Umbra, Chapter 33

Far away from the west coast of the Holy Legion, across a vast ocean and the war-torn kingdoms of Lusitana’s east, quite the oddity could be found tucked behind a long stretch of plains. It was a little town, hidden deep in a damp forest, far from prying eyes.

From out of the verdant soil, towering mushrooms sprouted alongside the trees. The giant fungi ranged from the size of an adult man to three-story buildings, and one of the larger ones easily could’ve housed a small cabin within their girthy stalks.

Bathed in the shadows of fresh summer leaves and the massive red caps, that little town of stone and wood buzzed with life. Both man and monster scurried about the cobblestone streets, those mutant mushrooms in tow.

With orcs, goblins, and trolls hauling along wooden barrels filled with their stalks and centaurs pulling wagons full of their giant red caps, it wouldn’t take a scholar to figure that the mushrooms played a vital role in the village economy. From chefs dicing the stalks up into fine cuisine to the town chemists processing the spores into thick elixirs, not a single part was wasted.

And it was there, on the edge of the lively little town, a posse of monsters was hard at work. A minotaur, lugging a massive axe behind her, threw the blade forward and hacked down a mushroom that had to be three feet in width and ten feet in height. Stepping out of the way, she let it tip over and hit the grass.

Running past the minotaur’s fuzzy brown legs, a goblin lifted a machete over her head and merrily chopped off the mushroom’s cap.

“Yo, Lucille! Come grab this for me.” the goblin called, walking further down the length of the stalk to help the minotaur chop it into segments.

Coming from behind a fallen pine, a head full of snow-colored curls emerged. From out of the middle of her forehead, a majestic horn of that same color jutted, a clear giveaway of her status as a unicorn.

Her centaurian body carried her forward. The blue and white robes she was adorned with went whipping in the wind as she clopped towards the intimidating woman. Behind her, she tugged along a small wagon full of mushroom caps.

“Alright, Gretchen. Hold on a moment…”

The teenage unicorn stepped forward, but something stopped her in her tracks. Looking back to the not-so-distant village, she heard the sound of a familiar voice pleading for mercy.

“Oh, bother. We were almost finished, too. I’m sorry girls, I’ll be right back…” the unicorn sighed, unhooking the wagon from her equine half and taking off towards the village.

“No fair! He was on your team last time we played!” a young holstaur girl whined, her screams so loud they bounced off the wooden cabins surrounding her and carried on until they spooked away the birds nesting in their trees.

“Yeah, but you’ve still had him more times than we have!” a werewolf shot back, her young voice just as booming and frightening to the local wildlife.

The two young girls stared each other down, the deep yellow eyes of the werewolf locking with the angry green pupils of her enemy. Each girl had a crowd of around ten others behind her, each with an even distribution of human boys and monster girls.

Trapped between the girls was a young lad. His pale, fair skin covered in freckles and a mess of curly white hair on his scalp, extending so far as to cover up his eyes. Each of the monsters yanked on one of his arms, attempting to pull him to the other side.

“He’s mine!” the holstaur girl shouted, steam nearly shooting from her nostrils as she dug her hooves into the earth and yanked with all her might.

“No… he’s… NOT!” the wolf girl snarled back, kicking up dirt as ground her paws into the ground and pulled with every bit of strength she could muster.

“P-please… can’t… can’t we just flip a coin?” the boy groaned, fairly certain he was starting to hear his bones creak and pop. Unfortunately for him, his pleas fell on deaf ears.

Then, from out of the dark depths of the woods, an unexpected heroine appeared. Appearing in a flash of pure white, Lucille zipped by and snatched the young fellow away, carrying him out of sight before the other children could even react.

The young unicorn looked down at the slightly younger boy cradled in her arms, offering him a soft smile, “Are you alright, Lukas?”

“Yeah. Thanks, sis. I really thought they were gonna kill me back there…” the boy sighed out in relief, settling himself further into his older sibling’s grasp.

“I keep warning you not to mess with the other kids…”

“I… I didn’t do anything to them! I just wanted to play some tug-of-war!”

“And yet, you ended up as the rope.” the unicorn taunted him with a playful giggle. Seeing her little brother’s expression harden, Lucille gradually slowed down and set him down before a humble little cabin.

“Don’t fret over it, Lukas. You should be happy you’re special.” Lucille tried to cheer him up.

‘I know… and I am. But sometimes, it just feels like… that’s all they see me as, ya know?” the boy grumbled. Brushing a strand of curly white hair away from his eye, he revealed a deep pit of black with a brilliant navy-blue pupil.

“You think everyone likes you just because you’re an incubus?”

“Yeah.” the boy sighed remorsefully.

Smiling a bright, kindly grin, the unicorn trotted up to her little brother and brushed away a few of his curly locks, letting their green eyes meet.

“Lukas… don’t fret over it. Even if they do only like you because of your gift, don’t come to neglect it. You’re the first step to a peaceful world. It’ll be a gentle, dark place with no suffering. How does that sound?”

“It… it sounds great.”

The unicorn tilted her head, careful not to poke him with her horn, and kissed him on the forehead. She motioned for him to go inside, “Okay, little brother. Get supper started. I need to go finish up at work.”

“Sure thing!” the boy laughed, rushing inside. After he watched his sister trot off from the window, Lukas scrambled to their humble little kitchen, wide enough to fit the large body of a unicorn and displaying just enough decorations to make it feel homely.

The white-haired boy was quick at work, scooping up a whole bunch of potatoes, carrots, and onions. Dropping them on the wooden counter, the boy began smoothly chopping them up with the grace of a noble’s top chef.

After dicing up three onions, the boy used his sleeve to wipe the tears gathering in his eyes. With his vision cleared, he noticed an emerald glow from the corner of his vision. An intense green light, pouring in through the door to the sitting room. Shortly afterword, a faint humming sounded throughout the cabin.

The incubus boy’s fanged grin stretched across his face. Dropping his knife, he scrambled into the dark sitting room, not bothering to open the curtains as he slid over to the source of the light and humming on his knees.

It was a mirror, stood up against the wall and waiting in the shadows. Its shimmering surface didn’t reflect the boy’s giddy face, but continued to shine that brilliant green hue like a beacon from a lighthouse.

Reaching forward, the boy tapped the cool glass with a single finger.

On cue, the green light faded away, as did the humming noise it was emitting. What was left was the image of a barbaric devil of a man with a left arm comprised of a thick sludge all the way up to the shoulder.

The two exchanged wide, fanged grins.

“How’s it been going, squirt?”

“Mr. Cronan! Y-you’ve become an incubus too!?” the boy cried, so elated that he grabbed the sides of the mirror pressed his face up against the glass.

“Whoa, whoa. Calm down, squirt. Yeah, I figured it was about time I evolved. It’s about high time, too… I’ve never felt so damned good in my life.” Cronan chuckled.

“Mr. Cronan… I’ve missed you so much.” Lukas sniffled, keeping his forehead pressed against the glass, “I keep  worrying a bad guy will get you…”

“Hey. I’m a pretty tough bastard, Lukas. I wouldn’t let one of these pansy prudes in the Legion do me in. Especially since I’ve still got a lot of work to do.” the older incubus boasted.

The boy seemed instantly elated at the assurance, “So, how is it down there? Does the Legion really beat every tenth man in a squadron to death if they run away in a fight? Are the gladiator battles any different? Do the rich people really eat boiled stingrays with raisins!?”

“Slow down, Lukas. You know I don’t have much time to talk to you at this distance… hey, where’s your sister?”

Once again, Lukas’s attitude turned sour, “Oh. Sorry, Cronan. She’s still not back from work yet.”

“Dammit. I must have misjudged the difference in time.” the older of the two incubi grunted, “Anyway, how has she been? Has she found a boyfriend yet?”

Lukas stifled a laugh, “Pfft. I’m not holding my breath.”

Cronan smiled, but he didn’t seem as amused as Lukas, “Yeah, I suppose Lucille is still a bit too bashful for her own good… but listen, Lukas. A few light-hearted jokes at her expensive are all well and good, but don’t forget she’s the only sister you have.”

Lukas nodded up and down, his snowy curls bouncing along with his head, “I… I won’t, Cronan. I’ll protect her with my life if it comes to it.”

It was clear Cronan was pleased by the boy’s answer. But as his massive fangs were hidden once more by a small frown, Lukas instantly picked up something was wrong.

“Mr. Cronan? What’s the matter?”

“Nothing gets past you, does it squirt?” Cronan chortled looking back into the boy’s eyes, “I… I was just wondering. Do you ever resent me?”

Lukas looked dumbfounded, nearly falling onto his bum from the question, “Resent you? Why would I do that?”

“Well, I did coax you and your sister into your respective transformations. Not to mention I killed your father. Most would find that an unforgivable crime.”

Lukas solemnly nodded, “No. My dad was a bad man… and I know you had my sister and I turn for our own good. And since we have, we’ve never been happier. Don’t forget that, Mr. Cronan. You’re a hero.”

Feeling a deep sense of unsettlement, Cronan shut the hand mirror he was using to communicate with Lukas, watching the kid wave goodbye before disappearing completely. Cronan sat atop a gnarled stump, surrounded at all sides by towering trees and overgrown grass. Through even the relentless chirping of crickets and birds, his young friend’s words still rang in his ears.

“I’m a hero, huh…?”

Blowing out a pent-up breath into the sunlight-filtered air, Cronan took a final look at the circular mirror in his palm. It was the one he always used for long-range communication with his allies. But it was still a cheap little thing and was beginning to wear and crack from regular use.

“Bah, I’ll just get a new one once I stop in the next- oh. That’s right…” Cronan began, but cut himself off halfway once he glanced into the mirror and saw the endless black pits of his eyes glance back. Not very likely someone would overlook that little detail if the massive sludge arm wasn’t already a dead giveaway.

The transformation into an incubus had increased both his arm’s size and power, and it was no longer within Cronan’s meager magical capabilities to seal it away under chains and bandages as he did when he was human. As he flexed out the three clawed fingers, he was somewhat disheartened by the fact he still wasn’t quite in full control of yet either.

“Why does everything always have to be so difficult…?” Cronan groaned, looking down at his slimy palm and giving each of his claws a wiggle. There seemed to be a short refractory period of a second or two before they responded.

“Dammit all. I suppose it’ll have to do until we get out of this fucking bigoted hellhole of an empire.” Cronan mumbled, shutting the mirror and tucking it away into his black leather armor.


The incubus perked up, a grimace appearing on his face. That voice belonged only to one woman, and he was well aware of what inevitably followed whenever he heard it.

But this time, and with the aid of his new body, he was prepared.

Springing into the air, Cronan twisted around in the middle of his jump to see a huge glob of webbing land where he was just standing. With a wicked grin, the incubus called out into the depths of the woods before him.

“You’re gonna have to be quicker than that, Akami!”

No sooner had the words left Cronan’s mouth did he find himself trapped in a massive spider’s web, weaved between two massive trees. With a dejected sigh, Cronan called back towards the thick shadows of the woods.

“Alright, fair enough. You got me.”

“Hehehe~ now, I’m gonna claim the spoils of victory~!”

With an echoing series of hearty chuckles, the ushi-oni of Cronan’s gang skittered down from the treetops, hopping from trunks to trunk until she landed on the web beside him. Peeling him from the webbing, she fell back into her threading like a hammock and held Cronan in the air like he was a child.

“Now, gimme my snuggles~”

“If I must…” Cronan groaned, but couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across his lips. Akami hugged him tight, her fuzzy paws secured around Cronan’s back and his head tucked between her breasts. Letting his slime arm slip through the webbing, the incubus slid it around until it came up to the other side.

A pleasant shiver ran down Akami’s spine as the cool, sticky liquid touched her back. Settling into her death grip, Cronan finally let himself relax. He sniffed at the sweet breeze as it rolled through the branches of the trees, carrying the scent of fresh pine and honeysuckle.

Slowly peeling one eye open, he looked up at Akami’s face. Usually twisted into a fierce grin as she pounded away at her foes, she looked as content as a mewling kitten, laying back into her web and basking in a ray of sunshine as pierced the treeline.

Then, the incubus looked below. With his newfound eyesight, everything seemed much more crisp and vivid. And in his meditative state, the seemingly chaotic sounds of nature seemed to fall into place in a perfect harmony.

Each rolling blade of grass, the sweet singing of the birds… the buzzing of the insects, the gentle warmth of the afternoon sun…

It couldn’t have been any more perfect for him.

But something else came to his mind. The bitter memories dragged themselves up from his mind, and the sweet scents were replaced by the rancid odors of spoiled meat and rotting waste. The majestic, towering trees all around them became rows and rows of shabbily constructed buildings, abuzz with arguing men, nagging women, and bratty children. Thick plumes of smoke from chimneys mixed with a stampede of dust that rose from the busy streets below, nearly blotting out the sun.

And below, he could remember it all. The putrid, disgusting men who would sell their own kin for a loaf of bread. Highwaymen and thugs with no remorse or conscious, who were liable to chop off your fingers for glancing at them for too long. Violent savages, beings barely deserving of being called men, waging bloody battles over the most trivial of matters.

It all made him sick to his stomach.

“Something on your mind, boss?”

Cronan snapped back to reality, realizing his face was scrunched up in disdain. Adjusting his head, he peered up through the pillowy mounds of the Ushi-Oni’s breasts and up at her concerned frown.

“I… I just don’t get humans sometimes, Akami. My sister… she was the sweetest person possible. She always put herself before me, and gave everything to protect me… just like my mother. But then there are people like my father… I thought he was as blackhearted as they come, but I was disproved again and again in my travels. Year after year, I saw the vilest bastards the world could offer, and each one made my stomach turn in all new ways.”

“Still, a human was what you were born as. Do… do you regret becoming an incubus?”

“No. Not at all. I’m not some sentimental fool who clings to vague notions of belonging. This form… it’s the future of mankind. An evolution, not a curse.”

“Hmph. That’s good. I would’ve been quite disheartened if you of all people got cold feet.” came a majestic female’s voice from above.

Cronan glanced upwards, seeing a flash of red fall before the sun. Landing roughly in Akami’s webbing, the sticky strings bounced up and down as a blonde dragon appeared atop of Cronan.

“H-hello, Scarlet.” Cronan wheezed, trapped between the weight of the dragon and the Ushi-Oni’s death grip. As the web finally came to a rest, Akami opened up arms and allowed the dragon to roll into the hug.

“Salutations, my master.” Scarlet cooed, using one of her armored talons to play with Cronan’s spiky brown locks, “So, have you considered our next move?”

“That I have…” the incubus mumbled, shifting around and sticking a hand in his pocket. After a few moments of fishing around, he managed to pull out a strange device. Looking like a circular bronze plate with a face of blackened glass, the odd little device fits neatly into his palm, “I found something weird. Take a look for yourself.”

Scarlet accepted the device from Cronan, placing it in both hands. While her thick talons looked ungraceful and clumsy, she handled the various buttons set into the device’s side with the speed and precision of a disciplined noblewoman.

In a few short seconds, the dragon had the device turned on. Its black screen began emitting a soft green light, and within that gentle emerald glow was several red blots.

“Oh my. Take a look at this…” Scarlet awed, lifting up the device for Akami to see.

“Urhm… I don’t get it.” the Ushi-Oni grunted rather dumbly, not being able to make heads or tails out of the reading on screen.

“I wasn’t trying to show it to you, Akami.”

Just as the dragon spoke, a pair of yellow eyes and a wide grin appeared in the air. Popping into reality, Lorna the cheshire cat landed on the web on her knees, leaning on Akami’s head and peering at the device.

“Hmmm. Neat.” the cheshire whistled, her tail flicking back and forth.

“W-what is?” Akami asked, suddenly feeling very dejected at being left out of the conversation.

Slipping his sludge arm back to his side, Cronan tapped a single finger against the glowing screen, making sure to trace around the two large clusters of red dots, “According to the radar… there are two large gathering of relics in Ellsworth. But that can’t be right. Every relic in that city should be clustered at the Academy of Holy Magic.”  

“That can only mean one thing. Someone’s illegally collecting relics.” Scarlet finished for Cronan.

“Oh! Sounds like we should pay them a visit~!” Akami laughed, hugging the dragon and incubus closer to her chest, cutting off both of their air supplies in the process.

The four-way snugglefest quickly devolved into something much more depraved. All four of their clothes were flung from the heights, falling into a giant pile below. There, atop Akami’s webbing, the four went at it like rabbits for hours on end, the incubus eagerly rutting into a girl while the other two ground their sobbing pussies together.

It was nearing sunset when all four, at last, had their fill. Cramming together in a big, sweaty pile, they held each other close as they each drifted off into a heavy slumber.

“Will it be like this forever, Cronan? I… I love all of you… I… want to make a world where we can be happy, and everyone like us can be happy to.” Lorna mewled, nuzzling her fuzzy ears closer to Cronan’s chest.

“You’re my master, Cronan. I shall be your sword and shield, come hell or high water.” Scarlet added, hugging his human arm even tighter.

“I… I was never too bright. But I love all of you so much, and I’ll never stop trusting you. I’d follow you to hell and back, boss~!” Akami laughed, the other three resting atop her. Closing up both her spider legs and claws, she trapped them all in a warm, fuzzy hug.

Cronan tried his best to stop it, but he couldn’t help but let a tear roll down his cheek. Wiping it away before any of the girls noticed, the incubus settled back into their warm bodies and stared into the infinite orange sky overhead.

He’d taken an oath to change the world. Not for himself, but for them.

Through the dim light and smoke-filled air of the tavern around her, Helena Grandmore locked her vexing pink eyes on the small, colorful balls spinning about and clattering into each other. With each impact, a loud clack sounded and they were sent rolling across the green cloth of the table. After the short trip, the balls were sent plunging into the holes cut along the table’s sides.

“Hmph. What an odd game.” the widow mused, playing with a lock of her curly blonde hair. She kept her focus on the odd game but was still aware of the lustful leers locked on her. She even paid no mind to the whistles and catcalls under the lazy tune being played by the tavern’s minstrels.

The serrated dagger hidden in her sleeve would ensure none of the unsavory characters around her would go too far in their advances.

“It’s called billiards. Hasn’t caught on much in the Legion, I suppose. It’s still a fairly recent game.”

Helena looked up at the man speaking with her. He was shaven and tanned fellow dressed in fine clothing died a dull crimson, with a similarly drab orange vest beneath his overcoat. He was leaning over one side of the table, holding a polished stick and lining up his next shot.

In a single smooth thrust and ringing clack, the stick launched the white ball forward, knocking it against a black one and sinking it into the top left hole.

Across the table, a towering cutthroat with several teeth missing and a single tuft of black hair atop his head began to fume with rage.

“You… you hustled me!”

“I did nothing of the sort. You simply either overestimated your own ability or underestimated mine. Either way, I believe you owe me some coin.” the man in red said calmly.

“Oh, you’ll be gettin’ somethin’ alright…” his thuggish opponent snarled, throwing his stick to this side and stomping around the table.

“Perhaps we should take a step back, Madam.”

Helena peered over her back. Standing there was her spindly butler, Banon. As he gently rested a gloved hand on her shoulder, he urged her to step back into the smoky shadows where he so easily blended in.

“Perhaps we should…” Helena sighed, moving out of the way just in time to avoid being flattened by the brutish thug.

“I ain’t givin’ nothin’ but pain to a dirty cheat like you!” the ornery man spat, cracking his knuckles as he came to stop right before the man in red. Although the brute had a good foot and half in height on him and was nearly twice as broad, the bald man looked just as nonplussed as ever with the thug towering over him.

Right before the thuggish brutes fist made contact with the man in red, a flash of white and blue appeared between them and stopped the attacker in his tracks.

He was a young fellow, looking no older than eighteen or nineteen. With his wind-swept aquamarine hair resembling a cluster of icicles and his pale face twisted into a gnarly glare, the teen could’ve easily been mistaken for some sort of vengeful winter spirit.

“You seriously think you could touch my master…” the youth snarled, tightening his iron grip around the thug’s knuckles,  “With your dirty, stinking hands?!”

With a final squeeze, a burst of frost exploded out from between the men. As quickly as it had shown up, it dissipated, leaving behind a trembling thug with a hand encased in ice. The tavern, previously abuzz with noise, went eerily silent as all eyes locked in on the scene playing out before the billiards table.

Tossing back the tail of his white longcoat and adjusting its fur collar, the haughty youth chuckled and walked around to the brute’s back, “What’s the matter? A bit chilly?”

The brute fell to his knees, howling in agony as he gripped at the frostbitten fist. Not finished dishing out his punishment, the youth in white grabbed the thug’s solitary tuft of hair, bending over and slamming his face into the ground. Not finished quite yet, the cryomancer rose to his feet and planted his boot on the back of his victim’s head, grinding his nose into the filthy wooden floor of the tavern.

“You… stupid… CUNT!” the young mage snarled, stomping down with each curse hissed.

Having seen enough, the man in red slapped a hand over the younger fellow’s shoulder, easing him away, “That’s quite enough, Calder. I think he’s gotten the message.”

The youth’s face twitched with indignation and fury for just a few short moments before he took a long, drawn-out breath through his nose. Turning away, the cryomancer focused his ire on the stunned minstrels, “Who told you chucklefucks to stop playin’? I paid good damn coin for that song, so ya best keep it going!”

Calder aimed his palm at them, conjuring up another icy spell. The frightened merrymakers resumed their song, albeit the tune was going at nearly double its previous pace.

“Better.” Calder smirked, letting the miniature blizzard in his palm fizzle out. Bending over, he began checking the unconscious thug’s pockets, “This fucker owes you some coin, master. He’ll cough it up one way or another.”

While the frantic pace ringing through the smoky air, Helena cleared her throat and approached the man in red once more.

“Anyways… I don’t think we’ve had an opportunity to properly introduce ourselves.” the widow cooed, “I am Helena Ryvan of the Grandmore family… and you must be the infamous hitman, Haden.”

Haden shot the short woman and her butler an inquisitive glance. Reaching into his undercoat as he scrutinized them, he pulled out a cigar. Popping it between his lips, he raised his index finger up to the end and let loose a small spark of flame from the tip of his finger.

That tiny ember seemed to give off a heat as intense as a furnace in its brief existence, but it was such a precise trick it lit the fat roll of tobacco and nothing else.

“That I am. And sorry for that little display. I’m well aware that gambling isn’t very assassin-like, but we’ve all got to do something to pass the time.” he said through a puff of smoke.

“It’s quite alright. I’ve my own share of uncouth hobbies… but I digress, don’t I? We have business. I tracked you down because I’ve heard you two are the best at what you do.”

“Then you’ve heard correctly, ma’am. My apprentice and I are the finest killers money can buy.” Haden boasted in his cool, calm tone. As Calder finally pulled out a small coin purse from the thug’s pocket, he chortled like a kid stealing candy and bounced to his master’s side.

Helena cackled madly, holding the back of her gloved hand up to her heaving chest, “Kehehehe… wonderful. But I want my target alive. You can kill his little whores and take as many of his limbs as you want, but I plan on making him suffer for what’s he’s done to my family myself. Of course, you gentlemen will be heavily compensated for it. What do you say?”

Banon stepped forward. He dropped to his knee, bowed his head, and presented the assassins with a fat bag of coin as if he were offering them honeyed tea and sugar cookies.

Calder and Haden exchanged a glance. The young cryomancer’s pale silver eyes were alight with greed, and a grin a mile wide curled around his face. The pyromancer, on the other hand, kept both his expression and tone utterly monotonous as he turned back to face Helena.

“You have yourself a deal, Mrs. Grandmore.”

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