Wizardquest Part 14: A Winding Road

Chapter 126

 

“I’m not afraid of you, creature.”

Veronica growls, clenching her hand into a tight fist. Tiny droplets of sweat begin to bead on her forehead, despite the air becoming cooler the farther north you travel. Her eye twitches ever so slightly as she struggles to maintain her focus on her opponent.

Squeak.” Says Bubs as he sits upon her knee.

Veronica yips and pulls back, her breathing heavy, sweat dripping profusely. He’s only a rat! She just faced down a homicidal sorcerer and his Hellhound lackeys! She has the power of Solos himself on her side! She…she isn’t afraid of-

Bubs inches forward on her leg by one ratty paw.

The Aspirant squeals and throws to her arm to knock the rat off. He avoids her clumsy blow and jumps up, scurrying back to your pocket before popping his head out and regarding her as she starts to hyperventilate.

You look up at Veronica and cock your head while Hala starts cackling in laughter. Even Tabitha, who decided not to wear her cap and instead is wearing her long, brown hair out in a traditional Lizardman ponytail, can’t help but crack a smile. Oh yes, you find it amusing too, but you arn’t going to let it show. You have the dignity of being a Wizard!

…Okay, you won’t let it show much.

“You know…” You say, putting down Hala’s leather armor, which you’re finally enchanting with the [Sigil of Endurance]. “I might not loan you Bubs for your, ‘intensive training’ if you’re going to try and hurt him like that.”

“Sh-shut up you i-idiot.” She says, cheeks heating as she looks away. Hala merely continues to cackle and crawl down from the front seat to sit next to you.

“Aww, the big Paladin is scared of a little rat, hehehe.” She reaches out her furred hand and pats the rat on the head. In return, she receives a small bite on the finger for it.

“Owww, fucking shit!” Screams Hala as she stumbles back, falling over the cargo into the wagon and causing quite the mess.

This time, you do start to laugh out loud and even Tabitha lets out a joyful laugh, her mirth melodious and wonderful. It’s a rare treat to hear and everyone in the back joins in as the Wolf Girl sucks on her finger, snickering despite herself.

“Children, do I have to turn this wagon around?” Shouts Blake from the driver’s seat.

“No, DAD.” You say, rolling your eyes and settling back down onto your seat as the chuckling subsides.

It’s about three in the afternoon by Bubs time and the sun is shining bright in the clear sky. Cair is long behind you, with many of its outlying farms dotting the countryside, but you see few traders going down this road. Likely they’d caught wind of the tides of battle and decided to stop visiting the northern areas for their safety. All except for those who are well guarded or their way to Fort Carlsbad.

You’re kind of beginning to sort of maybe appreciate these kind of days. Certainly nothing could beat staying inside with some sweet mountain elixir and a good heated bread pouch while shitweaving on the communion matrix, but well, the warmth of the sun on your skin and the cool winds coming off the mountains is kind of nice.

Finishing applying the sigil, you yell at Hala to take her clothes back. She shrugs them on over a tight outfit of black cloth that Blake had purchased for her before you left town. Secretly you think he bought it because of how well it displays her assets instead of improving mobility. Actually, you know that’s why he did it and you know that’s why she’s excited about it.

Well whatever, it’s supposedly about a four-day trip to the fort, not too bad, so you might as well relish the time on the road. Supposedly it’s just open terrain moving into hills as you make your way to the more mountainous region. While Monsters are more frequent due to the proximity of the Monster Nation, they generally don’t cause TOO much of a fuss due to the fort, which was one of four that guard the northern border.

From what you understand, the forts are large constructs of stone and steel which had weathered multiple Monster Invasions after being built during the Seventh Monster Invasion. While they never actually stopped the Monsters, (especially not Selene) without their early warnings and brave sacrifices, the Invasions would have been much, much worse.

This, according to Blake, is likely why no one wants to be stationed there. Or well, they didn’t want to in the past, but since it’s been so quiet these many years they don’t mind anymore. Yes, every so often they’ll need to go and help a village from a raiding party of Monsters that decide to harvest some husbands or something, but it’s never anything major. 

The wagon jostles as Blake drives the horses off the road for a break. You look out to see a small pool of water out in a field with some trees dotted around it. A few deer, actual deer, not Monster deer, look up as your wagon comes closer. They bolt, leaving the beauty of the pond to your party alone.

As the wagon comes to a stop, you stretch out and yawn before jumping out of the back. Veronica and Tabitha do the same, while Hala hops off the front and starts sniffing about. She looks to Blake and nods, seemingly satisfied that it’s safe. If anything is living out here, it has to be good at hiding its scent.

Blake prepares some snacks, which you decline as you pull out a wonderful heated bread pouch. You casually lean back against a rock and stretch as the others chat. Mr. Ed munches on some grass while Bubs rests under a nearby log, sawing tiny zzz’s.

Ah, so peaceful.

Tabitha looks over to you and cocks her head. “You alright over there Wizard?”

You wave your heated bread pouch after taking a bite. “Yush, all goosh.”

She quirks her lip before shrugging and turning back to the others. For shits and giggles you activate your [Mage Sight] and look about, seeing nothing of interest. Everyone’s humours look good, there’s nothing in the sky but a few birds, yeah. Seems like a good time to get some reading done! You start to look in your bag for a book to read.

Blake recently acquired for you [Defensive Magic: Volume 3] as well as a [Little Scroll of Sigils] which appears to have four new sigil patterns: [Sigil of Reduction], [Sigil of Channeling], [Sigil of Light], and [Sigil of Weight].

Rubbing your chin, you settle upon [Defensive Magic: Volume 2], pulling it out and cracking open the cover.

{Aha!} Shouts Harmony in your head.

You jump a little at the sudden outburst.

{Who wha? Oh…Harmony what the hells was that?} You think back, stilling your heart as you keep from dropping your heated bread pouch on the book.

{I knew it, I knew this place looked familiar!} She says, triumph pulsing from her. {We’re close to where I-Where Harmonius used to live: The Thunderbird domain.}

You look around, seeing the hills and trees all about before looking back to Harmony. {Huh, nice place I guess.}

{Yes! Ah, the days spent soaring through the air, wind on my wings as I flew through the trees, testing my skills against the forest before bursting back into the sky while feeling alive! The feel of prey below me as I swooped down and took it in my talons, feeding my electricity into it, and stunning the creature while showing my dominance!} The staff mentally shudders in your hand, a string of vibrant emotions coursing through her.

And then, as if the floor had suddenly been taken from her, the joy turns to melancholy. {Of course… That was Harmonious, not me.}

You feel a stab of anguish for the staff at that moment. To have the personality and the memories of someone, but to know that you aren’t them, must be its own form of torture. Chaika is likely doing her best to combat that feeling as well. The spirit in the dagger squirms uncomfortably as it contemplates such a fate.

You take in a deep breath before whispering, “Do you ever wish you had a body?”

Harmony goes quiet for a moment before she pulses back, {Don’t ask me such hard questions Wizard, please.}

Nodding slowly, you lean back against the rock. You can’t even imagine what she must go through on even a daily basis. The poor girl, you need to get her mind of that or well, change the subject at least.

{So… What was this about Elves?}

Harmony pauses before puffing out, {Oh. That.} She seems rather angry, but it appears directed at you as opposed to Selene.

{So there I- Harmonious- ugh whatever, was, having a grand old time in the forest when a pack of Elves comes by and decides to use me for target practice with their bows.} She growls, if that’s possible. {I had everything in hand and was about to electrocute them when miss fluffy tails came waltzing in out of nowhere and killed them, then had to gall to say I owed her one.}

{Did you know her before that?}

{Well, yes, everyone knew of the Hunter, but I had only spoken with her on one occasion when the current Monster Lady had summoned all the Queens of various Monster tribes. Selene was agreeable, but so very high and mighty and oooooohhhhh.} The staff seems to fume.

{Did she play with your feathers?}

{She played with ALL MY FEATHERS!} Harmony sends, and you chuckle.

{Yeah, she’s like that. Always the adventurous spirit.} You send, smiling fondly.

Harmony pauses before slowly asking, {What’s your relationship with her anyway? I can sort of infer from your memories but… Do you…?}

You blink, then feel your cheeks redden. {I… Uhm that is… well…}

{Hahaha, the Wizard has a girlfriend!} Jibes Chaika from your pocket. {Big old high and mighty Wizard trying his damnedest not to get raped falls for a doe-eyed cat with too many tails. The irony is palpable.}

{Shut it you.} You mentally snap, cheeks even redder.

{Hehe, I wonder I wonder.} Chaika chides before giggling more. Tuning her out, you rub at your face before standing up and putting away your book. You are just not in the mood for this right now.

Glancing over at the others, you see Blake staring at the Dullahan head while Veronica pokes it with her mace. The head topples over, sending everyone jumping in surprise. Looks like it really is dead. Maybe he should bury it or something? Meh, not your concern. Stretching, you look to the pond and walk over to it, looking down into the shallow depths.

A few fish and tadpoles swim on by, scattering as you draw near. You sigh, looking at your reflection. It surprises you what you see at first. There’s much more worry on your face then you can remember and much more tanned skin. Your hair is immaculate, but something about the reflection makes you feel a sense of melancholy. You feel… lonely? Is that even possible?

You became so lost in contemplation that you barely hear Bubs shout in your head, {Wizard! Look out!}

By the time you turn about, it’s too late. You found yourself pushed by a powerful force as sharp objects dig into your shoulders and PULL you upward.

 

Chapter 127

 

You flail about, legs catching nothing but air as you see the ground below you start to recede. With a shock, you realize that you’re flying! The sharp objects that hold you appear to be talons and, as you look up, you see brilliant blue and gold wings flapping. You struggle to point Harmony at the creature but as you do, you hear an oddly familiar laugh. A jolt of electricity courses through your body, locking your jaw up and tightening your grip upon Harmony as your muscles become taut.

You can only watch helplessly as your party shouts, gathering themselves up in the face of this unexpected threat. Unfortunately it’s too late for them to do much, the speed of whatever has you is too great. As you fly through the skies, you soon lose sight of them as a wall of trees appears under you.

Harmony whispers at you to keep calm, not to panic, and just stay still- something very easy for you at the moment. It seems to you that she’s the one who is panicking, thought there’s nothing you can do anyway as you’re forced to stare at the blurring ground.

So this is flying, eh? Meh, not what you expected.

Soon enough you begin to slow as you approach a hill and you see an opening to a cave in which the creature that held you flies. As you continue to fly through the rather spacious cave you can see various items you wouldn’t have expected to be here. Items such as paintings, chairs, and other fine furnishings. What kind of Monster would go through the trouble of collecting all this stuff? The answer comes to you sooner than you expect as you fly into a large, open chamber.

Thunderbirds, a whole mess of Thunderbirds.

The Harpy-like Monsters, generally moderate to small in stature and curves with blue and green hair and feathers mill about the room lit by holes in the chamber. As you approach, they look up, a nimbus of electricity building around them as their eyes lock onto you with hunger. Looks like you’ve just been taken by them and, to make matters worse, the one holding flies to the center of a large chamber and unceremoniously drops you to the ground, planting a talon on your chest.

You struggle, feeling some sensation coming back as you look up. Your taut jaw goes slack just as Harmony grows dead silent.

Standing above you is a beautiful Thunderbird, her body lithe and perfectly muscled, her blue and gold feathers rustling as she looks about the crowd of chittering Thunderbirds. Her long, golden hair shines in the light of the cavern as the tiara on her head sparkles. You know this Monster, even if you’ve never seen her in person.

“She… she looks just like me… ” Whispers Harmony, still firmly in your hand.

You gulp as the Thunderbird Queen silences the others, her voice so very similar to Harmony’s, yet a little rougher around the edges,

“Look upon me! I have returned, with such riches!”

“All hail Harmonious the IXth!” Shout the other Thunderbirds, their rustling feathers causing a raucous.

“Ah, but did I not tell you that men would come this way soon? The winds are changing my dear flock, and soon they will change for all of us!” She raises a wing, “Husbands for all! Starting with this one!”

She smirks, “But who will be the first?”

They rabble amongst themselves, trying to earn the honor to rape you. You twitch as the Queen lowers her head to you, sniffing. She pulls back and blinks, then looks over to Harmony, cocking her head.

“You, human. Why does this staff of yours smell such?”

“I dung…nguh.” You try to say but, come on.

She sniffs and then looks at the staff before prying it from your hand and staring at the length of black wood with a curious expression. “It smells very familiar. How odd, it reminds me of my mother in a way… yet…”

Her eyes widen and she suddenly appears to convulse. Her mouth twists about in a random, soundless argument, before she closes her eyes and shudders. When she opens them again she looks about, a confused look on her face as she regards the staff in her wings.

You stare at the odd behavior, rather concerned as one of the Thunderbirds speaks up, “Milady, are you well?”

Harmonious blinks and then slowly nods her head, her mouth moving silently before she shakes and speaks, her earlier roughness gone, “Y-yes! I am quite well! Merely overcome with joy, for it has been too long since a man has been had.” She shrugs, looking a little nervous for some reason. “I am sorry, but I will be taking this man to my chambers. But do not despair sisters, your time is soon!”

The audience groans their disappointment before nodding in agreement at the Queen’s decree. The Thunderbird picks you up again before looking about and flying down a large tunnel. It’s a short flight before you reach a section of cave curtained off by torn, red cloth. She flies you inside before tossing you onto a plush, red bed, which must have been a pain to fly up here.

Harmonious looks at the entrance and then sighs, “Good, looks like they aren’t following for now.”

“Wha… Are yug gun do ta muh?” You ask with some effort, struggling to figure out a plan to get out of this mess with your virginity intact as your muscles start working again.

The Thunderbird queen blinks and then looks taken aback. “Wizard, don’t you recognize me? It’s me, Harmony!”

You blink, which is actually a conscious effort at the moment, before you slur out,

“Vhut?”

 

Chapter 128

 

Harmonius, or Harmony, or whoever it is, seems startled at your response before looking at herself and then blushing.

“O-oh! Right, the body uhm.” She rubs at her hair with one of her wings, the feathers discharging a mild amount of electricity. She squirms a little, obviously looking a little awkward as she moves the staff still held in her wing.

“Well… You see, I think I might have taken control of her body?”

Your eye twitches reflexively, whether in reaction to what she said or the current in your body, you don’t know. More and more sensation return to your limbs with every passing moment and your arm starts to move with conscious effort. Guh, is this what it’s like to be Harmony or Chaika? Conscious, but unable to move? This really, really sucks.

“I can tell by your expression that you’re confused, uh, let’s see.” She places a wing to her temple and closes her eyes, thinking. “So, I was panicking a little when you were captured- I’m sure you could tell.”

“Uhn hun.”

“And when I saw her I mean, come on, imagine my surprise to find a granddaughter! And one who looks just like me!”

“Uhn hun.”

“When she grabbed the staff, I felt a…” She rolls a wing, “A connection with her. I can’t really explain it, likely it’s because I’m made of the spirit of her grandmother, so maybe it’s some kind of… blood connection.”

“Buh Harmonah, you ain got no blooh.”

“Ugh, I know!” She says discharging electricity in an arc around her as she huffs, frustrated. “If… the spirit of a powerful Monster can be imprinted onto something, like with me, then maybe… It can be imprinted back?” She looks a little skeptical of this herself. “I didn’t switch bodies with her or anything, I’m just sort of… here? She’s here too, and she’s kind of mad, not that I can blame her but…”

She lifts a wing and shrugs, her face only a little chagrined. “It’s a body! Just like I remember… Harmonius… having.”

You groan and slowly, ever so slowly, push yourself up to a sitting position. Harmony gasps and rushes over, bending down to help. You can feel the soft crackles of electricity tingling up your spine through your robes. Oddly enough, the stimulation helps you feel looser. Giving a forceful sigh, you look over at Harmony, freezing when you realize her face is right next to yours.

You both look into each other’s eyes for a long moment before you break away, cheeks red. Harmony continues to watch you before looking down and fidgeting.

“Uhm. Hey, listen…” She whispers, fidgeting a little more before continuing, “I never realized how warm you are.”

You feel a pang of fear and… sadness? In your heart at those words. Looking back to the Thunderbird, you see her blushing, her face turned downward. You study her for a moment before gulping softly and breathing out, “Harmony…”

She looks back up and swallows, face even redder in the soft light of the chamber. “It’s just something I noticed is… all.” She chuckles, although it sounds melancholic, “It’s something you don’t get to notice as a staff, even when you hold me all the time. It’s… comforting to feel your strong arms and warm hands for myself.” She puts down the staff and gently touches your arm with a wing, sending minute, relaxing currents through you.

You look away and shift your legs in an awkward motion. You’re surprised to find that they respond to you so readily. Good, you need to be able to move and move quickly- there’s no telling what could happen if you linger here. Grunting as you try to stand, Harmony gently sits you back down, clicking like a mother hen.

“Hey hey, take it easy! You’re still a little paralyzed. Apparently they don’t teach restraint to these young ones.”

“Nhf… Yeah, I guess.”

“Well at least it sounds like you can speak okay again.”

“Looks like it, but what are we going to do to escape?”

“Escape? Oh, right you’re a prisoner of…me?” She cocks her head before frowning. “I don’t think they’ll take kindly to me just running out with you, and I don’t think you can fight them on your own, not that I’d want you to, they are my people after all.”

“That does make things difficult.”

“Well, you could always just stay here I guess, with uhm.” She cuts off and shuffles her feathers.

You close your eyes and then slowly pick up the staff, which you feel to be inert. In this form it’s basically a hunk of wood. It’s pretty, but ultimately only good for clubbing something. Standing up, you brush Harmony off, not allowing her to finish the thought. It would be too painful, too dangerous for her to do so.

“We’ll have to sneak out then.” You say as you take a step, trembling as you support your weight on the staff. Harmony moves to help and you nod at her with gratitude. This causes her to beam in pleasure so you ask,

“You know a way?”

“Well, of course, I lived in these caves and-” She cuts off mid-sentence and looks around for a moment before shaking her head. “And…anyway, it shouldn’t be too hard to get out. Besides, Bubs is leading the others to you, right?”

You cock your head at her pause but decide to drop it as you concentrate. The distance between you is great, but you feel a deep urgency from Bubs that’s slowly getting closer. You nod your head in the affirmative.

“Yeah it looks like the little guy is leading the charge.”

{Yes that’s wonderful and all, but can you two lovebirds please get moving? It’s revolting to watch you prattle about and the little birdy only has a limited time in that body.}

You look down to your pocket from where Chaika had spoken and realize that your connection to Harmony is lost at the moment, or else she’d have heard the dagger. Realizing Harmony isn’t in your head anymore makes you feel a cold emptiness, like a piece of you had been taken away. It’s strange- really, really strange.

“What do you mean, limited time?”

{You can feel it can’t you? The bird-brain is being rejected, dragged back into the staff. She’s not supposed to be in that body and she’s going to be spit out. It’s obvious to even me and I don’t even have eyes, or else I’d roll them.}

“Well, what are we supposed to do then?”

{Do?} Chaika seems amused, {You don’t ‘DO’ anything but get your ass out of here before the real Harmonius knocks you on said ass again. Personally I’d rather not be stuck here, unfinished, while you’re raped for the rest of your life.}

You take in a deep breath and look to Harmony. She blinks, a question on her face as she dances from talon to talon. Watching her happy expression tears at your heart. You can’t tell her that she’ll go back to the staff, not just yet anyway. Bottling it up, you nod to her and say,

“Alright let’s go.”

 

Chapter 129

 

Harmony peeks her head out of the curtain, looking around cautiously before nodding back to you. The both of you move through the caves, the raucous sound of Thunderbirds echoing around as you slink about. You move at a dreadfully slow pace, mainly due to your lingering paralysis.

The two of you stop when Harmony feels another Thunderbird and drags you behind a large tapestry depicting a regal Thunderbird fighting a black clad Succubus. Not certain who could create this, but you feel there may have been a weaver who lived here once.

Once the danger is past, you continue down the hallway. Harmony seems a little distracted though, and occasionally seems bewildered before continuing on.

“Are you alright?” You whisper to her as you look around a corner.

“Yes yes, I’m just… getting used to having flesh again, is all.”

“I see.” You say, knowing the real reason.

“Come on, there’s nothing to worry about, this back way out is-” She stops as a loud screeching sound echoes down the hallway.

“The man has taken the Queen! The man has taken the Queen!”

Cursing, you start to run, but Harmony drags you into a small side tunnel, closing a curtain as a furious flapping of wings and the discordant discharge of energy flies around you in the caverns, searching for you and the Queen.

You exhale slowly as the nervous energy rushes out of your body. “I think that should be safe for now, thanks for the uh-” You cut off as you realize your position.

She pulled you tight into herself and her soft, smooth skin presses against your body, your hand feeling around her waist. Your mouth is mere inches from hers again and your eyes go wide as you feel a soft rustling within you. Harmony notices your position too, but she makes no move to pull away. Instead, she holds you firm as she searches your eyes, her breath growing heavy.

“Hey…”

“H-hey” you reply as you start to sweat a little.

“When we first met I always sort of… felt something.” She presses her breasts against you. You can feel their soft weight on your chest and your heart pumps faster in reaction as your nether region stirs.

A gentle current rolls down your back as her wings envelop you. The tingling pleasure mingles with your nervousness, spiking both of them to new heights as her hot breath plays across your face.

“I know it’s not right, but please… just something… anything…” She whispers, her smooth, luscious lips moving. She looks into your eyes and you see a barely contained beast, ready to let loose the emotions raging inside her.

You take a careful, shuddering breath as you look the panting Thunderbird in the eyes. This is a dangerous, very dangerous situation. Harmony is normally a very controlled, very reasonable soul, but she’d never truly tasted the fruits of the flesh, never felt the passions of being a Monster. This… transfer had brought all these feelings to her shockingly fast and, coupled with what you fear is a little more than admiration, well…

Well.

“Harmony…” You say slowly, not resisting her embrace as more electricity tingles through you.

“Wizard…” She breathes as she draws closer to you.

“Wait.” You say, a little rushed. She nuzzles you, her warm breath mixing with the tingling electricity, creating a blissful harmony of sensation that sends a shiver down your spine.

“Harmony, we can’t… I can’t.”

“Why not?” She says, head buried in your neck “I know about your powers, how they work… but surely, surely just a little…”

You inwardly groan. You have to do something, and quick, or this will get out of hand. So you do the only thing you can.

“Alright Harmony, close your eyes.” You whisper.

She pulls her head up from you and smiles, slowly closing her eyelids, her delicate lashes fluttering as she does so. Her face turns up ever so slightly and she parts her lips as a tremor runs through her body, discharging a small amount of electricity that makes you twitch.

Still, you take a deep breath and ready yourself. This will be incredibly dangerous, but you have to do it. In a slow, deliberate motion, you embrace a Harmony back, using your strength firmly, but delicately, and move your lips to her head-

To plant a kiss gently on her forehead.

Harmony gasps and looks up at you, but you move your head to be near her ear as you embrace her. She begins to speak, but you whisper over her. “I’m sorry Harmony, that’s all I can give you.”

The Thunderbird trembles and you hear her mutter, “Why?”

“Harmony, you’re a dear friend, and a treasured ally. Your knowledge, your skill, your personality… all of it makes you very special. You’ve even saved my life on multiple occasions in the short time we’ve known each other. But I can’t do this, and deep down you know why not.”

She embraces you tighter and you hear her begin to cry, “It’s that cat, isn’t it? Selene?”

You pause before answering, “She… is part of it, yes, but Harmony, you have to see that my powers, our relationship only works should I retain them. Should I lose the Wizard gift… then we will be nothing again.”

You stoke her long, golden hair before continuing, “I suppose I always sort of knew how you felt. Maybe it was because of your isolation, I know you must have been lonely, sitting there on a shelf, year after year.”

“It was awful…” She mutters.

“Aye, I know. But Harmony, we must accept who we are. Do you understand?”

She sniffs, rubbing her face into your shoulder, “I don’t want to go back… I want to move! To live!”

“At the expense of her life?”

Harmony freezes, gripping your back before slowly letting go and sighing, “No, of course not.”

“Harmony, I know it can’t be easy for you, but you have to go back to the staff. I suspect it’s already pulling you back, and Harmonious’ body is rejecting you.” You let go of her and she offers little resistance as you lift her chin, seeing her eyes red and puffy from crying. Gods, these women and their looking cute in their tears.

“Even if you’re in the staff, even I can’t be what you want me to be, I still value you. You’re very important just as you are. I still need your help.” You smile softly, “Can you do that for me, Harmony?”

Her mouth twitches and she blinks a few times, using a wing to wipe at her face. Somewhat successful, she gives you a resolute look and nods sharply before smiling.

“You’re right Wizard, I got caught up in the situation. But I must be who I am. If that means giving up this body  to continue being your staff, then so be it.” She looks down, blushing. “At least I got something.”

You beam and rub her head before looking behind you. “We still need to get out of here somehow. They’re flying around outside and someone is bound to check in here sooner or later.” You grunt, “And if they see you running with me, it’ll make life hard for Harmonious.”

Harmony wipes at her face again before thinking, “Well… they expect that you’ve kidnapped me, yes? Why not give them what they want?”

 

Chapter 130

 

A few minutes later you look out from beyond the cloth covering and nod to Harmony. Only a few of the Thunderbirds are out there, and they’re passing the other side of the cave. Harmony says there’s an exit nearby that you can use to get out, then blend in through the trees with your Biomancy until your party comes by. Easy, right?

You take in a deep breath to ready yourself, then grab Harmony and dash off down the tunnel. The Thunderbird does her best to struggle against you, throwing up electricity as she’s pulled down the tunnel. It isn’t anything more than a light show, which is nice, but damn does it make a racket. Her screaming doesn’t help matters either. It does, however, make things much more believable and when a swarm of Thunderbirds appear, well you can tell that acting might be a good second career for you.

The exit to the cave tunnel appears in front of you as you turn a corner. It’s maybe about twenty feet away but you’re forced to stop as Thunderbirds come close. Cursing, you place [Wightsbane] to Harmony’s neck. Chaika does not stop fussing about you picking such an outdated model over her sleek and sexy new form, however. You ignore her before addressing the Thunderbirds.

“Not anuva Gods damned step ya hear? Ya take one little bird foot forward and I gut the pretty lady eh?”

“What’s with the accent?” Harmony hisses as you press on her neck.

“I thought I’d do some acting.” You say out the corner of your mouth.

“I swear to the Gods…” Harmony mutters before crying out, “Damn you, you thrice begotten bastard!”

Now who’s acting? You think as you roll your eyes internally. You press the dagger closer, “Now then, I means to leave here, an if you’re good about it, the little queenie here keeps her pretty neck unslit, ya hear?”

One of the Thunderbirds takes a step closer, electricity crackling. “You bastard! I’ll kill you for this!” She screams before sending a jolt of electricity at you.

You stand perfectly still as the bolt slams into something invisible in front of you. The bolt crackles and pops before dispersing into nothing. The Thunderbird takes a step back, incredulous as you laugh.

“Ah, lookit that queenie, yer little chicks think they can urt me eh?” You chuckle before slapping your chest. “See, she got the drop on me, that’s true, but I’m prepared, and slipped on a potion of electricity-repel when she was getting all ready to jump my jingles if ya get me drift? Ha, like I’d let some birdbrain near that!”

You hear Harmony growl in irritation, knowing full well she dispersed the magic and you quickly get on with it. “Right well then, I’ll just be going.” You say as you start to walk backwards. “And don’t any of you louts try to get behind me none, ya hear? I’ll slit er I will!”

You walk backward at a glacial pace. Every step you take, the thunderbirds take one as well until you’re about ten feet from the opening. Things seemingly going well, you whisper to Harmony,

“Thanks for the save back there, anyway almost there, you ready to transfer?”

The Thunderbird is silent in your arms.

“Harmony? Hey, Harmony? Come on I need you ready for this.”

“Who do you presume to call Harmony, you carrion bait?” Says the Thunderbird in your arms.

Your eyes grow wide as a tiny voice in your head says, {So, uhm, she kicked me out. Guess I’m back in the staff.} Harmony considers this for a moment. {That’s bad, huh?}

You hiss and push the Thunderbird off you as she sparks with electricity. Taking a few steps backward, you stop as your foot hits the edge of the cave opening. Looking over your shoulder, you see that the opening leads to a sheer drop.

And it’s a long way down.

You look back to Harmonious as the other Thunderbirds rush to her side, squawking and yelling curses at you. Looking between all of them, you then focus on the Queen, gulping.

“Not a fan of a little mischief, eh?”

“You insolent rat!” She howls, power playing over her. “I do not know what foul sorcery to you used on me, but I will shock you so hard the only thing you’ll be able to feel is regret as you’re raped senseless!”

She growls, “And then you will have my permission to die.”

{Oooo, good line.} Sends Chaika, making a mental note. {I’ll have to use that one.}

Taking another look back, you then nod, smirking at the Queen. “Ah, a shame. Well, lovely as it is, I’m afraid I must depart.” You take a step backward and tip your hat. “G’day ladies.”

You fall backward off the cliff to a cacophony of noise. As you fall, you quickly pull out the vial of [Featherfall Potion] you hid in your robes and down it. Your rapid descent suddenly stops and you begin to move to a slow, controlled landing. As you touch down, you exhale loudly before a bolt of electricity smacks the ground next to you.

Cursing, you start running into the forest as the Thunderbirds chase you from their perch. They move quickly, diving down through the trees, and you barely avoid a few more strikes as you cross through the trees and brush, hoping to get far enough away to avoid them. It works well, and the Thunderbirds are soon unable to chase you with their wings through the dense trees. Once you break their line of sight, you throw yourself down and build a hidden wall with [Shield of Thorns].

You pant as you catch your breath, watching from the [Remote Sentry] you placed outside. The birds run and caw, but they pass right by you. Good thing they aren’t the best at smelling or you might be in trouble. Leaning back, you wipe sweat off your brow as you wait for them to leave before meeting with Bubs and the others, who seem to be on the other side of the forest, waiting for you.

{That was a very stupid plan, Wizard.} Harmony pulses, sniffing. {What if I couldn’t defend you? What if I had changed sooner?}

{Harmony, it was your plan…}

{Details, details!} She says, huffing before sighing mentally. {Well, I’m glad we all got out in one piece. Good thing you had those potions on hand.}

{Aye, I know right?} You send, chuckling.

{Hey, Harmony, thanks again for your help back there, and I’m sorry that-}

{Shhh.} She cuts you off, though you get the impression of a smile. {I’m fine Wizard, thank you.} She pauses for a moment and mentally whispers, {Besides, you gave me something anyway, a precious little memory of my very own, thank you.}

{Yeah yeah, that’s all cool and all, but when can we pick you up?} Sends Bubs, a little distant over your connection.

{Soon Bubs, just gotta let the heat die down some.}

{Ah, on the lamb. I remember back in the sewers my father…}

You hang your head and laugh as the other two retainers sigh and then join in while Bubs regales you with another tale of his father, the furious Thunderbirds lighting up the forest with energy as they search for you.

 

Chapter 131

 

The next day you awake to some boring normality, which suits you just fine, and, after trimming and eating, you set off on the trail once again.

Leaning back in the wagon as the morning sun creeps into the sky you sigh, “What do you think will attack us this time?”

“I don’t know, but I’d appreciate you not using me as a foot stand.” Comes an unfamiliar voice.

You jump back, pointing Harmony at the pile of blankets you’re using to rest your feet. The rest of the party also goes on alert as Blake stops the wagon and you nod to Veronica. She slowly draws the blankets back with her mace, revealing the animated head of the Dullahan, who sighs deeply.

“Well that’s not as stuffy anyway, but you really should be more considerate.”

She looks around at all of you, your mouths open, eyes wide. Rolling her eyes, she sighs. “Oh don’t act like you haven’t seen a severed head before, honestly.”

When none of you respond, she frowns. “This is very rude you know, gawking like that.”

“You’ll have to forgive us, but last time we spoke, you tried to drag us to the netherworld with a death screech.” Says Blake, his hand on Lionsedge, ready to draw at a moment’s notice.

The rest of you stand ready as well, weapons drawn. Your mind is focused with Harmony to fire a concussive burst of whatever the fuck will destroy a head. Probably anything really, so you go with fire to make extra sure she’s re-dead.

The head blinks and then thinks for a moment before nodding, which is an odd gesture with only part of a neck. “Ah. Of course, you destroyed my body, that’s right. I recall you planting a boot on my head, which seems to be a theme with all of you. I’m not certain why I’m not sitting alone in a field though.”

You raise an eyebrow at Blake and he coughs into his hand. “Listen, it just felt wrong to leave her there and… I don’t know, maybe I wanted to give a proper burial or something after the plaguebearer and Victoria and- ugh.” He scratches his head as he tries to justify it.

She puffs, “Well, anyway, you seem to be quite alive, and I seem to be bodiless- quite the miserable existence.”

Harmony agrees, but remains focused, your will coursing through her. You grit your teeth and ask, “How are you alive or, whatever you are, without a body?”

“Magic, of course.”

“That’s not an answer.” You growl.

“Isn’t it, Wizard?” She replies, looking directly at you. “But I suppose it is due to the nature of my existence. I am bound to a body, yet able to separate from it so easily. When one dies so should the other, hence the death screech.” She considers for a moment.

“Of course, I’ve never heard of a screech being so rudely interrupted, stranding that which sustains my head in this world while that which animates the body is reclaimed back into Nerg’s garden.”

You suck in a sharp breath, looking down at the head. “Nerg? The God of plague and death?”

“The one and the same. We Dullahan are his envoys on the mortal sphere after all. A shame that he did not reclaim me into his fold, how lonely.” She looks up at you again, her red eyes rimmed in black peering into your soul. “He’s still quite displeased that you ruined a perfectly good plague from occurring. It would have done much more for him than his dark sister you know.”

“You mean Dollora?” Asks Veronica, gripping her mace.

“Of course.” She looks up and tries to concentrate on something.

Blake looks between all of you and then back to the head. “So, your lord and master sent you here to carry out this plague, but since we stopped you from fully dying…”

“It would seem I am twixt life and death, yes. It is a curiosity, and it seems that I am not dying currently else another screech would occur.”

“What do you intend to do now?”

She considers this for a moment before looking down, then back up. “Not terribly much I can do. It seems I am under your power to do with as you see fit, unless one of you would kindly decapitate yourself. I feel I could create a new body from yours without much trouble.” She looks at Veronica, eyeing her up and down. “Yours looks reasonable, how about it?”

“I should think not!” Says Veronica, aghast.

“Oh don’t be so petty, Nerg would reward you greatly in the hells.” She sighs and looks to the two Monsters, who growl at her. She raises at an eyebrow at you before chuckling when you pull back, aghast, “No, of course not. Very well then, since I do not have a body, and I’m rather drained on energy reserves, I can’t really kill you. I suppose I’m at your mercy.”

{Chaika.} You think, focusing on the dagger blade, {Is she telling the truth?}

{Oh, quite, she’s drained, should barely even be conscious I’d imagine.} She seems to inwardly smirk, {Basically all she’s good for is scaring people and being a portable blowjob device, although I suspect should she get some semen in her, she might be able to use some of her magic again.}

You nod and look to Blake. “I believe she’s telling the truth. She’s harmless unless we supply her with energy.”

“Oh, would you? I’m quite famished actually, I’d extract it myself if you-“

Tabitha calmly plants a scaled foot on the mouth of the Dullahan, who mumbles for a few moments before sighing and staring flatly at the Lizardman. Tabitha just returns the stare. They stay like this for quite some time before Blake coughs in his hand and then claps to get her attention.

“Yes, well then, I suppose since you don’t seem to wish to kill us at the moment, I see no reason to end you again miss…”

Tabitha removes her foot and the Dullahan blows some hair out of her eyes as she shifts her gaze to Blake. “Miss? Ha, well since you asked so politely, I am Delilah.”

You cock your head. “That’s a rather cute name for a specter of death.”

“Thank you.” She says with no apparent emotion.

Awkward silence pervades before Blake coughs in his hand again. “Yes, quite, well, my name is Blake, this is Veronica, Hala, Tabitha, and the Wizard.” He stops and cocks his head. “Wait, you never told me your name-“

You cut him off, “Anyway! Let’s be on our way, shall we? We have plenty of road to cover, yes?”

Everyone looks at you with strange expressions before shrugging and sitting back into position on the wagon. Tabitha places Delilah on top of some supply crates before leaning back and watching the head with a glare. They have the same expression and you’re damn certain they’re moving their eyes to match each other. Women, eh?

{Hey big guy.} Bubs asks, popping out from your pocket. {Isn’t it a little weird to just… I dunno, take her head along with you?}

{Oh it’s really fucking weird, but I don’t think anyone quite knows what do to do with her now.}

Bubs considers this, as if the conversation is perfectly rational. {Still seems odd.}

{Oh hush you flea ridden pest.} Sends Chaika from your pocket. {She can help instruct the Wizard in proper magic now.}

You blink, {Really? You think so?}

{Of course! She can give you the theory and I can-}

{This is another ploy for my semen isn’t it.}

Chaika goes silent for a few moments. {N-nooooo.}

{Damnit Chaika!}

{Bah! It’s not fair! Everyone else to gets to drink semen, and I never get to!} She mentally huffs. {Hells, even you drank some yesterday. I bet it tasted delicious you dirty little slut you.}

You cock your head and then remember- remember that you drank that potion yesterday. A potion made of… semen…

Suddenly you feel sick to your stomach and your face goes white. “Dear Gods, what have I done?”

{You know, I bet if you asked nicely, The Hero would help you out with your new little…} Chaika begins in a mocking tone before trailing off. {Uh, are you okay?}

{Oh confound it you snake, look what you’ve done!} Chides Harmony. {Oh Wizard, you didn’t know, it was only a small amount of semen, it’s fine.}

{What is my life?} You mentally whisper, horrified.

{Oh come on, it’s not so bad. Hells, even I’ve eaten spunk before.} Says Bubs, seeming unfazed.

You and your other retainers focus on Bubs. He cocks his head, confused. {What? I’m a rat who lived in a sewer. Sometimes food had jizz on it, or in it. Not very picky eaters we rats are.}

{Well, thank you Bubs, that was so disgusting I think you broke me out of that.} You say, feeling drained in more ways than one. Ugh, you need to just do something to take your mind off that. Something like… books! You hurriedly take out [Defensive Magic: Volume 2] and crack it open.

The book is, as you recall, about counter magic and shielding. Chapter one is just a droll recap of the first volume: the basics of defensive magic based around circles, yadda yadda… ah! Chapter 2: Counter magic, yeah here we go.

“Counter magic is an essential skill when facing an opponent in a duel. By focusing on the spells they will cast, you may oppose, or even dispel their attempt before it can be cast. This is no small feat to do in the heat of combat however! A basic grounding in the fundamentals of defensive magic is necessary to understand how one can possibly hope to channel their energies to thwart magic sent against them.

“As we know, magic circles concentrate magic and act as a focal point to attach other magics onto them. A basic circle can cut off the outside world and seal in magic, based on the wishes of the practitioner, but it can do much more based on how the anchors on it are used. In a magical duel, this is highly impractical however and it would shut out the practitioner who used it to be at the mercy of his foe when it goes down. Not a pleasant thing!

“However, a magical circle does not need to be used merely on the ground but can be formed by raw magical force before the practitioner by using mana in aethertic bursts. (See end of chapter for formulae and extraction protocol). By forming a circle midair, it’s power can be used in multiple different ways, such as shielding or counter magic, the focus of this section.

“Once a circle is drawn, anchor points must be formed using mana manipulation. One might question how practical this is, but we assure you, it takes very little time to form a good circle, even in the heat of combat! With the circle, you form a crux of antagonism on the right aethertic suplentario (see figures) for unbinding purposes. Once in place, you may add more reinforcements for particular types of magic, but this is a good foundation.

“To activate the counter spells, simply observe the enemy practitioner’s aetheric signature as they channel their mana to cast a spell. Finding the attunement wavelength is the key. By focusing that wavelength into the circle it will resonate through the crux of antagonism, and cancel the spell out as it is cast. Note however that some spells may be too difficult to counter due to strength or complexity! We recommended dodging those instead.”

You rub your chin thoughtfully. Interesting! Having the ability to counter magic will be useful, although perhaps mental shielding might be better. Still, this is helpful. If you can cancel spells, then allow yourself to attack back, you’ll be unstoppable!

Studying the charts in the back of the chapter, you focus your will before you into what you would normally infuse into a circle. Slowly, a glowing circle of magic appears before you, floating perpendicular to the ground. You blink and then smile, mentally adding in the crux of antagonism and feeling a slight “click” of pressure as it locks into place. Smirking, you lean back and admire your [Counter Circle] as the others watch you with surprise.

“What’s this about?” Asks Veronica, poking at the circle in mid-air, but her finger goes right through it. She frowns and then looks at you quizzically.

“Why this? Oh this is just a simple-“

“It’s an aetheric circle with a crux of antagonism. Crude, but useful in counter magic spells, assuming one can use the appropriate signatures.”

Everyone in the back of the wagon turns to stares at Delilah, who studies your circle before blinking and looking at the others. “What? That’s what it is.”

You cough into your hand and dismiss the circle. “Delilah, I didn’t know you knew so much about magic theory.”

“Of course I do, I’ve been practicing magic for quite some time. It is somewhat of a hobby, although I never used it much, as it was often unnecessary.”

“Well uh…” You say, rubbing at the back of your head. “Is there anything you could teach me.”

“Oh, yes, there is plenty I could teach you.” She says, making no intention to go further.

“Uhm.” You say, looking around in confusion. “Will you teach me?”

“Perhaps. I do not know you well however and proper incentive should be given for services exchanged.”

“That’s very… pragmatic?” You say, searching for words.

“Death is a rather pragmatic job, you see.”

You lean back against the wagon and think about this. Great, you have two Monsters with tangentially dark magic now willing to give you training in exchange for… well, likely it would be semen. What a world, what a world indeed. You feel that this might not be a bad exchange, but something makes you hesitate. You feel drained recently, like you’re unable to concentrate on your Wizardly duties. It hasn’t occurred to you recently, but it feels off… and you don’t seem to mind.

That scares you.

You take your mind off this by starting to carve some wood into a hilt for Chaika. While not nearly as quick or intricate as Selene’s work, you’re getting passable at this! Of course, Chaika’s mutterings about this newcomer trying to take her place is getting annoying, but she probably doesn’t mean it. Chaika probably doesn’t even know all these crazy magical theories, does she?

Nah, she probably just punched everything to death.

You’re about finished carving the last section of a snake tail into the wood when Hala starts growling at something and the cart slows to a stop. Rolling your eyes, you pick up Harmony, moving to the front of the wagon as the others do the same.

“What? You seem as if some common annoyance is present?” Asks Delilah, perplexed.

“Probably some Monster attack.” You sigh, readying your will.

“That hardly seems commonplace.”

“Yeah well, for us, it is.”

In front of a small stone bridge over a coursing river stands a tall, burly-looking Monster with exaggerated hands, feet, and bust. Her shoulders and back are covered in warts, most of them hidden by a short vest and trousers that seem too small for her. Her face is moderately attractive still, as is true of most Monsters, however her short, black hair is matted with mud and she stinks something fierce. Not exactly something you’d want to stick your dick in to be quite honest- Not that you would stick your dick in anything! Wizard and all.

“Halt!” Shouts the Monster in a low, rumbling voice as she raises a large, wooden club. “You’ll go no further unless ya pay the bridge fee, ya hear!”

Blake groans and shakes his head as Hala growls.

“Oh, lovely, a Troll. This will be quite the mess.”

 

Chapter 132

 

“Troll.”

You say flatly, staring at the Monster in front of the bridge. Gods, you were trying to find any degree of sexual attraction this Monster has to offer, but it’s rather difficult. The sheen of slime doesn’t help and… bluh.

“Aye, a Troll.” Replies Blake, sighing as he lets go of the reins. “Not overly common but they love to extort people, and it’s not always money they go for. Usually it’s goods, or occasionally people, but it’s hard to say no. Damn things have thick hides and can regenerate. Tough creatures.”

“Yes yes, that’s fine, but you did say it was a TROLL, right?”

Blake looks at you with an odd expression. “…Yes, that’s what I said. Why?”

You stand up on the wagon and stretch before hopping down, throwing up some dirt under your boots. Taking in a deep breath you appreciate the afternoon sky. What a day, right? No clouds, sun shining, slight chill in the air? It’s nice.

“Uhm. Wizard, what are you doing?” Asks Veronica, a little confused. “You do know that Trolls are magically resistant, right?”

“No, I did not.” You say, mildly concerned, but keep up a straight face. “But I don’t need magic to deal with a Troll.”

“Are you sure? Because you’re not much of a close quarters fighter, and I doubt that-“

You flash her a quick, devious smile. “Oh, dear Veronica, trust me, I know how to deal with Trolls.”

As you take a step forward, you hear Veronica muttering behind you with some acid, “Dear?”

The Troll considers you and then slaps her club in her hand before rumbling out, “So, you gunna pay the toll, or I gots to break some legs?”

You cough into your hand before putting on your best poker face. Little does your party know, but you have years of training against trolls. It’s a skill you thought would have no practical applications, but damn it, you learned anyway. And now it’s all going to pay off.

Worse comes to worse, you could just obliterate her or something- it’s not like you don’t have options.

“Good day miss, I see you’re collecting tolls today.”

“Of course I am ya idjit, what are ya, daft?”

“Oh of course not, of course not, I was merely confirming, but say, what exactly are you charging?” You say, holding up a hand in a sign of peace.

She huffs, “It’ll be all yer food, or…” She considers for a moment before pointing at the cart. “Him.”

You turn back to see Blake blinking in confusion, looking down at his chest before blanching. The three girls immediately take defensive positions, protecting the good ol’ Hero like guard dogs. Well, Hala might actually fall into that category, but you let that simile slide for her.

Pretending to ponder this for a moment, you make an overt show of considering your options. “Goshes, our food or our Hero? Tough call, tough call.”

“I could also break yer legs.”

“Mhm, you could also do that, that’s true.” You say, rubbing your chin. “But you know… I think you’re selling yourself short here.”

The Troll blinks, clearly confused by your response. “What ya talkin’ about?”

“Well, I mean, look at the situation here: You’re guarding the only bridge in the area over a river making its way to a very important fort. And you’re what, asking for food and men?” You shrug your shoulders and raise an eyebrow, “Clearly, you could ask for much more.”

The Troll considers this. “Eh… You may be right. I always feel like I’ve been selling it a little short, although ain’t too many people been through here since I set up shop.”

“Well of course I’m right!” You say, puffing up your chest. Briefly you notice the confused expressions behind you, Blake putting a hand to his face while the others stare, dumbstruck. They can’t understand your plans, how could they? Ah, normies.

“Well then, I could also ask for clothing, make meself a new outfit…” The Troll says, leaning on her staff.

You shake your head, “No, no, you’re still thinking too small.”

“Wut, ask for two men? That’s just silly.”

“No! You have to think of the big picture!” You say, exasperated.

The Troll narrows her eyes. “Big picture eh?”

“Yes, the big picture. Think about it, what happens if the people you’ve been taxing just up and build a new bridge?”

She thinks about this for a moment, “Then I’d have to…tax that bridge?”

You roll your hand gently and she thinks it through further, “But…if I’m there, then I’m not… here?”

“That’s right, and that would be…?”

“Bad for business!” The Troll says, roaring and picking up her club in an angry gesture.

You internally smirk. She took the bait, oh what fun! Harmony mentally sighs while Bubs and Chaika look on in rapt interest at the beginnings of your ruse. If everything goes as planned, then the cruise should begin shortly…

“Yes, indeed! Can’t be letting those dirty merchants get your goat, hmm?”

“Hells no! I already killed three goats for this bridge as it was!”

“Of course, you DESERVE this bridge and the rights to tax it. If force can’t secure your future, then I believe there’s really only one choice.”

“What?”

“The Union.”

The troll looks at you flatly and you hear an audible groan from Blake. Bastard better not fucking ruin this or you’re going to rip his damn head off his shoulders. With magic of course.

The Troll looks positively puzzled as she scratches her head. “Un…ion? The fuck’s that?”

You hold your arms open and make a large, sweeping gesture. “Only the most important thing for hard working Bridge-Trolls like yourself! I’m quite surprised you’ve never heard of it.”

“Well, it’s pretty quiet up here…” She says, looking abashed and blushing some.

Gods it’s too easy.

“Well shame on us then.” You say, shaking your head.

“Us? You don’t mean-?”

You quirk and eyebrow and pull out your [Centaur Princess Charm], showing it off like it’s a badge of office. “That’s right, you’re looking at a bonafide Bridge-Troll Union inspector.”

“Woah, that’s-wait a second.” The Troll says, frowning. “Wouldn’t a Bridge-Troll inspector be a Bridge-Troll?”

“Well of course not!” You say, huffing like this is obvious. “All the Trolls are busy with their bridges! What, would you have a Troll NOT guard her bridge?”

“N-no, of course not…”

“That’s right!” You say, pointing at the Troll. “We’ve heard of your fine work and the top women decided it was time to see if you qualify for this prestigious organization.”

“Who?” The Troll asks, confused.

“Top. Women.” You say, nodding your head with grave confidence. Once more you hear groans from the wagon. The Troll looks over at them, causing your heart to speed up.

“Don’t mind my associates, they are merely retainers to handle the menial tasks so that we may focus on more important matters, such as meeting such glorious Trolls as yourself miss…”

“Trugbol.”

“Ah, yes, of course, forgive me, I see so many trolls you see miss Trugbol.” You smile widely, “But this isn’t about me, this is about you.”

“Right, right.” She scratches at her head again. “And what is this again?”

“Joining the Union of course!” You say, rolling your eyes.

“What’s in it for me?”

“What’s in it for? What isn’t in it for you?” You gasp, taken aback. “Honestly, it almost seems like you don’t want to be part of this Union.”

She blinks and stammers, straightening off her club, “No, no, I’m listening, sorry.”

You huff out, “That’s right!”  Gulping, you walk up to her and accidently taking in a whiff of her stench.  It’s like rancid sewer cheese. Bubs confirms this is the case.

You contain your vomit and whisper, “You see, I’m afraid I can’t speak about all of our benefits when my associates are listening, I’m sure you’ll understand.”

The Troll looks back over at your wagon and frowns. “That important, eh?”

You nod, a serious expression on your face. “Yes, very important.”

“What we do about them then?”

You rub your chin and look at them, then the bridge. “Hmm, we’ll have to have them move that wagon, otherwise they’ll just be too close.” You point to the other side of the bridge, “That should be far enough.”

“But that’s-“

“Do you want to join our prestigious and amazing organization and secure your economic and romantic future or not?”

The Troll blanches and takes a step back, your ferocity putting the fear of Solos into her as she raises her hands in surrender. “Oy, oy, sorry, sorry! It’s just… well… you know, letting them through without the toll…”

You smile and raise your hand to slap her back amicably, then think over this situation. Your eye twitches as you play through multiple possibilities of touching the Troll and your mind starts to recoil at the thought. The word “moist” plays in your mind over and over and you just… settle for tapping her with Harmony, the staff protesting at the squelching noise it makes.

Returning a smile to your lips you say, “Right you are, thinking about the toll. I can tell you’re quite the business-minded sort, perfect for the Union.” You sigh, “Of course, we still have to move them…”

The Troll looks back and forth between you and cart and then nods slowly. “Alright, alright.” She raises her voice, “Oi! You! Move that damn contraption to the other side afore I break ya!”

Your party looks dumbstruck, their jaws hanging open as the Troll makes her proclamation. You look between them and make a minute gesture conveying your heartfelt feelings of, “By fucking Solos, move the damned wagon or I swear to all that is holy I will shove shit so far into your shoes that you’ll be picking corn out of your toes for a week.”

They seem to get the message as Blake hurriedly starts the horses in motion, crossing the bridge. As they pass, Hala gives you and incredulous look of, “What the fuck?”

Just ignore it, just ignore it…

“HEY!” Screams the Troll, making you jump a little and the cart halt abruptly as it crosses the bridge. Blake slowly peers around the side of the carriage, looking concerned. The Troll growls and you begin to sweat as she takes a firm stance, holding her club in both hands. Slowly, you begin to raise your staff, preparing to channel magic if she makes any threatening gestures.

“Now then! I don’t want you causing any trouble over there eh? And no listening! It’s a private conversation!”

Blake blinks and looks down, before looking back up and waving a hand. “O-okay!”

“That’s right!” She says, chuckling and turning back to face you, “Showed them who’s boss, eh?”

You quickly pull Harmony behind your back and put on a wide smile, wiping sweat off your brow. Oh that scared you, but she’s an idiot it seems, so phew.

“You sure did! Well done!” You say, coming back to your false face. “Well, then, now that they’re out of the way, let’s talk about your dues.”

“Dues? What dues?” She says, confused. “You never said anything about no dues.”

“Well, tell me, how do you think all the members of this organization keep such a magical support staff to come around and keep your interests first?”

“Magic?” She asks, quizzically. “You do sort of look magical.”

You blink and look at your staff and robes. “Oh? This? No, pff, ha, magic? Me? Nooooo. This is my walking stick and these are just formal robes, pff, magic.” You chuckle, “No, see, the true magic is legislation.”

The troll looks concerned as you continue, “You see, taking the support of our wonderful Bridge-Trolls, we work to make certain that the human rulers AND the Monster Lady do not infringe on the rights of members. It can be costly, certainly, but what are your rights, no, your livelihood, worth to you?”

The Troll considers, “Well, I mean, this is what my mother did, and that’s how she met pa, but I ain’t had such luck…” She seems crestfallen at this and you seize upon the opportunity.

“That’s the beauty of the Union! Together, we can assure you that since no one will interfere with YOUR bridge, a husband will literally fall into your lap!” You smirk, “Not to mention the riches that come your way when you’re in the Union. If people use your bridge and don’t pay the proper toll? Why we can litigate! You will have the full protection of the law!”

Her eyes twinkle. “The law?”

“Aye… the law.” You smile widely, “And all it will cost you is five. Gold. Coins.”

The Troll’s eyes go wide and she gets a giddy expression on her face. “That’s all? Phah! I have that in spades! Hold on.”

She moves to the bridge and ruffles at something under before pulling out a pouch of coins. Your eyes go wide as she lifts out a large amount of coins of all colors and takes five golden ones from the pile before tossing the rest back in. Damnit, you should have asked for more.

She trundles back up and plops the coins in your hand. You stare at them, surprised. “Uh… I uhm, err, yes!” Coughing, you pocket the coins, “Yes perfect! Oh that will do nicely, yes. Well then I suppose all we have to say now is…” You take a deep breath,

“Welcome to the Union!”

The troll seems absolutely giddy and she does a small dance before clapping her hands together. “So, when do my benefits start?”

“Well, right now of course!” You say as you start to walk toward the bridge. “I’ll need to relay this to the head office, but you rest assured, if anyone gives you sass, just say that you’re in the Union.” You smirk, “And you’ll have the law on your side.”

The Troll beams behind you as you start to cross the bridge, hurriedly trying to get to the wagon. As you step across you hear a thundering sound behind you and you flip about, just in time to see the Troll charge into you, her mass taking you off your feet before pulling you into a crushing embrace with her burly arms.

You try to cry out, but your lungs are on fire as she starts crushing your chest. Oh Gods, did she find out your ruse? Is this how you die? Crushed to death by a Troll? Honestly that’s always sort of how you thought you’d die, just with communion trolls. The irony is palpable.

“Oh thank you! Thank you for this!” You hear the Troll say. Your mind suddenly stops from the surprise. Huh? What?

A moment later she lets go and you fall to the stones of the bridge, gasping for air, covered in the muck of slime of her skin. You feel like the swamp just walked up to you and rubbed its sweaty breasts on your mouth. It is…not pleasant.

You cough as Blake helps you stand up, hand on his sword, watching the Troll as she chuckles. He lowers his hand slowly as she walks away, giggling about how she’s going to get some. Everyone looks at her, then to you, and you groan, mouth filled with Troll-sweat,

 “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

 

Chapter 133

 

A few hours later you’re sitting around the campfire, your robes drying after a vigorous washing. Blake stirs the pot as usual as the sun goes down the horizon while the others take care of their weapons. Except Hala, because she doesn’t understand the importance of proper cleaning yet, much to Tabitha’s annoyance.

Hala looks up at you as you work on carving the handle again, and you look up, staring back at her. She asks without preamble, “So what the hells did you do back there anyway?”

“Oh, you know.” You say, going back to carving, “Just trolled the Troll.”

“What does that even mean?” Asks Blake, tasting the soup. “We could have payed that toll you know, saved the trouble.”

You point your whittling knife at him as you study a detail you’re making. “Don’t feed the Trolls. That’s rule number one.”

“But you just said you trolled the…” Starts Veronica, to which you rolls your eyes.

“I don’t expect you to understand.” You sigh. Normies

Everyone goes quiet at that and you look up to see quizzical eyes on you. You look back and forth between them and frown.

“What?”

Hala smiles and leans back, staring at the sky. “You’re really weird, you know that?”

You blink, a little taken aback before you see Tabitha smirk, followed by a snort from Veronica. Soon all of them are giggling and you can’t help but smirk and look down, face heating up. It’s an odd sensation for you, but one that warms you up inside, combating some of the chill in the night air.

Dinner is soon eaten and afterward you find yourself on first watch along with Hala, who lays on the grass, flicking fingers at little insects as she tries to keep herself from being bored. It’s failing, you know, but whatever, you have time to kill and, despite your wards being up, someone has to pay attention.

It’s been awhile since you’ve had the chance to be on night watch, so you stretch out, watching the stars and thinking about things, such as-

“Wiizzzzaaaaarrrrddddd.”

The sound echoes through your head like the soft breeze of the night wind. Your spine shudders at the sound. No, you aren’t listening to this. You go back to staring up at the night sky.

“Wiiiiiizzzzzaaaaaarrrrdddddd.” The sound comes again, longer, more intense. You feel your ear twitch as it catches the noise upon it, transferring the sensation to the rest of your body. Closing your eyes, you try again to ignore the sound, but it’s difficult, so very difficult.

“Wiiiiiiiiiizzzzzzzzzzzaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrdddddddd.”

You snap your eyes open and turn your head slowly to the right, your flat expression directly coming to Hala’s, which is mere inches from your own.

“Hi.” She says cheerfully.

You groan and rub at your eyes before sighing, “What is it Hala?”

“I’m booorrreeeeddd.”

“You do remember what happened the last time you did this, right?”

She cocks her head, trying to remember before making a disgusted face. “Oh, that. Well, fine, okay.” She thinks for a moment, “Hey, hey, tell me about that cat you like.”

You blink a few times, clearly taken aback before you push yourself up taking your time to try and think of a way out of this. By the Gods, she does not give up, does she? You grumble and rub at your cheek before sighing.

“She’s got tails and they’re very fluffy.”

“Aaaaaannnddd?” Hala asks, eyes twinkling in the starlight

“And… she has lovely hair.” You mumble thoughts drifting to Selene.

“Aaaaaaannnddd?” Hala presses, smile on her face.

“And…her eyes sparkle like emeralds, especially when she laughs, but they’re still beautiful when she cries too…” You begin, not even aware that you’re continuing as you imagine her in your mind’s eye. “But she’s normally got this glint of daring adventurism, as if the world is one big game to her, one which she strives to enjoy herself in.”

A soft smile comes to your face, your expression a world away as you continue, “Of course, she knows when it’s time to separate play from work, and when she does, she’s strong, very strong, despite her slim frame. To see the determination in her eyes, it’s… magical, I guess.”

You sigh, leaning on your elbow as you gaze out at the stars. “Her embrace is firm, but gentle, and her warmth is so comforting that you could just melt into her. And when she smiles, oh when she smiles!” You say, voice picking up some as you get excited.

“And?”

You blink and look back to Hala, who’s pulled her legs to her chest, staring at you with eager enthusiasm. Her tail wags back and forth in a rapid motions as her ears twitch. Surprised, you look about and see yourself in a storyteller’s position, leaning forward, your hands outstretched. You look down before slowly pulling back, your voice going hollow.

“And I think I’ve said too much already.”

Hala’s ears droop and a sad expression plays on her face. “You miss her, huh?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” You grumble, looking away.

“And yet you just described her with perfectly clarity and a smile on your face.” Hala says, lazily waving a finger around. “Kind of sounds to me like you do.”

“No.” You say, standing up. “I don’t want to talk about it, and you don’t either. Remember what I said back in Cair.”

She sighs and rolls onto her chest, lazily stretching out. “Yeah yeah, you’ll destroy me or something. Honestly, you just need to be more free with your emotions and say you love her or something.”

Your cheeks heat up and you snatch Harmony from the ground as you walk back over to the wagon, feeling your body shake. You do not… you aren’t… that isn’t what Wizards do…

You hear a soft chuckle from Hala as she rolls in the grass before you hop up onto the wagon and sit there, running your hand through your hair. Fucking hells, that Gods damned wolf, she makes you so fucking angry. Always with her bullshit with Blake and the drama, and the asking the questions and the…

Rubbing at your temple, you sigh before leaning back. Damn it, you aren’t really mad at Hala, you’re mad at yourself. You’ve been feeling like your Wizardly concentration has been slipping recently and your powers are… Well you’re stronger than you were before this all started, but something is off. You suspect the cause, but you don’t want to confront it. The implications are…

Anyway, you need something else to distract you, something familiar, something… Wizardly. The only answer of course is to boot up the [Port-O-Glass]. You do so quickly in the back of the wagon, a soft light playing over your face in the darkness as the aetheric energies manifest.

Your first adventure is to catch up on your stories, it’s been some days since you last read. Of course, you see with mild annoyance, the Dragon has not yet been waifu’d. Honestly, this story is rather droll, but what can you do? Shitweaving, of course, but that’s merely a short and simple diversion. Once finished, you pour over the information on your usual haunts in mere moments.

Meh, nothing new or exciting, merely some mentions of increased chatter about Monsters, making the supposed “hunters” and “husbands” fight. Honestly, who even let these normies buy a Communion Matrix? All they do is shit it up.

Not content reading other’s ramblings, you decide to do some of your own, weaving a matrix detailing your trolling of the Troll. Within seconds, it fills with incredulous and glee filled weavers who collectively laugh their asses off until one decides that they should go around and actually get all Bridge-Trolls to believe there is a Union. You watch in amazement as everyone gets on board, apparently infatuated with the idea. Hells, one even suggests they go and provide Union benefits!

Clearly, these things will never come to pass, as no Wizard would just willingly leave their home, even for the jolliest of jovialities, but hey, let them dream. You lean back and smile, chuckling softly as the warm familiarity flows through you. Yes, this is life, this is what makes it all worth living. Stretching, you prepare to check on the progress of your work when you hear a low, monotoned voice.

“What are you doing?”

Your spine stiffens and you crane your neck over to look at Delilah, her head sitting upon the same box Tabitha put her on hours ago. You look about and cough softly before asking, “You uh… you’ve been there the-“

“The whole time, yes. Did you really think I’d be anywhere else?”

You rub at the back of your neck. “Aha, well, no, I guess so, on account of the uh-“

“No body, yes, I know.” She says flatly, then shifts to look at your [Port-o-Glass]. “What is that device?”

You blink and lift the item. “Oh, this is a portable Communion Glass, made it myself.”

“And what does it do?”

“It allows me to connect to the Communion Matrix and interact with others who have a Communion Glass.”

Delilah is silent for a moment. “I see. It must be quite the repository of information then.”

You chuckle, “Well, it can be used for that, however not everything is reliable.”

She quirks an eyebrow, “Oh? Really? Someone would do that? Go onto this Communion Matrix and tell lies?”

You shake your head, “Not everyone is a nice person, you know.”

The Dullahan shows a little quirk of emotion at that, the corner of her mouth twitching up. “Really now? I never would have imagined.”

You raise an eyebrow. “Was that sarcasm?”

“Yes, I am afraid I am not terribly good at it, despite Father Nerg’s insistence on cheering up.” She rolls her eyes, “I find our work dreadfully macabre and rather serious, so I never shared the same enthusiasm as some of my sisters.”

You blink and lean back, your glass resting on your lap as you consider the Dullahan. “What’s he like? Nerg, that is. I mean, he’s a God, and you’ve met him, so that’s pretty… impressive.”

Delilah considers for a moment before answering, “While I have not truly met him, he speaks to all Dullahans, for we are intrinsically his creatures. However… Despite his role as the keeper of the dead, he is quite amiable, and is loved by all who inhabit his realm, once they get to know him. Even if they begin afraid and hateful, he loves all of Solos’ children.”

She exhales deeply, “Even if they don’t love him. But he doesn’t seek followers, nor does he grant humans his power, for all will be his in time.”

“What about Monsters? Does he rule over them as well?”

Delilah seems to hesitate for a moment before nodding, or well, trying to anyway. It seems a practiced gesture, if inefficient.

“It’s a complicated question, but the short answer is yes. While most Gods want nothing to do with Dollora, Father Nerg is accommodating to her children as well. Of course, he makes a firm claim that they are his once they enter his domain, regardless of where they originated.”

You muse on this. “So… You’re a Monster, correct?”

“Indeed.”

“But you say that Nerg is your father? How is that possible if all Monsters exist due to Dollora?”

Delilah blinks, taken aback by the question. “Is that what they teach humans? That Dollora created all Monsters?” She shakes her head in another strange motion. “No, no, some such as my sisters and I were made directly from the children of Solos, not those of Dollora. Our ancestors were the souls of the dead, now under the realm of Nerg, brought back to this realm by invoking a similar ritual as Dollora.”

She sighs, “Of course, since he did not create humans, it was imperfect, which is why our heads do not seem to agree with our bodies.”

Delilah looks about and twitches. “It is rather uncomfortable just being a head though, I wish for you to know this.”

“Wait, but you said you were a Monster, doesn’t that imply…?”

“That Dollora also exerts her influence on us? Of course, that is why we have ah…” She trails off, blushing some.

You sigh and roll your hand, “Carnal desires?”

She nods awkwardly, “Yes, those. It’s… disorienting.”

“I…can imagine.” You say slowly, powering off your [Port-o-Glass].  After setting the device snugly back into your bag, you lean forward towards the Dullahan. She glances away from you, clearly still bothered by her dirty thoughts.

“So, you’re telling me that Nerg created his own Monsters, which were tainted by Dollora? You said ancestors, so how did you-?”

She looks back to you and huffs, “I did not say ‘tainted.’ As for my creation, I don’t know. Generally speaking we are not alive, so we don’t necessarily give birth, although I have heard…” She trails off and then shakes her head, serious tone returning, “All I remember is awakening in a grave, a gentle voice in my head telling me to climb out. And so I did.”

You look at her gravely and whisper, “So you were…”

“Yes, a woman named Claire Renwether. I had apparently died in a plague and my vessel was ripe for service by Nerg.”

You inhale sharply from your nose before sitting up straight and swallowing. “That’s-“

“Necessary.” Says Delilah sharply, her eyes hard. “And I do not expect this kind of behavior from a purported Plagamancer. You have all this power at your disposal, all these tools, and what? You use it to make others defecate themselves?”

She sighs and shakes her head. “A waste of time and talent. Nerg truly is disappointed.”

Your cheeks grow hot and you stand up, embarrassed. “I- I’ll have you know I was just saving them, for the right moment to experiment-“

“And when is the right moment? Tomorrow? Next week?” She rolls her eyes, “Time is finite, even for the unliving, and yet here you sit, speaking with a head on a box. Truly, a waste.”

You grit your teeth and start going through your bag, pulling out vials and other equipment. You absently cast a [Privacy Barrier] as you do, to make sure no one hears your work. When finished you also draw a magic circle around you, keeping in the more… airborne particles.

Delilah watches you with a dull expression as you pull out the [Matango Spores], [Swamp Essence], [Arachne Venom], and [Monster Plague]. You put [Victoria’s Head] off to the side as you absently push it out of the way while digging for other, minor ingredients. When it’s all assembled, you stare at Delilah, who merely looks disinterested.

“Well?” She asks.

 

Chapter 134

 

“I… I’m getting to it!” You say, leaning over the ingredients. Okay, so you have some really spooky shit in here. You probably should have left the plague alone, but you can use this as an excuse to destroy it or something. Pulling on your [Plague Doctor Mask], you set up a mortar, which you fill with purified water.

You hear a soft voice in your head from Harmony, {Wizard… This looks like a bad idea, this can get out of hand quickly.}

{It’s fine Harmony, I’m in complete control.} You say, concentrating on what to do next.

She’s silent for a moment, but then whispers, {That’s what Gregory said…}

{Oh shut up you bore.} Interjects Chaika, clearly interested in your work. {Let the Wizard work, he needs his full attention.}

You shake your head, then pick up the vial of [Matango Spores]. You shake it gently before opening the stopper and controlling the flow of spores into the water, where they stay, unable to become airborne as they form a goopy mess.

 Delilah nods her head. “Interesting base, continue.”

You mix in a little [Concentrated Mana Potion] and swirl it about, feeling the power of the Matango spores come back, their apparent dormancy sparked to life by the potion’s spunk.

You then take up the vial of [Swamp Essence] and slowly pour the black soup into the bowl, the material writing and twisting as it comes into contact with the water and spores before slowly disseminating into them. You’re surprised to see the spores being eaten by the essence. Or well, perhaps “eaten” is a bad word. They seem instead to be… merging?

“Ah, yes a curious reaction indeed.” Says Deliliah, clearly interested. “The spores seem to be having an effect on this sample, making them excited, and pliable. They seek a host body now more than ever. I am curious as to what havoc this could-” She cuts off as you then pour in the [Arachne Venom].

Her eyes grow wide and she hisses, “The venom is too potent, it will destroy the creatures, not-” She cuts off again, her eyes going even wider as you smirk.

“Will they? It seems to me that the insulation created by the highly adaptable swamp essence is able to absorb and contain the venom, creating a…” You dip a piece of [Wizard’s Chalk] into the mix and it dissolves nearly instantly. “Very corrosive mixture.”

Delilah frowns. “It seems as if you’ve made what is essentially acid. Hardly revolutionary.”

“Well, you see, I have yet to add the final touch.” You say as you wave your hand again, concentrating on the mixture as you flood power into it. You cast a [Cancer] into the mix, causing the living mixture of Swamp Horror and Matango spores to twist and writhe, fighting your grasp before slowly succumbing as it becomes bloated and twisted, forming a large, black ball as it grows.

You raise your eyebrow at Delilah. “There, now I have a mass of spores that I can infect someone with, then have it dissolve them from the inside out. And I have a ready supply of them handy by mere virtue of inducing a cancerous replication.”

“Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.” You say, sniffing.

“Oh very well done, very well done indeed.” Says Delilah. “Of course, I wonder, how are you going to stop it growing? It’s quite large.”

You blink and look at the mass, then recoil as you watch it start to pull out of your bowl, continuing to grow in size. You flail, trying to control its humours, but in your haste, you accidentally knock over the vial of [Monster Plague] and it rolls into the growing mess, being absorbed into it.

You and Delilah share an expression of shock before you feel a wave of aetheric pressure build from the mass. A low, humming noise sounds before the mass suddenly shifts and grows explosively, engulfing the box it’s on as well as the head of the dead Arachne.

You curse and break your circle, grabbing the thing with the last vestiges of your control over the plagues within, and THROW it outside your privacy barrier. You stare in horror as the mass twists and mutates on the ground, growing even larger as it devours the plant life around it. You hear Hala curse and bound around toward you, followed by furious activity from the other members of your group as they awaken.

Your eyes go wide as something rises from the mass- Victoria’s head. It twitches erratically, the multiple eyes blinking in disjointed waves. The areas of the face which were burnt before are now replaced with a thick coating of black goo that drains down as new, glowing red eyes shine in the missing sockets. From the mouth, a new scream echoes, this time one of pain and agony as the creature writhes.

You look on in horrified fascination as the thing begins to pull itself together, snapping noises being heard as the wood which was broken down before is processed and used to make a makeshift skeleton as the thing forms some semblance of humanoid form. It stumbles on the ground, dribbling ichor as it fails to stand.

By this point you realize Blake is shaking you and you snap back into reality as multitude of voices start to come to you. Veronica, Harmony, Blake, they all want to know what’s happening, want to know what this is. You shakily lift up Harmony and take a deep breath. By the Gods, this thing is an abomination!

You need to destroy it, and fast.

Pushing the others aside, you cast [Fireball], deciding to terminate your experiment before this gets worse. It seems to sense your spell as the power flies at it and the creature melts downward, avoiding the blast. You do the same three more times, failing more miserably each time.

“I’ll handle this thing.” Growls Veronica as she charges forward, mace in hand. Somehow she found the time to get her armor on, which is utterly fascinating in that it should take like half an hour, but good on her. She swings her mace high and slams into it the creature, holy light pouring from her.

As the mace falls down it is arrested mid-air by the simulacrum of a hand, which on contact with the mace, begins to smoke abominably. Veronica’s eyes grow wide before she grunts and pushes more weight onto the mace. The thing cocks Victoria’s spider head and then looks at another arm that forms from its body. A lopsided grin appears on its face before it slams the fist into Veronica’s side.

The Aspirant gasps as she is pushed backward, staggering. The tabard covering her armor is missing a large section, as if it was melted away, but the armor underneath glows bright, it’s holy construction managing to stave off the blow.

“Wizard, what do we do?” Blake asks, readying Lionsedge.

You raise Harmony and grit your teeth, thinking. “Alright, I need you to distract it so I can get a clear shot in.”

Blake nods and barks commands, the three girls covering all directions. The thing stares at all of them, turning its head a full 360 degrees to stare at everyone before it looks directly at you. A lopsided smile appears on it’s face before it makes a wet chuckle and says, “Wiiizzaaard…”

Your blood goes cold as it suddenly forms multiple appendages. None are particularly large or strong, but it’s plenty for the thing to leap past Tabitha, who swings at it with her sword, accomplishing nothing but dissolving her blade before it goes skittering off into the night.

You all stare, dumbstruck at what just happened. A low, polite chuckle comes from behind. All of you turn to stare at Delilah as he shakes, eyes closed. Slowly, she opens them back up and looks directly at you with some semblance of joviality and respect,

“Well done Wizard. Nerg is quite pleased.”

 

Chapter 135

 

You shudder and gather up your robes, cold despite yourself. Harmony looks saddened and terrified while Chaika bursts with joy. You… you just wonder what you had unleashed as the others look amongst themselves, then back to you.

Everything happened so fast that once it was gone, you just stand there, confused. Well, until Blake shakes you back to your senses.

“Wizard! What was that?” Blake asks, staring into your eyes.

“I-I uh, not really…” You mumble.

Blake shakes you some more, “Get it together!”

You push him off you and shake your head. “Ugh, enough, enough!” You say, holding up your hand in a defensive gesture, “Just give me a second to gather my thoughts.”

The others gather around as you rub your head before sighing. “Alright, alright. So that… thing…” You say, waving toward where to scurried off to, “Was an accident.”

“An… accident?” Asks Hala, confused. “What does that mean?”

“It means he made it using magic.” Answers Delilah with a cool smile. “It’s quite remarkable actually.”

Blake scrunches his face and looks at the wagon, sighing. “So, you made something you couldn’t control? What is it?”

“Well, it’s a mix of the Matango spores, parts of the Swamp Horrors, Victoria’s venom, her head and uhm…” You look off to the side and say quickly, “Monsterplague.”

Blake’s eyes go wide and he flares his nostrils. “The plague?! You had some of that? What in the name of the Gods possessed you to keep some?”

“Hey, hey, easy now!” You say, holding up another hand. “It was for study purposes. What if they had made more, or concocted something worse? We may have needed it for study. Besides, it’s inactivated in that thing.” You mutter off to the side, “Probably.”

“Anyway,” you continue in a smooth motion, “I fucked up and it took Victoria’s head. Due to the fact that she’s dead, it probably doesn’t retain much of her memories or anything, but it could, and it appears to be able to change its form. We don’t have time to dawdle here.”

Tabitha nods and steps forward. “The Wizard is right, there’s no use getting mad. Let’s find this thing, or at least warn the fort.” She looks down at the remains of her blade and grimaces, dropping it. “They will need the help.”

Veronica nods to Tabitha. “I concur. If I recall, sister Margurette, another Aspirant, is currently the sacrificial lamb- I mean, current representative of the Order.” Everyone gives her a funny look and she coughs into her hand. “Ah well, you see, she’ll want to know about this. She is far more skilled at channeling the light of Solos than I am, so she might be able to defend against it with proper warning. Of course, she is much more…” She rolls her hand.

“Hardline.”

Blake nods his head and you cock your head. “What does that mean?”

Veronica sighs, “She’ll quote scripture as she caves in the head of a Monster.”

You raise an eyebrow, “And you…?”

She sniffs, “I will quote scripture AFTER I cave in a Monster’s head.”

“Ahem” says Hala, coughing into one of her furred hands. “I hate to interrupt, but don’t we have a thing to hunt?”

Everyone stares at Hala, dumbfounded at her being the voice of reason. She blinks before huffing. “What? Don’t look at me like that, we’re tracking prey, that’s my specialty.”

Blake beams and steps up to her, “So you have a scent.”

“Uhhhhh.” She looks around, then coughs. “Look, it was pretty hectic and I didn’t really get a good chance to.”

Tabitha sighs, “So you didn’t get a scent, and we don’t know where it went.”

You point down the road toward the fort. “Well, it went that way at least, so we have a general direction. Let’s be quick about it.”

Blake nods and barks out commands. You break camp in record time, hitching up the horses and going down the road. Going with just two people like after Delilah would be been foolish, so it’s smarter to take the whole wagon. Besides, the thing might not have gone far, right?

As you start moving you create a [UFT] and send it out to scan ahead of you, but you don’t find much early on. Hala doesn’t seem able to find a good scent either, so you spend much of your time bored and tense, mentally speaking in clipped phrases with Harmony, Chaika, and Bubs.

Each tries to advise you on how to deal with the situation. Chaika wants you to dominate the thing and then turn it loose on your enemies while Harmony advises you to eliminate it. Bubs thinks you should just go to sleep and forget about the whole thing.

Lucky you and your fun filled retainers.

Further down the road Hala calls a halt, and you quickly scan the area with your [UFT] to find… A dead horse, its body partially eaten away. There’s also signs of a struggle in the grass, but no sign of the rider. Hala searches the area as but also turns up nothing.

“Well shit.” You say, looking at the horse with a tired expression. You rub your face and sigh. “Damn thing moves quick.”

“You don’t really think Victoria is…?” Asks Blake, cautiously.

You shrug and look over the horse before cursing. “I hope not, because if it has her intelligence and this body, then we’re in trouble.”

Blake cocks his head and looks over at the horse as well before gritting his teeth. The equine is clothed with simple saddle and tack, but the half-eaten insignia on its saddle is what draws your attention. Showing the colors of the Deleorian military, there’s no doubt that this horses is indeed from the fort, perhaps a scout or patrol horse. You groan and stand up, ready to go when the girls arrive from searching.

“Anything?” You ask, but know the answer as they shake their heads.

“Nothing. You?” Replies Hala, annoyed that she couldn’t find her quarry.

“Looks like this thing ate or captured one of the guards from the fort on patrol.” You say as you scratch your chin. “Not sure why it left the horse though.”

Hala shrugs, “Meat too tough?”

Blake shoots her a glare and she rolls her eyes. “Oh shush you stick in the mud. It’s probably just too large to eat or something. A shame I can’t really get a good smell, this is aggravating.”

“Yeah, probably…” You mutter, pondering over the mystery.

Defeated for now, you load back up into the wagon and stare off as Blake gets you moving again, Hala sniffing out around the wagon, easily keeping pace. Despite her apparent enthusiasm, weariness begins catching up with her and her pace starts to slow, her movements becoming sluggish. When she begins to lag behind the wagon, you know it’s time for sleep.

By this time it’s near sunrise anyway, and you’re no closer to finding the thing than you were before. Blake almost orders you to go to bed and you do so, albeit with some protest. For some reason your thoughts center squarely on the life form you created and all the events surrounding it. 

The dreams you have are confusing, but when you awake you can’t remember them. All thoughts of trying to recall them are dashed however when you open your eyes to see Delilah staring right at you.

You jump some, heart almost leaping into your chest as you look around before staring at the Dullahan. She blinks slowly before addressing you with a simple,

“Good Morning.”

Chapter 136

 

“Uh, good…morning.” You say, heart hammering in your chest. “How did you get over next to me?”

 “I asked the lizard.” She says simply, and you look to Tabitha who shrugs but offers nothing else.

Hala is still asleep as well as Veronica. Tabitha and Blake stand vigil, Blake driving the wagon, although he looks tired as well. Can’t really blame the guy. Delilah gets your attention again.

“Regardless, I wished to speak with you on your plans when you locate your spawn. What do you intend to do?”

“Uhh.” You say, flinching at the word “spawn.” “Well… I suppose I would need to destroy it or do something to subjugate it.”

Delilah nods, “Logical choices, but have you considered a third option?”

“No?”

“Of course not. Yes, you see, you could choose to coerce it into your service. Not domination, but negotiation.”

“That seems… very risky. Why would I want that?”

She smiles, “Because you would gain a follower to spread disease and death, one that devours all it touches, and can even change its form.”

You blink and then lay your hands next to the head. “What did you say?”

“I said it could change its form, it’s quite obvious it’s very pliable.”

“Dear Gods…” You say, remembering how it tried to pull together a body using the wood as a skeleton. What if it actually HAD a skeleton?

You lick your lips. “I think this may be more complicated than expected.”

She smirks, “Excellent.”

You look at her crosswise before wagging a finger at her. “Wait a minute… you’re not trying to trick me, are you?”

She rolls her eyes. “Wizard please, I don’t have a reason, nor would I have the strength to do so in any capacity.”

“Well,” you begin, “You keep pushing me to use my talents for better plague-making and death causing. While this is likely useful, I can’t help but feel it’s… manipulative.”

“Because Nerg would approve, yes.”

“What if I don’t care what Nerg thinks?”

She considers the question before shrugging, which is another odd gesture for a head. “It matters little. In the end, everyone meets him.”

You shudder and look ahead along the road. There are two days until you reach the fort, maybe less if you continue at a brisk pace. While you expect your day to be filled with searching for the creature, you’ll have to stop some point, and it’ll give the thing time to crawl ahead, which would be awful. Shaking your head you turn back or Delilah.

“Fine, I’ll believe you for now, but I’m not falling for your schemes again, no matter how innocuous it seems.”

She nods, “Wise, in a way, but foolish in the long run. You have talent and conviction, I can see that. You should consider my earlier offer though, think of the things you could do!”

Chaika gets angry in your pocket, {Hey bitch, I’m trying to tempt him!} She mentally growls, although her voice is not heard, of course. The Dullahan blinks and then shakes her head, as if hearing something faint, but ignores it.

As expected, the day continues with you scanning about with [UFT] and Hala scouting around, but again, you don’t find a damn thing. It’s frustrating, but at least you haven’t been attacked. By the time night falls, you’re exhausted, and you thank the Gods that nothing happened to come by during your watch. This is just fine because you’re way too tired to do much else but half-heartedly finish carving the handle to the [Corrupter], fitting it to the blade with some alchemical glue.

Chaika beams in delight as you feel her essence pour over the blade, nodding in satisfaction at the depiction of a serpent on one side with a set of runes that say “bad snake.” She finds it to have a “pleasing modern aesthetic while continuing a rustic charm fueled by the duality of magic and nature, perhaps a token of the Gods as they touch the earth?” Apparently Chaika was an art critic in her former life, which would explain all the paintings in the basement. It does not explain the chairs however. You really don’t understand that and she really doesn’t want to answer the question.

Well anyway, you make a simple holster for easy access to the knife at your side, and you spend the rest your shift half-heartedly practicing the [Counter Circle] while drifting off. Your watch companion, Veronica, meditates the entire time, but you secretly think she’s sleeping. Not that you can blame her honestly, that’s what you want to do.

As you consider the merits of drifting off, you feel a slight change of pressure in your northern ward. You narrow your eyes, taking up Harmony and placing a hand on Chaika while walking slowly to the barrier. When you come close you see some disturbed grass and not much else. Your ward is intact, and you don’t see anything of much concern. Probably just a curious Squirrel Girl or something, nothing to make a big stink over.

You turn about to head back to the camp when you hear a scraping sound. Whirling back around you increase the light of staff. On the other side of your ward is a trim-looking young woman with raven black hair and brown eyes dressed in a rough looking set of clothes emblazoned with the sigils of Deleor- obviously a soldier. She looks at you with piteous expression, her face appearing haggard and scared.

“H-help.” She coughs out before slumping next to your ward. You see her clothing in a state of utter disarray now that you look closer. This must be the solider that your little… thing, had taken! Maybe it finished getting what it wanted from her or maybe she escaped? A little difficult to say, but if she knows where the thing is, or whatever information it might hold…

“P-please, let me… in?” She asks, looking at you with tired eyes.

“Uh, yeah, just me let get these wards real quick.” You say, preparing to drop the barrier and let her in when Chaika interrupts.

{Fool, what are you doing?}

You blink, confused. {I’m going to help her that’s what.}

Chaika sounds disappointed, possibly annoyed, {You naive idiot, pay more attention to her and maybe you’ll see it.}

You narrow your eyes and look closer at the woman, who’s now smiling up at you, her hand resting lightly on your ward. You peer into her eyes and, past the tiredness you find… an insane amount of eagerness. Her body twitches in anticipation and you take a step back, realizing that Chaika just saved you from making a huge mistake.

“Y-you’re it, aren’t you?” You whisper, throat feeling dry.

The woman blinks, then looks down, a frown appearing on her face before she rises. She cocks her head at you and then lets out an approximation of a sigh.

“It was… worth a try…”

You grit your teeth, prepared to call the alarm, but pause, thinking it over. It can’t get through the wards, which is helpful information, and it doesn’t seem inclined to bolt immediately. Maybe you can try Deliliah’s plan? A little negotiation can’t hurt, right?

You clear your throat and begin, “I see. Very clever, but what did you hope to gain by tricking me?”

The thing blinks and then shrugs in a jerking motion, as if it doesn’t really know the gesture. “We wished to destroy a threat.”

“What are you? Who are you?” You whisper.

“We do not know, we are many, bound to one. We had hoped you might know, father.”

A chill runs down your spine at those words and you shudder. “Well, I don’t. I didn’t expect you to create you, at least not like this.”

The thing frowns, lopsided. “We are… a mistake?”

“I… yes?”

It considers this for a moment before closing its borrowed eyes and gritting its teeth. It then shudders and twists violently. You step back further as its hand contorts into a blade and it smashes at your wards, eyes filled with a half-crazed rage. You realize then that one of them is now a red, insectoid eye.

The thing slams at your wards, screaming with a mix of multiple voices, but it succeeds only in frustrating itself further and awakening your companions. As soon as it notices this, it steps back and glares at you, a mix of pain and anger in its eyes before it grasps its head and screams, tearing back out into the night from whence it came. You just watch it go, a complex series of emotions playing through you.

What the hells just happened?

————————————————————————————–

You convince the others that it’s not worth pursuing again at night, and that the best course would be to continue forward tomorrow, pacing hard into the day to make it to the fort by the next evening.

As you travel the next day, every hour Hala can’t find it is another she gets furiously upset over. You don’t blame her, you’re upset also.

{It’s because it called you father, isn’t it?} Asks Harmony in a gentle voice.

You don’t reply, your mind a tempest of thoughts. Harmony reflects on this and begins again.

{Well, I for one think you would be an excellent father.} She says, trying to reassure you.

All it does it make you more confused.

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