling onto his back.

“Sonova…” Aaron grumbled, sitting back up and rubbing at the fresh gash on his forehead with the back of his wrist. While the initial moment of defeat was bitter, he felt a great sense of pride as he looked down at the spike in his hand.

It was still stuck into the guard’s buckler- in other words, Aaron had yanked it from the guard’s hands before he fell back.

The guard seemed to notice his shield was missing just a moment after Aaron. But he didn’t have the opportunity to wrest it from the iron-haired man’s hands, as Nariko sprung forward to challenge him.

She threw out a series of brilliant spinning kicks, then avoided his counter-attacks. The guard’s spearhead just barely missed one of the raiju’s vital points with every thrust, but a miss was still a miss.

To Aaron’s astonishment, Nariko seemed every bit as nimble and graceful in a fight as in a dance. She twirled and spun with every fluid kick, eventually landing a clean blow to the guard’s mouth.

Dragging himself to his feet, Aaron yanked the spike out of the buckler, putting the shield on for himself. Rushing forward, he brushed past Nariko and smashed the guard’s own buckler into his helm.

The first blow stunned the guard. Rearing his arm back, Aaron threw it forward once again, using the shield to knock the guard’s helm from his brow.

Deciding to finish the job herself, Nariko vaulted off of the iron-haired man’s back and twirled through the air, hitting the back of the guard’s head with her foot and slamming his face into the ground.

“There. He wasn’t so tough~” Nariko giggled mischievously.

Aaron, still rebounding after Nariko used him as a human launchpad without so much as a warning, only shot a sour look at her.

Sauntering over to him, Nariko traced two fingers down the scar across his midsection, “Ah, don’t be like that, big boy…”

“Alright, that’s enough.” Aaron sighed, brushing her hand away before looking further down the hall, “Let’s get goin’. One of his friends might have heard that, so let’s get that collar offa you as soon as-”

Aaron’s gaze shifted back to Nariko, only to find her looming over the beaten guard with his spear in hand.

“NO!”

His blood racing, Aaron leapt forward, backhanding the spear out of Nariko’s hands.

“Ow! What the fuck’s wrong with you?! This bastard works for Otha!” the raiju protested.

“He’s… he’s just a grunt! He doesn’t need to die!” Aaron fired back, “He has friends… family! Maybe he only took this job to feed his kids! Are you willing to live knowing you stole him away from them?”

“If it means a greater chance for me to live, than gladly.” she spat, grabbing the collar around her neck, “Not to mention he’s helped enslave me for years! He brought this upon himself!”

“Hey! They’re escaping!”

Aaron and Nariko’s heads whipped to the other end of the hallway, seeing a guard escorting two maids pointing right at them.

“Fuck!” Aaron cried, raising the buckler just in time to block the array of ten needles thrown his way. With no other option, he and Nariko turned the corner and fled.

“What now, smart guy?” the raiju huffed, dashing alongside the human.

Aaron skid to a halt, seeing something that caught his eye. A window, filtering in several soft rays of sunshine.

“Hold on…” he grunted out, smashing open the glass before grabbing Nariko and hopping outside.

“You know, these collars also can activate automatically if we get too far away from-”

“I ain’t planning on running away with my tail between my legs.” Aaron quickly cut her off, grabbing her and pressing both of them to the wall just to the right outside of the window, “But hopefully, that’s what the guard will assume I did.”

Finally catching up, the guard and maids peered out the window. Taking Nariko, he kept them both pressed against the wall, both of their breaths held and bodies rigid as statues.

“Go after them! They couldn’t have gotten far. They must be hiding in the gardens somewhere.” the guard ordered, not spotting them. Swiftly following orders, the two maids hopped from the window and took off further down into Otha’s gardens. After giving the order, the guard left, presumably to go give a report to his superior officers.

When the maids vanished into the green expanse of the gardens, the human and monster sighed with relief and sat back up.

“Hmph. Nice plan, Aaron. I guess you’re not as stupid as you look~” Nariko praised him, patting him on the shoulder.

“Thanks… I guess.” Aaron sighed, suddenly feeling his right fist explode with pain as the adrenaline wore off. Looking down, his saw several shards of glass sticking out from his bloody knuckles, “It was mostly luck, though. Guess mine isn’t all rotten…”

Crawling through the window, Aaron carefully stepped around the broken glass to avoid cutting his naked feet. Clearing the threat, he began biting out the bloody shards stuck in his hand before spitting them out onto the floor.

“Will you be alright, big guy?”

“Yup. I’ve had way worse than this.” Aaron said, spitting out the final shard before attempting to flex out his fingers. But he grimaced in pain the instant he tried, the regret clear on his face.

Nariko suddenly pressed herself up against his chest, pressing a finger to his lips. Glancing down the hall, her triangular ears twitched, “Shh! Keep quiet. Don’t you hear that?”

Soon enough, Aaron realized what she was talking about- echoing down to their position were four heavy footfalls and the voices of two gruff men trading words.

“Shit.” Aaron swore, unsure of what to do next. They could try to run down the other side of the hallway, but they could be rushing right into more guards or another booby trap.

“Aaron! Over here…” Nariko urged, prancing up to a wooden door and opening it up.

Swiftly catching up to her, the human and monster ducked into the room, finding what appeared to be a supply closet. Extra blankets and pillows were stacked in the corner, sharp iron tools for both housework and gardening were hung on the walls, a large cabinet was filled with rows of cutlery, and hundreds of pounds of other junk could be found crammed within.

“Damn. Well, we could use some of these tools, but… what’re going to do now? Theres nowhere to hide in here!”

Nariko flicked her finger towards the cabinet, a wicked smirk on her face. “Hope you don’t mind squeezing into tight spaces, Aaron…”


Stomping down the hallway, two guards smashed the bits of the broken window underfoot as they hunted down the escapees.

Stopping on a dime, the first guard held up his arm in front of his partner to halt him, “Hey, check it out.”

“Blood…” the second guard muttered, his eyes following his partner’s finger to the sticky trail of dark crimson staining the wooden floor. It ran all the way down the hall and into a supply closet.

Silently nodding to each other, the guards crept up to the closet and kicked it open, bursting inside. The instant they opened the door, their gaze was drawn to the floor covered with cutlery, and that red trail running right up to the slightly ajar cabinet.

“Are you fucking kidding me…?” the first guard muttered, “This is just pathetic.”

The second one removed something from his pocket- something that looked remarkably similar to the device Wes had used to open the gate to the manor.

“Open it up, Jim. I’ll take care of him.”

Jim nodded to his partner, hustling up to the cabinet and yanking it open. There, with his impressive frame awkwardly crammed into the cabinet, was Aaron.

“Ehhh… nice weather, eh fellas?”

The sour guard replied only by pressing down on his button.

All at once, Aaron felt his body erupt with white-hot pain. Wildly convulsing from the electric shock, he grabbed at the collar around his neck and flopped to the ground.

“My fuckin’ eight year old could’ve picked a better hiding spot, pal.” the guard named Jim chided, kicking Aaron in the ribs.

“Hey, don’t rough him up too bad. Wes wanted this bastard in prime condition before his examination.” the second guard said, releasing his hold on the button. As the iron-haired man lay on the floor, gasping for breath, the guard walked up to him and planted the sole of his boot on his temple.

“But don’t get me wrong, we will put the hurt on you if you keep resisting… I’m sure Wes would understand.” the guard spat, grinding his foot on Aaron’s head, “Now… where’s the raiju?”

“Right behind ya~”

The guard swiveled around just in time to have his face smashed in with a heavy shovel. Jim watched with horror as his partner’s back hit the ground, blood spurting from his bent nose and several teeth missing from his mouth.

Jim raised his spear into the air, but it was already too late. Bolting upright, Aaron rushed forward and slammed his shoulder into the enemy’s side, sending him crashing into a stack of crates, where they collapsed, split open, and buried the guard in the copper ingots that were stored within.

“Ouch.” Nariko cringed, knocking the few ingots over his face off with her shovel, finding his bloodied mug already puffed up like a balloon.

Dragging the other guard to the wall, Aaron stripped him of his armor and relieved him of his iron dagger. Aaron knew he had to remain stealthy, but a bit of added protection would help. He removed the chest piece and pants off of the guard, taking them for himself. Unfortunately, their boots were far too heavy and thick for sneaking. Still, the gray-haired man ripped apart some of the same blankets he used to wrap his injured hand and did the same for his feet.

“Phew. Nice to finally get some fuckin’ clothes on.” he breathed, tucking the guard’s knife away with his shank in his new pockets. Turning back to Nariko, he saw her looming over the strange little device that the guard had used to activate his collar, “So those things can shock us, huh?”

“Mine is different, but these things work on all the others. Some of the veteran guards carry them around… I suppose that they take too long to make for standard equipment.” Nariko sighed, pressing the tip of her shovel against the device and slowly applying pressure until it exploded into tiny, smoldering shards. Its guts spilled out, revealing a series of smoking copper wires, gears, cracked glass nodes and other bits and baubles that must’ve taken an eternity to put together.

“Whats our next move, Nariko? Guards should be swarming all over this floor looking for us now, and they probably have those maids with them too. If we run into one of them, we’re up shit creek without a paddle.”

“We’re not already?” the raiju snickered, tossing her shovel to the side, “Ah well. Let me think for a bit. I’m sure some of these tools in here could help us…”

The raiju hummed in thought, tapping one foot against the ground and folding her arms under her generous bust. Sticking out her rump, she swung her tail to and fro as she examined the wall of tools before her.

Aaron averted his gaze with a frustrated grumble, knowing full well she was sticking her pert behind at him intentionally. But his curiosity eventually won the internal struggle, and he carefully traced his gaze back at the raiju’s rump…

Bzzzzz!

Seizing up, Aaron grabbed as his collar activated again. His nerves began pulsing with raw pain and white dots flashed in his vision, and he once more crumbled to the floor with a long groan.

“Oh… naughty, naughty~ did you forget what happens when you get aroused with that collar on?” Nariko chided him.

“Not being able to pop a stiffy wasn’t exactly number one on my list of concerns…” he grumbled, stumbling back onto his feet, “Not to mention it was kinda your fault…”

Snickering, the raiju turned back to the large collection of tools. A large spark popped over Nariko’s head as an idea suddenly came together. Skipping over to the wall, she grabbed two hand sickles, intended for cutting small patches of grass.

“What are those for? Self defense?” asked Aaron, confused to their purpose.

Nariko’s small pink tongue escaped her lips, and she released a rather sinister chuckle as she crept back towards the closet’s door. Small sapphire sparks popped around her, casting menacing shadows over her face.

“Not exactly…”


“GRAGH!”

Yanking his spear out of the guard’s chest, Reese watched his sixth challenger crumble to the floor in a lifeless heap. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, the incubus kicked the corpse into the quickly forming pile.

“Phew… I ain’t too rusty, I suppose.” Reese sighed, giving the spear a twirl around, “Although, the lance was never my best weapon in the first place.”

With a slick smile, he faced towards the terrified faces of the guards peering in from the doorway, and his violet eyes seemed to flash in the darkness.

“Well? Who’s next, boys?” he chuckled, slamming the end of his spear against the cold stone floor and slicking back his dark hair with the opposite hand.

“He’s… he’s a fucking monster! E-even with that collar on him, he’s slaughtering our toughest!” one of the guards muttered, slowly backing away.

“D-don’t be a coward! He’s still just one guy… he can’t take all of us at once!” another guard hollered at his coworker.

“Well, it’s a good thing this prison is a chokepoint.” Reese replied, rattling his spear against each cage at his side, “Whether you gents like it or not, you’re going to have fight me mano e mano.”

The posse of guards, now with only ten members remaining, stood rigid at the entrance to the prison. But before any more words could be exchanged, a tall and lean member stepped in from the back.

“Don’t worry, friends.” chuckled the lean man, drawing a fine composite bow, “He knows he can’t take all of us at once, so he’ll stay right where is… right in my sights!

Taking a single step into the prison, he notched an arrow and took aim at the thoroughly unimpressed incubus. Raising a brow, Reese spread out his arms and puffed out his chest.

“Go ahead, amigo. But ya better make damned sure that’s a good shot… because if ya miss, I can promise it’ll be your last.”

The archer only smirked and let the arrow fly.

Reese’s violet eyes burst open. Within a split second, he rolled forward, passing right under the arrow. Landing on a single knee, he flipped his spear around and threw it forward.

The last thing the archer saw was the tip of the flying weapon. It punctured his eye, knocking him back and sending his corpse landing before his companions.

“PAUL! You… you fucking freak!” one of the guards screamed, finally having enough. Rushing into the prison, he drew his weapon, a simple estoc, its sparse design suggesting function over form.

“Freak? Oh, that stings.” Rees sighed, standing up and dusting off his knees as he watched the fury-blinded man rush him, “But not as much as this will!”

Seeing the guard’s running thrust from a mile away, Reese swiveled to the side, and with a single swift and fluid movement, grabbed the handle of the estoc, placed a hand on the guard’s back, and stuck out his foot. Plucking the weapon from the guard’s hand and pushing him into his outstretched foot, he sent the enemy flying and face-planting into the stone.

And just as he was about to stand up and take a swing at Reese, the incubus stabbed the guard through the back of his neck, killing him with his own weapon.

“Ah! Now this is more my style… a bit heavier than what I’m used to, but it’ll do just fine.” Reese chuckled, flicking the blood off the thin blade and turning towards the remainder of the guard, all paralyzed with fear.

“W-when are the fuckin’ maids gonna get here?!” one of the guards shivered, sweat pouring down his face like a burst dam.

“Calm down. Otha said she’s sending down two as we speak.” one guard let the others know.

“Only two? How many of them does that hog even have?”

“Twenty. Fifteen are looking for that other fucker and the raiju, and Otha always keeps three with her for protection.” another guard wheezed, so pent up with fear and nervousness he forgot to breath for a few moments, “But don’t worry. Those bitches are as dumb as oxes, but even stronger. Even with just two up against him, that freak show will have a matchstick’s chance in the ocean.”

“What’re you boys whispering about up there?” Reese called out, playfully thrusting his new estoc into the air, “C’mon, I was just getting warmed up! Don’t leave me hanging down here. Don’t be a bunch of teases~”

Behind Reese, the first half of the prison had evacuated to the cells facing his back. Now crammed in four to a cell, the monsters watched with bated breath as the incubus went wild.

“He’s doing pretty good.” a frog girl said with a ribbit, looking back to her cellmates- a weresheep, a cockatrice, and manticore.

“O-of course he is. There’s nothing Mr. Reese can’t do~” the cockatrice sighed dreamily, her face turning as red as a beet.

The manticore, looking entirely uninterested, sat leaned against the wall. She peeled open one eye to see what was transpiring, then just as quickly shut it and returned to her daydream.

Back in the darkened hallway, the guards stood rigid as a boards, their various weapons and shields all definitively held up. Although they tried appearing as an iron bulwark, it was very clear most were only a good spook away from soiling their britches. At the very end of the formation was the lieutenant leading the force, barely keeping himself from declaring the operation a bust and calling a retreat. His pole-axe, threateningly long and sharpened to a fine edge, trembled ever so slightly with his nervous hands.

“Excuse us, Lieutenant Joffrey. Madam Otha has sent us to assist you.”

Hearing the dull voice from behind, Joffrey nearly jumped out of his armor. Quickly taking a look over his shoulder, he found two maids, one fair-skinned with raven hair and the other dark-skinned with hair as white as snow.

“Ah… ah, shit. Get your asses down there and take that bastard down! I don’t even care if you have to kill him anymore, Wes has had five years to study that fucker! He’s way too dangerous to keep alive!” the lieutenant breathed out, dropping the blade of his pole-axe to the ground.

Murmuring in agreement, the guards split before the maids at a dizzying speed, urging them to go in and rectify their predicament.

“Rip out the cunt’s throat!”

“Kill ‘em! Make it nice n’ fuckin’ slow!”

“Make that shithead pay!”

“Yeesh. These guys have a colorful vocabulary…” Reese sighed as the jeers of the guard’s echoed into the prison and hit his ears. But his quip did little to ease the dread he felt as he watched the maids stalk towards him.

“Hey, ladies, can we just-”

Reese was interrupted as a knife flew by his head, leaving a deep cut in his cheek as he just barely managed to dodge. As the fair-skinned maid came back into position from her throw, the dark-skinned one rushed at him, removing a long chain with a sharp blade attached to the end.

Doubling back, Reese danced backwards as the dark-skinned maid whipped about her bladed chain like an iron maelstrom.

The blade dented the iron bars of the prison and cut into stone each time she missed, but it didn’t slow the maid in the slightest as she pressed onward and kept swinging. Every strike she made came dangerously close to crippling Reese, but he still managed to dance back and avoid her until his back hit the wall.

“HAH!” the incubus screamed, thrusting his estoc at the girl. His heart was heavy with guilt at the thought of killing a girl who had been made a slave from some demented mage’s sick experiments, but he had more than his own skin to worry about.

His moral qualms seemed much less pressing as he realized he had little chance of killing the maids in the first place, as the chain-wielding girl easily read his thrust and hopped a few feet back down the hall, landing gracefully next to her partner.

As they went back to back, the fair-skinned maid drew two knives at once and the dark-skinned one threateningly twirled around her chain. Swallowing the lump his throat, Reese held his estoc forward and took a tentative step forward.

“He’s as good as dead.” Lieutenant Joffrey snickered, eagerly watching as the maids approached the incubus. The cheers and boisterous laughter of the guards rang down into the prison and made a sickening song.

But soon enough, it was silenced.

Needles flew from the cage to the maids left, sinking into their soft flesh. Slinking to the floor, they dropped their weapons as heavy blushes lit up their faces. Turning to face each other, the maids embraced and pulled each other in for a heavy, tongue-wrestling kiss.

“WHAT THE HELL?!” the guards all seemed to cry in unison, watching in disbelief at what just happened.

Joffrey, with his pole-axe clattering against the ground, jogged into the prison and stared down into the cage where the needles had fired, finding a smug manticore with her tail outstretched.

“W-what did you do to them, you demon whore?!”

“Even with this collar on me, my venom is filled with aphrodisiacs and demon energy.” she explained, her spiked tail merrily thumping against the bars of her cell, “You can cancel out our powers, but not our biology. I just had to wait for the right time to make my move.”

Joffrey slowly blinked as he looked back towards the maids. Their bodies were already brimming with demon energy, and their dulled minds left little challenge for the aphrodisiacs to work their magic. All present watched in astonishment as their white and brown flesh already began melting into a similar purplish color, mixing and dripping all over their uniforms.

Then, feeling a stirring in his loins, Reese quickly averted his eyes and nervously tugged at the collar latched around his neck before it zapped him.

“Ermm… ladies? These collars Otha snapped around our necks will shock us if we get… well, y’know… excited. So, do you mind doin’ that elsewhere?”

Carefully peering back at him, the two gooey monsters parted and looked up at him with their new yellow eyes.

“Oh, I know! How about you go grab that guard I tied up back there and take him somewhere else to have a little fun? I know he could use the company~” Reese suggested, forking his thumb to the last cell, where the stoic guard lay naked and hogtied.

The maids broke out into ecstatic grins and stood, leaving behind trails of purple slime as they approached the captured jailer. Still bound and gagged, he could do nothing but mummer and writhe about as the two women picked him up over their heads and carried him back towards the exit of the prison.

“Shiiiiiiiit!”

Turning tail and fleeing faster than a bat out of hell, Lieutenant Joffrey was the first to dart down the hallway before the gravity of the situation hit his comrades a moment later. They too went on instinct and took off, the maids still in mid-transformation totally ignoring them as they entered the adjacent room and slammed shut the door behind them.

Forgetting even his pole-axe as he fled, Joffrey didn’t so much as slow down as he craned his neck around to check if the demons were pursuing him. He quickly regretted his lack of attention.

Crashing directly into a man clad in a thick suit of leather and iron plates, the lieutenant bounced right back and painfully landed on his rump. Catching his bearings, Joffrey shook his head to both sides and peered up.

Before him towered a black man with a neat little beard and thick jaw. He was encased almost completely in armor, and dragged a hefty battle axe behind him. The hulking chunk of iron looked more like a giant woodcutter’s axe than something to be implemented in battle.

“What do you think you’re doing, lieutenant?”

Deep and baritone, his quiet tone still seemed to thump against the cowering Joffrey’s ears as the armored mountain of muscle stared him down.

“Fleeing from battle, are you? Back in my country, we would’ve put cowards like you on the chopping block for insubordination such as this.”

So wracked with fear was Joffrey that he couldn’t manage to stutter a proper excuse, “Ca-ca-ca-captain Sefu! I… I…”

But Sefu simply passed the man without so much as another glance.

“Get to your feet and show some dignity, lieutenant. We’re short on men as it is, so you get to keep your life for now. Now go and find Master Wes.”

“Y-yessir!” Joffrey cried as he hopped up, saluting the towering man’s back before dashing further down the hallway.

With a loud snort, Sefu slung his axe back over his shoulders and proceeded further down the hallway. Stomping down the empty path, he stepped around the discarded weapons of his men and peered inside the prison.

Reese, sitting with his back leaned against an empty cell for a rest, blinked in surprise and grabbed the estoc at his side once more.

“Dammit. Don’t you bastards ever let up?”

Propping himself up, the incubus slowly shuffled forward, studying Sefu’s face.

“You’re a Terrain, aren’t you? What are you doing in Lusitania? The Legion doesn’t accept immigrants under normal circumstances.”

Sefu nodded at the incubus, “You’re correct. I am of the Fusai tribe. We were the mightiest tribe in our region, and conquered all in our path. After we rounded up the survivors, we would send them up north to Misr to sell as slaves.”

“But you said you were a Fusai. So, what are you here?”

Sefu looked towards the cracks in the ceiling, looking lost in thought, “There was one man I encountered. The Bloody Fang… the strongest man of our rival tribe. He had a mountain of bodies about him before he finally fell to our warriors. Yet still, he lived. When we captured him, we could’ve sold him for the price of a hundred men. But being the young fool I was back then, so eager to prove myself, I offered him his freedom in exchange for a duel to the death… and I came out ontop.”

“Can’t imagine your chief was too happy about that…”

Sefu’s iron-plated chest rose and fell with his deep chuckles, “He wasn’t. Still, he had use of me. In slaying the Fang, I had surpassed him, and an even greater price than he earned was put on my head. The chief said I had betrayed the tribe for my own foolish lust for power, and sold me off as a result.”

“…and Otha bought you. So that’s how you ended up here.”

“Exactly. Still, I don’t begrudge anyone for the trade of blood and flesh, nor the countless battles it sparks. It would be very hard, considering I did the exact same when I was a free man. In fact, I believe war and conflict are what drive us humans to climb to ever greater heights.”

Reese’s face scrunched up with disdain, yet still Sefu went on.

Sefu pounded a fist against his chest, “Besides, look where I am now- I’ve gone from a slave to the guard captain of one of the most wealthy women in the world’s mightiest empire. War, turmoil and conflict are what make humans strong.”

“That’s one way to look at it…” Reese grumbled.

Sefu pulled out that strange, simple little device that activated the nullcollars. His eyes springing open, Reese prepared to dive forward and slash the damnable gizmo away, but before his feet could push off the ground, Sefu let it drop to the floor.

It only had a moment to clatter against the cold stone before Sefu’s massive boot fell atop it, grinding it into tiny bits in an instant. Looking up from the boot and up his gargantuan frame, Reese met the giant of a man’s broad smile head-on.

“Do you care to make me stronger, incubus?”

Against the protests of his thumping heart, Reese repositioned himself and held his estoc forward, “Okay, I’m game. Let’s dance, big boy.”

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3 thoughts on “Umbra, Chapter 29”

  1. Typos:
    > made his further
    > with his every
    > Aaron careful stepped
    > stuck his his hand
    > It’s guts
    > Whats our
    > It would very hard
    > out ontop

    > shogs getting stuck by manticore needles
    Putting the question of why manticore venom would affect them over anything else they might pick up while moving around aside, why wouldn’t the spines just go through them?

    > Aaron stopping Nariko from killing someone
    I know he had that conversation with the black knight in the last chapter, but his turn away from killing feels erratic, especially since he had a similar-but-not-quite-exact version of the conversation after killing Gregorio and the climax of this entire series will be him killing Lucero

    Sefu’s exposition feels out of place, I get it was to let Reese know why he wanted to fight, but it seems like he went into too much detail for just that

    1. The maids weren’t shogs. Wes said in the last chapter the maids are human girls that he filled with demon energy to the point of almost turning monster, but stopping just before. The manticore venom is what finished the job and turned them into shogs.

      Aaron’s hesitant about killing now because he realizes he’ll have to do the same with William. Instead of confronting this problem directly, hes decided to adopt an unrealistic no killing rule so he won’t feel guilty for extending mercy to only his friend. This is a character flaw that’ll be explored in a few chapters. Sorry if I didn’t allude to this enough, but I’m trying to keep a balance of keeping it simple and not holding the readers hand like they’re a child and constantly repeating the same point over and over.

      Thanks for pointing out the typos, and for the criticism. I feel you’re right about Sefu’s dialogue being a bit too long since he’s a very minor character, but neither of my editors said anything about it, so I just figured it was alright. I might go back and try to trim the fat later.

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