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Man named Marcus: Husk

CaptainCanukimerican Feb 10th, 2015 1,497 Never
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  1. Thirty men marched in in a column three men wide and ten men deep. In front of them marched Tiberius Crom: The emperor of Vellond, his ax rested proudly on his shoulder and each step trembled the earth ever so slightly. He preferred to march on foot, always feeling uncomfortable atop a horse or behind a chariot, and he figured his weight must not be all that comfortable for the beast.
  2.  
  3. Unlike regular Vellond Legionaries, the wings of eagles adorned the sides of each of their helmets. Their shields wore the imperial crest itself and their blades were made of the finest materials, each hand crafted by the greatest smiths the Empire could provide. One of the few legions within the army that consisted entirely of humans, their combat prowess outmatching even the most skilled monster. They were the Praetorian Guard, named after the Roman elite of the emperor's old world, but unlike many Caesars from a time long ago, Emperor Crom was constantly on the move and constantly in the thick of it, keeping the Praetors fresh and fit. The guard consisted of four hundred and eighty men from various parts across the Empire, some even former men at arms of the kingdoms that the Empire had toppled and added to its realm. Each and every one of them was loyal, each willing to fight for imperial glory.
  4.  
  5. Tiberius continued his march ahead, his eyes constantly vigilant to the woods around him. Scouts had reported a skirmish further up the Imperial Highway that attached the capitol to several other major cities within the realm. It stretched for miles upon miles and was one of the major non-military profession for many years until it's completion.
  6.  
  7. The catastrophe ahead was not hard to miss, caravans marked with the imperial seal were strewn along the road the dirt littered with corpses in between.
  8.  
  9. “Spread out and search for survivors.” Tiberius ordered, guiding their direction with his free hand.
  10.  
  11. “Yes! My Emperor!”
  12.  
  13. The Praetors spread across the road, turning over bodies and tending to whoever was still breathing among them. There must have been at least sixty bodies, if not more, and searching for his own was not beneath him. He could hear it from outside his helmet, the mask that had struck terror into so many hearts, a faint wheeze for air and a heartbeat in the distance, something only his ears in the cohort could pick up.
  14.  
  15. He spotted the man right away, wearing a Fesian uniform and helmet, a soldier from one of the countries brought under imperial reign long ago. He was clutching his side, doing his best to his blood in his body.
  16.  
  17. “M-My Emperor!” The soldier cried weakly, reaching out with his other hand.
  18.  
  19. “Don't talk, save your strength.” Tiberius ordered, getting down on one knee to check the wound.
  20.  
  21. “It's...It's a trap!”
  22.  
  23. “I know.”
  24.  
  25. Tiberius raised his ax from his shoulders and the sound of metal against metal crashed over his head. A mighty blow that would have crushed the defense of a regular man and cleaved him in twain, armor and all. But Tiberius was no regular man.
  26.  
  27. He grunted under the great pressure, keeping the attackers weapon away with one arm until he got the footing to twist his body and force his opponent away and gain distance. What stood before him was a man clad in thick, rugged, and menacing armor. It was dabbed in black and dark purple, It's face behind a helmet that looked as though it was molded to it's armor. It's sword was large and imposing, the metal that made the blade seemed to twist and bend to create its shaft and sharp edges. The seal on it's armor was that of the Demon Lord's, a dark outline of what seemed to be a sword with a red eye in the center, the sword itself surrounded by wings.
  28.  
  29. The attacker was too large to be human, but had the shape and body of a man. It's red eyes glowed in the darkness brought out by it's helmet. Like a demon from the old world, a warrior that would bring any hero to their knees.
  30.  
  31. “Balthazar...” Tiberius muttered his attackers name, rising to his feet and taking his ax in each hand.
  32.  
  33. Balthazar: the first great hero of the new age. He was chosen to slay the Demon Lord hundreds of years ago by the Church. They said he was a great and pure hero, thwarting every advance by his monstrous adversaries and enduring every curse of lust that was cast upon him. That was until he fought his way into the Demon Lord's true realm, where he finally met his one true enemy and quickly fell in love. Ever since then, he has been her chosen champion, leading a small army of former knights and crusaders who had been turned into incubi by demonic energies.
  34.  
  35. “So you are the great Tiberius Crom.” Balthazar said musingly, stabbing his great sword into the ground, the road around them breaking into battle between the Praetorian Guard and the Chosen Warriors. “I must admit, I thought you would be taller.”
  36.  
  37. “You are trespassing on imperial ground, demon.” Tiberius announced, using himself as a shield between Balthazar and the injured soldier who had warned him.
  38.  
  39. “I merely come on on behalf of the great lord, my wife.” Balthazar explained before charging forward into an attack, his blade crossing with the handle of Tiberius' ax.
  40.  
  41. Tiberius stood his ground, his feet digging into the earth after the attack. It was a blow powerful enough to deafen the ears of those around them. Muscles strained under the titanic pressure of the two colossal warriors.  
  42.  
  43. “I must ask.” Balthazar started again while he pushed against Tiberius' resistance, his dark voice echoing with each word. “In a war between god and devil with humans as the play things. What is it you want? What is it that you believe you can accomplish?”
  44.  
  45. “The world.” Tiberius answered matter-of-factually. “I want the entire world in my grasp...”
  46.  
  47. Balthazar lunged forward with a head butt during the struggle, one that Tiberius answered in kind. The two glared into each others eyes from behind their visors, the ground around them giving way before they did.
  48.  
  49. “How to expect to pull that off, hm?” Balthazar asked. “If you can barely hold your own against me?”
  50.  
  51. “If I'm barely holding on... Then why are your legs shaking?”
  52.  
  53. Balthazar looked away from Tiberius and down at the ground. His opponent was as still as a statue against all the might of Balthazar while he was shaking, barely holding on. With a grunt of rage he put his force into a swing of her arms, grinding Tiberius across the ground leaving only a few inches between him and the injured soldier.
  54.  
  55. “I've seen what I wanted to see.” Balthazar muttered before raising his sword into the air and enveloping himself in a hazy purple sphere. “Don't think I'll be as lenient the next we meet...”
  56.  
  57. And with a flash of dark energy, Balthazar and his warriors disappeared from the battle field, leaving nothing but the exhausted Praetors and Tiberius in their wake.
  58.  
  59. “Casualties.” Tiberius requested, swinging his ax over his head and against his shoulder once more.
  60.  
  61. “Kairos has a broken arm.” The centurion reported. “Other than that, all is well, my Emperor.”
  62.  
  63. “Gather the survivors and what you can from the caravan, I want  hourly patrols down every major part of this highway.”
  64.  
  65. “The Demon Lord's Chosen aren't the only issues that acquire your attention, great emperor.”
  66.  
  67. Tiberius swung around and pulled his ax from his shoulders, the blade of it's head now pressed against the neck of a tanned skinned monster, who seemed unfazed by the Butcher's retaliation, even with the man slaying ax drawing a small trickle of her blood. The Praetors followed suit a second later, their blades once again drawn at an enemy.
  68.  
  69. “State your name and business, monster.” Tiberius commanded. “Unless you wish for me to remove your head from your body...”
  70.  
  71. The jackal ears atop the monster's head twitched slightly, her violet eyes glaring deeply into the shallow holes in Tiberius' helmet. Her light brown skin was visible on her legs, arms, and abdomen, her stomach marked with a few white tattoos. And a tie hung from her neck and between her breasts, which were covered in a tight black top. Tiberius heard Balthazar's heart beat even while the incubi was hidden in the shadows of the forest, but this creature, this Anubis, approached the emperor without even raising his suspicions.
  72.  
  73. “I am Abayomi.” The monster introduced herself, her left paw gripped tightly around her golden staff and her right as far away from the grip of her golden sheathed sword as possible. “I come on behalf of the great and powerful Pharaoh: Maat.”
  74.  
  75. “I've never heard of a Maat.” Tiberius stated bluntly.
  76.  
  77. “Then perhaps you should study more on your leisure, mighty emperor...” Abayomi said in an almost mocking tone. “She has merely been sleeping for the past five hundred years. Certainly not enough time for her to be forgotten by the sands of time.”
  78.  
  79. Tiberius lowered his ax and took a single step back. Though the Anubis seemed calm on the outside, he could smell a feint scent of sweat on her body. She was nervous, though composed. Tiberius could end her before she could cast a spell and she knew that, there was no reason for her to even try.
  80.  
  81. “Speak then.” Tiberius ordered.
  82.  
  83. “The great Maat, queen of all that lies before her, wishes to conduct a meeting of nations since her long term of absence.” She continued to explain. “You are cordially invited as a honored guest to the newly erected palace in what you humans call the “Sahagin Desert.”
  84.  
  85. Abayomi raised her paw and clicked her claws together, a scrolls appearing from thin air a moment later. She handed the scroll to the emperor with a long bow.  Tiberius rested the ax against his chest and left shoulder, using both his hands to unravel the scroll. It was, indeed, an invitation to a meeting of leaders, marked by a rose colored royal seal and signature in the right corner.
  86.  
  87. “Three weeks from now...” Tiberius muttered, rolling the scroll back up.
  88.  
  89. “Yes, great emperor.” Abayomi confirmed.
  90.  
  91. “My emperor, if I may!” the Centurion piped up, interjecting himself into the conversation. “But this may well be a trap! A monster queen is one thing, but a pharaoh? Their magic is as powerful as their insatiable lust! She could be seeking you as a prize if anything!”
  92.  
  93. Abayomi opened her mouth to object, only to be silenced by Tiberius' voice instead .
  94.  
  95. “Am I not Tiberius Crom?” He asked the Centurion. “Did I not butcher Soltar Khan and his paladins with this mighty ax? Am I not the man who united Vellond and create the greatest war machine known to man? What fear do I have of monsters?”
  96.  
  97. Tiberius' gaze turned back to Abayomi, who herself was maintaining her composure. “Tell your queen that she will have her prize. I will attend her meeting with my imperial guard three weeks from now.”
  98.  
  99. Abayomi bowed once more and stood back. “The Pharaoh will be pleased to hear your answer, o great emperor. We look forward to your arrival.”
  100.  
  101. And with another click of her claws and a puff of smoke, she was gone.
  102.  
  103. “Continue the clean up.” Tiberius ordered without a seconds delay. “We march back to the throne by nightfall.”
  104.  
  105. My eyes shot open, staring at the wooden ceiling of my bedroom. The sun hung high in the air and laid a bright light across my bed, covering the rest of my room in shadow. For once in a very long time I woke up without a hint of fatigue, I wasn't tired or even groggy, but wide awake. I turned my head to the right and looked upwards out my window, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
  106.  
  107. Birds chirped periodically in the distance and I could hear the wind blow calmly across my house. I sat up slowly, making sure not to let the blood rush too quickly from my head, and looked out my window. I could see Bouceroc in the distance, the road leading into the town to my left was sparse with travelers going into town. All around, it was a quiet day.
  108.  
  109. Judging by the sun in the sky it was about noon, I slept from dusk all the way to noon the next day? I remember taking a nap on the couch the day before, but how did I get into bed?
  110.  
  111. “Cleo...” I whispered to myself. I was Cleo that got me into my room.
  112.  
  113. I could barely walk then, and still she managed to pull me up the stairs and tuck me into bed. I remember the look on her face. It was concerned, caring, she really was looking out for me...
  114.  
  115. With a stretch, I brought myself out of bed and on to my feet. I was still wearing my clothes from yesterday, and they didn't smell...Too bad. I could definitely get away with walking around in them for another day.
  116.  
  117. “Feeling better?”
  118.  
  119. Titos was standing at the other end of my room near the door, still wearing my face like a security blanket for his true form. I became use to his void-like black eyes, seemingly staring at nothing and everything at the same time.
  120.  
  121. “Yeah, much better.” I remarked, grabbing on to my right shoulder while I twisted my arm.
  122.  
  123. “It's strange, really.” Titos pondered, scratching at his chin. “All the demonic poisoning, skin walker toxins, and times you've walked through demon realms. I'm surprised you haven't gone incubi, or at the very least a husk...”
  124.  
  125. “I'm glad you care so much.” I said sarcastically while I pushed my hands into my pockets and moved for the door.
  126.  
  127. “I mean it.” Titos ensured. “I've seen so called “Heroes” take a smidgen of demonic energy compared to you and turn.”
  128.  
  129. “Maybe I'm just lucky?”
  130.  
  131. “There's more to it than that.” Said Titos. “I'll have to think on it.”
  132.  
  133. “Well, think on it then.” I brushed him off. “I should probably go see the girls, let them know I'm okay.”
  134.  
  135. “Have a good day then...”
  136.  
  137. I could already hear voices coming from downstairs while I walked down the hall towards the stairs. It sounded like Moriko was talking to Mouse about something, probably business tips or just shooting the shit. I saw both Lupa and Cleo right away, the former pestering the latter as usual. It seems that Cleo had gotten use to it, though, brushing off most things the energetic werewolf did or even giving her a little response that wasn't a scolding or critique.
  138.  
  139. Both Cleo's and Lupa's ears stood up when my foot creaked against the stairs, Lupa seemingly ready to pounce on me like I was just another prey.
  140.  
  141. “Mornin' girls.” I greeted them as I stepped down the stairs.
  142.  
  143. “It's noon.” Cleo corrected me, standing up from her seat. “How are you feeling?”
  144.  
  145. “Much better, thanks.” I smiled at her while keeping my eye on Lupa.
  146.  
  147. “Well, look who's up.” I heard from the kitchen behind me, both Moriko and Mouse standing at the doorway now.
  148.  
  149. “Are we still going to read together, Marcus?” Lupa whimpered. “I really liked the stories.”
  150.  
  151. “We read stories?” I asked her. “Well...I guess we could?”
  152.  
  153. My response seemed to pipe her up, her face now plastered with a large grin and her tail wagging ecstatically. I couldn't help but keep a smile on my face and my heart fluttered with what could only be described as an excited tingle. They were all happy to see me, and not for the reasons that monsters had become notorious for in society. I was fine being on my own for over a year since I've came here, living in inn rooms or anything else I could count as shelter, I was even fine when I was on my own in this big house. But with the girls around, for the first time in a long time I felt like I had something almost like a family.
  154.  
  155. But my sense of joy was suddenly  ripped from me when I heard a loud knocking on my  front door, and there was only one person in all of Bouceroc that slammed on my door that hard.
  156.  
  157. “What do you want, Wolfgang?” I said with a sigh after I opened the door.
  158.  
  159. “Oh good, you aren't dead. Bernard owes me coins.” He said with his usual uninterested tone. “You proper for some work?”
  160.  
  161. “What do you have in mind?” I asked, leaning against the door frame. “You aren't sending me to scare off some werebats or something, right?”
  162.  
  163. “Nothing like that this time, no.” Wolfgang leaned forward, his usual expression suddenly turning grim and silent. “There's something going on in the Figgan farm a few miles east from here. Had some ungodly howls and screams coming from his barn.”
  164.  
  165. “Screams?” I asked. “Human or?”
  166.  
  167. “Not sure, but I have a good idea.” He muttered. “I got my boys to surround the barn, but none of them have the balls to get any closer, I'll tell you that fucking much.”
  168.  
  169. “Does that include you?” I asked him.
  170.  
  171. Wolfgang looked away and let out a long, drawn out sigh. “I'll tell you, all my years, nothing's made my blood run cold as quickly as those noises.”
  172.  
  173. “You're tougher than a burlap sack of nails.” I told him. “If you can't go in there, what makes you think I can?”
  174.  
  175. “Think for a second, Marcus.” Said Wolfgang grimly. “If I come to you with a problem, what do you think it could be?”
  176.  
  177. I pondered on it only for a second before I felt a chill roll down my spine. I broke eye contact and looked at the ground, swallowing the lump that had formed in my throat. With a few more seconds on pondering the situation, I made my decision and looked at him with a nod.
  178.  
  179. “Alright. I'll be there as soon as I can.”
  180.  
  181. “Good... I'll make sure you get paid well on this job.” Wolfgang turned away from the door and walked down my trail. “Lord knows someone has to have the stones.”
  182.  
  183. “What was that about?” Mouse asked as I closed the door and stepped back into the living room.
  184.  
  185. “Work.” I stated bluntly. “There's a job I need to do.”
  186.  
  187. “Can we help?” Lupa asked, jumping onto the arm rest of my couch. “I'm super strong, I can beat up some baddies!”
  188.  
  189. “No, you all stay here.” I told them, almost an order at this point. “If you guys come, things are just going to get worse.”
  190.  
  191. “What do you mean?” Cleo asked with concern. “Are you in danger?”
  192.  
  193. “Not if everything goes as smoothly.” I sighed. “Just stay here, okay? For me?”
  194.  
  195. “I guess...” Lupa pouted. “But you better come back okay, okay?”
  196.  
  197. I scratched Lupa behind her ear in reassurance and turned to Cleo. “You keep everything good here on the home front, alright? I'll be back in a bit.”
  198.  
  199. Cleo's tail wagged back and forth nervously, but she nodded in agreement. I took it as my cue to move and ran up the stairs towards my room. I haven't had the chance to get myself a new weapon since I lost my sword, but it just so happens that a strange little friend that lives inside a jewel happened to come attached to a rather nice looking sword...Well, guess who's coming with me on a job?
  200.  
  201. “Where are you going?” Titos asked, watching me closely as I picked up the sword.
  202.  
  203. “On a job, and you're coming with me.” I announced, strapping the sword into my belt.
  204.  
  205. “Hm. I haven't been able to move around freely in quite some time.” Titos admitted. “Alright then. Let's go.”
  206.  
  207. “Alright, can you hide in your jewel?” I asked. “Not that Moriko sees you on the way out.”
  208.  
  209. “Very well.”
  210. Titos didn't say much on our walk to Figgan farm, all for the best considering it would seem like I was talking to myself to anyone who hasn't touched the jewel. He spent his time looking around, taking in the nature and sounds of the world around him.  He said he had no interest in showing himself to Moriko when she acquired him, was he able to see the world when he was in there?
  211.  
  212. Figgan farm was a rather large estate not far from town. It was off the beaten path, but you could see it in the distance once you reached the cross roads. A cute little house surrounded by flowers and other nick knacks and a bright red barn that looks like it was freshly painted, though I've been told that it always looks like that.
  213.  
  214. I spotted the town guards right away, crossbowmen covered any exit from behind barricades with groups of four to five pikemen made sure any opening in their defenses were covered. Mr. and Mrs. Figgan stood near their house, an older, wrinkly bald man held on to his portly apron wearing gray haired wife, the two sharing the same look of concern.
  215.  
  216. Then I heard the scream.
  217.  
  218. It was loud, almost ear shattering. Every bone in my body stiffened and my blood ran ice cold. The guards looked away and shielded their eyes from the barn with every scream. Even Wolfgang was afraid.
  219.  
  220. “Oh dear...” Titos muttered to me. “I know that scream.”
  221.  
  222. I took a deep breath and marched forward, passing by Wolfgang in the progress.
  223.  
  224. “If it gets past me, don't worry about me and just tell your men to fill it with bolts.” I said to him, not breaking my stride.
  225.  
  226. I didn't understand, their fears weren't from taboos or myths. It was pathological, like a natural instinct to get as far away from that barn as possible, and they were all fighting against it. With one long, deep breath I opened the barn door just wide enough for me to step through and shut it behind me.
  227.  
  228. I was treated to a grizzly scene. Cows, pigs, and horses all mangled or beaten to death across the barn, and the thing just stood there in plain sight. It was a man, or was at one point, it's skin was pale white and it's body seemed bony and malnourished, how it had the strength to beat these animals to death is beyond me. It's eyes were sunken in, and it never seemed to blink, only stand in place to twitch and ramble to itself. A naked, destroyed, absolute mess of a former man stood before me, and my heart sank into my stomach.
  229.  
  230. “That thing...” Titos started. “Is a husk.”
  231.  
  232. “That's...” My words came out in slow whispers, like my body refused to process the information that was just handed to it. “Is...A husk?”
  233.  
  234. I began to approach it slowly, my sword now in hand. It didn't seem to pay me any mind, preferring rather to ramble and scratch with the occasional mind shattering howl.
  235.  
  236. “The end stage of demonic poisoning.” Titos explained, following beside me. “Corrupting the spirit turns a man into an incubi. His lust and depravities become insatiable, but the man himself is still there... But this, the body still works, but the spirit...It's long gone. The body seeks out monsters to mate with, but not even the most depraved of monsters want's a creature such as this. Demonic poisoning is a crime of the highest degree, both in the human and monster world...”
  237.  
  238. I was now standing dangerously close to the creature, my mind refused to to accept the information that was just given to it. There was no way this thing was human, I refused to believe it. It's face only resembled that of a man's in the most macabre ways. The husk, this thing, this creature, stopped it's scratching and ramblings, and slowly it rose it's head to look at me.
  239.  
  240. It's eyes were huge, bulbous and black. It's teeth were stained with yellow and blood, jagged and sharp like that of some sort of predator. It looked at me in confusion, tilting it's head slowly to one side like it didn't understand what I even was. A foreign creature to it just as much as it was to me. It is said by a few that the Demon Lord wants to change the world for the better, that she wants man and monster to live together in harmony. But how could she create something like this? Or is this something that even she can't control?
  241.  
  242. I began to shake and shutter, my face cringing and contorting in both disgust and horror. I clenched my teeth to the point that I thought my gums would bleed, and all I could do was whimper and moan like a frightened child. The world held still, it was just me and this thing, staring at one another like deer caught in the head lights. I wanted to scream and run, I wanted to wake up and find myself in my apartment back in America, I wanted all the information that was just force fed to me to just disappear so I can forget that something as wretched as this thing can exist. This could have been me, I could have been the one in this barn, screaming in agony and looking for a woman like she was the next piece of meat.
  243.  
  244. But with every fiber in my being, and one final defiant scream, I swung my sword from left to right, and removed the creature's head from it's neck, ending it's torment. It's body slouched and crumpled to the ground like a rag doll, twitching and convulsing for a few seconds before finally becoming still. I stumbled back and gasped for air, leaning against the nearby wooden support beam and crumpling to the ground.
  245.  
  246. “Marcus...”
  247.  
  248. I turned my head towards the barn door, not even noticing the tears rolling down my face. It was Wolfgang, looking at me and then at the husk with uneasiness.
  249.  
  250. “W-Wolfgang!” I stuttered. “That could have been me! I was so close to being that...I COULD HAVE TURNED INTO THAT!”
  251.  
  252. “Marcus, calm down!” Wolfgang pleaded, dropping to a knee and placing his hand on my shoulder. “It's over now, you got it.”
  253.  
  254. “That could have been me...I could have been the guy who turned into that thing...”
  255.  
  256. “But you aren't.” Wolfgang continued. “Look, I'm sorry you had to go through that, but you're the only person I could think of who could get close to that thing without turning and running...”
  257.  
  258. “Why?” I asked him, wiping the stream of tears from my face. “Why could I get close to it? Why do I just brush off stupid shit like this? Why me?”
  259.  
  260. “I don't know.” He said to me. “If I knew I would tell you, but you can...”
  261.  
  262. “I... I want to go home now.” I said.
  263.  
  264. “You going to be alright by yourself?”
  265.  
  266. “Y...Yeah... I just, I just want to go to bed. Just get the money to me as soon as you can.”
  267.  
  268. Titos stood in silence after I killed the husk, watching me and Wolfgang speak before following along. He could have swore that Wolfgang was glancing over in his direction. He didn't say a word the entire way home, simply walking at a distance by my side. He didn't gaze into the wood or at the sky, he didn't listen to the birds or smell the grass, he just followed along and didn't say a word.
  269.  
  270. “Marcus is home!” Lupa cried happily, running away from the pile of comic books she left on the library floor and charging towards the door. She nearly slipped and crashed against the wall if the carpet didn't break her stride.
  271.  
  272. “Welcome home Ma-!”
  273.  
  274. Her joyful greeting was cut short when she saw my face. My eyes were fixated on the ground and bags had formed under my eyes. My skin was a ghostly pale and my mouth was stuck in an impenetrable frown. Lupa's tail moved between her legs and her ears fell against her head. She took a step forward and reached out towards me.
  275.  
  276. “Jobs done...” I muttered, stepping into my home, using what little strength I willed to muster to drag my blade against the wooden floor. “Money should be here by tomorrow...”
  277.  
  278. “Marcus?” I heard Cleo's voice coming from the kitchen doorway. Looking up, I was greeted by the sight of the other three staring at me with concern. “Are you okay? What happened?”
  279.  
  280. “Husk.” I simply stated. “Got into the Figgan's barn, I took care of it...”
  281.  
  282. “A husk!?” Lupa yelped. “All the way out here!?”
  283.  
  284. “It's okay, I killed it.” I reassured. “I'm...I'm going to bed...”
  285.  
  286. I marched my way past the four girls, making a bee line towards the stairs and refusing to be stopped by anything. Mouse sank away where she was standing, refusing to make eye contact. All she did was look at the ground and hold on to her tail in both her stubbly hands.
  287.  
  288. I lost track of time on how long I've been sitting at the side of my bed, keeping my head up with my hand and staring at the ground. The sword was rested against the shelf to the right of the room, Titos didn't show himself in the slightest. I sat in the dark, with only the moon giving light to very little in my room.
  289.  
  290. My depressive silence was shattered finally when I heard a knock at my bedroom door.
  291.  
  292. “...Marcus?” I could hear Mouse's voice from the other side. “Can I come in?”
  293.  
  294. “Yeah, the door's unlocked.” I told her.
  295.  
  296. The door opened slowly and Mouse meekly entered the room. I couldn't see her face, but I could tell by the way she moved she wasn't really at her brightest. Her pink toes tapped against the ground lightly with every step until she was standing beside me and in the moon light. Her face was flush red and she still refused to look me in the eye. Without a word she sat down beside me, her hands pressed against her laps.
  297.  
  298. “Um...” She began. “Guess you saw a husk, huh?”
  299.  
  300. “Yeah...”
  301.  
  302. “I remember when the doctor said you were going to Whitegale to stop the infection, most people never even see a husk in their lives, let alone have a chance of becoming one...”
  303.  
  304. We sat in silence for a few more minutes. Mouse began to twiddle her thumbs and look around the room.
  305.  
  306. “It was my idea.” she finally said, breaking the silence.
  307.  
  308. “What?”
  309.  
  310. “The- the vial of that demon stuff the day we met. It was my idea... I-I mean, I saw you and Lupa do that stuff back in the forest, a-and I told my friends about it.”
  311.  
  312. Mouse began to ramble, still refusing to make eye contact. I simply looked at her and let her talk as tears began to well in her eyes.
  313.  
  314. “A-and all my friends wanted in, and we knew humans can't keep going for that long, there was like a dozen of us! So I went to the dark elves and I managed to call in a favor and got a vial. And t-they told me that as long as we don't use too much you'd be fine! I-I-I didn't expect her to squirt the entire thing into your mouth, I'm honest! I never wanted to hurt you!”
  315.  
  316. Mouse's hicks and stutters turned into full on sobbing, wiping her eyes against the fur on her wrists every few seconds
  317.  
  318. “You could have turned into one of those things!” Mouse sobbed. “You could have went husk and it would have been all my fault!”
  319.  
  320. “H...Hey.” I reached forward, not sure on how to console her.
  321.  
  322. “I'm so stupid!” She continued to cry. “I'm so stupid and worthless!”
  323.  
  324. I honestly didn't know what to do, this was the first time I've seen a monster actually cry. I thought about for a moment and finally decided to fall back on a strategy my mother used to do when I was growing up. I moved closer to Mouse and wrapped my arms around her, holding her head close to my chest. She stopped crying almost instantly, sitting in silence with her eyes wide open.
  325.  
  326. “It's okay.” I whispered to her, brushing my hand over her ears. “You don't have to be sorry.”
  327.  
  328. “But-...” She started again, but I cut her off.
  329.  
  330. “I don't want to hear buts. I'm okay now, you're okay now, we're all okay, alright? Just put it behind us and move on.”
  331.  
  332. Mouse sniffed into the sleeve of my hoodie twice before burying her face into my chest.
  333. “Okay...” She finally agreed before returning my hug.
  334.  
  335. I let Mouse sleep in my room that night, she slept on the inside of the bed with her back against the wall facing me. I woke up in the morning before her and sneaked out of the room, making sure to move quietly so I wouldn't wake up anyone else that was still sleeping this early. Breakfast was simple bread and honey, something quick and easy to get me until at least lunch, there were some errands I had to do around town today, so I may as well get them done quick.
  336.  
  337. “Marcus.”
  338.  
  339. I looked up from my breakfast and saw Cleo standing in front of me. She was already fully dressed and prepared.
  340.  
  341. “Morning, Cleo.” I greeted her. “What's up?”
  342.  
  343. Cleo blinked twice and took a deep breath before speaking again.
  344.  
  345. “I have a job for you.”
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