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GGCE 6 – Another will open… (3)

Avery left the group to wait in the living room. She walked down a corridor on the left side of the home, passing two other rooms before reaching the end of the hall. She stood before a partially open door painted sky blue. A worn spot sat just above the handle, where her parents always pushed the door open.

“We’re back, little one!” For a moment, she heard her mother’s voice ringing out as she pushed the door on with her hand on the worn spot – Like her parents use to do. Inside was a mostly dark bedroom with a single glowing orb in the farthest right corner. Her eyes adjusted to the almost pitch black room. The room brightened into a sea of black and whites as she made her way through the once lived-in room to the orb that shone brilliantly in the corner.

Her eyes narrowed as the sea of white that surrounded the orb disappeared, replaced with the swirl of reds, blues, purples, and the other colors of the rainbow. The orb floated a half-an-inch above an ornate spire of twisted wood and meteor stone that stood up to her chest in height. It was Fable’s End control matrix. It controlled everything from the climate to permission controls.

A delicate fingered reached out, tapping the orb on the top before a blueish-grey screen appeared – hovering in mid-air. A few stats appeared on the screen, but the first one was the sky cycle. The sky was set on enteral Milky-Way with a few other options such as day, night, and a few other more atmospheric settings. She tapped the furthest left; Current world cycle.

Bright orange light poured into the room through unseen windows high up. The room lit up as Avery pressed a few more buttons and hit “Status Report” before it prompted her with a “Please wait, reports being processed”. She turned from the orb to look at the room in a better light. The room looked untouched since the last time she was here which felt like so long ago. From the light, she could tell it was dusk and it made the room feel that much lonelier

An ornate single bed sat against the wall, plushies of the game’s animals sat on the single pillow as if waiting for their owner to arrive. She turned to her right where a wardrobe was and opened. Inside, an inventory menu should have been prompted. What greeted her was a wardrobe stuffed to the brim with her outfits, baffling her as her eyes went wide in surprise.

A myriad of colors greeted her in the dim light and when she pulled one off the rack, the contents of the wardrobe poured out like a dam bursting. “Shit!” She yelled in frustration as she jumped aside as her half her room was filled with clothes. She looked in awe at how much was actually in that wardrobe when her door burst open a few seconds later with Navara pushing her door open and the men behind her with their weapons drawn.

Avery was only huffing in frustration while the other looks into the room at the pile of clothes that looked like an avalanche as it filled the space between the wardrobe and the bed. “I’ll help you…” Navara said in awe of the situation. Both Randol and Ter’Yut nodded and made their way back down the hall while Desmond’s eyes bulged with excitement.”H-Hey… Aren’t… All those magic infused clothing…?”

Desmond could feel the mana. It was ever so subtle. He could see that some glowed slightly from the magic embroidery. Even the material of all the clothing were enough to bankrupt his Father’s small empire!

Navara pushed him away “Doesn’t matter. No peeking!” She stepped into the room and slammed the door in his face, mad he was ogling another girl’s clothes. Even though she herself hadn’t been able to catch his eye. Once inside, she did notice what he was actually ogling, the magical clothing that seemed to have been collected like a girl would collect clothes for every day of the month. While she was a simple tribal beast who didn’t own a pair herself, she did slightly understand that it was something that only powerful people would have.

Like her father, who was the head of her clan, but even he had only a ring.

“So… How did you fit all that stuff in there…?” She asked with an awkward smile, feeling like a peasant before this girl in every way.

. . . . . .

Avery stood bare beneath the heavens as the day she was born, along with Navara. A pile of clothes stood high all around them and sorted by color. Navara had felt like a little girl beside this girl who was half-a-head shorter than her, but her chest was bigger than hers, and her hips… Well, she felt she would lose her little Dessy to this succubus.

Avery, the girl who was the object of this jealousy, noticed but didn’t bother. Avery had better things to deal with, like what to wear. She was very particular about what she wore, but right now another worry was rearing its head while she tried to immerse herself into what to wear.

“This isn’t the game anymore…” A small whisper tingled her ear, she turned around quickly and glared at Navara. “Did you say something?” Navara who was silently beating Avery in her head was startled by the sudden question. “N-No!” She shook her head. She turned her head back and tried to delve back into her thoughts before the whisper came back. “You must protect yourself….” She looked around the room before her eyes settled on the orb.

“Little one… Promise me…” The whisper… Oddly sounded like her mother! But it wasn’t coming from the orb, nor was it coming from anywhere in the room. “You okay?” Navara asked worriedly. She had noticed the change in Avery like she had suddenly gone on alert. She didn’t respond until she had placed her hand on her shoulder, making her jump slightly. “Hey, are you okay?” Navara didn’t miss the panic in her eyes before it was buried under a tinge of embarrassment and slight annoyance.

But Avery held back her snap. Navara was worried about her, probably how she kept looking around the room. “Yeah, just a little out of it. Waking up at the bottom of a pond can do that.” She smiled softly, more at ease around the beast-kin now that she expressed something other than jealousy. The smile side-swiped Navara, dazzled by the beautiful smile.

Avery’s skin was looking a lot more healthy now. Fair with a healthy blush and pretty pink lips that made someone just want to kiss then ever so tenderly. Navara quickly pulled her hand back when she noticed the dangerous direction her thoughts were going. “Stupid! She’s a girl!” But her heart was beating wildly in her chest. She could felt that if she didn’t have fur on her ears, they’d be as red as lobsters!

Avery didn’t notice the storm she had kicked up in Navara’s heart as she pulled a beautiful black dress with a single embroidered golden-paw on its chest “Ah…” She smiled when she saw it. It was her formal Guild Master dress. She set it down on an open spot on the bed as she went about finding other possible outfits.

. . . . .

An hour later, Avery and Navara walked softly down the hall into the living room. The men had long made themselves comfortable on the varies living room furniture and long succumbed to their exhaustion. Desmond snored softly, curled up on the couch, his tattered and dusty robe wrapped around him. Randol lay sprawled on the fur rug in front of the heart, still in his armor. Ter’Yut slept sitting center on a love seat with his arms resting on the couches back. His face was solemn as if he was just in deep thought.

Avery looked over them with a stoic face, thinking. This was the first time she had actually taken a good look at them and they looked pitiful. Desmond’s clothes were dusty, Randol’s armor was bloody and scared. Ter’Yut’s clothes looked cleaner than them, but just looking at the pile of armor by his feet… They were just as beat up. “So… How did you guys end up like this?” Avery asked curiously, but only about how they managed to get into her sanctuary – She just didn’t want to be rude.

Navara looked at her trying to put the words together. Avery had only put on that black dress and combed her hair back, resting the ends on her shoulder to fall down her chest. She seemed heavenly, she wasn’t sure she wanted to tell her what they did. Like it would sully the moment.

Yet when Avery’s eyes turned to look at her, two golden suns threatening to consume her. She felt fear rise in her heart. An instinctual fear. “T-There were undead in the city below..” Navara froze up when those two golden suns seemed to glow brighter for a moment before Avery turned away. “Let’s see if there’s any food in the kitchen,” Avery said in a soft voice. “City? There should only be a village…” She thought to herself as her bare feet carried her soundlessly to the kitchen on the other end of the house. Navara following meekly behind her, feeling wronged.

The kitchen was separated by a single stone wall from the living room with two entrances on either end. Wooden cabinets hugged the outer wall with an island in the middle of the room. The countertops were made from a thick wood that could be chopped on. A refrigerator, sink, and stove sat by the outer wall that faced the viewing platform outside. A small circular window overlooked the sink.

The pair had just entered the kitchen when Navara nearly bumped into Ter’Yut when she stood up from one-floor cabinets. He pressed his meaty finger to his lips and she held back her startled yelp. “I sensed bloodlust. You okay?” His deep black eyes turned to Avery, who was rummaging through a strange, tall glossy box with a door “Blood… Lust?” Her head tilted to the side with a twitch of her left ear.

“Did you feel anything when talking to her?” He asked quietly. Navara was about to ask what when Avery’s soft, honey voice broke through the conversation “If you’re going to talk about me, you should either ask directly or go outside.” Navara yelped this time while Ter’yut stiffened up momentarily. Avery stood right next to them now, those golden-cat eyes burned with displeasure in the dim-lit kitchen.

Before either of them could come up with an excuse, she waved her hand dismissing it. “I understand you may not trust me, but you’re on my mountain. In my home. I will not tolerate anyone being rude, or you all can leave immediately.” As if to answer Ter’Yut’s question, he felt the pressure clearer now. A sort of pressure on the mind. Like someone of lesser power trying to push out their mana over the surroundings.

There was a sort of skill beings of A-tier ability could exert their bloodlust. This sort of reminded him of it, but it felt more unintentional. “Okay, okay.” He rose his hands up in surrender. “I apologize to the lady.” His green lips parted in a sort of wicked grin. For a moment, he felt the bloodlust actually thicken. Then it disappeared as she turned and silently went back to rummaging through the fridge. Navara looked at the orc before both of them silently went back into the living room.

. . . . . . .

Desmond awoke to Navara’s face an inch from his. He smelt the delicious scent of meat in his dreams, but just now, he smelt it so powerful he could taste it. When he opened his eyes, he found Navara’s face instead – With streaks of saliva on her nose and a big grin. “Am I tasty, Dessy?” He could also see the tip of her tail flapping side to side happily. “Wait – I.. I…” It took a few seconds for him to register.

He was licking a piece of juicy meat in his dream. He treated it like the most precious magical artifact in the history of Eos itself! Then it hit him.

“Did I just-“

“Yes.” A sweet voice came from above him. His eyes shot up and found two glowing cat eyes staring down on him, filled mirth. Though her head was nearly three feet away, her snow-white hair flowed off her and down the backrest of the couch nearly all the way to him. Randol and Ter’Yut looked at him with dead eyes as two beautiful girls cornered him in his sleep. “I think my little brother has been a little too comfortable here.” Ter’Yut nodded. “The Third Prince is quite shameless. I think I’ll give him some muscle training when we get back to the capital.”

Desmond was used to Navara’s antics, but having the new girl, Avery, join in on it made it double trouble! He had a tolerance to Navara’s beauty, but not Avery’s. His childhood friend had a wild vibe to her. Unrestrained, temperamental, but easily tamed if you could press the right buttons. However, Avery seemed like a refined young lady. “Seemed like” being the keyword. Right now, she looked like any other teenager enjoying a good prank. “I told you he’d do it!” Navara beamed while puffing her chest out.

Avery’s body gently shook as she restrained a laugh. It was a few seconds before she could respond. “Aye. You win, I’ll let you pick out something from the clothes.” She rested on the back of the couch with her stomach as she watched Navara tip some meat-grease on the tip of her nose and brought it close to Desmond’s mouth. Navara had mentioned that she could get Desmond to lick her nose in his sleep and she hadn’t believed her.

But she lost this bet.

Despite the other two’s words, the prank had lightened the mood in the house as the girls went back to Avery’s room while Randol handed his brother a plate of meat. “What’s this?” Desmond asked as he picked up a piece of diced meat and bite into it like a rabbit. “Greater Dragon’s meat, apparently.” Ter’Yut said in passing as he finished off his third plate. Desmond looked at him for a moment before the piece of meat fell from his hands and down onto his dirty clothes.

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GGCE 3 – When the gods close a door. . .(3)

Where grand doors should have been, was only crumbled wall and rubble that littered the uneven cobblestone road. The whole group stopped at the entrance, staring in shock. “Everyone be careful… The passage of time didn’t down this gate. It was breached. I don’t know how long ago either. There might be unexpected residents here.” Desmond’s big brother hollered, scaring a flock of ravens perched on the city’s edge.

Desmond’s big brother Randol looked back and saw the students not bothering to pull their weapons. “That means get your weapons out kids. Large ruins could house a number of dangers!” He hissed, displeased.

Navara and Desmond glanced at each other, a sheen of excitement, but also a hint of caution. Both of them reached from under their cloaks and pulled out their wands. Staves were the traditional magic user catalyst, but wands were also useable – just harder to use. On explorations, they often went for wands as they were lighter and easy to carry when delving into ruins.

It was said that the ancients could cast without using chants or magical catalysts such as staffs and wands, but when they did, they were heaven-defying. Able to summon the elements into massive storms and magical wonders. Some were said to even summon mounts from thin air. Now, chantless magic was considered the exception rather than the rule. Many of those wonderful spells lost to time when they all disappeared, leaving only empty castles and lands.

And Fable’s end was considered the nirvana of all magic. The tomb city of the Hearth Mother. The Ancient who united the other ancient against the forces of evil. Even defeating the Demon King and taking his very fortress as her home!

Statues of her even have the power to repel monsters and demons. They were often found by major roads and areas she had once visited. Yet now, the Theocracy had declared them symbols of heresy, almost all could only be found in the wilderness. Used only by Monster Hunters who used them as camps. It’s even said that the Guild of Hunters had a map of all known statues in the wilderness, but denies it.

Fortunately for Desmond, they had managed to dig up the stone tablet in his hand in ruins nearly a hundred miles from here. While there were many written accounts, most were lost to time or war. Very few accounts were left, leaving the tablet in Desmond’s hand a priceless historical artifact Looking down, Desmond reread the ancient Elven text as the other students sighed and pulled their armaments from their sheaths and bags.

[Here slumbers the child of Death and Life, Gods of Moon and Sun.

Rejected from their original, they created Eos to embrace her.

Yet, now ]

When the Ancients disappeared, the world – who depended on them – was plunged into long years of darkness. War, monsters, and demons plagued the land because the heroes were not around to hold them back. Soon the makeup of the land changed. This meant that historical documents and accounts were lost to time as well, leaving many of the Ancients’ ruins to be forgotten. Even Fable’s End was lost.

The world’s largest mountain it was called in its time. Such a grand geographical landmark should have been already explored, but the world was vast. It sat in a sea of trees nearly thirty feet tall and populated with strong monsters. With the world fighting with the Demons, they couldn’t spare much manpower to the exploration of ruins. Leaving the task to would-be adventurers, monster hunters, and Academies.

Desmond managed to find a map to Fable’s End inside the ruins of a guild called Holy Paws. Strange name, but apparently the Hearth Mother was the leader… However, this tablet rested with the map. It only then did Desmond find out that this amazing discovery had a problem.

Fable’s End rested in an unexplored area that was teeming with dangers. He didn’t trust to tell his father, who would have happily given it to his Crown brother Edin, he managed to persuade his second brother Randol to gather a team and go. However, Randol said on the basis the school list it as a free-exploration. Meaning students could sign up, but they were free to pick a place to explore and keep what they find if they found anything on their exploration.

They managed to pick up people with his brother’s name listed on the security team though…

Looking at the small gathered students from his Academy, most the girls joined to try to woo his brother while the boys who joined either joined with the girls or came to explore and maybe fight some monsters since they could only leave the city on explorations.

Most of the girls held wands in their hands, some even had full staves. Decorated with small ornate carvings and or trinkets, they shuffled uneasily when they held them. The entire trip here was oddly peaceful, with a few monsters that were dispatched by the knights; the students hardly had to lift a finger.

Now they all brandished their weapons with the boys taking the lead with swords and some wands, standing behind the knights – they began to weave through the rubble of the old gates.  Desmond took up the rear with Navara, not keen on trying to show off like his fellow students, he examined his surroundings with interest.

The first thing to greet them once they made it over the rubble was three, five-foot tall grey stone barricade blocks nearly three foot wide and three foot thick. They were uneven and appeared to have been chiseled hastily. The uneven stones were now worn by countless seasons with the scars of war marking them. The structures on the inside were attached to the wall further out, making any invaders having to go through the narrow blockade.

Nature had somewhat reclaimed the ruins as grass grew heavily on the ground with patches here and there of weather-worn cobblestone. Thick vines climbed the structures around them. Even trees grew on the rooftops, but that may have been planted there.

Advancing further, the knights noticed that the stone barriers were pushed inward by the collection of cobblestones and their formations behind them. The knights gave each other a look “What’ca think did this?” One knight said to Randol, gesturing with his head to the blocks. Randol took a quick look then looked at the buildings on either side. Vegetation climbed the walls of the structures he assumed military in nature. Through the small patches of visible wall, large scratch marks could be seen.

“Something we don’t want to find out.” Randol sighed before telling everyone to keep moving.

The city itself was laid out in a strange fashion. The buildings were set into blocks of two, with the main road leading straight through. The main road itself was nearly thirty feet in length with the side roads only fifteen. The destruction of the buildings on the main road was heavy. Grass covered craters, half-collapsed buildings, and even some half-skeletons remains strewn around one intersection. They didn’t even bother to go down the side roads. Most of the mere blockaded with those grey stones with a few broken through.

“Whoever invaded this place must have been serious about it…” One of the student warriors cooed in amazement at the destruction of the main street. “Probably the demons. Fable’s End was the old base of the Demon King before the Hearth Mother defeated him.” Desmond said nonchalantly.  The students in front turned in shock. “H-Hearth mother? Wait! This is Fable’s End?! The tomb city?!” one of the girls cried out.

Desmond looked confused” Yeah. Didn’t you guys read the exploration notice?” The students who were shocked now turned and just looked forward with false curiosity “This place is pretty nice.”, “Yeah, I was looking forward to this place the whole trip!” and other mutterings. Navara laughed then whispered in Desmond’s ear “Hehe, not everyone is as scholarly as you Dessy. Most people don’t read the bulletins so long as they have a chance to go out into the world for free”

Desmond’s brows scrunched up, not understanding why they’d do such a thing. “Don’t bother, you won’t understand their plight!” She said with a dramatic gesture of almost fainting. She had known Desmond since he first came to the Academy and had a crush on him since then. Sadly for her, he stuck his nose into books too much to notice. In the end, she was happy to spend more time with him knowing his family situation wasn’t good. So long as their time was peaceful, that’s all that mattered in the now.

After half an hour, they came to a major scene of a battle. Large skeleton remains of a giant monster boar the size of a noble carriage laid to the left of the road. The building caving around it. A large gash in the road crossed over to the right side and through a large hole into a two-story corner building. ” Damn!” One of the students said as he walked over to the skeleton remains. “What kind of monster is this?” He asked as he toed it with his leather boot.

“Not sure. There were a lot of species it could belong too.” Randol answered half-heartedly as he and a few knights examined the hole in the wall. The hole in the building across from the remains was slightly larger than them. “Whatever killed it, came from here…” One of the knights said off-handedly.

He was about to step in before a figure crashed into him. “Gah!” He fell backward onto his rear trying to steady himself. As his fellow knights readied themselves to fight, they noticed it was just a White-Dotted Mountain deer. It’s beautiful huge antlers bobbing as it ran down the main street startled. “Haha! Almost done in by a deer! I’ll make sure to put that on your tombstone!” The knight closest to the down man said as he helped him back up. “Yeah, I’ll tell your wife that you got felled by a great whore!”

“You damnable old man!” the knight growled before slapping his gloved hand on the man’s back. “Alright, keep it in check or I’m telling both your wives that you got felled by whores.” Randol said as he walked stuck his head through the hole. Once he checked there weren’t any more deer inside, he made his way inside. “Don’t be like that Captain!” They both said while chuckling.

After a few minutes of the group waiting outside and examining the destruction, Randol called out to Desmond. “Little Dessy, come look at this!” Navara and Desmond looked at each other before they both went through the opening. Inside, the layout reminded Desmond of an inn. WIth worn polish floor, dusty from the passage of time aside from the large black marks leading out the hole, it was relatively intact.

At the end of the marks was a largely armored golem. It’s entire left side completely crumpled or torn off with its head half smashed. It’s armor rusting away, it looked pitiful; even to Desmond. “Ancient tech?” Randol gestured to the golem with his right hand, sword sheathed. “Yeah, but it’s not salvageable. The fact that the metal hasn’t rusted completely away with this much exposure means the armor is either magically imbed or it’s a higher tier than steel.” Desmond said as he made his way to the front of the golem.

After poking around, Desmond sighed. “It’s not steel, I can tell that much. However… Nothing can be salvaged due to the damage.” Desmond kneeled by the outlaying left hand.”Poor thing… Died protecting it’s home.” Three rays of light poured in through the three windows on the second floor with the middle one. Even with the heavy rust, there were still large gashes. Guessing by the layout of the scene, it was probably from tusks that made those marks

“They’re just magical familiars, don’t get sentimental over them…” Randol said. He didn’t feel a thing about them. They were made for war. “Yeah..” Desmond replied half-heartedly with a frown. He did feel for them though, but he assumed they were treated much better by the mistress of this city.

. . . . . . .

Shortly thereafter, the group left the ruined building, stepping back out on the main road. The further in they got, the more fierce the tells of war became. Indents in the road, filled with still rainwater that reflexed the sky. Eventually, the barricades on the side streets were long gone, but no one felt brave enough to go down them alone. They came to an intersection of a terrible skirmish. The remains of a Gaint, torn apart with its moss-covered limbs strewn across the road.

Several golems rested, thrown about. Two rested against a wall, leaning on each other – upper bodies caved in. Another golem’s lower body dangled half ripped from its body from the building’s roof, two stories above. Legs dangling with long vines curling down and hanging from the tips of its feet. Two halves of a single golem rested in the now bony hands of the giant.

The scene sent a chill up their spines, leaving everyone silent as they weaved through the old battlefield. Scenes like those became more common the closer they got to the Elven city’s center. Trudging through piles of rubble or bones, they kept moving. Randol kept stopping every now and again. He had a nagging feeling like someone… or something… was watching them.

Pushing through thick overgrowth, the explorers found themselves walking into a large clearing. The clearing was two-by-two football fields large, with large craters and remains littered it sparsely. Most of them rested at the foot of a circular stone platform the nearly twenty-feet in diameter. On top rested a statue draped in moss and vines as if someone had covered it with a thick blanket of nature. A few nests dotted the shoulders, but they were empty and long abandoned.

The group began to spread out, seeing the destruction of the buildings on the edge. Some examined the golems and skeletons. Desmond, however, walked up to the statue – his curiosity peaked. The platform itself was nearly half his height. With some effort, he heaved himself onto it and noticed there was a stone tablet resting, untouched by time or weather; resting in a snug fitting at the foot of the statue. Broken in half, he got to his knees and examined it.

There was a missing piece and the tablet piece in his hand fit!

‘Place it… Free her…’ A lone voice whispered sweetly in his ear. For a moment, he felt his hands move on their own. “Desmond!” Navara had followed him but stood off the platform as she checked out a strange skeleton hidden under a Golem’s body. She had just glanced at Desmond when she saw him shiver before reaching to put the tablet piece into the hole!

But before she could even stop him, the piece fell into place and Desmond blinked with confusion at what he had done. Before he could even think about what happened, the tablet glowed and hummed before it exploded into a blue blinding light and a concussive wave sent the two flying backward!

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OTC.BNB| 4.2

« Kian † Willow »

A breeze of warm air kissed my cheek. It smelled of a fresh summer morning. The warmth of it filled me, and my mind felt sharper. My back didn’t burn and I could breathe without my muscles protesting. For a moment, I closed my eyes to savor the warmness – it was just that kind of feeling that brought a smile to me. It was an odd sensation that caused me to open my eyes immediately afterward.

Why did it make me feel that way?

The hammering of metal returned. The birds overhead circled once before they flew off along the cliff’s edge. The waves rose and crashed once again. The sudden continuation of life around me made me question what I just experienced. Had it all been some weird hallucination, caused by whatever cocktail of drugs they gave me? It couldn’t have. It’d been-

I felt something weighing down on my lap. Slowly, I glanced down. Vindication came in the form of Cyril’s gift. My OTAD and an empty bottle of coke.

The black object, a large armbrace with an integrated screen that was about the size of a large cellphone. The OTAD differed from my brothers. His was slightly bulkier all around, and sand color. It’d also had several ports to link up the various military electronics. Mine, however, had no exposed ports. Thus, it was slime with a streamlined appearance that made the screen flush against my forearm.

It was a piece of hardware on the cutting edge of all hardware. It was… My last gift from my family.

My hands caressed the device with longing. Touching it felt right. It felt like a form of normalcy in this sea of strangeness. And this normalcy was still caked with dried blood – dark green and brown. Goblin and human.

“Now, where’d you get that?” Doc’s voice ripped me from my thoughts, and I clutched the OTAD like it was the holy grail. “Easy now. I’m not going to take it.”

He held up his hands while taking a step back. He gave me a reassuring smile as he did so.

“I wasn’t the one that confiscated your items,” He said. “That was Mrs. Erhn, the Fourth Division’s Vice-Captain’s idea. She said it was just until you were proven not to be a threat. However, I see you got one of your things back, or they missed it?”

His left eyebrow raised, and it seemed to indicate that he was waiting for a response. I entertained the thought of leaving him in suspense. That, however, didn’t seem like the right way to treat someone who took care of you. So I honored him with a response.

“It was gifted back to me by a good friend,” I smiled

“You have a friend here?” Doc asked.

“Mhm,” I nodded slowly as I opened the OTAD’s brace up, then wrapped it around my left forearm. And I secured it. This time, I found the little security feature that latched it in a way that they couldn’t take it off. “A very, very good friend.”

“What’s their name?” He asked.

“Cyril,” I said.

“Cyril,” He repeated the name. “We don’t have anyone by that name here.”

“She was just here,” I said truthfully. “You just missed her. Real pretty girl. White hair and nice body.”

Doc paused for a moment. He looked over me. I don’t know what he was going to find. However, I just wanted him to leave now. I wanted to tinker with the OTAD, at the very least to pass the time. But I didn’t want to do it where he could see. As thankful as I am for him helping me, I didn’t trust him.

“I see…”Doc said. “Well, if your friend comes around again – invite her in for some food and drink.”

I nodded.

«  †  »

Doc had helped me back to the room I woke up in. He helped me to the bed and helped me lay down. It was unnecessary though. My muscles felt better than when I woke up. It wasn’t 100%, but it what looked to be juice.

“Here’s some wine to help dull the pain,” Doc smiled. “It’ll help you sleep as well. Eat slow. Your stomach will need to acclimate to the food.

And it wasn’t juice as I thought. I thanked him as he closed the door behind him. I listened to his footsteps on the floorboards fade away. I waited a few moments after I could no longer hear him, then I turned on the OTAD. The screen lit up and greeted me with a very interesting background. A golden cat paw over a black background. I eyed the rather nice screen. It was sleek and the gold seemed to pop out at me quite nicely.

I’d been expecting the “Military Grade” hardware my brother had. Aside from its streamlined appearance, the other OTAD he had was bulky and rigid. It had several ports to hook into different kinds of tech. Ethernet port? Check. X-USB? Check. C-USB? Check as well. Micro and Macro cards? Check and check. Honestly, with the number of ports it had, I’m surprised the thing didn’t have a DVD drive. That would have been overkill. Then again, a lot of 3rd World countries never advanced in their tech.

Sudden movement on the screen caught my attention. I looked down and saw three application tiles had loaded themselves onto the screen. Each downloaded within a second and installing one after another.

“Uh…?” I muttered, dumbfounded.

The apps were labeled “Inventory”, “Manazon”, “PawPawGang”, and “BattleNet” respectively from left to right. Each tile had white backgrounds, but a different logo. Inventory was branded with an outlined backpack; Manazon had a blue shopping cart logo; PawPawGang had just had a black paw; BattleNet had the outline of a planet.

Before I could even question it, the screen darkened and a grey prompt appeared.

[ Tutorial mode activated – PawPawGang CORP ALL RIGHTS SUSPENDED

Press OKAY]

Below the prompt, a new button appeared. It was green with “OKAY” in large black bold letters. I clicked on it as instructed. The prompt blinked out of existence, but the screen remained dim. The screen brightened around the inventory app and a white arrow pointed to it with a new prompt.

[>System: Inventory application will automatically sort stored items. To store items, you must have them in your possession. The next step is to wave the ambient mana into a spatial spell. Target the item you wish to store, then wrap the spell around the item.]

“Wait, wait!” I hissed in a low voice so I don’t attract Doc’s attention. “What the hell does that even mean!”

The prompt changed afterward.

[> Cyril: It means – get good scrub.>]

I took a mighty breath in as I felt my blood boil at that statement.

[>Cyril: Joking. Just place the item in your hand and will it into your inventory. I’m not going to make things easy, but I’m not going to just redundantly make it hard. Now, I’m letting the program take back over. Play nice~>]

I had no comment for… This.

[< System: Program altered. One moment. \\\…. The system is back online. Inventory space will hold all items purchased from Manazon without limits. However, items not purchased through Manazon, or granted from the Creator, will have a set limit of 5x per stack. They will be separated into “Main Page” and “Limited Section”. >]

Afterward, those stray prompts never returned and the tutorial continued onward. It made me click on the main page and the other section.  The main page had been organized into several different sections.

[ Weapons |Ammo | Consumables | Clothing | Armor| Misc. ]

[>System: All categories are self-explanatory, aside from Misc. From the previously mentioned rule, there are several exemptions from this rule. Namely, keys. Keys will be grouped into a “Key Ring” file in Misc, and will all unlimited keys within it. >]

The System cycled through the empty sections to show me. While I had a sort of understanding, I was beginning to think this started to look like some strange mobile game. As I thought this, the System closed the inventory and switched to Manazon.

[>System: Manazon is your marketplace to purchase unlocked goods with Cat-Points or shortened as CP. CP is earned via mana stones earned from eliminating monsters and harvesting their stones. Manastone prices are as follows:

Small Mana Stone – 5cp

Medium Mana Stone – 10cp

Large Mana Stone  – 50cp

There are more stones out there in the world, some that will be listed after being submitted into the system. Some are unlistable and their amount will be determined after submission into the system.>]

There were also different categories and they all went as follows:

[ Medical & Food | Armory |Armor & Clothing |Vehicles |OTAD Upgrades | Specials ]

Those were the options in the drop-down menu when the system showed it, but then it closed it. It moved back onto the main page and to the feed.

[> System: This will show you current deals. Please tap on it.]

The current deal it highlighted was a “Sorry Starter Pack.” and it’s listed as free. I tapped the deal and it opened up. I looked over the page and felt the urge to call a copy-right lawyer.

“Seriously,” I huffed. “Couldn’t she have not copied someone else’s app?”
[>Cyril: Easy for the one who doesn’t have to conjure it all up in an hour. Complain again, I’ll make you secure all your items without my help.]

I kept my mouth shut after that.

Listed in the deal were a Glock 19 Compact, three 15-rd magazines, and a crappy Blackhawk thigh holster along with a single 50-rd 9mm steel-cased FMJ ammo box. Also included was a grey cotton shirt, blue denim skinny jeans with a leather belt. Brown steel-toed boots were also listed with two pairs of black socks and underwear.

“No armor?” I asked. I remembered those little shitty green monsters. If I hadn’t been wearing that high-end vest, I would have been dead seven times over.

[>System: Armor is not included as not to make you incompetent. You still need to develop the skills to survive in this world. The starter box has been included to give you an edge since you lack any considerable skills that would help you here. At least, nothing that will prevent anything from killing you.]

“Then what do you call having a literal system that could itemize all my stuff?

[>System: Perks of being the Creator’s Champion.]

“Fair enough,” I relented. It was a rather fair point to make though.

[> System: Also, please keep your annoying quips to your self until the tutorial is done. Please tap the One-Tap purchase button.]

Now that was just a low-blow there. I followed the system’s instructions and tapped the button. Then a prompt that said “Items delivered to inventory” and that was that. I wanted to take out the new gear, but the system hadn’t yet finished its obnoxiously slow tutorial. The app closed and slid over to the PawPawGang app. As ridiculously named as it was, I was curious to what was in it.

[>System: As stupid as the name is, PawPawGang serves a critical role; it tracks your status and your faction.]

Well, color me intrigued. The system then highlighted the first entry.

[Asset Level: Grey

Monster Kills: 0

Human Kills: 0

Enemy Bases destroyed: 0

Enemy Factions destroyed: 0 ]

[>System: Asset levels are color code, and the color system follows the rarity color system. Grey is Common, Green is Uncommon, Purple is Rare, Orange is Legendary, and Gold is Heavenly. The asset level accesses your overall usefulness. Grey means you’re as useful as an average person. Which is to be expected.

This is not to slight or offend you in any way. It’s simply an objective outlook. Should you just take the peaceful route and just live in this new world, you will stay at this level. But you also will not gain anything. However, if you choose to be a Champion, you’ll gain much.]

“And what is this Faction part?” I asked.

[>System: You can recruit people to assist you]

“Like getting physically stronger?” I asked.

[>System: No. All enhancements strictly allow you to grow. Humans and Demi-humans have their ways of growing stronger, but the system will by-pass restrictions for a cost.]

“So I can’t grow wings?” I joked.

[>System: Possibly. I am not in control of what gets added. But on with the tutorial. The listed stats on this application are small for now, but more will be added when it’s deemed necessary. PawPawGang can be used to track your progress, but its use will change with time.]

“I see, then does this tie into the last app?” I asked.

[>System: Yes.]

In response, the application closed and Battlenet popped up. The menu was different and brought up a screen that read “OFFLINE.” The system then dragged itself over to the “Milestones” option before it opened it.

[>System: Here are your milestones. More will be added with time. As of the current moment, these are your current milestones.

Survive a month – 1 Lootbox.

Kill 10 monsters – 1 Lootbox. 

Gain Control of Settlement 3 – 1 Gold Squad Summon Card. ]

I took one look at the top reward and lost interest. I felt the sudden urge to rant to this thing about the ethics of a damn loot box. But I restrained myself because, why bother?

“That it?” I asked, looking up to the door, but I couldn’t hear anything still.

[>System: Yes. The tutorial will now end. Assistance will still be available for when you inevitably fail.]

“You’re instilling the utmost confidence in me,” I quipped and tapped on large x on the corner of the screen – exiting the application before moving over to the inventory to change into my new stuff.

 

« Cassius † Smith »

I felt the cool wave of water wash down my hot body. I let out a satisfied grunt before I tossed the bucket back into the trough. My upper body was bare for all to see as I leaned against the rim of the trough – Doc across from me.

“Talk,” I said softly.

“Kian is awake,” Doc said with that smile he always had. “I thought you’d like to know.”

“Who?” I asked.

“The person you carried from the cliff a few nights ago,” Doc said. “I thought you’d like to see them once they woke up.”

Now that Doc mentioned it, that was something that happened. I’d been focused on finishing the last of the swords for the Fourth Division, I almost forgot. Now that I wasn’t though, I remember that small pretty face. Kian… Was that her name? It didn’t sound too pretty or girly. But she did kill a Hobgoblin, so she must be strong. The Fourth Division’s leader had called me out that night to look over that thing on the cliff.

I couldn’t figure out a darn thing about it. However, since I was heading back, Doc had me carry the pretty girl back with me and him. She’d been awfully pretty in the moonlight. Kinda like a fairy. Fairys were pretty.

I nodded with a gruff.

“Lead the way,” I said as I pushed off the trough.

“Cassius, it’s impolite to go around shirtless,” Doc sighed.

“All the shirts stink,” I said as I walked past him.

Doc only sighed and shook his head. He followed after me as we left my smithy and went up the road to where his cottage was. Doc mentioned as we opened the door that he’d just taken her lunch and it’d be fine to visit for a moment. He led me through the cottage and through the corridor.

Doc’s was the second-largest cottage in the settlement; he housed the wounded and all the medical supplies in the village. Because of this, I wasn’t allowed to walk freely through it. Doc said I was like a “bull in a pottery shop” when I walked through his house. So, I followed him as he led me to the very last room at the end. Which I only knew off as the “Prisoner Room”. I didn’t know why though.

Doc didn’t bother to knock and just opened the door before stepping in. I followed suit and prepared to see the pretty girl eating.  But that was not what I got.

When I stepped in, I came face to face with the pretty girl named Kian, dressed in strange pants and midway to putting her shirt on. Her chest was covered as she had the shirt around her arms. We both looked at each other for a moment. And I felt my face turn hotter than my forge could have ever made it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GGE 15 | Cyril Bailey

As they arrived from the west, the rising sun outlined the Empire’s capital, and it reflected in Priscilla’s inky eyes. Her unnaturally pale face was cropped by a ring of thick brown, and she’d been thickly bundled in a lot of furs. The sea breeze’s kiss was as gentle as it was cold on her nose. Priscilla vaguely remembered that she had hated the cold, and loved the warm indoors.

Now, she didn’t really feel it. Rather, she felt Layla may have over bundled her in furs.

“You look ridiculous,” Cyril’s laughter broke the still morning air.

Priscilla turned her head slightly, but could really turn her entire body. She was sitting in a crudely fashioned wooden wheelchair. Because she’d been crippled. Reminded that she’d failed to even protect herself, she felt ashamed. A dark desire to throw herself over the ship’s railing had fluttered into her mind.

“Miss Steel had said I needed to keep warm,” Priscila said as Cyril appeared beside her and sat on the railing. She was wearing her black dress, but this time, she wore strange black trousers along with it. Still, it made Priscilla feel cold just looking at her.

“Psh, she would,” Cyril rolled her lovely golden eyes, then she looked to Priscilla. “How’s your back doing?” She pointed down to Priscilla’s midriff, and the teen unconsciously brought her hand over to cover it.

“It’s… Doing well,” Priscilla gave a brittle smile. “I have some feeling returning, but Layla won’t let me walk yet. She said that Bishop Luis said I needed three more treatments before I could even bother to try walking.”

“When’s the next one?” Cyril asked.

“Tomorrow, after dinner,” Priscilla replied. “If you don’t want too… I could have one of the priests from the Alistarian Captial chapter to help me. Bishop Luis left me a letter of introduction and–”

Priscilla stopped when she saw Cyril’s icy glare. It wouldn’t have been that disturbing if she’d been normal. The black webs that hung under her left eye, along with that new four-inch horn that broke past her bangs, made her feel more menacing; demonic.

“I will do it,” Cyril said slowly, enunciating each word. “I never said I didn’t want to do it,”

Priscilla stayed quiet, and simply nodded her understanding. Ever since that night, with the undead, Cyril was prone to anger over simple things. Priscilla had only tried to be nice, and offer her an alternative should she not desire to treat her anymore. Yet, that had only roused another calm flame from her.

The goddess blinked twice before she turned away, she did not understand where this agitation was coming from either. But she couldn’t bring herself to apologize for it either.

“Ah, Lady Cyril,” Layla’s voice broke the tension that had settled between the girls. “It’s nice to see you.” The woman bowed to Cyril as she held a warm drink, then she handed it over to Priscilla before she took a step back. “The Captain said we’ll be docking shortly.”

Cyril nodded, displeasure still hung from her eyes as she slid off the railing.

“I’ll get Fenrir ready then.” She said as she walked away, leaving Layla confused. Priscilla felt bad for even broaching the subject, though she hadn’t been the one to even do so.

When they docked, the wharf was teeming with activity that was, much to Cyril’s surprise, like a well oiled machined. Several small wagons attached to donkeys were being loaded beside several ships. The dock hands were quick with their work, their burly bodies maneuvering crates, barrels, and sacks into tidy stacks before the wagons were pulled away. Tens of warehouses lined wharf that seemed to gut out from the city over two miles, until the cliff. That was where the ships became much more military in nature.

The frigate was made to dock on the closest open station to the civilian section. From there, the ship had been inspected. The captain had brought several letters out for the naval officers to read, whereupon doing such, the navy began to quietly rally. The whole affair had been done in less than ten minutes, mostly because they held no cargo.

Cyril’s horn had been covered by a thick fur hood, and the black webs had been passed off as tattoos. Nothing else had been scrutinized closer. After their inspection had been completed, they’d been brought into the customs office. There, they’d met the Harbor Custom’s chief – a plump man in his thirties – and he’d been the one to personally process them. As well as the reports sent with them.

Their treatment had been lukewarm all around but upon the reports being read, the office had gone solemn. Nothing came of it immediately, other than promises to get them to the Palace. From there, the treatment had gone up a hundred-fold. Tea had been brought in, and the Chief paid lip service to the girls as the secretary recorded them in their ledger.

Because Priscilla was of the Hammel House, one of the powerful noble houses within the city, she’d acted as Cyril’s guarantor. Much to Priscilla’s relief, Cyril hadn’t been as cranky as she’d been with the deceased Lord Gulley, and she’d spent most of her time asking about the city. To which, maybe because Cyril was an exotic beauty, or because her backer was the Hammel household or both; he’d been more than accommodating of her.

By the time everything was completed, Cyril and Priscilla had been escorted out of the office with smiles and flattering words.

The sun had risen high over the city by a good margin, to which Priscilla knew it was midday. Layla and Fenrir had waited for them just outside, along with the captain and a lot of uneasy soldiers. And a rather fancy carriage that made Priscilla stiffen in the chair as Cyril pushed her.

“My Lady!” The guards had saluted at once when they saw her before one stepped forward. “Your father has sent us to retrieve you, and your guests.”

“That was rather quick…” Priscilla gave a weary wave of her hand before looking up to see Cyril’s expression.

Cyril’s mood had been rather good after the treatment she’d received in Customs, and she had a curious sparkle in her eye; a sparkle aimed at the carriage.

 


 

Much to Priscilla’s protests, Cyril had sent her off to her father, who’d summoned her to the Imperial Palace where he was. The guards had also wanted to take her and Layla, as Lord Hammel had summoned all of his daughter’s entourage; Fenrir had put them in their place though, and the two girls let the wharf on their own two feet – guarded by the trusty wolf.

Cyril didn’t feel like heading to the Imperial Palace, and Layla had to find her daughter. As such, Cyril was much more interested in Layla than to go deal with some annoying nobles. She remembered her father complaining about nobility, especially the antiquated “noble houses” of England and Britain. The irony that Priscilla was nobility wasn’t lost upon her, and neither was that the three that had left them at Port Gulley were royalty.

But that was neither here nor there. Much rather, she felt stifled by being around Priscilla. Cramped aboard that frigate, Cyril found herself unable to be around the young girl. She was either fretting, crying, or clinging to Cyril for comfort. But a heavy sense of guilt and anger rose in her when she was. She could not forget how she failed, failed. 

She had failed to keep her promise, and the number of promises she had failed to keep could be counted on one hand. It was a blight on her mind that she pushed aside because it only brought up ill feelings for her.

So, she thought a little time apart would do them both some good. A breather in a sense. As such, the trio made their way through the crowded streets of the Capital.

“We’re almost there if I remember correctly,” Layla said, impatience in her voice as they made their way up the snaking main road. It cut side to side up the hill the capital had been built upon. It was wide enough for three of those fancy carriages that picked up Priscilla to travel side by side, however, the street was packed with street-side vendors and left enough for two carriages to travel side by side.

The city had been built into districts, the Salt District -where the wharf was- the lowest one, and the Cloud district being the highest, second to Dragon’s Landing The wharf district contained mostly warehouses, smithies, and other industries. Most of the loudest ones pushed further away from Dragon’s Landing, where the Imperial Palace stood – encompassing several grand elven built buildings. They were in the Market District, the second district.

“You can find just about anything here,” Layla leaned close to Cyril to say as she held her arm in hers as not to get separated easily. Fenrir in tow. “This was where my husband and I use to travel in my adventuring days to get the best gear for our coin. There, on the corner, that’s my friend’s shop. My daughter should be there.”

With the street backed, music drifted out of several taverns that dotted the main street they walked. Thick rope crisscrossed overhead, and red decorative paper lanterns hung from them. There were vendors yelling out their wares. “Tomatoes!” Or, “Cabbage here!”, or “Fresh meat for your festival dishes!”, or “Selling guards for the festival, one gold coin per–“.

And amongst all this chaos, Layla pointed to a building a quarter-mile up the cobbled road. A large two-story building, nearly identical to the rest – aside from the large painted wagon across its second story building. The trio slithered through the crowd, making their way towards the left edge of the street where the building sat. A few minutes later, Cyril found herself inside a rather strange shop. Or rather, it was different than what she thought a shop should be.

The first observation that Cyril found strange was that there were very little patrons. The second was that there were no goods on display. Cyril hadn’t seen what the shop sign, that had been displayed outside its door, but Layla had gone inside before she could read it. If she could’ve read the language.

However, the third observation had been the strangest of them all. Even with the first two observations noted, the shop was nicely kept. Its floorboards had been neatly polished and swept. The walls were decorated with signs that displayed different numbers, but as Cyril quickly found out, it was in a language she didn’t know.

A large counter had been set further in the shop, unmanned. When they had entered, a bell hanging just past the door had been rung. A few seconds later, a small child appeared behind the counter from a doorway just behind it, covered with two hanging pieces on cloth that’d been painted with a wagon.

“How can I–” Savannah’s usual greeting had been cut short as she saw the woman in front of her. “Momma!” The little girl’s smile was like watching the sunrise again. With practiced movements, she hopped off the stool and ran around the counter. Layla crouched down and her daughter leapt into her arms. Savannah wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck and buried her face into her neck.

“O, sweetie,” Layla purred with relief. “Hope your uncle Tenni isn’t working you hard.” While her daughter working his counter had been unexpected, it certainly had been welcomed. Savannah had been bored in that backwater mining town, and manning Tenni’s shop would give her something to do. That aside, Layla found herself oddly calm. Having survived three undead assaults, and traveling half the empire to see her, she only felt waves of joy and love wash through her.

But she imagined it’d be a much more emotional reunion.

 


 

Tenni stared vacantly into the dark tea before him, his old wrinkled hands barely touched the cup. He had seemed to age before Cyril as Layla told him the tale of what had passed since he left. He seemed to slowly slump over more and more as his eyes clouded over. By the time she had finished, the only man was paler than before.

“Tenni…?” Layla asked softly as she reached out and grasped his hand gently. “Do I need to call for a healer?” The man didn’t look well at all, and Cyril thought he may just kill over at any minute. But that didn’t happen as he shook his head softly.

“No… I’m fine…” Tenni gave out a studdered sigh, then he looked up to Layla. “But you survived. Savannah will still have her mother, but… I’m sorry I didn’t believe you when you told me something was wrong.”

“It’s okay, really,” Layla gave a brittle smile. “Even the miners thought I was crazy when I told them. If not for Fenrir out there taking me to Port Gulley, I wouldn’t have survived Quinn’s Woods. Even then, Lady Cyril here and Fenrir helped me as well.” The undead had been merciless in their attack and slaughtered thousands upon thousands. Most of them, may their souls rest in peace, had been conscripted into the flesh-eating ranks only to be cut down again.

The wolf in question was not present along with the child. He’d been left in the reception area with Savannah. He was playing with her so the adults could speak in peace, as Tenni had said. Cyril didn’t feel like an adult, rather, she felt bored. She felt that something should have stirred in her, but nothing came when Layla spoke. Not a sliver of emotion, aside from the desire to leave the room.

Cyril stared down at the empty cup in front of her, then looked to Layla’s cup. Her hands clutched it tight as they trembled. The mother’s face had a calm and tranquil mask, but her fingers gave her emotions away. Cyril decided that the conversation was just not her flavor. She got up from the chair as quietly as she could, exiting her role as a wallflower.

“Leaving?” Layla asked as if she could guess the goddess’s intention. Cyril nodded, and Layla gave a weary smile before she mouthed an apology. Tenni had already gone back to nursing his cup, mumbling about the good people that’d been lost. The last thing Cyril heard as she slipped out of the conference room was Tenni slowly breaking down.

She slinked down the dim hallway, avoiding the employees that went about their duties. The few that saw her gawked at her, but she only smiled and slipped by. Cyril felt pent up in this shop. Maybe it was Tenni’s misery that hung over it that felt so suffocating to her. Once Layla had informed him of the tragedy, the building began to dull. That was what Cyril felt at least.

It only began to brighten as Cyril heard Savannah’s gleeful giggling from the reception front did it brighten. Cyril saw Fenrir on his back, wiggling side to side as the little girl scratched at his belly.  His head pointed towards Cyril, but his eyes were closed as his tongue hung out in bliss. Even when she stepped through the doorway, and stood a foot away, Fenrir still hadn’t reacted.

Savannah was about to greet her, but Cyril smiled and put a finger to her mouth. The girl nodded as the goddess got down onto her belly and laid her head next to Fenrir’s. Then, she stared at him as Savannah sat back as she tried to hold back her laughter. For a few moments, Fenrir remained as he was before his ears twitched. His scratching had stopped and he opened his eyes, intent on figuring out why it had stopped. Only, he found Cyril’s golden eyes staring into his silvery ones.

It was pandemonium for a few minutes afterward.

Fenrir had yelped in surprise and tried to roll to his feet. He rolled into the wall with a loud thud. The two girls began to laugh, but Fenrir still struggled to his feet. He thrusted for a moment before he was able to catch himself and huffed in embarrassment.

“I meant to do that,” Fenrir declared with a huff and avoided Cyril’s mirthful eyes as she silently giggled. Fenrir lowered his head in embarrassment, and the display earned him small kiss between his fluffy white ears.

Afterward, Cyril and the wolf both departed from the shop, which was Tenni’s transportation business as she found out. From the few bits of information she heard, she surmised that Tenni was quite the prominent merchant. None of which interested her in the least. As they stepped back out onto the busy street, the sun had moved further west, and the shadows had begun to cover more than half the street.

Having come from the wharf, somewhat south, Cyril decided to head further norther into the city. Fenrir had offered no help in this decision, falling in line with the “Anywhere you want to go,” excuse. That’d earned an eye roll from Cyril before Fenrir offered his back to ride. That’d had made her smile, and she took the offer before they entered thick of the crowd.

As it was afternoon now, more shops had put up more displays. Many of them some variation of red paper dragons, or black dragons painted onto red paper lanterns. Each of them hung from balconies and archways as the buildings varied in height. From one story to two, eventually, as the two wandered up the road, they found three-story buildings.

As they wondered, Cyril found that the crowd wasn’t timid of being around her wolf. They kept a respectful distance and split around her. Some even gawked in awe, but very little was scared of the large lion-sized wolf. The reason became apparent when they’d stopped to eat at one of the large restaurants.

The shop had allowed “Familiars to pets who behaved”, and thus, Cyril had gotten both of them a seat on the second-story balcony. The street bustled with many heads as humans went about their business. Most wore lightly dyed clothes, and most of them were commoners. This she could guess from when those who weren’t passed near them. The nobles wore deeper colors and traveled with guards. Or maybe this was just those she noticed.

The sat alone as they waited for their meals. The balcony tables, four in total, were empty. Most of the patrons ate inside, where it was warmed by their bodies and food along with the kitchens. But it was louder inside than on the balcony, so both of them settled for this.

Down below, Cyril could see several noble-looking men and women. They were dressed in the blue robes of the Academy, and while most of them rode destriers, the head of the group rode upon a panther. Its glossy fur shined in the light faint sunlight as the crowd was quick to move around them without so much as a complaint. In fact, they looked even scared to be close to them, giving them a wider berth than they’d done for her. She found that observation interesting as nicely made clay plates thudded against their table.

For Fenrir, he’d gotten a large rack of ribs that’d costed a solid silver coin. It’d been grilled and slathered in spices and a brown sauce that even made Cyril take a second whiff. However, when she sampled it before Fenrir, she found it was… Not to her tastes. Her plate, on the other hand, had been just a bowl of grapes and red apples.

And when she bite into one of the grapes, the sweet juice ran across her little tongue in bliss. She gave a small moan as the taste washed over her. Yes, she had found that she only really tasted fruits and vegetables, or much to Layla’s dismay, “raw” food in general. Somehow, the act of cooking the ingredients made it bland to her. She could still eat it, but she’d much prefer the VR pressure sensory than the bland food.

“So what do you plan to do from here?” Fenrir asked as he licked his lips. He’d already devoured one-fourth of his large beef ribs. The sauce temporarily staining his muzzle.

“I need to find everyone a Christmas gift,” Cyril answered. “I can’t just hand out my stuff. Desmond and Randol already had a meltdown when I gave them that Lash Wishy thingy.” Cyril swirled a half-eaten apple in her hand as she spoke. Randol had been a nervous wreck and told her it was much too great to gift them to ease their father’s wrath. She had done so when Mai had explained what’d most likely happen if they didn’t come with something amazing. Thus, the orb was placed into their possession.

“Tranquil Last Wish?” Fenrir asked. Cyril gave a lazy nod as she was half distracted watching the flowing crowds below. “That, in of itself, is worth more than this nation. I would suggest not worrying about those noble kids then.”

“Really?” Cyril shot him a curious glance.

“Really,” Fenrir nodded seriously.

“Guess that solves their Christmas gift then,” She shot him a smile grin, and the wolf chuckled.

“I think they’ll be set on gifts for the rest of their lives,” Fenrir replied. “The last Tranquil Last Wish was made during the Elven Wars nearly five-hundred years ago.”

“Were the Elves fighting amongst themselves?” Cyril’s attention now shifted fully to the wolf. “I mean, there were only three elf races.”

“Three, yes, but none of them the same. Remember?” Fenrir asked. “You created the base elves, beautiful and elegant. They roamed the forests as their citizens. Then, you created the Dark Elves, citizens of the sand Wastes. Then, before you died, you created the High Elves, citizens of your mountain and the ones who tended to your grave.”

“Yeah, about that.” Cyril pointed her apple core towards him. “They’ve done a shit job at that. Everything was in ruins when I woke up.”

“Of course it would be if they were all dead,” Fenrir said as his ear twitched. Silence fell between the two, and the wolf’s fur prickled on his neck. He could feel her now narrowed eyes borrowing into his, and out the back. He could feel the mana around them tremble for a single moment before everything returned to normal.

“What happened?” Her voice was no longer lazy and disinterested. It was cold and smelled of anger. “Everything was fine when I left, you remember, right? You were an AI when I did it, though, obviously, you’re not now. I figured you would have looked out for things here.”

Fenrir sighed. “I tried to do that, but I am only one wolf. I was considered no more than your pet to most of them. Am I your pet?” Fenrir asked.

“No, you’re my best friend,” Cyril answered immediately. “You should also know this.”

“I do, but I wanted to confirm. Live long enough with others telling you otherwise, and you begin to doubt yourself.” Fenrir gave a brittle smile. “However, as you can see, we’re all more than just numbers and codes now. The high-elves were quite arrogant and believed themselves better than everyone else. If only for the fact they were created solely to tend to your mountain. They believed themselves to be your angels.”

“Psh,” Cyril rolled her eyes to that. “More like I just wanted some pretty dudes tending to my mountain. Prettier than… You know who.” Cyril looked away. Jax had offered to keep his avatar as her eternal sentinel. She loved that man with her entire being, but after… What he’d done… It felt wrong to let him do that. Even know, the pain cut as she thought about him cheating on her. But she understood.

She understood more than anyone else what laid in the future with her. It was best they had cut where they did, least she’d keep him chained to her in the grave. She didn’t want that, but… She did want that at the same time. A love that’d follow her in her death. Hindsight proved that it’d been for the best. They still held love for each other, but neither was locked into any false notions…

“Anyways!” Fenrir pulled her back to the present. He saw the black lines begin to crawl even so slightly more as she was pulled into the past. “At first, the three elven races – and every other race – lived in peace for the first few hundred years. However, ever slowly, the high-elves began to think of their stations of more than just pretty gardeners.”

And so, racial tensions began to bloom Fenrir explained. It started with minor things, such as the high-elves sticking their noses high over the others. To which, no one had any real problem. The fact that they’d been the race created to tend to his mistress’s grave hadn’t been lost upon the others as well. No other races had been set in her garden and none after.

“So,” Fenrir continued. “Little by little, the high-elves’ ego had inflated well past any reasonable size, and they’d declared themselves a Kingdom rather than neutral territory as they’ve all agreed upon.”

“They made me Poland?” Cyril asked.

“O, yes. Just, without any foreign forces trying to ruin you,” Fenrir gave an amused huffed. “But in all seriousness, it’d been everyone’s fault, to begin with. Even us, your precious three.” Fenrir lowered his head apologetically.

“How so?” Cyril asked. “How could any of you three be responsible for a race war? It’s not like you guys knew what I wanted, so this falls squarely on my shoulders.” Because it did. Cyril hadn’t thought about the consequences of making a single race to tend to her digital grave. In fact, the thought that any of this becoming really hadn’t even crossed her mind. Well… The hope did, but no real thought had been given towards that hope.

“I and Akyryss had allowed it to happen,” Fenrir said. “Glynii had tried to get us to act, but neither of us would. So for the next few hundred years, things shifted around, and before we knew it, the high-elves had numbered in the millions. They were magically blessed and most people believed them to be the ‘superior race’. Eventually, they’d conquered everything short of the Endless Wastes of the south.”

“And what stopped them from taking that?” Cyril asked, feeling like the worst for not thinking about any of this. Of course, this would happen. Given her luck, she would cause a massive race war with one careless move.

“For one, you laid quite a lot of magical monsters in the desert,” Fenrir smiled. “Not to mention a bunch of nonsensical geographical placements. With all that, it wasn’t worth the amount of blood they’d have to spill to take it. Most of all, you left a fucking Terrasque in that desert. Even Akyryss stays well away from that, and she’s supposed to be more powerful than me.”

Cyril’s eyes went wide as the apple in her hand went still, a mere centimeter from her lovely pink lips.

“Yes,” Fenrir restated. “You left us with a Terrasque.”

“How are you all not wiped from the world already?” Cyril’s chest trembled as she held back a laugh. As adorable, and sexy as it was, Fenrir couldn’t share her mirth.

“I don’t see how this is funny,” Fenrir stated, his laugh slipping away. “That Terrasque has been terrorizing the southern hemisphere for quite a long time. Several demi-gods and gods themselves have already perished by its fangs.” The only reason Alistair was the only god to survive this long was that he wasn’t stupid enough to try and kill it. As much as that peeved Fenrir and Akyryss, it also a breather as each god it killed made it stronger.

“Only a few?” Cyril gave a wicked smile. She did find it odd that it was funny to her. But she couldn’t help it, her little middle-finger towards Jax had turned into a menace for everyone else. It felt just all the same to her.

“Yes, only a few,” Fenrir said. “I’ve had my paws busy killing more up-coming gods before they could throw this world into more chaos. Though, this Terrasque had found its way off the southern continent after food stopped coming its way. Afterward, it tore apart the land from the southern time of this one to Fable’s End itself. It cut across the highlands and killed nearly half the Errol Realm’s army.”

“Errol Realm?” Cyril asked. “What kind of stupid name is that?”

“Not sure,” Fenrir gave a cute wolf shrug. The last of his ribs left untouched as he explained. “But it was the name the high-elves settled with for their empire. Afterward, the cracks began to appear. By this point, the high-elves had become so full of themselves that they saw all the other four races below them.”

“Four?” Cyril asked. “Wasn’t there like ten?”

“Ah, there was,” Fenrir agreed. “The dark elves and regular elves were segregated into one race. The Tabaxi were kept as pets who were commoned used as sexual toys. Worst of it, elders of the high-elves even ate them. Eventually, they were eventually bred to the point they were no more than humanoid cats that people ate or fucked.”

“Are you freaking serious?” Cyril’s mirth died away, replaced with pure disgust and shock. “The Tabaxi are my favorite race! How could they’ve done that!?”

“No one actually knew what your favorite race was, aside from Akyryss and I.” Fenrir explained. “At this point, both of us were too busy dealing with the sudden influx of rising gods and demi-gods to care much about what the mortals were doing. After the terrasque had decimated the Errol Realm’s army, everyone saw they weren’t all they were chalked up to be. The land broke out into war everywhere.”

And it was true. Glynii had finally gotten her elven revolt in the west, and Alistair joined her. If not for Glynii shielding him, Fenrir and Akyryss would’ve slain that man before he could’ve ever done what he’d done. It’d also been the reason why the Big Three had turned into the Big Two, though even that’d been falling into myth for a long time ago.

Fenrir looked to his mistress, his love, and found her silent and still. Her golden eyes narrowed with a slow simmering rage. He felt shame and guilt boil along with it. He and his “sister” had been given the express command to care for this world, and it all blew up in their face before she could ever come back. There was so much he would have done wrong. So much he had the choice to right, with the first was taking those bastard’s heads before it ever got to that point.

But he hadn’t, and the past was set in stone. Maddin had died and Edward was an insane lunatic – while silent for the past few hundred years – was hell-bent on murdering all the surviving races.

“So what happened to the rest…?” Cyril murmured.

“The last vestiges of the Tabaxi live on the satellite islands of Haven,” Fenrir said. “Akyryss was able to save them before they were wiped out. She’s been trying to rehabilitate them, but a few thousand years of enslavement and cruel breeding practices had devolved them into mere shadows of their former beauty.”

They were no more than slinking pretty panthers that were in heat half the year. They had to be culled yearly, or they’d strip the islands bear. Even now, Akyryss had to import game animals to the islands to keep them healthy. The last report he’d gotten on them, two years ago before he’d gone hunting another rising god, was that one Tabaxi child had been successfully nurtured into a viable sample.

Bringing one or two Tabaxi that’d been bred well enough to be intelligent wasn’t hard. The issue was they were quite primal, mentally five-year-olds in their adult ages stages. There’d been a few times they’d been able to raise a good specimen, but it’d been killed when it raped several female researchers. The Tabaxi hormones were something fierce after being used for sex toys for so long. They became insanely violent when not regularly “played with” throughout the day.

“I see…” Cyril said. “What about the other races?”

“The Arakocra similar, though they weren’t kept as sex pets,” Fenrir reported. “They were bred down to their base instincts. They were used in fighting pits and war. After the Errol Realm fell, they were forgotten and eventually became ‘Griffins’.”

The Arakocra were nearly hunted down to extinction. They escaped by hiding away in unreachable peaks or mountain passes. Eventually, they became populated enough, breeding with previous griffins and a few other flying beasts the become bigger and stronger. Now, they were menaces that even Akyryss didn’t bother to try and rehabilitate. They were hunted down without a thought.

With their wings, they’d reached every corner of the world. They were ever problems for Edward’s devils.

“Gnomes were killed off by the Dwarves,” Fenrir changed the subject seeing Cyril’s face grow darker. “It was a spat between their two kings, and unfortunately, the gnomes had neither the technology or strength to stand a chance. Their war ended two years after it started, with total genocide. Apparently, the Gnomes had been quite the thorn in the Dwarves’ asses for a few generations.  The high-elves were using them as engineers, mostly because they could create more elegant if weaker, versions of what the dwarves could do.”

The two races’ spats had been but a small bump in the history of this war. Neither of the races had many numbers behind them. They’d numbered less than a million put together, but that’d been by Errol’s council’s design. They were excellent tinkers, the gnomes. The Dwarves had been excellent smiths. Each played a role in Errol’s war machine, but during that little war; they’d been more focused on trying to stamp out hundreds of wars raging across the continent.

It wasn’t until the war was nearly over that Errol ever find out about it. Fenrir never did understand how a racial war, one that raged for nearly two years between their two most important vassals, had escaped them. They’d not been missed though, because Errol had been finished off a year after the Gnomes fell.

And so on it went, Fenrir recounted the casualties of their own World War. The Triton had stayed out of the war, and history. Keeping to their watery depths, they remained hostile to those above their seas and thus, were not considered a race at all but monsters. The Giants, for all their sweetness, had been enslaved and culled to the point that they were myths. Exiled to far northern reaches of Edward’s lands.

The race never recovered from their bondage, and the last giant had died nearly fifty years go. Tundra, the Last Giant, had died of old age. Last of her kind and scared, though, Fenrir had been with her in her final moments. The four races had never taken a liking to the giants, only seeing them as tools of the high-elves and thus, had forever been hunted down until only Tundra had been left as a child along with her sister, Marble.

Marble had died at the hands of a Devil for not joining him, but Cao Hu had ended that one quickly. Tundra had lived the rest of her hundred years in a lonely and cold peace on the Northern Walrus Harbors.

And of that, Fenrir could no longer remember what other races had lived. Their populations had never risen beyond a high enough headcount to matter. Though, he knew that beyond the mentioned, they were hunted down. Maybe small pockets of these races still existed in some far corners of the world; like the Tabaxi.

But after Tundra, Fenrir no longer looked. He’d grown tired of his failure, and no longer looked to be reminded more than he needed. Akyryss had gotten her island, and dallied herself with that. He, however, roamed the lands and watched it grow. When the tale had been told, the sky had already darkened. The lanterns illuminated the street. Everything, but their balcony, basked in the warm orange light of candles

They left a handle full of single coins, more than enough to cover their bill; neither wanted to count it out. \Cyril no longer rode Fenrir and they walked side by side silently. The crowd slid around them all the same as beautiful music played over the cheery voices. Cyril did not share their joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FPS 74

“There are only two escorts allowed in the Royal castle and the banquet”

Duke Franklin Barga had said this. In other words, I and a woman would be escorting Lapritrica-sama.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Shaft-san. Ashley-san, he’s the other escort. Shaft-san.”

Lapitricia-sama introduced me to Ashley-san. I closed the parlor’s door behind me quietly. Somehow, I felt like escaping as I closed it. Ashley-san got up from her hair and walked towards me. The morning like caught the mithril chair and the ruby that hung around her neck in the morning light. And her hair swayed with each step she took.

I felt fascinated by her beauty from behind my mask, and I wasn’t able to take a step; until she stood before my very eyes.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Ashley Zepanell. I’ll be escorting her along with you for about a month. Let’s get along, Shaft – -?”

Upon saying so, her head tilted sideways as she looked me in the eyes. Her expression changed in a flash. She was clearly doubting something, because she knitted her thin, even eyebrows.

“Schwartz-san, what are you doing hiding yourself with a mask?”

There was quite some distance from the parlor’s entrance and where Lapitricia-sama was. So even though Ashley-san said that with a loud voice, it seems that I didn’t need to be concerned with Lapitrica-sama hearing it.– Wait, that’s not the problem here! Why was I found out?! I haven’t said anything yet! I’m wearing the kevlar mask and had the zombie face below it! I’ve never wore this kind of cloths in any combination before!

“I’m shaft. Did you perhaps confuse me with someone else?”

For some reason, I also replied in a loud voice. I don’t think my voice was shaking.

“I’ve heard that the other person who’s to escort with me is the Black Masked Shaft. If you don’t mind, would you please show me what’s under the mask?”

“She said that, in an equally loud voice. Our distance closed as she brought her face closer and forcefully peered into my eyes, which were covered with the mask.

If I showed my face, she’d have no choice but to see I was not Schwartz.

I put my hands on the mask, and slowly took it off. I could see Lapitricia-sama flinch slightly as I did so. Ashley-san’s eyes didn’t part from mine, even when I showed the zombie face.

“Ahh, Schwartz, what’s with this face…”

Ashley-san refused to avert her gaze from my face. But what showed in her eyes were tears which reflected the morning sun. Tears that looked like they’d overflow soon – glitering—

Her right hand approached my face, but didn’t touch it. Though, I immediately understood that she avoided doing so because she was concerned and must’ve thought, would it hurt if I touch it? 

I put my mask out and called out to the person behind Ashley-san.

“Lapitricia-sama, would you mind waiting for little bit?”

“Eh? Ehm, I don’t mind…”

I took Ashley-san – lightly – by her right hand, and took her out of the parlor. The guards who stood a bit away from the door shifted their attention to us. Suddenly appearing, they checked if everything was alright. I continued to pull Ashley-san and walked a bit down the passage. Taking her to a place were people wouldn’t hear us.

“Ashley-san, here should be fine, right?”

“Schwartz-san, what’s the meaning of this?”

“I’ll talk about the details later. To put it short, I’m living a double life as both Schwartz and Shaft in various ways. As for now, I’d appreciate it if you could address me as Shaft.”

I couldn’t say for sure if Ashley-san, who stared at me, truly understood what I was saying.

“… I understand. But is your face alright?”

“Don’t worry, this is just a disguise. There’s nothing to be worried about.”

“Is that so- – I’m glad…”

“Let’s return, shall we? Lapitricia-sama is waiting for us, after all.”

“Have you two finished talking?”

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I’m glad to be Lapitricia-sama’s escort from here on.”

I declared, but truthfully speaking, my heart wasn’t in the situation. I wasn’t sure how, but Ashley-san had figured out I was Schwartz with one look. I still didn’t know where I was lacking that she could recognize me immediately; I’ll ask her later. If my disguise could be revised, then I should do so.

After that, I must talk about Shaft to Ashley-san too. But that’s the same as informing her about me as the Shaft that caused that commotion in the Royal Capital. And he was a murderer who slaughtered people there.

Given that, I felt that it would much harder to tell her about that than the power of VMB…

 

OTC.BNB 4

« Kian † Willow »

I awoke to the muffled sounds of metal striking metal. The ruckus had a cadence that, if it hadn’t been in such close proximity, it could have lulled me to sleep. In my drowsy stupper, I stared up at the dark ceiling. Listening. Agitation stewed in my gut as I could faintly guess that the disturbance must have been Ms. Agatha from across the street. She was the old mayor of DC. The corrupt hag had been ousted five years ago, she’d caught having an orgy with a couple of wealthy “investors” for her side business.

Despite this, as politics always did, she had a sense of self that usually involved stepping over everyone around her. In that fashion, it’d been an open secret that she was sleeping with half the HOA board to get her way. This allowed her to call in “guests” at odd hours, or last the other week, in the middle of the night. If there ever was a disturbance on his street, it’d almost always been her fuckery.

As my blood pressure rose, I stared up at the dark ceiling. Had I been in a clearer state of mind, I would have noticed that… Drastic changes in my bedroom. But, an odd fog had settled around my mind and the red flags fell away to my agitation. Flaring my nostrils with a single fed up huff, I decided to get up. I’d be giving that big-titted walking sack of shit a piece of my mind again.

I tried to sit up, hell-bent on starting another fight with the neighbor… That was when it all came crashing down.

Searing pain cut down my back, like tens of molten hot knives. The pain made my entire body stiffen, and I threw myself back down. That’d been my second mistake. From the sudden call, searing hot pain shot across my chest. The pain forced a loud cry from me that turned into a long whimper as I finally began to relax my muscles.

(“Relax, keep calm, and breath. Slowly. No matter what, if you can do this. You can get through it.”) Jacob’s words echoed in my head. Words that he’d always tell me whenever something had gone wrong. That was before he left me alone.

My whimpers turned into staggered breaths as I inhaled through my nose. Exhaled through my mouth. My back continued to burn, but the edge was dulled. Slowly and methodically, I stretched one muscle one after another. I forced myself to focus on breathing and stretching to dull the burning. For the most part, it worked. That was when I noticed the red flags.

As my eyes adjusted, I noticed that the roof overhead was not the neat drywalled ceiling I had seen day after day for my entire life. No. It was a material I could also call straw. Held up by large thick wooden beams that rose high into the air to meet the apex. I wasn’t in the McMansion anymore. I was in a cottage.

On my left was a wall. Around the foot of the bed, there was a shuttered window. Closed and latched. That was where the next wall was. To my right, a bedside table with a wooden cup and a chair. Then the next wall. Across from the window, a closed plank door rested. Closed as well. I then noticed I have not clothed anymore. A roughly made thick blanket had been draped over me.

Everything rushed back in that moment…

Ripped from my bed by my brother. The barking of gunfire in my house. The dead bodies. The barrage of gunfire that skipped around me. Watching someone die. Being evacuated and… The nuke. The rush of memories made my heart race as tears threatened to fall. My breath came faster, my heart rammed against my chest. Then the final pieces slipped into place. The roar of gunfire in the darkness. Illuminated by the moonlight, thousands of red beads in the forest. Their barbaric and guttural cries taunting us.

The large goblin…

I felt fear, confusion, and guilt seep in as I realized, I alone, had survived that slaughter. There couldn’t have been any other way. Unless… Was this a goblin village?! Just as that thought floated into my head, the door opened. More light poured into the room and a man appeared in the doorway.

“Are you okay?” Was the first thing he asked as he briskly walked to the window and threw them open.

The room came to life with light and crisp air poured into the room. The air had a certain stink to it, but sure enough, it was fresher than any city air I had smelled.

“Call me Doc, everyone does,” The old man said as he stepped over to me and sat on the chair beside the bed.

He wore a grey robe, adorned with a tan apron that was speckled with what I assumed was dried blood. His face was slightly gaunt. His skin dropped slightly and he wore a kind smile. He looked over me with soft blue eyes, and he had long white hair that he’d tied back.

“I heard you so I came as quick as I could,” Healer said as he pulled at my blank.

I quickly pulled them back up, more out some fickle sense of privacy I held than anything.

“Calm, boy,” Doc said with a tone as gentle as his eyes. “I am a doctor, tried by the Church of Saint Angelica. I’ve been tending to you for the last few days.”

“A few days?” My asked.

My voice came out raspy and my tongue felt heavy with I tried to pronounce the words.

“I see you speak our language,” Doc chuckled. He handed me the cup from the table. I drank it greedily. “I was worried I had to get a translation spell from the Mayor when you woke up.”

“Spell? What do you mean?” Confused by what he meant, I looked at him exasperated. ” And a few days? Do you mean I was–”

“Hold up now,” Doc held up his hand. “One question at a time. First off, yes. A spell from the Mayor. I don’t just have translation spells on hand, only the government keeps those. I could easily get one to talk with you since the Mayor is also interested in what you had to say.”

“And how long have I been here?” I asked with a heavy heart.

“This is the fourth day,” Doc answered. “Strange enough, you haven’t needed to be cleaned up or given medication. We couldn’t give you soup, as much as we tried, but just as strange, you didn’t die.”

“You tried?” I asked.

“Mhm,” Doc nodded. “We tried to pry your mouth up to give you both, but not even the smith could do it. We gave up after an hour. The Mayor was okay if you died.”

“What an asshole,” I blurted out.

“Maybe,” Doc looked bemused by that.

“So…” I trailed off, staring at the old man as I grappled with asking if anyone survived. I know that answer. However, I just needed to know… If I was the only one alive..

“You’re the only one alive,” Doc said softly before he patted my hand.

His hands were soft and gentle. He reminded me of my grandpa in a way, just less sailor mouthed. The room fell quiet. I felt cold inside as the full weight of that pressed on my shoulders. I took a few staggered breathes to calm myself but to no avail. Hot tears began to stream down the side of my face.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this…” I muttered as I sobbed.

“Soldiers die all the time in battle,” Doc said, not realizing what he said. “They fought valiantly. Your comrades would have been proud.”

“They’re not my comrades…” I looked to him, hot tears clouding my vision. “I’m not a soldier… My brother is… Or was…”

“And how did you come to be among them?” Doc asked. “They fought to keep you safe, so you must have been important, yes?”

“My dad was their General,” I said as I gained ground in the fight against the tears. “We were escaping the battle. My home… ”

But holding them in only made me feel sick with myself. That I, the person they fought to protect, was weeping like some stupid newborn. The sadness turned into guilt then into some primordial rage as my hands tightened. I wanted to kill the little monsters who killed them. They had fought to protect me. The least I could do was avenge them. That was what you were supposed to do, right?

I felt Doc’s hand gripped over mine as he held it.

“Calm yourself, they’re all dead,” Doc said. “The joint assault force wiped them all out.”

“Who?” I asked.

“The joint assault force,” Doc smiled. “It was made up of Adventurers and Fourth Division soldiers. They went out when they saw the commotion going on the cliffs. They hadn’t gotten through in time to save your friends, but they got there in time to pull you out.”

“Ah…” I said. I felt better knowing those little shits were dead. It didn’t absolve the guilt I felt in surviving, though. “Could you help me up? I tried but my muscles aren’t agreeing with what I want to do.”

“Haha!” Doc gave out a hearty laugh. “Of course they won’t. You nearly shredded the muscles in your shoulders. You fought a Hobgoblin and lived to tell about it, I’m surprised your wounds weren’t worse. Here, let me help you up.”

Doc slid his arm under my back and helped me sit up. As the blanket slid down, I saw what he meant. My skin had turned a light purple over my chest. There also was a large purple mark in the shape of a hand on my right wrist.

“They were worst when they brought you in,” Doc said as he began to examine the purple marks. “They’re good enough to lightly use, but try not to move them quickly or lift heavy objects. I don’t want to have to use a lot of mana on them. With the state, they’re in now, a few more days with a mixture of light healing spells and natural bodily healing with fix this.”

“That’s good…” I was curious about this magic the man spoke of, but in the current unknown climate, I figured adopting a passive stance would bring fewer headaches. People loved to talk from my experience. I could piece it together later.

(“If you can’t trust the people around you, and you have the time, just take in information passively. That’s how we did it overseas.”) Jacob’s voice echoed once again in my head.

“So what do we call you?” Doc asked. “We can’t keep calling you Boy, but everyone thought you were a girl at first. Well, only me and the important folk around here know you’re a man.

“Name’s Kian, Kian Willow.” I gave him a weak smile.

 

«  †  »

 

I leaned in the wooden rocking chair Doc had on his porch. Much to my surprise, the old man’s cottage sat in quite the spot. His cottage rest on the mountainside, and by the mountainside, not a rocky slope. The village, or “Settlement” as Doc called it, had been built upon a ridge. From where Doc’s home was, I could see the dancing waves shimmer in the midday sky. I could see tens of thatched roofs, tightly packed together along the ridgeside before it ended abruptly. From there, a tall palisade had been erected.

Beyond was densely packed trees. Maybe oaks, or beech trees, or maybe a different kind I’ve never heard of. The view would have been astounding, if not for the large swath of land on the border of land and sea. There, I could see the crashed Osprey – broken and burned. I could not see the bodies of the soldiers. I didn’t see the dead monsters who’d terrorized us.

A few colorful birds glided across the air, and a cool ocean breeze caressed me. It was peaceful. Terribly peaceful… That was until I noticed that everything had gone silent. The hammering had stilled. The birds in the sky remained suspended mid-turn. The ocean waves still reached forward. The trees still slightly rustled. The world around me had stopped.

“Welcome to the land of the living,” A sweet voice spoke up beside me.

I stiffened at the words. Slowly, I swiveled my neck to see who said that. To my left, sitting in an identical wooden chair, was a beautiful woman. She looked no older than me – two years younger at most. She had flawless porcelain skin, topped with silky white hair. This framed the two pools of gold, cut by ink-black pupils that stared back at me. A lovely small nose with pursed lips that seemed to repress a smile.

She only wore a black dress, adorned with a golden paw above her heart. Nothing else as she brushed her hair over her ear – while holding a bottle of Coke.

“Kept me waiting much.” She said, and a smile bloomed across her lips. Her pupils narrowed slowly, and I felt a snake was posing to strike me. “You do sleep quite a lot. Though, they did give you sleeping drugs. You might not want to trust those doctors. Much up a bunch of plants and all, crazy stuff.”

She took a sip of the drink. The entire scene felt out of place as she did it. A mix of fantasy, myth, and modern jumbled into one beautiful mess.

“Who are you…?” I asked cautiously. I had a sudden feeling of nakedness wash over me. It reminded me that I no longer how my ballistic vest or pistol. I had a nagging feeling that I needed it now.

“Relax,” The girl sang as another bottle of coke appeared in her free hand. She leaned towards me, extending the bottle over. “If I wanted to hurt you, I’d have done it already.”

Timidly, I took it from her; more alert because of her words. As if reading my thoughts, verbatim.

“Chill,” She rolled her eyes and kicked up her feet onto thin air. They stayed there as if there was a table or something. “I came to extend you the best deal of your life. Greatest deal. Magical deal.”

“You still haven’t answered my question,” I said. “Who are you?”

“So stuck up~” She groaned, rocking back and forth irritably. “I ain’t a lot of time, you want my deal or not?”

“First off, you haven’t even told me what this deal is,” I said with matching irritability. “Second, who the fuck are you?”

She glared at me, and I glared back. It was bravado stemming from somewhere. It was a bravado I felt would kill me if I said the wrong thing as well. For a few moments, we stared each other down before the woman rolled her eyes.

“Questions questions questions~” The girl sang before she sprung to her feet and wagged her finger at me – laughing. “You’re a hard nut. Name’s Cyril. Creator of this fine dysfunctional world – You’ll hate it here.”

The words took me off guard. Hate it here? Was this woman off her rocker-

“Got you there!” She laughed “Yes. I am indeed off my rocker.”

“Are you reading my thoughts?” I blurted out.

“Indeed,” She smiled. “Thanks for compliments about my body, I like it too.”

Jesus fuck is this woman cr–

“Not crazy,” She hummed. “Maybe sad; Maybe Malevolent; Maybe a tad, itty bitty fucking pissed. But not crazy.”

The smile she gave me screamed crazy, but I made sure not to think that anymore. Because her eyes were glowing slightly brighter now. I didn’t want to know if they were power gauges, or she was going to punch me. Honestly, anything was on the table at this point. And when I didn’t say or think anything else, she continued.

“Since we got that settles, I guess I could explain this deal~” She cooed and threw herself back into the chair. “Anyways, I guess I’ll go through the list of questions the others keep asking. No, you’re not on earth anymore – you’re on my world. Yes, there are ways to go back. No, you don’t want to go back. Your world is dead, killed with nuclear fire! Now, interested in that deal?”

She tossed the bottle away. It crashed somewhere around the smith’s house. She then leaned forward and looked to me with expectant eyes.

“I-I’ll hear it out…” I gulped, feeling that this woman was definitely not all there.

“So, here’s the deal, I will make you my Champion. In return, I’ll give you cool-ass powers.” She winked and sat back. “In return, you do my bidding~”

“That sounds like slavery,” I said.

“Only if slaves got world-altering powers that could change the face of the entire geopolitical scale. Then sure.” She shrugged.

“That doesn’t sound like a good deal at all!” Exasperated by her go-lucky demeanor, I yelled.

“Hey, hey!” She pointed her finger at me. “I’m only giving you this deal as repayment!”

“Repayment my ass!” I pointed back. “The hell kind of repayment is this, and for what?!”

“Psh, it’s repayment.” She huffed. “You landed in some deep shit, and I didn’t clean it up in time. Thus, you are here, and I am offering you this deal.”

“Wait, what do you mean ‘didn’t clean it up in time’?” I asked, feeling a disconnect.

“Ah, right… ” She looked at me and muttered before sitting back. “Forgot that part – duh. Anyways, long story short. Some new gods down south wanted to summon some Heros to go kill some demons they really hated. Your world nuked itself at the same time they opened a portal to kidnap some poor folks. Amazing luck you know? The odds for that has to be fucking smaller than a mana atom.”

“Wait, wait -” I jumped in. “What does that have to do with me?”

“Don’t interrupt a girl when she’s speaking, “The girl glared at me and I just sat back and zipped my mouth. “Anywho – the nukes supercharged the spell, and kinda ripped a lot more people than it was supposed to. Literally blew up the summoning chamber. Thankfully, the nuke’s blast didn’t reach into this world because I sealed it in time. For fuck’s sake, had I not woken in time, they would have wiped their country off the map.”

“And I was one of them,” I couldn’t help but say as she wasn’t actually answering my question. However, I figured she couldn’t actually keep a thought straight enough to answer. So I had the idea to slowly nudge her towards the answers I needed.

“Ah, yes. You were one of them along with a few hundred others.” She confirmed while her head bobbed softly.

“So… That means all those people died… For nothing?” I asked, feeling anger well up in my stomach. Not at this girl, no, at whoever fucking did this.

“In the context of what you’re asking? Totally – no meaning what so ever,” She no longer smiled. “But that’s the grand thing. You survived. Despite being dropped in the middle of a large goblin raiding host, you survived; even if by the skin of your teeth. That’s some serious luck – and something I could get behind.”

I’d given her the benefit of the doubt and didn’t blame her. However, her nonchalant attitude towards them was seriously pissing him off.

“Don’t take it the wrong way,” She added. “What happened down there was horrible. Through and through. However, that’s why I’m handing you this deal. Yeah, sounds shitty, but you might like where I’m heading with this.”

I took a deep breath and took a few moments to simmer down to hear it.

“Okay, shoot,” I said.

“I’m aiming to humiliate those fucking idiot upstarts for wrecking my world,” The woman said. “And I’ll give you power. I saw you had some guns and armor. Gave me some ideas about what I’d do for you. However, should I do this for you, I want you to go after those assholes. With some conditions.”

“The people who pulled me into this world?” I asked.

“Mmm~hmm~” She hummed.

I paused for a moment. I hadn’t done much in my life that amounted to anything. Neither had I have people die to protect me nor almost die. I delved deep in myself. I lurked and tried to find what I wanted. Did I want revenge? Did I feel a need to kill the fucker who did this?

A moment later, the answer came – but I had one last question.

“Can’t I take the down without this deal?” I asked.

“How strong are you?” The woman eyed my, admittedly, slender frame.

I had muscle, and I could do anything a guy my age could do. Effeminate looks aside.

“Average guy stuff,” I said.

“Your world average?” She asked.

I felt the question was a trap.

“Yes…?” I said.

“You’re gonna die out there.” She pointed out into the forests beyond the village. “You’d probably survive in the village if you sell yourself.

“How so?” I said, feeling offended.

“No offense, but men from earth, on average, are weaker than men here.” She stated. “Men here are mostly farmers, knights, soldiers, or other heavy labor types. That is if they’re not rich or powerful. All the same, that also doesn’t account for the monsters and other hostile forces that roam the land.”

“Isn’t that–” She waved me off.

“Not like your world. Safety here is far and inbetween. Wars are constant. Death is normalcy. Your days aren’t guaranteed. My world is twisted, malformed. Of the utmost degree, it is violent. The best person to have in your corner is a powerful figure – and whos more powerful than gods?”

“I see…” I said. “And will this require me to sacrifice unborn children or virgin girls?”

The serious expression that’d formed on the girl’s face twitched.

“No,” She said with a very, very deadly tone. “And if you do try it, I’ll make sure your soul burns in the deepest fucking pits I can find. Up for the deal now?”

“Y-Yeah, I’ll take it,” I said. I felt slightly cold now.

“Good!” She beamed,” Cross your heart and hope to die~”

She made an “x” over her heart, and I followed suit subconsciously. The skin above my heart began to sear for a moment, and I yelped. Before I could try and figure out what happened, a familiar object was shoved into my hands.

“Gotta go,” The girl said. “We’ll talk later.

“Wait!” I said.” You never told me your name!”

“Names Cyril, Creator of the World.” She smiled mischievously.

 

GGE 14

The long hall was illuminated with three patches of silvery moonlight, illuminating three days. However, three islands of inky darkness stood between each. Dark outlines of the suits of armor Priscilla’s father kept stood like hidden sentinels. But to her, they hid monsters. She toed the boundary of her room, the wooden door ajar just enough for her to slip through – or to close it quickly.

She held her knight, a black stuffed rabbit, tight against her chest. Her big eyes were full of terror. The hall seemed to slowly stretch and narrow. She fought to control her breathing, least the monsters know she had ventured from the safety of her room. But she needed her maid, Abigail. She was strong like her father and sweet like her mother. She could defend her from the monsters that prowled in the howling storm outside.

With a small shuffle, Priscilla slid one small foot across the floorboards and out into the hall. Her eyes watched tentatively to the shadows. Something stirred at the end of the hall, and she quickly slid her foot back in; she continued to watch. It had only been a trick of the mind, or so something Abigail often said.

Fear is just tricking me… Priscilla told herself, not convinced at all.

She a few moments longer. The shadows still did not stir again. She turned slightly to the left, where the first window illuminated the landing before her door. Outside, a new moon hung low as it began its ascent into the heavens. The trees, leafless, waved slightly like phantoms beyond her family’s countryside estate. She gulped and slid her foot back out, hoping the monsters had stayed outside.

The shadows did not stir.

Encouraged by the stillness, she stepped into the moonlight, abandoning the lantern light in her room. The monsters would see her if she took it, thus she decided she could make it the twenty feet to the next door – She had to. She tip-toed, paranoid that something would hear her far below, and come up the stairwell. Much to her delight, the floorboards heeded her silent pleas, and tonight they did not betray her.

Several timid steps, she toed the only long patch of ink she needed to cross. On the other end of this bridge of darkness, was Abigail’s quarters.

She hesitated once again, eyeing the dark figure that stood on the left where a suit of armor should be. Was it still a suit of armor, or did the monster replace it with itself to trick her? She scrutinized it without much luck in ascending the truth. And thus, she plunged herself into the dark patch. She pushed the rabbit out and held it before her as a sacrifice to assure her escape.

No monsters came out. She advanced slowly unhindered. With each step, she grew braver. She continued until she found herself crossing into the moonlight once again. She let out a sigh of relief. She quickly clamped her mouth over and stared back down the hall. Nothing had heard her, and thus she slid over to the towering door. And slightly knocked on it. She winced as the thuds echoed through the hall.

Her eyes quickly turned down the hall. A tall monstrous being stirred in the darkness at the end of the hall. Moonlight reflected off its eyes. She could see it smile at her. She lost her composure, for the monsters had gotten into the house. Her parents were not on the grounds, they could not defend her. Only Abigail could!

She tugged on the handle, not quite strong enough to turn the knob. She looked up and began to pound on the door. She tried to call her maid, but her voice didn’t work. She looked back down the hall… The monster was one patch of darkness closer. Now she could see its dark outline. It was tall and wore some sort of armor. Priscilla turned back to the door, panicking even more.

The door opened and Priscilla was about to run in. There was blood splattered on the door as Abigail’s body fell forward. Her head missing. A pool of crimson had appeared at the young girl’s feet, but she couldn’t turn her eyes from the figure before her. The monster was no longer in the hall but in Abigail’s room. It stepped over her maid’s body. The little mousy girl retreated. A few steps and she already found herself pressed against the window.

“Did you think I’d disappear that easily?” Jogun cackled with a wicked grin.

His leathery skin dotted with shadows and he adjusted his grip on his sword.

“I’m going to finish what I started,” Jogun said before he lifted the sword over his head. “Insect.”

“Cyril!” Priscilla managed to scream, unsure of why she called this particular name.

But it worked, the draugr took a step back. He looked bewildered as he looked around. Golden particulars of light shimmered in the air. Slowly, the walls around them began to fall away into the same lights. The roof. The walls. The floor… Jogun looked stunned at this before he turned back.

“No!” He hissed. “You cannot invoke my Creator’s name against me!”

“Cyril!” Priscilla screamed even louder. “You promised!”

With those two words, the world began to tremble and roar. The Draugr froze as well.

“Y-You!” His bravado was gone. “How did you get her to promise something?! She is the Lady of this World. The Creator! And you dare make her–“

He didn’t get to say anything else before he too began to crumble into golden lights. She didn’t know what to do, or why all of this was happening. She just began to sob in relief. The world around her faded away. A moment later, she too, existed no more.

 

— † —

 

Priscilla’s eyes opened to a blinding light that made her groan. She turned her head to the right, but the light followed. She turned to the left, and the light faded. She slid her right hand up to rub the sleep from her eyes but felt something feathery rubbing against her small breasts.

She took a breath of warm air and lifted her head to inspect what was touching her. She found herself covered by a large white feathery wing. It covered her entire upper body, its feathers as soft as clouds and as white as snow. Priscilla giggled stupidly to herself and slid her hand across the top. Her memories were hazy, and she didn’t remember how she got here, but the feathers felt good.

She laid her head back against the soft pillow but found that accursed light was still there. She groaned as she tilted her head back up to stare at the source. It was a derelict curtain that hadn’t been closed all the way, its creak gutted a razor-thin line of light across the pillows. She threw her head back to angle in such a way the light no longer bothered her. She continued to pet the wing.

She then discovered something. The wing was attached to something. This discovery swept a little of the haze aside. She felt soft, warm skin on her fingers. It was inviting and welcoming. She turned her head to see who was next to her. She found a delicate white face, framed by snowy silk hair. Her eyes were shut and her long eyelashes guarding the pools of gold beneath like elegantly made gatekeepers.

Just below her small nose, were those soft plump lips she had kissed, by accident, in the field. She smiled to herself as she remembered that, her heart fluttering. She didn’t know how she was so calm as she tried to turn over. Her lower body felt like dead weight, but she didn’t pay it any mind. Her crush was beside her, and that took up all her hazy thoughts.

After some effort, she managed to get on her side, no thanks to her numb legs. In the act, her stomach protested, along with her back. She didn’t care though – Cyril was beside her. Naked. She had found this when she shuffled onto her side. To soft white mounts had been pressed against her arm. She had mistaken them for something else, for what, she didn’t know. She paid it no mind.

She looked down, comparing them to hers, and felt insecure about her small perky breasts. Hers were tipped in pink, small and cone-shaped. The other girl’s breast was far larger. Her nipples were hidden out of sight, guarded by her breasts that were three times the size of hers. They were like… She couldn’t think of an example. They just were.

A few moments later, she saw both their hair swirl amongst each other. Rivers of white mingled with thick streams of raven black. Crisscrossing each other before separating. A naughty thought, one she had never had before, reared its head. Priscilla’s hand began to glide its way towards Cyril’s breasts. Priscilla’s face was flushed, her inky eyes, flecked with silver, reflected her desire.

“I don’t think that’d be a good idea,” Layla spoke up. “Fondling a sleeping person is a crime in most places.”

Priscilla’s hand froze, the desire still burning in her eyes. But the voice was not one she recognized. Annoyed, she turned her head over to see who interrupted her moments from bliss. What she saw in the dim light, was a rather mature woman with dark almond hair and matching eyes – flecked with silver.

She wasn’t as pretty as me, so why does she get to stop me? Priscilla’s hazy mind cursed. She couldn’t understand how looks came into play, but it was the first insult she could think of. She didn’t know why she felt the need to insult the woman. The small flags sent up by the thoughts were quickly forgotten, burned on their poles, when she remembered she’d been interrupted.

As if reading the thoughts on her expression, Layla smiled. “Don’t give me that look, young girl. Molesting another girl, especially your savior, isn’t a good look for you.”

“I.. Did nothing wrong,” Pricilla said while pouting. The words strangely heavy on her tongue. Her mouth felt like cotton.

“Not yet at least,” Layla reminded her of what she was about to do. The gravity of it was slowly beginning to set in when Layla continued. “You’ve been heavily sedated for the last two days. You took the worst hit out of everyone still alive, or so Bishop Luis says.”

To prove it, Layla held up a large girl that looked like milk, but not milk. It had a small tag with unreadable writing.

“Poppy milk,” Layla told her. “Your injury was bad enough to warrant large doses to keep you under so you didn’t hurt yourself.”

“Wwwhy–” Priscilla’s tongue wasn’t working well, maybe from being dry. Layla was quick to hand her a small glass cup that must have cost several gold coins. Priscilla looked at it, found it was water and almost gulped it all down.

“Sip at it,” Layla held the cup firmly until Priscilla acknowledged the command. She let go afterward and Priscilla tried to sit up. A hand slid under her bareback and pushed her up, and the wing moved away. “Good morning, Lady Cyril.”

“Good morning to you too, Miss Layla.” Cyril didn’t honor her with a smile. Her focus entirely on Priscilla.

Priscilla blushed as she felt the hand, pressed against her mid-back, helped her. Butterflies took flight in her belly. The conversation was quickly forgotten as she sipped at the water, and looked at Cyril.

“Drink slower,” Cyril said softly.

Priscilla did so while sizing up Cyril’s body as she sat up. Her wings folded back, revealing just how… Fit it was. It wasn’t a hulking mass of muscles, but neither was there any fat that didn’t add to her appeal. Layla coughed, bringing Priscilla’s slow mind back into the moment. More aware of herself, she realized she had the glass to her lips, but she hadn’t drank anything. Both the women were staring at her now.

“To answer your question,” Layla began. “When that monster ‘stabbed’ you -“

“Stabbed is a nice way to put it,” Cyril interrupted with a very displeased tone.

“-Skewered you, he had pierced through one of the lower lumbar bones in your spine,” Layla continued. “To salt the wounds, I’m told he had twisted the blade inside of you. This had shattered the bone into a lot of pieces. I wasn’t there to see it, I’m only recounting what Bishop Luis had explained. The important point here is, you’re not completely healed. He said the extent of your injuries will leave you paralyzed from the waist down.”

Priscilla looked at her, not fully understanding what that meant.

“Your body… Couldn’t handle half of what it needed to do to reconstruct the bone,” Layla said. “And not even Lady Cyril here could do anything about it. Look, whatever you’ve been through recently, it’s left your body in a… Less than optimal state.”

“But.. how?” Priscilla said with disbelieving eyes. “I’ve always taken… Care of…”

And like a hidden viper, the memories sank their fangs into her mind. The expedition, the deaths, curses, and the monsters. Blood, blood, and more blood. All the terrible things that had cascaded over their little group since they arrived, all of which, when taken one by one didn’t seem so bad, but all at once… It was too much to bear for the poor girl. Tears began to trickle from her eyes as she remembered that terrible face from her dreams.

That sadistic and twisted monster that stabbed at her. It hadn’t been a dream, because she remembered being hoisted into the air by her throat. Yes, she felt the bruises now. They seared themselves into her pale skin like brands, so she may always remember. She remembered how angered he had been when she called – She looked to the angelic beauty next to her, and she looked back, her left face hidden behind a veil of silky white.

He’d been angered when she called out to Cyril.

 

— † —

 

The door to the chambers shut silently, Cyril’s face hidden in the shadow of the sunlight. Back in her black dress, the sun revealed that the dim room hid. Red specks dotted her wings from her two-day hunt. Her dress was even more bloodied than her wings. her body had only been quickly wiped down before she laid with Priscilla. That had only happened when word that she’d been calling out to her in her sleep.

Bishop Luis was beside the door when Cyril was there. He looked at her, curious to her expression. She hid it behind a curtain of white and hadn’t moved away from the door as she looked down at the iron handle. He could hear the breath of rage she blew out to calm herself.

The Bishop felt for the deity. In the span of two days, even he knew she was nothing more than a girl herself. Unlike Alistair, who’d been regal and composed every time he held his yearly conferences, this girl wore her heart on her sleeve. From her annoyances to her rage. To her compassion to her sadness. Her two-day hunt of undead had been a pure venomous rage. Her quick flight back to the church housing had been pure fear and concern.

He looked away from her, and out the window that lit the hall around them. Pillars of smoke rose everywhere, contrasted by the beautiful winter blue sky. Nearly half the city had been razed, leaving only charred bricks and bones. As if a fire god had feasted off a fat stone pig and just left the bones on its plate.

Cyril’s shoulders were trembling when he looked back.

Bishop Luis spoke. “Your Grace–“

“She had to be sedated again,” Cyril cut him off. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

“Lady Hammel has gone through something terrible,” Bishop Luis said. “Comfort and care are what she will need for the foreseeable future. I’ve seen many people like her.”

Cyril finally looked up to him. Her left face still marred with those terrible black webs. He kept his pleasant smile, but he flinched in his heart.

“I haven’t,” Cyril sighed. “I know about PTSD, aftercare, both physical therapy, and mental therapy; but I’ve never seen it.”

“What is PTSD?” Bishop Luis repeated the acronym.

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Cyril said. “It happens when people go through something terrible, and they have nightmares, flashbacks, and get randomly triggered by things that remind them of the event.”

That sounded like a lot of people he’d been treating.

“How does one deal with this disorder?” Bishop Luis asked.

“Teaching people skills to cope with it. Help them change their view of themselves, and just being there for them.” Cyril couldn’t remember if she had been diagnosed with it. There had been a lot of things the doctor said she had, then said she didn’t have. It was a labyrinth of crap she had to deal with in the hospital.

“Have you ever treated anyone with it?” Bishop Luis said, not actually comprehending the part that ‘She didn’t know what to do’.

“I’ve never treated anyone in my life,” Cyril chuckled at the implication. “As someone who’s spent most of their life dying, I was the one being cared for.”

“Gods can die?” Bishop Luis smile twitched.

“Anything can die,” Cyril said. “I had.”

With that, she stepped away from the door and walked down the hall. Bishop Luis jaw moved around as he digested it. A simple phrase, uttered by many. And it took a whole new light when uttered by what was supposed to be the strongest being ever. By the time she had reached the end of the hall, Bishop Luis scampered after her.

The Cathedral’s housing was by no means humble. The halls weren’t decorated with expensive items, but more so it in liberal usage of space. The hall was long, and when she descended the stairs, she took only one-fourth of the stair’s width. The stair was nice ” T ” shape as she hit the landing where Fenrir stood guard.

“Cyril,” He greeted her with that wolfish smile he always had.

“Hey Fen,” Cyril smiled as she cuffed his large ear as he bowed to her. “No more hunting for today.”

“As you wish,” The wolf replied before his silver eyes turned suspiciously to the man following her. “Will the insect be following us?”

Bishop Luis tried to smile but found his lips quivered to much in the wake of this over-sized wolf. That had made the wolf grin.

“Leave him be, Fen,” Cyril through the words over her shoulder as she reached the bottom. The wolf’s grin slipped off and he padded after her. The Bishop sent a prayer for strength to Alistair when Cyril yelled at him. “You don’t need strength to deal with Fenrir. Just talk to me like a normal fucking person.”

Bishop Luis flinched like he’d been pinched. It was easy to forget that the girl could hear prays. She often took offense if they were about dealing with her, or her wolf.

“I apologize,” Bishop Luis said when he caught up to them. “It’s a habit.”

“Whatever,” Cyril let out a fed-up sigh.

The housing was visibly more empty, and it still reeked of death. A few blood splatters here and there had spoiled, marking the spots were a few servants died. A single child in ill-fitting armor, a surviving squire, had been posted there. He fumbled an uneasy salute that was rewarded with a tired smile. Despite that, it dazzled the child.  Cyril patted his head, nearly a third her height, as she passed. Fenrir nodded and allowed the boy to pet him.

Bishop found that this wolf was surprising good with children.

They entered the large connecting corridor where most of the servants had been killed. A few old ladies scrubbed hard at the stones with rags, accompanied by a few orphan girls to haul their bales. All of them were quick to throw themselves aside as the “Angel of Death” waltzed by. Cyril had learned quickly that they would never speak to her. The old were too stuck in their ways, and the children they worked when followed suit.

A few children added as guards had no such escape from her, and found they liked the goddess. She never hit them like their leaders, and never spoke. This meant they didn’t have to hide, nor fumble with polite responses. And when the Bishop was with her, he never spoke to them either. It was an overall stress-less encounter for them.

They stepped out of the corridor a minute later and entered the worship hall. The dying and the sick were kept here, under guard by most of the surviving watch and their new brothers. With Cyril rampaging throughout the streets, they had been relegated to keep an eye out for infected townsfolk. This there was plenty of still. Cyril was just one firing throwing goddess, and the port two was several miles long. Their population had been nearly a hundred-thousand.

Only half had survived that. Those who could fight and those who could hide, all while not freezing on the first night. Everyone outside the walls had perished either to the cold or the infection. Fenrir and Layla had killed the turned while Cyril’s blessing coursed through them. A major had died to exposure though. Before they could’ve been turned by the draugr, he’d been killed.

Cyril stopped on the top of the steps outside the cathedral and turned to the Bishop.

“Then who’s running the show here?”

“Lady Gulley, the deceased lord’s wife,” Bishop Luis replied. “She survived in the Keep along with her children and wards.”

“How come I haven’t seen her?” Cyril asked. “I figured I was making quite the mess out there, that someone would come to say something.”

“On the contrary,” Bishop Luis returned his business smile. “We’ve already sent a runner to the castle. Lady Gulley is aware of the situation but asks that you try and keep the damage to a minimal.”

“Asked?” Cyril set her jaw.

Bishop Luis meant he needed to explain. “Lady Gulley is aware of lingering threats. She nor I have the arms to deal with them, nor the coin. You doing it on your own accord is a windfall, even if it’s just kicking the costs down the path. As a matter of fact, that reminds me. Lady Gulley wanted to know how much you wanted for your ‘services’?”

“Nothing,” Cyril shook her head before looking out over the half-burnt town. The damage had been kept to the eastern part of the city, Fenrir had told her of their battle. She had burned down the suburbs during her hunt before it widened to involve that entire part of the city. “I did it because I wanted to spite those things. Not for a reward.”

“If I may add,” Bishop Luis cleared his throat. “If you refuse a reward, it’d be slighting Lady Gulley’s honor.”

Cyril looked at him, chewing on the several ways to say “Fuck her honor” and deciding how much she felt like offending him. Then, she dropped it altogether. She’d read enough stories to know offending a noble was a surefire way to start problems. So, she just took the path of least resistance, in the way she wanted.

“Don’t want it,” Cyril huffed before she turned away and down the stairs.

“Your Grace!” Bishop Luis followed after her, panicking. “Her Ladyship is quite lax in her customs, but honor must still be kept!”

“Do you want to die?” Fenrir growled. “Cyril has said she did not want it. There is nothing more to say, or should I kill you where you stand?”

Bishop Luis froze on the last step, Fenrir’s snarling maw towering over him.

“Leave him,” Cyril tugged on his tail, to which Fenrir turned away reluctantly from the Bishop. “And Luis?”

“Y-Yes?” Bishop Luis replied.

“A lot has happened,” She said as she raked her fingers through her hair. “I’ll say this once. No means no. “

“As you say,” Bishop Luis bowed respectfully. “No means no, I apologize.”

“Good,” Cyril nodded. “Now, why are you following me?”

“Excuse me?” Bishop Luis looked at her for a moment. Then he remembered why. “Ah! Yes. It’s regarding me actually.”

Cyril’s eyebrow rose slightly with interest.

“I wanted to tell you that I’ve told my God about you,” Bishop Luis stated, but Cyril still looked at him as if she waited for the point. “I was told to get on your good side to find out what you wanted. However, since you did save me, I believed it to be a disservice. So I wanted to let you know, and ask you.”

“Right now?” Cyril shrugged. “I want to kill the asshole that hurt Priscilla. Seeing as I was talked into letting his soul go, I can’t have that. So, as of this current moment, I’m going to settle for finding a way to cheer Priscilla up. Afterward? I haven’t gotten that far. Fair enough?”

“And you’d tell me all of this?” Bishop asked with an obvious unasked question.

“Because I have no plans,” Cyril started. “I may never have plans. I’m just living, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten this week.”

“I see,” Bishop Luis said. “I will relay your words to His Grace Alistair.”

“You do that,” Cyril threw a wave over her shoulder as they turned to leave.

“Actually, I may be of some assistance to your current issue.” Bishop Luis stepped off the stairs.

Cyril grumbled and rolled her eyes before she turned to face him.

“The new year is coming, and normally, the town would throw a festival.” Bishop Luis. “But as you can see, that will not happen. However, the capital will also be throwing a festival and there will be plenty of goods being sold. I know we cannot offer anything here. We will be busy rebuilding.”

“And how do I get there?” Cyril asked with renewed interest. As annoying as the man was, he was finally being useful.

“The festival is in eleven days, land travel will take a week or so to get there.” Bishop Luis said. “But if you go by boat, it’d take only two to three days.”

“Wait, what’s the date?” Cyril asked.

“December twentieth,” The Bishop said. “The festival will start on the first of the year, and go on for a week.”

“What about Christmas?” Cyril asked.

“I am sorry,” Bishop Luis said. “I do not know of this ‘Christmas’ you speak of.”

“It’s a holiday where people exchange gifts with their loved ones,” Cyril said with a smile. “Saint Nickolas goes and gives gifts to all the good boys and girls, and people eat sweets, and decorate trees.”

“That sounds… Quite lovely actually.” Bishop Luis smiled. “But I’ve never heard of it. Many of the ancient holidays, along with history, has been lost to many wars and exchanges of power. The Dragon Empire celebrates very few holidays and less with festivals. The New Year is a festival to a celebration of life and good fortune. However, I think I very much like your idea. What day was it celebrated on?”

“December twenty-fifth.” Cyril said.” In five days.”

“Well, are you going to hunt right now?” Bishop Luis asked.

“Mhm,” Cyril replied.

“If I may, when you get back, could you explain Christmas in more detail?” Bishop Luis. “I believe it would be a much-welcomed respite for the townsfolk.”

“Definitely,” Cyril said with a smile. “We’ll have a talk when we get back. C’mon, Fenrir; let’s wrap up the hunting today.”

“I never thought you’d say it,” Fenrir smiled and turned back to the Bishop as Cyril walked away rolling her shoulders. “And you human.”

Bishop Luis stiffened as the wolf turned his attention back on him.

“Thank you,” Fenrir said.

 

— † —

 

Emperor Ryan Drakefang glared at his second son, Prince Aiden, as he examined his nails in the most obnoxious fashion. His first instinctual reaction was to toss the master-crafted copper dragon at him, the second instinct was to kill him where he sat. Both may have had something to do with his master bringing his child into the fold. Or, maybe it had to do with how arrogant he’d become in the last week, but that golden chain with a coiled dragon pendant served as a reminder not to. 

Like him, Prince Aiden had grown nearly half a head taller. He’d been shorter than Desmond before, as shameful as that was, but now, he was nearly an inch shorter than him. That leveled him the First Prince, his eldest son. Once an indignant little shit that beat his servants whenever they looked wrong at him, he not took to luring pretty women in the city; off for what, Emperor Drakefang didn’t care so long as it stayed under wraps.

And today, he’d even had the courage to waltz into his office during an important meeting, and the seat across from him. Of course, after removing the groveling minister that had sat in it. The minister was all smiles, of course, but that wasn’t his problem. The problem was that this was not a luxury he’d even given his deceased queen.

Being that he was now under the protection of his master too, he couldn’t just kill him outright. Thus, he turned to the minister.

“We’ll convene on the morrow,” The Emperor stated without turning his eyes from his disrespectful child. “I seem to have business with the child.”

The minister was keen enough to see the tension, bowed, and escaped silently out the open door of the spacious study. Neatly recessed bookcases lined the far left wall. Trophies lined the other. Behind the emperor, a large wall that held a map of the known lands. On either side, two large four-piece windows the midday sun to shine through.

Emperor Ryan Drakefrang leaned back, his hands clasped in his lap, awaiting whatever unimportant thing his waste of a second son had to say. However, after a minute of silence, he figured out his son was just toying with him.

“What do you want?” The Emperor said in a deep partial growl. “If you have nothing better to do, you can go to train.”

“I rather not,” Prince Aiden finally put his hand down and looked to his father. “I want a large budget allocated to my palace.”

“No,” The emperor didn’t pretend to even entertain that thought. “Start a business, or go run a city. Earn the gold if you want it, but you will not get any more from me.”

“Are you sure?” Prince Aiden’s eyebrows rose with amusement.

“I am sure,” Emperor Drakefang fought the urge again to throw the paperweight. Brokenwing had expressly instructed that they were to work together, not to fight. But this child had inherited his pride from him, not his strength or his cleverness. That was Desmond’s only redeeming quality in his eyes. His cleverness. Randol had his strength, but this one… Only had pride. Now he had power and pride, which often was deadly if they weren’t the one at the top.

“Well then,” Prince Aiden smiled. “I’ll go earn it then. Good day to you, Father. Enjoy it – not.”

The prince gave his father smile, one someone would give to someone who’d die soon, and waltz out the door, pushing aside the guard that’d almost crashed into him.

“Your Highness,” The guard was quick to bow, but the prince ignored it. “Your Imperial Majesty.” The guard bowed in the doorway a moment later, awaiting the emperor’s acknowledgment.

Emperor Drakefang sent a death glare at the royal guard who, with his head down, didn’t notice. He took that time to burn a hole through the man’s skull before he acknowledged him. “Enter.”

“Your Imperial Majesty,” The guard stood up and saluted. “We’ve received word that the First and Second prince, along with Princess of the Fox Tribe, Princess Mai, has entered the palace. They seek an audience.”

The emperor took a silent breath to calm his annoyance. He’d hoped his youngest would have died out there, but fate decided against it. Since his heir and his youngest had arrived with the rodent, he figured he’d hear whatever nonsense they had to say. The guard had disappeared for a moment, then appeared with the trio.

First Prince Randol was in his armor, per his fancy. And his other son and the rodent princess were dressed in their Dragon Academy mage robes.

“What do you want?” The Emperor said with a bit in his voice.

“I’d like to present this before I give you my report,” Prince Randol said as he held up a small box he’d overlooked in his disgust for his youngest.

Emperor Drakefang gestured with his finger for him to place it on the desk. Randol took a few steps forward, placed it on the table, opened it with it facing himself before turning it to show his father. Inside the box was a small red orb, it shuns a deep crimson, but it was also transparent as a rounded diamond.

“This is?” The emperor felt the aura of the object without having to feel it out. It felt calming and homely. It made him feel at ease. He could feel his annoyance seeping away just by basking in its aura.

“An artifact called Tranquil Last Wish,” Prince Desmond answered as his brother stepped aside. His father only looked at him with astonishment when he heard that. Tranquil Lash Wishes were up there in priceless artifacts. Formed only during the more violent and bloody battles, there had only been a total of five known orbs in existence. Four of them laid in the Theocracy’s possession, and one in dwarven lands on the north-eastern lands of the Iron Mountains.

“How did you come to have this?” The emperor looked to his eldest before he shook his head.

“I didn’t get it,” Prince Randol denied. “Prince Desmond and Princess Mai obtained it during the expedition.”

Randol nodded to his brother to take the lead, and his younger brother began to rattle off the happenings of their failed expedition. Despite how much he hated that child, for once in his life, Emperor Drakefang gave him a beaming smile of happiness.

 

 

 

GGE 13.2 \\\ The Beginning of the End

Miniature mountains and rivers made of wood were laid out before Alistair; his silver eyes criticizing each inch of the land depicted below. Carved from a single branch of the now-dead World Tree, the table spanned nearly thirty-feet long and almost ten wide. That was not to say that had been the entire branch itself. No, it was only one-thirtieth of the branch Alistair had pulled with them during their defeat at the Highland Cliffs five-hundred years ago.

The rest had gone to framing his castle within the Capital, in which he was in now. Even then, there had been enough odd pieces to be used for little things. Such as candle holders that could not be burnt by normal fire. Hilts for swords and even several shields had been made from the cuttings. Each of national-grade quality. Most stayed in the castle, surrounded by thousands of Paladins and loyal believers.

The World tree, withered and just a black husk that stood half its height on the Highland’s Cliffs, was the home of the old Goddess of Light – Maddin.

While Maddin had not been a troublemaker like Hades had been, she sheltered the High-Elves in her city. And under the combined might of the Four Races, their armies had laid siege to her ill-prepared city within a day. Dwarves, Humans, Beastmen, and even their lowly cousins, Fallen ones – now officially called Elves – assaulted her city. Alistair, a budding youth with one step into Godhood, had led the charge.

It had not been a battle, but more a massacre. One he had come to regret later on in life. He never truly understood that wonderful woman; though he thought her a stupid wench then. Blinded with hate for the High Elves, he was too young to understand the cycles of war and loss. He had been arrogant from his consecutive wins against their oppressors. And on that day, was when his suffering truly began.

His finger traced the grain, hoping that it’d speak to him, but a dead magical tree was still dead. Its soul was long gone, but its magic still there.

Had he been wiser, he would have seen how that Goddess of Light had truly kept the horrors away from them. It wasn’t under he had felled her on the World Tree did he understand. Maddin, The Flower of Love and Light, may have been neutral in all accounts. But she was never still. She had kept the demons and Devils away. She had kept the living on the ground, and the dead in it.

After she had died, the demons came in full force for the First World War. The Four Races against the monsters of the north. Serfs and lowly-nobles speak of this war as if it were a win. It had not. Alistair had been humbled in this war. A war that had razed the very ground they had walked. The demons would haven’t wiped them all from existence if they had not slithered back to their forsaken lands. No one knew why they had.

Only two things had been discovered, and how the land had gained its name. The Forbidden Forest had been untouched in their rage. The second had been that Maddin was actually Hades’s wife. It had only been discovered when a Devil had brought them a declaration of war, though ironically, marking the start Silent War.

A war that raged violently in Death Valley, unheard by the rest of the world. Where the Theocracy clashed with the demons daily.

Alistair leaned forward, his calloused hands circled with golden rings picked up a black piece of metal-tipped with a skull on top. He moved it across the carved map and placed it several inches away from a white metal totem tipped with a tower.

“The Demon Army gained forty miles of land in their push,” Alistair reported it as if he were talking about the weather. “I managed to halt their advance, but I could not break through their main forces. Not until I gain more power.”

Yes. The demons had invaded in the night, and Alistair had been nearly powerless against it. A million strong, fortified with Devils and nightmarish beasts. It had been unlike anything before the Silent War had begun. Rather, it was the reason for these dark memories resurfacing. It was an invasion, and that was not the end of his woes.

When he had returned to Angel’s Respite, where their most elite fighters stood guard on a mile-long wall with bases all along its rear, he’d been greeted with news of the Haven’s invading their largest port city. It had taken Alistair nearly an hour to reach it via magical leaps. And when he had gotten there, nothing but black walls and streets greeted him. The entire city had been burned. The attack had come while he had been busy in the north. Alistair removed a large hexagon coin, etched and inlaid with a golden ship next.

“Port Arthur no longer exists,” Alistair reported as well. “Akyryss had not occupied the city. She instead burned it all. Men, women, and children; none were spared.”

The coin was dropped into a small red-wood tray, padded with blue velvet. Alistair’s silver eyes flicked up to the three people who sat dumbfounded by what their god had informed them off. They had gone to sleep in the most peaceful era known to the country. The next morning, they had woken up to total war at their distant gates. Only Alistair’s general reacted quickly.

“I will rally all the arms within the country,” General Caelian Green said weakly. “I will have them assemble here in the capital before we march up the highway.”

If this were a normal meeting, and he’d been the one reporting it. He would have been pounding on the table and berating his subordinates for their slow work. However, he would never dare even touch the table, even when exceptionally beautiful maids had brought him a crystal goblet of fine wine. He was a large man in stature. Broad-shouldered, thickheaded, and a head full of thick brown hair.

he looked out of place in a green velvet tunic. The fabric screamed to be relieved of their burden of containing his muscles. Alistair noted he was not a bureaucratic through and through.

“We cannot do this, Lord Green,” Pope Marie, with relaxed refinement, answered. “We cannot leave the lands undefended. If you remember, you had advocated for the army to take all duties related to defending the state and church. And we had approved of this policy some four years ago.”

Pope Marie was not as young as the General, but she was not old. At thirty-five years old, she was like fine wine. She had aged wonderfully. Even Alistair had to admit he found her rather attractive. She had neither a bountiful chest nor an exceptionally seductive body. She had an above-average appearance overall, but the way she wore it was enough to make Alistair notice.

She was a kind woman. Smart and honest, she practiced what she preached and never broken a promise that she could keep. She was the ideal woman, and sadly, already married. But that hadn’t been the deciding force for promoting her to his Pope. It had been her loyalty to the church and her beliefs that made her a great pick. It also helped that he didn’t have to look at an old man counting the coins in front of him.

“Lady Marie, the demons are invading again,” General Caelian said respectfully.  “We must do something before the demons get to Angel’s Respite. Lone demons have already managed to slither into our lands from somewhere. Lahabiel is also rising havoc to the east. Not to mention Akyryss is now declaring war on us by burning our most important port.”

“I do believe that may have something more to do with our lovely deity here,” Pope Marie turned to Alistair. Eyes full of reproach.

“I did nothing wrong,” Alistair gave her a small smile and leaned back into his chair.

No one in the room was in the dark about what Alistair had done. They knew what he had done, and so did the Great White Dragon.

“That…” General Caelin looked conflicted for a moment. “Still. She could have spoken with us about it before burning out countrymen.”

“She had,” The third person spoke up. Minister of Foreign affairs. “She had sent plenty of protests. Five in the last month. Close to two hundred in the last year. She is quite the vocal one.”

“Just when I was taking she was becoming a pacifist,” Alistair jested as he stared down over the ornate dragon head on the island beside their country. “It’s easy to forget that a dragon is still an apex predator when they’re laying low.”

“Do you think she did it in liege with the demons?” The Minister of Foreign Affairs asked as he looked to his god. “Her attack happened just as you left for the valley.”

“Maybe,” Alistair. “Or maybe she finally decided to no longer tolerate us.” 

“Did we lose just the port?” The Minister asked solemnly. “Piers can be repaired but–“

“The entire city had been burned,” Alistair gave him a demeaning look for the idiotic question. “They also burned the surrounding lands and hamlets. No living being exists within twenty miles of the city.” 

 There was a rap at the door, and Alistair opened it with a quick magical wave of his wrist. In came a woman, her face hidden behind a white fox mask. Complimenting it, she wore tight black clothing with several swords on her back. Her steps were light as she walked behind Alistair, bowed, and slipped him an ornate wooden board. Parchment had been attached to it, nearly full of tightly packed neat handwriting. 

Alistair threw an eye over his shoulder, examining the woman. She was slender, small, and had lovely legs that were displayed nicely by her tight pants. She was a ninja, modeled after the High Elven saboteurs before. She bowed at him, her expression hidden behind the magical mask. Before she could leave, Alistar weaved her forward. She moved forward and knelt beside him.

“What is this?” Alistair asked with a teasing smile. 

“Another report from Bishop Luis from Port Gulley, within the Dragon Empire,” A muffled sweet voice came from behind the mask. “Behind it, is a reported sighting of the Tarrasque within the southern desert.”

Alistair had only meant to tease his little ninja. No one present was oblivious that their deity was quite fond of this little spy. Quite so that she never really had been sent on a mission in the last two years, and mainly acted as his secretary. Of course, it was a mutual feeling. However, Alistair’s teasing had been derailed by what she said. He sighed, no longer feeling he wanted to deal with matters of state and the world.

“Come, sit.” Alistair kicked his chair back enough to allow room on his lap for the girl.

“Alistair?” The girl murmured. 

“Sit,” The deity said. “It’s going to be a long day, and I require your company. Otherwise, the next bad report that comes in, I’ll throw them from the roof like the last pope.”

The girl turned to look at the three sitting on the other side of the table. No one besides her had the luxury to address Alistair by name to his face. No one also had the luxury to even touch him, but her. In turn, no one besides Alistair had seen her face. At least, no one knew who was under the mask. Alistair had been careful to bring in lots of girls of her statue for the express purpose of hiding her amount them should she wish to take it off. 

“Please,” General Caelian bowed his head respectfully to her, even though he was technically leagues above her. “Join us.” 

The other two nodded their heads, though, the Minister of Foreign Affairs held a perverted gleam in his eyes towards the girl. Alistair shot him a warning glance, and he turned down to the table. He coughed and began to reorganize the parchments and figures on the table before him.  The girl silently slid onto the god’s lap and cuddled up against him in a shy manner. 

The room seemed to brighten slightly as Alistair felt himself relaxing in the girl’s presence. 

“Back to the subject,” General Caelian coughed. ” I still believe we should send out a call to arms. However, we can leave the minimum hands needed to keep the peace. But what shall we do about Haven?” 

“I suggest we do nothing,” The Minister started as he sat and reached across the table with a pointing stick. It landed on Haven. “I believe we should leave it be. Akyryss razed twenty miles of land, but never went beyond. Upon further thought, I believe it was just retaliation.”

“Retaliation or not,” General Caelian kneaded his fingers as he rested his arms on the table. “We cannot leave this insult unanswered.” 

“And is that not what Akyryss did in regards to what we’ve done?” Pope Marie said, giving the General a reproachful glance. “We know from old records that Akyryss is connected to this Cyril deity, and that these statues are important to her.” 

“She has strictly demanded the statues be removed and sent to her,” The Minister added. “We lack the ability to do so. But Akyryss can remove them at will, so what is stopping her from coming and getting them?”

“Because such idols should be destroyed,” General Caelian snapped. “Our Lord here is the only idol that exists. The others are just false gods.” 

“Enough,” Alistair said. “Leave the statues alone for now, and let the White One know that if she wishes to move the statues to her island, she is allowed to do so. In regards to the matter of arms, draft serfs who are not essential to running the country. The idle, of common or noble birth, will fight.” 

“As you say, your Worship,” The General and Minister agreed together. 

“As for matters of the Church,” Alistair turned to Pope Marie. “Take the Holy Knights into the Highlands. It is time we expand the faith eastward.” 

“The Beast Kings will not like that,” Pope Marie’s eyebrows rose with interest as she clasped her hands in her lap. “And that will mean we’ll have to put a hold on converting the southern lands.” 

“The desert does not hold many souls,” Alistair waved his left hand as he wrapped his right around the ninja. “They believe in Cyril strongly. They will take much more than the beastmen to convert, I believe. We also have to combat Lahabiel before he grows too strong.” 

“Does that mean you’re…?” Pope Marie couldn’t push out the last few words. It was insane to even try.

“Yes,” Alistair nodded. “It’s time to invade the eastern lands. Spread word of the undead amongst the tribes of the highland, and the Empire. It will make it easier to convert them when they’re scared.

If it had been any other person, Pope Marie could have flat out rejected this proposal. This was violating every uneasy treaty they had struck in the land. Should they fail, they could be swallowed. If they succeed… They would no longer have to worry about their neighbors. A unified mortal front against the unholy forces. 

“It will be as you command,” Pope Marie nodded her head. 

“You’re all dismissed.” Alistair waved his free hand, but his right hand squeezed the ninja’s waist. She knew he wanted her to stay with that. 

The group shuffled out, and the last one closed the thick wooden door behind them. All alone now, and in the highest tower in the castle, Alistair feared no prying eyes. He let out a long tired sigh as his body slumped back, pressing the soft womanly body against his. 

“You’ve worked hard,” The ninja said softly as she laid her head on his shoulder. 

“I have,” Alistair said. “After four hundred years, it feels like the world is going mad again.” 

“I believe you will fix it all, my love, ” The girl muttered.

Her white fox mask was pulled away by Alistair with slow delicate movements; as if he’d break her. Beneath it, was a small slightly tanned face. Beautiful, trusting, emerald eyes looked up at him. They shimmered like gems in the sunlight that poured through the glass windows around them. But they were as soft as water to Alistair. 

“You believe I can fix anything,” Alistair chuckled softly. 

“You are a god, and the man I love,” She smiled softly. 

Her soft pale lips invited a kiss that came with the same delicate manner he pulled her mask off. 

“It is not that easy,” Alistair said. “Magic and faith can only fix so much.” 

“I’ve never said it was easy,” The girl rolled her eyes with a faint pink tint to her cheeks now. “But you’ve just like before, you’ll find a way.” 

“It’s different from two hundred years ago,” Alistair sighed. “We just had to kill the right people.”

“And two hundred years ago, we did just that.” The girl said as she pulled her black hood back, revealing deep scarlet hair that burned when the sunlight touched it. 

Alistair smiled. This girl was not a child, but over two hundred years old. And she was his Angel of Death. She killed his enemies in the dark when he could not do so publicly. she was the only one who he could depend on without a second thought. Without her, he would have been lost. She had only appeared two years ago, as this identity. She had lived many lives over two-hundred years. A pope. A baker, a shop-girl, and much, much more. All in the name of her lover, Alistair. She was the only Angel of his. 

“So what does the report say about Cyril?” Alistair said as he kissed her forehead. 

“That she has real dove-like wings and she wields fire like she breathes,” The girl sighed as she took the reports into her hands. “And she seems to be inflicted with the Corruption that Hades has been spreading over the northern lands.” 

“That does present a problem,” Alistair looked down at her, more interested in her than the reports. “And the Tarrasque?”

“Our spies only report offhand accounts from the nomads who come to trade form the wastes.” She grabbed the pointer that rested in its enclave in front of Alistair. She tapped its tip on the deepest part of the desert. “Around here. The reports are becoming more credible as each account seems to match. Large beast. Bigmouth with thousands of teeth. Back armed with blue spikes. Tan lizard-like skin. It didn’t exactly chase humans, but each reported it from a distance. Estimated to be over a hundred stories tall if the beastaries are correct.”

“That would pose a problem if it were to venture north,” Alistair said as he gently pulled the report and pointer from her hands.

He set them aside before placing her on the edge of the war table. He slowly began to undress her, each inch of moved black fabric revealed scarred white skin. Neither minded it though as he kissed at each scar as if greeting old lovers. 

“It’s indecent to do this here,” The girl gasped as his lips touched her chest. “We have a bedroom for this,”

“My castle, I will take you where I please,” Alistair said as he slid her out of her top, revealing two perky small breasts. Though he loved large-chested women, he loved everything about this girl, small tits and all. 

“Even in front of your council?” The girl said pointedly. 

“Never,” Alistair’s head rose and lock his glowing eyes with hers. “I would never show you to them. You are too beautiful for their lowly eyes.” 

Each word was serious and true. Her naked chest was riddled with scars, from many battles she had fought in the darkest corners of this world. Each scar was a story and a pain in his heart. Even those soft breasts he groped had not been spared. But he loved every scar as he loved her body when it had been pristine. 

“You flatter too much,” She turned away blushing.

“Nylah,” He spoke her name. “You are my moon. My ever beautiful moon that I cherish.” 

Amongst the room decorated with skulls of long-extinct monsters, preserved maps of important battles and tokens gifted from now-gone friends; sweet moaning danced through the room, as two immortals forgot their woes for a moment to embrace each other. 

 

— † —

 

Deep primal roars that had shaken the castle since dawn broke, illuminated the frosted Night Castle in a dull grey light, had ceased for more than an hour. The old Devils, converted High Elves who’d managed to make it to the Evil God Hades, stood at attention in two long lines of twenty. All of them awaited their leader, the only being who could survive Hades’s rage. The large door creaked; inky long spiked fingers curled around its edge. Then a long blackleg and then a stretched figure slid out.

The figure moved with lulling grace that told them time did not matter to the monster. Deep crimson eyes appeared as the Devil, almost fifteen feet tall, stood outside the door as it closes it. Its entire body, smoky black, and void of any defining features aside from its elongated body and limbs and red eyes, looked over the two lines of Devils. 

“A human has been spotted in the Garden,” The black monster said with slow deliberate words. “He has ordered we exterminate the Four races once and for all. We, the Twenty Night Nobles, will do his bidding.” 

The devils looked at each other with mixed emotions. A human had gotten past all their demons, and now they’ve been given permission to march upon the insects. The bad and good news did seem to fly hand in hand. 

“Nobles of the West,” The monster spoke again. “Lead your forces down the valley. Take half the eastern Nobles with you.”

“Lord Hu!” One of the devils spoke up.

He stepped out of line. He was a hawk-faced demon with a massive broad body. He wore elegantly crafted black mail armor that was brushed with human blood to form a tree. He was of the Eastern faction.

“Why only half?” He asked with pointed concern that seemed to scream Were we not good enough? 

Cao Hu wanted to snort then, but these devils had slowly begun to act like the demons they lorded over. The High Elves had been a highly proud and cultured race. A few enclaves of the race still existed, hidden far away from civilization. Most of them, Cao Hu knew of. At least, he assumed it was most of them. Very few survivors had survived out of Edward and Lahabiel’s protection. Only those with the will and stubbornness to continue their traditions did so. 

Cao Hu had only wished these devils had been those people. They lacked any of the decorum they once had. Instead, they had mutated their once beautiful forms into grotesque beings. Like orcs crossed with trolls then spliced with various animals afterward. One of the devils, the closest on his left, even had a nose like an elephant. It hung down around the top of his chest. And sadly, he was on the nicer side of looks. 

“The nobles not deployed to the valley will split,” Cao Hu said as his featureless black face turned to the asker. “One half will take the mountain passes, and the other half will protect the southern entrance into the Forbidden Forest.” 

“But we will not earn valor there!” One of the Eastern nobles cried out. The others nodded.

“Of course you will,” Cao Hu let out a viciously deep growl that silenced the dissent. “You will protect the lands of your God’s spawn. No human shall pass into the forest any longer. We have allowed small entries to go unanswered, but that idiot dragon has been felled by someone. We cannot leave it up to those animals any longer.”

One Devil stepped forward but held his tongue. Cao Hu nodded to him, feeling the question on the tip of the devil’s tongue.

“And how will this earn valor for us?” The devil, a bull-like monster with a massively plump body like a fattened pig.  

“You will protect something very dear to your god,” Cao Hu said, but the devil didn’t look convinced. Cao Hu had to remember that, along with their slow descent into madness, so did their ability to remember anything beyond their deep-seated hatred. “The Forbidden Forest is Lady Cyril’s land.” 

All the devils went into a heated frenzy at the mention of their creator. That was also one thing they never forgot. Their love for the creator they had never met. Edward’s daughter, and his god-daughter. It astounded him how quickly they forget things, yet they always seemed to remember a girl they never met. For a moment, they looked to have regained some sort of sanity as they sent praises towards Cyril. They smiled and balked happily, offering to take place as the last paradise’s protectors. 

Then the hatred slipped back in. Reminded of the wrongs, they began to roar. They no longer vied to be the Forbidden Forest’s protectors, but it’s avengers. They wanted to raze every land near it as retribution for stepping through the forest. trespassing in the Garden of Eden had been all but forgotten now. 

“Enough!” Cao Hu bellowed. “Select the one strongest of you, they will protect the pass. All the others will comb the forest for intruders, and get rid of the protectors. They’ve forgotten their purpose and allowed the Starry Lake to be trespassed upon. If Cyril’s body is no longer there, poison the lake. It’s already been sullied.”

Cao Hu didn’t want to destroy Cyril’s paradise. It was built by her hands alone, and yet, her father wanted it torn down now that humans had been in it. But he was not the head of these devils. Only their manager. He cursed the humans that went to Fable’s End. All these years, he had been working to bring his old friend back. It all laid in ruins now, and the madness was set in. They were on a one-way road to destruction. 

Who’s? He didn’t know…

“Go,” Cao Hu ordered. “For the Motherland!”

“For the Motherland!” They all bellowed and stormed from the hall with murder in their hearts; glee in their eyes. 

Yes, for the Motherland. The lands they lost. For their dead friends. For Madin. For Cyril. Cao Hu looked up. A glass down framed with twisted iron hung over him. Grey snow clouds painted the sky. He wanted winter to be over and to bask in the snow so he didn’t feel so alone anymore… He hated winter.

 

— † —

Akyryss swung several feet off the ground in a makeshift hammock. Fashioned from all twenty-six silk curtains in her bedchambers, she swung back and forth slightly in her human form. She didn’t feel herself this morning. She watched the sunrise over eastern lands, backlighting to the massive cloud of smoke that rose far across the small stretch of ocean. 

As the sunlight slowly crawled down from the roof, illuminating the world in its warmth. With it, it chased the darkness away, and the intense emotions that had swirled in her heart. Emotions that were not hers, but of the one she loved. She hadn’t thought of it then when the power flowed through her with those words. 

She assembled her servants and assaulted the most important port in the Theocracy’s possession. It was the port connecting it to the desert cities and the elven lands. She had burned that infernal city to the ground, but not before looting it dry. She felt no mercy when she burned the insects to charred bits. 

But the power had faded and with it, it brought another problem. Despair and sadness. It had been overwhelming as it swirled in her head. She turned back, feeling it had all been for naught. Her dragons celebrated the raid and praised her to the burned heavens. 

Tears rolled down her painfully beautiful face as her eyes watched the sunrise. She curled her knees to her chest, and just let herself be pushed by the coastal winds. Behind her, several different maids mulled about with concern.

“She’s crying!” One elf maid to a catgirl. “She’s never cried before!” 

No one knew what to do, and most of them had been struck stupid from her sniffling. Her heart was breaking. Her love was hurting, and she couldn’t fly to her right now. Not without jeopardizing her land. It was a conflict she could not reconcile. Would Cyril want her to come to her? Or would she want her to defend the island? This was supposed to be their paradise, but it was all bust now. 

The Theocracy would mobile against the island soon. She had no plans against it. In fact, Sicuro had just scolded her for her rashness. They were ill-prepared for what she had done. She had completely cut all ties with the closest country without preparing their stores. Sicuro had left her alone when she bawled like a child in her hammock. Even that man did not know how to deal with a crying holy dragon. 

The door squeaked open behind her, and a familiar tapping of leather boots filled the large rocky chamber. Soon, Sicuro’s concerned face popped over the hammock’s right corner.

“I brought your favorite food…” He said with a weary smile. 

A moment later, the smell of sweet maple barbeque sauce filled her bedchamber. The squeaking of the rolling tray accompanied it. It grew closer and stopped. Sicuro disappeared and reappeared a moment later, holding a metal tray with an entire rack of glazed ribs. Steam still wisped off its perfectly cooked meat. 

“Pork ribs,” He smiled. “Freshly harvested before grilled. Lathered with your favorite sauce.” 

Akyryss could be a child sometimes, and more often than not, he had to coax her with food. When she was mad, sweet drinks could lul her into a more gentle state. When she was down, she would devour sweet ribs. When she was frustrated, chocolate from the tropical regions of the island. But this…? He didn’t know. He hoped he could lul her out of her bedchambers with it.

The entire palace was worried about their dragon ruler. She had walked through the entire teary-eyed. This had never happened before, but they all saw it. And like when she wanted to be alone, she stole all the curtains in her chambers and fashioned a hammock before the maids could pull out her real hammock. But no one believed she should be alone right now. Not when they didn’t know why this was happening. 

Akyryss glanced at the ribs for a moment, then shook her head without a word. She continued to sniffle in her makeshift hammock. Sicuro was lost then. What could he do? The island needed its ruler now more than ever. He had already made the necessary decisions, but no one would follow him for long. Word was already spreading of what state the White One was in. If this continued, the island would tear itself apart. 

This mythical being was the only thing that held them all together. 

“Akyryss,” Sicuro said without any honorifics to provoke a reaction. 

Nothing.

“You have to do something,” Sicuro said softer. “At least tell us what is wrong…”

She looked up at him, with… Pleading eyes. He was starstruck by just how perfect she looked, and how dangerous this was. This was not the Akyryss he knew. She had never looked at him with that look. And he had to snap her out of this. 

“Please tell us what we can do to help you,” Sicuro said. “Please. The island cannot live without you. We are all waiting for you.” 

“What do you do when the person you love is hurting?” Akyryss whispered loud enough for only Sicuro to hear.  

The man didn’t know how to answer that. 

“May I refer this question to someone with this experience…?” It took effort for Sicuro not to sigh.

This was just too much for him. A broken heart, really? The island had ground to a standstill because its ruler had a broken heart? The dragon looked at him, mulling it over before nodding. 

“Chalia,” Sicuro leaned back and beckoned for the elf maid. “I require your assistance.” 

The elf nearly sprinted across the large chamber before stopping beside Sicuro. Her bright blonde hair shimmered in the sunlight, and her deep ocean eyes were two pools of worry. Her maid dress was smoothed out as she stood at attention. 

“Our Lady Dragon here would like some advice.” He said and bowed out. “I’ll let you two ladies speak alone. Come now, everyone. Leave the room and go about your duties. Excuse me, I’ll be in the throne room if you require me.” 

The maids wanted to stay, but Sicuro wanted Akyryss to have some privacy for once. So he shepherded the maids out. Chalia waited until the room had been emptied, and the chamber doors slammed shut. When they had been left alone, she turned back to her idol before her. 

“How may I help, Your Grace?” The elf asked.

“How do you help the one you love, when you cannot be by their side?” Akyryss asked with the same pleading look. 

“Er… I mean..” Chalia was caught off guard by that, and the look. “Why can’t you be with them? You are the Great White Dragon and if you cannot go, is there truly anything anyone could do?”

“I…” She looked past the maid, and out the bay doors. “I was rash this morning. I attacked the Theocracy.” 

“We all know,” The maid smiled. “We are all proud of you. You finally stood up to that false god.” 

“But now I cannot leave this island, “Akyryss looked back. “Or I’ll lose you all.” 

“Is this person worth more than all of us?” The maid asked seriously. 

“That’s the wrong question,” Akyryss shook her head.

“How so?” The maid asked. “We are but mortals who will eventually die. If you love this person, you should be with them. You are immortal, and our lives must be like another day in your eyes.” 

“I lorded over this island because I wanted to make a paradise free of her bad memories,” Akyryss said. “You are all here to complete her paradise.”

“Is this your mistress you speak of?” The maid asked, catching on to what was going on.

“Yes,” Akyryss nodded. “I felt it, earlier. I felt her power course through me, but afterward, her sorrow. I don’t know what happened on the other end of the continent.” 

“Why don’t you send a small contingent of soldiers to her?” The maid asked. 

Akyryss head tilted slightly as if she didn’t understand. But slowly, her eyes grew wider as the spark ignited in them. She smiled slowly and climbed out of her hammock. Chalia smiled as well because there was a gleam of mischief in her eyes. The dragon was back, and she only needed the right push.

The duo burst out of the chambers, startling the waiting guards and maids. The maids were quick to fall in line, leaving the guards wondering what was going to happen. A turn here, and a turn there. Akyryss found the door that led into the throne room. It was open wide and she walked in as Sicuro was talking with the head of the Merchant Guild. Both of them bowed to her as she stormed in, still puffy-eyed. 

“Your grace!” The guild leader greeted before backing away from Sicuro when he saw her locked eyes.

“Your grace?” Sicuro felt a chill run down his spine as she walked. 

He was happy that she had returned to normal, whatever that was. He, however, was more scared of that gleam in her eye. A plan had been hatched, and like most of them, were probably badly thought out. She stopped in front of him, and her smile grew into a scary grin that made him gulp. 

FPS 73

When I asked Duke Barga about his request to escort Lapitricia-sama, and what I was looking out for, the knight spoke. The answer was to protect her from the nobles who used sorcery… All of them? Were all the nobles with magical powers in Kurtmerga Kingdom that dangerous?

“Steed, you’re exaggerating it. Shaft-kun, the people most likely to harm Lari are the nobles with magical powers. Still, not all of them are hostile, so they’re not entirely our enemies.”

“To begin with, why are the magical nobles here likely to harm Lapitricia-sama, your daughter?”

Duke Barga’s eyes narrowed in response. He then shifted his glance to Malta-san, who sat beside me.

“Because the Third Prince, Ark Kurtmerga, has the right to succeed the throne, isn’t it?”

Malta-san said in response to the stare.

“This year, Prince Ark will turn 15 years old, becoming an adult. Over the course of the year, he will elect one an aristocrat’s daughter of this country to be his consort. If I’m not mistaken, Lapitrica-sama should be the youngest of all of them. She has also succeeded in subjugating a labyrinth. She is also apart of the Barga Family, a high peerage, so she is one of the best candidates to become a consort. ”

“That’s right, of course, they wouldn’t attack her openly. Even so, I’m quite worried.”

“I understand, but since I’m only an escort for a month – wouldn’t that be meaningless if something happens after?”

“Haha, you need not worry about that. When January comes, I’ve decided that I’ll talk to all the nobles with magical powers.”

I could say for sure that these nobles were going to be taken care of, politically, in January. Afterward, Malta-san and I left the office. We confirmed the details in a separate room with Steed. Namely, scheduling and rewards. The escort mission would start soon. Tomorrow morning. Malta-san and I sat facing each other in the carriage on the way back.

“Shaft-sama, is it alright for you to accept? I was very surprised when you took off your mask back there. That face was…”

“Fufu. Since they’ve seen that face, they won’t be able to associate me with Schwartz anymore, right?  Besides, I also thought of using different weapons during the mission.”

Since Shaft-sama has decided to accept, I’ll do my best to help as much as I can.”

“That would help me a lot. But I may not have enough time to buy non-attribute stones for a month. So, I’ll buy up the magic stones available in the company.”

“We’ll provide it for you, so you don’t have to pay for it.”

“No, I’ll pay you accordingly. Since we’ve always been helping each other, please accept my money as thanks.”

“If that’s so, we’ll humbly accept.”

As the carriage rolled along, he bowed his head.

At the Marida Company’s Barga branch employee’s lodging, a private room had been rented for Shaft’s personal use. There, I checked the equipment needed for the mission tomorrow. If Lapitricia-sama saw weapons similar to the ones Schwartz usually used, she could think there was a connection between the two. In order to avoid that, I chose a different loadout. I took out a large number of weapons from the supply box summoned via the TSS.

The first was the Smith & Wesson E&E Tomahawk. This was a throw-able melee weapon, sold by the American S&W company. Its overall length was about 40cm, and the blade was about 20cm, including the projection of the ax’s head. I took out four of these.

The next one would be the Welrod ver VMB, a suppressed pistol developed in Britain. It would go on to become the main armament of this time. The Welrod was developed especially for military use in WWII. It resembled a Tonfa, because of its shape. It used the 9×19 Parabellum cartridge. It’d designed after the real-life version. With a capacity of 5-8 rounds, it’d been turned into a semi-automatic weapon rather than a bolt action.

It could also be used as a Tonfa because of its shape.

For this request, I’ll be using the Welrod, tomahawk, and the Special Electromagnetic baton as my basic loadout. I’ve also prepared the FMG-9 to carry beneath my clothes. I chose the melee weapons so I could avoid firing guns in the mansion and ballroom. It was also to deceive Lapitricia-sama by using fighting techniques; which was different from Schwartz’s and guard her as I fight in close quarters.

However, a problem arose when I tried it this way. That was my CQB ability. However, when I was mapping the Wolves’ Labyrinth, and collecting the magic water, I had the chance to test it out. With this in mind, what would happen if I used the powered-suit to enhance my physical ability to the max? Would it increase my attack?

To confirm this, using the baton, I thought of the melee attack from VMB. Sensing my intention, I felt power running through my body. Leaving everything to my power, I could use the move just like when I was in-game. From the side, I swung at a Skeleton I was fighting and crushed its knee. I moved to the side and swung the baton down on its neck while turning around it.

If it were VMB, the enemy player’s neck would have broken, but the current opponent would not die unless his magic stone left its body. So I hit the magic stone from its body.

I, who lived in the previous world, hadn’t learned any combat techniques, of course. However, most of VMB’s players were the same. And in order to fight in the game, support systems were required for melee combat. The system was also here as well. Since I knew about it, I had been using melee combat. I had taken out all the melee weapons in my inventory and repeated the CQC attacks I used in-game.

The amount of practice was not enough, but that was for the future. And in the future, I planned to integrate my CQC.

 

◆◆◇◆◆◇◆◆

The next morning, I was in the Marida Company’s carriage and about to head towards Bardage Castle.

“Malta-san, could you hold these for me?”

“Haa, what is it?”

As a final test, I handed over the Tomahawk and the baton over to Malta-san.

“You can hold them, but what about these?”

I hand over the Welrod to him.

“Do I also need to hold this? Haa–!?”

The Welrod turned into bits of light and disappeared. However, the tomahawk and the baton did not.

“Thank you, you’ve been a great help.”

“Haa, if its fine for Shaft-sama then it’s not a problem for me.”

I wanted to confirm this before starting my job as Lapitricia-sama’s escort. I know that firearms couldn’t be handed over to others. On the other hand, it was possible for avatar items. Well, what would happen to melee weapons? The answer was, only firearms couldn’t be passed over to others.

You’re asking why the need for me to confirm this?

“Looks like we’ve arrived. In that case, take care, Shaft-sama.”

“Aa, see you later, Malta-san.”

I got off the carriage. Then I informed the guards out front of my appointment and went inside with the guards’ guidance.

“Weapons are prohibited inside the castle. The weapons sorting and tool bags are here.”

Yesterday, with Malta-san, I had the weapons I brought checked. But since I’ve asked Malta-san beforehand, I attended without any. Yet, today was different. It seems that from now on, I’ll be escorting her despite not having any. As prompted by the guards, I took out and placed the baton and four tomahawks on the table. The moment they saw me taking out the tomahawks, the guards’ eyebrows twitched.

“Isn’t that the Black Mask’s weapons?”

I heard some murmurs from the guards around me. After I’d been finished, the guards checked my body. When it was over, it was time to see Lapitrica-sama, who was waiting for me.

“Excuse me, Lapitricia-sama, I’ve brought Shaft.”

“Please, come in.”

It didn’t seem like I was being taken into a private room. It was a salon… A parlor, I think? The guards urged me through the door, but I didn’t want too. The parlor was painted with a cream color. A large window had been installed to allow light to enter. Two women were basking in the sunlight, sitting at the table.

One had short, blonde hair; a girl around ten who wore a light blue dress. Her soft demeanor, which was inherited from her parents, embodied in her smile as she chatted with the woman. Her smiling pink lips were like small sakura petals – she was Lapitrica-sama.

The other one sitting across from her was…

Ashley…

FPS 72

Kay:
New Translator: Invichan.

Also, please check out a friend’s new book – Hepaistia


 

“Hiii!”

Lapitricia-sama, as I took my mask off, let out a small shriek. I had become an adventurer right after I reached adulthood, and she only saw me when we reached the deepest part of the labyrinth as a C-ranked adventurer. Looking at my face now across the table, she couldn’t help but raise her voice.

The face beneath the mask obviously wasn’t Schwartz’s face. Taking into account their way of thinking, I definitely had to show my face. Without any preparation, I wouldn’t have met with the Duke. Until the heat is off, I shouldn’t take any actions yet as Shaft. And my face right now was systematically changed by customizing the avatar. This didn’t mean I could just freely change Schwart’s face.

It wasn’t possible for me to change the bone structure, shape of the eyes, and the nose. However, moles, scars, tattoos, face paint, and other things could be set as facial accessories.

I applied the face paint I got during a limited-time event in VMB – a zombie’s face. There was a balance with the man’s bat mask. Only the upper half of the face had been processed, but I changed the skin’s color to red. And made the eyes a cloudy white, painting the skin around it inflamed. The eyeballs were pushing out from the skin. There was no outer skin on the right side, and the facial muscles were exposed. The forehead looked burnt, and I had no hair.

“Is this alright?”

“A-ah, it’s alright for you to wear the mask.”

Just as I was about to put it back on, I caught sight of Malta-san’s surprised expression.  No, no, haven’t I told him about this before? Here’s the thing, aren’t there magic or magical tools that cast illusion magic that can change one’s face? Since such things exist, I would be able to carry on using this method.

“Shaft-kun, let’s start our conversation over, shall we?”

The man who sat beside Lapitricia-sama spoke after I put the mask back on.

“Yes, I have no doubt that you’re his lordship, Duke Franklin Barga, right?”

“That’s right, I am Franklin Barga. The knight beside me is Steed Barga, Leader of the Western Barga Knights, And then this girl, the once I request for you to escort, is Lapitrica Barga.”

So this Knight is the leader of the knights, huh. There’s no doubt he must also be escorting Lapitrica–

“I’m Shaft.”

While sitting on the sofa, I lowered my head respectfully. I’ve asked Malta-san about some simple courtesy before, but I’m honestly not sure to what extent I could do it correctly. Well, I could only hope that there wasn’t a problem since I’ve shown sincerity.

“I’ve heard rumors of you from my subordinates.”

“Ru…mors?”

“Yes, something like ‘a mercenary wearing a black mask, who completely destroyed the Royal Capital’s rising company, Yagoche Company. Also single-handedly crushing the bandit group ‘Onibasu’. And wouldn’t hesitate to destroy the Royal Capital for the sake of protecting their client’. The underground in the Royal Capital is saying one shouldn’t get involved with the Black-Masked Mercenary’s client.”

What the hell is that… They’re completely exaggerating…

“It sounds like an overly dramatic rumor.”

“Is that so? But I want to be rumored like that too.”

“With that said, If I escort Lapitrica-sama, I could suppress the development of those who believed in the rumors?

“That’s right. And of course, I’ll be looking forward to witnessing your own power. There are only two escorts allowed to be brought into the Royal Castle and the banquet; a man and a woman, so I wanted to request someone stronger who could influence the surroundings there.”

“Your lordship, I’d be the one to explain the matters in detail.”

“Is that so? Then, please do.”

As he finished saying so, Leader Steed looked to me.

“Shaft, our request for you as an escort would last for about a month. Lari and his Lordship are going to the Royal Capital in a few days. They’re going to stay there for a few days. Then, they’ll visit a few other cities before returning to the Royal Capital again. Afterward, the request would last until they come back to Barga again.”

“Is the important point of the request escorting on the highway?”

“The highway is important, but you must always stay by Lari’s side. When they arrive in the Royal Capital, and the other cites, they will attend scheduled events. You have to participate as well.”

“I understand… Your Lordship, is Lapritrica-sama being targeted by someone? If any dangers arise, and the reason was because of me, don’t you think it’s necessary to make a request to the Adventurer’s Guild since the Lapritica-sama was in Sasanqua?”

“It’s certainly like that. But the Knights of Barga cannot leave Sasanqua is certainly a trustworthy clan, but there are a lot of noble daughters like Lari who were apart of Sansaqua. These girls would never go into high society life unless they’re successful.”

Mitche-san certainly said that… But would it be alright for an ordinary mercenary like me to go? As I thought so, I tried not to care too much about it. However, it seemed the Duke had reasons to express.

“Moreover, Shaft-kun, I didn’t intend to leave Lari just for anyone to escort. I’m resolute about that, so I searched for an escort who is more powerful than normal people, and it could be no one other than you.”

Duke Barga’s thin, sharp eyes continued to catch my cloudy eyes behind the mask. This person was the type to judge people by their eyes, and he kept searching mine.

“I’m not the only mercenary out there.”

Naturally, my eyes lock onto his and were unable to part. Contrary to his soft demeanor and tone, I could see his man had strong beliefs and confidence. He didn’t seem to be the type who’d simply give up.

“No, you’re different. I know from Marida Company that your social status is guaranteed. It’s hard to think about an ordinary adventurer who also works as a mercenary just by Malta’s description. I thought that at first. But now that I see you, I know that you’re a suitable candidate for this request.”

This is… Making it difficult to refuse. To start with, I had no precise reason to refuse. There were, of course, other jobs for me to apply. However, were there any other jobs that took priority over a Duke’s request? Since I came unprepared now, it should be fine for me to accept the request.

What’s more, if I refuse this request, I would ‘stain’ Marida Company’s reputation. Needless to say, it’d also ruin my reputation if I refuse.

“Alright. I’ll accept becoming Lapitrica-sama’s escort.”

“Is that so? Then, I’ll ask for your favor, Shaft-jun.”

“Haa–, but again, what should I protect Lapitrica-sama from?”

I asked this some time ago, but I needed to confirm it. I needed the information since I decided to escort her. Steed answered my question.

“From everyone.”

“Everyone?”

“Protect her from all the nobles, along with their daughters of adult age; living in society life who use sorcery.”

FPS 71

A request to escort someone as Shaft was delivered to me by Malta-san. I had a hunch that it was impossible to turn the request down when I heard.

“No need to worry about me, but I will stop getting in touch with you if you turn this down.”

Malta-san said. As one of the prominent merchants within the capital, and one with the right to purchase the goods from the harvest festival; there was no way a mercenary like me couldn’t take the request. Still, I was worried about this request, even if she had put it up. Malta-san said the client wasn’t the duke himself, but the third daughter- Lapitirica-sama – I believe.

Lapitirica-sama… Or should I call her Lari-san? She was a friend of mine who had walked through the, now destroyed, Emerald Demon Labyrinth with me. If she was the daughter of some unknown aristocrat, I’d only mind Malta-san. But she wasn’t a stranger at all. 

“Understood. For now, let’s listen to the story about Shaft as we go. Two days later, I’ll go to the company as Shaft. Please convey the message to the Lord.”

“Certainly. Please, do all of the preparations here.”

Malta-san bowed his head deeply as he spoke. I figured I’d listen to the story, and mostly refuse, depending on the situation. As I’ve decided, I’d return to the inn for the night.

The next day, I departed from the Fort City of Barga as Schwartz, spent a day walking to the south. When dawn came, I returned to Barga as Shaft. Even though it was early in the morning, I returned to the Marida Company. As it came into my sight, I saw some people on a wagon delivering goods to the warehouse. And as they were unloading, a guard came around the wagon.

“Ah! It’s Shaft!” 

If you raise your voice and shout “Ah!” like that, guards around you will draw their swords, you know. The one who saw me was the silver-haired fox beastmen, Silvara.

“It’s alright, he’s a guest of the company’s chairman.”

The one who calmed the guards was her golden-haired sister, Alm. 

“Looks like you’ve been doing well as an escort, huh?”

“It’s all thanks to you.”

“Yep, thanks to you, I can live like this.”

“Fu, while you’re at it, I’ve just unlocked the door. Leaving that aside, is Malta-san here? I came because I heard he called for me.”

“Wait for a bit, please! Nee-san, I’ll call the leader in a second.”

Amongst the guards guarding the company’s wagon, only Alm and Silvara knew of Shaft. The rest had no idea who he was. After a while, the Branch Manager, Bill-san appeared from the store. I hadn’t told him about switching from Schwartz to Shaft, but I may get the opportunity to tell him.

“Please, come inside. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Bill-san backed away slightly from how intimidating the Tactical Kevlar Mask I wore was. It’d be best if I told him about it soon…

“Good morning, Shaft-sama. I’ve been expecting you.”

“I’m sorry since it’s early in the morning. But would it be alright for the Branch manager to come with me?”

“Eh? M-Me?”

Bill-san, who was normally gentle and calm, showed confusion I’ve never seen to my question. Malta-san seemed to have caught the intention of my proposal and moved aside. Bill-san sat in front of me timidly. Malta-san smiled… This person was enjoying the situation, wasn’t he?

My map and sound sensor displayed that no one was outside the room. After I confirmed that no one would hear our conversation, I removed the mask.

“Sch-Schwartz-san?!” 

“Bill, tone it down. This thing about Shaft-sama is also Schwartz-san’s secret that you cannot tell anymore.”

“Good morning, Bill-san. I’m keeping this a secret for a variety of reasons. Thinking of the future though, I think it’d be best for Bill-san to know too. And that you’d follow along.”

“Is that so? What’s the magic tool do you use to change your voice? Now I get why the Chairman fully trusted Shaft.”

“Yes. Not only did I change the mask, but also the voice.”

To get my voice back, I needed to change the communication setting in the TSS. It didn’t take much to get used to, I think.

“No information about Schwartz-sama Shaft-sama may be published.  Either way, I don’t believe you’d just spill it out.”

Upon saying so, Bill-san promised he wouldn’t reveal what I’ve said. After that, Bill-san went to Lord Barga’s home to report beforehand. I couldn’t resist the castle suddenly. I had Malta-san check on things around the duke. I also checked whether or not there were any taboos and a few other things. 

Bill-san returned and told me it’d be best to go around noon. Meanwhile, Malta-san and I decided to spend the time before that to confirm the job.

◆◆◇◆◆◇◆◆

As our appointment came closer, Malta-san and I stayed at Bardage castle, the white building at the center of the citadel city. Bardage Castle composed of a large castle at the site’s center, and four spires around it. Several one-story buildings were also on the premises. After informing the guards at the game of my appointment, and confirming my ID, I went inside. 

We left the carriage with Bill-san as we went inside under the sentinel’s guidance. The duke was said to be in the middle of his duties, so we were taken to his office. I strengthened my wariness with my black mask. The guard guided us, and from behind, I could feel another two join us. My sensors caught a voice saying “Please, come in” from the office. When prompted by the guard, Malta and I went in by ourselves.

“Excuse me, I’m Malta from Marida Company.”

“I’m Shaft from the Mercenary Guild.”

The office was wider than I had expected. There was an office desk and bookcase to the front. To the side, there were two sofas facing each other with a table in between. A space for visitors. Those who were already sitting on the sofa was a man, in his prime, and Lapitrica-sama; the Third Daughter of Duke Barga.

Lapitrica-sama didn’t wear her priest-like robes from when I met her at the Emerald Demon Labyrinth. Now, she wore a long yellow dress that matched her short blonde bob hair instead. The man next to her was the Duke. In his mid-forties, you could see his brown hair mixed with a few white hairs. When I entered, I could feel him gauging me with his mustache and thin, sharp eyes. 

Was that an escort knight behind the sofa? A young man with a face that vaguely resembled the duke stood there. His armor, full silver plate mail shaped like the other knights in the western part of Barga. However, the design was painted with blue lines. I could infer that this meant he was higher than regular knights.

“I’ve been troubling you, Malta. And you’re the black-masked Shaft, right? Well, please sit down for now and discuss the matter, shall we?”

“Yes, if you’ll excuse me.”

Duke Barga was a man with a surprisingly gentle demeanor; completely different from what I thought he’d be like. Since I’d been offered a seat, I thought it’d be better for me to sit and listen. 

“You, could you please take off your mask in front of his Excellency?”

The knight standing behind the two called out to me.

“I’m sorry. Because I have a scar left on my face, it’s not something worth exposing, especially in front of Lapitrica-sama.”

“No worries, since it’s Lari-sama, you need not worry. Just take off the mask and show us your face.”

This knight- did he just call Lapritica by her nickname in front of the duke? Was it because of his high status?… Or were they perhaps related? I noticed Malta-san had become restless now. Certainly, this development was as expected. According to nobles’ way of thinking, it seems these high-ranked people wouldn’t continue with my mask on.

For this reason, I- -put my hands on the mask, and took it off. 

 

GGE 13 \\\ Fracture

Jogun savored the despair that trickled from the girl’s eyes. Her small insect fingers clawing at his hand, as it was wrapped vice-tight around her throat. It was such a pitiful, this little choking piglet had. Her face was beginning to turn purple, and her eyes were slowly bulging. Her weak legs scrapped at his breastplate, but her vain attempts to free herself only amused the draugr more. He wanted to torture the little pretty pig.

To show her what her people use to do to captured High Elves; But, he wanted to play a little longer – so he loosened his grip to let her scream.

“Cyril…” A name – A name he hadn’t hear in centuries – slipped from the insect’s lips

Jogun’s hell-fire eyes glowed with fury that a human dared to speak her name. Even after they had toppled her cities. Burned her chosen ones, and claim her lands as theirs!

“You are not allowed to speak the Creator’s name,” Jogun snarled.

He adjusted his grip on his longsword and plunged it through her midriff. Confusion rippled across the girl’s face, followed by a revelation. Then the pain. Jogun smiled as her face contorted in a silent scream. He felt the sword stab smoothly through her, only jerking slightly as he felt it slice through her spine. Jogun twisted the blade and her entire body convulsed. The pain was too much to push into a scream.

Jogun lips curled with disappointment. He pulled the sword out and dropped the girl in a heap of blood. The draugr had just pulled out a soul-stone, no longer interested in torturing the insect, before he heard a scream that he felt in his soul.

He first saw the golden fire that consumed everything near it. Then he saw the golden eyes at its epicenter and the… Dove wings that extended over it all. He had a sinking feeling to who it was when the figure, clad in golden monstrous flames like it was a suit of armor, let out a furious roar. The roar was high-pitched and demonic. It shook the foundation of the building itself. For a moment, he thought he could see the amber eyes in its face. Or maybe —

The figure flew at him, its white wings cracked with black veins as it reached for him. He swung his blade at it on reflex. The blade was sent flying, part of its edge melted and sent drops of molten metal everywhere. He quickly sidestepped the figure as it narrowly missed him. The heat it radiated made him feel like he was being roasted alive. Not that it was painful, as the dead felt no pain.

The fire monster crashed into the statue of the Usurp god, and the zombies around it that were trying to kill the Bishop. The glass windows around the statue cracked and shattered as debris flew everywhere. The Bishop escaped as the zombies tried to attack their new target. The remaining bits of statue turned to magma as the fire stepped with a shriek.

The zombies were turned to ash with a single swipe of its hand. Its featureless face turned to him, and he saw two black slits staring into his soul. The figure pointed to him.

Jogun raised his head high. As an immortalized High Elf, he would not slink away from this demon. Nay, not demon. This was something else, for no demon had dove wings. Only–

His eyes widened as the pieces clicked together.

“Master, I am one of your servants!” Jogun cried out.

The figure remained on moving as if waiting for him to finish the thought.

“I am Jogun, Draugr High Elf in command of Lahabiel’s undead army!” Jogun knelt before the figure. “I am bringing punishment down upon the humans for taking your lands for themselves!”

Jogun looked at the figure as it stepped forward, slowly. Each step measured, and the stone beneath it glowed from the heat. Its black slits never leaving his. It stopped several feet from him, and he no longer felt the heat as its wings fluttered impatiently. His instincts, honed over many battles, cried out at once.

“You hurt her,” Cyril hissed out, each one loud and viper like.

Jogun rolled to the side as golden flames poured out of her mouth. A large molten crater was left in his wake. He grabbed the zombie next to him, as it tore into an elderly man, and pushed it at his Goddess.

“I am your servant!” Jogun cried out in dismay. “Not that little insect!”

His words fell over deft ears. Cyril only heard murder, and that it would be his. A zombie leapt at her from behind a pew. She saw it, grabbed it mid-air and slammed it into the stone below. The flames that encased her fingers seared its skin as it bit at the air. Hungrily. Greedily. Cyril honored it with a knife head through its brain instead before the flames incinerated the body. Jogun watched with the realization that she, his Goddess, was going to kill him.

He made the decision to cast her aside then. She had not been there when the races of the South had burned their villages; raped their women; and slaughter their babies in their cribs. She was not there at Fable’s End when it fell beneath the siege of the four races. She… Was no longer their god.

Jogun quickly retreated towards the entrance of the cathedral, for he needed the Great Abyssal Soul Gem to find against a Goddess. He had already called out to the Black Ones to come to him. Their jobs had been completed, and he needed them here now. As such, he called out to the undead around him – using his wielding his innate undead powers over them – and threw them all at the traitorous Goddess.

The horde of undead, bolstered by the newly turned, shambled up from their feast. Their cold glossy eyes held nothing but hunger. For a second, the two sides stared each other down. The closest one charged, and thus pulled the rest of its horde with it. They clamored over the pews, the bodies, and the dying. Their only target was the flaming figure of gold.

Cyril was more than willing to kill them all.

The first one went down in a heap of gold flames. The next was speared with her hand. Then next was punched. Kicked. Quickly, Cyril found she could morph her fire into weapons if she just willed it. The first was a spear of flames that used to spike three zombies together before the flames engulfed them into heaps of nothingness. She let out a wicked, gleeful laugh as the flames morphed into different shapes. A sword. A dagger. Each and every single one killed several zombies with each strike.

But she grew too confident in her flames. The zombies still came in fives and tens, each clawing for her. One had finally managed to reach her. Its blackening teeth clamped down around her arm, forced forward but the others. Cyril roared, and the flames that encased her burned hotter, blasting away the zombie and the tens around her. She screamed as another managed to get close. A whip made of golden flames sliced the zombie from head to toe.

Cyril brought the whip around, and it sliced the zombies around her. It circled around her once before she pulled it high into the air. It arched upward, leaving a few fluttering flames in its wake as it slapped down against the stone. A dull explosion rang out as the stone cracked, and flames leaped across either side of the whip. The flames, like waves, washed over everything within ten feet of it. The smell of burning flesh and wood filled the air.

A circle of crawling zombies reached out for her, but she only ignored them. She walked down the path she had created; eyes locked on the open double doors at the front where a storm howled with death. Two spears of ice whistled through those doors, and one was met with a flaming spear head-on. The other one struck Cyril’s center chest and sent her flying back a few feet.

She landed back in her circle and the zombies began to claw at her. Cyril let out an irritated roar, her mind completely consumed with pure killing intent for Jogun. Flames burst from her body, fanning out around her. The flames sent the zombies flying back before they burned away mid-flight into ash. Cyril crawled to her feet, her wings fluttering madly before she flew forward with a mightly flap.

More spears of ice whistled out from the white, but Cyril had been ready now. She sent a current of fire forward and it melted the ice into steam before they reached her. The front of the cathedral was blown apart as the fire crashed into it. The storm, its winds circling around the monolithic building with precise, was pushed back from the surge of heat.

What was revealed was tens of ice-encased bodies men, women, and children. The people who had tried to escape had been killed by the storm. Frozen in different postures of pain on the steps of the cathedral. Jogun stood before the bottom step. Two of his four Black Warrior guards on either side of him. A large.

“Your time has passed, your Grace!” Jogun roared as he clenched the stone in his left hand. “Since you have chosen the humans over us, Lord Lahabiel and I will have to kill you as well!”

He said so with a heavy heart. The High One Cyril was supposed to be their Goddess. Their maker. Their everything. Even when the humans had pushed the High Elves from the south, Push them back into the Enchanted Forest around Fable’s End; they kept believing she’d return to them. She’d right the wrongs done. For she was the one who had created the High Elves. They were supposed to be her children.

And after so long, she returned… And took the human’s side. Jogun’s heart twisted with metaphorical pain, as he was undead and could only feel emotionally. She was no God of these, even if she had created them. She was one of flames and destruction. His eyes were open to the truth. Cyril did not repeal as she landed on the top of the steps. The layer of golden flames that covered her skin was non-transparent and licked at the cold air hungrily.

Yes… Jogun thought. She is a cruel and destructive Goddess… She should’ve never returned to this world… 

Two black slits appeared in the flames were her eyes were. They looked over the three quickly before it landed back on Jogun. Then she flung her self down the steps with a mighty war cry that made the ground tremble. Jogun materialized another ice spear in the air by his head before sending it streaking towards her in a blue line. He dove to the left with a Black One. The other dove to the right. Cyril smacked the ice crystal aside, shattering it millions of shimmering pieces before it joined the dead below.

She landed on the paved plaza floor, fire splashing out around her as she did. Her wings flapped a few times before she dove at Jogun, who had already slipped back into the blizzard. Instead of finding him, she found a black skeleton. Armed with a longsword, it’d been ready for her as it brought its sword down. Cyril hadn’t been ready for it as it cut through the flames, melting as it did.

The steel hit her like a hammer, splattering molten metal across her left shoulder. Cyril screamed in pain as she knocked the sword aside with mounting fury. The skeleton tried to strike her again but Cyril speared her hand up like a knife; her fingers stabbed up its empty mouth. Fire instantly poured into its head and jettisoned out its eyes and nose.

Unlike when before, where it would crumble and return to Lahabiel, it didn’t crumble. No. Cyril had felt the soul in it, and she grasped it with a mighty vengeance. Her flames ate at it. The soul knew instinctively what was happening, and it clawed at her burning arm. The black matter that covered its bones glowed hot before it burned away. The bones beneath disintegrated under the heavenly flames instantly. Within seconds, the soul had been destroyed and the skeleton fell away.

Before she could be proud of her kill, a sword stabbed into her from behind. She let out a pained cry and mule-kicked the attacker. The sword pulled out as she felt beneath her heel. Several ice spears shot out from the storm as she stumbled forward. The fatal one nearly missed her head as she recoiled. Another missed her as well, but the last one skewered her right tight.

She let out a pained howl as the ice melted away, leaving a glaring black hole. The hole closed a moment later. A flaming whip extended from Cyril’s right palm where it arched across the dark night sky, illuminated faintly by gold, and cut the blizzard it half. The snow fluttered into random directions, partially revealing Jogun and two Ice Golems that began to charge forward.

Cyril didn’t hesitate as the whip whirled around, skimming the tones momentarily to her far left. She sliced the golems in half, leaving chunks of fire that eat away the mana in them. Jogun panicked as the whip easily dealt with his golems and he had to duck low before he too was dealt with.

Losing focus, the storm weakened. He cursed and tried stabilize it. However, Cyril had already pushed forward. Her mana was like a massive sun in the sea snow, and it radiated throughout the storm. It scrambled the spell Lahabiel had made for him, and he failed to regain it. As if someone had just turned it off, all the snow fell lifelessly to the ground. Brillant silver moonlight rained down over the city. Fires burned to the east. Piles of snow everywhere else.

However, in the aftermath of the storm. People began to stir in their homes. Windows lit up as the frost began to melt. People had lived through that damning cold. Jogun saw it all, and for once in a very long time, he was scared. Cyril, however, burned only with vengeance and hate. She did not see and nor would she have cared. For Jogun was the only thing in her eyes, and until he was wiped from existence, she would disregard it all.

Cyril stepped towards him, snarling with wild ferocity. Prowling. Desiring. Jogun too a step back, and remembered that he still had the soul stone. He clutched it tighter to remember he was still stronger. He had doubts about whether Alistair could overcome him with the number of souls he’d captured  Surely, Cyril could not either.

“I still have –” Before he could show off his bravado, mainly to inspire himself; Cyril lept at him with a deep snarl.

He quickly drew from the stone and conjured a massive rock of ice. Before he could fling it at her, a whip of golden fire had already shot out from her palm and stabbed him in his offhand. The Soul-stone dropped, and the rock waned. Before it could fall apart, Jogun brought it down upon Cyril, crushing her beneath it.

The stones around the boulder exploded, sending snow and dust everywhere. Tiny golden flames had splattered all around it and began to fizzle out. Jogun looked at the boulder, feeling that had been too easy.

“Was… That it?” Jogun muttered. The boulder did not move.

Had he really done it? Jogun wasn’t sure. He waited, and stared. Still, nothing stirred. He began to chuckle, believing he’d just killed the oldest god ever; with an ice boulder at that. He let out a hearty laugh.

The boulder exploded into millions of shards like a fragmentation grenade. Jogun was knocked off his feet as tens of rocks cut into him. Thankfully, none had been fatal. He stirred, and looked back to the rock. Now, a golden figure stood there with fluttered white wings. The flames on her body raged violently as she let out a shriek and turned to Jogun. She then looked down at the large black stone that laid between them.

Jogun thought he saw the thought-form on her firey face. She flung her self at the stone just as Jogun scrambled for it as well. Cyril was faster. She scooped it up before Jogun could even get within five feet of it. She jumped back as Jogun landed on his stomach, his hands scraping where it had been. All around her, the stone had been melted and turned into black glass. The air had warm and the snow had begun to melt.

Jogun knew at this moment, he had lost.

The stone shattered as her flaming fingers crushed the large stone. A pillar of black and silver beamed up into the sky, lighting the sky as if the moon itself had fallen to earth. Jogun watched in amazement. Thousands of souls had been trapped in that stone. It was supposed to be absorbed by Lahabiel. Instead, they’d been released back into the world to rejoin the cycle of life.

“You’re a cruel Mistress, your Grace… ” Jogun muttered bitterly.

Cyril hadn’t looked away from him as the pillar extended upward from her palm. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he felt her eyes burrowing into his. He felt it, the hate. And when the light died away after several seconds, the stone was a shattered grey husk of semi-translucent crystal. Lord Lahabiel could have salvaged the shards, however, Cyril being the cruel woman she was – burn them away.

Jogun got to his feet, a sword of ice forming in his right hand. His left formed an ice dagger. Without a word, he charged at her. He would not die on his knees or groveling. He was a proud Elven warrior who had lived for many years. Fought many battles. For the love he bore for his lost family, his lost comrades, he would not die shamefully.

He was Commander Jogun of the Undead Army – Ardreth Presven, the last free High Elf. First of his name, and the second to be reborn under Lord Hades. As such, he would die a free elf.

Cyril met him head-on, with a sword of flames herself. The two met, and the two elements screamed as they clashed. Steam splashed out with water and fire. Jogun found elegantly, but it was all he could do to keep up with Cyril’s powerful and wild strikes. He countered, parried, and danced with refined footsteps of the High Elves. Cyril was like a wild animal, striking in any manner and without form.

Jogun was not offended. It was said the Elven grace hadn’t been around when she was. They were primitive, but he had lived at the height of the High Elven race. He would display his pride until the end. Fear be damned.

The snow followed and swirled with each strike Jogun made. The snow melted where ever Cyril’s sword went. Jogun managed to cross through one of her strikes and stabbed out at her unprotected mid-riff. It grazed her, but the fire licked out at his arm before it began to fester there. Burning the limb as it ate away at him. He cursed and cut his arm off, leaving his bad offhand as a result. It didn’t matter, for he would die anyway.

But before he could recover, the blade of flames appeared in his sight – flowing away. The world turned on his side as his upper body hit the ground. And he rolled onto his back to see the myriad of twinkling stars that would witness his execution. Jogun lifted his head to see that the Goddess had returned his favor double fold. She’d liberated his upper body from the lower. No innards fell out. Only putrid black magic that was burned away by golden flames.

He felt small strong hands clamp down around his throat as he was lifted off the ground. Cyril lifted him up to her eyes, the flames receding from around her face and hands. But the heat was still intense. Brillant discs of gold appeared before him, framed by silky white hair. Her flawless milky skin, specked with two small lovely pink lips. She was far more lovely than the pictures and statues had made her out to be.

If only she hadn’t turned against them…

“Any last words?” Cyril said, her soft voice masking the anger that raged silently through her.

“Long Live Hades,” Jogun said slowly with a blossoming smile.

Her free hand shot out, faster than he could catch. It borrowed through his mouth and into his skull. Golden flames rippled up her arm as she grabbed the soul that had been magically anchored to him. Jogun hadn’t thought she’d go directly for his soul. He had thought she’d simply kill him. He could have joined his family back in the afterlife, but… Not if his soul was burned away!

He tried to pry out her arm, his free hand smoking as it grabbed her arm. He tried to squirm, but her arms were like thick steel beams. The flames ran through him and wrapped around his soul like starved dogs as it devoured it. He felt a pain that was incomparable to anything he’d ever felt before. His blue-fire eyes flickered just before golden flames jetted past them, even burning away those. But it was taking long. Because Cyril wanted to torture him.

He squirmed in his arms as the flames seared his soul; playing with it as if it were hard candy. His hand had burned away. So, he resorted to beating weakly against her, cursing her as his thoughts were burning away. His memories.

He saw his beautiful wife, the one the vile humans raped before they could kill them. His beautiful children hunted down by the Eastern Dwarves. His neighbors toyed with by the barbaric Beastmen. The inferior races burning his city as they escaped. And for once, peace came for him. His family, standing in the light and calling out to him. But he could not go. His cruel mistress was harsh, regardless of who she favored.

The light was growing dimmer as his family cried out for him now. But he could only smile weakly at them as the golden flames burned through his soul.

“This is my fate,” He said.

He, Ardreth Presven, no longer the cursed draugr who served Lahabiel and Hades in their quest for vengeance. No longer the undead General. He was Ardreth Presven, the Commander of the Knights of Sunlight – Follower of the Light Goddess, Madin.

Go.  A voice whispered. Before I change my mind. 

The voice boiled with restrained rage, but it kept its voice low. Like a coiled dragon, granting mercy on a whim. The flames receded, and his soul began to piece itself back together. It was Cyril. He could feel it. Each piece that had been burned away had come back. All— Not all. He could feel it. He could no longer remember… As if a large part chunk of his life had been ripped away. He felt an unending hatred, and unbearable sorrow before that too disappeared silently into the light.

All around him, the Emerald Grass Sea was lush with life as the Knights of Sunlight rode back into his city. His family beside the towering arching gateway along with his men’s families as well. His pegasus whined as it saw their faces too. The knights dismounted, and he approached his family – kissing his wife on her long slender ear before he patted his little ones on the head.

“You’ve been gone for a long time,” She said.

“Hahah!” Ardreth laughed. “I was just out on a regular patrol. It was just for three hours.”

“You’ve been gone for five hundred years,” She smiled softly.

“Don’t joke like that,” Ardreth’s smile tightened.

“As you wish,” She smiled. “Take the kids home, I would like to pick up a few herbs for lunch, my Sun.”

“Yes,” Ardreth said softly. “I-I’d like that.”

His heart hurt. Her words resonated through his being. He felt there was some truth to that when she said that. He quickly dismissed it, wholeheartedly looking forward to her cooking. He shepherded his little kids onto his mount’s back before he and everyone else walked into the city.

The High Elf watched them go on for a few moments before her eyes turned to out of the city. There stood a slender human, with hard golden eyes and white hair.

“Thank you,” She smiled. “For bringing him home.”

Cyril’s eyes glared at Ardreth’s back as it melded into the crowds.

“I know it was hard for you to do,” The woman said.

“I wanted him to burn,” Cyril growled.

“You could have done so, your Worship,” The wife said. “But you let him go.”

“I did it for you and your kids,” Cyril’s voice began to soften. “I saw his memories, I saw what they did to you.”

“Yes,” The woman’s smile didn’t fade as she bowed.

“Yes…” Cyril said as she tempered her breath. “I also saw that…”

Cyril couldn’t say it.

“Yes, your mother is – was here,” The woman turned to the city. “This city was her shrine, and also her home. She walked the streets amongst us, told us of her life, and yours. She told us to never forget you. And we didn’t.”

“I want to ask you more about my Mother,” Cyril said as she fought against that, but even more. She needed to know that letting that draugr go meant anything. “Will you find peace now?”

“Maybe,” The elf turned back to Cyril. “Heaven was destroyed, and thus, there is no longer an afterlife. We are but a murmur lost in the cosmos. Of a place of power that only exists for your mother loved us so.”

“I see,” Cyril said. “I won’t take up your time.”

“Thank you,” The Elf went to her knees gracefully before tapping her head against the ground. “You are as sweet as your mother told us you were.”

The woman turned, her eye looking up to the large lush tree that scraped the sky. With a breath of relief, the elf took a single step. Then another. With each step, the city faded away. The walls crumbled and the three slowly withered before the city faded into the void.

 

— † —

 

Cyril found herself staring down at the ash-covered snow. Grey dust that was slowly turning black. Her heart ached with a myriad of emotions that conflicted, and her thoughts slowly began to settle. Her mercy had been repaid with information. Information that changed her whole outlook on what was to be. Then she remembered Priscilla. She turned on her heel and walked listlessly across the broken stones.

A single black skeleton stood there, a flicker of intelligence grew in its eyes and stepped aside. Cyril only stopped next to it, wondering if it wanted to continue the battle. She didn’t have it in her to do so, though. The skeleton bowed with a deftness the other one never had before it crumbled into a heap. The blackness melted away into wisps of smoke that traveled high into the brightening sky.

Cyril felt heavy. Empty. Thus, she continued on.

The cathedral’s insides were black and it smelt of burnt flesh. Very few bodies had been left in the wreckage of the battle, and very little of the interior had been left unburnt. What wasn’t burnt was covered with blood. She crossed the hall, her heels tapping against the malformed stone floor until she reached Priscilla and Bishop Luis.

He looked up at her and gasped. Cyril only looked down at them with tired eyes.

“How is she…?” Cyril asked as she slowly sat next to Priscilla.

“She’s going to live,” Bishop Luis said, his eyes eyeing Cyril’s face and her wings. “I do not know if she will walk again. Stronger magic is needed to heal it properly, but I did what I could. I pray that it was enough.”

“Good enough…” Cyril whispered.

She slipped her arms gentle under Priscilla, just to get her off the cold stone floor. She cradled her in her lap, her eyes looking down at the large ghastly scar. It looked like a massive burn sky on her stomach. The teen’s face was pale as well and she looked pained. Cyril rocked her back and forth and began to sing. Softly. Gently.

Because she failed to keep her promise to her. Because her friend was hurt. Because she was a failure, and it was all she could do right now to atone for that sin…

So she sang, a little song called “Tomorrow will be kinder”.

Because… She could only hope it would be…

 

— † —

 

The last of the zombies were killed, and Layla felt her heartbreak. She slumped to her knees, and looked over a sea of corpses. Aside from the few initial humans, she had saved no one else. It’d been a complete massacre. People had turned faster than they could kill, and for a few minutes – the entire street had been a living hell. Fenrir walked through the sea, pouring a torrent of fire over the bodies.

She would’ve helped him, but she felt tired; empty. She also felt lost. She didn’t know where these emotions were coming from, but she could feel it wasn’t hers. Or maybe it was? She was numb now, emotionally, after having to slaughter zombie children. Zombie women. Zombie elders. It hadn’t been quite the thing when she’d been an adventurer. But she had never fought zombies before.

“Is it safe now?” A small boy asked from the window above her.

“It is…” Layla sighed. “We killed all the monsters. Let’s get you inside the city now. ”

She dropped the bloodied sword, which was nothing more than scrap metal now. And the children began to step out of the brick building they’d sheltered in.

“Fenrir!” Layla called out to the large wolf. “Can you get that gate open?”

Fenrir looked up to the Eastern Gate and nodded. The storm was growing stronger and — The storm died as she thought about it. The wind died and snow slowly fell all around them. It was as if the storm hadn’t been there. Stars shimmered as the sun began to rise. Layla smiled as she turned to see Fenrir scrambled with some effort onto the frost-covered stone curtain.

A few moments later, the gate began to slowly open and the group made their way in. They disregarded the smoke columns that rose high in the sky now. Illuminated by the rising sun, they stepped through the gate, and it closed behind them.

Inside, the snow was up to the children’s chins. Fenrir, who joined them after closing the gate; had been voluntold to let the children ride him. The wolf worked his way up the road, seeing several smoke columns rise from the north, but none like in the slums. He lost interest as he latched onto the, now strong, thread of magic linking Layla and Cyril.

Life stirred all around them. Fearful faces in windows. Doors cracking as they looked in awe to the wolf being ridden. Eventually, they reached a large plaza. A plaza that’d been torn apart by a battle. Fenrir could feel the faint traces of a particular sort of magic; one that belonged to Lahabiel. The thread led into the large cathedral on the other end of the plaza. And thus, he continued even as a crowd began to slowly form around a few destroyed skeletons.

They stepped into the thrashed cathedral and saw a strange sight. An angel, a girl, and a clergyman. Fenrir’s heart began to race as he heard the beautiful voice that echoed solemnly throughout the hall.

“Off, now, I must greet my Mistress,” Fenrir ordered, and let them off. “Layla, come with me to greet her.”

The children followed as the two walked up the altar steps. Fenrir and Layla kept their eyes down as they bowed when they reached Cyril’s feet. When they looked up, they each held back a gasp as Cyril sang. Her angelic face was enrapturing and beautiful. Nearly flawless.

For, black lines had webbed across the left side of her face. And a black horn curved up from her left temple. Fenrir knew what it was on sight.

It was Corruption.

 

— † —

 

Priscilla found herself being carried among a sea of people dressed in strange black clothes. She was in a church, though it was similar to the cathedral, the holy symbols within it were nothing she recognized. Everyone spoke in hushed voices. She quickly discovered she couldn’t move and that her body moved on its own. She felt trapped.

She then turned to see who was carrying her.

“Mommy, is Grandpa really not coming back?” A child’s voice called out.

“Yes, Dear,” It was a woman with fiery red hair and lovely blue eyes.

“Is Heaven really that far?” the child asked.

“Yes, Cyril,” The woman sighed. “Very far.

Cyril?! Priscilla panicked.

“Madin,” A man called out from behind. “Load up. I’ll be there in a moment. I need to square away a few details with the Bishop.”

Cyril turned to see an older white man with greying hair. He looked worn and tired, more so than this Maddin.

“Aye,” Maddin replied with a particular accent. “Don’t be too long, Cyril needs to eat.”

They then turned and walked down the steps before Maddin had put them down. She grabbed their hand and led them across a strange black stone road. It looked mysterious and to be one large piece with different vibrant colors. People were getting in metal boxes with tires that roared to life all around her. It was scary… And fascinating.  They moved without horses before leaving the area. They were metal carriages.

One carriage roared load in the distance. But Cyril never seemed phased but it so it must have been normal. They slid between the carriages as Maddin fumbled with something in a teary haze. Then a boy called out to them.

“Cyril!” A boy called out. “Your mom dropped your keys.”

“Alright!” Cyril said and began to run across the black stones as something roared in the distance.

“Cyril, don’t run off!” Maddin yelled and chased after her, running past the other people.

Something roared off to the side as Maddin grabbed hold of Cyril’s wrist. She was in the middle of picking them up when people began to scream. Cyril turned to see people falling over as a large metal carriage, with two bright lights, came at them. Maddin screamed and tried to pull them away. Cyril only stared in shock as the lights grew closer.

Then Priscilla felt her body contort and something heavy roll over her. She felt warm and wet now. Her head throbbed, but she only saw the blue sky as snow clouds slide across it.

“Cyril!” The man from earlier called out.

The metal carriage roared to life again, and then loud thunder echoed several times. There was a loud crash and even more screaming. The grey-haired man was over her now, and that little boy hysterically apologizing.

She didn’t understand what had happened. Why it had happened. However, the pain was coming now. It was a soul wracking pain that made her chest heave, but even that hurt as well…  Everything went dark.

Priscilla suddenly found herself in the middle of another storm. Or at least, what she thought was a storm. It was just a sea of snow, and wind skimmed over it. Black tendrils webbed outward across it and Priscilla followed them with her eyes. She found they had come from behind her.

She turned to see where it came from, or where it was going.

When she turned, she saw a massive golden crystal ball. At its core, was Cyril. The black webs converged below the ball and formed a black pillar that rose up and connected to the crystal ball. And webbed across a small portion at the bottom. Where it turned, the gold around it had turned grey. Priscilla felt a cold take over her.

“Disgusting human…” A voice roared in the distance. “How dare you step upon the land of Eden!”
The ground trembled as black tendrils rose up from below the snow. It was not snow, but ice. It shattered and tens of tendrils rose up. They arched through the air before coming down toward her – intent on killing her where she stood.

“Enough, Edward,” A sweet voice, Madin’s voice, called out. “She’s our daughter’s friend. I’ll take her back to where she belongs.”

Silver light wrapped over her, and just before the tendrils struck her. She was gone. When she opened her eyes again, she found Cyril looking down at her. Her wings were spread out behind her, almost wrapping around her. She was changed. Like the crystal out in the ice field, black webbed across the left side of her face. A single horn had grown as well.

But she still looked down at her with a soft smile.

“Welcome back,” Cyril said softly.