Umbra, Chapter 31

Aaron was somewhat surprised. The acquisition room was right where Wes had said it was.

Although, he had neglected to mention that between the entrance and the door to the acquisition room was a long, undecorated stone hallway. A mess of glass orbs were unsubtly set into the walls at either side, serving well to unnerve Aaron and increase his level of caution.

He yanked out his shank and tossed it forward, watching as the orbs began shooting out the same fierce crimson beams the bust they encountered earlier had. The wooden shank was cut into ribbons, the ignited remains falling to the floor. Only this time, the orb adjacent the one firing caught the beam and let it linger in the air, effectively blocking their path. The only clue on how to shut down the beams seemed to be the large lever at the end of the hall, past the deadly maze of light.

“Shit. How in the hell are we gonna get through this?”

With her usual sweet and haughty laugh, Nariko stepped forward, “Just leave it to me, human.”

Aaron circled back, allowing the raiju and her superior nimbility to handle the situation. As the snickering monster brushed his shoulder, the swordsman offered a hasty word of warning.

“Nariko, be careful! Those beams look like they could carve through ya like warm butter!”

The raiju’s smirk only stretched out into a full-blown grin, “We’ll see about that, won’t we?”

Then, she dove headlong into the field of beams, hopping over the first few and landing in a handstand.

Peering at him from her upside-down position, she stuck out the very tip of her tongue from between her smiling lips and did yet another flip. Narrowly avoiding one beam overhead, she landed with a single foot between an intersection of at least five of them, leaning slightly to the left to avoid one right by her face.

Aaron felt like he was about to have a panic attack.

But with a few more limber flips and dives, the raiju had made it to the other side relatively unscathed.

“How was that~?” the raiju chuckled, her ears perking up as she fished for a compliment across the field of deadly beams.

Unsure of how to put it, Aaron hummed to himself before pointing to her posterior, “Urhm… don’t freak out, but the tip of your tail brushed up against one at the very end there, Nariko…”

Her small nose suddenly bunching up as she caught wind of the smell of burning hair, Nariko looked down to see a small flame at the tip of her tail. Just a moment later, it began to spread, and the searing pain kicked in.

“Shitshitshitshit!” the raiju swore, swiftly beating her tail against the wall in an attempt to extinguish the flames. After beating the embers away, the raiju was left sitting on the floor, blowing away the wisps of smoke coming off her fur. 

“Well… I warned ya.” Aaron sighed.

Grumbling as she sat up, the raju pulled down on the lever, shutting down the trap and clearing the hallway. She stared down at the human as he strode through the hall, a small smile present on his face as he looked down at her.

“What’re you smirking for?”

“Nothin’ much. I just figured karma really might exist… for small stuff, at least.”

“Karma? What’re you talking about? What exactly have I done to deserve having my tail ignited?”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe you could flip around like that but couldn’t climb up the wall yourself? Good gods, I must be a pretty big idiot to have let you sucker me into carrying you on my back.” Aaron huffed.

“Hahaha~ well, a princess deserves to be pampered, doesn’t she?” Nariko nervously laughed, “Even when she’s not in her castle…?”

Aaron folded his arms over his chest and shook his head to both sides, “Yeah. I’ll just let it go. Somehow, I don’t think it was all about being pampered.”

“Well, you do have a nice back~” she snickered, turning to the door. But after fiddling with knob for a few short seconds, she stepped back and began worthlessly slamming her foot against the heavy iron slab.

“Dammit all. The thing is locked!”

Aaron put a hand on her shoulder and urged her back. He reached into his pocket at the same time, removing a silver key.

“Where’d you get that?” Nariko asked, “Was it on the guard’s keyring?”

“… a magic geezer gave it to me in a dream world.” Aaron explained truthfully.

That elicited a hearty chuckle from Nariko, “Oh, I see.”

“HEY! Stop them!”

As soon as he had unlocked the door and twisted the knob open, Aaron heard screaming and turned back around, seeing a group of sixteen or so guards gathered at the entrance to the hallway.

His body acting on its own, Aaron sprung back and flipped the lever back down, reactivating the beams of deadly crimson light. The lead guard doubled back just before the trap gutted him, catching and cutting through his hardened leather armor like it was cheap paper.

“W-what’d we do now?” a guard from the rear meekly stuttered.

With a deep growl rumbling in his throat, the vanguard spun around and and jammed a finger at the most sprightly man of the group, “Wes is the only one that can shut this damned trap off from this side! Quick, go get him!”

The sprightly guard nodded, dropping his short sword and rushing away. But Aaron, already shutting the door to the acquisition room, flashed a cocksure grin at the furious guards. He knew full well Nariko wouldn’t be leaving with her collar on.

The instant they were in, Aaron glanced around the room, finding rows and columns of open cabinets. Each open box contained its own stash of confiscated goods- but namely, extra sets of women’s clothing, various weapons, and what looked to be sentimental items such as rings and lockets. No doubt the belongings of the enslaved monsters.

Scanning each segment, he found them numbered both numerically and alphabetically. A-2, B-9, C-13…

“These must be all the test subjects stuff…” he figured, thinking back to how Wes referred to Nariko by a number and letter. ‘R’ stood for raiju, quite clearly, but where did that leave him? Watching Nariko bounce toward her own section, he turned back around.

Scanning further ahead, he at last found his things in the ‘I’ section, being the second and last one with label.

“Heh. Sorry to burst your bubble, Wes, but I ain’t an incubus… at least, I don’t think I am.” Aaron sighed, stripping off his guard’s armor and returning to his own clothing. First placing his niece’s seashell necklace back around his neck, he swiftly whipped back on his attire. Strapping the claymore and throwing-knife bandolier back on, Aaron finally felt back in his own skin. The collar was still fastened tightly around his neck, but that would be off soon enough.

Looking to the box next to his, he found all manner of expensive items. Namely, a gilded rapier, leather travel bag, and a set of fine clothing- a puffy white shirt and violet checkered vest. Underneath was a pair of black slacks and a pair of silken socks and leather moccasins.

“These must belong to Reese… damn, he didn’t strike me as the wealthy type.” Aaron figured, grabbing hold of the bag and a peeking inside. He didn’t want to invade the incubus’s privacy, but if he possessed anything that could aid the escape attempt, Aaron was sure he’d understand.

Digging around for just a few short moments, Aaron found a clear vial filled with a thick green liquid. Taking it out, Aaron flipped the vial around and read the yellow label.

Natalie’s Own Super Duper Deluxe Healing Potion: Special Limited Collector’s Edition!

Tired of getting banged up? Bruised? Scratched like a cat’s post? Maimed, even? Well, fret no more! With a single sip of Natalie’s brews, you’ll be right as rain and ready to jump back into the action in no time!

(Be sure to check our other fine products~)

Aaron raised a brow. In stark contrast to the writing scrawled in fancy, flowing cursive he could barely decipher, a crude drawing of a little witch was scribbled into the bottom right. Sticking out her tongue, the witch winked and pointed up to the wall of text above her.

While he was well used to fighting through his aches and pains, Aaron figured he’d best heal himself up. While the extravagant name on the bottle and his previous experiences with potions gave him a few reservations, he nonetheless popped the cork and took a tentative sip.

All at once, energy began welling up within Aaron’s body. Unable to help himself, he chuckled excitedly and hopped up and down, the bumps and bruises he had collected in his escape attempt fading away in an instant. Even his injured hand began patching itself back together at an astonishing rate.

“Holy crap! This is some high quality stuff.” Aaron marveled, looking down at the vial in his hands. He had only drank about a third of the contents, but he felt like a totally new man, “This must’ve cost a fortunate. Reese is probably going to pissed I drank it without permission…”

Deciding it was well worth the incubus’s fury, Aaron tucked the potion away and closed the bag. Reese would just have to come up and get the rest of his things with the monsters.

“Yoohoo~ Aaron, look what I found…”

Hearing Nariko’s sing-song voice from around the corner, Aaron turned to find her spinning a keyring around her finger. Tossing it into the air, she snatched it up with the opposite hand. Wasting no more time, she jammed it into her collar and eagerly twisted.

With a massive puff of steam, her collar snapped off with a loud metallic click and clattered against the stone floor. But what lie underneath wasn’t soft, creamy skin like the rest of her body- instead, an ugly red burn encompassed her entire neck. Running her fingers across her scarred flesh, she had a look of what Aaron could only describe as ecstasy on her face.

“It’s been… so long…” the raiju chuckled, lightning dancing around her body. She ran her delicate fingers all around her neck, but eventually, snaked one hand down between the valley of her breasts, traced down her stomach and navel, and slipped into her underwear.

Aaron seized her wrist, “There’s not time for that, Nariko! People’s lives are on the line here!”

There was a tense moment of silence, the remaining sparks popping around Nariko tingling Aaron’s skin and causing his bodily hair to stand on end. Still, he stared through the field of blue electricity and right into the eyes of the raiju.

The look she was giving him, put Aaron on edge to say the least. She wore a small frown, and her eyes seemed glossy and and distant.

But then, with just a moment to catch it, Aaron saw her flash a mad grin.

Nariko placed her hand against Aaron’s chest, shoving him against the wall and keeping him pinned there. Unable to fight against her superior strength, the human was left squirming under her grip without recourse.

“Nariko, what do you think you’re-”

The raiju quickly shut the human up by jamming her fingers into his mouth… the same she had used to finger herself just a moment earlier. She wrestled his tongue down and kept it pressed against the bottom of his mouth. With no other choice, Aaron was forced to suckle away at her wet fingers.

“I know…” she purred as she popped her cleaned digits out from his lips, “I’ll take care of it later…”

Coughing and wiping the fluid from around his lips, Aaron stared daggers at the raiju, “D-don’t do that kinda shit, Nariko… good grief.”

“…sorry.” the raiju softly whispered, letting her hand off of the human’s chest. Stumbling forward, Aaron caught himself just before he tipped over. However, the momentum caused a small bag in his pocket to fall out and hit the floor.

“Ah, crap. Forgot I even had these…” Aaron muttered, picking the small bag of cookies and opening them up.

“What are those?”

“Oh, these? Heh… well, now I feel kinda silly. Some kid was selling these cookies in this rest stop a week or two back… and… well… my niece always loved cookies. I can’t really say why I bought ’em. I don’t even like sweet stuff like pastries and candies.”

“Hehehe. Really? I’ve never had any sweets before.”

“What? How come? I just enjoy spicy food and meat over sweet stuff. Is there a reason you never even tried them?”

“My aunt… she… she just never bought them for me. Ever.” the raiju mumbled, her ears folding down.

“Shit… well, you have to at least try it once. I think everyone deserves at least that much.”

The downcast raiju immediately perked up, “C-can I really try one?”

Aaron held the bag forward, plucking out a cookie and putting it in the monster’s hand, “I mean… ya could. They’re a bit stale, but go ahead.”

Gingerly placing the treat up to her lips, the raiju squared herself and took a tentative nibble.

Her eyes shot open. Her tail began wagging out of control. Her clenched eyes shot open, and her fuzzy ears stood rigid.

“Sooooo good~” she mumbled, unable to hold back the happy sparks bursting from her body. Stuffing the rest of the stale cookie into her mouth, the raiju swung her hips to both sides with the beat of her tail and quickly ate it up.

“Heh. Well, if you think that stale crap is delicious, I’ll treat you to all the sweets you can eat after we get out of here.”

The raiju nearly choked on the cookie as she swallowed, “R-really?”

Aaron snickered at her aghast, crumb-covered face, “Really. Payback for helping me, right? Now, let’s get outta here.”

Staring vigilantly at the door across the field of red beams, the leading guard kept both sharp eyes locked firmly on the knob.

Coming up from behind, one of his subordinates urged him, “Sir, please! T-this is ridiculous! Let’s just run away while we still can!”

“This might be just a dayjob to you, but my family has served Otha’s for the past four decades! It’s a matter of pride!”

“Good gods, are you really willing to let us all die in some pointless battle you know we can’t win?! That’s not pride, sir, it’s stupidity!”

“Stupidity?! Let me tell you something, you sniveling little-”

The argument was abruptly halted when the sound of metal grinding against stone reverberated in the air.

Stepping out, Aaron and Nariko strode forward and halted before the other end of the trap. While it was just a few short moment, there was a tense silence and palpable tension for what seemed to be hours hanging in the air with the beams.

Hardening his grimace even further, Aaron called out to the head guard, “You can still run away, you know. I’m not going to stop you. But my friend here… well, she just got her collar off, so she’s a bit… wily. ”

Sticking out her tongue, Nariko let an azure aura of cracking thunder surround her. Playfully lifting up her hands like they were paws, she scratched at the air, “Rawr~”

“N-never! We won’t back down to some animal fucker and his bitch!” the guard spat, spittle flying from between his previously grit teeth.

Without saying a word, Aaron reached over and flipped the lever, shutting off the field of beams between them. The lead guard pulled out that little button that activated the shock collars, aiming it right at Aaron.

But Nariko was quicker on the draw. Throwing her hand forward, a small bolt of blue thunder zipped towards the device and blew it right out of the guard’s hand.

“Argh! Sunnuva bitch!” the lead guard hollered, doubling back and grasping at his fried palm and burned fingers with the opposite hand. Undeterred, the remainder of the enemy rushed forward.

“She may be a monster, but there’s only one of her! She can’t take us all on at once!” cried the new vanguard of the group, brandishing the tip of his pike at her.

The raiju craned her neck back and forth, popping her stiff bones, “Au contraire…”

As the fifteen-man team of guards rushed forward, Nariko planted both feet firmly into the ground and reared back her arm, gathering a crackling ball of electricity. Lobbing it forward when the guards were but a few feet away, it hit the leading man’s spear and went to work from there.

Crackling apart, several arcing bolts rushed around the guards, each one homing in on another man’s metal weapon and delivering a fierce zapping. Squinting at the sudden burst of light, Aaron watched as each and every man before them collapsed in a smoking heap.

At the end of the attack, only a single guard was left. He was a skinny teen, quaking in his oversized leather armor. He held a cypress stick to his chest, the weak wooden weapon having been his saviour.

With a heavy sigh, Aaron stepped around the groaning men at his feet and right up to the terrified boy. Leaning over a few inches to meet the foe eye-to-eye, Aaron put on the meanest face he could muster.

“Get lost.” the swordsman snarled.

The teen was darting around the corner before his cypress stick had even hit the ground.

For the rearmed Aaron and unrestrained Nariko, it wasn’t too difficult to get back to the basement. With both the guard’s wills and organization broken, every straggler that dared face them was easily subdued by a quick bolt of lighting courtesy of the raiju.

Aaron and Nariko were just about to head back down to the first floor when a tall, muscular man darted into their path, lugging a massive hammer on his shoulders. Rearing his weapon forward, he clenched his square jaw and stared them down.

“Y-you think I’m scared of you, you stupid cunt?! I’ll pound your fucking face in until you-”

Nariko threw her hand forward, blasting him with thunder before he could finish spitting out his threat. Flying backwards, the guard crashed into the floor and let the hammer fly from his grasp.

Sauntering over to his twitching body, Nariko placed her foot against the man’s temple and slowly began applying pressure. With her otherworldly strength returned to her, it only took a moment for the stunned guard began feeling the crushing pressure on his skull.

“What was that again?” Nariko snickered, grinding her heel into his temple.

Flinching at the sight, Aaron lunged forward and pulled the blue weasel off the beaten man, “That’s enough, Nariko. He’s not a threat anymore.”

“Ugh. Fine, whatever.” Nariko sighed, breaking away from him and stomping forward, “Why do you even carry around that huge sword if you’re too scared to take someone’s life?”

Aaron flinched at the question, “I… I’m not! There’s just no need to kill someone if they’re not a threat, is there?”

Humming, Nariko hopped over the large guard’s twitching body and continued down the hallway, “Have you killed anyone before?”

Stunned by the question, Aaron dumbly followed behind her and stuttered out a response, “Y-yeah.Twenty-one, to be exact. Fifteen humans and six monsters… and that’s just who I killed myself, not the ones that died because of my stupid mistakes.”

“Damn. Well, you’ve got me beat. So far, I’ve only killed one person.”

“…and who might that’ve been?”

Nariko snickered at the morbid question, “Try not to judge me for this, but it was my aunt.”

“The one who wouldn’t give you candy?”

“Hah! That was the least of what she did. Trust me, I’m not proud of it, but she deserved it.”

“Deserved it, huh…?” Aaron murmured, thinking back to his numerous battles, and sorely wishing he could confidently say the same for more of those who fell at his blade.

Rounding a corner, the staircase leading to the bottom floor came into sight. As the two fell into a tense silence, the echoing of soft footfalls soon reached Nariko’s ears. Spinning around, Aaron followed suite and both saw a posse of maids dashing at them.

Each of the maids carried some form of concealable weapon, and were fast approaching. Seeing their dull eyes locked on him, the swordsman’s blood ran cold.

“Fuck! We were so close!” Aaron swore.

“Don’t worry. I’ll handle this…” Nariko growled, stepping forward and charging two orbs of azure thunder in her hands.

“A-are you sure you can take them all?”


At the last second, Nariko shifted the trajectory of her attack and shot it at a ninety-degree angle. Breaking through the ceiling, the structural integrity was blasted apart by the raiju’s electricity. In the blink of an eye, stone, plaster and wood began raining down, creating a massive pile of debris between she and the maids.

Covering up his face and eyes, Aaron ducked back as a wave of dust came crashing into him. Hacking and coughing into his shirt, the swordsman stumbled back and nearly tripped down the stairs.

“…there. That oughta buy us some time.” the raiju sighed, brushing past Aaron as she made her way down the steps.

“A-a little warning next time?” Aaron coughed, quickly stumbling after her.

When they reached the first floor, they wasted no time in dashing back to the basement. Navigating the dimly lit maze, they came to Wes’s laboratory and nearly knocked the door off the hinges in their haste.

“Alright, now let’s…” Aaron, began, stepping into the room. But when he shifted his focus from Nariko over to the crystal, he felt like vomiting up the gruel his captors had served him for lunch.

Standing in the middle of the lab was a freed Wes, a sour frown wrinkling his handsome face. Over his eyes were a pair of bulky bronze goggles, mixing Aaron’s feelings of frustration and anger with confusion.

“How did you-”

“Get free? One of my men helped me out of my little predicament, fortunately.” Wes snapped, no doubt glaring at Aaron from under those awkward goggles.

Realizing he had been left alone with Valerie and Kiera, he quickly looked over the mage’s shoulders and back at them.

“Wes, you little shit, if you so much as laid a finger on them, I’ll-”

“Oh, don’t worry. I haven’t hurt them- I want them in perfect shape for their examination. You on the other hand? Well, as a man of science, it pains me to say this, but…”

Wes reached into his pocket, pulling out what looked to be the handle of a sword. Flipping a switch at its side, a straight blade of the same bronze color emerged, far too long to have been able to fit in the handle.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to deal quite a bit of pain before your examination… don’t hate me if you lose a limb or two.”

Sticking his magic sword into the ground, Wes traced a few symbols into the air, muttering incantations all the while. In the final moment, he aimed both hands at the floor, where a thick white mist surged up. It quickly began spreading across the room, and in just a few short moments, Aaron and Nariko found the mist reaching up to their chests.

“What the hell?!” Aaron gasped, finding the mist rising ever higher. In no time flat, the thick gas had risen up to his chin. Nariko, being shorter than him, only had her ears sticking up from the mist as she covered her mouth and nose.

“Now, allow me to show you my innate superiority!” Wes bragged, the lens on his goggles extending outward and glowing with a bright emerald sheen. With a final surge, the white mist had completely covered the entire lab.

“Nariko! Can… can you see me?” Aaron asked, thankfully finding the gas breathable. However, it was so thick he was unable to see even a few inches in front of him.

He felt the raiju’s soft fingers curl around his shoulder, “Don’t worry. I’m right here.”

“What’s the matter? Can’t see me? Well, that’s not the case for me! These goggles are a marvelous invention of my own craft that allow me to see the souls of those around me for miles and miles, even through thick walls of steel! I call them… the Soulwatchers! It’s with these I tracked you down in the first place, Axenus, and now I shall use them to send you to your grave!”

Aaron turned towards the sound of the voice. And, if Wes wasn’t threatening to kill them, he might’ve burst out laughing. The green lens of his goggles shone like a beacon through his dense smokescreen, giving away his position.

“Now, face my-”

Nariko lobbed a blue orb of condensed thunder at the two glowing circles. Zipping through the fog, it hit Wes right between the eyes and sent him collapsing to the floor, writhing and twitching.

With its caster incapacitated, the fog spell shrouding the lab quickly dispelled. Aaron and Nariko approached the short man’s twitching body.

“H-how did you see me…?” Wes gasped, reaching out in vain for his sword, which Nariko gleefully kicked away.

Picking up the odd device Wes had used to record himself, Aaron stomped over to the stunned mage and lifted it above his head.

“Just go back to sleep, ya fuckin’ nerd.” Aaron sighed, dropping the Imagecatcher atop its creator’s head, sending him reeling back into unconsciousness. Bouncing off his noggin, the device hit the ground and shattered into pieces.

With a heavy grunt, Aaron turned towards the electric crystal, their path clear of any obstacles…

“So are these your girlfriends?”

Aaron seized up as he swiveled over to the operating tables where Valerie and Kiera were still tied down. Nariko loomed over both of them, gleefully pinching both their cheeks and stretching them back and forth.

“They’re both real cuties~” the raiju snickered.

“T-they’re my friends, yes.” Aaron grumbled indignantly, “But I’ve got a bit too much on my plate to be looking for romance right now.”

“Oh? But you’ve fucked them, haven’t you?”

“W-well, they kinda both threw themselves at me. And I don’t have anything against casual sex, so… ya know, it just kinda happened…”

“That right…?” the raiju hummed, waltzing away from the other two monsters and over to the electric crystal, “Interesting.”

The raiju came a stop right before the crystal. She seemed to marvel at the thing for a brief few moments, and Aaron couldn’t rightly blame her. Even from his good distance away, he could still feel the sheer energy of the thing tingle his skin and make his hair stand on end. For a bioelectric being like Nariko, it must’ve been like putting a barrel full of beer before an alcoholic.

But she had enough ogling. It was time to feast.

She threw both hands forward, easily smashing through the glass casing and grabbing hold of the yellow crystal, taking its power for herself. Aaron was forced to shield his eyes as the power flowing into Nariko spilled out, giving her a blinding golden aura.

“Yeeeesssssss~!” she cried, sparks shooting out from around her body. The fierce light and aura began to grow all the more intense, seeming to shake the whole lab in the process.

Just as the glow basked the room in white light, it changed. Dying down, the golden crackling thunder shifted into an intense, deep azure. Having all of its mana drained, the crystal faded into a dull gray and crumbled into dust.

Aaron lifted his hands away from his eyes, gasping at what he saw. The raiju’s intense electric aura overflowed around her body, bathing her in azure and white light. Barely able to make out her form in the blinding flash, Aaron felt like he was staring right at a war goddess straight from the heavens. He was so stunned, he hardly noticed the collar around his neck click open and fall to the floor.

“Hehehe…  I won’t be able to hold all of this for very long.” Nariko giggled, her voice echoing throughout the lab, “What to do with it…?”

Then, in another flash, she was gone.

“W-what the hell?” Aaron gasped, seeing nothing but a scorch mark where she used to be, “D-did she explode?”

But spotting a set of black footprints burnt into the ground, Aaron snarled and took off after her. Wherever she was going, he had a sinking feeling he wasn’t going to like whatever she was doing there. 

Reese wasn’t exactly certain on how much Sefu’s axe weighed, but was damned sure it was more than enough to cleave through him like a butcher’s knife through a side of beef.

The giant Terrian man threw it around like it was crafted from leaves and sticks, however. Every time the incubus dodged, he was unable to make a thrust strong enough to pierce Sefu’s thick armor.

“Shit!” Reese swore, pulling back his estoc as he made a thrust a bit too bold. Leaning back, he just barely managed to dodge the next axe-swing.

“Is dodging all you can do?!” Sefu roared, throwing a fist at Reese. Still reeling, the fist sunk right into the cheek of the incubus, sending him flying onto his back.

Although his vision was still swimming from the powerful punch, Reese managed to flip back to his feet. Stumbling back into a fighting stance, he struggled to keep the tip of his estoc trained on Sefu’s chest.

“Ha! You have gumption, incubus. I like it.” Sefu laughed, threateningly brandishing his axe in return.

On the next attack, Reese hardly saw Sefu’s armored shoulder coming. Sent crashing onto the floor from the fierce charge, he went sliding on his back until he came grinding to a halt.

As the incubus was left groaning on the cold stone, a sudden clicking shattered the despair gripping his heart. Peering down, he grasped at his naked neck and began laughing like a madman.

“Holy crap, kid! You actually did it!” the incubus cried, flipping to his feet and kicking away the collar that had previously ensnared him.

Across from him, Sefu’s eyes went wide. Lifting his axe back into the air, he braced himself and bore his teeth at the incubus, “Don’t get cocky! I won’t go down easily.”

“We’ll see about that, big fella.” Reese chuckled, settling back into a fighting stance.

Then, with a quick burst, it was over. Dashing forward faster than Sefu could track, Reese ended up behind the hulking man, his estoc’s blade soaked in blood.

“U-urgh… no…” Sefu groaned, collapsing to his knees. As his axe clattered against the cold stone, the wounds all along his chest and face began spurting blood like a whole bunch of macabre geysers. With one last gasp for breath, the Terrian crumbled to the ground.

“Phew. This feels real nice.” Reese chuckled. Rubbing his naked neck, he rolled it around his shoulder and popped his stiff bones, “Aaron… you did a good job, kid.”

Fuming. That was the only word to describe Otha at the moment.

Sitting in her quarters, her rotund face was lit up like a furnace, and she looked just about ready to spew steam from her ears at any given moment. She shifted uncomfortably around her cushy red chair, as if finding a more cushy spot would relieve her worries.

“Unbelievable…” she spat, grinding her long, painted nails into the arms of the seat. She sat towards a grand window, nearly taking up that entire side of the room, and stared down at her garden below. The sight of the gorgeous array of exotic plants, leaves still shimmering with dew in the light of the setting sun, did very little to ease her foul mood.

At each of her sides, a maid stood diligent and ready to spring into action. Each vacant girl stared at the set of double doors leading into the quarters, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.

“Madam, would you like me to bring you something to drink?”

The mistress of the manor grumbled, looking over her shoulder to find a kikimora standing dutifully and eager to serve. But still, that ingeniune smile was present on her face.

While Otha usually delighted in seeing the beast squirm and feign loyalty out of obligation, with the current pressures weighing on her mind, that false smile set her off.

“What I want is for my servants to pull themselves together and kill the maniac running around my home!” the fat woman squealed.

The kikimora only lightly nodded, her false smile turning smug, “Well… to be fair, Madam, you were the one that let Master Wes bring him in…”

A vein in Otha’s forehead vein to throb. The kikimora wasn’t just putting sweet lies atop her forced servitude, she was quietly mocking her.

“What? Do you actually think that dimwit and crazed whore can free you?” Otha snarled, wiggling out of her seat and waddling over to the kikimora. Pulling out that tiny button, she aimed it right at the monster and zapped her.

The kikimora cried out in pain, dropping to her knees as her body involuntarily jittered. Stomping to her slouched form, Otha lifted up one of her hands and slapped the kikimora’s cheeks until they were bruised and red.

“Don’t… you dare… UNDERESTIMATE ME!” Otha roared between gasps for breath, even the menial exercise of swinging her arm back and forth leaving her sweaty and winded, “You’d… you’d best throw away that ridiculous dream… of seeing that little brat again…”

The kikimora lifted her head up to say something, but a golden opportunity suddenly presented itself.

It all happened at once. The lantern-like relics keeping the room perfectly lit flickered off. The vents in the ceiling keeping the room nice and chilled shut off. And, most importantly, the collar snapped around the kikimora’s neck snapped off and fell to the floor.

Flabbergasted, Otha didn’t even have time to process what was happening before the kiki sprung forward. Snapping the fat woman’s wrist, the monster twisted her around before pulling out a hidden kitchen knife and pressing it against the fatty lump of her neck.

“H-how dare… how dare you?!” Otha screamed, her face twisted up in agony. However, the cold, pointed metal pressed up against her was a sufficient method of keeping her from squirming about, “I… I am your master, you stupid animal!”

The maids, pulling out knives of their own, were far too late on the reaction.

“Tell them to stand down.” the kikimora hissed into Otha’s ear, pressing her weapon further into the fat woman’s neck.

Otha could only sputter out nonsense as she felt the tip of the knife break through her oily skin, drawing a small trail of blood that dripped down to her garish purple dress. Her two brainwashed servants held their weapons defensively, but made no advances.

“Call them off. Now.” the kikimora repeated, pressing the knife ever closer.

Just as Otha’s trembling lips opened, a thundering boom rocked the entire room. While stunned and thrown off balance, the kiki maintained her footing and looked back to the collapsed double doors behind her.

“That won’t be necessary.”

Through the cloud of kicked up dust and debris, a raiju clad in a ferocious aura of thunder stepped forward. Seeing a clear target, Otha’s two maids switched their focus and rushed an Nariko.

The snickering raiju simply lifted up a peace sign, firing out two arcing bolts of thunder from each finger. Flying forward, they hit the maids and zapped them into submission in the blink of an eye.

As the two maids collapsed, Nariko focused her attention on the kikimora and Otha.

“…thank you. Your name is Nariko, isn’t it? Did you absorb all the power of the electric crystal?” asked the kikimora, keeping her knife up to Otha’s throat.

“Yes and yes.” the raiju replied with a wide grin. As she stepped forward, she stared down at her clenched fist, seemingly still awed by her own power, “ And I can’t hold it all for much longer. Now, what should I do with it~?”

Slowly lifting her knife away from Otha’s throat, the kikimora kicked the fat woman to her belly and turned away.

“I’ll leave you to it, then.” the maid monster sighed, walking past the raiju, “Revenge is a bitter thing, and you’ve more a right to it than I. Don’t worry. I’ll head down to the basement and help organize everyone’s escape.”

“Have fun~” the raiju chortled, waving the other monster off as she stomped forward. All the while, the monster’s yellowish-green eyes locked on Otha’s jittering form, slumped over on the carpet and gasping in pain.

“N-no… please, I’m sorry…”

“Hey, Otha… how long have you kept me imprisoned here, again? It’s been four years, hasn’t it?”

Otha slowly crawled in the other direction, gripping her broken wrist and sobbing like a child.

“Ugly inside and out to the bitter end, aren’t you?”

Otha didn’t answer. Sniffling and sucking in breath, she picked up her pace, having no destination but away from the raiju. With the power of an electric crystal coursing through her body, the raiju zipped in front of Otha faster than she could track.

With a sadistic snicker, the raiju bore down on her former captor, “Let’s get this party started, shall we?”

Through the hallway. Up the stairs. All the way up to the third floor. Nariko must’ve moved with all the speed of a lightning bolt, as each track seemed as fresh as the last. Still, the smoking markers served as a fine guide for Aaron as he made his way through the twisting halls of Otha’s mansion.

Sprinting past the traps set off too late for the speeding raiju, Aaron eventually made his way to the third floor and collapsed set of double doors.

There, he found Nariko, her foot planted firmly against Otha’s head. The weasel’s lighting-clad body transferred a mere minuscule fraction of it’s overflowing power down to the fat woman below, and Aaron was so stunned he could do nothing but stare and listen to Otha’s agonized squeals.

“Does it hurt?” the weasel snapped, grinding her foot down and upping the voltage.

“P-please! Please, stop!” Otha begged, tears streaming down her puffy cheeks.

“Oh, that’s rich! Do you know how many times has someone asked you that? What about my friend? What about Shanta?! It didn’t matter how many times she begged you to let her free, you pushed her until she took her own life!”

“I’m sorry…! I’m sorry…!”

“Are you really?” Nariko snarled, stepping off the slaver and backing up. Sticking out her hand, fierce lightning crackled across her fingers. Her body couldn’t contain the crystal’s power any longer. The azure aura swirling around her gathered all into her palm, forming a massive azure orb.

Aaron’s heart began thumping out of control. That wouldn’t just have reduced Otha to ashes, it would’ve blown half the manor into smithereens.

“Nariko, don’t!” he desperately cried, springing towards her. But he was far too late.

The incredible bolt of thunder shot through the window, blowing it wide open and sending shards of melted glass raining into the garden below. Twisting and flying ever forward like an azure dragon, the bolt eventually coiled before the setting sun before imploding into a blinding flash.

Aaron was nearly blinded by the incredible azure burst, white still flashing in his vision as it subsided. All that was left was a shower of blue sparks, gently raining down on the gardens below, and no doubt birthing several fires.

“W-what…?” Aaron gasped, confused at to what just happened. His eyes readjusting, he saw that Nariko had shifted her aim at the last second.

“This ugly hog isn’t worth it.” Nariko sighed, kicking her over to Aaron’s feet, “I’ve taught her a lesson. What comes next is up to you, sweetie. Like you said… she isn’t a threat anymore.”

And with that, she flipped her hair over her shoulders and left the room. Still flabbergasted, Aaron was left staring down and the sniveling Otha, her wrist bent out of shape and her skin and dress singed.

“W-what? Do you want to kill me yourself?” she sniffled.

The vivid and disturbing memories of all those monsters looked in cages came to his mind. The memory of her smug face laughing like mad as she humiliated the kikimora she had enslaved. Yet still, as his fingers wrapped around the handle of his claymore, he couldn’t find the resolve to pull it out.

“No. You heard Nariko. You’re not a threat, and you’re not worth it.” Aaron spat down at her.

“Y-you’ve killed a score of men before me, Axenus! What’s stopping you now?!”

“I realized something when I fought a friend of mine- I’m going to have to either keep slaughtering whoever stands in my way or show my enemies mercy. And there’s no way I’m going to kill my friend. So yes, Otha, I think you’re a rotten piece of shit who deserves nothing but a beheading… but that blood won’t be on my blade.”

The fat woman almost sounded like she was hyperventilating, going utterly red in the face, “You… you… you putrid, arrogant little prick! I’ll make you pay for this! I’ll take all the suffering you’ve put me through and return it to you a hundredfold!”

“Good luck with that.” Aaron snarled, turning his back to her, “I’m sure the Legion will have some choice words with you before that, though.”

“Don’t… don’t you walk away from me! AXENUS!”

Aaron tuned out the woman’s incoherent ramblings as he left. He had more pressing matters to attend to.

Are you joking, boy?

Aaron glared into the darkness ahead of him as the Dark Knight stomped out, the carved glare of his faceplate matching quite well with his furious tone.

A man on a quest for vengeance refusing to kill? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of! What will you do if by some miracle you actually reach Lucero? Will you hug him until he repents?

“No. The only one I intend to kill is Lucero. Everyone else… I’ll offer them mercy if I can afford it.”

Bullshit. You coward… you unbelievable idiot… you’re putting yourself… everyone you hold close, and the memories of your brother and niece at risk! All for what? Just so you don’t have to end up killing your friend?

The swordsman didn’t answer. Instead, he continued down the hallway. Vanishing and reappearing before Aaron, the Black Knight glared down at him with his glowering purple eyes.

Aaron, you’d better listen! I won’t accept this foolishness!

Somewhere in the back of Aaron’s mind, he realized that it was the first time the Black Knight called him by name. But he was so enraged that it didn’t click with him. Stomping ahead, Aaron swung out his arm, only to find it pass right through the enigmatic figure.

“Hmm. So you’re just an illusion, huh? Figured as much.” Aaron scoffed. He could see no reaction, but he’d like to have imagined whatever face that was hiding behind the helmet twisting up at just how brazen he was behaving.

Retreating further down the hallway, the Black Knight’s illusion was left staring at the young man’s back.

You fool… letting your head be filled with such naive sentiments… I suppose you’ll have to be reminded just how cruel the world can be the hard way.”

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One thought on “Umbra, Chapter 31

  1. Typos:
    > shank was into ribbons
    > deserves to pampered
    > lighting dancing
    > courtesy of raiju
    > followed suite and
    > charging to orbs
    > go back sleep
    > came a stop
    > marvel at thing
    > taking it’s power
    > only words to
    > want is to my
    > don’t have end

    We never read that Nariko actually turned the lasers off

    For all the buildup over the fight between Sefu and Reese, I kinda wish we got to see more of it, and that it didn’t end so abruptly. While we’re back in the dungeon I kinda wish we’d read about more people taking notice of their collars being removed

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