Wizardquest 2: Chapter 20- Rockfall

You can’t kill this thing. Inside your heart you know damn well that Hent-ateh is something beyond your talents. The Grand Wizard confirmed your suspicions, but this thing is too close to Madame Xanthia and from the stories you’ve been told of her she’s probably the strongest creature on Deleor and is only contained by pacts anchoring her to this world. Hent-ateh, on the other hand, does not have such limitations.

As time progresses and the creature grows more and more into what it truly was, you’re certain that the only thing which would be able to remove it would be the end of its covenant, which would necessitate Helene dismissing it. As far as actually killing the creature…Gods, only Alice’s blade seemed to show any apitude for that, but would it be enough?

Groaning, you lean back in your chair and put a hand to your forehead. Honestly, you’ve had little time to think through most battles, merely going on instinct most of the time. To actually have the ability to sit down and just go through all of these options makes the task seem insurmountable in a way. You know so very little about this creature that even attempting to formulate a plan to kill appears impossible. With only a few hours left to get this set up, you really don’t have the time to figure it out either.

“If we can’t kill it, maybe we can… seal it?” You mutter to yourself. Sylphie’s ear twitches, hearing what you said.

“Seal it? How?”

Blinking in surprise, you look over at her and then down at the table before sighing. “I’m not overly certain. But it was done before, so maybe it can be done again?”

“Do you have any idea how to do that?” The Grand Wizard asks, looking skeptical. “I’ll be honest, I’ve looked for many ways of doing such things as a tangent of research into beings such as Xanthia and I can’t find anything worthwhile.”

“Well… I do have this.” You hand over the [Runic Rubbings] to which the Grand Wizard scans before frowning at you.

“I can’t read this shit.”

“Ah, right.” Digging in your pockets you pull out the [Oculus of Henhotep] and hand over to him as well. Frowning, he uses the device for a moment before his eyes go wide.

“Well I’ll be damned. That’s one hells of an enchantment. I wonder if it attaches the spell weaving to the person looking through the device and pulls on- ah, right, focus.” Coughing, he reads over the rubbings and then clacks his tongue.

“Grounding it into the mana of this world? A very, VERY interesting solution. It cuts it off from the power of wherever it came from and renders it almost useless.”

He sighs and hands the items back to you. “Fairly useless here though unless that Nexus point were opened. There just isn’t enough mana in this land to do something like that.”

“Unfortunate.” Ammon says at the head of the table. “What other suggestions do you have?”

His words may have sounded encouraging, but his tone of voice said, “What the fuck are you going to about this?”

“If we can’t kill it.” Sophie beings, looking thoughtful. She ignores Alice as the swordswoman makes to protest, continuing on herself. “And we can’t seal it or unbind it. Then the only option left is to trap it.”

Everyone goes silent as the unspoken question lingers in the room. “How?”

Eventually Sylphie breaks the silence by sighing and muttering, “What, it’s not like we can just dump it in a hole and bury it.” She hesitates as she finishes saying that, looking at you with a curious expression. “Rommel?”

“Dump it in a hole and bury it…” You mutter to yourself as you try to piece this out. No, perhaps you can’t just do that but maybe… maybe there’s another option. Eyes drifting downward to Tabitha’s legs, they go wide as it hits you.

“Sylphie, you’re a genius.”

“What.”

Grabbing a bowl of grapes you hurriedly mash them down into juice and say, “Imagine this is the pit.”

“Rommel, did you just punch a bunch of grapes?” Tabitha asks.

“No time for that. Listen, imagine this is a pit we’ve dug and it’s filled with all sorts of scrap metal.” You punch the grapes again, liquifying more of them and generally making a mess. The sound of the servant sniffing in disdain sounds behind you but nothing happens. “Now then, using our magic we heat all of this up into a molten slop of iron, steel, brass, whatever.”

“Okay…” Sylphie says, seeming hesitant. “So we have a pit of molten metal. Now what?”

“We somehow lure or thrust Hent-ateh into the pit and then, as it’s flailing in the metal, we harden it and trap the thing in a block of metal so thick and powerful that it can’t get out!”

Feeling remarkably good about this, you lean back and say, “It’s the best I have.”

Everyone else looks between themselves and, surprisingly, shrug. Selene sighs and says, “That’s as stupid as one of my husband’s plans.”

“Hey now, I’d talk about a prison of shit in most cases.”

“True.” Selene says, rolling her eyes. She gives a sympathetic smile to Tabitha. “You have many, many years ahead of you to get used to this.”

“I think I can manage.” She says, smirking. “Anyway, it seems solid enough if we can hash out the details. First and foremost, we’re going to need a lot of metal.”

“I’m already on it.” Ammon says, handing a sheet of paper to a servant. When… when did he write this? “Such a bold plan, but if worse comes to worse you can annihilate it with that plasma of yours, yes? Good.” He stands and waves for another servant to approach. “I’ll arrange escorts, this will take time to accomplish and you have very little. Gather your things, you need to go.”

Your group members nod and stand up, making ready to get their things. As Tabitha spoons food onto plates for the two of you to eat before leaving, you’re reminded of something you heard from the cultists, something that didn’t bother you until now…

“Ammon.” You say, catching the man’s attention as he’s walking out.

“I have one more thing I need to do before leaving.”

————————————————–

“Go away.”

Sighing, you knock on the door again. “Polah, it’s Rommel, can I come in?”

A pause occurs on the other side of the door. Moments later, wings flap madly before a groan of annoyance sounds followed by heavy footsteps and the door opening to show the form of a rather dishelmed Polah. She looks down at you, then back over to the Shoebill before sighing at you.

“What?”

“Can I come in?”

She fidgets momentarily before whispering, “Can we just send messages?”

“Polah, please.” You sigh. “If it makes you more comfortable, but-“

{Good, I’m sick of speaking with words.}

Her voice in your mind sends a shudder through you after not hearing it in so long. Well, a few days, but they felt like another lifetime, all things considered. Shaking your head, you attune to the wavelength she’s on and send, {Polah, I’m glad to see you’re doing well.}

{No thanks to you. Fuckers say you asked for me to be here.}

You wince. {Sorry about that. I wanted to make sure you were safe.}

{I was safe in my own damn home!}

{One of your familiars told me there were fires heading toward your place beforehand though.}

{Fires? What fires? I’d seen some through my familiars, but none that came close to me. Which familiar are you talking about?}

Interesting. So someone had used another familiar to get your attention or… perhaps it was one of hers acting on his own. It would seem rather advantageous way to pull Zoras out if needed but… well, you have no true evidence of anything. Perhaps it’s best to keep this to yourself for now.

{It’s… complicated. Anyway, I’m glad to see you’re safe however.}

The slovenly Griffon turns her head away but you can see the blush on her cheeks. {You’re married so I hear, already trying to get cozy with another woman?}

{Polah, please.} You send, shaking your head. {Time is short as it stands. I did truly wish to see how you were doing, make sure you were being treated alright.}

{It could be worse. I don’t have to leave this room often and they bring me good food.} She sighs. {However, you seem like you want something else.}

{Yes.} You send. {I’m afraid something is going to happen in the Great Temple of the Twins. If you have a familiar there, can you look into it?}

{Look into something like what?}

{I’m afraid there might be another Apophis ritual.}

Polah frowns deeply and nods her head. {I… see. I believe Helbrecht, another mouse is around that area, he should be able to look into it. I’ll send to you once I see something.}

{Thank you.} You say, nodding your head to her. As you do, Tabitha emerges from your room, carrying both of your things. She nods to Polah who pulls back some into the door way.

{It… was good to see you again. I’m glad you’re safe.} She sends back before looking away and closing the door. Perhaps you could have asked her to come along but… no, it’s better for her to be here. Sighing, you turn about take your things from Tabitha before heading downstairs to the wagons prepared by Ammon.

————————————

“Hurry it up, dump more of the scrap iron in the pit!”

Men dressed in a variety of clothing throw another barrel of rusted swords and other scrap into a large pit, the metal bouncing across other pieces thrown in before. Grunting, they toss the barrels back in and head away as another group comes forward with armor deemed worthless before tossing it in as well. You supervise the work, using [Survey] to assess how deep the metal is getting. Looking over to the side, you watch as the family of spellcasters (minus Sophie) apply heat to the metal, beginning to melt it into a silvery soup.

“Rommel, we don’t have much more time.” Ebe says, landing next to you. You both watch as more men come from the Merchant’s guild with useless items, throwing them into the pit. The Ghandharva sighs and says, “Only about an hour, how are things coming?”

“Good, we’re almost there.” Casting out with your magic again, you nod your head. “We should be on time.”

“I hope so.” She mutters before shuddering. “I really don’t want to fight this thing again.”

“It’s fine Ebe, if everything goes well, you won’t have to.” Giving her a reassuring smile, you gently pat her head and she sighs, leaning into the pat.

“You can’t fix everything with a headpat, you know that, right?”

“I don’t see you complaining.”

Ebe puffs her cheeks out before sighing. “I’ll handle the regular cultists as best as I can. You’re certain these men won’t help us?”

“Sadly, no. They’re merchant’s guild workers, not Ammon’s men. Beyond arranging supplies and them, he hasn’t deigned to help us.”

“Honestly Rommel, I wonder if he wants us dead.”

You think about that for a moment before shrugging. “Maybe. He’ll find it’s harder to kill us than that. Anyway, he’s held up his word so far, so we might as well see this through.”

“Think we’ll be alright?” She whispers, eyes looking to you for succor.

Unable to meet her gaze, you say, “Yeah. I know we’ll be fine.”

“Rommel!”

The two of you turn as Sophie approaches, two wagons laden with barrels behind her. As she approaches men begin to unload the barrels and place them out of sight, but within range of the pit. She nods at their work, directing them with ease of one born to what is essentially nobility. When it seems everything is moving smoothly she turns to you.

“Water collection complete. Will this be enough?”

“It’ll have to be, thanks.” You say, nodding your head.

“Very well then, I’ll make sure nothing tries to sneak up on us.”

“Erwin has it covered I believe.” You say. “Though help would be appreciated.”

She rolls her eyes and then leaps away toward the street. Turning your eyes back to the pool of molten metal, you add your own heat, helping with the process until a thick, bubbling cauldron of metal lies before you. As agreed, Sylphie and the Grand Wizard back away from the mess while Selene continues to channel heat, keeping the temperature where it needs to be. After resting and eating well for a few days, she seems much better than before and some of her color has returned, though even being nearly naked in the sun hasn’t allowed her full tan to return.

“Alright, time to get into positions.” You say to everyone as the barrels get put away. The men retreat toward the Merchant’s Guild while you gather up your team. Once everyone (Save Sophie and Erwin) have assembled, you address them.

“We all know the plan, right?”

“Yes.” Tabitha says with grim determination. “We’re well versed.”

“Yeah, yeah.” The Grand Wizard says, waving his hand dismissively. “Now we just need the thing to show up. I’d like to be done with all this bullshit thank you very much.” His daughter nods her head in agreement.

“Well, we need to-” You’re cut off as a voice sounds in your head.

{Rommel! It’s coming!}

{What?! Now?!}

{Yes! It’s coming straight for you and it’s alone! It’s left the cultists behind!}

“Shit!” You cry out, readying your staff. “It’s early!”

The others grow alarmed but quickly move to their battle positions. Ebe flies away to a rooftop overlooking the street while Selene makes for an alleyway she can keep an eye on the pit with. Alice, Tabitha, and yourself stand with Mr. Ed, Sylphie, and the Grand Wizard, weapons ready. With a quick spell you make a thin layer of rock cover the pit, hiding it somewhat as part of the road again so it’s not obvious.

With that done, you hold up your staff and prepare yourself. Something moves toward you down the long promenade at rapid speeds, a distressing sound ranging ahead of it. Using your [Far Sight] you get a better picture of what’s headed toward you: Hent-ateh in it’s disgusting glory. Laughter issues before you, sick and disjointed, growing louder with every passing moment.

Magic coursing through your veins, you ready yourself to fight. Closer and closer it grows until it lands before you, feet breaking apart stones from its leap. The abomination stands up tall, showing off a distressingly feminine physique of black ooze. Medium length hair made of the same material as it’s body flows over pieces of red metal, the last visible remnants of the construct skeleton it possessed. Purple, feminine eyes look over the assembled group with malign intelligence as a crooked smile opens in the shifting black face.

“Ehehe..HEHEHEHE… AHAHAHAHA!” Hent-ateh cackles, voice seeming to break between worlds. Spreading its arms out to the side, the talon-like fingers extend into wicked claws as the dark ink of its body forms into weapons. It crouches down, preparing to pounce as muscles from nothing before, with a mighty leap, it bounds forward.

Right over your heads.

Cursing, you cast  [Ice] at the creature to slow it’s movements, but it dashes past all of your assaults, leaping with incredibly speed atop wagons before bursting into the Merchant’s guild on the second floor through a window. Distant screams and cries of panic sound from within the building.

“Fucking hells!” You shout. “It just ignored us! We have to get in there and save those damn merchants before-“

An entire section of the third floor explodes as a body flies out through the rubble, hitting a carriage outside and crushing it into a disgusting explosion of wood and gore. From the hole emerges Hent-ateh, holding a fat Ectrian man by the head. Jaws opening impossibly wide, you see the face of the construct underneath the roiling darkness. You watch on in horror as the mouth extends and bites the head off the screaming man, silencing him forever.

The creature drops the headless corpse before leaping from the third floor to break another wagon with its physique. As splinters rain all about, it spits out the head onto the ground before pointing at you and speaking in a voice that sounds far, far too sweet.

“I killed most of them, but I did not see Ammon. Where is Ammon?”

“He’s not here.” You say, feeling sweat trickle down your back. Oh Gods, she killed MOST of the merchants so easily? “Why are you even following orders anymore? The Pharaoh is dead! Your covenant is over!”

It cocks its head, eyes moving at impossible angles. “Of course the Pharaoh is dead. I dug up her corpse. I could smell it.” It smiles at you with that far too large smile. “But the covenant is not fulfilled, the rein of the Apophis must be secured. The man known as Ammon must die, as well as two others. Then, the covenant will be complete ONCE AND FOR ALL, ehahahahehe.”

“Two others? But, you were supposed to just end the Pharaohs!” You fumble, confused. “Who else do you have to kill?”

It’s smile grows very, very wide, almost forming a U shape. “You for one.”

“Impossible, Hele… Hel’alin would never order that.”

“That’s the thing, isn’t it?” Hent-ateh chuckles. “She’s the other one! ehehehAHHAHAHAHA!”

And with that, the maddened abomination from the beyond lunges toward you, claws extended and ready to fulfill this covenant.

>To be continued

 

>Story continue

Hent-ateh dashes toward you with alarming speed. Only your experiences in battle on a near daily basis allow you to quick cast a wall in your way and intercept her charge. Although it blocks some of the momentum, she still destroys it in a spray of rock, claws reaching for you.

Both a glowing and a burning blade slash down before you, forcing the abomination to abort the charge and turn on its heel, leaping backward before being cut apart. Alice and Tabitha take up positions before you, weapons held at the ready while both the Grand Wizard and Sylphie step forward and blast spells at the creature.

A mix of ice and electricity annihilate the wagon upon which Hent-ateh is perched, the magic surging and destroying or freezing a swath of ground as the thing leaps away. Cackling, it hangs upon a wall before leaping off again as the destructive magicks destroy that as well.

With some breathing room allowing you to ready yourself, you too begin in the add your geomancy to the battle, turning a section of stone where the creature lands into [Inhospitable ground]. The spikes of jagged earth dig into the inky darkness of its “flesh” but all this does is reveal pieces of the metallic body it inhabits, the red a stark contrast to the black.

“Ehehahahahaha!” Hent-ateh screams. As you try to drop it into a pit it springs forward again, directly toward your line of defenders. Tabitha and Alice ready themselves to intercept, but mere yards away it adjusts the charge and bounds toward the wall of a building before twisting and springing at the Grand Wizard and Sylphie.

To her credit, Sylphie’s hesitation is only momentary but it’s enough to make her useless in this situation. Seeing the danger, the Grand Wizard pushes her out of the way, but is too late to fire off a spell at the creature. The cackling abomination lands before him and  grabs the man by the face, raising the other claw to impale him in the chest.

A violent light bursts before you, blinding you for a moment. You can hear Hent-ateh screaming and as your vision clears you see the thing throwing him away like a wild animal that bit it. The inky flesh roils and smokes while a look of rage comes over its face. To his credit, the Grand Wizard only bounces once before he controls his roll, skidding backward on his knees. Electricity crackles from his body, encasing him in a wall of powerful force.

{Rommel!} Erwins sends. {The rest of the cultists are coming!}

{A little busy Erwin!} You send, watching the creature’s smoking flesh. {Can you, Ebe, and Sophie handle them?}

{I… yeah. Of course we can!} He goes quiet focusing on his task. You trust Erwin to allow you to do this, even if you’d really want his help. Still, you all have your own battles to fight.

The damage is fleeting though as you watch Hent-ateh’s body restore itself, re-knitting over the construct body after his shocking surprise. The creature’s face contorts in a smile and it giggles before pointing down at Sylphie who lay on the ground, cradling something next to her. Without saying anything it extends the arm into a wicked sharp spear of darkness and drives it down at the girl.

“NOT THIS TIME!”

Sylphie screams in rage as she intercepts the killing blow with a ball of searing flames. Just as before with Ako’s magic the flames burn at the dark flesh, driving it off the armor plating of the construct underneath but does no lasting harm. Still, the unexpected strike from Sylphie drives the creature back long enough for aid to arrive in the form of Selene.

Unable to watch as her husband and daughter are attacked, she latches onto Hent-ateh with her body, tails driving into the flesh and tearing chunks of it away that dissolve into nothingness. When the creature’s head turns about 180 degrees she leaps away to avoid a sweeping blow of the claws that extend wide from the body. As she lands Selene slaps the ground and a line of flame jets through the stone, destroying it before consuming Hent-ateh in a column of flame so hot you can feel it from where you’re standing.

Through the inferno a single, glowing eye shines. Your stomach roils as Hent-ateh steps forward, body seeming to melt off the construct underneath. The red paint of the plating is gone now, showing the metallic plating underneath and a fractured core that glows a sickly purple as darkness leaks forth from it. Jaws of bubbling pitch form a sloppy mouth that laughs at Selene in garbled slurs and it lunges at her, steaming flesh reforming to try and kill the Monster Lady.

The core… that damn core powering the constructed body. Is it really powering the magitek or is it something else. Nodding to Alice as Sylphie shouts for Mr. Ed to help Erwin and the others, the woman dashes forward to help while you open your [Mage Sight] and look at Hent-ateh.

A tightness seizes your chest as you behold the truth behind the creature. You begin to breathe heavily as tears come to your eyes. Man… man was not meant to comprehend what you’re seeing here. This creature rests in a realm that no living being should want to have anything to do with and to even comprehend it is enough to drive you insane. Shaking, you narrow your focus down to the core and have to wince in agony as you find the resonance of the magic flowing through the core.

Alice charges in, sword held low. Hent-Ateh’s arm is seized by Selene’s tails, but the roiling body splits apart like muscle fibers uncoiling to latch onto the tails, pulling her inward. The Monster Lady hisses in fury as magic flares to life in her hands. Before any further blow can be struck, Alice slides in and, with a face of pure determination, slices off the arm of the construct.

Hent-ateh howls in pain as the severed arm drops to the ground, the disconnected flesh boiling away to nothing while the ragged stump attached to the body sizzles. Hent-ateh thrusts an arm toward Alice, focused entirely on the swordswoman who deftly steps aside and slashes this one as well, although it’s only composed of the inky body of the creature. Still, where Energieschwert strikes, the black body sizzles and burns, clearly causing delayed healing and discomfort to the thing.

“Rommel, are you alright?” Tabitha says, shaking you. “You’re pale, Rommel, what’s wrong?”

“J….Just a little longer.” You wheeze, eyes growing unfocused. You… you almost have the resonance. Just a little longer…

Hent-ateh seems to realize something as it snaps its head toward you, reformed eyes glowing. Alice and Selene charge at it, but it bodily shoulders them aside before leaping toward you, good arm poised to sweep aside Tabitha. Instead of easily batting away the Lizardman however, Tabitha deftly activates the thrusters on her legs and roundhouse kicks Hent-ateh in the head with enough force to shatter the ground and drive it half a foot into the dirt.

Legs cooling down, the swordswoman takes her sword in two hands and drives into the back of the creature, shouting, “YOU WON’T LAY A FINGER ON MY HUSBAND!”

“The… covenant.” Hent-ateh says as Tabitha’s blade is unable to pierce the metal casing of the construct underneath. Flames from the blade melt away the inky flesh in a ring, the darkness trying to push in against the light coming off the blade. A gasp issues from the creature as it pulls its head up from the ground and stares at you. With your [Mage Sight] open, you can see into the essence of this creature, for it has no soul that you can hope to describe. In that moment you know that it can see you as well.

“NOTHING ELSE MATTERS! THE COVENANT WILL BE COMPLETED! I WILL BE FREE!”

The missing arm bursts forth from the creature’s body in a wave of viscous flesh. Despite her stabilizers, Tabitha is driven backward as the blackness of Hent-ateh’s true from explodes outward. A popping sound is heard as it tears itself from the pool of darkness radiating outward like a creature rising from a vat of tar. As it rises you realize with horror that the form has changed again. Like a butterfly rising from a cocoon, the Hent-ateh pulls itself out and throws it’s head backward, a stream of long, black hair arching behind it.

Where the previous iteration was a poorly defined mass of black flesh in the simulacrum of flesh, this body is smooth and well formed as the even the most beautiful woman’s. Though you’re certain the construct body lays underneath, the allure of the creature is made manifest. Having looked at Hent-ateh with your [Mage Sight], you know that it’s not a Monster, and yet… there’s no denying any longer than this creature is female.

Beautiful lips of pure black part as eyes open, revealing those same eyes you’d seen before. Turning her head ever so slightly toward you, Hent-ateh regards both you and Tabitha with a neutral expression, as if you were nothing but ants beneath her.

Snapping off your [Mage Sight] you shout to Tabitha as her hand casually shoots toward you in a blur of motion. Only the quick imposition of Babyface from your pocket saves your life, though your friend crumbles into dust to save your life. Even still, the dagger-like talons of her hand pierce into your breast, eliciting a cry of agony from you. A cold chill fills your breast and you feel yourself growing faint before the pain is ripped away as Tabitha lets out a war cry.

>You lose [Granite]

Panting, you put a hand to your chest, pulling it away to find blood there. Pressing a piece of rock there with your magic to hold back the bleeding, you push yourself up to see Hent-ateh bat aside Tabitha. Cool eyes look over the rest of the group which readies blade and magic to strike down the creature. Though the sudden change in demeanor confuses you, a glimmer of the madness from before shows as the smile opens a little wider than it should, tongue licking her lips.

Shifting, Hent-ateh, dashes back toward you, but it’s forced backward as Sylphie throws up a wall of rock, allowing Tabitha to get you to your feet. Hent-ateh perches upon the wall and fires down at you arms seemingly made of elastic material. One grazes your face, but your able to block the other with some of the ambient rock. She follows you as you run around toward the others, back flipping to land in front of you, toned body stretching out to deliver a kick that Tabitha blocks with her blade. Before it reaches the burning blade the flesh splits into ten blade-like protusions and shoots toward Tabitha. She grunts as they pierce into her shoulder while she tries to pull away.

Alice rushes in again while The Grand Wizard fires a devastating [Thunderstrike]. In a distressingly fluid motion, Hent-ateh twirls about on one leg, the electricity missing her body to destroy a section of building before her while in the same motion she slams the same foot which struck at Tabitha into Alice, slamming the woman into the ground. Only her armor saves her, though a cry of agony bursts from her lips.

“Hmm.” Hent-ateh muses.

“Why me?” You ask, gripping your staff tight, desperation starting to set in. The pit… it doesn’t seem aware of the pit so you can still try to trap it but will it be enough? Gulping, you try to buy some time while organizing your thoughts. “How could your covenant know about me or Helene? How could it even know about Ammon? It was made centuries ago!”

Pursing her lips, the abomination says, “The descendant of the pact-maker declared this is as what would end the covenant. The bargain was changed with the change in circumstances.”

“So what, killing me will somehow secure the Apophis’s reign? Why not kill all of us? Aren’t we all a threat?” You shake your head as you circle her. “Better yet, why would you kill Helene? She’s an Apophis now, isn’t she? Why would she have you kill her to free you from the covenant?”

A smile forms upon her lips. “She has never been the holder of the pact.”

“What? But she controlled you!” Pointing at her, you say, “She held you back last time we fought!”

“Hmm.” She muses again. “I wonder. No matter though. I WILL be freed.” Her face splits into the wicked smile again as her hands explode into vicious claws. Using Alice as a springboard, she launches toward you only to stumble in her charge, crashing to the ground and rolling aside at a blast from the family of mages. She leaps backward and staggers on her leg, looking down as her foot is missing, the flesh their sizzling.

Alice looks up at her with a shit-eating grin, Energieschwert gripped in her hand. “I’m not getting stepped on twice, bitch.”

Hent-ateh gives her a cold glare as her foot regrows. She snarls and then stops in place, a look of surprise on her face. Her formed arm moves without issue as well as the new foot, but everything connected to the construct form is frozen in place. She searches about before noticing the concentration on your face.

“Thanks Alice.” You say, [Reverse Polarity] being channeled. “Gave me the opening to do this.”

“You think stopping the skeleton will stop me?” Hent-ateh growls. The trapped limbs begin to shift underneath as begins to grow used to carrying the construct underneath with more attachments of the black flesh as muscles. Before her movements can grow any faster however you shout out,

“NOW!”

Slapping your hand to the ground, you shift the ground underneath Hent-ateh to slide her back toward the hidden pit. Rock shifts underneath her, carrying the slow moving creature toward the pit. As she approaches the hidden covering breaks apart, falling into the boiling cauldron of metal. Her eyes widen in surprise at this, and with a shout of anger she shoots tendrils of her flesh into the ground, anchoring against your movements.

“Sylphie!” You shout, continuing to push her forward, yet failing to make much headway.

“Dad!” She shouts, to which her father nods his head.

“Anything for my sweet little girl.”

Together they hold hands and point toward the creature as massive amounts of electricty build up between then. Roaring out together they cast a [Thunderstrike] so strong it might as well be a force of nature. The blast of power strikes Hent-ateh directly in the abdomen with enough force that it blows straight through the construct body underneath, leaving a gaping hole you can see straight through.

Hent-ateh staggers, dazzed as it tries to reform, inky darkness dripping from the spot in the chest the core is hidden. It reaches out toward you but something blurs into sight from behind you. With a shout, Tabitha runs forward and delivers a devastating kick to Hent-ateh’s chest. The force of the blow tears apart the already weakened tendrils in the ground and she topples over backward into the pit of molten metal, a look of confusion on her face.

A column of red-hot metal flies into the air as she submerges into the pit. Shouting at the other spellcasters, you hurriedly draw forth the water from the barrels placed about and use them to cool the metal. A cloud of steam rises from the rapidly cooling metal and underneath it you can hear the thrashing of Hent-ateh as the weight of the metal drags her down.

The Grand Wizard points at the cooling metal and burning sigils appear on the surface, solidifying it further as the [Sigil of Endurance] and [Sigil of Warding] become applied under layers of cooling liquid metal. When all the water is drawn forth, Sylphie uses her aeromancy to push away the steam so you can get a better look at the pit.

All of you recoil backward as you see the shape of a clawed arm sticking out of the metal. It looks to have been cast of the steaming iron as well as the face that presses out from the pit. Even more surprising than the arm is the face. Instead of rage, a look of agony paints her expression, as if the thought of being trapped again was her greatest fear. Unfortunately for her, this fear was realized.

“Did… did we do it?” Sylphie asks, shaking. Nervous sweat trickles down her face as she slumps to the ground, the built up adrenaline and spell casting putting a toll upon her body.

“I… think so.” You say, looking further into the pit. “She’s not dead by any long shot but… I think she’s trapped.”

“That will have to do for Ammon.” Selene says as she hugs her daughter. Kissing her on the head she whispers, “I’m so proud of you.”

“Some fine spell slinging.” Her Father says, collapsing down next to her. “Gods but that thing was terrifying. Well, at least things went better than with the Pharaoh.”

Sylphie nods her head, “Yeah at least everyone is… OH FUCK.” Her expression turns worried for a moment before a long sigh escapes her lips. “Thank the Gods.”

“What’s wrong?” You ask as you help Alice up.

“Mr. Ed and the others, they’ve contained the cultists. Sophie’s been injured fighting some of those enthralled, but Ebe… wow apparently she cracked a few skulls.”

Nodding your head, you prepare to send to Erwin when another voice fills your head.

{Rommel, it’s Polah.}

Starting, you send back to her, {Polah! You scared me. What’s wrong?}

{My familiar has been observing things inside the Temple. While there are plenty of cultists on the ground, the worship chamber has been converted into some kind of ritual site from what I can tell. There’s some Lamia in there alone chanting something and exuding dark energy.}

Her voice grows concerned in your mind. {I had him leave, it was beginning to wear upon him.}

{I… thank you.} You send, worried. Before you can process it, Erwin’s voice pops into your mind.

{Ha! Told you we could handle it. Man, Mr. Ed is a BEAST. Even without transforming he caved in a few skulls!} His tone becomes more serious. {I’m told things are well on your end? You managed to trap her?}

{Yeah, we did, but… I’m worried we’ve been looking at things without the bigger picture.}

{What does that mean?}

A voice interrupts your thoughts as you notice Tabitha intercepting Ako as she leaps down from a building before your party. Surveying the creature in the pit, she says, “I believe Ammon wished for you to destroy the creature.”

“It might be destroyed, it might not.” She says, shrugging. “It’s up to Ammon to find out if he’s so bold. At the moment it’s trapped.”

“Think of it as a gift for Sultan Ammon.” Alice says, sniffing.

Ako looks over the Merchant’s guild, her eyes looking worried. “You were supposed to protect the Merchant’s guild.”

“We did what we could.” Tabitha says, pointing at Ako. “Now then, hold up your end of the bargain.”

“I will report this to Ammon and gather a team to collect this… gift. For now, you’re to return and await as Ammon collects the Apophis and organizes things together.”

Collects the Apophis… right, he was going to go in and try to keep her alive, wasn’t he? That was the bargain. Though you feel tired, emotionally and physically, and the wound on your chest hurts almost as much as the loss of Babyface, you can’t help but feel disturbed by what Hent-ateh said and Polah’s warnings. But… what are you to do about it?

Scooping up the pieces of Babyface, you gently place as much as you can within an empty vial. The glass filled with the crumbled remains of one who had been so far with you hurts to look at. Are we all just dust in a vial, in the end? With a sigh, you place the vial in your bag before standing straight and turning to Ako.

>You obtain [Granite dust]

>RIP Babyface

“We don’t have time to rest for long, there’s going to be another Apophis soon.”

Everyone looks at you with surprised expressions. Oh, right, you didn’t tell anyone about this. Coughing into your hand you say, “Liala has holed up in the Great Temple of the Twins. Polah’s familiar has found that she’s preparing for a ritual. You can guess what kind.”

Ako’s eyes look pensive. “I see, that is certainly information Ammon would wish to know. How long until this ritual is complete?”

“I don’t know, Polah’s familiar left. Based on what we saw here though she was making a play before moving to take out Hel’alin.”

“The Apophis eating themselves?” Sylphie sighs, waving her hand. “Something something, snake eating its own tail, something something.”

“This is much to consider, but at the moment you will still stay here and-“

“No.” You say, walking up to Ako. Though you can’t see her mouth, you get the impression she’s frowning as she looks up at you. Her hand subtly goes to the knife at her side as you loom over her and speak. “We going to stop this mess once and for all. You WILL go and have Ammon prepare his resources for strife within the cult and you WILL allow us to go.”

Ako’s eyes go wide at your forceful nature and you see her shift uncomfortably. Behind you, Tabitha stiffens and walks over, hand on her sword, though you can’t see why. The Kunoichi gives her a flat expression before she sighs, a slight blush on her cheeks.

“I will tell Ammon, but if he decides to punish you for disobeying orders then I will not help you.”

“As far as I see it, we fulfilled our end of the bargain, he can fuck off.”

“I see.” She chuckles. “Do you have any more demands?”

“Yes.”

Surprise comes to her eyes. “Eh?” Clearly she didn’t expect you to say that.

“We need some healing potions, because this really hurts.” Pointing at the holes in your chest and the blood there she blinks before saying,

“Ah, of course. The men inside the guild will provide some. I will be back shortly, if you’re still here.” She makes a hand signal to someone behind you and you hear footsteps approaching soon after. Turning to see what it is, you hear a soft, “Poof!” sound before turning back to find a small cloud of smoke and a missing Kunoichi. Did… did she just use a smoke bomb?

As the men approach you turn over to Tabitha who sniffs and crosses her arms. “Her sister did say she liked you.”

“I never knew you the jealous type.” You say, smirking. “It’s kind of cute.”

She narrows her eyes before growing concerned as you wince. Now that the battle is over, this wound actually hurts a fair amount! She gently feels it and turns to the Grand Wizard, waving him over. The man sighs and walks up, touching your chest before channeling magic into you. Shuddering at the invasion, he nods his head as he pokes around the humours in your chest.

“Uh huh. Oh, I see. Sad, sad, sad.” He turns his head toward Tabitha and gives her a downcast expression. “I’m sorry but… you’re going to be an early wido-” His speech is cut off as a flaming sword appears at his neck, singing his beard. Licking his lips, he says, “Actually, now that I think about it, he’s going to be quite alright.”

“Thanks doc.” You say, grumbling as you try to pull away. He catches onto your shirt however and says,

“I said, GOING to be. That damn thing did something to your humours and- Tabitha put the Gods damned sword away.”

She grumbles and deactivates the enchantment on the blade before sheathing it. The Grand Wizard sighs and continues. “Anyway, give me a moment to extract this.” He closes his eyes and you feel something like a suction within you. Through the wounds in your chest a thin stream of back ooze flows out to roil over his hand. Frowning, he incinerates it before shaking his head.

“Well that’s not disturbing. Looks like it injected you with something.”

“I don’t really… feel different.” You say, patting your chest and wincing. “Still hurts.”

“May have been a slow poison, or some kind of corruption, I don’t know.” He shrugs. “It’s fine now I suppose.” He places a hand on your shoulder and says to Tabitha, “This one, is clean.”

“Thanks doc.” She mutters as men from the guild arrive with potions. They hand a few mana potions to Selene when she asks for them as well as healing potions. Thankfully you’re the only one wounded beyond a few scrapes, bruises, or pride. For Alice, it’s mostly pride, though she takes a potion anyway, breathing a little better once it does its job. As they divvy things out however, Mr. Ed trots into view, Sophie trailing behind.

Sylphie goes to meet her and gasps as she notices the limp arm at her sister’s left side. Sophie shakes her head, wincing. “It’s fine, just hurts abominably. One of them caught me off guard is all.”

She drinks a health potion when it’s thrust upon her by her sister and parents. Sighing as her father gives her an examination. Her arm works well enough, but it’s still painful and one of her tails was injured too. In her current state, she’s likely to be a little less combat ready that you’d like, but she did do a pretty good job holding the cultists at bay.

Ebe and Erwin are unharmed and by the time everyone is healed up and restocked, you have about four [Healing Potions] left. Should be fine enough…

>Healing Potion count: 4

“I think we’ve dallied here long enough.” Selene says, crossing her arms. “We have a job to do, right?”

“Yes dear.” The Grand Wizard says, applying another sigil to Hent-Ateh’s prison. You confirmed that she’s still in here with [Survey] and hasn’t burrowed out like some kind of deranged weasel, but it still scares you to know that she’s still alive… or whatever you’d call her existence.

“I don’t like leaving this open.” You say, shaking your head at the pit. “But we don’t have much of a choice. She could have finished the ritual already.”

“Can Polah look for us?” Ebe asks, walking up toward you.

“I can’t really get back in touch with her but…” Pulling out [Aliph’s Sigil] you listen in to the cultist reports.

{Our brothers and sisters sent to the Merchan’ts guild are all dead!} A man’s voice cries.{I was patrolling and saw it! I do not see Hent-ateh either!}

{No, it can’t be…} A woman’s voice says. {Did the creature betray out brethren? Mistress, what has happened to the creature?}

It is a few moments before Hel’alin’s voice echoes through the sigil. {Hent-ateh no longer has a use to the Apophis. The defeat of our brothers and sisters was not caused by the creature but instead by the hands of another. There is no doubt that it was Ammon and his vile rebels who wish to harm us. But they are a fading light before the glory that is the Apophis!}

Her voice grows more bold and yet… sinister. {Do not falter with this setback! Take the sacrifices and burn as fuel for our journey! Liala even now asks for the blessing of Dollora that we may triumph upon the correct path and bring this land back to its rightful rulers!}

As you listen it become blindingly obvious to you that she didn’t know she had been betrayed. And why would she? She’s blind to even her own power while Liala has been raised her whole life waiting for this chance. To have some upstart take it from her likely set her off, but you can’t be certain. A twinge of panic sets in you as you think of the implications of this.

She admitted Hent-ateh was not in use at the moment. Which either means she knows it has been captured or… she isn’t controlling it. Was the covenant truly finished then? No, it seemed absolutely certain that it needed to fulfill it, and part of that was killing Helene. Which means that someone has to be targeting her. Certainly it isn’t Ammon, or else he’d have just killed you without the fuss- besides, it named him as a target. Which means…

It all comes back to Liala. But how would SHE have control over the creature? She didn’t make the pact! She’s not an Apophis! It doesn’t make sense!

Rubbing at your head, you feel frustration from not knowing enough. Running into this blindly could easily get you killed, but if you don’t act now, you’ll be dealing with an Apophis who knows how to control her powers and is more than just a figurehead. Is that worse than the Pharaoh? You’d rather not like to find out. Besides, the greatest problem will lie in attacking Liala and having to face down cultists and possibly your sister to get to her. If only there was a way to warn her like…

You look down at the sigil and the snake motif it shows. There is a way, but it won’t be pretty. Hesitating, you run through the options in your head before gritting your teeth and placing the sigil to your forehead. There’s no time to second guess this, if you want Helene alive there’s little choice, although you do this only by the barest of margins.

{Helene! You are being betrayed by Liala!}

Your thoughts echo through the sigil, eliciting shock from those listening. Many voices clamor out but the loudest is Hel’alin who says, {Rommel?! You’re alive?! Oh, my brother, Liala told me you had betrayed us! Fled to work with Ammon!}

Well. She was actually correct, even if Liala was probably lying through her teeth. {She’s using you Helene, she’s ordered Hent-ateh to kill me and then kill you!}

Voices speak over the sigil, taxing your mind before Hel’alin’s hiss silences them again. {Hent-ateh is not under her control, it is a tool which has finished its purpose.}

{Fine, believe that if you will, but know that she is currently conducting the ritual to become Apophis as we speak. When it is complete, she will claim you traitor and kill you, taking it all for herself.}

{Impossible! Liala would not betray the cause!}

{She won’t, at least, not HER cause. Help me stop her, please. Don’t let her rule over this land and make slaves of them as you were before.}

{I… I…} Hela’lin begins before another voice cuts in.

{Mistress! The Wizard, he stands before the Merchant’s Guild where our brothers and sisters were slain! He is working with Ammon!}

Though you search about, you can find no one watching you. Is someone hidden or is this a trick?.

A violent hissing rises in your mind. {No… Rommel, you… you’ve betrayed me? You would run from my arms into the those of our enemy?!} An anguished scream echoes through the sigil before her voice cries out in your mind, {BRING HIM TO ME! BRING ME MY BROTHER AND KILL ALL ELSE WHO STAND IN YOUR WAY!}

Dropping the sigil you grow pale. Oh Gods, what have you done? You didn’t expect it to go the best but this is the worst case scenario. The cult knows exactly what you’re up to and now Helene thinks you’ve betrayed her! If that was all that was keeping her from being subsumed by the Apophis within her, then… oh Gods.

“Rommel, what’s wrong, you look pale.” Tabitha says, taking your arm. “Did something happen?”

“I… I might have made things worse.” You say, looking out toward the Palace. “Much, much worse.”

“Made it worse?”

Tabitha looks at you with a worried expression. “How did you make it worse?”

“Someone informed her we were to blame for stopping the assault and then lied that we were with Ammon and… damnit.”

“But… we did go with Ammon.”

“I know, but they didn’t know that.” Rubbing your face you groan, “Someone was watching this, but even if they weren’t it’s likely that someone loyal to Liala spoke in to deflect blame to us. Worse, she now knows that Helene could be suspicious and she might move forward faster to remove her.”

“That does sound worse.” Tabitha says, frowning deep. “I’m surprised they didn’t implicate us when they were being attacked.”

“Uhm.” Ebe says, walking forward. “I doubted we could have beaten all of them as they were so I tried to make them all sleep. I got most of them but the ah… what did you call them? Enthralled? They were resistant.”

“I see.” You say, looking back down at the sigil. What do you do now? How can you resolve this? Should you get back on there and try to explain it away, try to make her see reason and apologize? No… that won’t work, especially if someone cuts in again. It will only make things worse. The way things stand however, she’s going to send all her might after you while Liala finishes her ritual and then kills her, potentially even blaming you for doing it. Who is going to argue?

Then maybe you should strike at Liala? No, she knows you’re on to her as well likely. Security is likely increased at the Temple now and besides, Helene can easily reach you with her cultists and potentially even come out to fight herself and- wait.

“We get to her to come to us.” You mutter, thinking it all through.

“Huh?” Sylphie says, cocking her head, cat ear’s twitching. “Get who to come where?”

“Hel’alin.” You say, coming to the conclusion. “She’s angry but she’s also in danger. There’s just no feasible way to take out Liala now- we’ll have to fight her later and pray we can finish the job, or let Ammon take her out. But Hel’alin… we can use this anger to our advantage.”

“By having her… try to kill you?”

“I don’t think she’ll try to kill… me… at least.” You say with some hesitation. “But if we can lure her to an area where we can perform the ritual, we can at least stop that threat.”

“An interesting plan, but how do you propose that we do that?” Sophie asks, still holding her arm. “The chapel in the Palace is ruined and the Great Temple is under control by Liala.”

“Theoretically it could be done anywhere, but there is one more place if memory serves.” You say, digging out the shitty [City Map] you were given. Wish you took the better map from Ammon but whatever, it serves the purpose well enough. Tapping a section in the east of the Mushtarak district you say, “Here. The Lesser Temple of the Twins.”

“Selene walks over and looks at the crude map with a serious expression. “It will likely work I suppose, but there were supposed to be many civillians in that area seeking succor. A lot of people could get hurt doing this.”

“It… might be necessary.” You say, having not thought of that.

The eldest Cat o’Ninetails looks at you with worry in her eyes. “Rommel… you don’t… you don’t want to be involved in causing a mass murder of innocents. I’m told you’re a student of history and so you know that I…” She takes a deep breath and shakes her head. “I understand your feeling of being trapped and lost when it involves your family but involving others is not going to make things any better.”

The others look uneasy at the prospects of involving innocents in this. Even if you were to clear most of them out beforehand it’s still likely some will remain in the temple. Is there another option you could try? Somewhere else you could do the ritual? Hells, they did it in a fucking basement in some random house, so it doesn’t need to be in a Temple. Pulling out the note again, you read it over.

While the majority of the note talks about ritual phrases to go over while channeling magic and a few sigils to draw, the only other thing to be mentioned is that:

 “From what I can surmise, you will need what is to be transferred to and from. In this case, Hel’alin back into some person or container which could contain such a spirit. An artifact of power or an icon of great significance. While the location does not appear to matter, such rituals are best done in places with greater connections to the Gods, especially Dollora.”

Which would be the Lesser Temple of the Twins… but damnit. Shaking your head you put that thought out of your mind for now. You’re running low on time and frankly the most important aspect coming up is whether or not you can get her to even come after you- or who else you’ll drag along in tow.

The sigil feels heavy in your hand as you bring it back to your forehead to immediately hear a flurry of angry hissing and spitting in your mind.

{Bring the rest of the blessed and make for an assault on their location at the Merchant’s guild! This time, I expect it to be done RIGHT!}

{Of course, Apophis.} A man’s voice says back. {We are your humble servants.}

{Yes… servants to my will. Servants who will do EVERYTHING commanded of them.}

Mentally preparing yourself, you dive right in and send {Slaves, you mean.}

The connection goes silent for a moment before Hel’alin hisses, {ROMMEL! BRING YOURSELF BEFORE MY MERCY AND GROVEL!}

Ignoring the command you send, {I’m surprised to hear the way you’re treating those under you. They sound like slaves, like you used to be. It hurts to hear you like this.}

{Don’t you DARE speak to me as if you understand! It is my RIGHT as Apophis to command the faithful!}

{Command them to what though? Death? You know they cannot stand against us, against me.}

{Their devotion is without the boundaries of life or death! Service to the Apophis is all they desire!}

{And when they’re dead, their bodies lying in the gutters as their blood runs through these ruined streets? I assure you, this won’t be on my hands, they’ll be on yours.}

{You…. you….}

{Bastard? That would implicate you as well and insult our dear Mother. No, if you want me you’re going to have to come get me yourself.}

{Don’t listen to him, my mistress!} The same male voice from before says. The very same man who ratted you out to be the ones who stopped the cultist assault. Yes, Liala certain has some yes men. {He is trying to trick you!}

{Trick you into what? To exposing yourself? I could easily walk into the Palace like I did before and finish this, but I’m offering you the chance to do it yourself. Or are your powers incomplete? Do you not really have the strength to subdue your brother and his pack of trash?}

Mentally sighing as you do, you send, {Or could it be, you’re afraid?}

Murmurs from other cultists come across the network. Did he really just challenge an APOPHIS to battle? Impossible! He would never win! But… he did take down the Pharaoh. Could he defeat her? Is it actually not impossible?

The murmuring of foolish cultists does more for your case than anything you could say. Hel’alin hisses, words dripping with venom. {Brother… When I find you and flay your friend’s skin from their very bones, I will then take you and make you see how far beneath me you are. I begin to wonder if I should have saved you all those years ago, if I’d known it would lead to this.}

{Fine, but it won’t happen here.} You send.

{Then where, dear, sweet, brother?}

{You’ll see.}

Dropping it there you shudder. The more she spoke, the less and less she sounded like herself. The intention was to rile her up enough to have her come after you, but this… Gods, will there be anything left to save? If it comes down to it, do you have the will to end her?

Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Putting the sigil away, you turn to the others and say, “Alright, we need to get going then.”

“Where?” The Grand Wizard says, rubbing his head. “Where the hells do we go?”

“East.” You say, pointing toward the Tajr District. “We’ll head toward the Lesser Temple, but if we see something else come up, then we’ll have to use that area.”

“Do we have something to even seal her away in? Can we even seal her away, what even can she do to fight? Do you have any idea what we’re getting into?”

Closing your eyes you take a deep breath and say, “I don’t know. We’ll have to think of that on the way there.”

The man takes your shoulder and looks you in the eye. “Look, I’m not one to complain about making shit up on the fly, but this is getting serious. If you don’t come up with something here we might just have to kill her. Are you willing to do that?”

Looking away for a moment, you take a deep breath and look back. “If there’s nothing else we can do, then I will put a pebble in her head myself.”

He watches your expression for awhile before sighing and letting go of you. “These quests they… they take a lot of out you at times.”

“Tell me about it.”

He shakes his head and nods to Tabitha. “But, you always have to think about what you’ve gained, rather than what you’ve lost. Can you do that?”

Tabitha, your wife, takes you hand (in broad daylight no less) and squeezes it. She nods to you and smiles, “Well, we’ve done some hard stuff as it is. Might as well keep the leyway going.”

“This is really touching.” Alice says, pointing behind her. “But what do we do about that thing?”

You follow what she’s pointing at to see Hent-ateh in the pit. While you’d rather not leave this alone, she’s sort of covered in metal which is magically reinforced. Hopefully when Ako returns, she’ll be able to move her somewhere so the cultists can’t get her out or something.

Speaking of Ako, you still see no sign of her and figure it’s for the best. If Ammon wants to speak with you, he can have someone find you. They clearly know where you’re going, and worst case scenario he’ll probably ask Polah to have one of her familiars to find you as well. Either way, you can’t stay here and wait, because time is against you.

Leaving the Merchant’s guild behind, you begin your migration toward the Lesser Temple of the Twins. With limited time, you need to figure out what you need to do and where you want to do it. Hel’alin will come for you now, and you hope that deep inside you didn’t remove all traces of Helene with your words.

The empty streets of the Tajr district feel alien compared to the days you were here before. Even during the chaos of the previous evenings, the rather “criminal” activity in the streets was better than the eiree silence. Here and there you can see the signs of the fire which consumed this area, possibly created on purpose by Ammon’s men. The charred remains of the once vibrant houses and stalls make you feel a little ill inside- something which is furthered by the occasional corpse.

Unfortunately, the time for such worries cannot be now. Your pace is swift, if not breakneck. It’s doubtful that going faster would change the outcome of things other than making you tired. Besides, you hadn’t made up your mind on the decision just yet. By the time you reach the broken remains of the Great Bazaar however, your course of action becomes clear.

{Erwin.} You send, walking through the destruction of the once proud market.

{Yeah?}

{There’s someone following us.}

{He’s not making great speed, but I’d assume so, yes.}

Mentally sighing, you send. {Can you and Selene remove him for us? I’d rather not have our location compromised until absolutely necessary.}

{Why not Sophie?}

{She deserves a rest for the moment.}

Erwin mentally nods and then walks over to Selene, pawing at her leg. She looks at him with a confused expression before following the twitches of his ears, her own following the same motions before she looks at you and then nods. While the rest of you continue to move forward, Erwin leaps into her arms, cradled close to her breast and she slinks off through the ruins.

Placing the sigil to your forehead, you grow dimly aware of your surroundings as you walk through the market. Sure, you maybe trip one, two, or seven times, but it’s fine as you listen to the chatter over the sigil. Well, by chatter it’s more like, “Hel’alin is fucking angry and where the fuck is Rommel, I want his head.” You sure hope she means the one on your shoulders.

In between her ravings you hear a distinctive voice, the sound of the man from before. “Apophis, they are through the Great Bazaar.”

“Where are they headed?”

“I have not seen this yet, but I-” He cuts off suddenly before his voice comes back. “Apophis! Help I am- gaaaah!”

His sendings grow silent. Hel’alin screams obscenities into the network but you merely remove the sigil from your forehead and continue forward. A few moments later Erwin sends {He’s been ah… “removed.”}

{Thanks, you two okay?}

{Uh, yeah. I could have taken him myself you know.}

{Insurance.}

He mentally scoffs. {Oh yeah, sure, insurance. Bringing the Monster Lady to take out one ratty cultist. There’s a term for that, it’s called OVERKILL.}

You roll your eyes as Selene leaps down beside her husband, Erwin sandwiched between her breasts for cushions. She smirks and tosses the fox at you, whom you catch deftly. Looking down into the smug bastard’s eyes, you lean down and whisper, “Tabitha’s are bigger.”

Every pair of cat ears swivel in your direction and you get the distinct feeling of animosity directed at you. All you can get from Erwin however is fox laughter as the little guy leaps down from your arms and walks beside you. Standing up straight again you say out loud, “With that gone we can talk again.”

“Uh huh, and what pray are we talking about? Breasts?” Sophie asks, giving you a flat look.

The Grand Wizard and Alice both perk up before blinking and looking away, trying not to seem like they were interested in the topic. Tabitha gives you a curious look and you wave your hand in dismissal. “A fascinating subject, but no. I’ve decided on the course of action. We will do this in the Lesser Temple.”

“Rommel…” Selene says, a worried look in her eyes.

Holding up both hands in placation you say, “But I have a plan to clear the area of civilians without harming anyone.” You cough into your hand. “Much.”

Everyone gives you a skeptical look as you look down at Erwin. “I’m going to need your help buddy.” He cocks his head in an inquisitive fashion. “I’ll need you to go dire and flush people out of the Temple.”

Selene sighs, “That may work in a small scale, but it won’t clear people too far from the area, and some may even attack him.”

“That.” You say, holding up a finger. “Is why I next need your husband.” Pointing said finger at him, the man blinks in surprise a few times before a devilish smile comes across his face.

“Oh no.” Selene says, face going pale. “You don’t mean to-“

Both Sophie and Sylphie grow a few shades lighter in the face as well. Sylphie whispers, “Please say he isn’t going to do what I think he’s going to do.”

“Those poor people…” Sophie says, shaking her head slowly.

As the Grand Wizard breaks into maniacal laughter while his family has a little break down of their own, Ebe turns to you and says, “Uhm. What is about to happen?”

Your only reply is a slowly shake your head.

———————————————

It began with a cry of pure terror. A yipping sound followed soon after, something uttered from the throat of a beast which could not be properly described. As if by the hand of Sveth in the grips of battle fury, the creature burst forth from nowhere in the midst of the packed Temple and drove the panicked populace from the building with shrieks and screams.

The resident priestesses tried to stop the beast with spells but it moved too quickly, it’s moves too focused. In moments they were subdued but still alive, furthering the people to flee even faster. Once at a safe distance they watched as the beast, massive fangs dripping saliva as the fires of the braziers danced upon the orange fur. Eyes filled with pure rage kept them back, yet still inside the Temple, the people crying out for the Goddess to save them.

That’s when the next of the curses happened. As if from nowhere a smell so rancid, so horrifying that it made the largest pile of disease ridden shit they’ve ever smelled seem like the finest of flowers in comparison. Some vomited, others uttered supplications to Nerg in release from this hell upon the mortal world, and yet others till passed out as they were unable to stay conscious through the vile smell.

The vast majority fled the area however, driven out of the Temple and it’s grounds by a rapidly spreading cloud of odorous filth. Though they’d come to the Temple for supplication and relief from the lack of food and the war ravaging their fair city, there was little else to be done for now: Either run, or become one with the smell of death itself.

You watch from atop a nearby building as the people clear out, panicked by the smells. Next to you, Ebe shakes her head in disbelief while Alice and Tabitha look on with grim expressions. All the while the Grand Wizard has his hands out, laughing maniacally as he works his magic, a spell he calls, [Fate’s Favored Flatulence.]

“It’s a fucking fart!” Sylphie says, waving her hand out over the rooftop.

“Oh, that’s too simplistic, but good try at alliteration dear.” Her father says, manipulating this magic.

“Dear, you said you weren’t going to do this shit anymore.” Selene says, furred hand cover her forehead as she looks down. “It’s embarrassing.”

“Desperate times dear. Besides, I thought you loved me for my magic.”

“Don’t you dare twist my words.”

“Either way.” You say, breaking them up. Again. For like the eighth time. “It’s working, they’re clearing out. Erwin says it’s the worst experience of his life but he’s doing fine.”

“Ah, darn, time to stop huh?” The Grand Wizard sighs, stopping his flow of magic, though the shit-eating grin remains on his face. “Sorry Erwin got caught up in it.”

“He’ll be fine, right?”

The man thinks for a moment. “He doesn’t like to use that nose to smell things, does he?” At your glare he chuckles. “Calm down, it’s only temporary.”

“Come on, let’s get down there.” Tabitha sighs as you make stairs from the ground below. The descent is quick and with some… “Controlled” use of his magic, The Grand Wizard is able to keep people at bay, driving them into homes, etc. Some people can’t leave the area though and you send Alice, Selene, and Ebe to help them while making your way into the Temple. Curiously, throughout all of this, Ammon didn’t make a single move or try to contact you. This is rather… ominous, all things considered.

Entrance into the temple is smooth enough, though a lingering scent of the rancid stench sticks despite everything. There’s just no good way to remove it all, as The Grand Wizard admits. This spell was meant to be an option of no return, and could easily swamp most of this district if he tried hard enough. He could easily start a war with this spell, which is why his family was not amused at him using it. You assume the anger sex Selene will performs will be both painful and very arousing.

You find Erwin slumped next to the altar in his normal form, eyes blurry and filled with tears. Kneeling down beside him, you pat the little guy on the head and whisper, “Thanks buddy.”

{That was… I think I saw the face of my own mortality. It looked like a pile of shit.}

{You have now lived the human experience then, my friend.}

He wheezes and then falls unconcious. The Grand Wizard sets to purging any traces of the spell from him while you survey the Temple. While smaller overall than the Great Temple and only one story, the Lesser Temple has a much, much larger worship room which lacks the antechamber of the Great Temple. The statues and carvings around the room are less ornate but at the same time have a charm that only a person of common birth could understand.

At the back of the room sits a dias where a plain altar stands. Simple vines cover half of the altar while the other half is decorated in runes and scripture dedicated to Dollora. Behind it is a lectern with a book of prayer to both Phallia and Dollora.

Remember what happened last time, you make sure the priestesses are unconcious before having the Grand Wizard check them for plants. He declares them clear and you feel much better about the abundant vegetation surrounding the walls of this Temple- it’s far less likely they’ll try to kill you than in the Great Temple.

“We’ve cleared all the civilians at least to the outer courtyard.” Selene says, entering with Alice and Ebe. They look around the Temple with the same anxiety as you until you assure them it’s safe. The Cat o’Ninetails nods. “What’s the plan now?”

“I’m growing concerened we’re running out of time.” You say, nodding your head. “I think if they haven’t figured out where we are now, they will soon enough. We need to prepare the ritual.”

Selene nods and begins to set up an area for the ritual, drawing various runes in the open space where larger Monsters sit for the worship. For your part, you touch the sigil back to your forehead and send,

“I’m at the Lesser Temple of the Twins. I’m waiting for you.”

Without waiting for an answer, you put the Sigil away and turn to your allies. “Selene will handle most of the ritual while we fight her. I assume she’ll come with a host of cultists, but we can deal with them easily enough, right Sylphie?”

The Cat o’Ninetails blinks in surprise. “Huh? What? Me?”

“We’ll likely need magic to keep them at bay, and I’m going to need your Mother and Father. Can you do this?”

She frowns and then leans her head close to you. “I suppose I could with the right motivation…?”

Sighing, you reach out and then pause, looking to Tabitha. She rolls her eyes and says, “It’s fine.” Nodding your head in response, you pat Sylphie’s head, even though her father looks on with horror.

Collecting herself and Mr. Ed, she leaves along with Ebe to a point outside to await the cultist while the rest of you prepare. It doesn’t take long to create the ritual site, though how intact it will be when it comes down to it is left to be seen. Keeping most of the pews in place for cover, you make sure Erwin is in a safe location before sitting upon the altar, staff in hand, and await your sister while wondering if this was how the Pharaoh felt when you came to kill her.

————————————————————-

“ROMMEL!”

The doors crash open as Hel’alin, might Apophis enters the Temple. Flanked by Anubis guards, enthralled by the looks of them, she immediately finds you on the altar, alone. Hissing, she points toward you and says, eyes wild. “What is your game? Is this some ploy? Or have you given up your struggles.”

“I wanted to talk, Helene.”

She hisses, serpentine tongue flicking out from her mouth. “I am no longer Helene. I am the Apophis, Hel’alin.”

“I don’t know about that.” You sigh, toying with your staff. “If there was nothing of Helene left, you wouldn’t care to face me. You’d have spared the words and immediately tried to kill me. Instead you’re talking with me.”

“Because, this is my victory. You have given yourself to me fully.” Holding out a hand, the jewelry on her arm tinkles as she smiles wickedly. “You will be my slave and consort. I have decided that to be the best course for you, whether you like it or not.”

“It’s not too late to turn away from this Helene.” You say, shaking your head. “I’m sorry I hurt you, I never meant to do it, but there was no other way to talk in person.”

“Perhaps on your terms.” She hisses. “But it no longer matters.” Slithering toward you, she holds her arms out, the sensuous motions of her hips making the scanty clothing she wears stand out and highlight her sexuality. “Come to me.”

The Anubis guard follow close behind while outside a group of cultists begin to follow behind and secure the perimeter. Once Hel’alin is sufficiently close you sigh, snapping your fingers. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

Immediately Hel’alin rushes you, moving at blinding speed. The sudden movement at the apex of your snapping stuns you to the point that you forget entirely about casting your spell, <Cold Blooded>. Shouting out to her followers, the Apophis cries, “To the flanks!”

The enthralled Anubis dash to the sides, weapons leveled. The rest of your party, hidden by the pews, leap forth and defend themselves against the surprise attack. How did they know what you’d be doing? Was she prescient or something? The thought strikes you immediately as she reaches you that yes, she very well may be prescient.

Her hands grasp your shoulders and she opens her mouth wide, fangs almost dripping with venom. Driving her face down, her teeth graze your neck before pulls away as a burning blade strikes the space before you that was filled just seconds before by the Apophis.

“Are you alright?” Tabitha asks, sword ready.

“Yeah, I uh… I think.” You say, touching your neck to find a small amount of blood there. “I don’t think she injected any venom. Good thing you were behind the altar.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t expect her to have the same power as that artifact.”

“Me either.” You say, channeling your magic. At this she hisses and whips her tail around at you with more skill than you’d expect a newly Monsterized Monster to have. You step backward from it, interrupting your spellcasting again and realize it’s her intention.

Outside, you see cultists dropping from Ebe’s song while Mr. Ed with Sylphie on his back plow through the remaining cultists. At least their fight is easy. Sadly, the enthralled are also keeping the rest of your group at bay, at least for a little bit as Alice has already dispatched one while Selene has three attacking her, and two going after The Grand Wizard with Sophie. They’ll have to do their best for now.

“So you can see the future, huh?” You say, holding out your staff. “But even if you can see everything, that doesn’t mean you can stop it anything.”

“I have already won this battle, it is only a matter of time.” She hisses while chuckling. Reaching in between her breasts, she pulls out a small vial of white liquid and downs it, her tongue reaching into the vial for the last drop. Licking her lips, she says, “I can only imagine your semen will taste far better, and so much more when you willingly give it to me.”

“Why would I do that?” You say, frowning. “It’s kind of creepy anyway.”

“Because, as I said before, I am no longer your sister. Also, because it should start to effect you now.”

“I don’t know what-” You cut off as your neck suddenly feels warm. Your mouth moves soundlessly as you touch your neck and feel a sensation spreading from there, something not overly unpleasant. Your breathing increases as the sensation slowly spreads through you. Something… something tells you that you may have taken in some of the venom from that graze. S-shit.

“What did you do to him?” Tabitha shouts, holding her sword out.

“I’ve given him a taste of the truth!” Hel’alin shouts, firing out bolts of dark magic at Tabitha, which drives the Lizardman backward. One of them seems to unnaturally strike her left arm, causing the scales there to grow dull and force Tabitha to gasp in pain. Hel’alin merely laughs and slides forward, dodging the sword swings with Tabitha’s right arm with contemptuous ease.

It starts to be difficult to think properly, but something about this scene feels wrong. Why are they fighting? It’s your wife and your ah… sister? No, that term isn’t strong enough to describe what you feel about her… Mistress? That seems much more appropriate and yet… it’s wrong somehow. Feeling your eyes grow unfocused, you begin to slip into unconsciousness when Tabitha screams, forcing your eyes open.

Having drawn a knife from her belt, Hel’alin stabs it into Tabitha’s right arm, forcing her to drop the sword. Pulling it out again she stabs the left arm and begins to chuckle as she points the blade at Tabitha’s belly. “Mmm, no legs, soon to be no arms, and I’ll make it no guts either. You’ve caused far, far too much trouble for us. But you’ll be an example.” Slicing through her clothing to reveal the fair skin of Tabitha’s stomach, she begins to chuckle before gasping and turning to you with wide eyes.

You shout, “STAY AWAY FROM MY WIFE!” before casting, <Cold Blooded>. The spell has an immediate effect in forcing Hel’alin to back away as she begins to shiver while the temperature continues to drop. Despite the shivering she continues to stare at you with wide eyes, as if uncomprehending. Her lips move slowly as she says,

“Y…Your wife?”

“Y..yeah, my mis- nrghhh.” You put a hand to your head and pant as Tabitha sinks down next to you, huddling up close as her arms bleed. “She’s my wife.”

“You… found love.” She whispers, looking horrified. “Rommel… found love and I…” Confusion comes over her expression before she gasps and darts to the side as a bolt of lightning sears the air near her. Her motions aren’t as fluid as before but she can still anticipate them and dodge out of the way as the Grand Wizard runs up while Selene strikes at her, using her tails in a pattern that makes it hard to dodge, even when you know how to dodge them.

“Gods Tabitha, what happened to you?”

“Nevermind.” She says, shaking her head. “Get to Rommel, she poisoned him!”

Your vision swims as you watch the fight between Selene and Hel’alin. A sudden and overwhelming hatred rises within you at watching someone try to defile your mistress and you roar, trying to summon your magic to kill those in your way. A solid slap turns your head at a ninety degree angle, and though you find you’re not even dazed, it’s enough to allow the Grand Wizard to grab your face and begin to channel magic into you.

“No… NOOOO!” You shout, thrashing under his magic. “LET ME GO! I MUST GET TO MY MISTRESS!”

“Oh shut him up.” The Grand Wizard says as you begin to feel numb, the warmth sliding away from you. Though you make to scream at him again, Tabitha pushes her face toward yours and kisses you, silencing your protests. Though you try to pull away, eventually the warmth of your devotion to the Apophis is replaced by the warm and fuzzy feeling of kissing your wife.

She pulls away and you pant, feeling sick to your stomach from the experience. The Grand Wizard snorts and throws the venom he pulled out away before turning back to the battle and lowering the temperature further. “Sorry Tabitha, but this is the plan.”

“I s-still have those undergarments, it’s fine.” Through her ruined shirt, you notice the necklace holding the enchanted basalt you gave her sitting between her breasts. Holding a hand out, you caress it and her chest, to which she gives you an embarrassed expression. “Not the time, love.”

“Right.” You groan, pushing yourself upward before really looking at her arms. “Dear Gods, she cut you up bad.”

“I’ll live.” She says before gritting her teeth. “But I’m not swinging a sword anytime soon.”

Moments later Selene leaps before all of you, tails held before her as she creates a shield to block the magic thrown by Hel’alin. She says, “Her magic is fairly inexperienced and she’s sluggish from the magic. If she didn’t have this damn prescience, she’d be child’s play to defeat.”

“She’s freshly Monsterized too, doesn’t know much about her body, despite the Apophis inside her.”

“Didn’t help that you stunned her by saying I’m your wife.” Tabitha says, nodding. “By the way, that was very sweet.”

“Uh, sure. Yeah, that’s what’s happening to her.” You say, not quite remembering that. You feel you may have blacked out for a few moments there. Either way you can’t afford to linger. Pushing yourself up, you add in more to the dropping temperatures, which makes your sister scream in frustration.

“This… this unbearable cold! It… it shouldn’t be possible. H-How are you? Why is…?”

“Well.” The Grand Wizard says, nodding to Sophie as she goes to help Tabitha. “I doubt there were any cryomancers in ancient Ectria, and very few modern ones as well. They’d likely have been killed early as well since cold blooded Monsters would fear them, so I doubt anyone would know how to deal with this.”

He taps his head. “You got beaten by biology.”

“I am NOT beaten!” She screams. “Liala will come and the Apophis will rule this land even if I die.”

“I don’t want you dead.” You say, shaking your head. “I want you to live, but not as this creature.” You say, waving your hand over to the Apophis. “I want you to live as my sister.”

“Never.” She hisses. “Helene is DEAD.”

“I refuse to believe that!” You shout, pointing your staff at her with shaky hands. “Helene, if you truly love me and everything you believe in, keep fighting. I’ll free you one way or another.”

Her eyes flash and she dashes toward Selene as the Monster Lady begins a leap at her. Her sluggish movements allow her to dodge the blow but she cries out moments before you cast [Ice], already seeing your spell trapping her lower half with her prescience before it even hits. She slumps to the ground, shivering, hand grasping at the stone floor, a look of terror on her face.

“No… no, no, no no!” She shouts before hissing flecks of venom at you. “You can’t do this! The Apophis are eternal!”

“You aren’t an Apophis!” You shout, shifting her into the circle created by Selene with <Rock Slide>. “You never truly were!”

“Then what am I?” She screams back, tears running down her cheeks. “What has this all been for?”

“The Pharaoh needed to die.” You say, bowing your head. “But none of this ever needed to come this far.”

“You could have stopped it before it did!” She says, weeping in earnest. Something shifts in her demeanor and you sense that the malevolent force within her is suppressed, at least for now. “When I saw you Rommel, you were supposed to come save me! I wanted you to come for me, but all you did was send that fucking letter!”

Looking down at your hands you grip them tight and say, “I’m sorry. I truly am. But there are things in this world greater than just us two siblings.” Kneeling down next to her while encasing her in more ice, you look into her eyes and say, “I’m going to draw the spirit of the Apophis out of you.”

Her eyes go wide and the rage of the Apophis returns. “NOOOO! YOU SHALL NOT DARE LAY ANOTHER HAND UPON ME, I COMMAND YOU!”

“The way I see it.” You say, standing up. “You’re not in control of anything any longer.”

Nodding to Selene, the Monster Lady begins chanting the words written for you on the note while channeling magic into the spell. Everything things to grow quiet in the room as an omnipresent darkness looms despite the light outside. You feel something around you and while most in the room shudder at it, you feel a comforting sensation. It feels like… Dollora is around you, as odd as it may be say for a human. But well, things have been odd for you.

Hela’lin’s rantings begin to grow more subdued as the magic seeps in, the ritual connecting the worlds of man of Gods by powers only Solos could describe. You sense a vital but of something occurring, a dark and divine thread calling out to the Apophis. It reaches out toward her and you get the impression of a hand poised to grasp something yet the image is within your mind. When it is by inches away from Hela’lin’s face you hear something in the distance.

“LOOK OUT!”

A rumbling crack catches your attention after Ebe’s words echo in from outside. Your attention is torn away from the ritual and you gape in horror as the roof of the building cracks and collapses in on itself, falling down to crush you. Only by quick action of your magic are you able to stop the falling pieces of stone from crushing you and Selene, and thankfully the Grand Wizard was able to do the same when the dust settles.

Using some aeromancy to move aside the dust, and debris, you look on in horror at the devastation. A full half of the roof had caved in and the other half is crumbling. Searching about in confusion, you spot something at the ruins of the entrance, light shining in from the ruined ceiling to illuminate their presence.

Standing there alone is the figure of a Lamia with purple skin, dark purple scales, yellow, black-sclera eyes, and a familiar face. Holding out her hands, orbs of dark magic appear there, stronger than any you’d seen before. She smiles a wicked, disturbing smile and laughs softly before saying,

“Well now, this saves me the trouble of hunting everyone down. Thank you, Rommel.”

Though dazed and confused, Hel’alin turns her head toward the other Apophis and says, “Liala… help.”

Liala thinks about it for a moment before raising one of the orbs. Hel’alin’s eyes go wide and she looks utterly shocked as from the orb a beam of dark energy streaks forward and pierces the other Apophis’s back. You watch in shock as the Monster before you screams in agony before collapsing, eyes unfocused. Hurriedly touching her neck, you find she’s not dead, but only because she turned away enough in time to keep herself alive…. barely.

“You bitch…” You growl, anger flaring up inside you. “How could you do that?”

“She was never fit to be an Apophis.” Liala says, shaking her head. “But she served well enough. Now then, to finish up some loose ends.”

“We took her down even with her prescience, what makes you think we can’t take you down? The cold will seep into your bones soon enough.”

She nods toward the open ceiling and the heat of the burning Ectrian sun above. Making things cold in here is going to be next to impossible now, as you realize with surprise. Gritting your teeth, you say, “Fine then, it’s still our advantage.”

“True, I am outnumbered.” She says, holding her hand up. “However, the spirit in the relic I used was the oldest and most powerful of the Apophis. She was the only one who could even think about summoning Hent-ateh, let along binding it to a covenant. There are many things which set ME apart from HER.”

The orbs of dark magic ooze down from her hands to the floor. They run out in lines before pulling together into pools of darkness which rise upward, forming shapes of pitch black women without faces. The shadowy puppets stagger forward for a moment before standing up taller and facing Liala, as if awaiting commands.

She smiles at you and says, “You came here and did so much, yet this is where it ends. How pitiful for you.”

You turn the floor into lava.

Firing out twin bolts of magic, the ground beneath Liala churns and boils before melting into a puddle of burning lava ten feet across. As you channel your magic into this assault she smirks and pulls backward, her tail twitching furiously in reaction to the heat. Though you didn’t expect it to take her, you immediately follow up with a blast of [Shotgun Pebbles] from the ground. She can’t block them all!

Unfortunately for you, she can block them all. At the wave of her hand, one of the shadow spawn leaps before her, it’s body absorbing the pebbles into itself. Tiny holes of purple appear in the flesh where the rocks strike, sinking into the skin slowly afterward. It staggers momentarily but then turns the faceless head toward you, the pebbles dropping from its body to hit the floor.

“Hrm.” You grunt, holding your staff out. Behind you, Helene lets out a gasp and shudders, her body spasming despite the melting ice holding her. At this, Liala smirks and shrugs her shoulders.

“Physical attacks, how boorish.”

“I should have let you rot in that prison.”

“Yes, perhaps you should have.” She says, musing. “From what I hear though, our goals were never really that separate. You opposed the Pharaoh though for different reasons. I’d even heard you’d helped some of our number, even met little Lady Aliph. We could have been allies, you know.”

“Then why are you trying to kill us?”

“Because, you’re a symbol, and a threat. You are not members of the cult who bow before the Apophis, and thus you stand apart from the order which will be created.”

Helene begins to pant and you curse to yourself before digging in your pocket to pull out a [Health Potion] and tossing it to Selene who somehow catches it with one of her tails. As you do one of the shadow spawn rushes toward you. Moments before it strikes you a bolt of lightning blasts its head, causing it to stagger backward enough for you to thrust it away with a [Gust].

The summoned spirit crashes into a pew before standing up, head reforming as Liala’s magic radiates from her. The rest of the shadow spawn run toward you, five more in total as Liala sends a bolt of magic  toward you. Gasping in surprise, you make to summon a wall when the Grand Wizard slides forward and creates a shield of unaspected magic, dissipating the bolt of power while the shadow spawn bounce off.

“Hmph.” He says, dusting his hands. His eyes follow the spawn as they rise again and he cracks his knuckles, saying, “She’s not to tough. Just need to finish off these little things and then pummel her into the dirt.”

“Dear!” Selene shouts, taking his attention. “The potion isn’t doing enough! I need your help!”

The Grand Wizard looks between Selene and you. While his help would be invaluable, you need him to help Helene. If she dies, then this is all for nothing! Nodding your head you say to him, “Go, I’ll get your help soon.”

“Are you sure?”

“Please, she needs you.” You say, shaking your head and preparing your magic. He nods and runs over to Selene and Helene, waving away his wife to give you a hand as he begins to channel his magic into her.

Selene takes up a spot by your side while Alice takes up the other, sword drawn, smirk on her face. You’re surprised when you see Sophie and Tabitha walk forward, Erwin trailing your wife. “Hey, you two need to get healed.”

“Rommel, if this marriage is going to work, you’ll need to understand that I’m stubborn.” Tabitha says, holding out a hand, though she winces when doing so. Rolling your eyes, you hand her a health potion and, with some effort, she downs it. A sigh of relief comes from her lips and she reaches for her sword and winces.

“It’s fine, I got this-” Alice begins, but is cut off as a bolt of dark magic flies past her face. She blinks a few times and then looks at her hair, a section of which was hit by the magic and has turned grey. Licking her lips she turns to Liala and says, “I’m sorry, did you have something to say, bitch?”

“Yes, but not for you.” Purple energy surrounds Liala as her shadow spawn ready to strike. Slamming her hands onto the ground, it glows with violent energy that shoots toward you in a line. In the wake of it, the shadow spawn race toward you with silent strides.

You can feel the wrongness of the magic in the ground. Though you try to stop it by stabilizing the ground with your own magic, it bursts through and explodes upward, throwing your group into the air in surprise. Strong arms grab you before you hit the ground and you look to see Tabitha grunting, arms shaking as she holds you. Her legs stabilize both of you while you drop to the ground, giving her a nod of thanks.

Sophie and Selene flip in the air and lands on their feet before catching Erwin while Alice lands on her back, covered in gravel, her sword flying from her hand. She groans and turns around right as the spawn land on her. It raises a hand which becomes a blade and stabs down into her back, skidding off the armor. It cocks its head before Alice flips about and trips it with her legs, causing it to fall to the floor as she jumps up to get her sword.

You have little time to think about this yourself as two of the spawn appear before you and Tabitha, arms turning into various weapons. You channel magic within yourself, looking to blast these things into nothingness with… fire, sure, fire works. You totally didn’t get this because of Tabitha’s sword coming to light.

The spawn before you charges in, striking with surprising skill. Parrying an axe-strike with your staff, the weapon biting deep into the wood, you blast it in the face with [Fireball], magic melting through its structure. Despite this, the creature strikes at you with the other arm, seeming to ignore the magic attacking it. The sword-like arm cuts into your [Trenchcoat] before you push it away, a cold sensation washing through your body as you realize it managed to draw blood.

Beside you Tabitha strikes a blow through the creature, bisecting it with her burning blade. It falls apart and looks up at her with a faceless head. The legs melt into the floor as the torso begins to glow, forming another body via magic channeling through Liala. Speaking of which, you feel the magic rumbling through the ground again and you cry out, grabbing Tabitha and leaping to the side. The ground explodes behind you again and you turn to the spawn as they strike in the wake of the magic.

“Rommel!” Sophie shouts, ducking and using her remaining tails to cut the shadow spawn into pieces which reform with Liala’s magic. She points with her good arm toward Helene and you gasp as you notice one of the creatures heading toward her and the Grand Wizard.

“Tabitha!” You shout to your wife. She nods her head and drops her sword from her hand as the shadow spawn charge. Raising one of her legs, she grabs the blade with surprising dexterity of the toes on her foot and slashes both of them in half with a fiery blaze, granting you time.

“Gods damn that’s kind of hot.” You mutter, not thinking about the pun in that statement because you have more important things to do, hard as it is to believe. Slamming your staff onto the ground, you SHIFT the stone underneath Helene and the Grand Wizard, shunting them away from the charging shadow spawn. It dashes after them but as they reach a corner a wall appears and it slams into it, staggering backward before cocking its head.

Tabitha steps back toward you and pushes you down as more bolts of dark magic begin to fly toward you. Nearby, Selene maintains a shield of magic herself, blocking some of the blows from Liala, a surprised expression on her face. Is… she worried about Liala’s magic?

“We need to shut down those spawn.” Tabitha says, helping you up awhile juggling her sword in her foot. “Otherwise she’s just going to destroy us with that magic.”

“We just need to hold out until the Grand Wizard is finished with Helene.” You say, gritting your teeth.

Liala raises her hands into the air and a ball of purple energy forms between them. She smirks and then throws the ball into the air. Selene’s eyes go wide at this and she shouts, “Get over here!”

Without hesitation, you break toward her, running as she begins to power up a shield. The distance is short, but as Tabitha outpaces you something grabs your leg and you fall to the ground. Turning about, you see one of the shadow spawn broken by Tabitha holding onto your leg. You try to shake it off and fail before channeling your magic to remove it, realizing there’s no time.

Erwin leaps from safety onto the spawn’s arm, digging into the thing’s arm. It doesn’t seem to do much until Erwin’s eyes glow and his mouth widens unnaturally, tearing into the arm and breaking it apart. As you stare in surprise, his body bursts into its dire form and he grabs you, running both of you into Selene’s shield.

A veil of purple surrounds you as the dark light of Liala’s magic slams down upon it. You try to cast walls to block the magic but they’re obliterated under the might of the spell. Selene gasps and staggers to a knee, still holding the spell up, gritting her teeth. Cracks appear in the shield but eventually the destructive magic dissipates, bringing the light of day back to the ruined Temple.

Selene slumps, her shield going down. Sophie kneels next to her mother, shaking her as the Monster Lady takes deep breaths, gathering her strength. Within a twenty foot radius of you the Temple is annihilated, pews literally removed from existence while only sterile earth sits where the stone flooring once was. Staggering to your own feet, you look about and see the shadow spawn, which had survived the attack untouched, readying to attack again.

“H-how?” Selene say between breaths. “How is that possible?”

Liala chuckles. “We Apophis were born of the direct might of Dollora. Her Priestesses may be A conduit of her magic, but WE are the true masters of it.” She flicks her gaze to the wall where Helene is hiding and shakes her head. “Had she accepted her role, she may be strong enough to use her magic correctly, but she was never meant for this task. A useful tool, nothing more. Had I not been captured before the ritual was complete, she was have been nothing more than a former slave with delusions of grandeur for a better Ectria.”

“What are you talking about? She was controlling Hent-ateh!” You say, steadying yourself.

Liala shakes her head. “Because I gave her that power, temporarily.” She fingers a golden snake talisman hanging around her neck. “It was dreadful to cede just newly found power, but there was little choice until I had the [Talisman of Tet’hua] returned. But once I did, well…” She shrugs and gives a smug smile.

“The greatest of the Apophis, of whom I am named after, the first of her kind and the holder of the pact. In my veins now her blood flows. I can feel her limitless power, channel her years of experience, and bring it to bear upon those who are in the way of the Apophis.” Chuckling, she says, “The Monster Lady is old and powerful, but Liala is even older, even more steeped in Dollora’s power.”

“I-I’m sorry.” Selene says, sweat on her brow. “That attack was… Dollora, it took everything I had to stop it.”

“Sophie, get her to the Grand Wizard.” You say, nodding to the Cat o’Ninetails. She gives you a hesitant expression before nodding her head slowly and taking her mother, helping her head toward safety.

“Hmm.” Liala muses, watching them go. She holds up her hand and prepares to fire at them but you pre-empt her by shooting a [Pebble Gun] at her. Her attention diverts toward the pebble, dissipating it into the darkness of her magic. Shrugging, she waves toward the shadow spawn which rush toward you again.

{Rommel, we can’t keep doing this.} Erwin sends, growling furiously at the spawn.

{I know, I know! I think I can dispel them though, but it might be risky.}

{Yeah, and so is being eviscerated.}

{Point.} You concede. {How did you transform anyway?}

{I don’t really know, I just… I don’t know, felt that you needed the help and it uh… happened.}

{Well, keep at it then, thanks bud.}

{Nooo problem.} Erwin sends, growling in his dire form. {We’ll cover you.}

“Alright.” You say as the shadow spawn close in. “Get in close.”

Everyone moves in. Right before the spawn reach you, you slap the ground with enough force of magic that it creates a handprint as you PUSH into it. A cracking sound is heard and a moment later the newly stripped earth explodes into a wave of devastation, throwing the spawn backward and tearing them apart as the [Epicenter] destroys the ground around you.

“Alice, go!” You shout, the woman not even waiting for your call to run. Despite all the devastation, Energieschwert is perfectly fine, glowing in the corner of the room. As she runs, Erwin leaps before you and growls at the spawn as they begin to reform.

“Oh no you don’t.” Liala says, swiping her hand and forming a wall of purple flames before Alice. To everyone’s surprise, she keeps running, screaming as she leaps through the fire. Liala blinks in confusion and cocks her head. “Well. That was easy.” She turns back to you and says, “Was she an idiot?”

“No.” Tabitha says, shaking her head. “That girl is some kind of genius.”

“If you say so.” Liala says, shrugging as more magic appears in her hands.

Before Liala can cast, the wall of purple flames explodes outward, revealing Alice standing tall with her sword, armor scorched. Her pure black hair is now a silver coloration and her face is flushed, but she holds her sword out toward Liala and says. “Hey. Fuck you.”

“What.” Liala says, distracted by Alice’s sudden reappearance. Using the opportunity, you turn on your [Mage Sight] and scan the magic in the shadow spawn. Thankfully they are entirely different than Hent-ateh, which is from another realm. These things are entirely made of magic, though they happen to be tethered to Liala. Perhaps simply dispelling them will remove them? It’s worth a try.

As Alice charges in alongside Erwin, you throw up walls and target the farthest of the spawn as they try to reach your little center of stone. Focusing upon the spawn, you cast [Mana Burst] upon the thing. Hitting the correct frequency, it breaks the connection with Liala momentairly, but it’s enough that when Erwin tears into it, it dissolves into nothing, unable to reform.

“What is this?” Liala shouts. Moments later the walls explode inward as her magic destroys them. Gravel showers over all of you, but you slap up more walls and cast [Mana Burst] again. Erwin destroys this one while Alice’s blade slices through another. Even without your burst it fails to reform, the enchanted blade destroying it utterly.

You quickly dispatch the last two in the same fashion before turning your attention toward where Liala  was hiding. Oddly enough, your walls are still intact. What could she be planning? Cautiously, you lower the wall and blink in surprise as you find she’s no longer present. Next to you, Tabitha shouts and you stagger almost off the little platform of stone in the sea of devastation as Liala lunges toward her, a sword of dark magic in her hands.

Though her legs are not nearly as well trained as her arms, Tabitha blocks the strike by her sword while forcing her backward with a kick. Liala pulls back and spits at Tabitha, a line of venom streaking toward her. She manages to block it with her black, the venom hissing as the flames burn it away.

Pushing inward you fire a [Shotgun Pebbles] and she dodges it, deflecting some of the strikes with her blade made of magic. She seems stronger than you’d expect with it, but given that she has the experience of ages within her, it’s not surprising. Going head on at her may be difficult, so it’s time to distract her…

“Now you’re outnumbered.” You say, shaking your head. “Give it up Liala, you can’t defeat us all.”

As you say this Erwin and Alice close in from the flanks, ready to attack. Tabitha, goofy as she looks, holds her burning blade up as well while you drop a few things from your pocket, whispering softly as you do.

“So you defeated the spawn. Not a terribly hard feat, they aren’t exactly dangerous, just annoying.” She shrugs as purple dark magic appears along her arm. “But I can always summon more.”

Alice charges her, but she’s too late to stop it as the magic bleeds into the ground. A hand grabs Alice’s leg as she charges, tripping the swordswoman as a spawn forms. Around you ten of the spawn appear, but it doesn’t stop there. Fifteen, twenty, thirty… they numbers continue to increase.

“Now then.” She says, holding up her hands. “I don’t think you have enough friends for this.”

Tabitha frowns. “Rommel…”

Standing up tall you put a hand on Tabitha’s shoulder. She looks at you and nods her head at your expression, seeming reassured. As the spawn rise you look toward Liala and say, “You say I don’t have enough friends, but you don’t know my friends. Friends are not just men, Monsters, or beasts. Friends are those whom you trust, those you who won’t fail you in a moment of need.”

You shake your head. “In the end, you didn’t even have friends. You needed outsiders to make the Cult of the Violet Sands worth the notice of the Pharaoh. You then needed another group of outsiders to kill her at the height of her power, then you had to wait until your rival was trapped and harmless before you would dare to do anything.”

Looking her head in the eye, you say. “So again, you of all people say I don’t have enough friends? It’s not about the number of friends, it’s about the quality of them.” You hold up your hand and point at her. “And frankly, my friends are a lot better than yours, even the ones you don’t notice.”

“What?” She asks, cocking her head before looking down in surprise. Standing all around her is a group of rocks shaped like people and Monsters, each with their own distinct features. In each of them is a core of magic, an [Arc Node] you’ve implanted. Her cry of alarm comes too late as you channel magic through them.

A storm of electricity explodes through the arc node from all different directions, showering her in energy. She screams in pain and all around her the shadow spawn waver before slumping and dissipating. Alice and Erwin stand up and watch as the deluge of electricity slows down. Smoke rises from where Liala was standing, obscuring your view. With a little push of [Gust] you blow it away, revealing what you hope is a smoking corpse.

Liala is still there, her purple skin scorched by the electricity, she twitches violently from the shocks running through her body, but she doesn’t seem to react to anything. Waving to Alice, the woman approaches with her sword at the ready and holds it up to cut her head off. As the sword swings, Liala’s eyes open wide and she screams, pushing outward with full force of magic, making Alice stagger backward.

Purple dark magic flows over her body and the burned sections slough away like a snake shedding skin. Cursing, you fire a [Shotgun Pebbles] into her but they encounter a wall of force as Liala shudders with pure dark magic. Her eyes glow a violently yellow and she puts her hands to her head, bending over and she screams.

“Alice! Everyone! Continue to attack!” You shout, trying to [Flash Freeze her]. The magic takes hold but moments later it melts. Cursing, you fire a [Flame Lance] as well, but it encounters massive resistance and fizzles out. Alice and Erwin run in but as they close the gap Liala throws back her head grabs both of them by the throat with unnatural speed and precision. Almost as an afterthought, she throws them across the room with strength fueled by magic.

Her head sinks back down as they hit the ground and she turns to you, eyes looking into yours. You gasp as you see something there, an ancient malice that gives you pause. This is no longer the Liala you were fighting beforehand, is it?

“You’re… the other Liala, aren’t you?”

She hisses as her magic surrounds her body, forming a spear and baroque armor of dark magic. “Yes. She was weak, unable to do what was required. Where I was content to share her body, it will once more be mine.” Pointing the spear at you, the ground rumbles with the might of her dark magic. “There will be no games. You will serve or you will DIE.”

A rumbling sound is heard in the distance and everyone turns to see the wall you formed being lowered. From behind it, the Grand Wizard walks forward, wiping his hands on his robes as he looks about with a mock expression of surprise. Behind him, Helene, Selene, and Sophie rest. Walking forward, he cracks his neck and says,

“Oh hey, she’s still here. Need some help?”

“That would be much appreciated.” You say, nodding your head. To the side, you see the forms of Sylphie, Ebe, and Mr. Ed approach, all of them looking a little haggard and Ebe with less clothing than before and some fresh wounds across her breast and chest.

“Hey.” Sylphie says, coughing into her hand. “Cultists are assholes, so I assume their leader is too.”

“Looks that way.” Ebe sighs. “Need some help?”

The ancient Liala looks at those arrayed against her. Shrugging, she says, “You may all come against me. It matters not. None of you are equal to the Pharaohs.”

“You’re right.” You say, scanning her with [Mage Sight]. “We’re their superiors.” With that, you cast [Mana Burst] upon her to temporarily stop her magic and-

It doesn’t work.

“Eh?” You say, blinking in surprise.

She shakes her head. “You misunderstand. Liala did not lie when she said my mastery of Dark Magic was stronger than even this Monster Lady’s. Such feeble spells have no effect on me, for I draw my power straight from Dollora herself.”

Pointing the spear toward you, she shouts, “COME AT ME! LET ME BEGIN MY REIGN AGAIN BATHED IN THE BLOOD OF THOSE WHO WOULD OPPOSE THE TRUE RULERS OF ECTRIA! I WILL OFFER YOUR SOULS TO DOLLORA AND THE ETERNAL NIGHT WILL BEGIN!”

The ancient Liala radiates with power. If you hadn’t literally spoken with a Goddess, you might be cowed by this show of might. As it stands, you’re still a little taken aback by the declaration. Even Hent-ateh, as insane as such a creature she is, couldn’t compare to this. The cold, malicious intent you sense sends a shiver down your spine.

There’s no time for fear however. You’ve been through a lot of bullshit recently and frankly you’d just like to go home and snuggle up with Tabitha or count rocks or something. But she won’t let you do this, will she? In order to protect yourself and those you care for, you must stop Liala.

You can’t help but chuckle at that thought. As you do, Liala asks, “What is so funny?”

“You’re filled with Dollora’s power, yet I’m not certain you understand her at all.”

“It matters little whether she is understood, all that matters is her power.” Purple magic begins to roil over Liala, spreading to the ground and forming more shadow spawn. She levels the spear at you and begins to charge forward.

“Alice!” You cry, stepping backward off your little platform of unmolested stone. The swordswoman doesn’t hesitate to dash forward, her silver-blonde hair flowing behind her as her blade deflects the thrust of the spear meant for you. Her return blow is dodged, but she uses the motion to slice through a spawn, making it collapse and vanish as it hits the ground.

The others cluster around you near the prone form of Helene as you assess the situation. You’re going to need something big, something that can kill someone so powerful. If only you didn’t destroy that damn staff… though still it’s perhaps for the best. Most of your spells are likely to be ineffective without a serious power boost, but you have a few in your arsenal that might work, such as [Flame Lance] or [Flash Freeze]. Still… will it be powerful enough?

“Selene, ideas?”

“Plasma blast her into nothingness.” She says, frowning. She still looks tired, but a small breather has given her at least a little color back. “Though I’m not keep on the collateral, and I don’t know if she’ll just let us do that.”

“No El Dorito to save us this time I’m afraid.” Her husband says.

“El… what?” You ask, confused.

“Don’t worry about it.” He says, waving his hand. “I forgot you’re new to this racket and it wasn’t in the book. I’ll fill you in later.”

“Fine. What about you? Any suggestions?”

He watches as Alice parries another blow by Liala, her expert skills coming into play. What the dark flames did to her, you’re not certain but she at least doesn’t seem harmed by them. In fact, she seems more excited than before, which is slightly more disturbing. She is… okay, right?

As you watch, more of the spawn move from around the sides, converging on your position. Sylphie nods her head and Mr. Ed bursts alight into his dire form. Flames snort from his nostrils and he rides forth to crush a spawn before breathing fire onto it, melting the unfortunate manifestation of magic. He dashes off to another one while Tabitha stands with her sword raised to protect your little group, watching Alice and your foes in equal measure.

“She doesn’t seem to have much in the way of defenses, but that offense is impressive and she has incredible reflexes. Hitting her with spells is going to be difficult.”

“So we’ll want to get in close then? I’m not certain any sword beyond Energieschwert is going to be enough to take her out. We’d need something stronger.”

The Grand Wizard snaps his fingers. “Of course! [Plague Reaper!]”

“You haven’t used that spell in decades!” Selene says, surprised. “Are you sure you can do it?”

“Hah, I haven’t neglected my Plagamancy training. I’ve got a reputation to keep up.” Cracking his neck, he holds out his hands and begins to channel power. “This might take some doing to gather up the required materials.” A spawn flies behind him, propelled by a kick from Mr. Ed. He sighs. “And some time to concentrate.”

“Ebe.” You say, turning to the Ghandharva. She blinks at you, exhaustion on her features. Poor girl, her clothing is basically non-existent and the wound on her chest looks fairly painful- it’s going to need medical attention. “Ebe, can you play a song for me?”

“I…” She begins before taking a deep breath and nodding. “If it means stopping all this madness, then yes. I can sing.”

“Thank you.” You say, placing your hand upon her head. Under your fingers you can feel some of the tension leave her body.

“What’s your request?”

“Use your guitar from Sveth, play a song as heavy as metal.”

Nodding her head again, she pulls the unwieldy guitar from her back and sets it up in her wings with practiced ease. She takes a deep breath and then strums the cords. An almost physical shockwave of power pulses from the guitar and you feel your soul resonating with it. The shadow spawn stop momentarily against the song of the God of the Earth before continuing their assault.

Feeling the strength within you, you blast a hole through two of them with [Flame Lance]. The power of the spell seems much stronger with the music in your ears and with the [Heldoran’s glove] on your hand it feels almost effortless to cast it. Smirking, you do the same to two other spawn, though you know they’ll reform once Liala’s magic has the chance to do so. As it stands, your main goal now is to buy time for the Grand Wizard.

Liala shouts and wall of dark magic fires toward Alice. The swordswoman laughs and cuts through the magic with her sword, giving her enough room to squeeze through and then slice at the Apophis. Unfortunately, Liala must have predicted this as she strikes from the side with her tail, hitting Alice hard in the side and throwing her bodily a few feet back before landing on the ground.

As Alice pushes herself up, Liala dashes in, spear ready to impale her. Before she can reach, a lance of incredibly powerful flame shoots forth. It strikes her in the arm and while it doesn’t pierce right through the dark armor, it causes a small singe and causing the trajectory of her attack to miss. Wary, she pulls backward as both you and the mildly recovered Selene move forward, magic held at the ready.

“Hmph, I had her right where I wanted her.” Alice says, wiping her chin.

“Sure you did, you half-succubus.” You say, trying to be snarky. Selene gives you a worried look though you’re not certain what it’s supposed to mean.

“Hurr hurr, she sleeps with a lot of men, she’s a succubus. Yeah yeah.” Alice says, sniffing. “Just because I can rock the silver blonde better than you doesn’t mean you need to be jealous.”

“Really though, are you okay?” You ask, worry on your face. “You don’t feel uh… different, do you?”

“Hurrr, she jumped through dark magic and has silver blonde hair so now she’s a Monster, hurr.” Alice rolls her eyes. “I don’t have time to be a Monster, okay?”

“Alice, that’s not how that works-” Selene begins, but the swordswoman cuts her off.

“We have more important things to do.” Alice says, readying her sword.

Liala frowns and in her other hand a sword forms. She brandishes the two weapons of dark energy effortlessly and says, “This begins to tax my patience.” Dashing forward, she drives the spear into Selene while slashing toward you.

The Monster Lady catches the blow with her tails and deflects it with a properly timed application of dark magic shield. She doesn’t seem to fire back with a powerful counter attack, but instead lashes out with her other tails, though even the coating of dark magic on them isn’t enough break the armor the Apophis had formed. Even though her attention is on the sword swing, she easily shrugs Selene off with a blast of magic that forces the Cat o’Ninetails to leap backward or face more damage.

The dark magic sword coming toward you is blocked by Alice, who deflects the blow and gives you an opening. Glaciemancy powers through you as you cast [Flash Freeze] onto Liala’s exposed abdomen before immediately firing off a [Flame Lance]. The combined spells shatter her armor and cause a rise of steam of fly into her face. In a fluid motion, she slaps her tail at the two of you to drive you back as she asses her situation.

Placing a hand to her abdomen, she finds a small trickle of blood there. She growls and covers it over with her fingers and you look on in shock as the scabs over. Not fully healed, but at least not bleeding any longer. She scowls at you and hisses, “I have never been forced to bleed. You will pay for this you dirty little Wizard.”

“She thinks I’m the dirty one.” You chuckle, feeling more confident. With the power chords of Sveth’s sound blasting through the room and the might of conviction, you’re certain you can keep her at bay long enough. Speaking of which, you send out to Erwin, not wanting to look away from the Apophis as she slithers back and forth, her sinuous body looking for openings to strike at you.

{Almost ready. This smells fucking disgusting though. How did his familiar deal with this?}

{His familiar with a rat.}

{Ugh… of course it was. Anyway, hold her off for a little while more.}

You nod to Alice and Selene, the two understanding the signal. Just a little longer. At your nod, Liala frowns, wary. Dark magic channels about her and it immediately drops into the ground below you. Fearing that she’ll destroy it like the other Liala before her, you solidify the ground quickly with your magic and await the strike.

Instead of the ground exploding however, the magic bursts up from below and grabs your legs, rooting you in place as cold washes over your body. Selene breaks out of it fairly easily, but it trips both you and Alice up enough to allow Liala to dash forward again. The Cat o’Ninetails intervenes but as she does another tendril of the magic grabs her ankle and, with a disgusting snap, breaks it. Crying out in pain, Selene drops to the floor in an agonized heap.

With no time for shock, you raise a wall between two of you in an attempt to stop the strike. Liala’s spear pierces through anyway, catching Alice in the chest. Her breastplate dents horrifically and the swordswoman coughs violently as she’s driven backward. Crying out, you drop the wall quickly, dragging down Liala’s spear, which hits the ground before vanishing in a puff of dark magic. Her sword, however, drives toward you as if waiting for the wall to fall.

Almost in instinct, you grab the nearby form of Greg, the copper ore to block the blow while simultaneously digging in your pocket for a small, special vial. The dark magic blade crashes into your friend and seems as if it will break it until you uncork the vial and throw the contents into Liala’s eyes.

The Apophis cries out and pulls away, her magic dissapating on the ground around you, allowing you to call for Sophie and Erwin. The two leap forward past the shadow spawn to grab the wounded Selene and ailing Alice. With a mighty tear, Erwin rips off the breast plate from Alice, allowing the woman to breathe again while he drags her away, sword held tight in her hand. Sophie takes her mother away, leaving you alone to face Liala.

“Was… was that rock dust?” She hisses, visage furious.

“No, it was the remains of a trusted friend who fell in the line of duty against this madness.”

“But was it ROCK DUST?”

“He was a rock, yes.” You bow your head. “Rest in peace Babyface.”

>You lose [Granite Dust]

“Enough games.” She says, shaking her head as the spear reforms in her hand. “I’m tired of this annoyance.”

“Me too!” A voice calls from behind you. Daring it, you look behind to see the Grand Wizard standing there with a massive spear of frozen feces. It looked more like it belonged on a ballista than in a man’s hands, but he holds it with little effort as the rancid material of its construction.

Ebe’s playing increases in intensity just then. Slamming your foot down on the ground, three walls appear around Liala, boxing her in. The Grand Wizard shouts and charges toward her as Liala looks on in confusion, unable to move out of the way fast enough due to your walls. She smashes one aside, but it’s still too late. The rancid [Plaguereaper] slams into her abdomen and her eyes go wide as she’s pushed into the back of the box.

The Grand Wizard lets loose a primal cry and you feel an immense amount of power course through him followed by a disgusting wave of smell. You let loose a cry of your own, swept up in the charge and the music. He did it! He got her! Watching for the explosing of plague as was described in Wizardquest, you begin to go worried as the Grand Wizard’s face turns ashen.

Liala roars and dismisses her sword. In the same motion, she backhands the Grand Wizard in the face with enough strength that he flies backward from the blow in a spin and hits the stone floor HARD. The man coughs violently and then goes still. The [Plaguereaper] clatters to the floor in a pool of spreading liquid shit as it begins to melt.

Horrified, you look toward Liala to find her touching her abdomen where the spear hit and left a smear of feces. Mere inches from the opening you created earlier the spear had struck and was unable to break the armor she had created. Had his strike been true, it may have very well ended the Apophis. Now, however, the Grand Wizard is out of commission, as is the Monster Lady and most of your party. With a growing horror, you realize there’s no one left but yourself to combat her.

Breaking the rest of your wall, Liala turns to you, a cold rage in her visage. Narrowing her eyes she hisses, “Is that all? You challenge the dark might of a Goddess with what… fire? Feces? Pathetic. The Pharaohs truly were the only ones enlightened enough to be a threat. How you defeated the last of them, I will never know.”

Standing tall, you hold up your staff and go over your options. You know that your magic can possibly hurt her, but the effects are so mild and you’d have to get through that armor first unless you could hit her tail, but you doubt that would slow her much. Perhaps her head? Good luck striking it from anything but close range.

The Grand Wizard’s words from before ring in your mind. You need to get close to her, but how? Her prowess with a sword might not be equal to Alice’s but she can certainly slice you to pieces with it without proper defenses. You don’t think your friends can adequately protect you either. So what do you do? How do you get in close to someone channeling the power of the Dark Goddess with such skill?

How did Alice get through this magic? Was it dumb luck, sheer determination? Or was it something else? You wish you could ask her, but you doubt she’d say anything other than, “I thought I could, so I did.” What a dumb-

Wait… no, no maybe she actually was a genius after all…

This magic comes directly from Dollora, whom you know is more complicated than she appears. While you don’t know if she actually wants you to win here, you do know that she at least acknolwedges you. If you can cancel out magics but finding the right frequencies of magic, is it possible to do something similar if you have the same emotions in your heart as the magic itself? It’s risky, but what other choice do you have?

Digging deep in yourself, you find what you know of Dollora to attune your mind to this. Dollora asked you to protect that which you care about, that which you love. Her children long deeply for men, for lovers. Even if that love comes as jealousy, regret, lust… it’s all a part of her being, her spirit. In a spark of inspiration, you realize what Dollora is. Not just the Goddess of Beasts and Monsters, but the true Goddess of LOVE.

Liala charges at you while you stand there, stunned at this revelation. Looking up at Liala, you allow your heart, which has been cold and distant, yearing for power to fight back against those who ruined your life, to fill with all the joys and sorrows you’ve experienced. The need to protect your friends, the people of Deleor,  and even of Ectria swells within you. Most importantly of all, the need to protect your wife flows into you, whom you can unreservedly say that you love.

As Ebe’s song booms, you feel a calmness within you from the bursting emotions playing in your mind. You stand before her as the dark magic spear drives toward your stomach, knowing that you have nothing to fear from it.

Right up until the spear impales you through the abdomen in a fountain of blood.

Stunned, you blink in surprise as you look down at the length of magic metal through your body. A coldness washes over you, but you’re unable to feel pain for some reason. Shaking, you look up at Liala who seems as surprised as you are. She cocks her head and asks, “Why didn’t you dodge?”

“I…I…” You say, beginning to feel sick. Behind you, Tabitha cries out in horror while Erwin’s voice shrieks in your mind. Dimly, you grow aware of warmth spreading along your belly. Oh, that’s your blood, isn’t it. Guess… guess you screwed up. You won’t be able to protect them after all, huh? Sorry everyone… sorry Dollora…

“ROMMEL! DON’T YOU DARE LEAVE ME ALONE!” Tabitha shouts as shadow spawn converge upon her. “DAMN YOU, YOU SAID WE’D BE TOGETHER! WE WERE GOING TO RAISE A FAMILY DAMN YOU!”

Ebe’s playing fades away as she’s ripped from her singing at the encroaching spawn. Without the noise only a dim awareness fills you. Leaving Tabitha alone when she’d just found love… damn you’re a right bastard. After all the things you’d prepared yourself with, and here you go backing down on all of it. It… it…

No. No, no, NO!

You REFUSE to let it end like this! Body shaking, you cough up blood that dribbles onto your chin. Liala merely watches you with a disdainful gaze as you meet her eyes. Something passes in her vision as she catches sight of your emotion then, yet she doesn’t react further as you grab the spear’s shaft. Taking a shaky, difficult breath, you push yourself along the spear toward her, much to her now surprise.

“What are you-?” She begins as you make one, massive push that sends your whole body screaming. Tearing your hands from the spear you latch them onto her head and feel something both beautiful and dreadful occur.

Liala begins to scream as your [Hands of Solos] activate, digging deep into her scalp. She tries to rip your hands off her, dissapating the spear to do so. She’s unable to remove them however as they latch on with a force you can barely describe. Pats with a fury you’ve never given before course over her face and though she spits venom at you, covering your face in the disgusting fluid you still continue to pat, driving her to the ground.

“S-STOP! IT BURNS!” She screams, wrapping you in her tail to squeeze the life from your. You feel something break, perhaps a rib or two, though it really doesn’t matter anymore. Your hands don’t appear to do any real damage to her, but she screams as if she’s burning alive. Guess the bitch doesn’t appreciate a good headpat. Still, as you feel your conciousness fading fast, you know this won’t be enough to kill her. Well, you tried anyway.

A shadow falls over the two of you and you’re vaguely aware of a blue glow. Above you, Alice says, “Looks like I get to win this time.” Sword in both hands, she drives it down into Liala’s skull, piercing the skull between your hands and ending Liala’s existence once and for all.

The coils around you go slack, as well as Liala’s arms which drop limp to the floor. You collapse upon her corpse as Tabitha, Sophie, and Sylphie run up to you, crying out in panic. Something disgusting is shoved into your mouth and down your throat, but you can’t seem to feel much. Your wife, your beautiful wife’s visage appears before yours and you see her mouth moving but can’t hear anything. How crazy is that?

The corners of your vision turn black, but before you fade into darkness you see a familiar, masked face appear behind Tabitha. Ako looks at you with deep concern before pointing to something behind you. You can’t tell if she said anything, because everything fades to black the next moment.

>The End

 

—————————————————–

Light is not meant to be this bright. Wincing, you open your eyes and then close them again at the blinding light. How… how is it so bright out? You take a moment to steady yourself before opening your eyes again to find it’s just a normal lamp in an otherwise dark room. Confused, you try to move, but find yourself unresponsive. A disgustingly powerful thirst rises up in your throat as well as you realize that your head… no, your entire body aches.

Something shifts nearby you and you look to see Tabitha stirring from a sleep, her head and arms on the bed near you. She blinks a few times before her eyes go wide and she gasps. Tears appear at the corners of her eyes and you realize she looks so disheveled and tired. That was one hells of a fight, wasn’t it?

“Oh Gods, Rommel, I… I thought you might.” She blubbers before wiping her cheeks. “I’m so… so glad. When you did that reckless stunt I thought I’d be a widow.”

You open your mouth but nothing comes out. She blinks and then grabs a glass of water, slowly helping you drink. Coughing, you nod in thanks before whispering, “Where are we?”

Tabitha begins to answer when the door opens and Ammon walks in, flanked by his Kunoichi bodyguards. What surprises you the most about what you see is not that he’s present, but by the crown upon his head and the rich, regal clothing. It seems so different from the stiff, if well tailored suits he was used to wearing.

“I believe I can answer that. Welcome to the Palace of the Pharaohs, though I suppose it should be renamed the Sultan’s Palace as it was in ancient times.” He waves and Sayaka brings him a chair from the corner to which he sits in. Leaning over he says, “It’s been two weeks, we all thought you were going to die, dear, dear Rommel.”

“Two… weeks?” You whisper, confused. “H-how… what?”

“I’m sure you have questions.” He says, shrugging. “Thanks to your service, I think you’ve earned an audience with the new Sultan. Now then, what would you ask of me?”

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