Wizardquest Part 8: A Hero’s Welcome

Chapter 64

 

The next day you break camp without trouble and by late day you begin to see patrols of soldiers.

This fills you with hope as it means you’re close to the capital now! Most of them leave you alone, however the one patrol which detains you stays their hand at Blake’s sigil, ushering you straight down the road. You begin to see more and more signs of human habitation, with small farming settlements and shanties for the poorest if the poor, as well as plenty of merchant elements wandering about, selling their wares.

Deciding to enter the city fresh in the morning, you camp for the evening with various other travelers, for once feeling safe despite the higher number of thieves. At least they only want to steal your money, not your virginity! Feeling rather well rested, you prepare yourself before you set off on the final leg of your journey.

Off across the horizon you see the gated monstrosity of a city, Sanctifrond. Your whole party stares in wonder, even Blake, as you behold the spires and towers that reach for the heavens as the city grew over the centuries.

Large amounts of people crowd in from small roads now, coming and going from the gates leading into the city. You see multiple peddlers, merchants, and tradesfolk selling their wares while soldiers patrol the road, keeping the peace. No one troubles you when Blake flashes his credentials, but nor do they give you any special treatment. Jerks, he’s a HERO! Soon enough however, you reach the main gate and, after having your paperwork stamped and Hala registered, you finally enter the city walls.

White and gold beauty showers down upon you as you enter. Tall buildings surrounding the entrance square stand testament to the might of Deleor and mankind while numerous people run about their daily lives. They stand tall under the shadow of a large, marble statue of a well chiseled man with a long beard. You instantly recognize him as Solos, the God of Man and the patron deity of Deleor. The statue’s gaze looks down upon the visitors, inspiring humans while striking fear into Monsters.

Both you and Hala gulp in awe as Blake takes a breath. “Ah, sweet memories.” He turns to you, expression neutral. “Looks like you’re almost done here, so let’s grab the glass and you can finally return home.”

“Best idea I’ve heard all day.” You say, giving him a broad smile. He just shakes his head and continues the wagon forward into the heart of the city.

Now, you’re just a small town Wizard, so you thought Feldergrod was big, but it can’t hold a candle to the size and scope of Sanctifrond and the city itself KNOWS it. Even as you pass through the outer residential areas lining the walls of the city, the houses made mostly of wood, you see that even the poor seem decently well off, staring at you with an air of confidence that surprises you.

There are some Monsters out and about in the outer town’s wooden structures, but they’re few and far between, and almost always in the company of a human male. What surprises you however, is the variety of Monsters seen. Hells, this place isn’t even the main city, and you already saw some kind of green spider Monster with horns jumping from roof to roof with a happy looking daughter on her back, being yelled at by a tired looking man on the street. What a world.

As you approach the main walls of the capital, or at least, the current main walls, the city having grown the need to build more sets as it expanded, you can’t help but marvel at the pure majesty. Made of exceedingly strong granite, it is at least fifty feet high, and you can barely see the mortar lines, making the structure seem like it was carved out of one large piece of rock. It boggles your mind as to how such a sturdy structure could be built. To make matters even more interesting, you feel a low thrum from the walls, which your [Mage sight] confirms to be an inlaid series of defensive runes of such magnitude it makes you wonder how anything could possibly breach them

But Selene did, once.

That thought makes you shiver as your wagon pulls up to a line of people funneling through a check point in the wall. At a standstill, you stretch while Blake looks over some paperwork. Hala’s tail wags back and forth and she hangs out the side of the wagon, looking at everything.

“Woaaaaaaaah. This is so much taller then any of the trees in the forest. How did they build it? Oh, oh look at that Monster! It has so many eyes! What is it? Ahhh, look at her feet! What are thooooose?”

Blake chuckles at Hala’s insistent questions, but doesn’t answer, not that she’d listen in her state. You slide up to the driver’s seat as a man in a clerk’s robe walks up to your cart, escorted by two soldiers in light battle plate carrying halberds like they know how to use them.

“Ahem, yes, state your name, number of entrants, and reason for the visit, as well as your method of payment for entrance into the inner city.”

Blake sits up a little higher and produces his sigil, his voice steady and powerful, “Blake Boudreaux, Questing Hero of the Order of the Heroic Brotherhood, returning to headquarters.” He waves to you and Hala, who is still looking out the back, her firm butt waggling back and forth in her excitement.

“I come with two others, a Wolf Girl, Hala, and this Wizard.”

“His name?”

“Uh…” Blake looks at you questioningly. “What is your name anyway?”

You shrug. “Does it matter?”

The clerk looks down at his papers and shrugs as well. “Not overly, since you are in the company of an Order Hero.” He scribbles something down and waves you through. “Tax is waved, welcome back, etc etc.”

Blake nods and snaps the reins, driving your horses forward through the small gate. You pass under what seems an exceedingly long tunnel (which shocks you even more knowing now the wall is THICK as well). When you come out the other side, well… W-well…

“By the Gods above…” Is all you can whisper as you take it all in.

Everywhere around you, you see the glorious fruits of humanity. Huge buildings made of rich, white stone, accented with beautiful gold highlights line the streets in so many styles it boggles your mind. People and Monsters mill about and, if you thought it was exotic outside, it’s practically a menagerie in here. True, the percentage isn’t as high as in Feldergrod, but holy hells, you have never seen so many together.

A Danuki passes by your cart and winks at you before passing by and your lip twitches in reflex as your wagon turns a corner and you behold more wonderful sights. In front of you is a large, cathedral-like building, with two huge statutes, one being Solos, holding the sun in his hands, the other a statue of a beautiful woman, holding a rose in hers. Blake explains that this is not even the main chapel of the Gods in town, but merely an adjunct for this district. You start to sweat a little.

The other sites are just as grandiose, and you couldn’t even describe them all as you move toward yet another wall. This one is smaller than the first two, and much, much older, but you feel that the sights inside will be far more splendid, as evidenced by the larger, better equipped guards. It doesn’t escape your notice that Blake frowns at some of the guards wearing full plate armor and armed with greatswords.

Order heroes? Maybe, but these look a little different than Blake. You notice a sun sigil on their breast plate that you didn’t see before.

“Chantry? On guard duty? My how times have changed.” Mumbles Blake as you pass through the checkpoint with little fuss. One of the Chantry guards turns to view you as you pass through. You can feel his gaze on your party, especially Hala, even through his full helm. Kind of strange, but whatever!

Seriously though, how does this city keep getting better? This section is much like the one before it, but everything is taller and much better kept, with far more gold painted on the white stone buildings- some are even made of marble!

The well-dressed people here walk with an air of arrogance and dignity that you can scarce believe possible. This must be the true inner city and the people here are obviously nobility. Some Monsters are seen about too, but either they look just as arrogant as the humans or are hanging onto the arm of one like a cheap floozy. Hells, you think you even saw a man casually walking a dog-like Kobold on a leash. Hala may or may not have barked at her.

Here and there you begin to see more Order members and notice quite readily those of the Chantry versus the other Heroes. The former stand rigid, or walk in even, ordered steps. They always travel in pairs and Monsters part from their path as if they were toxic, their expressions becoming downcast and submissive.

The latter, however, often go without helmets and can be seen chatting amiably with the citizens while performing various tasks in the city, and generally looking happy. How very curious! Still, something seems little off about this.

“Hey Hero, is it normal for so many uh… of your kind to be out like this?”

Blake shakes his head. “Not usually. Generally patrols step up like this before some kind of event however. Must be a religious procession or something, that’s the usual cause for these things. Shouldn’t affect your boat out at the docks, however.”

You can see in the distance another wall, of course, and behind it, a massive castle. Blake explains that it’s the high seat of the King, and the center of the city. Your gaze sweeps about and finds another, large and fortress like structure, to which Blake nods.

“The Hero’s Hall, or the seat of The Lord Commander. We’ve finally reached headquarters for the Order of the Heroic Brotherhood.”

You stare blankly at the structure, your eyes wide. This is where it all ends, huh? Seems so simple now. You can take your glass, catch a boat, and head on home. What a journey, but it’s almost over. Swelling your chest out with anticipation, you point forward and say,

“Take us in, oh Hero!”

————————————————————————————–

You stare dumbfounded at the man standing outside the gates. He wears the patterns of an Order Hero, an apologetic look on his face. Blake groans while Hala cocks her head, confused at the situation. The man shrugs at you and you hold out a shaking hand, your hopes being crushed just like Blake crushed your poor Communion Glass. Speaking almost in a whisper, you ask,

“What do you mean we can’t come in?”

 

Chapter 65

 

Blake massages his forehead as the Hero in light plate shrugs. “I dunno what to tell you man, looks like they’re preparing for some big event of something, and I’m not supposed to let anyone in this entrance.”

The Hero’s name is Clark, and he leans on a well-maintained spear with an air of laziness, though you get the feeling he can use that weapon.

“You must be joking.” Blake says, groaning

Clark shrugs. “It’s just orders, you understand.” He rubs his chin in thought. “Or perhaps not. I thought you weren’t supposed to come back until you found a, what was it, a wazbig?”

“A Wizard, and I have, he’s right here.”

You wave and Clark raises an eyebrow. “Uh huh. What’s with the Wolf Girl then? You fucking her?”

Blake blushes and Clark rolls his eyes. “You never could keep your dick out of a fresh piece of puss-pie. Chantry is going to looooove this.”

“The Chantry and their doctrine is of little concern to me.”

Clark grits his teeth. “I’d be very careful where you say that. Things have changed some since your departure.”

Blake narrows his eyes, “How so?”

Clark looks around nervously and leans into Blake, “Vincent won the bid for Paladin Primaris.”

Blake’s spine goes rigid and he leans back in his seat on the wagon. He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “I see…”

“Yeah…” Clark says, rubbing at his head. “Anyway, no one comes in today, but I’ll let ol’ Highfield know you’re back.”

“That’s Lord Commander Highfield.”

Clark waves his hand. “Yeah yeah, whatever, just to find some inn or something, you’re covered by the ordinances.”

Blake exhales deeply and shakes his head, making to turn the cart around. As he does you feel a furious anger rise inside you. Oh hells naw, oh HELLS NAW! You came this far and you’re not just going to let some pansy ass Hero keep you from your glass.

Coughing into your hand, you say in what you assume is a commanding voice, “Hold!”

Both heroes look at you with odd expressions, and you suddenly feel self-conscious. “Uh…” You begin, trailing off. Taking a deep breath, you recover and say. “You can’t send us off just like that.”

“Why not?” Clark asks, cocking his head. “It’s kind of my job.”

“Yes, but I’m afraid Blake didn’t tell you everything.” Blake narrows his eyes as you continue. “You see, I am the Grand Wizard. The strongest in the land. When I had heard that there was another Invasion coming, I flew from my home with Blake in tow. The knowledge I have can spell the difference in this war.”

Blake and Hala exchange flat glances with each other but say nothing, merely watching you make a fool of yourself.

Clark furrows his brow and folds his arms. “Oh? Is that so, Blake?”

“Sure, whatever.” He says, seeming tired all of a sudden.

“Hmm.” Clark says, rubbing his chin. “I mean, I’m not supposed to let people in, but you do kind of live here and Hightower might be okay if it’s YOU of all people, but…” He trails off, looking at Hala. She continues to stare at you with a flat expression as you sweat, trying to maintain your composure. A smirk comes to his lips and he chuckles.

“Actually… you know, you’re right. I do seem to recall Hightower saying something about letting you back in posthaste if you return. Gosh, would be such a shame if a certain member of the Chantry found out you brought in a Wolf Girl though. They might have an aneurism.”

Blake furrows his brow and begins to say something when you slap a hand over his mouth and ask, “So you’ll let us in?”

“Yeah, sure.” He says, shrugging. “It’ll be fine.” With that he goes inside and opens the large gate wide enough to allow your wagon entrance into the grounds. As you pass by he chuckles in a manner that makes your spine shiver. Who is this, “specific member of the Chantry?”

With a deep sigh, Blake rolls his eyes as Clark opens the gate and your wagon rolls through. When the cart is almost completely past the gate, Clark sticks his head out and shouts,

“Oh yeah! I’d be careful, I also hear SHE’s been around lately!”

Blake’s back goes utterly rigid and his face turns pale as the wagon rolls past.

“Hmmmm? Who this this ‘she’ he was talking about?” Asks Hala, who seems to magically appear behind the driver’s seat, face pressed next to Blake’s.

“N-no one you need to worry about.”

Hmmmmmmm?” Hala inquires, moving her face closer to his, sweat starting to bead on his forehead.

“AHEM!” You cough, drawing their attention to you. “Can you please get back to driving this cart? I don’t have all day.”

Blake looks annoyed and relieved at the same time, while Hala merely pouts and folds her arms.

The wagon rolls through a well paved, well used road leading toward the center of the Hero’s Hall. Blake informs you that the area you’re currently in is the Outer Cloister, a section used for training due to the large grounds.

All around you see more Heroes walking about, chatting jovially, or practicing their weapon forms on dummies. One practice yard holds many raw looking recruits, a drill instructor slapping them into line if they mess up, which appears to be common. Another practice yard has shirtless warriors with plenty of scars practicing more elaborate sword forms. Generally speaking however, there are a ton of grunting, half naked, and sweaty men.

Hala bites her lip as she takes in the sight of it all, making it Blake’s turn to give her a berating look. Curiously, as you notice all the fighting men, you don’t see any wearing the sunburst of the Chantry. Either they’re all out in the city, or the two factions obviously do not get along well at all. You’re thinking the latter.

The men training turn to look at your wagon as it pulls through. Some of the men yell greetings, while others just look stunned. A few make catcalls on seeing Hala, while others bemoan the fact that Blake got to leave and pick up a girl. Very few give her looks of anger or disgust, which you find surprising. If a war is on the way, shouldn’t they view all Monsters as enemies? How very progressive of the Heroes you guess.

It’s entirely possible they don’t view her as a threat either, you suppose.

It isn’t long before you turn down a path on the road toward a stable yard where some tired looking recruits take your horses. You can’t help but notice they give you strange looks while Hala gets the hungry eyes. She merely gives a wolfish grin and they quickly go back about their business.

Stretching, you nod to Blake. “Welp, where’s this ‘Lord Commander?’ I’d like to be on my way, thank you very much.”

Blake rubs at his forehead. “Honestly Wizard, here I thought you might be a little more mannered, but I suppose even perilous dangers cannot change who a person is.”

Damn straight! You think. Wait, was he being passive aggressive? Bastard.

You glare daggers as Blake leads you through a nearby breezeway where you see rows of hallways crisscrossing more training fields. Here and there you now see men and women in full battle plate, marching in ordered fashion or practicing precise blows while loud scripture is recited. They don’t hesitate in their practice for a moment upon seeing Hala, but you can feel their hatred as she walks past. She shivers and pulls in close to Blake, who reflexively puts an arm around her.

As you walk further down the breezeway a procession of women in white robes approach from a nearby room. From the open doors you hear moans and can smell of blood before they shut. The leader of the group, a tall, beautiful woman with golden hair, stops in her tracks as she sees Blake. A younger girl nearly collides into her, looking perturbed at the sudden halt.

“By the Gods above, is that you Blake? They told me you were never returning.”

Blake holds out his palms and shrugs. “It seems this particular rumor is rather misleading. Nay, I have returned from a quest and am on my way to speak with the Lord Commander.”

He smiles. “Oh, and hello to you too, Catherine.”

She blushes at the remark and you can’t help but notice Hala’s ears stand up as she clutches close to Blake, her tail swishing back and forth. Catherine’s eyes drift to Hala but she just bows her head and addresses you.

“Ah, of course, and you have company. I apologize, I am High Hospitalier Catherine Darnus, head of the Order Hospitaliers. We care for many of the sick and wounded here in the Hero’s Hall and from all over the Kingdom.”

You narrow your eyes and open your [Mage Sight]. Yep, she’s a sorceress alright, and a fairly talented one at that. You can see that a few other of the girls behind her are also magically gifted, though none so strong. This likely explains how they can do so much work here. Having magical healers, and likely priests as well, probably makes it much easier.

Catherine nods her head as the girl behind her pulls on her sleeve. “Ah, of course. Well, I am pleased to know you have returned, but we must be away. Unfortunately, one of our patients managed to walk away last evening without letting anyone know. Generally this wouldn’t be a concern, but the poor man was positively covered in burns; It’s a miracle he’s even alive. Farewell then.” She shakes her head and then nods to her procession, which begins to move down the hall.

Hala glares up at Blake, her ears flat to her head. “She?”

He coughs into his hand. “No, not quite.”

The Wolf Girl gives him the stink eye as you continue down the hall. Soon enough you enter a large, indoor garden known as the Inner Cloister, which forms a nexus of different paths throughout the structure.

Sunlight filters down through stained glass up above, creating beautiful plays of light upon plants you’ve never even considered possible. You see flowers of all shapes and sizes, trees that grow in neat rows, and vines that cover all the walls, neatly trimmed to stay out of the hallway. Hells, you’d probably take more time to admire this if Blake didn’t suddenly stop and turn ghostly pale, sweat starting to drench his face.

“Fuck me in the ass.” He whispers.

Both you and Hala stare at the man in abject horror. Did…Did Blake just swear? You turn to where he’s looking and, standing in the center of the nexus, is a fully armored member of the Chantry. It takes you a moment to realize however that isn’t what Blake is staring at, no. He’s looking at someone else entirely.

Standing just in front of the Chantry warrior is a tall, perhaps six-foot tall, Lizardman. Green scales cover her reptilian legs, arms, and tail while smaller scales touch her pale-skinned face, which hold piercing yellow eyes. Her clawed hand rests upon a sword that she has placed, tip down, onto the stones. She stands stock still, a near snarl on her face as she peers down the hallway.

A light breeze passes by, tossing up the back of her attire: a strange, black coat that hangs loosely down over a tight fitting black undershirt which exposes her arms and shorts. Upon her head sits a large, black cap that shadows her face, but doesn’t manage to hide the look of realization when she sees Blake.

In one swift motion she raises her sword and cries out, the power of it echoing in the chamber, “Blake Beauregard Boudreaux! I, Tabitha Ledral challenge you!”

 

Chapter 66

 

Two things happen in quick succession. The Chantry warrior jumps back and draws a mace at their side while Blake turns even paler. The Lizardman makes no further moves, merely leveling their sword at Blake and standing still. The warrior next to her holds their mace in two hands and cries in a muffled voice from within their helmet, “Stand down foul Monster, or thee shall be rent asunder!”

Tabitha’s lip twitches, but she didn’t break her gaze from Blake. “This is none of your concern, you harlot. Leave us be that I may once more duel the man who bested me in combat.”

“L-leave her be Veronica.” Says Blake, voice shaky. His eyes never leave Tabitha’s, who still glares at him.

The Chantry warrior, Veronica, tears off her helmet with a frustrated curse. As she does, out spills a long trail of dark brown hair framing a gorgeous face and blue eyes.

“By Solos, Blake, the Monster has been parading about for the past few weeks waiting for you and I’m about sick of being on guard duty here! Just let me purge her and be done with it!”

The Lizardman snorts, “As if you could.”

“Oh, I will not have this.” Veronica says, lifting her mace to an attack position.

“Ladies! Ladies please!” Says Blake as he holds his hands out to the two of them. “Let’s just calm down, there’s no need for violence.”

“Of course not.” Replies Tabitha, “Merely duel me with honor instead of your dirty tricks, and we can be done with this farce.”

“And as I have told you,” Sighs Veronica with exasperation, “He did not cheat, he beat you fair and-“

Blake glares daggers at Veronica and she falters in her words. Taking in a deep breath, he wipes his forehead of sweat before speaking in a shaky voice. “Y-yes, I did cheat, afraid was I to be bested by a Monster in front of my peers. For that I am sorry. But there is urgent business I must attend to, isn’t that right, Wizard?”

Blake looks at you, pleadingly, and you shrug. “Honestly, I’m getting really sick of all this, let’s just meet the big man, okay?”

Veronica and Tabitha both look at you and in an instant dismiss you like they would a pile of trash before turning to Hala.

“Who’s the bitch?” Asks the other Monster.

“Yes, please, introduce ME to this lovely young lady.”

Blake coughs as Hala puts her hands on her hips. “L-ladies, this is Hala, my uhm…” He mumbles, “…girlfriend I guess.”

“You guess?”

“With a Monster? Outrageous!”

“Breaking the sanctity of the duel!”

All three women begin to argue between each other while Blake groans and puts his face in his hands. You think he might be sobbing. As amusing as it is to watch Blake be humiliated however, you don’t have time for this shit. Channeling some of your will into your staff, you slam it onto the stones and cry, your voice thundering through the room,

“ENOUGH!”

All four of them freeze in place and stare at you, even Tabitha. In an exasperated voice, you say, “Stop your pointless bickering and continue on the path, HERO.”

Tabitha opens her mouth and you glare at her, a gesture she returns in kind. Blake nods to you, looking relieved, again, before coughing into his hand and saying, “Y-yes, we cannot leave the Lord Commander waiting. Come, let’s be on our way.”

“I shall accompany you then,” Tabitha says, falling into step next to Blake, on the other side of Hala. “You shall not escape me again.”

Veronica comes up from behind, hand on her now holstered mace. “I am tasked with guarding this one, so it seems I should come along.” She blushes as she looks to Blake. “I-it is good to see you again though.”

You just hang in the back, watching this farce unfurl. No, no you can’t just have it easy, can you? But that’s fine, you’re almost at the end of the path. Literally and figuratively because you soon stop before a large door, flanked by two Heroes.

“Ah, Hero Boudreaux, I thought Clark was supposed to be keeping people out?” Asks one of the guards as you approach.

Blake gives a pleading look to the Hero before saying in his most commanding tone. “I have come with the requested Wizard to make a report to the Lord Commander. I trust he is present?”

“Lord Commander Highfield is inside, however…” The man trails off as he see’s Blake’s expression, something akin to a whimpering puppy. The two guards look at each other before the first shakes his head and walks inside the room. A moment later he returns and says, “Of course, Hero. You and your guests will-“

Blake’s eyes dart between the women and the guard and he makes a twitching motion with his lips. The guard coughs and says quickly,

“Ah, but it’s just the Hero and the ah… Wizard, allowed in I am afraid. Ladies, would you please wait outside?’

If looks could kill then that guard would have been vaporized. The assembled women grumble and glare at each other before they stand down, each giving petulant looks to the other. The two of you quickly move inside, the door closing behind you.

The interior of the chamber is richly furnished with couches, paintings, and all manner of heraldry and relics. It’s amazing to behold, and you take it all in as a quiet descends upon you from the chaos that was mere moments ago. On one wall rests a collection of old swords, stained with blood as they sit in their cases, numbers written on plaques under them. Other antique weapons line the room, such as spears, arrows, even an ancient looking black staff with a red gem embedded at the head. The paintings you see depict epic battles between Monsters and Order warriors, some even being portraits of former Lord Commanders.

As you looked about, you hear from a husky voice from a side room, “Ah, Blake, come in, come in.”

You both look at each other and nod before walking into what looks like a study. The room is lined with shelves full of books and more antiques, arranged around a massive rosewood desk bearing the sigil of the Order. Behind the desk, in a luxurious chair, sits a large, well-built man, with short, cropped black hair with a dusting of grey in it. He smiles, and you can see he has lines around his mouth from doing it so often, real or no. He waves to seats in front of his desk.

“Sit, sit. We’re rather busy here at the moment, but my guard said you were quite insistent on seeing me. Ah, but please, introduce me to this, Wizard, yes?”

Blake bows to The Lord Commander, “Of course, my Lord, I understand.” Blake wave a hand towards you. “As ordered, I have searched these lands and found a Wizard to help with the war effort.” He blanches then, “Unfortunately, he does not wish to fight, and has only come hither due to a debt I owe him for damaging his property by mistake.”

“Ah, I see. That is most unfortunate.” Highfield says. He smiles at you and bows his head. “I apologize for all that my man has put you through. We were quite excited at the prospect of a Wizard joining us again after so long, but alas, we cannot force you to fight.”

“I…thank you my, uh… Lord?” You say as you settle into your chair, getting comfortable. “Hero Blake did not mean any malintent with his actions, however I am to told that you are the only carriers of Galmathorian Glass after…”

Highfield sighs. “Dreadful, yes. But rest assured, we shall have control of those lands in due time.” He waves a hand, as if reclaiming the territory would be that simple. “Now then, you needed some glass? Yes, we do have of a stockpile of Galmathorian Glass that you can pick from, just ask the quartermaster and he can give you all you need for your journey home.”

“And… And you have the latest glass?”

“Well, whatever was mined before the Invasion, yes.”

“And… I can just take it, no strings attached?”

“None at all.”

“Really?”

“Quite.”

You become very quiet then. That… That’s it. It’s here. No strings attached, just one little shopping trip and you can leave. Your quest is…

It’s over.

 

Chapter 67

 

Sitting in mute silence as you contemplate all of this, you dimly hear Blake speaking with Highfield.

“…I wasn’t aware the Monsters had an ambassador.”

“Nor did we, which is why we are preparing so stringently. They’ve never held this kind of behavior before, and I fear it is a prelude to something more sinister.”

“Could she be pursuing peace?”

“Perhaps, perhaps. All will be made clear soon. Now then, shall you take time to rest, or…”

“No… No I’ll stand guard, just let me…”

You snap back into reality with a jolt and realize both men are looking at you. Coughing into your hand, you mutter, “Oh… Uhm. Sorry.”

The Lord Commander laughs. “Think nothing of it, dear boy, but yes, as I was saying to Blake, you are welcome to see the procession as well.” He scratches his chin. “If you wish to go, I’d leave soon however, or I’m afraid the streets will become quite congested.”

Blake nods his head toward you. “Go ahead Wizard, the guards outside can lead you to the quartermaster.” He looks down, expression somewhat somber, though he’s smiling. “I suppose this is where we say goodbye then. It would have been a… pleasure, to fight alongside you more.”

And just like that, you can get up and walk away. A quick jaunt down the hallway and you’ll be set up all nice and happy. It’s all you wanted, right?

Yet something is holding you back. You aren’t quite sure what it is but at that moment, Selene’s voice echoes in your mind,

“Don’t disappoint me, love.”

What if she was the ambassador that he spoke of? What if the Monster Lady is actually suing for peace? It… It could mean… No, no but that isn’t anything you need to worry about. You won’t see any monsters, even Selene, ever again after you return home. That’s the way of things!

Still… you do feel a pull of curiosity. How often could one say they saw something like this? Hells, no one on the Communion Matrix would believe you, so you feel you could stick it in a few craws by waving such info about. Hells, it might even be amusing in some little way.

You know deep down these all just excuses, ways to try and justify what you’re about to do. Despite inner warning sirens blaring at you in your mind, you open your mouth and say,

“Y-You know what, I think I can spare an extra day in the capital. Might never get to see something like this again.”

Blake’s eyes widen while Highfield raises one eyebrow.

“Is that so, Wizard? Well then, by all means, we would be happy to see you at the procession today.”

“I…uh, but… You jus… wha?” Is all Blake can stutter, clearly shocked.

You shake your head and waggle a finger. “Of course, I am getting my glass first.”

Highfield laughs heartily, “Of course, of course! Please, feel free to tour the Hero’s Hall until you are summoned. Should you wish for directions, any member of the Order should suffice to serve you.”

You nod to the Lord Commander, then to Blake, who still looks stunned, and turn to go. As you do, you hear, “Now then, Hero Boudreaux, let us speak more of your travels…”

Passing out the giant wooden doors, you find the gaggle of girls chatting fiercely. A look to the guards shows them rather overwhelmed, and you feel their pain. As soon as the door slams shut, all three turn to stare at you, glaring.

“You, Wizard, where is the Hero?” Asks Tabitha, her direct tone cutting straight to the chase.

“Yes, where is my dear?” Asks Hala, clearly annoyed.

Veronica glares between the two of them and sighs, rubbing her forehead in a similar gesture to the one you see Blake do. “Honestly, he’ll be out in his own time, let us not pester the poor man until Blake returns.” She pops the knuckles of her free hand, and growls, “And when he does…”

You look to the side, clack your tongue, and skedaddle out of there.

“Hey! Wizard! You coming back?” Hala shouts after you as you boot-scoot-and-boogie on out.

“Yeah, I guess!” You reply back before you catch yourself and just keep moving. Damnit.

{Smooth.} Says Bubs in your pocket, apparently deciding to wake up just now. Cheeky bastard.

Your flight soon brings you back to the Inner Cloister, and you pause to catch your breath. A few other Heroes pass by and give you odd looks, but none seem to have time to stop and inquire after you. As you look about to decide your next move, you hear a familiar voice behind you,

“Ah, sir Wizard! A pleasure to make your acquaintance again.”

Turning about, you see Catherine, her posse of healers absent, walking down the hallway. You can appreciate how gorgeous she is now. Despite being clad in long, white robes, she wears them in such a manner that they accentuate her fair skin and hair, bringing out her brilliant blue eyes. Fumbling for words, you end up bowing your head to her. “Ah, yes, uh, hello, High…?”

“Hospitalier, but you may call me Catherine.” She says, giggling. “What brings you out here, alone?”

“Oh… Uhm, I was on my way to the uh, quartermaster you see, and thought I would uhhh…”

“Oh of course, of course. The quartermaster is down the in the training fields, past the infirmary. If you would like, I can escort you back that way?”

“Uhhhhhh.” Monsters, humans, whatever, you have enough sauce covered noodles in your pockets for everyone. Hah, and here you thought you’d actually grown a little on this trip.

“Y-yeah sure. Actually, I was kind of wondering if I could, well, you know, see how you work healing magic?”

Catherine’s eyebrows shoot up. “Oh? You know that I am a sorceress? My, I suppose I should expect a Wizard to see such things.” She smiles softly, the glow of her white teeth nearly blinding you as the soft light about her makes her stand out like a radiant angel.

“But of course, it would be my pleasure to show you my… talents.”

 

Chapter 68

 

Falling in pace beside her, your footsteps echo about through the hall. She is silent for a time, before she asks without a hint of hesitation, “Wizard, do you know that you reek?”

You blink and almost trip over yourself. “I- what?”

“Not physically, but magically. You reek as if you are steeped in foul magic. I was wondering if you knew this.”

You look down at your hands and blink. Is… Is that right? You don’t really think of it that way, but well, maybe she has a point. You do sort of delve into shit slinging, plaguebringing, magic, but that isn’t inherently, bad… right?

“Uhhh. I did not.”

She smiles again and places a hand on your arm which, even through your thick robes, you feel a gentle light pulse through your flesh. You shiver as she pulls back and shakes her head when you reach the infirmary doors.

“Ah, I see. Well, should you choose to cleanse yourself, I shall be willing to aid you in any way possible.” As she says this last bit, she wiggles a little, and you get the distinct feeling that she somehow knows much more about Wizards than a normie should.

A guard opens the door to the infirmary and you are once again awash in the smell of blood and antiseptic, the sounds of the dying and the infirm, and you can feel the power of sickness in the air, resonating with yourself. Fuck, maybe she has a point.

Catherine strides forward confidently, stopping at bedsides and speaking with people while laying her hands upon some and whispering gentle words. You have your [Mage Sight] open for this, performing [Fast Scan] left and right, seeing a world of new humoral unbalances. Some are slight, superficial things, while others reek of rot and decay within their living bodies.

You pass by a bed where a young woman is clutching her stomach, her face twisted in agony. Catherine leans down and whispers some soothing words, before straining in concentration. You watch as she places her hands on the woman’s stomach and channels power into the body. You’re surprised as she not only corrects the humors, but pulses constantly a low and gentle stream that soothes out what could only be blood in her abdomen. It’s different from what you do to remove poisons and such, which harnessed your natural tendencies to pull upon rot, and instead smooths it out, allowing the righted humors to clear the problem itself. It’s very efficient, and the woman soon leans back in bed, looking incredibly relieved as she murmurs fervent thanks to Catherine.

Another man with large wound over his abdomen, his color pale and the wound looking dangerously discolored, groans nearby. Catherine frowns at him before calling over two orderlies who restrain the poor man as she leans down and studies the wound. You can physically see her draw in power from something at her belt pouch, and mana flows into her and gathers in her hand. With a slow, even gesture, she plunges her hand into the wound, causing the man to scream in agony before one of the orderlies gags him.

The power around her hand flares and illuminates the rot that has nearly consumed him, and you know quite well that had you seen this, it would have been easier to cast [Rapid decomposition] on his organs than it would be to save them. But at Catherine’s touch, the humours just… just right themselves. The power drains rapidly from her but, like ink in water, it spreads out, cleansing the wounds, and restores energy to the devitalized tissue as rapid growth of new organ covers that which was necrotized.

It shouldn’t have been possible, but as Catherine pulls her hand out, you can see her panting in effort, the crystal at her side drained of power. The man leans back, twitching slightly as one orderly gently picks Catherine up, her beautiful form seeming somehow less exuberant.

She pants out, “I-I am afraid I could not close the wound. Wizard, do you believe that you…” She cuts off as she realizes what she’s saying and she sighs, looking up at an orderly. “I am afraid I will need you to close the wound with catgut, if you-“

“I… I can close it. Don’t worry, just guide me through.”

Catherine looks at you askance and you sniff. Her eyes turn to the man however, and she sighs. “Oh… very well then. Place your hands upon him and focus upon forcing energy into the body. His humours are righted, so it is merely an exercise in forcing proliferation and closure.”

You nod and do as she said. It’s surprisingly easy and within a matter of seconds, the wound is closed, barely any scar tissue present. Catherine nods at you wearily. “It seems you have an aptitude for healing as well. That spell you just performed is often called [Soothe].”

You blush. “Th-thanks.”

The orderly and yourself help her sit down in a nearby empty bed. She seems grateful for the help, and waves away the orderlies then, who leave to attend other duties.

“Thank you, Wizard. That was more trouble than I expected.”

“Uh… Think nothing of it?”

She smiles and looks around before clacking her tongue. “Oh, I see, this is the bed of the man who had the burns before. Poor soul, we could only do so much for him, but the extent of his wounds made it impossible to do more than save his life- though I am surprised he lived this long.”

“What do you plan to do to find him?”

“Well that’s the thing, we don’t know how he escaped. It sounds as if he slipped out on his own and must have talked his way out of the main gate from what we can piece together. It’s a shame, but if he does not return, he will likely die of infection I should imagine. A horrible death, but one he has chosen.”

She ponders, “Such an odd man though. When we managed to restore his speech, all he could say was…” She blushes and you wave her on. “Bitches and hos.”

Your eyes grow wide. No… No it couldn’t be, could it?

“D-Did he have a name?’

“Oh yes, he kept muttering that also. Oh what was it… Frank… Fred… Fran… Ah, Franz! Franz Jakovitch, I believe it was- Oh dear, are you well?”

Only then do you realize you’re sweating a little. You shake your head to clear your thoughts. Oh Gods, Franz Jakovitch is alive! If he finds out you’re in town… No, no, surely he’ll just die on his own right? Y- You have nothing to fear from him, right?

“Did you catch ill? Shall I nurse you?” Asks Catherine, snapping you back into reality as you realize that her forehead is touching yours.

Falling over backward, you knock over a tray of bandages, and people all around stop and stare at you. You look about in a panic and quickly pick yourself up, grabbing up bandages as you hastily say, “Nope! I feel great! Just peachy! Uhm, I think I uh, I think I’ll be off to the quartermaster now!”

Catherine blinks at you and then quirks a smile, giggling. “Oh very well Wizard. I think I shall remain here for now. Have a pleasant stay, and should you rethink an offer of cleansing…” She smirks.

You cough and turn about, almost colliding into an orderly with a tray of pies. That would have been confusing, messy, and hilarious, but you manage to dance your way out of the infirmary without further misstep.

Once you step outside, you let out a deep breath and put a hand to your chest. Dear Gods, no safety anywhere! Still, that was quite worth it, and you think you picked up a number of new tricks there- Ah, but to the quartermaster!

It’s a quick trip, and you soon arrive at a large structure with men constantly moving crates as loud and boisterous people in robes taking notes. You carefully weave past a pair carrying a pallet of helmets and make your way to a strong man bellowing orders while standing on a box.

“Gregor! I need those greaves, now! Hey, Charles, don’t you dare open that box of spices!”

As you approach, he looks down at you and grunts, “What do you want?”

You stare at him, somehow finding it difficult to speak all of a sudden. “Uhhhhh.”

“I ain’t got all day, speak up!”

“You uh, you have Galmathorean uh…”

“Oh, you’re the Wizard eh? Look, it’s inside, third door to the left, second shelf, third row.”

You blink and wobble, the numbers jumbling in your head as you enter the structure. The warehouse is neatly arranged with row upon row of rooms, lined with row upon row of items. You easily find the section with the crystals and, with shaking hands, you open the box labeled, “Glass, Galmathorean.”

Glorious light spills over you as you behold multiple pieces of finely cut, pure Galmathorean glass. You can FEEL the nexus of energies in each glass and the purity and power of them make you feel somehow small and meaningless. This… This right here is joy, joy which makes your old glass pale in comparison. All you need is to inscribe some component runes, hook it up to your runic keys, and you’ll have what you came for.

Gently, you remove two pieces of glass and wrap them in cloth before carefully storing them in your [Sack of Holding+1]. There, snug.

A great weight seems to lift off your shoulders then, and you sag down, nearly crying as you hug your bag. You have the glass again. Everything will be okay again. The world can go back to the way it’s supposed to be…

“It’s time.”

You turn to see Blake standing behind you and you remember the procession. Guess the world can wait a little longer to right itself.

 

Chapter 69

 

An hour later you find yourself standing at the head of a column of Order Heroes next to Blake as you fall in behind Lord Commander Highfield. Beside you is a podium and, on the other side, a contingent of Chantry headed by a tall, powerful man with a well-set jaw and narrow eyes.

This must be Vincent, the Paladin Primaris. A resplendent robe of purple and silver sits over his ornate battle plate, but unlike the other Chantry members, he wears no helmet. He stares straight down the road, which has been packed with people and Monsters on either side, with lines of Order soldiers facing inward, holding them at bay. You notice his eyes moving along the Monsters in the crowd, taking stock of them, but his expression never changes.

Looking over the Chantry members, you notice the distinct, armored form of Veronica as she stands in line. It seems odd to you that someone who obviously has a lady boner for Blake would be part of these sticklers, but hey, you didn’t- er, don’t, care for Monsters either. Quickly looking away to the crowd, you easily notice Hala and Tabitha as well, the two arguing amongst each other by their expressions.

With a roll of your eyes, you turn to Blake to ask when this is going to start when you hear a murmur go over the crowd. A loud, regal trumpet blares. The crowd goes silent, and the Order warriors tense up, but make no move otherwise. From the distance, you hear the ripple of excited whispers, followed by appalled gasps, and then, the sound of hoofbeats and rolling wheels. As it grows closer, you hear another sound like… is that barking?

You strain to look out down the street as the sounds approach. From around the corner turn two Centaurs with some features different than what you’ve seen before. The gleaming horns on their heads proclaim them as Unicorns you’re sure, but both of them have two horns sprouting from their heads instead of one, and their hair is black as night. Smiling and giggling to each other, they pull a large cart behind them with little difficulty, large chains attached to harnesses jingling as they trundle forward. The contraption hugs the corner moments later and your eyes go wide in surprise.

Two Hellhounds, Monsters with coal black skin and feral, canine features, stand atop the cart, collars around their necks chained to leashes held by two strong looking Red Oni. The red-skinned Monsters hold them back as they growl and bark at the crowd, laughing with glee as fires burst into light around their bodies. Behind them is a group of three Succubi, extremely attractive Monsters with mostly human features save for bat-like wings on their back and spade tails. They huddle together, looking over the crowd with their cheeks flushed, their undulating motions betraying their lust to leap from the cart and perform acts of debauchery.

Despite all these wonders, what truly draws the eye is a large statue of a winged woman on the cart. She is split down the center, one side looking angelic and demure, while the other looks like a Succubus. Despite the demonic side sporting a horn and clawed limbs, it somehow manages to remain beautiful and alluring.

In front of this statue sits a tall woman on a throne, dressed in a curious outfit of white and red that you feel is similar to something you’ve seen in your eastern theatre. She sits there, her back rigid, but you see nothing that would differentiate her from any normal human until you notice the impressive amount of long, black hair coming from her head.

Oh, and that the hair seems to move on it’s own accord.

When the strange Unicorns pull up to the stage they stop and giggle between each other before smiling at the Order soldiers and making lewd gestures. For their part at least, the Heroes and Chantry members keep their faces impassive despite the shows of depravity.

From the stage an old man in rich robes emblazoned with the Sun of Solos steps forward to the podium. As he stands before it, a hush settles over the crowd despite the provocation of the Monsters in the street. The man clears his throat before speaking in a surprisingly clear voice.

“Esteemed citizens of Deleor, I welcome you to this momentous occasion. On this day, we witness the first time in history that the Monster Nation sends an Ambassador of goodwill. Under the glory of Solos, I humbly introduce, Tolosh, High Priestess of Dollora.”

The Monster atop the platform smiles and slowly rises from her throne, her hair flowing about like tentacles as she as induces calm in her subordinates, even the Hellhounds. She walks calmly to the edge of her platform, caressing the heads of the Succubi as she looks out over the crowd.

A smirk comes to her lips and a moment later she opens her mouth and, despite the projection of her voice, it sounds smooth as new spun silk, dancing across your ears,

“I thank you, High Priest Caldaron. It is certainly my pleasure to be here indeed.”

You half hoped that the ambassador would be Selene, but you never really believed things would be that easy. Hells, you actually feared it may be the Monster Lady herself, but from Selene’s description that also seemed unlikely. This, however, is just as bad.

Despite her appearance of a beautiful human, this creature before you is quite obviously a Monster. There is no mistaking that posture of calm power and, even if you don’t know better, the way her hair twitches and shivers makes your spine react in kind. You don’t know much about this variety of Monster, but it seems obvious that the hair could be both pleasant or deadly, however it’s used.

Seeing as Tolosh here is a Temple Guardian, you assume she used them frequently for the latter.

It’s odd though, why would the Monster Lady send one of her personal guard here, into the heart of human civilization, where she could quite easily be slaughtered by the large number of Order soldiers? Surely even HER faith could not protect her from that, yet here she is. Is she plotting to kill the leaders of the Order? That would be quite the blow before wartime, but…

No, no this doesn’t sit well with you, being exposed like this.

Uncomfortable, you flick your hand in two directions and install [Remote Sentries] into the buildings on the sides of the street, giving you a view of the crowd.

As soon as you do, Tolosh’s hair starts to writhe and you see her eyes take note of you before quickly passing and returning to the High Priest, her hair growing still again. It’s readily apparent that she noticed what you did, but she doesn’t seem to care one lick about it. Seems you need to be even more careful about what you do here, or it could be a diplomatic incident.

{Bubs.} you think to your companion. A moment later a tiny rat head appears from your robes.

{Boss, I really, reaaaaallllyyyy don’t like this one. I know fluffy tails is scary, but she’s downright terrifying.}

{I feel you on that one little guy, but I have a job for you.}

{Is it… Go back to sleep and wait for this all to calm down?}

{Sort of, if you mean sleep to be “go out into the crowd and look for anything that could be trouble.”}

{Do I have to?}

{Yep.}

{Ugghhh… fine. Spells, danger, bad smells and the like?}

{Sounds go-wait, since when could you detect spells?}

{Magic rat.}

{You are going to lose hat privileges if you keep saying this, you know.}

Bubs squeaks in terror and jumps out of your pocket and into the crowd. You can feel his presence as he weaves back and forth through people’s legs, quickly making his way through. With a little effort, you do a mental scan through your two sentries and see nothing of value.

“…and though in the past, our two peoples have had their differences, it is with this visit that we look forward to a brighter future for all, under the light of the Gods.”

You snap back to it in a rush, the sounds of the scene flooding to you as you catch the last part of the High Priest’s introduction. Looking about, you see the majority of the audience’s rapt attention on him, some clutching tiny sigils of the sun to their breast, others whispering prayers. Out in the audience you can also see Monsters looking bored at his words, or staring at the procession before you, much the same as a few men who couldn’t keep their eyes off the feast at the feet of the High Priestess.

Tolosh nods her head slightly to the High Priest in response. A tiny droplet of sweat begins to trickle down the man’s head as she speaks, that soft voice flowing from her and over the crowd.

“Truly, this is an honor the likes of which we have never seen before. For too long have our people fought and slaughtered each other. There has been millennia of bad blood over instincts and ideals that have long since lost their place in this world.”

She turns slowly, her gaze drifting over the audience. Although your eyes are open to any magic, you do not see her casting a damn thing. Even her hair is still, yet she has every eye upon her, either for her presence, or the low cut of her robes which reveal a lovely set of full breasts.

“We have come today to bring word that our Lady, may she live forever, has decided enough is enough. The bloodshed between human and Monster shall be ended, and instead, a coexistence can be brought to bear.”

The audience begins to furiously speak amongst themselves, some appalled at the thought, while others, especially the other Monsters, look both surprised and interested. The Lord Commander slams his shield in time with other Order Heroes and quiet begins to settle down the audience.

Tolosh nods to him slightly, her hair wriggling as she smiles. “How, you may ask, is this possible? You see before you, in your own cities that it exists, but even I know that the stigma of discrimination still lives in the hearts and minds of the people! This is not true harmony, but a mere shadow.”

The crowd murmurs again, but quiets down as she begins up, “No, no the true path to my Lady and Dollora’s wisdom, is for man and Monster to grow closer together, to where the line between humanity and Monsterdom blurs and twists and, in the end, we become one people.”

She points to the statue of her Goddess. “Just as is Dollora.”

You could see the members of the Chantry become visibly agitated, although they still keep their position.  A scowl comes across the Paladin Primaris’s face while people in the crowd start to voice objections as Tolosh continues.

“Brethren! I do not ask you to believe me merely upon my word, no. Instead I bring you proof that man and Monster can truly become one!”

She points to the three Succubi on the platform, their bodies pressed together as their wings flutter about. Each of them lets out soft moans at being the center of attention, their scantily clad bodies sliding across each other.

“Galmathoria, long a land which lay close to the borders of the Monster Nation, and yet had never accepted Monsters in their heart.” She closes her eyes, expression becoming saddened, “This state of affairs had broken my Lady’s heart, and through her wisdom, we had visited the people there and spoke to them about the joy, and the glory, of life according to Dollora’s plan.”

“Perhaps you wonder why you have not heard from the people of this fair land in so long? It was no plague that kept news at bay, but the willful fear of your Lords who tried to shelter the wonderful secret from you.”

She opens her palm out and the three Succubi stand, stretching languidly before posing, their bodies radiant in the mid-day sun. Tolosh’s eyes open once again, and her voice echoes further as she turns about.

“These three were once human, but when the truth was presented to them, they did not run! They did not flee! They accepted the beauty and the wisdom of harmony! They chose to become one with Dollora, and in doing so, have achieved greater pleasure than they ever could have as humans. In fact, all of Galmathoria has accepted this truth, and the women, the men, nay, all inhabitants of this land have joined up in cries of pleasure and adoration every night!”

The crowd goes deathly silent. You see the color drain from the faces of many Heroes at her words, though you share the same sentiment. By the Gods above, she speaks of… of monsterization. The process of turning human women into Monsters, fundamentally destroying their old life and, along with their new forms, filling their thoughts with that of sex and other baser instincts. It’s practically unheard of anymore for Monsters to do this to people, while cases like Samantha are even more uncommon. Was she implying however that Galmathoria had willingly accepted this?

A voice breaks in the crowd, grabbing everyone’s attention.

“D-Dorothy? Sister is… Is that you?

You use one of your sentries to home in on a scared looking woman who clutches at a sigil of Solos, her eyes brimming with tears. A man beside her grasps her shoulder as she stares transfixed at the Succubi on the platform.

The middle Succubus turns to the crowd, her eyes locking upon the woman. She smiles and says, her words dripping like honey, “Adeline… My dear sister.”

 

Chapter 70

 

Shocked murmurs race through the crowd as the woman’s eyes grow large and she screams out, “W-what have they done to you?!”

The Succubus laughs. “Done to me? They’ve granted me more than I could have ever wished for. Pleasure you can barely imagine, a beautiful body, and the ability to please my husband in ways he never thought possible.”

She licks her lips and holds out a hand. “Oh Adeline, join me, will you? You and Timothy… you won’t regret it.”

The woman, Adeline, puts a hand to her mouth and turns away, tears streaming from her eyes as the crowd goes utterly ballistic. The Order soldiers hold back the line, forming a shield wall as everything from curses to amazement rain down upon the congregation.

Tolosh merely stand there, smiling as her hair dances. The three Succubi pull in close again, making lewd gestures to men in the crowd while the Hellhounds tear fiercely at their chains.

People begin to argue amongst themselves and Monsters in the crowd. In some places scuffles begin to break out as men and women become accusatory towards the Monsters near them. You grip your staff as more and more Order Heroes crowd around The Lord Commander and High Priest, obviously ready for conflict.

A sharp, piercing sound echoes through the crowd, and a burst of blinding light appears from the other side of the stage, forcing you to shield your eyes from the glare. You blink away the light to see a Vincent, the Paladin Primaris, standing center stage, his face utterly livid as his voice booms like that of a God’s,

“BY THE LIGHT OF SOLOS, I WILL NOT HAVE VIOLENCE! BE SILENT!”

It hits you like a physical force, and even Tolosh staggers at his conviction. The rest of the crowd shudders and steps back, cowed into silence by his aggressive light. He glares at her and her entourage, lips peeling back as he snarls,

“Foul creature of the dark Goddess. You bring nothing but lies and misery wherever you set foot. Leave now before your posturing is taken as an act of war!”

Lord Commanded Highfield’s eyebrows shoot up at this and he rounds on Vincent, expression worried.

“By Solos, Vincent, do you know what you are-?”

“Posturing?” Coos Tolosh as her hair drifts up, almost defensively towards Victor. “I do not posture, I perform miracles in the name of the Goddess!”

She lifts up her arms and cries out. “Who here would be saved? Who here would allow the truth to course through them? To become a new man or woman in the eyes of the Goddess?!”

You feel Bubs squirm out in the audience. {Oi, Big guy, I smell something like crispy bacon, and it reeks of magic. Be careful, I think it’s-}

Tolosh points out from the platform, as if guided by the divine, to a human in brown robes, who had just entered the area from a side street. He looks at her in surprise but walks forward, as if being drawn in somehow.

People part as the man wobbles through toward the stage. At the last moment he trips, eliciting a cry of pain as he collides with it. You can see multiple bandages covering his arms and legs as he pushes himself up, although his face is covered by the cowl of the robe.

One of the Hellhounds pulls at her chain and gets in his face, fires raging bright as she gives a domineering smile toward him. The man looks up at her and she freezes, fires flickering out for a moment before she’s pulled back by her handler, shock on her face.

Tolosh’s hair wraps around the man and brings him up onto the platform as easily as it sways in the wind. The man stumbles for a moment, seeming confused and perhaps a little scared. He looks out over the crowd, possibly searching for aid before his eyes find you. There are more bandages covering the man’s face under the cowl, only exposing burned lips and eyes, but through the shadows you see a deep and intense hatred burning there.

He whirls about to the High Priestess and, with some effort, kneels down. It takes him a moment, but he speaks in a rasping voice, “I… ask for your blessing, oh Priestess of the True Goddess.”

Vincent takes a step forward. “Priestess, I warn you…”

She raises an eyebrow as her hair begins to curl and twist around the burned man. “Dear Paladin Primaris, are you interfering in this man’s choice by threatening me? Would your Order, who prides itself on upholding freedom and justice, so quickly abandon its ways?”

Vincent grits his teeth, looking aside as he knows he is beat. There isn’t a damn thing he can do while the crowd looks on with rapt attention as a faint, purple light dances around the High Priestess’s hair. She places a hand upon his head and takes a deep breath, seeming satisfied. “Your hatred and anger is palpable. Your devotion to your worldly pursuit is admirable and can be a source of fuel for your journey. Come, join your brothers and sisters.”

Throwing back her head, you see her eyes begin to glow with the same purple light.

“Dollora! Hear the cry of your chosen daughter! This man has asked for your blessing, that he may be cleansed of his affliction, and join in your congregation! Grant me the power as your conduit, to do your will upon this world!”

With a snap, her hair clamps down upon the man. In an instant he’s covered by the living hairs, their power coursing into him. You see this with your [Mage Sight] and your [Fast Scan] and know power is flowing, but you cannot tell how or why. This is dark magic brought about by divine means, something utterly and completely foreign to you. You can only watch as the power courses through and consumes his humours, staining them pitch black.

It takes only moments for the process to finish as slowly, the hair uncoils, revealing the man again. Immediately you can tell he stands taller, his posture less pained, as he looks at himself before pulling back his cowl and undoing the bandages upon his head.

It’s as you feared. There, upon the platform, stands Franz Jakovitch, restored to a glory that surpasses what you had seen before. His dark features are smooth and sleek, his restored hair glossy and short. The biggest change though, are his eyes. The sclera are pure black, and his irises glow a deep, malevolent, red.

He smiles wickedly and stares at you, his expression oozing with arrogance and malice. Your spine shivers in reaction to it, and you can positively feel the increase in his magical potential. His body is restored, his magic is amplified, and his smile and optimism, returned.

That’s not why you shivered, however. No, you shivered because underneath it all, you see that this metamorphosis has granted him a new lease on life, but only for a limited time. This… power within him, this darkness, is eating at his very core, feeding upon his life force as a power source. This isn’t a new lease on life, not some kind of “male monsterization.” It’s a deception, one that you know Franz neither suspects, nor cares about as he licks his lips and raises his hands to the sky.

“DOLLORA BE PRAISED!”

The crowd explodes again, this time the Paladin Primaris not even bothering to quiet them, merely turning about, his Chantry retinue following him off the stage with the High Priest, who looks on in horror. The Lord Commander does his best to keep the populace from killing each other, but you can see more people rushing up and bowing to the High Priestess as she raises her arms in ecstasy at the chaos.

You do not stay and watch what happens further as Blake puts an arm on your shoulder and drags you away. As you’re forcefully removed, your gaze continues to lock upon the red eyes of Franz Jakovitch until he too is lost in the sea of people.

 

Chapter 71

 

Blake paces outside the Lord Commander’s study, biting on his finger as you sit, staring off into space from the day’s events. This… was utterly unexpected. It took four hours for the ambassador’s party to leave the town safely, and scores of people followed in her wake. Reports are coming in that more people and Monsters are leaving, following her back to Galmathoria. Even some normal soldiers of the city have abandoned their posts to follow her.

Thankfully there’s been no reports of any Heroes and certainly no Chantry deserting, but this is still a terrible blow to the city. When outlying towns and Monster populations hear about this as well… it’s not going to be pretty.

“Damnit, it can’t be true, can it?” Murmurs Blake as he continues to wear a hole into the ground, waiting for your appointment with Highfield. Ever since you returned from the procession, he’s seemed agitated, as if playing over an argument in his mind. You can guess what he’s thinking. “Surely, if what she said was true, then everything I could ever want is in Galmathoria! But can it really be that simple?”

You play out the conversation with your hands, mocking the two conflicting voices in Blake’s head with little gestures. He stops and stares at you, about to say something when the door to the study bursts open and Highfield strides past you and to his desk. He yanks open a drawer and pulls out a bottle of some thick, amber liquid, which he drinks straight from the bottle before slamming into onto the table.

He glares up at Blake and then takes a deep breath, steadying himself.

“Hero Blake, Wizard, do you know why I have called you here?”

“To discuss the events of today and how we might proceed forward-“

Highfield lifts a hand and Blake falls silent. The Lord Commander massages his temple, his jovial demeanor from earlier in the day gone, and sighs. “Yes, yes, but it is more than that. This little show by the High Priestess was the first battle of this war, and one which we were utterly unprepared to deal with.”

He stares into Blake’s eyes. “People are actively leaving to join or even BECOME Monsters. This isn’t merely a physical invasion any longer, it is spiritual, ideological.”

Blake returns the stare and asks, “Is what she said about Galmathoria true? Has it truly gone over willingly?”

The Lord Commander is silent for a time before answering. “The Order is not what it once was. People used to respect us and what we did, used to heed our orders, work with us, and make us proud.” He takes another swig of his bottle. “Our brothers in Galmathoria, much like us, were merely tolerated, or even hated at times, for riding on the arrogance of the past. We do not know the details, but as far as we know, not a drop of blood was spilled in its conquest.”

No one speaks for a few moments, absorbing this. Blake breaks the silence first, “Is it truly worth going to war over what is a choice?”

Highfield seems to age many years as he slumps in his chair. “Blake… It’s these kinds of questions…”

He sighs again and straightens, looking at the Hero squarely. “Though I fear we are entering a period which will soon be marked by war, and we shall need every Hero on the front lines, I am afraid that once more the Order requires your aid for a mission of dire import.”

Blake narrows his eyes. “Such as?”

“We have received intelligence that the Monster Lady has not been seen in the Monster Nation capital of Carthos in some time. A recent missive shows she has taken up residence in the Keep of the Forgotten, in the Solomon mountains. We believe that the Monster Lady will be there for some time as she waits for our forces to deplete from deserters before gathering her armies in earnest.”

You raise an eyebrow. He can’t seriously mean to ask Blake to-

“Simply put, Questing Hero Blake Boudreaux, you, and a small party, are hereby ordered to slay the Monster Lady.”

You both stare at The Lord Commander with incredulous expressions. Did…did he really just ask Blake to slay the ruler of Monsters? You, you aren’t hearing things right?

Blake breaks from the stupor first, his mouth gaping for a moment before he stops, shudders, and takes a deep breath.

“My lord, that is… that is certainly a quest of great import, but would not this task be better suited for older, more experienced Heroes?”

Highfield takes another swig from his bottle and sets it slowly on the table, looking Blake in the eyes.

“Blake, you must have confidence in yourself as I show confidence in you. You have shown great courage and conviction by working tirelessly to fulfill your last quest.” He nods at you. “Truly, to find a Wizard, one of the most ancient and powerful spellcasters after so long in seclusion, and to survive your encounter with powerful Monsters in Varruck, we believe you are more than prepared for such a task.”

You and Blake exchange glances at this and Blake coughs into this hand. “Thank you for your confidence my Lord, but if this was so important, why had the order to slay the Lady not been given when Galmathoria fell?”

“When we first heard news of the Monster Lady moving, we had prepared for a military Invasion as they had been in the past. In almost all of them the Lady often leads these from the front, which very often leads to her demise. Things have, as we all know, changed. While the High Priestess was watched in Galmathoria, her actions were not violent. Because of this, we ignored her corruption and… well this is the price we paid.”

He sighs and swirls the bottle. “At least we were able to contain the knowledge, make an excuse about a sickness needing quarantine as we prepared for the Invasion from the northern border with the Monster Nation. Thankfully reports seem to indicate that the largest concentration of Monsters is currently in Galmathoria however, although whether this is from their normal horde or…” He looks disgusted as he spits out, “New recruits… we do not know.”

Blake looks pensive at this and you ask Highfield, “You said she was retreating to a keep in the Solomon mountains? What is the history of this keep, and why would she go there instead of Galmathoria?”

The Lord Commander blinks at your question, seeming surprised to see you there, before he comes back into focus, his eyes hard.

“The Keep of the Forgotten is aptly named, for its purpose was lost to the annals of time. What we do know is that it is ancient beyond reason, and that it seems to have some connection with the Gods, though none can agree if it was devoted to one God over any other. Rumor has it that great treasures lie hidden in its halls though. It has been in Monster territory for millennia, but no adventurers have mentioned Monsters of any significance living there, though our reports are quite shoddy due to obvious reasons.”

You ponder this. That doesn’t sound like somewhere the ultimate elixir would be, but this Victor seemed quite certain it was there and, to be honest, if you had a chance (and a few meat shields), the reward might just be worth the risk. Now, if you happen to see Selene again while you’re there…

You shake your head. Silly thoughts! Silly thoughts indeed! But, you can’t deny that part of you feels a pull, no, a NEED to go and find the elixir. Perhaps this is how Victor felt.

Perhaps.

You make up your mind then and there and speak up, your words only mildly shaky. “I… I will accompany the Hero on this quest.”

It’s now Highfield’s turn to look surprised. Blake’s neck audibly snaps towards you as he fumbles, once more for words.

“W-Wizard, what are you-?”

You hold up a hand. “I go for my own reasons, but I am not averse to accompanying the Hero and his party to the Solomon mountains.”

Highfield narrows his eyes and then shrugs. “Very well then, I see no reason to deny you.” He turns his gaze to Blake and nods. “Hero, gather your party. I should expect that… other… companion of yours should follow you, and I would appreciate if you removed the Lizardman from our grounds. I care not if she goes with you though. She is respectable, but has also been chaffing the Chantry. Then again…” A smirk comes to his lips before he sighs. “No, can’t have that. I suspect the Chantry will also wish to have a part in this, even if token, so choose a member and prepare them for the quest ahead.”

Blake stares off into nothingness and then squeezes his eyes, suppressing a sigh. He stands and salutes the Lord Commander before turning to go. You take this as a good sign to go and also stand to leave when Highfield holds up a hand.

“Wizard, I wish to speak with you momentarily.”

Blake looks at you and you shrug, gesturing for him to leave. He does so with some suspicion, but bows to The Lord Commander before he’s fully out. Highfield watches him go, and when the outer door closes, he sighs and leans back in his chair, his demeanor changing to that of a tired, older man.

“By the Gods, what am I going to do with that boy?”

You blink, surprised. “Uh, what?”

He closes his eyes. “Wizards are supposed to be smart, right? Tell me, why do you think he was sent to find you?”

“Be…cause you needed a…” You stop and think it through. With everything Blake had said before, with everything you’ve seen, the answer becomes obvious. Your expression becomes neutral as you say,

“Because you needed him out of the way.”

Highfield chuckles. “That’s right! I gave him an impossible task, hoping he’d be out searching for some time, or at least come back humbled. But here he comes, with not only a Wizard, but a Monster of all things!”

He squeezes the bridge of his nose. “I bear him no ill will, hells, I love the boy like a son, but he is full of ideas that we cannot have in the Order, not with the Chantry pushing for war so strongly and Monsters gaining traction.” He leans forward and looks into your eyes, “You have to understand that I had no choice.”

“Why… Are you telling me this?”

“Because, Wizard, though I am afraid I am sending one of our most promising young Heroes out to his death, I would like you to do your best to protect him.”

This all seems very familiar to you, like what Misha said. It’s odd though, how you feel this little pang in your heart at seeing all the people around Blake who care for him. Ah, oh well, you have Bubs, right? That’s got to count for something.

You sigh and look up at the Lord Commander. His eyes say that he really does seem to care about Blake, so there’s that that. Ah, well, what are you going to do, say no?

Yes, yes you can, but you aren’t going to.

 

Chapter 72

 

Sighing, you wave a hand and say, “Oh very well then. However, I will require certain items from your storage should such a quest be undertaken.”

He doesn’t hesitate. “Of course, what do you need?”

“First off, I require a few objects for arcane devices, I shall speak with your quartermaster about these. Second, I require that Blake be armed with more robust armaments. Surely, for an organization as old as your own, you must have such things present.”

The Lord Commander raises an eyebrow and you roll your eyes. “Enchanted weapons or armor? Especially armor, the poor man seems to be in harms way quite a lot.”

He appears deep in thought for a moment before looking down at his side, where a sword with a lion-shaped pommel rests. He picks it up carefully and draws it, light playing off its masterworked blade. Closing his eyes, he nods and sheathes it again.

“Lionsedge. I will give him this blade, passed down from Lord Commander to Lord Commander since the last Monster invasion. It seems fitting that such a blade should finally be used for its intended purpose. As for armor… I cannot help him there, as it is all tied up by the Paladins of the Chantry.”

“Tch. Fine then. As for the third request, what have you in the way of magical implements?”

Cocking his head, he tries to think this over. “We have stockpiles of crystals, but otherwise…” He looks outside the room and whispers, “The staff of Gregory the Great…”

“That black one with the red stone?”

“Yes… It was used by an ancient sorcerer, and with it he was able to end the fifth monster invasion by calling down a storm of such magnitude that the Lady herself was annihilated by blasts of raw lightning. Sadly he did not survive the effort, but his weapon has been stored here. Perhaps it’s time to let it out once again.”

You look over and open your [Mage Sight] to see the staff in earnest. It almost seems alive to you, the magical energies writhing about it seeming excited and agitated somehow, as if it knows that it’s to be used again for its purpose. Nodding your head, you say,

“I will use it with the dignity it deserves.”

The Lord Commander laughs. “I barely even know you. As far as I know, you might take the staff and run. But I didn’t get this far without taking risks, and we do not have a sorcerer contingent any longer, so it just sits there. I’ll make arrangements for it to arrive to you and for you to take what you need from the quartermaster.”

You nod your head and stand to rise. The Lord Commander stands too, which you find very odd for a man of his power and station. He holds out his hand and you take it, feeling his firm, rough hand in yours.

“Gods speed Wizard.”

You don’t really have anything else to say here, so you just sort of leave. How anticlimactic of you.

As soon as you exit the solar, you are once again greeted to the bickering of incessant women-folk.

“You are NOT going somewhere with THEM.”

“Get off your high horse princess, because I can do what I damn well please.”

“I will follow him to the ends of the earth until our duel is settled.”

Blake holds his head with both hands, staring at the wall as Veronica, Tabitha, and Hala fight once again. They don’t even notice when you come out, but the poor guard from before gives you a tired look, his expression now inured to this level of bullshit.

You shake your head and walk up to the pack of girls and tap the butt of your staff on the ground. They look up at you, annoyed for interrupting them, and you smile. Perhaps you do this a little too manically though, because Hala’s eye twitches in response.

“Ladies, I-if you’re going to fight over the poor man’s dick, please be more quiet about it. Hala can tell you how little I approve of it.”

Hala puffs out her cheeks, Veronica blushes furiously and starts muttering, “I-idiot!,” while Tabitha gives you a far off look. Blake appears to be on the verge of a meltdown so you put a hand on his shoulder and give words of encouragement:

“You dun fucked up.”

And with that, you walk away to meet the quartermaster again.

————————————————————————————–

An hour later in a guest room of the Hero’s Hall, you look down at multiple pieces of Orrox bone and twisted lengths of Unicorn hair, which apparently the Order just stockpiles for no good reason, and a board of pure mahogany. Along with carving tools and a sack of mana crystals, you beam as you have everything in front of you.

Sure, the quartermaster gave you an odd look when you requested these things, but he gave you an even odder look when you asked for health potions. Since potion-making and alchemy in general is a Monster derived science and based on semen, they don’t keep it in stock. The Order doesn’t really take kindly to that. While he sent some errand boys to get other items for you, you took what you needed for a more important task.

You’re about to do something that many have only theorized about or dismissed as poppycock. They didn’t have access to an Order stockpile, nor agree to help an idiot kill a fucking Dragon. You think you’ll take your chances.

Taking what feels like an absurd amount of time, you carve the Orrox bone into small keys, which you then inscribe with runes. Using unicorn hair, you thread the runes together, and apply it all to the mahogany. Then, with great care, you carve one of your pieces of Galmathorian glass, inscribing runes and formulae drilled into your head. The glass is exceptional quality, and it carves smoothly, so the process doesn’t take too long to do.

By the late evening, you finish your work. A chuckle escapes your lips as you look down with excitement at what you’ve created. To your knowledge, you now have the first portable Communion Glass in existence. With careful hands, you use some of your mana crystals and feed power into the device. It hums to life, formulaes appearing and twisting on the screen, runes dancing before you. You wipe a tear from your eye as you gaze upon the beauty of your device.

Hand trembling, you weave rune structures and tap into a ley line which runs through the city, hoping against hope that it’s-

By the Gods, it’s a peripheral nexus hub of the Groodle tether! You struck fucking gold! With quick strokes, you access the Communion Matrix but begin to panic until you realize your vision is blurry from the tears in your eyes. Now then, it’s pretty late so you shouldn’t spend much time on this. Best just look over your usual segments and-

You hear a knock at your door and you look up, your head swimming. Who was that? Disturbing you just as you started? Ugh! With creaky joints, probably from being tired, you shuffle over to the door and open it, staring into the face of Veronica, who wrinkles her nose at you.

“Uh… Good morning, uh, Wizard. Blake wished to finalize departure plans and proceed upon our quest.”

“Ung? It’s the middle of the-” You stare out past Veronica to a window which plays with bright, morning light. Oh. Guess you were up all night shitweaving.

Just like old times! Hahaha…

Today is going to be a long day.

 

Chapter 73

 

You rub at your eyes blearily and yawn before scratching your backside. It’s been awhile since you spent so much time in front of a Communion Glass, and you forgot how sore it made you, what with being outside and stuff.

It is a good pain.

Veronica narrows her eyes as you pack up your new [Port-O-Glass], which is totally a name that a serious magical tool could have, and one you didn’t just make up on the spot. It’s heavy as can be however, so maybe that’s why no one ever made one. The only reason you can is that you have a [Sack of Holding+1] which allows you to transport it without the weight. You don’t pretend to understand the magical mechanics behind such bags. Hells, when you asked on the Communion Matrix about it once, your matrix immediately became woven with images of a mocking man pointing at aetherial signatures. Needless to say, it wasn’t helpful.

“Wizard, we do not have all day. You may return for your possessions later.”

You look up from your heap of junk- er, very important items, and see Veronica tapping a mailed foot, her eyes narrowed as she huffs. If you were keen on noticing these things, you’d almost call it cute. But of course, you are not.

With a sigh, you pick yourself up, looking around for Bubs, only to find him already in your pocket. Little guy must have fallen asleep around… Gods, probably when you started making images with the runes “implying” on them. Poor idiot nearly lost it, but it was his fault. Siege upon Gargantuan is a shit eastern theatre and he should feel bad.

“Very well, lead the way uh…” You scratch at your beard. “Paladin?”

Veronica grimaces. “It’s Aspirant…” She shakes her head, “Nevermind, let us convene with the others.” She quickly turns on her heel and strides down the corridor, forcing you to follow in her wake, the sound of her armor echoing as it jostles with every step she takes.

You blink and dash to catch up with her, your staff clicking in time with her footsteps. She moves with assured conviction and doesn’t look at you as you walk, let along speak. It’s kind of off-putting, and you feel a little like she’s mad at you or something, but what could you have done to offend her?

“Uhm. S-so, Veronica…”

“Aspirant Veronica.”

“Oh, right, sorry. I suppose you’re the Chantry member who is accompanying us on this quest?”

“Obviously.”

You fidget nervously. Damn it, see this? This is what you thought all women would be like before you left on your journey. Despite your recent adventures, you can’t help but sink back into old habits.

“Uh, y-yeah. Right, or else you wouldn’t have…yeah.”

“Do you have a point, Wizard?” She asks, not looking at you.

“Nnnnnooootttt rreeaaaalllyyyy?”

“Then perhaps you should be quiet?”

“Oh well, yeah, uhm.” You go quiet for a moment, but you can’t help yourself. “W-why is the Chantry only sending one uh… Aspirant, for this quest?”

She glares, not at you sir, but she does glare. “Because our resources must be allocated to the appropriate use on the front line. Also, I volunteered.” She grits her teeth. “And I cannot allow Blake to be surrounded by such harlots and degenerates as his current company without a shield of purity by his side to keep him from the wrong path.”

“You know I’m right here, right?”

“Your point being?”

“Uhhhh. Hmm.” You scratch at your beard. “I just think, you know, it might be difficult to uhh… keep Hala and Blake from-“

Veronica slams her foot onto the stone floor, causing it to crack under her greave and send a pack of trainees scurrying away. She rounds on you, fire in her eyes as she recites what is apparently scripture in a rushed and angered voice,

“Though man may err and walk in the shadow of his lust, by the grace of the Solos and the purity of a maiden’s touch, can he be cleansed and once more bask in the light of Solos, may his forgiveness be a beacon of JUSTICE that illuminates our path!”

You stand there, stunned as you try to process all of that. Apparently though, instead of thinking about it, you decide to throw sauce covered noodles everywhere.

“So you’re saying you’re a virgin and you want Blake to boink you?”

You probably deserve the mailed fist that sends you halfway across the hall, into a wall, and then sprawling on the stone floor, which is very cool on your now warm face. As you try to process everything, Veronica fumes and stomps about in a few circles.

Picking yourself up slowly, you wipe the blood from your chin. Hmm. This is ouch. At least Bubs seems okay, having not even noticed the attack in his padded pocket. Doing your best not to show signs of pain, you walk back up to her and say, not learning your lesson,

“I’ll take that as a yes?”

“I-I-idiot!”

Her nostrils flare and she looks like she’s about to grab the mace at her side and brain you, but instead she clenches her jaw, her fists, and probably her ass, then strides on down the hallway. You continue after her, keeping silent this time as you apply some [Ice] to your face, which stings like hell.

After a few minutes of awkward silence, you arrive at a large room with multiple tables filled with various maps. Clerical staff go to and fro, adding notes here and there, moving pins, and speaking with various Order warriors who appear to be pondering over troop deployment, supply shipments, quests, etc.

It isn’t hard to find Blake and the others, off in the corner at a smaller table, where a map of Deleor and its northern border with the Monster Nation lay. Blake has a few pins in the map already, and by the bags under his eyes, you can see he had planned much of this last night.

Currently he’s adjusting some notes on the map, measuring distances, etc. His progress is a little hampered however, as Hala is wrapped around one of his arms, her eyes locked firmly on the Lizardman who stands in the corner, her eyes closed and arms folded as her scaled foot taps on the stone. She opens one eye as you approach and lifts an eyebrow.

“What happened to you?”

You look at Veronica, whose expression seems darker than before as she sees Hala, and you shrug.

“I tripped.”

Tabitha snorts, “Sure, right into a fist.”

You shrug again and turn back to Blake to find him wearing a neutral mask on his face as Veronica presses in close to his other side, glaring at Hala, who sticks her tongue out at her. You can almost see the sparks appearing between the two, so you tap your staff on the ground, getting everyone’s attention.

“Alright alright, you dragged me out here, let’s get this over with.”

Blake takes in a deep breath and nods to you. “Of course, Wizard.” He looks between his hangers on and they reluctantly step back. Blake adjusts his armor and takes a deep breath before pointing at the map.

“As we know, the quest we have been assigned is to slay the Monster Lady, who is reported to be a Dragon this time around. It’s not an easy task, but with the right planning, I believe we can do this.”

He points at the map, to where Sanctifrond is. “Here is our current location, the capital, Sanctifrond.” He makes a gesture up to the northwest, where a section of the map is cordoned off with pins tied with string. “Here is Galmathoria, which can now be declared Monster territory.” He moves his finger up again to a mountain range, where a large pin is stuck with a tiny flag on it. “And here are the Solomon mountains, where the Keep of the Forgotten and our quarry lies.”

He traces a line of marked pins on the map between the capital and the mountain. “This is the route I have marked for our journey. Since the road ahead is filled with people in the wake of the High Priestess, it would be best to take another path for part of the journey.”

He points at a branch of the Yangrove river and traces it north until it reaches another town with a pin in it, and then diverts to the west.

“We will take the river until we reach Derrick, and continue on the road by wagon, hopefully without too much attention. Then, we move up until we reach the city of Cair, where we’ll resupply until we can reach fort Carlsbad.”

He grimaces. “At that point, it’s largely uncharted once we reach the mountains. Some humans live in the area, so we might be able to hire a guide, but…” He shakes his head. “We’re mostly on our own to find the Keep and perform the task.”

He looks around at everyone present and nods his head. “Any questions?’

Tabitha raises a hand, and you note she looks a little pale for some reason. “Must we take the boat? Would not it be… safer on the road?”

Blake shakes his head. “I am afraid not. Besides, the saved time is quite worth it.”

Tabitha grits her teeth and looks away. Even you can tell she’s a little troubled by this, especially when she bites on her fingernail. Interesting.

Veronica raises a hand next. “Is it prudent to move through Carlsbad? Wouldn’t any Monster forces be poised to strike at such a place? Especially since the Order presence there is… lacking.”

Blake considers. “Perhaps not, but villages in the area aren’t mapped well since they have problems with Monster attacks, with entire villages vanishing overnight in the past.” He shakes his head. “No, the fort is probably our safest bet.”

Veronica nods her head and stares back at the map again, deep in thought. You step up and look to Hala, who has a dopey expression on her face. “Do you have any questions?”

She looks at you and tilts her head. “Uhm. Nope?”

“You don’t understand any of this, do you?”

She huffs, “I know what a wagon is!”

Blake smirks and ruffles her hair, much to the chagrin of Veronica. You shrug and trace the map, committing it to memory. As you do, Bubs crawls out of your pocket and scurries about on the map, sniffing things.

“AAAEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIII!”

The sound of weapons being drawn fills the room as everyone comes to attention, eyes fixated on the source of the disturbance, ready to fight to their last breath. Their vigil is wasted however, as you locate the source of the scream. Veronica clutches at Blake’s arm, her eyes wide and face pale, horror stricken at Bub’s appearance.

“G-g-g-get it away! Get it away!” She squeals, squeezing her eyes shut.

You and Bubs trade a glance and you roll your eyes, opening your pocket for him to crawl into. He is more amused than hurt, and you can’t say you blame him. Who knew that the stoic little Paladin- er, Aspirant, is afraid of rats?

Veronica tremors, still clutching Blake as she stutters, “I-it it, it came from his p-p-pocket, the filthy little r-r-rat is in his pocket.”

Hala has a shit eating grin on her face as she leans over and says, “It’s on your back!”

Veronica jumps and scrabbles at her back before finding nothing and glaring at Hala, who giggles like a madwoman. You glance to Tabitha and see that she her has her head tilted, the wide brim of her cap hiding her expression. You get the vague impression she’s smiling too, however.

Blake just sighs and stares off into nothingness as he monotones, “Great meeting everyone, meet you at the courtyard in two hours.”

 

Chapter 74

 

Two hours later, you arrive in the courtyard to see some trainees loading up your wagon with various supplies. Food, water, camping gear, climbing gear, rope, and other necessary travel goods. This wagon is still a two-horse affair, but it is wider and more spacious than before. You feel the extra room will be appreciated, especially with more people. As they hook up Mr. Ed, you smile, glad that he would be coming with you. Odd how you felt like that about a quiet, stoic horse like him.

All your items are stowed away, your are robes freshly cleaned, and your beard is immaculately trimmed. You’re as ready for travel as you’ll ever be. As you survey the loading, a tired looking cleric walks up with some papers.

“You’re the Wizard, I assume?”

“Yes, can I help you?”

“The gear you ordered has arrived. May I have you sign off on this order?”

You beam and quickly scrawl something on the paper. The cleric looks at the mess of your writing and rolls his eyes before waving over a group of men carrying a few crates. They set them down and pry the lids open, your eyes sparkling at the magnificent gifts in front of you.

In one box lays a set of five [Plague masks], which were popular during the eleventh invasion where the Monster lady, some kind of Fly Monster of all things, tried to kill many people with a variety of plagues. They didn’t have much use these days beyond specific jobs, but you’ll find something to do with them.

In the same box is another set of five [Hexagrammic Wards], which are of similar make to the ones you already have. Nifty. You root around and also find the second volume of Defensive Magic. A quick flip through shows that this version is big on counter magic and shielding, where volume one is about warding. Neat. Oh, and this one also has some new, freshly packed [Wizard’s Chalk] too. Maybe you won’t immediately break this one.

The next crate has six glass orbs. In each is embedded a shard of crystal, which is inert and colorless. These “bitch balls” can be charged with all sorts of elemental magic and even be used by normies as one-time-use explosives. Simply charge, throw, and watch as everything in a ten-foot radius gets barbecued/frozen/electrocuted.

Shuffling through, you find… Holy hells they were able to get these! Smiling, you pick up a large tube of what appears to be needles. But these aren’t just any needles, ohhhh no. These are [Hakurai Homing Needles]! Straight from the glorious east, these little bastards, if suffused with the right frequencies of energy, can home in on a target, and turn them into a pin cushion. Sure, they need some blood, hair, etc. from the target before they can home in well, but you’d always wanted to play with these, so why not ask for them?

The next and final crate is sealed very tight, with the words, “alchemy” scrawled on the lid. The burly men help pry it open and, very snugly packed, are multiple bottles of liquids of various varieties. You pick up a few and read the labels to catalogue them.

-Two vials of [Holy water]

-Two vials of [Feather fall potion]

-Two vials of [Concentrated mana potion]

-Four vials of [Health potion]

On the side of all these potions, beyond the holy water, is written (CAUTION. MONSTER CREATED. CONTAINS PROCESSED SEMEN). You groan and store them in your [Sack of Holding +1]. Someday humans will figure out how to make potions without semen, but that day still seems long in coming.

Rooting around in the box, you’re disappointed to see there is no sign of any Mountain Elixir. A shame, but you suppose normies would have a hard time finding it. Most Wizards distill their own to be fair. At least your [Pocket Dimension] still seems stocked on heated bread pouches. You still have no idea how it’s full. Did you tap into a realm filled with heated bread pouches somehow?

Feeling like a child on Solosmas, you store your new items away and prepare to load up when the Lord Commander himself walks over, a trio of Heroes behind him.

“A fine day for a quest, is it not?”

Blake pokes his head out from the wagon and hops down, saluting Highfield while Veronica comes to attention beside him. “Of course, my Lord. To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“I merely wished to see you off. Oh, and to give you your last pieces of equipment.”

He snaps his fingers and one of the men walks forward to you, bending on one knee to present the [Staff of Gregory the Great]. With reverent hands, you take the item and turn it over. Despite being made of utterly different materials then what you’re used to, this staff feels… right, somehow.

You bow to the Lord Commander, who snaps his fingers again. Another guard walks to Veronica, a mace in his hands. She picks it up with reverence and turns it over in her gauntlets.

“This is Shadowsmiter! Used to kill one of the Temple guard in the tenth Monster Invasion!” She bows her head. “I- I can’t accept such a gift my lord!”

He shakes his head. “Take it! It was gathering dust anyway. Besides, it complements the armor of Saint Celestine you’re wearing anyway.” He rubs his beard. “I have no idea how the Paladin Primaris let you have that though.”

She blushes and bows deeper. “I was told that should I lose it, or should any harm come to it, then I would be strung up before Solos and whipped to within an edge of my life.”

Highfield sighs. “Yes, that sounds like Vincent alright. Well, go with the blessing of the Gods.”

She bows and steps back as the last Hero approaches Hala and hands her a pair of steel claws. She stares at them for a while, sniffing the items before shrugging. “I don’t get it.”

“Ah, I requested you to have a weapon.” Explains Blake. “Though I did not expect something as unique as claws, you are well suited to such items already.”

She slips them on and does a few practice swings. “Weeeiiirrrrdddd. But I guess I like them, thanks.”

Highfield coughs and turns to Blake. The Hero stands straight, eyes locked with the leader of the Order, until the man bends to one knee and unbuckles his sword belt, proffering it to Blake.

“Take it.”

Blake looks aghast before reaching out and accepting the blade. He draws it and stares at the metal, warm daylight playing off the blade. Closing his eyes for a moment, he takes a shuddering breath, then opens them again and sheathes the sword.

“I swear I shall return this blade to you when our quest is complete.”

Highfield smiles sadly. “I know you will, Blake.”

The two trade one last salute before the Lord Commander and his guard leave. Blake orders everyone to load up and soon they’re all piled in, with Hala sitting next to Blake on the larger driver’s seat. The man snaps the reins and you slowly pull forward, out of the Hero’s Hall, and down to the docks.

 

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