Wizardquest Chapter 8: A Hero’s Welcome

The next day you left without trouble and around 10am, you began to see patrols of soldiers. Obviously you were close, and the one patrol which detained you stayed their hands at Blake’s sigil, allowing you straight down the road. You began to see more and more signs of human habitation, with small towns and shanties for the poorest if the poor, as well as plenty of merchant elements.

And then you saw it a gated monstrosity of a city, Sanctifrond, standing over across the horizon at you. Your whole party stopped in wonder and you beheld the spires and towers that grew in the city as construction grew over the centuries. The buildings themselves were hard to fully see so far out and lags large wall, but you could see the major theme Of the buildings was white and gold. You saw other buildings, but mostly in the poorer parts of town and the outer wall shanties.

Huge amounts of people came from small roads now, coming and going from the gate leading into the city and you see multiple peddlers, merchants and tradesfolk selling their wares while soldiers patrolled the road. No one have you trouble when Blake flashed his credentials. Soon enough, you reached the main gate, and after having your paperwork stamped, you finally enter the city walls.

White and gold beauty shown through even in houses and you could FEEL the power of the god of man, patron god of this city and the religious wing of the Order. You and Hala both gulp as Blake takes a breath. “Ah, sweet memories.” He turns to you.

“Looks like you’re almost done here, so let’s grab the glass and you can finally return home.”

That sound pretty good, and you nod your head, however what if you wanted to explore the city a little more? Hmmm well, maybe you’d have time after you get your glass. Looks like things were almost over!

First things first. The capital was fucking massive.

You thought Feldergrod was big, but it could not hold a candle to the size and scope of Sanctifrond, and the city itself KNEW it. Even as you passed through the outer shanty towns lining the walls of the city, you saw that even the poor seemed decently well off, staring at you with an air of confidence that made you shiver. Certainly, the outer town was made of multiple wooden structures that seemed to lean to the walls of the capital, and make use of space when what was inside the city became too confined. You could even see some structures being replaced by stone, and wondered how many times over the years did the outer walls get moved.

You saw monsters about while in the outer town’s wooden structures, but they were few and far between, and almost always in the company of a human male. What was surprising was the variety of monsters seen. Hells, this place wasn’t even the main city, and you already saw an urushi-oni 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, you can’t help but marvel at the pure majesty. Made of exceeding strong granite, it was at least 50ft high, and you could barely see the lines from the mortar which held the wall firm, and it boggled your mind as to how such a sturdy structure could be built. And to make matters even more interesting, you felt a low thrum from the walls, which you [Mage sight] confirmed to be an inlaid series of defensive runes of such magnitude, you wondered how anything could possibly breach these walls.

But Selene did, once.

That thought made you shiver as your wagon pulled up to a line of people funneling through a check point through the wall, and you stretch while Blake looks over some paperwork. Hala’s tail is wagging 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, and 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 knew 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 sat 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 wolfgirl, Hala, and this wizard.”

“His name?”

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

“Does it matter?”

The clerk looked down at his papers and shrugged. “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, and you pass under what seems an exceedingly long tunnel (which shocks you even more than the wall is so 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 HUMANITY. Huge buildings made of rich, white stone, accented with beautiful gold highlights, 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 wasn’t as high as in Feldergrod, but holy hell, you have never seen so many together.

A danuki passes by your cart and winks at you, before passing by, and your lip twitches as you turn a corner, and behold more wonderful sights. In front of you is a large cathedral-like building, with two huge statutes, one a well chiseled man holding the sun in his hands, the other of a beautiful woman, holding the moon close to her breast. 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 were just as grandiose, and you couldn’t even describe them all as you moved towards another wall, this one smaller than the first, and much, much older, but you felt that the sights inside would be far more splendid, as evidenced by the larger, better equipped guards. Even more surprising was that there were a few in full plate armor with greatswords, flanking the gate, large sigils on their chest.

Order heroes? No, but these looked a little different than Blake, and you notice a sun sigil on their other breast 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 the gate, and you could feel his gaze on your party, even through his full helm. Weird, but whatever, time for the next part of the…

No but seriously, how did this city get any better? The section of tone was much like the section before it, but everything was taller and much better kept, with far more gold painted on it’s white stone buildings, some made of marble you could see. The people here walked with an air of arrogance and dignity that you could scarce believe possible. This must be the true inner city, as the people here were obviously nobility. Some monsters were seen about, but either they looks just as arrogant as the humans or were hanging onto the arm of one like some loves truck schoolgirl. Hell, you think you even saw a man casually walking a kobold on a leash. Hala may or may not have barked at her.

Here and there you began to see more Order members, and noticed quite readily those of the Chantry versus the Heroes. The former stood rigid, or walked in even, ordered steps, always in pairs, and monsters parted from their path as if they were toxic, their expressions becoming downcast and submissive. The latter, however, often went without helmets, and could be seen chatting amiably with the citizens performing various tasks in the city, and generally looking happy. How very curious!

You could see in the distance, another wall, and behind it, a massive castle-like structure, that Blake explained was 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, you eyes wide. This is where it all ends, huh? Seems so simple now. But you can take your glass, catch a boat, and head on home. What a journey, but you’re only a few, more, miles, until you’re done. Wow.

“What do you mean we can’t come in?”

Blake massages his forehead as a 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 or out of the main cloister.”

Your wagon was siting outside the gates to the Hero’s Hall, a guardsman in the patterns of a Hero speaking to Blake apologetically. His name was Clark, and he had a spear that he leaned on with an air of laziness that belied his skill.

“You must be joking.”

Clark shrugs. “It’s just orders, you understand.” He rubs his chin. “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 a little and Clark raises an eyebrow. “Uh huh. What’s with the wolfgirl then? You fucking her?”

Blake blushes some 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 went 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, turning the cart around. You trundle away for a bit in silence before you dare to ask, “What was that about?”

“Politics, dear Wizard, politics,” Blake responds, acid in his voice. You don’t ask any other questions after that until your wagon pulls up to a large structure with a stable outside, and a boy takes a coin from Blake, then leads your horses away as you gather your gear. The sign out front say, “Sun and Stars” and you’re fairly certain its an inn. This is furthered by the fact that when you enter it looks just like an inn.

If it looks like an inn, and smells like an inn, and has a matronly woman innkeeper behind a very innkeeper like table, it must be an inn.

“Allo’ loves, an welcome to the ol’ Sun and Stars. You lookin for a bed, bedmate, or both?”

Oh okay, so it’s an inn and a whorehouse. How enterprising. Blake shakes his head. “Just the room for us.”

“Ah, I sees how it is milor… Oi, is that you Blake? Well I’ll be a shite eatin little bug wacker, if it ain’t been awhile.” She smiles and nods to Hala. “You one lucky little lady, I tell you.”

Hala blinks and cocks her head as the innkeeper laughs. “And what about the other one eh? He needs someone keep his sheets warm?”

“Blake….” You growl as the Hero shakes his head. “I believe he will be fine. We just need the one room.”

She raises an eyebrow. “Issat so? Ohhh, I get it, you sharin her eh? Well well well, you really are the lucky lass, ain’t you?”

“If you’re implying that I’ll be fucked from two sides at once by strong men, then sadly that is not occurring.” Says Hala, a she leans into Blake, looking flatly at you. “Besides, the wizard ‘can’t have sex.'”

The innkeep loos flabbergasted and she fills out the paperwork in silence, her old Brian doing it’s best to try and rationalize what’s happening here. It’s just too much for the old lady, poor thing, cannot comprehend a man who wouldn’t pay for sex.

“R…room 17.” She shakily hands a key to Blake, who nods his head.

“Of course. Shall there be dinner served tonight?”

“Y…yes, in about an hour. Eh..excuse me.” She wanders off to the back as you all look at each other and head up top. As you walk up the stairs to your room, you hear moans, and a few screams, and you can be fairly certain that some of the voices were not human. You grit your teeth, and as you enter your room, you round on Blake.

“What. The. Fuck. A brothel? You can pick any inn and you pick a brothel?”

Blake sighs and begins to remove his armor. “This place is safe, won’t be visited by the chantry, and the owner and I have an understanding. It will only be one night, you can survive.”

You narrow your eyes as a “thump,” followed by a loud moan. Blake merely shrugs. Mother fucker. You weren’t going to take this quietly, not after your heart being broken by having to wait until tomorrow for your fucking glass.

When Blake finishes getting out of his armor and cleaning up, Hala also changing into her lighter clothing, your group heads downstairs to the common room, to find many men sitting about at tables, drinking down mugs of ale, of cups of wine as women of all shapes, sizes, and races sit on their laps, whisper into their ears, or otherwise ply them for more coin when the evening comes on.

Blake picks a booth and everyone takes a seat as a very attractive elf slides up to the table and asks in a sultry voice, “Would you like some ale, wine… Or me?”

Hala slaps her. Everyone feels this is a well reasoned response and the elf comes back with three flagons of ale and her mouth shut.

Take take your mug and drink, in a foul mood. Look them, just sitting around like the harlots they are. That mermaid over there is barely wearing any clothes! You bet she get off on asphyxiation or something too. Gross.

But… Maybe you could have your fun here. You open your [Mage Sight] and <fast scan> all of the women present. Mhm, this would be fairly easy you felt. You slowly manipulate the humors of each of the whores and johns you see, and bide your time until food is served, a rich mutton stew with fresh bread and butter. Oh this would be delicious.

As everyone ate, some of the whores being spoonfed by their johns, you slowly began to cast your [indigestion]. The effects worked pretty quickly and you could see the terror in the eyes of a particularly well endowed Holstaur who apologized profusely to her john, and ran out of the room.

Of course, then everyone else felt it too. The panic was unreal as men and women shot up and ran for the chamber pots to relieve themselves, some not managing to make it, others pushing people aside in panic, a poor human girl being nearly crushed by two others who panicked their way to relieve themselves.

“By the gods themselves, a foul being must have cast a curse upon this rich and creamy stew! They have been possessed! Oh cruel fate, how could they have known their life choices would lead to such a messy place, truly, Solos’s mercy is lost upon them!”

Agonized screams and the sound of high powered defecation reverberate through the halls of the inn, and soon the smell of fecal material and tears reaches you. Blake gives you the most profound death stare you’ve ever seen and you gulp.

“F… Fear not citizens! For I have the power of MAGIC and shall cure you!”

The elf from before looks toward you, desperately, pain evident on her face as a trail of foul material leaks from her. Okay, yeah you went way overboard here.

You close your eyes and place your hand over her head, and speak, “FLEE THEE FOUL FECAL FIEND!” And with that, you correct her humors. She collapses of the ground, nearly orgasmic relief on her face as she pants heavily. Other nearby patrons and whores run up to you, babbling incoherently as they throw coins and used panties and whatever at you, and you fix them, just as the first. Only one person refused your help, and it was the mermaid form before, who had a look of pure ecstasy on her face as she writhed in pain, and was taken up stairs by her very excited looking john, a trail of nitrogenous waste left in her wake.

You internally vomit, but hey, you somehow made 2 gold coins worth of money for being a complete and utter asshole, and everyone thinks you’re a miracle worker. Boy, you certainly are nice wizard, huh?

HUH?!

>You can 2 [Gold coins] worth in currency

>You’re a terrible person

Eh, not like you cared, because despite the looks of horror and fury on Blake and Hala’s faces, you sleep like a baby until morning when you wake all happy and well rested. Slowly you pop up next to the sleeping form of Blake like a kid on Solosmas morning, and say quietly.

“Hey… Hey fucker, let’s get my glass,”

Blake is not amused.

Blake eventually got his ass up, Hala lagging a little bit behind as she snuggled his pillow. You groomed your beard and made sure everything was in order. Yep, just a few more things to pick up and you’d be ready for a trip home. You weren’t going to fight in some silly war. Sure, it would upset Selene and maybe people would die, but that didn’t weigh on your conscious, right?

Nah.

Looking nice and proper, you get your companions together and you head out. You personally received many undeserved thanks from the denizens of the the Sun and Stars on your way out, and the person thanks of the innkeeper who “made sure she’d always have a bed nice and warm” for you if you ever came back. You reaffirmed that you’d never would in that case.

Since the goal was to stay inside the Hero’s Hall, you took the wagon with you, and it was a fairly uneventful trip. You didn’t leave particularly early, so much of the morning sleepiness was gone from the inhabitants, replaced by a bountiful exuberance of energy as they hustled and bustled about. You notice that there were far more men of the Order about, and people seemed to whisper whenever they walked past, as if there was something to which you weren’t privy happening. When you questioned Blake about it, he looked concerned but didn’t know what was happening.

“Generally patrols step up like this before some kind of event. Must be what they were preparing for yesterday, although things wouldn’t be like this if it was gearing for battle. Must be some kind of religious procession or something. Shouldn’t affect your boat out if you leave today.”

Well, that’s good, you didn’t want to get stuck here for what was sure to be some boring ass event. Blake assures you that they’ll set you up with supplies and your glass and you can be off as you please.

You could scarcely believe it was going to happen. Something better not danuki you out of this, or you might just have to burn this whole place to the ground.

Fortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case today, infact as you trundled up to the gates, Clark is there again and he waves to you.

“Looks like you’re in luck! Ol’ Highfield’s got some time before this afternoon and he wishes to speak with all your esteemed party.” He smirks as he says this last part.

Blake nods, “Ah, well thank goodness for the LORD COMMANDER’S kindness then.”

Clark snickers and Blake rolls his eyes before becoming more serious, “Tell me, why are there more men on patrol today? Is there some procession coming through?”

Clark looks to the side and spits. “You can call it that I guess. I don’t know the specifics, but I’m told some ambassador is coming through and to be on high alert. Those Chantry jerks are real agitated though. Ask ol’ Hig… I mean The Lord a Commander if you really want to know.”

Blake nods his head as Clark opens the gate and your wagon rolls through. As you’re about through, you hear,

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

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

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

“N…no one you need to worry about.”

“HMMMMMMMMM?” Hala inquired, moving her face closer to his, sweat starting to bead on his forehead.

“AHEM” you cough and the two look at 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, which seemed impossible, while Hala pouts and folds her arms.

Inside the inner cloister you see more Hero’s walking about, chatting jovially, or practicing their weapon forms on dummies. One practice yard held many raw looking recruits, a drill instructor slapping them into line if they ever messed up, which was common, and generally speaking there was a ton of grunting and half naked, sweaty men.

Hala bit her lip as she took in the sight of it all, and it was Blake’s turn to give her a berating look, which made her turn to the side and blush. Curiously, as you noticed all the fighting men, you didn’t see any wearing the sunburst of the Chantry. Either they were all out in the city, or two factions obviously did not get along well at all. You were thinking the latter.

Some of the men training turned to look at your wagon as it pulled through, and some yelled greetings, others just looked stunned. A few made catcalls on seeing Hala, screaming about how Blake got to leave and pick up a girl. Very few really gave her looks of anger or disgust, which you found surprising. If a war was on the way, shouldn’t they view all monsters as enemies? How very progressive of the Heroes you guessed. That, or they were utterly unafraid of her, and you were damn sure that was true too.

It wasn’t long before you turned a path down to a stable yard, and some tired looking recruits took your horses while giving you strange looks, and Hala the hungry eyes. She merely gave a wolfish grin and they went back about their business, stabling your horses and putting up your wagon.

You stretch and 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 that 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 you can now see men in full battle plate, marching in ordered fashion, attacking in precise blows, while loud scripture is recited. They don’t even hesitate for a moment upon seeing Hala, but you can feel their hatred as she walks past, and you see her shiver and hug close to Blake, who reflexively puts an arm around her. You just roll your eyes.

As you walk further down the breezeway, a procession of women in white robes approach from a nearby room, moans and and the smell of blood emanating softly from it’s doors before the shut. The leader of the group stops in her tracks as she sees Blake and a younger girl nearly collides into her, looking perturbed.

“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 then. “And hello to you too Catherine.”

She blushes and you can see Hala’s ears stand up as she clutches close to Blake, her tail swishing back and forth.

“Ah, of course, and you have company. I apologize, I am High Hospitalier Catherine Darnus, head of the Order Hospitaliers, who 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]. A yup, she’s a sorceress alright, and a fairly talented one at that. You could see that a few other of the girls behind her were also magically gifted, though none so strong. That likely explains how they can do so much work here, having magical healers, and likely priests as well probably makes it muuuuch easier.

Catherine coughs. “Yes, well then. 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. “She?”

He coughs. “No, not quite.”

Hala continues giving him the ol’ lazy eye as they continue down the hall and you soon enter a large indoor garden, which forms the nexus of paths, shaped in a 6 pointed star. It was very well kept, the sunlight which filters down making it fairly beautiful as you see plants you’ve never even considered possible, with flowers of all shapes and sizes, trees that grew in neat rows, and vines that covered all the walls, neatly trimmed as to stay put in the hallway. Hell, you’d probably take more time to admire this of Blake didn’t suddenly stop and turn ghostly pale, sweat starting to drench his face,

“Fuck me in the ass.” He whispers, and both you and Hala simultaneously are terrified. Did… Did Blake just swear? You look ahead at what he sees, and standing there is a small, fully armored member of the chantry, with their hand on their helm as they turn to face your party. But that wasn’t what Blake was staring at, no, what he was looking at was the other person there.

Standing just in front of the chantry warrior in the middle of the hall was a tall, perhaps 6’ft lizardman, with dark green scales over her legs, arms, tail and around her pale skinned face, which held piercing yellow eyes. Her clawed hands rested upon a sword that she had placed, tip down, onto the stones, and she stood stock still, a near snarl on her face as she peered down the hallway. A light breeze passed by, tossing up the back of her attire, a strange, black coat that hung loosely down over a tight fitting white undershirt that exposed her arms and shorts attached to leg coverings. Upon her head sat a large, black cap that shadowed her face some, but didn’t manage to hide the look of realization when she saw Blake.

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

Tabitha

Two things happened then. The chantry warrior jumped back, and drew their sword, and Blake went even paler. The lizardman made no moves further, merely leveling their sword at Blake and standing still. The warrior next to her held their sword in two hands and cried, in a muffled voice from their helmet, “Stand down foul monster, or thee shall be rent asunder!”

Tabitha’s lip twitched, 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.” Said Blake, a little shaky, his eyes on Tabitha, who still had a glare on him.

The chantry warrior tore off their helmet then and out spilled a long trail of dark brown hair framing a gorgeous face and blue eyes.

Veronica

“By Solos, Blake, the monster has been parading about for the past six months 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 sword to an attack position.

“Ladies! Ladies please!” Says Blake, as he takes some shaky steps forward. “Let’s just calm down, there’s no need for violence.”

“Of course not.” Replies the 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 fucking daggers at Veronica and she falters in her words. He takes in a deep breath and wipes his forehead. “Y..yes, I did cheat, afraid was I to be bested by a monster in front of my peers, and 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 the Tabitha both look at you, then dismiss you as they look 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 and Blake groans and puts his face in his hands. You think he might be sobbing. As amusing as it was to watch Blake be humiliated, you didn’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 in the room,

“ENOUGH.”

All four of them freeze in place and stare at you, even Tabitha, and you breathe out, “Stop your pointless bickering and continue on the path, HERO.”

Tabitha opens her mouth and you glare at her, which she returns back. Blake nods to you, looking relieved, again, and he coughs into his hand before staying. “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 come up from behind, hand on her sword, which she has resheated, “And I am tasked with guarding this one, so it seems I should come along.” She blushes mildly 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, 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, The Lord Commander is expecting you and your… Guest.” Says one as he opens the door, it’s hinges creaking as it slides across the ground.

Blake looks pleadingly at the hero who shrugs. “Ah, but it’s just the hero and the wizard allowed in I am afraid. Ladies, would you please wait outside?’

If looks could kill, then that guard would have been atomized, but besides certain monsters, that was not the case, and they stood outside, petulantly, as the two of you shuffle in.

The interior of the chamber was richly furnished with couches, paintings, and all manner of heraldry and relics. It was kind of amazing honestly, and you took it all in as a quiet descended upon you from the chaos that was mere moments ago. On one wall rested a collection of old swords, stained with blood in their cases, with numbers written on plaques under them, while other antique weapons lined the room, such as spears, arrows, even an ancient looking black staff with a red gem embedded at the head. The paintings you saw depicted epic battles between monsters and Order warriors, and even some 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 looked like a study, 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 sat a large, well built man, with short, cropped black hair that had a dusting of grey in it. He smiled, and you could see he had lines around his mouth from doing so often and he waved you to two other seats in front of his desk.

“Sit, sit. I apologize for your delay last evening, a rather unexpected visitor arrived and we had to make arrangements. 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 seem that is most unfortunate.” Says Highfield, and he smiles at you. “I apologize for all that my man has put you through. We were quite excited to hear that a wizard would join us, 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. 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 could leave. You sit in mute silence as you contemplate all of this, and 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.”

“Or it could be pursuing peace?”

“Perhaps, perhaps. Shall you take time to rest, or…”

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

You snap back into reality, and realize both men are looking at you. “Oh… Uhm. Sorry.”

The Lord Commander laughs. “Think nothing of it, dear boy, but yes, you are welcome to the procession as well, but ah, if you wish to leave you can do so quickly or I’m afraid the streets will become quite congested.”

“Go ahead wizard, the guards outside can lead you to the quartermaster.” He nods he head. “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 could get up and walk away. A quick jaunt down the hallway and you’d be set up all nice and happy. It’s all you ever wanted, right?

Yet something… Was holding you back. You weren’t quite sure what it was, but at that moment, Selene’s voice echoed in your mind, “Don’t disappoint me, love.”

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

Still… You did feel a pull of curiosity. How often could one say they saw something like this? Hell, no one on the communion matrix would believe you, and you felt you could stick it in a few craws by waving such info about. Hell, it might even be amusing in some little way.

You knew deep down these were all just excuses, ways to try and justify what you were about to do. Your inner conscious screamed at you, but against it’s judgement 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 widened and Highfield raised 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. “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 our 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…”

You pass out the giant wooden doors, one of the guards opening it at your knock, to find the gaggle of girls chatting fiercely. You look to the guards who seem rather overwhelmed and incredibly awkward, 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 Tabith, 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 quick as can be.

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

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

“Smooth.” Says Bubs in your pocket, apparently deciding to actually show himself for one. Cheeky bastard.

Your flight soon brings you back to the large botanical hall, 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.”

You turn about to see Catherine, her posse of healers absent, walking down a hallway. You could appreciate how gorgeous she was now, despite being clad in long, white robes, she wore them in such a manner that they accentuated her fair skin and hair, bringing out her brilliant blue eyes. You sort of fumble for words for at the moment, and you end up bowing your head to her. “Ah, yes, uh, hello, High…?”

“Hospitalier, but you may call me Catherine.” She says, giggling a little. “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 lies down the training fields, past the infirmary, if you would like, I can escort you back that way?”

“Uhhhhhh.” Monsters, humans, whatever, you had sauce covered noodles in your pocket for everyone. You have grown… So much!

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

Catherine’s eyebrows shot 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 made her stand out like a radiant angel. “But of course, it would be my pleasure to show you about.”

She starts walking and you fall in pace slightly beside her as your footsteps echo about through the hall. She is silent for a time, before she asks, not a hint of hesitation, “Wizard, do you know that you reek?”

You blink and almost trip a little. “I…what?”

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

You look down at your hands and blink. Is… Is that right? You didn’t really think of it that way, but well… Maybe she had a point. You did sort of delve into shit slinging, plaguebringing magic, but that wasn’t inherently, bad… Right?

“Uhhh. I.. I did not.”

She smiles again and places a hand on your arm, which even through your robes, you feel a gentle light pulse through your flesh and you shiver. She pulls back and shakes her head as 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 feh infirm, and you can feel the power of imbalance in the air, resonating with yourself. Fuck, maybe she had a point…

Catherine strides forward confidently, stopping at bedsides, and speaking with people, 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 unbalances. Some are slight, superficial things, others, which are people hidden behind curtains, and packed behind other obstacles, reek of rot and decay within their living bodies. It was mildly glorious actually.

You pass by a bed where a young woman is clutching her stomach, her face twisted in agony. Catherine leans down and whispers some words, before straining in concentration. You watch as she places her hands on the woman’s stomach, and channels power into the body, not merely correcting the humors, but pulsing constantly a low, and gently stream that soothed out what could only be blood in her abdomen. It was different from what you’d do to remove poisons and such, which harnessed your natural tendencies to pull upon rot, and instead smoothed it out, and allowed the righted humors to clear the problem itself. It was very efficient, and the woman leaned back in bed, looking incredibly relieved as she murmur fervent thanks to Catherine, who smiles at her gently.

Another man nearby who had a large wound over his abdomen, his color pale and the wound looking dangerously discolored. Catherine frowned at him before calling over two orderlies, who restrained the poor man as she leaned down and studied the wound. You could physically see her draw in power from something at her belt pouch, which must have been where she went beforehand, 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 had nearly consumed him, and you knew quite well that had you seen this, it would have been easier to cast [rapid decay] on his organs than it would be to save them. But at Catherine’s touch, the humors just… Just righted themselves. The power draining rapidly from her, but like ink in water, it spread out, cleansing the wounds, and restoring energy the devitalized tissue, as rapid growth of new organ covered 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 stone at her side drained of power. The man leaned back, twitching slightly as one orderly gently picked Catherine up, her beautiful form seeming somehow less exuberant.

Catherine pants out, “I…I am afraid I could not close the… 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. She looks at the man then and 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 was surprisingly easy and within a score of seconds, the wound was closed, barely any scar tissue present. Catherine nods at you wearily. “It seems you have an aptitude for healing as well.”

You blush. “Th…thanks.”

>You learn [Soothe]

>By watching Catherine’s magic, you have gained an understanding of healing even the deepest of rot.

>You learn [Mend]

>You can now repair lacerations and other injuries.

>You learn [Innoculate]

>Through your careful study of the man and his wound, you understand how this disease occurred, and how you can accelerate it.

>Should you have access to an open wound, you can directly manipulate humors and spread infection, crippling or killing the infected area.

>You learn <Blight>

>By watching a healer in action, you better understand how to thwart even resilient humours.

>Your Plagamancy can now affect mid-range monsters!

As you think over all of this, Catherine steadily makes her feet again and you help her sit down in a nearby empty bed. She seems grateful for the help, and waves away the orderlies, who leave to attend other duties.

“Ah… Thank you wizard. That was more trouble than I expected.”

“Uh… Think nothing of it?”

She smiles and looks around. “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.”

“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 something, “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.” She shakes her head. “Curious, curious.”

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…. Are you well?”

You realize you’re sweating a little and you shake your head to clear your thoughts. Oh gods, Franz was alive and if he knew you were in town… No, no, surely he’ll just die on his own right? Y.. You had nothing to fear from him, right?

“Did you catch ill? Shall I nurse you?” Asks Catherine, and you snap back into reality, realizing that her forehead is touching yours.

You fall over backwards, knocking over a tray of bandages, and people all around stop and stare at you. You look about in a panic and quickly pick yourself off, picking off bandages as you hastily say, “no.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, which would have be confusing, messy, and hilarious, and dance your way out of the infirmary.

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

It was a quick trip, and you soon arrive at a large structure, which had men constantly moving crates in and out, loud and boisterous men in robes taking notes as others lifted objects out of crates. You carefully weave past a pair carrying a pallet of helmets and make your way to a well built 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 and you and grunts, “what do you want?”

“Uhhhhh.”

“I ain’t got all day, speak up!”

“You uh, you have Galmathorean uh…”

“Ah, you’re the wizard eh? 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, which was neatly arranged with rows upon rows of rooms, lined with rows upon rows of items. You easily find the section with the crystals and with shaking hands, you open the box labeled, “glass, Galmathorean.”

Glorious light spilled over you as you beheld multiple pieces of finely cut, pure Galmathorean glass. You could FEEL the nexus of energies in each glass and the purity and power of each one made you feel somehow small and meaningless. This… This right here was joy, joy which made your old glass pale on comparison. All you needed was to inscribe some component runes and hook it up to your runic keys, and you’d 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 seemed to lift off your shoulders, and you sagged down, nearly crying.

That’s how Blake found you, rubbing at your shoulder and muttering, “its time to go.”

An hour later, you find yourself standing at the head of a column of Order heroes, next to Blake, following behind Lord Commander Highfield. Beside you sat 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, wearing a resplendent robe of purple and silver over his ornate battle plate, but no helmet, of course. This must be Victor, the Paladin Primaris. He stood looked 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 on the Chantry side, that The distinct armored form of Veronica stands in line, and you wonder why exactly someone who obviously had a lady boner for Blake would be part of those sticklers. Looking to the crowd, you notice Hala and Tabitha, who are arguing amongst each other, their words masked by the crowd.

As you look to Blake, to ask about when this is going to start and why exactly you were at the front of the stage, you hear a murmur go over the crowd, and a loud, trumpet blares. Everyone 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, perhaps… Is that barking?

You strain to look out down the street, which was very long for some reason, and around the corner turn two, large and hooved unicorns, each with two horns, their hair black as night, smiling and giggling as they strained to pull the large cart with an open platform they were bound to. The contraption hugged the corner, and you could make could the source of the barking, your eyes going wide.

Two hellhounds stood atop the cart, their characteristic collars chained to leashes held by two strong looking red oni which held them back as they growled at the crowd, laughing with glee as their eye fires burned intensely hot. Behind them was a group of three succubi, huddled together, and looking over the crowd, their cheeks flushed, and you could tell that they could barely contain themselves from going forth and reveling in their debauchery.

Despite all these wonders, what truly drew the eye was a large statue of a winged woman, one wing shaped like that of a bird, the other like that of a succubi, the demonic side sporting a horn and clawed feet and hands, yet managing to remain beautiful and alluring. In front of this statue, on a carved throne sat a tall woman, dressed in a curious outfit of white and red that you felt was similar to your eastern theatre. She sat there, her back rigid, arms on the rests, and you saw nothing that would really differentiate her from any normal human, until you notice that her massive abundance of hair twitched here and there seemingly of it’s own accord.

When the bicorns pull up the stage, they stop, and giggle between each other before smiling at the order soldiers, their faces impassive as they were being wooed. From the stage next to you, an old man in rich robes emblazoned with the sun of Solos, steps forward to the podium and a hush settles over try crowd.

“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 Kejourou atop the platform smiles and slowly rises from her throne, her hair flailing about as she as induces calm in her subordinates, even the hellhounds, and she walks calmly to the edge of her platform, caressing the heads of the succubi.

She opens her mouth, and despite her 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.”

Uh oh.

You had half hoped that maybe the ambassador would be Selene, but you never fully believed things would be that easy. Hell, you actually feared it could be the Monster Lady herself, but from Selene’s description, that also seemed unlikely. This, however, was just as bad.

It just had to be the High Preistess of Dollora, Goddess of Monsters, the changer of paths, and the traitor of faith, was not known widely to most people who did not have connection to monsters. You only knew about the Goddess because one of the matrices you frequented loved to weave about conspiracy theories and how Dollora was actually the true Goddess and only took upon her monstrous form because of Phallia’s supposed betrayal and her stealing the love of Solos. It was quite obviously false, as everyone knew, but still, SOME of what you had heard must be true.

It’s not like someone would go onto the communion matrix and weave outright lies, would they?

Despite her appearance of a beautiful human, this creature before you was quite obviously a monster. There was no mistaking that posture of calm power, and even if you didn’t know better, the way her hair twitched and shivered made your spine react in kind. You didn’t know much about this variety of monster, but you knew that the hair could be pleasant or deadly, however it was used.

Seeing as this one here was a Temple Guard, you kind of assumed she used them frequently for the latter.

It was 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 was. Was she plotting to kill the leaders of the Order? That would be quite the blow before wartime, that’s for sure.

No, no this didn’t sit well with you, being exposed like this. What if that psychopath, Franz Jakovitch came back? Hell you’d be quite the target up here. With a gesture, you flick your hand two two directions and install [remote sentries] into the buildings on the side 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 barely take note of you, before quickly passing and returning to the High Priest, her hair becoming still again. It was readily apparently she noticed what you had done, but she didn’t seem to care one lick about it. Still, you needed to be very careful about what you did here, or it could be a diplomatic incident.

“Bubs” you think to your companions, and 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.”

“Siggghhh….spells, danger, bad smells and the like?”

“Sounds go..wait, when could you detect spells?”

“Magic rat.”

“You are going to lose hat privileges you know.”

Bubs squeaks in horror 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. With a quick effort, you do a mental scan through your two sentries, and see nothing of value, even through their true sight enhanced vision.

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

You snap back to the scene in a rush, the sounds of the scene flooding to you as you catch the last part of the High Priest’s introduction. You look about, and 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 could also see monsters looking bored at his words, or staring at the procession before you, much as a few men who couldn’t keep their eyes off the feast at the feet of the High Priestess.

Tolosh

Tolosh quietly walked forward on her platform, the succubi and hellhounds falling silent as her hair trailed behind, caressing them. She nodded her head slightly to the high priest, and you could barely perceive a drop of sweat rolling down his forehead as she began to speak, 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, 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, and although your eyes were open to any magic, you did not see her casting a damn thing. Even her hair was fairly still, yet she had every eye upon her, either for her presence, or the low cut of her robes, revealing 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 began to furiously speak amongst themselves, some appalled at the thought, while others, especially the other monsters looked surprised and interested. The Lord Commander slammed his shield and quiet began to echo down the lines of watchers.

Tolosh nodded to him slightly, her hair wriggling as she smiled. “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 murmured again, but quieted down as she began up, “No, no the true path to my Lady and Dollora’s wisdom, is that where man and monster grow closer together, where the line between humanity blurs and twists, and in the end, we are 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 did not make a move aggressively, but the Paladin Primaris’s scowl turns to outright fury as the people in the crowd start to raise up their voices.

“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.

“Galmathoria, long a land which lay close to the borders of monster land, and long who had never accepted monsters truly in their heart.” She closes her visible eye and seems 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 them from you, but the willful fear of your lords who have kept this 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 eye opened up once again, and her voice echoed further as she turned 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, 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. Infact, 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 went deathly silent, and you could see the color drain from the faces of many Heroes. By the gods above, this was… This was monsterization. The process of turning human women into monsters, fundamentally destroying their old life and replacing it with their new forms, thoughts filled with that of sex and other baser instincts. It was practically unheard of anymore, and to see it with your very eyes was terrifying. And… All of Galmathoria had… Had fallen to these words?

A voice broke in the crowd,

“D…Delilah? Sister is… Is that you?!”

You used one of your sentries to home in one a scared looking woman who clutched at a sigil of Solos, her eyes brimming with tears. A man beside her grasped her shoulder and her stood, staring transfixed at the succubi on the platform, whether in horror or lust, you couldn’t tell.

The middle succubi turned in the crowd, her eyes locking upon the woman. She smiled and said, her words dripping like honey, “Adeline… My dear sister.”

Shocked murmurs whispered through the crowd as the woman’s eyes grew large and she screamed out, “W..what have they done to you?!”

“Done to me? They’ve granted me more than I could have ever wished for. Pleasure you can barely imagine, a body that sings in glory, 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 puts a hand to her mouth and she 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 rained down upon the congregation.

Tolosh merely stood there, smiling as her hair danced, and the three Succubi pulled in close again, making lewd gestures to men in the crowd while the hellhounds tore fiercely at their chains.

People began to argue amongst themselves and monsters in the crowd, and in some places violence began to break out as men and women became accusatory towards the monsters near them. You gripped your staff as more and more Order Heroes crowded 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 Victor, the Paladin Primaris standing center stage, his face utterly livid as his voice boomed, as if that of a god’s.

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

It hit you like a physical force, and even Tolosh seemed mildly staggered at the force of his conviction, the rest of the crowd shuddering and stepping back, cowed into silence by his aggressive light. He glared at her and her entourage, his lip peeling back as he snarled,

“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 shot up at this and he rounded on Victor, his eyes afraid.

“By Solos, Victor, do you know what you are…?”

“Posturing?” Cooes Tolosh 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 Godess?!”

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…”

She points out from the platform, as if guided by some divine form to the sight of human in brown robes, who had just entered the area from a side street. He looks about and then walks forward, as if being drawn in somehow.

People part as a man covered in a brown robe pushes through and crashes onto the stage, eliciting a cry of pain as he collides with it. You can see multiple bandages covering his arms and legs, although his face is covered by the cowl of the robe.

One of the hellhounds pulls at her chain and gets in his face, her eye fire going bright as she smiled wide, her body seeming to alight. The man looked up at her and she freezes, her eye fire flickering out for a moment before she was pulled back by her handler, shock on her face.

Tolosh’s hair wrapped around the man and brought him up onto the platform as easily as to swayed in the wind. The man seemed to stumble for a moment, and then looked out over the crowd before his eyes locked onto you. You could see more bandages covering the man’s face under the cowl, only exposing burned lips and eyes, but through the shadows you saw a deep, and intense hatred burning there, and his posture and demeanor seemed to do a complete 180.

He whirled about to the High Priestess, and with some effort, knelt down. “I… Ask for your blessing, oh Priestess of the True Godess.”

Victor took a step forward. “Priestess, I warn you…”

She raises an eyebrow as her hair began 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 the power upholding freedom and JUSTICE, so quickly abandon it’s ways?”

Victor grits his teeth, looking aside as he knows he is beat. There wasn’t a damn thing he could do while the crowd looked on with rapt attention as a faint, purple light danced 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.”

“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 you conduit, to do your will upon this world!”

With a snap, her hair clamped upon the man and in an instant he was covered by the living hairs, their power coursing into him. You saw this with your [Mage Sight] and your <fast scan> and knew power was flowing, but you could not tell how or why. This was dark magic brought about by divine means, something utterly and completely foreign to you and you could only watch as the power coursed through and consumed his humours, staining them pitch black.

It was over in moments, and slowly, the hair uncoiled, revealing the man, who staggered a few time before righting himself, and shaking his head. Immediately you could tell he stood taller, his posture less pained, and he looked at himself before pulling back his cowl and undoing the bandages upon his head.

It was as you feared. There, upon the platform stage stood Franz Jakovitch, restored to a glory that surpassed what you had seen before, his dark features smooth and sleek, his hair glossy and short. The biggest change though, were his eyes. The sclera were pure black, and is iris glowed a deep red.

He smiles wickedly and stared 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 was restored, his magic was amplified, his smile and optimism, returned.

That’s now why you shivered though. No, you shivered because underneath it all, you saw that this metamorphosis has granted him a new lease on life, but only for a limited time. This… Power within him, this darkness was eating at his very core, feeding upon his magic as a power source. This wasn’t a new lease on life, it was a deception, one that you knew Franz neither suspected, nor would care about as he licked his lips and raised his hands to the sky.

“DOLLORA BE PRAISED!”

The crowd exploded 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 looked on in horror. The Lord Commander did his best to keep the populace from killing each other, and you could see more people rushing up and bowing to the High Priestess, who raised her arms out in ecstasy as her platform began to push through and turn itself around.

You did not stay and watch what happened further as Blake put an arm on your shoulder and dragged you away, all the while your eyes were locked upon those of Franz Jakovitch until he was lost in the sea of people.

Blake was pacing outside The Lord Commander’s Solar, finger in his mouth as you sat, 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 were coming in that more people and monsters were leaving, following her back to Galmathoria, even some soldiers of the city. There were no reports of any Heroes and certainly no Chantry deserting, but this was still a terrible blow to the city, and when outlying towns and monster populations heard about this, bad things would occur.

“Damnit, it can’t be true, can it?” Murmurs Blake as he paces back and forth in the solar, waiting for your appointment with Highfield. Ever since you had returned from the procession, he seemed agitated, as if playing over and argument in his mind. You could guess what he was 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, and seems about to say something when the door to the Solar bursts open and Highfield strides past you and to his desk, yanking open a drawer and pulling out a bottle of some thick, amber liquid, which he downs 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 lifted a hand and Blake fell silent. He massaged his temple 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 are 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 if 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, make us proud.” He takes another swig of his bottle. “Our brothers in Galmathoria, much like us, were merely tolerated, feared 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 it’s conquest.”

Everyone is silent for a time before Blake speaks up again, “Is it truly worth going to war over what is a choice?”

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

He sighs again and straightens, looking at Blake squarely. “Though we are entering a period which will soon be marked by war, and we shall need every Hero, 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 there has been a shift in monster influence from the ruins of Carthos, to the Keep of the Forgotten, on Solomon mountain. We fear that the Monster Lady has taken up residence there, and will be there for some time as they wait for our forces to deplete from deserters.”

You raise an eyebrow. He couldn’t seriously mean to ask Blake to…

“Simply put, Questing Hero Blake Bouregard, 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 weren’t hearing things right? He did just screw up Blake’s last name AND ask him to slay THE MONSTER LADY?

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?”

“At the time, we had prepared for a military invasion as they had been in the past, and the Lady quite often leads these from the front, which very often leads to her demise. Things have, as we all know, changed, however reports seem to indicate that the largest concentration of monsters is in Galmathoria, although whether this is from their standing army 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 on Solomon mountain, what is the history of this keep, and why would be retreat there instead of Galmathoria?”

The Lord commander blinks at your question, seeming to forget about you for a moment and then comes back into focus, his eyes hard.

“The Keep of the Forgotten is aptly named, for it’s 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, but rumor has it that great treasures lie hidden in it’s halls. It has been in monster territory for millennia, but no one has any mentioned monsters of any significance living there, though our reports are quite shoddy due to obvious reasons.”

You ponder this. That doesn’t sound particularly like somewhere the ultimate elixir would be, but 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. And if you happened to see Selene again while you were…

You shake your head. Silly thoughts! Silly thoughts indeed! But, you couldn’t deny that part of your felt 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 speak up, your words only mildly shaky. “I… I will accompany the Hero on this quest.”

It was now Highfield’s turn to look surprised Blake’s neck audibly snapped 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 mountain.”

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 been chaffing the Chantry.” He thinks about this for a moment, and then sighs. “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, and you 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 utterly changed to 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 and looks at you. “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, everything Blake said, everything you’ve seen, and the answer is obvious, your expression becoming neutral. “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, hell, I love the boy like a son, but he is full of ideas that we cannot have in the Order, not with the Chantry making such moves and the 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, to aid 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. He really did seem to care about Blake, so there was that. Ah, well, what were you going to do, say no? Yes, yes you could, but you weren’t going to.

“Oh very well then. However, I will require certain items from your storage should such a quest be undertaken.”

“Of course, what did 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.”

The Lord commander seems deep in thought for a moment before looking down at his side, where a sword sat. He picks it up carefully and draws it, aetherial light playing off it’s masterwork blade. He nods and sheathes it.

“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 it’s intended purpose. As for armor… I cannot help him there, as it is all tied up by the Paladins of the chantry.”

“Very well then. Third, what have you in the way of magical implements?”

The Lord commander looks thoughtful. “We have stockpiles of crystals, but no…” 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 5th 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 seemed alive to you, the magical energies writhing about it seeming excited and agitated somehow, as if it knew that it was to be used again for it’s purpose.

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

The Lord commander laughs. “I barely even know you, and 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. Go ahead and take it. 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 didn’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 was holding his head with both hands, staring at the wall as Veronica, Tabitha, and Hala fought once again. They didn’t even notice you when you came out, but the poor guard from before looked inured to this level of bullshit now.

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 a little too manically, because Hala’s eye twitches.

“Ladies, I…if your 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 while Veronica blushes furiously and starts muttering, “I..idiot!,” while Tabitha gives you a far off look. Blake looks about to be on the verge of a meltdown and you put a hand on his shoulder.

“You dun fucked up.”

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

An hour later in a guest room of the Hero’s Hall, you have before you 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. Certainly, you also made arrangements for other, more mundane supplies, as well as a some stone and glass cutting tools. You picked up multiple bags of mana crystals, as well as a full helmet, a codpiece, and some other various items for enchanting purposes.

The quartermaster gave you an odd look when you requested the codpiece, and an even odder look when you asked for health potions. Apparently potion making was an art invented by monsters and used nearly exclusively by them, since the fundamental base of their creation was semen. The order didn’t really take kindly to that. He said that he could send someone to pick up some things from nearby magic shops, but couldn’t get too much. You give him a list of a few objects, and he says they should be here by tomorrow, looking confused at what you have requested,

 

But back to what you were up to now. Taking a careful amount of time, you carve the Orrox bone into small keys, which you then inscribe with runes. Taking the unicorn hair, you thread the runes together, and then 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 by doing this before and the many matrices you had read about this. The glass was exceptional quality, and carved smoothly, so the process didn’t take too long to do.

By the early evening, you had finished your work, and you leaned back, admiring your work. To your knowledge, you now has the first portable communion glass in existence. With careful hands, you used some of your mana crystals, and fed power into the device. It hummed slowly to life, formulaes appearing and twisting on the screen, runes dancing before your eyes. You wipe a tear from your eye as you gaze upon the beauty of your device.

With careful hands, 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 and you can barely see the sights, for the tears in your eyes. You would just check on your usual matrices, and then you’d return to preparing for the journey ahead.

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 blinks at you.

“Uh… Good morning, wizard. We 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 played with bright, morning light. Oh. You were up all night shitposting apparently.

Just like old times! Hahaha…

Today was going to be a long day. Better get everything you want out of the way, because it’s about to be questing time.

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

It is a good pain.

Veronica narrows her eyes at you 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 was heavy as can be and you saw why people didn’t make these. The only reason you could was that you had a [sack of holding+1] which allowed you to transport it without the weight. You didn’t understand the mechanics behind such bags, and when you asked on the communion matrix once, your matrix became woven with images of a mocking man pointing at aetherial signatures. Fuckers.

>Gained [Port-O-Glass]

>Painstakingly carved runic keybones, tied with unicorn hair and connected to the finest Galmathorian glass, all nailed to a piece of mahogany lumber.

>Access the Communion Matrix nearly anywhere!

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

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

You sigh and pick yourself up, looking around for Bubs and finding 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 sperg nearly lost it, but it was his fault. Siege upon Gargantuan is shit 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 quickly move 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 two walk, the only sounds those of your walking. 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 basically thought all women would be like before you left on your journey and after a night of rampant hedonism, you kind of felt… Well, you felt a little nervous.

“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 get quiet for abit, but you can’t help yourself. “Wh…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, and I volunteered.” She grits her teeth. “And I cannot allow Blake to be surrounded by such harlots and degenerates as his current company with out a shield of purity by his side to keep him from the wrong path.”

“Y…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 sending 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 gods 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, slightly 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 deserved the mailed fist that sent you halfway across the hall, into a wall, and then sprawling on the stone floor, which was very cool on your now warm face. As you try to process everything, Veronica fumes and stomps about in a few circles. You pick yourself up slowly, and wipe the blood from your chin. Hmm. This was ouch. At least Bubs seemed okay, having not even really noticed the attack in his padded pocket. You showed no signs of it though as you walked back up to her and said, 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 she instead clenches her jaw, her fists, and probably her ass, and strides on down the hallway. You continue after her, keeping silent this time as you applied some [ice] to your face, which stung like hell. You were going to ask her if you could speak with the Paladin Primaris, but you feel that you fucked up the chances of that quite well. Oh well, you’d probably be denied anyway. You got the feeling that Paladins didn’t like you for some reason, so you just kept walking, this time keeping your pockets sufficiently unspilled.

You arrive at a large room with multiple tables spread out with various maps and clerical staff going to and fro, adding notes here and there, moving pins, and speaking with various Order warriors who appeared to be pondering over troop deployment, supply shipments, quests, etc. It wasn’t hard to find Blake and the others, off in the corner at a smaller table, where a map of Deleor and it’s northern border with the Monster Nation lay. Blake had a few pins in the map already and you could see he had planned much of this last night.

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

“What happened to you?”

You look at Veronica, who’s expression somehow seemed a little 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 and 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 mail 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 lies. “Here is our current location, the capital of 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 is Solomon mountain, 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 until we can meet back up to the roads.”

He points at the river, which seems to flow 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, in about 2 days, and continue on the roads 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 through 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. “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, and 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. 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 head, much to the chagrin of Veronica. You shrug and trace the map, putting it to memory. As you do, Bibs 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. But their vigil was wasted as you locate the source of the scream, to find Veronica clutching at Blake’s arm, her eyes wide and her face pale, horror sticken at Bub’s appearance.

“Ggggget it away! Get it away!” She squeals, and gives a short, “ky aaa!”

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… Aspirant, was afraid of rats?

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

Hala has a shit eating grin on her face as she leans over and whispers, “Its on your back!”

Veronica jumps a little and scrabbles at her back before finding nothing and glaring at Hala, who is giggling like mad. You glands to Tabitha, and her has her head tilted, the wide brim of her cap hiding her expression, but you get the vague impression she’s smiling too.

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

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. Also a chain for some reason. Can’t have enough chain apparently. This wagon was still a two horse deal, but it was wider and more spacious than before, and you felt the extra room would be appreciated, especially with more people. You watch as they hook up Mr. Ed, and you smile, knowing the big guy would be coming with you. Odd how you felt like that about a quiet, stoic horse like that.

You had all your items stowed away, and you were prepared to travel, robes freshly cleaned and beard freshly trimmed. 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 on the paper, and the cleric rolls his eyes before waving over a group of men carrying a few crates. They set them down and pry them open, and your eyes sparkle at the magnificent gifts in front of you.

In one box lay a set of five plague masks, which were popular during the 11th invasion where the Monster lady, a Beezlebub of all things, tried to kill many people with a variety of plagues. She wasn’t very good at it, and the casualties weren’t bad especially thanks to such masks. As it stood, many were available, but not too expensive.

In the same box was another set of 5 hexagrammic wards, which were of similar make to the ones you already have. Nifty. You root around and also find a second volume of Defensive Magic, and a quick flip through shows that this version is big on counter magic and shielding, where volume 1 was about warding. Neat. Oh and some new, freshly packed Wizard’s chalk, which was weird if was called that since Wizard’s weren’t in public much, eh, whatever.

The next crate had six glass orbs, in each was embedded a shard of crystal, which was inert and colorless. These “bitch balls” could be charged with all sorts of elemental magic and even be used by normies as one use explosives. Simply charge, throw, and watch as everything in a 10 foot radius gets barbecued.

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 weren’t just any needles, ohhhh no. These were [Hakurei Homing needles]! These little bastards, if suffused with the right frequencies of energy, could home in on a target, and turn them into a pin cushion. Generally, you needed a piece of the target’s body from make them work right, such as hair, blood, other secretions, so they weren’t used too often, but fuck it, you always wanted some. They were also good needles, excellent eyes, much threading, wow.

The next crate was sealed very tightly, with the words, “alchemy” scrawled on them. The burly men helped pry it open, and very snugly packed in were multiple bottles of liquids of various varieties. You picked up a few and read the labels.

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 potionsm, beyond the holy water, is written (CAUTION. MONSTER CREATED. CONTAINS PROCESSED SEMEN). You groan and store them. Apparently there was nothing for it, this was how these were made. Human alchemy had a loooong way to go, unless, well, they also used semen, like Samantha had. Hmm.

You root around in the box and are disappointed to see there is no sign of any Mountain Elixir. A shame, but you supposed normies would have a hard time finding it. Most wizards distilled their own to be fair. At least your [pocket dimension] seemed stocked on heated bread pouches. You still had no idea how it was full. It was kind of scary as you considered that you may have actually tapped into a dimension filled with heated bread pouches. Spooky scary.

You turn to the last, very small crate. Could it be?… With trembling hands. You remove the lid to find to magical implements of the highest order. You shiver and slowly, very slowly, take out the first of the items, a small figurine of a girl in a white and black dress with a goofy smile on her face and a massive crossbow. You almost shed a tear, for this was nearly impossible to obtain in such a condition.

With baited breath you inspect the other item to find another figurine of a tall, blond haired man in a white naval officer’s uniform, wearing a long, intricate white cape. Dear gods, this was the real deal. Very popular past it’s prime, the theatre upon which he starred had limited figurines that could be bought, and especially of this character. Truly, the Order had more power than you gave them credit.

With the feeling again like a child on Solosmas, you store your new implements away and prepare to load up when The Lord Commander himself walks up, 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. 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 or 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 were used to, this staff felt… Right, somehow.

>You obtain the [Staff of Gregory the Great]

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

“This is Shadowsmiter! Used to kill one of the Temple guard in the 10th Monster Invasion!” She bows her head. “I… I can to 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 it come to any harm, then I would be strung up before Solos and whipped to within an edge of my life.”

Highfield laughs. “Yes, that sounds like him alright. 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 awhile, 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, though 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 then 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, before proffering it to Blake.

“Take it.”

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

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

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

The two trade salutes before Blake orders a load up, and everyone is soon piled in, with Hala sitting next to Blake on the larger driver’s seat. Blake snaps the reins and you slowly pull forward, out of the Hero’s Hall, and down to the docks.

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