Boredom. That’s what it was. He was bored. Now how could that be? He was fighting a Dragon. He was bleeding from four lacerations, there was an unhealthy amount of burned skin on him, his hair was gone, the strain was making his muscles ache and his lungs were afire with lack of breath and the heat of the place, he could bare see a thing for the smoke, and yet… boredom. That was nonsense, wasn’t it?
The Dragon hissed and clawed at his chest, connecting with his plate and sending sparks flying. She cut deep, almost too deep. She’d left her face unguarded though. He punched her in the face, knocking her off balance. Smoke erupted from her nostrils. A goofy sight. Not terrifying. Not exhilarating. Just another winged Salamander with a fetish for kidnapping pretty young things and dressing them up in frilly dresses. When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
He kneed the Dragon in the solar plexus, grabbed her by the base of the wings and lifted her up, then slammed her down on her face. He then pulled her up again, by her hair.
“Y-you’ll not take her from me!” the Dragon hissed at him, the reek of sulphur on her breath.
“It’s just a phase. You’ll grow out of it” he assured her before delivering the blow that knocked her out.
With a sigh Ludwig, errant knight and hero of a thousand tales, most of them very much alike, shook off the burnt pieces of cloth still clinging to him and them to wipe the mixture of soot and sweat off his face. His battle frenzy concluded, he was starting to feel pain again. He would need to do something about his condition soon. Not now, though. Not yet. He’d need to finish what he’d come here to do in the first place. To rescue the princess.
The door to the Dragon’s bedchamber was thick and made of oak reinforced with iron. A massive, bulky thing meant to withstand a battering ram. Ludwig kicked the damn thing off its hinges, too frustrated to return to the unconscious holder of the key.
Inside the bedroom was everything he’d come to expect: pink and frilly and full of scented candles and aphrodisiac incense. The walls were filled with murals and mosaics of various acts of lovemaking, and the centre of the room was dominated by a large bed, on which lay a slender figure in semi-transparent gown, feet bare and a dreamy look in eyes.
“Oh gallant knight, won’t you carry me off in your arms?” she implored, letting her gown slip ever so slightly down from her shoulders.
“Put your armour back on Cecil. We’re moving out” Ludwig said without sparing his squire a second look.
“You never let me have any fun! And it’s pronounced Cecilé!”
“No it isn’t. Your name is Cecil and you are not a girl. Stop pretending you are one or your cock will drop” he said, thinking back on instances when he’d witnessed good men become women. He shook his head. There was nothing wrong with being a woman if you were one, but did you really need to stop being a man for it?
The pouty squire cast off the gown entirely, and Ludwig saw that the scars that he’d earned in previous battles had almost disappeared. Cecil hadn’t been here for long, and the Dragon had already changed him that much? There must be some medicines hidden about, then.
“Cecil, I’m going to need something to put myself back in shape. Where did the Dragon keep her ointments?” he asked.
Interrupting his dressing up operation, the squire happily turned to him again in the nude and pointed at a cupboard.
“But you won’t need those, sir! She had healing potions!” he said happily. “ I can show you whe-“
“No need, got it” Ludwig said, grabbing the potion he’d spotted among the bottles of spiced wine. The same red colour, but a different shaped bottle. He took a good quaff of the stuff and felt the warmth as it spread into his body, healing his wounds and burns. His armour would still be in horrible shape and he’d still need a good bath, but a healing potion solved most problems a man could have. Too bad he’d run out while getting to the Dragon. All those traps and minions… maybe he was losing his touch. Not that he’d needed any to face her, but what if she’d been older and stronger and smarter?
No use dwelling on hypothetical scenarios, though. That was the kind of stuff master Gourmand would like. He’d never gotten along with him.
“Sir Ludwig? Shall we go to the treasure chamber? The door is right through here!” the still topless squire asked.
Ludwig shook his head. “We’re not here to rob her. I did enough damage making my way up here; she’ll need to repair it. If we take her treasures, she’ll just take it out on the locals, and then they’ll hire someone to kill her, and then there will be burned houses and raped boys and everyone will be unhappy” he explained, speaking from experience.
“Umm…” Cecil began.
“What? Speak up, boy!”
“What if we just kill her?” he said, hesitating because it wasn’t something he’d be comfortable with doing in any case.
“We kill her; her family comes after us, and everyone around here. No, it’s best we leave and she can pretend this never happened”
Cecil nodded with relief. The correct way of doing things was what he was comfortable with. He finished dressing up and the two walked out of the Dragon’s lair, Cecil exclaiming wonder at every turn down the labyrinthine halls when he saw the path of destruction sir Ludwig had carved while getting to him. Soon enough they were outside and back on their horses, riding along on the long road to nowhere.
Two uneventful days passed after sir Ludwig rescued his young squire from the clutches of a Dragoness who intended to pamper him, and those days passed by in silence. Oh, Cecil blabbed on and on about how nice the Dragon had been and what good massages she gave and what beautiful poems she had written for him, but Ludwig wasn’t mentally present to listen to such dribble. Certainly his senses kept watch over the surroundings – having had his squire snatched by a Dragon had been embarrassing, as he had been woken up by his girly screams but hadn’t gotten up quick enough to stop it form happening, something he intended to avoid in the future – but his attention was elsewhere. Mainly, in boredom.
Ludwig had done most things a man could do while still keeping his moral character intact. Perhaps his uncle Nathan, who kept massive numbers of slaves in his dungeons and routinely sniffed his captives, had the right idea on how to alleviate boredom, but this was not something Ludwig could do. At a young age he’d been picked out by Thomas the Wanderer as someone destined for greatness, something about a shooting star marking his birth or some such, and he’d been taken to be trained up as most Chosen Ones are. Like most Chosen Ones, Ludwig has filled his purpose while young, averting a great disaster in some grand, heroic fashion – in his case it had involved a mad sorcerer who crossed a Wurm with a Hellhound and let it loose – while doing lots of small good deeds with a group of unlikely companions. There had been love and hate there, friends turning into enemies, defeated enemies becoming allies, beautiful women who found him irresistible, all of it. It had ended, and then he’d told the king he didn’t want to marry and settle down and that ruling half a kingdom sounded like a chore, and off he had gone to find something else to do. He’d found it. He’d helped other Chosen Ones on their quests, he’d searched for treasures, he’d travelled down south and found and made love to a Phoenix who promised him a long life in return, he’d seen kingdoms rise and fall and sometimes he’d been involved heavily, and he’d even been a prince-elector for a few years but he never could get the hang of it, so off he had gone again.
Sometimes he wondered if it had been a mistake to accept the offer that bird had made. Sure he was fit as a fiddle at axe 106, but Cecil was his ninth squire and he wasn’t sure he’d have it in him to train a tenth. It all got so… repetitive. So boring.
On the evening of the second day they reached a town, and they followed the familiar pattern. They found a blacksmith – this time it was a Cyclops, and one Ludwig knew, so he got a discount – left the gear in need of repairs with her, found a stable for the horses, and Cecil went off shopping for whatever it is they needed – Ludwig had left the squire in charge of quartermastering, he was sick of it himself – and he went into the tavern, where a new adventure would begin.
“I swear on Hathor’s tits, it grew this big and just throbbed and throbbed!” the redheaded Troll said, holding her arms at a considerable distance from another, causing a round of laughter from those gathered around her.
Nobody paid any attention to Ludwig as he found himself a spot with his back against a wall. Unfortunately this spot left him in close proximity to this loud group. He’d prefer some peace and quiet at first, to brood and wait for adventure to find him at dusk. No need for all this comedy before it.
“But I must say, Diandra, there’s a limit to how big of a lie you can try to feed a man! Impotent or not, I’m not going to believe THAT!” said a bald man in robes who was petting a skull on the table. A necromancer with potency issues? Sounds like there was an unhappy Wight in this neighbourhood. Not quest material though, just a domestic problem.
“Oh Albert, don’t you go thinking I’m fibbing you! It’s the best stuff we’ve ever had! I’ll get you some tomorrow if you like!” the Troll giggled, her ample bosom jiggling. That sight always had a mesmerising effect, even after all the times Ludwig had seen it.
“Oh, you will, will you? Tell me, where does Dietrich get this wonderful stuff? I’ve been through all the alchemists in the area. I’ve never even heard of something you inject like that” the necromancer called Albert inquired. There was some teasing from the members of the group about his desperation, but Ludwig was getting intrigued. An aphrodisiac that was unheard of by an expert? This was quest material. Powerful aphrodisiacs meant powerful Monsters that produced them. Of course he could name three kinds that were injected, Girtablilu, Manticore and Apophis all had aphrodisiac venom. Hmm. A Girtablilu in these parts meant an assassination, a Manticore meant someone showing off their prowess as a big game hunter, and this would lead to trouble for them, and an Apophis would mean political instability and governments being overturned. These were all distractions he could do without. He’d end up involved in them anyway, though.
“Oh, he bought it in vials from this trader from Zipangu, you know, the ones with bushy tails?” the Troll continued her story. A Tanuki? They turned up in the strangest places to peddle their wares. Zipangu… he’d never been there. It was far away. He’d heard there were at least two or three Monsters there that were of a high level. Hmm. Even if they couldn’t challenge him in power, they might have interesting new tactics he could learn to counter. A voyage to Zipangu… now that’s a thought. There would be the typical sea monsters and pirates to deal with, of course. But it would be a new experience once he got there. Maybe. Could be more of the same but just dressed funny.
Information gathering was sadly interrupted then, as the Troll noticed Ludwig and rushed to him, brushing up her apron. So she was the waitress? Of course she was.
He ordered a beer and the ever trustworthy pork-and-mashed-potatoes dish. He also inquired about board for the night. Turned out he and Cecil would have to share. Hmph. If the lad tried to spoon, he’d sleep in the stables.
Cecil walked with a spring in his step, humming one of the tunes he’d learned while growing up with the Elves. It had been a nice day, and tomorrow would be a good day, too. Most days were, rain or shine. Getting picked up by a Dragon had been a little scary, but he’d gotten a really good view from up there. Maybe he’d enrol at a Dragoon academy one day.
The innocent thoughts of our virtuous young squire were interrupted by the beckoning call of vice and sin.
“Roll, roll, roll in ze hay~” sang a woman happily, but Cecil could not see the singer. Following the sound, he spied a cartload of hay and there lay a Holstaurus, dressed in a simple dress, her hair braided.
“Oh, allo!” she greeted him happily. “Vould you like to roll in ze hay?” she asked, patting the stuff right next to her.
“Would I!” Cecil replied and jumped right in. Sir Ludwig didn’t need him right now.
The crowd who had been listening to tales of the Troll’s sexual exploits had now dispersed, leaving the necromancer to play with his skull.
“I don’t know, Wilson. It’s a long shot, but what else could we do?” the necromancer mumbled to himself, and Ludwig’s spoon stopped halfway to his mouth. Was he talking to the skull? It wasn’t reanimated. That was a sign of insanity. Insane necromancers made for profitable encounters. Also stinky.
“Of course you’re right, but what will Camilla say? What will the kids say? If we go to Zipangu, who’s going to look after them?”
There was more silence from the skull, and the necromancer kept nodding.
“Well, yes they can, but for so long…”
Ludwig had had enough. He got up from his chair and tapped the necromancer on the shoulder.
“Excuse me” he said, “but are you aware that skull has not been reanimated?”
The necromancer blinked and looked at him as if he’d lost his mind.
“Nevermind sir, my mistake” he said, turning to return to his meal.
“Now wait a moment sir, but you look like you can handle yourself in a fight. The adventurous type, yes?” the necromancer, said, rubbing the stubble on his chin.
A bad feeling about this, that’s what he had. Adventure had caught up with him now, and he’d even turned to meet it half-way there like a fool.
“I suppose” was his reply.
“You see sir, I could use some help in a matter of a… personal nature. It could be nothing, of course, but in case, just in case, if I need to sail to Zipangu, I could use someone who can be a blunt instrument, so to say” the necromancer explained, wondering if his new acquaintance could be trusted with knowledge about his impotence or not.
“If you refer to what the waitress was blabbing on about, it roused my interest as well” Ludwig replied politely, rubbing his own chin now. That was a lie, wasn’t it? He wasn’t interested in the substance, but the source.
“Oh, yes, Diandra can be a little, yes Wilson, I’m telling him, uh, yes, I, that is, we, my associate and I, are willing to pay for the voyage and compensate for injuries and such, but we would appreciate it if, in the worst case scenario, you would donate your body to science?”
Ludwig was not unaccustomed to this kind of thing. Necromancers always needed some fresh meat. Fresh being relative, of course.
“I refuse” he said. Not like he was expecting to die, but it was the principle of the matter. “My squire also refuses” he added.
The necromancer looked around. “I don’t believe I see such a person” he said with some worry in his voice.
“Of course you don’t. He’s running errands” Ludwig cleared the air.
“Ah. Of course, yes” the worried necromancer let out a nervous chuckle. He’d been worried for a moment he was dealing with a madman.
Ludwig was feeling a greater unease than before. If someone like this was considered perfectly normal in this town, he feared for Cecil’s safety. Knowing his squire, he was most likely in trouble by now.
“You kiss like a dairy farmer” the Holstaurus said, running her fingers through Cecil’s hair.
“How appropriate. You kiss like a cow” he replied, taking another drink from the tap and not minding his teeth.
“Albertus de Vries. Albert will do. And this is Wilson” said the necromancer, not offering his hand but bowing instead in an overly elaborate manner.
“Sir Ludwig” replied the knight, returning the bow with a stiff nod.
“Tell me, Sir Ludwig, have you ever been to Zipangu before?” asked Albert as they moved back to their seats, Ludwig bringing his meal to Albert’s table.
“No, but I have sailed around some. I know what to expect” he said, and a lively image of Cecil jumping naked into the sea to swim with Mermaids entered his head. He had to shake it off.
“Diandra, some wine, please. We are discussing business” Albert called, and the Troll waitress did as was bid.
After the two had their cups filled with wine, Albert continued.
“Tell me, Sir Ludwig, do you know much about aphrodisiacs?” he asked.
“I’ve had my fair share of experience with them” he grunted between mouthfuls of food.
“And the creatures that produce them?”
The necromancer took a sip of wine and poured some on the skull. No magic made it disappear. The skull was just stained with wine now.
“It is perhaps not known to most common folk, but knowledge of various aphrodisiacs is of paramount importance to a necromancer” he said, with a tone that made it clear he was about to give a long-winded speech about the intricacies of his craft.
“You don’t say” Ludwig egged him on unenthusiastically, hoping to get it over with.
“Indeed! You see, once the body dies, there is much damage done to the nervous system and the circulatory system. The effect of a powerful aphrodisiac makes the heart race stronger, makes the veins bigger and the blood flows faster, providing more warmth for the reanimate body and reducing the amount of magic required to maintain it. The increased sensitivity fights back against the dull, numbing effects of death and decay as well”
“Truly fascinating” Ludwig sighed. Why did they ALL tell him this every single time? It’s like how every city had that one watchman who used to…
“Oh, Cecilé. What an angelic tongue you have!” the Holstaurus said. Not the one who had been rolling in ze hay, but her sister.
“Doesn’t he just?” asked the one who had been rolling in ze hay.
“I like cows” said Cecil, his breathing ragged and tongue tired, his member stiff and excited.
“…and that’s why a Ghoul’s saliva production is so excessive” Albert concluded his speech for the moment and emptied the rest of his umpteenth cup of wine. Ludwig had decided to stick with beer after all.
“I’ll have to go look for my squire” he said. “Boy’s running late, too late” he muttered while getting up.
“Of course, Sir Ludwig! We’ll discuss the finer details of undead fluid production tomorrow!” Albert said, making theatrical gestures.
Ludwig shuddered as he stepped out of the tavern and into the cool night air. The stars were out. In times like these, the first thing to do was… taking a piss. Then looking for Cecil. Yes.
There was still a fire at the forge when Ludwig showed up.
“Working late, Tess?” he asked.
The Cyclops looked wearily at him. She was another genius member of that race of giants who started off life so small, another master blacksmith for Ludwig to know. In time she’d grow taller than the trees and then she’d move elsewhere, out of the sight of most humans. Ludwig had been to some of those villages the Cyclopes built themselves. Lots and lots of dedicated artisans discussing the finer points of their craft. Very difficult to fit in. Not so difficult to find company for the night. Even easier to fit in said company. Heh.
“Mmhm” she replied conversationally.
“Have you seen my squire anywhere?” he asked.
“Nnnnh” she denied, still concentrating on her own work.
Ludwig sighed. He’d paid for a room at the inn, but there would be no using it tonight.
“You’re upset over last time, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Look, Tess, it wasn’t my fault. Your grandmother would never forgive me if I married you. She’d never accept it. I was her first, you know”
Oh the troubles that long life and perpetual youth left you with.
“At least I know I’m not your grandfather, eh?” he tried to cheer her up.
Laughter, was it? Good.
Ludwig caught the muscular, six-feet-tall blacksmith by the waist and lifted her up, spinning her to face himself.
Her eye was red with the smoke of the forge, her cheeks flushed with the embarrassment of being held by a man she was ever so upset at.
In his time Ludwig had learned that amorous encounters every now and again helped keep a man in good shape. Going too long without made you antsy. Tess was as good a candidate as anyone else. Strong enough to lift and ox, shy as a raccoon dog. She’d do.
Morning came and went. Sometime later the Cockatrice realized that cuddling the cute boy might have been nice but it was causing trouble for others, and off she rushed to greet the Sun.
Cecil realized he didn’t remember meeting a Cockatrice last night. He didn’t see his clothes or armour anywhere, either. Oh dear.
“Sir Ludwig will be cross with me if I lose that stuff again…” he sighed, getting up slowly and stretching out. He had his morning wood up for all the world to see, and as he turned around he saw three pairs of hungry eyes staring at it.
“Oh hello!” he said, waving at the Holstauri he’d met last night. Two sisters and their mother.
“Allo yourself” said the mother, dropping the suspenders from her shoulders and revealing her drooping breasts.
“We’ve got something for you, and you’ve got something for us” she said, while her daughters revealed their own breasts.
Cecil grinned. Today was going to be a good day!
“I’m going to Zipangu” Ludwig said, staring at Tess’ ceiling while the girl tried to dig in deeper into his chest.
“It will be a long trip” he continued. Nuzzle, nuzzle went the blacksmith.
“You could come along” he offered. Not like a trip would do any harm to her. Everyone knew the rumours about the swordsmiths of Zipangu, about the weapons they made that could cut Wurmscale. Tess should like that kind of craftsmanship.
“Mmm” she moaned, playing with his chest hair.
“Of course it could be dangerous for a frail thing like you” Ludwig said, running his hand along her back, to her ass and down her thigh. Her muscles were harder and more defined than his. That didn’t mean she could match him in strength even after she grew up, but she was stronger than the average human. She was a beast in a fight. And in bed, if you got her drunk and over her shyness. Ludwig slapped her ass, making her giggle.
“Well?” he asked, turning her chin up so her azure eye was staring into his.
“Mmmh” she hesitated.
“Well?” Ludwig demanded again.
“Bring me a souvenir” she said, returning to her comfortable position, resting against his chest.
“Shame. Could have used a gratis blacksmith on an adventure” he lamented, groping her rump.
Fifteen minutes later Ludwig emerged from the smithy, dressed up in his newly mended armour and with a lighter purse. Discount or no, Tess charged for the quality of her work.
Now it was time to listen for whatever angry father or boyfriend would be chasing Cecil away from their woman and then rescue the boy. Whistling away an old Dwarven mining song Ludwig strolled down the streets of the small village. A flustered-looking Cockatrice ran past him. Turning the next corner he saw an angry fat farmer’s wife chase it.
“Get back here you harlot!” she panted.
Don’t get involved, Ludwig reminded himself. His days of chasing chickens were long past him. Finding no other disturbances, he stepped into the tavern, where he found everything still quiet and empty.
“Ah, knightyman! Sorry, but I dumped Albert in your room for the night, poor guy couldn’t get home in his condition” the Troll Diandra said while cleaning the floor with a mop.
“Though you didn’t need it, eh? Knew our blacksmith in the way the priests mean it?” she asked, smiling a lewd smile and winking at him without the faintest notion of subtlety.
“I did” Ludwig nodded and took a seat with his back against the wall.
“I seem to have misplaced my squire” he added.
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll be fine! Nothing dangerous hereabouts. Except for the Dragon up in the mountains, but her lot doesn’t come here much” she blathered on, now leaning on her mop.
A Dragon, eh? That might be worth looking into… no, wait. No, of course not. How silly of him. He was headed to Zipangu, wasn’t he? No time for distractions.
“Think Albert will be asleep late?” he asked.
“Oh, he’ll get up as soon as you wake him. Light sleeper, that one. Always has to be looking after the shamblers, can’t sleep like a log or they’ll end up losing whatever fell off” she gossiped, still making no move to keep working.
“Then I’ll go do that. Get us some porridge, will you?” he said, leaving his helmet, shield and sword at the table as he climbed upstairs, looking for the instructed door.
Albertus de Vries, reanimator, was asleep on his back, clutching the skull he called Wilson to his chest as if he feared someone would steal it from him. Ludwig kicked the foot of the bed, and the man opened his eyes.
“My poor head” he moaned.
“Wine is for the wise” Ludwig said, repeating a phrase master Gourmand had used to justify his heavy drinking.
“Indeed. Tell me, Sir Ludwig, if you would be so kind as to obtain a little sip to remedy the situation?”
“I would not. There will be porridge downstairs. You will come down, you will eat, you will pay, and we will discuss this venture to Zipangu” Ludwig explained calmly, as one does to one temporarily confused over the facts of life.
“Oh, dear me, dear me. Wilson, doesn’t your head throb as violently as mine?”
“Right now, Albert”
“Oh, all right…”
The necromancer made his way downstairs with some reluctance and difficulty. He paid for the porridge absentmindedly, and then he and Ludwig ate in silence.
“What is the nearest port from where we are now?” asked the knight from the Troll who still managed to find an excuse for loitering around them.
“Oh, I dunno. Port Artorias?”
An abismal place, that.
”I see. Albert, we’ll head to Port Artorias, then. You can afford a ship there, I take it?” Ludwig inquired.
“I own a ship, Great Grey Wolf it’s called. I mean, the wife owns it. But I can use it as I want” Albert replied, cradling his head in his arms.
“Great Grey Wolf, huh?” Ludwig tasted the name on his lips. A bit presumptuous for his tastes.
“Shit…” Albert moaned, cursing his hangover. What a beautiful start for a partnership, Ludwig thought. He found himself wonder if Cecil had managed to find himself something to eat for breakfast.
Loud slurping noises emerged from the Holstaurus mother’s crotch as Cecil ate it up. “You were right, his tongue really is angelic!” she said, rubbing herself on his face more firmly.
“Oh mama, can we keep him? The farm could always use another pair of hands that know what they’re doing!”
“That’s right, that’s right! He’d look so good with sweat running down his back while he worked the field…”
“Oh Helga you dummy!” the older sister shook her head. “That’s not the kind of work we’d give him!”
“Oh? Then painting the barn?”
“Helga, what is it that we’ve been doing with him up till now?” the mother patiently tried to educate her daughter.
“Babies?” offered Helga.
The older sister patted her on the head. “Close enough, dummy. Hey! Mama, look! He’s getting hard again!”
“Oh, what a strong young man you are, Cecilé! Well, don’t just sit on his hands! Olga, it was your turn, wasn’t it?”
“Oh yes, mama!” the older sister said happily and mounted the squire.
“Does anyone else smell something funny?” asked Helga.
“It reeks of love here, little sister”
“No I mean the kind of smell you get when you bang rocks together and they break?”
“Whatever have you been doing when you’re alone, dear?” the mother asked with worry. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were a Wurm!”
“What’s wrong with Wurms, mama? Dragons are cool!”
“No, Dragons are hot”
“Who said that?”
“It would take months to go around it, but trying to use the canal would be too dangerous. Personally I’d prefer take the long way rather than risk the pirates” whispered Albert, his head hidden under a hood to keep light from hurting his eyes, his other hand resting on Wilson, the other showing on the crude map the Grand Canal, a stretch of sea that the efforts of centuries of Sandworms, slaves and Anubis engineers had created to connect two stretches of sea.
“I can deal with pirates” Ludwig said, thinking back on the many times he’d faced the booty plundering scallywags. They came in two varieties: the kind who dressed in snappy clothing, spoke with pomp and led lives of romance and adventure, and the kind that captured and sold slaves and killed people who worshiped the wrong gods. In the Grand Canal they’d meet the latter. Killing them never made him feel bad.
“Nevertheless, taking the long route would risk less damage to my ship. My wife’s ship. You understand” Albert pleaded.
Ah. Of course. One of those wives.
“As you wish” he conceded.
Then all hell broke loose. The door to the tavern was kicked in by an impressive looking P’Orc, dressed in some scraps of armour worn over some tight leather, and following at her heels in came two Goblins, a Hobgoblin, and another P’Orc, all dressed similarly. Oh joy, a typical group of highway bandits.
The apparent leader of the group pointed an accusatory finger at Ludwig.
“You’re him, ain’t ya? The one that done in our place!” she hissed at him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about” Ludwig said, quite honestly.
“Don’t play smart with me!” she slammed her hand down on the table and stared at him, her cleavage offering him a more interesting sight than her fuming, angry face.
“You done raided us! WE raid people, not the other way around!” she yelled.
“Yeah! You tell ‘im cap!” said one of the Goblins.
“I don’t raid either. Used to when I was younger, but none of you were even born then, I assure you” he said diplomatically, raising his hands.
“Don’t you play smart with me!” repeated the captain, bringing her face in closer. She was a bit heavy, but not unattractive. Ludwig shrugged, caught her by the hair and pulled her in for a kiss. It lasted for a while, and she didn’t resist. When he finally let her go, the captain staggered back with a blush.
“We… got the wrong guy” she said, and walked out of the tavern while humming something. The others stayed.
“Hey mister, do me next!” said the nearest Goblin, and then jumped on Ludwig’s lap without waiting for a response.
Cecil finished tucking in the unconscious Holstauri and wiped the sweat off his brow.
“They were nice” he said regretfully.
“I’m sure” Tia replied, running her claws through his hair. “They had no appreciation for you, Cecilé. They just wanted to use you. The thought of those beasts saying your name like that sickens me” she whispered, a single solitary tear rolling down her cheek as she gazed into his eyes.
“But how come you’re here anyway, Miss?” Cecil asked. “Sir Ludwig said you’d forget all about the whole thing since we didn’t steal anything from you”
The Dragon fluttered her wings and flailed her tail.
“Forget? FORGET? That I should forget my lover just because some brute stole him from me?” she hissed with outrage, but calmed down when Cecil touched her hand.
“He’s not a bad man, Miss. I wish you’d get along” he said.
“Oh. Well, about that…”
The bandits had wandered off, light-headed and all humming.
“That was different, wasn’t it Wilson?” Albert muttered, not believing his eyes.
“Girls like these, they’re easily sent off balance” Ludwig explained.
“Now, the voyage. Where will we make port? I don’t know anything about Zipangu” the knight returned to the business at hand.
“No need to worry, we’ll find it and then we’ll search for what we need while we’re there. Adventure is all about uncertainty, yes?” the necromancer said with an uncertain chuckle.
“Hmm” Ludwig said in a neutral tone. He knew most people believed that, but experience dictated the necessity of proper planning. Where would they replenish their food and fresh water stores while at sea? Where could they make port safely on Zipangu? Where on the island could they find what they sought? Where to begin looking? Going in blindly would be just toil and trouble for them. That reminded him of Cecil. Where was that boy?
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to go look for my squire” Ludwig said, getting up.
“Wilson, I’m getting déjà vu here” Albert mumbled.
Outside, Ludwig strutted off to a new direction. He hadn’t gone this way in town yet, maybe he could… oh.
The bandits were standing in a semi-circle around a Red Dragon, who wore an ornamental armour and carried a sort of, well, it was too big, too thick and too crude to be called a sword, it was really just a lump of metal with carvings on it, but what else to call it? A sword on her back and in her embrace she carried the young squire, who was at least fully dressed at the moment.
“Let him go, lizard” he ordered, marching toward her confidently, becoming very quickly aware of the fact that he’d left his sword, shield and helmet in the tavern. He really was getting careless with old age.
“Well, well, well! Sir Ludwig, we meet again!” the Dragon said, lowering Cecil into the embrace of a P’Orc who smiled shyly at Ludwig.
Again? He couldn’t place her. He told her as much.
“You taunt me, fool” said the Dragon, pulling out her sword and walking toward him with confident strides, her followers taking quick steps away from the two would-be combatants.
“Have you any last words, knight?” asked she.
“Not yet” Ludwig said, and lunged. The sword flung over his head. His shoulder guard caught the plate covering her stomach with a loud clang, and he reached around her body with arms, lifting her up and suplexing her over his back.
With a nimble movement Ludwig caught the Dragon’s arm and bent it against her back, his knee on the small of her back, and so the fuming beast found itself helpless.
“Your armour is clearly designed for ceremonial, not practical use. Your limbs can’t move freely, or you’d be able to hit me with your wings. And don’t even get me started on the decoration. These engravings serve no practical purpose whatsoever”
The Dragon had stopped struggling by now, and he got up, picking up the sword she’d dropped. It was unseemly, and for an ordinary human it would have been too big to handle.
“But that was a fancy strike” he said, nodding at the crescent hole in the ground that the slash had left. “You’re pretty good”
The Dragon punched the ground before getting up.
“Pretty good? Why must you humiliate me so?” she whined, her voice breaking.
“It’s a lesson you should learn. Dragons always think they’re invincible. You’re not” Ludwig explained, and walked to the P’Orc holding Cecil, who put the boy down meekly.
“Live and learn, eh?” he said, putting his hand over Cecil’s shoulder and leading him away from the group.
“You know, Sir Ludwig, I think…” the squire began, but was interrupted when the Dragon kept shouting.
“You don’t even care enough to ask for my name! Twice now we’ve fought and you treat me like, like some two-bit whore!” she screamed.
Ludwig turned to face her, a look of quizzical confusion on his face.
“Twice? I don’t think I…”
He searched his memory. No, nothing. She was just another Dragon. He shook his head.
“You… you don’t remember?” she asked, her mouth agape.
“No” he admitted.
“WE MET THREE DAYS AGO!” she screamed, tears in her eyes.
“Sir Ludwig, she’s telling the truth. She kidnapped me, remember?” Cecil butted in.
“Oh. Oh, that happened, yes” Ludwig concurred. Was that just the other day? How time flies. The Dragons really do just become a blur after a while. When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all and so on.
“Very well then. Tell me your name the next time we meet” Ludwig said, turned his back to her and led Cecil away and into the tavern.
“Have you had breakfast yet?” Ludwig asked.
“Kind of, Sir Ludwig, but not the kind you’d approve of” Cecil replied with a blush.
“There’s porridge” he concluded and led the boy to the table the necromancer still inhabited.
“Albertus de Vries, this is Cecil Bouvier, my squire” the knight introduced.
“Enchanté!” Cecil chirped, holding out his hand.
“Yes Wilson, he is real after all” the necromancer mumbled, not taking the proffered hand.
“Who’s Wilson?” Cecil asked, tilting his head like a Kobold.
“The skull” explained Ludwig. “Not reanimated or anything. Just a skull”
“Oh. So it’s like how that Sister Annabelle called that wooden thing Gerald!”
Cecil ate Albert’s share of the porridge quite happily. Whatever he’d been up to, he’d worked up an appetite. Ludwig decided it was better not to inquire about it.
“I would like to point out that there’s no guarantee we’ll even need to go on this voyage” Albert blurted out after Cecil had somehow managed to end up carrying heavy crates and sacks up and down between the kitchen and the basement while Diandra yapped on and on about absolutely nothing.
“What’s this nonsense now, man?” Ludwig asked, leaning over the table to stare into the impotent reanimator’s eyes.
“Well, see, we’ve yet to ascertain whether this aphrodisiac will have any effect on me” he said, hesitantly.
“Don’t be daft, man! We’re not going to Zipangu to…” no, wait. Yes they were. That’s what the whole business was about, wasn’t it? Hah. Old age, huh?
“Fine then. You’re telling me that if this stuff doesn’t get you hard, you won’t be lending your ship for this voyage?” he asked for clarification.
“That goes without saying, doesn’t it?”
“Have you considered the possibility of this stuff having applications in your work regardless?” he tried.
“Would it really matter? A trip this long and arduous would hardly be worth it” Albert said, dismissively.
“When can we expect to find out whether you’ll make the trip or not?”
“When Dietrich returns with it, of course”
“Who is this Dietrich and when can we expect him?”
“Postman. The amorous companion of our fair waitress here. He’ll show up today” Albert explained.
Tia was upset and hungry. She knew better than to stuff her face, though. Her cousin had gotten all flabby from overeating to make up for heartbreak. She wouldn’t ruin her figure. Instead she marched on with a determined gait, her minions trailing behind her. She should have just flown back to the lair. But that would have left these incompetent fools on their own again, and then they’d get lost or something. Probably. Maybe. It totally wasn’t her wings being unable to keep her in the air because they couldn’t move freely in this armour like the knight had said.
“Chief! Chief, look!” one of the Goblins said from somewhere around the height of her thighs. She looked.
Along the road was moving a man dressed in a blue uniform, walking a mule carrying many different satchels and bags on it, and many hung off various belts on him as well. A postman, it seemed.
“Let’s rob him! He might have something nice!” the Goblin who had seen him first offered.
“We could rape him too” offered the Hobgoblin.
“And spank him raw” offered a P’Orc.
“And make him walk on all fours when we take turns riding him!” the youngest Goblin suggested.
“And then rape him some more” said the last P’Orc.
They were trying to cheer her up, Tia thought. She shrugged.
“Alright then. Go do your thing” she suggested, and the group spread out, the two P’Orcs going into the woods on both sides of the road while the Hobgoblin, the Goblins on her either side, approached the man from the front.
“Halt right there, you!” said the Hobgoblin, her breasts bouncing as she pointed her finger at him. The man looked at them and to the sides, noticing the ambush. He also saw Tia.
He did not panic. That’s not right. Why was he chuckling?
The postman reached into his coat and pulled out some kind of vial. A magic potion? No, he had a needle and a syringe. What was that stuff?
The postman laughed out loud as he injected himself with the purplish-crimson stuff. Then he tied the mule to a sapling and began to undress, eyeing up the bandits.
“Which one goes first?” he asked, revealing his manhood.
The Goblins all screamed.
“He seems to be running late” Albert said, smoking a pipe. His hangover was gone now, and he’d ordered tobacco and some leftover chicken from yesterday’s menu. Cecil and Diandra were nowhere to be seen, but the tavern’s owner had appeared from somewhere with his Kikimora wife and daughter, and they were running things now as workers came in for lunch.
Ludwig was troubled by this. It meant he’d have to go looking again. And after that he’d have to find Cecil again. Everything seemed to be stuck in place. This wasn’t how adventures were supposed to go. What could be keeping this postman Dietrich? Bandits? If they found the aphrodisiac on him, it might turn into an orgy.
“N-no! That’s my ass!” the second P’Orc cried, but didn’t resist when Dietrich intruded.
“Well pardon me!” he said and gave it a good smack, like he’d done to the P’Orc before. This one’s ass was much tighter and more muscular. It wasn’t as satisfying. Oh well.
“...and when it comes right down to it, the Wight’s thighs will always be softer than a Vampire’s, always!” Albert concluded his argument with an obnoxious young man who spoke with a lisp about the wonders of Vampires.
Ludwig had known his share of Vampires. He was the father of a few Dhampirs, all of them professional Vampire-hunters. Not successful ones, but at least they tried to rebel against their mothers.
To Ludwig’s great relief, there was no further discussion on this topic, because the door opened and in stepped the postman, his uniform wrinkled and his hair a mess. He reeked of love and lust all the way to where the knight was sitting.
“Dietrich! Just the man I wanted to see!” Diandra called out, appearing from the backroom where she’d been slacking off. She was likewise in a state that hinted she’d been getting up to something lewd, most likely with Cecil, who was nowhere to be seen. Again.
The postman eyed up the Troll and Ludwig noticed he had a feverish look about him. His skin was unusually pale.
“Do you still have some of that stuff you showed me the other day?” asked the Troll.
“No, no I don’t” Dietrich said, licking his lips. “Used it all” he added.
“What, really? Awww! I was hoping you could have given some to Albert!” she whined, pointing the postman to the table of the necromancer, the skull and the knight.
Albert stood up to greet the newcomer. Well, well, well! He had manners only for those he thought were important, eh?
“Good sir” began he, “I am in dire need of your assistance, and the sums I’m willing to pay for this aphrodisiac of yours are…”
“Listen, sorry, but, yeah, I, I used it. All of it. Just a while ago. Yeah. Sorry” Dietrich said, his eyes blinking rapidly, licking his lips and his gaze darting around wildly. He was nervous and probably telling lies. And not moved by the promise of gold.
“Now wait a moment, wait a moment! All I need is the syringe and vial you used. I’m an expert in these things, I could detect even trace amounts of…”
“Look, back off mate! Back off or I’ll club you, I swear on my mum!” Dietrich shouted and jumped back, pulling out a small cudgel from his bag.
Before things escalated any further, Ludwig rushed through the space between them, put his leg between the postman’s and tripped him over, turning his wrist as he did to loosen the grip on the weapon, which soon found itself on the table.
“Don’t handle him so roughly! You could break the stuff!” Albert cried, suddenly full of vigorous worry.
“As you wish” Ludwig said while patting down the confused postman. He found the stuff in a pocket inside the coat and pulled them out when someone laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Let him go, stranger, or you’ll be in for a world of hurt” said a bass from behind him. Funny, he thought. Even after all these years, I still shudder when I think master Bara Khan has sneaked up behind me.
“Get away from him you peasant! He works for me! Don’t you know who I am?!” Albert shouted, his voice getting higher-pitched by the minute.
“I reckon I do. You’re that guy who robs cemeteries and can’t get his dick up. You married a stinking corpse and talk to an imaginary friend. You ought to be run out of town, too. And that stinking Cyclops too!” said the assailant.
What a charming fellow, Ludwig thought. He spun around quickly and delivered a kick that could shatter bones into the man’s crotch.
“Gentlemen don’t talk about ladies like that” Ludwig said, standing on the man’s chest. The only reply was a series of coughs and sobs.
“Albert. Here” he said, handing what he was holding to the necromancer.
“Not empty at all” the man muttered.
“NO! YOU CAN’T TAKE IT! I NEED IT! INEEEDIT!” Dietrich shouted lunged at the necromancer, arms flailing wildly and drool falling from his lips.
Ludwig caught him by the coat and yanked him back, but the ferocious assault had scared the necromancer, who now dropped the vial he’d been holding, and it broke on the floor.
“No, no, no…” Albert muttered. His reaction was nothing compared to the rampage Dietrich went on.
Tia reappared from her observation spot behind the trees, where she had fled when the postman had caught the Hobgoblin by the horns and begun to pound her mouth. Believing it was finally safe, she gathered up her faithful companions and tried to get them resting comfortably while she prepared camp. This had not been a good day.
“I NEEEDEDED IT! I’LL KILL YOU! I NEEED IIIIIIT!” he shouted, foaming at the mouth and his eyes rolling back in his head. Ludwig held him away at an arm’s length.
“I think we’re done here” the knight said, looking at the restlessly moving locals. Many of them were burly-looking workers, all of them knew each other, and many of them may have shared the opinions of the one whose nuts Ludwig had cracked. He wouldn’t have any difficulty dealing with an angry mob. He didn’t like what it did for his reputation though. Or poor Cecil’s, who was just now wandering into the room from wherever he’d been, his hair ruffled and his clothes all out of sorts.
“Tsk! This stuff is now contaminated by the dirty floor. I can’t study this!” Albert mumbled.
“Dirty floor? Excuse me!” snapped the innkeeper’s daughter.
“Not your fault dear, it’s Diandra’s sloppy work, that” the innkeeper himself said.
“Is there a fight, Sir Ludwig? Do you need help?” Cecil asked, full of sincerity.
“No, boy. You keep out of it. Albert?”
“Hrmh. No, it can’t be salvaged. The syringe is still intact, at least, but even if I… hmm”
Albert managed to gather up some of the stuff from the pool it had made and into the syringe.
“If I inject this into myself, it could just go to waste. Dietrich seems to want it, why not let him have it?” the necromancer said, a nasty gleam in his eyes.
Ludwig shrugged. He was a hero, not a saint. He let go of the postman, who had calmed down when he had been promised what he wanted.
Having been released, Dietrich unrolled his sleeve to reveal an arm full of puncture marks. Some of them had been infected.
“That’s disgusting” Ludwig muttered to himself. He’d seen addicts to many things in his day, and they were always repugnant.
With the precision of experience the necromancer performed the injection. Dietrich let out a satisfied moan, looked for Diandra with his eyes, rushed off to grab her by the big Troll hand and led the giggling girl upstairs. Within very short notice a thumping and moaning broke the silence, and people began to shuffle around and cough awkwardly. Whatever happened to the fight?
“It seems effective enough, with just such a small amount. And it’s obviously addictive, potentially fatally so” Albert mumbled, scribbling with a pencil sub into a notepad he’d produced from inside his robes.
Ludwig rubbed his chin and took a seat again. Two men were carrying the one he’d neutered out of the tavern.
“So it’s caught your interest?” he asked.
“You could say that, yes” Albert admitted.
“More importantly, our dear postmaster will soon be travelling to Zipangu” he added.
Ludwig raised his eyebrow inquisitively.
“He’s all out. He’ll need more. What are the odds of running into a Tanuki with that stuff in stock again? He’ll have no choice but to go to the source. Wilson believes that with the salary of a postman, he’ll be more than willing to cover some of the expenses of our little venture, enough to make it profitable even if it doesn’t solve my… personal issues. What say you, Sir Ludwig?”
After all this he was quite convinced the necromancer was a villainous character, but at such an early juncture it made no difference.
“As you wish” he said, falling back on the ever-dependable phrase. He saw the Kikimora daughter of the innkeeper leading Cecil off somewhere, by the hand.
“What say you we drink to our future success?” he offered.