Wizardquest 3 Part 12: The Sea is a Harsh Mistress


Chapter 32

                The assembled Priestesses begin to mutter with worried expressions, their voices rising as their fears feed upon each other. You can’t help but feel worried either, the mixture of the news and the chattering making your heart beat faster and your body tense up. It was expected that SOMETHING was going to happen, but not so soon. Did they figure out their plans were being thwarted?

                Anxiety begins to build within you. Your aching body doesn’t help the situation and the voices of the worried Priestesses rankle your senses, making you irritable. Sylphie places a hand on your shoulder and gives you a reassuring, yet worried nod. She too is clearly worried about the situation, as evidenced by her tails twitching behind her, a trait her and her mother sometimes do when concerned.

                As the tension begins to grow to a fever pitch, the Speaker of the Waves says in a calm, gentle voice, “Still yourselves.”

                A feeling like cold water rushes over you, shocking your senses. The agitation, the anxiety, it all melts away, as if ripples in a lake returning to calm, placid stillness. You’re not exactly certain what happened, but you stare at the Speaker in surprise as she sits there, cool and calm amidst the quieting crowd.

                “We cannot allow ourselves to become turbulent as the sea in a storm. We look within and be as the water underneath, calm and unperturbed.”

                The assembled Priestesses bow their heads, even Sapphine, who had awoken sometime during the commotion. She seems utterly serene, despite her puffy eyes. You also feel this sense of serenity at her voice, a soothing touch that washes over you. Being as tired as you are, you accept it, bowing your head too.

                “Now then.” The Speaker says, holding a hand out to the messenger. “Can you explain what is happening.”

                “Of course, Speaker.” She stands straight and says, “I was on assignment to the Palace when a group of the councilors who had been out for the evening entered the palace and somehow overpowered the guards. When I saw everything going poorly, I ran here to inform you and find guidance.”

                “What of the Sea Queen?”

                “I didn’t see her before I left, but her guards were present. I hope she’s doing alright…”

                “I see.” The Speaker says, rising from her seat. “Then we shall make preparations to head to the Palace immediately.”

                “Head to the Palace?” You ask, the calm fading. “I’ll be honest, none of us are in a good shape to fight.”

                She looks at you and smiles, “And yet, you’re still coming, yes?”

                “Yeaaaaah.” You say, downing your drink before standing. Actually, before that, you also down Sapphine’s drink. The burning on your tongue means it’s working, right? “Can’t let some bruises and maybe broken bones keep me down.”

                “You didn’t break any bones. But you’re going to if you keep straining yourself.” She sighs, “There are some things more important than bones, I suppose.”

                “I suppose that’s true.” You say in reply, though frankly your old bones protest. You’ll get them some milk or something, you hear bones like that.

                “Come on then, let me heal you a little more then.” She says, somehow casting soothing magic through her giant crab claws. As she does so, you turn to look at Sylphie, who looks tired herself.

                “You alright?”

                “Huh? Oh, yeah.” She says, rubbing at her eyes. “I just forgot how tiring a world-saving adventure is. I mean, it’s great and fulfilling but wouldn’t I just love to take a nap.”

                “Hah, you sound like your mother when you two were born.”

                Sylphie cocks her head before shrugging. “Well if child rearing is on par with this then I’ll be the best damn mother ever… when I get around to that sort of thing.”

                “Are you two ready?” The Speaker asks, sliding toward you on her fish tail.

                “As ready as we’re going to be.” You say as Sister Julienne nods and backs away from you. Your muscles feel much less tense than before and many of your aches are gone, but you still feel tired and a general sense of soreness. You’re not certain how that will translate to your ability to call upon your will and cast magic, but it’s something to keep in mind.

                “Very well.” The Speaker says as she makes to the door, followed by five other Ocean Priestesses, those you didn’t happen to have beaten up, at least. “Come, we shall pay the Sea Queen a surprise visit. I pray to Fillios that she is still in good health.”

                Sylphie says her goodbyes to Sapphine and your procession makes their way outside of the Cathedral, which admittedly had grown busier despite it being much later at night. One supposes when many Priestesses are beaten up and then news of a riot in the Palace occur, it will be difficult to sleep.

                Outside of the Cathedral, however, is perfectly still and quiet. The soft glow of the barrier overhead and the luminescent coral illuminate the ground as before while a gentle stillness plays over the city. It is as if the people know nothing of what is occurring, same as before.

                Such a thing unnerves you, but at the same time you’ve had your fill of city-wide sieges and panics. It’s better if you can settle this quickly and quietly.

                “Dad.” Sylphie asks as your procession moves through the streets. “Shouldn’t we check on Baha?”

                “Why?” You ask, your concentration split on a [UFT] you cast. Just in case, you know?

                “Because we know he’s infested. We can cure him and hopefully get his help with the Sea Queen in this regard.” She thumbs over her shoulder. “Besides, we have constructs to hold him down this time.”

                Chaika pretends to flex while Harmony chuckles. Regular comedians, both of them.

                “Grand Wizard, we are to take the waterways now.” The Speaker says. “We shall meet you at the Palace, do try to keep up.”

                “Alright, good luck.” You say as she does a double backflip in the air before landing in the canal. You don’t even see her resurface, but a shadow in the water indicates her moving with quite the rapid pace through the water, her procession following soon after. So much for serenity and temperance, huh?

                “Alright we need to get going then.” You say, preparing your tired bones for jogging when Harmony scoops you up. She smirks and her wings pop out from her back. They charge with aether for a moment before she leaps into the air, flying you across rooftops toward the square where Baha is caged. On the ground below, you notice a blue blur as Chaika holds Sylphie, the thrusters in her legs allowing her to run at great speeds.

                Given your assisted mobility, you reach the square in almost no time flat. Though some windows open with confused citizens who heard the noises, you find the rest of the square to be empty of life. Unfortunately, this extends to Baha’s cage as well.

                It hangs open, softly creaking as it swings lazily. Where its occupant has gone, there is no clue, but you have a bad idea where he might be headed.

                “Hey, the guards are still here.” Sylphie says, drawing your attention to prone figures on the ground. They’re dead, unfortunately, their necks broken by some incredibly force. It seems rather likely that your legendary sailor is behind this act, something you know will haunt him once he’s in his right mind again.

                “Damnit. Alright we need to keep a look out for him then.”

                Everyone knows the words are hollow. Given his reputation and the ruthless drive from the plants, it seems likely that you won’t find him unless he wants to find you. A niggling sense of worry begins for form in the back of your head, but you dismiss it. Now isn’t the time for this, now is the time for action.

                Chaika and Harmony scoop both of you up again, seeing as it worked so well before, and you rush off toward the Palace. When you arrive, you find the gates closed, but no one is guarding them. A [UFT] reveals no one on the grounds either, however Sylphie’s ears twitch every now and then as she looks intently toward the Palace, worry on her face.

                “Where’s the fish?” Chaika asks, looking around.

                “Behind you.”

                The construct about jumps out of her bolts as she turns around to see the Speaker land from her leap, water splashing everywhere. She gracefully adjusts her clothing, such as it is, and waits as the rest of the procession leaps from the water.

                “My, you made good time. Surprising, I consider myself a rather fast swimmer.”

                “I prefer the air.” Harmony says, a joke perhaps only she finds amusing.

                “There’s no guards present.” You say, getting serious. “I think there’s fighting occurring in the Palace itself.”

                “Mmm, then we’ll use the chapel entrance then.” The Speaker says, pushing the gate open. It swings forward with no resistance. Chances are it wasn’t locked to begin with, but that’s beside the point as you hurry to follow her to a side chapel attached to the Palace.

                The door stands ajar there, clearly opened in a hurry by the Ocean Priestess who warned you, and you slip inside to find a clean, but rather unadorned site to worship Fillios. You don’t have much time to sightsee as the Monsters around you immediately come to attention, listening intently.

                “There’s combat ahead.” Sylphie says. “I hear metal on metal and screams. People are dying out in those halls.”

                “Making our way to the Queen will be arduous, Speaker.” One of the Priestesses says. “But if we can subdue them, we can lessen the loss of life and stop this riot.”

                “Indeed. However, as much as it pains me to say this, I believe securing the Sea Queen is our priority. We do, however, have an expert in combat.” She turns to you and bows her head. “I know much and more about this building. I can access a canal underneath the chapel which runs directly to the Sea Queen’s chambers to evacuate her. However, if you believe it is worthy to fight while I do so, then it is your choice.”

                Choices, it’s always choices. Days, perhaps, that’s what it feels like when you’re making them. This time, however, your mind is already made up in advance.

                “No, though it pains me to say this, fighting you was too much for me. I’m drained and will need some time to get my mana back.”

                “I can say the same.” She sighs. “Very well then, I should hope you can swim though.”

                She waves a hand a rush of water appears through the stones underneath as they slide apart, revealing a passage. One of the Priestesses nods and leaps into the water first. A moment later a fin rises from the water, waving you to follow her.

                “Here.” Sylphie says, weaving a small cantrip over you. “It’ll keep you dry.”

                “Gee thanks.” You say. “This would have been great the last time I leapt fully clothed into water.”

                She sniffs and jumps into the water, you and the constructs following soon after.

                The small escape canal or whatever it is gives you and extreme sense of claustrophobia. You don’t know how the Mermaids can even swim in here, but you flounder somewhat. The pun is not intentional but it does describe your swimming for a moment. Thankfully the [Gilly Potion] you drank earlier still seems to be effective so once you get your bearings (Thanks to Harmony) you swim forward.

                Small clusters of coral light your way as you swim what seems to be an eternity through the winding passage. Eventually you catch up to the aquatic Monsters, who look at you with amusement. The Speaker holds out a hand and a rumble sounds above, followed by a brighter light shining down into the dark depths. She rises from the water, and you follow the others as they do the same. Water cascades off you, somehow not getting you wet thanks to Sylphie’s little spell. Once settled, look around at your surroundings.

                You’re inside an antechamber by the looks of it, the room filled with chairs and various ornaments you’d expect for people to sit and wait for an audience. Or, more precisely, a room you’d expect people to expect because why would the Queen’s personal chambers have such a room beyond propriety? Either way, it’s empty, which surprises you. Where are the guards?

                “Nautalina, you could at least have had the decency to inform me you were coming.”

                Your spine goes rigid as a powerful feminine voice reaches from the other room. It takes all your will to force your body not to bow at the voice, such is the force behind it. An authority you’ve only felt from your wife and the Pharaoh settles upon you in that simple sentence. Despite knowing plenty of strong women and Monsters, this voice is one of the strongest.

                “My Queen, please. I have brought guests.”

                “Even more reason to have informed me. Come, it is wearing to speak in this manner in my own home.”

                The Speaker doesn’t even wave to you, merely she slides across the wet floor to the next room, her procession following with their heads down. After looking between your party, you follow after them, wondering what you’ll see. Of course, the moment you enter, you drop to one knee without realizing it.

                If any creature was deserving of the title “Queen” it would be this one before you. She is tall, perhaps as tall as you, but her body is a perfectly sculpted to radiate both femininity and authority. She stands on two legs instead of having a fish tail as you may have thought, though her legs and arms from the knees and elbows down have blue, almost glittering scales that terminate into webbed, claw tipped fingers and toes. Scales trail up the sides of her body as well, visible through the sheer dress that barely reaches past her thighs, adorned with pearls and other treasures of the sea.

                A long, scaled tail ending in a fish fin traces through the water behind her, but you barely notice it as your eyes are drawn to her face. It is hard hewn and mature, but not a single wrinkle mars her beautiful skin. Fish scales on her face trail off to fin-like ears framed by long, blonde hair upon which an ornate tiara sits.

She grips a long, immaculately wrought trident of a white, twisting material which you cannot place. You can, however tell it radiates an impressive amount of power, such as which pours into the Queen herself as she looks with eyes that are yellow, slit pupil, and staring right at you.

                “Land Dwellers.” She hisses. “What would compel you to bring such to my chambers?”

                “I apologize, my Queen, but there is a situation in the Palace.”

                “I am aware.” She says. “I am said to be betrayed by my councilors. Somehow they subverted many of my guards as well. It is most vexing a situation.”

                “I believe it may be a plot more dire than you suspect.” The Speaker says. “Were it not for the actions of the Grand Wizard and his daughter, we may have suffered a similar fate.”

                The Sea Queen turns her imperious gaze to you again. “Grand Wizard? Ah, Selene’s consort and their love child. How amusing.”

                Your skin prickles at her words. Consort? Love child? What kind of way to talk is that?

                “I believe it best to evacuate until the guard can lay this situation to rest, my Queen.” The Speaker says. Despite being rankled, you agree with her.

                “Retreat in the face of such a trifling thing? I should think not.” She looks at you and says, “She implies you know more, Wizard. You may speak.”

                “I may-?” You cut yourself off and take a breath before saying slowly. “Of course… your highness. There is a parasitic plant which was spread to some of your subjects on the surface and has made its way down here. It has been spread to influential people, and I believe it is the cause of the current predicament here.”

                She narrows her eyes. “Do you take me for a fool?”

                “My Queen, please listen to him.” The Speaker says. “He speaks the truth. We should leave to formulate a plan out of this. Were anything to happen to you, think of the barrier.”

                The Sea Queen’s lip curls for a moment and you fear she’s going to start breaking some heads. It passes soon though and she takes a deep breath before saying. “Very well. I trust your wisdom, Nautalina. If the Speaker of the Waves makes a suggestion then I shall listen.”

                The sounds of combat intensify outside the doors but there’s no indication they are to be breached. The Queen looks toward the doors and frowns but shakes her head. It surprises you to see regret in those eyes, but what kind of ruler would so callously leave behind those defending her? Perhaps she isn’t the ice-water cold bitch she pretends to be.

                You leave the way you came, finding the chapel to be deserted still. The sounds of combat have died down, so says Sylphie, which can either be good or bad. Given the strength of those infested, you’re beginning to think it’s a bad thing. But you’ve already chosen this path so you’ll have to live with it.

                The city outside is still sleepy, thank the Gods, and you take the canals (well not you, but the others) before reaching the Cathedral. The assembles Priestesses who gave the Sea Queen extreme reverence seem less inclined to do so when back within the Cathedral, as if in this house, only Fillios is supreme. The Speaker, Nautalina you suppose, still shows the required amount of respect, though you wonder how much of that is due to their apparent friendship.

                Though you’re offered a room to sleep, you’re forced to decline though Gods is it painful. You and Sylphie instead meet with the others in the worship chamber, where the Sea Queen and the Speaker stand at the altar, making prayers to Fillios. When finished, they face each other and nod, ready to move forward.

                “By now they will have found that I am not present in my chambers.” The Sea Queen says. “Should my guard have won out, I suspect they will soon inquire as to my presence in the Cathedral. Should they not…”

                “Then the question comes is this was coup or an attack. If it were a coup then I suspect they’ll make declarations tomorrow. If it is not, then I do not know what to make of it.”

                “It would be difficult to breach the Cathedral if we are on our guard.” The Sea Queen says. “Those blessed by Fillios and my own power would make it an excellent place to stand our ground.”

                She sighs and a flicker of sadness comes to her expression. “Though I should hope they do not try to molest my dear husband during all of this.”

                You and Sylphie exchange worried looks, which the Sea Queen notices. Her expression becomes rough and she commands, “Speak.”

                “Well, your highness.” You say, hoping not to anger her, but knowing that it will happen no matter what. “Your husband is no longer in his cage and… we’re kind of certain he was infested on the surface also.”

                The water on the floor in a ten-foot radius jumps as a shockwave of force threatens to push you backward. Harmony keeps you in place with a hand on your back as all of you watch the Sea Queen. A look of utter fury sits upon her face, her limbs quaking with rage as her knuckles go white holding the trident. She about hisses at you, “WHAT DID YOU SAY.”

                “Ah…” You hesitate for a moment as you try to imagine something else not to be as intimidated. Maybe you can imagine that this is Selene angry at you. Actually that’s much, much worse, uh let’s try something else. How about Veronica? No, that’s even more terrifying, especially these days. Damn you know a lot of scary women. In the end you settle for taking a deep breath and looking her in the eyes like a man.

                “I said your husband is one of the infested. I can purge it from him, but I need to both find him and have direct contact. It’s likely that he is with the infested if they overcame your guards.”

                “With him present, I am certain they already have.” She says, almost panting. “And this changes everything. If he is working against me, then they will do something wholly unexpected to draw us out instead of assaulting us here.”

                “My Queen?” The Speaker asks, confusion in her expression.

                “That bastard knows I won’t be able to sit here while my subjects are in danger.” She points the trident at you and snarls, “You will remove those plants from him so that I might whip him within an edge of his life for letting this happen!”

                “I don’t understand, what will he do?” The Speaker asks.

                The Sea Queen turns her back on the assembled group, revealing powerful muscles and glittering scales from her open backed dress. She sighs, her strong persona allowing a moment of weakness before the statue of her Goddess.

                “He will start slaughtering civilians.”

                “Kill… civilians?”

                You say this quietly, as if floating the idea in your head. It’s not shocking, far from it actually. In fact, you’re rather impressed at how cold and callous it is, and how effective it must be. No, what really makes you shudder is the fact that these plants could be so intrusive that they’d pull upon the darkest thoughts a person had and use them against even their loved ones.

                The hesitation lasts only for a moment. You shake your head and say, “Is there a guarantee he’ll do that?”

                “My husband is no fool. He knows what will push my buttons. Even if he weren’t so intimately familiar, the man was a pirate captain before we met. He knows exactly what to do to change something to his favor.”

                “I didn’t know that.” You say, taking in that information. “So he will kill civilians with the intention to bait us out… if we don’t take the bait then-“

                The trident flashes to almost an inch before your nose. When did she? How did? Damn she moved so quickly you barely even noticed. You manage to keep from gulping as she says, “That is NOT an option. I was not appointed the Queen by the people and the will of Fillios to watch them suffer from hiding!”

                Ah, the weapon you’ve been searching for, the conduit to Fillios. It sits right before your eyes. You could reach out and touch it, though you also suspect she’d skewer your face if you tried. Mustering up your tired courage, you say to the Queen, “I am not suggesting we hide, I am suggesting we take some time to devise a plan and perhaps rest our emotions.”

                The Queen narrows her eyes. The trident remains steady before your face for what seems a painfully long time until she lowers it, then turns to the Speaker as if you weren’t there.

                “A full evacuation will cause panic in the city. It would be prudent then to evacuate those nearby to the Cathedral under a pretense of something dangerous. I trust the Priestesses can keep the calm?”

                “I suspect so, however this will not go unnoticed.”

                “I should hope not.” The Sea Queen says. Her expression becomes neutral as she speaks in a clinical fashion. “It is likely that my dear husband is searching the Palace, but will be finished shortly. When he can’t find me, he will rally the other… ‘infested’ to root us out. Again, the most efficient manner to draw me out, were he to do so in his right mind, would be to slaughter civilians.”

                “Hmm. And by causing attention to this part of town…?”

                “It means I will signal to him where I am. I expect he will still try to draw us out, but we will know where he is.”

                Chaika cocks your head. “And if he chooses to say, start murdering people on the other side of town regardless?”

                They both look at her, to which she shrugs. “If some advertised their presence to me in such a way, I’d figure the game is up. Since I’d have no qualms about bloodshed, and infact would benefit from it, I’d just start the farthest away I can. If you want to come to me, then so be it.”

                The Sea Queen appraises Chaika before nodding her head. “You, there is something familiar about you. If I recall right, your name is… Chakrandas, isn’t it?”

                Your eyes alight for a moment, “You read my book?” At the Sea Queen’s glare you back away, apologizing softly.

                “Yes and no, I am a revenant of Chakrandas.” Chaika says, matter of fact. The Sea Queen merely nods, not questioning what is arguably one of the strangest things in this world.

                “Indeed. I would trust your degree of ruthlessness tempered by years of peace is similar to my husband’s.”

                “Shit, he must be great in bed.”

                “Hmm. It is improper to say these things before a Queen.” She says this with a straight face but you swear there’s a twinkle in her eye. “Yes, that does seem appropriate. However, we can use that to our advantage.”

                “Oh?” You ask, which earns you another glare. Damn she really, really doesn’t like you.

                “I will make preparations.”

                She leaves you at that and walks away with the Speaker in tow, the two of them discussing something too quiet for you to hear. Sure, you could use magic to listen in, but it’s just… you’re too tired for that.

                Sitting down on the bench, you lean back and sigh as Sylphie does the same next to you. She puts her face in her hands and says, “I’m so tired.”

                “Yep.”

                “I… I kind of wish Mom were here.”

                “Heh, don’t think your old man can handle this?”

                She looks at you with a tired expression, “No, it’s just… I guess I felt more secure when the two of you fought together back in Ectria. Like there was nothing that couldn’t be done.”

                “Even though that Rommel guy did a lot of the heavy lifting?”

                “Sure, but he’s not my dad.” She gives a soft smile at that and touches her left shoulder. “He’s not really anything but a memory and a faint pain at this point. You’re my family.”

                “Sylphie…”

                She shrugs. “Well, I’d take Sophie too I suppose. Though she’d probably be upset at my fashion sense and moping around like this.” A small chuckle escapes her lips. “I hope when this is all done, we can come together and have dinner or something, as a family.”

                “Yeah.” You say, reaching over and ruffling her hair. “I’d like that.”

                “Oh yes, and we’re just chopped liver, hmm?” Chaika says, hands on her hips.

                “It hurts deep in my core.” Harmony says, wiping away non-existant tears.

                “Oh please, you I’m glad you two are here.” Sylphie says. “Though what would make this complete is if-“

                “Uhm… excuse me.”

                The four of you look up as a worried Priestess walks over, a look of confusion on her face. “There’s a very polite… I’m not certain what creature it is, outside who gave me a piece of paper with the name, ‘Sylphie’ on it.”

                Sylphie chuckles, “There he is, right on cue! Let him in.”

                The Priestess gives her a concerned expression and looks down at the floor before shaking her head slowly and muttering about strange land-based creatures. A few moments later, Mr. Ed clops into the room, his feet throwing up water as he walks on the slick stone.

                Sylphie nuzzles the horse, who gives you a nod before licking her hair into place. You swear that horse is more of a father to her than you are at times.

                As you watch, a wave of exhaustion hits and you lean back against the pew, yawning. Sylphie notices this and yawns herself before asking, “What do you think we should do now?”

                “Wait, I guess.” Is all you can say, your eyes growing heavy. “The Queen has something in mind and we need to keep her safe in order to do this so… I guess… we follow her…”

                Your words trail off as weariness claims you, and the world grows dark.

———————————————————————————————–

                “Hey, get up.”

                You blink awake and look up to see a dark room. Confusion sets in before you look down to find yourself sleeping on a mattress of stuffed seaweed and moss. It’s thankfully not damp, but you’re confused as to how you got here.

                Harmony looks down at you and says, “Come on, the Queen is ready and she’s not amused at you falling asleep.”

                Groaning, you push yourself out of bed and immediately get your feet wet again. Right… the floors. Rubbing at your head you ask, “How long was I out?”

                “Only about an hour.”

                “Ah… no wonder I still feel like shit.”

                She shrugs and you make your way back to the worship chamber where a large group of Ocean Priestesses and the rest of your party reside. The Sea Queen stands upon the dais again, the Speaker next to her as she addresses the crowd. Curiously, Mr. Ed stands next to her too, her hand on the horses mane.

                “Good, now that everyone is FINALLY assembled, we can begin.”

                You’re starting to think she doesn’t like you. Of course, she seems to like Mr. Ed, given how she’s running her hand through his mane, webbing and all. Well, you put that in the back of your head as she continues to speak.

                “As far as we can see, there has been no attack yet, but we will not give them the opportunity. The Priestesses, lead by the Sea Queen, will effect an evacuation in this area. While that is occurring, another group will lay in wait near the docks, the area farthest from the Cathedral and most likely to bait us. When they show themselves, we strike.”

                “My Queen, I still don’t think it is wise for you to go out there.” The Speaker says, her expression still serene, but her tone worried.

                “He is my husband and these are my people. I believe they will not continue to harm civilians if they know where I am. However, it is my goal to apprehend the infested before they can cause any harm. When we have taken them, that is when the Grand Wizard will purge them of their infestation.”

                She turns her cool gaze on you. “That IS something you can do, isn’t it?”

                “Of course.” You say, returning her gaze. “I swear we’ll keep you and the people of this city safe.”

                Her hand tightens on Mr. Ed’s mane and the horse gives her a sidelong glance, to which she surprisingly bows her head. Sylphie mutters next to you about being horse cucked or something along those lines, but at least the poor beast doesn’t look amused to be up there. Guess the novelty of a land beast being so amenable rubbed off on the Queen. Honestly you didn’t expect to see such a side to her.

                “I have a concern.” You say, raising your voice. When she doesn’t reply you take that as authorization to keep speaking. “These infested can hide in plain sight. I am worried that they will blend into the populace and try to make their way into the Cathedral again.”

                “I will monitor all who come through these gates.” The Speaker says. “One of the many gifts Fillios imparts upon her beloved is the ability to perceive the flow of life in a creature to help bring it back into balance. I do not think I shall have difficulty picking a being with two sets of life inside it out of a crowd.”

                “I too possess a modicum of [Mage Sight].” The Sea Queen says. “Assuming it is effective?”

                “It… should be.” You say, nodding your head. The Priestess you can believe due to how gifts of the Gods can work, but the Sea Queen? You suspected she’s a Monster Witch, but [Mage Sight] in a Witch is very uncommon, your family being an exception for some reason. It’s always been something you wondered about, why your wife and daughters could act like Wizards, but be bound by semen for mana.

                But now is not the time nor place for that. You nod your head and say, “Shall we depart now then?”

                “Are you certain you do not wish to sleep more?”

                “I am well rested, your highness.”

                She frowns at you before nodding to the crowd. “Go, protect this city in the name of Fillios.”

                The Priestesses nod and spread out, preparing to bring people to the Cathedral. For your part, three Priestesses adorn unassuming robes, same as the Sea Queen, and all of you head out toward the docks. The plan is for the Priestesses to ring the massive bells atop the Cathedral in half an hour, hopefully giving you enough time to reach a place to hunker down as well as beating Baha before he starts killing.

                If that was ever his plan in the first place.

                The streets are still quiet as you reach the docks, even those who choose to drink the night away having long gone home. Harmony, wearing your [Mage Sight Goggles], has yet to find anything of interest which is good, and you haven’t seen anything either. Which is also good. And worrying.

                One of the Priestesses finds a building with a good view and you enter it without difficulty, the owner seeming bewildered by the company, but taking the coin readily. As you reach the top floor, you look out over the midnight city, worry filling you rather than appreciation.

                “Mr. Ed is hunkered down in an alley.” Sylphie says, getting next to the window you’re looking outside from. “I guess now we wait, huh?”

                “Indeed.” The Sea Queen says, standing behind you. She still wears her disguise, her trident wrapped in cloth. “Though I suspect our time is almost up.”

                In the distance you hear a bell ring, loud and clear through the city. Lamps appear in the windowsills of many buildings as occupants begin to look outside, wondering why the Cathedral is making noise. As you watch, Sylphie catches your attention and points you toward a Sahaguin dressed in the colors of the royal guard. A moment later, another one appears, coming from the direction of the Palace.

                “Your highness.” You ask, worry in your voice. “Did you contact any of the Royal Guard while I was asleep?”

                “How could I? They were giving their lives to defend me.”

                “Well… There’s some of them out in the street. Do you think they survived?”

                “What?” She asks, moving to the window and looking out. Her eyes widen a moment later. “Those two… that can’t be.”

                You look out the window to see a civilian exit their home, looking toward the Cathedral with a worried expression. They hail one of the Sahaguin guards who, without paying them any mind, runs their spear through their chest before drawing it out and continuing forward. The citizen drops to the ground, their blood mingling with the slick stones beneath them.

                “No!” The Sea Queen hisses, at least having the forethought not to shout.

                Your [Mage Sight] activates and you look out over the streets to see that the two guards are indeed infested. As you look, more appear. Two, then four. Soon, around ten of the royal guard are in the streets. A scream comes from a building nearby, an occupant having seen the murdered person. More activity begins as people awaken and look outside. The infested guard stand ready, as if expecting people to step outside and investigate. They’d be moving to their dooms.

                “I don’t see Baha.” Sylphie says, worried. “But they’re already starting! Dad, what do we do?”

                “Your highness?” You turn to the Sea Queen who has a look of rage and horror on her face. She does nothing but watches the streets, her eyes locked onto the dead man in front of her. Is she going to make a decision, or is it going to have to come down to you again?

                The Sea Queen, her eyes seemingly burning, takes a step toward the window as power begins to swell within her. Eyes widening, you stand up and place an arm across her chest to stop her. She glares at you until you hiss, “What in the name of the Gods are you doing? Do you want us to get caught?”

                You’re almost intimidated by the amount of raw energy coursing through her. It reminds you of your wife, the amount of magic power permeating her body. Is this an effect of the trident, or is she just that powerful? Still, you hold you ground before her and keep her gaze. Eventually she sighs and closes her eyes, the power receding swiftly.

                The assembled Ocean Priestesses look about with worry. Their eyes dart between you and their Queen, wondering what the best option is as the Sea Queen’s eyes re-open to give you another stony glare.

                “How will you fix this?”

                “Huh?”

                She narrows her eyes further. “If you think this is the wrong course of action, how will you fix this to stop the death of my subjects?”

                “We’ll stop them, that’s what.”

                “You better hurry then.” She hisses. “Now, get out there now!”

                “I don’t think we’d have the time.” Sylphie says, opening her eyes. She turns to face the two of you and says, “I’ve got something in the works though.”

                Both you and the Sea Queen look at your daughter with confused expressions as the sound of hooves on stone comes to your ears. Moving back to the window, you crouch down and watch with utter surprise as Mr. Ed walks slowly down the street. Despite the bell tolling in the distance and the screams of frightened citizens, you hear his hooves clear as day. His purpose in being out there, however, is shrouded.

                “Sylphie, what the hells is going on? Mr. Ed can’t… the hells?”

                Your train of thought is derailed as the Royal Guards, so intent on their impending slaughter beforehand turn to view the strange creature coming toward them. Such Monsters have likely never seen such a beast, even less so one dressed like the one before them. They, and the few citizens who poked their heads out, look on in confusion as the four-legged creature wearing a cape stops in the road.

The panicked shouts die down into confused whispers as a quiet descends on the street, the only sound heard the toll of the bell for the longest time. Your breath catches in your throat as you feel something, a current of magic stemming from your daughter. Looking to her, you see her with her eyes open, yet staring at nothing as she whispers, “Let’s do this, Ed.”

One of the Royal Guards breaks from her stupor and takes a step forward. The moment they break the tension, Mr. Ed’s eyes glow a fierce yellow and [Lightning Bolt] projects from them, slamming into the chest of the Sahaguin. The bolt of power courses through the Monster and, with a sickening gurgle, she drops to the slick ground.

More screams sound from the populace who immediately close their doors and hopefully bar them. Feeling threatened, the infested Monsters rush at Mr. Ed, their webbed feet moving swiftly across the slick ground.

Unfortunately for them, they have no idea how fast a horse can be.

Despite the wet surface underneath him, Mr. Ed moves as if he was racing across a grassy plain. The horse leaps over the initial charge of the guards, electrocutes another in front of them, then turns about and zaps the two he left confused behind him. Soon enough four of the infested Sahaguin are twitching on the ground, the smoking holes in their bodies reknitting themselves, but buying some time.

You watch all of this along with the Sea Queen, the two of you looking at each other with surprise before revisting the carnage. The Sea Queen licks her lips and asks, “I have seen a few horses on the surface… but I was not aware they were such formidable beasts.”

“Well you know what they say. A horse is a horse, of course of course, unless it’s my daughter’s favorite horse, of course.”

She looks at you incredulous as you sigh and shake your head. “They’ll figure it out soon enough. At least the citizens aren’t stupid enough to go outside when a rampaging thunder horse is beating up the royal guard.”

“And what shall happen now? I do not see any trace of my husband, though he has always been a crafty one.”

“Well, I suppose we’ll deal with the current issue downstairs, then hopefully that will draw him out.”

“You look like you’re going to pass out soon.”

“Gods I wish.” You sigh. “But I’m the only one who can remove the plants. I’m sure that Baha will notice this as well and try to strike me down. I won’t make it easy for him.”

“I see. Very well then, I shall lend my aid when… when it is appropriate.” She hesitates for a moment while saying this before shaking her head. “Take the priestesses, they will help soothe the populace, considering you’re assaulting the Royal Guard, after all.”

“I’ll take one.” You say, pointing at a perky Mermaid. How did she even get up the stairs? “You keep the other two for protection.” You think for a moment. “Chaika, keep an eye on her as well.”

“I can handle myself very well, thank you.” The Sea Queen says, but you merely shake your head.

“You’re kind of important here as well. More so, perhaps.” You point at her trident. “Besides, once this is all over, I’m going to need a favor of you.”

She looks at her trident and frowns before regarding you again. With a sigh she says, “Very well. If you can help recover my troublesome husband I will accede to your request, though you can be certain I will give Selene no end of difficulty over it.”

“Ah, that sounds nice. I’ll make sure we have the finest mountain elixir when you come to visit.”

Before she can say any kind of retort to this, you motion to Harmony, who carries Sylphie, and the mermaid. The four of you head outside past the bewildered homeowner and into the battle outside. Ahead of you lie a few Royal Guard who twitch softly as their bodies, filled with electricity, refuse to work appropriately while others reknit wounds such as hooves to the face.

“Keep Sylphie safe until she breaks off the channeling.” You say to Harmony. “And you, come with me and keep me shielded as I purge these guards.

“R-Right.” The perky Priestess says, following after you as you make to the nearest Guard. They stare up at you with eyes filled with hate, but can do nothing as you use your Plagamancy to rid them of their infestation. Once finished, they collapse back to the ground, unconscious.

Further down the street you see Mr. Ed dancing away from a group of five Royal Guard who have gathered together, spears at the ready. He saunters backward, looking for an opening, when his eyes return to normal and Sylphie gasps, looking about in confusion before realizing where she is. Before Harmony can do much however, the Monster thrusts out her hand and a wall of stone shoots in front of the guard, allowing Mr. Ed to make his escape unimpeded.

Harmony lets her down to the ground and Sylphie nuzzles Mr. Ed for a moment as he approaches. From around the wall, the infested guard approach, their spears leveled for a charge. You watch them for a moment before sighing and waving to Harmony. The construct doesn’t need anything more as she opens the wrist mounted unit on her arm and fires out purple electricity that encompasses the guards and the water around them, stunning them briefly.

This is enough time for the construct to leap into the air, activate her flight unit, then drop from the sky in a leaping bound, crushing the rock beneath her and sending the stunned guards flying.

For your part, you cleanse more of the downed Sahaguin, sighing as you do so. The Ocean Priestess watching your back looks on in shock at the ease with which you’re dealing with these infested Monsters. To be honest, you find it a little strange yourself. Of course, when you’re in a more open space and not dealing with hydromancers, it’s much easier to down them long enough for you to purge the plants.

Still… looking at how easily Harmony is dealing with them is worrying. And about the numbers, shouldn’t there be more of them? Or did Baha not have time to infest more? Maybe he ran out of seeds or whatever they use? Either way, by the time you catch up with Harmony, the house is out of sight and most of the Royal Guard are purged.

“Something isn’t right about this.” Sylphie says. “If they were intent on slaughter, shouldn’t they have, I don’t know, slaughtered more of them?”

“I don’t think they expected us to interfere so soon. Probably threw a wrench in the whole works. What confuses me is why Baha hasn’t attacked us yet.”

“His little flunkies didn’t do a great job of holding the line.” Sylphie muses. “But we can hunt him down now that the people are safe, at least.”

“Oh and thank the Fillios for that!” A voice says from behind you.

Turning about, you see a group of five aquatic Monsters wearing robes approach you. The lead one, a Crab Girl, rubs her human hands together as she approaches. “We watched this terrible scene unfold. We were concerned, at first, but the only answer we can see is that a coup occurred. Why would an Ocean Priestess be against the Guard, after all?”

“They have been possessed by a great evil.” The Priestess says, sliding forward. “We would beseech thee to return to your homes until the danger is past.”

“I do not see anything dangerous any longer.” The Crab Girl laughs. “Come, let us properly thank our saviors.” She makes toward you, both sets of arms extended as if to embrace you.

“Wait- Get back from her now, they’re infested!” Harmony shouts, [Mage Sight Goggles] over her optical units.

Mr. Ed reacts first, pulling you back with his teeth as the Monster’s arms swing closed. She misses you by a hair, but the Ocean priestess isn’t as lucky. The Crab Girl catches her in her claws and in a quick motion, delivers a sickening crunch that bisects the screaming Mermaid. She collapses to the ground, both parts, her blood trickling on the stones as her fish tail flops about as it perishes.

“Tch.” The Crab Girl says. “Get them!”

The other four Monsters, who you now realize have stains on their robes from trying to wash out blood, rush at you. Given the lack of distance, their enhanced speed, and your exhaustion they close the gap to you quickly. One of them, a Sea Serpent, lashes out with a knife that slices you across the cheek, drawing blood as you’re pulled backward. You throw her back into another one trying to get to Sylphie with a [Gust].

Your daughter leaps backward and casts, [Thunderstrike], the powerful magic erupting in an explosion of power. Two of the Monsters are caught in the blast and are nearly incinerated, their charred corpses hitting the ground, too dead for even the plants to fix while the others move out of the way and continue after you.

The Crab Girl charges forward, shouting, but is intercepted by Harmony, who grapples with the Monster’s large claws. The two push against each other while the Crab Girl’s human arms try to twist Harmony’s head off. You wish to go help her, but the Sea Serpent from before snakes around the assault and whips at you, knife flashing. You’re able to avoid two of her strikes but the third one makes a gash in the forearm of your good arm that causes you to cry out in pain and spin about from the force of it.

You can hear her cackle as she raises her knife to stab you in the back, but Mr. Ed charges in and, in a movement that surprises even the Monster, turns about on the slick stone and kicks with his back feet, sending the Sea Serpent flying with a crushed rib cage. She crumples as she hits the ground, breathing ragged and pained.

                A cone of ice appears to your left and you see Sylphie freeze another one in a block of ice, your daughter holding her left shoulder as she casts the spell before falling to her knees and letting out small, pained sounds. You nod to Mr. Ed who rushes to comfort her as you turn to Harmony.

                She’s held her own quite well, despite the strength of the Crab girl. You almost feel comfortable to let her handle this when her foot slips on the slick stones and she falls. The Crab Girl takes the opportunity to pull her as she falls and throw her high into the air. Harmony flails hand over foot as she spins, unable to get her balance. The Crab Girl spares her no more thought as the construct falls from the sky, instead turning her attention toward you. Her eyes glow green as she makes toward your wounded self, crab claws ready to snab.

                An aetheric pulse comes from behind and the Crab Girl has only a moment’s warning before Harmony slams down onto her back with the full force of her flight unit, sending the armored Monster’s abdomen into the stone, her face hitting the ground after it, hard.

                The Crab Girl wheezes, her eyes going unfocused as you walk up to her, injured arm raised. She tries to raise a claw to reach you, but Harmony pins it down as you grab her face and purge her of the plants. She slumps to the ground a moment later, unconscious as the others.

                You repeat the process quickly on the others, hoping they recovered enough while the plants were still present as to not die from these wounds. As it stands, you can’t spare much of a thought to them, especially not to the two who were killed in the [Thunderstrike].

                “Damnit.” Sylphie says, wincing. “What a time for that injury to flare up.”

                “Are you alright?”

                “I should as you that.” She says, nodding at your arm. “You should heal that.”

                “Right, right.” You say, reaching into your bag for a [Healing Potion.] “These must have been the councilors who were infested and started this mess. Hiding them for a surprise attack was well done.”

                “I don’t get it though.” Harmony says, checking her chassis. Her armor is dented in multiple places and her hands creak from the strain of the crab claws, but she’s otherwise unharmed. Damn, to think that those plants could allow enough power to damage even your constructs. It’s like the plants are reverting them back to before your meddling. “They could have been much stealthier than that. None of this makes sense, it’s like they wanted us to know they were here.”

                “I don’t understand. Baha has to know that I’m the only one who can stop him, why not take me out?” You ask, shaking your head. It hits you a moment later and you curse, “Because his damn goal is in his grasp all along!”

                You run to Harmony who grabs you and flies you through the streets while Sylphie mounts up and rides on Mr. Ed. Though you didn’t get very far, it seems to take an eternity to reach your hiding house, the door wide open.

                Harmony drops as she circles about for landing, so you land running, summoning magic as you enter the home. Slumped next to the stairs is the homeowner, a gruesome wound in their abdomen that still drains fresh blood, their eyes unfocused. Your attention shoots upward though as you hear a scream followed by the crunch of metal.

                “You son of a bitch, how are you doing this?!” Chaika shouts, followed by the whine of her thrusters.

                Heart hammering, you race up to the top of the stairs as a cry of alarm comes from Chaika, followed by a crunching sound. When you reach the top you freeze, eyes going wide at what you see.

                The two Ocean Priestesses lay on the ground, dead from massive gashes in their bodies. The Sea Queen stands there, trident pulled close to her body, eyes wide with fear as tears trickle down her cheeks. A look of disbelief mars her beautiful face as she whispers for it not to be so. But what catches your attention the most is Chaika.

                One of her arms lays on the ground, cleanly severed from its connection to the main body while her chassis lays motionless on the ground, the chest component pried open. Sitting above her is Baha, wickedly large knife in his hand, Chaika’s core in the other.

                “NOOOOO!” You shout, raw terror filling you as you throw out a spear of pure electricity.

                Baha moves with unnatural speed, sliding away from your magic. In a fluid motion he takes one hand and knocks the Trident of the Sea King out of the Queen’s grasp before locking her arms behind her back, the other holding Chaika’s core up.  

                “Yar, I was a little too late to finish this quietly.” Baha says, his eyes glowing green. “I figured they could keep you occupied a little longer.”

                “You… you bastard!” You shout, anger filling you. “What have you done?!”

                Power courses in your hand and you point at him, energy ready to obliterate the man. Hiding behind the Queen or not, you doubt he could move faster than you could cast. If only the other two were here! Though you can hear them coming in from outside, they’re not fast enough!

                “No!” The Sea Queen shouts, tears streaming from her eyes. “Don’t kill him! Please! I beg of you don’t!”

                “Hahahaha!” Baha laughs. “You think he can still save this man? Yar, don’t you worry dear, soon enough you and I can be together again, but under the true Goddess.”

                He opens his mouth and from it a large vine appears. The Sea Queen watches in horror as it snakes toward her, but she’s unable to escape his grasp, despite her struggles. The magic courses in you, ready to destroy him when you notice him turn Chaika’s crystalline core upside down, facing the stone beneath.

                Despite a vine taking up most of his mouth, Baha is still able to speak, his voice somewhat muffled and gurgling. “What will it be, Wizard? Make your choice and make it quickly!”

                With that, he drops Chaika’s core as the vine plunges into the Sea Queen’s mouth.

 

Chapter 33

                Everything moves in slow motion. Chaika’s core, the crystal that carries her very essence seems to hang in midair as it tumbles to its doom. Above, Baha’s infestation plunges deeper into the Sea Queen’s mouth, settling inside the strongest creature under the waves. An opening presents itself as he’s distracted, you can obliterate him and save Filliothea, if not the world with a single cast of magic.

                Voices cry out in your head to do it, pull the trigger. And yet, you cannot take your eyes off the orb, the faintly pulsing object that carries what might as well be the soul of one of your oldest and dearest friends. Perhaps, if you had more time to think, a better answer would have come to you. Perhaps you could do things a little different in such a case. But as it stands, as time crashes back in around you, all you do is what you can.

                A blast of wind gathers under Chaika’s core, slowing the descent. In the same motion you rush forward, adrenaline pumping in your veins as you cast [Lightning Bolt] attenuated with [Taser], directly at the two of them. Both members elicit gurgled cries of pain, but you have little time to listen to that as you dive forward and grab the orb as the winds die away.

                A sigh of relief leaves your lips as you hold the precious orb close to your chest. You feel a faint stirring in your mind, but it feels sluggish and disoriented. Getting torn out of her construct must have sent a backlash to the poor girl, but there’s nothing else for it. Quickly placing her in your [Bag of Holding +1], you flip back around, magic surging in time with your anger.

                Baha staggers backward and holds a twitching hand to his mouth, green fluid dripping down as he pants, his eyes still glowing green. He’s relinquished his hold on the Sea Queen and instead stares at you with utter contempt. Seems that level of voltage isn’t quite enough to drop him, damnit. As for his wife, you flick your eyes over to see with horror the squirming mass of the vine, severed somehow, sliding down her throat.

                She gurgles as if choking and slumps to the floor, her body twitching violently as the electricity discharges her muscles. The vine doesn’t come back up however, and a moment later she goes limp, her twitching subsiding.

                “Oh shit.” You shout, turning back to Baha before flinching backward as for the second time today a knife slashes at your face. This time, you’re able to dodge out of the way, but Baha curses and delivers a kick to your midsection that sends you flying back into a bookcase, the air rushing out of you.

                “Damn.” Baha says, his voice slurred as more fluid drains. He takes a moment to roll his shoulders and spit out a glob of phlegm before raising the knife again. “Damn shock’s ruined my movements.”

                “G-Good.” You wheeze out, “I liked you better… on the river.”

                “Yar.” He says, diving forward, knife ready to gut you when Sylphie shouts,

“Oh my Gods! Dad!”  

                This causes a long enough distraction that you’re able to throw your hand out and cast a much more powerful version of [Lightning Bolt], directly into the chest of the man. He gasps and blocks some of it with his knife, but he’s still pushed backward, his teeth locking up. Behind him, Harmony dashes forward, fists electrified to pound him into mulch.

                “Don’t kill him!” You shout, causing Harmony to hesitate. Despite the raw magic discharging through his body, the moment you turn it off, Baha roars and ducks under Harmony before grabbing her and throwing her charge momentum into you. Her unmoving face makes no emotion as her electrified fist hits your chest. Sending a shock straight through your spine.

                You’re unable to speak as your teeth clench together, the world going black for a few seconds before you gasp and fall to the side. Pain wracks your form and you soundlessly scream as Harmony stands over you, saying over and over, “Oh no, oh no, oh Gods no I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

                Through the haze that is your vision you see Sylphie dashing forward, utilizing proper magic to block Baha’s attacks. With his body electrified as it is, he can barely avoid her strikes, let alone fight back. Still, the crafty old bastard regains more and more function the longer he goes, the plants in his body fixing the damage faster than you’ve seen before. You always suspected there was more to this man than meets the eye, but you never thought you’d see it happen like this.

                “Can you fight?” Harmony asks suddenly, breaking you out of it. You’re unable to do much more than gurgle and gesture your wounded hand toward something on the floor.

                “Q…Queen…”

                “What? The Queen?” Harmony asks, her eyes lingering on Chaika. “Gods no…”

                Your heart begins to hammer in your chest. Sylphie is doing her best to fight off Baha, but she’s missing the real issue. Though she lies motionless, the Sea Queen is the true threat here. If only you could reach her, but every time you try to move your body locks up and you feel a surge of pain.

                Sylphie casts out [Ice], trapping Baha’s leg. The man grunts and tries to break free, driving his knife into the ice to shatter it. Harmony dashes away from you to grab and incapacitate the man, leaving you to slump to the floor, arm outstretched as you stare at the Queen. If only… if only you could reach her. All you have to do is touch her and you can end this farce.

                Baha breaks free of the ice right as Harmony reaches him and the two grapple, the construct’s strength once again put to the task. Sylphie reaches forward with her tails to impale him and take him off balance, but he twists and the blades harmlessly bounce of Harmony’s chassis.

                As he happens you grit your teeth and fight through the pain, the exhaustion. You push yourself forward, injured hand dragging you inch by inch toward the unconscious Queen. A little closer… just a little bit closer…

                Baha gets under Harmony and flips her backward into a chair, shattering it before turning around to face a [Lightning Bolt] by Sylphie. He leaps to the side to avoid it, but before he can leap back, Harmony grabs his leg and roots him in place, the man falling face first to the floor.

                She’s right in front of you. Just a little more and you’ll have her. Hope begins to surge in your chest as your shaking arm outstretches to grab her arm.

                Baha curses and turns about, jamming the knife right in Harmony’s joint. With a precise and powerful twist, he breaks the hand, Harmony pulling back as the stump discharges aether and power. He grunts and tries to push himself back to his feet when Sylphie stands over him and casts a wave of [Ice]. This time, he’s unable to escape, and everything up to his head becomes coated in thick layers of solid ice, trapping him in place.

                “Dad! We got him!” Sylphie says, turning about before gasping.

                Just before your hand touches the Sea Queen’s arm, her hand lashes forward to grab your wrist. Despite all the ministrations, your wrist still burns in agony. You cry out in as her eyes snap open and she stares directly at you before beginning to glow a soft green.

                “Sy-lphie!” You say through the pain, hoping your daughter gets the message. Thankfully she does as she snaps her hand to the Queen and casts [Ice], seeking to entrap her as well. That’s when something strange happens.

                A deep pulse of magic flares in your mind before suddenly you’re carried backward into the wall by a powerful force. In your disorientation, you’re unable to tell what exactly happened until you realize that you’re soaking, more so than before. In fact, the entire room looks to have been blown backward, Harmony, Sylphie, and Baha included. You watch as your daughter and construct begin to pick themselves up from under furniture, dazed as they turn their eyes to the epicenter.

                Standing in the middle of the room is the Sea Queen. She looks no different than before, her imperious expression back upon her face as she scans the room. The only difference are her glowing green eyes, which settle on Baha, who had long since gone unconscious from the cold. A soft breath blows from her mouth before she turns to you and raises a hand. A focused jet of water forms there, one you don’t think you can block in time.

                She opens her mouth to say something as he prepares to fire it, but suddenly stops, eyes going wide. The magic in her hand vanishes as she stumbles backward, eyes darting back and forth, hands on her head. Soft cries and moans issue from her mouth as she stumbles, her mind warring with itself.

                “Q-Queen!” You shout, push yourself upright. “You have to fight it!”

                “I-I… ARGH!” She shouts, shaking her head furiously. Tears stream down her face as she looks back over to her husband before grabbing her Trident from the floor and running to the window. Her whole-body trembles and she hesitates before leaping forth from the window and out of sight.

                Quiet descends upon the room, the only sound the dripping of water and the tolling of the bell outside. Pushing yourself up to your feet, you stumble over to Baha and slap your hand on his face, quickly purging him of the plants before melting the ice covering him. Once that’s done, you fall to your knees before Sylphie and help her up, your daughter shaking her head.

                “W-What happened?” She asks, looking about in a daze. “Where’s the Sea Queen?”

                “She got away.” You say in a monotone voice, still unable to process what just happened.

                “Damnit.” Harmony says, making to push herself up before falling again. She looks down at the stump of her wrist and says, “Oh, right.”

                “We match.” You say, holding up your own limp wrist, abominable swelling starting up that you do your best to [Soothe]. There’s no doubt in your mind it’s at least fractured at this point.

                “This is no time for jokes!” Sylphie says, worry creeping into her voice. “We have to go after her!”

                “But where is she?” Harmony asks.

                Sylphie goes quiet at that, looking off to Baha before biting her lip. “I bet he’d know if he was awake.”

                “But he isn’t. Besides, we know what she’s going to do, at least.”

                They both look to you as you sigh, “She’s going to drop the barrier and destroy this entire city.”

                “Oh… oh right.” Sylphie says, looking down with wide eyes. “Right, that was the intention, wasn’t it?”

                “Why hasn’t she done it already?” Harmony asks.

                “Maybe because she’s still resisting, maybe because the controls lay somewhere else in the city. My bet would be the palace, but I don’t know who we could ask that would know something that sensitive? Either way I should hope it’s not something she can just do on a whim. Things this powerful usually take time to change.” You say, pushing yourself up the best you can. “Of course, the longer we wait, the more powerful she gets.”

                “Dad, you’re not in shape to fight!” Sylphie says.

                “It was my mistake leaving her alone, and because of it, look what happened to Chaika.”

                Harmony looks down and she rubs at her eyes, the only moisture being removed water dripping from her face plate. “Is she…?”

                “No. I managed to save her core. Maybe I could have stopped Baha from infesting the Queen if I hadn’t but… but…” You take a shuddering breath before saying, “But regardless, I have to purge the Queen of this, one way or another.”

                Sylphie sighs before looking downstairs. Mr. Ed’s hooves sound as he somehow makes his way up stairs. He looks over the carnage and neighs, turning about to offer his back. Sylphie, with Harmony’s help, loads the unconscious man on the horse. As the horse expertly makes his way back downstairs, she turns a tired face back to you and gives off a weak, but hopeful smile.

                “Well then, what do we do now?”

                Despite all that’s happened, despite this terrible situation you’re in, somehow your daughter is able to smile. Maybe it’s a forced smile, or perhaps it’s the smile of someone resigned to their fate. It doesn’t matter to you, because just the act of her doing so fills you with a vital piece of something you need right now.

                Taking a deep breath, you do your best to answer her question.

                “Come on.”

                Sylphie watches as you dust yourself off. Holding out a hand to her, you smirk, though it takes all your energy to do so. “We’re going back to the Cathedral, for now.”

                Harmony and Sylphie look between each other before nodding, the latter’s smile growing wider. “I figured you’d say something like that. Ahhh I could use a hot bath.”

                “If you want a bath, go in the canals.” You say gathering Harmony’s hand and stowing it in your bag. You’ll just have to fix it later when you have time and not a headache. Or a smoke, though times like these make you want to drink like you did when you were single.

                “Dad, please. I’ll tell mom you said that. You know my tails are delicate and need proper care.”

                “Sylphie, if we make it out to speak with your mother, you can tell her whatever you want.”

                She chuckles weakly as she mounts Mr. Ed. Despite being indoors. She… has to duck a little under the roof. How is she going to get out the door? Your thoughts on this fade away as she looks down, smile giving way as she grips the reins.

                “We’re in a bad place, aren’t we?”

                “… Let’s talk about it once we meet at the Cathedral, okay?”

                Sylphie blinks and looks over at you before smirking again. “Alright, I’ll race you there.”

                “I’m going to f- ahhh you know what, you’re on.” Turning to Harmony, you rap your knuckles against her chest plate. “Alright, let’s get flying.”

                “Those are my tits you’re banging on.”

                “You wish.” You say as she chuckles and scoops you up. Her flight unit activates as she walks over to the window and jumps out, the aether wings sending you up over the city in short order.

                Below, you see Sylphie racing on Mr. Ed, down the street filled with incredulous peoples. Thankfully no fires or anything had started during the chaos, but you’re afraid if people are fighting any more infested. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing you can do about it anymore. You just hope they’ll be able to survive.

                As Harmony flies, you keep your [Mage Sight] on while scanning with a [UFT] you outfitted with your [Mage Sight Goggles]. Below, you catch glimpses of magic but at your current speeds they move away before you can really see much. At the very least nearby you’re not feeling the immense power of the Sea Queen, which is good, and also bad. Not that you could really stand against her at the moment.

                “Hey, take us by the gardens!” You shout to Harmony, who turns to you before altering course. Her movements quickly bring you over the green space, where you hover as you scan the grounds. Nothing returns, thankfully. Seriously, what were they going to do here?

                Your eyes turn toward the Palace as you get moving again. Something… no, no you can’t say for certain you sense anything at this distance. Still, there’s a niggling feeling in the back of your mind as you turn back ahead and make your way to the Cathedral.

                When you touch down, you’re not surprised to see a steady stream of worried people being led into the Cathedral while Ocean Priestesses wearing [Mage Sight Goggles], Gods knows where they go those from, view everyone. You are, however, surprised to see Sylphie leaning against Mr. Ed, looking at her nails as if bored as you walk up.

                “Sure took your time, pops.”

                “Since when have you called me pops?”

                “The future is now, old man.”

                You look over to Mr. Ed who just shakes his head. Seems he too has no idea what she’s on about. The glint in his eyes does suggest that he knows he beat you in your little race. It’s probably not worth the effort to mention your detour but man, age has not affected Mr. Ed’s speed in the slightest, huh?

                “You acting like a goober aside, let’s get in there.”

                The four of you, Mr. Ed included, part the sea of refugees, who look on with surprise. Mutters sound from people who see Baha’s limp hand hanging from the cloth that Sylphie wrapped him in, but you just pretend not to notice as Sister Julienne scuttles up and looks you over.

                “I just fixed you up, damnit!”

                “About that.” You say, dangling your wrist. “I need a refresher after we’ve spoken with the Speaker.”

                Sister Julienne looks at the bundle on Mr. Ed’s back before turning about and frowning. A moment later she gasps and goes rigid before gritting her teeth and breathing out, “Still, like water.” When she seems to recover, she says, “Very well, follow me.”

                Refugees from the area pack just about every part of the main worship chamber, but there’s still room for more as they continue in. While this was mostly a ruse, it’s still better to keep them in here for now. Hopefully nothing else will change but… you just don’t know.

                Sister Julienne brings you to the Speaker’s private chambers. It’s still in a state of utter disarray, but at least the table, at least what is left of it, is back up and covered in papers. The speaker sits behind the desk, looking them over while giving orders to worried Priestesses. At your approach, they all look at you with a mix of hope and relief.

                You look over all of them and hesitate for a long moment before saying in a quiet voice, “We failed.”

                Gasps ring out through the room as the Priestesses look at each other with worry. The only one not affected by this seems to be the Speaker of the Waves herself, who merely folds her hands across her lap. She waits for a moment as the chatter dies down before motioning you to continue.

                Sighing, you recount your adventure and its unfortunate outcome. All the while, Sister Julienne looks after you, fixing some of your aches. Your wrist is just a mess though and it will take a lot more than a health potion to get that working. Perhaps you should just replace it with a magitek one… but you’re sure Selene would be upset.

                When you reach the conclusion, you have Harmony untie Baha and lay him down. The old man is still asleep, but some of the other Priestesses make sure he’s cared for as the Speaker considers your words. After some deliberation, she turns around and stares off, perhaps in the direction of the Palace, though there are no windows in her office to the outside.

                “So, Marianne continues to let her love get the better of her, did she?”

                “Huh?”

                She turns around to face you, shaking her head. “Ah, an idle thought. But this is indeed a grave situation. While I suspect she is struggling against this infestation, there is no doubt in my mind that the way to inflict the greatest harm to this city would be to drop the barrier.”

                “I suspected as much. But why hasn’t she done so already?”

                “It’s complicated, and a secret that an outsider should never know.” The Speaker says before shrugging. “But this is a situation that demands a breach of such protocol.”

                She holds out her hand and continues, “There is a spellform placed by the first Sea Queen using the guidance of Fillios. It is fixed inside the location of the Palace, and while the structure itself has changed through the centuries, this area has not. In the center of a large garden sits an stone upon which this energy is contained.”

                “Why didn’t Baha break it then?” Sylphie asks before wincing as one of the Priestesses prods her shoulder.

                “Because the magic is too ingrained for something so simple. Besides, I doubt even an explosion could destroy that rock, given the power invested in it.” The Speaker chuckles, “But, as anything can be created, it can also be destroyed. Using the power vested in the Trident of the Sea King, it can be broken, and bring down this miraculous barrier.”

                “How long does it take to do that?”

                “I do not know. But given how intricate the spellform is, I’d assume at least an hour or two, more if the holder is not within their right mind.”

                “Well… there’s that at least.”

                “Which means someone will need to enter the Palace and stop her from doing so. Easy enough I would say, hmm?”

You look down at your wrist and still feel pain through it. Your whole body wants to feel this way too, despite the healing you’ve received. It’s just too much strain with not enough time to recover. But what else can you do? You have to fight, right?

                If worse comes to worse, you could potentially escape to El Dorito, but how would you even get back? The portal would fill with water and who knows if you could swim to the surface before your potions ran out, not to mention the things that live in the sea coming to get you.

                More than that, can you really consign a city to it’s doom like this?  If you run away, how could you face the others, face your family even in the coming disaster. That, more than anything drives you forward. You’re doing this for your family.

                Your hand grips your bag, Chaika’s core within. This is to protect everyone in your family, human, Monster, or otherwise. If that means you need to save a whole damn city then so be it.

                “We’ll go then.” You say, standing tall.

                The Speaker chuckles, as if expecting no other answer. Still, she waves a hand and asks, “Just yourselves?”

                “Unless you want to come with.” You say, offhanded.

                “Of course I will.”

                “Yeah, I figured as mu- huh what?”

                You stare dumbfounded as the Speaker chuckles and motions for Priestesses to attend her. “This is a dire situation. Defending the Cathedral is not as important as defending the entire city. I’m sure Fillios would understand.”

                “That… would be a great help.” You say, bowing your head.

                “I’ll also bring a retinue of Priestesses. I should hope these ones will survive the adventure, however.” The Priestesses around her blanch, but continue their endeavors to prepare for the assault. She turns away from you to make orders and gather her things, leaving you with your party as they buzz about.

                Fortunately you’re as prepared as you’re going to be given the current situation. Though it’s not in your best interests, you sit down and let out a sigh. Oh it will be difficult to rise, but just… just doing this is enough to get some of your spirit back.

                Your hand idly brushes your bag again. Looking down at it, you sigh and pull Chaika’s core out. The reflective crystal pulses dimly in your hand, seeming quite small to contain such a big personality. Even though you just put her together again a few months ago, it seems like an eternity since you’ve held her in your hands like this. Hells, she’s older than you are but in a way she feels like one of your children.

                {Oh please, you would not have wanted to be my Father, Chakrandas was an absolute terror as a child.}

                You smirk and lower your head as Chaika’s thoughts enter your mind. Without thinking, you’d created a connection to her. How long has it been since you’ve truly had such a connection? Since Bubs died?

                {Heh, thought you could get rid of me that easily, huh? Well not even freakish strength old man could… hey, are you crying?}

                Her words echo through your mind and you realize that yes, you are indeed crying. Even after acknowledging it, you can’t stop the tears, your body letting out all your frustrations and fears. You’re supposed to be the Grand Wizard, the greatest fucking thing since sliced bread, living a life many aspire to. And yet here you are, tired, broken, and crying.

                {You don’t have to act strong you know.} Chaika sends. {Not in front of me, not in front of any of us. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks, but we know you’re just a person. A person who tries his best, even if his best is something utterly retarded.}

                {Geez, and here I thought I’d need to cheer you up.} You send as you wipe tears from your cheeks.

                {Oh please. A little out of body experience never killed anyone.} Her sending pauses for a moment before she sends in a quiet voice, {But thank you for saving me. Even if things don’t go as planned it… it means a lot.}

                “What are you two talking about?”

                You look up to see Harmony crouching down, looking into your eyes. Her neutral face and glowing eyes seem to bore into you, reminding you that she’s a machine. A machine with the soul of a friend inside. She studies your tears before sighing.

                “You’re an idiot sometimes.”

                “Sometimes?” You say, smirking through the tears.

                “Yeah, but we still love you.” Sylphie says, sitting down next to you and leaning her shoulder against yours. On the other side of you, Mr. Ed licks your ear, making you chuckle as you pull away from him.

                “Gah, you hairy beast, that’s enough of that.” After cleaning the slobber from your face you shake your head and say, “Honestly, can’t leave an old man to cry alone can you?”

                “You know mom says-“

                “Yes, I know what your mother says about me calling myself old.” Sighing, you look back to Chaika’s core and touch it to your forehead before placing her back in your bag. “But enough of that, everyone ready?”

                They all nod and you get up, with difficulty, of course, and stumble over to the Speaker, who turns about to acknowledge you. It doesn’t escape your notice the large staff she carries in her hands, engraved with symbols of waves and Fillios while an elaborate sword is strapped across her back.

                “Ah, we’re prepared here as well. Let’s go before she brings the sea down upon our heads.”

                “Do you have a plan for this?”

                “We enter the Palace, we purge the plants, we regain our Queen.” She raises an eyebrow. “Unless you have a better idea?”

                “Maybe.” You say, thinking on it as you walk with the others. “Is there anything more we should know about the Palace before going in?”

                “Well, assuming they didn’t leave guards, we could enter the Palace through the main gate, which would lead us to the barrier stone faster. The chapel is likely open as a route too, but it would be a detour and take longer. I don’t recommend the secret passage any longer as the Queen’s chambers are far removed from the stone.”

                “Any other way in?”

                “Beyond servant’s entrances at the back, there’s a canal that runs into the Palace and moves directly to the open area the stone is set. There’s quite a few of them running through the Palace as well, but they’re almost always blocked off with metal grates. If they were removed, it would be a swift way to travel and likely not guarded in any manner given the circumstances.”

                “Eh… walking might be… better.” You say, thinking it over. “Should we have brought Baha with us?”

                “In his current state, no. I doubt he’ll be awake, much less in fighting form for awhile.” She shakes her head. “Glad those plants allowed him to recover from some of those wounds before you purged them. He’d be lain out for a month otherwise.”

                “Yeah…” You say as you exit a side entrance of the Cathedral. Ocean Priestesses run interference to allow you to escape without too many people noticing, though it’s kind of hard to hide a horse wearing a cape. (He insists on wearing it).

                The travel to the Palace is once again as quick as it is safe. Up above, darkness still settles over the city, putting in perspective just how short a time all of this has been. Will you even live to see the dawn through this crystalline shroud? Best not to think on these things.

                When you arrive, you have Sylphie shroud you while you scan with your [UFT]. Unfortunately, you find traces of infested Royal Guards around the entrance halls. There don’t appear to be too many, but they’ll still give you away and take some time to clear. When you report this to the Speaker, she sighs and says,

                “I suppose we’ll just have to subdue them quickly in a single rush then. I’m open to suggestions, however.”

                “Hmmm.” You say, rubbing your head. The Speaker of the Waves watches you for a long while as you make thinking noises before you shrug and say,

                “Yeah sure, that sounds good.”

                She quirks an eyebrow before shaking her head. “The front door then?”

                “I’d considered taking the canals but we’ll have to deal with them anyway if we can’t do this fast. Speed takes precedence over stealth in these situations. We can’t let her drop the barrier.”

                “My thoughts exactly.” The Speaker says, nodding her head. She raises her staff before pausing and saying, “You may want to drink another [Gilly Potion.] The horse as well.”

                “Uh, okay.”

                When you, Sylphie, and Mr. Ed have taken your potions, she nods and says, “Come. Fillios smiles upon us.”

                You sigh as she and her retinue move through the palace gates. “If she really smiled on us, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

                Sylphie pats your back as you move after them.

                The gates to the palace lay open, no guards to be seen. You get the feeling people are watching you, but Sylphie assures you they’re just scared citizens watching. It’s not every day that the city is attacked by the Royal Guard and the Speaker of the Waves invades the palace, after all.

                As you enter into the grounds, you motion to the Speaker to remind her that just inside the building itself lay the guards. To the side you notice the canals she was talking about, the water faintly illuminated by the coral. You can’t be certain, but you think you see a shadow in the water dash off toward the palace interior. Well… not much to be done for it now, you suspect.

                You summon your magic, ready to blast apart the guards. As much as you don’t want to, you don’t have time to purge them all. Taking them out of the fight seems the best option then, but it disheartens you how hard it is to summon your will now. Control and power are both going to be hard to come by.

                As you prepare to move in the palace, the Speaker holds out a hand, keeping you at bay. You cock your head as she walks up toward the doors to the palace, which also stand ajar. Something moves in the shadows, likely a guard preparing to fight, when the Speaker holds out both her hands and orbs of water quickly form there. Once they reach a sufficient size, she thrusts her hands forward and geysers of water jet out from her, slamming into the doors and throwing them off their hinges with the force.

                Massive doors made of thick wood from the surface fly backward amdist cries of panic before crushing whatever was behind them as they slide on the slick floor, a line of blood following them. Standing in the now open hallway are shocked Royal Guard, their weapons held in unsteady hands.

                The Speaker draws her sword, the blade gleaming in the light of the coral. “Charge!”

                Her retinue, Hydromancy blaring to life, run/ glide/scuttle into the palace. You and your party look about in surprise before following after them. Sylphie mounts Mr. Ed, magic flaring in her hands as she rides without support, her divided skirts flapping as she moves in.

                Harmony nods to you before leaping into the air, energy charging in her one good arm. For your part… you follow behind them. Fulgromancy dancing in your hand, but you find there’s little to do at the moment. The surprised guard, despite being infested, ineffectually try to stop your charge but the combined might of the fresh Ocean Priestesses and Sylphie see them crushed under the weight of the stone around them and a deluge of water.

                The last of the guard fall to the ground in short order, unconscious. How long this will last, you’re not certain, but you have little time to deal with it. Sounds come from deeper in the Palace, Sylphie’s ears twitching in time with Mr. Ed’s as they listen. It would appear that more guard were left here than expected.

                “We continue forward.” The Speaker says, undaunted by the news. Hearing her say this somehow fills you with confidence. Despite her figure and her calm speech, her words carry a weight that make you wonder if she was always a Priestess or if perhaps she too had lived a far different life before this one.

                Leaving the entrance hall brings you into a wide, marble corridor filled with paintings of various nobles, including Sea Queens of the past all illuminated by glowing coral. You notice there are very few of them, which makes you wonder just how old the current one is. Blood splatters these images though and you notice a few dead guard, those who held their ground and died before they could become infested. Around them, however, are living guards whose eyes glow the green as before.

                They also carry bows.

                As soon as you enter the hall, one of them lets out an order and arrows fly forward into your lines. The Speaker somehow slices one out of the air but two of the other Priestesses aren’t as lucky. They don’t take mortal blows, but they cry out in pain as the barbed tips of the arrows imbed into their flesh.

                Mr. Ed manages to dance out of the way of those heading for him and Sylphie while Chaika’s metallic body shields you. Before a second volley comes, the Speaker throws wide her hands and sends out a wall of water. Before it reaches, however, a white robed Mermaid behind their lines throws out her hands and manages to stop most of the force of the water, it splashing the guard instead of dashing them. During all of this, they draw more arrows to fire.

                Of course, you and Sylphie haven’t been idle either, sending a ripple of earth after the water. The surprised guard and their hydromancer are utterly taken by surprise and thrown off their feet, allowing Harmony to land in their lines and send out a shockwave that stuns them long enough for the other Priestesses to do what they did to the first group.

                The Hydromancer in the white robes picks herself up, magic flowing about her as you crash through the lines. A kick from Mr. Ed drops her before she has a chance to do anything with it, however. With her falling, the room goes quiet, only the sound of panting and moans from the wounded Priestesses echoing through the hall.

                “They were prepared for us.” You say as you hand over [Health Potions] to the injured Priestesses. “There’s no way they just set this up.”

                “Do you think the Queen knew we were coming?” Harmony asks as she surveys the closed door barring your path.

                “Maybe but… someone may have been watching us as we came in.”

                “We have not suffered casualties yet.” The Speaker says, placing her hand upon the head of one of the injured. She doesn’t cast any magic but it seems to help calm them anyway. “Let us move forward.”

                “Agreed” You say, nodding to Harmony. She walks forward and pushes the doors open, revealing a wide hall with many branching side hallways. Long pillars support the tall room as the canal you saw before runs through the center, taking a few branching paths with small bridges while a large bridge crosses over the center.

                Pennants with the symbol of Fillios sit upon the wall and pillars and in the distance you see another set of doors. From behind them you sense… Gods that’s a lot of magic being channeled there. You don’t even need your [Mage Sight] to understand that your garden is behind those doors.

                Surprisingly, there are no guards present. Are more within the garden, or were there only those few left to try to protect her? Regardless, it seems you may have lucked out at the moment and gained a small respite. Gods know you need one to prepare yourself before heading to the Sea Queen.

                The Speaker of the Waves slides across the slick floor in front of the group, her calm demeanor inspiring everyone. It seems no matter what happens, her spirit won’t be broken. Heh, maybe she should have been Sea Queen, perhaps you wouldn’t be in this mess if that were the case. Of course, that means she would have coolly harmed her husband if she were in the Sea Queen’s position… you wonder if you could have done the same.

                One of her retinue speaks with her softly as they reach the central bridge. They begin to cross when the Speaker’s eyes go wide and she lashes out a hand to stop the Priestess. She’s too late, however, as the stone bridge explodes outward, a set of massive jaws grabbing the Priestess and dragging her into the water. The canal’s waters turn red as they flow by, pieces of the Priestess soon following.

                “What the hells?” You shout, reading your magic.

                Atop the broken bridge, a grey, rough scaled arm slaps the stone, followed next by another, this one bulging and crawling with vines. You watch with fascination and horror as a the distorted face of a Shark Girl arises from the water, plant life crawling out of her skin and distending her already impressive jaws. Her eyes lock on you and she laughs, blood dribbling down from her mouth. She pulls the rest of her body out of the water to show a bulging abdomen and a long, finned tail.

                One of the Priestesses lets out a scream at the monstrous sight while the others fall back, unsure of their next course of action. Even the Speaker seems taken aback as she stares up at the malformed Monster in front of her.

                “Whereg dos yug thinkg you’re goin?” The former Shark Girl says with a slurred voice, her ravaged body unable to form the words appropriately.

                “Oh Gods.” Sylphie says. “I think this is the Shark Girl we rescued! What happened to her?”

                “I read this in Tobias’s report. The plants have accelerated in her body. Damn she’s going to be tough to kill.”

                The infested Shark Girl turns to you and chuckles. “Kill? Me? Gahaha!” With that, she pushes off from the bridge with her arms and leaps into the air to slam down in front of you. Her bloody jaws snap for you, but Harmony pulls you out of the way in time. As you stumble backward, you see your construct slapped by the creature’s tail, throwing even her heavy frame into the wall, where she shudders, her joints popping and sparking.

                A focused blast of water strikes the Shark Girl, severing one of her arms. She screams in rage and leaps into the canals, blood and green fluid trailing after her.

                You turn to the Speaker, who nods and prepares a wall of water as she rallies the other Priestesses. They nod in unison, preparing their own magic as they wait for the Monster to attack again, because she surely will. They follow with their senses, attuned to the water with their magic. Surprisingly, one of the Ocean Priestesses is the first to notice, shouting as she points to a nearby canal. It explodes with water a moment later as the infested Monster dives for the group of Priestesses.

                The Speaker is ready and throws forth her wall of water to stop the thing. It has little effect, however, as an arm formed of vines and pulsating sinew to replace the one lost smashes through and grabs one of the Priestesses. You hear a snapping sound and a cry of agony before she’s tossed to the side as well, the Monster pressing in closer.

                Both you and Sylphie send out arcs of [Lightning Bolt], the magic causing the abomination to cry in agony, her skin blackening as she staggers. The Speaker forms a sheen of focused water around her sword and charges in, thrusting the blade deep into the chest of the Shark Girl, who coughs up blood and other fluid as a blade of water slices through her back even if the steel doesn’t. She staggers to her side, sliding off the blade before thrashing violently.

                The Speaker is caught off guard and is thrown backward, along with the other Priestesses. You watch with horror as more of the Shark Girl’s blackened skin sloughs away, revealing larger, pulsating plants. She roars, all traces of sentience leaving her eyes as she becomes more and more of an abomination.

                She rises, panting and dripping with her own fluids as she turns toward you, the other Priestesses and the Speaker still struggling to rise from the floor. Her mouth distends horrifically and she lets out a guttural sound as her throbbing arms throw her toward you, teeth glistening in the coral light.

                There’s no time to dodge. You prepare to dig into the magic you’ve been saving up when Sylphie steps up next to you and throws up her hand, shouting, “Go to the hells you freak!”

                A spike of stone thrusts up from the ground, impaling the Shark Girl through he mouth and out the side of her head. Her forward motion is arrested and she’s thrown backward, her sheer strength snapping the stone as she falls. Oh but Sylphie isn’t done there, she casts a more Geomancy and even more spears of stone form from the ground, skewering her. Despite all this, she struggles and writhes, her body growing even more grotesque.

                Your daughter grits her teeth and holds out a hand. She takes a long, deep breath, and exhales slowly before saying, “I’ve dealt with enough abominations to last me a life time, now be at peace you freak.”

                Fire flows from her hand to coat the thing that was once a Shark Girl.

                Despite the water dripping from her body, the flames easily catch and consume the abomination. She writes in agony and tries to free herself but can’t, the stone rooting her in place. Soon her cries turn to gurgles and her trashing slows, then stops as the plants, and her life, come to an end.

                Sylphie sighs and slumps down, Mr. Ed there in seconds for her to lay on. She looks up at you and says, “Well that was annoying.”

                “Yeah, but good job.”

                She smirks and then exhales before making to rise. “We need to check on the others and-“

                Both of you freeze as you feel something in the air change. The large concentration of magic behind the doors peaks, the force of it almost thrumming in your mind.

                “No…” The Speaker says, struggling to rise. Her voice betrays fear as she shouts to you, “You have to go and stop her now!”

                “But-“ You say, looking amongst the others. The Priestesses are either unconscious from their previous wounds or struggling to rise, Sylphie is exhausted, and Harmony’s joints are failing, the construct crashing to the ground as one of her legs gives out.

                “Just stop the ritual! We’ll catch up!” The Speaker shouts, her voice growing more urgent. She grabs her staff and slides it along the floor toward you. “Take it!”

                You nod, understanding the severity as you pick it up. Mr. Ed snorts, understanding as well and you grab on to mount the horse as he begins to run. Mere moments after you have a grip, the horse leaps over the canal in one bound and dashes for the door. You hold out a hand and push with [Gust], the doors flying open to reveal a large, bountiful garden illuminated softly in the late night.

                In the center of the garden sits a large, irregularly shaped stone carved with multiple runes and sigils you can’t begin to comprehend. It pulses weakly with power, as if on the verge of being drained while a large concentration of magic pulses from the entity before it. At your arrival, she turns, revealing the imperious face of the Sea Queen.

                Reaching deep into yourself and channeling your anger, you hold up her staff and shout, “THOU SHALT REFRAIN FROM PROGRESSING!”

                From the tip of the relic of Fillios comes not water but a blazing ball of fire that launches from the tip. It pulses with power, growing larger until it hits the ground and rolls to a stop before the Sea Queen. She blinks in confusion before her eyes go wide and a moment later the ball explodes with flames turning the entire garden into an inferno.

                The magic before you abruptly stops. The thrumming in your mind vanishes and you feel something shift around you, like something returning to its natural state. The barrier, it must be back to normal!

                The heat of the fires makes you wince and you pull back on Mr. Ed, shielding your face as you look out over the raging flames. You don’t see the Sea Queen… or much of anything to be honest. Did you kill her in that blast?

                Mr. Ed lets out a warning neigh and you snap your head up to something in the flames. It takes you a moment to see through the cloud of steam but… wait, steam? Aww shit.

                A wall of water explodes around the center of the room, drowning the fires and sending up a wall of steam. You quickly shield yourself with a [Gust] that dissipates the gush of steam, but the ground still sizzles as the dead plants suffer more insult.

                Standing in the middle of the burnt garden is the Sea Queen, her imperious expression turned murderous. The Trident of the Sea King is gripped tight in her hands as she looks at you, magic building with in her.

                “Very well, if this is the way you wish to die, then so be it! Phallia will reign supreme over your broken corpse!”

Chapter 34

               You barely have time to gasp before a pressurized jet of water shoots toward you.

Mr. Ed pulls both of you to the side of the water, which slices through the stone where you stood and makes a line up the door, breaking it before traveling up the wall. Water and stone chips clatter around you as you look at the line of devastation.

                The Queen holds the trident out before her, water swirling around it. She changes the direction ever so slowly and you gasp as the magic flares again. Another line of pressurized water shoots toward you, but you anticipate it order Mr. Ed to dodge out of the way again. She doesn’t seem to break much of a sweat, but her expression betrays an anger as she prepares to fire at you again.

                By now you’ve figured out the magical signature of the spell, but she doesn’t give you any time to do anything about it. After destroying the garden with that [Fire Bomb], you begin to wonder if you have the strength to do so either. Gods, you haven’t felt this weak since your time chained up in Ectria. It frustrates you almost to tears, but you have to keep going, you just have to.

               Her eyes flare up and she fires a stream of the pressurized water again, straight at you. But you don’t move, no, this time you hold the staff that the Speaker gave you as the water makes to strike you. Inches in front of you face however, a runic spellform appears, glowing with harsh, aetheric light as the the spell, so similar to your [Abyssal Point] is thrown back at her.

                The Sea Queen’s eyes grow wide and she throws both her hands together into holding up the shield as her spell seeks to cleave it in half. Water sprays about her from the spell and her shield, but she grits her teeth and weathers the attack.

                “Annoying.” She says, glaring at you. Her eyes don’t leave yours as more magic appears at the tip of the trident, though the aetheric signature is different than before. You do your best to analyze it, but too late to count the spell before it rushes toward you.

                “Ah hells.” You say, dropping your [Counter Circle] as a wave of water rushes toward you. Unlike the last spell, which concentrated the water into one, pressurized spot, this spell seeks to overwhelm you. You consider trying to pull up a shield, but Mr. Ed turns and sprints away from the water, throwing off your concentration.

                As he passes by a tree, the horse neighs and nods toward it. You don’t get the message at first until he gently (not at all gently), bucks you off to the side. The ground rushes up at you and you grunt, your whole body aching from the fall. When you look up and see the water racing toward you though, you curse and scrabble behind the tree. The water rushes past as you put your back to the tree, planting the staff to stay firm. Though your wrist hurts abominably, you have to hold on not to be swept away.

                Holding firm… yes all you have to do is hold firm until the others arrive. Together, you can stop the Queen in her tracks and end this insanity. Though you have this resolve, you look up as you hear a cry of pain from Mr. Ed, the horse slipping and falling under the deluge of water. You think he was far enough away not to suffer much injury, but he struggles to rise on the slick water.

                Unfortunately you have no time to spend on him when you hear a snapping sound from behind. Your attention shifts as the tree you’re hiding behind, which had been burned, then flooded, twice, breaks apart, threatening to fall on you.

                You barely dodge to the side before pulling back as the Trident of the Sea King thrusts toward your face. Droplets of water spray across you as you bend backward to avoid it. Had you not, it very well could have been your blood which sprinkled down from the ancient weapon.

                This motion makes you over-extend yourself however, and you fall backward into the wet grass. The Trident thrusts next to your head a moment later though and you realize you just lucked out on her follow-thru swing not slicing you in half. As she pulls the trident from the ground, you snap cast [Ice], freezing her legs in place.

                “What the-?” She says before you fire a bolt of electricity right into her chest. She lets out a gasp of pain and staggers backward, the force of which snapping the ice into crystalline shards and she trips on her feet and turns a few times before drunkenly righting herself.

                “G-grah… guh…” The Queen chokes out, blood coming from her mouth as she backs up, free hand on her chest. You watch for a moment, concerned that you may have killed her with that magic. The spell wasn’t channeled through the staff, but it still was nearly point-blank. Most anything would be dead from something like that. Still, you had hoped to avoid killing her but at the moment that’s the least of your worries.

                At least this buys you a few moments to pick yourself up. Staggering to your own feet, you focus yourself and prepare to reach her and end this. You take but one step before she looks up at you, green eyes wide, mouth stained with blood. In the center of her chest you can see her raw muscle and the cooked skin around it as blood seeps down, then slows to a trickle, the plants beginning to close her wounds and protect the host. On one hand you’re happy to see you didn’t kill her, but on the other hand, the speed at which a pinprick of water appears before her blood drenched finger terrifies you.

                Sudden and severe pain wracks your left arm as a jet of super concentrated water punctures it. A few moments pass before blood begins to drain from the wound, the body recognizing that it had been injured. You stare at it stupidly for a moment before gasping and running for cover as more jets of water follow. Finding the sturdiest thing around, you skid behind the barrier stone, the water plinking off the impervious stone.

                The sprays of water die out and you hear loud, violent coughing behind you. Seems you did more damage than expected, but you know the reprieve will be temporary. Grunting in pain, you pull out a [Health Potion] and down it, watching as the blood coming from your wound trickles to a stop, the wound healing. It doesn’t help the pain much, but it’s a stopgap. Just have to survive, that’s all you have to do.

                The sounds of coughing begin to die down and you curse, looking over to see Mr. Ed starting to rise on the other side of the garden, the horse luckily not breaking a leg or anything. At least he can help you again distract the Queen and-

                Oh no.

                Adrenaline pumping, you push yourself out from behind the rock, magic flaring as you scream out to get the Queen’s attention. She turns her head your direction and gives you a look of utter scorn as her other hand, trident held straight, fires a burst of water directly at Mr. Ed.

                Though he does his best to avoid it, his balance is unsteady after his slip and he’s unable to avoid the water slicing cleanly through his front left leg and across his chest. The horse unsteadily stumbles for a moment before his leg stays in place as the rest of his body slides to the ground, blood following a moment later.

                In the room you came from, an ear-piercing shriek penetrates through the ruined door. The scream could come from none other than Sylphie.

                “No…” You say, watching the horse bleeding on the ruined earth. “Oh Gods, no.”

                “It’s just a horse.” The Sea Queen says, eyes glowing green as she turns the trident back to you.

                Logic, reason, tactics, all of them elude you in that moment. You begin to pant as anger and sorrow pour out from you.

                “You bitch. First you let yourself be infested just because he’s your husband when you had the power to stop this. Then you make to destroy your entire city, annihilate everything and everyone you’ve sworn to protect, and now you’ve gone and killed my fucking horse and possibly my daughter!”

                Tears well up in your eyes as you shout out, “I never knew the damn Sea Queen was so weak!”

                The Sea Queen pauses, her arm faltering as she holds the trident out toward you. Confusion comes to her face, her eyes darting about to the side as if panicked. “N-no, I’m not… I wouldn’t… ah… aghhhh!”

                Her face contorts with fear as she presses her left hand to her head, as if feeling a deep headache. Her hair blows wildly into the air as she begins to pant, her eyes flashing back and forth from green to her original color, until she freezes and looks her right arm with incomprehension. Where her arm from the elbow down should be now sits a stump which sprays blood. Looking down, she sees the Trident of the Sea King on the ground.

                Another bolt of electricity slams into her chest and she flies backward a good few feet, hitting the ground and rolling as you stalk toward her, seething with rage. When you reach the trident, you kick her hand, which squirms with vines, off the weapon. Sneering, you reach down to grab it when your vision swims and you instead collapse to the ground. Confused, you try to pick yourself up but find you can’t move.

                Ah… it appears that those attacks used up too much mana too quickly, you realize in a moment of clarity. While your rage focused your will and allowed you to tear her apart, it drained you too.

                You stare out across the grass at the Trident of the Sea King, the object you’ve come to acquire, mere inches from your face, yet you’re unable to grab it. Perhaps you should feel frustration or anger, but instead you just feel empty. You’ve been here before, haven’t you? Letting your anger get the better of you and once again, going too far.

                It’s almost comical, but if even if you could laugh, you’d cry. The fears that the Mindflayer made you suffer begin to creep in as it begins to crash down upon you. Mr. Ed… Sylphie… Oh Gods.

                A weak neigh sounds from the distance. Your eyes come back into focus and you gasp, realizing that Mr. Ed isn’t dead! You can… you can save him, save both of them!

                Gritting your teeth, you force yourself forward, using your will to inch toward the Trident. Your poor battered and abused left arm reaches for the Trident, mere inches away. Your fingertips brush against the material of the trident when a crushing force comes down on your humerus, snapping it with a resounding CRACK.

                Pain explodes in you and you open your mouth in mute agony as it’s so intense you can’t produce sound. You feel like you black out for a second before waking up again as the grinding against your bones intensifies, sending crackles of extreme pain through your body. Gasping and gagging, your eyes turn upward to see the Sea Queen standing before you, her chest wound rekniting again before you very eyes.

                She stares at you with impassivity. Where rage covered her features before, the cold stare she gives you as she reaches down and grabs her severed arm makes your spine stiffen, though your broken arm does much the same.

                “An eye for an eye. An arm for an arm.” She says, holding the arm out to her stump. Vines there reach forward and they reconnect, pulling the two pieces together and beginning the processes of healing. She doesn’t push off you the entire time as she leans down and says, “Creative, but ultimately useless. Such will not happen again. I will not allow it.

                Drained of mana, broken, and abused, you merely sink your head back against the dead grass, and stare up at the ceiling. Slivers of light from the barrier reach down and illuminate, reminding you of moonlight. In turn, this reminds you of Selene, and the first night you met her. Ah, if only you could apologize to her…

                The infested Sea Queen flexes her arm, the muscle moving as if it was never damaged. She nods and holds up a finger, water pressurizing before her, when she stops and cocks her head.

                “No, it’s more fitting the other way.”

                She turns back and reaches for the Trident when a wave of water crashes into her, throwing her violently forward and into the barrier stone. The pressure only increases however and when you think you hear cracking she shouts and the water breaks apart about her, dropping her to her feet, panting.

                Weakly, you turn your head to the side and see at the far end of the garden the Speaker of the Waves with two of her Priestesses, the three of them holding up their hands, determination on their tired faces.

                “I’ll keep the pressure on her, you help those two!”

                “Right!”

                The two other Ocean Priestesses run toward you while the Speaker walks up to the Sea Queen, who pops herself back together. For you, she reverted to impassivity, but to the Speaker she flares again with rage.

                “Ah… I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.”

                “The feeling is mutual, Marianne.”

                Jets of water spray overhead as the two battle. Your view of such is obscured as one of the Priestesses, a Sahaugin, slides up to you and opens a [Health Potion.]

                “Fillios, what happened to you?”

                “Broke my arm.” You say with a dull voice. “Was an idiot.”

                “I’ll say.” Her eyes drift to the Trident and she gasps. “Is that?”

                “Does it matter?” You say, grunting as the pain subsides some but… you can’t move the arm at all. “Is Mr. Ed okay?”

                “Huh? The horse?” She turns behind her and says, “I don’t know but we need to get you out of here.”

                “I’m sorry, Sylphie…” You whisper as the Priestess grabs you and begins to drag you away, leaving the Trident behind, but grabbing the staff you were given. Part of you wants to tell her to go back and get it, but that part is lost under the deluge of exhaustion and pain.

                “You’re too far gone to bring back by words alone.” The Speaker says as she slams a jet of water into the Sea Queen. “I’ll have to beat it out of you.”

                 “Ha! Good luck with that!” The Sea Queen says, shrugging the blow off. “This body will regenerate from any wound!”

                “We shall see about that.” The Speaker says as the water from the canals behind her rush up around in coiling funnels.

                “Hmph.” The Sea Queen says, doing the same. They stare each other down for a moment before throwing the tornadoes of water at each other, creating a detonation of water that swirls and pushes against each other, sending out waves that splash across the room. One such wave hits you but you barely notice until the Priestess drops you out of harm’s way.

                “By Fillios… this power is amazing.” She grips the staff tight in her arms. “Do you think… think she’ll be able to win?”

                You keep your answer to yourself as you watch the magic surge. It seems like they are easily matched, but the Speaker is tired, perhaps as tired as you are, and yet she still fights. Does she seek to save her friend? Or does she just want to protect this city? It seems either way it won’t work.

                Your eyes drift to your [Pocket Dimension]. Perhaps… you can escape using [Destination Dorito]. A trickle of power is returning to you, slowly. Not much to do anything with it, but enough perhaps to open the portal and escape. Of course, if you do so then everything will be lost here, but what else can you do? You’ve lost what’s important to you anyway.

                “If only we could help.” The Ocean Priestess says. Though her face is covered in water, you think you see tears trickling down her face. “If only we had a hero.”

                A hero, huh? Heh, you’re not certain how much use a hero would be, but having Blake here wouldn’t be so bad. It would be just like old times, except maybe he’d be the one saving your ass.

                “A… a hero, huh?”

                You go stiff at that voice. Though your body protests, though you’re afraid to see, you strain your neck to see someone walk up behind you, their steps slow, their breathing haggard. A ragged, soaked cape drags across the ground as feline paws step upon the burned grass. Sylphie looks down at you and smiles, though her eyes are bloodshot and puffy, tears streaming down her face.

                “I guess it’s time to stop playing hero and become one.”

                “Syl…phie.” You say, voice haggard.

                Your daughter pulls three [Mana Potions] from her pouch and downs them all in a single gulp, throwing the glass to the grass. Power fills her, but not as much as expected. She seems to wince as it fills her however, her body clearly not able to handle it all in the state it’s in. Still, she grabs the staff from the hands of the surprised Priestess and holds it out, power forming there.

                The Sea Queen’s eyes go wide but she’s unable to move, lest the Speaker’s spell overwhelms her. Sylphie shouts as power shoots through her, the staff, and then out as a jet of ice that spears the Queen through the chest. She cries out in agony as she’s slammed back against the barrier stone, ice forming across her body despite her trying to free herself. A moment later, all the water being sent against her comes crashing down, drenching her and the surrounding area with a torrent of pressurized water. Her chest covered in ice, she hangs her head, limp.

                Both Sylphie and the Speaker fall to the ground, exhausted. The older Monster takes a few, deep breaths to stabilize herself while Sylphie lets out a cry of pain and holds her hands over her chest. She stares out at Mr. Ed and weeps openly before hanging her head down in sorrow.

                You just stare in amazement. Hope… you’d lost all of it just moments before, but here sits the Sea Queen, defeated. It’s… you’re not certain what to feel. Pathetic, perhaps. When Bubs died of old age, you were a wreck for months but… Sylphie must have it much worse and yet there she was, defeating the damn Queen of the Sea.

                “Oh Fillios, no.” The Priestess next to you says.

                You look up and see her pointing at the Sea Queen. “She… she’s not dead? I mean I didn’t want her to die but… but…”

                Pushing yourself up with your working arm, you watch as the Sea Queen begins to blink her eyes open before shaking her head. She looks down at her bindings and shifts, trying to dislodge them before grunting and then coughing. When she finishes she looks up at your group and sneers.

                “Tch, is that all?”

                The water pooled around her begins to form up into a large ball that gathers in intensity slowly, but surely. The Speaker looks at it and grits her teeth, her mana reserves all gone, while Sylphie weeps beside you. Blubbering comes from the Ocean Priestess, who realizes this is the end.

                Everyone tried so hard, and got so far, but in the end, it didn’t even matter. How pathetic this is? And yet… the resolve they showed, even in the face of adversity. You can’t let that go unrewarded.

                “I guess it’s time to be a hero.” You say, holding out your good hand and send out a wave of Geomancy.

                The Trident of the Sea King is pulled across the ground toward you, straight to your hand. Your fingers grasp the shaft tight and as you do your eyes go wide and you gasp.

                Stillness washes through you. It is as if you were in a rapid river now tossed into a languid lake. Your emotions, the pain, the exhaustion all seem so distant now. Though you want nothing more than to close your eyes amongst the tranquility, you hear a voice in your mind, one so achingly beautiful you wish to weep.

                “Save her.”

                The water being formed by the Sea Queen has reached massive size. The ice around her chest begins to crack as she pulls herself forward, collapsing to the ground as her wounds slowly heal. She looks up at your group and notices the Trident in your hand, notices the way you rise from the ground, betraying no hint of pain.

                “How… no… no she can’t be-! You can’t be-!” She grits her teeth and casts down her hand, throwing the orb of water toward you.

                “Everything you have!” The Sea Queen shouts as she and her Priestesses thrust out their hands and try to slow the orb. They’re unable to stop it from hitting you, but instead of crashing down on you, it cascades over you, submerging your body into the water.

                It seems to hang about your body, as if suspending you. The Sea Queen rages and leaps into the water, diving straight for you. As she does so, you lift the trident in a slow, effortless motion, and cast it through the water.

                Her eyes go wide as it shoots toward her. Moments before it connects, she spins out of the way, confusion on her face. “Why did- gah!”

                A sudden shift in the water catches her off guard as you cast [Riptide]. The current surges her toward you and she collides with your body, throwing both of you to the ground as the Ocean Priestesses finally lose control and the water crashes down around you.

                The Sea Queen flops like a fish out of water, screaming in agony. Soon enough her cries begin to fade, her struggling losing strength. Eventually she gurgles one last time before going limp atop you. Not that you’d know, because by that point you’ve fallen unconscious.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

                “Is he awake?”

                “I think he’s coming out of it. Here, let me give him a heated bread pouch.”

                Something buttery and flaky wafts in front of your nose. You sniff once before you eyes flutter open and you see in front of you metallic fingers holding a heated bread pouch.

                “What… what flavor is it?” You ask weakly.

                “Yeah I think he’s awake.” Harmony says, pulling the pastry away from you. A rumble in your stomach makes you wish she hadn’t, but you’re more confused than anything.

                “What happened?”

                “Well, I think we won for starters.” Harmony says, shrugging, though it turns into more of a tick that she has to hold down to stop. “Damn wires… when can you fix this?”

                “Probably shouldn’t be-“ You cut off as your eyes go wide and you try to sit up. “Where’s Syl- GAH!”

                Pain wracks your body and you slump back down to the bed as Sister Julienne clacks her tongue and holds you down. “This is what you get for trying to move with an arm like that.”

                “Arm like what?” You ask, feeling an intense pain to your left. Pulling aside the covers, you groan as you look at the rather intricate sling they’ve made for you. You’re no healer but… that doesn’t look good.

                “You best be thankful we didn’t amputate it.” The Sister sighs. “Might still need to. Magic can only do so much you know.”

                “I… see.” You say, leaning back down in the bed. That’s… a lot to take in. Still, you take a deep breath and ask, “Where’s Sylphie?”

                “She’s with Mr. Ed.” Harmony says in a soft voice. “He’s… not in a good way.”

                “We don’t know much about horses, but I’d say those wounds are deep. We fixed his chest but that leg is… I don’t think horses can move much on three legs I’d say.”

                “Gods… Mr. Ed.” You say. “Chaika… Ed… my arm.” A chuckle escapes your lips. “We botched this one hard, didn’t we?”

                “It could be worse.” Harmony says. “You could be dead.”

                “Yeah. I guess.” You murmur. “How long was I out?”

                “Three days.” Sister Julienne says. “Though you need to sleep a lot longer. The city is getting back under control with the Speaker temporarily in charge but… well you should probably speak with her.”

                “And the Sea Queen?”

                “With her Husband here in the Temple. I hear she wants to speak with you also.”

                “Great.” You say, leaning back. “Sounds like we saved the day at least.”

                “At least there’s that.” Harmony says, squeezing your good hand. “At least there’s that.”

—————————————————————————————————————————

                When next you rouse yourself from the depths of sleep, you find yourself alone. Light trickles in through a window set above you, but the room is still fairly dark. Next to you sits a jug of water on an end table, which you reach over to grab, but wince in pain as you do so before looking at your arm.

                Ah, right, the breaking.

                It doesn’t hurt as bad as before, but it’s still not great. You’d fallen back asleep soon after waking last time, though you really did want to speak with the others. You just didn’t… have the energy to do so. It’s not like they’re going anywhere… right?

                You lay in bed for a few more minutes, trying to dredge up the strength to get up. It’s hard, but you’re able to do so, eventually. Gods, even after getting your ass picked up from prison you didn’t feel this bad. Of course, you haven’t had your arm crushed either. Guess you and Tabitha will have something else to bond over…

                Sighing, you put your working hand to your head and groan. That’s… not something you need to think about at the moment. Perhaps you should focus on what you came here for instead.

                Finding small comfort in that resolve, you reach into your magic reserves, which have recovered somewhat, and pull forth cool, fresh water from the jug and into a cup on the table. Yeah, fuck trying to pour well with one hand you’re still a damn Wizard and you can still pour water the most convoluted way possible.

                The water is cool on your parched lips and it gives you some strength to get fully out of bed. Looking down, you notice you’re wearing a simple gown of sorts that hangs down to your knees. While your clothes are folded on a nearby table, you don’t have the care to change into them. What a nightmare what would be with one hand anyway. So, instead you just leave your room dressed as you are, pushing open your door without a care.

                “Gah!” A female voice says as the door hits something. You hear a crashing sound a moment later followed by soft cursing.

                “Who the hells did- oh! You’re up!” Sapphine picks herself up from the floor, a tray of empty bowls laying scattered on the slick stone beneath her.

                “Ah… sorry about that Sapphine.” You say, stooping down to help her but then wincing as a pain goes up your back. “Ack… ouch, ouch.”

                “Oh! Are you okay?”

                “Yeah, ah, fine. I’m fine.” You say, taking in a deep breath before shaking your head. “Anyway… sorry about the door.”

                “It’s fine, not the first time I’ve been hit by a door.” She says, as if this is a common occurrence. “How are you feeling? You should be sleeping!”

                “Not great, but I think I’ve slept long enough. I need to see my daughter.”

                Sapphine clacks her tongue. “Ah… Sylphie. Yes, she’s been… well, I think she could use you.” The young Priestess looks down and sighs. “I can take you to her, if you’d like.”

                “That would be very helpful, thank you Sapphine.”

                She smiles at you before cocking her head and looking at your attire. “Are you sure you want to-?”

                “Eh, who cares what I look like.”

                A blush appears on her face and she coughs before patting her butt, such as it is for a mermaid. You cock your head and look behind you (which is rather painful in its own right) to see that your gown has an open backside.

                “Damn, you Monsters are perverts. I’m surprised the front isn’t open too.”

                “H-Hey, this is a holy place!”

                “Yeah, even more reason to be on my guard.”

                Sapphine pouts, but you raise your good arm and chuckle weakly, “Just a joke. Can we see Sylphie now?”

                The young priestess picks up the bowls from the ground and leads you down the hall a moment later. You come in front of a larger treatment room where Sapphine stops. She looks at you with apprehension as you approach. Though the doors seem large you think you can hear… crying?

                “How long?”

                “Since she woke up.”

                You sink your head for a moment before taking a deep breath and entering the room.

                In one corner is a bed which appears pristine and unused. A table is shoved into the corner, opening up a larger space where two mattresses lay, each of them stained with blood. Atop them is Mr. Ed, the horse laying on his side, asleep. He’s not the only occupant however as you find Sylphie right next to him, weeping as she lays on his side.

                You stand there for what seems a few minutes, just watching her. She doesn’t lift her head, doesn’t even seem to notice you the whole time you stand there. Eventually you sigh and walk over to kneel down at Mr. Ed’s head. Gently, you begin to stroke his face, feel his coarse hair under your fingers. How long as it been since you’ve done this with him? Ever since Sylphie grew up, you just… let them together, huh?

                 “He’s a good horse.”

                “I know.” Sylphie says, her voice hoarse.

                “Even before he became your familiar, he had a good head on his shoulders. He’s… he’s a part of the family.” You look at her and say, “But I know how much more he is to you.”

                Sylphie pulls herself up from Mr. Ed and you have to keep yourself from gasping as you see how red her eyes are from crying. She chokes up before futilely trying to wipe at her eyes. “I can’t stop them from falling, Dad. I can’t stop feeling his pain and I… I hurt for him too.”

                Letting your hand drift off Mr. Ed, you push yourself up and walk over to Sylphie, sitting down next to her and letting her cry on you. “There’s… we should be focusing on this Phallia thing but I can’t… you’re hurt so bad but I- but I-“

                “I know.”

                “Oh Gods, is this what you felt when Bubs died? How- how did you take this crushing pain?”

                “It… it wasn’t easy.” You manage to say, the memories of that time coming back to you.

                “I’m so sorry.” She says. “I didn’t think. Oh Gods, what if he doesn’t make it, what’s going to happen?”

                “You’re strong Sylphie. And he’s strong too.” You gently stroke her hair as you whisper in her feline ear. “He’ll pull through.”

                “But his leg it- what kind of life is that for a horse?”         

                “Sylphie, who do you think you’re talking to?”

                She blinks and looks over at your arm. Her grief-stricken face contorts again and she looks away.

                “We’ll fix him up. It’ll be an interesting challenge to fit a horse magitek leg but I think I can do it. So don’t be thinking the worse. Besides, once he awakens I’m sure the last thing he’ll want to see is your pretty face covered in tears.” Gently, you kiss her on the head as she continues to weep.

                “Do you… do you wish something that you’d never had your familiar bond?”

                “No.” You answer, instantly. “I wouldn’t trade my time with Bubs for anything. It’s the same with any you love deeply. Even if they aren’t connected to you magically, you still feel their pain when they’re hurt, but you wouldn’t trade that bond, despite the pain.”

                “Yeah…” Sylphie whispers. “You’re right. Still doesn’t make it any easier.”

                “No, and it shouldn’t be. But if you could do your father a favor, please take care of yourself also. No sense in Mr. Ed waking up to find you dehydrated from crying.”

                Sylphie chuckles weakly in your arms. “Okay. Okay I get it. I’m sure you have to… to go do something important but-“

                “No. Nothing is more important than this.”

                She looks up at you and fresh tears start to pour. This time, however, she has a smile on her face as she sinks into your chest.

                “Thanks Dad.”

————————————————————————————————————————————–

                You’re not sure how long Sylphie cried into your chest before she fell asleep. After putting her to bed, you made sure Mr. Ed was fine, or at least stable. Once outside you find that it’s still light out, but Sapphine is nowhere to be seen. Not that you’d expect her to be here anyway.

                Well, now that you’ve comforted your daughter, you might as well comfort the less difficult task. Walking down the hall, you ignore the stares from the Priestesses wondering why you’re up, or admiring the gentle breezes that expose your backside. Every so often you feel a small whisk of water stir your gown though, but you just let them have their fun even if it is kind of annoying to have a water slapping your thighs.

                You don’t ask questions on where the Sea Queen is, it seems fairly obvious. Your deductive skills are rewarded as you knock on the door to the Speaker of Waves’ room, which had been rebuilt since you were asleep, you suppose. A few moments later the door opens to reveal Baha’s face. The man looks tired, but he still looks you up and down in an instant before sighing in relief.

                “Arrr, I was wondering when you’d come.”

                “Yeah well, can’t lay around like an invalid all day. Got important things to do. Speaking of which, is your wife in there?”

                You try to push your way into the room, but Baha puts a hand to your chest, stopping you. “Listen, I’m going to let you in, but try to be easy on her, okay?”

                “Ah, I suppose she likes to take things easy, hmm?”

                Baha scratches the back of his head before sighing. “I wish I could say we didn’t deserve this. But… I know you’re suffering, I know your daughter and horse… but you have to understand how hard this has been on her too.” He drops his arm. “Yarr… we don’t really have the right to judge your actions, do we?”

                “Hmph.” You say, walking through the door as he opens it.

                Inside the room you see most of the damage from the previous battle has been fixed. Artifacts are returned to their shelves and the table seems a little less broken than before, such as it is. Still, here and there are gouges in the stone or other marks of battle. It’s always hard to tell what the devastation is until afterward, huh? Baha waves for you to follow him to a side room, and you do so, entering as he opens the door for you.

The room you enter is a fairly spartan bed chamber furnished with only a simple chest of draws, a small table with a mirror on it, two stools, and a bed which is more ostentatious than the rest if only for the large headboard with carved images of Fillios on it. Under the covers, which seem very damp to you, is the Sea Queen, who stares up at the ceiling, her hair loose, eyes seeming haunted. Beside her is the Trident of the Sea King, casually leaning next to the bed while the Speaker of the Waves sits on a stool next to her, reading some reports.

At your entrance, the Speaker looks up and smiles. “Ah, feeling well enough to walk now?”

“I’ve never been a good swimmer.”

She smirks at this before turning to the Sea Queen. The monarch sighs and pushes herself up, the covers drooping to reveal a rather comfortable looking silk gown with buttons on the front like you might find on the surface. Huh, you figured she’d sleep in the nude.

“Grand Wizard, I-“

You ignore her by walking over to grab a stool from near the table. Bringing it over to her, you sit it down, then plop your ass on it. She watches you with surprise at first, but then accepts it, keeping quiet as you take in a breath and say,

“Hey, just wanted to stop by and say you did a fantastic job of fucking everything up and being a hinderance to literally everybody. Keep it up champ.”

The Speaker and Baha both stiffen, the two looking at each other with worry. The Sea Queen’s eyes flash with something akin to outrage for a moment before they mellow out and she chuckles weakly. “And here I thought you’d yell at me instead.”

“I got that out of my system when I fried your chest. Twice.”

“Yes, I am aware.” She winces as she unbuttons the top to reveal burned and scarred flesh in between her breasts. You whistle softly as you look at it. Seems the plants weren’t able to heal everything before you purged them.

Thus revealed, she buttons up again, wincing as she does so. It doesn’t escape your notice that her right arm seems to bother her. You cough into your hand and she blinks before looking down at it. “Oh, yes, I’m not sure what happened but my right arm has felt a little… off as well.”

“Could be because I cut it off and plants under your skin reattached them.”

“That could explain that, yes.”

The Speaker coughs into her hand, getting your attention. “Grand Wizard, it is good to see you’re awake. Have you visited your daughter?”

“Yes she… she’s strong. Both her and Mr. Ed will make it.”

“I am glad for that. I suspect you want to know how things are outside?” At a nod from you, she continues.

“The rest of the infested Royal Guard and other citizens were rounded up and executed since we couldn’t copy your plagamancy. Sweeps have been made through the city but we haven’t detected anything further. We did find more dead bodies in the gardens, however, and the area has been consecrated. The citizens are still scared, but they understand that with the providence of Fillios, they’ve received deliverance.”

“Phah, providence of…” You trail off as you look to the Trident. Those soft, calming words you heard before you found a burst of strength. Was that Fillios, you wonder? Shaking your head you ask, “Well, what has Queenie been up to since then? I imagine her people are worried.”

“I have a name you know, it’s Marianne.”

You look over to her and blink in surprise. She just sighs, “Given everything, we might as well drop titles. Besides, given that you’re Selene’s husband you might as well be on par with us anyway.”

“I suppose we should give at least that courtesy.” The Speaker says. “My name is Nautalina.”

The both look to you, as if waiting for something. You merely turn to the Trident and ask, “May I see that relic?”

“Huh?” Marianne asks, turning to the Trident. “Why?”

“It’s the entire reason I came down here in the first place. Had your husband not been infested with plants, he was supposed to get me in to speak with you.”

“I don’t exactly recall that.” He says, shrugging. “But it’s not as if I was in my right mind.”

Marianne looks to Nautalina, the latter nodding her head. She frowns and waves for you to grab it. “You have already touched it once before, I doubt I can deny it to you again. Do not presume that you can utilize its power though. Despite all you’ve done, that is a sacred relic of Filliothia.”

Ignoring her, you take hold of the relic. As soon as your hand grips the shaft you feel that intense calm again and everything rushes away from you. Though you’re dimly aware that you’re in the bedchamber, none of that matters as within the reaches of your mind a calm, still water appears. Small, almost imperceivably ripples begin to shake the placid surface and you dredge your consciousness up to witness the form of a Goddess.

She stands at an average height, not tall like Phallia or Dollora. Her body is perfectly sculpted of light, delicate curves with a modest bust and hips. She does not radiate femininity but instead a calm sense of moderation that leaves you in awe all the same. A light, flowing garment of ocean blue covers her body while small rivulets of water flow up and around her body, tracing her curves but not drawing attention to them. Instead, your gaze drifts to her face.

A calm, serene smile greets you upon a face that looks much like the depictions you’ve seen of her before. Long, blonde hair that flows like water falls down her back and around her face while eyes look at you with the stillness, depth, and color of the largest of lakes.

“Fillios…” You whisper.

“Yes, chosen of Solos. I am Fillios.”

Despite preparing yourself for this, you still find you have trouble speaking. You’re trying to fight a Goddess but even in the presence of another you can’t help but feel inconsequential when under the gaze of such a divine creature. She giggles, the sound somehow easing some of the tension from your shoulders.

“I must thank you for saving my child. Though she is truly my sister’s, I have given her my protection and love. To see anything happen to her would break my heart.”

The waters around her ripple for a moment, the stillness breaking before returning to the placid state.

                “I… it wasn’t easy to do so, but I am glad she and the rest of this city are safe.” You trail off there, wondering how to word this. Even though you don’t feel the exhaustion of your physical body, you still feel the mental strain of your events. Gritting your teeth, you push forward and say, “Fillios, though it may be a shock, I must tell you a story, one which involves your sister, Phallia.”

                Fillios looks down, sadness appearing on her expression. The water begins to ripple more as she sighs out, “Let me hear your tale, chosen of Solos.”

                “… and thus, I have come seeking to speak with you, much as the others wish to speak with your siblings, that you may stop Phallia from destroying this world we love.”

                As you finish your story, you look to Fillios, awaiting her response. You’re surprised to see that the water, which was once so placid and calm is now roiling around the Goddess, spreading out in waves. Part of you feels a little worried seeing this, and you begin to wonder if you pushed things a little too far.

                “I… I see. It is difficult to believe the words of a mortal, especially one of the land. But I cannot deny the facts, I cannot deny that you risked everything to save my children.”

                Fillios looks up at you, her serene expression marred by anger, like a storm across the ocean. “Very well. Should you gather the support of my siblings, I will speak against Phallia. I will not allow such a transgression to go unpunished.”

                She stands up straight and suddenly the raging waters subside, the anger on her face draining away. Serenity fills her expression again as she says in a calm voice, “Take the Trident. Call upon me again if your friends succeed. Should I need speak with my children, I will let it be known in some manner.”

                “I… I thank you.” You say, bowing your head.

                “Swim well, chosen of Solos.”

                Her words begin to fade away as you seem to sink down in the water before starting. You look around to find yourself within the bedchamber again. Marianne, Nautalina, and Baha all look at you with a mix of abject horror and concern. As you shake your head, Baha stabilizes you.

                “Easy there lad… Are you alright?”

                “Yeah, yeah I just uh… yeah.”

                “It can be disorienting, speaking to a Goddess.” Marianne says. “Though for her to speak with a surface dweller, and for so long is…” She bites her lip. “Is what you said true?”

                “Huh?”

                Nautalina puts a hand on yours holding the Trident. “You were speaking out loud as you spoke to the Goddess. We heard your entire story and it’s… difficult to believe.”

                “But it would fit, wouldn’t it?” Marianne says, folding her hands together. “Oh Goddess…”

                The room goes quiet for a few minutes as everyone contemplates the story. Eventually, the Sea Queen sits back up and looks you in the eyes. “If this is true, then I suspect you’ll need all the help you can. Should you require the aid of the seas in this matter, we will answer.”

                “Okay, but I don’t think it will come to that.” You say, looking over the Trident. “All I need is this.”

                She looks at the weapon, biting her lip before sighing. “Very well. But the offer stands.”

                You shake your head and stand before putting the Trident back where you found it. “I’ll collect it when we leave. Though I had a deadline, I think we might miss it.”

                “Yarr, well when you’re ready to leave I’ll shove off as soon as I can.” Baha says. His wife gives him a worried look but he merely chuckles and squeezes her hand. “I’ll come right home this time, love. Maybe my days of sailing should end after this. Perhaps it’s finally time to stay at home and do my duties.”

                The Sea Queen’s cheeks flush and she looks down, fidgeting. Both you and Nautalina give each other knowing looks. She coughs into her hand and says, “Perhaps you should get more rest, Grand Wizard.”

                “That sounds nice.” You say, feeling drained. “I think I earned it.”

                “Yes, and thank you again.” Marianne says. “When you call upon me again, I promise not to “be a hinderance to literally everybody.”

                “That sounds nice.”

                With that, you leave the room and head back out into the halls to find Harmony standing there, tapping her foot, though it spasms a little.

                “Where have you been?”

                “Talking with a Goddess.”

                “Oh sure, that’s what you always say.”

                You merely laugh at that. Harmony lets out a small chuckle as well before holding up Chaika’s core. “It’s fine, I was talking with her to keep her company anyway. I think she wants to speak with you as it stands.”

                Touching the orb with your free hand, you hear the tirade of worried insults from Chaika, your heart feeling warm at the sincerity and concern in each of them. When she finishes you say softly,

                “It’s okay Chaika. We’ve all suffered but we did our duty. Now it’s up to the others to do theirs before all of this really kicks off. Wounded or no, we’ll be ready.”

                The orb in your hand almost feels warm as Chaika’s resolve flares in time with your own.

1 vote, average: 1.00 out of 51 vote, average: 1.00 out of 51 vote, average: 1.00 out of 51 vote, average: 1.00 out of 51 vote, average: 1.00 out of 5 (1 votes, average: 1.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.
Loading...
9153 Views

0 thoughts on “Wizardquest 3 Part 12: The Sea is a Harsh Mistress

Leave a Reply