Umbra, Chapter 4

Bear stew?”

Yup! I’m actually a pretty good cook.”

For someone who eats most of their meat raw?”

That’s right~”

With a small grunt, Aaron opened up the pot’s lid, hit by the hearty scent of roasted meat simmered with an array of herbs.

I sniffed out some mushrooms and herbs when I got back to camp. They should make the stew even tastier!” she chuckled, sniffing the air as the scent of her stew filled it.

And you made sure none of them were poisonous to humans?” Aaron asked, gingerly setting the lid back on the bronze pot.

Of course. I’d never put my baby in harm’s way~!”

Fine. But if I get sick, you’re carrying me.” Aaron muttered, looking back to the campsite. Aside from the bronze pot over the campfire she had set up, she pitched the tent… but it was a rather hackneyed job. It looked drooping and uneven on all sides, and as though it would collapse with a light breeze.

Sorry, babe… I did the best I could.” Valerie whined, her ears folding down in shame as Aaron got an eyeful of her pathetic excuse for a pitched tent.

Don’t worry about it. I’ll teach you how to pitch it properly next time…”

Trailing off, Aaron’s entire chest expanded as he yawned. Tossing his cloak into their pile of dirty clothing, most of it still stained with blood, he plopped into the grass.

He’d wash them tomorrow. He’d worry about the Legion tomorrow. Right now, all he wanted to do was slurp down the stew and take a long rest. His back bending forward ever so slightly, his heavy, droopy eyelids began to close…


In the forests of a tropical island, under the blazing heat of the sun, a fierce, bloody battle raged outside the gates of a village of wood and straw. Aaron and his company braved the various traps set up by the orcs throughout the forest, eventually reaching them and mounting an all-out assault.

Orcs weren’t the most dangerous monsters out there, but their monumental strength was something to be reckoned with. Aaron hadn’t engaged one yet, and he had a feeling he wouldn’t be receiving the opportunity.

The orcs did own overwhelming strength, but they had little skill, crude weapons, and no armor. The same went for their husbands. And while every grown man and monster in the village were fighting, the orcs were still pitifully outnumbered. Still, none of those facts made them hesitate in defending their village with all their might.

Amidst the organized chaos of the battlefield, Aaron stood, taking deep breaths. With a broadsword in one hand and buckler in the other, Aaron stepped up, pointing his blade at an enraged heretic.

You! I’ll take you down, and your demon wife!” 

If my wife is a demon, then you’re a devil, you hear me?! A devil! And you won’t lay a finger on her, you murderous bastard!”

The heretic rushed forward, slicing at Aaron’s neck with his serrated blade. Easily parrying the blow with his buckler, Aaron kneed the man’s gut, then followed the attack by ramming a fierce kick to his shin.

Dropping his weapon and falling to his hands and knees, the heretic looked back up, finding only one of his orc allies bashing her over-sized hammer against a legionary’s great shield in the distance.

Aaron had stepped to the heretic’s side, his broadsword glistening in the sunlight as he raised it aloft. Before the heretic could look to the right and see his executioner, Aaron brought his blade down on his neck.

The beheading didn’t go exactly as Aaron had imagined it. Only slicing halfway through the neck, he nonetheless severed the man’s spinal cord, sending him convulsing on the ground, blood spraying every which way.

His first month of service and second battle, and he had already killed his fifth man.

And now, he wasn’t starting to feel so guilty about it.

Wiping his blade clean, Aaron stared out back towards the battlefield, seeing that the skirmish was coming to a swift, bloody end for the orcs and their husbands. Aaron watched one of his company’s veterans bash an orc’s head in with his flail.

Another one of his comrades cried out in pain as an orc smashed his leg with her mighty hammer, but he quickly lashed out and stabbed her through the heart. He even saw his new friend Will twirl his spear around his body before thrusting it forward and skewering a heretic.

A legionary rushed from the village with a bloody mace in hand, looking quite pleased with himself. Cupping a single hand to his mouth, he bellowed towards the battlefield, “Keep it up, boys! The captain just split the swine’s chief down the middle! We’ve got ’em cornered!”

No surprise there. Captain Donovan was the mightiest man Aaron had ever laid eyes on, and frankly, he would’ve been unvexed if it turned out Donovan had bisected the orc’s chief with his bare hands.

With his blade wiped free of blood, Aaron continued to scan the battlefield, looking for any ally that needed assistance.

AIEEEEE!!!”

The ear-splitting shriek from behind sent Aaron stumbling forward from shock, but he quickly caught himself and spun back around. There, with blood staining her hammer, was an orc. With her pink skin flushed red, her whole body trembled with rage.

MURDERER!” she shrieked, slamming her hammer to the ground, “YOU KILLED MY HUSBAND!”

Aaron didn’t know what to say. What could he, to a woman he had just stole everything from? At a loss for words, he responded only by shifting into a fighting stance, his buckler and broadsword at the ready. The furious orc was already closing in, her mighty hammer reared back.

With something between a primal warcry and pig’s squeal, the orc leaped into the air and brought her weapon down, Aaron hopping out of the way of the blow. The instant his feet touched the ground he sprung forward once again, lashing out a strike at the pig.

In turn, she held her hammer up, blocking the strike with her weapon’s sturdy shaft. Aaron was sent a reeling a step backward from the impact, and that opportunity wasn’t lost on the orc. Throwing her weight forward, she rammed her shoulder into Aaron’s gut, sending him flying and skidding on his back.

Oof!”

Landing in the wild, unkempt grass below, Aaron soon found the pig woman looming above him, her hammer reared back and blotting out the harsh sun overhead. Cloaked in shadow, the pig woman prepared to deliver the finishing blow.

THWIP!

The hammer fell from her hands, landing at her side with a loud thump. Out of her right eye, the shaft of a crossbow bolt extended.

With several loud squeals of pain, she doubled back, grabbing at the projectile lodged in her cornea. The young legionary didn’t waste the chance. Grabbing his broadsword, Aaron sprung towards her trembling form, sinking the blade through her back.

Seizing up, the pig woman let out a final hitched breath before slumping over. Aaron yanked the blade from her back, the pig monster flopping to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Aaron stared at the bloody blade. Then back down at the orc woman, her soft, pink body convulsing as the light in her single eye faded away.

His sixth kill, and first monster.

Y-you alright?” a redheaded crossbowman asked as he rushed up to Aaron, his trusty weapon held to his chest. 

Yeah… yeah, I’m fine. Thanks, man. What was your name again?”

M-Miles. My name is Miles.”

Well, Miles, you’re a damn good shot… and I think I owe you a drink.”


Meat. The mouth-watering smell of cooking meat invading his nostrils once again, Aaron’s eyes burst open, staring at the tan interior of his tent. His stomach rumbled, begging for subsistence.

Just a dream…”

A dream of the past, at any rate. Wriggling from his bedroll, Aaron craned out his sore neck, rubbing the crust from his eyes.

Wait, how’d I get in here?” he grumbled. The last thing he remembered, he was sitting outside, ready to eat some bear stew…

His stomach growling once more, he flinched as he realized that meal never came. He must have fallen asleep right before it was ready. He didn’t have a doubt in his mind that it was Valerie that moved him into the tent.

Pushing aside the flap and crawling outside, Aaron blinked as his eyes adjusted to the midday sun. Midday? How long had he been asleep? A little under twenty hours, if he had to hazard a guess.

Valerie was sitting by the crackling campfire, roasting a deer leg under it’s flames. Shooting him a bright grin, Aaron couldn’t help but smile at how cute her face was, in sharp contrast to how terrifying those fangs of her’s were.

Sleep well, babe?”

Well enough, I guess.” Aaron grumbled, stretching out. Then, he noticed something wrapped around Valerie’s neck… a ragged, crimson scarf.

“Where’d you find that, Valerie?”

Tugging at the accessory, the hellhound blushed, “Oh, this? Well, that cloak you gave me was your first gift to me, and well… I just didn’t have the heart to throw it away, so I made it into this scarf instead.”

“That’s nice….” Aaron said, eyeing the red cloth, “So, why didn’t you wake me up for dinner last night?”

Oh, I tried, babe.” she responded, spinning the venison around, “But I couldn’t help it! You were just too cute when you get all tuckered out. I couldn’t bring myself to wake you up.”

I’m not a baby, Valerie.” he grumbled indignantly, “And you ate all the stew last night by yourself?”

H-hey, I was really hungry! An active girl like me needs plenty of energy.” huffed Valerie, removing the roasted deer leg from above the fire, “Besides, I made sure to find the fattest, juiciest deer for lunch when you woke up.”

Yeah, thanks for that.” Aaron said as the immensely strong monster girl ripped a chunk of meat in two, handing him the half with the bone still lodged inside.

The scalding juices from the meat not bothering her in the slightest, Valerie dug into the meal with reckless abandon, only looking up to ask Aaron a question, “So, how much longer do we have to hang around here? The Legion should be after you soon, right?”

No. Local law enforcement won’t try to go after any monsters, and the nearest legionary outpost is at Eonoir, about three days west of here on horseback. I’d say we have a little over a week before the Legion starts searching for me. Hopefully, we’ll already be out of Graeme by then.”

Graeme, huh? That’s the name of this country, right?”

How did you not know that, Valerie? In fact, how did you even get here? To the west and south are just more Legion territories, the sea is to the east… so you must be from the mountains to the north, right?”

Yup! I lived with a nomadic tribe for awhile. There were all kinds of monsters and humans living with us. But… we kinda split up a while ago.”

Why’s that?” Aaron asked curiously, finishing off his meat. Tossing the bone to Valerie, she began chewing on it in thought.

Well, the Legion didn’t bother us. It was basically a tundra, so we survived by trading with lands further north, just like all the other tribes around those parts. But soon, the tribes started fighting. A lot of ’em thought that the Legion would conquer us after they were through with the west to completely purge the world of monsters. So they wanted to join up with them before that happened.”

Can’t beat ’em, join ’em… makes sense. But with so many tribes leaving, your trade routes would die out, and the tribes that stayed wouldn’t be able to survive. Damn, that sucks.”

Sure does. So, we were left with two armies of tribes… independents that protected monsters like my tribe, and unionists that wanted to oust monsters and join the Legion. You’d have thunk my tribe and our allies would’ve won, right? Not only did we have monsters fighting, most of the traditions up north swayed people in our favor, although a lot of them still didn’t like monsters.”

Tapping his fingers together, Aaron shook his head from side-to-side, “No. The Legion sent troops, money, and armaments to the unionists, right? I think I remember one of my squad mates saying that he fought up there in a tribal war about ten years ago. It didn’t last long.”

Yeah. It all happened just after my seventeenth birthday. My mother didn’t let me fight… she said I wasn’t ready yet. I never forgave her for that.”

What happened?”

It was one of the final battles in the war. The independents were sure they would win. The unionists had set up their main base in a valley. We thought it was to hide their position… but we were wrong. We sent around half our fighters to take the base by surprise and win the war, but the base was completely empty. The commander knew they were coming. He brought his men up to each side of the valley… they rained down fire and pitch, rocks, arrows, bolts, magic… anything they could launch from a distance.”

The hellhound began tearing up. Aaron looked on, concern mounting in his eyes.

Although tears ran down her cheeks and her voice was cracking, Valerie pushed on, “The independents were all dead before the morning. My… my mother was down there that night.”

Aaron sat in stunned silence. Having nothing else to say, he shared what he knew, “I know that battle. The Massacre of Whale’s Back Valley, am I right?”

Y-yeah. That’s what everyone called it.”

Its famous down here in the Legion. The commander at the time, Alexander? The emperor was so impressed by his cunning and tactical ability, from that battle in particular, that he promoted him to the generalissimo of the whole damned army once the war was over.”

Hehehe… the generalissimo, huh? So it’s not likely I’ll ever make him pay for what he’s done.” Valerie muttered sadly, ears and tail falling limp.

Valerie… if you stick with me till the very end, and we end up taking down Lucero, Alexander is next. Got it?”

Hearing those words, her ears and tail perked back up, “A-are you serious?”

I’m totally serious. If we’re actually able to kill Lucero, then Alexander should be a piece of cake. Besides, I don’t have anything better to do after I avenge my brother.”

B-but I thought the generalissimo was the second most powerful man in the Legion!”

Well, there’s two different schools of thought on that. If you asked someone who’s highly religious who’s right behind the emperor, he’d probably say it was Pontiff Conway. For someone involved in the military? They’d probably say it was Generalissimo Alexander. Still, it doesn’t really matter. We’ll take him down no matter what.”

Thank you, babe!”

Bouncing up to Aaron, Valerie pulled him into a tight hug. Wheezing as the air was forced from his lungs, the human patted the hellhound’s back, “Alright, alright… is there a stream or pond nearby? We’ve still got to wash the blood off our clothes and our pot from last night before we get going.”

There’s a stream about a five minute walk that way.” Valerie said, pointing in it’s direction, “You want me to clean ’em?”

No. There’s something else I gotta do there…” Aaron muttered, picking up his bloody clothes and dirty pot.


…and… there! All packed.” Valerie smirked to herself as she fastened the last belt around her bag. The tent and supplies were safely packed away, now all she had to do was wait for Aaron to get back.

As the leaves to her right rustled, Valerie peered their way, her human’s familiar scent filling her nostrils.

Ready to go, Valerie?” he asked, emerging from the shrubbery.

A-Aaron…”

What is it, Valerie?”

Y-you’re so smooth!”

Aaron’s scraggly beard had been shaved away, exposing the skin underneath. Rubbing his face, he laughed a bit, “Yeah. I guess I really do look better shaven, don’t I?”

Valerie tackled him to the ground, rubbing her cheeks up against his own, “So smooth~”


Continuing on their path, Aaron and Valerie walked at each other’s side across the vast stretch of plains overlooking Graeme’s coast. Whenever the hellhound got a sniff of a human approaching them, she simply took cover until the threat passed and dashed back to Aaron’s side. After about a full day’s travel, civilization came into sight once again.

Across a rolling hill, the small town of Sable. Like Tellum before them, they were another humble farming community, although they could be considered a good bit larger than the previous town.

Hey, look! Sable!”

Yeah, just keep looking. There’s no reason for me to go there. Even if the Legion hasn’t put out a warrant for my arrest yet, we’ve got plenty of supplies until we hit Angel’s Fall. It shouldn’t be too far of a walk from here.”

Uh-oh.”

Uh-oh? Whats the matter?”

Standing on her tip-toes, Valerie sniffed the air, then gave a nod of confirmation, “Yep. There’s definitely three guys coming this way on horseback. Right over this hill.”

Dammit… there’s nowhere around here for you to hide!”

Aside from the large hill they were standing on, it was only flat plains stretching on for miles. Swift as a cat, Aaron tossed off his rucksack and removed his cloak, handing it to Valerie, “Quick, put this on!”

I told you that I don’t like putting these things on…” the hellhound grumbled, gripping it in her hands.

Please, Valerie.” Victor begged, slinging his rucksack back on, “These guys could be completely harmless, but them seeing you could cause a whole heap of unnecessary trouble.”

Alright… but just for a little bit, got it?”

Slipping it over her shoulders, the thing was very clearly a few sizes too large for her, but that only proved to help disguise her monstrous parts. Draping her bottom paws, holding back her tail, and flattening her ears, she pulled the hood over her eyes and hoped for the best.

Then, from over the hill, three men on horseback rode up. A fat man, a short one, and wiry one leading them.

Just ride past, just ride past…‘ Aaron inwardly pleaded to whatever god was listening, watching the three riders approach from the corner of his eye.

And of course, they didn’t.

Howdy.” the wiry leader giggled from atop his horse, “Name’s Timothy, and these are my friends, Tiny…”

Tim motioned towards the fat one, who shot them a stupid grin. Forking a thumb over to the short one, he introduced him as ‘Stretch’.

Great… a bunch of comedians.‘ Aaron inwardly grumbled. But he still kept a blank expression and introduced himself in return, “Name’s Aaron. Nice to meet you.”

So, are you folks travelers? Or just wandering vagabonds?”

Just travelers. Now, if you’ll excuse us…”

Hold on a second there, friend. Haven’t you heard the rumors?”

Aaron’s heart sank into his chest. Did the news of what happened last night in Tellum already spread to Sable? It was entirely possible. Even if they didn’t pick up he was the culprit from his face, the claymore on his back and enigmatic woman at his side were dead giveaways.

Our hometown, Angel’s Fall? It’s under siege by a tribe of monsters. They’ve taken refuge in the mountain nearby, and come down to kidnap our men and cattle every single day.”

Thank the gods. Aaron had to resist releasing a heavy sigh of relief.

Thanks for the warning, boys. We’ll be sure to avoid it.”

Hold up!” cried the wiry leader, “Fort Eonoire is quite a good bit west of our village, and on the other side of the mountain. Since all the riders we sent were easily spotted and intercepted by the monsters, we had to send a messenger to completely loop around the mountain and reach Eonoire by foot. That was over a week ago, and we still don’t know if help is coming.”

I’m sorry to hear that, but-”

The village gave us a few gold pieces so we could sneak out and reach Sable to buy some horses and go recruit backup in other villages. Long story short, we’re looking for strong men to help us fight back the monsters until the Legion sends assistance. We’ll pay you good money. Interested?”

I’m sorry.” Aaron told them, trying his best not to sound solemn. In truth, he’d made an oath with himself that he would never harm another monster again, unless of course, they tried to stop his quest for vengeance.

But even under those circumstances, when Valerie and that slime had attempted to do so, he still couldn’t find the guts to swing his sword, “I have places to be and enough money to get there. So, we’ll be on our way…”

Hey, don’t you think that’s rude to just up and leave so soon? We never even got that woman’s name.”

Me? I’m Valerie. Aaron’s wife.” she said with a small smile and uncharacteristically soft voice.

Nice work, Valerie. Good thinking. Nothing suspicious about a man stomping the road with his wife, right?

Hmph.” Timothy muttered, peeking under her hood the best he could from his mount, “That wife of yours has awfully dark skin… not even the natives of southern Terra have skin that pitch black. What gives? She wouldn’t happen to be a monster, would she?”

Just as he was about to grab hold of his claymore, Valerie piped up.

It’s a… disease.” Valerie lied, “Haven’t you ever heard of albinism? I have the reverse of that… iblainism. I was born with blackened skin and hair.”

Fucking hell, Valerie. Even if you are a good actor, you’re horrible at making stuff up.

Oh, yeah. I think my cousin down in Paxton has somethin’ or other like that.” Tiny muttered, scratching his head.

Stretch nodded, and Timothy looked as though he was scrutinizing Valerie like one would with a defective clock. But after the brief examination, his expression seemed to soften.

Holy shit, did these fucking idiots actually buy that?

Looking back towards Aaron and Valerie, Timothy threw them yet another question, “Alright then. It would be rude to ask a lady to show her face, but if you really are husband and wife, then surely you have wedding rings? Mind if I see them?”

Fuck. He’s got us. It’s more suspicious, but there would really be nothing wrong with a man and woman traveling together unmarried. He just caught us on that lie. He’ll only dig deeper from there…

Wa… wa… WAH!”

What the hell? Why are you crying, Valerie?” Aaron gasped, looking to his companion.

The disguised hellhound was slumped in the opposite direction, bawling her eyes out. Aaron hopped to her side, leaning over to see what was wrong. It wasn’t like her to cry in the face of adversity, much less in front of a trio of dipshits like Tim, Stretch, and Tiny.

Shh… just play along.” she whispered into his ear, a toothy, wicked grin on her face, right before she sniffled and continued her fake sobbing.

Crocodile tears? Damn. She really is a great actor.’

I-I’m so sorry, Aaron! I lost our wedding rings when we went out for a bath a few nights ago! I’m soooo sorry! I-I know they were the last thing your parents left you, but I swear I didn’t mean to! Please don’t be mad at me!”

O-of course I’m not mad at you, Val! I love you way more than a couple of old rings!”

T-thank you, babe.” she said between sniffles, planting a kiss on his lips, “I love you too.”

Aaron’s heart was fluttering. And staring into Valerie’s blushing face, he assumed she was too, ‘Holy shit. Where’d that come from? She’s so convincing she even caught me up in the act!

Leaning over to his short friend, Tim whispered something into his ear. After he nodded, Tim did the same with his overweight friend with the same result.

Oh gods, please no…

I’m sorry I had to dig up such an, err… touchy subject. Sorry for bothering you folks. We’ll just be on our way now.”

The three horsemen began trotting away, keeping their direction opposite of Aaron and Valerie’s. As the cloaked hellhound snuggled up to his chest, Aaron wrapped an arm around her shoulder, smug grins on both their faces. Walking towards the gap between the fat and wiry men’s horses, Aaron was absolutely ecstatic, ‘I-it worked… I can’t fucking believe it! I thought they were going to catch us for sure.’

GOTCHA!”

The fat one roared as he leaned to the side and yanked off Valerie’s hood. With the black cloth gone, her pointy little ears popped up, and her blazing red eyes were exposed to all.

Ha! I knew it! She’s a damned beast!” Timothy snarled, pointing a finger down at Aaron, “No wonder you didn’t want to help us defend our village, you sick dog fucker! I bet you and your demon whore are in league with them!”

Didja think we were fucking stupid or something?” Tiny chuckled, “That little wedding ring bit almost had us, but iblaism? Really? No way you could outsmart my pal Tim like that, ya little-”

SCHLINK!

In just a split second, Aaron drew and lashed out his blade, slicing open the throat of the fat man’s horse. The mount fell back, bucking it’s rider off and spooking Stretch’s horse before it’s untimely death. With a loud neigh, Stretch’s horse took off to the north. Sputtering in fear, Tiny took to his feet and ran after his diminutive partner’s runaway stallion.

Ah-AIEEE!”

Going as pale as a sheet, Timothy spurred his horse forward and fled south, going in the opposite direction of his friends. Just like Aaron had suspected. The sight of a horse’s spilled blood was enough to send all three running for the hills.

Tossing the cloak off her body, Valerie dropped to her hands and feet, ready to chase after him, only for Aaron to hold her back.

What? Shouldn’t we go after them?”

Don’t bother. We left Tellum from the south, so it’s not like those dumbasses would be giving the Legion any new info on our whereabouts… they still know some maniac with a claymore and hellhound are heading south. Besides, the Legion is already going to torture me to death if they manage to catch me alive. It’s not like a single dead horse in my charges is going to make that any worse.”

Well, if you say so…” Valerie grunted, pushing herself back onto her feet, “So, how’d you like my acting? I used to perform little plays in my tribe when I was still a pup.”

Fantastic, actually. Maybe you have a career in acting in a monster-friendly state in Lusitania after all this shit is said and done.” Aaron laughed, “But you’ve really got to work on coming up with better names for your fake illnesses. I’m sure those idiots would’ve bought it if you had just cooked up something better than ‘iblabism’.”

C’mon, Aaron. You really shouldn’t be making fun of your wife like that!”

H-hey! You’re the one who came up with the whole marriage thing.”

Ahh, I thought you said you loved me.”

Hey, you said you loved me first…”

S-shut up! It was just an act, you doofus!”

No longer able to hold back his amusement, Aaron grabbed hold of his gut, bursting out in joyous laughter, “Whatever you say, Valerie.”

With a low growl, the hellhound took no more of his mockery. Jumping at him, Valerie pushed her paws out and knocked Aaron forward.

W-hoa! What the fuck Valerie?! I was just kiddinnnnnnnnnngggggg……!”

Uh-oh.”

Pushing him forward a bit too hard, Aaron lost his balance and began tumbling down the hill. With tears of guilt streaming from her eyes, Valerie sprung into action, taking to both paws and dashing down the hill after the man, her red scarf flowing behind her as she went.

Running up next to his tumbling form, Valerie turned to him and swore, “D-don’t worry babe! I’ll save you!”

Perhaps she should’ve paid more attention to her surroundings. Then, she might have noticed the rock jutting out from the side of the hill. Hitting her front paw against the stone, she was tripped up and sent rolling right alongside him.

Smashing together, the two became a mangled ball of limbs before they crashed down into the soft grass below. Fortunately, the much more sturdy Valerie landed on the bottom and took the brunt of the fall.

A-are you hurt, Aaron?” Valerie muttered, dirt still kicked up around them.

Nothing but my pride.” the human mumbled, his limbs tangled into hers, his face shoved between her soft breasts.

Yes, definitely not too miserable.

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