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Thread: Moonsight Underground

  1. #1
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Post Moonsight Underground

    Greetings! It's been a while since I posted much of anything here, be it in roleplay or fiction, and the last time I did, it wasn't much of anything Type-Moon related. Well, here I am again, doing something similar. And like most of my projects there's the unfortunate possibility that it will die with a whimper rather than live out its full life. Regardless, I'm still going to do the thing, so here we go. Again.

    And I do mean "again." This particular piece was previously published on other sites and has several chapters already written. They're being edited and fixed a bit for here in order to fix some previous issues and just clean up my own grammar and spelling. I wound up removing all of the thus-far released chapters from the site I originally posted them to due to a severe distrust of the site's management and their tendency to get involved in some really ugly intra-community politics while knowing that my own works were sometimes in the range of things that triggered their ire. I pulled the plug on my posts over the possibility of losing access to such an ability later, especially after they started running an internal purge of nonconformists within their site and server.

    For those of you unfamiliar with my works, they're often genre-bending and smutty. That's not for everyone. Nor is having a story that takes pages from fantasy JRPGs, Light Novels, Anime, Manga, and the like. The setting is original but you'll find plenty of references and might be able to pick out the inspirations pretty easily. It's an Isekai setting, but this isn't an Isekai story, so you'll be watching the natives being restless. It's also meant to be something of an introduction to the setting, which I intend to use for other works and make available to other interested parties for writing and roleplay as its fleshed out more. It's intended to be usable with TTRPG rules, specifically Pathfinder 1st Edition, hence the tag. Yes, it's old. Yes, I'll probably update it to other systems. Eventually. No, I don't expect you to play the smut game in-person, even though there are smut rules.

    Anyway, you're not really here for that weirdness. You're here for a story, and maybe to drop a comment or ask a question or something after you've read it, so I'll shut up and get to it now.








    Prologue: Squeal



    Branches and limbs tore at him like grasping claws as he pelted through the underbrush. No matter how many cuts or scrapes or bruises he was given, the woods were better than what was behind him.

    He could hear wood splintering as another tree gave way before it.


    Somehow, he ran faster. Lungs and legs aflame, he ran faster.


    The leathers were little protection, but enough. An impossibly deep, yet horribly nasal squeal tore through the forest behind him as more of the forest fell before the horrific
    thing hot on his trail. His legs carried him through brush and loam, over one deadfall after another, around and almost into more trees than he had ever wanted to see in his lifetime.

    And still, it wasn’t fast enough.



    It
    was gaining.


    He had no idea where he was going. He had no plan, no destination. There was no ending to this race that didn’t involve him crushed under hoof, speared on a tusk, impaled by quills, or mauled and swallowed alive by the unnatural boar that was chasing him. He’d taken flight the second he’d returned to camp from taking a piss, and there it was. Were there other survivors? He had no idea. It noticed him as soon as he’d rounded the wagon to see what all the yelling and crashing was about. The damn thing was
    bigger than the wagon; only the distance had hidden it as it tore through the opposite side of the camp. He couldn’t hope to fight it. Not something like that. That big. That solid. Flame and blade were not enough against it; even a glance told him as much. It was too strong. Too tough. Too protected. Twisting tusks greater than a knight’s lance. Back and flanks covered in a coat of barbs like javelins, broken only by coarse brown fur and hideous, staring, swollen eyes that wept tears of putrid yellow pus.

    All he could do was run.


    And he knew he was at his limit.


    It squealed again, a horrific sound that raked his mind, loud enough to make his ache and vibrate his lungs in his chest. His vision shook and the ground vanished beneath him as his legs carried him over a small rise and rolling into a stony creek bed. The smooth-worn rocks cracked against his knees as he tumbled through the water, scrambling desperately to his feet and plunging onward. Some mad, animal part of his brain drove him to run along the water’s edge, even though it took a turn, and so he could see as well as feel the tree line beside and above him shudder as the massive swine began to burst forth, out, and down. It was like an explosion, like something in his master’s lab had gone awry. He felt as much as heard as a tree toppled and slammed into the dirt and water behind him. He expected to feel a blast of heat and force, but instead all that followed were splinters and another piercing squeal that shook his guts like a drunkard’s fist. He stumbled, fell.


    He was going to die.


    A fucking pig the size of a taproom was going to kill him. It squealed again, grunted. Grunted some more.


    It sounded as if it struggled for a moment, its cries of rage seeming more of frustration. Maybe it’d become stuck in the mud, or one of those ridiculous tusks had hooked on a different tree. As if mere mud could hold something like
    that. It didn’t matter. He hauled himself up and powered on with renewed effort, sodden coat and pants and all.

    There has to be something!? Somewhere!?


    But the only thing that came to mind was the ruins they’d come to investigate… the kind of place that
    called to Beasts like the one behind him as a lodestone to iron sand. To go there was like running headlong into the creature’s lair. And yet it was the only possible escape… that he might somehow find a way to lose the creature there or turn something against it. Or even just reach some place too narrow to fit it and too sturdy to break.

    But I don’t even know where they are!?


    All he had was a general direction. One that meant even less after the mad chase he’d been forced into by the thing.

    Something wooden cracked, snapped behind him. There was another squeal. He could feel tears welling in his eyes. Though the thought didn’t fully form, some part of him was wailing at the unfairness of his fate. Of his master’s.

    He ran.


    It was all he could do.


    He ran where he thought the ruins were and
    prayed as another tree died.
    He ran back into the brush. Back between the clawing, biting trees and the thorns and concealing ferns, past a patch of Fiery Kiss and the pond it crowded.
    He ran until time lost meaning and direction lost meaning and his legs and lungs went numb. He ran until he felt drunk, until he wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it, at the sound of every shivering, splintering tree and piercing squeal. He ran until lights danced in his eyes, his throat long since parched as a desert. He wondered if he’d die from it, and his legs would still carry his corpse on.
    He ran between trees time and again and again, each time sacrificing them for the sake of his own life as the idiot Beast barreled through them in its fanatical hatred of all things human. Between the trees, between the trees, between the trees and on unceasing.

    At least until their roots finally had their vengeance and cast him down into darkness. He fell, pitched, rolled, and fetched up against something cold and hard and utterly unyielding. The force of it blasted what pitiful breath remained in his lungs from him and left his vision swimming, body uncooperative. Had the frames of his spectacles not curved round his ears, he’d have long since lost them, but even that wasn’t enough to keep them on his face.

    He couldn’t tell if he heard or felt the boar’s impact more. Tremendous force. Crushing pressure. Hot, stinking breath, full of the stench of ruptured flesh and viscera from those souls who’d been caught by it. The raw stink of animal and disease. A piercing squeal, fit to skewer him.

    In rage.


    Not triumph, but
    rage.

    He lay crumpled just beyond its reach. Try as it might, slamming and crushing its massive body forward, grunting and squealing with effort, spraying flecks of gore and spittle, it could not press forward anymore. It had fetched up against something that did not yield to its fury. Something it could not break or breach.


    Yet.


    Half-mad, aching, burning in agony, he scrabbled in the dark for his glasses. And once found, he crawled off into the gloom beyond the threshold.


    Last edited by Twelveseal; December 10th, 2023 at 05:46 AM.
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  2. #2
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Chapter 1: In a Dark Place


    He came to with a start, sore all over and with no idea where he was. But he was alive and that was definitely the most important thing. A groan passed his lips as he started to uncurl his aching body. It seemed he’d wrapped himself into a fetal position while he slept and the cold stone and prior exertions had been unkind to muscles, bones, and back.

    Not that he’d intended to fall asleep in the first place. Exhaustion had taken him instead.

    He tried looking around, but it was so dark he might as well have left his eyes closed. There was no telling how far he’d crawled after escaping the boar, or stumbled after he’d pushed himself up on a smooth stone wall. No way of telling where he was in the gloom. He was fairly certain he’d at least made it into the ruins the expedition’s map had marked. Pure dumb luck, the mercy of the Gods, or the hand of fate, there was no way his half-remembered, turned-round directions had been what brought him there. There was even less way it was going to guide him inside those ruins without so much as a hunch. The map had shown their destination, not what lay there. Instead, he’d let his feet and the wall guide him into the depths, and whatever dangers it might contain, like a damn fool.

    He couldn’t remember if he’d collapsed, or if he’d stopped to rest and simply fallen asleep. Not that it really mattered much to his sore, aching body. Now that he was awake, though, he knew he couldn’t stay there, no matter how much the flesh protested. There wasn’t going to be any sort of rescue for him. No one would expect anyone coming back from their expedition for days at the earliest, and more likely weeks. Assuming they expected anyone back at all. The Adventurer’s Guild was used to losing people, after all. Such was the nature of the job.

    If he was going to make it back home, it’d have to be on his own two feet. But first, he needed to get his priorities in order.

    Light. Water. Food. Shelter. Security. Fire. Location and directions.

    He started running through things he’d need. First was definitely light. He couldn’t take stock of what equipment he still had after that wild chase through the forest. Gethin, the old caravan master, and… well, they’d always made sure everyone kept a basic kit on them while they were awake. Just in case of an attack. Bandit or Beast.

    Not that it had saved them.

    He felt around his neck for the leather thong and pendant he kept there. Even without seeing it, he could feel the smooth curves of the triskele amulet as it slid into his hand. He traced the spirals with a single finger, letting his mind follow it, and exhaled a slow, quiet breath. A moment to focus, not for power, but for control. Lifting that finger in the air before him, he pictured a flame in his mind, burning like a great candle at its tip.

    The jet of fire danced slightly where it hovered above the tip of his index finger, long and tapering as if it were a dagger of flame. It was enough for him to see by, for a short distance at least. And perhaps also enough to deter any problems from the local fauna.

    He reached down to the money belt around his waist and plucked a coin. A copper, by the size and weight of it. A bit more focus, and an image in his mind as if kindling a fire within it, and the coin glowed bright as a flame itself. Cold to the touch, but bright. He set it on the stone floor beside him, and then hauled himself up to his feet.

    Everything hurt.

    Legs, back, neck, shoulders, arms, fingers… he felt as if the Beast had trampled him. His bones creaked and joints popped. He couldn’t suppress a groan.

    “Gods…”

    He braced himself against the cold stone wall, even as he held the little flame away from him. He could barely remember what he’d done after making it into the ruins, but he sincerely hoped he’d just followed the wall on his left instead of running off like a madman. It was a good sign that he’d slumped against it. Shame it had decided to contribute to his physical pain on waking by being hard as… well, stone.

    He rolled his shoulders, careful to keep his light away from him. As he started to stretch and work out the knots, his body serenaded him with a chorus of pops and cracks. Nothing seemed bent on attacking him, at least. He’d seen nothing move in the dark, nor heard anything other than his own body’s complaints. He hoisted his flame into the air above his head, willed it bigger, brighter, aiming its heat up and away from him as it grew to the size of a human head and turned in on itself into a roiling sphere of fire. A part of him just wanted to stare into it, the flames calming him somehow. Instead, he merely glanced at it and then scanned the room.

    It’s really… clean.

    His master had taken him on missions to explore ruins before. They were usually dirty affairs. Accumulated leaves, dust, and dirt gathered in every crack and crevice, up against walls, in corners and dips in the floor. There were inevitably cobwebs everywhere. If bats were present, there was always guano, usually in deep piles. There were usually mushrooms, mold, or slime of some sort. And bugs. All manner of creeping, crawling things that fed on the filth or became food themselves.

    He could feel the hair rising on the back of his neck.

    Absence of dirt meant either the ruin wasn’t abandoned by thinking creatures, there was powerful magic at work… or there were Beasts that ate everything slithering their way through its corridors.

    Greaaaaaat. I need to get out of here and get back to Gowlg and the Guiild somehow. See if there were any other survivors and… and report the dead I know. An image of an aged man in red robes, hanging from a great, twisted tusk rammed through his chest came unbidden to his mind. His flame faltered for a moment, threatened to grow, before he calmed down again.

    Grief comes later. More people will die if I don’t get out of here soon. That thing will eat a recovery team alive.

    He looked at the room again. It was weirdly round; a decently sized chamber with no supporting pillars, but whose walls curved as the rose to join the ceiling like a bubble of stone. Which… had a hole in it. He guessed it might have once been a skylight of some sort, but it was somehow filled completely with tree roots. The roots had cracked the ceiling some, so that small pieces of the stonework lay strewn on the floor beneath it. He didn’t remember crawling down any stairs.

    I guess this means the building has a giant tree growing on it somehow… I guess that explains why no one really knew about this place. It just looks like part of the forest until you're right on top of it. Or rather, under it.

    The walls were painted, but only very low to the ground, and the colors had faded considerably. The work was probably originally in reds and golds, and seemed to have leaf patterns resembling autumn maple leaves fallen on the ground. As they were now, it was more faint pink and yellow against the cold, dark stone.

    Maybe this place started out as a cave and was converted?

    He was starting to think that these ruins might have been something other than a tomb, despite that being what the region was known for.

    Two exits to this chamber... I think I came from the one over there, so the other would lead deeper in. I should probably see if the pig’s still at the entrance.

    He shuddered involuntarily.

    At least this place was safe, as far as he could tell. No sign of any immediate threats. He bent down with a grunt and refreshed the Light spell on his coin and let his flame die before finally starting to check his gear. His armor had held up reasonably well considering he’d been charging through the underbrush for gods-only-knew how long, at least part of it bolstered by Expeditious Retreat and a bit of his own martial studies. It’d definitely saved his skin from getting torn open by the woods. A few nicks and scrapes to the leather, but nothing deep. His coat had fared just as well, for which he was exceedingly glad. It’d been a gift from his master before they’d started this mess, and the expensive leather armor was probably the single most valuable item he owned. He thanked the gods that the thing’s tails could be strapped to his legs. Otherwise, he’d have surely caught it on something during the chase.

    He still had his short sword, as well as his daggers. He also still had his hand axe. His sling and a bag of stones were there. His notebook was still strapped to his belt in its little pouch. The rest of his belt pouches seemed fine as well; some rations, his inks, charcoal, quills, and paper. The little pouch of sand. There were some trail rations stored in one; hard bread with garlic clovesbaked in it, some jerky, a block of hard cheese, and dried fruit, seeds, and nuts. He had a mostly-full waterskin. He had his whetstone and his heatstone. He had a mirror. His flint and tinder. He had some oil and a couple of flasks of Cure Light Wounds, and a couple of herbal chews for easing pain and improving natural recovery. He had a beat-up bullseye lantern. He had his glasses, the clothes on his back, and his leather armor and coat. He’d also gained more than a few twigs, leaves, and strange berries he dared not eat lodged about his person.

    He’d lost his scroll case somewhere in the woods. He’d left his tent, bedroll, blankets, field alchemy kit, machete, rope and climbing gear, his headlamp, most of his food, all of his wine, and everything else back at camp. He’d never had the damn map to begin with, only glanced at it… meaning figuring out the way back was going to be difficult. His mnemonic abilities were geared towards reading people at a glance, not instantly memorizing everything he saw once. At least he wasn’t unarmed, even if he wasn’t able to handle something like that giant hog. He knew full well he’d never be able to kill something like that in a straight fight. Even trying to ignite it had only made it angrier and harder for him to run from it. He’d tried that all of once and immediately realized he wouldn’t live through a second attempt.

    Putting everything back in place, he stretched some more, limbered up, and refreshed his coin again, carrying it this time. He plucked a stone fallen from the hole in the roof, wrapped his sling around his free hand, and drew his short sword with it. No sense going unarmed just because things as yet seemed safe.

    Time to see if that thing is still there.

    And off he went, trudging back through the gloom in the direction he thought he’d come. Or at least thought he’d come.

    ………
    ……



    He’d walked further than he’d realized, but by good fortune or good sense had managed to stick to what had been the left-hand wall. It was hard to gauge time in this place, but he passed through numerous rooms, and at his current, easy pace he was willing to bet it’d been nearly a half hour. He could only imagine how massive this place actually was, as some of the rooms easily swallowed the light of his torch-like coin.Some were smaller, round, with those distinctive skylights. About half of which had been overgrown with roots. The rooms like that which weren’t choked by those colossal roots often had dirt, leaves, and other debris piled in them, putting him a little at ease in regards to the cleanliness of the place. Though it really made him wonder how long those holes had been covered, or if they’d been made that way. If whoever’d built the place had intentionally incorporated the trees that way.

    Regardless, he eventually found a few small steps leading out into the forest at the end of a narrow hall. There was no door whatsoever, just the little stone stair turned up and to the left, something that only left him with questions. Two thick, and now thoroughly scarred, trees flanked the entrance, one of them tilting at an awkward angle toward the other that looked to have been natural rather than pig-induced. It was the threshold he’d fallen through, almost certainly.

    He listened, but heard nothing.

    He almost called out, opened his mouth, but something about this place made him feel uncomfortable speaking and he closed his parted lips without saying a word. Perhaps the solitude of his situation was weighing on him, or the gnawing fear of being in an unknown place with unknown properties and dangers. Instead, he simply let the glowing coin fall from his hand to clink against the stone floor, shifted his sword to his newly empty hand, and unfurled the sling. With the scavenged piece of ruin firmly seated, he wound up the shot and launched it into the ferns and leaves beyond the entrance. The stone cracked against the unseen root of a tree and ricocheted off into the underbrush

    He waited.

    He counted heartbeats, listening for any sound of movement, looking for anything shifting.

    One. Two. Ten. Twenty. Fifty. A hundred. Nothing. No sound, no movement.
    Not even of night birds singing beneath the moons.
    No animal calls in the darkness.
    No crickets or frogs.

    The pale light of Cynthia and Oliblish could be seen, faintly filtering through the canopy. Nibiru’s ruddy glow was blissfully absent. It should be lively out there. But…

    If it’s not still here, something else is.

    He scuffed a single foot forward.
    A snort answered.

    Fuck.

    He quietly picked the coin back up, refreshed it again, and headed back the way he’d come.
    The only way back is forward, huh? Fuck me.
    Time to come up with a Plan B.
    ………
    ……



    Let’s see… I can try to wait out the pig. I can try to find another exit, but there might not be one, so it could just be a waste of time and there might be Monsters or other Beasts in here. Actually, there almost certainly are. I can try to fight the pig… but that’s suicide. Just a glance at that thing is enough to know I’ve got nothing that can put it down before it kills me unless it’s somehow stupid enough to come stand in front of that entrance and let me incinerate it over an hour. Or two. I can try to call for help, but I don’t really have a way to do that… and it’ll announce my presence to everything else in and around here.

    Returning to the room where he’d slept, he’d taken more time to observe the place he was in and had to admit that maybe the structure of the place was keeping parts of it inordinately clean… and that also there was some kind of powerful, subtle magic at work in it. He’d checked. The area was blanketed in some sort of Abjuration effect, but lacked the expertise to tell exactly what. He doubted it was a housekeeping spell, though. And whoever’d cast it was overwhelmingly more capable than he was.

    Whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t keeping the trees out. He’d found more rooms where the roots had filled in skylights or broken through the walls, making it pretty clear that they either weren’t accounted for in the original construction, or the place wasn’t being maintained as it’d been intended. He’d also found some that were made of a paler, painted stone than the common gray rock native to the area. No clue what made those rooms different. The artwork he’d found so far all seemed to be original; no signs of graffiti or defacement. All in all, it was a great find from an archeological perspective.

    Just like master Ardyn always dreamed of…

    The thought of the late wizard knotted his chest. The man had been beloved by many for his generosity and humor, but he’d personally spent the last five years of his short life studying with the man as his assistant and erstwhile apprentice. Even knowing his talents lay elsewhere, the old man had done his best to nurture them, and for that he held an undying respect and gratitude.

    He let the memories wash over him for a moment. A brief moment of grief, punctuated by a spike of hatred for a drill-tusked pig.

    I’ll kill that fucker one way or another, but for now, I need to let the town know what happened. It was truly how he felt, but the thought rang hollow to his reason; that creature was beyond him and he had no idea how to make it back to Gowlg Crug. They’d been out for the better part of a week just looking for the hidden path that was supposed to lead to this place. Then trying to find or cut a way broad enough for the wagons from there to the site had taken more time and required some backtracking, turns, and a lot of confusion. He’d be climbing trees for the view and trying to cut straight through a forest like a lunatic. There were all manner of Beasts out there, not the least of which was the pig itself. And his food and water were in abysmally short supply.

    Something made abundantly clear by the fact that a swallow of water, a piece of jerky, a dried apricot, and a bite of bread and cheese were not enough to fill his grumbling stomach. He sighed in weariness, hunger, and frustration, but he had no intention of just laying down and dying. He was going to do his best to survive. He rechecked his gear, gave his notebook a quick perusal, and refreshed his coin… an act that was becoming habitual.

    Wish I’d had some torches.

    He wasn’t willing to use his oil just yet. It was valuable for more than just light, and when all he had to do for that was cast a spell that cost him nothing in terms of Mana, he wasn’t going to waste it on convenience. And so he moved, shortsword in one hand, coin in the other, wandering off into the dark once more.

    As he moved through the rooms, he took note of their decorations and shapes. Many were odd mounds with skylights; some filled by dense root balls, others open to the elements. These often had paintings of trees, leaves, and forest scenes. Some showed the moons and stars and ring, or the sun and clouds, but most were of nature rather than the heavens. The art was simple, but refined and precise, though time had not been kind to the colors. Whoever had made the place seemed reluctant to make carvings or statues for some reason, leaving the place feeling even more empty than it already did.

    Curiously, there was virtually no place for lighting of any sort. Most of the ruins he’d been in had had some sort of light fixture. Sconces and braziers were common. Sometimes there was some kind of magical lighting. Hells, there were even places that used glowing plants and fungus. But there was nothing here that he could see. Even Dungeons regularly had lighting born of their Hoardgild, though Ardyn had never taken them into one. Something about “becoming a man the old-fashioned way” first.

    It was as if the people that lived here didn’t care about lighting at all, even though they went to the trouble of painting the walls. Maybe it was removable and they took it with them when they abandoned this place?

    It was supremely confusing. Art of nature scenes and low lighting was something he’d expect of Elves, but not underground. Elves loved forests and generally liked to see the sky and rely on natural lighting, so their homes were often in or between trees, not under their roots. The mound-like structure of the rooms was something he’d expect of Halflings, as was the size and height of the artwork, but they usually avoided putting heavier strain on their homes than the dirt and living sod they used as roofs for their hill-homes. They almost never built in forests, either. The roots ruined their walls and ceilings, and interfered with the crops of their rooftop gardens.

    This wasn’t the kind of place Dwarves liked to inhabit, either, and they tended to have a cultural obsession with precise angles and geometric patterns in their art. Paint wasn’t uncommon, but their ruins always had carvings and statuary. Not exclusively paintings and murals. The rounded, kiln-like rooms weren’t in their style, either.

    Was this a human settlement that became lost over time? Or maybe some kind of Turnskin tribe?

    His boots made soft clicks on the stone, the faint sound echoing in the empty rooms as he mused. He did his best to keep his thoughts on the ruin and not on what had led him there, even if he knew deep down that he was going to have to face the same threats on any return journey he might attempt.

    This place is strange… It’s all empty, like it’s been looted. Except there’s almost no damage to the structure. Nothing looks like anyone’s tried to pry the paintings from the wall. No discernible light sources… no clear housing facilities, cooking facilities, medical facilities, no water sources or larders, no places of worship or repositories of knowledge, and not a single trap. Not even latrines.

    He was already starting to make a habit of using the occasional piles of leaves, twigs, moss, and detritus that had gathered in the rooms with clear skylights to relieve himself. Prestidigitation truly was a gift from the gods. Otherwise, he’d have been needing to wipe his ass with things he’d rather not think about.

    Nothing makes sense about this place. It’s not a temple, it’s like a town. But it’s not made for habitation, and it meanders all over the place. It’s not structured for people to live day-to-day.

    He’d been making notes of the layout as he went, marking rooms, passages, doorways, anything that looked like a possible landmark. The rare large rooms, with their vaulted ceilings and smooth columns. The common, repetitive, mound-like ones. Passages, some narrow and claustrophobic, others broad enough for two carts to pass each other with ease. Strange tunnels that curved or turned straight into dead ends. Stairways leading up or down that he dared not take yet… and some that clearly went nowhere. It was like a maze, with no rhyme or reason besides confounding anyone walking through it.

    Or rather, it was a maze.

    But why the hell build a maze out in the middle of nowhere?

    It wasn't like there was some legend claiming a great evil was sealed nearby, or some treasure hidden away. Mazes for religious purposes weren't really common in Cymry, either. He’d heard that they were sometimes made in Jambudvipa, where psionicists were more common, but they were a relative rarity here.

    You build a maze to protect something, or to contain it. So which is it?

    He turned a corner into a larger room and once again traced the left-hand wall. Until he froze in place.

    Fuck.

    Ahead of him, another tunnel descending downwards into the darkness. Stone steps, like many he'd seen, were just faintly visible at the edge of his coin's light. It was no different from any other he'd passed by already.

    Except something had moved.

    A pair of wavering lights pointed in his direction, reflecting. An intense sensation of being watched, of animal fear washed over him. It was quickly followed by frustration and anger. He gritted his teeth at the gently swaying lights, flipped the shortsword in his hand into an underhand grip to better defend with, and refreshed the Light on his coin. He fixed his eyes on whatever the creature was and advanced with a steady gait.

    Judging by the spacing, it's got to be pretty small. If it was a person, maybe they could speak. If it was a Beast, well… hopefully he'd drop it before having to rely on the sword.

    Strange though. Normally a Beast would have charged at me already.

    The lights swayed with each step, yet never seemed to blink.

    And then they vanished, as if spirited away.

    Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Can't I catch a break! FUCK!

    He rushed forward, careful not to stab himself with the naked blade. His light washed over the steps and…

    Statues…

    The first he had seen in this place. Four of them. Or rather, one, but of four creatures, standing atop a low plinth. Angry, reptilian things, snarling and fierce, like the Monsters of old or modern Beasts. Their outstretched limbs ended in slender digits and short, sharp, hooked claws. Long tails like whips. Their wide heads split by toot-filled jaws and capped by great, wide eyes. Eyes that were faceted crystals.

    For some reason the thing was making him nervous. He still felt like he was being watched, but it seemed lesser in the presence of the piece. He looked to the left, where he thought he’d seen the eyes slide off to… but there was nothing.

    Strangely so.

    The statue was standing on the back of a landing between two short flights of steps… but the second flight ended at a wall. They went nowhere. Every other staircase he’d seen seemed to go somewhere, but not this one. It just ran straight into a wall.

    He couldn’t help himself. For a moment, he just stood and stared, dumbfounded.

    “What the fuck?”

    He walked carefully down the steps and examined the wall.

    “Nothing.” At least, nothing that he could see, anyway. No secret doors, no hidden levers. He turned back and put the statues under the same scrutiny, but again saw nothing. Only that the eyes of the creatures seemed to be set against small mirrors that caused them to reflect light better.

    It made him feel really worried about possibly being bait for a trap from above or the opposite side of the large room… but there didn’t seem to be anything on the ceiling, nor any clear floor traps… and he wasn’t being rushed from behind.

    Man, fuck this place.

    He walked slowly away from the bizarre artwork, still feeling as if he was being watched.

    The sensation wasn’t going away, but at least it didn’t feel immediately threatening.

    Seriously, just, fuck this place.
    ………
    ……



    I guess those were Monsters.

    He’d tried to distract himself from the waxing and waning sensation that he was being watched with his notebook. He’d sketched the strange statue while taking a break. It was simple enough, though his art was far from exceptional. It wasn’t like there was any script on the monument.

    This place is clearly older than fifty years, so those were either a new addition featuring Beasts, or they were Monsters. If that’s what Monsters looked like at the time it was inhabited, then that means this place is over five hundred years old, at least. Though they could be approximations made later, I suppose. But why make statues now of Monsters back then? Especially with nothing fighting them or anything? There’s no story to it, just… menacing things with no clear purpose.

    He took a bite of bread, a bite of cheese, and some sunflower seeds, finishing it off with a pull of water. His stomach protested the insufficiency of it. His waterskin wasn’t going to last for long at this rate, even if the temperature was comfortable inside the ruins. A man still had to eat and drink.

    Wonder if I can collect some water from one of the open rooms when it rains?

    Not that he had anything particularly good to hold it in. He sighed, levered himself back up off the stones, and put his notebook back in place. Coin and blade in hand, he trudged off with weary legs once more. He had no idea how long he’d been walking, or how much ground he’d covered, nor could he tell the overall shape of the maze. He’d yet to circle back over rooms that he recognized, so unless there was some sort of incline or decline he’d failed to detect, he hadn’t made a full circuit yet. And if there was, gods help him.

    The watchful presence lingered, shadowing him, but never making itself known. He was tempted to call out to it once or twice, but something in the back of his mind, some sort of primeval wariness, stopped him. It was the same irrational sensation that’d prevented him from speaking at the edges of the ruin, as if speaking would bring something terrible down upon him. Whether that was the creature he was sure was stalking him or something else, he couldn’t say. A part of him hoped it wasn’t merely paranoia settling in.

    Whatever it was, real or imagined, it didn’t want to interact directly with him. Whether that was because it was waiting for him to weaken so it could kill him easily, or it was just bored and curious, he couldn’t guess. Assuming it was real at all. However, he felt like the status quo of it stalking him but not harassing him would continue so long as he didn’t try to directly interact with it.

    I’ll feel like a fool if it’s a damn cat or something.

    It was confusing, though. He could feel eyes on him, but couldn’t see where he was being watched from. He heard nothing and saw nothing.

    Is it invisible and levitating or something? He knew that was a tactic favored by some more skilled practitioners of magic. Warlocks were particularly infamous for it.

    He passed from one room to the next, still following the left-hand wall. Small room, medium hall, turn, small room, turn, big room…

    He neared the threshold to the next chamber, and suddenly the presence became more intense. He stiffened in response, blade at the ready. It felt as if something were rushing at him from the shadows. But nothing came.

    Nothing except a sound.

    An odd noise, muffled, but as if something metal had been dropped. Then another, heavier sound, clattering and somehow wet.

    And a glow.

    Though faint, there was light coming from the next room that hadn’t been there a moment before. He palmed his glowing coin to hide its light and peered around the corner. The scent of animals, of filth, death, and very faintly, water flowed through the threshold as he leaned forward.

    He had definitely not been here before.

    It was a medium-sized room by the standards of the ruin, small enough that he could see the other side thanks to the light within. Cylindrical stone columns supported the ceiling, as they had in other rooms big enough to warrant them, though the walls still had that distinctive curve to them as they arched to meet the flat ceiling. However, unlike the smaller rooms with their skylights, the opening in this room was clearly not by design; tree roots had breached the ceiling and snaked into the room, twisted and gnarled into a woody curtain that seemed to almost pour from the surface above and was flecked with the glittering green of Wood Elementite. Chunks of the roof, caked with moss and lichen, littered the floor, as did leaves, twigs, and sticks. Some of the mess had even begun to spread into the room he was in, though only slightly. The hanging roots stirred in the breeze high above the floor, a pale bluish light shining from fungus growing on it, on the moss, and from cracks in the floor. However, this faint light wasn’t the source he’d seen.

    There’s a torch in there.

    Sputtering on the floor was a pale, unnatural torch. Even at a glance he could tell it was magical; he’d seen enough Everburning Torches to recognize one immediately. A hand clad in plate armor clasped it.

    But there was no body attached to the limb.

    That lay several feet away. Or the upper half of it, anyway. Torn open and partially stripped of flesh, a face without features save those of a cracked and leering skull, jutting ribs and ruptured organs, he couldn’t tell if it had been a man or a woman, only that it had been a person and now wasn’t. The corpse shifted, settling, as a dark shape crawled down from the hole in the roof. A thin, wretched form, like an emaciated Halfling, all taught skin, wiry muscle, and protruding bone, with massive ears that dwarfed its tiny head save for great, protruding eyes like swollen fruit and a long tail covered in bushy fur and ending in a blade-like spike. Another followed it, and another, clambering down the roots and dropping the distance to the mossy floor.

    Fuck.

    He knew what those furry little nightmares were. A type of Beast. Common enough that they had a bunch of regional names. His master had called them “Vermidons.” They were weak singly. But they were almost never alone. They attacked in swarms, sometimes in the dozens, leaping at you with razor-sharp teeth and thrusting and slashing their spear-like tails at you. They’d try to bring you down through the sheer weight of their combined assault while stabbing you over and over again until you died. There were a multitude of variations of the things, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and resembling different animals. These looked like nothing so much as some twisted mockery of a squirrel.

    As he watched, the three creatures squabbled over the remains, pulling and tearing at it, trying to snatch the corpse from each other. A fourth crawled over a mound of debris and tugged at the body’s shoulder.

    That armor looks like what our guards were wearing…

    The poor soul was probably long dead by the time those unholy squirrel-things got ahold of the corpse. He was willing to bet they’d vainly tried to drive off the boar with the torch, leaving them with a death-grip on it when it inevitably slaughtered them. Though, perhaps, they’d died trying to lure it away from the others. Either way, it didn’t truly matter. Death was death.

    He closed his eyes and passed a small prayer through his mind before opening them again.

    Now what?

    I can try to kill them and press on, or I can turn back.

    He could see two other thresholds in the room from where he was. One was almost directly across… and had more of that blue fungus growing in it. The other, to the left, was dark.

    Huh. I wonder…

    He focused his mind and gently probed the room as unobtrusively as possible.

    It’s not there. I see. So that’s what it does. Or one thing it does, anyway.

    The magical aura that was omnipresent throughout the ruins ended just beyond the passage into the next room.

    It keeps the local flora and fauna out. Beasts aren’t Monsters as far as magic is concerned. They’re animals, even if they don’t look or act like it.

    The wretched things tearing at a human corpse looked like degenerate, mutated humans themselves, but they were closer to giant rodents. Except rodents didn’t attack people on sight, they fled when they were hurt, and they protected their young to a degree.

    Beasts did none of that.

    They just killed, ate, and destroyed. Especially when it came to things having to do with Man.

    ‘The Monsters of old were like that, lad. Then one day, long before either of us were born, they decided to have a go at being people. But nature abhors a vacuum. It was only a matter of time before something took their place.’ He recalled what his master had said to him after the first time he’d fought a Beast. It had been a beetle the size of a mastiff with massive pincers. Ones it had tried to shove into his guts while they'd studied a wall of dwarvish runes at the wooded edge of some nameless hamlet to the north. He’d heated it until it boiled inside its own shell, but not before it’d sunk those pincers into his thigh and tried to bite his foot off. He’d really learned to appreciate healing potions after that. He’d been fifteen at the time, and wouldn’t have lived a day longer if not for his master’s intervention. There’d been more than one of those things.

    Gods, was that really five years ago? He shook his head and peered round the threshold again.

    There are at least four, but probably more in the area. I need the torch in the long term. And I can’t stay here, either. Not enough food or water. If these Abjuration wards here are keeping the creatures out of that room on the left, then I just need to grab it and make for it. Wonder if I can test it…

    Those things weren’t the most intelligent creatures in the world. Vicious, but quite dumb. Time for mild shenanigans, then.

    He sheathed his sword quietly, unwrapped his sling from his wrist again, and pulled one of its stones from their pouch. He put the coin back in his belt, and for the first time since waking was engulfed in darkness again. Until he cast Light on the stone in his hand and held it in place on the sling, covering its newfound glow.

    No windup, unfortunately. He grimaced, hauled back, and whipped the glowing stone around the opening. The bullet skidded and skipped along the floor, clattering as it went… and immediately drew the attention of the Beasts in the room. The twisted creatures immediately reacted to the sound and light, racing after it as it skittered towards the darkened room…

    Only to be pounced on by one of the barb-tailed things. Great. So that’s a fifth one. No, sixth. Another creature dropped from one of the pillars, even as the first three rushed to investigate the stone he’d lobbed. He could hear them chattering and biting at it.

    At least they’re stupid.

    He repeated the process, the Light on the first stone dying as it kindled on the second… just as his coin had gone dark as well. This one he managed to arc high and true, sending the stone noisily down the hall across the way. Some of the creatures chased after it, rushing after the stone and confirming they could enter the opposite hall.

    Now or never… He flipped the sling around his wrist again and once more drew his blade, took a deep breath and charged into the room.

    Everything started to move at once.

    Two between me and the exit, by the first stone. One, no two, still by the torch. He heard the second move rather than saw it in the gloom. There’s still more in here! Fuck! Claws scraped on stone as the air began to fill with the sounds of their clacking teeth, their high-pitched chittering. Their screams of bloodlust.

    Should have cast Shield!

    One of the things stepped forward so that it stood almost directly over the torch. Can’t turn back! The spear-like tail poised to take his charge… But that wasn’t where his eyes were, even as more of the creatures began to rise from the shadows. He was staring into its own mad, bulbous eyes, the orbs protruding hideously from their sockets. They stared at him with a malice unlike anything he’d seen in any other creature. Only Beasts had that look.

    He stared into the depths of insanity and hatred of all thinking creatures.

    One word formed in his mind in response to that malice.

    It was his answer.

    Burn.

    And so it did.

    As the tail plunged forward, the Beast’s face erupted in flames, the massive eyes boiling and rupturing as its flesh peeled back from rapidly blackening bone. The smell of cooking meat filled the room as the creature collapsed, thrashing and flailing and refusing to die even when it couldn’t live.

    Fire don’t fail me now!

    He scooped the Everburning Torch, severed limb and all, in his free hand and whipped his sword around just in time for the cut aside the thrusting tail of another of the creatures as it leaped at him over the rubble. He turned the blade in his hand as he swung, reversing his grip and driving the point home through the thing’s skull as it turned to bite at him.

    They were converging on him already, but his path was still clear. He pushed himself, feeling as if a scorching wind was in his legs as he forced Mana through them in a fighting stance that unleashed speed rather than restricted it.

    Burn!

    His heat poured into the blade in his hand as he charged forward. His feet pounded on the mossy stone, faint sparks pushing them forward faster as they’d done in his flight from the swine. One Beast leapt in, cutting him off, but he thrust the blade up beneath its jaw, the now red-hot steel shutting its gaping jaws and punching clean through brain and skull alike in a steaming gout of gore. He pivoted with the cut, using the momentum to carry him into a roll as another tail gouged a divot out of the stone where he’d just stood.

    That roll ended with him on his feet again, twisting his gaze round to blast another of the creatures closing on him with flame, its tail now smoldering from the shot.

    He made one last, desperate leap through the threshold as the screeching creatures lunged at him, Torch leading…

    And immediately regretted it as he slid into the wet abyss that yawned beyond.

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  3. #3
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Chapter 2: Welcome

    Mistakes were made.

    When he’d finally come to a rest at the end of the natural chute, he was significantly more battered and bruised than when he’d begun the ride. Though he hadn’t seen the source, there was some sort of water flow feeding down the chute that had turned his initial, headlong jump into a cold, wet, panicked ride in the dark. It twisted and turned to the point that he had no idea what direction he was facing anymore before finally dumping him into a frigid pool. At least he’d survived.

    Everything was wet. Well, everything that wasn’t in watertight pouches, anyway. His notebook… he’d had the good sense to have that made waterproof when he’d commissioned it. His clothes, however, were now wet and encased in wet leather.

    Fuck this place. Fuck Beasts, fuck the nightmares I’m going to have after having to watch that fucker’s face melt, fuck the fact that I had to do any of this shit. I am tired, I am cold, I am wet, I’ve been walking for fucking hours, and I’m still sore as hells from running from the damn pig. The one man who thought I could actually be something is dead, along with a bunch of other people, and I’m stuck walking around in this godsforsaken manifestation of creepiness.

    Fuck me.

    Ugh.

    He slumped against a towering rock formation after hauling himself out of the water, Torch by his side, and fished around in his pouch for one of the chew sticks. He’d resisted relying on one before, but the accumulated beating he’d taken between the boar and the ride was becoming unbearable. It’d take a while to kick in, but he knew he’d feel better for it later.

    I’m lucky I survived any of it. He gnawed off a piece of the twisted braid of herbs, pounded roots, mint, oils, and honey before putting the rest back in his bag. The stuff was tough as jerky, but it wet the mouth and filled it with a taste at once bitter, sweet, and fresh. The “juice” of it in his mouth was more potent than a simple potion… but far slower to act. It numbed pain, bolstered his natural ability to heal, soothing and quieting the body rather than healing it in an instant.

    He sat there, chewing, and for a while just stared blankly into the dark. He hurt. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. He’d been here for what couldn’t have been more than a day, and he’d already faced three things that would have killed him if he’d misstepped just a bit more than he already had.

    ‘I am not a wise man, lad. A wise man stays home or about his own business. I do neither.’

    He chuckled, despite himself. You weren’t lying.

    The memory warmed him, even if it was tinged with sadness. Maybe it was that. Or maybe it was the remedy taking effect. Either way, he felt a bit better. He grunted as he rose from his seat, hoisting the Torch, and looked around the chamber he was in.

    Hmmm… Well, it at least looks like a cave. But how natural it is is up for debate.

    The room looked like a cave, or rather a cavern, to be sure, but parts of it had clearly been worked. Some of the walls had been flattened into canvases for more paintings, including the formation he’d just been resting against. It had originally been a stone curtain whose face had been worn flat and was now covered in art. The room itself was long and curved to the right, still descending as it went before it arched out of sight, though a deeper depression turned much of it into a small lake. Natural stalactites and stalagmites reached towards one another, meeting in some places. The sound of water sluicing down the chute behind him covered up most of the noise in the place as it echoed off the cavern walls. He wondered how he had missed the sound of it up above.

    I guess this place really is warded, too. It’s definitely part of the complex. No Beasts had come after him in the end, so they likely couldn’t. Those things didn’t have something convenient like a sense of self-preservation. They attacked anyone they saw until either they or their victims died. They’d only stop attacking if it wasn’t physically possible to do so or there was a clear enough difference in numbers or geography that even they could tell maiming or killing a person wasn’t going to happen. He didn’t know which was more or less terrifying; that the damn things didn’t care if they died so long as they killed someone, or that they were smart enough to tell when they couldn’t. Regardless, they’d have eagerly chased him down that hole if something hadn’t prevented them, and the only obvious reason was the magical presence he sensed throughout the area.

    I need to find my sword before anything else. He’d lost it somewhere in the chute, likely ahead of him. Just because there likely weren’t any Beasts in the room didn’t mean he might not encounter other threats there, let alone further in. And he couldn’t exactly stop if he was going to get out of here.

    Plus, it was particularly expensive, if not so much as his coat. He’d had it custom made.

    He marched back to the pool of water he’d initially landed in, Torch in hand. The chute ended abruptly above it, where it had unceremoniously dumped him. It was over a dozen feet deep and dark as pitch where the Torch’s light couldn’t reach. Judging from the movement of the water, the deepest point was likely there under the chute itself. Even though a small waterfall was dumping into it, it was mostly still everywhere else, but to either side it poured around and down in small rapids before emptying into deeper pools, and from there into the lake. Still waters run deep, he thought. This empties somewhere I can’t see.

    He lowered the Torch and peered into the pool that had welcomed him. As expected, the blade had sunk to the bottom several feet from where he’d come up and almost directly under the waterfall. Unexpectedly, it seemed like it wasn’t alone; tiny fish flitted through the water and the bottom of the pool was littered with coins. And something was glowing faintly down there as well; something yellow, something red. And of course the severed arm, still clad in its gauntlet and broken armor. He’d noticed it had fallen off the Torch at some point, if not exactly when. Probably when he hit the pool’s surface. Now the little fish nibbled at it.

    Well that’s grisly. Not that he hadn’t seen worse in his life than a severed hand. He couldn’t help but wonder how the little creatures got in there, though. Perhaps eggs carried from the sluice’s source?

    I wonder what those lights down there are... Presumably nothing immediately dangerous, at least. Otherwise, he’d probably not have made it out of the water. Nothing for it but to go back in though. Sans gear, that is. There was no sense in plunging into the water with so many extra pounds of soaked cloth and leather. He was no weakling, but he wasn’t the strongest person around either. Getting out of the pool in the first place, covered in sodden clothes and armor and laden with his bags, had been very touch-and-go. Luckily, the cave floor inclined not too far from where the water poured. He’d not had to struggle far before his toes had touched rock and he’d been able to break the surface. Blissfully, the Torch’s magic had kept it lit through the whole ordeal.

    He stepped back and began to unfasten his equipment. Coat, belts and pouches, leathers, boots, his sodden clothes, everything but a single dagger found itself laid out on the cavern floor until he stood naked and shivering on the stone.

    Fuck this is cold. The chill cave air wasn’t his friend right now, but even less without layers on him. As soon as I get my sword, I’m going to warm up. Fuck!

    He waded back into the cold water, diving down once he’d reached the waterfall. The water chilled him brutally fast, but he could at least see through it thanks to the faint glow of those lights. He just had to swim away from the surface instead of towards it like a right-thinking person.

    Some sort of gems? His sword had come to rest against them, so he might as well grab those tool. As a general rule, when something glowed that wasn’t supposed to, magic was at work. Soon enough he resurfaced, teeth chattering, chilled to the bone, and cursing under his breath as he splashed out of the water. He was richer for it by his sword and four glowing stones. And a severed hand. Why he brought that up, even he couldn’t really say. Leaving it there just hadn’t seemed right somehow, though the fish were probably cursing him for their lost meal.

    He set the sword down with the rest of his equipment and promptly envisioned a flame burning in the air above it all. As the fire erupted to life, its heat took the bite from the chill and put his rattling bones at ease. Drying things off wouldn’t take too long at this rate, even if it did bother him that he had to keep concentrating to control the fire and keep it going. In the meantime, he stared at the stones in his hand.

    One was a multifaceted gem, pale yellow in color and cut to resemble a sun wheel. He suspected it was yellow quartz, but wasn’t sure. It shed a faint, yellow glow that felt almost like natural sunlight. The second looked like it might be garnet or jasper. It had been cut into the shape of a bird and glowed a ruddy color, similar to a low fire, and yet it was the brightest of the four. The third was so dim he almost hadn’t seen it until he was right on it. It looked like a fang carved of smokey quartz and shed a wan gray light. The fourth was just as dim, its dark blue color and glow making the eye-shaped stone blend in with its surroundings. Despite clearly being worked, none of them had fittings. There was no way to attach them to anything, be it a necklace, brooch, earring, or anything else. If they were magical, which seemed likely, they were either Carry Stones, Ioun Stones, or Augment Crystals. He’d have to examine them closer later.

    For now, get warm, and dry everything. Sitting cold, wet, and naked in a cave wasn’t high on his list of preferred activities.
    ………
    ……



    Where the fuck were you when I needed you?

    He glared at the yellow stone in his hand and briefly considered trying to immolate the magic rock. Where were you when I needed you? After a careful examination and some educated guesswork, he’d determined that the stones were Augment Crystals. Probably. Why they were just sitting at the bottom of the pool he had no fucking clue, save maybe someone had tossed them there as some kind of offering. The coins in the pool made him think of nothing so much as a Wishing Well, but the fact that someone might be down here to toss money into it was anxiety inducing.

    At least he was dressed to meet them now. His clothes were dry and comfortably warm, and the heatstone now in his pocket was keeping them that way.

    He looked at the stones in his hand again. The blue eye seemed to be made of Lapis Lazuli, and was probably a Sasori Glance; good for bolstering his perceptions, but not much else. Though, as a man in need of glasses, that was something he could appreciate. Two were of a violent sort; one seemed to be a Life Drinking Crystal, though not a particularly strong one. The red one was more potent, though not exceptionally so; a Phoenix Ash Threat Crystal. It had now become the single most valuable item he possessed. A man could live reasonably well on it for years and not have to work so long as he stayed out of the kind of trouble that typified an Adventurer’s life. Or out of the brothels and gambling halls.

    The one that drew his ire, however, was a moderately powerful Crystal of Illumination. In other words, it was as good as a damn torch for providing light. Including the Everburning one. Sure, it was great that he had two viable light sources that didn’t require him to constantly cast a spell to maintain. But somehow, it just irritated him that this fell into his lap right after that mess in the room above.

    He’d also found himself in possession of a magical gauntlet, if only the left-hand one and of no great magical power. It seemed that his deceased torch-bearer had gotten at least one of his gauntlets enchanted with a minor spell that helped one avoid slipping while climbing. It wasn’t much, but he wasn’t going to leave it there, either, and it fit him well enough.

    Not like I haven’t used things belonging to dead people before. Most people who dabbled in Adventuring, intentionally or not, did so. He sighed. It didn’t make him feel better about it, but leaving something that might save your life just because you didn’t like it in principle was a good road to an early grave. Besides, for all that it wasn’t much of a weapon, it could still take an Augment Crystal.

    Well, let’s see if I’m right about these things. He pressed the sun-like crystal to the back of the gauntlet and watched… and as he’d hoped, the Crystal seemed to melt and merge with the metal, which now glowed fit to rival his Torch, the sun-shaped crystal melded into the back of the hand. With one success under his belt, he repeated the process with the bird-like gem and his sword, watching as it merged with the hilt of his blade. It left the weapon trailing embers as he tested it through the air.

    “That’ll be useful.” And fitting.

    He took off his glasses, given a minor enchantment to combat his own naturally-poor vision. He pressed the Glance to them, the gem staining the lenses blue. He tried them on again and found that they blissfully didn’t tint his vision. He smiled, despite himself, and adjusted them once more, his vision clearer still.

    The black stone, however, was harder to fit. Such Crystals interfered with one another when fitted together on the same item… and generally didn’t work if the equipment in question wasn’t of sufficient quality or enchantment. However, the dead man above wasn’t the only person who’d gotten a cheap spell put into some of his possessions, even if they were pushing the lower limits of what could support even one such stone, and while there he had nothing to support the third. Only his coat had any kind of magic in it, and it couldn’t take that type of Crystal to begin with; there was no way for the armor to realistically inflict harm. He stowed it in one of his pouches instead.

    “Now that everything’s in order…”

    He turned back to the wall he’d rested against and the paintings covering it.

    Just how the hell did you manage to stay in this condition here.

    The mural was untouched by the water flowing throughout the room, the paint still bright and clear. In truth, it was even brighter than what was above, the colors more vivid.

    And who the hells are you?

    And it showed people.

    Four rows of figures, four distinct scenes, one atop the other, depicted in a manner that somehow reminded him of pictures his master had shown him of civilizations from Greater Eden and Meropis. Yet some faced the viewer, and there was some understanding of perspective in the picture, even if it was skewed. Neither of those were traditional practices there… and it featured the interlacing knotwork typical of Western Thulish art; imagery reminiscent of entwined vines, roots, or serpents. The figures themselves were of varied races. The top row depicted what seemed to be a spring scene. Four short figures on the left and four tall ones on the right faced each other with a tree between them, weapons drawn.

    The second showed a summer scene, with three short figures to the left and three tall ones to the right, seemingly with gifts or goods for three new, medium figures between them, one facing the viewer in front of a tree and one facing each of the other groups, both of whom had gifts of their own in hand.

    The third row showed the same tree, but in a fall scene, and now there were only two of the short and tall figures, one each of who had turned outward with weapons to face a lizard-like creature on either end of the row. The inner figure on each side continued to offer gifts to the remaining short and tall figures, as did the central figure to either side with outstretched arms.

    The fourth and final row showed only the three central figures in a winter scene, now with weapons drawn and facing three lizard creatures to a side.

    I can’t tell if this is a story or a history, but if it’s the latter, then maybe this place was a trading hub of some kind? The Monsters there look like those statues above… but why would you make statues of something that’s your enemy without having a hero of some sort to fight it?

    He guessed the Monsters were supposed to be Lizardmen, though it was odd to see them unarmed. The tall figures looked like Elves with their pointed ears. The short ones would presumably be Halflings. Both Races of Men were known in the region and had left ruins behind, neither of which resembled what he’d seen above or here. Nor did the people in the middle really look Human; they also had pointed ears, and their hair was curiously vivid in color. Bright, like fruit, and multicolored. There was text as well… but he couldn’t read it. The language was etched in simple, straight lines. He couldn’t read it, but he could recognize it.

    Druidic. These people were part of the Druidic traditions.

    Which of course meant you had to be an initiate yourself in order to learn their secret language. Well, I learned something at least. He sketched the image in his notebook with charcoal from one of his watertight pouches and packed it back up, then went back to the pool, refilled his waterskin, drank his fill, and filled it again. He refused to shove his face in the water again. And if it was dangerous to drink, well… that ship had sailed when he’d flown headlong down the chute in the first place.

    Time to get moving. He’d rested enough for now.
    ………
    ……


    It took him a while to realize the rules of the ward might have changed.

    Fish. There were fish in the pool. If there was a ward preventing animals from entering, then it shouldn’t have been possible for them to get there. Well, unless he was missing some loopholes in the magic’s rules, anyway.

    He’d already moved beyond that initial room and had found more art painted on planed-down cavern walls. It generally depicted people here, usually of the same types as the central trio in the first cave image, but sometimes of others. Most scenes were peaceful, though some seemed to show battles between them and others, or even each other. Mostly, it looked like trade or agreements and celebrations. He took note of them as he went, and hoped he didn’t run out of pages. Between the Torch and his newly-glowing hand, he could see reasonably well. Certainly well enough to make decent sketches.

    The overall path had leveled out before starting to rise again, but it hadn’t returned to the more structured form of the initial maze. This was almost all natural cavern now. Passages branched off at odd angles, curved, and abruptly ended, and he was beginning to see signs of small life. Crickets, spiders, moss, lichen, fish when there was deep enough water… the latter of which made him realize there must be some way out through the water system, unseen passages connecting the pools. He hadn’t seen any more Beasts, but if the wards were weaker here, they might appear.

    Following the left-hand path was harder here due to the irregularity of everything, to say nothing of the lake on that side of the cavern, but he was trying to stick to the rule. It was a practice ingrained in him by his master years ago so as not to become completely lost in an unfamiliar place. That habit led him down a particularly narrow tunnel that opened up into a much larger room. He saw no growth here, no moss, no lichen, and no signs of bugs… but there was a dim light filtering through a large hole in the cavern ceiling. It seemed this place was near the surface. Forest detritus cluttered the space around the hole, though it looked like it was regularly washed down and out the way he’d come by rain. He checked for the persistent magical tingle of the wards, and sure enough, they were present.

    “Guess it’s safe here.” Good for him in more ways than one. A large mural had caught his eye. Near the center of the left wall, where it pushed out towards the center of the room, the surface had been worn down and covered in scenes of a battle between the Lizardmen and the medium-sized figures from before. The battle didn't seem to go well for the defenders.

    Did they die out here? But if they did, who made all this? The art seemed to center on these small Men, not the Monsters, so it seemed odd that the latter would make art of them if they were the victors. Lizardmen had long had a rudimentary culture, but they likely wouldn’t have bothered to focus on their vanquished foes… or known what came before their conquest of them.

    "Who were you?"

    "Elflings."

    "Not possible. Elflings aren't…"

    …Oh.

    Shit.

    "Elflings aren't common enough for something like this,” he continued, “there's too much disparity between Elvish and Halfling cultures and their Mana is too incompatible for them to mix on this scale ." So I wasn’t alone. He kept his eyes locked on the painting before him, but focused on his ears instead. Even so, he couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from. Drawing a weapon in this situation is too much of a gamble… He’d choose speech over violence when speech was offered, just as a matter of preference besides.

    "Hey, I'm just telling you what I heard. I'm no expert on that kind of thing." A woman's voice, that much was obvious. But the cave's acoustics were making it difficult to locate the source. He rested his hand on his sword hilt and adjusted his glasses.

    "Smooth, by the way."

    "What do you mean?"

    "You had no idea I was here until I spoke up, but you barely missed a beat."

    "...thanks, I guess?" She laughed in response. Not fooling anyone, huh? Is she able to see me from where she is, or…

    "So, what brings you down here? I don't exactly get many guests." “Guests,” she says. So she lives here. He paused, considering how to respond. What were the risks, the possible advantages? He couldn’t tell at this point. Ultimately, he settled on an abridged truth. His master had taught him that, when it doubt, honesty was the safest choice.

    "I was part of a research expedition intending to study the ruins here. We followed a map, but we were attacked by a giant boar and I wound up separated from the rest. I managed to take shelter in the ruins, but while trying to find a way out and past the pig, I wound up falling down here."

    "Pig… ugh. Giant bastard covered in eyes and spikes with these big, spiraling tusks?"

    "Yeah."

    "That would be Hambone, the wood's Beast King. You're lucky to be alive. Or maybe unlucky. Not really sure, to be honest." He grimaced. "What do you mean?"

    "Well… don't get me wrong, but basically, you're stuck here. Once that asshole gets your scent, he doesn't forget it. And he's got a habit of being able to just… appear out of fucking nowhere so long as you're in his neck of the woods. So, unless you can fly, your "adventure" ends here."
    "Wait, so you're telling me that thing teleports?" The woman sighed. "Unfortunately. Usually with enough distance to get a good run going first. Trust me. I know." Her voice dripped bitterness and disgust.

    That would explain why no one noticed it before it was on top of the camp.Gods…

    "Fucker catches wind of something he doesn't know, he comes prowling on his ownlegs, sniffing around. But if he already knows a smell, he just pops in unannounced. Even with all those eyes he can't see for shit. It's all smell with him."

    "Huh." So there are probably ways to get past him… if I hadn't lost my field lab.

    "Did I say something interesting?"

    "… just thinking of ways to circumvent him."

    "Plenty have tried. But hey, if you've got an idea that you think you can test without getting people dead, I don't mind helping."

    "For someone you just met?" This whole scenario is just too surreal. Talking to some random helpful voice in a dark cave, trying to figure out how to get past a giant murderous pig Beast…

    "Why not? It's not like there's a whole lot to do around here. I’m bored.” He couldn’t help but shake his head at this bizarre turn of events.

    “Just who are you, anyway?”

    “A thief.” His grip reflexively tightened on his sword.

    “Former, that is. Also, a former Adventurer. Retired from both.”

    “What, did you take an arrow to the knee?” A moment of silence followed.

    “You know, I’ve never understood that joke. Wouldn’t you just, you know, get that healed? I mean, magic fixes something like that easily. Even just something minor like Cure Light Wounds is enough for that. A potion of it is enough.”

    “Sounds like I hit a nerve… but you know, I don’t really get it either. I heard it was something a Wayfarer used to say. Some kind of joke from the Otherworld. Maybe everyone says it because of that?”

    “Maybe someone should give that guy an arrow to the knee…”

    “Anyway, the name’s Rhian ferch Dafydd, formerly of the dirty hole in the wall that is Rhych, and currently of the dirty hole in the wall that is Danbryn. That is to say, here. And you?”

    “Colwyn ap Caradoc, of Dolydd, and Wizard’s Assistant and erstwhile apprentice.” He heard a sudden surge of movement that he was somehow sure came from above. He looked up, but saw nothing… but there was probably a ledge somewhere out of the range of his light.

    Dolydd!? Do you have any mead!?”

    “No. Do you have any idea how many people ask me that when they hear where I’m from?”

    “All of them?”

    All of them.” Raucous laughter echoed through the cave, almost certainly coming from above him.

    “Well, it’s the only thing you’re known for. What do you expect? I mean, what else does Dolydd even have? Beer?”

    “Really? Beer is your second guess? Yes, we have beer. We also have flowers, orchards, and plentiful gardens, and pastures full of sheep and goats that make some wonderful cheeses. And bees. Lots of bees. But fuck those.” She laughed again.

    “Right, so you’re Colwyn? Mind if I call you Col?”

    “Not particularly. Col is fine. Rhian is fine with you?”

    “Yup. Welcome, Col, to my humble abode!”

    “Danbryn, was it?” Of course this place would have a name.

    “Well, the whole complex is called that. I just live in this one nameless cave. So, you said you had an idea about getting around the pig. What’ve you got?”

    “Well, if you’re right and he relies on smell, then covering your scent should work to keep him from immediately locating you… and you could also use scent lures made from things he’s already detected, some fragile bottles or flasks, and a good way to spread them around.” She laughed again, this time wryly.

    “You’re probably not going to find much of that down here, I’m afraid. The only people who might bring in glass are the Goblins and Selkies. Most everyone here uses pottery instead of that fancy stuff.”

    “Goblins? Selkies?” Monsters. He wasn’t surprised. If there were groups of them, a Dungeon had likely formed somewhere in the ruins.

    “Ah, right, you’re new here. The Goblins run a sort of traveling merchant operation here in the ruins. They buy or trade goods from one group and exchange them for stuff from others, and bring along other folks willing to travel to sell their wares. Somehow, they bring in things from the outside… I think some of it’s scavenged from the woods, and other stuff might come through the Selkies, but it’s not like we can request specific things from out there.”

    Hmmm… that's better than I should have expected. Still disappointing. He grimaced, an annoyed grumble escaping his throat.

    Apparently, she heard him.

    "Problem?”

    He sighed. “No, just understanding that getting what I’d need is unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.”

    “Ah, right. So it’s not the Goblin part that bothers you.”

    “Not particularly, so long as they’re not causing trouble.”

    “Ahhhhhh, so you’re not one of those zealous puritan types.”

    “If I was, I wouldn’t be talking to you in the first place.”

    “... I, ummm… Okay, so I guess it was kind of obvious?”

    “A woman living alone in a cave that’s part of a Beast-infested ruin, refuses to show herself while holding a conversation with a stranger, yet is completely unfazed by the fact that this stranger is an intruder in her home. The only light source is a hole in the ceiling and what said intruder brought with him, and yet she seems to either have exceptional eyesight while still being unseen or some kind of other incredible perception. And, of course, she talks openly about Monsters living and working nearby, and relying on them, as if that was completely unremarkable. Seemed reasonable to assume you were a Monster from the start. Even more so the longer we spoke.”

    “Huh. Well, I mean, you’re right, but when you put it like that, it’s just kind of… I don’t know… anticlimactic? You’re saying there was no surprise at all? I mean, come on. Scary Monster, oooooo. Be afraiiiiiiiiiid.

    “Denied.”

    Maaaaaaan. Why you gotta spoil a girl’s fun, huh?”

    “It’s been a rough couple of days.”

    She sighed. “I can kind of understand, I guess. My first night here was rough, too. So… are you still fine with the idea of me helping you out?”

    “Don’t have much of a choice, really. Besides, Monsters don’t really bother me.”

    “Really?”

    “I’ve had a few interactions with them before. Mostly trading, but occasionally conversation. My master says… used to say that Monsters were just trying to be people. Some were bad at it, others weren’t. Seemed accurate to me. Besides, I’ve found enough Men not making much effort to be people that I can respect Monsters that are at least making the attempt.”

    “Huh. Your master sounds like he was a pretty nice guy.”

    “He was. He’s one of the reasons I need to get back as soon as possible.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “He organized the expedition I was with… and died when that pig attacked us.”

    “He… oh. So he just… so you…Oh… My condolences on your loss!” Small words, but she sounds sincere…

    “Thank you.” Most people who would say something like that barely mean it, but there was something there in her voice that gave him some small comfort.

    “Do you… need… I don’t know… a hug or something?” He sighed, feeling the weight of what had happened during the past hours acutely. But ultimately, he shook his head.

    “No, but the offer is appreciated. I need to get in contact with any other survivors and somehow get word back to the Guild before they decide to send a recovery expedition. There’s probably not much left at our camp, even though we were prepared for several weeks in the field.”

    “Wait… weeks? You were… how many people did you have?”

    “Between master and myself, the guards, the caravaneer, two adventuring parties, and the laborers, there were thirty-four of us. We weren’t here for plunder, but study.” She whistled.

    “Damn, that’s something. No wonder Hammy came down on you. Surprised no one heard him coming, though. He’s not exactly stealthy.”

    “I have no idea. All I know is that I left camp for a moment, and when I was coming back, it was to the sound of him attacking.”

    “What were you doing that took you that far from your camp?”

    “I wasn’t. I just left the wagon circle far enough to take a leak behind a tree.”

    “... huh. So… no one knew about him before?”

    “Not as far as I know. Are you thinking he teleported?”

    “Yeah, but… he only does that if he knows a specific scent. But there’s no way anyone would willingly go out there with him if they’d already been recognized, right?” Not if they could help it or were some sort of Hero, no.

    “Unless they didn’t realize that’s how he operated. But no one said a word about a giant boar, either. I can’t believe no one who knew would keep it a secret.”

    “Makes sense, but… if he’s started teleporting without knowing a scent first… that’s big. That’s terrifying.”

    “Maybe it was something else? Either way, I can’t just stay here. I need to tell people what happened. There are families and friends to notify, and master was popular, so there will be a lot of people who’ll want to know of his passing.”

    “Popular, huh? Not many Wizards can claim that. They’re usually standoffish, clinical sorts. What was his name?”

    “Ardyn ap Iago.”

    “Ardyn… Wait! As in Ardyn the Lesser?That Ardyn?”

    “Ah, you know of him?”

    “Oh… Yeah. I met him a few times. He was a nice guy. Generous old man, loved to buy people drinks. Folks made fun of him as some kind of bumbling eccentric, but it always felt like he was in on the joke. Like…”

    “Someone would recognize him, tell a story they’d heard about him or about some time they’d Adventured with him where something had gone wrong, and it’d turn into almost like a theatrical performance. ‘... and then he tripped over the tree root everyone else had gone around, and tumbled head-over-heels down the hill. I swear on the Family, he rolled over six times before he finally stopped!’ Except master would turn with a little smile and a wink, ale in hand, and say ‘Actually, it was seven times.’ And the room would explode with laughter, and they’d all come ‘round and slap him on the back, and he’d buy a round, and they’d toast him.” He was smiling despite himself, remembering the old man’s antics, his sense of humor, the old-fashioned way he’d speak in that calm, cool voice.

    “Oh… man. I didn’t realize you were… Man, he really died? Shit, now I want a drink. I got some good laughs and free drinks because of him… Now I just feel shitty.”

    “It’s alright. The past can’t be changed. But it does make me feel better knowing people appreciated him.”

    “Right. Definitely.”

    “I suppose this also means you used to be a human Adventurer, rather than one born a Monster.”

    “Ahhh haha... Well, yes. I suppose it would. I guess nothing else I’ve said really clarified that. I mean, even that doesn’t, but you’re not really wrong. Monsters actually being registered with the Guild or drinking at your average tavern in a Human settlement isn’t exactly common most places. Though, to be honest, I could pass myself as Human well enough most of the time. Just… not when it’s that time of the month, so to speak.”

    “A Therianthrope, then? Infected.”

    “Ah, yeah. Though Entothropes are also a thing, I’m not one.” He tried to think of what Therianthropes might be living alone in a cave…

    “A Werebear?”

    “No, but… you know what. I’m just going to come down. You might as well see for yourself. Pretty sure you’re not going to try and shank me with that thing you’re keeping your hand on, at least.” So she was aware of that, too.

    He heard a rustling sound, a wooden creaking, and a rush of air as something moved overhead. He turned as it moved behind him, and found himself face to face with a woman.

    The light from his Torch and the gauntlet revealed a svelte, toned woman, almost his height, with long, strong legs beneath a pear-shaped body. Her hair was long, dark, and mussed, framing an almond-shaped face. Her hips were full, her thighs sleek, and sheathed in tight-fitting tan cloth that ended just below her knees… and gave way to brown fur. Her feet, tipped with grasping toes and hook-like claws, looked better suited to clinging to things than walking. Her pants sat low on her hips, almost indecently so, but he suspected that the short, flat, leaf-like tail he could see curling around behind her was the reason. Or at least a reason. Leather belts dangled half-worn from the loops in her trousers, each adorned with frogged daggers that hung against her outer thighs. A strange,cropped, tight-fitting tunic of the same tan color covered her modest chest, belted snugly against her body below her ribs and at her neck. Small tufts of white fur traced her collarbone, where he could see it. Her abdomen, however, remained fully uncovered. More belts, these loaded with throwing darts, adorned her upper arms before they gave way to more brown fur. And wings. Long, membranous wings stretched where her arms should be, the skin merging with her back and sides where her odd shirt had left them exposed. He realized belatedly that she actually had hands as well, the larger wing somehow growing from her forearm and wrist as if it were a second hand. Her face was dominated by a pair of large, dark eyes that stared at him from the edge of the light… and a wry, toothy smile that couldn’t seem to decide if it was cocky or embarrassed. Her dark hair, falling out of sight in tousled waves behind her back, partially hid her face as well, but shifted easily… and parted for a massive pair of leaf-shaped ears that crowned her head.

    She stood there for a moment, looking at him, doubtless taking him in as he was her.

    “Raaaaaaah! Werebat!” She broke the silence first, however.

    “So I see.” He was unfazed.

    “So, ummmm… Hi?”

    “Hi.”

    “Uhhh… welcome to my cave, I guess? ”She dragged one strange foot along the floor behind her, gently turning to and fro as she clutched one arm with her other hand… and its attached wing.

    “You said that already.” Or something along those lines, at least.

    “Ah, right.” This is getting kind of… awkward. She seemed almost embarrassed to be standing in front of him, and it was infectious. He rubbed his scalp in what he recognized was a nervous gesture.

    “But appreciated.” It wasn’t much of a response, but still she smiled at him. And despite himself, he smiled back. It was the best thing he’d seen since coming to this place.

    “So… want to go to bed?” Waiiiiiit, do I…

    “Do I… what?” I heard that right, right?

    “Ah, umm… sorry. I meant for sleep! Do you want to sleep? Not… not with me, per se. I mean, it sounds like you’ve had a lot happen, and you’ve got to be tired and I just figured you’d want to… you know… sleep?” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, squinting his eyes. Right. Monsters. They can be like this. He wasn’t exactly used to dealing with Monsters that much, despite his assertion that they didn’t bother him. Even less so ones that had been human. But, he did know a thing or two about how they acted from word of mouth and what he’d witnessed in his few interactions with them. ‘Lust is never far from their minds, lad. Even when they’ve no real intention of acting on it, it sometimes comes forth in word and deed. Pay it no mind, but don’t encourage it. At least if you fear their Taint and value your purity. And that chastity of yours.’

    He had to admit, though. He was tired. Sleep slumped against a wall of cold stone with a sore, aching, battered body wasn’t the best of its sort. And maybe he was projecting a bit, too. She was beautiful, if, well… Monstrous. He’d made his peace with his virginity years ago. He was comfortable in the knowledge he’d probably die as such despite his master urging him to visit a brothel sometime to be rid of it. Or spend some quality time with one of the occasional female adventurers that would join them for his enterprises. He’d seen his share of beauties, felt the pangs of lust, but…

    He’d never really wanted all that came with such attachments. The risk of fatherhood, the emotional ties to a lover and all the complexities of such a relationship. He enjoyed working for Ardyn. He liked the travel and exploration. He liked seeing new things, meeting new people, learning, growing. Somehow, having that sort of relationship felt like it would tie him down to people and places. That it would force him to change who he was and how he lived in a way that would only leave him unhappy. It reminded him too much of home.

    And besides. There was always the fear that he’d burn someone.

    Literally.

    His control was good, but not perfect.

    Ultimately, though, the weariness was winning over wariness.

    “I’d also appreciate that. Though… just to sleep. No offense.”

    “Ah, none taken.” She didn’t sound particularly disappointed. Maybe even a bit relieved. Maybe I’m just feeling horny after all of this. They say the fear of dying does that to a person.

    She smiled at him, looking a bit more relaxed, more at ease.

    “Alright then. To the guest room!” And with that, the woman leapt into the air, fluttering through the dark, and disappeared at the top of the rock formation that served as canvas for the cave painting he’d been studying. So that’s where she was. You can’t see the top of it from down here. I guess there’s a passage up there.

    “Hey, you know I can’t just climb up this, right?”

    “I know! I just have to figure out what I did with the old rope ladder!”

    “Rope… why do you have something like that?”

    “I do sometimes get guests, but it’s basically only two people these days. Or, welcome guests, anyway. One of them can climb up here pretty well on her own, but my ex… he’s basically stuck down there.”

    “Your… ex?

    “I was in a bad place at the time, and he happened to be there. I’d just lost someone really close, and, well, he was basically the only understanding person around that wasn’t... painful. But really, he’s not someone I could see myself with in the long-term. We don’t really love each other, you know. Not like that, anyway. He wants me, but he also wants anything with a hole in it.” He just blinked. Repeatedly.

    “I thought Monsters were supposed to be…”

    “Ahhhh, yes. That whole ‘One True Love Only’ romantic thing. Like, fall hopelessly in love with the first thing you fuck. That’s basically all coming from this one crazy guy who wanders around making art of Monsters and writing things from interviews with them. A lot of that is just bullshit he gets told by people wanting us to sound nicer than we really are. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not completely fake, but Monsters aren’t stupid. Or, well, some aren’t, anyway. If we can’t deal with a person as our partner, we’re not going to stick around and be abused or unhappy. Besides, I wasn’t a virgin even before I became like this, and I sure as hell don’t want to be stuck with my first. Ah! Here it is.”

    He heard a dragging sound, followed by some odd creaking noises again.

    “Stand clear!”

    It wasn’t much of a warning, as a ladder made of thick, knotted hemp rope leapt over the side of the rock formation and slapped against its face mere inches from the cave painting. Luckily, it had been enough. He’d stepped back just in time to avoid it.

    “It’s tied down, so you should be good!”

    “Right. Thank you.” Here we go. He stowed the flameless Torch in his bag and started his ascent. Hand over hand, he pushed his weary body up the ladder, and was soon at the top and over the lip.

    The cascade-like formation was nearly flat at the top, save for the occasional stalagmite. Two of these anchored the ladder.

    “Greetings, weary traveler!” She’s sitting in a rocking chair. He stopped and stared, not even fully over the edge. Creak, creak, creak. “You have a chair.” She smiled at him, a cheeky grin, the glow from his hand revealing her relaxing as he hauled himself over the top. “Indeed.” So that’s what the noise was. “What’s a front porch without a nice chair?” He shook his head and finished climbing over.

    “Do I need to pull this up?”

    “Ah, umm, yes? I don’t really want any unexpected guests knowing I’m here, let alone climbing up here. A lot of people come around here for the well. Some of whom I’d rather not deal with.” Really? He started hauling it up and piling it far from the lip.

    “Well?”

    “Ah, yeah. Pure fresh water is valuable around here. There’s a little cascade a couple of rooms back that dumps into some potable pools, so long as you don’t mind the fish. Which are tasty, by the way. We call it the well. Or the Wishing Well, depending on who you ask.”

    “Huh. So I was right.”

    “Hm?”

    “People are using it as a Wishing Well.”

    “Oh? So you saw it already.”

    “You could say that. I wound up here after sliding down the chute the water comes out of.”

    “Eh? Wait, so you’re saying… so you’re…” She looked at him, dumbfounded for a moment, before erupting in laughter again.

    “So everyone else throws coins in there, and you, you throw yourself in the well! That’s great! I bet you’re cursed for taking yourself out of there!” She laughed even harder.

    “It’s not magical, you know. I checked. If anything, the magic that permeates this place is weaker there.”

    She wiped a tear from her eye with one furred hand. “Oh I’m sure it’s not magical. It’s just local superstition. For whatever reason, it’s not connected to the main cistern, so it doesn’t have any Frog Scum in it. But the locals believe it can grant wishes. Or some do, at least. “Cast thy treasure into the water ‘neath the font, and thy wish become paid in full.” Just a bunch of pocket change in there, though.” He finished piling the ladder against the cave wall.

    “Well, now, anyway.”

    "Huh? What do you mean?"

    "There were a few things more valuable than coins in there." He tapped the back of the gauntlet, where the Crystal of Illumination glowed.

    "Wait, isn't that… that was a gem in the well. You actually took things out of the well! Those are people's wishes! You're definitely cursed now!" He looked at her blankly. "There is no magic in that well, and these are not people's wishes. They're cast-offs. Things people gave up hoping for something else. They tried to buy something, but there was no seller, and nothing to purchase anyway. They're going to waste in that pool, and as someone in a desperate situation who can use any advantage he can get, I'm not going to leave a bunch of abandoned magical crystals in an inert pool of water just because someone thought tossing them in would do something. Adventuring is like that, right?"

    She grimaced, anger clouding her dark eyes. He couldn’t say he didn't feel guilty at all. He understood where she was coming from, despite his pragmatic approach to the situation. I suppose I could return them. I have the Torch, and someone seemingly willing to help now, but…

    She sighed, ultimately conceding. “Look, it’s fine. I guess. I’m not the caretaker of the well. I just live nearby. And… I guess I can see your point. People just… just threw them in there and left them. But if you’re going to go taking something that’s important to other people… don’t be surprised if you have to take responsibility somehow. Don’t be surprised if it bites you in the ass.” He grimaced.

    “Understood. I’ll face that if it comes to it. And if not, maybe I can return them. To the pool. To their original owners. Something.” But for now, I’m going to hang onto them. Like as not, I’ll need them. Better to have them and not than not have them and need them.

    She looked at him with a serious expression, inscrutable. What lay behind her eyes he could only guess. But then she shrugged, dismissing whatever it was, and a faint hint of that cocky smile returned. “Alright then, let’s get you to that bed, and you can tell me about those crystals.”

    “Curious?”

    “Well, sure. Why not?”

    “Heh.”
    ………
    ……



    “There were four?

    “Indeed.”

    “Huh. I only knew about three.”

    “Not surprising, really. I only thought there were two at first, until I actually started grabbing them. Turns out there were four down there.”

    He sat on the edge of a stone shelf in the passages that served as Rhian’s home. The small branch had clearly been modified from a natural set of passages, likely with a combination of tools and magic. He strongly suspected the Werebat had had help of some kind, but didn’t know from whom. She didn’t strike him as a proficient spellcaster or stoneworker. It also was indeed a bed. More of one than he’d expected, at least; the flat slab had been cut into an alcove and had some kind of padding made from stitched-together furs wrapped around what felt like feathers. It was soft, and surprisingly comfortable. Though it did smell like some kind of animal. There was a similar arrangement for a pillow, though clearly crammed full of more feathers. A few poked out through seams here and there. For blankets it was more hides, though these had come from something much fluffier. All of them had been cured and cleaned well, by the looks of it.

    “So you what, went diving for your sword, and just swiped them because they were there?”

    “It seemed prudent.” She rolled her eyes at him as she leaned against the room’s wall.

    “So… what exactly are they and what do they do? And what are they worth?”

    “So, they’re what’s called Augment Crystals, though they also get called Gleams or Spellstones. They’re magical tools that carry Enchantments, like what you’d put on a sword or armor. But they’re in the Crystal itself, and you can move that from one object to another. So, say, you have a Crystal that causes a weapon to douse a target with acid as it hits, for example, you can put it on any weapon. And once you’re done using that weapon, you can take it off and put it on a different weapon.”

    “Ooooooo, that’s… damn. That’s useful.”

    “Indeed. The problem is that their powers are generally weaker than what you’ll find on a good, dedicated Enchantment. They’re more like a Minor Enchantment, or something similar to what you’d get from an Ioun Stone. And they usually demand a certain level of quality in the item you try to connect them with. Without it, their magic can’t channel properly and they don’t work. The weakest need only a well-made item, but anything more than that is going to need at least a Minor Enchantment. And that’s pushing it. The most powerful are going to need major magical energies already present in the object to piggyback off of or they won’t be able to realize their full potential. They’re popular in places where there are a lot of skilled mages, like in Ys.”

    “Hmmm… so it’s not like you can just turn any old fruit knife into a Vorpal weapon.”

    “No.”

    “So what was your haul?”

    “Well, there’s the one I put in the gauntlet; a Crystal of Illumination. Pretty self-explanatory. The stronger they are, the brighter they glow. The dimmest one down there was shaped like a fang and seems to be a Crystal of Life Drinking.”

    “Sounds ominous.”

    “Sort of. It heals you slightly whenever you hurt someone with the weapon it’s attached to… up to a point, at which it stops working until it fully recharges. Takes about a day, normally.”

    “Huh.”

    “Yeah. I actually haven’t attached that one to anything. I don’t have another weapon capable of supporting it.”

    “What about the one that looks like an eye?”

    “Huh? You knew about that?”

    “A friend of mine tossed it in there months ago. She was completely nuts about the idea of the wishing well when she heard about it and just had to throw her treasure in there. That thing used to be her most prized possession.” Ouch. That… that really makes me feel like a scumbag.

    “No wonder you were touchy about this.”

    “Yeah… well… it is what it is. I used to be a Thief. Professionally. Sometimes, this kind of thing… it happens.” That doesn’t really make me feel better, you know?

    “That one… it improves a person’s insight and perception. It’s called a Sasori’s Glance. It’s really useful for me, since my eyesight is bad to begin with, and it’s not really made for a weapon. It fit my glasses perfectly… though it does make the lenses look blue from the outside.”

    “Hah! So it’s not just poor fashion sense. And here I thought you just had bad taste, what with that layered armor and a leather coat that’s not even black.”

    “Not all leather coats are black. I also don’t care as much about the looks of a thing as I do about how well it works. Natural brown is just fine, thank you. Keep your fashion and I’ll keep my function.” She smiled at him as if asking ‘why not both?’

    “What about the last one?”

    “Ah, that’s what’s called a Phoenix Ash Threat. It’s a weapon Augment Crystal as well, and pretty strong besides. It causes the weapon to leave behind a trail of embers when it strikes a foe that continue to burn after the weapon has moved on.”

    “... Well then. That’s… different.”

    “Thought it’d be something else?”

    “Yeah, I guess? I don’t know… maybe something to do with, like, luck? Or fate?”

    “Unfortunately not. I could have definitely used those.”

    “So how much are they worth?”

    “Rough estimate? The Sasori’s Glance, Crystal of Life Drinking, and Crystal of Illumination are probably worth about four hundred gold pieces. Each.” Her eyes widened as she lurched awkwardly away from the wall.

    “Huh!? That much!?”

    “Yeah, but even combined, they’re not worth as much as the other one.” Her eyes widened so much they seemed to bulge, her mouth hanging slightly open.

    “I’d say it’s probably worth about two thousand gold by itself.”

    It’s worth that much!?! If I’d known I’d have…

    “Grabbed it yourself?”

    “Uhhhh… y-yeah. Sure.” Huh, odd reaction.

    “I mean, holy shit. That’s not chump change. You could live off that for…”

    “Yeah. Unless you were a serious Adventurer or some kind of dignitary.” Her eyes darted back and forth, a look of shock and confusion on her face.

    “Not thinking of having a relapse into the Thief life, are you?”

    “No! Hell no! It’s just… it’s just nothing. Just… wow. And… I mean… It was right there. Just… always… right… there.” He looked down at his sword, the red bird showing through the weapon’s hilt. “Look, if you really want it, I can give it to you. If you can help me get out of here alive, it’s worth it. If you need the money or something.”

    “N-no! No no no. Definitely not! I’ll be cursed for sure! Hell no! You keep that thing. It’s yours now!” She was pacing, waving her wing-arms frantically, to the point that the fluttering was tousling his hair. The hell’s wrong with her? She was mumbling something under her breath, but he couldn’t make out what.

    Ah! I think I get it now… Even so, he had a guess as to what had happened.

    “A-anyway! This is the guest room, such as it is. I have a friend who sometimes sleeps here, so it shouldn’t be too bad. My room is in the very back, down the center passage. Latrine’s on the first left-hand side branch. Stay out of the storeroom, it’s got a drop that’ll break your neck if you’re not careful. That’s the second left. Kitchen is the “porch,” out front. All of the rooms have curtains; ask before entering. I don’t need you walking in on me when I’m… well, you know…

    “Fair. Thanks. For all of this.”

    “It’s no big deal. It’s actually nice having someone new to talk to for a change. It gets pretty lonely down here. You said you had provisions for three weeks, right?”

    “Yes. Three weeks left, at least. We started with more, but getting through the forest was a pain in the ass.”

    “I can believe it. The map we used was an absolute mess. Anyway, that means we’ve got about three weeks, maybe four, before people start looking for your group. We have until then to get you home.”

    “Right.”

    “Better rest up, then. Tomorrow, we’re going to go see some Goblins about supplies… and information.”

    “Alright. Sounds good to me.”

    “Ah… there is one thing though.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Hmmm… actually, no. Nevermind. Maybe it won’t come to that.”

    “Something wrong?”

    “Maybe… but don’t worry about it for now. Just… if there ever comes a time when I start panicking and start telling you to do something… ummmm… well… like what you might imagine I did with my ex… just do it, okay? For your own safety… just… just do it. I’m going to go ahead and go to sleep. You should too.”

    And with that, she turned, pushed the hide curtain aside, and headed in the direction of her own “room.”

    Meanwhile, this left him time to consider what might have been an appropriate response. However, only one word came to mind.

    What?
    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
    My Shameful Fics and the Wiki to go with them. Oh, and some fossil I found.
    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  4. #4
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Rhian AI art, such as it is:
    Removed Due to Offensiveness

    Deleted by personal choice.

    It's put her in some unusual clothes, and I consistently have trouble getting it to do the bat wing thing properly... not to mention it keeps wanting to give her extra ears, but this is a pretty good image of her. I can see her wearing something like this, too.
    Last edited by Twelveseal; December 12th, 2023 at 05:12 PM.
    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
    My Shameful Fics and the Wiki to go with them. Oh, and some fossil I found.
    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  5. #5
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    This would have been a good place to put a pic of the main character, what with the mirror and all that, but I think I'll save it for later, when we actually get a description of him and instead leave you guessing for now.
    Once I run out of these pre-released chapters in need of only minor edits, it's going to take longer to churn them out since I'll have to write them in full as usual.



    Chapter 3: There...

    He woke in darkness beneath earth and stone. Two lights shone in the room, but both were all but fully covered. As was he, even though what lay atop him stank of animals and leather. It was a comforting weight despite the smell, warm and familiar to any who’d had to dwell in lands gnawed by winter’s chill. He lay there in the gloom for a while beneath the furs, listening, and debating returning to slumber with himself. The soft fur blankets and his heavy leather coat had kept him quite warm, and while the “mattress” was uneven, it was overwhelmingly more comfortable than a stone floor.

    I’m in the home of a Werebat.

    The thought passed through his mind calmly. It wasn’t tinged with fear, nor expectation. It was simply a peaceful recognition of a truth.

    So strange.

    He decided to sleep a bit longer, rolling over on his side. He half expected to see her there in the darkness, watching him sleep. It wouldn’t surprise him, with what he knew of Monsters. He’d roll over, she’d be there, staring at him, and then she’d try to rape him. Or proposition, maybe. That seemed more like her style; ask, rather than assault. Invite. It wasn’t what he’d heard Werebats were like, but gossip was always a mixed-bag, whether it had to do with Men or Monsters.

    But no.

    She wasn’t there.

    It was just him.

    And a girl he didn’t recognize.

    His eyes widened and he froze in place.

    Crouched down by the curtain of hide that served as a makeshift door to the space, lurking in the hallway and peering into the alcove, there was a girl. Her clothes were simple, looking to be made of some kind of hide and shell. He couldn’t tell her coloration properly but there was a clear pattern to her skin, pale banded in dark, and her limbs seemed to be covered in scales. Certainly her arm was as it reached around the gap at the bottom of the curtain and tugged at his piled gear. It exposed the glowing gauntlet, and with it more light. More of her form.

    A small reptilian woman with pointed ears. She stared at the gauntlet. Then turned her eyes to him. A soft, quiet voice whispered in the dark.
    .
    “Hi nasab. Nin mír. Nin dilthen anor. Cin aeg a ha qwir an cin.”

    And then she was gone, vanished silently beyond the curtain, and he was alone in the dark once more.

    Was that… some kind of Elvish?

    If it was, the dialect sounded like gibberish to him. He spoke Elvish, but that was almost a sort of “word soup.”

    I must be dreaming. Fuck you, brain, and your weird shit. Let me rest.

    And with that thought, he went back to sleep.
    ………
    ……


    When he next opened his eyes, the room was a bit brighter than he’d remembered, and there was an odd smell in the air that some animal part of his brain recognized as smoke… and food. His stomach made its opinion on that known with an icy stab and a low, gurgling rumble.

    His bladder, however, was of more pressing concern.

    He crawled begrudgingly from the bed, his mind mulling over the events of the last few days. Or nights. His sense of time was already unsettled by the persistent darkness and disorganized sleep cycle.

    Well, I still have my clothes, at least. Doesn’t look like she tried anything while I was sleeping… A brief image of a scaled hand flitted through his mind, though. His armor had shifted, revealing the gauntlet beneath, though he couldn’t tell if it’d slid naturally because of its own weight atop the pile, or if it had been moved intentionally. Dream sometimes mixed with reality; the borders between blurred in those fitful moments betwixt wakefulness and slumber. What was real was sometimes tinged with fantasies, and what was fantastic sometimes carried a kernel of truth.

    I’ll have to ask Rhian about it.

    He grabbed the gauntlet so he could see, and prowled around for the latrine. First left, wasn’t it? And stay out of the storeroom. That’s the second. He turned to the right, the tunnel snaking away into the rock. There are passages to the right, too. Wonder what’s down those… His curiosity was piqued, but… Bladder first.

    He took the first left, the tunnel curving first to the right, and then back to the left, towards the entrance to her home, and ever-so-slightly ascending. He began to hear the sound of running water, albeit faintly. Good thing I’m not claustrophobic… or fat. The space was narrow, the stone pressing in. He had to duck slightly in places as spurs of rock in the crevice reduced the overhead in places. Whoever had worked on her home clearly had not done much to this particular side branch. However, eventually, the jag opened up onto a larger room. “Pardon the intrusion.” She had told him to warn her before he entered. Thankfully though, it was vacant.He wasn’t sure what would happen if he walked in on a Monster with their pants literally down.

    There were several small ledges of rock there, some too even to be natural, others likely the product of water and time. A small mirror had been propped up on one. A sachet of dried herbs sat on another. There was an old, battered metal cup, the dented vessel rusting slightly and stained with some unknown, oily substance. A heavy ceramic bowl sat on another ledge, beside several small bottles containing unknown liquids. I thought it was hard to get glass here. He checked the ledges again. There’s nothing to wipe with… so she must use magic for that. It was a convenient option.The norm, really. Prestidigitation, used properly, could do everything from wiping one’s ass to cleaning one’s body, brushing teeth, cleaning clothes, armor, and weapons, to cleaning a room, to washing dishes, to cooking food and chilling wine, and much, much more. Anyone with a modicum of common sense and a fraction of magical aptitude learned it as a child and never forgot it. It was a shame it wasn’t as efficient at drying his gear as his flames were or he’d have relied on it after his unplanned bath.

    At the back end, just short of the wall and a small ledge, flowed an oddly sluggish stream. The water was pouring from a crevice in the wall and down through what might have been a natural channel… but probably wasn’t. It snaked around under a ledge against the far wall, so that it bisected the back end of the room. The water had a strange, oily sheen to it that he didn’t trust.

    I guess she just squats over the stream, then. Well, when in Remus… He dropped his pants, did his business, emptied his bowels for good measure, and cleaned himself with a bit of magic. Okay, that whole setup is more convenient than it looks. He was actually impressed as he fastened his trousers and belt back in place. He took a moment to check himself in the mirror; the first he’d seen since coming to this place. Nothing seemed amiss, barring a few scratches and minor bruises.


    I guess I should see what she’s cooking out there. His stomach agreed.

    Carrying the gauntlet still, he headed back out to Rhian’s “porch.”

    And was utterly horrified.

    “What… is that?”

    Rhian crouched over a small fire as it burned fitfully in a charred depression of stone, a battered wooden ladle in a furry hand as she stirred what looked like some kind of meaty, creamy stew… in the shell of a giant bug.

    “Morning. And this? Roller Stew. It’s tasty.”

    “Is that a Beast?

    “Yup. You find them around here pretty often. In the rooms with brush and stuff, anyway. They like to hide under dead leaves and branches and come out biting. Get too far away from them and they roll up into a spiky ball and come after you, but if you can catch them from the side when they’re still crawling around, you can flip them over and finish ‘em off real easy. Quick stab in the head and they just flop and die. And they taste like lobster!” A thin stream of drool leaked from her mouth at that, glistening in the magical light.

    He wasn’t sure if he should be horrified or not.

    “You… eat Beasts? You know that’s dangerous, right?

    “Some of them. A bunch are poisonous, but most of the ones down here are actually safe to eat so long as you avoid the venom glands. The centipede one’s are a little poisonous throughout, but it gives you more of a “buzz,” so to speak. Almost like a good, hard drink. Once they’re cooked, anyway. Just… don’t eat the frogs. Those get you really high.”

    He just stared at her, dumbfounded. “No, I mean…”

    “Ah, actually, don’t drink the water in the latrine, either. It’s got frog poison in it.” His eyes widened.

    “Wait, is that why it’s that color and…”

    Thick? Yeah. Comes up from the cistern somehow. Not really sure on the particulars, but Lowri and her team assured me that’s where it starts. Apparently, there’s some kind of pumping system at work here and the girls tapped into a line. Anyway, it’s not as strong as if it were direct from the frog, but unless you want to watch the corners go round, don’t drink it.” He recalled the cup.

    “Speaking from experience?”

    “It’s one way to kill boredom, yeah. Saw the cup, I take it?” He nodded, and she shrugged.

    “It is what it is. I like my drink… and honestly, the booze they make down here is always kind of… ehhhhhhhh. That stuff’s better for it, so long as it’s not too strong. The frog goop is actually a pretty hot commodity down here. Especially if it’s from the cistern directly, right around what’s supposedly the old pumping station. That stuff is as thick as molasses. Some folks down here really want the strong stuff… if you need the money and have the speed to get it, you can make some good coin. Actual coin. The Goblins will buy it. What they do with it beyond using it themselves or reselling it, if anything, I don’t know. And I know of at least one group that uses it themselves.” Bitterness and old anger tinged her voice at the last.

    “I see.” He wasn’t sure what to think about that, so instead he returned to the original topic. “So, about this… this.” He gestured at the massive, isopod-like creature bubbling on the fire.

    “Perfectly safe to eat. It’s rare that I have a guest stick around all night, let alone a new visitor, so I thought I’d go all-out. Roller stew cooked in the shell, with diced potatoes, carrots, and leeks, garlic, and onions, prepared in fresh water, Goblin milk, butter, and cream, and served with fried cricket bread. I even used some of my salt.” She smiled proudly. He kept his face carefully neutral, however.

    These ingredients are… Goblin milk? Cricket bread?

    He had misgivings. Not the least of which was that improperly cooked Beast flesh, when consumed, could cause a number of serious problems.

    I feel like, if I eat this, something bad might happen to my insides. His insides, however, seemed perfectly fine with the idea. His stomach unleashed another grumble.

    “It’ll be done soon.” She grinned at him, stirring the bizarre pot.

    He just smiled… though it probably looked fake.
    ………
    ……


    It’s good!

    Rhian had materialized a pair of glazed ceramic bowls and wooden spoons from somewhere in her abode and ladled out the creamy stew. The bread, which she seemed to have fried first, had been layered on a wooden plate. Its dark color and texture was apparent even in the dim light of the cave. The two had settled around the fire, her in her chair, and he on a simple stool from somewhere deeper in her home. She’d set to the thick soup with gusto, but he’d been more apprehensive. If she was eating something like this regularly without issue… she was probably cooking it properly. Probably. He couldn’t shake that nagging concern.

    Until he finally put the first spoonful in his mouth and the sweet and savory flavor washed over him. She was right, the meat tasted like lobster, and the rich broth had a curious sweetness that meshed with it. He couldn’t help but think that corn, or even carrots, might go well with it. However, getting corn was probably impossible here. That she had potatoes was itself impressive, but they were fairly common since the overseas trade had first stabilized before Beasts became an issue.

    He dared to take a bite of the bread, with the oily crispness of it brought by frying it in some kind of sweet butter and egg mixture. It was oddly nutty, but went well with the stew. Including dipping.

    “This is surprisingly good.”

    “I know, right? A friend of mine came up with the recipe. She couldn’t stand just eating these things raw the way the others did.” He looked at her, face plastered with horror. “That’s a joke, right?”

    “Ahaha… yeah. We uhhh… We lived with the Werebats who infected us for a few years. They uhhhh… had very rustic eating habits. They’re the ones who showed us what Beasts you could eat, mostly by making us catch them. But they’d just, you know, like… eat them. Without any kind of preparation.” She shuddered. His eyes widened.

    “There’s just something unsettling about watching someone that looks like you rip a leg off a still-twitching giant cricket and just… eat it, like a wiggling chicken leg.” Not really a pleasant thought, that. It wasn’t enough to deter him from taking another bite, however. The bigger problem was the prospect of these other Werebats she mentioned eating Beasts raw.

    “So… this is really made from crickets?” He’d have to ask her about the others soon. Eating uncooked Beast flesh did horrible things to the mind, and sometimes the body as well.

    “Roasted, dried, and ground up, yes. It makes for surprisingly decent flour. We also use mushrooms and tree nuts for that sometimes. The nuts are the hardest to get, outside of what little wheat flour comes from up top. Pretty much only the Harpies collect them, and they don’t often sell excess from what I understand. Getting their eggs is pretty easy, though. The unfertilized ones make it down here all the time.” She waved a piece of bread around before taking a bite.

    “And the dairy comes from Goblins. As in…” He gestured at his chest.

    “Yup. Goblins are a big source of milk down here. You can thank Nye for that. Those girls love being pregnant. It gives them an instant status boost once they start swelling up. Once they’ve had a baby before, they tend to produce a lot of extra milk… which tends to make it onto the “market,” so to speak. Pretty much all of the dairy down here either comes from Goblins, or Kobolds. Kobold cheese is surprisingly good, to be honest. We do see some cow, goat, and sheep stuff down here, but it’s pretty rare.”

    “I’m going to be Tainted eating this, aren’t I?” She shrugged at him.

    “I mean… it doesn’t really matter, right? With those rocks, you can just pay for a purification ritual, right? Besides, I don’t think there’s really much to worry about from this.” He grimaced.

    “Does it bother you that much? Being Tainted?” He sighed. As a former Human herself, he suspected her asking this question was itself an example of why he didn’t want to be.

    “It could be a problem, yes. I’ve heard it influences how you think, making one more, ummm… and there are plenty of people who hold it against you as a personal failing. Not to mention it can…” He looked at her ears, wings, her legs…

    Change you, in various ways.” She smirked at him. “True that.”

    “But unless there’s something odd about you, you’ll at least stay Human. I only know one guy who’s turned into a Monster, and he was a man-whore to begin with. Still would be, if he hadn’t wound up leashed by another Werebat that thought he was handsome and refuses to share him without a fight.”

    “Huh.”

    “I wouldn’t worry about it. You seem like you’re pretty decent. You’re worried about it, so you’re probably not going to just dive headlong into becoming a Sineater. Or anything else. And besides, I’m not really getting the feeling like you’ve slept around or anything.”

    “I haven’t. I’m actually a virgin.” He said it calmly, face relaxed. It was, after all, a fact he was rather comfortable with. The impact of that statement was far more intense, however. Rhian almost choked on her stew. He lurched forward, leaning her down slapping her back to help clear her throat as she sputtered and hacked. As her coughing subsided, he sat back down.

    “You alright?”

    “I… yes. But, I mean, you just… You’re a virgin?

    “Is it that surprising?”

    “Well, I mean… you’re handsome. Not, like, heart-throbbingly handsome, but… You’re not ugly, that’s for sure. And you seem nice for the most part.” He took a bite of stew to try and hide the faint blush he could feel heating his face.

    “Why not? I mean, there must have been girls interested in you? Don’t all men just think about sex?”

    “Not all the time, no. I usually just deal with that problem myself, should the situation arise, so to speak.” She looked at him with a blank, unreadable face. He thought he saw an eye twitch for a moment, but if it did, it didn’t persist. He quirked an eyebrow at her in response, but nothing more was forthcoming. She merely stared at him, expression carefully neutral.

    “And yes, there have been women who showed an interest in me. But… when I was a boy, I really didn’t want to have anything to do with my home. There were girls, sure. Some of them pretty, others that I thought I might have had a chance with. But… I just never really wanted to stay there. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my parents. But it just didn’t feel like it was the place for me. I always wanted something… different. So the idea of settling down with a girl there, starting a family, trying to make a life doing the same monotonous things everyone else was doing… it just felt kind of, I don’t know… pointless?” She looked at him with a somewhat sad expression.

    “It sounds like you had a good life.”

    “Yeah, probably. But I guess I’m just an idiot. I wanted something different. And when it turned out I had a somewhat unusual talent, so to speak, my parents’ employer pressured them to find some way to unload me.”

    “Oh?” He shrugged.

    “I’m not that good with magic. I’m not a great fighter, though I get by on both when I have to. Especially if I’ve got an example to work with or my notes,” he tapped the place where his notebook normally rested before realizing he wasn’t actually carrying it. “Ah, well… the thing is though, I’m pyrokinetic.”

    “You’re… what?”

    “Pyrokinetic. Hmmm… More or less, it means I can manipulate the Mana in the environment to create or control heat and fire. I just need to think about it hard enough and visualize it. And keep concentrating at it, anyway. At least if I don’t want to lose control of the results.”

    “... manipulating the… Wait, so basically, you can use fire magic… without using your own Mana!?

    “Mmmm, pretty much. It’s not really magic, per se. It’s more like… I don’t know… there’s no rituals or incantations, no weird gestures or bits of cobweb or whatever. It’s just… emotion.Thought.Intention. If I want something to burn badly enough, it does. It doesn’t really cost me anything, except that I get to deal with the aftermath. I’ve dabbled in magic, too, and it basically all has to work the same way with me. I’ve got no skill with the normal stuff. Can’t retain the spells for any length of time for some reason. It just… slips right out of my memory. The only way I can do that is if I’m copying someone else… and even then, it’s not like I can do everything they can. I can just kind of… get a read on some simple things they know and imitate them. I’m actually pretty half-assed about everything.”

    “Except setting things on fire, apparently.”

    He laughed. “More or less, yes.”

    She laughed in turn. “What the hell. You’re a damn pyro. The Goblins will love you. They lose their shit over fire.” He just shrugged, smiling wryly.

    “But anyway, my family couldn’t find anyone who could train me to control that particular ability, and after I accidentally torched one of their employer’s precious beehives, he was determined to get me off his property and as far away as possible. Which was fine by me. It just so happened that master was in town and heard of the “mysterious fire child,” and came to take a look. He realized what was going on, and while he didn’t have the skill to actually teach me himself, he did have plenty of contacts and knew how and where to research in order to figure out how to help me. So he offered to take me as an apprentice, an assistant, and from there I was with him.”

    “Ahhhhh… so that’s how you wound up working for Ardyn.”

    “Yeah. I was a charity case of his. It worked fine for me, honestly. He was like family, like the uncle I never had. Friendly, silly, quick with a joke, but full of sage advice, too. I helped him with his work, and in return, he helped me cultivate and control my abilities. I really think he enjoyed it, too. He always loved to learn new things, see new things, and my capabilities were something he’d never seen before. Heard about, sure. But seen? No.”

    She just looked sadly at him. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

    “Thanks. I’m… I’m going to miss him.”

    “I know how you feel. I’ve lost people before, too. It never gets easier. It always hurts… but it sounds like he wouldn’t want you to keep hurting because of him.”

    “No. You’re right, he wouldn’t.”

    “So…”

    “I’ll grieve. But I refuse to lose myself to it. It wouldn’t do justice to his memory.” She smiled at him, reached out an arm, and touched his shoulder gently. It was a simple gesture, but it conveyed more than words could. He smiled back, if a bit sadly.

    “Do you want to head out as soon as we’re done eating, then? The Goblins run on a cycle, so unless something’s happened, they should be at the usual place some time in the afternoon.”

    “What time is it now? I can’t really tell down here.”

    She turned and looked at the angle of the light streaming in from the hole in the ceiling.

    “Probably early morning. It’ll take a few hours to get there on foot… and at least one room has Beasts in it, so we should probably get going soon if you don’t want to wait a few days for the next circuit.”

    “Yeah, sounds like we should. What kind of Beasts?”

    “Usually it’s flies and these guys,” she gestured at the giant bug still simmering over the fire. “Sometimes though, it’s nastier things. Spiders, especially the ones covered in stones, and occasionally rats and squirrels come down there. I even saw a bird, once. Didn’t stick around for that. Thing was fucking big.

    “So it’s open to the sky.”

    “Yeah. But unless you can scale sheer walls or fly, you’re not going to get out that way. There’s a lot of rubbish and just nasty stuff there. It gets used as a trash dump, and leaves and branches collect there from above. You’ll never know what you’ll find there… or what’ll find you if you’re not careful. Beasts love it.”

    “Greaaaat.”

    “Yeah. I usually just fly through it. Or over it. Having to walk is going to take more time… and be a lot more dangerous.” He sighed.

    “Well, at least I know a trick or two about moving through difficult terrain.”

    “Good to hear, you’re going to need it.”
    ………
    ……


    After the meal, he’d donned his armor and his coat, reclaimed his notebook and weapons, his various pouches and his little pack, and made sure everything was in order. Rhian, likewise, had reclaimed her darts and daggers… but she’d also put on a set of leather armor, brigandine, of her own, and a small pack strapped to her back. The armor suited her well… and looked like it had been heavily modified to fit her unusual anatomy.

    “Can you fly in that?” The suit seemed almost to have leather vambraces of some sort, sized up to protect the backs of her wings.

    “You wouldn’t think so, but actually, yes. I got it from the same girls who modified my home.”

    “One of them the friend you talked about before?”

    “Them? No. They’re Kobolds from a little village on the outside. They have an arrangement with the Harpies in the trees overhead that gets them here and back again by air. They get around Hambone that way, and still work and trade here. My friend’s actually a Nothic from down below. She’s a bit odd, but she’s alright.” I have no idea what that is.

    “So she’s not some kind of lizard, then?”

    “Neh? No, she’s not. She’s hard to miss. If you see a really thin, short, flat girl with really long arms whose shirt covers nothing because it’s just a loose piece of cloth with a hole for her head and a little belt at her waist, has a mouthful of pointy teeth, little spikes coming out of her back and head, messy black hair, and one giant, red eye that never looks directly at you… That’s Neh’Rhys. She’s pretty shy around most people, but she’s very… physical. She likes to be in contact with people, and once she starts talking about something that interests her… well, you’re going to be there a while. And if she likes you… well… she uhhhh, might be, shall we say… pent up? Anyway, why did you think she was a lizard, though?”

    “I… saw something last night. Someone, rather. Outside your guest room.” She froze, looking at him in horror.

    “It might have been a dream… but I saw what looked like a lizard woman creeping around last night. She messed with some of my stuff and spouted some kind of… it sounded like Elvish, but really badly translated. Something about “her piece of the sun,” or something. I couldn’t make sense of it, figured it was a dream, and went back to sleep.”

    “Hmmm… I don’t know anyone like that, but…” She looked like she was telling the truth as she held her chin in her hand.

    “That sounds like…”

    “The Lizardmen from the paintings.”

    “Yeah. Maybe you dreamed about those?”

    “Maybe. Either way, it was kind of surreal. I rolled over expecting one thing, and saw something else entirely.”

    “Oh? And what were you expecting?”

    “Honestly? To see you getting ready to pounce on me.”

    “Oh-ho! So you think I’m that kind of girl, huh?” She had a playful smile on her face.

    “You did say something that might be construed as… interested.”

    “Well… you’re not wrong on that. It’s been too long since I had a nice fuck, but I can’t just go scaring you away, now can I? I’d rather have had you come to me. Just jumping a guy doesn’t really sit well with me.” Her tone shifted from playful to serious as she spoke, as if there was something deeper beneath her words.

    “And then of course you had to go and ruin it…” This, she said far more quietly. But not so quietly that he couldn’t hear.

    “How so?” He was genuinely curious, and bemused by the whole direction this had taken.

    “You’re a virgin, after all. So long as you’ve got that, you should save it for someone you love. I can’t go taking that from you. Not and still have any kind of self-respect. So I’ll just have to admire you from afar.” She emphasized the last with a dreamy, swooning gesture that he could only snort at. She grinned back in response, fully embracing the silliness of it.

    “Oh, that’s not attractive at all! Don’t snort at me!” She laughed as she mock-protested.

    “Maybe I’ll just have to claim it’s an emergency and mount you anyway!” A sly grin accompanied the comment. He raised a brow at her suggestion, unfazed.

    “Oh? Really? Guess I’ll just have to defend my chastity with my life.”

    “Pffft…”

    “Hey, so… what did you mean by that, anyway?”

    “Hmmm?”

    “About having to do sexual things to me as some kind of emergency? Was that just a joke, or…”

    “Ah… um… about that… You see, there are a lot of Monsters here. Different kinds, but as you might expect, most are female. And single. Males of any kind, Human or Monster, are hard to come by down here and the Monster ones… they’re not really good for lasting relationships. Most are Goblins and Orcs from up top, just by their breeding rates. Male Harpies basically never leave their village up there, and if there are any male Phycomids or Selkies, they don’t go far from their own communities. And Humans… Men in general, really, just kind of… I don’t know… excite Monsters in a way other Monsters just don’t. Like, don’t get me wrong, they’ve got good dick. But I don’t know… like, something about you just makes me want to tear your armor off with my teeth, pin you down, and ride you until I can’t think of anything anymore… and I used to be Human. You make me hungry. I can’t imagine what it’s like for girls who’ve never known the other side of that feeling. But I do know that there’s at least one group of girls who are actively looking for another man. And they are not nice. You don’t want to be caught by them. The only way to really deter them is if you’ve been “marked” by another Monster. In other words…” Her face visibly flushed as she explained what she wanted to do to him. He could feel his own heating as well. Rather candid, isn’t she? Even so, he didn’t miss the meaning behind those words.

    “In other words, either you claim me, or they claim me. Right?”

    “Bingo.”

    “And they’re not the sort of people I want to be “claimed,” by.”

    “Exactly. They uhhhh… well… how should I put this… rape is bad, right?”

    “Well, yes?”

    “See, they like rape. A lot. And bondage. And physical and verbal abuse. And one of them I’m fairly sure uses magic to terrorize her partner… They’re also fans of slave labor, and they don’t really care if… well, they probably would care if it was you, since you’d be giving them children, but… yeah, let’s just say safety isn’t really their top priority. Or your mental health. Or your diet.Diet… so these are the ones who are eating Beasts raw. That explains some things. It leaves me with other questions, though.

    “Charming. So in other words, as you said before “Your adventure ends here.” Right?”

    “Basically.”

    He considered his options… I don’t really have a reason not to believe her on this. She could be lying, sure. But if she was going to do that, she’d probably have just assaulted me to begin with instead of going to these lengths to get me to agree.

    “Alright.” She brightened.

    “If it makes you feel any better, I’ll try to keep your virginity intact. There might be a way to mark you without having to actually take that.”

    Huh.

    “Appreciated.” He paused for a moment before continuing. "Actually, is this something I'm going to have to worry about with every Monster down here?"

    "Weeeeeell… Maaaaybe?"

    Ugh.

    "So basically, if we go see these Goblins, I'm going to get mobbed."

    "Maybe?"

    "Harpies?"

    "Maybe. But you won't see much of them. They almost never come down here, except at the Market Square. Or to hawk eggs." Market Square? He calmly ignored the pun, which she seemed to let slide.

    “You know what, maybe just tell me what Monsters that you know are down here, so I can have an idea of how many people are going to want to fuck me, whether I want it or not?” She chuckled.

    “Hooo… alright. I’ll try. Up in the Canopy level, there’s the Harpies and Wereravens and Wereowls. They mostly all stay up there, but the ‘ravens come down here more often than the Harpies do. Especially when there’s no full moons going on; a lot of the Weres like to look human when there’s not, so you might meet one and not know what they were.

    On the surface, there are Orcs, Werewolves, Werelynxes, and Wereboars. Those four groups tend to fight each other over territory on the surface… they take advantage of the ruin’s protection to avoid Beasts and try to push each other out of it, using Hambone like a living weapon. The Orcs used to get the worst of it, but supposedly there’s a High Orc with them now, so it’s starting to heat up pretty bad. For obvious reasons, you don’t want to get involved with them. The Wereboars have somehow managed to get some kind of farm going on up there, but the how isn’t something anyone’s ever told me. There are also Weremantids up there, but you’re basically never going to know it. They keep to themselves. Ah, there’s also some Werefoxes, but they tend to avoid direct conflicts and just observe. Maybe Wereweasels, too? I’ve never seen one, but I’ve heard them mentioned in passing.

    As far as I know, no one lives on the ground floor of the ruin proper. It’s sort of a no-man’s land. The place is chock full of secret passages and it’s got a lot of weird optical illusions built into it… like, most of the rooms have a hidden ledge that runs around the edge near the roof and connects adjacent rooms.” His eyes widened.

    So that’s why I felt like something was watching me up there. Something was. It was just hidden from sight by the architecture.

    “That place creeps out most everyone, so no one stays there long.

    Then there’s the caves. Or at least, the top floor of the caves. That’s where we are right now. The Goblins live here, somewhere in the northeast. The Market Square is here, too. There’s a small clan of Werebadgers, of Dwarven stock, somewhere to the northwest, some Halfling Wererats that’re just kind of spread throughout, and a small group of Werebears in the far north. There are also Werespiders here, but they tend to avoid other people. You also see visiting Kobolds and other Monsters sometimes, mostly around the Square, but some travel with Nye, and others come to collect resources.

    The levels below us are mostly a mystery. I don’t go down there much. However, I know there are Nothics down there… they come up sometimes when Nibiru’s full and do some weird religious praise thing when they can see its light. It’s… actually how I met Neh, to be honest. I also know there’s more Werespiders down there. and Werecentipedes, though those folks are creepy as hell. There’s also a giant mushroom farm somewhere down there that’s tended by Phycomids and Matango, and overseen by a Lich and her Zombies and Skeletons. Not sure what she’s doing down here, but she seems nice enough. If kind of distant. Ah, there's also Slimes, but they don't come up much at all. Not really sure where they’re coming from.

    There might be more levels down there, and more Monsters. I don’t really know. But I do know there’s also the underground river that feeds the cistern. Selkies and Werepikes and Weresharks sometimes come up from there. It leads to the sea somehow, but I don’t imagine it’s a way out if you can’t breathe water. Or hold your breath forever. I’ve heard there are Wereserpents here somewhere but, like the Wereweasels, I’ve never seen them. At least, not that I know of, anyway.

    I… think that’s about it? Not counting the Elementals, but I’ve never actually seen an Elemental Monster down here, just the spirits sometimes.”

    “This isn’t a ruin. It’s a city.How can so many Monsters exist in this place without a Dungeon? There has to be one. She just doesn’t know where it is or she’d be living in it.

    “I guess? Oh! There’s also the other Werebats. They’re on this level, but their colony is actually a giant room that’s on both this level and the next one down, linking them. They are… They’re the ones I warned you about in the first place. I did say that, right?”

    “Right. I can’t help but ask, though… Why are there so many Therianthropes here? There’s way too many kinds for one place And where does the ruin end and the Dungeon start?.”

    “No idea.”

    “I feel like those might be important things to know...” She just shrugged. He sighed in response.

    “Don’t know what I don’t know. But you can ask Nye. He might know.”

    “Right. We need to get going if I’m supposed to do that.” I just hope I remember.

    “Yeah… fair enough.”
    ………
    ……


    She led him through the dark, through caves and tunnels and twisting passages, the light of his Torch and hand showing him the depths of Gaea. Countless rock formations, as if stone had become liquid, flowed, and frozen. Tiny pools of water fed by impossibly slow drips. Clefts and crevasses that yawned into seemingly endless abysses of darkness. Some rooms had light. It filtered through cracks in the roof. It glowed from luminous fungus. It shone from the bodies of strange creatures he could not name and wasn’t entirely sure were born of nature at all.

    Some of these rooms were clearly worked. Walkways and stairs had been cut… or maybe shaped. Railing had been crafted in some places, though it was curiously low to the ground. There were more paintings, now dominated by pictures of the Lizardmen, and soon other Beastmen and the Elflings. Some were scenes of battle. Others, slavery. Darkness, night, chains, and the moons became more prevalent symbols.

    “I guess they lost the war…”

    “Hmmm? Oh, yeah. Probably. Nye said they were the original inhabitants of this place, but their civilization collapsed due to Monsters in the age of a previous Overlord. Don’t really know what happened to them after that, but they aren’t exactly around anymore to ask.”

    “Hmmm…” But maybe the Lizardmen are. He shook his head. That might have been a dream, though.

    "So, can you tell me about the room you're worried about?"

    "Rooms. Depending on the path we take, there's either one or two rooms that Beasts frequent. Since we're in a hurry, I figured you’d want to take the short route there and the long way back."

    "Sounds fine. So… what's the place like?"

    "In a word? Gross. Dangerous, but just… gross. It was probably some big, important hall or something. It’s huge and there's a lot of ruined statues and carvings and stuff…"

    Interest piqued!

    "But the magic that protects it all failed a long time ago. I don't know which came first; that, or all the holes in the roof where a weird giant tree fell on it. Tore big gashes in the roof and big parts of it are dangling down into the room. The floor is… yeah. Basically, it's an open sewer."

    "What? Wait. Just…"

    "People throw all kinds of trash in there that can’t be reused; broken ceramics and glass, inedible Beast remains, spoiled food, night soil, even dead bodies… and with the holes in the roof, live Beasts get in, it gets rained on, leaves and branches from the trees fall in… It all just turned into a sort of “swamp.” The only way it flows out is if it rains enough to flush it down the side tunnels, and even then, there’s a giant pool of filth that just covers most of the floor. Beasts nest in there, especially these giant maggots and flies, Rollers, huge roaches, and sometimes a centipede or spider. Oh, and rats. The squirrels climb down sometimes, too.”

    He stopped and stared at her in utter, wordless horror.

    “What?”

    “I have no words.”

    “Hah! Just wait until you get close enough to smell it.

    “Okay, hold on here. Just how is this a good idea?”

    “It’s not. But we’re in a hurry, right? This is the fastest way.”

    “What’s the alternative!?”

    “A couple hours walking around it through narrower tunnels, fighting some Rollers, and maybe a few Rock Spiders if we’re unlucky. Possibly some of those goblin-squirrels, too. Want to go that way?”

    “Yes. Hells yes.”

    “Hah! You know there are paths around, even through, the muck in the other room, right? We wouldn’t use it at all if you couldn’t get through it. It’s just a really big room and it can be a huge pain in the ass… especially if you let the Beasts catch up to you.”

    “No. I’m not adventurous enough to try that.” She smirked at him, but nodded.

    “Can’t say I blame you. It’s not something I really want to do if I can avoid it, either. But it means we better hurry. The long way starts in the next chamber. We’ll take the first right instead of going straight. Come on.”

    “It might be a bit cramped, though.”
    ………
    ……


    She wasn’t lying. The tunnels they took twisted, winded, and doubled back on each other, and the overhead clearance was often so low he had to walk in a crouch. To the point that his legs started aching again. There were points where he had to squeeze through spaces sideways.

    For her part, Rhian slid through the tight quarters with professional ease. Her armor didn’t seem to bother her at all.

    “What do I need to know about the Beasts up ahead?” A forewarned Adventurer was a forearmed Adventurer.

    “The Rollers are pretty much harmless as long as you don’t let them creep up on you. They can drop from above, so keep an eye out up there, and they can swarm you if you let them. Just hit them in the head, or better, roll them on their backs and stab ‘em. And for Rock Spiders, well… they’re a problem. They’re poisonous, so don’t get bit. They throw webs, which is also a problem, but they just kind of dig through the ground to get at you, and then pop right back in to let their poison do its job. Keep an eye and ear out for moving stone. They look just like the rock until they jump out. The key with them is noticing them and dodging; they’re not good at reacting to counterattacks.”

    “Greaaat…”

    “No way is completely safe around here. Even flight runs the risk of getting shot at by one group or another on the surface, and if you go out of the protections, suddenly Beasts. Some ways are safer, but only if no one wants to pick a fight with you… though really, that’s not that common down here. The first bad stretch is coming up here shortly. You’ll know it when you see it.”

    They passed through more tunnels, but these slowly widened, until eventually they opened up onto a crevasse, like a rocky valley. Iridescent water wound its way through the cleft with an unnaturally languid pace. Strangely luminous moss clung to the dark rock while massive mushrooms that towered even over the two of them rose from the water and… guano-strewn floor. Thick strands of oddly stone-like webbing connected them, as if they were bridges, even linking them to massive shelf fungus that grew from the walls. Small crevices in the ceiling let shafts of light pierce the gloom, sometimes reflecting off curious rock formations that looked more like…

    “Elementite?” He whispered the words to Rhian, but she only smiled knowingly and motioned for silence. And that he stow the gauntlet. He plucked and pocketed the stone instead, as well as the flameless Torch.Guess it’s time. He had never been the stealthiest person in the world, but he was nothing if not a quick study. He watched how she walked, where she walked, and followed suit.

    It was a trick he’d picked up as a child; learn by observation, expertise by emulation. Even if you don’t understand the full principle behind it, if you know the practice, you can at least get close. He’d learned some years later that it was a technique used by a sort of order of “master dabblers” known as Savants. His master had thought it likely connected to his psychic abilities in some capacity.

    ‘You can never seem to remember my lessons for long, lad, but I’ll be damned if you can’t fake it. It’s impressive, but if you’ve any intention of learning Wizardry, you’d best work on your retention.’

    Not that he’d ever actually managed that. The closest he’d gotten was the Occult rather than the Arcane, and even then, he wasn’t very good at it.

    Blissfully, his talents hadn’t been limited to aping Ardyn’s spells. Though there were obvious anatomical differences, he could copy Rhian’s movements well enough to at least not alert the Beasts in the area from the start.

    And Beasts there were. Silvery bodies, like massive pillbugs the size of dogs, crept across the moss and clung to mushrooms, gnawing away. Their shells looked metallic when not scorched on a cookfire, he realized… and probably were, if he knew Beasts. They sported sharp spikes on the segmented plates covering their back, and the edges of those plates looked devilishly pointed.

    Flip them over, she says.

    He failed to spot any of the spiders she’d warned about, but where there were webs…

    He followed her carefully right up until she froze.

    He understood why when he looked ahead of her. Wrapped around the stalk of one massive mushroom was what looked like a titanic centipede, the creature gnawing on what looked like the corpse of a human child… but he knew full well was a Goblin wrapped in tattered gray and black clothes. The creature’s four antennae whipped around, studying the environment as it devoured the headless body clutched in its stabbing forelegs. Its chitinous body was covered in strange blue moss, much like what covered much of the ground.

    Well… shit. He wanted to ask what to do. It was what he’d have done if Ardyn was there. But he also didn’t want to alert the thing if it hadn’t noticed them yet. Rhian’s ears twisted and pivoted, slowly, but with far more animation than he’d yet seen.

    After a moment, she gestured for him to follow, and took a path lower down, along a mossy ledge that overlooked the cleft. Her ears were moving frantically now, swiveling in ways he hadn’t realized they could as she quietly but swiftly moved from one piece of cover to the next. Each step brought them closer to the far side, but also carried the fear of exposure.

    Just how did something that big get down here?

    They followed the lower lip around as the cleft curved, the water vanishing into a deep hole in the rock.

    There has to be a way that thing got down here. There were no entrances big enough for it, and Rhian hadn’t mentioned it, so it must be new.

    They climbed up a series of rock formations that were almost like a natural stair… and he clearly saw the centipede as it climbed further up the mushroom and onto the cap, snapping the corpse in two at the waist and continuing to eat. Its antennae continued to dance, illuminated in otherworldly blue by the fungal bioluminescence. For a moment, he had an intense feeling of wrongness, as if he were seeing something completely alien.

    He shuddered and moved on, hand tightening on the hilt of his sword. Fuck this place. Something clattered nearby. Rhian froze. So did he. He could see her sweating.

    A rock moved. Then another, off to their left. Like massive fingers, legs unfurled and a boulder stood up, walking off towards the cleft before slipping over the edge. The creature was covered in rock and stone, but black and red chitin and bristly hair had been visible.

    It was as big as he was.

    Well then. Rock Spider. He screamed mentally.

    Rhian hadn’t moved through the whole ordeal… and still hadn’t.

    There’s another one, isn’t there? He was no telepath, though. His thoughts would not reach her. So instead, he sharpened his senses, and saw a mossy stone tremble…

    It was literally merged with the cave floor. Legs jutted out, but only partially. Knobby knees that would have passed for simple stones were it not for their arrangement. Watching. Waiting.

    It saw them, and was quivering in anticipation.

    We must not be close enough for its first attack. But we can’t move forward without changing that…

    He looked back at the centipede, still devouring the Goblin’s corpse where it arched above the massive toadstool. He turned to Rhian, who seemed to be thinking the same thing he was; they had to somehow kill the spider without alerting the larger threat… and also without giving it a chance to strike.

    If we could flank it, and she could lure it out…

    He gestured to her, trying to ask what her plan was without saying a word. She seemed to get the message, and after a few moments of silent debate, they decided on a course of action. If they didn’t move quickly and quietly, they weren’t going to make it out of there alive. Being swarmed wasn’t something they could handle… and that centipede was bad news to his eyes. He quietly drew his sword and let his fire pour into the blade… and with it, a bit of Mana he’d cultivated into something more. Even a novice Magus had a few tricks up his sleeve. The blade soon glowed a burning red and seethed with magic, even as he tried to hide it with his body from the room behind them.

    He trained his vision on the jutting knob-knees of the Beast where they rose above the mossy floor. The thing blended in too well; a body covered in a rocky shell, and that growing moss and lichen. Now that he knew what he was looking at, it was obvious, but this close to the surface and without an example he’d had no idea… he guessed Rhian had been too preoccupied with the centipede and the other spider to notice this one.

    That didn’t stop her from having something up her sleeve for dealing with it, by the looks of things, though… as he began to shift into position, the color seemed to leave her face and eyes… she became ashen pale, her eyes vast pools of darkness.

    ‘Stare not into the Abyss, lest it stare back into you.’ An old passage in a book he’d once read. It had stuck with him as eerie at the time, but felt even more so as he witnessed something… malevolent, pass through her. Whatever it had been, it at least hadn’t been aimed at him, because judging from the sudden surge of the spider in front of them, it hadn’t been pleasant. With a sound like grinding stone, the creature lurched up out of the rock and charged at Rhian… whose shadow somehow flung a piece of itself into the spider’s face to devastating effect. A quivering spike of night was lodged in the stone protecting its head as hemolymph gushed from it.

    And was promptly sealed by his heat as he tried to set it alight from the inside out, its fluids boiling as steam and smoke erupted from its joints and orifices… Rhian’s black eyes looked into his own, but what she saw he couldn’t guess. Instead, he brought his molten blade up on the joint of one of the creature’s legs as it continued to charge past him towards her, nearly cleaving through the limb.

    His second cut finished that task with a downward chop that set the spider lurching around to bite at him…

    And right into his readied blade, severing its head from its body. The abdomen crumpled in a lifeless heap as the head rolled awkwardly against its remaining forelimb.

    They needed to move now.

    But first, Rhian snatched up the severed head and leg, things that must be absurdly heavy due to their rocky shell, and started off with them. He glanced back in time to see the glowing centipede pause in its meal, its long antennae searching the room. Some of the pillbugs nearby began to slowly crawl in their direction, as if drawn by the smell of blood and fire.

    Must go now. Now now now.

    He hurried along behind her as quickly as he could and still at least attempt to claim he was sneaking… and still keep watch for more spiders. The exit was close.

    He looked back.

    He regretted it.

    The centipede had noticed them somehow. Still clutching the corpse, which seemed oddly deformed to him now, as if there had been something extra to it, the Beast had rapidly begun to scuttle down the mushroom. Easily thirty feet long, the massive creature was fast, with what seemed less like venom and more like acid dripping from its legs and jaws.

    “Faster!”

    All pretense of stealth left them as Beasts all around began to take notice. They ran for the exit desperately as the massive arthropods converged on them in near total silence save for the clicking of sharp claws on the cavern floor. Their feet pounded on stone and moss as the creature hurtled towards them… and then abruptly stopped. The creature jolted and turned, as if confused, as something fell from it.

    They, however, kept running for their lives, and with one last, desperate push, broke through to the next chamber as the centipede slammed against the too-small opening.

    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
    My Shameful Fics and the Wiki to go with them. Oh, and some fossil I found.
    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  6. #6
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Next chappie will be NSFW. This will happen from time to time. You have been warned, lol.
    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
    My Shameful Fics and the Wiki to go with them. Oh, and some fossil I found.
    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  7. #7
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Chapter 4: And...

    “We are not going back that way.” It was a statement he had no disagreements with as they quickly made their way through the narrow tunnels past the centipede chamber. The wards held true beyond that cavern. Not even moss grew here. Certainly no Beasts were making it past the mouth of the tunnel… though they weren’t sticking around, in case one of them had some method of attacking at range.

    “There are really only two ways to get back home from the meeting place you can take, and so long as that centipede is there, I’m not going through that one. We’ll be taking the other way.”

    “You said the other way was more dangerous.” He understood what they’d encountered wasn’t normal, but…

    “Normally, yeah. But that thing changes matters. We can’t outrun it all the way through there, and we can’t really fight it. The only reason we escaped at all was because someone shot it.” So that’s what that was.

    “Any idea who?” Hopefully someone who made it out of there alive, at least.

    “Someone with damn good aim and some shitty arrows is my guess, but they were too far away for me to make a guess.”

    “Your friend, maybe?”

    “Neh? No, she doesn’t use anything like that. She’s even thinner than me, but she’s all muscle and bone, and strong as an ox. I’ve never known her to not just smash anything in her way when she’s riled up. That, or stare it to death. Usually some combination of the two. She gets really into things sometimes, and comes off as kind of… nuts. Or, well… she probably is nuts. So be nice if you meet her. Especially if she finds out you took her treasure out of the well.”

    I feel like I should be worried about this…

    “Anyway, you said there’s another room like that one?”

    “Not as bad. It’s a lot smaller, but we shouldn’t see anything bigger than the Rollers there. We need to hurry, too. I didn’t expect having to move that slow through most of the last cavern, so get ready to run again in a few.”

    Great…

    “That’s the spirit.”

    “Hey, so… what was up with your eyes back there? And your shadow?”

    “I’ll tell you if you tell me about your eyes. Did you know they do that?”

    “Do what?”

    “Your irises… they look like they turn into rings of fire when you do that fire-magic thing.”

    “Really?”

    “Yeah.”

    “No, I had no idea. I wonder why… No one’s said anything about that before.”

    “It did it when you first set your sword on fire, and got brighter when the rock spider started smoking.”

    "It didn’t before… Interesting…” I wonder why master never mentioned it? Maybe it’s a new development? I’ll need to explore this further when I get the chance.

    “And you? Your eyes turned black as pitch, and your shadow…”

    “Moved on its own. Yeah, back when I was training with the Guild, I dabbled a little bit in Shadowcasting. Seemed like a useful skill for a Thief. Those are a couple of the tricks I picked up. Never really mastered it, though. I was always more of a pretty face than a sharp mind, unfortunately.” She aimed what she probably thought was a charming smile at him, but her silliness at the statement made it more endearing than anything else.

    "Hmmm…"

    "What?"

    "Sharp enough to make an assessment like that."

    "Huh. Is that a compliment, or..?"

    "A compliment." She curled an eyebrow upwards in the light of his newly re-donned gauntlet, only to smirk at him soon after. “You might want to work on your phrasing.”

    “Duly noted. So… why were those important enough for you to grab them instead of just running?”

    “These?” She hoisted the hideous head of the spider, as well as the severed leg. “Bargaining chips. If possible, try to grab something for yourself the next time we run into Beasts. Asking Nye for something without exchanging something else isn’t going to get you anywhere, and rock spider parts are useful in the right hands.”

    “That’s true of almost any Beast.” She just shrugged.

    “Yeah, but the Gobbos have trouble killing these. It’s pretty much just the Glas sisters that can kill them easily. And those girls aren’t usually big fans of getting out. Hunting these kinds of things is how I make a living.”

    “Hmmm…”

    “What?”

    “Just a reminder that I don’t really know what the hell I’m going into here. Well, beyond presumably being gang-raped by a horde of short girls in the near future.” She stifled a laugh, failed, and gave in to it.

    “I don’t think they’ll actually do that. Probably. Nye keeps them reined-in usually. But he might ask for you to pay with your seed.” He blinked at her. “There aren’t a lot of males down here, Men or Monster either. And there are a lot of Goblins… most of whom are female and single. They’re… fertile, so to speak. And, well, they can also just feed on the Mana in it. Semen from one of the Races of Man is kind of a delicacy down here, especially if it’s fresh. They’d definitely prefer it if they could nab you as a husband, but even just pumping and dumping a few of them would be big enough.” He could only stare at her.

    “So in other words, you weren’t really joking.”

    “Hey, you can also blow a load or three in a bottle and sell them that.” He pressed his hand to his forehead.

    I suppose I’m not really attached to my chastity, per se… but if I did something like that, I feel like I’d lose my self-respect… and then there’s that other problem…

    He was a virgin, certainly, but he wasn’t one of those people who’d been deluded by the most egregious of religious propaganda. He knew full well that Monsters wanted human mates… and that they used all manner of tactics to achieve that result. Everything from common seduction to magical coercion to physical violence and rape. Even their Mana itself would slowly turn those who were infused with it. Though into precisely what was never truly certain, be it Monster or a Sineater, something close enough in thought and deed to one as to make no difference.

    It was problematic enough that he was having to rely on one that he was fairly certain was interested in him. He wasn't about to write off her playful flirting after what she'd said before about tearing his clothes off. Even if she did seem to be genuinely concerned about keeping him free of Taint and protecting his virginity for some reason, she was still constantly seeping Mana as every other living thing did. He didn’t need to go around actively disrupting his Mana by having trysts with random Goblins. Monster Mana famously did strange things to one’s mind even in small doses, and if he was going to get flooded with it while releasing his own, he might not be able to retain his values. He'd seen enough teratophiles in the Guild to know what Monster addiction looked like.

    The idea of becoming someone utterly consumed with sex didn’t sit well with him, especially if it meant becoming addicted to the flesh and Mana of some girl he’d never met before and had no personal connection with besides putting his dick in her once or twice. It was just some unwanted attachment that would interfere with his life.

    But what life is that, now?

    His master was dead, his career with him. Am I just an Adventurer now? He was registered with the Guild, sure, but to what end? He didn’t really have any great ambitions or life goals. His whole life had been about resenting the path laid out before him, then about mastering his own abilities, and finally about helping someone who helped him and that he cared for while having fun doing so…

    After all this is done, where do I go?

    Ardyn had always been the one to choose. It was his research, after all. Col was just an assistant, an apprentice. He went where Ardyn did. But now Ardyn was dead, and he had nothing to guide him. He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad; he now had unprecedented freedom… but he was also lost in life and grieving.

    “You’re thinking awfully hard about that Goblin pussy over there.”

    “I-I- what? I’m not…” She burst out laughing.

    “Look… If you really want to, I’m not going to try to stop you from fucking one. Or more, if that’s your thing. But… well… I just think you should treasure your first time. It’s kind of precious… losing it to someone you don’t even know is something you’ll regret.”

    “No, really. I wasn’t thinking about that. It started out that way, sure, but not as something I was looking forward to. It’s more of a risk. I just… I wound up thinking about what I want to do with my life for a moment.”

    “Oh. I take it banging Goblins wasn’t high on your list?” She smirked at him again.

    “Not particularly, no. Taint and all that. I know you can have it cleansed, but I’ve also heard that once you have it, you may not want to get rid of it.”

    “Ah, yeah. That. To be honest, being a Werebat is inconvenient sometimes, but I can’t say I’d really rather be Human again most of the time. I really just wish I had control over my transformations instead of being stuck like this whenever there’s a full moon. Like, it wouldn't even be that bad if it was just one, but really it’s more annoying than unpleasant as it is. I’d honestly like to just be able to fly into town and live like I used to, but I mean… I can. Just… I can’t stay, and I can’t do it whenever I want to.”

    “But did it change how you think? How you feel?”

    “... Is that what’s bothering you?”

    “...”

    “Look, I mean… yeah. It did. But what dramatic life change doesn’t affect that? I mean, I used to be pretty aimless once I got out of thieving as a career. I worked as an Adventurer because that’s where my skills were valued, earned my pay, and spent it on good food, good drink, and good times. I grew up with nothing that wasn’t taken from someone else’s pocket and I had no real goals in life besides surviving. That… really hasn’t changed much. I’ve always lived more or less in tune with my desires… I just happen to know what it’s like to be mistreated, too, so I don’t go around doing the same. How I think and feel changed when I became a Werebat, sure. But it wasn’t that I suddenly changed my purpose in life or anything. I never had anything like that to begin with. All it really did was make me think about sex more and force me to look at people and society differently. Well, I mean… besides the whole flying instinct thing. The only thing that really changed was how, when I was human, I didn’t want kids. I didn’t want to be a mother or bring some poor brat into a life where they had to depend on someone shitty like me to take care of them. Now… now I don’t really care about that. Like, I do, but I don’t. It’s hard to explain. I want kids… even if I don’t think I’m qualified to raise them, I can’t help feeling like it’d make me happy to be a mother.

    That is probably the biggest change. Like, rationally, I still think it’s a bad idea and I don’t exactly act on it, but the impulse won’t go away. Kind of like… like the Monster has a mind of its own, and we don’t always agree. Especially when I'm hungry. That’s honestly a little annoying, but I mean, it’s kind of… Well, here is…” She ultimately trailed off, never finishing the thought. She sighed, and started again.

    “When I first turned, I’ll be honest, all I could think of was fucking. Wasn’t normal for me, believe it or not. I didn’t care who or what, I just needed something in me. I needed to be filled. There wasn’t anyone that could really do that then, though… well… anyway, eventually, I started going back to normal. I stopped being so damn horny and just started trying to live. If you’re worried that picking up a little Taint is going to drive you insane, it shouldn’t. I was forcibly transformed by whatever the hell it is that turns people into Therianthropes. I don’t know if it’s a disease, a curse, or what. Most people who just get a little Taint here and there aren’t going to suffer any major changes. I’ve seen a few Adventurers with some, and it didn’t seem to bother them much. The worst you’ll probably get is starting to think Monsters look tempting.”

    “That’s the nature of Monsters.” She smiled at his response. “Yes it is. See, no change at all.”

    He pushed his glasses up further on his nose, lips drawn into a tight line.

    “I’d rather avoid it if possible, anyway.” She shrugged.

    “I can understand. I wouldn’t believe me on this, either. I’m biased by default,” she grinned at him “but don’t let a little Taint stop you if you really want to go balls-deep in a Gobbo. They’re lightweights in the sack. Odds are good you’d probably have them passed out in a puddle of their own juices in short order. Might not even need to cum. They can’t hold theirs for shit. You shove your cock in one and she’ll just melt. Good confidence booster, Goblins.” Her grin was positively fiendish, her sharp teeth on full display.

    “You don’t just sleep with Nye, do you?”

    “Sausage and shellfish are both delicious.” Her suddenly innocent face was fooling neither of them. No matter how many times she batted her eyelashes at him. “But as for sleeping with them… I’ve actually not been doing much of that lately. With anyone, to be honest. I’ve… just kind of… felt like being alone lately. I guess. I don’t know… I just wanted some space for a while. Nothing was really feeling fulfilling, so I just wanted to focus on me… I don’t know… I mean, I still get horny, and there’s still… well… agh, maybe something’s wrong with me.”

    “No idea. Beyond you being a Werebat, of course. I just met you, so I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.” She sighed.

    “True, I guess.”

    “Look, I don’t particularly want to fuck Goblins right now. That might change. I can’t say something won’t make me change my mind. But right now, no. I just want to get out of here. If I have to do something like that to do so, then so be it. I’d prefer to avoid their Mana, and I’d honestly prefer not to have to sell my semen to them. The thought makes me feel…”

    “Like a whore?”

    “Something like that, yes.”

    “It’s not the same thing, you know.”

    “Yes, but… it still feels like I’m selling myself somehow.” She shrugged again.

    “Fair enough. If that’s how you feel about it, that’s how you feel. But we need to keep moving. If we keep standing around here, we’re going to miss the best selection, and we’ve still got one more Beast nest to get through.” He sighed.

    “Alright.”

    ………
    ……


    “I thought you said this one wasn’t as bad!”

    “It’s not!

    They charged forward, Rhian hauling a bulging burlap sack she’d pulled from her pack over one shoulder. The once flat bag was now stuffed with the bodies and parts of a range of giant vermin; Beasts that they’d killed and harvested while crossing the room. Pillbugs, more rightly called Isopods, Crickets, a couple of small Rock Spiders, and even a Centipede the size of his leg had been relatively easy. More than a few had gone down en masse in a blast of his flames. Others had wound up dying to Rhian’s surprisingly deft dagger-work as she’d used him as bait.

    He couldn’t help but feel that might have been retaliation for him doing the same to her in the previous Beast nest.

    That had changed, however, when the first Pedipalp crawled out of the dark. The long, spike-studded appendages that gave it its name were the stuff of nightmares and seemed to ooze with an oily substance that he wanted nothing to do with. They’d killed that first one, and had begun carving it up when a second had appeared. That one, too, had suffered the same fate as the Rock Spider; fire and shadow. They’d been interrupted again by significantly more than two, and once they broke to run, the rest of the cave’s creatures started coming out of the woodwork. Or stonework, he supposed.

    He fired a parting shot at a Cricket, blasting the leaping creature out of midair and onto one of the pursuing Pedipalps. Rhian, weighed down with her loot, was having to rely on him to provide cover as they ran… However, his shots weren’t enough to stall the creatures for long, and he couldn’t stop long enough to throw something bigger at them.

    Another blast of flame, this time at one of the Pedipalps themselves, and another that seared off its legs on one side and sent it skidding into their other pursuers.

    That was finally enough, and they managed to pass through the unwarded chamber and into the safety beyond.

    “I have run more in the past two days than I have in months.” He slumped against the cave wall, panting, the raging Beasts struggling against the magic barrier in vain. Whatever enchantment had been put on this place, it must be powerful. He focused his vision into the crowd beyond the tunnel entrance… where a cloud of flames erupted along the floor, searing the giant bugs still trying vainly to pursue them.

    “Parting shot?” Rhian smirked at him wearily. She was clearly tired. He’d offered to carry some of their harvest, but it rapidly became apparent that her transformation into a Monster had left her much stronger than him, despite her lean appearance. Just picking up the sack had been difficult. The most he’d managed was stashing a few parts she’d declared were valuable in his own waistpack and quite literally running with it.

    “If we have to come back this way, at least maybe this will make it easier.” Also, I’m tired of having to run from Beasts. Being able to just shoot these fucking things from a safe place makes me feel a little better about it all.

    “About that, though. I thought you said this was the safer path? What happened?”

    “I have no clue. I’ve never seen a centipede that big down here before, and those spiky things are new, too. It makes me worry.” Her brow was furrowed in concern, sweat from their exertions showing clearly despite the chill in the air.

    “They’re called Pedipalps, though it’s not their real name. Just a common term for them. Or at least, the bugs they look like aren’t officially called that. I’ve never seen Beasts of them before, but they’re mostly harmless in their usual size. They’re not poisonous animals… but these might be. It’s strange, though. They don’t normally live this far north.”

    “Did you notice the eyes?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Both those things and that Centipede had weird eye-looking growths. Like what Hammy has. Croaker down in the cistern does, too, but… is that really normal?”

    “Who can say? Beasts don’t follow natural laws. Maybe there’s something that’s causing them to have some sort of common mutation?” He could feel his concern mirrored in her face. What could cause that, though?

    No one really knew for sure what caused Beasts to even exist in the first place. Nor what they really were. They might be mutated animals. They might be some kind of magical phenomenon, like a curse. They might be a divine punishment, or even just nature rebalancing itself as his master had believed. Without knowing the truth, he couldn’t guess what could cause such a recurring characteristic.

    “I guess… something’s changed down here, hasn’t it?” She slumped against the wall across from him, her feet almost touching his.

    “Most likely, if you’re seeing new Beasts in old places.”

    “Great. Just what I need.” As she voiced her weariness, he looked back and set another blaze in the same place, leaving behind immolated vermin and charred rock. Most of the creatures were clearing out, having recognized the chance to kill had passed. “Look, you keep torching those things if you want. I need a breather… and a pee break. I’ll be back in a few.” She dropped the sack and slowly ambled further down the tunnel after hauling herself back to her feet.

    While she was relieving herself, he sat quietly in the dark, the glow of insectile embers and his own magical lights warding him from the omnipresent darkness. It gave him time to think, but all that would come to mind were the same things he’d already worried about; how to deal with the Goblins, what to do with himself after this was over.

    No answers presented themselves.

    Soon enough the Werebat sauntered back, a look of contentment on her face. "I needed that. You should go, too. Won't be long before we're there. Pulling your dick out for a piss would be too much of an invitation for some to pass up down here." He grimaced in response, but more at the reason why than in disagreement. "Where?"

    "There’s a little jag in the tunnel over there that’s safe and out of sight. Doesn't go anywhere, so no surprises." He took her up on the offer… but not before she chimed in one final word of advice. "Don't worry if you slip in mine, either. It'll make you smell like I marked you."

    He waved the suggestion off as he ambled around the corner. "Appreciated, but I'll have to decline." She laughed at him in response. "I figured."

    "Don’t tell me that was your idea for keeping the Goblins off me," he wasn’t the sort to stop a conversation just because he was taking a leak in another room. So to speak.

    "Then I won't tell you. But seriously, it was something I'd considered as an option."

    "Ugh. What are the alternatives?"

    "Well, I can bite you, but you might become a Werebat."

    "Any others? No offense intended, but that's not all that appealing."

    "None taken. But anything else requires less clothing…" He could hear the smile in her voice, playful and inviting. He sighed, though it was as much due to a relieved bladder as to the expected response.

    It's not as if she's made any great secret about our options being sexual. So why won't she just explain specifically? She's being weirdly prudish considering how she's talked so far. Is it due to my virginity, or something else? I suppose I could just ask. He finished his business, laced and buckled himself up, and headed back to Rhian. The girl was squatting against the wall where he had been before, ears twitching and a strained look on her face.

    “Are you alright?”

    “I’m fine, don’t worry about it.” Which of course means it’s something to worry about. He’d heard enough Adventurers say the same and it always meant the exact opposite of what it seemed.

    “Hmmm… alright. But I do have a question.”

    “Sure, what’d you want to know?”

    “You seem pretty open about yourself and sex.” She jolted slightly at his final word, but quickly regained her composure.

    “Well, yeah. Never saw much point in keeping quiet about it, even as a Human. Just gets in the way of really living, you know? You seem pretty straightforward, yourself. Especially for a virgin.” He just shrugged.

    “Never mattered that much to me. Like I said, it always seemed like getting involved with someone was more trouble than it was worth, so I’ve always treated it like it wasn’t really my concern.” She chuckled. “To each their own, I guess. And?”

    “You’re not telling me what exactly is involved in “marking” me, though I can guess,” she flinched. “Despite being fine talking about that sort of thing, you’re not giving me details. Why?” A petulant, frustrated look clouded her face, her lips pursed tight, giving way to a sullen pout. Finally, they parted…

    “Because I want to.”

    “So… you want to keep it a secret?”

    “No, I… It’s because I want to.”

    “Can you be more specific?” I’m clearly missing something here.

    “You don’t understand, okay? I get that. Just… I want to. And that’s… Look, just… drop it, okay?” This is a problem, tactically speaking. I need to know this. If she’s not wanting to talk about it… Wait. Maybe she already did?

    “Is this about…”

    “You’re not going to drop it, huh? Look, just… I don’t want to think about it until it comes to that. Even though… Look, it’s a problem for me, and that means it’s a problem for you. Best not to think about it too much.”

    “But you are thinking about it. That’s the problem.”

    “...”

    “You want to mark me.”

    “No. I just met you.”

    “Well, yes, but…”

    “Just marking you is not enough.

    I wantto.” The intensity in that statement almost made him step back from her. “And I hate that. I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to, and I don’t know if I can stop once I start.”

    “...oh.”So it is what I thought. She was being completely serious…

    Yeah, “oh.” I hate it. It’s never been like this. Not since I first turned and I just was so damn horny I couldn’t think of anything but fucking. Every time I look at you, it clenches up and aches. I feel empty down there. I don’t know if it’s because it’s been so long since I did anything with anyone, or it’s the full moon, or because you’re Human, or what. But…”

    “But you don’t know if you have the self-control to stop when you want to.”

    “Ye… I mean, no. I don’t want to stop. I need to stop. For your sake, I need to stop. I need to have that self-control. To just mark you and… and be done with it. If I don’t, I… I don’t think I can let you leave. And that is driving me insane. I… I used to be Human. I shouldn’t feel like this. I know better. I haven’t even known you a fucking week. Not even two whole days! But I don’t know if I can, and the more I think about it…”

    “The worse it gets. The more you want to. You were serious when you said you wanted to rip my clothes off and…”

    “Stop! Yes, but… just stop. This scares me!” She turned to look at him for the first time since the conversation had started, eyes damp but wild. “The more I think about what I want to do to you, the more it just… fuck, I’m wet. Fuck,” she abruptly stood up. “Can’t stop thinking about it. Why the hell did I tell you to pull that thing out here. Fuck! I’ll be back. Just… don’t go anywhere. Or over… over there. Here. Gah! Fuck!” Her hurried, awkward steps took her back around the corner to their makeshift latrine. Even his human ears could hear the sound of her faint cursing as she desperately worked against her armor and clothes.

    They also picked up the wet sounds and labored breathing that followed. For a while, he just crouched there, listening. A long while, it seemed. The sound was almost hypnotic. He could smell it, overtaking the sharp tang of urine. His member twitched, began to stiffen. He might have made a point of avoiding such situations, but it wasn’t over his biology or a lack of appetite.

    I suppose I should just resign myself to some degree of Corruption in this place. It’s not as if my chastity is all that important. It’s just a natural result of my own preferences and choices. If anything, it seems like it matters more to her than to me. For me, the baggage that comes with losing it is inconvenient. For her… He could only guess.

    "Fuck!" He couldn’t really understand why, however. He slowly stood up.

    "Fuuuuuuuck." She was whimpering in the dark, a heated, miserable, frustrated mewling that made him feel guilty and aroused all at once.

    If it were her, I wouldn't mind. She was beautiful. Her inhuman features were strange, sure. But not so much that they dampened his attraction. Like as not, he'd spent entirely too much time with his eyes on her ass during this trip. What would it feel like? To actually have sex. What would she feel like? As she grunted and moaned on her own, he thought back to the shape of her back, to her shallow breasts hidden beneath thin cloth, to her shapely thighs clad in leather, and for the second time that day he envisioned her doing exactly what she'd said before…

    Ripping his clothes off and riding him like an animal in heat.

    He was hard as stone before he could rein-in his imagination. And Rhian… she was still masturbating furiously around the corner. She's right. We barely know each other. You’ve known others you rejected for longer than this. You should restrain yourself. It’s probably her Mana interfering with your mind. But the voice of his reason was small and quiet.

    He knew he shouldn't, but he couldn’t help himself. No, not help himself. But maybe…

    "Do you… need any help?" Her response was a manic laugh punctuated by gasps. "No! No no no. Stay back. Fuuuuuuuuck, why?"

    "I… don’t mind."

    "Don't say that! Fuuuuuuuuck, don’t say that! Why did you have to say that? Gooooods, why?" The squelching sounds grew in volume and speed.

    "It's fine," his feet carried him closer, as if of their own accord, until his side leaned against the edge of the little jag's divide. A step, and a turn, and there she would be. The cool air was flush with the raw scent of her lust, sharp and demanding. His cock strained against his pants with its own primitive need.

    She laughed, desperation tinging the sound before it subsided into agonized panting. And then.

    "...cum."

    "What did you say? I couldn't hear all of…"

    "I can’t cum! Fuuuuuuuuck!" The last was a piteous whimper.

    "Do you want me to…" She exhaled deeply, somewhere between a gasp and a sigh.

    "Give me your hand."

    "In marriage!?" Despite her situation, she laughed.

    "Don’t tempt me! No, just… stay there and give me your hand." He did as he was told but… "The other one."

    "This is…"

    "Kinky?"

    "I was going to say awkward and uncomfortable, but that works too." She was still laughing softly as he turned his back to the wall and swung his right arm back, the angle unnatural on his shoulder and elbow. He could still hear the wet squelching sounds of her fingers sliding in and out of her slit.

    The soft, furred fingers of her left hand closed on his right, clenching, tugging… and then he felt something warm and very wet.

    Long and slippery, it glided along his fingers, between them, slithering like a snake. It wasn’t at all what he was expecting, making him jolt.

    What is… He tried to recoil on reflex, but her hand and its inhuman strength held him in place. She could easily leverage his arm where she was, making it worse, and he feared wrenching it against the rocky wall.

    It took him a moment to piece together what she was doing outside of his sight. That's her tongue, isn't it? It's so long…

    It coiled around his fingers, wrapping over and around and over again before sliding away… only to be replaced by parted lips. His index finger, from tip to base, was pulled through those lips. Sharp teeth scraped the skin, but never broke it as her sinuous tongue writhed on it. She started sucking, the pressure pulling him in, and he couldn’t help but imagine her doing the same to his cock, despite his own inexperience. It twitched at the thought.

    One finger, then the next, and the next, until his entire hand was soaked in her saliva and his dick was so hard it hurt. And through it all, he could still hear the sloppy sound of her fingers buried in her sodden flesh.

    "What are you…" He felt her head begin to bob with his middle and ring fingers still locked in her mouth.

    And then the warmth and wetness was gone, the cool air of the cave rushing to his drenched digits.

    What's the point of all this? Suddenly her grip on his wrist shifted. He heard her feet scuff on stone as she stood, felt her hand close on his shoulder. Her other, wetter even than his own with her juices, pressed his palm against something warm and flat… and his fingers into thick, soft fur.

    "Touch me."

    The heat in her voice couldn't rival what came from her loins. Her fluid-slicked bush had an inhuman softness to it, despite her furious ministrations. His own was coarse and curly, almost wiry by comparison. Hers was more like soft fur. He let himself explore the texture, feeling the animalistic texture between his fingers as she leaned her weight against his back and shoulder, sidling closer. If he turned his head, she’d be in full view, but some part of him screamed danger in the back of his mind, stopping him.

    "That just tickles. Touch me." Hand over his, she led his touch lower. His fingertips brushed against something round and firm, small but pronounced, her soft gasp hot in his ears as she leaned into him hard. He could feel her shaking against him.

    "HaaAaaa…"

    Facing away from her, staring at a smooth wall of dark stone, he let his fingers play with the thing they'd found. Every caress of that elusive bump brought molten breath and passionate gasps against the back of his neck and ear, new spasms against his body. She leaned against him more and more, clawed hands tightening on shoulder and arm, soft thighs squeezing his hand. He heard the sound of water splashing on stone.

    "Oooohuhuhu… okay okay okay, hold on… that… that was a good one. Fuuuuuuck…"

    "That… didn't take much?" Though this is a really uncomfortable position. An annoyed grumble was her response. He tried to pull away, but she locked her hand on his shoulder.

    "More."

    Oh.

    "Deeper."

    "Dee-"

    "Inside me."

    She pushed his hand further, through her soaked jungle, until his palm covered the gash.

    "Too far." But she didn't move his hand back, leaving it to linger over her quivering sex as it drooled on his fingers. She let out a pleased sigh instead, as if savoring the warmth of his hand on her. How she could tell through her own blazing heat, he could only guess.

    She began to rub her thighs together, squeezing his hand again, pressing it against her. Taking it as a cue, he slid his palm back up and let his fingers explore her lips. Denied the sight of her, he focused instead on the curves, the wetness, the folds… until his fingers touched the end and found the source of her flood.

    "There."

    Well, here goes…

    He gently slid a lone fingertip in.

    "OHHHhhhhh… yesssss…" Her gasp brought another twitch from his own throbbing shaft.

    Her hands clenched so tightly on him that his shoulder popped. He barely noticed, though. Her entrance was trying to crush his finger just as hard. And yet it only slid deeper, the passage hungry, sucking him into her depths. And then those depths convulsed.

    She shuddered violently as a torrent of fluid forced its way past his finger and drenched his hand anew, spattering like rain onto the floor. Her teeth clamped down on her own hand, stifling a scream at his shoulder.

    Quivering, she collapsed against him, a steady purr of pleasure rolling from deep in her chest.

    "Don't… move… I don’t think I can stand."

    "Really?" He turned to look her in the face as it rested on his shoulder, utterly incredulous. She looked drunk, only half aware of anything and still reeling from orgasmic tremors. She still wore her top, but her nipples were as hard as his cock if the twin peaks behind it were any indication. Her body twitched and jolted in the aftershocks of her orgasm.

    “Mmmm… didn’t even… hit… the best… fuuuuuuck…” Whatever thoughts she’d let slip faded into more shudders of pleasure.

    A sadistic impulse passed through him, unbidden. The tip of his finger was still joint-deep in her quim. He flexed. It bent.

    So did she.

    Her mouth opened wide, eyes rolling back as a new wave of juices soaked his fingers. He dug into her, pushing to the next joint against the soft, shuddering wrinkles. It surged, clamped, sucked, until he was knuckle deep in her.

    This time she did scream, his ears brutalized at point-blank, world spinning as the sound seemed to bend his perceptions.

    It seemed she hadn't been lying; her legs buckled, sending them to the cave floor in a heap. He landed with a grunt. As much because of her falling on him as the fall itself. She lay on him, shaking, moaning, and leaking fluid all over his armor.

    "Fuuuuuuuuck…" The first intelligible word out of her mouth took several moments to materialize.

    "Better?"

    "You’re an ass." She didn't sound displeased, however.

    "Better?"

    "Mmmmmm yessssssss…"

    "Good. So… what happens now?"

    "Mmmmmm… reeeeest."

    "Don't we have a time restriction? We need to go, right?"

    "Mmmmm… can't. Legs dead. Can't move."

    "That’s a problem."

    "Yup."

    "So… what do we do?"

    "You."

    "Hm?"

    "'Your fault."

    "How so?"

    "Told you not to move. Went and hit a spot anyway."

    "Fair, I suppose.” I guess that means I found something she likes. “ So what do I have to do?"

    "Help me stand. Dress. Walk. After."

    "After? After what?"

    "After you rub my juices into your cock." The intensity of that last word made his already firm member stiffen even more, against his own expectations. Despite what had just happened, despite her state, her desire was unmistakable. She’s still not satisfied.

    No, I suppose she wouldn’t be.

    "You’re just looking for an excuse to have me pull it out, aren’t you?"

    "Mmmmm, no. But… Goblins…"

    "Wait, so this is… that's how you want to mark me?"

    "Mmmhmmmmm." She buried her face in his chest, the leather vest giving slightly. He sighed.

    "So basically, you want me to masturbate using your… cum, I guess?" He looked at his right hand, covered in clear fluid that had frothed into something creamy from the convulsions of her muscular vagina and vigorous fingers. He’d certainly not done anything vigorous enough to warrant that. He’d barely inserted it.

    As turned on as I am right now, if I start handling my dick like that I'll definitely cum too.

    I want to put it in her.

    It was a crude, animal impulse. But it was there nonetheless.

    Why are we not, again? The baser parts of his mind were finding few good answers.

    "Alright."

    He tamped down that visceral desire. We aren’t because of corruption.

    Working around her soft body, he awkwardly unfastened his armor and opened his pants, sliding his underwear down.

    His cock strained against the cool air, twitching, precum beading at his tip. His foreskin had already peeled itself. Rhian stared at it as if hypnotized, eyes burning.

    He gripped the shaft at the base, rubbing the fluids into his bare skin. Shaft, head, balls, into his own coarse pubic hair, he tried to spread the slimy secretion on everything while desperately trying not to cum. The Werebat's hot breath on his dick didn't help.

    "You’re making this harder."

    "Mmmmm… harder." Her brain has melted. She was sniffing his crotch. A hot, staccato sigh rolled over his tip as something hot and wet dripped onto his pubis.

    He'd tilted his head back in his efforts, but his head snapped back at the sensation with a start. "What are you…"

    Just in time to see her mouth engulf the head. Hot! Her lips closed on him and pulled his shaft deep into her hot, wet mouth, tongue roiling as if possessed. His hips bucked on reflex, hand ceding the entire territory of his crotch to her as it tried to brace him.

    Mghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” He stifled a groan that was almost a scream at the sudden intensity of it.

    Edging as he was, the effect was instantaneous. He erupted into her suckling mouth, cock pulsing, and she shuddered against him. On and on it went, until he saw stars flashing before his eyes. Her lips were sealed tight around his base, tip deep in her throat as a groan of pleasure echoed in his. He could feel the seed leaving him. Far more than he’d ever produced on his own. His eyes and mouth both felt as if they’d been jammed open by the intensity of it. It felt as if a piece of his soul was leaving his body and he didn’t even care.

    She locked to him until he produced no more, and when that moment had been reached, her long tongue slithered over his member longingly.

    She left him panting beneath her, mind adrift in the afterglow.

    "Mmmmmmm…" He was fairly sure the sound came from her. He wasn’t sure how long they lay there on that cold, hard stone. Eventually, however, reason returned.

    "We have to get up."

    "Mmmmm… for more?" His dick twitched in response, threatening to rise once more.

    "No, I mean, Goblins." She sighed in annoyance. "Riiiiiight. Mmmmm, maaaaan, that felt good, though. I needed that. Thanks." She positively glowed in the dark as she stretched.

    "I take it that was better than…"

    "Than it had any right to be. Fuuuuuuuck! Humans just… hit different, I don’t know. First time I've done it with a Man since I turned. But damn, that felt good!

    "Done it? I put my finger in and you sucked me off." Though he felt like he might have died from that last experience if it had gone on any longer.

    "You know what I mean. Holy shit, though. It really was just you sticking a finger in. Hell, just touching my clit was enough to make me cum… and then you hit my spot and…" She flushed, clearly enjoying the recent memory.

    "And yet it took you how long to, on your own?" She grumbled in annoyance as she wobbled back around the corner. He caught a glimpse of her shapely ass behind her leaf-like tail as she did, her pants still around her knees.

    "What the Hells…" Her confusion was something he fully understood. Inexperienced as he was, he at least had some knowledge about sex. He masturbated. It shouldn't take that much to get off. But she'd been fingering herself for a while and getting nowhere. And yet…

    "The second I touched you, you came, didn't you?" The rustling of clothes around the corner paused. "... yes."

    "Is it because of me?"

    "If you mean because you're some kind of natural sex-god, then no. No offense, but you’ve got no skills. Good hands, sure, but no skills. You're clumsy as hell. Not that that was a good position, but still." He heard her belt clasps rattling. He took it as a warning to get his own clothes in order. He had a feeling he'd be in trouble if his cock was still loose when she saw him next.

    "No offense taken. That was my first time doing something like that." He hurriedly laced his pants again.

    "True… well done, first-timer. You made me a very happy girl." He could hear her clapping, muffled by her fur.

    "But no, I mean… the reason why you couldn't cum to begin with. Not just that hair-trigger reaction of yours."

    "I don't normally cum like that, just so you know, but… do you mean, like… I couldn't get off because you’re there?"

    "Basically."

    "But why?"

    "Well, Monsters feed on Men that way, right? On human Mana." A vision of her head buried in his pubic hair shot through his mind. "What if you couldn’t because your body wanted to feed on me instead, and wasn’t letting you just get off until you did?"

    "...”

    “What do you think?”

    “I think you’re overthinking this.”

    “Really? You seemed pretty dazed once it was out, when you started to…”

    “Nope. Overthinking. We need to get you out of here, so we’d better hurry.”

    “I thought you couldn’t walk?”

    “I’m walking now, aren’t I? Mana does a body good. Now let’s go, we have to hurry!” Gear in place, she hoisted the bag of Beast trophies and set off at a brisk pace. And if there was a slight wobble to her step, well, it quickly faded.

    He hurried to keep up, but couldn’t shake the feeling she was hiding something… or maybe running from it.
    Asha Records
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    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
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  8. #8
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    It's in reposting this that I'm reminded of just how annoying the triplets lines are. Forums don't like the formatting that comes from the way they talk when they're together.



    Chapter 5: Back...

    He heard them before he saw them; voices and the sounds of creaking wood and metal. A susurrus that sounded entirely too much like the caravan he’d been a part of not so long ago… and many others before it. However, the voices were too high-pitched, too numerous… and there were too many female ones.

    The tunnel they’d followed after passing by many offshoots had finally opened into a broader, curiously well-lit chamber. A massive pool of water, or maybe an offshoot of some subterranean river, dominated the far end of the room, which had many entrances both large and small, high and low, scattered around its domed walls. However, most of it was relatively flat and home to a large temporary market… that looked to be closing up shop. Goblins, Kobolds, and even a few Orcs and what were presumably Therianthropes were sitting on the edges of worn carpets and rugs laid out on the floor, wares of various kinds displayed. Many more, however, were packing up; goods were being tucked away and rugs rolled and piled on carts that seemed to be drawn by… rocks. Piles of rocks.

    “Elementals. Pure ones. There’s apparently a Shaman in one of the tribes that tasks them with hauling the wagons around the ruins.” I want to study them. He started to pull out his notebook.

    “We should probably go find Nye before you start doing that kind of thing. And before everyone closes up shop, too. I need to buy some things.”

    “Ah, right. Any idea where he is?”

    “Usually at the head of the biggest wagon, but… look for a redheaded girl with huge horns and bigger tits sitting on a wagon and you’ll find him.”

    “Huh?”

    “That’s Mair, his wife. Or one of them, anyway. She’s dumb as a brick, so he can’t leave her alone for long. Odds are good she’s tripping on Frog Scum and staring at a wall from the wagon top.”

    “Charming.”

    “It gets better. She’s a Hobgoblin, so she’s technically the leader of his tribe.”

    “That sounds… problematic.”

    “Welcome to Goblin culture. Size matters in everything, even when they’re smart enough to know better. Status comes from size, whether it’s up or out. It’s one reason why they love being pregnant. Puts them higher on the totem pole while they are.” He pressed his hand to his head. It rewarded him with a wave of Rhian’s scent that set his nostrils flaring reflexively.

    "Ah, there she is! C'mon, let's get going before the ladies really notice you." He noticed the woman Rhian had pointed out, sitting cross-legged atop a painted wooden wagon and playing with some kind of colored lights. He also noticed what else she'd pointed out; he was drawing a lot of attention. Men weren't common here. But they were in high demand.

    He followed the Werebat closely as she wove through the crowd, between makeshift stalls and battered old wagons. The market was full of more Monsters than he’d ever seen… and almost every one female. And staring at him. I need to get out of here. This is only going to be trouble.

    "Nyyyyyyyye! Hey, Nye! Where are you?"

    "Eh? Rhian? Ye’re later than usual. What took you so… oh." He looked like a child and spoke with an Alban accent, though not terribly thick. A small, wiry figure, pale-skinned and crowned with tousled, reddish-brown hair, only the tribal attire, pointed ears, and short, sharp horns made it clear this wasn't just an athletic human boy. At least until he opened his sharp-toothed mouth.

    A Humblin, but why the northern accent? He'd expected all of the locals to be, well… local.

    "What the fuck? That's a Human! Is he for sale!?" His thoughts were interrupted by the Goblin’s raucous realization. Uh oh.

    "Nye…"

    "No, seriously. What's your asking price? I've got some girls in need."

    "I am not for sale."

    "Pfffft, like ye get a say. So how much?"

    "You heard him. I'm not selling. Neither is he." The small man's face became unpleasantly neutral with a frightening speed. "You haven't…"

    "I staked a claim." The little man's nose came to life as he strode forward, sniffing at Col's crotch like a dog. He couldn’t help but take a step back as the Goblin closed in. However, he soon screwed up his face in frustration.

    "Girl, how could ye do this to me? Huh? I thought we…"

    "Nye, I told you. Last time was it. You have too many women in your life as-is. And I… I need something else. Someone else. It was fun. You're definitely good as a lover. But you're a better friend." Damn. Just… brutal. You're killing him! Even he knew what friendzoning could do to a man’s heart. It had been painful to watch.

    "And as a husband, well," Rhian’s head tilted up, to the wagon's roof. "You have other priorities." The look on Nye's face was indescribable, some melange of emotions seething behind it that Col could only guess at.

    "Fine. It's over. I get it." She smiled at him faintly, but that one look somehow quenched his fire. "I'm not giving you nae more discounts, though. Nae more! None!" He waved a weathered, leather-bound ledger at her face… which remained beyond his reach even on tiptoe.

    "That's fair. Do you mind telling us if you have a few unusual things in stock?" He deflated even more, but rapidly shifted to a more professional demeanor.

    "If it’s business, certainly. What are ye looking for?"

    "An alchemy kit. Cloth; pretty much any kind will do. Some bottles. Or clay jars. Wax. Cooking oil. A bedroll and a tent. And a map of the forest, if you have it, between here and Gowlg Crug. Also, trail rations." He rattled off a list he’d compiled in his head.

    "Hah, some of that's easy, kid. Rations, jars, old rags, oil, we can do. You can find those out there with the rest o’ the shoppers. I have a few bedrolls and tents, too. Now the other things… bottles, those are pretty scarce. Alchemists earlier in the circuit usually buy all those. You'll want the Market Square for those. As for an alchemy kit… I got a small one in recently. It's a bit banged up, but it looks like everything’s intact. I might just have a map, too. It’s a bit old, but it'll do. How about… seventy-five for the kit?"

    "I haven't even seen it… and you're charging full price for a piece you admit is damaged?"

    "Hmmm… you're right. Eighty-five, then." Shit.

    "Need to make a profit on my investments, kid. But I will let you see it." He climbed into the wagon behind him, rummaged around, and eventually returned with a heavy leather case.

    That's…

    "Where did you get that?" Rhian turned to him sharply at his tone.

    "Trade secret. Here, have a look."

    He did, if only to check that the contents were intact and where they should be… and that the triskele symbol and his initials were, in fact, embossed on the inside. Both proved to be the case.

    I see robbing the dead is common here… even when they’re still alive. He thought back to the hand he'd snatched his Torch and gauntlet from and grimaced. Not that I can say much.

    "The fact that this is actually my personal possession will have no effect on your pricing, will it?"

    "Yours? We acquired this with great difficulty, I'll have you know." I can imagine…

    "It has my initials and my medallion's pattern in it." He pointed to the marks, showing his talisman.

    "Hmmm… aye well, maybe ‘twas. Not anymore, unfortunately. You're right about this not affecting the price, though. However… you have my condolences for your loss."

    "You could just return it to me. It wouldn't be a loss, then."

    "I was nae talking about your tools, laddie."

    Oh.

    "And no. You pay. I have a lot of mouths to feed and not enough cum to go ‘round. You want me to knock down the price, you offer a trade, pay in silver, seed, or we can talk about pregnancy plans with some of my sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins, granddaughters, or great-granddaughters."

    "... what?" He couldn’t help sizing the little man up, scrutinizing him. Is he…

    "Knocked-up Goblins equals knocked-down rates, kiddo. Keep your head in the game. Or in the cooch." He is serious.

    Rhian erupted in laughter behind him, having let him handle his own business up to then. "I warned you."

    "Seriously?" She laughed harder.

    "Look, Nye. We brought some decent trades. How about you take a look and see if there's anything worth a discount." She winked at Nye, hefting the bulging sack.

    "That thing's about as full as me nuts when I see yer ass, girl. Ye’ve been busy, ye have."

    "We. It was a mutual effort." The Goblin looked at him approvingly. "Hey, at least ye're not useless. Let's see what ye brought me, then."

    Rhian lowered the bag once more and the Goblin set to work. From complete Isopods to fragments of stone-shelled spiders, to a centipede, and far more creatures and components thereof, Nye pulled it all out onto the stone.

    "Hmmm… not bad. Some of this is pretty rare up here. You start hunting in the lower levels?"

    "About that…"

    "Hm?"

    "We got all this coming from home. On the usual low route."

    "...that's nae possible. These things don't come this far up," he gestured at the centipede and the jagged Pedipalp arms.

    "There was a bigger centipede, too. A lot bigger…"

    "Big enough to carry a dead Goblin while it chased us."

    "A what?"

    "Hey, be…"
    "He needs to know, right? We passed through a room full of moss and mushrooms with a bunch of Beasts."

    "He's talking about Little Cleft. There was a centipede in there big enough to wrap around one of the bigger 'shrooms three times over and still be long enough to raise up on the cap. It had what looked like a Goblin, eating it, but… it was kind of… I don’t know… off somehow? It didn't look like your tribe, though. It was dressed in grays." Huh, now that she mentions it… all the Goblins are wearing the same colors; green, brown, black. Well, almost all. All of the ones that look like they’re running shops or working, at least.

    "That’s a problem by itself! But… if you're saying there's worse Beasts than the usual coming up from the deeps, we'll need to get the word out. Might be a new King down there, stirrin’ up the Beasties. Better tell that one-eyed friend a yers, too, next time ye see her." The Goblin sighed, a worried expression on his face. "This is nae good."

    "Right. I want to get back as soon as possible, but I'm going to need to buy some things first. And for that…"

    "Coin or credit. Right. I'll see about pricing this. Set aside anything ye’ll be keeping; we've got ‘n Artificer on loan from Lowri this time. Girl's an apprentice, but she does good work. A bit flashy, but good, ‘n some o’ this is worth makin’ weapons n’ armor from."

    "Hmmm…"

    "Considering what we ran into on the way here…" She nodded at him and plucked one of the menacing, thorny limbs. He set aside a small Rock Spider for himself, the dog-sized creature unpleasant and unpleasantly heavy.

    "Is that all yer takin’, then?" He nodded at the Goblin. "Suit yourself. I'll price the rest and get back to ye. Meantime, take a look around. We're getting ready ta move but everyone's takin’ their sweet fuckin’ time about it right now." He shouted the last part, drawing a chorus of tittering from the wagon behind him. A cold chill ran down his spine as he saw it rock slightly and felt an intense gaze, or gazes, falling on him.

    I suddenly want to be far from that thing…

    "Thanks. C'mon, Col. We have shopping to do." She was entirely too eager about that fact, but…

    "Actually, there's something else I wanted to ask you." As much as the wagon was beginning to unnerve him, he couldn’t just leave.

    "Aye. What is it, kid?"

    "Are there any Lizard Monsters here?"

    "Liz… wait, how did ye get here, exactly?" Huh. Interesting reaction.

    "I was with the expedition you presumably got that alchemy lab from. We were attacked by a giant Boar…"

    "Hambone. Named him meself." That name is ridiculous and you're to blame for it, huh?

    "Yes. I managed to escape here by remembering parts of master's map and dumb luck. I came in at an open stair between two trees… I wound up down here after falling down a chute near Rhian’s home."

    "So you came from above… you're talking about the cave paintings, then."

    "Maybe. I saw something…"

    "He thinks he saw a Lizardman last night. In my home. I told him they aren't real, but…"

    "Oh aye, they're real enough."

    "Huh?"

    "They’re real. But they’re not Lizardmen. They’re Werelizards. They live down in some of the deep levels. Weird Druid folk. We trade with ‘em sometimes. If you can believe ‘em, they built this place a long time ago. Something happened, and now they live down there. Simple as that."

    "Wait, then why haven't I heard anything about them? Or seen them? And I thought you said Elflings built this place?"

    "Girl, they are Elflings. It's why they're so short. Also part of why they don't like most of the people up here; most of us are invaders to ‘em. That, and there's some kind of superstition going on with them. Something about eyes and moons. I donnae know much about it. They hate the Nothics, though. Doesn't seem to be mutual, for what it’s worth. About the only folks they tolerate are us, Kobolds, the Werefoxes, Weretoads, Wererats, and Wererabbits… and the Bunnies and Toads basically live with ‘em down there.” I suppose this means Rhian doesn't have an exhaustive list of this ruin's residents… and that there may be a Dungeon proper somewhere deeper underneath us.

    “Kid, you must have made a real show to get one's attention." Did I, though?

    "Girl, keep an eye on your man. Or don't, actually. Forget I said anything. Better for me if he's popular with other girls and someone nabs him from under ye." Rhian just looked at him. Wryly.

    I see I have no say in this. Better to keep quiet about it, though. Tact and all that.

    "Huh. So the paintings are some kind of civil war." Maybe I can get some more out of him.

    "So I understand, aye. Somethin’ about an old king and a curse. Fuck if I know. Even I can keep me accent in line if need be, but their language is trash and most of ‘em can't speak Koine at all, so making sense of ‘em’s a right pain in the ass." So it wasn't just me. They have some really strange, garbled dialect.

    "So I noticed."

    "Eh? She talked to ye? Ohoooo! Yes! Ye should hit that. Just leave Rhian ta me, laddie. Tha’ lizard's got ‘er eye on ye, she does."

    "Really, Nye? Really?" He just shrugged and grinned at Rhian. “Cannae hurt me chances, eh?” The Werebat rolled her eyes at him, but didn't seem genuinely bothered by Nye's chatter.

    "I'm not exactly looking for that right now." Though that might be looking for me… He thought back to a recent incident and wondered…

    "Oh? Well, cannae say I blame ye." He looked disappointed as he glanced at the Werebat. "She’s damn good." It was Rhian’s turn to grin and shrug.

    "Thanks, but, I know." Well that’s a smug face.

    "So what are ye looking for, kid? If ye don't mind my asking." Col sighed, weariness and grief coming to the forefront of his mind after being pushed away by other demands.

    "Like I said, I was with that expedition. We were affiliated with the Adventurer’s Guild in Crug. If no one makes a report in a few weeks…"

    "Ahhhh, shite. Yer Guild’ll be postin’ ah Recovery Quest…"

    "And then there will be a lot more dead people in those woods. Especially since we had the only map."

    "Fuuuuuuck. That's a problem, aye."

    "It's probably good for your business, but I'd rather not let that happen."

    "Look, laddie, donnae get me wrong. I'd get some good merchandise off a bunch o’ dead Adventurers… but I ain't such a heartless bastard that I want a bunch o’ people dying just so I can sell their shit. Not even Moira's that much of a bitch. I also don’t want a bunch o’ nutjob Adventurers running around close to me home; you fuckers got some real shitty ideas about property rights an’ trespassin’ when it comes to Monsters. Break into someone's home, steal their shit, maybe even kill 'em? Yer a criminal if’n it’s to a Man. An if it’s a Monster? Yer a damn Hero. I don't want that kind of shit here. Bad for business and my life expectancy." So there’s no Running culture… no, of course there isn't. The Guild has no idea this place is here, and it's not even clear where the Dungeon itself is, let alone its Master. Nye seems knowledgeable, and he shares his information with Rhian, to an extent. If he knew, he’d have told her, I’m sure. No wonder he’d be upset about Adventurers nosing around here… those that make it in are probably desperate for anything they can get, and, well… Monsters are Monsters. Laws don’t usually apply to them…

    "Ah, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…" He realized he should apologize, but it seemed none was needed.

    "It's fine, kid. I've known some real shitters on our end, too."

    "Like Moira?" He couldn’t help but be curious.

    "Ahhhhh, well…nae. Was more thinkin’ me Da, tae be true. Moira's not that bad ah sort. Unless yer dead and want tae stay that way. She’s just cold and too damn serious. Too… logical. Like… it's like she feels nothin’. Everythin’ is just sort ah mechanical with her."

    "Stay de-… She’s the Lich."

    "Aye. Runs a big farm in the lower levels where she grows all kinds of edible mushrooms, mosses, an’ livestock. Whole place stinks a’ mold for miles. S’got a giant fuckin’ dragon skeleton in there, good an’ proper dead, so ye can’t miss it. We buy ‘er produce and sell ‘er samples an’ corpses."

    "You sell her… corpses?"

    "Oh aye. She pays well for ‘em. Lot o’ folks ‘round here would rather ‘ave a second shot at life as a Zombie er a Skeleton than just rot, even if it means workin’ for ‘er in there. And the ones that want te rot are good fertilizer. Plus, if yer some random Adventurer whose gone and died up there, ye don’t get a say."

    "Wait, so you sell her the bodies of Men?"

    "That we do. It's where yer former companions are headed, anyway. No offense."

    "Is there an old man in red robes there?!"

    "With this funny little pointy beard, 'bout torn in half?"

    "Yes!"

    "Oh aye, we got ‘im. Interested in buyin’?"

    "I… that's… that's my master. I…"

    "Yer a Necromancer, then?" The look on Nye’s face was dubious. He's right…

    "Let me guess. Ye want to save ‘im, but ye can't do anythin’ with ‘im? Around here, when ye die, that's that. The only way ‘round it is Moira. We don't have anyone able to revive the dead, though one of me girls might get there in a few years, but Moira…, she does have ‘er ways to restore ‘em. If yer willin’ tae pay, we can probably make an arrangement with ‘er to turn ‘im into somethin’ like ‘e was… ‘e won't be Human nae more, but he'll be sort-of alive, and he'll be him."

    "I…" But would master want that? I owe him so much, and yet I don't even know… Would he want to be Undead… or truly dead?

    "Nye, you can't really make that offer, right? It's her choice." She’s got a point. He’s dealing, but it’s the Lich who decides, who sets the terms.

    "Well aye, but nae, not really. She could turn me down, but… I think ‘e might be able to cut a deal with ‘er. ‘e just ‘as to pay ‘er with somethin’ she donnae get much of; ‘is seed."

    "I'll do it." There wasn’t even a need to think in this case. This wasn’t about money. Sacrificing his dignity was worth it for this. Rhian looked at him, but her expression was softer than he’d expected.

    "Not sure ‘ow much she'll be wantin’, but… it's probably safe te say one sample per day o’ storage if that's all ye want. And probably some down-payment." He thought back to how thoroughly Rhian had drained him earlier. How much can I… after that?

    "Right. I also have this, if it'll help." He produced the fang-like Augment Crystal… to which Nye scoffed.

    "Kid, she makes those and gives ‘em to ‘er servants. Thass not going tae cut it, even if they are worth somethin’." He'd have to think of something else, then.

    I need all of my personal equipment. There's no sense making a deal like this and then dying before it's completed because I gave away the things that keep me alive. I can’t guess how much the trophies will bring, and half of them are Rhian’s… I can offer the Everburning Torch, or the Illumination Crystal, but not both; she likely doesn't need the Torch as an Undead… and I don't know what will happen if I sell the Werelizard's Crystal. He thought back to the strange scene from the night before, certain he understood that situation. Pretty sure the Phoenix one was Rhian’s, so I can't really give that away. Not without hurting her… and then the other one was her friend's. Same problem.

    "This is… it's all I can give. I have some coin, but not much… you said something about silver?"

    "Aye, it's in high demand. Some Orc figured out how to make things like that little fang o’ yers, but they make even a wooden weapon act like it was silver. They've been gaining’ ground up there ever since, and buyin’ up silver coins at a premium. Their trinkets are made of it. Hells, they even started in with charms that let you fit more than one of them things. Look, you're not really paying me, laddie. I'll do ye a favor considering yer situation and not charge a service fee… especially since yer not askin’ me to save all of the bodies. But Moira doesn't really give a shite about money. She wants materials. And she ‘as a bunch o’ servants that can get what she wants for ‘er. She’s about the closest ye’ll find to a noble down ‘ere. Ye've probably only really got the one thing she'd want…"

    Nye pointed at his crotch with his ledger for emphasis.

    "Anyway, I'll get ye something you can cum in. Yer whole haul's worth about a thousand, not countin’ what ye took. Let me get ye a voucher and ye can hit the stalls while I'm trying to find… something, to deliver yer jizz in." The Goblin glanced back at the colorful, closed wagon behind him sighed in seeming weariness. Even so, whatever was bother him, he steeled himself against. “Wait ‘ere a moment.”

    And with that Nye disappeared around the side of his wagon briefly before returning with a strip of parchment showing their balance and stamped with an odd seal of some kind.

    "Here… get yer business done afore we close up. See me when you're finished." The Goblin faced the wagon, putting his back to them.

    "Hey girls! Get out here! We got work to do! Ach, an’ what’d I do with the damned map again…" The wagon started to rock as a veritable chorus of feminine voices responded. Some primitive instinct screamed at him to not be there when the source of those sounds emerged.

    He listened to it.
    ………
    ……


    Most of what they acquired was mundane; flour, salt, milk, butter, cheese, root vegetables, dried fruits, honey, herbs, cooking oil, wine. Rhian also picked up some roasted meat, and a pair of massive eggs from a Harpy who seemed to have a perpetual scowl on her face. He managed to get all of his own list as well, and purchased some food supplies for himself, medicine, herbs, roots, essential oils, Healing and Mana Potions… as well as some flasks of Holy Water. It was a common purgative for Taint in the field. He managed to find a serviceable canvas tent and, after some extensive searching, to find his bedroll and blankets. That he had to buy them a second time was galling, but such was life.

    And it wasn't nearly as troubling as the stares. The market was full of Monsters… most of them Goblins of a number of subspecies and Kobolds like those working the stalls, but there were others, especially among the customers, as well. Orcs with their powerful muscles and vaguely porcine features. Strange, robed figures whose hoods concealed their features. A whole host of others with animalistic features that could have passed for Turnskins if one ignored their animalistic feet and hands. A pale, emaciated woman with glowing red eyes, so thin he couldn’t understand how she was alive until he realized she wasn’t. He even thought he saw a Ghost at one point, a pale wisp that drifted through the air at the corner of his vision, despite Rhian, or Nye, saying nothing about them. And every single one of them stopped to stare. Lustful gazes from all of them. Hungry gazes. Even from the rare males… something he wasn’t used to experiencing. It made his hair stand on end.

    This is bad…

    At least they only had one stop left; the Artificer. A lean, curly-haired Kobold with floppy ears, she’d set up her shop not far from Nye's own wagon. Unlike most of the other merchants, she'd set up shop inside a heavy tent held in place by some internal frame and sandbags. It muffled the clamor of hammer and anvil… but not completely.

    And it made the heat nearly unbearable.

    Stripped naked save for the thick, protective leather of apron, gauntlets, and boots, the Monster's singed fur served as her only other protection. It didn’t seem to dampen her demeanor, however, as her tail began to wag the moment they stepped into her tent. “Customers!” An eager smile spread across her face.

    "Welcome to the forge! What would you like; a new piece, repairs, or…" He raised an eyebrow. This sounds rehearsed…

    "Enhancement?" Rhian, however, wasn’t about to let her finish her spiel. For some reason, the Werebat wore a look of mild irritation.

    "Ahahaha… ummm… not… not exactly. But! But but! I can do that too! So… is that what you'd like?" She barely seemed to miss a beat, despite the interruption.

    "That, and some Quicksmithing, if you can. You can work with Beast materials, right?" Rhian seemed a bit annoyed with the girl, but he couldn’t really understand why.

    "I may be inexperienced, but I'll try my best!" Huh? Well, Nye did say she was an apprentice… Though usually, wouldn’t you have a master supervising? Maybe Monsters handle this differently…

    "If you don't mind my asking, miss…," he had some questions. "Teagan! Teagan of Tanbrwsh, if it pleases you, master!" Why is she so… energetic? The girl was positively bubbling with excitement, tail wagging furiously as she charged around her tent and posed beside her displayed wares. Were it not for the fur on her lower body, she’d have been putting herself on display as well. As it was, the apron wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding her chest.

    "Ummm… Teagan. What are your rates?"

    "Oh! I charge standard Guild prices!"

    "Wait, what? You're an Artificer's Guild affiliate?"

    "Nope! They're just reasonable prices. I'll also cut the price by half if you provide the raw materials for custom work, and I'll reduce it even more if you give me usable excess!"

    "That’s… actually not bad." She positively beamed at him.

    "It's standard practice down here, Col." Teagan deflated slightly. But only slightly.

    "Yup!"
    "Alright, I'd like some repairs to my sword and a new gauntlet to match this one, if that’s fine." He offered her the blade, which she looked over with a careful eye.

    "Hmmm… a lot of heat stress. It's really well made though. I can fix it with what you brought. Better even! Go ahead and take off those Spellstones first. I'll even take a look at those!" She gestured to his glasses and existing gauntlet. Might as well. Can’t hurt, right? He obliged her, pocketing the stones and handing over his gear. Rhian didn't miss her chance. "They’re gray, huh?" He rolled his eyes at her observation of his own. That comment, however, earned her the Kobold's attention.

    "And you, Miss?"

    "I'd like a saw. Something that can cut through Beast shells better than these." Rhian spoke up, gesturing at her daggers. She did have trouble trying to harvest things earlier. He’d had to help with his fire on more than one occasion. Before things had become too dangerous, anyway. Her knives were fine if they were sliding into the joints between a Beast’s carapace, but they had trouble punching through the shells themselves.

    "I can do that! And would you like one or a pair? I can craft a matched pair with grips for combat if you'd like!"

    "Uhhhh… alright?"

    "Great! Just let me see your hands and their handles… and his spider."

    "Huh?" Mine?

    "You are together, right? You shouldn't mind sharing!" Rhian blushed at the comment, but he was unfazed. She probably didn’t mean it like that, Rhian. Right?

    "We're not…" He supposed she was trying to veto the notion running through her head, but that was just going to make this more complicated.

    "It's fine. Use it."

    "Yay! Don’t worry, just using a couple leg segments and some silk. There should be plenty left in it, right? In fact, I bet there's enough silk for all of your equipment!" He had no idea what she was basing this assumption on, but he didn’t have a chance to question it. The Kobold was growing more excited by the minute, charging around the tent, poking and prodding their armor, his medallion. Snatching and gathering various bottles and jars, and arranging them around her anvil.

    "But we didn't…"

    "Don't worry about it! I want to try something! I've got ideas!" Should I be worried?

    "No extra charge!" She must have seen the growing look of horror on their faces. "It'll be cool!" This did nothing to alleviate their concern, especially as she only seemed to be winding up.

    If they’d had an opportunity to stop the small dog-girl, it passed them by before they realized. By now, they were already caught up in the dog-girl’s pace. The Kobold had already grabbed their materials before they could protest. He never saw where she materialized her hammer and tongs from. It was only when the girl stopped long enough to turn the claw vertical that he saw them; tongs grasping the jagged pedipalp atop her anvil, hammer poised above and wreathed in otherworldly blue flame. She brought it down on the tip with a sound like a gong despite the thing’s lack of metal… and split it neatly in half from top to bottom in a way that defied reason. They fell beside his sword, which she'd placed on her anvil's horn. She didn’t stop there, her hammer shearing off spider legs and splitting them, tongs spinning the spider corpse and pressing the creature's abdomen and spraying webbing on the other materials. The girl’s movements were swift, fluid, and almost hypnotic, her work merging magic and technique into one entrancing process. Her mystical flames spread, growing whiter with each passing moment. Fluids and powders were cast into the growing inferno. They leapt from within the small furnace, coiling around the tent’s ceiling and dancing around her form.

    They backed away from it, from the fire, the forge, and whatever madness had gripped the dog girl.

    The spider's fangs joined the flames.

    My glasses are in there! He very nearly reached back in on reflex.

    Her hammer rose and fell. Again. And again. And again. Each time it sounded as if a great bell were tolling. Like a scene from some kind of hell, the Kobold hammered furiously amidst the flames, utterly engulfed.

    The urge to run rose higher and higher, instincts screaming even though he felt no heat from the fire.

    "Now just hoooooold stiiiiiiiil!" He felt the blood drain from his face as Teagan whirled the spider around once more, striking its abdomen with tremendous force.

    There wasn’t a chance to scream, let alone run.

    Thick webs, hard as steel and stone, suddenly pinned both Rhian and himself together. And in place. They were gagged with the stuff where it had splattered across their faces. Her eyes were rolling in a panic, as his likely were, but neither could break free. Her struggles only drove her chest against him harder.

    "Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!" The girl leapt at them, tongue lolling and hammer raised. Her fires filled his vision in blue and white, so that he almost couldn't see the hammer flying at his face… but he heard it connect, and his world filled with white and the sound of a bell.
    ………
    ……


    "All done!"

    When his vision had cleared and his ears had stopped ringing, he'd found himself wreathed in the harmless "fire" Teagan conjured. In truth it was just a manifestation of her Aura, but Gods was it disturbing to be close to. He’d only realized it was truly harmless after it’d already begun to subside. If it had been real, I probably could have controlled it. The realization that he’d panicked over it was embarrassing, but thankfully no one else needed to know about that particular lapse in judgment.

    The Kobold had, in her excitement, decided to do a great deal more work than they'd asked for. Including to the armor and weapons they'd been wearing. Warning them first had not occurred to her. Apparently, once inspiration took her, she was a lost cause. You just had to wait for her to run out of steam. Enthusiastic indeed. You could have warned us about that a bit better…

    She now sat on a stool, drenched in sweat and sipping a Mana Potion between beaming at her own work.

    He retrieved his glasses first, just so he could actually see what she'd done. They seemed unchanged at first… except they were clearly sturdier. He popped the Sasori Glance back in place, noting that there was a very faint triskele pattern in the lenses now… and web-like reinforcement along the arms and frame. Whatever she'd done to them, they made his vision even clearer than before, despite the pattern. It was so unobtrusive he was already overlooking it.

    As he looked, that triskele pattern now adorned all of his equipment in one way or another. The hilt of his sword had adopted a full triskelion structure, one arm leading down each quillion and the central one bracing the unusual xiphos's blade into its fuller. The blade itself now had triskele whorls framing the fuller's length, and further web patterns on its blade, ring grip, and pommel. His axe also now featured whorls and webs, a chitinous spike at both the top and the back, and its wooden haft had been replaced with a length of rock-like spider leg. Even his knives enjoyed the decorative treatment. His new gauntlet seemed almost to be made from the stone of the caves themselves, smooth like water-carved rock in layered plates. His old one had somehow been merged with the stoney chitin, so that it seemed as if the rock were being chipped away to reveal triskele-engraved metal beneath. Neither had escaped the webs.

    How in all the Houses of the Heavens did she reforge all this while we were carrying it?

    His armor hadn't escaped, either. Though he couldn’t see all of it, his leather vest and chaps seemed to have somehow been restructured and featured embossed triskele patterns and knotwork. Likewise the arms of his coat, as well as its tails. Of course the back must be, too. The web continued to be present throughout.

    His medallion as well now featured that web pattern, albeit faintly. Even his notebook had it across the leather cover.

    As for Rhian’s attire… her brigandine now accentuated her figure as well as protected it. She, too, had web patterns on her armor. Its studs were reinforced with rocky chitin and an actual network of webbing now protected her inner wings, arms, and in the gaps like silken wire. Her leggings were similarly reinforced and webbed… and all of it also marked with a triskele pattern. Her knives sported both. She made us match.

    And for her new weapons… Her "saws" were more like shallow-curved sickles, their blades concave rather than convex, their grips ergonomic. It seemed Teagan had made her own judgments about the grips from the wear on Rhian’s old weapons and the hands themselves. The things had jagged teeth of varying lengths, staggered, with longer ones every few inches and the largest as the main striking point. A single backward-facing spike counterbalanced that somewhat, and a series of three short spikes at the weapons’ points formed trident-like thrusting tips. They were made to hack, rip, and tear, but one could stab if needed, even if one had to fear hooking the weapons in a foe. The curved grips were enclosed as well, protecting the hand and giving it better control on a sawing motion. The black blades also featured web patterns, but he saw no signs of whorls. Only an ominous, oily sheen.

    Unexpectedly, there were also a pair of strange black daggers made from the fangs of the spider. Their blades curved over the knuckles and down rather than forward, as if mimicking the fangs of the spider they’d been made from, and had been further merged with Pedipalp spikes to give them a short, forward-thrusting tip and punching points. Webbing adorned these as well.

    Those look utterly impractical. And this web pattern is… it's well-made, but… No, just, there are bigger problems with this!

    Teagan had just done whatever she'd wanted without a care for her clients' wishes or a warning. The quality of her work was evident, even to him, but she was more like a performance artist than a merchant.

    "This is why you're an apprentice, isn't it?" Her afterglow-like expression immediately crumbled into one of utter anguish. She has a master’s skill and none of the self-restraint.

    "Nooooooooo! It's not good enough!? No, wait, please let me reforge it! I'll do it for free! You can have it all for free, just…"

    "No no, wait, it's not…" She just goes at her own pace, doesn’t she!?

    "Please let me do it for free! I wanna do it! I…"

    "That’s not…"

    "I'll even give you me! You can have my virginity just…" Whoa wha…

    "I'll kill you!" Whoa wait what!?! His head whipped around at Rhian’s sudden threat, shocked by her words and the intensity behind them.

    "Stop stop stop, just… everybody stop! That escalated really fast!" Arms held wide, palms up, he stretched to his full height and hoped it was enough to give these two pause. He couldn’t decide who to stare at first; the girl who'd just tried to bribe him with her first time… or the girl who'd threatened to kill her over it.

    "That… that was too much. Okay, first… Rhian, we need to talk. Somewhere else. Later, but we need to talk. That was…"

    "Yeah. Sorry, I… I don’t really… I mean, I wouldn’t have, it just kind of…" She seemed genuinely shocked by her own words. No, he realized. She looked scared.

    In other words, that's how she really felt. And she had no idea she did. Shit. This is a problem.But for now…

    "Teagan, right?" The Kobold nodded, soulful eyes staring up him. As was the valley of her modest cleavage. Is she really just wearing that apron!? I mean, her lower body is really furry. It's not like we can see anything. But… Really!? Nothing else but the boots and gloves? He cleared his throat.

    "The quality is fine." If anything, he suspected she'd far overshot their goals. It felt as if she'd used her magic to enchant virtually all of his most relied-upon possessions, and to completely rework the least valuable of them into a more comparable quality.

    Something like this… it's worth tens of thousands of gold pieces. We have no hope of affording it! And she'd offered to do it for no charge before she'd even started.

    "Actually, no. The quality isn't." She looked heartbroken. Even Rhian shot him a sharp look.

    "It's too good." Teagan's face betrayed her confusion.

    "You’re running a business, right? This kind of quality… we couldn't pay for it. It’s great. But it's beyond our budget not fair to you. You did too much for too little… and you tried to do it for nothing. You even tried to… no offense, but I don’t want your virginity. I… don't think most of your customers would."

    "Except Nye and any other Monster with a cock…" Rhian mumbled, but he was willing to bet they all heard it. He cleared his throat again. “And some without.” He blinked and tactfully ignored the addition.

    "You’re undercharging, basically. This is far from those Guild rates you promised. Not that we can actually pay you what this is worth…"

    "I mean, she did say it was no charge, right?"

    "No extra charge. I know you heard her, with those ears. We're still paying."

    "Must have forgotten." Her pout said otherwise, though.

    "Besides that, you did a lot of extra things, style choices, on custom work that your clients might not have approved of." Teagan looked ready to cry. There is something very wrong with this girl.

    "Don't worry, I like what you did… but you should have talked it over with your clients first. And I can’t speak for Rhian."

    "I mean, it’s good, just… look, alright it’s fiiiiiine. I'm not complaining about it." Teagan seemed to recover somewhat at Rhian’s concession, tail wagging slightly.

    "That answers that. Anyway, that light show you did is also too much. Especially once you started working on us. That's something you really need to warn people about first. That could have gotten you hurt, depending on how your client responded. It’s impressive that you can manage it. I have no idea how. But still… tone that down." I thought she was going to kill us for a moment.

    "But… that happens when I try my hardest. And I always try my hardest!" Always!? He tried to keep his face neutral. He didn’t know if he succeeded.

    "There’s such a thing as trying too hard, Teagan. Don't overdo it. And also, don't offer yourself as compensation. Please."

    "That’s no good?"

    "That’s no good." Rhian gently elbowed him in the ribs to get his attention. 'It's normal here,' she mouthed at him. His eyebrows climbed. 'Oh.'

    Monsters. Right.

    Wait, how is she even a virgin in a culture like that in the first place? Best not to dwell on that too much for now.

    He cleared his throat again. "Well, at least not for your first time, anyway." Maybe I shouldn’t be telling someone else that, though? Rhian’s nod seemed to say 'Better,' revealing her agreement, but the thought that maybe pushing that value onto someone else wasn’t quite right… even if it was what Rhian was trying to do to him. Am I just saying that because of her, or… Meanwhile, a look of determination had overtaken Teagan's features.

    "I will absolutely take these lessons to heart! Is there anything I can do to thank you?"

    "No, I…"

    "Actually, there is something. Those new knives… do you think you could expand the grips and turn them into something like a cestus?" He looked at Rhian in confusion, but she just smirked at him. Guess I'll find out later, then.

    "Oh, sure!"

    The modifications were over in moments, the Kobold's mood restored. The girl stamped their voucher beside a cost that was entirely too low for services rendered, and they parted ways. Between them, they'd spent all of their voucher and real coin besides, though silver was almost as good as gold. Well, except to Rhian, who recoiled at the mere touch of it.

    I suppose that makes sense. She is a Werebat, after all. Not that it seems to hurt her, weirdly enough. He’d found himself having to suppress the impulse to chase her with a coin during their earlier shopping. Not that he really understood why. The thought had simply decided to stay instead of just crossing his mind.

    They stood a short distance from Teagan's tent as he audited his remaining coins, the market finally closing up. The last few hurried stragglers rushed about on their errands or haggled for last-minute bargains. A muscular Orc rushed past them, hauling Beast hides with familiarly barbed tails. Squirrels, huh? She disappeared into Teagan's tent with her load, sparing them hardly a glance.

    "So what do you think?" Rhian mused at him.

    "I think she does good work, but has a lot of problems on the business side of things. I'll have to examine everything closer, once I'm in the right state of mind, but I think she Enchanted everything. And not just in terms of raw energy."

    "I actually meant about her learning anything from that."

    "I think so. She seems like a clever girl. I'm sure she…" Rhian just shook her head. "You don't think so?"

    "Nope. I think what you said went in one floppy ear and out the other. Trust me. I've got an eye for this. That girl's clever, but she has no common sense, and no restraint. She's a brick."

    "Surely no-"

    "I have an idea!" The sound was clear as day, even through the muffling tent. As was the following flare of blue-white light that erupted from behind the same. And the porcine shriek of terror that followed.

    "We should go." Rhian adjusted her stuffed pack and started off.

    "...Agreed." He followed suit. No use for further debate.
    ………
    ……


    "Alright, I found some jars, so ye can blow some loads ‘n these an’ we'll see about yer arrangements with Moira. Nice duds, by the by. That girl does good work, she does. She's just a pain in the ass." Nye looked far more haggard than he had when they'd first arrived. Before, he'd just seemed road-weary, but now he swayed slightly where he stood.

    "Thank you," he took the little stoppered jars before continuing. Though really, they were more properly bottles, just as his oils were stored in."She does move at her own pace."

    "Aye. Somebody ought to put some puppies in ‘er. That'd calm her down."

    "Someone like you?" The Goblin grimaced at her jab.

    "Girl, I've thought about it. Were I a younger Gob, I'd ‘ave already swole ‘er up. But me balls ‘ave got about all the work they can handle already, as ye said." He swore he heard more laughter rolling from Nye's wagon.

    "Glad you finally admit it." Rhian smiled at him as if proud.
    "Ahhhhh, shiiit. You're an exception. I've got a spare nut just for ye." She smirked at him. “Tell ye what, ‘ow about ye get tha’ laddie ‘ere to do ‘er fer me, eh?”

    "Still, it's strange hearing you reject a girl." She just brushed it off with an eye roll and a chuckle, not bothering to acknowledge his suggestion.

    "Ah'm jes’ tired lately. Beasts everywhere, people ya know dyin', running ‘round down here in the dark, hidin' up there in the light… nothing ever really changes ‘ere. Nae for the better, nae ways. It all jes’ wears a Gob down sometimes. Ah need a rest. Might take a few days off, let the crew rest a wee bit. Maybe let the Sisters run it; they've got a good head or two between 'em." As he watched, Nye seemed to deflate even further, the little man's energetic facade fading further.

    "You must be tired. Your accent's slipping more than usual." It seemed about the same to him, honestly… unless he'd been like that the whole time.

    "Well 'scuuuuuse me for bein' a tired ol' Gob. I'm 'alf yer 'eight, twice yer age, an more man than yer new boy toy o'er there'll e'er be." She smiled warmly at him, even as she rolled her eyes. "An' the girls migh' 'ave jes’ drained me o’ most a tha' a bit ago."

    "The truth is exposed." She chuckled at him. "Sounds like you needed that spare nut."

    "Bah! 'urry up then, laddie. Fill up them jars. Bed's a callin' me. An’ actual sleep this time. Ya hear me in there, ye Gobs!" A chorus of laughter erupted from the wagon. There must be at least a dozen… "Gods preserve me… I cannae…" The Goblin’s face shifted slowly into a thousand-yard stare at the sound.

    "Ummm, where can I…" His voice seemed to drag the little man back to reality.

    "Right, right. O'er there. The lil' wagon with the red lamp. Fer when tha' mood takes ye'. We've a few of 'em 'round 'ere. Jes lock it an' let her watch tha door. An' girl? Stay oot. None fer ye, or you'll ruin the batch." She glared at the Goblin.

    "I wouldn’t."

    "Aye, aye. They all say tha'. Until they dooon't. Now ge' to it." Really, where is he from to have an accent like this? Alba? Certainly not Eire or Annwn. And definitely not the mainland. I'll have to ask Rhian later.

    He's right though, I don't need to waste more time.

    He made for the wagon, Rhian in tow, and climbed in. It was cramped and dark inside, the only light coming from a rope-netted jar of fireflies hanging from its ceiling. It was barely tall enough to stand, with a bench that served as a makeshift bed and space beneath it to stow belongings.

    The padding of that bed had clearly seen extensive use by people who didn't know Prestidigitation. He was not, under any circumstances, touching that. He didn't want to think about what he was probably walking on; the floor was very sticky and the stink of old sex had soaked into everything. It reminded him of a brothel he'd had to wait in for his master to, well… finish his business, so to speak.

    It had been one of several attempts the Wizard had made to introduce him to such pleasures. He'd declined, as usual, preferring to sit in the lobby and wait. He'd found himself chatting with the girls, but nothing had come of it but a bit of unexpected knowledge and his own discomfort.

    And now he wanted out of the wagon just as badly as he'd wanted out of that bordello. Even so, he had his own business this time.

    He tried remembering Teagan's breasts peeking out of her apron, as they'd been his most recent sight, but the girl wasn't cutting it. He couldn’t separate her from the manic experience of being her client. Instead, he settled on Rhian, remembering what they'd done, her lips on his cock, and her scent on his fingers. He remembered the feel of her when she was webbed against him, the sight of her ass as they'd traveled here. He imagined her naked, he imagined taking her, he imagined her atop him and what it would feel like to be inside her.

    It worked well enough.

    When he'd finished, having filled the trio of tiny bottles, he refastened his clothes and… proceeded to nearly smash Rhian in the head with the door. Any weariness from the Mana loss was forgotten, replaced by bemusement.

    "Listening?" It didn’t really bother him, but it was funny. Being this appealing to a woman was surreal. Even among the deviants who often became Adventurers this was unusual.

    "Why didn't you move when you heard me coming out?" She just shrugged, equally confused and thoroughly flushed and fidgeting.

    It'd be easy. I wouldn’t even have to try. If I kissed her, it'd be over. The realization dawned on him. It boggled his mind. He would barely have to do anything, and she'd melt for him. He had that much power over her, just for being, what, Human? It was especially jarring considering how experienced she was. He just wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it.

    Is this what Taint does to a person? Leaves them this vulnerable to… to affection? Loneliness? It can't be love. Not so soon. That's built over time. Attraction, maybe? Yes. Attraction.

    "Full." He waved the bottles between his fingers… but couldn't resist that little sadistic voice whispering mischief in the back of his mind. "Thanks for your assistance."

    "Huh? I just… you know. Guarded. Things."

    "That too. But more for providing reference material."

    "For…" Confusion, then a brief flash of shock and surprise, anger and elation warring with each other, and finally settling on an intense blush and a smile she tried to hide with a lowered face. "Oh."

    "Much appreciated." Ah, so she can become redder.

    "You’re an ass."

    "Sometimes."

    "I'm over here trying not to fuck your brains out and here you are saying shit like that!" He chuckled.

    "Says the girl who got so engrossed in listening to me masturbate that she forgot to step back from the door."

    She pouted at him. "Shut up." He smiled back. "Shut uuuuuup!" He smiled wider, and hurried back towards Nye's wagon…

    But not before she put a clawed hand on his shoulder.

    "Listen! I'm serious! I'm trying not to. And not just because it's your… you know. Okay? I… I have never felt quite like this, alright? Not as a Monster, and definitely not as a Human." He turned to face her.

    "I don't know if it’s what you are or who. But I feel like, if we cross that line… I'm not going to be able to let you go. I… I don’t like feeling this way. I don't like being this way. We just met. Literally, just met. Wanting to fuck you is fine. That's not the problem. It's just… I… I mean, I'm usually the one taunting and teasing, so it's fun when someone… I, but… just… can you… not… do things. Like that, I mean. You… you need to go back. If you do things like that, I…"

    "Might not let me leave." She nodded.

    "Or, alternatively, you might end up following me wherever I went. And all the trouble that would bring." She nodded again.

    "I understand…" She smiled, albeit sadly.

    "But I make no promises." Her eyes widened. "For some reason, I find teasing you fun. It's hard to resist." He kept his face as neutral as possible, but he was fighting his smile and losing.

    "You ass!" His smile emerged victorious as he raced back to Nye's wagon, Rhian hot on his heels.

    ………
    ……


    It was a short run, in the end. However, for the first time in the past few days, it was a run he enjoyed. Maybe it was because he felt like he was retaking some control of his life. As if he’d found a log to cling to while adrift. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

    Listen to me, I’m serious! I mean it!” But before she could continue, he’d reached their destination… and he was sure she wouldn’t discuss their situation in front of the Goblin.

    "Took ye long enough, kid." Nye was sitting on his wagon's steps, sipping something and looking far less weary. Still tired, but less so.

    "Filled full, eh? Well, at least there's no spillage. Not that I'd mind sometin' fresh to taste."

    Eh? He blinked at the Goblin, unsure of what he'd just heard.

    "Ah, well. I'll take yer nut an' your rock to Moira. When we get there'll depend on the "roads," so to speak, but should be within the day. D'ye care to see the body afore we go?"

    As much as Nye's tasting comment caught him off guard, this did more. It didn’t take him long to decide, however.

    "No. I'm… not sure I'd handle that well."

    "Fair enough. Now then, ye said ye wanted a map. I've one I'm willin’ to part with, but in exchange for a favor. Do it fer me, an' I'll throw in a gift for ye." The offer came as he handed over the bottles.

    Can't be too careful, I guess.

    "Maybe. What is it?"

    "Jes’ a delivery s’all. A client asked me to drop something off near me girl's home. Sounds like the trip's more a pain in the ass than usual, though. Makes no mind to me how it gets there, just that it does. And Rhian… she wouldn't care to do it."

    "Oh really?"

    "It's a bauble, girl. Silver."

    "Oh."

    "Aye, "oh," as I said. Some girl wants it in that nonsense fountain o' yers. What happens to it after is no concern o' mine. Get it there an’ be back in two days, an' the map is yours. An' you'll get the gift just for agreein' to it. Sound good?"

    "What’s the gift?"

    "A secret, laddie." He took a deep breath and trusted… but in Rhian’s connection with the Goblin rather than Nye himself. "Alright. Lovely, then. Here's your kit. Took it off your tab at the start." He handed over the satchel, once more in its rightful hands.

    "As for the item you need to take, well… one of the triplets has it. They'll give it to ye. Now that business is done for a bit, I'm finally takin' me nap! Lapis, Mal, Laz, get oot here! It's yer turn tae drive, girls!"

    Nye, somehow looking like an old man despite his child-like features, disappeared into his wagon. The wagon welcomed him with tittering laughter, cheerful greetings, and more…

    "Ahhh, fuck it,” the Goblin’s voice carried even from inside the wooden contraption. “Kid, the gift is me getting word to yer Guild for ye. Fuck if I ‘ave the patience to play that game. Gah! Girls! Hands off the cock! Let me rest! Rest I say!" More laughter, albeit quieter, was the response.

    "Ah… thank you! But…" This is great! But… how, and what message will he get through?

    "Whatever, kid. Donnae worry aboot it. I'm goin’ tae sleep. Girls, he's all yours." And with that, the wagon door slammed shut.

    "So… who are we dealing with, now?"

    "Glas Sisters. He said triplets."

    "Hello, Colwyn. Rhian.
    Father doesn't play with us as much when you're here.Teeeheeheehee, he's ours for now."

    He hadn’t seen them, heard them, sensed them at all… and judging by Rhian’s reaction, neither had she. But she seemed to have expected that. She barely turned, looking directly behind him. He turned… or rather tried to turn, as a trio of plump Goblins pressed in against him.

    "Hihihi. We've been expecting you, Colwyn."

    They were unlike any Goblins he'd seen before,. He knew Goblins had a range of variations. Many Monsters did. Subspecies, they were often called. Hobgoblins and Bugbears, who were larger. Regional variants like Forest, Cave, Deep, and Jungle, and stranger kinds he couldn’t name, each with their own technical name. The type Nye belonged to, that virtually all of the others he'd seen in Danbryn were Hill Goblins, or Humblins; among the most Man-like in appearance. He'd also seen a few green-skinned Forest Goblins with long, flexible, leaf-like ears that he knew were called Saplins. These girls were neither. Short and stout without being truly fat, the voluptuous, sing-song sisters finishing each other's sentences were very literally blue.

    From their near-black hair to their azure skin, every visible inch of them was some shade of blue. Even their eyes were a deep, midnight shade, though at least their pupils were black and sclera white. Their eyes were large, though not disturbingly so. However, their long, floppy, leaf-like ears, massive in width, made him think of nothing so much as a some kind of blue, hairless, lop-eared rabbit’s. Ears like a Saplin. Their horns were short, straight, and weirdly conical, devoid of the usual curve common to most Goblins.

    Three identical figures, three identical faces, even their clothes matched; black leather hooded robes, worn open, and dark clothing that only barely acknowledged their tribe's other colors. Only the way they decorated themselves and wore their hair differentiated them, and even then all seemed to favor gems, colorful hair dyes in patterns, tattoos, and eye symbols painted or worn on them.

    The trio crowded around him, huge eyes staring, plump lips curling into sharp-toothed smiles, tiny hands grasping at his waist. His pants. His belt.

    "What? Wait! Hey, no! Stop!"

    "Teeeheeheehee. Hahahahaha. No. You'll like it, we promise~"

    "Hey sluts! I got one left!" While he'd been struggling trying to pry the thick-thighed Goblins off of him, Rhian had pried something else from one of her belt pouches. She deftly tossed it into the air… and sent the trio scrambling, shouting, and cursing after it. The sisters pounced on it before it could strike the cave floor, desperately brawling to lock their jaws on…

    "A meat skewer?!" Rhian just shrugged and offered a half-hearted smile.

    "These three are an utter pain in the ass sometimes, so I always buy extra, just in case. They’re total gluttons; any scheme they’re running goes right out their fat heads the second food is involved."

    "Not true!" But only two answered, their other sister sitting on their slumped, piled bodies as she devoured the skewer.

    "The loud one stuffing her face with that half-curtain hair is Malachit. Mal for short. Their leader, more or less."

    "And the biggest and eldest." The victor took a moment between mouthfuls to make her declaration.

    "Are not!"

    "The quiet one with all the piercings and the white stripes in her hair is Lapis. The one with the writing tattooed on her cheeks and the green striped hair is Laswli, or Laz."

    "Hi hi. I like your glasses. Nice color.Hey, is that Neh's…"

    "So… you were supposed to give him something?" Rhian wasn't letting them get going.

    A goodtime? Teehee.

    “Something silver.”

    “Of course. But we like our idea better.

    “I don’t think your father would want you ruining his deals.”

    “Awwwwwwwwww. Awwwwwwwwww. Awwwwwwwwww. Fine. You were going to get it anyway. It would have been more fun our way. Here, take the pig’s promise. It’ll be where it needs to in time.” The girl atop the pile, Malachit, plucked something from her robe and threw it to him; a glittering sphere sailing through the air. He almost fumbled it, but managed to save it at the last second.

    It was a set of three broad silver bands engraved with words in Orcish, interlocked and fused to a smooth central orb. His gut told him it was an Augment Crystal… the sort Nye had spoken of. It makes a weapon behave as if it were silver.

    “So I just have to drop this in the well?”

    “Yes yes yes. That’s it.”

    “Good, then that’s everything. But… if you don’t mind my asking…”

    “Yes yes yes?”

    “How did you…” The trio erupted in laughter, cutting him off while still laying atop one another.

    “Eyes. He gave us eyes, that we might see. You have eyes, too. We knew. He knew, and showed us. Why? Why? Why? We don’t know. Yet. We will. We need to go now, but next time, put babies in us, okay? We’ve never been pregnant before. Make us big. Make us full. Widen our hips and our eyes! We will give you a promise as well, for when you’re ready to take it. For when you are ready to take us. We have seen it. You'll wish us well, won't you? Teeheehee. May his eyes be ever upon you. May his eyes be ever upon you. May his eyes be ever upon you.

    And with that, the unnerving Sisters vanished. Literally. Only to reappear in the driver’s seat of their father’s wagon, reins in Malachit’s hands. Laswli waved at them, Lapis laughing at the look he must have been giving them. The cart rolled, hauled by its rocky beast of burden, trundling off towards one of the vast chamber’s many exits as its unseen occupants cheered and laughed. Others were soon falling into line, so that he realized they’d been waiting for Nye’s wagon to lead.

    “This whole trip has left me with more questions than answers. Some of which I don’t think I want answered. Especially about those three.

    “Yep. Sounds about right.”

    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
    My Shameful Fics and the Wiki to go with them. Oh, and some fossil I found.
    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  9. #9
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Chapter 6: Again.

    They’d decided to take their first intended route back rather than brave the massive centipede again. However, that meant taking a different exit… and trying not to get in the way of the still dispersing locals leaving the market. They’d already stumbled upon one couple that he’d be seeing in his nightmares.

    They’d tried to avoid a crowd of Monsters choking the main path through an offshoot, only to find what he’d first taken as another centipede Beast devouring someone… except that it had turned out to be a Werecentipede fucking a curvy Orc in his coils. He couldn’t really see what was going on down there, but they both seemed to be enjoying it, whatever it was. That said, seeing all those quivering, spidery legs grabbing her and one of her thick ones slung over his hip and squeezing as they kissed removed any doubt. The thick semen already dripping from her inner thigh wasn't really needed as confirmation.

    This place is well and truly disturbing. On many levels.

    “This place is insane.” He’d voiced his opinion once they’d found themselves in the solitude of the tunnels and travel again. “The Beasts, the Kobold, people just… randomly having sex wherever…”

    “We kind of did that. Almost.” Point.

    “Nye and wanting to taste my… and those sisters.”

    “I mean… yeah. It’s insane down here. Beasts, Monsters, crazy cults, and apparently a few tribes I didn’t know about. First I’ve heard of Wererabbits and Weretoads. Don’t let it get to you and it won’t. I used to lose it over how weird things are compared to a normal Human society, but it’s not really all that bad once you get used to it.”

    “Look, how much of that is actually normal down here? Teagan’s offer was, right?”

    “Mmmm, pretty much, yeah. It’s actually pretty normal for Monsters to offer sex as compensation for complaints, or as a bonus for regular or good customers, at least in their own communities. Or just when they’re in the mood. Unless of course they’re married. And sometimes even then, if their other half is fine with it. Doesn’t really matter what gender you are, either.”

    “So… Nye wanting to…”

    “Drink your cum? Not strange. At least not for natural-born Monsters. Pretty much all of those guys are fine with a fuck, no matter who or what. Sex is sex is food. Some like to give, others to receive, if you know what I mean, but most are at least interested… and you’re a Man. Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, Elfling, hell, even Dhampir, Turnskins, Half-Orcs and Genasi and stuff… the Mana people like you churn out is stupidly good. Literally, there are people in town, on the sly, that sell their jizz because there’s a market for it. Even if it’s old and diluted with something. The stuff from Sineaters and former Men is the best selling.” He just looked at her in vague horror. There’s a market for… He supposed it made sense, in hindsight. It was still no less bizarre to him, though. He knew sexual fluids were dense in Mana. He knew that Monsters fed on Mana, though they could also eat other food. He’d seen that firsthand. And he knew that sometimes more skilled, and… eccentric, mages than he used their emissions as Mana storage, but… That Monsters would trade with it, for it, was… This is going to take some getting used to.

    “Have you ever…”

    “It’s tasty. But nowhere close to what I got out of you. Fresh squeezed~” The gusto of that last statement made him feel almost nervous. Almost. “I could technically sell my own, but I don’t really want more fans.” She winked at him. I guess that would mean her… discharge? What is that even called?

    “That is… yeah. No, that’s just disturbing somehow. And gross.” Her face twisted into a mildly sadistic expression.

    “You should try it sometime. It’s delish. And so filling. So rich in Mana. So thick…” He felt bile rising in his throat at the thought.

    “Denied.” She just laughed at him. “No.

    “Alright, alright. Anything else?”

    “The little wagon at the market and that… couple, in the side tunnels. I’m guessing when in their natural habitat, Monsters don’t really care about public indecency.”

    “Ahhhh, well, it’s more like… Monsters don’t see nudity or sex as indecent in the first place. Or at least the natural ones don’t anyway. It's not that different from eating for them, and their parents usually don’t have a reason to teach them otherwise. Most people don't feel uncomfortable eating in front of others, right? Well, sex to us is a form of eating. Of course, there’s really a big difference between the way natural Monsters and transformed ones think, from what I’ve seen. I don't really act like that, after all. It’s just… There's just enough here of that second category or their kids, and Sineaters in some areas, that pretty much everyone covers themselves. We mostly act like Men here. However, I’ve seen really flirty couples, groups even, just jump on each other and start fucking in the middle of the market before. Not even bothering to find a place to the side.”

    “And no one does anything about it? Not even around kids?”

    “Are you kidding? When that happens, it makes everyone who sees it so turned-on everything else just stops and it all starts turning into an orgy. Friends become fuck-buddies real quick. The people with enough sense just go off in a corner, either alone or with a partner or three and have their fill… but once Monsters really get going, so long as there’s enough Mana flowing, that kind of thing doesn’t really stop. The only way it ends is when everyone’s drained dry or fucked into a stupor. Passed out either way. Monster kids are basically just as interested in sex as the adults, even if they don’t really get it, and their parents usually see no problem going at it in front of 'em unless they were raised like Men. Plus, most weaker Monsters grow really fast, physically, mentally, emotionally. The triplets were born after I came here. They’re only a couple of years old and they look like that.”

    “Gods.” He remembered the wide-hipped, heavy-chested triplets pressing in on him, trying to strip him. Those are not children, no matter how short they are.

    “Ayup. They don’t stay kids long, and they’ll feed on Mana just like their parents if they can. That’s why it’s a good idea not to take people up on their public fuck offers, or trust the tykes too much. They’re good for it. Too good for it. You won’t get out of it once that kind of thing starts, unless someone’s carrying you home. If the Sisters and that Kobold are any indication, I haven’t marked you enough to keep the thirsty girls away.”

    “Ah… hmmm.” His reason recognized that could be a problem. His crotch, however, had no complaints. At least not now, anyway. “So it’s an issue of territory…” Nye was smelling me, but it’s probably got more to do with traces of her Mana on me than anything else. They must mark their “territory,” their food supplies, and then have some kind of natural avoidance to targeting those claimed by others.

    “Basically.”

    “About those Sisters… are they always like that?”

    “Unfortunately. What you had to deal with was pretty typical… well, except for them talking over each other, finishing each other’s sentences and stuff. They only do that when they’re trying to mess with people. They know it’s confusing as fuck, so they use it to their advantage. Manipulative little shits. Anyway, yeah, those three fight over food. Especially meat and fatty things. They’re trying to get bigger so they can keep their leadership position in their little clique. There’s actually a lot more of them, older, younger, different builds, some of them are even boys. We still call them all the Sisters though. Just easier that way. The triplets are the bustiest, stockiest of the lot. They also have the biggest ears.”

    “And their looks?”

    “Well… they’re Blues.”

    “In various shades. I noticed.”

    “No, I mean, their subspecies is called ‘Blue.’ You can see where they get the name. Though… I think the ears come from the mother of the line rather than Nye; she’s some weird foreign Goblin with green skin and giant ears. Think Nye said she was from Armorica? Few others like her down here, too, but they’re not quite as horny as the rest and they don’t breed as much. Bit plumper, too. Anyway, the Blues… they’re a weird type of Goblin with psychic powers. Odds are good, whatever culty bullshit they spout, that’s how they knew your name. That’s what you were trying to ask them when they cut you off, right?”

    “Well… yes. I… We never mentioned it to Nye, so he couldn’t have told them.”

    “Yeah. I noticed. They know me, both because of Nye, and because those three in particular are friends of a friend, so to speak. I've been known to tolerate them. I’m willing to bet they either read your mind or mine. They act like idiots, and they kind of are, but they’re scary sharp sometimes. Honestly, they’re actually not that bad to be around when they’re not going full cultist-mode or trying to creep you out. They can even be kind of nice sometimes, but when they want to be obnoxious, they’re really fucking good at it. Oh, and the little shits teleport all the time to fuck with you, too.”

    Ah, so that’s how they snuck up on us. And got to the wagon.

    “Okay, so… next question. They kind of implied that they were… how should I put this… with their father. Is that…”

    “Yeah, no. There’s no implication. They’re absolutely fucking Nye. And yes, they are his daughters. I don’t know exactly how old Nye actually is, but he’s basically the patriarch of his tribe, it’s de facto leader… and they have almost no men for whatever reason, even compared to other Monsters around here. A bunch of his ‘wives’ are also his close relatives. Even Mair is actually his daughter. He knocks them up and keeps the tribe going when the Beasts thin their numbers. He… kind of sees it as his duty, I think. A lot of them I don’t think he actually wants to be involved with, at least as a mate, and he’s always trying to pawn off a bunch of them on other males in the area. Doesn’t matter what species. He always seems kind of tired of it. The only ones he considers his wives seem to have really fallen for the guy. They tend to ride around in his wagon with him.”

    “That’s…”

    “Completely fucked up? Yes. I… I’m honestly not okay with it still, and I’ve known about that situation for years. He’s not really okay with it. He just knows how horny they get, and that they can’t find partners down here. He’s pretty much the only man they can have. Goblin men get snapped up real quick in the tribes, and usually by more than a few girls at once. I think that might be part of why he wants me so badly. I don’t think he actually loves me. Not like that. I just have that lingering taste of Human, and I’m someone who isn’t a blood relation. Though I do like to think I’m just that good in bed, too.” She smiled wanly at him, the joke not really alleviating the heaviness of the rest of the topic. "Anything else?" He was fine with letting her change said topic. That really wasn’t something he cared to dwell on, either.

    "I suppose it's just the Beasts and that cult you mentioned."

    "Well, the Beasts are Beasts. Your guess is as good as mine; they were here before I was, and they'll probably be here after I'm gone. They pop up in a few places down here, and quite a bit on the surface. But they have been more unpredictable lately. There are more rooms and chambers where they show up than there used to be, and, if today’s been any indication, there’s more of them in more varieties than there used to be. Not pleased about that.” Only people who make their livings on the bodies of Beasts like to see more of them, that’s for sure.

    “As for the cult," she sighed, annoyance clear in her voice. "There’s some kind of weird cult that worships a "King Above," and a "King Beneath." Both of ‘em have some kind of association with eyes. At first I thought they were talking about Hambone and Croaker, the Beast King in the Cistern. Beast cults aren’t common, but they do exist. But as the years have gone on, I've started to think differently. The cultists are basically all a little nuts… even the nicer ones, like Neh. And a lot of them are psychic. Or something close. Lot of ‘em have strange magic. They also get really weird and horny when Nibiru’s full, so… avoid them around then if you can. They’re pretty easy to spot once you start talking to them; anyone that says "Give us eyes that we may see," or "May his eyes ever be upon you," with any sincerity is one. Also, eye symbols are a pretty good giveaway, too. They’re obsessed with eyes.”

    "Duly noted. Ah! Speaking of! Is there a place we can stop to rest for a bit? I need to make some notes and examine our equipment." They hadn't been able to catch a real break since Teagan had done her work.

    "There’s a place. A few passages down and two rights. It's probably crowded, though. It's a popular stop near a few major intersections, and it's pretty big. It also has water that connects to a lower level. Slimes sometimes show up there looking for food. The Elementals manage it, so it’s usually pretty clean, so long as you don’t mind moss and mushrooms."

    "You know, for a person who supposedly flies everywhere, you seem to know a lot about these caves."

    "What can I say? I like exploring."

    "Heh." She chuckled in response.

    "Call it a thief's insurance. Even if I'm out of the game, old habits die hard. Always know the layout and your ways out."
    ………
    ……


    She was right, not that he’d doubted her. Right about everything. The chamber was large, a curving, meandering room with large, open side passages and multiple levels for those surefooted enough to clamber up. Elaborate flowstone formations created partial, and in some cases near-total, partitions, dips and basins, smooth steps and winding ramps. A waterfall roaring in the far end fed a dark pool that vanished into a darker hole in the wall, and glowing mushrooms and mosses he'd come to associate with danger grew almost everywhere. The massive room was covered in the blue, green, violet, amber, and golden dusk-light of hundreds of different fungi, from tiny buttons to massive stools the size of a cottage. Beards of strange cave moss hung from natural balconies, drinking in the eerie glow. Small, glittering shards of Elementite protruded from the walls in a few places, or formed against them, their faceted surfaces shining with condensed magical energy and raw elemental power in shades of blue, brown, black, and purple.

    It was also very occupied, though far from capacity. Clusters of Monsters stood around or sat together; various Therianthropes and Entothropes with their animal features on display, Goblins in drab grays, rust reds, and dark purples with cool gray skin chatted amongst each other and with their green, brown, and black-clad kin. Orcs clad in simple hides and leathers stood off to the side, glaring at some of the Beastfolk… and receiving the same in kind. He could hear, and in some cases see, more amorous groups than those two factions indulging each other's bodies. Blobs of what seemed like living mud oozed about the room, as did hunched, rocky figures and wandering mushrooms that were only vaguely humanoid in shape… presumably Elementals of some kind that seemed uninterested in any of the goings on in the room.

    By far, the largest concentrations of people were in the very back, near the waterfall and its pool, moving in ways that told him all he needed to know about what was going on over there. I suppose that’s what she was talking about when Monsters start going at it in public… There was also a particularly dense and much less hedonistic cluster at the largest bend, where the wall was dominated by a massive mural, still somewhat visible despite graffiti and the encroaching greenery. Some kind of hideous amalgamation of animals, only vaguely shaped like a person, faced out and menaced viewers from before a withered, blackened tree. The dark, twisted surface of that massive plant was covered in eyes, its leaves a vivid green. Most of the mural was covered in moss… and in some places greasy, eye-shaped smears of various colors and scrawled words in unknown tongues. Some of them painful to look at. Despite his immediate interest in the artwork, those gathered around it gave him an unpleasant feeling… dark-clothed Goblins, a Blue, a strangely ragged-looking Kobold, a few Therianthropes, and something that looked like a disembodied shadow… which, come to think of it, probably was a Shadow, even if Rhian hadn’t mentioned them. All of them seemed to be staring at the work, even in what seemed to be prayer. Cultists, maybe? If so, then what exactly is that mural? He’d have to ask Rhian about it later.

    He glanced at the Shadow again, almost imperceptible in the gloom, a patch of deeper darkness. I’d have missed it entirely were it not standing in front of that painting. Odds are good there are other incorporeal Undead in a place like this and that Ghost… probably more Ghosts, Specters, Phantoms… maybe even Wraiths and Allips. With the number of Beasts around here, it’s not unusual for there to be Undead…

    “Hey, Rhian. I feel like this is obvious, but this place is safe from Beasts, right?” He looked at the plant life everywhere with concern. Some of this is Primeval… If Beasts do appear here, they’re going to be a lot more troublesome than just the usual Vermidons..

    “Yeah. Moira’s people set it up a long time ago, apparently. You still see Skeletons and Zombies come to check on it sometimes. Not sure how she did it, but it’s still protected here even with all the green stuff. The Elementals keep everything clean and green, and people just use it as a safe space. No one’s allowed to actually live here, though. Stay for more than a few days, and those living mudballs and their friends start pushing you out. Trust me, they may look soft, but they’re strong as fuck, and the others are just as tough as you’d expect. Plus, I’m pretty sure the big mushroom guys are poisonous.” Good to know.

    “You tried to live here, I take it?”

    “Mmmmyeah. Back when I first moved out of the Colony, this place was somewhere I really wanted to stay. It’s really pretty here, and there are people, so it’s almost like a little village. But it’s a rest stop at best. An roadside inn… and trying to build anything here is a waste of time; the Elementals just demolish it after a few days. You can pitch a tent, but that’s about it. I’d sometimes meet Nye here for a quickie, though. Plenty of little alcoves behind the moss and rocks, little offshoots, and the waterfall helps drown out the sounds, so you can be pretty loud if you want.”

    “Except that there are people with ears like yours.” Said ears twitched as Rhian gave him a sheepish grin.

    “Eheheh… Yeah, basically. And the further you are from the water, the more sound carries. I can hear pretty much everything in here. Though, I mean, if you’re just doing it out in the open, you’re not going to care about things like that.” He looked at her in mock judgment, then looked back at a pair of Goblins scissoring right beside the main path a bit further in. Then looked back.

    “And were you?”

    “Hmm?”

    “Just doing it out in the open?” She blushed slightly. But only slightly.

    “Ah, ummm… well… I uh… don’t really mind if I’m really horny.” He smirked.

    “Whaaaat!? Like I said, no one down here really cares… though, honestly… I ummm… actually, you know what. Forget it. I think about that and it’ll be that little tunnel all over again.”

    “Ah, erm… sorry about that.”

    “It’s fine. It’s not really your fault. Just… trying not to go too far, you know?”

    “Mmmm… sort of. But, why don’t we talk about it in one of those alcoves you mentioned?”

    “... Why?” The apprehension on her face was clear, even in the dim lighting.

    “I think we need to discuss some things… and I also need to be able to examine all the things Teagan actually did. That’s going to need some space. Not to mention I want to make some notes, and I’d prefer privacy for that.” Being the center of attention at the market was plenty for one day, thanks.

    “Ehhhhh… alright. Follow me. We’ll see if there’s an empty one over this way.” She led him off to the right, away from the waterfall and to an area where the rock formations had almost totally been overtaken by greenery. Dense moss, likely Hermit’s Rest, and massive mushrooms dominated the area, leaving him to wonder what exactly all this stuff was feeding on. She used a series of those massive toadstools and boletes as steps, ultimately leading to an alcove hidden behind a curtain of hanging moss and green-coated stone to what was a surprisingly cozy nook. The floor was covered in a thick bed of soft, spongy moss, with glowing shelf fungus providing dim light and mushrooms large and sturdy enough to serve as chairs creating makeshift seating, as well as bench-like rise in the back.

    He plunked himself down on that, pulled out his notebook, a stick of charcoal, and started sketching while Rhian settled onto a large mushroom. He'd seen a lot since last adding to it. His feet were also eager to catch a break after hours of wandering around since they’d first set out.

    “So… what exactly did you want to discuss that we couldn’t out there? Or heading back home?” Luckily, he could multitask, his hands still working as he began his response.

    “It’s about you trying not to go “too far.” Among other things.”

    “Look, like I said…”

    “You’re afraid.”

    “...”

    “You said it yourself. You’re afraid. It scares you. You shouldn’t feel the way you do, and you don’t want to feel that way because you know, as a person, that you shouldn’t. I know myself reasonably well. Like you said, I’m handsome, but not extraordinarily so. I’m not exceptionally muscular. At least compared to the people I tend to associate with. I’m more lean than brawny. I’m fairly resilient, but not especially so compared to the more rough-and-tumble Adventurers I’ve dealt with. I’m more of a bookworm. I’ve got a head of dark blonde hair, eyes you correctly identified as gray, and a complexion that says I spend more time outside than most other people with glasses would care to. But not as much as someone without glasses. I’m tall, but not weirdly so. I’ve got fairly broad shoulders, and narrow hips. I stand out a little… but if you put me next to most people working for the Guild, I look more like a clerk than an Adventurer. I’m normally restrained in how I act and speak, if not always how I think or feel. I try not to make myself stick out more than I already do. I see myself as mostly rational due to actively trying to be so… but I have to admit I don’t make the best decisions sometimes, and I can be utterly oblivious at others… even when I really should have better perceptions. I can be impulsive, even childish, though I try not to. I’m not the sort of person a girl falls in love with at first sight, so to speak. I'm no heartthrob.”

    “That’s not…”

    “I don’t believe in that, by the way. Love at first sight, that is.”

    “Rejected!” She almost looked mad.

    “Hah! But seriously, you’re scared because you know I’m right. It’s what you were trying to tell me; what wants me is the Monster in you, and the part of you that’s you, that's the old Rhian, is not alright with it. You’re afraid of losing that you to the Monster because of how much it wants me, someone you aren’t even sure about. And shouldn't be, based on what I can infer from my time with you and the life you seemed to have lived.”

    “I mean, that was what I was trying to tell you before. Sort of. It’s just… I mean…”

    But you also said that you didn’t really change much when you became a Monster. Right? A bigger appetite, so to speak, and you can’t shake the feeling you want kids.”

    “Well, yeah…”

    “And yet here you are going insane over a man you just met. Something you never did before, right?” She sighed, a look of frustration on her face.

    “Right. You’re right. This isn’t normal for me. But where are you going with this? I’m trying my best here! The Monster is all instinct and…” She trailed off, looking away.

    “Yes, I understand that much. You’re trying not to give in to it for several reasons. Something tells me there’s more to it, but for my sake it’s to protect my chastity, to keep me free from Taint, both of which I appreciate by the way, and also because you’re afraid you won’t be able to let go of me. To let me leave, you said. Which I presume you mean literally. You'll try to keep me here if you do.” He continued to add sketch after sketch as they spoke, using the motions to help focus his own thoughts, to calm his own emotions.

    “Ugh, yeah.”

    “So in other words, what you’re actually telling me is that you already don’t want me to leave. You already failed at that.” He turned a page, starting on a new set of pieces.

    “I… wait, what?” She looked up sharply, confused.

    “You’re telling yourself you’re at a point where you can let go… but that means you’ve already recognized you don’t want to let go. You’re aware of it. You wanted to mark me more after other girls flirted with me. You threatened to kill Teagan for offering herself. Which, by the way, is not good. Don’t do that.”

    “I mean, I know that. It just kind of… slipped out, I guess?”

    “You’re feeling attached to me strongly enough that you were threatening to kill a girl over an offer. One you know I wouldn’t take because of my own situation. You already can’t let go.”

    “I…”

    “I think how you dealt with the Sisters made more sense, as absurd as it was. You didn’t threaten any violence with them, you just… well, you distracted them.Broke their momentum. Maybe it’s because you knew them. You knew how to handle them, but having some unknown threat encroaching on your territory, your mate, triggered your Monster.”

    “My… No. No, I… You’re not my…”

    “That is absolutely what you think of me right now. Or what your Monster does, at least. You wanted to not lose to the Monster… but I think you already failed. If I leave, I don’t think you’ll be able to let me. If I go, I think you’ll have to either follow me… or stop me.”

    “If you go, I’ll… wait, “if?” What do you mean, “if?””

    “Plans have changed. At least if I can trust Nye.”

    “No no no, wait, what’s going on here? What do you… oh. Nye. His gift.”

    “The main reason I needed to leave so soon was…”

    “To report to your Guild! But if Nye’s sending word about what happened, then you don’t have to do that! Duh!”

    “Right. At least, so long as what he said can be trusted, that he comes through and the message he delivers isn’t somehow a garbled mess that only makes things worse… Or it ends up in the hands of some crusader type that wants to purge Danbryn... It means I can take my time trying to get out of here instead of rushing and maybe dying to that pig or whatever else is out there…” He paused, finishing another sketch and adding a few minor notes to it.

    “Or I could stay.”

    “... You… you can’t… No…”

    “I don’t particularly enjoy the thought of spending the rest of my life down here in this hole.”

    “Right. Who the hells would?”

    “But! There are three things keeping me here. First, my master. He took me in, saved me and my family from the ruin that I would have brought down on us. He saved my life, though he probably didn’t think of it that way, and he helped me grow into the man I am today. I refuse to not at least try to repay him now that I have the chance. Especially when I ran in the face of his killer. I owe it to him to try to bring him back. To save him. I’m going to be here trying until I either succeed or know for certain I can’t.”

    “Alright. I can understand that, at least.” The look on her face was wistful, leaving wondering what it was those words reminded her of.

    “Second, this place is exactly the kind of thing he would have wanted to study. This is literally Ardyn’s “One that got away.” He told me so himself; he had a map to this place years ago, lost it, and then found it again in a Goblin’s bargain bin. Stained and dirtier than before, but still the same. He was always chasing some kind of big discovery, some new revelation of history that the world had forgotten. In the past five years, he’s dragged me all across the isles and even to the mainland looking for wonders. I’ve seen the Snake Pit in Arima looking for lost Atlantean lore and almost died to a Teg in Annwn checking out a rumored ruin. I’ve been through all of the Five Jewels and the mainland besides looking for all different kinds of relics and ruins and rumors with him, and while I don’t have his passion… I do have his curiosity. I want to know what secrets this place holds, who made it, why, and what happened to it. I want to see all of the murals and art they left behind, and I want to know why those things were important enough to depict. I want to know why there are so many Therianthropes here, and what’s making the Beasts act in ways they haven’t before and what’s up with this cult thing. Hells, I even want to know about the society here and what’s going on with the war above ground. Money doesn’t really matter to me. Fame doesn’t, either. I don’t care about my name going down in history or anything like that.I want to know things. I want to learn. I want to see things. I want to behold wonders.” At some point, he’d stopped working on his sketches and notes. He’d stopped perusing them. Rhian was beaming at him, laughter half-contained behind the smile.

    “Maybe it’s childish, but all men are children at heart. Even me. We never grow up, we just add to what we always were, layer upon layer. And I have always been a curious boy.” She laughed openly now.

    “And what’s the third thing, curious boy?”

    “You.”

    All laughter ceased.

    “You.”

    She stared at him.

    “No, don’t you dare…”

    “Yes. I don’t believe in love at first sight. I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as “chosen ones,” or immutable destiny. The gods might choose their champions and Heroes, but I believe we make our own fates. Maybe we start with something like one, a doom of sorts, but it’s ours to mold by our choices, our decisions, and how we live. I don’t love you.” She winced at that, but he carried on. “I don’t feel like I’m destined to be yours…” He could see a tinge of sadness in her features, well-hidden but still there.

    “But I like you. I enjoy your company, even without… what happened earlier. You’re fun to be around, and Gods help me, fun to tease. You’re a Thief by your own admission, but you’ve stolen nothing of mine and I would have died down here without your help, so you’ve given me far more than you’ve taken and you’re a lot more trustworthy than others might think besides. I owe you for what you’ve done for me. I like you. And that’s a lot more than I can say about a great many people I’ve dealt with in my life.”

    “Damn, I must be really good at blowjobs.” He snorted.

    “I wouldn’t know. But in my limited experience… yes?” She laughed openly.

    “Okay, okay, wait… so basically, what you’re saying is… No… You’re planning on living with me?”

    “Temporarily.”

    “No no no. No! If you do that…”

    “It won’t be temporary. You won’t be able to keep it that way because you won’t be able to resist temptation. I figured as much. Rather, the longer we were together today, the more it seemed like it’d be inevitable. If I went back to your home…”

    “We’d end up actually fucking.” He nodded.

    “Basically. It’s why I bought Holy Water. I’d still rather keep Taint out of the picture. Or at least minimize it.”

    “You bought… But you’re fine with… but we just…”

    “Just met, yes. Barely know each other, yes. I know. I should cherish my virginity and only give it to someone I love. I know. Maybe that was the case for you, though I think there’s something there you’re not telling me. Maybe you prized yours. But for me, I’m not really attached to that kind of purity. Of the mind, sure, but of the body… Like I said, I just never really wanted to deal with the hassle of a relationship enough to bother with one. With the risks and limitations that they entail. Whether or not I’m chaste isn’t particularly important to me.” She looked at him in slight confusion.

    “So… what changed?”

    “A valid question. Hmmm… If I were a more charming man, I guess I’d probably save this for later, and have more eloquent ways to say it, but… let me put it this way; I never wanted someone enough. Until you.”

    Ah, she’s very red. Even in this lighting, she’s very red.

    “Youuuuuuuuuu… Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!” He closed his notebook, having finished his work and a bit of a refresher.

    “You know, in order to properly examine all of our equipment, we’ll need to remove it first.”

    She lunged at him, pinning him against the wall.
    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
    My Shameful Fics and the Wiki to go with them. Oh, and some fossil I found.
    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  10. #10
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Next one will be smutty, if you hadn't guessed. Enjoy responsibly

    Also, feel free to comment, question, critique, etc...
    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
    My Shameful Fics and the Wiki to go with them. Oh, and some fossil I found.
    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  11. #11
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Chapter 7: What We Do...

    Her lips locked to his as she forced her long tongue into his mouth, clawed hands shoving his shoulders and back against the rock wall. If he hadn’t already been sitting on the shelf, she’d have bowled him over. As it was, she knocked the breath from his lungs as she tried to replace it with her own. Her tongue desperately wrapped his, and while he tried to reciprocate, the sheer volume of hers and his own inexperience made his attempts comical in his own mind as it coiled and writhed in his mouth.

    However, what he lacked in experience, he could make up for…

    By borrowing someone else’s.

    Just as he’d emulated her movements in order to hide from Beasts before, he could, with a bit of a refresher, imitate the capabilities of others. Even without seeing them. His notes helped, though he could do so to a degree without them.

    Nye. That was who he’d intended to copy. Nye had been her lover, after all.

    He changed his mind, however, in the final moments of perusing his notes. Why should he copy her ex, after all? Why imitate him? He’d copy someone else. Someone who knew exactly how to satisfy the girl who was even now trying to rip his coat off him, his vest, his shirt.

    Rhian herself.

    He emulated Rhian.

    Her deftness became his. Her skill became his. It was only temporary. He was only borrowing it, molding and matching his Aura to imitate her own. It wouldn’t last. It wasn’t everything, she knew. Everything she could do. But it was enough.

    He joined her in peeling his clothes off. Once he became involved, she pulled back and freed him, but she couldn’t keep from lunging in for one kiss after another. Face diving in, breathing into his mouth, pulling back, diving in again, entwining, as if trying to devour each other, tongue to tongue and lips to lips. This time he could push back, matching her movements. His armor and clothes fell away, and soon, so did hers.

    He felt her urgency, her need, in a way that he hadn’t been able to before. That he hadn’t allowed himself to. She was a dam crumbling in the face of a flood. She was afraid. Afraid of him. Afraid of herself and what she wanted.

    So was he.

    He’d understood even then, when they’d first met. A lone Man. A lone Monster. He knew what they were like. He knew what would happen. Pretending otherwise… that had just been running away from this. Just like he always had. Being caught. Being trapped in a relationship. And yet…

    Somewhere, in the back of his mind, in a dark place he refused to light, a voice had whispered to him.

    It wouldn’t be so bad, being trapped with her.

    Her armor slid to the floor with a soft thud and she thrust her chest forward, top still covering her breasts as she moved to straddle him. He planted his face between those shallow breasts and breathed in her scent through the cloth, all sweat and lust, animal and woman. His cock strained against his pants as she panted against him, worked to unbuckle and unlace him. His own hands came to rest on her hips, clutching them and pressing her weight down against his covered member, his own hips and thighs, before sliding up to her own top. The buckles holding it in place gave way in his hands with the same ease as they would her own, and it too, dropped to the mossy floor.

    She once more shoved her chest at him, but now he could respond properly. Small breasts crowned with pale pink, her nipples hard and large and inviting. He wrapped her in his arms and pulled her to him, taking one of those peaks into his mouth. She gasped as he closed on it, pressing closer.

    Yes!” A breathy whisper against his ears as her hair fell around him. He ran his tongue along her nipple, around it, rolling it in his mouth and sucking. She moaned, voice deepening, hips grinding into him as her hands fumbled to undress him. One hand crept down her back and slid along her tail, tugging it lightly before sliding under it and into her pants. He cupped her ass, directing her grinding. A dark stain was beginning to show above his cock, but he couldn’t tell if it was from him… or her, her own just as wet. She jumped and moaned as he bit her nipple, and he thrust his hips up with a grunt and her gasp, pushing her off him long enough that he could bring his free hand to mirror its mate.

    She leaned back, and together they brought her own pants to the floor, a trail of gleaming fluid chasing them in the strange light. For a moment he simply sat and stared, transfixed by the sight of her. Slim and graceful, pale skin soft across lean muscle. Long legs and smooth, sleek thighs, her calves covered in soft, brown fur. A tuft of the same hid her sex, but not the fluid dribbling from it; damp and glistening. Shallow breasts he could fit whole in his hands, the curiously wide areolas raised and flush, her nipples short and fat and as stiff as he was. A small tuft of white fur rested between her collarbones, a band of it tracing them. Long, slender arms, the forelimbs covered in dark fur, folded wings sprouting from over her wrists and her clawed, furry hands. Her pert nose settled on an almond face and large eyes that stared at him in a daze, deep and dark as her tangled raven hair.

    They’re blue. It was the first time he’d noticed the color of her eyes, a shade of blue dark enough to rival the triplets from before.

    He drank her in, from the tips of her tall, leaf-like ears to the matching tail to her clawed, grasping toes. He leaned towards her this time, pulling her to him, and she went down on her knees in the moss. Finally, she freed his member, and he rose from his seat enough to slide his own pants down. She breathed on it, inhaling the scent of him, and kissed the vein before wrapping her long tongue around it.

    He couldn’t stop the groan of pleasure that slid from his throat. He had no desire to try, besides. Her tongue circled him, covered in saliva, and slid up and down as if it were a hand. She swallowed him once more, but this time he was prepared for it. He cleared his mind as she pumped him once, twice, three times. Again and again, slowly. Agonizingly. Drowning his shaft in her saliva.

    And then she pulled away and stood, leaving him cold and wet and throbbing in the cool air.

    He had no desire to stay that way.

    He grasped her hips once more, squeezing tight, and pulled her to him. Her knees straddled his hips, then her legs as she slid forward and knelt, until her soft, wet bush caressed his belly.

    “Are you… we… we… can… stop.” He hadn’t expected her to say anything. He hadn’t expected to say anything. But he said what needed to be said.

    “No. We can’t.” And he did what needed to be done. Hands still locked on her hips, he pushed her slowly onto him.

    Guided by her own skill, he entered her, head breaching her body and opening it. Her muscles clenched, walls pressing and trying to bend him as she slowly slid down, inch by sopping, pleated inch. Her brow knitted, eyes squeezed shut and mouth wide. A groan of pleasure escaped her as he hilted, her fluids pouring over his balls and onto the stone beneath.

    He was sure he must be making the same sort of face. Hot! So hot! It was as if he’d been engulfed in wet fire, her vagina pressing and squeezing and stroking him, trying to crush him and suck him deeper into her all at once. They sat there, connected, as her body began to shake and spasm, and a greater flood poured from her. A silent scream. That’s what he thought as he watched her cum on his cock, felt her constrict him with a chaotic rhythm. He grunted, strained, tried not to join her in the climax… and instead thrust into her.

    It was an awkward position. He had some of her understanding. It was difficult. But he also understood what she wanted. She wanted his seed. A primal desire. She needed his seed.

    But he wasn’t ready to give it to her.

    He wanted more.

    He wanted to love her.

    He wouldn’t form the thought. He couldn’t give the feeling form. He refused to acknowledge the voice in the dark of his mind, but still, it whispered to him.

    You want to love her.

    He grasped her hips and pulled her up… and pushed her down again. And again. And again. Thrusting into her and desperately trying not to release at the same time. Each new thrust brought new waves of convulsions to her body, new bucklings of her legs. Her vagina shook and twisted and writhed, her head tilted back, moist lips leaking drool.

    He knew what she liked by her aura. And so he did what she liked. He wrapped his arms around her, buried himself as deep as he would go, and rocked, grinding his pubis into her clit, his tip against her sweet spot. He took her breast into his mouth again, her swollen areola and nipple both, and sucked as hard as he could.

    Her scream this time was anything but soundless, even if it was wordless, and he lost himself in her. He erupted, giving her the seed she craved. His cock pulsed and pumped, his vision turning white from the intensity of his own orgasm. On and on it went, as if he hadn’t already that day. When it finally stopped, she slumped against him, shaft still in her, body still shaking with aftershocks. He panted, gasping more from the orgasm than the exertion.

    And tilted her head up, kissing her deeply. She returned it, hips starting to grind against him again even as she still quivered around his manhood, in his lap. He hadn’t gone fully soft yet… nor would her walls allow him to escape. She rocked this time, still shuddering with her own small orgasms as they kissed in the dark. He slid his hands down her back once more, letting them rest on her ass, squeezing and pulling her into him. He hardened inside her again, faster than he’d known was possible, as she slowly pumped and twisted on him.

    You want to love her.

    Her back arched as she came again, as he resisted, and in that moment he pushed. Carrying her in his arms, turning her around, he pressed her against the stone, pushed her down, and kissed her. His pants pooled around his feet and he stepped from them, shoving himself as deep into her as he could. Her legs locked around his hips, her long feet grasping his ass, and he thrust, giving himself over to the sensation and the instinct. His rhythm was terrible. He had lost himself to the act. To the rut.

    He felt her animal desire. The need to breed.

    He gave into it, plunging into her over and over again, grunting over and over again, sweat running into his eyes and on his glasses, matting his hair as he touched her depths. Each push brought a new moan from yer lips, wordless and full of joy. He felt himself peaking again, and grasped her hips, thrusting himself as deep as he could go.

    He came in her again, cock throbbing as it washed her in his color.

    His arms spasmed. His thighs burned, ached. He hurt, strained. He moved in ways he never had before. But even more painful was the fact that he did want to stop.

    Is this what I’ve been avoiding?

    Her arms reached up, wrapping him in soft, dark wings even as her legs continued to hold him inside her, toes clenched tight on his buttocks. He fell on top of the slender woman, still hilted in her, panting.

    Her lips touched his, soft breath mingling together. Again, and again. She nuzzled him as he slowly softened, and whispered in his ear.

    “That was wonderful… Thank you.” She smiled, small tears glittering in the corners of her eyes. It was a beautiful sight… the last he saw before drifting to sleep in her arms.
    ………
    ……


    He didn’t know how long he slept there. In a way, time was almost meaningless there. He had shifted place and position, laying on his side on the shelf instead of leaning against it. She was still there beside him, as asleep as he’d been, arms and wings enfolding him. They were both naked, but their own warmth made it pleasant even in the cool air, and for a time he simply lingered there, taking in her heat and her scent and her feel. He’d slipped from her as they slept, cock now dry and pubic hair matted with their mixed, creamy fluids. It wasn’t the most pleasant feeling, but it made him think back on what they’d done. And that… that brought new life to his cock.

    He knew he shouldn’t.

    But she’d awakened something in him.

    He brushed her lips with his, sliding a hand along her side, and she sighed. Her eyes fluttered, a look of confusion on her face… until he kissed her again, sliding his tongue into her mouth. She intertwined hers with his, then parted.

    “It was real…” She looked at him in surprise.

    “Good morning.” She smiled at him, a look of contentment on her face. “Thank you.”

    “You said that before, but you really don’t have to… and you probably shouldn’t be thanking me yet.”

    “Oh? And why not?” He pushed his hardening cock against her thigh by way of answer.

    Her response was to smile at him, eyes half-hidden by her lashes… and throw a leg over his hips. She rolled him over and lowered her hips, impaling herself in pure bliss. She sat on him, her tight canal rapidly obliging their desires with liquid pleasure. She bounced atop him, slowly at first, but gaining speed as his hands reached up to play with her breasts. Groped, squeezed, nipples tugged and rolled, he still remembered what she liked.

    Another gout of fluid poured from her, staining moss and stone, and he let himself cum with her. She leaned down onto him and he hugged her close, cock still injecting her with his seed as she did.

    “Mmmmmm… so full. I’m not even hungry.”

    “Good for you. I’m starving.” She smiled again, playful this time.

    “Worked up an appetite, have you?”

    “Hard labor does that.” She slapped his chest.

    “Are you calling me heavy? Have you seen me?”
    “Why yes. Yes I have.” She smiled again, chuckling.

    “And now I’ve seen you, too.”

    “And? What do you think?”

    “Hmmmm? I wonder.”

    “Oh come now.”

    “Well, if I had to judge… not baaaaaaad, per se.”

    “Oh really? And what do I have to do to be “good,” miss Thief?”

    “Oh… I don’t know… how about another round on the house? Buy a girl a drink, won’t you?”

    “Really, you went with that as your response? An alcohol joke?” It was his turn to chuckle.

    “Whaaaat? I thought it was funny. And cute, too. Besides,” she paused for emphasis.

    “I would like another round.” He laughed.

    “Funny. I think I could go for one, myself.”

    And so they did.

    ………
    ……


    He lost track of how many times they indulged in each other… and of time, in all honesty. Eat, drink, fuck, nap, it became a cycle, and not always in that order. The alcove became thoroughly filled with the scent of their lovemaking. He took her from the front. He took her from behind. He pressed her against the wall and fucked her standing upright. He bent her over against the little ledge and took her like a beast from behind. She cleaned his cock with her mouth instead of magic and drank what poured from it like ale from a keg. They explored each other with hands and mouths, tongues and teeth. They marked each other in scent and sucking bruises and backs and shoulders and ears furrowed by claw and nail and tooth.

    Between sessions he sipped on Holy Water and doubted its ability to stave off the Corruption that must surely be taking hold.

    Eventually, however, they both recognized that it had to stop. They had to stop. Life couldn’t simply be set aside… especially when they had a deadline to meet.

    Also, he was running out of water, going at it like that.

    “You sure you were a virgin?” She prodded him as he put on his clothes. She’d already partially dressed, though her top was clasped only about her neck and swung free still. She pressed a hand to her belly, a satisfied smile on her face. “Not that I’m complaining.

    “I was. I just copied a bit of your ability.”

    “Huh?” He laced his pants and buckled his belt once more, adjusting his tunic.

    “I’m fairly sure I told you… Maybe I didn’t? I have some unusual talents, but they’re almost all mental. Pyrokinesis, a bit of Occult magic as a Magus… though really, that’s more just the only thing I could actually do. Can’t even make a proper Mindblade, I just half-assed the tradition… I guess you could say I failed in that regard. But anyway, one thing I can do is copy people.” She sat on a toadstool again, buckling the lower straps of her top.

    “What does that mean?”

    “I can kind of… I suppose subconsciously would be the proper word, I can subconsciously read another person’s Aura at a glance. Not just people, really. Man, Monster, Beast… even stranger things sometimes. It lets me more-or-less understand what the thing I look at is capable of without having to actually know it. All I have to do then is want to imitate them enough, and a bit of my own Aura shifts to be more like theirs… and then I can imitate them. I can feel, a little, of what they feel. I can understand a little of how they do what they do, and my Aura helps make up for the physical differences.”

    “What the fuck?” He laughed, as much at the disbelief on her face as her words.

    “Basically. I can look at someone and learn basically every magic spell they know… up to a certain amount of difficulty, anyway. And in certain fields. Mostly because I really worked trying to learn proper magic but never really got it. I’m just a screw-up who never really mastered anything of his own… but I can fake it.”

    “Wait, so that’s how you knew where to…” She blushed.

    “Where you liked it most? What you wanted? How to do it? Yes. Like I said before, and you saw before, I’m not exactly a natural. I’m clumsy, though I’ve got good stamina apparently.”

    “So you… you copied me to…”

    “Please you, yes. I thought about using Nye, but I realized a couple of things while I was making notes; you said all Monsters are quick to cum… which means Nye probably is and it might impact my… performance, even if he has a lot of actual actual experience and skill. And second… you know what you like better than he does. So… you.” That, and I didn’t want to remind you of him… but I’m not going to say that out loud.

    “Where the hell did you learn to do that?” He shrugged.

    “It’s just natural for me. Master said there’s a school of study, a tradition, that specializes in it. Members are called Savants. But I’ve never met any or seen any of their materials. He thinks… thought, it was probably connected with my other psychic abilities and my perceptions; that it’s all somehow linked. And, I mean, if I stare at someone for long enough, I can actually consciously see their Aura and read it. It just… takes a while.”

    “Huh…”

    “Huh.’ Is that all?”

    “Ah, well… Thieves are trained to do something a little like that when we’re about to rob someone. We normally study them for a few minutes first, at least, in order to try to gauge whether or not it’s too risky to make the attempt. We’re taught to look for markers; physical, magical, and how to recognize what their likely capabilities are based on that. Like… when we first met, I pegged you for a Magus. You didn’t move right for someone who constantly trained in combat, but a lot better than someone who didn’t at all… you had what looked like a spellbook…”

    “It’s actually a notebook. All of my spells are innate. I use it for work… and to help with my copying abilities.” She shrugged.

    “Still… you looked like you were halfway between a Wizard and a Fighter. Or maybe a Swashbuckler? So I assumed you were a Magus.”

    “You’re not wrong, really. I’m just even more half-assed than that.” She snorted, he laughed.

    “So I guess that’s why you’re hard to pin down…”

    “No, I’d say you pinned me down rather well not long ago.” She reddened, smiling.

    “Mmmmm… But yeah, you’re a Magus. But also something I’ve never seen before.” He presented her with his finest courtly bow.

    “A novelty, at your service.”

    “Mmmmmhmmmmm… I’ll say you are.”

    “Would you like another demonstration?”

    “Hey now, I just got dressed again. Some of this is a pain to deal with, you know!” She didn’t sound unhappy, however.

    “Not what I meant, actually. I’m not exactly a master craftsman or a great mage to know what all of this,” he gestured at the armor and equipment lying about their lovenest, “actually does now. But, the girl who made it would.” She scowled slightly at him.

    “So you’re going to copy that Kobold’s skill to figure out what she did to our weapons and armor?” He nodded. “Exactly. Care to watch?” She sighed… but then brightened. “Might as well. Show me what you’ve got.”

    “What we’ve got.” She smirked, and he set to work.
    ………
    ……


    “You’re in a good mood.” He’d been humming a tune to himself without thinking, an old drinking song that’d stuck with him when Ardyn had first took him to a bar.

    “I wonder whose fault that is.” He set the final piece down, and while that one should have left him annoyed, Rhian was right. He was in a good mood. I suppose sex does that. Seems he’d been missing out on a great deal of stress relief over the years.

    “I wonder…” She smirked at him. “So what have we got, mister copycat?”

    “Well, for one, I don’t have a magical Sling.” He picked up the leather thong once again. It wasn’t a terrible loss, but it was a bit disappointing. He used his daggers less than that thing, and yet she’d gone to town on those and completely skipped the valuable tool.

    “But yes, she’s enchanted everything else. I honestly think she just missed it. That girl went completely overboard. See that web pattern on everything?”

    “Yeah?”

    “She seems to have somehow seared the magic inherent in those webs into everything they’re on. It’s not a Minor Enchantment, either. They’re Common-grade. Everything’s going to provide at least a little improvement somehow now. That said, she didn’t go too far beyond that. Your old daggers are now Sharp, if they weren’t already… and so are those… saws, you ordered. Those things were really well made, even without magic. I don’t think they’d have taken the Enchantment, otherwise. Those are quite a bit stronger, by the way; they’re Uncommon grade. I guess making them completely out of Beast parts would be the reason. She also seems to have given them the ability to use Butcher Carcass, but only if both are in-hand. Guess she based that off what you were asking for and what we brought in. They’re also mildly poisonous, likely because of the materials, so be careful with them. Your Armor’s been enhanced, too. Besides some mundane improvements in quality, both yours and mine were given Minor Enchantments. My vest and chaps were made Tough, your brigandine was Leavened, and both were made Willing. Which might explain how fast everything came off earlier, to be honest.” Her eyes lit up with mischief, even as his mind went to the complicated knotwork tree that now adorned the center of his coat’s back across the shoulders, its intertwining branches splayed just below his collar, its gnarled roots forming a dense triskelion ball between his shoulder blades. She put an Enchantment on that as well, but… it’s useful, sure. But so minor it’s unreliable. Though I guess that’s why she went with the tree design… once a day it-

    Willing, huh?” He recognized that particular double-entendre.

    “Don’t start. My hips won’t survive. I should be drinking one of those Mana Potions right now, by all rights.”

    “Awwwwwww.”

    “She did something strange with the gauntlet I had before… it was already magical, if only Minor, but she somehow paired it with the new one. Together, they work like Slippers of Spider Climb, which means I can walk on walls or the ceiling briefly… except that I have to keep at least one hand in contact with the surface at all times, so it’s less walking and more crawling. And I have to be wearing both for it to work at all. The old Grasp Enchantment is still there, but both have it now… and both would make punching more effective than before.”

    “Magic does that to gauntlets.” He nodded. Standard side-effect, really.

    “Yes. My sword is now fully a Common item instead of just a particularly well-made Minor… and she’s put some kind of Minor fire enchantment on it that I don’t really recognize… Not sure what Spell she pulled it from, but it causes the blade to heat as if it were Flaming, but not so much that it actually ignites. It’s not as powerful, but still useful. She made my daggers fucking Recalling. Ah, right, so are yours. Almost forgot that.” He stared at the web-like pattern on the blade, lattice interwoven, almost as if they were pale cracks in the silvery metal. These things are channels for Mana… it’s kind of genius how she did this. It will distribute any energy poured into it, spreading it out more evenly instead of just dumping it in there and hoping for the best. The Enchantment itself will protect it from fire and heat, too. Damn, this is Minor, but it’s good.

    “Okay, wait, I don’t know that one.”

    “Ah, Recalling right? It’s like Returning, except you actually have to take the time to will it back to your hand. It’s not as useful… but it means that even if you throw it, you’ll get it back so long as you can take the time to think about it hard enough. And, I guess, if you wanted to make it seem like it wasn’t able to return to you.”

    “Oh, nice!” He shrugged, but nodded. “Could be better, could be worse, but it was almost free, so I’m not really complaining.”

    “My axe is also Enchanted now. Pretty heavily, too, but they’re not particularly glamorous Enchantments. Basically, she put Wood Chop on it, and some weird version of Restful Camping. It’s more destructive against wooden objects and things that imitate wood, and if I use it to set up a camp, it’ll make it easy to rest well despite minor inconveniences. I just literally have to use it in the process, so, say, hammering tent pegs with it or chopping wood for the campfire. That’s ritually activated.”

    “So basically, it’s almost useless down here.”

    “Pretty much.”

    “What about your glasses and that pendant you wear?”

    “Yes, she got both. Hells, she even got my notebook, of all things. The glasses… She put something on them like Elfsight. It lets me see a lot further in poor lighting like this, but I’ll still be blind in total darkness. I guess that’s why I could see to the back of the cave, though… It was kind of hard to notice in the tunnels. Things twist and turn so much around here…”

    “You get used to it.”

    “Guess I’ll have to.” She smiled at him again.

    “Anyway, the pendant is… versatile, I suppose. It stores a bit of Mana that replenishes over time from what’s in the environment. It improves my performance in one field of expertise slightly, and if I expend the Mana stored in it, I can change what that field is. It takes a full day to recover, though, so once I change it, I’m stuck with it for a while.”

    “Very nice!”

    “The notebook… well… it seems to improve my retention so to speak. Just having it improves my ability to remember and imitate people. It’s not much, but it’s definitely something. I’m… not sure how she knew to do that, honestly.” It’s actually a little disconcerting.

    “Huh. That’s weird. You’d think she’d just assume it was a spellbook.”

    “Yes. I suppose that might actually be what the Enchantment is normally for. That would make sense. But honestly… She really just did whatever she wanted, didn’t she? It’s not like we asked for most of this.”

    “Hey, at least she was having fun. And her loss is our gain.”

    “Hmmm… I do worry a bit about what’s going to happen to her if she keeps doing that. She made good choices considering she seems to have gone entirely off what she observed about us and our equipment, but it’s not sustainable for her.” Especially her Mana expenditures.

    “Don’t worry about it, she’ll be fine. Nye won’t let anything happen to her, business-wise. And besides, if she does too badly, she’ll just get sent back to her village.”

    “Huh?”

    “She’ll get sent back to her village. There’s almost no Kobolds actually living here. They’re mostly from a little village closer to the coast. It’s supposedly outside of Hambone’s territory, but I hear they sometimes clash with him over hunting grounds. They’re supposedly really good at slowing him down and getting out of his range. The harpies fly them in and drop them off at one of the big entrances in exchange for their labor, and they pick up resources here to take home with them.”

    “So, what… they’re migrant workers?”

    “Basically, yeah. They come in here to do specialized work; mining, stone-cutting, making traps against Beasts and intruders, doing crafting work… though really, the best craftsmen down here are the Werebadgers, if you can find one.”

    “Right. You mentioned they were Dwarves originally.”

    “Yeah. Some small Clan that all got infected or cursed, from what I’ve heard. They keep to themselves, though, so I don’t really know which is the case.”

    “Understood. Oh, there’s one more thing I forgot to go over! Those fang knives…”

    “Ohhhhh, right. I forgot about them two. How’d they turn out?”

    “Not much of a surprise, but they’re poisonous. Same as the rock spider’s venom, it’s somehow perpetually produced by them, so don’t cut yourself. They’re Uncommon… and they’re also both Sharp and Graveling.

    “Uhhhh… did you mean “Groveling?”

    “No, Graveling. These things are capable of creating and firing rocks at targets on a swing.”

    “What?” She looked at him, incredulous. He just shrugged, as if to say ‘I didn’t make it.

    “I know. I’ve never seen someone actually use that Spell as an Enchantment.”

    “Well, it’s not my problem. I’m not using them.”

    “I figured not. You basically turned them into cestuses, but I’ve seen how you fight. You’re not really punching anything. When we weren’t running for our lives and you were actually able to fight…”

    “I use a lot of acrobatic moves, cuts, stabs, a lot of pirouettes and kicks.”

    “Well, yes. You fight about how I would expect a Thief to.”

    “Says the man who…”

    “Fights the same way? Not really. I was just imitating you.”

    “... Seriously?”

    “Indeed. I assumed you’d know how to deal with the local Beasts better than I did, so I just emulated you.”

    “The same way as…”

    “When we were having sex. Yes.”

    “Wait wait wait… are you doing that…”

    “Now, so I can finish your sentences? Like we do. A lot.” His face curled into the same sort of smug, cat-like smile she used. “Maaaaaaaybe.

    Now wait just a… Now wait just a… Don’t copy me! Don’t copy me! You’re not allowed to…You’re not allowed to… steal steal my shit my shit. Hold up! Hold up! I’m the fucking Thief here! I’m the fucking Thief here! Oh what the…Oh what the hells! Stop! hells! Stop! Stop copying me! Stop copying me!

    I’m sorry, but you’re too damn fun to tease. He was fighting hard to keep a straight face.

    “Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Stop it! Stop copying me! I’m the fucking Thief! I’m the person who’s supposed to steal shit! Me! I’m the Thief, so don’t steal my style, my… my… words, my… you… you… whatever the hell you are!”

    “Savant?”

    “Boy-toy!”

    “Weary Traveler?”

    “Ass!”

    “Emergency rations?”

    I’d better not need a fucking emergency to get those rations!” He laughed. He couldn't hold it anymore.

    “Fuck you!”

    “Done and done. What’s next on our itinerary?”

    “Gods, what have I gotten myself into?”

    “My pants. Congratulations, oh taker of virginity.” She stared at him, face twitching slightly.

    “Okay, that was funny. Well-played.” The mirth that had been hiding under her feigned anger broke free, and they leaned on each other as they both broke down laughing. “I can’t… I can’t keep a straight face… damnit.”

    “I cracked before you did!”

    “You did! Hah! I wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!” She laughed even harder, infectiously, as she rejoiced in her victory.

    “Ahhhhh, but… seriously, are you…”

    “Copying you so I can finish your sentences? Maybe subconsciously. I’m honestly not all that sure myself. It just kind of happens with me. A lot. So maybe I am?”

    “I see. I guess I’ll…”

    “Have to get used to it. Yes.” He smirked at her and she pouted in return.

    “So… who did you want to use those knives, anyway?”

    “Well, really? Honestly?”

    “Sure.”

    “I wanted to give them to you… so you could give them to Neh’Rhys.”

    “Wait, what?”

    “I thought I said not to copy my style, Ration-Man.”

    “Pffffft… sorry. Just, please don’t actually start calling me Ration-Man.”

    “Okay, Rations.” Fuck.

    “But no… why would you want me to give your friend a gift? Didn’t you say something about how she was… uhhhh… frustrated? Wouldn’t that be…”

    “A potential problem between us? Hah! I can do it too. But… well… we’ve uhhh…”

    “You’ve slept with her.” A sheepish grin spread across her face as she ruffled her own hair. “What can I say… I like my friends with benefits…”

    “So in other words… you’re basically willing to have me fuck a girl I never met. Before we had sex, when you were trying to keep me… you know, that really doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

    “I know, I know. It was actually kind of an idea that just sort of… I don’t know… look… you know those Crystals you took out of the well?”

    “Yeah. Well… I know what Neh wished for when she threw it in there.”

    “Which was?”

    “Well… she wanted a, well, a lover. Or really…”

    “A husband. She wished for a husband, didn’t she?”

    “... Yeaaaaaaaaah… basically. And then, well, here comes a man, a Human man! And where does he come from but the Wishing Well, by his own admission, with her treasure in hand…” I had heard Monsters were romantics like that… that they all secretly wanted husbands or wives from the Races of Man. So I guess there’s some truth to that.

    “This… this is why you told me it’d bite me in the ass. That I’d have to take responsibility. But then I went and took yourCrystal, too.”

    “Ah… so… you… ummmmmm… You knew? Since…”

    “More or less since we started talking about the Phoenix Ash Threat. Your reaction made me realize you’d had it. Especially when you were so sure it had something to do with luck. It was your good luck charm. And you… you wished for the same thing Neh did, right?”

    She lowered her head slowly, hiding her eyes from him as she bit her lip. Bingo.

    “It was like… like… we’d put our hopes in a prayer. We treated it like it was a promise; we both wished for the same thing at the same time and tossed them in. I mean, when it was really bad, we’d have each other, but it’s just… not the same. I love Neh. As a friend. Sometimes, she even feels like she’s a little sister to me, you know, wanting to know what the outside is like. What people are like up on the surface. Wanting to go out, even though she knows she’d terrify most people who’d look at her. I love her like that. But… we have needs. Physical needs. Needs we can’t fill for each other. Toys… they don’t… and…”

    “So… you’re telling me that you don’t just see me as some temporary lover… but more like your fiance?” She nodded, head still lowered.

    “And you… more or less knew this the moment you found out I had the Crystals?”

    “No! Not… not immediately, no. It was more like… at first I thought it was like some kind of cosmic joke. Like the Well was a joke and we were the butts of it. Here comes this guy out of nowhere who just takes our most precious possessions, our hopes, and just… doesn’t think anything of it. Takes them as loot like some common Adventurer and wants to just walk out of here and leave us. But… I mean… you’re nicer than you seemed at first, and once I started thinking about it… it felt kind of like you might be the Wish being granted. And I was okay with it. It felt… right, somehow.” There was a lot going on behind those blue eyes, huh? More than just you and your Monster…

    “Alright. I’m… really not sure how to feel about that. But I guess that does explain why you were trying so hard not to get involved. Sexually. You really were trying to take what I wanted into account.” Even if it meant giving up on your wish. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, either.

    “Of course! Look! I never liked taking things from people! I did it because I had to to survive… and… some things should never just be taken from people. I… I didn’t want to put you through that. To force you. I know… I’m a predator. But I at least wanted to be one with some kind of decency! Even if that meant…”

    “Even if it meant giving up on a chance for you to be happy.” She nodded, looking down and away. “I see. I’m an ass. You said so yourself. And I’m going to keep being an ass. I’m declining this mystical “engagement,” of yours.” His face was grim, strained. Even he could feel it.

    Her head snapped up, eyes filled with a mix of fear, anger, betrayal.

    “I don’t like the idea of an arranged marriage, Rhian. And I don’t buy into “fated encounters” and ”destined love,” either.” She looked down again

    “But I do like you.” She looked back up at him, confusion on her face. “I said that before, didn’t I? It wasn’t just so you’d… you know. I meant it. So instead of trusting in your “local superstition,” I’d rather we just let our relationship form naturally and see what comes of it. Is that alright with you?”

    “Does this mean you’re giving me back that Crystal?

    “No, I’m keeping that.”

    “You ass!”

    “Guilty. But more importantly… you were thinking of me as your prospective husband. Mate. Lover, whatever, right?”

    “Well… yeah?”

    “The whole time?

    “...Yeah.”

    “And this was why you threatened to kill the smith?”

    “Ummmm… I guess? She just… had no business getting involved like that. I mean, neither of us know her. She had no claim.” I suppose that’s true. Though if we had, does that mean you’d… It was a dangerous line of thought that her recent revelation about her friend prompted.

    “And you were also, at the same time, thinking of me as being the future husband of your best friend? And also working towards making that happen?”

    “... yeah, when you put it that way, it does sound pretty… ummm… yeah. Basically?” She seemed genuinely embarrassed by it.

    “You were alright with that? Really? The idea that you’d be sharing your supposed “One True Love,” what those stupid guides say Monsters absolutely obsess over, with another girl. This was fine to you?” She shrugged.

    “I guess? I mean… I like Neh. And she’s even better with her tongue than I am. It doesn’t really bother me, thinking we’d be…” He just stared at her blankly for a moment.

    “Were you always like that, or is this because you’re a Monster?” She shrugged, open hands raised. “No idea. I was more into, ummm… casual relationships before. So to speak.” He raised a hand to his forehead, a headache coming on.

    What happened to my desire to avoid attachments? These kinds of complications… I like this girl. I like Rhian. I like what we did. I want to do more. But… she’s trying to do things I’m not entirely comfortable with here, and adding some extra lover I’ve never met to a physical relationship that just started with a person I’ve just met… and it’s my first for gods’ sake! The thought of a girl even better with her tongue fellating him sent shivers through his cock despite its earlier exertions. If Rhian had her way, it’d be a weary traveler indeed. And what happens if we do go all the way down this route, huh? Do I end up spending the rest of my life down here in this complex, fucking a couple of Monsters? Do we have kids, raise some kind of bizarre family with two mothers and a father? How would we even support that?

    He tried not to think about the fact that he’d pulled four, and not two, Crystals from the water, and the implications that might carry if this was a local tradition. Can I just put them back, maybe? Only if I want an angry, rejected Werelizard who knows this place as a true native…He shuddered involuntarily.

    Will I even have enough semen left to pay that Lich? He groaned.

    “So… yeah. Can I… give you the knives?” He stared at her. For a long moment. One that ended in a sigh of resignation.

    “Fine. But we have a deadline to make. We have to put this,” he held aloft the silver Crystal, “in that damned Well and make it back to Nye. He gave us two days… and I have no idea how long we’ve been…”

    “Fucking?”

    “Yes. We need to go. And Rhian… if she pounces on me, it’s going to be up to you to get her under control, alright? I’m not promising any kind of relationship with this girl. I’m just giving her these in compensation for taking her Crystal. Understood?”

    “Gotcha.” She seemed in a much better mood, now that that had all been resolved. He couldn’t help feeling like she’d played him somehow, but he didn’t understand what she’d gain from it. At least it didn’t seem malicious.

    “Come on, we need to leave.”

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  12. #12
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Chapter 8: In the Privacy...

    They donned their armor and weapons, picked up their gear and supplies, and refilled their depleted waterskins from the waterfall in the back. Rhian convinced him it was safe to drink, so long as it wasn’t coming from the main pool. Despite the chill, people would regularly fuck in it. Or so she warned, anyway. Not that the warning was needed, per se. He’d already seen that firsthand. Continued to see it. They’d cleaned themselves with magic rather than rely on the water; Rhian hadn’t brought her soap, and he’d not thought to buy any at the market besides. And he was fairly certain that if their clothes came off, they’d promptly get dirty again. In more ways than one.

    Unfortunately, he couldn’t shake the feeling he still smelled like her. Though perhaps that was for the best.

    They left the large chamber without issue from the current denizens, who were now fewer in number and mostly different from the ones before. He’d have to study the artwork on their next trip through the area. As it was, they needed to move quickly, and he couldn’t really spare the time to do a detailed analysis of it. Especially not after all the time they'd spent in that little love nest.

    The tunnels were as cramped and dark as ever, but they often opened up into wider rooms and chambers. Some had people in them, making him realize just how desolate the place Rhian lived actually was. It was made even more pronounced by the fact that there were more rooms that featured moss and mushrooms… they were actually quite common this close to the temporary market, though the tunnels themselves were always bare. It’s strange. Unnatural. This isn’t how moss spreads. How fungi spread. They should be, to an extent, everywhere they can find purchase and the bare minimum of nutrients and moisture. There’s plenty of both here… The cave walls were often damp, though not especially slick, and they’d on more than one occasion passed by small rivulets of water.

    It’s like someone’s intentionally making these little gardens wherever there’s enough water and dirt to support them, but not in places where they might get in the way. Which was something else he’d started to notice; dirt. Soil. These areas still seemed to be protected by the wards of the city proper, but something was bringing, or maybe making, these little oases of greenery beneath the earth. And wherever they were, there were more people.

    And at least down here, people seemed to mean sex.

    He’d seen more bare breasts and asses, more naked pussies and throbbing cocks, more active fucking since coming down here than he’d seen in his entire life. Just in this one trip.

    It was taking some getting-used-to.

    Especially the dicks.

    He might never have pursued a relationship before, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate the beauty of women. Of which there was quite a variety, from petite and plump Goblins and Kobolds to robust Orcs, to a jiggling Slime, to the svelte woman he was traveling with. One just had to get used to their inhuman aspects. Athletic, tall, short, plump, flat, curvaceous, to the point that he didn’t know where to look and where not to. More than a few seemed eager to flaunt themselves in his general direction, even in passing, and several more were pleasing themselves or each other without a care in the world. They far outnumbered the men; more than the four-to-one statistic he'd been told by his master. With this much sex, you’d think overpopulation would be an issue…

    But when a male was there he was always either engaged, preparing to, resting post-coitus, or being approached… and those men were distressingly memorable. To the point he’d rather forget.

    As handsome as their counterparts were beautiful or cute, from androgynous to rugged and beyond, they made him feel uncomfortable. Unsure of himself and his own appeal. Inadequate. Especially when it came to their endowments. In both size and strangeness.

    He'd seen a Kobold servicing a muscular male Orc easily twice her size, porcine balls swollen, his cock massive in length and girth and twisted around in a tight spiral, like a drill of flesh. Complete with what must surely be a cervix-piercing point. When he’d turned her around and mounted her, he'd immediately poured such a volume of semen into the howling dog-girl that her belly swelled as if pregnant… and kept pumping. To the point that the pressure of it sprayed jets of cum from their joining and made an off-white puddle on the stony cavern floor and moss beneath her hips.

    They'd seemed quite comfortable with all of it, but it'd left him rather not. Particularly in how tight his pants were for some time thereafter.

    A group of Kobolds had similarly affected him, the lone male shifting from one girl to the next, a bulbous lump of flesh at the base of his member locking him inside for the brief few moments it took for him to release his voluminous load. His size, too, had been impressive despite his small stature. It easily matched Col's own, even though he was nearly twice the dog-man's height.

    Even the Goblins with their child-like height rivaled him in proportions. It brought an unpleasant new meaning to Nye's remarks about being twice the man. They’re almost all huge. Even the ones that are Halfling-sized are at least average for a Human adult… if not bigger. Communal bathing was a luxury back home, a nice way to relax with a hot soak in a society where most of the actual grooming was handled by magic, but you did see things you often didn’t care to. Including what the other men were packing. And these Monsters were packing well above their size.

    He could only imagine what the Therianthropes and Entothropes might look like below the build… and honestly didn’t particularly want to.

    At least I can outlast all of them…

    It was something that became more and more apparent with each new coupling he witnessed. None of them seemed to be able to hold back, as if the idea of restraint didn't exist for them. Not one seemed to be able to last more than a few strokes; they all plunged as deep as they could go from the very start, orgasmed, and either stopped or tried again with the same results. They produced copious amounts of semen and then collapsed… and none of them seemed to have much love for their partners. There was no aftercare, no real cuddling, no pillowtalk. No romance.

    Just… mating. It's not lovemaking. It's breeding. It's just mutual release. There's just attraction, lust, but almost no affection whatsoever. No emotional connection. It's like watching animals mate. It was different if it was just girls sometimes, but even when there were no males involved, it was often nothing more than mutual masturbation. He’d not seen a pair of males going at it, so he couldn’t judge there, but if such things were anything like the way the other Monsters were acting… They barely seem satisfied by it…

    He remembered how Rhian had been in the tunnels. How she'd been when they'd stopped. Her hunger. Is it because, when it’s two Monsters… they’re both “eating?” No, or well, maybe that’s part of it but…

    They're slaves to their lust. That's why they're like this… they can'thelp it. But why aren't they more… romantic with each other, at least? Isn'tthat what they want? No answer was forthcoming. He wasn’t even sure Rhian could answer if he asked. She hadn't been born that way. She didn't want to be that way.

    Though maybe even she's…

    Wait, does this mean her friend is like this, too?

    "Hey Rhian?"

    "Hm?"

    "Can you tell me about your friend?"

    "Neh? Oho! Getting excited about the idea of a new girl on your dick already? My little boy's growing up so fast! Why, it seems like only yesterday he was a virgin who'd never been inside a woman before."

    "That was only yesterday." She chuckled at her own joke, but all he could do was snort at her.

    "Seriously though. You're more or less trying to get me to fuck her, and I know basically nothing about her. I at least spent some time with you beforehand. I don’t particularly want to be like…"

    "Ah, so you noticed." He hadn’t even needed to gesture. To so much as look. She knew full well he’d noticed. She just hadn’t said anything.

    "They’re hard to miss. Some of them are quite vocal. Despite how little time they go at it."

    "Well, yeah. But I mean that it's purely physical. Honestly, I can tell whenever you're watching. I can smell your horny. I can hear your pulse throbbing in your cock when you're hard. Makes me want to stop and…"

    "Rhian! Focus!" Her voice had been getting husky, her breathing coarse. She gave her head a quick shake and kept walking.

    "Right, right, sorry. Have to wait. Have to wait. Yeah, no, they're… no, we're like animals in heat when we're horny. It's… it's really hard to stop… and unless we've got someone we really, um, want… we don’t usually care much who helps make us not be horny anymore. Anyone will do, but… well, for me, cock works best. A good cock in me for a few really takes the edge off. It's probably the same for the guys. Shove it in a muff and it all feels better. It's like… I can’t relax, you know? I just feel… empty, and it just becomes the only thing I can think about. It's almost like I itch down there, but on the inside, and I need something up in there scratching real… I need to stop, I'm working myself up again. I'm sorry… thinking about it makes it worse."

    "Fair. Just… It seems strange to me that none of them seem romantic or anything when they're… you know."

    "Like I said, it's basically just… animal. Ooga booga need fuck hard. Now. It’s all horniness and hunger and you just gotta do something about it. Even if it’s not that great when it happens." She seemed a little annoyed on this point.

    "Is that why the men all just… insert and…"

    “Oh! You mean how they can’t hold their loads for more than five seconds? Yeah, they’re basically all like that. Even Nye. Second it’s in, boom! Cum all up in there. Just all full of sperm."

    “That’s uhhhh… that’s not normal, right?” This was not a thing he had great knowledge of. Just taproom boasts that he knew well enough not to trust.

    “For Men? No. Not unless you’re really excited first or there’s some kind of problem. If you’re worried about that first time I sucked you off, don’t be. We kind of had you worked up pretty good. For Monsters, though, that’s their normal. They cum fast, they cum a lot, and they cum often. They basically can’t hold it; they’re minds’re all on “get pregnant, make pregnant, impregnate, breed breed breed,” and they just… they just blow. As much as they can. Can’t help themselves. It’s all they want once they get horny. The one good thing, though, is that even when they go they get right back up… but if I was still Human, I’d be pretty pissed at any of ‘em. Of course, if I was Human and fucked a Monster, I’d probably start becoming a Monster right then anyway, so I might not care. I don’t know, maybe if one really fell for me they’d work on it…” He felt some definite dissatisfaction in that final whisper. However, he wasn’t going to go asking about that.

    “Huh? What do you mean?”

    “About the transformation or…”

    “The transformation.”

    “Ah, well… Monster semen is full of our Mana, same as yours is full of yours. Having that pumped directly into a girl’s pussy is going to have an immediate effect. It’d probably turn her into the same kind of Monster she was fucking while she was fucking him. Which would really make it easier to get off or pregnant, honestly. Monster on Monster feels damn good, even if it’s not as emotionally satisfying a human. Or good at satisfying hunger. Or just… satisfying at all. So anyway, say if Nye got him some village girl, she’d start turning into a Goblin pretty much as soon as he put it in… because there’s no way in the Nine Hells he’d be able to hold back. Gob’s hung, but he cums as soon as his tip’s in and just keeps coming through the whole process. Blows a load at least twice a minute and drags his shots out for most of the rest of said minute. Jizz everywhere and it just keeps coming, to the point that it feels like you sat down in mud, and he keeps softening and hardening back up and softening again because the whole cycle never stops. Little shit can reach all the way to the back and spread me out so much it’d fucking hurt if I was still Human, but he just goes at it full force from the start. His pacing is trash, his rhythm is trash, and once he’s had his fill he just rolls over and sleeps or fucking leaves. And this from a guy that’s had way more experience than either of us.

    “That… was far more than I ever cared to know about Nye.” Or your relationship with him, to be honest.

    She just shrugged.

    “Anyway, yeah, Monster guys can’t hold it in. Not unless they were something else first, and even then it’s hard. They really just want to impregnate girls. Their bodies just… kind of automatically try. Feels good, honestly. Being filled like that. Feels really good.Ah! Not the pregnancy thing. I don’t know about that one. I mean just being full of cum. But if you actually want someone who can last, consistently, and get a good flow going… Someone who can get you there and keep you there and actually feel something with other than just a big dick and mindless rutting…” She rather pointedly looked at him. “Just so you know, when we get home…,” her stare grew in intensity, until he found himself sympathizing with the mouse before a cat. “I’m going to break your pelvis.” Help.

    “So yeah! About your friend!” She pouted.

    “Really? That’s your response? Change the subject?”

    “It was the original subject.” Her pout intensified.

    Fiiiiiine. So honestly, I don’t know a lot about her.”

    “Huh? I thought you were lovers or something?”

    “Sort of? It’s more like… we’re friends, but Monsters a lot of times have trouble telling the difference between lust and other kinds of love. Or at least the ones born as Monsters do. You’re probably noticing that theme. Like… Platonic love as a concept is almost totally lost on them. The closest they get to it is how they feel about their children… and even then it’s not that weird for them to have sex with their kids. Wet holes and hard cocks have a way of finding each other, and sex is sex but also food…”

    “Right. Nye again.”

    “Among others I've known... It’s just rare for a Monster to choose one of their parents as… well, a life partner, so to speak.”

    “So basically, she’s a friend you have sex with when either of you is horny and you’re on hand.”

    “Got it. Anyway, she apparently lives on the level under this one, somewhere near where home is. She heard rumors of the Wishing Well and came looking for it… and basically stalked me until she got up the nerve to ask. She scared the shit out of me at first. Creepy little thing just popping up out of nowhere and spying on me. But once we started talking and I saw how she acted, I realized she was just cripplingly shy around people she doesn’t know. She apparently thinks she’s hideous. She’s weird and kind of bony, but she’s not really ugly.”

    “Right, you gave me a bit of a description of her before. Girl with one giant eye, pointy teeth, spikes on her back, and really long arms with claws.”

    “The basics, yeah. Her hair’s in this kind of dark, chopped, irregular mess… it just sticks out everywhere and has spikes, as in literal spikes growing in it in places besides the tangles. She doesn’t really do much with her appearance. Probably because she thinks she’s beyond help. Might be why she lets her hair fall into her face all the time, come to think…” She sighed in mild annoyance. “No amount of me telling her otherwise seems to get through. She has a deceptively wide mouth with big, pouty lips and these odd, greenish freckles on her skin, including on her cheeks and across her nose. The rest of her skin is a sort of yellowish gray that blends in with some of the rocks around here pretty well, but sticks out against the darker ones. Her spikes are a darker gray color, the same shade as her claws and almost the same color as her hair. She has spikes on her upper back around her shoulder blades and on her head, mixed in with her hair. Her nose is pretty short and small. It’s pretty cute, actually. Tweaking it is kind of fun. Her tongue is almost as long as mine.”

    “Yeah, that really caught me off guard.”

    “Ehehe…” She stuck the long, moist muscle out at him. “Some bats have really long tongues. Nye said there used to be a Werebat living here that had a tongue as long as she was tall.” He stopped to stare at her, incredulous.

    “No lie. As long as she was tall. He said she had a thing for sticking it in holes… including his. It’s the only time I heard him say he ran from a woman.” She chuckled, a sadistic grin on her face.

    ““Made a medlar out of me, she did! An’ then she went an’ kissed me!” Or so he says anyway.”

    “Made a… Just so you know, I don’t particularly want anything going on there.”

    “Oh come ooooooooon. It’ll be fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun!

    “Hells no.” She chuckled at him again.

    “I probably wouldn’t like the taste, anyway.” He shuddered.

    “So, anway, she tends to crouch a lot, and can move pretty fast while doing it. Kind of spider-like, almost, when she does that. She goes down on all-fours and just… scrabbles somehow. It’s really awkward to see, and kind of disturbing, but she can move when she does it. Or she trots on all fours like a dog. I’ve also seen her just sort of… hop from place to place. And knuckle-walk. And sometimes, she just stands and walks normally like a sane person. I honestly have no idea why she changes how she moves. However, those arms of hers are really obvious no matter what. If she stands upright, all the way, she can almost touch the ground with her claws.”

    “She can… her arms are that long?

    “Yeah. Almost as long as she is tall. When she crouches and walks like that, she can put her palms flat on the ground if she bends her arms, or if she stands upright but flattens her feet out she can do it without bending her arms.”

    “Flattens her…”

    “Her feet… she walks on the balls of her feet. The toes. She has, like, a normal foot, mostly. It’s just long overall and wide across the front, and her toes are clawed and kind of… grabby-like. A bit like mine right now, but more versatile, I guess? She normally walks on the front of her feet with her heels up, but she can flatten them out if she wants. She’s really thin. Like, skin and bones thin. Almost as thin as one of the Lich’s Skeleton workers or soldiers. There’s almost no meat on her. But what is there is like steel. About the only soft places on her are her round ass, her flat little titties, her belly, and her holes. Oh, and if you’re around her for any length of time, even if you aren’t fucking her, you’re going to see all of that. Don’t get too distracted by it.” She shrugged. “She’s mostly naked.” What.

    “Anyway, she’s insanely strong. Like, I can’t break free from her. She’s pinned me down before when she was giving me a good licking and once she’s locked you down, you’re not going anywhere. She’s normally shy, but she can get really aggressive when she’s horny. She’s tough as nails, too. I’ve seen her fight. She just shrugs off punishment and smashes the ever-loving hells out of whatever hit her. I’ve seen her crack the cave floor with her fist. However, so long as you’re not actively trying to pick a fight with her, you should be fine… and she’d probably run from you. She doesn’t like hurting people. She just pulverizes Beasts, though. And of course, her eye does that whole rotting thing.”

    “Okay, explain that one.”

    “Mmmmmkay… so… Nothics are… well, you know Beholders?”

    “Yeah. Sometimes get called things like Gazers, even though that’s a different Monster. Same family, though. Crazy eye-beam Monsters.”

    “Right. Well, Nothics have only one eye, like a Cyclops, but if they open it all the way and focus it… it rots living things in their sight like how Beholders do their thing.”

    “...”

    “Not even just living things, either. If it was ever alive, their eye can cause it to break down. She actually cost me a set of clothes one time when she was really horny and we were both very high on Frog Scum. She literally just dissolved them off of me. Since your armor’s magic, it’ll probably be alright, but… well, your pants might not survive.”

    “... I don’t know Mending.”

    “Learn quick.”

    “Fuck. Maybe I’ve got a note on it…”

    “Anyway, while you’re thinking about that, her mouth has two rows of teeth.”

    “Huh?”

    “Yup. Outer ones look more or less normal, but she can partly… I don’t know, like… pull those back and up, and then just… unfold and stick out this second set of teeth that look like fucking knife blades in there. The first time I saw that, I had nightmares about it afterward. Like, ho-ly shit! I’d swiped a roast cricket leg from her and she just does that, catches it back, and damn near swallows it whole. Thought I was going to lose a hand in there… Like… those things come out.”

    “Mildly terrifying. Duly noted.” Gods help me.

    “Which brings me to how she acts… she’s kind of possessive of things she thinks are specifically hers. I tried to wash that… rag… she wears once and she freaked out about me taking it. And once she likes something, she gets really clingy and handsy with it.”

    “Surprised she wasn’t at your place when I showed up, then.”

    “I think she might have actual family somewhere down there that she stays with most of the time. She loves to gossip. She vanishes for a while and then comes back with all kinds of news about what’s going on around the ruins that she just has to gush about. I also know she’s attached to that cult somehow…”

    “Okay, you do realize how bad this makes her sound, right?”

    “Sort of? I’m not really good at explaining it, but she’s actually pretty nice. I don’t think she actually likes the cult stuff. She’s just part of it somehow. I think all of the Nothics are, for some reason. She doesn’t talk about it much, but she does sometimes use their phrases. Especially when Nibiru’s full. She almost always comes up on those nights horny as all hells. It was one of those nights when I first saw her; she was in some kind of… almost like a trance, looking for the Well. Wound up standing under my “skylight” and just staring up at the moon through it for hours saying that whole “give us eyes” thing. That was fucking creepy as all hells, no lie. She came back a couple days later, stalking me.”

    “No wonder she scared the shit out of you. And you’re probably insane for talking to someone like that, by the way.”

    “Well… I mean, yeah. Probably. I kind of think you have to be a little off to even find this place. Or at least stay here.” He just shook his head. I hope you’re wrong about that.

    “So yeah, she’s basically a naked, one-eyed cultist girl.” He sighed.

    “Is she really naked? Like…”

    “She basically wears a cape backwards with a belt at the waist to keep it attached. And she wears the top part loose, so pretty much everything is on display at all times.”

    “That’s not how clothes work!”

    “I’ve said as much. She dresses that way, though. Hells, she climbs like that. If you have to follow her up the ladder, you’re going to get an eyeful. But hey, at least as far as I know, that’s untrod ground!”

    “What… you’ve said yourself that…”

    “I mean she’s never been with a man of any sort, to my knowledge. When it was her turn to have a seat, I got a pretty good look in there. Unless that thing regrows, she’s never broken it. Oh! But watch out, she squeezes hard with those thighs when she cums. She doesn’t get as wet as I do, so you don’t have to worry about drowning in there, but… just don’t break your neck, okay? Oh! And more pointers, her weak spots are her puffy little nipples and her belly. And she’s super ticklish! So just blow on her tummy or even those nips and…”

    “You’re really trying to sell this, aren’t you?”

    “Look, I’m just taking care of my friend is all. I like her. We sit and bullshit, even if she’s usually really quiet when we do. Her voice is all small and soft and cute. Makes me want to just grab her and squeeze… right up until she squeezes back and my ribs pop. Then I regret it. Always. But I want her to be happy.”

    “And trying to pair her up with a man you’re already involved with, and who might leave one day will make her happy?”

    “I mean… she wants love. If something goes wrong… at least she had a shot, right? I don’t mind the idea of having more than one lover. I’ve done it before. I’ve had a lot of partners. So long as everyone’s happy with each other, what’s the harm?”

    “So long as they’re happy with each other. That’s the weak point.” She frowned, but looked away, and for a time afterward they traveled in silence.
    ………
    ……


    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
    My Shameful Fics and the Wiki to go with them. Oh, and some fossil I found.
    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  13. #13
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Chapter 9: Of Our...


    She was right, back when she’d first warned him of this place. He smelled it before he saw it.

    Gods…

    The still cave air, normally stirred by only the occasional breeze from anywhere, was moving fairly quickly here. Steadily. And rankly. A rancid stench of rot and decay was carried towards them on the warm, sullen breeze; the stench of sewage, spoiled food, and death. He almost gagged, but the further they went the worse it became. Almost came closer and closer to reality.

    This is what she wanted to bring us through!? This was her first choice?!

    There was light ahead, seeping into the tunnel with the fetid odor, but he dreaded being able to actually see what made that smell.

    "Ugh. I’ll never get used to this." Her face spoke volumes, paler than usual, eyes watering.

    "Is it always this bad?" Oh Gods, I can taste it. He gagged.

    "Unfortunately. It’s not as bad in the air, but down here… ugh."

    "Okay, if you don't mind my asking… How exactly do we get through there quickly? I don’t want to be there any longer than I have to." Don’t vomit. Don’t vomit. Don’t vomit.

    "Squeamish? You didn't seem the type." She clearly wasn’t enjoying it, either.

    "Hardly. That is not a smell I care to have in my clothes."

    "I was joking."

    "I know."

    "But yeah, I don’t blame you. We're coming at it from the second level down in the east, heading west. Even just a floor up and it wouldn’t be this bad. Our best bet is to stick to the balcony on the north wall at our level and try not to draw attention to ourselves. There's more hanging moss on that side, so it's easier to hide. Climbing up would draw too much attention. We need to be quiet, and avoid taking the side tunnels. The wards in the main hall are completely shot, and the ones around it are unreliable. Some are there, some aren't, and I haven't explored enough to know which passages are safe and which aren't. So stick to the wall. Our exit is the next-to-last one before we hit the west wall." She moved further down the passage, but paused and turned back one more time.

    "Don't stop for a sketch, mister notetaker, or you'll end up as something else's rations." She didn't wait for his response, but forged ahead into the light.

    He followed.

    And immediately regretted it.

    The smell was choking, oppressive, a wall of stench he could feel on his skin as an oily humidity. The sight… was tragic.

    The passage opened through a richly carved stone threshold onto a vast chamber a full five stories tall, long enough that the far wall was lost in the haze of distance as a blob of gray and green, and wide enough that he could have parked all of his expedition's wagons between its walls end to end comfortably and still walked around them. The broad floor was flanked by low stone steps along their longest borders, each one carved to serve as a seat as well. Each level was ringed by balconies and spanned by buttressed walkways wide enough for four to walk abreast, enclosed by ornately carved half-walls to keep their users from the precipice, their upper halves forming empty windows to view the room proper. Towering columns rose the full height of the room, arched and carved in intricate designs. Statues, murals, and bas reliefs adorned every wall, column, and arch, depicting scenes of nature and the landscape of the region, especially the forest and its wildlife, the former residents of the city, and their achievements. Great, tiered fountains stood at equidistant points between every set of four pillars, filled with more statuary of prominent and divine figures. It was a wonder fit for the greatest of cathedrals in Meropis. For the palaces of royal courts. A great domed ceiling, covered in mosaics of the heavens and framed in reliefs of the onlooking Gods sheltered it all from the weather above.

    Or had.

    It had long ago ceased to do so. A massive tree, its black and gray bark withered and wizened and twisted with black furrows, oddly like stone and yet covered in knots and boles that reminded him too much of glaring eyes and proved it was in fact a tree, had fallen on that sheltering dome… and through it. Great moss-draped branches gouged holes through actual stone, hanging from the ceiling as if a small forest of trees were growing down through the roof rather than up. Its green leaves, translucent and looking like nothing so much as feathers of viridian glass, stirred in the nearly-still air at a dozen points where they had punched through. Their movements seemed to him too great to be caused by the breeze alone. The strange clusters of Manatite that clung to it were perhaps to blame. The vivid green of Wood Elementite he knew, the deep scarlet of Blood trickling its namesake down the plant’s surface to drip far below… but the black flecked with white Manatite was an unknown to him, as were the other, stranger combinations that grew in small patches along its surface. Probably Occultite of some sort, but… why? How? Such a combination was unnatural.

    Great rents, some completely clear of obstruction, others full of vines, roots, hanging moss, and unnatural tree branches, let in beams of natural light from the surface… and with them, the elements. The once wondrous statues were in ruins, their visages crumbling or collapsed, eroded and broken and defaced, their fragments littering the floor. The once-proud murals were faded beyond recognition and defaced with graffiti and offal and all manner of stains, from strange chemicals that pitted their faces to greasy filth to the rust red of old blood to soot and the putrid black of long-decayed flesh and gore. Shards of stone and bone, chitin, tufts of fur and hair and peeled scales, tattered rags and torn leather and dented, twisted metal, broken pieces of weapons and tools ruined beyond easy repair or even recognition… such things lay even on the walkways. And far below…

    Fetid, murky water pooled in the floor, deep enough that the crumbling fountains, now clogged and stagnant, rose like soiled flowers of stone from it rather than contained it. Their towering tiers rose from filth and sludge that overtopped their basins, draped in moss and plants that trailed into the water. Great mounds of debris piled high, forming crude islands of broken statuary amid the lilypad scattered marsh, fallen columns, trash, and rotting Beast corpses, covered in moss and mold and mushrooms. Glittering Elementite lit the foul depths sparsely in watery blues, murky browns, and noxious violets.

    Death and sewage. It reeked of death and sewage, rotting plants and decaying flesh. Even from between the curtains of moss, he could see the horrors that lay below. Long, dark, worm-like shapes wriggled and writhed through the water, and where there was meat there were maggots, whether smeared on the walkways or down below in the swamp that the floor had become. That he could see the maggots down there was testament to the horrific size of the Beasts; each one must be the size of a mastiff, at least. The black shapes were longer, thinner, whipping about and sending up bubbles or lurking near the surface in curled balls.

    The air was filled with the sound of crickets, frogs, birds, and the maddening droning of flies, from those of common size to Beasts as large as hunting hounds… and mosquitoes to match. The smell, the sound, the sight were oppressive…

    And yet his mind didn’t want to register what else he was seeing, what the worst source of the stench was. His eyes glided over it, focusing on the nearly complete skeleton of some massive, lizard-like Beast that had died near where they now stood and simply rotted where it fell, a few glittering shards of scarlet Elementite formed in its bones and wreathed in its decaying flesh. Or the ruptured remains of what seemed like a massive tree frog, torn apart as if from the inside, head lying half a dozen feet from the eviscerated body, exploded organs splattering the floor and walls. Or on the cracks and crumbling sections of the walkway they’d need to traverse. Or the holes in places, where the stone seemed to have been melted by something. Yes, less gore. Look at the lesser gore. The lesser tragedy. The lesser horror. He turned his eyes from dead things. He focused away from the corpses of Beasts and onto the ruins themselves. Such a tragedy. Such a loss. But lesser. Had he been in a better, safer place, he might have wept. Certainly, Ardyn would have, if silently.

    Ignore that many of the weapons, the armor, look as if they’d not been destroyed when they entered this place. That they had not been cast away as trash. Pay no attention to the fact that many of the bones did not come from Beasts, but something more familiar. Pay no attention to the graffiti scrawls that ended suddenly beside ruddy stains and putrid smears, scorch marks and pitted stone. Pay no attention to the contents of those messages. Painted eyes and twisted trees were harmless. But the words. Do not notice the words and their meanings.

    And absolutely do not notice the broken corpses of people piled in the filth. Caught amid the fitful brush growing in the mire. Sunk and sinking in the foul marsh. Slumped on fountain tiers. Impaled on the branches of the stonelike tree, torn apart and split open, sagging and dripping rotting gore and gobbets of putrid flesh, feeding the bulbous maggots, massive flies, and seething black worms.

    Don’t see it don’t see it don’t see it dont…

    But he had to face it. Standing there in mute horror, he remembered what Rhian had said. That the warring factions above would dump their dead here, through the holes in the ceiling. Leave them to fester and rot in this place. Some wore armor. Some were wholly or nearly naked. The Beasts feasted on their flesh and bones, bodies rotting in a cesspit. They stripped the meat from them with rending mandibles, piercing proboscises, and sucking maws. Some hung in the branches of the tree, cradled as if caught in the fall and merely resting. Others had clearly been put there by some vile force, skewered on the rock-like branches, slowly falling to pieces as their entrails dangled in the gentle breeze. Some were dismembered, disemboweled, torn in half or beheaded. Some had clearly been burned. There were many Orcs there, their forms reminiscent of swine, swollen fat with rot rather than feed.

    But even more appeared to be Humans. Elves. Even Halflings, looking like nothing so much as hairy-footed children. There were even some dead that had not been trapped in the twisted tree yet had not made it to the floor below, and instead lay on the balconies and walkways; food for the maggots and flies.

    It was too much.

    He gagged. Bile rose up into his throat, burning. It filled his mouth.

    He tried to hold it. Tried to swallow it back down. Failed.

    He added a new stain to the stone.

    Somewhere in the back of his mind he recognized that there must have been a great battle recently, likely some time before he had arrived in the ruins. It wasn’t enough to distract him from the room, however, and he retched once more to the sight and smell.

    Rhian was there beside him, green in the face and wild of eye but urging him to silence and speed once more. It was as the centipede had been, all over again. He understood and hauled himself back up, hoping nothing had seen them. Heard is retching. He stowed the Illumination Crystal, knowing they dare not be seen, and drew his sword to the drone of massive insects. He tried to clear his mouth of the taste of vomit with Prestidigitation, but the memory was strong and the sensation lingered.

    Rhian drew her new saws and set off, threading her way through the detritus and debris on the walkway, skirting past corpses of Beasts and people alike. As she’d said, they stuck to the wall and tried to stay behind the cover of the hanging moss. Whenever they passed by a threshold, she would peer in first, staring into the darkness within and listening with her keen ears before moving on. How she could hear anything over the buzzing chorus, he didn’t know. Clouds of flies and mosquitoes were everywhere, their drones a steady hum that almost started to sound like a song to him.

    It made him think of bees, of home, and a bit of nostalgia threatened to creep into his mind despite his hatred of the stinging insects. The wretchedness of the place helped keep it at bay, but he still found himself attentive to the sound.

    The buzzing of the insects seemed to rise and fall, as if to some unseen conductor’s will, until it felt as if there was an actual pattern to it. An actual song, separate from the chirp of crickets and the croak of frogs that somehow survived in the sodden hell below.

    Four three two one four five four… He began to count it, almost unconsciously.

    His brow furrowed as he moved. He wasn’t a musician, but it almost seemed as if there was a tune to the sound.

    Six one seven five six five four six five…

    Is that a song?

    The drone reached new heights as they passed the halfway point, sounding as if an insectile chorus were humming it. As if warming up. They had just passed a threshold, the tunnel snaking away and to the left of the vast hall when the droning suddenly began to grow in volume. Rhian picked up her pace, Col right behind her. The sound brought an intense feeling of wrongness. The hairs of the back of his neck stood up and he felt a chill run down his spine, his sweat suddenly cold. We need to leave. The thought, born of some baser instinct, carried an urgency to it that he couldn’t rationalize… but also couldn’t shake. Something’s coming.

    Four three two one, two four five four… six five seven six five two five four. Four five six…

    Something’s coming.

    Six five six seven six, one seven six five four two five four. Seven six… five seven six five

    Something dangerous.

    Four five six six… one seven seven one two six six five four five four…
    Even as his conscious mind obsessed over the pattern, his instincts screamed at him to move faster. To run!

    They’d covered a dozen yards, even while trying to remain stealthy. The horrific flies, the wriggling maggots, none of them had moved against them. No mosquito, no horsefly, not even a wriggling maggot. Nothing. They should have, he realized. There was no way such creatures could have completely missed them. They should have been fighting every inch of the way through the room, or at least until there was nothing that could hope to reach them.

    Nothing had tried.

    The drone rose and rose and rose until he couldn’t think anymore, until he felt like he was losing his mind… until he felt like the sound itself was angry. The pattern changed. Became something that sent chills down his spine.

    Four five four six five seven six six…

    Another five yards. Six yards. Seven yards.

    It came.

    The passage they’d crossed in front of exploded in seething shadows. A cloud, fierce and roaring.

    Flies.

    A cloud of flies so dense, so black, and so large that they seemed like a solid wall poured out of the passage and blasted across the balcony with such speed and force that he felt the air shift with the movement of it. It was like a river of flies had poured out of the darkness, an endless stream of insects cutting through the air.

    Across the balcony and over its edge out into the open room, the seething mass rushed forward and crashed against the branches of a tree. The force of it was great enough to send its leaves and branches shivering. Something ruptured with a sickening pop, broke, fell apart… the twitching limbs of a massive spider that had been carried by the flow and crushed against the tree. Ruptured abdomen and crushed legs fell into the filth below with a thick splash… and the desiccated, web-shrouded husk of a dead Kobold now hung from the tree, a jagged branch through her long-dead belly, glassy leaves curling and cutting into mummified flesh. The Beasts that clung to the tree and flitted remained utterly unfazed, watching with dispassion as the flies pressed against the corpse, twisting it, snapping it into a hideous mockery of fear, as if begging for a life it had long since lost.

    Four five four six five seven six six…

    Somewhere, he thought he heard laughter, and wasn’t sure if it was him, or Rhian, that was in the process of losing their minds. It whispered on the wind, scraping his mind like nails on slate.

    The cloud of flies shifted and swayed in the air, as if dancing to the tune of an unseen band. It whirled and swirled around the broken corpse.

    Move. Move. Move. Move. Move. Move. Must move now!

    They moved as quickly as they could, panic encroaching. Foot after foot, yard after yard.

    Four five four six five seven six six…

    Keep moving! Don’t stop!

    Four five four six five seven six six…

    Gods, what is that!? Why does it keep repeating!?!

    Four. Five. Four. Six. Five. Seven. Six. Six…

    “Go!” Rhian broke their silence, even if only with a whisper. She didn’t need to tell him twice. They both broke and ran at the same time.

    FOUR. FIVE. FOUR. SIX. FIVE. SEVEN. SIX. SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIX!

    GO!” She told him twice anyway.

    The drone filled his ears as the swarm wheeled on them. They ran, just as they had with the centipede. He looked back, aimed, and burned, but the swarm was fast and nimble, and the great sphere of flame he created singed only a small portion of it as the mass skirted around it. He heard laughter, sanity broken. He suspected it was his.

    The swarm closed, slamming into the wall they’d been following, rebounding, a roaring river of vermin.

    We’re not going to make it! It’s too far! He hurled yet more flame, the swarm dancing around his clouds, waves, and jets. He couldn’t land a solid hit on it. Not running as he was. But if he stopped… He lowered his head and pushed his legs for all they were worth.

    The exit they needed was dozens of yards ahead. Even the nearest wasn’t close enough!

    He hurled another blast of flame, tried to shape it into a wall to stall the insects, but the time it took him to generate it was time he wasn’t running… and it wasn’t worth it to try again. The creatures were fast.

    He felt the first bite then, sharp, on the back of his neck.

    The second came soon after.

    And then more.

    They felt almost like sling stones pelting him, pounding against his armor, and where they found skin, they brought blood just the same.

    Rhian bolted down the next passage, heedless of the dark and what might hide in it. He followed, the edge of the cloud of flies lashing at him. His coat protected him, but he could feel them slamming against him with greater frequency. They were finding flesh more often. And when they found it, they bit. Hard. Engulfed in the maddening drone, he plunged into the darkness without his light, into a tunnel that was narrow and long…

    And suddenly full of fire.

    He heard his scream, a shriek, the scream of a woman, as he let the fire flow by touch and hearing rather than sight. In a place like this, precision didn’t matter, only perception. He filled the air behind him with fire and turned the heat back the way they’d come.

    Burn! Burn! Burn!

    He let the fire flow, let it push him forward, lighting his way until he could hear that horrible song no more.

    Rhian ran. Kept running. And he followed, chasing her footsteps in the smoky darkness.

    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
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    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  14. #14
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    This one's got some smut to it, so fair warning.



    Chapter 10: Own...

    “Let me see them.”

    They’d stopped further in, after coming to the conclusion that the tunnel was warded and they were safe. At least the flies hadn’t followed them after his last, desperate wave of flame. He’d found himself leaning on the cave wall, tired, sore, and bleeding. His bites hurt. He must have been showing it, too. Or maybe she could just smell the blood.

    “Gods…”

    “What?”

    “They’re…”

    What?!”

    “Look… can you… do your fire-thing by feel?”

    “I just did. It’s harder to do if I’m not aiming with my eyes, but so long as I can sense what I’m trying to burn somehow, I can make an attempt at least.”

    “Alright… can you feel… these?”

    “Yeah, they hurt like all hells. Why?”

    “Burn them. Now.”

    “To stop the bleeding?”

    “No… to kill the maggots.”

    What the fuck!?!?” He immediately focused his attention on his bites, to the painful throbbing feeling in his wounds. That sensation took on a whole new characteristic.

    A horrifying one.

    Botflies.

    But botflies don't bite… They can’t.

    He let the heat flow as Rhian quickly stepped back, pushing the thermal wave away from his flesh and into the things in his wounds… the foreign, wriggling, gnawing grubs lodged in him. He felt them fall off. Heard them, but when he looked for the charred corpses of the things that had been eating him with the light of his newly reinstalled Crystal, there was nothing to be seen. No remains of the parasites. I didn’t incinerate them… I just… He didn’t understand.

    “What… was that?” Rhian just shook her head. “I… don’t know. I’ve never even heard of a Beast like that. Or a Monster, for that matter.” He shook his head.

    “It couldn’t have been, right? The other Beasts didn’t react to it. They would have attacked a Monster, right?” She looked as confused as he felt, his point valid.

    “But… it killed that spider, right?” Beasts almost never attack their own. Not unless it was somehow getting in the way of attacking Men. Or Monsters, for that matter.

    Actually… nothing in there…

    “Maybe it was already dead?” Her question broke his train of thought.

    “Maybe. But it was still moving.” She shuddered.

    “Maybe it was… some kind of curse or something?” Confusion was writ large on her face.

    “If it is, it might not be stopped by the wards…” Confusion shifted to dread.

    “And if it was a Monster, it wouldn’t be either, right?” She nodded.

    “We need to keep moving. Do you have any idea how to get to your home from here?”

    “Yeah, but it’s a slog. And dangerous. There’s more spiders like that one the flies killed in this area. Probably rock spiders, too. I haven’t been this way in a long time, and we have to go up to the next level and down again before we can come back to the right path home.” He nodded, but she looked apprehensive.

    “We’ll also have to get close to a place I don’t want to be.”

    “Another one like that?” He gestured back the way they’d come, but she shook her head.

    “It’ll take us through the outer edge of another Monster’s territory… a group of them, really. We’re… not on the best terms. We could probably make it through there safely. They should be asleep right now. But… they may notice that we passed through. And if they are awake…”

    “I get the idea. If not dangerous, at least unpleasant.

    “Got it.”

    “Better than backtracking and getting eaten alive by flies and… yeah. I’ll keep an eye out for spiders, then.”

    “That, and listen for laughter. If you hear women laughing, hide. Quietly.” He nodded, stood, sipped at a Potion, and took a bite of one of his herbal chews… one he’d bought to help deal with disease.

    I’ll have to watch for any side-effects from that experience… Flies were known carriers of diseases, and in that filth, he wanted to be especially careful.
    ………
    ……


    The first and only warning they had were the webs. By the time they saw the mummified bodies, they were already under attack. Spiders the size of his fist dropped from the unseen ceiling of the tunnel. Trapped in the narrow passage at the cusp of a larger one, the crawling, rappelling legion had the advantage. The creatures clambered down the walls and dropped from the corpses webbed to them. What the victims had been, he couldn’t guess at this point.

    Rhian’s daggers cut through the chitinous terrors with new ease, Teagan’s work shining through, her shadow dancing in defiance of her actual movements. His own sword glowed with magical heat, even without him channeling his pyrokinesis into it… and when it did, the strands of webbing molded into it blazed with life. The sword thrust and cut, turning the cool air of the cave into a sauna and setting stray webs alight, its embedded Crystal trailing embers in the dark. However, pinned as they were, he couldn’t unleash his fire as well as he needed. Instead, he had to rely on his sword and a targeted flame, or his fire pushed through his gauntlets… which looked like volcanic stone when he did and made him feel more than a little concerned for his hands. At least the magic of it protected his hands and clothes from his own searing power. When one landed on his shoulder, he hurled it back down the way they'd come with a burning hand and the half-mad reflex his recent bites had instilled. Its wet impact against the passage wall was satisfying, but two more moved to replace it. There’s too many!

    "We have to get out of here!" They just kept coming!

    "Oh come on!" He could tell they were on the same page, but pushing forward was almost impossible. Each step forward took long, agonizing moments.

    "I thought you were keeping an eye out for spiders!"

    "I thought you had giant bat ears!"

    "Well if I hadn't had to listen to your loud-ass breathing and clumsy walk, I'd have heard them!"

    "Well, if I hadn't had to stare at that loud-ass ass of yours, I wouldn’t be breathing heavy and walking funny!"

    "Okay, damn it, that was a good one."

    "I know."

    "Ass."

    "Yes it is."

    "Boy you get a mouth when you're scared, don't you?"

    "Just trying not to scream."

    He slammed a burning knuckle into the bloated abdomen of a spider as his blade impaled another. Rhian’s blades continued to flicker in the dark, stained with ichor, but headway was slow and the spiders were getting closer and closer to actually getting a bite in. More and more he found the creatures trying to climb his legs, the magic of his armor protecting them from biting fangs. More and more he found himself having to hurl the creatures aside by hand, his gauntlet leaving smoking handprints on their already-black shells.

    This isn’t working!

    “Doing what I can here!” She was. He understood that. But this wasn’t going as he’d like.

    “Tch! Look out!” They were going to join the corpses on the walls in these narrows if they didn’t do something. He hurled himself against the wall and around her, legs swarmed by the biting terrors, more falling about his head and shoulders. He thrust his arm forward, trying to shake the creatures off as he hurled a wave of flame ahead of them… and ran into its smoldering wake.

    Move!” Rhian followed him, the reaching hordes tearing at her legs with their own.

    It was enough. What little space that fire had brought them gave them the chance to break through, the horde in hot pursuit along floor and walls and overhead webs. They ran through the darkness, spiders hot on their heels. Fangs drew close, but the chamber opened up and they leapt through… and he filled the passage behind them with fire, consuming the Beasts as they poured out towards them. The webs in the room caught, spreading flames around them and back down the tunnel.

    Burn you…

    Something heavy slammed into his side, knocking him off his feet and onto the floor as spiders rained down on him. He rolled, trusting in his armor to protect him and trying desperately to use arms and blade to defend his unprotected head and face. A massive blanket of web landed where he’d fallen, missing him by mere inches.

    Col!” One of Rhian’s daggers streaked through the fire-lit air… and lodged into the stony body of a spider large enough to prey on cattle. A spider that itself crawled with more spiders. It turned towards her, clicking mandibles as long as his sword’s blade. It lunged. She dodged. And the two monsters danced in the darkness.

    Meanwhile, Col had to focus on not being either eaten or incinerated by his own spreading flames. He crouched rather than stood, ribs aching from the blow the thing’s leg had given him. The cave was rapidly filling with smoke as burning webs fell around them. At least in this open space he could cut loose, though it was becoming harder to breathe, and see, by the second. Searing sword providing meager distance, he used the flames already pressing down on them as a weapon, slamming them into the tide of biting spiders.

    Rhian’s wings were of little use with the ceiling choked with smoke and burning webs, but they were enough to push her further away from the creature’s massive fangs. She’d planted both daggers in the thing and switched to her saws by now, but every time she cut the thing, more small spiders poured from the wound, as if it were made of them. As if its blood were spiders. Soon he was burning through those as much as the ones that had started the attack, though he still found himself blasting gouts of flame down side tunnels that seethed with chitinous reinforcements. The cave floor was littered with the smoldering husks of cat-sized spiders and their smaller kin. It crunched beneath his boots and made it hard to tell which were alive and which weren’t.

    Rhian’s saw sheared through the last segment of one of the creature’s legs, but it swept her aside with another and chased after her, abdomen bending to spray its sticky contents at her.

    He saw his chance. He focused his sight on that point.

    As the webs sprayed forth, they ignited, the fire racing back into the creature’s body.

    It shrieked and writhed, flailing, as a molten glow grew inside its swollen belly. He could see the shadows of countless smaller spiders scrabbling about within, backlit by its new, internal fire. It was like an unholy wagon of spiders in the shape of a spider. Cracks began to spread through its shell…

    And yet it continued to bite. To strike. To chase. Smoke poured from it, flaming spiders clawing their way out of its body, and yet it only lashed out more. Its back split open, smoldering innards and skittering progeny pouring out onto the cave floor, and yet it still chased Rhian as his fire consumed it.

    It gave him the opportunity to strike. His sword bit through its rear leg as it turned towards the girl, shearing through it just as he had with its smaller, rockier kindred. The wound, sealed with flame, took a moment before it disgorged its wretched contents. Enough time for him to move on to the next, which he bathed in a sheet of flame that caught the crawling horde coming from the other wound.

    Stripped of its supporting legs on one side, the creature’s burning back slammed into the stone where he stood.

    Or had stood.

    He hadn’t stopped moving yet.

    The spider’s abdomen split open full, tearing free of the body proper and collapsing into a sagging, smoldering pile… and yet it still tried to attack, this time spinning round on him. It snapped at him, the largest part of its body simply gone

    And Rhian used the chance to rip her daggers free of its head, shearing off one bulbous black eye from the creature’s grotesque face.

    This thing just won’t die!

    The wound was enough to make it turn back towards her again, but she’d already broken from it and was running for one of the exits out of the chamber. One that he’d seen filled with spiders… and had subsequently purged as he’d tried not to get cornered and overwhelmed in the fight.

    He managed to chase after the Werebat, charging through smoke and drifting embers, though she proved faster than he. That she was escaping was small comfort considering it left him first in line for the Beast’s fangs. He followed her into another set of narrow tunnels, the firelight fading as he went, though the smoke was slowly filtering through these now, too. He could hear the thing scrabbling after them, maimed and mortally wounded but utterly unwilling to just die.

    Once we get into the narrowest parts, we’ll be fine.

    Except that the scratching sound of the creature following them continued no matter how narrow the passage became. Somehow, it was able to fit in a space so small he had to go through it sideways.

    “It’s still coming!”

    “I know.

    He couldn’t understand it. How is it fit-

    He saw it, bent and folded, head pressed in, body compressed and contorted in a mockery of natural life, mandibles reaching as it rounded the corner. A twisted leg stretched towards them, lone black eye staring.

    It lunged.

    Itburned.

    He lashed back and up at it with his smoldering blade, the thrust shearing off one of its chelicerae and spraying him with something that stung his skin. The other he desperately tried to stop with his gauntleted off-hand, but it only shoved him to the ground and plunged towards his shoulder. The weight of the thing, far too much for his common strength, pulled him down as it tried to leverage its impossibly bent body and it began to drip spiders from the new wound.

    Rhian’s saws went to work, hacking and tearing at the creatures that poured out of the monstrosity and at its legs, desperate to keep it from bracing itself effectively. It slid downward, pulling him further down and in, towards the grinding, sawing jaws. He screamed and poured his flames down that horrific maw, over and over as the fang bore him down. The creature’s head glowed with it. Its little eyes shriveled and burst, and even the great black sphere that had yet remained, jets of flame escaping their sockets as it still tried to devour him.

    Something snapped. It broke, and he fell.

    Backwards.

    The tunnel behind the Beast glowed with dancing flames. The other fang had broken free, the spider falling forward, shoving him on his ass before its head.

    Its legs twitched and writhed, snapping themselves against the narrow walls, jaws grinding mercilessly mere inches from him… only to finally be still.

    It had finally, finally, died.

    The last skittering members of its horde were being cut to ribbons by Rhian’s deadly saws, but all he could do was scoot himself further back along the stone, eyes locked in horror and hatred at the thing that had come so close to killing him. He was shaking. The only reason he hadn’t pissed himself was that he’d sweat so much he had nothing left to soil himself with.

    He sat there, staring in mute horror at the closeness of his own mortality. He could not have stopped that creature. Not without Rhian keeping it off balance. Not without her keeping its spawn off of him. Even maimed and mutilated as it had been, it would have killed him.

    He sat and panted, eyes wild, the smoldering remains of the spider sizzling in front of him. He flinched when something touched his shoulder, but rather than the biting spiders, or the flies before that, it was Rhian’s hand on him. Steadying. Gentle. She said nothing, but her presence at his back grounded him. He had been moments from death. Closer than the centipede. Closer than the horde of pedipalps. Closer than the pig. He had felt the pressure of that fang through his coat and vest. They would not have stopped it once that fang had found enough purchase to push through. It would have torn right through him, poisoned or not. Somehow, even the flies hadn’t felt as terrifying. More vile and repulsive, but that was only after he’d realized they’d laid maggots in his skin.

    This.

    This.

    Had been the closest to dying he’d ever come. Three years of adventuring by Ardyn’s side. He’d been in ruins infested with Beasts, traipsed through dense forests and eerie barrows, fought against Human bandits and Monster raiders. He’d survived the malice of a Teg in the Fae Courts of Annwn and managed to walk out unscathed from an Inquisitor’s questions. He had crossed a raging river, survived nearly being washed overboard by a storm at sea, and even nearly burned himself to death trying to control his own power.

    This was the closest he’d ever come to dying.

    His breathing slowed. He listed the things he’d survived again. And again. And again. And this time, he added the spider to their ranks.

    Fuck you.

    I lived. You didn’t.

    Fuck you!

    His ragged breathing finally calmed, becoming something nearly normal.

    He barely noticed as Rhian’s Mana washed over him, cleaning the soot and smoke from his body… and the stinging fluid that must surely be venom from the creature’s ruptured fang. Prestidigitation truly was wonderful.

    “Thank you. For all of that.”

    “You’re welcome.” Her hand patted his shoulder, and the slight rent in the leather where it had pricked through his coat, dimpling the vest beneath. His breathing slowed further, finally returning to his natural rhythm. His heart’s pounding slowed as well, a wave of weariness pouring over him as his fire had the spiders.

    “That… was worse than I expected. Somewhat.”

    “If you can make a joke, you’ll be alright.” He nodded “Fair enough. Give me a few moments, though.”

    “Sure. But remember, there are no wards here,” she gestured at the smoking remains now clogging the path. “If there’s something else like that down here, it’ll have noticed all this.” He swallowed hard, but nodded. “Right.” Besides, I doubt I killed all of the little ones… His flames would probably slow them down, at least.

    He stood, legs wobbly from the strain of their ordeal. And the fear. As he did, she took her hand off his shoulder… and bent, picking up the severed fangs of the monstrosity.

    These… are worth something.” He shuddered, seeing the massive hooks in her hands. He wanted no part of them. He’d seen more than enough, thank you.

    “How’s your side, by the way? That thing gave you a solid kick.” So that’s what hit me.

    “Sore, but I’ll live.”

    “Bit anywhere?”

    “Not that I can feel, no. You?”

    “Yeah. A lot.” His eyes widened. “Are you-

    “I’m fine. It’s hard to get anything through this skin of mine… at least so long as it’s not silver, anyway. The little ones got nothing on me,” she grinned in the dark, teeth glinting in his gauntlet’s glow. “And the big one never got close.” She gave him a thumb’s up. He just shook his head.

    “By the way, nice job back there.”

    “I’ve been having to try a lot of new ways of fighting down here, so…”

    “Oh, I didn’t mean that, though that was impressive too. I meant those wisecracks.”

    “Huh?”

    “Got a chuckle out of that one about my ass.”

    “I just said that because I was panicking.”

    “You flirt pretty well when you’re scared. Going to have to do this more often.”

    NO!” She just laughed at him, heading deeper into the tunnels and leaving him no choice but to follow.
    ………
    ……


    They almost totally avoided Beasts following that initial encounter; only a few of the isopods and a couple of the less troublesome rock spiders. She managed to collect some new trophies that way.

    “Financial security is nice.” Her words, but he agreed with them well enough. He just wished it didn’t require them to risk their lives to get it. But such was the lot of an Adventurer in the field.

    Rhian assured him that this was actually what the Beast situation was normally like in the area, so it wasn’t that much of a risk for her. For reasons neither of them could fathom, the quantity and strength of the Beasts in the area was spiking, however. It was putting a damper on her normal lifestyle, even in just this single trip.

    “Seeing this kind of thing actually makes me worry about flying to the market now. If it’s like this down here, what’s it like up top?”

    “No telling, but I can’t help you up there.”

    “Right. And I can’t exactly leave you on our own at home, now can I? Some scaly hussy might creep up and steal my rations.” He could hear the smirk in her voice.

    “I see I’d have no say in this, huh?”

    “Nope. Food doesn’t talk.”

    “Having fun, are we?”

    “Little bit. But seriously, we’re coming up on where we need to keep quiet. The wards should be up here… but those people aren’t one’s I want to get involved with. Once we check the bags, we’ll need to start moving again. Silently.” He nodded and started unloading his gear. He doubted the flies had done much to his possessions, but he’d taken a kick from a spider the size of an elephant, had to roll around on the rocky floor, and been half-buried in biting spider rain. His gear was made to take a beating, but he still needed to take a look at it.

    People, huh? Ah, that reminds me…

    “Hey… Rhian?” He started talking as he went to look over his alchemy kit, stashed in his bedroll… And immediately started cursing as and stomping as a hand-sized spider squeezed out of the bundle. He made short work of the thing, but he’d had enough of spiders for a very long time. Rhian laughed, unconcerned with one that “small,” and added it to their collection of Beast parts.

    “Well, now that that’s dead, what’d you want?” She spoke as they both looked over their gear. That hers proved to be intact was unsurprising. That his had survived was something like a miracle, though it was scuffed and battered more than it’d started the day.

    “We’ve been seeing a lot of corpses on this trip.” Despite his experiences as an Adventurer, he'd never had to deal with the dead all that much. Bodies, besides those of Beasts, animals, and the occasional dead Adventurer or civilian, weren't especially common. A mass grave, open, full of ripened corpses and carcasses, was not something he’d ever expected to see. Or smell. He had not been ready for the experience.

    “Yeah… most of them were Goblins in the webs, if you’re wondering. Different tribes, too. Couple Kobolds…”

    “And a lot of Orcs, if you’re counting the Hall.”

    “Yeah… that… that was worse than I’d expected… and I’ve never seen bodies on the tree like that. The only thing I can think of is if there’s some kind of shrike Beast up there now that’s using the place as a larder. That… or whatever the hells those flies were has been busy. What about them?”

    “I haven’t seen any… That is to say… Men. Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings… you know. Anything like that… except when they’re dead. And there were a lot of them in the Hall.”

    “Ahhhhhh, that. You’re thinking maybe the Monsters are killing people or something?”

    “No, not particularly. It’s more like… if there were that many humans here, I’d think I’d have been less remarkable at the Market. I’d have heard or seen them, or you’d have said something.”

    “You’d be right. But, you see, you’re missing something important.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Well, you know how I look right now, with the wings and the fur and the ears and my cut lil’ tail over my ‘loud’ ass?”

    “Well…”

    “I’m a therianthrope. I don’t look like this all the time. I’m a Monster because I was turned into one… but it’s not who I was originally. It’s a condition, like a disease. Or a curse. So long as Cynthia, Oliblish, and Nibiru aren’t full, I can look just like I did before I was bitten. Well… that’s also what I’ll look like when I die.

    “Huh? You mean…”

    “Therianthropes and Entothropes revert to our human forms when we die.”

    “So all those bodies were…”

    “Therianthropes or Entothropes from the surface tribes. They only looked like that because the affliction dies with us. Even the ones born that way."

    "That’s…"

    "It's not so bad, really. Like, I've come to see being a Werebat almost like a set of clothes. It's not really me. I don’t want it to be. It’s just an outfit I have to wear certain times of the month. Or if I really want to put it on myself."

    "So the idea that you go back to what you were… it's your true self revealed."

    "Yeah. I'd rather people remember me for who I was. Not what. When I die, I'll be no different from anyone else."

    "You've really thought about this."

    "Yeah, well… when I first turned, I thought maybe it’d be better to just die. For a while after, too. Hells, even before that… life isn't always kind."

    "... I suppose that's true, but… do me a favor, would you?"

    "Sure, what?"

    "Try not to die, would you? I'd rather you didn’t."

    "Ah, well… I don’t exactly feel that way now, so…"

    "Good. Still, do me that favor." She sighed and shook her head, quietly laughing.
    ………
    ……


    They traveled in forced silence from then on, him sipping on a Potion, her on her water. The caves, which had been relatively dry around the Hall and the spiders’ den, became wetter once more. Water dripped from the ceiling into shallow pools or ran down walls before vanishing into the cracks in the stone. A rare few places had moss growing in them, but for the most part they were as weirdly free of living things as much of the rest of the complex. It left him with more questions, including about how the spider in his gear had crossed the ward, but he didn’t expect he’d get answers even if he could have asked. Rhian didn’t seem very well-informed about the inner workings of the spells in this place, just where they were and weren’t. She might have been better informed about the paintings and murals that adorned this section of the complex, but he was unable to ask… and didn’t have time to with the pace she was setting, even if he’d been able to speak.

    At least it gave him time to think… it’s just, he had so many things to contemplate, he found himself having difficulty focusing. What to do with Ardyn’s remains. Concerns about the weird cult. Rhian’s ass. Curiosity over the people Rhian wanted to avoid… people he suspected were probably the other Werebats, but couldn’t be certain about. Thoughts about the Beasts and their seeming surge in numbers and power. Rhian’s ass. The contents of the Story Hall, both horrific and once-majestic. The strange tree that had ruptured it. The behavior of the beasts there and the anomalous flies. Rhian’s ass. The sinking sensation that the Glas Sisters weren’t done with him yet and the apprehension over what their “promise,” might be. Rhian’s ass. The mural in the cave where they’d… rested before. His possible deal with the Lich. Rhian’s ass. The war on the surface. Neh’Rhys and what Rhian seemed to genuinely want him to do. Rhian’s ass. The implications of the gems he’d taken from the Well. The fate of the rest of his expedition. Rhian’s ass. The strange lizard girl that had snuck up on them while they slept. Even the horrible sensation that was knowing he’d need to head back the way he’d come soon after in order to meet Nye again. And then there was Rhian’s ass.

    Something about the way it moved when she walked, how those pants of hers hugged the cheeks and her cute little tail flapped… For some reason, he was finding it hard to concentrate on much of anything else.

    He found himself growing closer and closer to her as they traveled, albeit slowly, the flex and sway of her legs and hips calling to him. The caves were as much a maze as ever, but her curves were becoming his guide. Every so often she’d turn and look at him, though whether it was to check on him, or because she could tell where his thoughts were heading, he couldn’t say.

    Eventually, the twists and turns, the side tunnels and passages, brought them to a larger chamber. A mural adorned the wall, finally stealing his eyes away from the Werebat’s backside. This one bore a central Elfling wearing finery and a crown and facing the viewer, taller and more robust than most, standing before a great gray tree. In one hand he held a book. In the other, a black sword. More trees in normal hues stood beside him, as did buildings of curved stone. Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Humans flanked this figure, kneeling, as the three moons hung in what was probably meant to be an afternoon sky.

    Rhian touched his shoulder, shaking her head as he tried to get out his notebook. He grimaced, but left it alone, hoping he’d be able to remember the image well enough to take note of it later. He left it, following her around a bend in the cavern… and up a set of hidden steps that had been carved against the cave wall behind a natural partition of stone. The steps rose up and up, twisting to the right and then turning back again, leading them into the cavern wall. And then abruptly the path ended.

    A wall blocked it, rising straight up, handholds carved into it. I guess we’re climbing.

    She kept the lead, and he followed.

    That… ass.

    It literally filled his vision. It was all he could see; Rhian’s ass and crotch. Hand over hand, foot after foot, but none of that really registered. The thought of using his gauntlets’ magic didn’t even occur to him. His mind was too focused on her. He could smell her, he realized; feminine and wild. He was starting to throb.

    When she topped the wall and turned to offer a helping hand, he gladly took it… and pulled her close against him. She just smirked, put a hand to his lips to halt his incoming kiss, and beckoned him on, the sway in her hips shifting into an even more inviting roll.

    It was very much intentional now.

    Her pace quickened. So did his. Neither ran, but their walk was brisk, if quiet. The tunnel bent, turned, and she disappeared around it for an instant. Until he caught up. Just close enough for his fingers to caress her lower back, and she pulled away again. He almost didn’t notice that it was growing lighter again.

    What he hadn’t expected was the source. Until he remembered her words.

    ‘We have to go up to the next level and down again’

    They were back on the surface, on a ledge overlooking a room like many he’d seen before; round, domed ceilings, curving walls, and a central skylight in the ceiling. Rays of light, gold and green-tinged, filtered in through that opening.

    She stood away from the edge, stretching her arms, unfurling her wings. Her pack was propped against the wall. When his hands touched her this time, she didn’t pull away. Instead, she bent further back, leaning against him.

    “What got into you, huh?” She whispered, but her voice sounded good to him, a huskiness to it that brought to mind their time in that moss-covered chamber.

    “Don’t know… I…” He whispered back, hand reaching around to rest on her flat belly. “I just…”

    He really didn’t. But seeing her there, watching her move… his mind kept turning to her body… to wanting to be inside. She chuckled and pressed her firm butt against him, a gentle grind. There was no way he could hide his stiffness. She pulled away just as he went to embrace her, moving from the ledge to the wall.

    “It’s fine… I keep thinking about it, too. So… just keep it quiet. And…” Her buckles clinked gently as she loosened her belts, her armor. She slid her pants down, her tunnel’s entrance open and flush, drenched, and thrust her ass towards him as she bent and braced against that wall.

    Hurry.” His pack dropped to the floor with a quiet thud.

    He had already unlaced his own before he’d realized, engrossed as he was with her stripping, with following her. His hands were on her ass in moments, not even bothering to remove the gauntlets. He adjusted. She adjusted, her back bowed, legs spread as his tip kissed her opening. His hands clenched on her hips as he shoved his whole body forward. He buried himself in her, hilting, her head tilted back with a stifled moan, body quivering as he pressed her chest against the wall. He thrust, withdrew, thrust again, the need to breed her taking over. He started to pound, hips slamming into her ass, the flesh rippling with each stroke. She came against him, drenching his pants and leathers in her fluids, body shaking in his hands and on his shaft.

    Somehow, he understood how the Monsters felt. That primal, animalistic need.

    She made him want to empty into her. To pour everything into her until he had nothing left to give. That animalistic desire to impregnate, to seed her, to fill her with his children.

    The reasoning part of his mind was shocked, confused, horrified that something so primal was a part of the rational him. Was guiding him, even at a time when they should have focused.

    The rest of him didn’t care.

    This woman had awakened something in him. Something that, at least for now, was as busy pushing the calm, collected part of his mind against a wall as he was Rhian.

    He grunted softly with each push… losing himself in the action as her walls tried to wring him of his seed. They pressed, stroked, squeezed, sucked, begging him to push deeper and deeper, until he could go no further into her. And when he couldn’t, she pushed back, grinding, twisting, the motion bending his cock and dragging her inner wrinkles across every inch. Each withdrawal pulled out new torrents of juice. He pushed her against the wall, pressing her cheek to it as he came, her muffled moans taking on a satisfied note.

    She seemed content with that.

    He wasn’t.

    Not yet soft, he repositioned, angled up, and started thrusting again. Her breathing rough and panting, he raked himself on her folds, the walls clamping down and throbbing as he pulled their mingled fluids out and shoved them back in turn. His pace quickened as that tunnel of flesh convulsed and closed, pressed, gripped, as if trying to keep him locked inside her. It was enough to stiffen him again, and he redoubled his efforts.

    Mmmmm, fuck.” Her voice was quiet, but it resonated; she clamped down harder as she shuddered in climax again.

    He let out one final grunt, hips bucking hard, her feet lifting off the ground as he shoved her up and came again, cock pumping its second load against her womb. He spasmed, firing jet after jet into her depths before they both slumped against the wall. They were both spent, legs shaking. Only the wall kept them upright. They’d done too much with too little respite, and all they could do now was rest. They stayed there, pressed against the wall, locked in their own aftershocks. Even after it ended, he stayed inside, the two savoring the feeling of their union. It felt good just being inside her. It felt right in a way that made that primal beast of instinct in his core content. He only pulled out by nature, his cock softening enough that it couldn’t remain.

    They both slid to the floor from the wall, sitting, her ass pressed against his lap. He could feel himself starting to stiffen again, but he had nothing left. Whatever desperate desire that had taken him had been sated for the moment, making way for fatigue. He leaned back, bracing on his arms and drenched in sweat, panting as Rhian started to rise on shaky legs.

    And promptly lowered herself on his cock with a pleased groan. The impact forced a gasp out of him. Still shaking, still facing the wall, she ground her hips into his, rocking on his shaft. Her passage coiled and writhed, stroking him as she shook and twisted waist, her hips. She didn’t bounce. They were both too tired for that.

    But she craved more. And he was happy to oblige.

    She flexed and twisted, but only slightly, the movements becoming smaller and smaller as he grew bigger and bigger inside her, until he could feel every crease and fold as it undulated against him. Caressed him. They both sat there in the dark, joined. He twitched, flexing. She twitched, flexing. He felt his balls rising as she edged him closer, pressure building. I want to cum. It was eating at him, consuming him, hanging on the cusp of one steadily building orgasm. A need that not even his weariness could quiet. He could feel his newly-regained senses straining already.

    I want to cum.

    He leaned back, flat on the floor.

    I want to cum!

    He put his gauntleted hands on her hips.

    I NEED to cum!

    And he thrust up, his body becoming an arch as he shoved his member deep. The orgasm took him, legs giving out and dropping his waist to the floor once more, Rhian riding him the whole way. She fell back onto him, quivering in her own ecstasy.

    They lay there on the cold stone of the walkway, his cock slowly going limp inside her. It would eventually return to the open air, but it seemed reluctant to leave the comfortable warmth of its current home. He didn’t blame it.

    “That was… a bit more than I’d intended. Sorry, I got carried away.”

    “Don’t worry. We had a nice sit-down about it, after all.” He snorted. “Not sexy at all.” He heard, rather than saw, her stick her tongue out at his response to her joke.

    “Sorry, I’m all sexy’d out after this. I need a Mana Potion.” He’d fired off so many shots in the past day that his cock and balls ached. The miserable thing was, he still wanted to fuck her. He just didn’t have the energy or physical stamina to do it. He’d pushed himself so much in the past few days that it was a wonder he hadn’t just collapsed from exhaustion. All of the walking. All of the running. Multiple life-or-death struggles. Then sex. A lot of sex. Like as not, the only things keep him going were his herbal chews and the Potion he’d been nursing since the flies.

    “How about we actually rest this time? It’s not too dangerous here, right?” Can’t imagine she’d have let that happen, otherwise. She would have stopped it, right?

    “Yeah, it shouldn’t be. When we go back down it will be, but sound doesn’t carry well between the levels here.”

    “Great. I’m going to pretend to be dead for a while then.”

    “Sounds like a plan.”

    He didn’t bother moving at all, just lay there with his pants down and his ass on the cold stone. It honestly wasn’t so bad when it came to temperature; Rhian wasn’t moving, either. Her body heat was more than enough to keep the ruin’s chill away. He just had to try not to think about sexual things while they were like this, or he had a feeling they’d be going for another round when they really shouldn’t. So instead he turned his head where he lay and looked at the room more properly.

    I see what she was saying now. From here, it’s obvious what she meant.

    The rooms were made so that they almost resembled mushrooms in a way, designed so that there was a hidden walkway that overlooked the central room and appeared to be a continuous wall around the whole room when seen from below. The angle and lack of lighting created an optical illusion that made it impossible to spot the fact that there was a path up there without some truly exceptional perceptions. The color scheme made it seem as if the wall was a continuous surface.

    So when I felt like someone was watching me… there probably actually was someone watching me. They were just up here, out of sight and exploiting the angle so that they could see me, but I couldn’t see them.

    I suppose it makes sense that Rhian would notice this. She can fly. It’d be obvious when seen from this level, but from below it’s impossible with the ability to see in the dark. This was obviously some kind of defensive design. It’s a maze, but one that can be turned into a death trap at any time.

    He realized that when he’d fought the squirrel Vermidons this must have been how they seemed to come out of nowhere; creatures like that could easily climb the walls. Those things were lurking on these balconies and dropped down the second they realized I was there.

    He took an awkward drink of water from his skin, the pouch difficult to reach with Rhian laying on him.

    I wonder how they were supposed to notice when someone’s up here, though, if sound doesn’t carry well between the levels? Some kind of Alarm Spell? Scrying? Bound Elementals? He thought about the spirits of mud and stone he’d seen down below.

    That might make sense… if there are Air Elementals here. They’d be keeping watch… and cleaning this place when there’s nothing in the rooms. But only the ones where the wards remain. They’re bound here by some Covenant or other. Hmmm… but not all of the rooms that seemed to be warded were really clean. Some had debris from above. So what’re the criteria? Why some rooms and not others? Why places like that waterfall chamber and not everywhere? And if they’re relying on them for security here… that means they’ve probably already spotted us… and yet I don’t feel that presence from before. But I wonder… if we stayed here… would it find us?

    He couldn’t help but think it’d tried to warn him, indirectly, about the squirrels. If it had, he should probably thank it.

    Ah. It was her, wasn’t it? If they’re the original inhabitants, it stands to reason they’d have a Covenant with the Elementals that maintain the place. And Nye said they almost never come out. That he must have made some kind of impression on her…

    Fuck, I took her Crystal.

    “Something wrong? You’re tensing up.”

    “... Maybe. I just realized something.”

    “Hmmmm? What?”

    “Well… ah… it’s probably not important. Hopefully.

    Reeeeeeally?”

    “Probably. I… do have a question, though.”

    “Hmmmm… sure. What is it?”

    “So, you know what your wish at the Well was. And apparently Neh’s, too.”

    “Yeah?”

    “How… how common is that? Or how common would you say that is, as a wish someone would make there?”

    “Ah… I see where you’re going with this now. You’re afraid you’re going to have another couple of girls after you,” he nodded. “Well, I’d say it’s pretty common around here. That scholar guy’s full of shit, but that’s one stereotype of his that’s got some truth to it. Who doesn’t want to fall in love?” He sighed.

    “You shouldn’t worry about it. So long as the person in question doesn’t find out you took it, you’ll be fine.” He grimaced.

    “I think it’s too late for that, actually.” She blinked at his response.

    “Definitely for one… possibly both.” She stared at him with a blank face.

    “If it comes to that, I guess I’ll have to see what happens. I’ll deal with it if it comes up.”

    “I… wasn’t expecting you to be…”

    “Alright with that? I’m not, really. But I did tell you you’d have to take responsibility for taking those things. If I said you didn’t have to deal with them, I’d end up including myself in the list of things you didn’t have to deal with…

    And I don’t particularly want that.” She wasn’t facing him as she lay atop him, but he could hear the smile as it crept into her voice. Hah… even back then, you weren’t being honest about what you wanted. He sighed, gently shaking his head. It was enough of a motion to catch her interest. She rolled over to face him.

    He looked at her askance as if asking if she really believed he’d just cut her off so easily, the motion causi. She chuckled in response.

    “Oh really?”

    “Mhmmm… really.

    “I never would have guessed. I suppose the possibility of me leaving is another issue you’ll deal with if it comes up.” She glared at him.

    “I’ll chase you.” And yet here she is…

    “As expected. I suppose this means you’ve come to terms with those feelings, then?” He laughed.

    “Har har,” she paused, but then started speaking once more, so softly that he almost couldn’t hear her. “Don’t be cruel. I can’t… something like that… in just a few hours… I… I don’t like it. It feels good. But… I don’t like it. I don’t know… how to feel anymore.” She buried her face in his vest. Or tried to, at least. The leather was sturdy.

    “I don’t like it.” It was a muffled sound.

    “But?”

    “It is what it is. It’s not the way I should feel. But it is the way I feel. I’m going to have to get used to that. I understand it… it’s just… it’s not really the way I want to be. It feels like I’m being controlled.”

    “I can understand, I think.” Maybe even relate… The feeling he’d had, the feeling that had led to this tryst… it wasn’t something he could really rationalize. He shouldn’t have felt the way he did. But he had. He’d lost his self-control. No, even the impulse itself wasn’t something he’d normally have had.

    “Nice ass.”

    “Thanks. It’s getting a bit cold. But that’s not really…”

    “Ah, no, sorry. I mean, you do have a very nice ass. Almost hypnotic, really. But that’s not exactly what I meant. I was just thinking out loud.” She looked back up at him, smirking.

    “I’m having an identity crisis and you’re thinking about my ass.”

    “Yes and no. It actually has to do with… well… don’t you think how I acted back on the stairs was strange?”

    “Hmmm? What, with trying to touch me? I don’t think it’s really that strange at all to want to reach out and touch your lover’s body.”

    “Well, but… think about it. You told me we needed to be quiet, and I understood it. And yet there I was, trying to get my hands on you.”

    “Mmmm, well, that’s true, but… you’re new to sex. You want what you want, and you’re not really used to holding back.”

    “Maybe… but I don’t think it’s just that. After the spider, when we were having to keep quiet, I had a lot to think about. Important things… but all I kept thinking of was your ass. I just… couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. I should have been watching out for danger, but there was your ass. I should have been thinking about our problems, but there was your ass. Every time I’d start to concentrate on a problem… your ass.

    She was laughing at him softly, blushing.

    “Damn, I guess you’re an ass-man. Makes sense. I don’t have that much up top. But I do have nice legs.”

    “Indeed,” he put a hand on her ass, heading for her thigh, but she flinched away. “It’s cold.”

    “Ah, right. These things,” he looked at the gauntlet covering his hand. “But yes, your ass was completely disrupting my thoughts. That’s not normal for me. My normal reaction to something like that is along the lines of “Nice ass,” mentally, and then I move on. But I couldn’t do that. I just… kept fixating on your ass. And the longer I did, the hornier I became, until…”

    “Until you just couldn’t help yourself.”

    “Yes.”

    “Honestly, I think you’re overthinking things again. You were a virgin having his first time less than a day ago. You’re just horny, you’ve gotten a taste, and now you can’t stop thinking about it. And here I am, your lover, who’s more than happy to have you inside me. I think we’re both just horny and you’re a late-bloomer who’s finally finding out what that means.”

    “Maybe.”

    Or it could be your Taint creeping in on me. That was what he was afraid of. Just as she was afraid of losing herself to her Monster, he was afraid of losing himself to it. And if I become involved with more than one…

    “Maybe. But either way, we should probably take an actual break. We’ve been through a lot already. And then we fucked. You need to rest, and I need to “digest,” my “rations.” I know we have a deadline to meet, but we should probably actually…”

    “If you’re going to say sleep…”

    Sleep. I’m not changing my opinion. Naps are underrated. You’ve spent time as an Adventurer. You should know.”

    “Yes, yes. Sleep when you’re able. Fine. You’re right. But we should at least eat something first.”

    “I already did, Rations.” He looked at her with blank features.

    “Then I’ll eat something. How about that?” She nodded and rose, both of them fixing their clothing before he started rummaging around in his pack for something he could eat without cooking. He also hauled out his bedding and laid it out.

    “That blanket you got big enough for both of us?”

    “Surprisingly, yes. I bought one large enough that I could fold it over in layers against the cold. And then I bought it again.”

    “Huh?”

    “This was my blanket from the expedition.”

    “... oh. Lucky, it’ll already smell like you.”

    His head snapped back to look at her, but she just stuck out her tongue.

    “I fully intend to cuddle you under that thing, just so you know.” He rolled his eyes.

    “Just so long as you’re comfortable. Sleeping on a stone floor isn’t the most pleasant experience.”

    “I’ll see if I can change that, then.”

    “Eh, no more of that. I’m sore after all this.” My balls hurt, woman. They’re not used to this much exercise in one day.

    “Heheh…” He pushed his pack up against the wall for his soon-to-be pillow and sat down beside it, chewing on some his leftover rations; nuts, dried fruit, jerky, bread, and cheese. He was ravenous. He’d barely eaten since that pillbug stew and he’d had so much exertion through the day it was a miracle he’d not just collapsed. He ate until he was full for once, not concerned about making it last, and washed it down with plenty of water. Once he’d finished, he relieved his bladder over the edge to the accompaniment of Rhian’s applause, and returned to his spot on the bedroll.

    “Was the clapping really necessary?”

    “Yes.” He took off his glowing gauntlet, setting it on his pack beside them as a light.

    She snuggled up against him, her own pack on her opposite side as a makeshift pillow, and they pulled the blanket he’d drug out of his pack over them. Shoulder to shoulder, heads leaning against each other, they slowly dozed off.
    ………
    ……


    He stood in a dark place holding several objects in his hands. Some he recognized, some he didn’t. A blue crystal eye, a red bird, a golden sun, a black fang, a ringed silver sphere. Those he knew. But there were others as well; a three-pointed sapphire star, a petrified shark’s tooth carved with strange symbols, a silvery crescent moon encircling aquamarine waves, a single glittering drop suspended within. His hands were full, but they filled him with warmth against the chill darkness and shed light in gloom, allowing him to see a path forward. To his destination. To where he needed to be.

    Hungry eyes stared at him from the gloom as he walked, from wherever the light didn’t reach, and he heard dreadful sounds and the creaking of leafless trees as if in the wind, but nothing appeared within the light. There were no trees, and even when the eyes stared at him from directly in his path, red and leering, they disappeared as the light touched them. The three moons hung full in the sky above, pale Cynthia, azure Oliblish, black-stained-scarlet Nibiru. But their light wasn’t enough to see the way. It was the stones that lit his way. Always.


    He heard a familiar voice calling his name, telling him it was alright. The voice of a man he knew. It brought him comfort. It spoke warmly, but he could no longer make out the words, and it faded into the dark. Still he walked, a growing sense of urgency guiding his feet. He needed to be somewhere. Soon. But where? More voices surfaced, some familiar, some not.

    Adream isa dream, exceptwhen it’s not. A dreamor destiny, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is…can you truly choose your own fate? We’d like to know knowknow. Three voices overlapping, knowing yet full of mischief and curiosity.

    “Eyes to see the way… but… we… can we? I think… maybe…” A small voice, timid, uncertain, but stained with hope.

    “It is what it is. Doesn’t really matter either way. We’ll deal with it when we come to it.” A familiar voice, warm, yearning, playful.

    “Not bad, but I think we could do better! How about we give it our all?” A strong voice, earnest, proud, full of courage and determination and mirth.

    “Disgusting, isn’t it? Utterly wretched. And yet…” A musical voice, bitter and spiteful and contemptuous, steeped in anger, loneliness, and pain.

    “It is our cillond… our path to choose. What path will we take? Min ir iestavi, yes?” A peaceful voice, wise and sincere, serene and discerning.

    “The path you walk is not for mortals. You will need to be more than you are to complete it." A calm voice, stern, knowing and self-assured… and melancholy.

    “It’s ours for the taking, our right! That it’s a challenge just makes it better! There is no such thing as impossible!” A fierce voice, impetuous, proud, determined and driven.

    The path beneath him shook, and he felt a terrible presence behind him. Something that he felt he couldn’t face. He panicked, legs exploding into a desperate run. Instinct drove him forward, running, running, running, the thing behind him chasing. It was full of hate and madness, undeterred by the light in his hands. To look at it was to see doom. He could feel it.

    He ran, ran towards a flame in the distance, facing the moons as they aligned. Nibiru before Oliblish before Cynthia, a great eye staring down at him. The darkness above revealed a crown of eyes.

    Suddenly he was naked, and still he ran towards the flame, the path running beneath the staring moons.

    “I…

    See…”

    The words crashed into his mind like a tidal wave, an alien presence threatening to tear his sanity apart. And still the thing behind him pursued. The flame beckoned and he heard a roar, not from behind, but ahead. And yet he did not slow. The presence was unrelenting.

    It still followed him. It drew closer. Closer. Closer. It was faster than him. He wasn’t going to make it… Where he was going he didn’t know, only… somewhere, and…
    ………
    ……


    His eyes shot open as Rhian shifted against him, her presence keeping him from bolting upright. He’d been dreaming, though the details were quickly fading. Something had been chasing him, and he’d been holding things. They’d been important, but he wasn’t sure why.

    “Ogol lor?”

    GODS!

    It was everything he could do not to jump and scream. He immediately froze at the whisper beside him.

    There’s no one there, there’s no one…

    Something moved.

    No.

    Changed.

    Colors flowed and shifted, and the gray stone wall beyond his pack became the face of a woman. Or rather, the space just beyond his pack…

    Too close! Her face was just inches from his. He glanced at Rhian, then back to the girl crouching beside him. It seemed the Werebat was a heavier sleeper than he was.

    “Good… morning.”

    “Nadu. Lorel ne anann.” What?

    “I… what?”

    Nadu. Abdur.”

    “Do you… speak Koine?”

    “Nudef, errr… some? Not… not… ummm… mai… umm… well? Not well?”

    “Alright. But you can understand it, right?” She nodded.

    “You’re the girl from before.”

    “Naw, err… yes?”

    “So… this Crystal is yours.” He gently motioned with his left hand, still under the blanket, pointing up at the glowing metal glove atop his pack.

    “Yes.”

    “I thought so. You threw it into the water for a wish, right?” The reptilian girl blushed slightly and nodded.

    “I apologize for taking it. It was your wish.” She solemnly shook her head at his words.

    “Nagalu… it is… good?”

    “Just to clarify… yours wasn’t the only one I took. Hers,” he gestured with his head to Rhian beside him. “and two others.” Her lips drew taut, but she nodded.

    “At least two wanted a lover. Did you also…”

    “... Athon. Yes.” He sighed. Knew it. Absolutely knew it.

    “I’m sorry, but I already… I’m already with her. And she also wants me to… with her friend. She also put…”

    “Hen maer. Landh nagalu. We… I? Accord? U… ummm… accept? Accept. We… share?” Fuck. He sighed.

    “Alright. You’ll have to take it up with her later. Explain it to her, rather. You are telling me you want to try having some kind of romantic relationship with me, right?”

    “Bestad.”

    “Bes… “Marry you.” Do you know what “engagement” is?” She nodded. “Good. Can we start with something like that instead. She’s in the same situation,” he gestured at Rhian again. “And presumably, so is her friend.” The Werelizard tilted her head to the side, thinking, before she finally righted herself and nodded.

    “Cavren… acceptable.” Even just holding a conversation with this girl is almost impossible. What the hells… and she already thinks of us as being engaged. Why the fuck did I have to be right about this shit? He sighed.

    “So… now that we’re engaged, how about we have introductions.Gods, just smite me now. This is just so utterly absurd.

    “I am Colwyn ap Caradoc, of Dolydd. And you are?”

    “Lisya. Ummmm… Kesta… a question?”

    “What is it?”

    “Mai ke… ummm, do you… savmiruvor?” Sa… miruvor… Uhhhh… that's "have," and miruvor… Isn't that liquor? No, cordial… Wait, did she just…

    “Did… you just ask if I have mead?” She smiled and nodded. “Athon!” An eager nod was her response.

    “... no. No, I do not have mead.” She looked slightly disappointed.

    Literally everyone. I can’t even get away from it in some ancient ruin in the middle of a damn forest! What the actual fuck!?

    His face remained carefully neutral, even as he screamed internally.

    You know what. I’m going back to sleep. I’m done. He started to settle in again.

    "Nadu. Ummm… long sleep. Is night. Sleep again? Pillor… ummm… bats. Bats will… find?"

    "We need to go. Now."

    "Gah! You're awake."

    "Of course I'm awake. You think I could sleep through you having a conversation right next to my head? With these ears? Now come on, we have to get out of here!"

    "Lisya was your name, right?" The lizard girl nodded. "We need to talk later. You can come with us or go your own way, but you don't want to be here if they show up."

    "Nanwen." And with that, her skin faded to match the stone once more, splotches of gray spreading across black and white bands until only her vaguest outline remained. "Le aphadathon."

    And with that, she vanished completely. Rhian had already stowed his blanket and grabbed her pack. "We have to go now. Quietly."

    She barely gave him the chance to grab his own.

    Asha Records
    Fuyuki - Winter Cleaning
    My Shameful Fics and the Wiki to go with them. Oh, and some fossil I found.
    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  15. #15
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Chapter 11: Homes. (Part 1)


    Rhian led the way as quickly and quietly as she could, sticking close to the walls and staying clear of the ledges. The skylights were pitch black, the chambers shrouded in gloom that only his gauntlet held at bay. Col did everything in his power to mimic her movements; she was dramatically more capable in that area than he was.

    Guess I’m the weakest link here.

    He couldn’t even tell if Lisya had followed them or not. Between her ability to blend her colors with the walls and her silent movement, she might be behind them, ahead of them, or gone in a whole other direction. In the end, he was just a copycat. There was no comparison to the real thing.

    Despite moving around on the surface level, Rhian’s movements were confident. She must have used this route a lot at some point. She followed it as if by rote memory.

    I couldn’t have followed a path like this without a map… Turn after turn, circling rounded rooms and charging across arched walkways hidden in the gloom of high ceilings, down long paths and portals hidden by their low clearance and the walkways themselves. It was maddening, her near-run steady and smooth, eerily quiet. Even her pack seemed to have forgotten how to creak. No one spoke. There was too much fear in their guide.

    After what seemed like an eternity, Rhian turned down a set of stone steps, leading them back to the underground. They snaked down into the earth. When it finally opened out into the cave system proper, they were greeted by the sound of water dripping in pools and trickling down stone. Their course took them through narrow tunnels and larger chambers, a rare few with rents in them that would likely show the forest above in daylight. She slowed here, moving more carefully, watchful of water and the echoing of feet on stone. He followed suit.

    The air began to fill with a musty smell… and the stink of piss and offal. Piles of brown filth heaped against the cavern walls in places… they crawled with vermin and blossomed with mushrooms and mold, but there was no sign of great Beasts.

    Bats… There are bats living in this section. Even if they're not here right now. But how are they getting past the wards? Or are there none here, but no Beasts have settled the area? He could only guess. Rhian avoided the piles as best she could. He did likewise. At least the guano helped muffle the sound of their travel, disgusting as it was.

    More murals adorned this section, but most were streaked, stained, and bleached with animal filth. He could barely make out their contents, their images too defaced. What a loss.

    The Werebat eventually turned once more, taking them up another stone stair and into the surface level once more. This one was short and straightforward, depositing them in a room that had partially collapsed under some great weight above. She stopped for the first time since they’d begun the journey, giving him a moment to catch his breath. His legs and lungs alike were getting a great deal of exercise lately.

    She gave him a moment to recover before moving to the ledge; the circular room was like so many others if one overlooked the ceiling and the debris-littered floor. She looked him in the eye, then, having surveyed the room herself. One furred finger rose to her lips… at which point she leapt backwards, wings unfurling.

    He didn’t have a chance to react before her feet lashed out and grabbed his shoulders and carried him over the edge. Two short flaps and his feet touched the floor. Another and hers did. Without preamble, she’d picked him up and flown with him. His mouth hung open for a moment in shock. But only for a moment. He snapped his head back up to where they’d been… where he thought they’d been. He couldn’t see the space they’d stood in, let alone if Lisya had chosen to follow them. Rhian put a hand to his shoulder and motioned for him to follow.

    This time their run had them snaking through paths that were more familiar to him… if perhaps not the ones he’d followed before. He nearly froze after seeing a statue like the one he’d seen before, but of a different Monster… like some kind of bipedal shark with a harpoon in hand. He wanted to study it, but instead had to settle with making a mental note of it; Rhian started dragging him when he stopped.

    He nearly froze again when they ran past an exit to the surface; a pathway large enough for two wagons to enter at once… and that promptly ended in a wall of trees. Whatever road had once been there, the forest had consumed it. It was barely wide enough for a person to squeeze through now, though it was more open near the lintel. Rhian turned to the left at that, leading them deeper into the complex again, through room after room.

    Until she began to slow.

    He could tell, somehow, that it was not confusion that held her back, but something else… Her footsteps became slower, more deliberate, but her breathing… it was as if she were still running.

    The room ahead… There was something odd about it. It was circular, like so many others, but a bit larger than most. It didn’t seem to have suffered any damage. Its skylight was clear. And yet there were scorch marks on the floor.

    There was a fire here. A long time ago… but the marks survived. The floor had been damaged by it somehow, so that whatever cleaning the Elementals did couldn’t restore it readily. Rhian’s eyes were locked on those burns… until her head whipped up, eyes wild with panic. She looked at him, looked around the room, and…

    Something grabbed him.

    Lifted him.

    Hauled him up and up and over, and pressed him against a cold stone wall. A clawed hand closed on his mouth as Lisya’s face appeared in front of his… and snatched the Crystal from his gauntlet. When did she learn that? It left him in the dark, with only the mediocre Elfsight of his glasses and the faint glow of the moons through the hole above.

    Lisya stood between him and the ledge, spreading herself out to fill as much space as she could with her short body and further blocking his vision with her scale-clothed form. She tried to press him down into a ball, but their height difference was too great to hide himself fully. How the girl had been able to drag him, he didn’t know.

    He heard it then…

    Women.

    Women laughing.

    And the sound of fluttering wings.

    They descended like a cackling whirlwind through the skylight, brown and white flashes of leathery wings and naked bodies. With Lisya in the way, he couldn’t see them clearly, but one was tall and lean, but with an impressive bust, her fur and hair darker and more luxuriant than the other two. One was slightly shorter, but much more muscular, more robust, her color closer to Rhian’s, and the third… looked like a child made of pure snow. He couldn’t see a scrap of cloth on any of them, save the harnesses that bore their weapons; rapier, greataxe, daggers.

    “Well well well… truly, this is a place for destined meetings. What brings you here… Rhian?” The tall one, her voice smooth as silk and cruel as steel. The slender blade of a rapier hung on a belt at her waist; the only piece of clothing she wore.

    “I think she’s looooooooooooooooost.” The childlike one, her voice a manic sing-song sound, high and hungry. Daggers had been strapped to the girl’s thighs, breaking the white expanse of her skin and fur.

    “Oh, come now, An. How could she ever lose her way in her own home?”

    “Heheee, but she doesn’t live here anymore, does she, sister?”

    “Perhaps… but the Colony will always be her home… isn’t that right? Bron?”

    “... Hi, Rhian. Sorry about this.” The muscular one was the first to land, her voice quiet and remorseful, yet there was a strength to it that seemed somehow wholesome. The greataxe across her back showed it was more than just a strong voice to her.

    “It’s alright Bron.”

    “Did I give you permission to speak, prodigal?” Oh. Rhian simply shook her head and said nothing more.

    “Good. I take it you’ve finally decided to return to the Colony? Otherwise, I’m afraid we must deal with you as we would any other trespassers.”

    “Don’t kill her, Cad. Mother would…”

    Mother has no need to know about the comings and goings of traitors. She most certainly doesn’t need to be bothered by them in her delicate state.”

    “Hehehe… nothing delicate about Mother…” There was something eerie about the small one, her mannerisms somehow… wrong. Her head seemed to bob and shudder, almost as if threatening a seizure.

    “Shush. You should be busy giving her a granddaughter already. Instead, you’ll be receiving another sister.”

    Then stop fucking my husband, Cadi! Stick to your own!What? The albino had flipped from humor to rage in an instant, yet even from where he was crouched he could see the manic smile on her face.

    “We are sisters. What’s yours is mine. What’s mine is yours.”

    “I don’t want your stupid, snotty husband! Keep your hands off mine!” Okay, what the fuck?

    “I’m really sorry about this.” Rhian just shrugged, as if to say ‘It happens.’

    “Cad, An… this is embarrassing. It’s just Rhian. Can’t we just… go home?”

    “What, so you can fuck my husband, too!?!”

    “An, you know I only do that…”

    “Yes, yes, we know Bron. We've heard it all before. You only do that because Mother makes you. She does so want granddaughters, you know. And you’ve hardly made any progress at all finding a husband of your own to make her wish come true. All she wants is a strong Colony, after all. All for the Colony. Always for the Colony.” Cadi's voice dripped with disdain, annoyance, and… both resignation and devotion. He couldn’t make sense of it, of what was going on in her head. However, some things were clear, at least.

    I think I understand now… they’re actively looking to expand and they don’t care how. That's why…

    That's why Rhian’s afraid of them. For me. For herself. Shit. Marking was never going to be enough!

    He tried to gauge the capabilities of the trio… and came back with an unpleasant realization. Both of the larger Werebats were better fighters than either of them, and while the smaller one was weaker, she was a much better mage. His scrutiny showed him that Lisya was surprisingly capable in a fight; she was small, but strong, and her movements belied skill. However, she’d be easily overmatched if she had to deal with two skilled combatants… and facing the mage was troubling. He could get a grasp of magical capabilities; she had exceptional skill at manipulating perceptions and minds, inflicting pain without actual harm, and generating powerful illusions. As miserable as it was… he was probably best suited to fighting her.

    And even then he’d have to do it in melee.

    He tried formulating a plan, but nothing would work; he couldn’t close the distance quickly enough to catch An, and if either Bron or Cadi caught up with him, they’d beat him to a pulp in short order. And that was without taking into account the fact that they could fly.

    If it came to a battle, in other words, he’d have to try to use his flames to shape the battlefield somehow. He couldn’t realistically hit them all at once. He needed to focus his perceptions too much to generate so wide a blast. Not at first. Not to actually start a fire.

    “Well then,” the slender tall bat woman placed a clawed finger to her cheek. “What is your decision, Rhian? Will you be joining us, or the dead?” Her other hand slid to the hilt of her blade.

    “Ahem… I’m afraid I must decline your gracious invitation. I have been tasked with making a delivery on behalf of the Gell Preswylydd tribe. Disruption of this errand could result in difficulties for the Colony.” The strangely formal tone didn’t suit Rhian, nor did her formal curtsy, but the wicked grin she sported very much did. Especially when Cadi’s face contorted in annoyance. “No one would be the wiser if…”

    “There is a reason I chose this route, Cadi. Or did you really think I’d willingly come back here after what you did to Lunie?”

    “Oh, what? Are you still hung up over your little bedwarmer? And you, smelling like you’re full of cum. Did you fuck that little Goblin again, you whore?”

    “Cadi, don’t…”

    “Heheheeeeee whoooooooooooore. Can’t find a husband. Doesn’t know a good man when she sees one… Ahahaha… and just think, you could have had my Emrys if you’d been a little quicker and a little smarter… Ahahahahahaaaaaaaa… makes me want to kill you, you know? Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…” … Okay, no… there is something very wrong with that little white one. That girl is insane. The look of pure, unholy bliss on her face as she talked about wanting to kill Rhian was something he never cared to see again.

    “So… did you? You don’t smell like him… You didn’t, did you?”

    “No. I did not. You jealous, Cadi?”

    “Oh hardly. I have my wonderful knight in shining armor, after all… But the idea of seeing your face as I rape your lover in front of you does make me wet. So… who is it? Someone we’d know?” Okay, no, there’s something wrong with both of those girls.

    “You brought him with you, right? I can smell a man. A good smell. Did you find something special, little runaway? A little birdie told us there was a new Man in Danbryn… someone who’d make good little pups with Bron. You didn’t try to steal him away from her, now did you… Thief?”

    "Cadi, it doesn't…"

    "Yes it does, Bronwen. This little slut has no right to steal your husband from you! You know he was to be yours! Emrys should have…"

    "But I don't like…"

    "Emrys is mine. Mineminemineminemineminemine! My husband, do you hear me!"

    "Oh-"

    "Shut up," He'd had enough, common sense be damned. That girl was too damned annoying. "We get it already. You love your husband. You can stop now." He'd managed to slide out from under Lisya, who’d pulled back in shock when he spoke, settling himself down on the overhang's edge, legs dangling and hands folded in his lap.

    Maybe Lisya can get to a better tactical position. I sure can’t if they already know I’m here.

    "Whaaaaaaaaaaaat!?!" The pallid bat shrieked at him.

    "Thank you." Bronwen at least agreed with him, though Rhian’s eyes were full of dread.

    "No one gave you permission to speak, Human… but in this case, I will allow it. You are correct, after all." Cadi rolled her eyes as her diminutive sister flailed and sputtered, spasming. He remembered what Rhian had told him about their eating habits.

    "May I continue, then?"

    "Don't overstep. Bronwen?"

    "Sure, I'd let him."

    "Very well then, as my sister allows it, you may carry on." He nodded at Bronwen. "Appreciated."

    "No problem."

    "So I gather you're under some kind of mandated marriage order rule, and Bronwen is next in line."

    "Technically yes. In truth, it should Anwen, but due to her lack of… decorum, shall we say… and Bronwen's graciousness, she was allowed to go out of turn."

    "Eh, basically, I was supposed to marry Emrys, but An raped him mid-flight back home. Didn't bother me much; he's not my type. Pretty playboys aren't my thing. Someone a bit more… meaty, is really…" Aha. Errr… Wait. Raped mid-flight? His hand clenched slightly, meeting resistance.

    “That uh… that sounds… unpleasant.”

    “It wasn’t really a big loss. It was just a pain in the ass having to hold both of those two in the air and still fly. That fucking sucked.”

    “Bronwen! Language!”

    “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? It’s not like anyone’s going to say anything about it. No one except you, anyway.”

    “Basically.”

    “Quiet, runaway.”

    “I’m fine with it, if it alleviates your concern.”

    “Irrelevant.” He shrugged slightly.

    “Anyway, as you can see, I’m not exactly the most muscular of men, and I do have a bit of a baby-face, so…”

    “Yeah, I agree. You’re not really my type either. No offense.”
    “None taken.”

    “You’re tall enough. You’ve got the shoulders, but you’re a little too lanky for my likes. Face isn’t bad, but not really rugged enough. You seem nice, though.”

    “Likewise.” She smiled at him, a surprisingly gentle expression for someone so powerfully built. “If you don’t mind my asking… do you cook your own meals?” She looked at him in surprise and a bit of confusion. “Yeah? The Gobs said it was a good skill for… well, a good skill to have. Why?” The small one cackled at her, as if she were insane for listening to the Goblins.

    “Just curious.” And confirming a suspicion. She shrugged.

    “Bronwen, you know that any complaints you have about him wouldn’t matter. Just a few times with him and you’d…”

    “I’m not feeling it, Cad. Besides, he’s already with Rhian.”

    “And apparently a couple of others. I didn’t think of myself as a playboy, but it seems I wound up that way by accident.”

    “Ick.”

    “Disgusting.”

    Bronwen snorted. “How in the hells do you end up as a playboy by accident?”

    “By being unlucky.” The large Werebat laughed.

    “What so…”

    “It seems I’ve become engaged to at least three separate Monsters in the two days I’ve been here.”

    “Hah! That’s great! Wait… so Rhian’s one, right?”

    “Damn straight.” Rhian was more than happy to claim that one.

    “Alright, so… who else…”

    “Neh’Rhys.”

    “Eh… Neh…Rhys? Wait! You hooked him up with your friend?

    Rhian’s face split into a wide grin, blushing, hands upturned.

    “That’s so completely you. Friends with benefits.”

    “What? I take from the rich and give to the poor.” Bronwen snorted again.

    Utterly disgusting.”

    “Lisya.”

    “Never heard of her.”

    “Yeah, I hadn’t…” Suddenly, Rhian stopped mid-sentence, a look of horror spreading on her face.

    Huh?

    CadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadi!”

    “But uhhhh… yeah… She uhhhh… She helped protect me when I first got here…”

    CadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCa diCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadi!”

    “Is… is she alright?” The albino bat girl seemed like she was having some sort of manic fit, racing around, jumping to and fro, even running on four limbs, her wings used like another pair of legs.

    CadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCadiCa-”

    “What!?! What is it, Anwen!?!”

    “Lisya. Is. A. Lizard. Name.”

    “Ah.” Cadi froze, her face suddenly expressionless. Bronwen stiffened, while Anwen looked positively giddy… and Rhian looked as if she’d seen death itself.

    Shit. What did I just do?

    “It is a Lizard name, isn’t it?” Cadi’s face, already stern, hardened further. Even Bronwen, who’d seemed fairly easy-going, if a bit annoyed, became grim. And Anwen… Anwen radiated bloodlust.

    This was a mistake. I made a mistake.

    “Tell me, Man. Have you had relations with a Lizard?”
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    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
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  16. #16
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Chapter 11: Homes (Part 2)

    “I… have not?” The hair on the back of his neck was standing on end. The atmosphere had become even more tense than when the trio had first appeared. The relative warmth that had begun to wash it away had turned to frigid cold.

    “Is there… some reason I shouldn’t?”

    “I see our little runaway didn’t deign to tell you something of great import. So I shall do it in her stead. We Werebats came to this land two generations past under the guidance of a great Oracle. Her visions told of a promised land for our Colony, which in those nights numbered in the thousands.

    Wait… thousands!?! How!?!

    “Our mother was one of that great force, following the divine guidance of our leader. We came to this land, to this holy sepulcher, which was to be our home and the source of bounty and prosperity. We found, however, that the place we had been promised was infested. It crawled with wretched little Lizards worshiping a moldering Green Faith and defiling our sacred home. So in our mother’s time, our Colony drove them out and claimed what was ours by divine right.”

    Ohhhhhhh fuck.

    “We settled the caves beneath this place and found the sacred waters the Lizards had profaned.”

    Does she mean the well or…

    “But in time our numbers began to dwindle. Attrition. The Lizards had been routed, but they hid in holes in earth and stone and murdered us as we slept. We did as was right and killed them when we found them, but there were always more. I was born in those times, and Bronwen after me. Anwen, at least, was spared it… to fear sleep, knowing you might never wake… or worse, that your family might not. That you might never find their killers.”

    You brought it on yourselves, though…

    “Eventually, even the Oracle herself perished, and we were left without guidance. A group of our elders convened and decided that the only way that we might survive was to exterminate them.

    So we did.

    We killed every. Single. Lizard.

    And yet… the price.

    Now, we are all that remain. Myself, Bronwen, Anwen, our Mother, and our husbands. It is why we must rebuild. Our people’s future was stolen from us by those wretched things crawling in the dark.

    It seems, according to you, that we missed one in our purge. On behalf of my people, I most graciously thank you for this service. Have no fear, we will not harm you. You’ve had no relations with it. We will happily annul this most unfortunate “engagement,” of yours. Much to your benefit. Now, if you would be so kind as to tell us where it is…”

    Okay, how the fuck was I supposed to know there was some kind of damn race war going on between these two groups!?!

    “I… don’t actually know where she is?” Gods, I hope she ran. Holy shit…

    “Oh? So she’s not here anymore then?”

    “Any..?” The sisters took flight, closing the distance between the floor and his overhang in an instant. He suddenly found himself surrounded, pinned to the stone ledge by a powerful leg.

    “I’m afraid their odor is… distinct. She’s here. Or was, at least. Spread out and search carefully, they’re hard to spot and deathly quiet. That means you, An.”

    “Then shut up and let me listen!”

    “Might I suggest an alternative option besides…” Cadi stepped down on his chest harder, her strength inhuman for her build, her grasping toes threatening to sink claws through his armor.

    “No.” Even Bronwen shook her head at his suggestion, though it was Cadi who denied it so simply.

    “Are you sure it’s here, Cad?”

    “It wouldn’t leave its mate, I’m sure. It’s here… it’s just hiding. Listen for the heartbeat. They’re slow, but it’s still the same sound as anything else.

    Gods, how do I get her out of this!?! I caused this mess!

    “Hey Cadi.”

    “Silence, traitor. You knew one of these things was around… and you let it live.”

    “Yeah, well, I never had to live through fighting them. Besides, pretty sure that if there’s one, there’s more.”

    “Silence.”

    “Willing to bet there’s a lot more.” Nye certainly implied as much…

    Silence!”

    “You told me you killed them all, but what if it’s actually that they just decided the Colony wasn’t dangerous enough to bother fighting anymore.”

    Silence!

    “Cadi, shut up. The whole ledge up here’s covered in its scent. We’re only going to find it by…”

    “Shhhhh! I hear something…” Silence descended on the room.
    “Hey, why don’t you…” He couldn’t follow the motion, but Cadi hurled something at Rhian as she spoke, the impact of which knocked the wind from her and set her staggering back. He hadn’t even seen anything in her hand to begin with, only the throwing motion itself had given him any sort of warning.

    Damn it! If I try to just set them on fire, I won’t be able to get them all with how they’re spread out… Shit…

    All he had left was a backup plan, and no way to escape after implementing it.

    “It’s on the ceiling somewhere…” He sighed. Guess I’ll have to do it. Sorry everyone.

    “Look, if you’re having trouble finding her, this might help,” he raised his right hand, a small stone in his hand. “It was hers. Would you like to see?” As one, the three turned to look at the object. “Watch closely…” He closed his eyes.

    And buried the Crystal of Illumination into his left gauntlet once more.

    It wasn’t a strong light. A torch, maybe better. However, it erupted out of nothing in a room that was nearly totally dark, to the eyes of creatures far more adapted to darkness than light.

    The shrieks were immediate.

    And redoubled when his right hand, clutching the silver Augment Crystal, closed on Cadi’s calf. The Werebat jerked her leg away from the metal as if she’d been scalded and the room erupted into confusion. He took the brief moment of freedom as an opportunity to slide off the ledge, taking the fall painfully, but rolling with it nonetheless. His knees and ankles screamed, but not as loudly as Cadi and Anwen, who’d made the mistake of looking directly into the light… or had felt the touch of silver.

    “She’s getting away! Out the skylight! Hurry!” He panicked, eyes flashing up, and threw a sphere of flame in the air beneath the opening in an attempt to cut off the Werebats. It slowed them, but none fell for it, with Anwen and Cadi screeching in rage. Bronwen, meanwhile, clung to the ceiling and powered under it, ignoring the heat as she scrabbled out to the surface.

    His fire subsided, but soon the other two had followed Bronwen’s lead, their curses of frustration echoing even from the surface above.

    He was panicking, trying to figure out how to save Lisya when Rhian put a hand on his shoulder and smiled. A thumb’s up from her other left him confused. She wiggled her eyebrows at him knowingly…

    At which point he realized who’d actually yelled the warning.

    She tilted her head, showing the direction…

    And the three of them set a blistering pace.
    ………
    ……


    Whatever fool's errand the duo's improvised trick had sent the sisters on, Col, Rhian, and Lisya weren't willing to jeopardize it with noise. Stealth was the order of the day. Or night, rather. Rhian led them through the darkened halls of the ruin, past pastoral art and simple forest scenes, views of lakes and…

    Suddenly Lisya stopped them, pointing out a path above. With Rhian’s help he found himself on another ledge, watching the lizard girl… move a damn wall.

    It was completely silent, a low door that pushed in and slid aside to reveal a hidden passage. Rhian’s surprise was as obvious as his own must have been… but it wasn’t enough to stop them from following Lisya inside.

    The Werelizard closed the door behind them and then guided them through the inner halls. If it was a maze on the outside, it was worse inside. Tunnels made frequent four-way crossings, the few landmarks being nothing more than scribbles on the wall in a strange Elvish dialect. Must be her language.

    It was certainly enough for her to guide them.

    And to find an armory.

    Or at least a weapon cache. She plucked a shortbow wrapped in strange hide and a matching quiver of arrows, a pair of small axes, and a round, hidebound shield with a blade-set edge. A set of daggers completed the rest. The weapons were on the small side, but were distinctly Vernal Elvish in style; leaves, vines, trees, buds, and flowers dominated their decorations, as did flowing script, though the materials seemed to be bone, chitin, reptilian leather, and a strange, purple-tinged metal.

    He could tell Rhian wanted to pocket something by her intense gaze. Even he wanted to, if only to study it later.

    "Can we… talk here?"

    "Naw. Is safe."

    "I want one."

    "Rhian!"

    "What? They're beautiful! And Byeshk!"

    "I… have no idea what that means."

    "Ah, ummm… right. It’s uhhh… kind of common knowledge where I grew up. I'll tell you about it sometime. It’s expensive!"

    "I see. That wasn't actually what I wanted to talk about, though. It's about those sisters, your people," he looked at Lisya. "And you, Rhian. Just… there was a lot said back there that needs explanation."

    "Nagorchanui."

    "..."

    "Ah… ummm… it is… difficult? Complicated?"

    "Ah. That I can understand. From what they said, Rhian wasn't involved with this and wouldn't know."

    "Nope. Just what they told me way back when."

    "So… did that actually happen?"

    "Naw… err, yes. When I was… child… pillor… bats came. Killed many… first night. Women. Children. Men were… few. Men were… taken? Taken or… fled. Much grief. Stone cried. Cave cried. Sky cried. Trees cried. We hid… armed. Killed in daylight, when bats sleep. Took back husbands, fathers. Hid. Went deep. They came. We fought, died. Fought more, died more. Hid, fought, killed, died. Long time. Many years. Grew up. Killed more bats. Few bats left. Druids say mercy. Enough death. We leave. Few can not. Hate still. Fight. Die. Few bats strong. Old home theirs now. New home ours. We… abide. Should not hate. Still… hard. Aen im agarfant cin lam mae. Im bilthafoph.” She sighed, a look of frustration on her face.

    He nodded. Her speech was broken but it wasn’t hard to get the gist of it.

    “Is that why you hid from us before? That was you with the centipede, right?”

    “I Graug? Naw, naim. Hmmmm… My shot… yes? Before… Rhian is… pillor, ach alaif. Rhian nafael. Rhian is… fair? Ummm… Fair… Minded? Not one… We watched. Long time. Suffer. Rhian is… kind. Is… alright? Hid because… protect others. Many enemies. Long time. Name i tirith dan i iaur Arurug. We watch. We… wait. Ours is… to be… apart. Until watch ends.”

    “Huh.” I only got part of that, but something about being some kind of guard?

    “So uhhhhh, you’re some kind of guards?”

    “Naw. Name i tirith. We are… the Watch. We watch.”

    “Then… what does that make this place? As in Danbryn itself?”

    “Erynothrond? Naed minas, naed ost, naed band, naed othrond. Naed bardor gwanuren. It is… city… fortress… prison… stronghold. It is home.”

    “I’m glad at least you can understand some of what she’s saying when she spouts nonsense.”

    “Bethen nasal. Ech nau.”

    “What’d she say?”

    “Basically? She said it’s not her fault we don’t speak her language.”

    “Oh? Othmuig.”

    “Thank you, Lisya. We should probably stop for now. There’s a lot more I want to ask you, but we need to get back to Rhian’s home. I have to deliver something to the pool I landed in down here, where you put your Crystal. Then we need to rest and get back to Nye.”

    “Im cen. Im… I can… guide. Follow. Tad men, abor. Gwe poliuith sin torn fui. Gwe menaen.”

    “I think that was… we should go at the end there?”

    “Naw.”

    “Works for me.”

    “Agreed.”

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    [16:43] <Twelveseal> Phallus in wonderland sounds like some bad loli-rape KC fanfic
    [16:43] <@Sei> THAT'S what i wanna see




  17. #17
    闇色の六王権 The Dark Six Twelveseal's Avatar
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    Some lewds and some weirdness in this one. Also, it's relatively long for this fic. You have been warned. Also, Chapter 15 is the last complete chapter so far. 16 is a WiP. Once we get to it, the pace will slow down, since I'm no longer just reposting with minor edits, but writing new material.




    Chapter 12: Private...

    The network of secret passages were a godsend; they cut hours of travel time by circumventing nearly all of the normally circuitous route.

    At least according to Rhian. No Beast threatened them, no other Monster challenged them, and no part of the landscape was more challenging to navigate than a simple stair. The scenery was nothing to remark about, but in terms of efficiency, it was leaps and bounds above their previous travels. Of course, if one became lost in that warren of tunnels, a slow death likely awaited.

    Soon enough Lisya guided them down a spiral stair that abruptly ended in a wall. She moved something, revealing a pair of viewing holes. After a quick survey of whatever lay beyond, she slid the cover back in place and moved something else.


    A segment of wall silently glided inward and aside, wide enough for a Man to pass through… and out into a familiar chamber.

    It's the Well. The mural moves. I was leaning against a door back then. Or, well, under a door.

    Col and Rhian dropped down as Lisya clambered onto the mural proper and slid the door back in place.

    "Are all of the murals doors?"

    "Naw."

    "That means yes, right? She just… all of them?" Rhian looked dumbfounded. "How? I can’t hear a…"

    "Air Elementals, right? They hide the sound." Lisya nodded at his guess.

    "But… how can you find…"

    "Elven ancestry and personal experience. Elves are masters of building, hiding, and finding hidden passages… they can sense the disruption in the environment's Mana. She can probably sense that there’s something different about the door. And if she knows, more or less, how the doors work and where to open them from…" Lisya nodded.

    "Oh what the fuck." He just shrugged at the Werebat.

    “Elves. This is how you were able to fight the Werebats, right? It’s some kind of military installation.”

    “Naw, naed coll ost, gadas an cudmain.”

    “Is that just the surface or…”

    “Wait, you understood that?”

    “Err… sort of. Basically, she said this place is a death trap for her people’s enemies. That’s why there’s all the tunnels and secret passages, the weird routes to nowhere, the dead-ends, why it all looks the same up top. Willing to bet that’s why there were weapons stored in the tunnels, too. This is a defensive system like a moat, except that instead of keeping your enemies out, you let them in… and separate them and kill them. Right?” Lisya’s response was a knowing smile and a slow clap. He responded with a half-smile of his own.

    “That’s terrifying. You know that, right?” Her smile broadened.

    “So I’m living…”

    “You’re living in a giant maze meant to confuse invaders so the people actually living in the main spaces can pick you off one at a time. They just haven’t because they don’t see you as a threat, and don’t want to fight pointless battles.”

    “Naw. Idh naed maer.”

    “So when the Werebats invaded… they dropped in on one of the main living quarters from a direction you weren’t ready to defend from.”

    “Naw. It was… surprise. Ummm… allies? Failed. Not see. Not hear. Sleep. Bats quiet. Came in night.”

    “Allies… the Harpies?” She nodded.

    “So the Werebats invaded at night, when the Harpies were asleep… and because they’re normally silent, they didn’t wake the diurnal Harpies.”

    “Di… urinal?”

    “Ah, they’re awake and active during the day. It’s uhhhh… diurnal, though.”

    “Ah! I learn. Grateful.”

    “No problem. But… I think we need to do something about this. I can kind of make out what you’re saying most of the time, but…”

    “Yeah, no. You lost me on pretty much all of that. I’m with Nye on this one.”

    “Tongue is… difficult. Naw?”

    “Ah, yeah… maybe some kind of magic…”

    “I to speak an Felagund.”

    “Your leader?” She nodded.

    Great! Maybe we can sort this out and actually be able to talk. I’d really like to know more about this place and your people!” Lisya looked at him skeptically.

    “Trust me, he’s like this. It’s not him flirting.” Her expression softened somewhat at Rhian’s assurance. “So… are you ever gonna throw that thing in the water, or what?”

    “Ah, yes… I should get that out of the way.” He strode to the pool of water, the very same that had caught him after his mad slide no more than three days past. Or was it two? He was losing track of time in this place. Now that I know a bit about how this place works, I bet this water’s coming from an Elemental source… that’s why it’s pure, and why the wards are weaker here. The water itself is weakening them, but not destroying them, because it’s coming from outside their boundaries. It’d probably be really useful in alchemy so maybe I should consider collecting so-… there’s more.

    There’s more.

    He stood at the edge of the pool and looked into its depths. It was beyond him to tell if there were any more coins in the bottom; his memory wasn’t such that he could recall something that pointless and detailed with perfect accuracy. No. That wasn’t what left him frozen in his tracks.

    There were more Crystals in the bottom. Ones that hadn’t been there before. With the Enchantment on his glasses, Neh’s Crystal, and the improvement he’d given himself with his medallion, he could see them well enough. Two sat there… though, now that he looked at them, only one was a Crystal at all. The other was a pendant of some kind. He could see the chain reflecting the light of his gauntlet and the pale glow of its watery compatriot. It was a silvery thing, a metallic crescent moon elongated to the point that it actually made a full circle. Inside that fragile curve, a blue stone had been cut to resemble waves. They completely circled around the inside of the crescent… but one wave shed a single, dangling teardrop, suspended in the center of this crystal water and the moon itself. He had no idea who’d put it there, though the shape tugged at a faint haze of memory.

    The actual Crystal was a three-pointed blue star. His gut told him he knew who had put that there. Had to be. They said they’d make a promise. And that is definitely it.

    He was absolutely being targeted.

    “Hells no.” He tossed the silver sphere into the water and turned his back on it, walking away. Didn’t matter if those felt familiar somehow, he had enough on his plate. I could just take the damn things, sure. And then I’d feel obligated to do something about them.

    “Something wrong?” Rhian followed along, Lisya in tow. By now, they all more or less knew the way back to her abode, so it was simple enough to hold the conversation on the move.

    “... It’s probably nothing.”

    “Meaning it’s something, right?” Deja vu. He sighed.

    “A couple of new treasures down there. One of which I’m pretty sure I can guess whose it was…”

    “Oh?”

    “A certain group of sisters who can use Teleport.

    “Wait, seriously? You think the triplets dropped something in there?”

    “Yeah. A blue, three-pointed crystal.”

    “Hah! I see why you might think it was theirs. But you’ve got no proof, right? What makes you think it’s theirs?”

    “Honestly? I… I don’t really know. It just sort of… feels like them? Like something they’d put there. And it feels familiar. And they said they’d make me a “promise,” which I suspect means they believe these stones are some kind of engagement promise.”

    “And here I thought you were all about cold reason and logic. Heh. So… You going to take it?” He looked at her as if she were insane. “Or the other one. Looked expensive. Maybe find you a nice rich girl to mooch off of?” He could hear the smile in her voice, but his look only intensified.

    “Do you seriously want to share me with them?” She shrugged.

    “Look, here’s a little secret about Werebats… we form harems. Is that why Anwen was having so many problems with her sisters? Feels like there’s more to it than that, honestly.

    “Weren’t you trying not to lose yourself to your Monster? Pretty sure that’s…”

    “Perfectly fine with me, in this case. I like women, too, so the idea of you getting a few other girls actually serves me pretty well.”

    “Est naraeg. Ach Im maved.”

    “What’d she say?”

    “...” He sighed. “She’s… Basically, she called you a pervert.”

    “Not like I c-”

    “But she also said she likes it.”

    “Oh. Oh. Oho! Yeaheah! Nice!” Gods help me. Rhian and Lisya shared a look that he could only describe as a perverted leer.

    “Look, I… Just dealing with Rhian is… and then there’s Neh that you’re wanting to add to this… and I’ve got a really bad feeling there’s already a fourth one that wished for the same damn thing you three did.”

    “Well, I mean… you gave that one away, so it’s not like you’re sa-... what’s with that look on your face? It’s like you know you already screwed up a heist before you even got in the window.”

    “Rhian… I’m pretty sure I gave that Crystal, alongside bottles of my semen and whatever deal Nye might be trying to negotiate… back to the person that Crystal belonged to.

    “Wait wait wait… The Lich!? Like, blue-skinned, mushroom-hat Lich?”

    “The blue and mushroom hat things are news to me, but… yes. Nye said she makes those types of Augment Crystals. Most people, knowing what they are, wouldn’t just throw them away, right?”

    “Well, I mean, that’s true… but there’s no way to know, right? Could have been any of her followers. She basically never leaves her farm. If she has to have something done abroad, she usually sends Skeletons or Zombies to do it for her. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if one of them didn’t just…”

    “So you’re saying that she equips them and sends them out as servants, so it’s actually probably really unlikely that they’d have something like that Crystal as a personal possession.”

    She opened her mouth, a finger raised… but her brow furrowed and she closed it once more.

    “I assumed that was the case given how she was described before. That Crystal was either hers, or it was one she gifted or sold to someone.”

    “See, there you go. It was probably a gift. Or she sold it. No reason for you to worry. You got rid of it.” Yeah, no, my gut’s still screaming it’s hers. I can’t say why I feel that way, but I absolutely do.

    “Even assuming that, it still leaves me facing the situation where you’re trying to add more sex partners to our relationship. Need I remind you that I’m new to this sort of thing? I’m probably not going to have the time or the energy to keep three women satisfied. If you add in a set of Goblin triplets..”

    “They’re Blues, not just Goblins. Besides, I want to smack those plump little asses of theirs. They’ve got some real meat on-”

    “Blue? Orch Luin?”

    “Is that an old word for Goblin? Luin is blue… but yes, they’re Blue Goblins.” Lisya’s face twisted into something terrible, a mixture of fear, disgust, and hatred.

    “Baw covadmen! Ti naephedyn i Arurug! Ti aeda i Arhen! Ti nagoth!”

    “I… what? What’d she say?”

    “I missed most of it, actually. She spoke too fast.” Lisya’s face shifted from anger to frustration and annoyance.

    “Blue… are cursed. Worship… Eye King. Evil.EVIL! Do not… bring… together. Do you… know? Understand?”

    “... I mean, they’re bitches… and they’re creepy sometimes, but… they’re not really evil? They can actually be kind of nice, once you get used to them… or you get them apart from each other.”

    “It’s their religion, isn’t it?”

    “Naw. Aedaith na i Hengon en caran raun. Naed goeol. Hengon naed min aenor, edlonui, pengul.”

    “I… can’t make sense of that. This isn’t working. You’re trying to tell us something important, right?” Lisya nodded fiercely, determination in her eyes.

    “We’re not able to understand your language well enough to make sense of your message. You seemed to think that your leader could help with that?”

    “Naw.”

    “Some kind of magic, then?” She nodded again.

    “How long do you think it would take to get it?”

    “Mmmm… orneledh? Canad?”

    “So about three or four days… alright,” he looked at Rhian, a slight frown on his face. “We’re going to need to go back to Nye’s market tomorrow. We spent a day… ummm… resting, so to speak. Can you… go see about getting it and meet us at Rhian’s afterwards?” She looked frustrated, but nodded.

    “I… will. Words… long. Story difficult… to explain? I will… return.”

    “Alright. We’ll see you then. Be careful out there.” She nodded, gratefully this time. “And if there’s any advice you might want to give us, feel free. I feel like you were trying to tell us something along those lines.”

    “Naw. Baw nanan aedaith na i Hengon, a baw i yrnirnaeth, i nen naed ilhoer di raun. Baw i yrnen gwaen.”

    “So… stay away from the cult, basically, and… don’t drink the water?” She shrugged, but nodded. “Redhen.”

    There’s something I’m missing there. Stained…

    “Don’t drink the tainted water?” She nodded vigorously. “Hudanen. Raun Hudanen.” And with that, she left, waving and dashing off down a side tunnel he’d not yet explored.

    Cursed… No, cursing water, and… moon. Wait… Seriously?

    “Hey Rhian…”

    “Hmmm, yeah?”

    “Whatever you do, don’t give me any of that water in your lavatory.”

    “Eh? Well, I mean, I wouldn’t, but…”

    “Don’t cook with it, either. Or wash with it.”

    “Ehhhhhhh? Why?”

    “I don’t want to accidentally drink it.”

    “Oh come on, how bad could a little buzz be?”

    “I think she just said it turns you into a Therianthrope.”

    “...Oh.
    ………
    ……


    The rest of the trip was short and supremely, blissfully, uneventful. No strange Monsters, and no sign of failed wards and the Beasts they allowed into the ruins. Nothing particularly upsetting greeted them at Rhian’s home, either, though he did have a new appreciation for the mural beneath her little nook. Once she’d retrieved the rope ladder from where she’d hauled it after he’d climbed down when they left, he made his way back up to her perch.

    “It’s good to be home,” Rhian spoke as she hauled up the ladder once more. “Hungry, but I don’t feel like cooking anything. You?”

    “Me n-”

    “Thanks!”

    “No.”

    “Awwww…”

    “Look… we did a lot of that today already. And then there was the flies and that ungodly hall, the giant spider and the little ones, another session, those Werebats, and a whole lot of walking and running in-between it all. I’m tired. I’m sore. You probably are, too. Right?”

    “Well… yeah, honestly.”

    “Do you have anything stored in here we can eat without cooking? We can just leave dinner at that.”

    “Mmmmm… yeah. I suppose you’re right. Let me see…” She vanished into her hole in the wall as he stretched his battered body. He settled into Rhian’s chair when he finished, having shucked his pack. “Hey, I can hear you in my chair! That’s mine!”

    “Yes yes. Understood.” He started rocking gently. I might actually be able to sleep in this thing… It's pretty comfortable.

    “I will vacate once you return. After all, you did tell me to avoid the storeroom.”

    “... Don’t be right all the time. It’s boring.”

    “My apologies.” She snorted at him from somewhere in the back. “I’ve got some smoked fish, cricket bread, and some honeyed apples and cheese. Also, we’re having some wine, whether you like it or not! I need it after having to deal with Cadi and An again.”

    “That’s fine, so long as it’s not made with that tainted water.”

    “It’s not! Comes from the surface! Also! When it’s time to sleep, you’re in my bed. I don’t care if we fuck or not, but I demand cuddles.”

    “I see. Sounds like it’s my obligation, then. Cuddles are acceptable.”

    “Also, I’m going to expect a good morning fuck, you hear me? Old Oli’s going down on his last full night, so I’m going to turn back into what I used to be in the morning… and the transformation always makes me horny as all hells either way. I will need your dick, good sir. On the plus side, you get to wake up next to a Human woman in the morning and just shove it right in. You have my permission, I will absolutely want it. Go ham.”

    “Duly noted.”

    She returned with the food; smoked and salted herring filets, sliced apples preserved in honey, a mellow-scented wedge of soft, crumbly, white cheese with bits of chopped apricot in it, more slices of that strange bread, now drizzled in honey from the apples, and a handful of some kind of greens he didn’t recognize. And, of course, a bottle of dark wine.

    “What’re those?” He pointed at the leaves, serving as a bed for the fish on her platter.

    “Edible vine that grows up top. You can eat pretty much all of it. Tastes a bit like grapes, actually, if a little bitter in the leaves. I figured we needed something a little different than all the travel food.”

    “I see. I’m willing to try new things.” She smiled, and he gave her the seat as promised, gesturing for her to take it with a courtly bow. She laughed at him, but took the chair anyway, doing her best attempt at to seem regal along the way.

    “Guess I’ll need to invest in another one.”

    “If you would be so kind.” She continued to chuckle as they started their meal.
    ………
    ……


    After eating they relieved themselves, did a bit of basic grooming, and put away their respective acquisitions. His own food supplies joined hers in the storeroom, and his new possessions returned to the same place in her guest room his pack had previously occupied.

    At least until she demanded he move it into her room. Along with himself.

    Rhian’s room was significantly larger than the niche he'd previously occupied. As was her bed. The nearly round room was dominated by the slab she used. I've seen smaller king-sized beds…

    It was piled high with sleeping mats, blankets, furs, and pillows; a cobbled-together, mismatched mess of bedding that looked more like a nest than any Human bed he'd seen. Alcoves and crude shelves lined the curving walls, stacked with spare clothes, books, tools, and mementos and lit by the dim glow of several greenish mushrooms sprouting from a loam-filled jar and a broken pot sprouting Blue Moonbrights. A pot of Red that opened with a faint light, and another of White, which sat closed and dim in the darkness. The fragrance of those flowers perfumed the room, alongside Rhian’s own animalistic scent.

    "You track the full moons with those."

    "They’re a good reminder, yeah. Just set your stuff over by the red one."

    "Sure. It's what, three days to bloom?" He sat his pack and weapons, his alchemy kit, and a great heap of stress beneath the bowing scarlet bells of the plant.

    "Clothes too, mister Man. You won’t be needing them for a while." She was already shucking her own, tossing them beside her bed. "I demand cuddles, and no clothing shall interfere. My bed, my rules." He snorted and followed suit as she climbed under the rumpled bedclothes.

    "Now get in here and give me something to snuggle." He raised his hands, finally joining her. Her bed was as soft as his had been, but without the feeling that he might roll off in the middle of the night. Someone had taken the time to carve posts and headboard, or a sort, from the stone itself. It struck him as odd as he settled into the mess himself.

    “How do you sleep like this? Everything’s all piled in the center…”

    “Hehe… normally, I curl up in a ball under all that.”

    “I thought you were a bat, not a rat.” She stuck her tongue out at him.

    “No, seriously, I have to fix this or there’s no way I’m getting comfortable here.”

    “Fiiiiiiiiiiiine, just hurry up.” He climbed back out and started straightening her bedding.

    “Hmmmmm… sometimes it’s nice to just look.”

    “Not much to look at over here, sadly.”

    “Oh what. You’re not bad, like I said. Lean muscle, broad shoulders, a face that’s far from ugly… cock’s not bad, either. You have no ass, though. There’s nothing but muscle for me to grab onto back there.” His member twitched slightly.

    “Heh. I saw that. Care to have a snack before bed.” He rolled his eyes.

    “Please no. I just want rest.” He managed to shake out and straighten the complex mass of bedding into something that resembled a made bed. That he’d had to do it with a giggling woman in it, messing with his progress, had made it an entirely unnecessary challenge.

    “You doing that makes me feel like a little girl being tucked in for bed by her dad.”

    “Yes, well, one would hope your father wouldn’t climb in with the intention of sticking his dick in you when he wakes up in the morning.” He slid back in, sliding on his back beside the Werebat.

    “If Nye’s any indication…” She pressed against him, resting her head on his shoulder as her legs brushed his.

    “Nye is most certainly not a normal father. And you know it.”

    “Well… not really.” She put a hand on his chest and slid her other beneath her pillow. Her knee crossed over his thigh and came to rest.

    “Oh? How so?”

    “Never really knew my dad. Mom, either.”

    “Orphan?”

    “I guess? I don’t really remember anything from when I was little. Just the rain… the cold… dirty and hungry…” She snuggled closer. “It’s raining now… I can hear it in the cave. Started while you were undressing.” She smiled, tinged with sadness.

    “Surely there was something.”

    “Nope. Can’t remember their faces or anything. No voices. No shadows or smells. No meals. No siblings. It’s just… blank. Like there’s nothing there. First thing I remember isn’t even a person. It was where I lived. An old storehouse to a mine that’d run dry. Lived in a crack in the wall… just like here, really. Funny, that. It was a little crack in the wall small enough a Halfling’d have trouble squeezing through, but it opened up inside into a little dome. Slept on rags and old straw in there, hid so no one could see me. Hear me.” He could feel his face, which had been smiling at the prospect of hearing more about Rhian, go slack.

    “Mine’d been closed for a long time. The buildings were falling in. When it rained, water’d be everywhere. When it snowed, it’d pile inside because of the holes in the roof. Windows were gone and the walls were holed, so it whistled when the wind blew. People’d come by, do things. Drink, curse, fuck, snort and suck their drugs. Men’d sleep in there. Folks that didn’t have homes. I was one of ‘em, of course. No home. No family. No idea what happened to them. Maybe they left me. Maybe they died. Only thing I had was my name… and even the second part’s a lie. Dafydd was no father of mine, though he was like one, the old sod.”

    “How did you…”

    “Live? I’m a Thief. I stole. Clothes. Shoes. Food. Water. Coin. Shinies. I had nothing of my own but rags and no way to get it ‘cept to steal or whore. Sure, I could have gone to the Church. And I did, for the meals. But their orphanage was no place for me. The streets and that little hole in the wall… that was home. So I stole what I needed. Sometimes I got caught. Sometimes I didn’t. More times I didn’t, but you remember the bad more than the good. You got caught, sometimes the shopkeep or the mark cuffs you. Sometimes not. Sometimes the guard’s called, an’ if it is, who knows? A good guard? He lets you go, or takes you to the Church and you go recite a few prayers to the Holy Family, get a meal and a bath, and maybe a crack on the knuckles if you try to pocket the pasties for later. If it’s a bad guard, you get beat. Or worse, he takes you out of sight and fucks you like a whore and leaves you none the richer…”

    “Was how I had my first, that.” He closed his hand on her shoulder, pulling her against him. At first he thought she might be crying, but he realized she was sniffing him.

    “You do smell nice, you know. Don’t worry about me. I’ve faced that demon of mine. What’s past is past. What’s done is done. No amount of crying over it’ll change a thing. Besides, I… I don’t think I’d even do a thing to the man now. I’ve no idea who he was, name or anything. Just some curly, red-haired shit with a fat cock as short as your thumb and thick as my wrist. Fucker hurt like hell. Couldn’t walk right for a couple days. Least he was clean. But I got over it, and the next time it happened, I at least knew what I was in for. Asshole wasn’t the only guard’d fuck a girl no more‘n seven.” Seven!?

    “Heh. I don’t even know if that’s how old I was. How old am I, even? Like I fucking know… Shit… that was, what, eighteen years ago, at least? The nuns at the orphanage seemed to think I was about that old, anyway. Their guess is as good as any. Seriously thought about staying there after that happened. Seemed a lot safer, sure. But something about the other girls… the ones that’d really been into the teachings… they always gave me this sort of… I don’t know… like… uneasy feeling. Like there was something not right about them. And after you see a girl you know’s alright end up like that… you start to worry about yourself. Couldn’t stay there. Went back to the streets. Went back to stealing. Started trying to sell what I’d get, but only a couple places would take it. Eventually got to be a regular at one of ‘em. Fat old cuss name of Hywel would buy my take and keep mum about it. Told me to watch certain folk, see what they did. How they did. How they’d rook a cove at bones or cups. How they’d nip a penny off ‘im none the wiser. Tried it meself. Was pretty good at it. Didn’t get got much…” She seemed to be dozing off as she spoke, thieves’ cant and accent beginning to slip into her words as her head lay against his chest. As her eyes drifted shut. She must have been as tired as he felt. What sleep they’d managed to catch before hadn’t been enough. Not after all they’d been through.

    “One day, pocketed a pretty bird from a man in a nice coat. All red stone and glowin’. Took it to old Hywel, an’ he won’t buy it. Tells me “come back after I’m closed an’ knock for three an’ four an’ three again at the back,” ‘e says. So I do… an’ inside’s old Hywel… an’ Dafydd. Didn’t know ‘is name at the time, but ‘e was Dafydd. Wiry ol’ man, lean, with broad shoulders. Steely hair an’ a pepper beard, an’ eyes like fog at night. Ol’ man. ‘andsome man. ‘e looks at me bird an’ says “A lucky catch, little one. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush… but this one is worth a bit more. You’ve a nimble hand and a light touch to take something like this from a nobleman. Tell me, what’s your name young lady?” ‘an I tell ‘im, sure enough. “Rhian,” he says “Would you like to learn a trade? I believe you’ve the talent for it.” I still remember, I looked at ‘im like ‘e was daft. “I’m serious,” ‘e says. “I’ll give you a bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, food and clothing and a bath when needs be. I’ve need of an apprentice, you see. I’d like for that to be you.” ‘e made the most dev’lish face. ‘n evil face. A too handsome face. Who was I, some dirty little git, to say no? ‘e was a Thief, a’ course. A proper Thief. Guild man. Took me in. Taught me… ‘e taught… me… every… thin’... I…” Her eyes had long since closed, her battle with sleep a losing one. It seemed she’d finally fallen. He hugged her close, her leg sliding further over his, and drifted off to sleep with her, the scent of her hair filling his breath.
    ………
    ……


    He felt as if he were floating in liquid, surrounded by water. Everything was dark, yet translucent shapes, like great, twisted worms, floated through the air, or fluid, around him. Patterns of color strobed and flowed in waves and blobs across the sky as he stood on a flat pane of some sort. It reflected his image back at him, light seeming to flow from it. He looked up to the heavens, past a series of massive rings in the sky, and saw the stars and rivers of the heavens at night.

    He lowered his eyes, the strange window following his line of sight. They both settled on a great sphere in the void, all swirling blues and greens and whites.

    Where am I? What is this place? I’m sure I was with Rhian…

    ‘Lovely, isn’t it?’

    He hadn’t noticed the figure before. It was but a tiny speck in the distance, standing between him and the strange sphere. It wasn’t facing him. At least, he didn’t think it was. It was hard to tell at this distance. As if of their own volition, his feet carried him towards it.

    “I guess…”

    ‘Such a vague answer. It is quite beautiful. I could stand here and stare at it forever. Truly, a work of art.’

    “Some kind of magical sphere, then?”

    ‘You could say that. Certainly, magic is one of the many colors used to paint it. Magic in more shades than there are stars in the sky. And yet only a single color. Truly wondrous.’ He drew slowly closer to the strange figure, its voice somehow reaching him across the vast distance… and his reaching it.

    “I uhhhh… I don’t mean to interrupt your appreciation, but…”

    ‘Oh don’t worry. You’re not interrupting anything. I invited you, after all. You are a guest here. You wish to know where you are, how you came here, who I am, why you’re here, all of that. Yes?’

    “More or less, yes.”

    ‘Good questions. Fair questions. I’m afraid I won’t be answering all of them, however. I will, however, inform you that you are not actually here. You are simply dreaming. Your mind wanders as your body rests. I’ve merely borrowed you from a voyage to Kadath. It was an uneventful trip, so you needn’t worry.’

    “Wait… that means this is a lucid dream?” His feet paused, though his eyes continued their journey. Or seemed to. He felt as if he were coming closer to the being despite no longer moving, its form slowly growing closer, the rings above growing larger.

    ‘Mmmm… technically, I suppose it is. But don’t think you hold any power over it. You’re dreaming in my mind, after all. And I am very much a god in my own mind.That said, I’ve no intention of keeping you for very long. I’d like to apologize for any discomfort I may have caused you in our previous meeting.’

    “Previous meeting? We met before?”

    ‘Quite. You were dreaming then as well. I happened to glance back at an old project of mine and noticed something unusual… and that led me to you. Unfortunately, I was not at my most restrained at the time. I sometimes forget myself. Unpleasantly easy for me to do, though justifiably so. I believe I woke you last time in speaking, though not immediately.’

    “I don’t… really remember anything like that.”

    ‘Ah! All the better then. Dreams are fleeting. Do not worry. That one was of some importance, but you understand it well enough. Not consciously, of course. But you have eyes. You have seen. And so you will know when you need to. Some piece of you will remember. Of this, I’m certain.’

    “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

    ‘I know. It’s quite entertaining, actually. It’s one reason why I won’t tell you. Far more enjoyable watching you be yourself and fumble about. You’re quite clever, but don’t know everything. It’s very amusing watching you piece together what you’re witnessing. And I do so love your eyes. Ash and embers, shooting flame… a mind on fire. Eyes are the windows to the soul, you know. And your soul, for all that you keep it constrained, is ablaze. Yes… watching flames dance has its own charm. I find myself growing fond of it. So please… do continue to be yourself. I’m enjoying your show immensely. Why… I might even make a donation to your cause if your performance remains enjoyable… Ah, but for now, I believe it’s time for another act. See there?’ The rings in the heavens shifted slightly, showing a blue sphere flecked with green and gold, a white sphere touched with dark motes, a band of glittering stones…

    ‘Oliblish sets… That would be your call to arms. Hers, that is. But don’t worry. You’ll feel quite rested, despite our chat. Please enjoy what she has in store for you, Colwyn. It will be… an experience.’

    He could just make out the sandy blonde hair of the figure, the cloud of Ioun Stones whirling about its head, and that it was wearing what appeared to be gray plate armor on a thin frame, the long, tattered robe beneath its scarlet length on the floor like a royal’s train. And yet even as that image burned itself into his mind, it faded.

    Everything faded, leaving only darkness.
    ………
    ……


    A crushing pressure woke him. At his shoulder. Across his legs. Squeezing. Moist. Something hot and soft pressed against his thigh, tightening. His head jerked to the side, looking at the woman beside him, eyes snapped open in shock.

    Eyes rolled back in her head, Rhian’s body was locked in convulsions. A sound somewhere between an animal bark and a guttural grunt, a grating, saw-like noise, clawed its way out of her clenching throat over and over again as frothing drool ran from her open mouth. She was clenching down on him, pinning him in place as she shuddered and spasmed. Muscles taut and tight and straining. Her whole body rocked as her warm juices spurted across his thighs and her soaked crotch ground against his upper leg. Her scent was thick in the air, forcing him erect even as her face twisted into an expression somewhere between agony and ecstasy. Her skin was rapidly taking on an unnatural redness, her whole body hot and flush and glistening with thick, oily sweat.

    Her skin began to ripple and writhe, painfully hot where she touched him, her hands clutching at his shoulders with brutal strength. Her mouth yawned in a wordless scream. It gave him a clear view of her pink, wriggling gums as they drank in her fangs, her animal teeth, only to rupture as more human dentition replaced them. Her mouth seemed to swallow her overlong tongue, drawing it deep into her throat, her chest.

    As if in a trance, she straddled him, body gushing fluids as water pouring from a fountain. The fountain became a cascade, drenching him as she dropped. Her hips slammed into him with enough force to take his breath away, his cock bending as she sat on it. Over and over she crashed into him, claws digging into his shoulders, holding him down as she rode on. He could feel his tip slam into her womb, feel it cling to him in turn. She clamped down so hard he saw stars, wrenched with such intensity it hurt.

    Pain.

    Pain.

    She slammed into him so hard, walls crushed with so much power, that it hurt. His cock screamed at him to orgasm, but her hole strangled it so hard nothing could escape it. It was trapped at his tip, begging to release, but she wouldn’t pull far enough, wouldn’t relax enough, for him to release. Not before hilting again. The room echoed with the wet sounds of her body sucking him in, pulling away, diving down again. Flesh on flesh on flesh ringing, animal grunts and his desperate gasps for air as she drove it out of him. Her hips felt as if they were breaking his, faster and faster and faster, so that when he heard the snap and crunch of bones breaking, he thought it was his own.

    Until Rhian’s head flung back against her spine.

    Only to snap back in place with a hideous crunch, her head wobbling and jittering even as her hips continued to pound him into the stone beneath her bedding. Her skin felt as if it were on fire as the muscles beneath twisted, knotted, shifted unnaturally. Tendons and ligaments snapped and crackled as she rode on and on.

    She froze, sagged, mouth open wide and drooling, her body relaxing. Her death-grip on his cock released, and with it his pent-up seed. She convulsed again, that strange grunting, hacking sound tearing its way free of her once more… and she went rigid, shrieking. The sound rose higher and higher, until he could no longer hear it, but rather felt it. His organs seemed to quiver with it. He could feel his eyes vibrating, vision distorting, as her tunnel tried to flatten his penis anew. She bent forward, mouth wide, and the sound of a thousand bats spilled from her gaping lips.

    Her hips rose and fell once more. And her skin… flowed. Like water. As if being drawn, it flowed and shifted, submerging her fur on arm and leg and chest, drowning it in bare skin. A new hideous chorus of snapping bone echoed through the room as her feet bent and twisted, popped, realigned. The shifting sea of skin drew in her wing, sucking the membranes into her arms, the elongated digits into her forearms, flailing as if trying not to be swallowed beneath the waves. Her mouth, already wide, opened wider with a sickening crunch, the flesh flowing as the long, bat-like ears atop her head flowed down and sank into her skull.

    Had he been in a better place mentally, he might have wondered where it was all going, but between the pain and the pleasure and the horror of the woman atop him warping and deforming as she fucked him, his mind had long since stopped being able to process such a thing. Her limbs jerked, bent, twisted. Claws drew into fingers, became nails.

    She fell forward, face just above his, hips pistoning still, tail writhing and shrinking into the base of her spine… only to suddenly bend backwards and shudder as if in orgasm. Another silent shriek tore through her, the vibration making his organs shake and sending waves of nausea through him.

    Her skin bulged, twisted, as if something were trying to break free. One, two, three, a dozen, two, he lost track… something inside, pushing out against her skin, clawing, writhing… standing. Tiny shapes. Creeping.

    Bats.

    Bats beneath her skin.

    Crawling and clawing and biting and diving inside her, just beneath the surface.

    They crept towards her womb. Towards his shaft, pressed against it. They clambered over each other inside her, creeping across the bones of her face, down her chest and arms, over her shoulders and back, pressing against him through her thighs, through the walls of her vagina.

    He could feel them.

    He fully stiffened once more, hard and horrified and horrified that he was hard.

    He could hear the bats, chittering and chattering, muffled by her body. Their voices echoed in her throat. They pressed up against him through her skin, her flesh, caressing his member as she continued to slam into him, driving him over the edge.

    He erupted, his seed spraying against the entrance to her womb… and he watched in mute horror as the swarm of bats beneath her skin rippled and flowed towards it, diving into her womb. She shuddered in orgasm, drenching him anew, her voice that of a woman rather than a beast as she screamed in pleasure. Shaking, shuddering, the bats flowing into her as his semen did, she bowed back… and as the last bat sank into her womb, she fell atop him. The skin of her back bulged, rose, a single massive form, greater than even the woman herself , than him, in size, spread its vast wings beneath, out, jaws wide… and then it, too, dove back into her body, skin taut as before.

    The blue flower had faded, the bud closed.

    She slept once more, still pierced by his shaft.

    Meanwhile, he screamed internally.

    Sleep would be long in returning to him.
    ………
    ……


    “Mmmmhmmmmnyaaa…” It was the first sound that she’d made after her transformation. He’d been unable to move… and honestly, too scared to try. The fear that there might be more to her transformations, or that it might have warped her mindset in some way afterwards, to say nothing of what he’d seen and felt already, made sleeping difficult. It made moving her off of him difficult, too, but she’d eventually slid off of him on her own in her sleep. He’d slowly nodded off as well, though the experience left him with strange nightmares about being covered in crawling, biting bats. There was more to them, but he couldn’t remember it. Just the bats.

    As he stirred to groggy wakefulness, her leg crossed his once more, the now coarse and wiry hair of her pubis pressing against his leg. She was beautiful, still. Where once there’d been claws and wings, only graceful, dextrous fingers and smooth skin remained. Her face was a bit less round, her jaws less pronounced, her eyes slightly smaller, giving her a more mature look. Her ears were still a bit large, a bit pointy, hinting at some ancient Elven touch to her ancestry, but not so much that she seemed even a Half-Elf. It must have been far removed. Her body was still willowy, still graceful, her legs still strong and muscles toned, but her dainty feet were definitely those of a human.

    His hand unconsciously slid along her body, feeling the absence of wings and tail, the bat ears that had vanished, the fur that no longer traced her collarbone. She purred, hips grinding against his again, and he once more stiffened. He could feel his desire spiking again, despite the horror of the night. The fear was ultimately not enough to stay his hand.

    Well, she did tell me to just stick it in…

    He gently pushed the sleeping woman over on her back. Her eyes fluttered, saw him, and she smiled and closed them once more as her hips bucked gently. He pressed his tip to her entrance and pushed, a soft gasp escaping both of them as her warm flesh took him deep. She wasn’t kidding about how she’d feel… she was already wet. She moaned in satisfaction, hips slowly shaking as he gently thrust into her.

    He leaned forward and sealed their lips, her tongue instinctively rubbing against his. No inhuman length remained. There was no Monster here, only a woman. Her legs crossed his as she pushed up to meet his cock, bracing her. Her arms rose up, nails drawing sharp lines along his back and sides. She came up for air, and he went down for her neck, kissing and nibbling at throat and vein. She groaned in pleasure, now fully awake and enjoying every slow thrust. Her walls parted before him, wet folds caressing.

    The differences were obvious. She didn’t gush fluids. Her strength was far less, more equal to his own. Her vagina was less wild, less powerful, the only throbbing within her heartbeat and that of his own cock as it slid her course. Her walls still moved, still pressed, still scraped, but the motions were less intense. More human. He shifted positions and cupped her breast, licking it, suckling the tip, and she moaned and shuddered.

    “Yes. More.”

    He obliged.

    When he finally came, her orgasm was still a long way off, despite the fact that he lasted far longer than any time before. She clearly didn’t seem to mind, her own hand stroking her clit until she came, his cock still within her. He lay atop her, feeling the gentle spasms of her vagina, the wetness of their joining as their mingled fluids leaked.

    “Mmmmm… That was nice. Thank you.” She kissed him again. "Mmmmm," she stretched, joints popping. "I slept well. You?" She asked as she settled atop him, chin resting on folded hands.

    "The hells you slept well!" He didn’t yell, but he couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice.

    "Eh… sometimes I'm restless during the change."

    "That. Was not. Restless. Is it always like that when you transform? Because by all of the Twelve in Heaven, that is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. And I've seen the Aes Sidhe execute a woman by aging her to death."

    "Okay, there's a story there I really want to hear, but… I mean, c'mon… it can't be that bad."

    "You… you have no memory of it, do you?"

    "Well… I mean… no. Not really. I mean, usually when I transform, I just… kind of… I don’t know… black out, I guess. Whenever the girls transform, they just kind of… "sprout," parts, or it all just goes right back in… or just kind of fuses together. Isn't that what…" He stared at her, dumbfounded.

    "Has anyone else ever watched you turn?"

    "Just Bron and her family… or, well, and Loonie, but she was also…"

    "I… maybe last night was… different. Than your usual, uhhh… experience. Has no one ever told you what that looks like? Ever?"

    "Ummmm… no?" Maybe it's because she's an Infected Therianthrope? "So… what is… what am I… like?"

    "... The stuff of nightmares."

    "Okay, no. You have to tell me now. You don't get to say something like that and not explain." She seemed genuinely annoyed, her head raised from its hand pillow, face framed in her unruly mane.

    He sighed, eyes searching the cave ceiling for the proper words to use.

    "So… you know how you said to just fuck you when I woke up?" She smiled.

    "Well… you didn't wait." Her smile faltered.

    "To put it bluntly, when you started to change, you rolled over and just… started. So to speak.”

    “Wait… are you saying I… I raped you last night?”

    “Ah, well, I mean… It’s not like I would normally be totally opposed to waking up in the middle of the night to sex, but… well, yes. Basically.”

    “I’m pretty sure I would remember that.”

    “I’m not even sure you were awake to remember that.”

    “...”

    “Your eyes were rolled back in your head the whole time. You never said a word, just made… sounds. A lot of… sounds.

    “Okay, stop. Just tell me what happened.” The pout she made was every inch the Rhian he was coming to know.

    “Alright. So… you woke me up, I think. I was having some kind of weird dream, and I woke up in pain. You’d grabbed onto my shoulder and were crushing my legs with one of yours. You were making this… this face, like you were trying to cum but couldn’t, and it hurt. Mouth was wide open. You were grinding your crotch against my leg and gushing so much I almost thought you’d wet yourself.”

    “Look… I get really wet in that form. I know.”

    “No, I mean… even more than when we’d had sex before. It was like pumping water from a well. Just… well, I mean, you can feel the wet spot, right? We’re still laying in it.”

    “Uhhhhh… erm… yeah.”

    “Anyway, you were completely tensed up and making this weird… almost grunting sound. I don’t know how to describe it. I can’t imitate it. It was like, almost, a… a grinding, barking sound, coming out of your chest that just kept repeating over and over again. You just kept humping my thigh and gushing and making that noise while trapping me with your arm… but, I mean… I’m a man. I got hard with you doing that. And once I was, you just… hopped right on. Came down so hard I felt it bend. Didn’t help that you’d turned as red as a tomato and were so hot it hurt to touch…”

    “Uhhhhh…”

    “You mounted me and just tried to flatten my hips against the rock under this stuff,” he patted the padding they lay on. “You were coming down so hard I couldn’t breathe. Your pussy was clamping so hard I couldn’t cum, and you weren’t pulling off enough to let it happen, either.”

    “I uhhhh…”

    “You just kept at it, to the point I thought you were going to break something in me. It started getting really weird though, when your gums started moving.”

    “Huh?”

    “So… your gums started wiggling. Like pink worms or something. They pulled your fangs and other teeth in… and pushed out your current ones.” The look on her face was mingled concern and disbelief.

    “The same thing happened to that tongue of yours. It was kind of just… lolling, but then it started getting pulled in. That was strange, but…”

    “But?”

    “I uhhh… for a second I thought you broke my hips.” She stared at him in confusion.

    “At least until your head tilted back against your shoulder blades.”

    “What,” her eyes widened. “No. Wait. What?”

    “You uhhhh… your neck broke. Backwards.”

    “Okay, now I know you’re bullshitting.”

    “I wish. I very much wish. It just, bent backwards, and then it snapped forwards again. Back into place, except your head kept shaking. The whole thing… the whole episode… it was like some insane seizure. Your joints started popping, feet, hands, legs, arms… all of them just… breaking. Your skin… it was like it turned liquid or something. It just started rippling and dragging your fur and animal parts under. Your wings… when they went, they looked like they were trying to fight an undertow, grabbing at things before they just… just vanished. Even your little tail was like that. And the whole damn time you were still just pounding away. I came when your neck did… that, because you slacked off enough my dick could actually push it out finally. But you clamped right back on and didn’t let me go soft. That whole thing was just… horrific. You started screeching like the sisters did back when they were looking for Lisya. That and… you started to sound like bats.”

    “That’s what that screech is. It’s… it’s a thing we can use to attack… but also to “see,” without using our eyes.”

    “No, no. I understand that. I mean… you sounded like there were bats, a whole colony of bats, living inside you. Like, all of them, making their little squeaks and… yeah. Like hundreds of bats were screeching out of your mouth all at once.” Her look of concern deepened.

    “It was around that time that I started to see them.”

    “See… what.

    The bats.

    “What ba-”

    “The bats that were crawling around under your skin, Rhian. Your skin started bulging out, like a sheet with something trapped under it. Except if the sheet was skin-tight and you could see the perfect outline of the thing moving under it… Just… Just… bats. Crawling around on all-fours, pushing up against your skin, climbing on each other, trying to walk but not being able to… just… crawling beneath the surface. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds. Just… all over. Across your face, your chest, shoulders, back, arms, legs, belly, crotch… like they were trapped under your skin and trying to get out. Gods, they just kept on, just… just seething in you. I could feel them, Rhian. Where you were touching me, I could feel them touching me through you. I could feel them pushing against my… through your pussy. They were just… Gods. When I came again, they all just… they went after it. Like it was food, straight for your belly. And there at the end, just before it all stopped, there was this one giant one that came out of your back, so big it… it’s wings could have wrapped us both up, Rhian. It could have fit my head in its mouth, it just… came out of your back, spread its wings, and went right back into your back.” Her face had slowly shifted from disbelief to shock and fear.

    “You’re… you’re serious.” He nodded.

    “When the big one went back in, you looked like you do now and just sort of… passed back out, I guess? It’s like you were in a trance the whole time. There’s no way anyone who saw that wouldn’t notice it… so…”

    “No. No no no. Nothing. I’ve never… I… There has to be someone who…” She looked almost panicked…

    “Nye always left. I haven’t been with another man here… Loonie, Emrys… they’d always turn at the same time, so… Galad wouldn’t, but Cadi never let the girls around him when we would turn, so… same with Eirwen about Deryn. Bron and the girls never said anything, they just said we were normal. And when I’d turn while I was awake, it’d always be like them… though, I mean, I’d black out a little, but… not much. Not even enough to notice lost time. There’s… there’s no one… There’s Neh! Neh has seen it! But she’s never said anything, so…”

    “Rhian, last night was… distressing. But… now that I know what to expect, and that it’s safe… at least I think it’s safe… I think I’ll be alright. But… we need to find out if that’s normal, or if you’re just different, or if something’s changed. Is there anyone you can ask?”

    “Well… Bron and her family, but… there’s not a lot of Infected here. Most of the locals are naturals, and not many Monsters can become Werebeasts, Hambone keeps people away, so very few people get infected in the first place here.” He nodded. Makes sense.

    “Alright, so we need to start asking questions about that.”

    “Right!” I wonder if Lisya would know anything?

    “For now though, do you mind if we clean up a bit? I’m covered in your squirt, and your… all of your bedding in general, is too.”

    “Errr, right. And we should probably get something to eat, too. We have to trek back to see Nye again. Ugh… I almost never have to do that more than once a week.”

    “And I bet you fly normally, too.”

    “Of course! It’s the only way to travel!” They cleaned themselves with magic, as per custom, and set to work flushing the bedding of various stains and spots. “I’m a bit surprised you haven’t told me to put on pants yet.”

    “Ah, well… Monster form comes with great power, but also great horniness. I actually prefer to be Human when I can… but not when I have to travel.”

    “Planning on turning back for the trip?”

    “Definitely, but I’m going to enjoy being less enslaved to my libido for a while, at least. So yes, your parts can keep dangling. I’ll enjoy contemplating them with a sober eye.”

    “Less enslaved, she says.” She laughed. He chuckled as well, but soon enough donned his clothes. The armor could wait until later.
    ………
    ……


    “I told you about my childhood. Your turn. Spill.”

    “So you remember that.”

    “I was tired, but not that tired.”

    “You passed out mid-sentence.”

    “Whatever. Talk.” He sighed as they ate. The two had finished cleaning up after their nocturnal and morning activities, relieved themselves, donned their clothes… removed them again for another round after a bit too much teasing, and put them back on again. This girl is draining me dry. They had since settled down to eat, resorting to magic to warm over preserved food rather than cooking something truly fresh. More fish, more viney greens, more cricket bread, more nuts and cheese and apples, but she’d served up thick milk sweetened with honey to go with it this time.

    “Fine, though I told you most of it already, so I’ll have you explain some other things to me instead.”

    “Your terms are acceptable. Now tell me the good shit, Rations.”

    “Really.” She smirked at him.

    “Like I said, I was born and raised in Dolydd. Family worked for one of the plantation owners, a man by the name of Alwyn. He was a vintner, who made, yes, mead,” she snorted. “Knew it.”

    “Father worked with the bees during the spring and summer, helped with the harvest in fall, and did repairs and maintenance in winter. He was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. Mother… her name is Aderyn, is an Alchemist by trade. She worked in the brewing, mostly, but also helped in managing the soil and pests. Honestly, she was the better paid of my parents, but it never bothered father much. Anyway, we lived in a little cottage on the property, mostly afforded by mother’s station. Four rooms; a common and cook room, two bedrooms, and a little storeroom.”

    “Man, that sounds nice.”

    “What you’ve got here is pretty nice, too, to be honest.” She smiled.

    “Still living in a hole in a wall.” He shrugged. “It’s a cozy hole you have.” She wiggled her eyebrows at him as he winked.

    “Anyway, there was a little outbuilding for mother’s lab, a supply shed, and the outhouse. The time of year determined the routine, and once I was old enough, who needed my help when. An extra pair of hands goes a long way, so once I was old enough to be trusted with tools and do as I was told, I was put to work. Picked up some Alchemy from mother, which I still work at. Nowhere near her level of skill, but I’m better than most. Father… father I mostly just watched and copied. His labors usually didn’t require the sort of detailed knowledge mother’s did. Instead, it was more basic… harder, but simpler. I could usually get by with just imitating him.”

    “So even as a little tyke you were doing that copycat trick of yours.”

    “Honestly… maybe? I don’t really know. It wouldn’t surprise me, though. But anyway, I lived like that up until I was about fifteen. Came to hate bees. Came to love books and reading. Studying, learning new things… that… that was always fun. I loved it in winter, when I could just watch mother work and look through her formulae… most of it made no sense, but sometimes I could figure it out… especially when she’d give me hints. I loved to sit by the fire and read books in the fall and winter, just, cozy under a blanket… cup of hot, spiced cider, some sausage, and a honeyed biscuit to eat. I wanted to see the world those books talked about. The things. The places. The people. Not just spend my days working on a farm making liquor and getting stung by angry bees.” She laughed. “You really hate bees, huh?”

    “With a passion. I respect them. I understand their value. I absolutely hate them.”

    “Nuanced.”

    “I try.”

    “So… how’d you hook up with Ardyn?”

    “Pretty sure I told you? When I was fifteen, my undying hate of flying, stinging, colonial insects realized itself in a burning hive. A very valuable burning hive. Alwyn wanted no part of a firestarter child on his property. Can’t blame him, either. Between the wooden buildings, the stills, the grape vines, the orchards, and the hives, the man had a lot of things that did not handle fire well. He was adamant that either I get my powers under control with a proper teacher, or I go. And if that meant my parents went, too, then so be it. They tried to find someone with the proper skills for the task, but the last person with knowledge of such things was an old Psyphon attached to the tiny Adventurer’s Guild in town… and he’d moved out months ago to more lucrative locales. There were plenty of Wizards, Alchemists, Druids, and the sort, but no one with the right abilities to really handle me… however, by sheer dumb luck Ardyn passed through town and stayed at the Guild. The Master knew him, and knew what he was like, told him about my situation, and got him to take a look out on the plantation.”

    “Fate, huh?”

    “Luck. Fate implies the chance that he’d not been there and my whole family was screwed didn’t actually exist. Pleasant, but not realistic. Anyway, he found my abilities intriguing, and while he didn’t share them, he had known people who did and had put some study into such things. He agreed to take me on as an apprentice of sorts, and as a paid assistant. My parents weren’t thrilled, but I was honestly really excited about it. I had never been much for playing with the other farm kids, or the proper townies. My only real attachments were to my parents themselves… and if I stayed, I’d have ruined their lives. The best thing I could do for them was leave… and it was my chance to see the world and have adventures like in my books.”

    “You know, I took you for a really serious guy… but you can be weirdly romantic sometimes.”

    “Such is the duality of Man.” She rolled her eyes.

    “Alright, wise philosopher. So what was that shit about the Aes Sidhe?”

    “Oh, you’re definitely going to tell me a few things if you want to hear about that.

    “Deal. Gimme the goods!”

    “So… a couple years ago, Ardyn got word of this weird ruin that turned up in Annwn.”

    “Ohhhhhhhhhhh shit.” The Isle of the Fey does deserve that reaction.

    Yeah. So, Ardyn always had this sort of… passion, I guess, for trying to make new discoveries. See things no one else had seen, that kind of thing. He’d always say it was because he wanted to make a name for himself, but anyone could tell he just loved the work itself. He loved seeing things, experiencing things. He heard about this from some friends in the Guild network and just… drops everything to plan a voyage. Where the hell he got his money I will never know, but he got it, and we and a bunch of others headed overseas. No trouble getting there, but after just a day on the boat it was clear most of the people we were with wanted nothing but loot and plunder.”

    “I’ll bet. New ruins… man, every Adventurer worth his salt would be all over that.”

    “Yeah, well… that’s not how things work in Annwn. It’s not like any of the other Jewels. Albion, Alba, Eire, Cymry… they’re all pretty mundane. The isles are similar. Not Annwn. Humans are a minority there. It’s mostly Elves, Halflings, Dwarves… and the Aes Sidhe. The High Fae. They rule it. Always have. Always will.”

    “The Twelve Crowns, right?”

    “Yes. Six kings, six queens. Each ruling over a season. Iubdan and Bebo for Spring, Oberon and Titania for Summer, Ailill and Medbh for Fall, Finvarra and Oona for Winter, with Arawn and Morgan for the Wet half of the year and Hafdag and Gloriana for the Dry. At any given time there’s two kings and two queens ruling the place, and as if that weren’t complicated enough, they’ve each one got Seelie and Unseelie courts loyal to them. And they absolutely love messing with each other. Their politics and practices constantly shift, because Annwn itself isn’t even their main realm… they’re actually ruling from some primordial Fae Realm. None of them agree on the damn name for the place, so just call it Mag Mell. They use Annwn as a sort of battleground almost, except that it’s almost never actual violence. That’s considered undignified. It’s all courtly intrigue, etiquette, slights and insults and debts and promises, half-truths and tricks and betrayals and pranks, revelries, parties, games, carnivals, tourneys, balls, galas… people talk about it like it’s a paradise… but it’s actually a very special kind of hell.”

    “I mean, how bad could it be?”

    “How bad? The second you get off the boat, there’s already some Fae somewhere who knows it and is figuring out how to use you in its own plots to fuck with some other Fae. The Aes Sidhe constantly screw with each other, and they adore using mortals as pawns in the game. Often resulting in the death of said pawn. Our party, for example, wound up getting used in a long-running dispute between a Muryan and a Teg. The Teg had insulted the Muryan at some point decades ago, and the Muryan had found ways to get revenge, which led to the Teg striking back in an endless cycle. The Muryan hosted us while we investigated the ruin, which actually turned out to be some other Fae’s art project and wasn’t a damn ruin at all. It was literally just made to look like one.” Rhian got a laugh out of that, but it hadn’t been fun for any of them at the time. Especially when they’d nearly gotten killed for trespassing on the installation.

    “Anyway, the Muryan hosted a fox hunt for us. Ardyn had managed to excuse the two of us to continue studying the “ruin,” based on his own intuition and a lack of interest, with some permission from the creator. “Artistic appreciation,” he called it. Well, the hunting party killed a few foxes and called it a day. We didn’t realize anything was wrong until the first body was dumped on the chateau’s doorstep.”

    “Wait, body?”

    “Body. Flayed. See… the hunting party had killed five foxes. There’d been eight hunters… and each one that’d made a kill disappeared over the course of five nights and turned up the next morning on the Muryan’s doorstep sans skin.” Her eyes widened.

    “Turns out the hunt had been redirected, magically, through the Teg’s territory. Despite the fact that he was leagues away from where it was supposed to have been conducted. The Muryan had had the land bent for it. And this particular Teg, well… Tegs can take fox form and…”

    “And they’d killed his family.”

    “Errr, well… not exactly. They uhhhh… they were just foxes. It’s just, well… this particular Teg had a fondness for fucking them.”

    “Oh. Ummm… So…”

    “Indeed.”

    Oh.

    Indeed. It seems the Teg had intended to kill all of us. However, we were able to avoid that particular fate thanks to the Muryan throwing a celebration.”

    “Wait, what was he celebrating?”

    The successful hunt.

    “You’re joking.”

    No.” Her jaw hung slack.

    “So anyway, he throws a great celebration and invites the damn Teg.

    No. He didn’t.

    “He did.”

    “Huge fiasco. Or it should have been according to the Muryan’s plan. The Teg was supposed to come and be forced to behave when everyone knew he wouldn’t be able to, and if he blew up it’d be a further embarrassment as the icing on the cake. Except that one of the women who’d taken part in the hunt blew it up further. See, a higher noble was in attendance. One that was on good terms with the Teg and had managed to join as someone’s plus one. Specifically, the Teg had brought in a powerful ally. The Muryan had his own support, to be sure, but not of the same caliber. No one that could pull rank.”

    “Oh gods…”

    “So this Adventurer, she sees what she thinks is a fabulously handsome Elf man after she’d had a few too many drinks. Lovely woman. A fencer, if memory serves. Excellent dancer. She tries to ask this “Elf,” for a dance. Without any understanding of what the proper behavior is when dealing with the High Fae. She indirectly insulted all of the other Fae in line to dance with him, regardless of gender, including those who’d already danced with him earlier in the night and the High Fae himself.”

    “...”

    “So instead, he politely declines, and directs the Muryan to dance with her. He’s handsome, and Muryans are legendary dancers. However, the noble puts a stipulation on her; because of her breach of etiquette, this dance will be a punishment. “For every missed step, you’ll turn faster,” he says. She thinks the song played will go faster for every step she misses.”

    “But that’s not what was going to happen.” He nodded at her astute observation. “Correct.”

    “It’s the Fae, so of course not. So, the noble orders the band to play a song… a traditional Fae ballad that takes a year to complete.”

    “What. What?” When you’re immortal, unbound by physical limitations, common sense ceases to exist.

    “You’re starting to see how bad this is going to get. She’s not allowed to stop dancing until the song stops, and every missed step she’ll turn faster. He didn’t mean turn as in spin… he meant turn as in age.”

    “Ohhhhhhhh shit…”

    “She starts to dance, holds her own, and this Muryan keeps perfect step. And eventually she falters. She gets tired. Starts missing steps. More and more, and before too long, she realizes that she’s aging. The noble decides it’s taking too long and asks the band to speed up. The Muryan keeps perfect pace… but she couldn’t. She tries. Fails. The pace speeds up, she slows down, and finally she just panics, breaks, and runs… but by then it’s too late. I couldn’t even see the Muryan moving at that point. He was just a blur. And she… she crumbled to dust against the noble’s feet, dead before she could beg him to stop. The song ended after about half an hour. It should have taken a year.” Rhian just stared at him in mute horror.

    “We left the next day and never looked back.”

    Shit.

    “So… your turn. Tell me about Lunie. And that bag of yours. How the hell did it survive all the shit you put in it? But mostly Lunie. You’ve mentioned her and she seemed to be… close, so I’m curious now.”

    “Well… alright. But can I answer the bag thing first? It’s a lot simpler.”

    “Sure.”

    “So… the bag can put up with holding all of those sharp Beast parts because its lining is made of Beast hide. The outside of the bag just looks different due to the layers used to make it. Thing was expensive, but it serves well.”

    “Ah, alright. Fair enough.”

    “As for Lunie… I guess you could say she’s an ex?”

    “That much I understand, but there’s definitely more to it.”

    “Well… yeah. I guess… I should start at the beginning. So I met Lunie, Lunelleth really, a little over five years ago. We were both still “human,” so to speak. I was literally Human, she was a Half-Elf. At the time, I was living in Gowlg Crug and working with the Adventurer’s Guild. Still sending money back to the Thieves’ Guild in Rhych, but I’d officially paid my debt to them. I just felt like I hadn’t yet. I liked taking on challenging jobs. Those always had big payouts, and here comes this Half-Elf with a big, muscly Knight-type in tow with just such a job. The Knight, by the way, would be Galad, and very much literally a Knight. He’s some noble from Albion, apparently. Anyway, those two show up with this old, beat-up map that that claims to show the location of a lost ruin.”

    “Danbryn.”

    “Bingo. It’s old, and vague, tattered. She claimed she got it from an ex, but she never talked about the guy. Even after… it was like… I don’t know. It was like she loved the guy, but he irritated her, because she never wanted to talk about him, and if we ever tried to ask her she’d get mad… but she’d also blush, and smile when she thought we weren’t looking. I’m pretty sure she stole it from him, but I can’t say for certain.”

    “I get it, go on.”

    “Heh, fine. Lunie had some kind of ties to the Church and managed to get this priest named Petros from Meropis into the party. He brought his lover, Marquesa, who was some Valestrider woman and a Witch… and no, not one of those midget Monsters, not a Hag. Like…”

    “Someone with a magical patron that teaches them and grants them their powers.”

    “Yeah, that.”

    “That’s an unusual couple.”

    “No kidding. They were cute, though. It was like they were both always having debates and trying to convert each other… you’d almost think they were enemies until you saw that tent of theirs shake at night. Stealth wasn’t their strong suit, if you know what I mean.” He snorted.

    “Lunie herself was a Magus, kind of like you, but she didn’t dabble in other things… and she was pure tradition. Spellbook and everything. And Galad, well, big manly sword-and-board in shining armor with a white steed. The man read too many romances. They were looking for someone to deal with any traps and locks they might face, so…”

    “You joined up through the Guild.”

    “Yup. They seemed like fun, anyway, and a ruin that no one’s plundered is a damn fine draw. We all got along… the only sour part, honestly, was Emrys. He got wind of the group, and joined up. Word was he’d cucked the mayor and was trying to hide from the guard. He heard us and signed up as an excuse to go hide in the wilderness with a “safe” group. Safe."

    “Safe… until the boar.”

    Exactly. Anyway, got along pretty well with all of them, though Emrys kept trying to hook up with Marquesa behind Petros's back. The guy even went after Lunie, despite her hooking up with Galad. Not that there really seemed to be much to that beyond the physical."

    "You seem to really have something against that Emrys guy." She sighed, pouting.
    "
    It's no big deal…"

    "What'd he do, steal your sweetroll?" She snorted.

    "... kid."

    “Hm?”

    “Called me a kid. Treated me like a kid.”

    “Huh?” She sighed, frustration and annoyance plastered across her face.

    “Look, Emrys constantly talked down to me. He never called me by name, he never treated me with any respect. I was always a snot-nosed brat to him. It didn’t matter what I said or what I did or who vouched for my abilities, he always talked to me like I had no right to be there. Provisioning, routes, watch assignments, dealing with threats, dividing shares, hells, even just making fucking camp, he always treated me like I was some kind of pet for the Party. He treated Marquesa’s fox familiar better than me. Though I guess that was partly because he thought he had a chance with her.”

    “Just to make sure, you were what, about nineteen or so at the time?”

    “Yeah. Nineteen. Probably.”

    “So you were young, but not a kid.”

    “Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m still young. The thing was, it was never about my actual age with that scumbag… when he called me a kid, he was insulting my looks.

    “Huh?”

    “Look, this fucker has a type. He’s only interested in women with fat tits and a big ass. The middle doesn’t matter, far as I can tell. I have a nice ass, but, well…”

    “You have a modest chest.”

    “No. I have small tits. They’re not fucking huge melons hanging off my chest. I have tits that constantly remind me I didn’t get enough to eat as a kid, okay? I have wide hips, and I worked my legs and core like my life depended on it as I grew up… because it did. So I’m pretty confident in this ass of mine. But I never really built up the sort of giant honkers that make men stare. Did you know I’m only a B-cup?”

    “I did not.”

    “Well, now you do. And I wasn’t this big back then. I filled out some after the whole… infection incident. But this shit used to tell me “develop faster, child,” like I could control it or something. He saw me as a little kid not because I was young, but because I was flat. It’s not like I’m exactly the height of a child, here. Hells, I’m fucking taller than he is.”

    “What?”

    Yes. Starting to see, now? This asshole manlet was going out of his way to insult me on my looks every fucking time he spoke to me.

    “Honestly? Sounds like he liked you.”

    “Oh hells no. That man only wanted big tits. He was infamous for it. That shitstain is a Bard, and every fucking stereotype that goes with it. A damn good one, sure. He’s got a voice, and he’s got skill at the strings. I hate his fucking guts, but I’m not so petty that I can’t acknowledge real ability. He’d travel around the bars, taverns, and inns in town, and even to other towns and villages nearby, and perform. And he’d make bank. But he’d also pick out favorites from the women that came to see him perform. Always big tits, fat ass, and usually older. He liked experienced women. And he had a reputation for aiming for married women. For setting up trysts while their husbands were at work. He’d see someone he’d like, and he’d throw them these little flowers he called trinkets and favors.

    “...”

    “Like I said, he fucked the mayor’s wife.”

    “You said that was a rumor.”

    “Sure it was a rumor. But when the town guard has orders to bring this shitter in for questioning right after her rotundness sees one of his shows and catches one of his little flower favors… and shows up walking funny and sporting a shiner after a “fall at home,” beside a red-faced husband, well… you don’t really need people saying they saw the guy show up at the mayor’s mansion’s servant entrance… but it doesn’t paint a prettier picture when they are.

    “So he really…”

    “Almost certainly. The man is, or at least was, brazen. He’s handsome. Was before, too, and just like I got prettier, he got more handsome. Fucker probably has more bastards than he has teeth.”

    “That’s… uhhhhh… why exactly did you uhhhh… want this man to respect you?”

    “I didn’t. I wanted him to stop treating me like dogshit!”

    “Whoa, whoa. I didn’t mean to…”

    “Look, I know. I̵