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Great [Monster] Journey 24

RSanon Mar 8th, 2014 1,500 Never
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  1. Mino wasn’t one to pace, but pace she did. It was a weird thing to do--walk in pointless lines or circles, spreading your anxiety to the rest of the room. Why did humans do it? Why was she doing it? Her thumb went into her mouth where she held it. Her eyes kept following the bleak red floor in front of her feet. Galen had been asleep for a little less than a day now, but every time Mino went in his room to sit by him, her stomach stared churning and her head felt like it was filling with air, forcing her out not much longer after she entered. If there was one thing that bugged her more than anything, it was when her body didn’t agree with her head. She wanted to sit by Galen, but the more she sought to, the harder her body fought against it.
  2.  
  3. So this is what she was reduced to: pacing in the hall outside his room.
  4.  
  5. Most of her time had been spent wondering why she had such trouble staying in Galen’s room. The rest of it she wondered how he was doing. The doctor kept saying he’d be fine, that it was just exhaustion, but truth be told, it wasn’t the exhaustion she was worried about.
  6.  
  7. Creaking loud enough to grab her attention, the door to Galen’s room swung open, his succubus doctor stepping out into the hall. Mino took in a quick breath and clamored over to the doctor, her hair tentacles anxiously squirming about.
  8.  
  9. “Is he okay?”
  10.  
  11. The succubus looked down at Mino, face business as usual. “Yes. Doing quite well, in fact. He just woke up.”
  12.  
  13. Clapping her hands together, Mino gave a little hop.
  14.  
  15. “You seem awfully excited. Why don’t you go in there and greet him?”
  16.  
  17. Mino’s body instantly slackened. Her hair fell still. “I’m… not sure.”
  18.  
  19. “You’re a friend of his, right? I’m sure it would help him to see you.”
  20.  
  21. She snuck in a peek at the door behind the doctor. “I--it might. It’s just…” Just what? Worried that fight had done something to him? Mino shivered. She’d attached herself to Galen and rode along his thoughts during the fight in order to help him win, but what she heard and felt were nothing like what she’d expected. He’d been so scared about cutting and injuring those harpies and that mothman before, but yesterday it was like nothing mattered. Not even his own life.
  22.  
  23. That didn’t match the Galen she knew at all.
  24.  
  25. The succubus laid a hand on Mino’s shoulder, causing her a little jump. People and monsters rarely touched her, even for little things like this. No, especially for little things like this.
  26.  
  27. “Trust me, little one. He wants to see you. Patients in his situation need all the energy they can get, and being around friends truly helps. No need to be shy about it.”
  28.  
  29. Of course. Of course Galen wanted to see her. He was one of the good ones, right? And ‘good’ meant you liked being with friends. Mino nodded.
  30.  
  31. “You’re right. I will see him!”
  32.  
  33. With that, she marched straight through the door, puffing her chest out and taking long, confident steps. She even raised her height a bit. The second her entrance caught Galen’s attention, however, she wanted to melt back down to her usual form. His eyes were baggy, skin a touch paler than usual, and his expression stuck between shock and excitement. They stared at each other for a few moments, Mino not wanting to say anything wrong, and Galen still catching up to the moment. He spoke first.
  34.  
  35. “Mino! I heard you were okay but it’s great to see it firsthand. Was the journey here hard?”
  36.  
  37. He DID want to see her! And he was worried about her, too! That didn’t make much sense from where she stood--he was the one still stuck in bed--but it was nice to hear.
  38.  
  39. “Nope!” She bounced over to his side, taking a seat. “I was more worried about Seira than anything.”
  40.  
  41. His smiled faltered. “Oh, yeah. I heard about her, too. I hope she’ll be fine.” His eyes broke away from her. “I’m sorry I passed out like that. I left you with a lot to do on your own, and I know the Lands are more harsh to monsters.”
  42.  
  43. “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. You did a good job, umm, defending us.” Mino offered a smile, but couldn’t stop herself from fidgeting in her seat.
  44.  
  45. “I know, I just…” He paused, his head sinking into the pillow. “I’m glad everyone made it out okay. But enough about that.” His chest rose and fell. “I can’t remember why Seira said she wanted to come here. Do either of you?”
  46.  
  47. “Yes,” said Sybyll. “She wanted to find someone who could break the seal on the monster lord’s castle. It would make sense there’s one up to keep strangers out.”
  48.  
  49. “Hmm.” Galen closed his eyes. “It’s probably not a coincidence that this is a city full of… succubi.” It sound to Mino like the word tasted raw on his tongue. “Why would she need a succubus, specifically? Or succubi?”
  50.  
  51. “Succubi are known for their mastery of magic. This is the only succubus city in the world, so it follows the greatest mages would be here.”
  52.  
  53. “Yeah.” Galen rustled in the bed. “I kinda wish I’d known before we got here, though.” He glanced out the window. “So, I guess we should start looking a way to break that seal, huh?”
  54.  
  55. “What we--“
  56.  
  57. “I think--“
  58.  
  59. Sybyll and Mino had both begun talking at once. Mino instantly covered her mouth and shook her head. “I’m sorry, go ahead.”
  60.  
  61. “I think we were going to say the same thing,” said Sybyll, a small smile growing on her face.
  62.  
  63. “And what was that?” asked Galen.
  64.  
  65. “Stay in bed!” They practically shouted at him in-sync.
  66.  
  67. He shrunk back into the bed as far as he could go, pulling the covers up to his eyes. “Yikes. I just wanted to get a head start.”
  68.  
  69. Mino leaned back into her seat, her vision blurring. The headache was coming back. Maybe she needed to see a doctor herself. It was odd enough she was getting headaches and stomachaches--those weren’t the kind of aches slimes got. Symptoms almost always manifested in the slime core, not some weird location in the slime’s current form. Now that Galen was awake, though, it would take more than a silly headache to keep her away.
  70.  
  71. “Galen,” said Sybyll.
  72.  
  73. “Yeah?” He adjusted himself where he lay, turning to face Sybyll.
  74.  
  75. Mino’s eyes were drawn to the lizardman’s claws. They were fumbling with each other in a gesture of uneasiness Mino was not used to seeing from her. Mino’s own hands busied themselves in response.
  76.  
  77. “This is not something you will enjoy hearing, but I would feel as if I was deceiving you if I waited any longer to reveal it.” She closed her eyes a moment, breathing out loud enough for Mino to hear. Galen and Mino both held their breath, as if doing so would somehow soften the blow.
  78.  
  79. “The mothman and harpy you fought are dead. Toneruth’s strike was fatal for them both.”
  80.  
  81. Galen opened his mouth, shock paralyzing his lungs until the strength behind the waiting words burst outward. “W-w-what? Dead?” His voice shook like chair missing a leg in an earthquake.
  82.  
  83. “Yes. It was you who felled them.”
  84.  
  85. The ‘you’ hit Galen like a rock.
  86.  
  87. “How? I thought--“ He swallowed. “How?”
  88.  
  89. Mino reached over, taking Galen’s hand, and squeezed it. Her head throbbed in response, but when Galen didn’t squeeze back, she knew she couldn’t let go.
  90.  
  91. “When I told you about Toneruth’s power, I did not tell you all the specifics. It was not done out of mistrust, but rather caution. Telling you everything would not only give you undue stress while wielding the blade, but also burden you with knowledge you had no use for. My intention was to tell you rather soon about what more Toneruth could do, but in my caution, I did not adequately prepare for the trials you faced yesterday. For that, I apologize.” She lowered her head. “Before I explain further, do you remember all of what happened yesterday? I know the Scorched Lands can fog the memory.”
  92.  
  93. “I, uh, yeah, mostly.” A lazy hand ran through his hair. Mino placed her other hand on his shoulder. “I remember being really angry more than anything. I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry in my entire life. I knew Seira was hurt and I had to stop them--the mothman and the harpies. Now that I think about it, I never got a good look at Toneruth. I was just using it.”
  94.  
  95. Biting her lower lip, Mino watched Galen’s hand on his head curl into a fist. Even now, some of that fury reverberated through him. Mino felt it like rumbling thunder. The lightning had passed, but it wouldn’t let itself be forgotten so easily.
  96.  
  97. Her body burned hotter.
  98.  
  99. “Then I will not need to explain much,” said Sybyll, looking out the window. “In order for the power within Toneruth to be accessable by anyone who might need it, the creators decided that the power must be linked to something common within all men. Knowledge of magic was far too sparce for consideration, and even the ability to read and write were rare enough to rule out incantations or inscriptions. They thought triggering the power with a common task, such as throwing or swinging the sword would work, but that too was put aside as they wanted the blade to be able to be used without tapping into it’s more significant strengths. They did not want a well-meaning novice to accidentally destroy a town during a friendly spar.
  100.  
  101. “What they decided on was will. Not only would tying the power to will allow the wielder to apply it with discretion, but it would also give the wielder freedom to choose how much of the power to draw. Such a thing was quite complex, but the mages who created the blade were the best of their time. Maybe the best this world has seen.” Sybyll turned back to Galen. “I did not speak of this because I did not see you using Toneruth with the will required to call forth its more potent powers. The Lands provided you with a catalyst to go beyond my expectations, and with both the rage you felt at their attack, and your inherent need to protect your friends, you achieved something I did not anticipate.” She frowned. “Again, I apologize.”
  102.  
  103. “I… no. I didn’t want to kill them. It wasn’t my will to kill them!” Galen struggled to sit up, ignoring the growing protests from his body. Mino tried to push him back down, but he shrugged her off. “That doesn’t make sense! I never wanted them to die!”
  104.  
  105. “Galen, you were in the midst of the Lands, unprotected, and under their overwhelming influence. It is possible--no, likely--that the Lands overrode your inhibitions and gave you the drive to kill.” She laid a claw on his leg. “You musn’t blame yourself. You were not wholly in control.”
  106.  
  107. His fist slammed down on the bed. “I’m not gonna--“ Mino heard his teeth gnashing together. All she wanted to do right now was give him a hug and drain away all that despair that weighed him down. She wanted to do more for him than she did yesterday. A weak whimper escaped her mouth. Why didn’t she stop him back there? She had the ability to.
  108.  
  109. Galen struck his chest. “The sword was in my hands! I killed them! Me! But… I didn’t want to.” His eyes left Sybyll, dropping to the floor. Tears began welling up within them. “Did I?”
  110.  
  111. “This was not your fault. The situation was beyond your control. Do not tell yourself something you know not to be true.” Sybyll pressed a claw onto her own chest. “Something I know not to be true.”
  112.  
  113. “How can you be so sure?”
  114.  
  115. Had Mino any hair to stand up on her back, it would have gone stiff at those words. The voice that carried them was one she’d never heard from Galen’s mouth before, sharper than a blade and hotter than the soul of flame.
  116.  
  117. “Galen,” said Mino, “you risked a lot to keep them alive before we even entered the Lands. Despite Seira’s protests and in the face of her anger, you still spared them. How can you think you would turn around and kill them the next day?”
  118.  
  119. “Because I DID.” His eyes narrowed. “You heard Sybyll. Toneruth responds to will. How could it possibly kill them without me wanting to?”
  120.  
  121. “It’s not your--“
  122.  
  123. “No!”
  124.  
  125. Mino’s mouth clamped shut and she jerked her head back. Her headache was pounding now, almost loud enough to drown out Galen’s voice. With considerable concentration, she pushed it aside.
  126.  
  127. “I’m… I’m going to need some time alone. To think.” When neither Mino nor Sybyll moved, he added, “Please.”
  128.  
  129. Could it be he didn’t trust Mino anymore? Didn’t value her judgement? She was holding his entire body yesterday and with him hardly having the energy to stand, she could’ve easily overpowered him, forced him to stop. Trying to even out her frown, she looked into Galen’s eyes.
  130.  
  131. A storm echoed within them, rolling thunder and seething lightning deep in his pupils. She’d only seen something like that once before. No words would reach him like this, no matter how she might want to try.
  132.  
  133. Slowly, she stood, nodding silently before turning to the door. Each step that took her further from the bed and closer to the door weighed heavier than the last. Every part of her screamed that this was wrong, but what was she to do? She’d probably just make things worse.
  134.  
  135. “We will return in a short while,” said Sybyll, right behind Mino. “Please try to get some rest as well. It will help.”
  136.  
  137. Galen’s silence hurt more than words.
  138.  
  139. As soon as they were both out in the hallway, the door closed behind them, Mino felt a claw on her shoulder. She turned, looking up to Sybyll.
  140.  
  141. “You, too, have no blame to bear.”
  142.  
  143. Mino may have complimented Sybyll on her astuteness had she not so many other things on her mind. “But I was in a position to do something, and I didn’t. I could’ve stopped him and then he wouldn’t be feeling like this.” Her gaze went downward. “He doesn’t deserve to hurt like this.”
  144.  
  145. Sybyll took a moment, looking back and forth between Mino and the empty hallway they stood in. Her claw then tightened on Mino’s shoulder and urged her forward.
  146.  
  147. “Come. A walk will do us both good.”
  148.  
  149. Mino wasn’t so sure about that. Her feet dragged, leaving meandering trails of slime of on the ground, but at least it was still walking. Sybyll kept pace at her side the entire time, tall and upright like the world couldn’t beat her while she was down despite its every attempt. Frowning, Mino kept her eyes off of Sybyll. That composure wasn’t something she had, something she thought she’d ever have.
  150.  
  151. As they left the hallway, Mino’s headache faded away, bringing back the sounds of the environment she’d been forced to tune out. The wind, carrying dust from outside, scraped across the walls and whistled through the cracks in closed doorways and windows. The clatter of footsteps, some in heels, some bare, some decisively monster, grew and disappeared like fickle winds. What she heard last was her own body, swirling and forming, melting and flowing. Something she forgot to listen to sometimes.
  152.  
  153. They left the hospital, breaking into the bleak red of the Lands, an open plaza with a few lingering succubi minding their own business. Mino didn’t have much for smell when she didn’t care for it, but she could still taste the dryness, the heat, the thickness of it all. Grand buildings rose left, right and center, all split up by open streets, though the timid bustle of the population didn’t seem to match the constructs’ grandeur. A part of Mino wanted to throw caution and circumstance to the wind and explore each building. Run to the top and leap off the roof, see which one was tallest and what each one was for.
  154.  
  155. But right now, such things were of little consequence.
  156.  
  157. Sybyll led her forward, to a faux fountain in the midst of the plaza. Where other fountains would have water, this one had a constantly-flowing sand. It matched the atmosphere, at least. Eyes dragging along the ground the entire way, Mino had to look up when Sybyll stopped. The lizardman gestured to the edge of the fountain where they both sat. Licking her lips, Mino crossed her arms and swayed lightly back and forth. Was she supposed to say something? Talking about the obvious subject didn’t exactly sound appealing at the moment.
  158.  
  159. “You’ve seen it before.”
  160.  
  161. “Hmm?” Mino’s attention snapped to Sybyll. “Seen what?”
  162.  
  163. “What Galen is going through. You’ve seen something like it before.” Sybyll met Mino’s gaze. “I saw it in your eyes, in your posture. You knew words would do little in your position, same as I.”
  164.  
  165. “I have.” It wasn’t her fondest memory, but she knew it’d be stupid to disregard. “A long time ago. For me, at least. Not really for you.”
  166.  
  167. “How long?”
  168.  
  169. Mino took a deep breath before answering. “Twenty-eight years. Two years after I was born.”
  170.  
  171. “That is awfully young to be experiencing such a thing.”
  172.  
  173. “Well, slimes mature very quickly. We don’t really have a childhood or anything like other monsters and humans do. Our mothers pass on a lot of the necessary knowledge when we split off. In my case, my mother didn’t even raise me, technically. Just left me on my own.”
  174.  
  175. Sybyll nodded. “I have heard much about slimes, but nothing so specific from a slime herself. Most was second- or third-hand knowledge.” She laid her hands in her lap. “Was it difficult?”
  176.  
  177. “I don’t really know. Compared to other slimes, I guess it was normal. I ran into some tricky situations, but I made it out of them.” Mino squirmed in place. Why was talking about this bothering her all of a sudden? She’d been asked about her younger years plenty of times before. Maybe she spent too long on Nox without interacting with other monsters.
  178.  
  179. “Was your experience like this one of those ‘tricky situations’?”
  180.  
  181. “Ah, umm, not really.” No, it was a different beast altogether. “It didn’t exactly involve me. Directly, at least.”
  182.  
  183. “So while your childhood was without your mother, it wasn’t entirely without company.”
  184.  
  185. “Yeah. I was born on Bhregof, the continent to the west, near the shoreline. I wandered around for a while, feeding where I could, until I came across a village sorta like Galen’s. There were like fifty people living there total, eighteen or so families. Living out in the wilderness like that, they were cautious about monsters, but it seemed slimes were the exception. Maybe they knew my mother, or maybe they were used to slimes since they lived so close to a lake. I never really found out. All I knew was that they accepted me. One family in particularly took me in. A husband, a wife, and a child.” A small smile grew on her face. “A lot of families had two or more kids, so it made sense for a family with only one to look after me. Plus, the wife was beyond her child-bearing years, so the husband had a need I was able to help with, and in return I got my meals. Everyone in the family was happy with the arrangement, though some of the villagers took a little longer to come around to it. It wasn’t exactly normal to take in a monster.”
  186.  
  187. “This family: what were their names?”
  188.  
  189. “Theo was the husband, Aelline the wife, and Glem was the child. Just two years old when I met him.” Her feet started swinging back and forth. “Really cute child. I poked his nose all the time, and he never cried around me. I know at his age, I was just being more of a burden to the family, but they didn’t really complain. They really seemed happy to have me around.”
  190.  
  191. Sybyll remained attentive, nodding occasionally and keeping her eyes on Mino. “I do not mean to press, but why did you go to the village in the first place?”
  192.  
  193. “Slimes may learn much from their mothers when they split off, but they don’t learn purpose. I knew enough to stay alive and roam freely, but I didn’t have any goals. Just surviving wasn’t enough.” She shrugged. “So I went to the village looking for that.”
  194.  
  195. “Why seek it from humans?”
  196.  
  197. Mino shook her head. “I don’t know. That’s what came to me, so I went with it.”
  198.  
  199. “And the unfortunate event…?”
  200.  
  201. A frigid chill swelled up inside Mino’s body. She turned away from Sybyll towards the flowing sand in the fountain, watching the waterfall of grains as if it might have some answer for her. Like often else, however, none was offered.
  202.  
  203. Sybyll straightened out her back. “I’m apologize if I’m prying too far.”
  204.  
  205. “No, it’s fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about it, and I’ve done so with people and monsters I’ve known for a shorter time than you.” She hummed to herself. “I’d been living in the village for about a year when it happened. Since my arrival, I’d started to help out with lots of tasks, especially the ones harder for humans. Slimes usually aren’t very strong without serious training, but my flexibility came in handy many times. I could help people up to roofs to repair them, help hold building frames in place while someone else fastened them, and once I learned how to make copies of myself, I could make an entire line of Minos for moving rocks, usually out of places where people wanted to dig, or onto the well-used paths to keep them from breaking up in the rain.” She blushed. “Of course, I was always very good at pleasing Theo. I kept him in good spirits, and he kept me full.”
  206.  
  207. “And Aelline was fine with this? Humans place a high value on physical intimacy.”
  208.  
  209. “Yeah. She didn’t feel urges any more, and saw what I did as a necessary service. It got Theo to stop asking for something he couldn’t get from her any more. She also liked me, so she didn’t want to see me dry up and die. Like I said, it worked out real nice.” Her smile faltering, Mino talked at the ground. “But after that year, Glem got sick. The entire village was concerned, but Theo and Aelline were outright devastated. No one knew what it was. I knew that slimes could do some healing, but I’d never tried it before and I didn’t want to make things worse. The village doctor couldn’t do anything, though he wasn’t much more than a herbalist with limited knowledge of disease. So Theo decided to take a trip to the nearest city, two days out at a grueling pace. The village offered all they could for him to trade in exchange for a doctor’s services. We all wished him luck and speed, then he left.
  210.  
  211. “I’d never been so completely helpless before. Never seen others so ruined by their own helplessness. It felt like everything I did was slower, weaker. The rest of the village carried on, trying not to let the sickness affect them, but it did. I know it did.” Mino glanced over. “Some people were scared that their kids would get sick too, and avoided me and my--the family I lived with like we were ghosts come to haunt them.
  212.  
  213. “As the days passed, Glem got weaker and weaker. His skin went from healthy to pale like something had come and drained the color from him. He cried even when I was around. Two days after Theo had left, Glem died. I knew it from the silence. Aelline herself had never cried throughout the whole ordeal, but when she found Glem not breathing, when the doctor rushed to him, checked him, and then shook his head, it was too much. She didn’t even have Theo there to comfort her. I tried, but anything I did didn’t seem like enough. Aelline just sat there, quiet, the next full two days while Theo was still gone. Didn’t eat or speak. I didn’t either.
  214.  
  215. “He came back full of hope, but it all rushed out of him in an instant when he saw Aelline. He kneeled down next to Glem’s body, staring, trying to come to terms with it.
  216.  
  217. “That’s where I saw it. The same thing I saw from Galen. I knew there was nothing I could do. Nothing I could help.” She sighed. “He asked me to leave the village later that day. I didn’t argue.”
  218.  
  219. The air between them stagnated with silence. The shifting bustle of the rest of the city faded to a dull buzz in Mino’s ears. It’d been a long time since she’d told that story. She’d thought time would make it easier.
  220.  
  221. “I am sorry,” said Sybyll. “That is a difficult thing to go through, especially for one so new in life.”
  222.  
  223. “You know what’s kinda funny?” Mino finally raised her head. “I did find what I was looking for. Everyone always said Theo and Aelline were good people. So when Glem died, I had to know what good was. Not just how to define it, but what it meant to be a ‘good person’. Theo and Aelline were nice to me, but they can’t be good.” Her lips curled upward and her cheeks dimpled in an expression that was anything but a smile. “Because I can’t accept that things like that happen to good people.”
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