Wizardquest Chapter 14: A Winding Road

“I’m not afraid of you, creature.” Growls Veronica, clenching her hand into a tight fist as tiny droplets of sweat begin to bead on her forehead, despite the air becoming cooler the farther north they traveled. 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 yipes and pulls back some before breathing heavily, starting to sweat more profusely. It was 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 wasn’t afraid of…

Bubs inches forward on her leg by one ratty paw.

Veronica squeals and throws to her arm to knock the rat off, but he avoids her clumsy blow and jumps up, scurrying back to your pocket before popping his head out and regarding the aspirant who was panting profusely as she shivered from her nerves.

You look up at her and cock your head as Hala starts cackling in laughter and even Tabitha, who had decided not to wear her cap and instead wore her long hair out in a traditional Lizardman ponytail, couldn’t help but crack a smile. Oh yes, you found it amusing, but you weren’t going to let it show, you had the dignity of being a Wizard!

Okay, you wouldn’t let it show much.

“You know…” You say, putting down Hala’s leather armor, which you were 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 up as she looks away. Hala merely continues to cackle and crawls down from the front seat to sit next to you.

“Aww, the big Paladin is scared of a little rat, hehehe.” She reached out her furred hand and pats the rat on the head, and 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, causing quite the mess.

This time, you did start to laugh out loud and even Tabitha let out a joyful laugh, her mirth melodious and wonderful. It was a rare treat to hear and everyone in the back joined in as the wolfgirl sucked on her paw, snickering some 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 subsided.

It was about 3PM by Bubs time and the sun was shining bright in the clear sky. Cair was long behind you, with many of its outlying farms dotting the countryside, but few traders went down this road. Likely, they’d caught wind of the tides of baffle and had decided to stop visiting the northern areas for their safety, except for those who were well guarded on their way to Fort Carlsbad.

Well, regardless of that fact, you kind of were beginning to sort of maybe appreciate these days. Certainly nothing could beat staying inside with some sweet mountain elixir and a good heated bread pouch while shitposting on the communion matrix. But well, the warmth of the sun against the cool winds coming off the mountains WAS kind of nice.

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

Well whatever, it was supposedly about a 4 day trip to the fort, not too bad in all reality, and you relished the time on the road. Supposedly it was just open roads moving into hills as you started moving to the more mountainous region, and although monsters were more frequent due to the proximity to the Monster Nation,they generally didn’t cause TOO much of a fuss due to the proximity of the fort, which was one of four that guarded the northern border.

The forts were large constructs of stone and steel which had weathered multiple Monster Invasions after being built during the 10th Monster Invasion. While they never actually stopped the Monsters, without their early warnings and brave sacrifices, the invasions would have been much, much worse.

This is likely why no one apparently ever wanted 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 didn’t really mind be placed there. Yes, every so often they’d need to go and help a village that a rampaging band of monsters had decided to harvest some husbands or something, but it was never anything major, Blake assured you. Infact, it wasn’t so bad in that there were occasionally Order Heroes stationed at forts as well, in order to inspire the men!

They used to anyway, but since the Order was basically a formal joke, they sort of… tolerated them at best. Not that big a concern really, and Blake thanks Solos he was sent to find you instead of being stationed at a fort for a season. Things would have been faaarrr different had that been the case!

You feel a little jostle as Blake takes the wagon to the side of the road and you look out to see a small pool of water out in a field, some trees dotting around it. A few deer, like actual deer, look up as your wagon comes closer and they bolt, leaving the beauty of the pond to yourself.

As the wagon comes to a stop, you stretch out and yawn before jumping out of the wagon as Veronica and Tabitha do the same, while Hala hops off the front and starts sniffing about. She looks to Blake and nods, and your party relaxes some. If there any was anything here, it was really good at hiding it’s scent.

Blake prepares some little snacks, which you decline as you have pulled out a wonderful heated bread pouch as you casually lean back against a rock and stretch as the others sat around and chat. Bubs was resting 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 looked good, nothing in the sky but a few birds, yeah. Yeah this was good, and you start to look in your bag for a book to read. You had just acquired [Defensive Magic: Volume 3] as well as a [little scroll of sigils] which appeared to have four sigils upon them: [Sigil of Reduction], [Sigil of Channeling], [Sigil of Light], and [Sigil of Weight].

You also noted the resupply of [Holy water] and a fair amount of other little reagents and such. And none with semen! Lookie there. You rub your chin and settle upon [Defensive Magic: Volume 2], pulling it out and cracking open the cover.

>You gain [Defensive Magic: Volume 3]

>Part three of a three part series, it covers mental defenses

>You gain [Sigil of Reduction]

>Items upon which this is inscribed become much lighter

>You gain [Sigil of Channeling]

>Items which have this Sigil inscribed may be used to channel magic. It is indiscriminate however

>You gain [Sigil of Light]

>Items upon which this is inscribed glow faintly and may be forced to flare brightly

>You gain [Sigil of Weight]

>Items upon which this is inscribed grow much heavier

>You gain 3x [Holy water]

>Kids, don to drink

“Aha!” Shouts Harmony in your head and you jump a little at the sudden for outburst.

“Who wha? Oh…Harmony what the hell 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 to live.”

“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, feeling alive! The feel of prey below me as I swooped down and took it in my talons, feeding my electricity into it, stunning the creature, and showing my dominance!” The staff 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 turned do 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, it must be its own form of torture. Chaika likely was doing her best to combat that feeling, but you could feel the dagger squirm uncomfortably as it contemplated 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.”

You nod slowly and lean back against the rock, feeling fro the staff. You couldn’t even imagine what she must go through on even a daily basis. The poor girl, you needed to get her mind of that, or well, change the subject at least.

“So… What was this about elves?”

Harmony seems to pause before puffing out, “Oh. That.” She seems rather angry, but it appears directed at you as opposed to Selene.

“So there I 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 was 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, the 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. Selene was agreeable, but so very high and mighty and oooooo.” 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 say, 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, and 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 rapes falls for a doe-eyed cat with too many tails. The irony is palpable.”

“Shut it you.” You snap, cheeks even redder.

“Hehe, i wonder I wonder.” Chaika chides before giggling some more. You tune her out and rub at your face before standing up and putting away your book. You were just not in the mood for this right now.

You look over at the others and see Blake staring at the Dullahan head while Veronica pokes it with her mace, the head merely toppling over, sending everyone jumping some. Looks like it really was dead, he should really bury it or something. Oh well, whatever, you just wander over to the shore of the pond and stare down at it.

A few little fish and tadpoles swim on by, scattering as you draw near and you sigh, looking at your reflection. You had so much more worry on your face then you could remember, so much more tanned skin. Your hair was immaculate, but something about the reflection made you feel a sense of melancholy of your own. It felt… Lonely? Is that even possible?

You became so lost in contemplation that you barely heard Bubs shout in your head, “Wizard! Look out!” But by the time you turned about, it was too late, and you found yourself pushed by a powerful force as sharp objects dug into your shoulders and PULLED you upward.

You flail about, legs in the air, catching nothing at all as you see the ground below you start to recede and you realize with a start that you were flying! The sharp objects that held you were 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 and the your jolt of sensation courses through your body, locking your jaw up and tightening your grip upon Harmony as your muscles became taut.

You could only watch helplessly as your party shouted, gathering themselves up in the face of this unexpected threat, but it was too late, and as you sped through the skies, you soon lost sight of them, and trees soon filled your vision, such as it was.

Harmony was whispering at you to keep calm, not to panic, just stay still, which was very easy for you. Besides, she was the one who was panicking, there was nothing really you could do as you were forced to stare at the blurring ground. So this was flying, eh? Man. Not what you’d expected.

Soon enough you begin to slow down as you approach a hill, and you see a little opening to a cave, in which the creature that held you flapped into. As you flew through the caves you could see various items you wouldn’t really have expected to be in caves, such as paintings, chairs, other furnishings. Kind of weird, but hey, whatever. It soon became obvious what had taken you though as you see others of its kind lounging about in the caves.

Thunderbirds, a whole mess of thunderbirds. Looks like you had just been taken by them, and to make matters worse, the one who held you flew to the center of a large chamber lit by holes in the cavern, and she unceremoniously dropped you to the ground, planting a talon on your chest.

You struggle, feeling some sensation coming back as you look up, and your taut jaw goes slack just as Harmony goes dead silent. Standing above you was a beautiful thunderbird, her body lithe and perfectly muscled, her blue and gold feathers flapping as she looked about the crowd of talking harpies. Her long, golden hair shone in the light of the cavern as the tiara on her head sparkled. You knew this monster, even if you had never seen her before.

Harmony

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

You gulp as the Harpy 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 Vth!” Shout the other thunderbirds, their rustling feathers causing an 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! Staring with this one!”

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

They rabble amongst themselves and dance about and 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 stave 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, before 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 shudders suddenly. She seems to convulse some, her mouth twisting about in random, soundless argument, before she closes her eyes and shudders, then 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 oddly before she shakes and speaks her 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 motions their disappointment before nodding in agreement and the thunderbird picks you up again before looking about and flying in a direction. It’s a short little flight before you reach a section of cave curtained off by torn red cloth and you fly inside before being tossed onto a plush red bed, which must have been a pain to fly up here.

Harmonious looks behind herself 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 started 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?”

Harmonius, or Harmony, or whoever it was seems a little 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, trying to think things through, 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 didn’t know. You could feel some more of your limbs with every passing moment and your arm moves a little with your conscious effort. Guh, was this what it was like to be conscious but unable to do anything? This really, really sucks. At least you were beginning to move again but ugh.

“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 some 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 could blame her but…”

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

You groan and slowly, very slowly, push yourself up to a sitting position. Harmony gasps and rushes over, bending down and helping you up. You can feel the soft crackles of electricity tingling through your spine through your robes and the stimulation helped you up. You sigh out forcefully and then look over at Harmony, freezing when you realize her face is so near yours.

You both look into each other’s eyes for a long moment before you break away, twisting your neck slowly. Harmony continues to look at you before looking down and fidgeting before whispering,

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

You feel a pang of fear and… Sadness? In your heart at those words before you look back to the thunderbird, who was blushing, her face turned downward. Your study her for a moment before gulping softly and breathing out, “Harmony….”

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

You look away and move your leg gently, and are surprised to find that it responds to you. Good, you needed to be able to move and move quickly, there was no telling what could happen if you lingered here. You grunt some and Harmony gently sits you back down, clicking like some kind of 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’d take kindly to me just running out with you, and I don’t think you could 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 felt was inert. In this form it was basically a hunk of wood, pretty, but ultimately only good for clubbing something. You stand up, brushing 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 take a step and tremble, supporting your weight on the staff. Harmony moves to support you and you nod at her gratefully, which causes her to beam in pleasure.

“You know a way?”

“Well, of course, I lived in these caves and…” She cuts off mid-sentence and look 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 this little change from her but thenthink. The distance between you was great, but you felt a deep urgency from Bubs that was 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 was lost while she was here or she’d have heard the dagger. You felt a sort of… Cold emptiness then,like a piece of you had been taken away. It was strange, really, really strange.

“What do you mean, limited time?”

Chaika would roll her eyes if she had them. “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 have eyes.”

“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 your ass again. Personally I’d rather not be stuck here, unfinished, while you’re raped for your life.”

You take in a deep breath and look to Harmony who blinks, a question on her face as she dances lithely from talon to talon. You couldn’t just… Tell her that she’d go back to the staff, not just yet anyway.

“Alright let’s go.”

She nods and peeks her head out of the curtain, looking around cautiously before nodding back to you. The both of you slowly move through the caves, the raucous sound of thunderbirds echoing around you as you slink about. You move at a dreadfully slow pace, mainly due to your lingering paralysis, and you have to stop once when Harmony feels another thunderbird and drags you behind a large tapestry depicting a regal thunderbird fighting a black clad succubus. Not even certain who could create this, but you felt there may have been a weaver who lived here once.

Once the danger was past, you continued down the hallway. Harmony seems a little distracted at times and would occasionally seem bewildered before continuing on. It wasn’t much but it was noticeable.

“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, nothing to worry about, the edge to this back way out is just…” She stops as a loud screeching sound echoes down the hallway.

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

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

You gulp some air and 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 had pulled you tight into herself, and her soft, smooth skin pressed against your body, your hand feeling around her waist. Your mouth was mere inches from hers again and your eyes go wide as you feel a soft rustling within you. Harmony noticed your position too, but she made no move to pull you away and instead held you firm as she searched your eyes, her breath growing a little 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 and you can feel their soft weight on your chest, your heart pumping faster in reaction as you nether region stirred.

You felt a gentle current roll down your back as her wings enveloped you and your felt a tingling pleasure running into your nervousness, spiking both of them to new heights as her hot breath played 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, a barely contained beast, ready to let loose the emotions ravaging inside her.

You take a careful, shuddering breath as you look the panting Thunderbird in the eyes. This was a dangerous, very dangerous situation. Harmony was a very controlled, very reasonable soul, but she had never tasted the fruits of the flesh, never felt the true passions of being a monster. This… Transfer had brought all these feelings to her shockingly fast, and coupled with what you had feared was 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 close to you.

“Wait.” You say, a little rushed and 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 on your neck “I know about your powers how they work… But surely, surely just a little…”

You inwardly groan. You had to do something, and quick or this would get out of hand, so you did the only thing you could do.

“Alright… Harmony, close your eyes.” You whisper and she pulls her head up from you and smiles, slowly closing her lids, her delicate eyelashes fluttering as she does so. She turns her face up ever so slightly and parts her lips slowly as a tremor runs through her body, discharging a small amount of electricity, which mostly finds you, causing you to twitch some.

Still, you take a deep breath and ready yourself. This would be incredibly dangerous, but you had 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.

And 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 some and you hear her mutter, “Why?”

“Harmony, you’re a dear friend, and a treasured ally. Your knowledge, your skill, your personality, all make 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 you know deep down why not.”

She embraces you tighter and you hear her start to cry some, “Its 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 some 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 year after year.”

“It was awful…” She muttered.

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

She sniffs some, 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 then, 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 Harmonius’s 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 some and she blinks a few times, using a wing to wipe at her face. Somewhat successful, she looks at you resolutely and nods sharply before smiling.

“You’re right Wizard, I got caught up in the situation. But I must be who I am, and if that means giving up this to continue being your staff, then so be it.” She looks down, blushing some. “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 still 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 Harmonius.”

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

A few minutes later, you look out from beyond the cloth covering and nod to Harmony. Only a few of the Thunderbirds were out there, and they were passing the other side of the cave. Supposedly there was an exit nearby that you could use to get out, then blend in through the trees with your biomancy until your party came by, which would be relatively soonish you thought. Just had to survive this gambit…

You take in a deep breath and then grab Harmony and dash off down the tunnel. The Thunderbird did her best to struggle against you, throwing up electricity as she went down the tunnel. It wasn’t really anything more than a light show, which was nice, but damn did it make a racket, and her screaming did not help matters one bit. It did, however, make things much more believable and when a swarm of thunderbirds appeared, well you could tell that acting could be a second career for you.

You could see the exit to the cave tunnel in front of you, maybe about 20 feet away, but you were forced to stop as thunderbirds came close and you put [Wightsbane] to her neck. You were careful about it! A silly move would have been to use Chaika and she should not stop fussing about you picking such an outdated model over her sleek and sexy new form. You ignored her patently 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 was acting? You thought as you rolled your eyes internally. You press the dagger closer, “Now then, I means to leave here, an if your good about it, the little queenie here keeps er 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 in front of you, seeming it crackle and pop before dispersing. The thunderbird takes a step back, incredulous as you laugh wickedly.

“Oi, 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-resort 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 feel Harmony growl in irritation and you quickly move forward. “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 go at a glacial pace and every step you take, the thunderbirds take one as well until you’re about 10 feet from the opening. 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.” She considers this for a moment. “That’s bad, huh?”

You hiss and push the thunderbird off you as she sparks electricity and you take a few steps backward, stopping as you foot hit the edge of the cave opening. You look behind you and see an expanse of cliff. It was… High.

You look back to Harmonius as the other thunderbirds rush to her side, squawking and yelling curses at you. You look between all of them and 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 to hard the only thing you feel is regret as you are raped senseless!” She growls, “And then you will have my permission to die.”

“Oooo, good line.” Says Chaika, making a mental note. “I’ll have to use that one.”

You ignore her, still. You take another look back and 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 raucous of noise. As you fall, you quickly pull out a vial of [Featherfall potion] you hid in your robes and down it, suddenly stopping your rapid descent and moving into a slow, controlled landing. As you touch down, you exhale loudly before a bolt of electricity smacks the ground next to you.

You curse and start running into the trees as the thunderbirds chase you from their perch. They move quickly, diving down and you barely avoid a few more strikes as you cross through the trees and brush, hoping to get far enough away to be able to avoid them. It works well, and the thunderbirds soon are unable to chase you with their wings through the dense trees, and you’re able to 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. You lean back and wipe sweat off your brow as you wait for them to leave before meeting with Bubs and the others, who were 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 say chuckling.

“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 chuckle as the other two retainers sigh and then join in on the laugh while Bubs regales your tale, the furious thunderbirds lighting up the forest with energy as they searched for you.

It was a few hours later that you were able to leave, based on Bub’s communications and a word of Blake, who had managed to convince Harmonius, who would obviously have run into him being so close to the forest edge, that they had nothing to do with you. Apparently she left slightly placated and with a tittering little laugh. Harmony just muttered about her granddaughter’s taste in men and how this current generation just liked pretty faces.

It was about nightfall by the time you reached the wagon and you set up camp, sleeping in the cart, as not to be seen by the thunderbirds again. It was elected that after your little adventure you could sleep tonight and you did with relish. As you nestled down to sleep under the cover of the wagon, Bubs curled up in cloth and Chaika off muttering to herself about something, you turn to Harmony, not that you needed to, who lay next to you.

“Hey, Harmony, thanks again for your help back there, and I’m sorry that…”

“Shhh.” She cuts you off and you get the impression of a smile. “I’m fine wizard, thank you. Go ahead and get some sleep, you need it.” She pauses for a moment and mentally whispers, “Besides, you gave me something anyway, a precious little memory of my very own, thank you.”

You smirk and close your eyes, and as you drift off to sleep, you imagine Harmony’s smile.

The next day you awake to some boring normality, which suited you just fine, and after trimming and eating, you set off on the trail once again. You lean back as the morning sun creeps into the sky and 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 were using to rest your feet. The rest of the wagon had also grown rather on edge and you nod to Veronica who slowly draws the blankets back, revealing the 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. She rolls her eyes and sighs. “Oh don’t act like you haven’t seen a severed head before, honestly.”

The head looks at all of you again and sighs. “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 stood tense as well, weapons drawn, your mind focused with Harmony to fire a concussive burst of whatever the fuck would destroy a head. Probably anything really, so you went with fire. Make extra sure it’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 is right. I seem to recall you planting a boot on my head, which seems to be a theme with you.” She puffs, “Well, anyway, you seem to be quite alive, and I seem to be bodiless, quite the miserable existence.”

Harmony seems to agree somehow, but she 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, bound to a body, yet able to separate from it so easily, when one dies so should the other, hence the death screech.” She seems to consider 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 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 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 look up and tries to concentrate on something.

Blake looks between all of you and the 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, the 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, eying 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 netherworld.” She sighs and looks to the other women 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, so 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 been 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 boot on the mouth of the Dullahan who mumbles for a few moments before sighing and staring flatly at the Lizardman, who 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 boot 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 seems to think for a moment. “What is your name any…”

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 oddly before shrugging and hopping back into position on the wagon. Tabitha places Delilah on top of some supply crates before sitting back and watching the head who watches her back. They had the same expression and you’re damn certain they were 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 this head along with you?”

“Oh it’s really fucking weird, but I don’t think anyone quite knows what do to do with her to be honest.”

Bubs seems to consider this. “Still seems odd.”

“Oh hush you flea ridden pest.” Says Chaika in your pocket. “She can help instruct the wizard in proper dark magic at least.”

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 is 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 huffs. “Hell, 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…

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 for your new little…” Chaika says, mockingly 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.

>Your wizard power level has decreased to 85%

>A combination of things lead to this. Not very wizardly behavior!

>But necessary!

“Oh come on, it’s not so bad, he’ll even I’ve eaten spunk before.” Says Bubs, seeming unfazed.

You and your other retainers focus on Bubs and he looks around at you. “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 needed to just do something to take your mind off that. Uhh, books! You hurriedly take out [Defensive Magic: Volume 2] and crack it open.

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

“Counter magic, 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 attempts 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 possible hope to channel their energies to thwart magic sent against you.”

“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 practitioners, 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 practicioner 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 counterspells, simply observe the enemy practitioner’s aetheric signature as they channel their mana to cast a spell. Finding the attunement wavelength is the key, and by focusing that wavelength into the circle, it will resonate through the crux of antagonism, and cancel the spell out as it is cast. This can be dangerous if the signature is not channeling into the crux appropriately as it may inadvertently enhance the power of the spell cast as the aethertic power merges. Please do not do this!”

“Once you’ve found the basics of this to your satisfaction, begin to apply sigils, bound by anchor points to cruxes of antagonism in order to increase defenses and counter capabilities against particular spell affinities. 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 would be good, although perhaps mental shielding would be better. Still, this was helpful, and if you could cancel spells, then allowing yourself to attack back would be even better, fantastic!

You study the charts in the back of the chapter and focus your will before you, into what you would normally infuse into a circle. Slowly, a softly 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. You lean back and smirk as the others stare at you.

>You learn [Counter circle]

>The basis of counter magic, this circle allows you to focus magic onto it and dispel enemy magic via aetheric cancellation

>Erratic signature spells or powerful spells may not be able to be countered

“What’s that about?” Asks Veronica, poking at it, but merely managing to go 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 turns and 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 gently 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, even if it via my lord. 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 not 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.”

“You’re 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 had two dark magic attuned monsters now willing to give you training in exchange for.. Well, likely it would be semen. What a world, what a world indeed. You felt that this might not be a bad exchange, but something makes you hesitant. You feel sort drained recently, like you’re unable to concentrate on your wizardly duties. You never really realized it, but it felt off and you didn’t seem to mind.

That scared you some.

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 were getting passable at this! Of course, Chaika’s mutterings about this newcomer trying to take her place was sort of getting annoying, but she probably didn’t mean it. Chaika probably didn’t even know all these crazy magical theories, did she? Nah, she probably just punched everything to death.

You’re about finish carving the last section of a snake tail into the wood when Hala starts growling at something and the cart begins to slow to a stop. You roll your eyes and 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.” You say, surveying the scene before you.

In front of a small stone bridge over a coursing river stood a tall, burly-looking monster with exaggerated hands, feet, and bust. She was covered in little warts, and you could seem them mostly over her shoulders and back, hidden some by a short vest and trousers that seemed too small for her. Her face was moderately attractive still, as is warranted by monsters, however her short, black hair was matted and disgust and she stank awfully. 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!” Shouted the monster in a low, rumbling voice as she raised 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, apparently really, really angry at this thing. “Oh, lovely, a troll. This will be quite the mess.”

“Troll.” You say flatly, staring at the monster in front of the bridge. Gods, you were trying to find the normal monster’s sexiness but it was rather difficult. What with the sheen of slime 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 rarely every 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 stretch and stand up on the wagon before hopping down, throwing up some dirt under your boots. You take in a deep breath, appreciating the afternoon sky. What a day, right? No clouds, sun shining, slight chill in the air? It was good. It was very good.

“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 keeping 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, trust me, I know how to deal with trolls.”

You take a step forward and hear Veronica mutter with some acid, “Dear?…”

The troll considers you and then slaps her club in her hands 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. You had years of training against trolls, a skill you thought would truly have no practical applications, but damn it, you learned it anyway. And now it was all going to pay off. Worse comes to worse, you could just obliterate her or something, it’s not like you didn’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 some kind of watch dogs. Well, Hala might actually fall into that category, but you let that simile slide for her.

You seem to consider this for a moment, making 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 a little confused by your response. “What you talking about?”

“Well, I mean, look at the situation here, you’re guarding the only bridge 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 seems to consider 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. You briefly notice the confused expressions behind you, Blake putting a hand to his face while the others stare, dumbstruck. They couldn’t understand your plans, how could they? Ah, normalfag.

“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 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 just mentally sighs while Bubs and Chaika look on in rapt interest at the beginnings of your ruse. If everything goes 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!”

You pause at that for a moment. Uhm. Uhh, uhhhh, yeah anyway, “Of course, you DESERVE this bridge and the rights to tax it, and 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. Like a wizard. Man you’re getting distracted easily today, back to it.

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 a little abashed, and blushing some. Gods it was 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 was 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 was 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. You once more hear groans from the wagon behind you and the troll looks over at them, causing your heart to speed up. Fooooooolllssssss.

“Don’t my associates, 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 say, 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!” You look about and then walk up to her, taking in a whiff of her stench, and 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, and you eye twitches as you play through multiple possibilities of touching the troll and your mind starts to recoil at the possibilities as you go through a spiral of horror. The word “moist” plays in your mind over and over and you just… Settle for tapping her with Harmony, who protests at the squelching noise it makes.

You twitch a smile on your lips and 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 seemed to get the message and Blake hurriedly got the horses in motion, crossing the bridge. As they pass, Hala gives you and incredulous look of, “What the fuck?” And you just smile like nobody’s business. 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 some and you begin to sweat as she takes a firm stance, holding her club. Slowly, you begin to raise your staff, preparing to channel magic if she made 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 wonderful 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 a little crestfallen at this and you seize upon the opportunity.

“That’s the beauty of the union, because 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 quickly moves to the bridge and ruffles at something under it and pulls out a pouch of coins. Your eyes go wide as she brings 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 waayyyy more.

She trundles back up and plops the coins in your hand and you stare at them. “Uh… I uhm, err, yes!” You cough some and 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 and 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 and 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 died? Crushed to death by a troll? Honestly that’s always sort of how you thought you’d die, just with communion trolls. The irony was palpable as you could taste your own tongue, and through the pumping of your heart you hear shouts from your companions.

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

A moment later she lets go and you fall to the planks of the bridge, gasping for air, covered in the muck of slime of her skin, feeling like a bog slapped up to you and rubbed it’s sweaty breasts on your mouth. It was…not pleasant.

You cough some as Blake helps you stand up, his hand on his sword, watching the troll as she chuckles. He lowers his hand slowly as she walks away, chuckling still and giggling about how she’s going to get some. Everyone looks at her, then to you and you groan, “let’s get the fuck out of here.”

A few hours later you’re sitting around the campfire, your robes drying after a vigorous washing. Blake stirs the campfire 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 while you carve the handle again, and you look up, staring bake at her. She blinks and then 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 the knife at him off handedly as you study a detail you’re making. “Don’t feed the trolls. That’s rule number 1.”

“But you just said you trolled the…” Starts Veronica and you rolls your eyes.

“I don’t expect you to understand.” You say offhand. Pshaw. normalfag.

Everyone gets really quiet at that and you look up to see quizzical eyes on you. You look back and forth between all of them and frown. “What?”

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

You blink at that, a little taken aback before you see Tabitha smirk, followed by a snort from Veronica. Soon all of them were giggling and you couldn’t help but smirk and look down, face heating up some. Having people around felt sort of… Nice? It was an odd sensation for you, but one that warmed you up inside, combating some of the chill in the night air.

Soon enough dinner was had and you found yourself on first watch along with Hala who lay on the grass, flicking around little insects as she tried to keep herself from being bored. It was failing, you knew, but whatever, you had time to kill, and despite your wards being up, someone had to pay attention. It’s been awhile since you’ve had the chance to be on night watch and 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 and you spine shudders at the sound. No, you weren’t listening to this, so you went 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. You close your eyes, trying to ignore the sound, but it was difficult, so very difficult.

“Wiiiiiiiiiizzzzzzzzzzzaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrdddddddd.”

You snap your eyes open and turn your head slowly to the right, your flat expression coming directly to Hala’s face, which was mere inches from your own. She smiles widely as you blink slowly.

“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 slowly, taking your time to try and think of a way out of this. By the Gods, she did not give up, did she? You grumble and rub at your cheek before sighing.

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

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

“And… She has lovely hair.” You mumble, thinking about 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 start, 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 adventure to her, one which she strives to enjoy herself in.”

You smile softly, 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 comforting, 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 had pulled her legs to her chest, staring at you with eager enthusiasm, her tail wagging back and forth in a rapid motion as her ears twitched. You look about and see yourself in a storyteller’s position, leaning forward, your hands outstretched, and 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, walking back over to the wagon, feeling your body shake. You did not… You weren’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 hell, that gods damned wolf, she made you so fucking angry. Always with her bullshit with Blake and the drama, and the asking the questions and the…

You rub at your temple before sighing and leaning back. Damn it, you weren’t really mad at Hala, you were mad at yourself. You had been feeling like your wizardly concentration had been slipping recently and your powers were… Well you were stronger than you were before this all started, but something was off, something that honestly scared you, and you suspected the cause, but you didn’t want to confront it. The implications were…

Anyway, you need something to distract you, something familiar, something… Wizardly. The only answer of course was to boot up the [Port-O-Glass], which you did quickly in the back of the wagon, a soft light playing over your face in the darkness as the aetheric energies manifested. Sadly your connection out here was… Still the comcastic leyline. Well, it was better than nothing you suppose, and you delve into the matrix with glee.

Your first adventure was to catch up on your stories, it had been abit since you last read. Of course, you see with mild annoyance, the dragon had not yet been waifu’d. Honestly, it was rather droll, but what could you do? Shitposting, of course, but that was merely a short and simple diversion as you poured over the information in mere moments. Meh, nothing really new or exciting, merely some mentions of increased chatter about monsters, making the supposed “hunters” and “husbands” fight. Honestly, who even let these normalfag buy a communion matrix? All they do is shit it up.

Not content reading other’s sperging, you decide to 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 utterly infatuated with the idea of convincing trolls that there was a union. Hell, one even suggested they go and provide Union benefits!

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

“What are you doing?”

Your spine stiffens and you whip your neck over to look at Delilah, her head sitting upon the same box you 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 arcane device. “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 and 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 some. “Really now? I never would have imagined.”

You raise an eyebrow at the head, “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 no 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’s 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 seemed 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, although 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?”

She 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]. You set the device snugly back into your bag and 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 Clair 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 in 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 and 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], [Arachnae 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.

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

You hear a soft sound in your head from Harmony, “Wizard… This sounds like a bad idea, this could 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] and 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, and you quickly 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 excitable, and pliable. They seek a host body now more than ever. I am curious as to what havok this could…” She cuts off as you then pour in the [Arachne venom].

Her eyes seem to grow wide before she hisses, “The venom is too potent, it will destroy the creatures, not…” She cuts off again, her eyes 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. “What’s the practical application of this? I have seen many things, but never something like this. It seems as if you’ve made what is essentially a creation that dissolves things. Hardly revolutionary.”

“Well, you see, I have yet to use the final touch.” You say as you wave your hand again, concentrating over the mixture as you flood power into it. Yes, it could have had more force a few days again you think, but it’s plenty to cast a [cancer] into the mix, causing it to twist and writhe, fighting your grasp before slowly succumbing as its reproductive capabilities become bloated and twisted, forming a large ball of the mess as it grows.

You raise your eyebrow at Delilah. “There, now I have a mass of spores that I can infect someone with, and 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 back as you watch it start to pull out of your bowl, growing 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 and then you hear a low humming noise before the mass suddenly shifts and grows explosively, engulfing the box it was on and the head of the dead Arachne.

You curse and break your circle, grabbing it with the last vestiges of your control over the plagues within it as it mutated, and THROWING the thing 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.

The thing… Twitches, and shakes, seeming to shiver before a low, rumbling sound echoes from it. When it begins, you hear a sound, as if children screaming from a great distance. Then, a smoking orb appears from the mass, and from it emerges a plague of black ichor that stains the ground, rotting it away into a black mess. You catch once glimpse of the thing’s form before a horrifying scream pierces your mind and you put s hand to your head to muffle the sound.

Your eyes go wide as you realize the formless mass now had a head… And it was Victoria’s. It twitched erratically, the multiple eyes blinking in disjointed waves. The areas of the face which were burnt were now replaced with a thick coating of black goo that drained down the face as new, glowing red eyes shone 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 a humanoid form. It stumbles on the ground, dribbling ichor as it fails, but keeps trying, and eventually succeeding.

By this point you realize Blake is shaking you and you snap back into reality as multi de of voices start to come to you. Veronica, Harmony, Blake, they all wanted to know what was happening, wanted to know what this was. You shakily lift up Harmony and take a deep breath. By the gods, this thing was a monstrosity, and you needed to destroy it, and fast.

You push the others aside and cast [Fireball], deciding to terminate your experiment before this gets worse, but it seems to sense your spell as as the power flies at it, the creature seems to melt 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 was 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 it’s spider’s head and then looks at another arm that forms from its body and 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 was missing a large section, as if it was melted away, but the armor underneath glowed 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, alright?”

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 wicked smile appears on its lips, black ichor dribbling down its face as it issues a wet chuckle, “Wizzaarddd…”

Your blood goes cold as it suddenly forms multiple appendages, none particularly large or strong, but it’s plenty of enough 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. You hear a low, polite chuckle behind you and 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.”

You shudder at that and gather up your cloak, 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.

>What do you do?

>You lose half your [Matango spores]

>You lose [Swamp essence]

>You lose [Monster Plague]

>You lose [Victoria’s head]

>You lose part of your [Arachne venom]

You stare in mute horror as the thing you created dashes off into the night. Everything happened so fast that once it was gone, you just sort of… Stood there, confused. Well, until Blake shook your back to your senses.

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

“I…I uh, not really…” You mumble, thinking

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 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, Veronica’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 of study purposes. What if they had made more, or conconcoted something worse? We 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 Veronica’s head. Due to the fact that she was 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 looks to Tabitha. “I concur. If I recall, sister Margurette, another Aspirant is currently the sacrificial lamb… I mean, current representative of the Order.” Everyone sort of 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 shrug. “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 would quote scripture AFTER I cave in a monster’s head.”

“Ahem” says Hala, coughing into one of her paws. “I hate to interrupt, but don’t we have a… Thing? To hunt?”

Everyone stares at Hala, dumbfounded and 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, and you break camp in record time, hitching up the horses and going down the road. Going with just two people like after Delilah would have been foolish, so it was smarter to take the whole wagon. Besides, this thing might not have gone far, right?

As you start moving, you create another [UFT] and send it out to scan ahead of you, but you don’t really find terribly much early on. Hala didn’t seem to find a good scent either, and you spent much of your time bored and tense, speaking in clipped phrases with Harmony, Chaika, and Bubs, trying to advise you on how to deal with the situation. Chaika wanted you to dominate the thing and then turn it loose on your enemies while Harmony advised you to eliminate it. Bubs just sort of… Thought it was something best left alone.

Lucky you and your fun filled retainers.

Further down the road, off to the side in a clearing, Hala called a halt, and you quickly scanned the area with your [UFT] and found… A dead horse, its body partially eaten away, as well as signs of a struggle in the grass, but no rider. Hala searched the area as soon as you could determine that it wasn’t here, but she also turned up nothing. Damn thing had a scent, but as soon as she picked it up here it just… Vanished. Like it just stopped smelling like it used to.

“Well shit.” You say, tiredly looking at the horse in the light of your staff. 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 before gritting his teeth. The equine was clothed with simple saddle and tack, a scout or patrol mount most likely, and the insignia on its saddleback confirmed indeed that it was from the fort. You groan and stand up, ready to go when the girls arrive.

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

“Sorry, you?” Replies Hala, seeming 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 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 some thing. That or it needed semen. A shame I can’t really get a good smell, this is aggravating.”

“Yeah, probably…” You mutter, pondering over the mystery. Wouldn’t that slow it down though? Baaaaah, questions!

You load back up into the wagon and stare off as you get moving again, Hala sniffing out around the wagon, easily keeping pace. Despite her apparent enthusiasm, weariness was catching up with her and her pace began to slow, her movements becoming sluggish, and when she began to lag behind the wagon, you knew it was time for her sleep.

By this time it was near sunrise anyway, and you were. I closer to finding the thing. Blake almost ordered you to go to bed and you did so, albeit with some protest. For some reason your thoughts centered squarely on the life form you had created and all the events surrounding it. They were very confusing dreams you had, but when you awoke you couldn’t remember them, especially when you opened 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.”

“Uh, good…morning.” You say, a little confused. “How did you get over next to me?” You a ask, picking yourself up and looking around. Hala was still asleep as well as Veronica. Tabitha and Blake stood vigil, Blake driving the wagon, although he looked tired as well. Can’t really blame the guy.

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

“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 full 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 folding your arms. “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 off gesture for a head. “It matters little, in the end, everyone meets him.”

You shudder and look ahead. There were two days until you reach the fort, maybe sooner if you continue at a brisk pace. The whole day would be spent searching and searching, but you’d have to stop some point, and it would give the thing time to crawl ahead,which would be awful. But that’s how these things go you suppose, and it twists your insides in two wondering what the thing he intended with that soldier. 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 a little angry in your pocket, “Hey bitch, I’m trying to tempt him!” She growls, although her voice is not heard, of course, however the Dullahan seems to blink and then shake her head, as if hearing something faint. Huh, maybe she was sensitive to hearing these things.

As expected, the day continued with you scanning about with UFT’s and Hala scouting around, but again, you don’t find a damn thing. It’s frustrating, but at least you haven’t been attacked, which is good. By the time night falls, you’re exhausted, and you thank the gods that nothing happened to come by during your watch, which was great because you were 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 beamed in delight as you felt her essence pour over the blade, nodding in satisfaction at the depiction of a serpent on one side with a set of runes (general purpose runes of little consequence) on the other side. She found 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 did not explain the chairs however. You really didn’t understand that and she really didn’t seem to want to answer the question.

Well, anyway, you made a simple little holster for the knife to keep for easy access at your side, and you spent the rest your shift half-heartedly practicing the [Counter circle] while drifting off. Your watch companion, Veronica, meditated the entire time, but you secretly think she was sleeping. Not that you could blame her honestly, that’s what you wanted to do.

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

You turn about to head back to your watch point when you hear a slight scraping sound, and you whirl back around, staff playing light around you. On the other side of your ward was 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 looked 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, and it was revealing quite the set of breasts, making you a little hot under the collar before you remember the situation. This must have been the solider that your little… Thing, had taken! Maybe it finished what it wanted from her, or maybe she escaped? A little difficult to say, but if she knew where the thing was, 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 wards 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, possible 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 was smiling up at you, her hand resting lightly on your ward. You peer into her eyes, past the tiredness, to find… An insane amount of eagerness. Her body twitches some 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 slowly 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. Apparently it couldn’t get through the wards, which was helpful information, and it didn’t seem inclined to bolt immediately. Maybe you could try Deliliah’s plan, maybe you could try a little negotiation.

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 jerkily shrugs, as if it didn’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 seems to consider this for a moment before closing its borrowed eyes and gritting its teeth. It seems to shudder and twist violently and you step back further before its hand twists and contorts into some kind of horrific blade and it smashes at your wards, eyes filled with a have crazed rage, and you realize that one of them was now the black polish of an 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 if 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 hell just happened?

You convince the others that it’s not worth pursuing again at night, and that the best course would be to continue your current method, pacing hard into the day to make it to the fort by the next evening. You kept an eye out for the thing, just incase it decided to return, but no one saw anything, not that you expected to. Whatever it was, it was smart and crafty, and every hour Hala could not find it was another she got furiously upset over. You didn’t blame her, you were upset also.

“It’s because it called you father, isn’t it?” Asks harmony in a gentle voice.

You didn’t reply, your mind a tempest of thoughts. Harmony seems to reflect 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 though. What a world.

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