Wizardquest 2: Chapter 21- Putting the Pieces Back Together

Though your mouth is drier than the desert around you and your body aches abominably, you have to ask your questions. Making a motion to Tabitha for more water, she pours the sweet nectar from a jug next to your bed and helps you drink. Unfortunately you don’t feel well enough to move your arm and take it yourself, though she doesn’t seem to mind nursing you, bless her.

“You don’t look very good.” Ammon says, a smirk on his face.

“Fuck you.” Both you and Tabitha say in unison, to which his smile broadens.

“Oh, so very rude to the lord of this land, that’s a punishable by death you know.”

“If you wanted me dead, you had ample opportunity.” You say, wanting to throttle the man. Of course, this begs the deeper question of WHY he didn’t just let you die as you were pretty sure you were going to die. He seems to read the question on your face and speaks before you can answer.

“I’m certain you’re wondering why you’re still alive, yes? By all accounts, you should have been dead. In fact, that spear pierced not a few very important organs there. It’s something that not even my best healers could have dealt with on a good day, but somehow you lasted long enough that they could salvage your miserable frame.”

“We did give him a health potion pretty quickly.” Tabitha says, to which Ammon shakes his head.

“That may have helped, but honestly no one is certain why he survived. It took some time for Sayaka to bring us in after this was discovered for my healers to arrive and they’d thought about just ending your life.”

“As if I’d let them.” Tabitha hisses.

“Quite.” Ammon says, smirking. “You Lizardmen are quite the doting wives so I’ve heard. So feisty.” He shakes his head. “Honestly, it’s almost as if a God was looking out for you, though it certainly wasn’t Nerg.”

Both you and Tabitha share a look. Dollora?… But she wouldn’t… would she?

“Well that’s neither here nor there as you’re clearly out of danger, however…” He trails off and waves to Tabitha. “It might be better coming from you.”

She takes a deep breath and pulls back the sheets of the bed to reveal your exposed chest. Thankfully you’re wearing pants, though at the moment you don’t much care if you had happened to flash the Sultan of Ectria. You’re far more focused on the massive, wicked looking scar on your abdomen. Too weak to touch it, you suddenly feel a burning itch from the freshly healed skin.

Tabitha gently sets one of her cool fingers upon your belly and you wince in pain. It’s a dull thing but it’s still a shock to see on yourself. Maybe Dollora really was looking out for you, because this is insane!

“The healers say that you might be bedridden for awhile longer.” She says in a soft voice. “Strenuous activity is forbidden, though small walks may be appropriate. They specifically mentioned no sexual acts as well, though none of your… equipment was damaged. “

“That’s… good.” You say, not really certain how to respond to that. “Anything else?”

Tabitha sits back. “They say you may not be able to eat as much as before due to damage to your intestines, but with some healing in Sanctifrond they might be able to help somewhat.” She huffs, “I was looking forward to serving you large bowels of Blackfire Stew.”

“I uh… didn’t know you could cook.” You say, surprised.

“You never asked.” She sniffs, though with a little smile on her face. It’s good to see some of the tension leave her face- Gods know she could use that right about now.

“Well that’s sweet.” Ammon says, leaning back in his chair. “But I am quite a busy man now and as much as I enjoy our company, there’s still much to be done!”

“Says the man who was waiting outside the door.” You say with a sarcastic tone.

Sayaka interjects, “His majesty Ammon was not waiting for you, however his prides himself on being prompt when he found you were awakened.”

“He has people watching all the rooms again.” Tabitha says, shaking her head.

“Invaluable information.” Ammon chuckles.

“Right. Some more water if you would.” Tabitha helps you again and you sigh before asking. “Liala is-?”

“Oh she’s quite dead.” He says, nodding his head. “The woman with the magic sword saw to that.”

“Alice. How is she?”

“Hmm? Oh, she’s quite alright. The Monster Lady fretted over her during these past two weeks, seeming convinced she had started to become a Monster, but in the end the only changes are a rather fetching change of hair color.”

Sayaka looks at her short, black hair with worry on her features as he continues to speak. “Ah, but you must be wondering about your other companions. Well, they were quite beat up, but all going to make it. The Monster Lady’s ankle is still a little sore, but nothing that won’t heal up while her husband had a small concussion. He’s quite alright now. As for the younger Cat o’Ninetails, they’ve both made good recoveries, though I’m afraid the bookish one is going to have that scar from the magitek rifle for the rest of her life.”

“I think she accepted it.” You say, nodding your head. “What of Ebe? Erwin?”

“The Ghandharva? Mostly flesh wounds, though she’s been a little mopey in between performances she’s been doing for the populace. I must say, I never really thought she’d be quite as instrumental to helping with the tensions after the purges, but the people ADORE her.”

“Purges?” You ask before shaking your head. “No, first, how is Erwin?”

“The fox, yes?” Ammon’s face becomes troubled. “He’s been asleep as long as you have, and while my healers are looking after him the best they can, they aren’t exactly used to treating foxes. I’m not certain his condition. Ah, you’ll be pleased to know that the horse is the best off of all of you by the way.”

Tabitha squeezes your hand as you take this in. Breathing out slowly you reach your mind out to find Erwin and feel… a troubled nothingness. Your bond is still present, but he’s unreachable, as if a blackness is present where his mind should be. Though your heart aches, you send out, {I’m here buddy, please rest as much as you need. I’ll be here when you return.}

Sighing, you look to Tabitha and notice her arms. The knife wounds that Hel’alin inflicted appear to have been healed, leaving nary a scar due to healing magic. Still, she notices your gaze and gives you a soft smile.

“I’m alright. Wounds weren’t as deep as expected and they said I can swing a sword again. Worst case scenario I’ll just get magitek arms too.”

“As if I’d let you cut off those pretty hands.” You say, sighing out in relief. “Glad to hear it, though you look tired. You haven’t been here this whole time, have you?”

“Of course not-“ She begins but is cut off by Ako

“Yes, pretty much.”

The Lizardman glares at the Kunoichi, but you just chuckle before wincing. Oww, oww, ouchie. “W-well, that’s good to hear that everyone is at least alive although…”

Ammon clacks his tongue. “Yes, the Elephantgirl in the room. What of the Apophis.” He laces his fingers together and takes a deep breath before answering.

“Our agreement was for the destruction of Hent-ateh and in return I would capture Hel’alin for you. While you did not technically hold up your end of the bargain at first, with the destruction of Liala, we are not certain what the effects are upon the creature. We have removed it from the ground encased in metal but have just locked it up. As far as the Grand Wizard and the Monster Lady say, the creature is still present, yet dormant. I do not yet know what that means.”

Looking you directly in the eyes he continues. “Now, as to how this pertains to your sister… by all rights the bargain was not upheld and I should have ended her life. However, she was already unconscious and easy to detain, as such I have imprisoned her in the dungeons with specific safeguards.”

You watch the man with a concerned expression. “You sound as if there’s a ‘but’ in there somewhere.”

He sighs. “Yes. There is. Rommel, it has been two weeks of imprisonment for her. She is not… I don’t know an easy way to put this, but she is not quite rational. She fades in from rants about killing everyone to crying and wailing your name. She seems barely lucid and frankly the only reason she’s probably alive is that Lamias don’t need to eat very much, because she hasn’t.”

He sighs, “Had you been asleep any longer, it would have been a kindness to kill her.”

A shaky breath escapes your lips as you take that in. Gods, it didn’t even occur to you that the ritual wasn’t going to be performed, not with Selene fairly out of action and everyone worrying about you. The mental hell that Helene must be going through- if she is even Helene anymore. It seems so unlikely that she’d be… be…

You begin to shake as emotion takes hold of you. Tabitha stabilizes your arm until you start breathing easier. Ammon stays silent until you’re ready to speak again. With a gulp, you look up at him and stabilize your breathing before saying, “I… thank you for… for at least allowing me to see her again.”

“Of course.” He says, nodding his head. “You might find it strange, but I do pay my debts. None of this would have been possible without your interactions and truly no one has suffered as much as you and yours have.” His mask slips for a moment as weariness creeps into his voice,

“Everyone assumes me to be a heartless backstabber, but all men with ambition must eventually dirty their hands, even if the goals are noble. I must believe that the ends justify the means.”

And just like that the smile is back on his face. He winks at you and says, “That’s our little secret, okay?”

“I… yeah.” You say, licking your lips. Tabitha helps you with some more water for your parched throat before you speak again. “What of the city? What happened with the remaining cultists and the populace?”

“Without their leadership, the cultists fell quickly. Most of the enthralled had already been slain and the regular cultists couldn’t survive the assault by my forces. It was over before it truly began, thanks to you. As we’d spoken about before, however, the cultists needed to be executed. There were few who objected.”

He continues, “With the demise of both the Pharaoh and the Apophis, the people needed an icon. Thankfully there was one present who had both stability and FOOD in abundance, especially since most of the other higher merchants had been slain…” He trails off at that before shaking his head. “It will cause trouble down the line as the surviving noble houses suspect foul play in that department, but I’m not worried about that. For now it’s about repairing the city and keeping people fed, which we’ve been able to do since supply lines are reopened and the largest group of pirates on the rivers has been dealt with mysteriously.”

“Yes, mysteriously.” Tabitha says without a hint of emotion.

“For all intents and purposes, the Violet Sands are no more. The outlying settlements may yet have some resistance, but few of them truly believed in these demi-goddesses. They wanted change more than anything, and I believe some cooperation with them will lead us to an amicable agreement. A one, “Lady Aliph” has already been in contact and we have begun discussion on how best to defuse the remaining cultists.”

“Maybe you should marry her for political reasons.” You say, to which Sayaka shoots you a dark look.

Ammon chuckles, “Oh I don’t think so. While I do love the slither of a sexy snake lady, I believe that it wouldn’t be correct to do at the moment. Besides, I’m a little busy for a wife at the moment.”

Sayaka looks a mix of pleased and disappointed at that statement. This is more emotion than you’ve seen from her in quite some time. Anyway, you ask, “Sounds like things are going well then.”

“Better than expected, all things considered. Running a nation is similar to running an information network, just this time people respect you for it. I think most people were ready for a change, and I can safely say that Ectria is in NO position to invade Deleor I’m afraid.”

“What of the slave trade then?”

He sighs, “That’s another matter entirely. While it is currently forbidden to take slaves from Deleor, I cannot stop the trade overnight here in Ectria, nor am I certain I could. However, I have allowed the borders opened for those who want to enter the country, so if they get captured as slaves while here, it’s… well.” He shakes his head. “We shall see what happens on that front.”

“Oh, in one of my trips outside.” Tabitha begins before turning to Ako and glaring at her. “Which I did take… occasionally, the Grand Wizard mentioned that he had found out how to open the Nexus point here.”

You look at Ammon which interest to which the man beams. “The madman did it, he managed to return magic to Ectria. It will be a painfully slow process as leylines begin to reform, but in a few years I expect we can have our own Leyways. Ectria will finally be a modern nation again.”

“That’s… wonderful.” You sigh, laying your head back onto your bed. “At least most things went well.” Turning to Tabitha you use a little of your strength to squeeze her hand, though you wish you could pat her head. “Just a little more business here and we can finally go home.”

“Home, huh?” She says, looking a little distant. “I haven’t… huh, I haven’t had a home in… I can’t even remember.”

“Well, you could always stay in Ectria.” Ammon says, smiling. “There’s plenty of space in the Capital here.”

“Thanks, but I believe we’ll be going back to Deleor.” You both say before smiling. Following up you say, “We could always live in Blackfire Reach if you wanted. I’m sure a Geomancer would be in demand there.”

Her eyes sparkle for a moment before she bites her lip, hesitant. “We’ll talk about it later, when you’re doing better.”

You try to read her expression but give up and instead sigh as you feel overwhelmingly tired from all the questioning. Ammon nods his head and stands up, smoothing out his clothing. “I believe our patient needs his rest. I’ll have some food sent over soon for you, though I doubt it will be very appetizing. I hope you like gruel.”

“My favorite.” You sigh. As Ammon makes to leave, you say, trying to speak a little louder, “I have to know. Why did you do all of this for us? What is it that drove you to this end?”

The Sultan pauses at the door frame, not looking at you for a long time before he turns and says, “I too grew up knowing the oppression of the Pharaohs. What separated me from the Violet Sands is that I looked to the future instead of rooting myself in the past. This world is changing Rommel, Ectria could not afford to stagnate any further. As for you in particular…”

He chuckles, “I always liked stories about Wizards and the one you’ve helped weave will last in Ectrian history for as long as this country lives. Have you considered writing a book?”

Before you can answer he leaves the room, his laughter echoing down the halls as the door shuts behind him. Both you and Tabitha watch the door for a few moments before she sighs and leans her head next to yours, burying it into the pillow.

“I still don’t know what to make of that man.”

“For better or worse, he’s the ruler of Ectria now.”

“Yeah…” She says before lifting her head and whispering, “Are you alright?”

“No.” You say, shaking your head. “But you’re here with me so, I think I might be.”

She chuckles and picks herself up enough to plant a gentle kiss on your mouth. “That’s the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s the sweetest too. Get some rest, I’ll be here if you need anything.”

“Yeah.” You say, closing your eyes. “Although if you could do me one favor?”

“Anything.”

“Take a bath, you smell terrible.”

“You best be thankful you’re an invalid with a nice smile.” She says, with a slight chuckle. Even as she says this her words start to fade as you drift off. The last thing you hear from her is, “Sleep well, my love.”

——————————————-

When you next awaken Tabitha is there again, ready to help feed you a rather unappetizing gruel. Despite her protests, she eventually helps you out of bed, where you find that you can’t walk by yourself at all quite yet. Still, there’s some important things you need to do, people to speak with, etc. As much as you just want to go back to sleep, there’s more to be done and questions to be asked. Just because the fighting is finished doesn’t mean that everything is over.

Steeling yourself, you dress in a simple undershirt and try our connection to your magic to form a small cane of stone, which you use to stabilize you while Tabitha helps you walk otherwise. Walking out into the hallways you’re met by a passing by maid who offers to help direct you about. Who do you want to speak with first and what else would you wish to do? It’s time to finish up business here and then look to returning home to Deleor, finally.

 “Let’s go find where Erwin is first.” Instructing the maid to help you find him. She walks ahead, a little faster than she should given your condition, but she eventually gets the message and slows her pace. As you walk, Tabitha asks,

“Sure you’re up to walking about?”

“Surer than I am about sitting in my own filth all day.”

“I gave you a sponge bath you know.”

You smirk at your wife’s response. Yes, she did give you a sponge bath during your bed stay and yes, she did help you with your uh… more unsavory functions, but that’s all the more reason to get back on your feet. Besides, Ammon’s words about your friends and your sister have you worried even more than before.

The Palace of the Pharaohs, or whatever Ammon calls it now is much different in the daytime. Gentle rays of the Ectrian sun filter though areas of the keep which were relatively untouched by the chaos. Beautiful portraits of past Pharaohs and landscapes of Ectria line the walls as well as tapestries and vases from here and abroad. You even spot some Deleorian items here and there.

“Curious that he kept the Pharaoh’s likeness on the walls.” You say, nodding to a picture which looked very similar to the Prophet. Tabitha looks at them and shrugs.

“Maybe there wasn’t time to remove them yet?”

The maid notices your attention and she says in Ectrian, {No, I am afraid the Sultan did not want them removed. He does not want to forget our history.}

{Respectable.} You reply, much to her surprise. Why did she speak in Ectrian if she didn’t think you could respond to her? How strange, though she seems far more self-conscious afterward.

She leads you through hallways where other maids and members of Ammon’s staff wander about, to which you see a familiar face. As you approach she turns and delight comes over her features. “Well bloody hells, if it isn’t Mr. and Mrs. Rommel.”

“Zoras.” You say, nodding your head and smiling at her. “It’s been awhile.”

“Hrm, I’d say right around two weeks, wouldn’t you?” She chuckles. “Looks like your wife is giving you plenty of bloody support, eh?”

“It’s part of the job.” Tabitha sighs before nodding at Zoras. “I trust things are going well for you?”

“Ah, yes.” Zoras replies. “With all the damages, something experienced in findings things of value is needed, and I’ve also been given a task of cataloging things in the Palace. It’s boring at times, but digging through the vaults is rewarding.” She leans in, “Ammon also wishes to have people spread out and find all the ancient tombs to learn all we can about ancient Ectria. Well, and gather the riches.”

“Ah, so the profit motive is still there.” You smirk.

“Well, he bloody well needs it to keep this place stable.” Zora says, leaning back. “Of course, you’re not looking so good yourself. Should you be out of bed after ah… what was it you did, ‘stood in the way of a lance like some kind of mummer’s puppet?’”

“Hmm? Oh, actually it was a ploy to get past her defenses and make an opening for the others to attack directly. As you well have heard, Alice delivered the finishing blow.”

Tabitha stares at you with unbelieving eyes as you deliver the line with a straight face. Zoras looks between the two of you and rubs her chin, her large claws mimicking the gesture under her. “Hmmmm.” She muses. “I don’t know if I can trust that.”

“Have I ever done something so stupid?”

“Well, you did ask to milk me once.”

Tabitha glares at you and you sigh. “Point taken, but in my defense, I didn’t really know what the connotations of that were.”

“Sure, sure.” She says, chuckling. “Are you going to be leaving Ectria here soon then?”

“Probably as soon as we’re able to.” Tabitha responds. “It would be good to see Deleor again.”

“Mmm. From what I hear a lot has gone on in Deleor, though since this supposed bloody nexus of yours isn’t fully operational the news is a little stale.”

You look at her, concerned. “News such as what?”

“Ah, well, this Galmathoria place appears to have made some attacks I hear, but it’s…” She shakes her head. “It’s not really anything I know too much about. It would be better for someone else to tell you.”

“I… see.”

The three of you stand there a little awkward after that. Tabitha shifts you against her while Zoras’s claws clack. Eventually she coughs into her hand and says, “Right then, well enough of that.” She takes a deep breath and plants her hands on her hips. “If I don’t see you around again then it’s been a pleasure, both of you.” She bows at the waist, which is kind of funny with her body before she says, “Sorry about everything Ammon has done, but it was for the best. I hope you understand.”

You sigh and wave your hand, though it’s a little tiring. “What’s done is done.” Nodding to her you hold out your hand. “We’ve said goodbye before Zoras, but who knows, maybe we’ll cross paths again.”

“Hmph, wouldn’t be the first time.” She takes your hand and shakes it. “I doubt it will be the bloody last.”

She shakes hands with Tabitha as well before departing on her way while you and Tabitha continue forward. The maid apparently didn’t wait for the two of you as she scurries back into sight with a worried look on her expression before bowing a few times. The two of you smirk but you let her know it’s fine as she escorts you further.

Turning a corner down the stone corridors, you wince as bright sunlight fills your vision. Once you get adjusted to it, you look around in surprise at an inner garden within the palace. While not as large as any devoted to Phallia, this one seems more ornamental than anything and only has a few bushes and trees as well as a small pond where exotic, eastern fish swim next to a stone bench. Warm light from the Ectrian sun fills the garden, but doesn’t overpower it with the oppressive heat and you feel a sense of comfort from the little enclosure.

Sitting upon the bench is Sylphie and upon her lap rests Erwin. The little fox looks like he’s seen better days as he lays there, talking slow, shallow breaths. Sylphie gently strokes his fur but looks up as you approach, her eyes going wide. “R-Rommel?”

“Hey there.” You say, giving her a smile. “How’s the little guy?”

“Little? Oh! Erwin! Ah…” She hesitates before sighing. “He’s been out as long as you have. I’ve done by best to nurse him, but he’s just so little. He has seemed a little more peaceful lately though, so maybe…” She looks back up at you with tears beginning to form in her eyes. “I-I thought you were going to die!”

You nod to Tabitha to help you over to the bench. With a grunt of effort, you sit down next to the crying girl and slowly place your hand on hers. She sniffs as you say, “It’ll take more than a spear of pure dark magic to the gut to slow me down, you know that.”

“That was fucking retarded, you know that?!”

“I have been told.”

She sniffles and rubs at her eyes. “Oh, who am I kidding, I’ve done just as reckless shit and for less of a reason.” Stabilizing herself she says, “Ugh, I’ve cried far too much recently. It’s good to have you up although…?”

“No, I probably shouldn’t be up, but I kind of need to be.”

“He has me to chaperone him so he doesn’t get in trouble.” Tabitha says, to which Sylphie smiles.

“Ah, I can always count on you to keep people in line, Tabitha.” She looks down at Erwin and frowns. “I’m still worried about him.”

“Can I hold him?” You ask. She nods and hands him over, placing the sleeping fox in your lap. Gently, you stroke his fur and feel how much weight he’s lost. Gods, it’s a miracle they were able to keep him from being skin and bones.

“Hey buddy.” You say, hanging your head. “I’m up and about. Isn’t it time for you to berate me about my shitty choices?” The fox doesn’t stir under your hands. Gritting your teeth as emotion starts to well up in you, you say, “Erwin… I’m sorry. I didn’t think about what would happen to you when I did that. After all the trust we talked about before and everything, I just went and did it without thinking. I’m so sorry, so please, please just wake up.”

You feel hands on your back and shoulders and tears begin to fall from your eyes. You didn’t think you’d break into crying, but you’re still recovering and the sight of your familiar like this… why wouldn’t you cry? The spots of wetness drip onto his fur like rain and yet he still does not stir, though in the back of your mind… something? No… it’s gone.

“Rommel…” Sylphie begins before trailing off. “I’m taking care of him the best I can. I’m sure he’ll be up again soon, especially the stronger you get. Dad’s helping too! Erwin… Erwin’s going to make it, alright? He’s one of us, and we all came through in one piece or another.” She smiles, “It wouldn’t do to let one of ours not see the end of the journey, would it?”

“Yeah.” You say, nodding your head. “Yeah, that’s right. He’s the strongest of us all. Erwin’s got this.” Gently touching his head you motion for Sylphie to take him back, which she does with the utmost caution. Once he’s been relinquished to her, you look over to Tabitha who sighs and wipes away your tears.

“Honestly. This isn’t very manly you know.”

“I seem to recall I helped with your tears before too.”

“I have a reasonable excuse.”

“Sure, says the Lizardman with the stare who can shatter rocks.”

She narrows her eyes, but as she does Sylphie giggles. Both of you stop at the sound, which fills the green space with a sound far more harmonious than the crying beforehand. Shaking her head, the Cat o’Ninetails smiles and says, “You two really are good for each other. I’m glad for you.” You begin to say something but she holds up a hand to forestall you. “No, no. We’ve been over this. Besides, maybe when I get home I can find a strapping sorcerer who has a love for animals or something.”

“Hmmm?” Tabitha asks, a sparkle in her eyes. “You’d have to leave your house for that.”

“Yes, well.” Sylphie says, sniffing, “Maybe it’s about time to go out on my own anyway. Even after all we’ve been through it… it’s nice to travel. I’ve been many places with Mom and Dad, but it’s just… it’s different when you’re not with them, you know?”

“Yeah, it is a little different, though traveling with friends is much more enjoyable than traveling alone.” Tabitha says, smirking.

“Ah, well, Sophie agreed to traveling too, but I think… I think we’re going to go our separate ways. It might be good for us. Oh, but Mr. Ed will be with me anyway, so…”

“I’m happy for you.” Tabitha says, putting a hand on her shoulder. Sylphie gives a soft smile in return and nods her head.

“Thanks. We need to get home first though!” She says, puffing out her chest. Nodding, she turns to you and says, “I’m sure Mom and Dad want to talk with you. I think Ebe would be happy to hear from you as well, but I think she’s busy helping people out in the city.”

“Ammon said the people love her?”

“Oh, they adore her. Ebe’s gotten a lot tougher since we first met her, but she still has that demure personality. She’s easily likable and easy on the eyes too, not to mention her songs have really helped keep people calm in these troubling times.” Sylphie shrugs, “She wanted to help change things, and honestly I could see some people ask for her to be the new Sultana.”

“Ugh, I don’t think she’d go for Ammon though.” You say, grimacing.

“Gods, I hope not! But I can see a good future for her here if she’s willing to stay. I’m happy for her.”

Both you and Tabitha nod at this and say your farewells to Sylphie before rising (with difficulty) and leaving on your way again. Tabitha asks if you want to return to your room, but after seeing Erwin’s condition you feel all the more that it’s necessary to see your sister. Finding another maid (who turns out to be the same maid from before, much to her dismay) you ask her to lead you to the dungeons. Sighing, she does so.

As you head to the dungeons you begin to see signs of damage from the battles. The cultists who were broken from the dungeon had come up though here and fought with the guards as well as broke many of the furnishings. New ones had been installed but they seem strange compared to the relics from elsewhere. The damaged flooring and ripped carpets were harder to obscure in such a short period of time.

As you approach a pair of Anubis guards look you over. Apparently even after the Pharaoh had been killed, most of their number slaughtered or turned into enthralled, the Anubis in the Palace were still loyal to the Palace itself. Still, they seem a little more relaxed having some kind of stability around. They ask you your business and you inform them, to which they allow you in having been ordered by the Sultan to do so. One of them asks if you’re okay and you just give her a flat look.

The dungeons are much as you remember them, dark, cramped, and still damaged from where you broke all the cells. Only a few have bars placed, holding simple criminals that give you confused looks. Anyone with more serious crimes are executed to save the effort. Walking through the tight confines, you hear sounds ahead. Walking staff clinking against the stone floor, you make your way in that direction.

“We should just kill her.” Alice says in the distance, her voice echoing down the hallways. “Come on, Rommel doesn’t need to see this.”

“It’s not really our choice to make.” The Grand Wizard sighs. “But… you might be right. She’s not long for this world if nothing is done.”

“We can try but- wait.” Selene says, cutting off.

Both you and Tabitha look at each other before shrugging and continuing forward. When you turn the corner, you see the three awaiting you, looks of surprise on their face. Looking between the three you cough and say, “Hello everyone.”

“Well shit, he’s alive.” Alice says, adjusting her sword belt. In the light of the lantern you notice her silver-blonde hair shining and lustrous, but otherwise she seems much herself. “I thought your little stunt was going to be the end of you.”

“Join the club.” Tabitha sighs.

“I bet everyone has told you to get back in bed.” The Grand Wizard says. “But I also bet you’re a stubborn ass who has better things to do than sit in bed and be fed gruel by his loving wife.”

Selene gives him a sidelong glance. “As much as his dear wife protests otherwise. Of course, he’ll learn never to risk his own life like that again, right?”

“Honestly Selene, it wasn’t that bad of an injury and you know it.” The man waves his hand in dismissal. “Anyway this is neither here nor there. Rommel, what are you doing down here?”

“I could ask the same of the three of you.” You reply with a flat tone.

They look between each other before Selene sighs. “Rommel, listen. Helene is-“

“Yeah, Ammon told me.” You say, looking toward the metallic door where you sister… or the Monster she’s become is being held. “You’re thinking about ending her life then?”

Selene nods her head. “She would die on her own and she’s not really in her right mind. Rommel, I know she’s your sister, but I believe the time has passed to remove the Apophis from her.”

Alice nods her head, expression serious. “I’ve heard some of her ravings… Rommel, she’s lost it. Please, just let me end her suffering.”

Turning to the Grand Wizard, you watch as he sighs and says, “I don’t know. It’s not my decision to make, it’s yours. But what they say is true.” He walks up to you and puts a hand on your shoulder. “Rommel, you’re going to need to see this for yourself. All I ask is you don’t delay this. We all need to be strong to return to Deleor after the attacks and the sooner this is dealt with, the sooner we can return.”

“Attacks? I was told about raids by Galmathoria.”

“Yes, but the tactics they’ve used are severe and without myself and Selene present, I’m afraid of what this means for the country. The changes occurring in the realm of the Gods and their chosen priests and priestesses as well… something is happening Rommel. We’ve been here too long, and frankly if Selene wasn’t still injured we’d have left by now.”

You look to Selene who nods her head. “Sadly, he’s right. That fracture was worse than expected, but the healers set it well. It’s stable but jumping too much may re-injure it and I can’t afford that.”

“I can’t access El Dorito yet either.” The Grand Wizard sighs. “The Nexus point is too weak and without a leyline connection I can’t speak with the other Wizards even though I have my bag back.”

“Right this… El Dorito.” You say, frowning. “So, what you’re saying is, we either travel by foot or by boat back to Deleor to find out more.”

“Correct. Either way, you’re not in a fit state to travel, so it’s not going to be in the next few days. Besides, there’s still this matter.” He points toward the door. “There’s no point delaying it, you might as well go in there.”

Turning to Selene, you ask, “If I decide to try the ritual, will you help me?”

Selene frowns and then sighs. “It’s not exactly ideal, but it would need to be performed here. If we’re not careful, this could go poorly. Still…” She sighs again. “Beyond that stupid move with the spear, you’ve shown that you can be trusted. I just hope you make the correct choice.”

Nodding your head, you look to the doorway and touch the handle to find it’s locked. Frowning, you look back to the Grand Wizard who coughs and holds up a key. “You’re forgetting something.”

“Coming from the oh so mighty Wizard who wasn’t able to defeat a simple snake with something that killed an avatar of a Goddess.”

“HEY! If you recall, I had a little help getting through those defenses. It’s not my fault a spear made of frozen shit isn’t going to pierce armor, okay?” He grumbles and unlocks the door before opening it slowly. “Be careful, alright?”

Nodding to him, both you and Tabitha enter the cell. Holding up your hand you cast a simple spell for light and immediately pause at what you see. A pair of sunken, red eyes stare at you with a hollow expression. Hel’alin, thin from malnourishment hangs from the wall by shackles on her wrists, and in multiple places bolting her tail to the floor. One of the magic suppression collars sits around her neck, keeping her from casting spells.

“Gods.” You whisper as you behold what’s become of your sister. As you speak her mouth quirks and she says,

“Rommel?”

“Helene…” You say, taking a shaky step toward her. As you do she lunges forward, straining at the chains.

“ROMMEL! YOU LEFT ME! ABANDONED ME TO THIS HELL! EHEHAHAHA!” She screams at you, voice hoarse as tears begin to trickle from her eyes. She titters in mad, hysteric laughter, straining violently.

“Oh… oh Gods.” You say, unable to word a proper response. Watching her like this is… it’s horrible to behold. She stops straining all of a sudden and pulls back, a twisted smile on her lips.

“Free me and we can live together again. We’ll take what’s ours now that Liala is dead and make a grand life for ourselves. Won’t that be wonderful?”

“Who… who are you?” You say, looking into those insane eyes. Despite her composure, tears still roll down her cheeks.

“It’s me, Helene.” She says. “Rommel… please… help your sister. I need you Rommel…”

“You’re… you’re not her.” You say, taking a step back. “Gods, you’re the Apophis.”

The expression flashes to anger. “RELEASE ME! TAKE ME AWAY FROM THIS AND RETURN ME TO MY RIGHTFUL PLACE!” She begins to strain again, though with her being so weak the gesture is meaningless.

“Rommel, she… she’s gone.” Tabitha says, clenching her hand. “There’s nothing left but the Apophis.”

{Protect that which is dear to you and do not… lose hope.}

Dollora’s words once again play in your mind as you watch this before you. Gripping your staff tight, you watch her for a long moment as she rants and raves and yet, tears still pour from her eyes. Despite all the anger, all the venomous words, there’s still a frantic cry for SOMETHING underneath it all. Is it a ploy or… is it worth it to try? Would it be kinder to just end her suffering or put her through the ritual?

Taking a few deep, painful breaths, you steady yourself. This decision could spell disaster if it goes wrong, yet if it goes right, then you may very well save your sister’s soul. However, if it doesn’t work then you’ll only subject her to more torment or, even worse, accidently let loose the Apophis again. That thought in and of itself is sobering enough. It almost makes you want to put a pebble through her head and end the suffering.

But… Dollora’s words once again go through your mind along with the tears from the enraged Apophis before you. Is there really hope after all the mistakes you’ve made? Is it truly your decision to make?

Tabitha steadies you as you focus inward, weighing your options. The voices within telling you to end it are small compared to the voices telling you to try the ritual but are they right? In the end though, a half-forgotten, painful memory comes to the fore. A memory of a scared child being huddled away by his older sister in order to protect him from the Monsters outside. A memory of a family lost and the beginning of a vow that would define your life up until recently.

“I’ve seen enough.” You say to Tabitha, nodding your head. She looks at you with a worried expression before nodding her head and helping you outside. Behind you, a mix of furious shouting and sobs echoes in the room, being muffled as the heavy door shuts behind you.

“Well?” Selene asks, studying your expression. “You’ve seen her. What’s your choice?”

“We perform the ritual.” You say without hesitation.

The three look at each other with worried, yet resigned expressions. Alice sighs and crosses her arms while the Grand Wizard shakes his head. “It’ll have to be performed here. Ammon made it clear that he won’t have her transported to the Great Temple of the Twins, especially not after Liala had traumatized the Head Priestess.”

“Gods, is she alright?”

“Yes, she’ll be fine, but her last priestess was…” The Grand Wizard shakes his head. “She’ll probably pull through.”

“So we’re on our own.” You say, frowning. Turning to Selene, you ask, “Can you help me?”

“Yeah, sure.” She says. “I’ll need a few supplies of course, as well as something to put the spirit into.”

“I have a trinket I took from the Pharaoh.” You say, nodding your head. “It appears to be some kind of keepsake, but isn’t inherently magical.”

Selene’s eyebrows rise. “Oh? Ammon was quite interested in finding that. It’s a mark of the power of the Pharaohs, though it in itself is not magical it holds great importance. It should work.”

“Hmm. I’m sure Zoras would have loved to receive that as a gift though.” Alice says, tapping her chin. “Didn’t she tell you she wanted a souvenir from the Palace?”

“Ehm.” You say, seeming to remember that. “Well she lives here now so it’s probably fine. Ammon might give her something nice.”

“Yeah, because that’s the same thing.” She chuckles. “Eh, probably for the best, though a fight between Tabitha and her would have been hilarious to fight.”

You give Alice an odd look before turning to Tabitha who has a neutral expression. Frowning, you shake your head and say, “We’ll head back and grab it then meet back here. Shouldn’t take too long.”

“No, we won’t.” Selene says, poking your chest. You wince at the shove, still feeling weak. “It will take a little bit of time to make this ready and frankly, you’re going to fall over before you return from a trip there.”

“Will… will not.” You say, trying to mask your exhaustion.

“I’ll get him to bed.” Tabitha says, shouldering you.

“Thank you.” Selene replies.

“Hey, what about my opinion?” You ask. The Grand Wizard puts a hand on your shoulder and shakes his head. “Listen, when your wife decides on something, you just have to go for it. It’ll make for a better marriage.” He leans in close as the two wives nod. “Also, if you act up every now and then, the make up sex is great and- gah!”

The Grand Wizard pulls himself back as one of Selene’s tails catches his robes. He blows her a kiss and she huffs before gently tossing him aside. She shakes her head before looking back to you. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

A sigh escapes your lips. “We have to have faith.”

——————————————–

As predicted by both Tabitha and Selene, you pass out almost as soon as you make it to your room. Your damn wife tricked you into the bed by asking you to take a quick nap. Oh what a fool you were to trust her on that, because next thing you know it’s dark outside and you ache all over. Tabitha accepts your glare as you realize what happened, yet she still helps you out of bed like a good sport.

Taking the [Keepsake Pendant] from your coat, you head outside with Tabitha to look for Selene. Thankfully you find her waiting outside along with the Grand Wizard, a few implements in their hands. They nod to you and you limp away to the dungeons again, feeling every step as it aches in your body. Of course, you notice that Selene uses her husband as a mild crutch at times too, so you can’t feel TOO bad for yourself.

The guards allow you to pass with no fuss, knowing all of you by sight. When you arrive at Hel’alin’s cell, you open it to find the Apophis once again staring at you with eyes devoid of emotion. As you begin to set up a ritual circle (Well, half-circle, she’s chained to a wall) around her, she watches with a cool glare.

“What do you think to accomplish?”

“It doesn’t concern you.” You say, watching as Selene uses a chalk to draw some runes associated with Dollora.

“You wish to drive me from this body? It can’t work. This is my body now, it was made for me.”

“I said, it doesn’t concern you.”

She chuckles. “Or do you think to tear me out? Your sister is dead, and she is the better for it. Can you imagine the anguish she would suffer through if I was gone? The terror at having EVERYTHING changed? That losing everyone she knew and being a creature she could no longer recognize?”

Hel’alin chuckles. “She gave in already. Free me, there is no other choice to keep her spirit in this world.”

Selene finishes marking the circle with a flourish. She turns to you and nods her head. Taking in a deep breath you say, “Alright, let’s do this.”

The Apophis’s eyes burn with rage. She hisses and spits at you, straining at her bonds while Selene begins to chant the words to fey light cast by the Grand Wizard and a handful of candles. The tears begin to flow from the chained Monster again, but you can tell this time that they’re tears of fear and anger. She doesn’t want the ritual to go forward? Good.

“This is a mistake!” She screams. “You’re condemning her to a life of anguish!”

“It’s better than a life again as a slave!” You shout as Selene’s words reach a crescendo. The candle lights flicker from an unseen wind and you sense that presence again, the feeling of something else in the room. Power swirls around you at Selene’s chanting, and Hel’alin hisses, before suddenly chanting words herself. Though she has no connection to magic, you can feel the balance changing, Selene’s chanting growing a little sloppy as she tries not to grow confused from the other Monster’s words as she speaks before Selene, knowing what she’s going to say.

The candles flicker even more and in different directions. You feel yourself shudder as the power of ritual starts to go awry. Hairs on the back of your neck stand up and your already abused body begins to ache even further. Selene looks on with worry in her eyes, but she can’t stop, continuing the chant as best she can. The Grand Wizard raises his staff to try and do something about it, but his magic distorts and ice appears a foot away from where he intended it to be.

“No…” You say, watching it fall apart. The room shudders, the door banging open to slam against the wall. Hel’alin’s bindings begin to rattle and you see one of the bolts holding her tail to the floor comes loose. Breathing rapidly, you fear there’s only one thing to do. With extraordinary effort, you push yourself off Tabitha and flounder forward, stumbling to collide into the Apophis. She reacts before you can reach her, trying to pull away and avoid you, but her bonds stifle her movement. Eyes staring down at you as her lips move, you slap your hand over her mouth and drown out her words.

The turbulence stops as quickly as it began. The shaking quits and the candles return to normal as Selene’s voice rings out clearly, relief evident in her voice. Hel’alin stares at you with a mix of fear and rage as she throws her head side to side, trying to dislodge your hand. You can feel her tongue pressing at you, her teeth trying to scrape into your flesh, but you keep your hand firm upon her mouth, not allowing her to ruin this further.

Something pulses in the room and you get the impression once more of the spectral hand reaching forward. Hel’alin’s eyes grow wide and she shudders, going quite still. Her breath comes out in ragged gasps before she convulses. Though you’re too worn down to open your [Mage Sight], you swear to can see something being torn apart within her, an inner struggle to hold something back. She twists and turns, unable to let out, her heart pounding furiously in her chest. Eyes wide, they stare into yours the whole while, tears streaming until you say,

“Helene… I’m so sorry. Please come back.”

Something within those eyes changes. A forcefulness of a weary soul giving one last push against their bonds. In that instant the dynamic changes and the struggle within snaps. Hel’alin throws her head back and lets out a scream of anguish as malign energy is ripped from her body. Selene steps forward, holding the [Keepsake Pendant] aloft, and the spirit of the Apophis flows into it. The golden icon shakes violently, glowing with purple light as fractures begin to form on the metal. Selene holds it tight, straining against the magical force until it finally gives a last fit and calms, leaving on a soft, purple glow in the eye.

The Monster before you slumps forward on her chains, knocking you to the floor. Tabitha moves forward and pulls you away from her, looking over your hand for bites. Finding nothing, both of you look to Selene who slowly nods her head. The ritual appears to have been a success, however the real question will be if the end result is… desirable.

Tabitha helps you sit down as a trio of guards approaches, weapons held at the ready. They look over the scene before scratching their heads as Selene explains everything to them. Warily, they accept the answer before being sent away to bring food for everyone as they wait for the prisoner to awaken. No strangers to even the oddest torture, the Anubis guards leave, but at least shut the door.

And thus you wait. Eventually the guards return with rich, elaborate food for everyone and cold, delicious gruel for you. Mmm mmm mmm, gruel. At least Tabitha feeds you spoonfuls of it while calling you an idiot for jumping into something dangerous again. All the Grand Wizard gets is called an idiot when he asks Selene to feed him. All the while the Apophis slumbers, unconscious but still breathing.

Weariness begins to grip you soon enough. When you’re but moments away from falling asleep on Tabitha’s breast, you hear a clinking of chains. Stirring awake, you look up to see the chained Monster before you groan. Slowly, she lifts her head and blinks bleary eyes at you before whispering, “Rommel?”

“Helene?” You ask back, heart hammering in your chest.

Though she must have cried out everything she possibly could in her body, she finds enough for more tears to slide down her cheeks. “It’s… it’s so quiet. I… I can hear myself again.”

“Is… it is really you?”

Her mouth moves without making sound as she looks down at her purple skin and serpentine body. She shivers and closes her eyes. “I don’t know. Oh Gods Rommel I don’t know.”

You ask Tabitha to help you over to her. Your wife gives you a hard look but she eventually relents and helps you hobble to your weeping sister. As you approach she looks up, dark hair tangled in front of her face. Slowly, you reach forward and push it out of her eyes to show her scared expression. You look down at her for what seems an eternity before saying, “I’m sorry it’s late but… but I’m here for you, Helene.”

“Yeah.” She sighs out, slumping her head. “You… you are.”

Her words sting as she says them. She maybe didn’t mean it, but you feel as if she jammed a knife into your heart. Maybe if you’d been there sooner you could have stopped her from becoming this was the implication. Maybe if you’d reached out, she never would have had to suffer this fate. You’ll never know what could have been though, but you fear this is something that will haunt you until your grave. Seeing as Wizards have an unnatural life span, this could be a very long time.

Selene steps forward and places her hand upon Helene’s face, eyes closed. Your sister accepts it, making no moves to attack or lash out. Satisfied, the Monster Lady removes her hand and says, “Well, it seems as if we removed the Apophis’s spirit, however…”

“She’s still a Monster, yes.” You sigh. “Dollora said this would happen.”

“Dollora said… huh?” Helene asks, confused.

“I’ll… explain it all later.” You say, shaking your head. “How are you feeling.”

“Thirsty, tired, cold.” She sighs. “I… I don’t think I’ve ever been this cold. Everything just feels so… so sluggish and… and…” She whimpers. “Oh Gods, what the hells did I do?”

“Helene…” You say, holding out a hand, but Selene shakes her head.

“I think she would benefit from some rest and talking with another Monster for now.” She nods to Tabitha. “Would you mind staying here? Having a cold blooded Monster nearby will be helpful.”

Tabitha looks to you and you nod your head. “It’s fine, I should probably get some more rest anyway.” Backing away from your sister, you allow the Grand Wizard to help you stabilize yourself and take you back to your room. You take a deep breath and look to Helene before saying, “I… I hope you’ll forgive me for not being there when I could, Helene. I’m just glad that I could have helped in the end.”

Your sister lets out a weak chuckle, still bound to the wall. She only says one word.

“Damnit.”

—————

The next day Ammon comes to speak with you. You awaken to Tabitha gently awakening you for his audience. While you feel a little rested yourself, Tabitha appears a little worse for wear, likely up all night with Selene speaking with Helene. Once more Ammon takes a seat and address you.

“You seem to be doing a little better.”

“A little, yes.” You say, nodding your head.

“Good to hear. I’m sorry your familiar isn’t doing better, however I have someone coming who may be more amenable to helping him.”

“Who?”

“Polah, of course.” He says, shrugging. “I’m sure you’re asking, ‘Why didn’t anyone have Polah come sooner?’” The man sighs. “She somehow managed to escape from my holding during the events following your unconsciousness when I was a little preoccupied. The Monster does NOT want to be found, but eventually we tracked her down.”

He leans forward, “You know, you must have left quite the impression upon her, because she was about ready to bolt again until my men mentioned that your little friend needed help. For most people she would have never looked back, but you! Well, she’s here and looking after him, though I’m not certain what more she can do beyond time.”

“Thank you.” You say, bowing your head. “Really, thank you.”

“Ha, well, privileges of being the Sultan.” He leans back and crosses his arms. “Now then, about this little snake in my dungeon.”

“The spirit of the Apophis has been removed. She’s herself… mostly.”

“Yes, from what I hear anyway.” He nods to Tabitha. “She’s taking the adjustment hard though.”

The Lizardman nods. “Yes. The dehydration and lack of food didn’t help, but she ate. It’s going to take some time for her to come to terms with all of this though.”

“Which isn’t really a problem when she’s in the dunegons, however…” He looks at you with a serious expression. “She cannot be seen by the people. For all purposes, the Apophis are dead and gone. There cannot be another one still alive.”

“So you’re saying we need to take her with us.”

“Yes, and you’ll bring her to Deleor, the Monster Nation, wherever.” He makes it clear with the tone he uses. “She cannot stay in Ectria. If she returns for whatever reason, I will have her killed. Do I make myself clear?”

Both you and Tabitha exchange looks before turning back to Ammon. “Yes, I understand.”

“Good. Now then, if your recovery is going smoothly, we can make arrangements for your return to Deleor. The faster you return, the faster we can set up new trade routes, yes?” His eyes twinkle at that thought.

“Well, good to know some things never change.” You chuckle before wincing. Still hurts a little. Thinking about it, you ask, “What of Hent-ateh? Still no changes?”

“Nothing yet, and that’s fine by me. It’s in a warded chamber in the dungeons and no, I will not tell you which one.”

“What do you plan to do? She might not be held there forever?”

“Yes and that is quite a concern, but moving it would be difficult as well. Frankly I’m a little flummoxed on how to proceed, but I’d rather consolidate power instead of fighting that thing again, wouldn’t you?”

“I suppose.” You admit. It’s doubtful you could fight the creature again anyway. “Maybe the Shoggoth in Deleor would have ideas.”

“Perhaps, perhaps.” Ammon concedes. “If you have other ideas I’d be happy to hear them, but for now, let’s just… let this lay where it is, shall we?”

“For now. She certainly won’t like being cooped up again.”

“Sucks to be her. Or it. Whatever.” He waves his hand dismissively. “I was here to check up on you however. Oh, and you’ll be pleased to know Ebe is in the Palace today if you’d like to speak with her. I’ll send her in.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s my privilege.” At this, Tabitha and the two Kunoichi in the room, who certainly are present, shudder while you feel a little better for some reason. What strange power words have. They leave soon after and you return to resting while asking Tabitha about what happened last night.

Helene did not take the transformation well and broke down into tears once you left again. Deeming it safe enough, Selene undid her bonds (beyond the collar anyway) and they discussed what being a Monster would mean. Tabitha got the distinct impression that your sister still had much emotional and mental stress from her ordeal, but she drank and ate well enough before falling asleep. Unfortunately, the only heat that could be provided was some fire conjured by Selene- the lack of ventilation meant a brazier couldn’t be used sadly.

It doesn’t take long before you hear a knock at the door. Tabitha walks over and opens it, smiling and waving in. A moment later Ebe’s head pops in and she looks about before noticing you and smiling broadly. The Ghandharva steps inside and you’re surprised by the change you notice in her demeanor and dress.

Where before Ebe was shy and reserved, she now stands tall and radiates confidence. Upon her back she has both her instruments and her clothing, which was flimsy and designed to captivate as a dancer has been replaced with a regal, red dress that manages to show her curves while remaining dignified. You’re still able to see the hint of a scar across her breast, but she wears it as a badge of pride as she smiles at you.

“Ohh, Rommel!” She says, walking over to you and embracing you with her golden-red wings. “Gods, I was so worried about you. How are you feeling?”

“Not so great, but better than before.” You chuckle. “I hear you’ve become quite the darling of the people?”

“Oh, uhm, well.” She says, chuckling. “Yes, I suppose so! After Liala was killed, people were scared and afraid, so I thought I’d play a song to help them calm down. Turns out this drew a lot of people and well, I just kept singing and next thing I knew Ammon was asking me to fly around and sing for people.” Her cheeks flush. “They really just needed someone to tell them everything was going to be alright.”

“I really couldn’t think of anyone better for the job than you.”

“Oh, stop it.” She says, blushing. “I really haven’t done much, but… I guess in a way I’m helping people. For all his bluster, Ammon’s really different from the Prophet. I’ve seen the supplies he’s starting to send to the smaller villages, and the people he’s been talking to. He’s even asked me to be a go between at times and… and I’m really optimistic.” She beams and takes your hand with one of her wings.

“I… Well, this isn’t what I set out to do, but coming back here with all of you gave me this chance to gain a new resolution and help my people. Without you Rommel I may just have been a silly girl afraid of everything and still under the power of others.”

She presses her head to her hands. “Thank you so much.”

“Ebe, you’re going to make me blush.” You chuckle.

“Well that will make two of us then!” She says, chuckling herself, blush on her features. “I know before I sort of… you know. But I’m glad you ended up with Tabitha. You two make a cute couple.”

“I’d like to think we’re more of a dashing couple- oww!“ You begin but are cut off by Tabitha as she yanks your ear. Frowning at Tabitha, you turn back to Ebe and ask, “You’ve heard we’re heading back to Deleor, right? What are you going to do?”

Ebe grows a little crestfallen at that. “Yes, I did and… I’m happy for all of you but… my place is here, in Ectria.” A small tear appears at the corner of her eye. “I wish I could stay with all of you forever but this is how it has to be. I’m going to miss all of you.”

“It’s not like you can’t fly.” Tabitha says, smirking. “And when a Leyway gets built, visiting will be much easier.”

“Don’t forget the communion matrix.” You say, holding up a finger. “Though it might be difficult for you to uh… oh, no wait, you can sew with those wings.”

“Eh?” Ebe says, cocking her head before sighing. “Oh, you and your cheering me up. Fine, well with all this fancy stuff coming I guess neither of us have an excuse not to stay in touch.”

“Indeed we don’t.” You say. “Will you be here to see us off when we leave.”

“Of course!” She says, standing tall. “I’ll even sing a special song, you’ll see.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” You say, smiling at her. She hugs you and Tabitha one more time before blushing and then giving you a head pat with her wing and then walking away, a small giggle issuing from her lips.

“The more things change.” Tabitha says, shaking her head.

“The more they stay the same.” You finish, chuckling.

——————————————————————

Despite Ammon wanting you to leave sooner than later, you take it upon yourself to rest further. Of course, it’s more Tabitha who wants you to rest, but who is counting? After another short nap you find yourself relatively famished. Around this time a maid should be arriving with- ah! A knock at the door heralds her arrival and you prepare yourself for the delicious wonder of sweet, sweet gruel.

You really don’t care for gruel.

Of course, you don’t much mind the surprise that comes when the door opens. Instead of a maid holding your tray of food, you find Sophie, a worried expression on her face. When she sees you however, she lets out a sigh of relief before holding the tray up high.

“Who likes gruel?”

“Oh, me, I fucking love gruel.” You say, smirking at her.

She flashes you one of those shit eating grins and places the tray before you on the bed. You watch her as she does so and notice that her skin is quite tanned, something she’s been trying to work on since arriving here if you recall. In some places she might actually even pass for Ectrian! The rather revealing clothing she wears of green silk that matches her eyes reinforces this image.

“Seems like someone went shopping while I was out.” You comment, nodding to her attire.

Sophie blinks and then smirks, twirling about to show off her ensemble. “Why thank you, I had assumed if we were to be staying her for some time I might as well dress appropriately.”

“You just wanted to show off some skin.”

“Mother calls me a flirt and I believe she enjoys that.”

“Do the young men in the Palace think the same?”

Sophie chuckles, “Not just the young ones, but I’ve had to spurn a few advances here and there.”

“Ah, so progressive.” Tabitha says, chuckling. “Kids these days, back when I was girl young Monsters like you would just rape a good looking man.”

“Tabitha, please do not jest about such barbaric times.” Sophie says, a mock of incredulity on her face. The mask is broken by a chuckle and she nods to the food tray. “You should eat before it grows cold. I would be insulted if you didn’t eat every bite.”

“You made this?” You say, looking down at the bowl. Where the other bowls were a grey mush, this one had an almost airy texture to it, though in the end it was still mush. One thing it had going for it though was a dollop of honey atop it along with a few traces of fruit cut into the mix. Your poor, poor stomach gurgles for the first time in awhile, demanding you devour this offering.

“Of course.” She says. “Otherwise I would have to make up a different excuse to visit.”

Taking up the spoon with a shaky hand you scoop up some of the gruel and bring it to your lips, immediately savoring the flavor. Oh yes, this is almost better than sex, which is something you can say now. In rapid succession you devour it all, both your tongue and your belly quite satisfied.

Tabitha sniffs and folds her arms as you nod to Sophie. “I believe that if I had to eat this for the rest of my life it would be fine.”

“In some places that is tantamount to a marriage proposal, dear Rommel.” She shoots Tabitha a grin before shaking her head. “I am afraid I must decline you as well. I’m not in the market for damaged goods.”

“Roses and thorns.” You mutter before shaking your head. “How are you feeling by the way?”

“My injuries were relatively minor so I’m quite well. I’ve been making sure everyone else is doing fine in my spare time, so nothing glamorous.”

“Beyond your clothing.”

“A girl must have priorities.”

Sighing, you ask with a more serious tone. “Your sister says you’re going to leave home when you return to Deleor?”

“Yes.” She says, expression growing a little somber. “I think it is best. While I will miss Sylphie and the others I…” She sighs herself. “I’ve learned much on this journey. Much about what I can do and what I can’t. Of what I have and what I have yet to experience.” Her gaze lingers upon Tabitha for a moment.

“I believe I will head North to the Monster Nation and learn more of my people. Watching Ebe’s passion and the struggles here, I feel more than before that succeeding Mother may be my calling.” She shrugs. “Who knows, maybe I’ll find love too?”

Tabitha nods her head. “I think that if you become the Monster Lady someday, I would be proud to serve under you.”

Sophie’s mouth opens in surprise before slowly closing as she looks down, a girlish smile appearing on her face. “Thank you.”

“First, however, we need to get prepared for the trip home.” You say, stretching. “Have you heard the situation about-?”

“Helene? Yes, I’m glad to hear it. A shame Ebe will be staying as well as Zoras and the others, but this is their home, not ours.” She sighs. “I should love to visit again someday.”

“Indeed.” You say.

“I suppose we should inform Ebe’s mother if we are to go the land route, however.” Sophie says, holding up a finger. “Gahn is not that far away from our destination after all.”

“Land route? Might be better than water route after all.” As you say this, Tabitha lets out a sigh of relief. She still has some fear left over it seems. A thought occurs to you, “Hmm, perhaps I should pay a visit to Farya as well…” You mutter, to which Sophie cocks her head.

“The Sphinx you encountered? I should like to meet her.”

“You will.” You say, stretching. “If I can remember where she was…it’s kind of a large desert without many way markers, you know?”

“Well, if what Ebe said is true, she might find you, yes?”

“Possibly. First though I suppose I need to worry about getting better, as well as Erwin recovering.”

“Ah, yes, Erwin. I hear Polah is seeing to him now.”

You sit up straight at this, though you wince a little at the movement. “Polah is here? Where?”

“The little garden where Sylphie has been. Why, did you want to see her?”

“I’d like to at least say goodbye and see how Erwin is doing.” You say, motioning for Tabitha to take the tray. Sophie gets it before her and Tabitha helps you of the bed.

“Very well then, I’ll go return this. Don’t stress yourself.”

“I won’t, I won’t.”

“So you say.” She chuckles. “Still, it is good to see you doing better. When you took that spear I… I was afraid I’d lose you.” Shaking her head, she says, “I didn’t think so much of you at the start, but you’re practically family now Rommel. Thank you for everything. I mean it.”

It’s your turn to blush a little. How are you supposed to respond to something like that? Your awkward little, “Thank you,” doesn’t quite cut it, does it? Still, she smiles warmly and bows her head before leaving the room, tails waving behind her.

————————————————

Tabitha helps you dress and the two of you head to the little garden where you find an amusing sight. At the bench sits Polah, who appears far too big for it, with Erwin on her lap. At her side is a fretful Sylphie and that Shoebill. They both look on as Polah sings something while stroking Erwin, the little guy actually looking much better than when you last saw him. As you approach, the Shoebill looks up at you and Polah cuts off abruptly, a blush coming to her features.

“Ah, sorry for interrupting.” You say, holding up a hand. “It was beautiful.”

“I…I…ah…” Polah begins before looking down. A moment later a voice assaults your mind.

{Shut the fuck up.}

“Really though, it was quite nice.” You say, walking closer. Tabitha helps you sit on the bench and you stretch out a hand to touch Erwin. “He’s looking a lot better. I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s helpful. Thank you.”

“Y-You too.” She whispers.

“Wow, that’s more words than I’ve ever heard her speak to anyone beyond the singing.” Sylphie says, smirking. “What went on with you two?” Polah looks at the girl and Sylphie begins to snicker. “Come on, it’s just a joke.”

“It’s fine.” You say, waving a hand. “Is he going to make it?”

{He’s a fighter. The poor guy had a spiritual backlash from his bonded being a fucking idiot, but he’ll live. He needed his spirit soothed and some more nutrition, but he’ll make it.}

You let out a long breath. “Thank the Gods.”

Something stirs then in the back of your mind. Surprised, you look down to see Erwin shudder. Even Polah looks surprised, her claw pulling back as the fox stirs. Sylphie moves in close too and all three of you watch as the thin little critter opens his eyes in a few blinks. His black eyes come into focus and he looks up at you, a soft voice echoing in your mind.

{Oh good. You’re still here. I figured you’d be lost without me.}

Fighting back tears you send, {I was buddy, I was. Glad to have you back.}

{You’re… loud.} He sends before falling back asleep. The familiar bond in your mind feels stronger now with Erwin more awake. You watch as the little guy slumbers and try to keep yourself from crying. Thank… thank the Gods.

{Well, that’s good. Sarcasm is a good sign.} Polah sends. {I’ll watch over him for awhile longer and then leave. I think it might be time for me to leave the capital.}

“Oh? Is that because of Ammon?”

{Partially, and also…} She trails off in your mind. A look of struggle appears on her face and she says, “I think… I should get out… more.”

“Woaaaah.” Sylphie says before quickly adding, “Oh! Oh this is a good thing! Sorry!”

Polah pouts but you just put a hand on her claw. Her eyes go wide but you merely nod your head to her. “I’m happy for you Polah. You’re too good a person to stay cooped up all day.” Her Shoebill familiar nods her head to reinforce this fact and Polah’s grimaces, yet doesn’t pull away from you.

“I… thank you… Rommel.” She says, still looking uncomfortable. Her eyes drift to Erwin and she says, “I’m glad… you decided to talk with me. I… I hope you two have a good… good life.”

You nod to her and spend the next while looking after Erwin, a great weight seemingly taken off your chest. At least that’s one of your problems taken care of, now if only you could take care of-

“Hent-ateh?”

Helene turns to you with a curious expression as she munches on a platter of food provided by one of the guards. Your Apophis sister sits back on her coils, which she’s gotten better at using and rubs her chin. “Not really a subject I’d like to go into, all things considered.”

“No, I understand.” You say, holding up a hand. “ I don’t want you to talk about anything you don’t want to, I just… Was thinking about her, is all.”

“You said she’s trapped in metal, right? It’s dealt with then. I have no connection to her any longer, despite being…” She waves her hand over herself. “Like this.”

You’re surprised at how well she’s taking this. Compared to what happened last night and what Tabitha told you, you suspected to find her looking awful. Instead, when you arrived with the food, she greeted you with a smile and ate ravenously- makes sense for someone who hadn’t eaten anything in days. Still, you notice a hesitation in her eyes, a kind of fear that’s being repressed.

Sighing, you say, “Helene… you don’t have to push yourself. This can’t be easy.”

She hesitates. “I… I just…” Her expression becomes crestfallen. “Just want to put on a brave face.”

“I’m not a kid anyone Helene. We can be straight with each other here.”

“Yeah.” She sighs. “It’s just… it’s a lot to take in. I thought that this was the only way and then that thing was in my head and… I was so scared.” She hugs herself. “I’m still scared. Who am I anymore?”

You reach out and take her hand in yours, her cool skin now familiar to you after holding hands with Tabitha. Infusing a soft warmth, she gasps and then sinks down. In a quiet voice you say to her, “Your body has changed, but you’re still yourself. The Apophis is gone and won’t hurt anyone anymore.”

“Easy for you to say.” She sighs. “I’ve been forced to sleep with a few men when I was slave but I never really felt any kind of lust. Now however it’s… Rommel I’ll be honest it’s really hard not to rip your clothes off.”

Tabitha shoots her a glare and your sister holds up a placating hand. “I won’t, of course, but it’s… I see the world differently now. Literally. It’s disorienting.”

“It’ll take some getting used to, but now this is all over. You’re free now.”

“Freedom, huh?” She says, looking around. “Doesn’t look that free to me.”

“Well, once we leave the capital anyway. You can’t stay in Ectria, but you can go back to Deleor, the Monster Nation… hells, you can even go to any of the other countries in the world! You’re not bound by anything anymore.”

Helene gives you a smile that invokes far too many memories. The more things change right? “Maybe. For now… I just want somewhere I can rest and… think.” A silence fills the room, making things a little awkward until she says, “However, I suppose I should answer your question. Hent-ateh, huh?”

The Apophis rubs her chin. “Hent-ateh when she was bound to me always seemed impatient, as if awaiting commands all the time. She saw a goal and wanted to head toward it. Killing people was just… a side hobby. Fun, but not her goal unless it got her closer to the goal. The longer I was with her though the clearer this became. I don’t doubt she delighted in murder, but at the same time she really wanted to fulfill that covenant.”

“So, do you think she’s to blame for the way she is?”

Helene crosses her arms and leans back. “I don’t know. That’s a hard question to really answer but… does it matter? Hent-ateh was sealed away for multiple reasons and while I had my goals I… I always felt disturbed by it. As if something greasy was sliding across my skin and troubled my heart even further.” She points at you.

“Personally, I want to forget that creature, and so should you.”

You process that information carefully. You’d been having doubts about Hent-ateh since you awakened, thinking about whether or not there was anything else that could have been done for the creature. Yes, it tried to kill you and whatever, but didn’t Saya try to do the same thing to the Grand Wizard? Look where she is now- married apparently and doing important work. Could something similar be made to happen with Hent-ateh?

The more you think it over however, the more conflicting thoughts come into your head. Eventually though, you decide that Helene is right. It’s for the best to just… let it be. You’re already injured and frankly tired. Though it pains you somewhat, you’ve learned that your life isn’t just yours- other people care if you get hurt too. Besides, it could ruin the newfound trust you have with Ammon and the connections between Deleor and Ectria which are blossoming. It’s just not worth it.

“Alright.” You say, nodding your head. “I understand.”

“Good.” She says, bowing her head. She pauses for a long time before saying, “I’m proud of you Rommel.”

“Where did that come from?”

“Just… to see what you’ve become. It sort of… makes this all worth it, in a way.” Her chuckle is filled with a tinge of sadness. “No matter what happens you’re still my little brother.”

Pushing yourself up with effort (and a hand from Tabitha), you stagger to your feet and walk up to Helene. You look down at your hands, those terrible hands which helped to end Liala’s life and then gently raise one to touch the top of your sister’s head. Her eyes go wide as you begin to pat her, feeling that familiar curse within you taking hold. A soft warmth spreads still from your palm and she begins to cry.

“Let it out Helene. It’s over now.”

She takes your suggestion and cries until she can cry no longer.

———————————————-

It’s another week before you’re deemed fit enough by the healer to travel. Your days are spent mostly sleeping, but you make certain to visit Helene and some of the others on walks to build your strength. Erwin transfers into your room a few days after waking and he bullies you incessantly as you apologize at every turn. He’s a good friend.

Polah leaves the Palace soon after that, giving you one final farewell. She didn’t tell anyone where she’s going so you’re not certain you’ll ever see her again, but there’s always sure to be a rumor about a Griffon with too many animals about, right?

Ammon arranges two teams of wagons for you along with horses brought in from Hatset. Mr. Ed pulls one along with the other horses, become a de facto leader of the teams. You’re actually embarrassed to not have spoken with him during your recovery, but he takes it in stride, apparently not even noticing you were out, which Sylphie tells you is a lie. He’s a good friend too.

With provisions in good supply, you assemble outside the Palace, a party of Ammon’s palace guards arranged to send you off. Though you wanted to see the Great Temple again, the traffic of people is unfortunately a little much for your constitution and frankly the Head Priestess is a little busy by herself now that the Phallian priestesses were gone. It’s said more people are praying to Dollora as it stands however.

Sitting in your wagon, you touch the bundle of cloth next to you. It wiggles softly and you ask, “Are you alright?”

“Much better than in the cell.” Helene replies. “Not really all that comfortable though.”

“Just bear with it.”

“Fine. At least I can wear some nice clothes again, though damn. I miss pants. They were my favorite clothing item.”

“Skirts are in fashion anyway, says Sophie.”

Helene is about to reply when a trumpet sounds. Pushing yourself to the front of the wagon you look out toward the Palace to see Ammon approaching, his two kunoichi by his side. Surprisingly they’re wearing different clothing, ones which are still lose on their bodies but expose much, much more skin. You really hate to admit it, but Ako had one hells of a body now that you get a good look at it. Still so strange to see such pale skin in this land, but you’re sure even easterners will tan.

Next to the two bodyguards is Zoras and Ebe, the two looking rather resplendent as well. Ebe nods to you while Zoras waves, though they don’t say anything as Ammon speaks, his voice resonating in the courtyard.

“Dear friends, heroes of Ectria. It is with great sorrow that we see you leave this place that you have been so instrumental in changing. Were it not for your sacrifices, this land could be far, far different.” He bows his head. “As Sultan Ammon H’ulat the first, I give you the blessings of the sultanate and an eternal friendship of Ectria. You will always be welcome in these lands should you wish to return.”

He waves toward Ebe, who steps forward, Ectrian ghitar in her wings. “And now.” He continues. “To send you off on a fair journey the Singer of Hope, Ebe will sing.”

Ebe takes a deep breath and then looks down at her ghitar. A smirk comes to her face and she sets it down before taking her guitar from her back. Ammon gives her a strange look but you just smile as she takes a stance and starts playing.

Music strong as a mountain, steady as the earth, and tinged with a hint of sorrow flows through the chords and her lyrics. You’ve never heard this song, yet at the same time you feel as if it describes your adventures in Ectria perfectly. It’s impossible to tell how long you grow lost in the music but when it ends you’re left with tears streaming down your cheeks. Even the stoic Tabitha beside you has to try and hide her emotions, the music resonating in her heart as well.

Ebe bows her head when she finishes playing, sweat trickling from her forehead. She looks up a moment later, tears in her eyes as well and cries out, “You better fucking come back, you hear!”

“You can count on it!” You shout back in return.

Ammon merely shakes his head, and holds out a hand, giving the signal to head out. Alice, heading your wagon, and the Grand Wizard, heading the other wagon snap their reins and you begin your long trek back home to Deleor. Of course, you have a few other pieces of business to take care of along the way…

 

 

>Story continue

This journey feels different than when you began. It isn’t even the fact that you’re going through Hatset, or at least in that direction over land. The sand is the same annoying dust, the sun is still too hot, and you’re still rather thirsty all the time. None of that has changed in the slightest, no something else is different. It takes you perhaps the first two days on your way back to figure it out, but when it hits you it’s quite shocking.

What separates this journey back is the sense of levity. The pressure of making it to the capital in time, wondering if the Grand Wizard and Selene would be dead when you arrived, all the politics and danger of the cult… it’s gone. As you travel, talking and laughing with those in your wagon or around the campfire, you can sense everyone feels it too. Though there’s trouble in Deleor, it’s not here, not upon you right now. It’s a problem you will face when you get there.

For now, you can rest knowing you accomplished something and honestly, it feels damn good.

The third day into your journey, you find yourself sitting around the fire in the cool desert night. It’s funny how you’ve grown accustomed to this strange weather cycle and in some way enjoy it. You might find it weird readjusting to the Deleorian climate! Still, the warmth of the magically conjured fire and the smell of the delicious stew that both Selene and Sophie create a sense of closeness that all of you can sense.

“You should eat your gruel.” Helene says, leaning over next to you.

Frowning, you look down at the gruel and sigh. You’re still not in a good position to eat something hearty like the stew, but at least Sophie made something good for you. But man does that stew smell nice… and even Erwin can eat it, the little jerk.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get to it.” You sigh.

“Mmm, you’ll have to keep your strength up.”

“Please, we’re just heading back to Deleor, it’s not like we’ll have to fight for awhile. Besides.” You nod toward the others, who laugh at a joke that Alice of all people tells. “There’s plenty of people here who know their way around a fight.”

“Well, excuse a sister for doting on her brother.”

“Sure it’s not those crazy Monster hormones?”

“I’ll have you know that I can keep my raging sexual urges in check, thank you very much.” She puffs out her cheeks, which looks kind of funny given her purple skin and red eyes. Both of you look into each other’s eyes before you start snickering. It quickly devolves into laughter which draws the attention of Tabitha for a moment before she returns to her conversation with the Grand Wizard.

“Oh Twins, I missed laughing like that.” Helene says, wiping at her eyes. “I hadn’t really had a good chance to laugh in awhile.”

“Yeah.” You say, feeling a little somber. “It must have been hard on you.”

“Well, yes.” She shrugs.

Hestitating for a moment, you ask slowly, “What… what happened after we were separated?”

She thinks about it for a moment before sighing. “Starting out as a slave was… difficult. Especially once I was separated from Mother and sold to an Ectrian merchant. I wonder where she is now though…” She trails off and shakes her head. “Anyway, the merchant treated me fine enough. I was mostly used for menial labor though he had certain tastes and- well, needless to say I grew up faster than intended.”

“Gods, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s just sex.” She says before chuckling, “Well. That seems a little stupid considering the way I am now, doesn’t it?” She shakes her head and continues. “I spent a few years with that before being sold off when I was too old to satisfy him any longer. I was used to more menial labor, though blessedly little sexual acts. This lasted for some time until I found out the woman who owned me was in the Violet Sands.

Her eyes drift upward. “At first I was horrified at their intentions, but then I realized that they stood to change this order. Being a slave, you see everything. You see the depravity of this culture, you see their stains and their false faces. If the Violet Sands threw this all out of order then… perhaps life would be different.”

A smile appears on her face. “I told my master I was interested in helping and so I was used to perform various acts and actions to gain more trust and further their plans. Back then the cult was smaller, so my actions and dedication caught the eye of even Liala. She bought my slave contract and freed me that I may instead serve her.”

“That seems…” You begin.

“Ironic, yes. But it’s what worked and frankly I was happy for it. I was seen as a PERSON again. You can’t really understand what that means, but it was everything to me. I was useful and recognized for it. It was beautiful.”

“No, I think I can understand.” You say, nodding your head. “So you went up the ranks until-“

“Until the Grand Wizard here helped spread the message faster than ever before. The power of the Apophis was soon released as well and we knew it was our time. Hent-ateh being released too? It was more than we could have asked for. My greatest task was to collect the urn, and then… well, you know the story from there.”

“Yeah, a little.” You chuckle.

“Mmm.” She hums. Her tail makes soft, swishing motions in the sand behind her. “To tell the truth, I asked everywhere when I found you again. I had to know if it was really you after all. I’d heard some strange rumors but… a Wizard? My little brother? He should have been drowning in pussy, he was so cool.”

“Helene, please.”

“I’m sure you had your reasons.” She says, holding up a hand. “But when I’d heard for certain through Aliph’s cell, I wondered if you’d do more with the cult, that I could speak with you. Unfortunately…”

“We didn’t. I wanted to but… something in my mind told me to keep distance.”

“Perhaps that was wise.” She sighs. “I did appreciate your letter though.”

“A little too late though.” You say.

She looks down at her purple skin. “Yes. It seems that way.”

“Did… you mean what you said in the Temple? That you were waiting for me?”

She gulps, keeping tears back. “Yes. I really was. I was hoping against hope that you’d bust into the ritual and stop me from doing this to myself, but…”

“But I didn’t.”

“But you didn’t.”

“Helene, I-“

“No. No it’s fine.” She says, shaking her head. “What’s done is done.” She holds out the flat of her hand toward you. “What matters now is that we’re back together, right?”

You look down at her hand. The soft, cold, purple skin blends in with the darkness of the night, proclaiming her as something far, far from Human. A time not long ago you’d have balked at this, or even flared in rage. Now though, you don’t hesitate a moment before taking her hand in yours.

She flashes you a serpentine smile in response.

——————————————–

Turning south on the road to Hatset, you go a little out of your way, but with the wagons the time is better. At first the others think you’re a little weird for asking this, but there’s someone you have to speak with. Both Alice and Mr. Ed agree, though the former mostly just wants to prank the Sphinx. Mr. Ed doesn’t think that’s going to happen. He’s usually the smarter one.

With the detour you almost consider heading to Tet’ahn, but you figure you should find Farya first. The main issue with this plan is you really have no idea WHERE Farya’s place is. Because of this you waste an entire day traveling around the desert and using your magic to avoid sandwurms while also searching for her. Unfortunately, it comes to no avail, even with the Grand Wizard present to help you.

Huddling around the campfire that night, you stare once more into your gruel as Alice tells once again how she slew the ancient Apophis.

“There I was, sword in hand, watching as my dear friend Rommel died.”

“I’m still alive you bitch.” You groan. She ignores you.

“Tears running down my cheeks, I began to glow with the power of anger and sadness inside me. The Apophis, who was busy feasting upon poor Rommel’s brains turned, mouth dribbling what was left of his mind. Her eyes grew wide as I exploded in power, a glow surrounding me which matched the intensity of my sword.”

Alice stands up and draws Energieschwert. Her silver-blonde hair, which is not making any attempts at changing back to black, trails behind her in the night breeze. “AHHHHHHHH! I cried!” She shouts again. “AHHHHHHHHHHHH! My anger grew!”

Around her a soft light begins to form about her, swirling like mist. She screams again, her hair standing up this time. “AHHHHHHHHHH!”

The ground shakes around her and all of you look about in worry as she continues to grow more and more powerful. Holy fuck, did she actually do this? Was this not just a stupid campfire story?

“AND THEN, AT THE HEIGHT OF MY POWER, I RAMMED MY SWORD THROUGH HER FACE!” She mimics the motion of thrusting her sword forward and the earth shakes around her. Wind and sand buffets all of you and ruins your gruel before suddenly and without warning, it fades away.

Shocked, your group looks about in surprise before a surprising voice cuts in,

“Stunning and bold how you won the day, but honestly it’s both fake and gay.”

Everyone’s eyes snap to a figure sitting cross legged next to you. She brings her furred hand to her face and licks it before rubbing at her feline ears. A moment later, Farya opens her eyes and looks about before saying, “Hello.”

All of you pause for a long moment before you whisper, “F-Farya?”

“If that is a riddle it is a poor one.” She smiles. “I sensed your presence and decided to see what that was about when I heard her story. I may have… embellished it a little, but I believe her story is even more embellished because your head is still attached.”

Alice is the first to respond to this. “Oh, so you’re saying it’s not true because there are some factual anomalies? Tch, I thought you were shy and wanted to stay in your little tomb.”

Farya blushes. “I- I’ve been trying to interact more! It’s just… uhm..” She fidgets. “There aren’t many people out here after all, though…” She looks over your group. “What are you doing out here again?”

“Looking for you, actually.” You say, smiling at her. Farya blinks before blushing furiously.

“O-Oh Gods, I didn’t think… well you’re handsome and love history and-“

“Well, actually I’m happily married now.” You say, cutting her off.

The Sphinx deflates. “Oh. Right, well… congratulations.” She sighs. “Well… it’s nice that you’re here to visit again. I’m not sure about all of you visiting my collection though…”

“It’s fine, we don’t intend to stay long. I just wanted to say goodbye and to tell you what’s been going on since we last met.” She gives you a wary look until you say, “It will be very historical.”

At that she relents and allows you to speak, even taking some stew some Sophie (though it has maybe a liiiitttlllleee sand in it.) When you finish your tale she looks at you dumbstruck. Her eyes flick to your sister before she gulps and says, “The… the Pharaohs are all dead?”

“As far as we know, yes.”

“Wow.” She sits back and looks up. “It’s strange how much you miss just being in the same place.”

“Maybe it’s time to move then? See a little bit of the world?”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that.” She says, waving her hand. “I have to guard my collection.”

“Well, I have heard that the new Sultan plans to send people through Ectria to search for all the relics he can find and enshrine them as best he can. I’m not certain of the type of people coming through, but it might be better to work with him. I’m certain he’ll let you guard this new repository AND you’ll have a larger collection to work with.”

Leaning in, you nudge her. “Besides, it means you can meet some men without having them stumble into you on accident. Unless that’s your kink…”

Farya blushes furiously. “Ohhhh Rommmeeeel!” She says, burying her face in her bowl. This makes everyone else laugh as she sputters out sandy stew before blinking and laughing herself.

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry. You know though, now that we’re not running around the desert.” You begin, laughter winding down yourself. Reaching out, you pat the Sphinx on the head and say, “I would be fascinated to hear more about the history of your collection, just like I promised.”

Farya’s eyes widen with surprise before sparkling in joy. “Oh? Oh! Well then, let me tell you all about some of my more interesting pieces of the collection…”

———————————-

Farya spends the night with your group, something she seems rather happy with in the morning. Those on watch say she slept like a child and when morning came she was eager to eat with everyone. Poor girl was starved for attention in the end.

When you’re ready to head out you promise her to have a message sent to Zoras about the proposal. Though hesitant, Farya agrees.

“Next time I’m in Ectria, I’ll seek you out.” You say to her as you’re helped into your wagon.

“Oh, no need. I’ll know when you’re here.” She says, giving you a wide smile.

“Wait, so the thing about being marked by a Sphinx is true?” You ask, surprised. Before you can even finish though the Monster vanishes in a gust of sand, leaving no trace but a few, feline pawprints.

The rest of you look surprised before heading off back toward Hatset. It’s about time to get back on track after all. Though heading to Tet’ahn would have been interesting to see, you’re worried there would be lingering sentiments of hostility toward you. Besides, if they noticed Helene that would cause even more issues down the road, even if Lady Aliph is already in the capital. You do hope the best for those people though.

You reach Hatset easily enough and the guards allow you in, already having your information from Ammon. They don’t even search your wagon, though you can tell that bothers them greatly to do so. You spend the rest of the day there resupplying and resting, though you make it a point to head to the same Temple of the Twins in this city again and offer a prayer to Dollora. You feel nothing this time, but it still is helpful to do so.

Leaving again the next morning it’s another slog in the desert. Still, being with good company it doesn’t feel as bad. You feel your strength returning little by little and your bond with your sister and your wife grows daily. In fact, you feel like you’re growing closer to all of the people in your party, something you didn’t know you’d always craved being alone for so long. Perhaps you and Farya aren’t so different.

While on the journey to Gahn the Grand Wizard tells you about the Wizard’s Union and its odd history. Though he himself doesn’t care much for what it’s become, he does hold a grudging respect for their inventive nature. He promises to teach you the spell to travel to El Dorito, which sounds utterly bullshit of a place, as well. You seem a little skeptical at first until he hands you a small bit of a Heated Bread pouch. You almost break down into tears at how beautiful it tastes.

“You are a true Wizard after all.” He says with sagacity. “The Union is a tool in the end, but it is also the worst aspect of Wizardhood. It offers those who only think of power a place to refine that. Dangerous people or those without any sense of morality can join as long as they meet the requirements. I’m hesitant to work with them because of that.”

“I became a Wizard just so I could harness this power.” You say, frowning at him.

“No, you became a Wizard so you could stop what happened to your family from every happening again.” He says, finger raised. “In truth, you’re what Wizards are supposed to be now. A man who both looks to protect that which is precious to him. Rommel, out of all the Wizard’s I’ve met, you’ve exemplified this more than any I can think of.”

The Grand Wizard claps his hand onto your shoulder. “I’m proud to be a colleague of yours.”

Even coming from a man you used to hate with a violent passion, a man whom you wanted to kill for ruining the balance of this world, you can’t help but feel a little happy at his words. Sighing, you take his hand and say, “If we can’t bring the Wizards back to what they used to be, then we’ll have to just make them into what they need to be now.”

“Hah, a laudable goal.” He says, smiling. “Almost a shame I don’t have to kill you for getting together with one of my daughters. Then I’d have to cry about losing a son.”

“I don’t know how to respond to that.”

“And that, Rommel, is why they call me the Grand Wizard.”

——————————————-

Oddly energizing conversations aside, the rest of the trip to Gahn is fairly unremarkable beyond Alice reprising her story about how she slew Liala about five more times. None of you really want to bring her down though, because all of you know it’s in good fun and honestly, Alice did a lot of work in that final battle. Though you pretend not to have seen it, you do notice Tabitha telling Alice she’s proud of her accomplishments. Even Alice breaks down into tears from this, which she deserves to considering what happened to her beforehand.

As you’re fairly close to Gahn, you also tell Alice you’re thankful for her help and everything she’s done. The woman, driving the cart as she is, doesn’t turn to look at you but merely says, “No Rommel, thank you for everything you’ve done. Without you this whole adventure would have been something different entirely.”

“Please, this isn’t the only world saving adventure you’ve been on.”

“No, but I was only there for the end, and I failed. I’m glad I redeemed myself, but in the end I’m more concerned at what to do in the future.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I haven’t forgotten what I said on the boat. I really am considering something like that, but more then that I’m considering joining the Order of the Heroic Brotherhood again.”

“Think they’ll take you back?”

“Think with the Grand Wizard, Monster Lady, and the Wanderer backing me, they won’t?”

“Fair point.”

She chuckles. “Well, I meant what I said, and I’m happy that you’re giving Tabitha the joy she deserves. I joke about her and make a lot of shit sometimes, but in the end I really do respect her deeply. If I didn’t, I never would have sought her out after all.”

“Well, I’m glad for you as well. Thought you should know.”

“Honestly, that does mean a lot too.” Alice says, turning and giving you a broad smile. “Now then.” She begins, pointing off into the distance before you. “What are you going to say to Ebe’s Mother?”

Though barely visible, you begin to see familiar shapes of Gahn, the little village where Ebe was raised. It feels lonely returning without her for some reason, but at the same time it means you’re one step closer to coming home.

The arrival to Gahn was both uninteresting and welcome at the same time. Helene hid again under her covers while the wagons pull in, much to the surprise of the townsfolk. Even with all the recent trouble they still look happy to see travelers, though frankly they should have learned better. At the head of the pack is Ebe’s mother, who lets out a cry of joy and leaps forward over the assembled others, wings sparkling in the sun as she lands. Her expression of joy turns to worry as she looks about and is unable to find her daughter.

 

“Don’t worry.” You say, holding up a hand in pacification. “Ebe is fine, she just has important buisness in the capital.”

“Is… that so?” Chike asks before sighing. “Well, I suppose we might as well come inside with everyone.” She looks over your new additions of Selene and the Grand Wizard. “I’m sure there’s a story to be told here.

“Certainly is, however, there’s one more we’d like to bring in rather… discretely.”

The Gandharva cocks her head and looks over as Helene pokes her head out and waves her hand. She gulps, a look of fear on her face for a moment before she takes a calm, steadying breath and says.

“Story to be told indeed…”

——————————–

The other villagers catch up soon after and you tell them about the change in leadership and the fall of the Cult of the Violet Sands. This creates a huge hubbub within the assembled people and Monsters, each of them either worried or excited about what this change will bring. It’s not exactly like the rule of the Pharaoh was overly kind to them or anything.

The two men you saved from the Royal Guard thank you again for the help from before. They take the information of the fall of the cult with a mix of disappointment and understanding, though they’d heard some of it beforehand through their sigil connection. They really weren’t on any kind of frontline here anyway and were mostly looking for something to do with their lives. The prospect of new work and easier policies for the little folk of the country under the Sultan does intrigue them however, and they strive to inform the others of the cult. Thankfully they don’t want to kill you, which would be very painful. For them.

While most of the townsfolk disperse to talk amongst themselves once they find you’ve nothing to trade and will be staying with Chike again, one stands out. Looking alone and deep in thought, you see the older Anubis, the mother of the slaver you slew so long ago. With a heavy heart, you have Tabitha help you walk up to her. She gives you a quizzical expression and clutches the locket you sold to the Khepri close to her heart. Of course she’d have it on hand- you didn’t think this would be easy after all.

She accepts your story readily enough and though she doesn’t yell or attack, you can see a rage and sorrow within her eyes. If your child was murdered, even for doing an unforgivable act, how would you respond? You try to give her some of the Ectrian currency that Ammon gave you but she refuses. Considering the actions her daughter took, blood debts had already been repaid. Her leave is curt though when she turns away you can see her shoulders shaking. Tabitha takes your hand and leads you away.

“You did what you had to do.” She says, taking it in stride.

“I didn’t have to do it like that.” At least you didn’t tell the mother HOW you killed her daughter. That would have been too much.

She doesn’t respond.

When all is said and done you arrive to Chike’s place to find the bathtubs you made before in use. She clacks her tongue and laughs as the first thing your group did after hitching up the horses was to get in the baths.

“To be honest, we’ve found a way to make communal use of them in town since there are two and this nice wall. It’s tough fetching enough water sometimes, but it’s quite useful.” She says, shaking her head. “We expanded upon the wall you created, just to make certain no one is causing mischief, though it does get loud sometimes.”

Behind her you can hear the sounds of women laughing and grow confused at hearing Helene’s voice. When you point it out, the Ghandharva says, “Ah, well, one of the girls… Sylphie was it? Used some magic to hide her from view so she could bathe as well.” She shakes her head. “Is that really an…” Her voice becomes hushed, “Apophis?”

“Yes and no.” You say. “You don’t have to worry about her causing trouble. We’re leaving Ectria as it stands.”

“Is that so?” She asks, clearly wanting to pry more. Instead she merely holds out a wing and asks, “Would you like to take a bath? I believe the other gentleman is in already.”

Tabitha pats you shoulder and you groan. “I’d love to, but my doctor says I’m not allowed to bathe quite yet.”

“Doctor? She looks more like your- oh!” Chike jumps and places her wings to her mouth. “Oh goodness, are you two-?”

“Married? Yes, I’m almost as shocked as you still.” Your wife replies, chuckling.

“Well then!” The Ghandharava says. “That’s a much, MUCH more interesting tale.” She looks about before nodding. “I’m going to go get some refreshments and cushions, please wait here. I’m very interested to hear all about this.”

Both you and Tabitha shrug and sit down on chairs you make out of the earth, much to Chike’s delight. As the others bathe in the tubs (Erwin included, apparently he’s bathing with Sylphie again, the little scamp) you and Tabitha converse with Chike, telling her all about your stories, paying particular interest to the parts with Ebe.

It surprises you how long the story is, because before you can finish the others leave the tub, nice and refreshed, and you realize the sun is setting. Retiring inside for the evening, all of you (Helene included) make yourselves comfortable as you regale Chike with your story. She takes it all in stride, as she should for a Monster specializing in song and storytelling.

“And so, Ebe ended up rallying the people with her songs, bringing them hope and comfort. She’s become so popular that Ammon has asked her to stay in the capital.”

You set down your cup of tea as you finish your story, waiting for her response. Chike sits there for a long time, eyes looking up at the ceiling, an unreadable expression on her beautiful face. It surprises you when a smile appears on her face and she says, “I always knew she was meant for something greater. I always wanted a quiet life, but she needed a journey like this. I’m glad she found purpose while traveling with all of you.”

She looks down toward you, smile making you feel a little warm inside. “Thank you, all of you for helping her become who she needs to be. I couldn’t have asked for better friends for her.”

“She was a great friend.” Sylphie says, nodding her head. “We’re going to miss her.”

“Until we come to visit, that is.” Sophie says, holding up a finger. “Eventually leyways will exist in Ectria and I can assure you we shall see Ebe again.”

“Hmph, well we’ll see what happens first: These leyways appear or Ebe gets married.” Chike says, crossing her wings. Everyone looks at her with surprise and she says, “What? I still want Grandchicks. I’m not getting any younger.”

The laughter that fills the room then is infectious and makes your poor, abused body hurt. But it is so worth it.

———————————————

When the morning comes Tabitha takes you outside and gives you a short bath, more of a rub-down than anything. Still, it feels good to have her touch your body in that way and though you feel a stirring within your loins you both keep it in check- for your health. You do still give her one hells of a passionate kiss since no one is watching. She doesn’t complain, of course.

Loading up the wagons with Sylphie’s help to conceal Helene, you stop to wish farewell to Chike. The Ghandharva offers you some snacks to go and, while you’d like to deny them for her sake, you end up taking them to be polite. They’re pretty good anyway, it just makes you feel bad.

“So, you’re on your way back to Deleor then?” She asks.

“Not quite. There was one more stop I wanted to make.”

“Oh? Such as?”

“The Chasm of Regret.”

The Ghandharva pauses and then slowly nods her head. “Very well then. With the Cultists driven out by the Royal Guard, I assume it is safer than it was before but…” She leans in. “Listen, the place still feels wrong, even to a Monster. Just be careful, okay?”

“Of course.” You say, nodding your head. “We might pass by here on the way back too, so it’s not really a goodbye.”

“Haha, so you say. I expect to see you visit every now and then, you hear?”

“Yes, yes.” You chuckle before making your way to the wagon and loading up. As the horses pull away you take a final look at the Ghandharva who watches you with wings to her breast. You can’t tell due to the distance (and [Farsight] wouldn’t be nice to use), but you think she’s crying.

—————————–

The journey to the Chasm is far longer than expected, you honestly don’t know how far you were away when you chased the Royal Guard on the sandstone board, but it must not have been anywhere close to the Chasm because you pass by the sand-covered remains of the caravan you attacked. The corpses of the Royal Guard are nowhere to be seen, though you have a feeling something ate them.

It takes maybe two days to reach the Chasm and by then it’s already growing dark in the sky. As you approach you understand a little of what Chike was saying beforehand. Even though you can’t see the Chasm itself yet you feel a strange, almost oppressive force about it. It makes your shoulder blades itch and causes you to be a little jittery. Your entire party seems to feel it as well, even Tabitha who grows alert, eyes looking for danger.

All around you even the sands of the desert begin to feel more desolate, if that’s even possible. Dry, cracked earth runs in large patches. Though it’s the desert, nothing grows around here, and you see no signs of life around. It’s unnerving more than anything but you can believe that whatever Dollora did to make THIS happen could have pissed off the other Gods something fierce.

 As the sun begins to creep downward, casting shadows over the mountains that loom off in the distance, you grow close enough to see the Chasm. Stretching farther than you can see, it spans almost half a mile in width as far as you can tell. Though it appears to be nothing more than an empty chasm, you feel a calling toward it. A lingering sensation of something familiar pulses within you and you get the impression of what you felt from Dollora, though with the negative aspects magnified. There is no doubt that this place reeks of her touch upon the land.

Feeling uneasy but not wanting to travel at night, you set up camp near the chasm and under a full moon. Everyone finds it difficult to sleep that night, none so more than you yourself. Sleeping next to Tabitha in your bedroll you stare off into that moon, wondering what drew you here. Sightseeing? A need to see what this was about? Perhaps to search for the Cultist’s main base and make sure everything was destroyed?

As you think over these things a whisper of a thought drifts into your ear.

“Rommel…” It says in a familiar voice that makes your spine tingle. You try to ignore the voice but it comes again, louder this time.

“Rommel.”

Groaning, you turn to Tabitha and see if she’s awake. She doesn’t stir and in fact seems utterly asleep. With a frown, you climb out of your bedroll, surprised you have the strength to do so. Guess the traveling isn’t so bad for you after all, is it?

Looking around, you hear the voice again, coming from… the direction of the chasm. You turn to see the person on watch, who is Alice at this hour, to find her looking off toward the Chasm herself, arms crossed. Walking up to her you ask, “Do you hear that?”

“Huh? Oh, Rommel. Hrm.” She shakes her head. “No, I don’t. What are you talking about?”

“This… insistent voice that’s in my head I think… I think it’s Dollora.”

She frowns. “Rommel…”

“Listen, she’s spoken with me before and… it’s only getting louder.” You stare off toward the Chasm. “I need to see what she wants.”

“Rommel, please you can’t just go out there alone.”

“I won’t be alone.” You say, nodding as Erwin walks up, yawning. “He’ll keep me in check.”

{I was having a nice dream where I wasn’t tired all the time and I was being hugged to Sylphie’s bosom.} He sends to you.

“I still don’t think this is a good idea.” Alice says, looking worried.

You put a hand on her shoulder and say, “If there’s trouble, I’ll send a signal, alright?”

She looks to Erwin who sighs and shrugs in a way only foxes can. Sighing herself, she waves you away but says, “I’m not covering for you if Tabitha finds out.”

“I don’t expect you to.”

Walking out into the desert with only your familiar for company, you hear the voice grow louder and louder, an almost insistent droning as you approach the chasm. That feeling of desolation and dread grows as well until you suddenly find yourself at the edge of the Chasm, looking down into it. You see nothing but an inky darkness, stretching off into eternity. Oddly enough though, it feels… comforting.

{This is creepy as fuck.} Erwin sends. {We should go back to camp, this is really dangerous.}

“Yeah.” You say before pausing. The voice… it’s gone? Confused, you look about but see nothing present. “Odd. Well, it’s gone now, so I guess we should return.”

Shaking your head, you make to go when the itching between your shoulder blades increases. You turn about on the spot but find nothing present. You begin to breathe a little heavy and turn to go.

Something stands in your way, a vague impression of a humanoid form made from moonlight. You stand there, slack jawed as it wavers in night air, sand rippling about its form. Gulping, you ask, “Dollora?”

The shape shudders and a voice whispers on the wind, “Why are you come…?”

That’s a damn good question.

The wispy form in the moonlight drifts there, at once being carried by the wind and yet not moving. Looking upon this shadowed form you get the impression of femininity and yet can see no defining features. Is this really Dollora? Something about this feels off, and it’s not just the atmosphere in this land. When you met Dollora before, it was with an aura of kindness mixed with sorrow. This is just… malice?

Your eyes drift to the side where the Chasm behind you stretches off into the distance. Could it be because of this place? Perhaps the lingering power of Dollora allows her to form this shade? It’s hard to say, but you immediately go on your guard, watching for anything amiss.

“Why am I here?” You say, repeating the words asked to you. “I’m here because… something isn’t quite right. We defeated the Pharaoh, saved the Grand Wizard and the Monster Lady, and ended the threat of the Violet Sands. But it’s just… something doesn’t fit. What purpose did you really have for me here? Is this mission you’re talking about complete or was there something else?”

The shade says nothing for a long while as it floats before you. Eventually you hear that voice from before say, “Your purpose is fulfilled.”

A sigh escapes your lips. “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. Fulfilled in what way? Things just don’t make sense, like why did the Pharaoh think she needed Sophie or Sylphie’s blood to open the Nexus? The Grand Wizard could do it himself with little effort!” You shake your head. “But I’m most troubled about the references to Phallia. I know you’d not like to speak ill of your sister but… please, if you know anything about what she’s doing, tell me.”

The shade hisses, a sound like nails on a chalkboard. Even Erwin whimpers under the sound. “Phallia my… sister.”

You frown at that. With such a response it has to be Dollora, right? Or perhaps one of the other Gods, but none of them really interact with people as far as you know. Hells, Sveth coming down was a freak thing in it’s own right and honestly you’re still shocked about it.

“Yes, your sister. She’s doing something Dollora, something I’m sure you’re seeing. I’m afraid it’s going to cause conflict and most importantly she hurt YOUR priestesses in doing it.”

“I know.” The shade says, making your spine shudder. “I have seen all of these things.”

“Then why let it occur? Why not step forward to stop this. Why not inform your chosen about what is happening?”

Dollora… the shade, whatever this is says, “I cannot. I must remain in my realm and repent for my sins.”

“Sins? You mean this?” You hold out your hand toward the chasm. “Dollora, pardon me for being forward, but you have to forgive yourself! The balance of this world is changing and no one knows how or why.”

“No.” She says. A wave of uneasiness washes over you. Anger seeps from the shade and you almost take a step back as sweat tricks down your back. Oh lord, you didn’t think that through. You’d been told to know your place before but in the heat of the moment you went and did something stupid.

“Forgive me.” You say with haste. “That was improper from a mortal such as myself.”

The shade considers for a moment before replying. “Rommel… why do you fight for the Monsters, my… children…? Have they not harmed you? Have they not forced you into a life you never should have lived?”

“Why?” You repeat, surprised. Without even considering you answer, “Because they’re no different from us. Because we all understand love and what it is to be loved. We come into conflict because of ignorance but all we have to do is take the time to be in each other’s company.”

“Eventually they will destroy you, humanity will exist only within Nerg’s realm, and this world will be claimed by the Monsters.”

“I… don’t see it that way. I believe Solos wouldn’t allow it to happen either. One day there will be harmony, we just have to work toward it.” You say, shaking your head. These words from Dollora are… confusing. You knew she had some wrath to her, but this is just spiteful.

“Solos will not allow it.” She says, followed by a chuckle. “Perhaps, perhaps.”

An uncomfortable silence fills the air. You begin to grow nervous as you stand there, eventually looking up at the silent shade and asking, “Do you… have anything further to say?”

 “Yes.” The shade says. “Go with your… your wife and live. Your duty is past, your time of weariness is over. You have succeeded in your task and I release you from responsibility. Troubles abound, yes, but you have earned your respite.”

“Dollora, I would love to do that, but-“

“You dare question a Goddess? The nexus is opened and magic will flood this land. The Pharaoh is dead, the Priestesses of Phallia are dead, and this land is saved. You have done ENOUGH.”

Your skin visibly ripples at those words and your breath leaves you. Licking your lips you say, “I…I understand.”

In truth, you don’t understand. None of this is making any sense. Gods are fickle creatures, but this… this is too much. Despite facing down what was essentially a demi-god without flinching, you cannot help but cringe under this oppressive force. This isn’t the Dollora you remember, this isn’t the Goddess you’ve come to know… or thought you knew. Thinking back to the conversation you had before with her, something odd stands out.

“Dollora… do you remember the last thing I did before you left?”

“… It does not matter.”

“I would like to do it again, if you would allow me.”

The shade ripples as the wind picks up. “As a gesture of good will for your service, I shall allow this.”

Taking a deep breath, you walk forward and hold out your hand before reaching to place it atop the head of the shade. You expected your hand to pass right through it, but as you make contact something solid appears under your hand. You get the impression of warm, soft hair being parted by your fingers and a smooth, solid scalp.

“Ah!” The shade gasps, shuddering as your hand begins its divine work. Unable to pull away you watch as it begins to materialize, starting from the head and working its way downward. Blonde hair laced with flowers appears as a pale, beautiful face follows. The expression is one of bliss under your fingers and you stare in complete surprise as more and more of the woman appears. A dress of leaves and flowers covering her wondrous body and you figure out quite soon that is isn’t Dollora

“Well.” She says as you finish your pats. “That was quite wonderful.”

“I…” You say, hand sitting atop her head. “Y-you’re Phallia, aren’t you?”

“Hmm?” She says, looking up at you. “Oh. Yes, I suppose I’m found out.”

Suddenly very afraid you pull you hand back and prepare the magic within you. Holy fucking hells, why is she here? You would have expected Jackor or something, but this… this is the complete opposite of what you’d expected.

“Your hands feel like his you know.” Phallia sighs. The Goddess crosses her legs as she floats in the air, looking at you. “When Solos pats my head it is one of the most wonderful feelings.”

“Why, why were you pretending to be Dollora?”

“Because, I wanted to talk with you Rommel. I wanted you to remove yourself from all of this.”

“Remove myself? What?”

“You heard me.” She sighs and looks at her fingernails with an annoyed expression. “You’re an annoyance. At first you were quite helpful, but your actions in the capital allowed those damnable cats to survive being sacrificed for no purpose and a war was averted.” Her eyes flick to you and you feel the full weight of the malice from before in those captivating orbs.

“You shouldn’t have interfered.”

“What? You… you meant for this to happen?” Shaking your head in amazement you say, “Did you… did you put those things in their bodies? Twist the Pharaoh like that?”

“No. I merely gave them what they always wanted. An excuse.” She smirks. “Just like in Deleor.”

“But… but why are you telling me all of this?” You ask in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

“No, I’m sure you don’t.” Phallia says, shaking her head. “But you see, Dollora does not like this place, though it reeks of her stench. She does her best to ignore it and only once has she returned here or even cast her gaze down upon it so that she might not reflect on her foolishness.”

Phallia reaches out and takes your chin, a smile on her face. “And because Dollora doesn’t tread here. Nor do the other Gods. Do you understand, Rommel?”

{Oh Gods, Rommel.} Erwin sends. {Rommel, you need to run!}

Phallia pulls herself in close to you before you can react, wrapping her luscious body tightly around yours. Her soft, godly skin touches your face and she smiles. Leaning in close, she places her lips next to your ear and whispers in a voice barely louder than your heartbeat hammering in your chest.

“Dollora will die and all of her children will be destroyed. Tell that to Nerg when you meet him, he loves to hear wild stories from new arrivals.”

With that, she pushes you away from her and you stumble backward, arms flailing. One, two, three steps back and- Oh, there’s no more ground any longer. You fall backward into the Chasm of Regret, crying out in panic. Though you reach for your magic, you’re unable to take hold of it within this place and hopelessness and fear steal all rational thought from you.

This time you’re going to die and no one will save you.

Vaguely you can hear Erwin’s voice in your mind screaming at you, though that too begins to fade soon after you fall. Though you cry out in agony, you know nothing will save you. You’re going to leave Tabitha alone, go against your promise. Damn, she’s not going to forgive you this time.

A sound of something like a thundercrack booms from above. The next instant you see a blur of motion followed by something you never thought you’d see. Tabitha, free falling from the edge of the Chasm, legs flaring with magitek energy. She catches up with you in moments and, with a shout of pure anger, slams her feet into the wall of the Chasm, anchoring you both there.

The impact jars your body and makes your wound sear with blinding pain, but you’re alive and not falling any longer. Looking up at Tabitha you see her straining her body, tears forming in her eyes as her arms shake with the effort of holding you. Teeth clenched she growls, “WHAT THE FUCK DID I TELL YOU ABOUT LEAVING ME ALONE?”

“Don’t?”

“THAT’S FUCKING RIGHT.” She growls. Her magitek legs flicker as whatever magical draining properties of the chasm begin to shut down her magitek. She growls and channels her life force into them, causing the legs to hum with vibrant power. Taking a few, powerful breaths, she screams and then charges up the side of the Chasm, feet moving with such speed and power that she is able to carry both of you perpendicular up the side of the Chasm.

When you reach the edge, Tabitha throws you bodily over and you scrabble away from the side before turning to help her up. She merely leaps over you and lands in the sand before collapsing to the floor in a heap. Panting, she looks up at you and says, “I swear to the Gods, you’re more trouble than you’re worth sometimes.”

“I- wait, where is Phallia?” You say, looking around with worry. She could just push you down again if she wanted or something worse. However, as you look about you find no sign of her, nothing. Confused, you turn as Erwin tackles your chest, a barrage of sendings flooding your mind.

{FUCKING DAMN YOU AND YOUR ALMOST DYING.} He sends, burying his head into your chest. {PLEASE STOP DOING STUPID THINGS LIKE HEADPATTING GODDESSES.}

{Sorry I worried you again, but where did she go?} You send back.

He looks up at you with an annoyed expression. {I don’t know. She just up and vanished when I saw Tabitha running in at lightspeed.}

You turn to your wife, who is collapsed against you, legs powered off again. You cock your head and say, “I’m glad you rescued me but… how did you know I was here?”

She takes a moment to regain her breath before saying, “I was having a dream when suddenly I felt very cold, like something warm and important was taken from me. It was as if someone yelled in my ear to find what was wrong and it drove me out of my sleep. I woke up to find you missing and when I asked Alice, she said you were here. I came as fast as I could to find you falling off a ledge.”

“Falling off- Wait, you didn’t see me get pushed?”

She furrows her brow. “Pushed? By whom?”

You sigh and form a board of stone under all three of you and begin to push it back to the camp. “I think everyone is going to want to hear this story.”

————————————-

When you finish your tale those assembled look on with a mix of worry and anger. The most concerned of all are Selene and the Grand Wizard who whisper amongst themselves in hushed tones before conferring with you again. Selene is the first to speak, obviously shaken by the tale.

“This fits with what we’ve feared.” She says. “It seems inconceivable to believe, but if Phallia was so bold as to try and kill you like that and make it look like an accident… then she must be nearing something big.”

The Grand Wizard nods his head in agreement. “Her actions in Ectria with her Priestesses and the strange movements in Deleor before we left. She’s becoming bold, as if she knows something is going to happen.”

“But what?” You say, hands folded in front of you. “What would make her want to kill her own sister?”

“The better question.” Alice says, expression serious. “Is what makes her think she can get away with it?”

Everyone grows quiet at that. You came to the chasm partially to sightsee, partially to get answers, but in the end you only come up with more questions. One thing is for certain though- you need to get back to Deleor and find out what has happened and how to prevent the terrible fate Phallia has planned.

Looking at Tabitha, your wife, as she lays next to you, legs charging back up, you see the look of relief in her eyes at having you back. When you told Phallia why you fight for the Monsters you didn’t tell a single lie. You’d fight and die for this Monster and the future you’ll have together.

You look to the moon as it begins to settle in the west, toward Deleor. There you’ll make a new life with your wife and the friends you’ve made along the way. It might be hard, but you’ve done harder things during this journey. Though you’re still wary of the Goddesses and their schemes, you still believe in the words Dollora told you.

{Your task is more important than you know… Protect that which is dear to you and do not… lose hope.}

Tabitha’s hand squeezes yours. You turn your head and look into her eyes to see a fierce resolve there. A fire builds within your heart too and you smile at her, a gesture she mimics as well. Around you yours friends and comrades in arms smile too, determination filling their spirits. All of you have fought for what you have and you’ll be damned if anyone, Man, Monster, or God is going to take it from you.

LackingFairGoodExcellentPerfect (13 votes, average: 4.54 out of 5)
Loading...

Leave a Reply