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The Oomakudakeodkdodecahedron - Chapter IV

Historianon Dec 31st, 2015 (edited) 839 Never
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  1. The Oomakudakeodkdodecahedron
  2.  
  3.     Chapter IV
  4.  
  5. ”Aaaahhh! Finally!” Cecil Bouvier cried out as he fell on his knees and kissed the soil with a passion that made the Ghoul twins squirm.
  6. Sir Ludwig waded onto the shore and looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of a welcoming committee of hostile natives. There wasn’t one, and this disappointed him. For the past few months he’d only fought a couple of pirate crews and some amorous Krakens, the latter of which left some nasty marks on Cecil’s bare body – the boy had thought it a good idea to replicate his “swimming-around-the-ship-trick”, while naked, no less – and he was starting to get bored. Training in the dark hold or up in the mast or on the ropes and such was all well and good for a while, and Ludwig could tell that the Ghouls and Cecil had improved in every way, but he himself? Certainly his reflexes were now sharper, he was more agile, more on form, but compared to what? In his prime he was much better than he was now. Ludd the Reaver could have conquered a place like Zipangu. Sir Ludwig didn’t have that kind of energy, though. Or the will.
  7. “Where do you propose we head to next?” he asked Albertus de Vries, necromancer, who was wading to the shore while lifting his robes. The man had lost some considerable weight during the voyage, and gone as pale as a Vampire’s thrall. Could be he had scurvy, too.
  8. “You expect me to know?” the necromancer replied, clearly irritated. “I’m paying you to do all the searching and seeking, thank you very much”
  9. “As you wish” Ludwig shrugged, and watched as the sailors began to hack up some small trees further up the coast and constructing a camp, while the last member of their little adventuring party waded in with uncertain feet.
  10. Dietrich, formerly a postman, later an addict, was much worse for wear than the necromancer was, physically speaking. Both men had grown beards during the voyage, but at least Dietrich had tried to trim his, while the reanimator had left his wild and bushy. Dietrich had managed to get his wits to a reasonable state during the last few weeks of the voyage as well, when the withdrawal symptoms had begun to fade and he’d finally gotten over the addiction to the substance he no longer could get anywhere. Ludwig wondered what would happen now that the opportunity to get more presented itself. Surely the suffering he’d had to endure would keep him from wanting to try any more… of course Albert wouldn’t care much if the postman wanted to try it again or not. Ludwig had spent a great deal of time pondering about a potential course of action when the inevitable confrontation took place, and he’d decided to do the right thing. Not necessarily for himself, but because of Cecil. The squire was his responsibility, and even if the dark side was beckoning to him, he would have to refuse the call until the boy was off his hands. This was also something he’d been thinking about while waiting for the Great Grey Wolf to reach the shores of Zipangu; what would he do with himself afterwards? The island was big enough to occupy him for a time, with all manner of things he’d never encountered before, and who knows what might happen when he got involved with the locals? He might end up becoming a champion for a cause or a general in an army. Or maybe he’d stick to being a wandering knight. Or maybe become a monk in one of the religions practiced here for a while? He didn’t know anything about the religions of Zipangu; that might be an enlightening experience. Enlightening. Heh. Then there was banditry to consider. He hadn’t been a bandit chief in a long time, and the more brutal instincts in him were starting to air themselves out nowadays…
  11. Of course no matter what he’d decide to do, he’d have to consider the boy. And would it be acceptable to drag him around the island while pursuing his own desires? Certainly not. He had a duty to uphold, he’d need to get the boy trained up to be ready for a knighthood and then… then forget he ever existed. Now that he thought about it, his previous wards hadn’t stayed in contact with him. Were they even alive? Helmut would know, of course. He kept archives of that kind of thing, best he could. Well, no matter what, Ludwig would need to get Cecil back to the old continent somehow. Sending the inexperienced young man back there on the Great Grey Wolf was out of the question, which meant he’d have to accompany him, which meant he’d have to come back to Zipangu later on if he wanted to experience it properly. This line of thought had eventually led to Ludwig deciding to cross the Great Desert and come to Zipangu through the Mist Continent, another place he’d never been to. That would be for the best in the end. He’d complete this little adventure, return back to proper, westerly lands, finish up Cecil’s training and then walk East with a little knapsack like Thomas the Wanderer tended to do after delivering some mystic prophecy or other gibberish.
  12. All that would have to wait until the end of this venture, of course, and the business at hand did promise some entertainment. Wilson, the skull of obviously malicious magical powers, had been the root of all the violent and aggressive impulses that had overtaken Ludwig in Port Artorias and on the Great Grey Wolf; that was beyond question. The skull had been manipulating Albert as well, but that was meaningless; a weak-willed necromancer was utterly different from a man of Ludwig’s league. There very few people – or creatures – on his level, and above him? He shuddered to think of it. Fate had gotten him involved in a nasty business. If he’d been alone, this would have been all well and good, but with Cecil and Dietrich to look out for, well, he couldn’t say it was exactly a pleasant thought that someone capable of altering his mental state without him noticing it directly was involved with him now.
  13.  
  14. “…and Hank will lead the second party down South. Either party finds a port, you come back here and report, we sail the Wolf right up there for trade and a small group stays behind at the camp to wait for the second party to return” the captain concluded giving his instructions to the sailors while the adventuring party saddled their horses. The long voyage had been hard on the creatures, which were now eager to frolic and horse around without rest. There weren’t enough for all of them, and so Cecil had Naomi riding behind him and Dietrich, still not quite certain of himself, rode behind Esmeralda. There was much groping and giggling.
  15. Ludwig eyed up the forest that opened before them, the treetops painted slightly orange by the Sun that had already begun its descent. The woods smelled of adventure, a smell that wasn’t actually perceived by the nose but by the heart. It lifted the spirits and made you want to whistle or sing or something.
  16. Ludwig went with off-tune whistles, which were joined by Cecil’s much better, Elf-taught ones, then the incredibly broken up ones of the Ghouls, and lastly Dietrich humming some post office fanfare. What a merry company they made, setting out to a new land, facing unknown perils for profit! Soldiers of fortune they were! Ludwig laughed. He hadn’t felt this happy in a long time. Maybe part of it was finally getting away from Albert. That man was such a bore. In all this time he’d never once seen him cast any spells at all. What master of the dark arts hid away his talents like that? Now there was no more of that, though. Now there was something new behind every corner. Figuratively speaking, of course.
  17. The merry band of adventurers passed the figurative corner by passing the very literal corner of a large rock and met a woman with fox-ears and four fox-tails. She was dressed in a beautiful but plain dress, and had a friendly smile on her face as she bowed before them.
  18.  
  19.             ***
  20.  
  21. Months at sea had had quite an effect on Tia. Her skin had become a tanned brown from all the time spent in the warm sunlight, her muscles had become more defined from all the exercise of rowing and blowing air into the sails and from fishing and practicing her sword-fighting every day. These had been the most physically active days of her life, actually, and Raoul was surprisingly good as an instructor. Tia had never practiced fighting under anyone’s tutelage before, she’d always assumed it something that should come naturally to a Dragon. It wasn’t until meeting the knight-who-she-refused-to-name that she’d realized how important technique was, not that she wasn’t a naturally talented fighter to begin with, on account of being a great and fearsome Red Dragon and everything, and so she only really needed to train because that one knight was not a normal man.
  22. At the moment Tia was not working out, though. The wind was taking them in the right direction and so she was enjoying a massage from the Sea Slime Judi. The massage consisted of the Slime trying her hardest to remain solid enough to stand on the Dragon’s back while making kneading motions with her toes and feet. She was now working on the tense muscles right below her wings.
  23. “Mmmhmhmh~” Tia moaned with pleasure.
  24. “Your back feels as hard… something really hard that you probably have on land” Judi pointed out. She wasn’t very good with anything that related to things on land, having spent her entire life at sea.
  25. “You’re a miracle-worker, Judi” the Dragon encouraged the Slime, arching her back and stretching her legs, tail, wings and arms as much as possible to offer as much of her back as possible for the masseuse to work on.
  26. Raoul was making repairs on a stretch of netting that had been ruptured by a marlin a few days back. A shame it had escaped, but there was no way even a Dragon could catch an escaping swordfish. Tia had tried, but it had been a futile effort; the fish had disappeared into the deep blue and out of her sight within a few heartbeats. She remembered a similar experience from her childhood when papa had taken her out swimming in a lake and she’d found a sleeping pike in the bottom, which she’d poked. That pike had disappeared really fast too.
  27. “Mmmhmhhm~”
  28. “You sound like Raoul does when I eat him up” Judi chirped.
  29. “Oh, you do that a lot?” the Dragon asked.
  30. “Not a lot, it’s a shorter way for his seed to reach my core if it goes in from up top”
  31. This confused the Dragon.
  32. “What’s that matter?” she asked.
  33. “It’s how Slimes get pregnant. The seed has to reach our core. But Raoul and I are waiting for a better time before having children” Judi explained.
  34. “Waiting for a better time?” Tia wondered.
  35. “Until we find a nice flotilla. Children should have other children to play with”
  36. “Ah”
  37. Flotillas were concentrations of Sea Slime families, drifting at sea and probably spending a lot of time on idle gossip. They sounded peaceful, provided there wasn’t a big storm that broke them up. Finding one when they had no fixed location was pretty much up to luck, and these two had been at sea for a long time together. That made Tia sad. What if they got old and withered and died without ever having children? That wouldn’t be right. They were lovers, and they were together, so there was no reason they should be denied that. And now… now they were helping her get to Zipangu, chasing after HER love, instead of looking for… oh no.
  38. “But… if you’re taking me to Zipangu… you’ll… you won’t…” Tia hesitated.
  39. “Don’t worry about it” Judi said happily. “Love is always worth fighting for, isn’t it?”
  40. Of course it was. Your own love, that is, but someone else’s? Tia felt a little uneasy when thinking of helping someone else get half-way across the world while her Cecilé was going the other way. There was just no way she’d ever do that. But these two would. They were doing it already. They’d been doing it for months now, and she’d never even spared a single thought to the situation. Not that she’d known about them wanting to find a flotilla to begin with, but… wasn’t that just as bad? Her spending months with them and not knowing even that much? They were completely open about themselves, they’d saved her life, they were putting in all this effort to help her, and they certainly knew all about her love life because she wouldn’t stop praising Cecilé to them at every opportunity, even if she’d only ever spent so little time with him. That felt wrong, somehow. She felt… unpleasant. There was a word for what she felt now, but the feeling wasn’t familiar to her and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Something like she’d felt that time when she’d tried to climb a tree and fell and papa saw it. Not the pain, but the other thing she’d felt.
  41. “You’ve tensed up again” Judi pointed out.
  42. “I’m upset” Tia said honestly.
  43. “Upset? What about?”
  44. “Me”
  45. There was silence, broken only by the sound of the waves and the bubbling noise that… wait.
  46. “We’re not moving” Raoul pointed out with exaggerated calmness. “Don’t make a fuss about it, though. Could be a Kraken” he continued.
  47. Judi went completely rigid, which, considering she was a Slime, wasn’t very rigid at all. Tia rested her head on her crossed arms. A Kraken? That didn’t sound too bad. She was feeling like a fight, actually. Anything to take her mind out of the shame. Shame! That was the thing she’d felt! And now she’d get rid of it, by fighting for her friends. Good.
  48. “Bring it, bitch” she hissed.
  49.  
  50.             ***
  51. “Kanpai!” called out the dirty peasant as he lifted his grotesquely small cup of wine to toast. His wife, the fox lady, followed suit, and the company of heroes did the same, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. At the most enthusiastic end was Cecil, as usual, followed closely by the Ghoul twins, who had not gotten a drop of alcohol on their long voyage and were now hungry for it. Dietrich had no appetite for the wine, for whatever reason, and Ludwig mostly found it inadequate in quantity.
  52. The fox woman had led them to a cottage with a hovel, an outhouse and some cleared up land being used as a field of some sort, and here they had been given a place to spend the night quite a bit sooner than Ludwig had expected. Usually the first few nights of an adventure were spend outside, on account of them starting at a tavern and such. Well, there was no use complaining when a dry and warm place to sleep was presented, with free meals and teeny-tiny portions of alcohol. A potential side quest might have been waiting for him here, but what did that matter? Now that he was in a strange new land, it might be worth getting accustomed to it through some small-scale nonsense. Or maybe he’d have Cecil do it, the boy needed to do something other than chase skirts and chickens on his own eventually.
  53. The hosts were a married couple with two children, both little girls with fluffy ears and a fluffy tail. These vixens and the dirty young man who was the man of the house lived here and farmed rice. Their wine was made from the same rice, and the woman of the house they’d met had been picking wild mushrooms for the evening meal, which they were now enjoying. The host family began to engage their guests in small-talk that, surprisingly, didn’t bring up the fact that they were quite obviously foreigners. Ludwig took the responsibility of answering most questions, even if he mostly did so through grunts and mutterings when he didn’t feel like being open about something. He gave “knight errant” as the reply to what he did for a living.
  54.  
  55. “Ah, see, I was a ronin as well!” the man of the house said, grinning a smile with more missing teeth than someone his age should have had. “Ronin, knight errant, this is the same. Watch, watch!” he got up on unsteady feet and rummaged around the pile of firewood, pulling out a long box from beneath it. Opening the box, he revealed slender, slightly curved sword, the like of which Ludwig had only rarely seen. Taking one of these back to Tess was something he’d have to remember. Maybe write it down? He’d kept a journal dutifully when he was on his first few adventures, just like master Gourmand had taught him, but the habit had died down after he became a bandit.
  56. “Folded steel! Folded many times! Cut anything!” the former ronin said proudly, showing off the blade. Ludwig suppressed a chuckle. He’d seen a man called Kenneth use one of these katanas to fight a northerner with a proper two-hander. Kenneth had lost his sword and head with the same swing.
  57. “I fought many, many men. Lived by the sword” the ronin continued his reminiscence. “Once even fought an Ushi-Oni. Big, great beast. Very, very strong”
  58. This got Ludwig interested.
  59. “Does this Ushi-Oni have a venomous bite?” he asked, hoping his encounter with this man had been part of his main adventure all along.
  60. “No, no venom. Big tits, many legs! Spider-cow-demon” he explained, and got a mean look from his wife at the mention of “big tits”.
  61. Disappointment. This beast was not what he was after, then.
  62.  
  63. The host made it his business to keep the guests drinking after the meal was gone, and after his wife got the children tucked in and went to bed herself. Cecil and the Ghouls soon turned in for the night as well, leaving the men to discuss things.
  64. “We’re looking for venom found in these lands” Ludwig explained to the host, who clearly could not hold his liquor but still liked it.
  65. “Venom? Hahahaha?”
  66. That was not very helpful.
  67. “Dietrich, describe to him how it worked” Ludwig ordered.
  68. The postman explained in painstaking detail the effects of the stuff he’d been using, and how he’d bought it from a Tanuki.
  69. Understanding dawned on the man’s face.
  70. “Mukade, mukade…” he muttered.
  71. “Excuse me?” Ludwig inquired, snatching the bottle of rice wine out of the host’s reach.
  72. “Mukade! Oomukade! Very strong beast. Worse even than Ushi-Oni, in some ways. Worse than an angry Ryu!” the man elaborated.
  73. That sounded promising.
  74. “What’s a Ryu?” asked Dietrich.
  75. “Dragon, water Dragon” the host enlightened his guest.
  76. A beast that was more dangerous than a Dragon? Ludwig smiled. Coming all this way had been worth it after all!
  77.  
  78.             ***
  79.  
  80. A tentacle explored the surface of the raft. There was something almost sensual about it, but Tia shook her head and chased away thoughts like that. She’d been at sea for so long even a slimy yucky girl’s limb would turn her on because it kind of resembled a dick?
  81. The Dragon spat out some sulphuric saliva, which sizzled on the wood. She held the sword at arm’s length and tossed it from one hand to the other, warming up. Raoul and Judi assured her that there would be no trouble with the Kraken as long as they just behaved themselves and made it clear there was nothing for her here. They were usually only after trinkets, alcohol or men, after all, and of the first two they had none, while the only man on board wasn’t exactly worth snatching away. But Tia wasn’t interested in a peaceful solution. Krakens were some of the biggest, scariest things the sea had to offer. She’d happily beat one up to show how she wasn’t afraid of the sea tall, because she was a great and fearsome Red Dragon and that meant she was the scariest thing there was! Apart from maybe Black or White Dragons, that is.
  82.  
  83. The tentacle touched Judi’s toes and she yelped. Tia stomped on the tentacle, immediately regretting it. It was gross.
  84. In response to an attack, the tentacle slid away at an amazing speed and four others shot up out of the water, one at each corner of the raft. Then the Kraken revealed itself, rising up from the sea in a manner that most likely got sailor boys who had spend months at sea cream themselves. The ocean’s queen was wearing what was either something skin-tights and waterproof, or maybe she was in the nude and had a curiously different anatomy than Tia had expected, but all the good bits appeared to be well covered, and it was like she was wearing opera gloves on top of all that. Where did you get clothes tailor made in the sea anyway?
  85. The Kraken had bedroom-eyes if Tia had ever seen any, and she had because she’d practiced the look in front of a mirror since she was eleven years old in the hopes of seducing the perfect man one day. The squid had an annoyingly well-shaped body as well, those were the kinds of curves that put young men in mind of mothers and aunts and older sisters and got them all defenceless. Tia hated them. She’d always been a bit too skinny or ripped for that build.
  86. “That was very rude of you” the Kraken said, caressing the assaulted tentacle in a way that was clearly meant to be lewd and make any males in the vicinity she was putting her gentle efforts into their bodies instead.
  87. “En garde, squid!” Tia snapped, striking a pose. Nonchalantly Judi and Raoul slipped inside their cabin to wait things out.
  88. “Now wait just a minute, I’m not here to…” the Kraken began, but Tia had already leapt with full force and flapped her wings, taking flight in a single bound and lunging at her with the fury of an angry Red Dragon.
  89.  
  90. A spray of ink hit Tia from the side with a lot of pressure. Enough pressure to leave a bruise, it felt like. More importantly it ruined her balance and sent her flying sideways, right at a tentacle that fell hard on her back and dropped her back on the raft, where she gasped and barely jumped back to avoid a sweep from a third.
  91. “You’re awfully violent, you know?” the Kraken rebuked her, resting her face on hand and her elbow on another. Tia hated that pose. Her aunts always took it when they saw a man naked. She hissed at her enemy and blinked her second set of eyelids. If she’d known battle cries, she’d have used them now. All of them. She made do with a flaming breath, guided on the sword. A flaming sword was an adequate statement of her emotions.
  92. “Now there’s something you don’t see every day!” the Kraken said, clearly impressed. Impressed, yes, but not worried. That annoyed Tia even more.
  93. “Could you please put that thing away before someone is hurt? You could set the sails on fire you know!” the Kraken rebuked her like she was a child playing with fire.
  94. Tia squatted down and jumped in the air with all her might, trying to take flight with a completely vertical start. It seemed to work, and the sudden gust of wind as she soared up didn’t even make the sword go out – she’d practiced this before and knew the magic kept the fire alive until dunked n water or something similar – and from the air, above her enemy, she renewed her attack.
  95. “You’re not a Harpy or a Wyvern, so you don’t manoeuvre so well in the air, silly” the Kraken giggled and shot up jets of ink from her tentacles, forcing Tia to desperately dodge them.
  96. “Do a barrel-roll!” Raoul shouted.
  97. Tia did a barrel-roll, but she did in the wrong direction and took a direct hit, falling down on the raft again. With great difficulty Tia held her sword up and prevented it from hitting the wood, wet as it was.
  98. “Silly girl, if you’d just calm down and listen to me…” the Kraken started up again, but Tia interrupted her with an angry roar. She hated doing angry roars, but they did come naturally to her when she was mad enough.
  99. “Oh my” the Kraken said, most displeased herself.
  100. “HAVE AT YOU!” Tia shouted again, and prepared for another charge. That’s when a tentacle she hadn’t expected slapped her ass. It caught her by surprise, was humiliating, but most importantly, she took it in stride and slammed her tail down on it.
  101. “Ow!” complained the Kraken, and slipped it back in the water before Tia could hack it off. That had been the sixth tentacle, then. How many did she have? Eight? Eight seemed like the correct number of tentacles for a Kraken to have. Right now only four were visible, but Tia had scored a sort of hit on two, and the squid had scored three hits on her. The bitch was in the lead for now, but not for long.
  102. Tia took a lower, more defensive stance, waiting for her enemy to make the next move. As far as she was concerned, she could see pain in the Kraken’s immediate future.
  103.  
  104.             ***
  105.  
  106. “So you’re saying this Dragon can see the future?” Dietrich asked, his eyes glowing in the candlelight. He was very excited for some reason. Maybe the future held some mysteries for him that he wanted to shed light on. Ludwig shook his head. The only thing that came of knowing some future disaster was that you made sure it happened, even if you tried to stop it. Once the future was known, it was set in stone. If you didn’t know it, then the future was something you could influence, and that was the way the knight preferred his life to be. Undetermined. He’d had enough of destiny as a Chosen One. On the other hand, this Ryu might help them find the “Mukade” and save them the trouble of having to look for it far and wide.
  107. “Yes, yes. Great oracle at Half-Moon Temple” the host nodded and reached for the bottle of sake, which Ludwig once again moved out of reach.
  108. “And where is this temple?” the knight asked.
  109. “Don’t know, don’t know. Ask in town” came the impatient reply, and the host snatched the bottle, and quaffed right out of it, no longer bothering with the tiny cups. Ludwig could understand that; these cups were obviously intended to ration the drink into moderate amounts and help people abstain from excess. He disliked such rationing.
  110. “And which way is the town? Is it far?” Ludwig asked.
  111. “Mmmh. Less than a day, that-a-way” the host said, gesturing with his hand in a direction Ludwig recognized as being northeast.
  112. “And we should ask around in town?”
  113. “Yes, you ask in town, but…” he hesitated.
  114. “Yes?”
  115. “Ahh, nothing. You leave tomorrow, you go to town, you ask around! All good, all good! Ahahahaha!” the host grinned his tooth-gappy smile and emptied the bottle.
  116. “Ahh, must go out, full, full, ahahaha” he mumbled and got up.
  117. Left alone, Dietrich and Ludwig looked at one another.
  118. “Well then. Sounds like things are progressing pretty well, wouldn’t you say?” Dietrich asked.
  119. “Could be. But something’s not feeling right”
  120. “You types are always saying that. What if we’re just lucky? Ever thought of that?”
  121. “That never happens. Whenever things seem too good to be true, they aren’t, and something bad happens. I know. I’ve been” the knight said in the manner of a wise tutor. He sure had been. The town would hold some kind of conflict in it, maybe bandits, maybe a monster, maybe some gangs in conflict, a curse, who knows. But there would be something. There was always something. And they would have to deal with whatever that something was at the behest of the local authorities or some damsel in distress, and then the search for the Mukade would end up taking even longer. There would probably be something at the temple, too. Some defilement of the sacred thingamajiggers, some rare ingredients would have to be gathered for the ritual, always something. Ludwig sighed and scratched his head.
  122. “Let’s just go to bed” he said.
  123. “I wouldn’t mind having another cup or two” Dietrich argued.
  124. “Bottle’s empty”
  125. “I’ll just wait for the man to come back and we’ll…”
  126. “Just go to bed, Dietrich. I don’t need you to get hooked on another substance”
  127. “Fine” the postman shrugged. “It’s a difficult business, you know” he added.
  128. “What is?”
  129. “Dodging all of life’s little snares”
  130.  
  131.             ***
  132.  
  133. It was a very difficult business, dodging all of the Kraken’s attacks. She seemed to have very little trouble in keeping up the pace of her assaults, though. One stream of water – water, not ink – kept shooting at Tia after another, and she kept dodging them, never getting into a position where she could attack the beast herself without risking a hit by one of the four – or maybe more! – tentacles that remained hidden underneath the surface. This was not a fun fight. But that was good, wasn’t it? If she had been enjoying herself, she’d just be having it easy, right? That she was struggling meant she was going to improve! Isn’t that what Raoul had said during one of her lessons? That overcoming adversity builds character, and the greater the obstacle in her path was, the greater her feeling of accomplishment would become?
  134. Somehow she wished she could still enjoy herself, though. But this was serious. The Kraken was a serious threat to her, and she was surrounded by an endless sea. This was just horrible. If she didn’t win… if she didn’t win…
  135. The thought of never seeing Cecilé again after all this trouble crossed her mind, and her eyes began to glow. This got the Kraken to look at her with worried eyes. Not eyes worried for their owner’s safety, though.
  136. “Are you alright, dear? You look like you have a fever” she said, as if she were concerned. Concerned! About her enemy!
  137. Tia breathed in as much air as she could, and then held it for a while, letting it warm up properly, then began to swing around her sword like the fans of a windmill. This was not an idea Raoul had approved of when she’d come up with it, but it was the only technique she had come up with herself, and she was proud of it, in a way.
  138. “You poor dear, you must be delirious!” the Kraken said when she saw it, and Tia grinned. Damn squid would soon learn not to mess with a Dragon!
  139. She blew out the breath she’d been holding in, and as it hit the fan of the sword, the fire grew bigger and stronger, heading right at the Kraken like an unstoppable flow of lava.
  140. The Kraken ducked underwater and the flame missed her entirely. What it hadn’t missed was the sail, which was now on fire.
  141. “Oh shi-“ Tia began, but then a spray of water hit the sail, two hit her sword, and before she had time to react, tentacles wrapped around her and pulled her overboard.
  142.  
  143.             ***
  144.  
  145. Cecil woke up with the need to pee. He was sleeping on some blankets on the floor with the Ghoul twins on either side of him, and had to apply some snake-like wiggling motions to escape their cuddly embrace and get up. Then he had to be very, very careful not to make noise while sliding the door open. A sliding door! What a silly idea. People who lived in Zipangu knew about hinges, because the front door had them, so why didn’t they use them inside? Maybe it was a religious thing. Sir Ludwig had once said you shouldn’t question religious things, people get upset if you do.
  146. Once outside, Cecil saw a beautiful half-Moon in the sky and stood admiring it for a while in the cold air while, tinkle-trouble be damned. It was so pretty. When he’d been a kid, the Elves had told him all kinds of stuff about the Moon Goddess and how it had something to do with making babies and why they bled out their pussies. He didn’t remember any of it, just that the Moon was pretty, bright, and dancing naked while it shone was fun. Oh well, off to tinkle…
  147. “Aaaahhh~” he moaned with relief. Cecil had been having a good day today. He’d never had this much wine before, either. Maybe Sir Ludwig was finally going to start treating him like a man. And maybe he’d grow a beard then? And chest-hair too, lots of girls liked that. Sir Cecil Bouvier, a knight errant. One day he’d accomplish that, and then… what then?
  148. While relieving himself, the squire found himself thinking back on his childhood, and how he’d been perfectly satisfied living with his many aunts and sisters and playing with them on the fields and sharing their beds and meeting Dryads and Fairies and once a Titania had shown him a mirror that told the future and it went all blurry and he’d seen himself with armour and weapons atop a mountain and there had been a Dragon at his feet and he’d had a great big beard and it had been totally awesome. He’d never really thought about leaving the Elves, though, even after that. He’d always been living with them, his mom and dead had been humans and they’d died and that’s why he was living with the Elves, and that was good enough for him, always had been.
  149. Until Sir Ludwig came to their village. He’d been everything Cecil’s vision of the future had shown he himself would become, and that was a sign if there ever had been one. So Cecil became Sir Ludwig’s squire, after showing him how much potential he had. The Elves had taught him to hunt with a bow and he’d nabbed a big stag for the knight who’d been super-impressed. That had been… a while ago. Years, even. Two at least, he remembered because head counted the phases of the Moon because that’s how the Elves measured time. How long did someone have to stay a squire for anyway? And really, what WOULD he do when he became a knight? There would have to be a Dragon, of course, and Cecil knew only one Dragon. He found himself wondering how Tia was doing now. She was far away and probably still upset. But he’d make it up to her when he became a knight, that’s for sure.
  150. Cecil finished his business and began to head back inside, but then heard something. A rustling, like someone was walking on the crunchy leaves? Probably someone was out to take a whiz like he’d been… oh yeah, there went their host, so drunk he could barely stand! Wait… did his movement just change? Yeah, he wasn’t walking as uncertainly anymore, and he straightened up, too, and, wait, was he making cuckoo noises? And in the dark too? What was that about?
  151. Using the experienced forest-sneaking skills he’d learned while living with the Elves, Cecil sneaked after the man to see what his suspicious behaviour meant.
  152. There was another cuckoo’s reply, and Cecil could clearly tell this one had been a girl, and then the man’s wife merged from behind some trees and the two talked in hushed tones and in a great hurry, and Cecil didn’t understand a word they said because they were talking foreign.
  153. Well, no use spying on a married couple you couldn’t understand! Cecil went back inside and wiggled back in underneath the cuddly limbs of Esmeralda and Naomi. Snug and warm, just how he liked it. Listening to the snores of his bedmates, he felt an impulse he for some reason identified as being a little naughty, so he lowered his voice as quiet as possible while whispering “Good night, Tia”.
  154.  
  155.             ***
  156.  
  157. The Kraken, having talked things over with Raoul and Judi, reached the conclusion that the raft held nothing for her and made sure everyone was uninjured – apart from the Dragon’s pride – left. Tia felt a whole new level of shame in herself after what had happened. All that nonsense in her head about wanting to protect her friends from the Kraken, and in the end the Kraken had been the one to save the raft from her fires. She’d held the Dragon under the sea, kicking and scratching and biting, until she’d calmed down. Usually, a Dragon could hold her breath underwater for hours, but after the breath she’d breathed, she was helpless and passed out quickly.
  158. Raoul and Judi both would have liked to talk things out with her, but the great and fearsome Red Dragon was a proud creature who needed no comforting. Not tonight, anyway. Not from anyone who’d seen how easily she’d lost, after months of training. MONTHS! She’d never spent months practicing anything!
  159. Tia lied down on the raft like she always did and hugged her sword, which still felt warm from either her fire breath from earlier or from whatever inner fire that allowed it to strengthen any fire it came in contact with. She bent into a fetal position, wrapped her tail around her legs, and covered herself up with her wings, forming a wing cocoon. Snug and warm, just how she liked it.
  160. “Good night Cecilé” she said, kissing the sword.
  161.  
  162.             ***
  163.  
  164. Albertus de Vries, reanimator, was sitting cross-legged in his tent when he heard rustling outside. There was always someone out there, of course, keeping watch on the fire and keeping watch out for any threats and such, but this time whoever was out there came to the flap of his tent and hesitated.
  165. “What is it?” he asked with a snap.
  166. “There’s been an incident sir” the sailor answered.
  167. “Incident?”
  168. “One of the guards, sir. He’s been, well, he looks to have been raped, sir”
  169. “You think that’s funny, do you?”
  170. “No sir. Nothing funny about it. You better come see for yourself, sir”
  171. There was hesitation. Ever since that day on the ship, Albert had been hesitant to do anything rash or new or… anything at all. He’d never been able to ascertain what had happened – Ludwig’s inane comments aside – and this troubled him. Trying to pinpoint the moment he began to feel like he’d lost something was like trying to pinpoint the moment you fell asleep, impossible. During his meditations he’d looked and looked and hadn’t found anything that could possibly explain why he felt like he did. He spent much of the time he’d been “in meditation” actually sobbing to himself and thinking about Camilla and how much better everything would have been if he’d been by her side again. These past few months he’d begun to realize some very disturbing things, and he was damn glad that Esmeralda and Naomi had come with him on this voyage. He was starting to suspect the thing he’d lost – for whatever reason – had been his magic.
  172. Not a single spell. Just like he’d been unable to get erect for the longest time, he’d been unable to cast a single spell. Of any kind whatsoever, not even simple fireballs or magic lights. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d cast any kind of spell. He really couldn’t. That unnerved him. Maybe some kind of curse had been cast on him. But by whom?
  173. The solution was obvious. Only one person he’d come into contact with had the potential for cursing a great necromancer without the victim realizing it had happened. Oh yes, Sir Ludwig, also known as Ludd the Reaver. Who else?
  174. Albert could remember their meeting well enough. The knight had shown up at exactly the moment he’d needed an adventurer, and when he had begun to hesitate, had not Sir Ludwig gotten him drunk and excited? Oh yes, the manipulative bastard had gotten him drunk and moving along with the plan even when he’d felt uneasy about it, and then along the way every obstacle and adversity was removed. Who removed them? Ludwig. The bastard had been leading him on, hadn’t he? He even killed the guard captain in Port Artorias, didn’t he? And with such little hesitation, for Heaven’s sake! Albert had always been squeamish about making dead bodies. He didn’t mind working with the dead and making them Undead, but making the living into dead was too much for him. He’d kept his cool, of course. Later on, aboard the ship, he’d even told the knight he intended to do something horrendous to Dietrich – he couldn’t quite specify what, on account of being squeamish about such things and all – and sure enough, Sir Ludwig had seemed quite approving of the idea. What a knave he was!
  175. The fear of losing Naomi and Esmeralda had made him cry at nights. If he couldn’t use any kind of magic, he couldn’t restore them if they were hurt. But in time, when he saw how good they got under the Reaver’s tutelage, he began to think a little differently. The girls were quite capable; they always had been, but now? They had reached new heights, even if it had been with the help of a villain. He’d been comfortable letting them go with Ludwig to look for wherever the venom had come, but it had been a hard decision. If the Reaver had anti-magic capabilities, he could easily convert his daughters to his own side, couldn’t he? And that Cecil, the boy seemed to have some kind of animal magnetism that seemed irresistible to all females, regardless of mortal status. The boy seemed innocent enough, though. The way the Reaver had beaten him when the squire managed to score a hit during training that first day on the ship! Incredible, the way the boy stayed positive after abuse like that. Cecil would look out for the girls, at least. If he could. Maybe he was being controlled by the Reaver as well? A villain like that held nothing sacred.
  176. “Sir?” came the voice of the sailor who was still waiting for his reply.
  177. “Quite. Show me to this guardsman” Albert said, stroking his beard. He’d never known the joys of stroking a beard before now. He would keep it.
  178.  
  179. The sailor carried a torch and showed the necromancer to the woods, into a spot that was well outside the light cast by the fire, like a proper guardsman should pick.
  180. He was there, alright, and sure enough, he’d been raped. The man’s hands had been tied to the tree, above his head. Ropes were also tied to his ankles and had left his legs spread wide. His pants were some distance away, his genitalia exposed, and some mysterious markings were all over his torso. Written with what Albert believed to be a paint brush and ink, the symbols were foreign and utterly incomprehensible to him. He had been gagged with his own underwear, which was such a nasty thing Albert immediately removed the gag, wondering why the man who found the victim hadn’t done so.
  181. “What do you think it means?” asked the man holding the torch.
  182. “Hmm” the necromancer mumbled dismissively, wondering whether he should let on or not that he was just as confused and frightened as the rest of them at this incident. More than them, because he knew Ludd the Reaver was with them in this strange new land.
  183. “Take him down, let them man get dressed” the finally decided.
  184. “Thank you sir, I was getting a bit chilly…”
  185. “Tell us what happened, man!” the reanimator snapped.
  186. The victim dressed up an explained what had happened.
  187. “I was just keeping watch, minding myself and the fire and the woods…” he began, but was immediately interrupted.
  188. “You looked from the fire to the dark?” Albert inquired.
  189. “Yes sir, I did”
  190. Albert palmed his face.
  191. “It did not occur to you that looking into the bright light would blind you when you looked to the darkness?”
  192. “N-no sir…”
  193. “Carry on with it!”
  194. “Y-yes sir. Well sir, I was just keeping watch, and then, then someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I couldn’t have been blind to that because it was my ears that hadn’t picked anything up, and when I turned around there was this nice smell, like incense, you know, like they use in the brothels?”
  195. The other sailor present seemed to be nodding empathically, knowing this scent. Albert shook his head though, urging the story to continue.
  196. “Well I couldn’t tell where it had come from, and before I knew it there was a giggle, like what girls make when they’re about to get some, and then my pants just sort of… fell off”
  197. Albert stared at the man with disbelief.
  198. “They just fell off?”
  199. “Yes sir, just fell off. My belt sir, it was gone. And then there was a soft finger on my lips sir, and this girl in the dark, she went like ‘shh’, and knelt, and I knew I was going to get me a hummer, so I…”
  200. “You failed to raise an alarm at an intruder because of, because of?” Albert gasped at his impotent rage and envy.
  201. “Well sir, I thought she might be a wood sprite of a foreign kind, and I didn’t want to make her angry, no good comes from that, making wood sprites angry that is, so I went along with it, and then she just sort of… tied me up and gagged me and rode me an wrote on me, and this went on for a good while sir, like she’d gone a good while without any…”
  202. “How was she?” asked the other sailor.
  203. “Oh, tight all over, like muscles on an Ogre” the victim said happily.
  204. “And what, uhh, what species was she?” asked Albert, feeling like he’d lost control.
  205. “Could be a Succubus, she had the tail for it” the sailor nodded. “But no wings. And I’ve never heard of a Succubus move like that, all quiet-like”
  206. With a heavy sigh Albert paced around, nervous. Whatever, whoever, had done this could still be out there. Waiting for another victim. He turned again to the first of them.
  207. “Get back on the ship and tell them I’m doubling the guard from now on” the necromancer commanded, and the sailor skipped off in a hurry. He’d most likely let everyone know about his newest conquest as soon as he could.
  208. “You think… think she’ll show up again?” asked the sailor still holding the torch for Albert.
  209. “Most likely. But we’ll be prepared now, won’t we? We know to listen for absolute silence and look for what we can’t see, eh?”
  210. With those parting words Albert returned to his tent and continued to meditate. He couldn’t get any sleep now, anyway. Not with SOMETHING out there.
  211.  
  212.             ***
  213.  
  214. Bored. That’s what it was. She was bored. Now how could that be? She was fighting a legendary sword master, a man who had created a style called… something or other. He had a stupid moustache and the shaved head and topknot of a public official, and he had a bit of a gut, which made his old armour ill-fitting and might have accounted for some of his sluggishness. Being out of shape, breathing heavily and being red in the face… it was shameful. She couldn’t remember his name anymore, either. And she’d come all the way here to fight him, too.
  215. “Hi-yaaah!” the living legend shouted, swinging his blade, which actually was pretty nice, probably folded 200 times and all that, and missed when Kimiko swayed her body aside. While he was off-balance from missing her, the fearsome Oomukade caught both his wrists in the grip of some of her little legs, squeezed and bent them to make him let go of the sword and then coiled around him from head-to-toe while inspecting the sword in her arms. He struggled and roared furiously, but he didn’t seem to be afraid. Losing his sword to an enemy was a great humiliation to him, and overrode the terror of what was to come. That meant he had at least once been a great man. Not good enough now, though.
  216. The sword had a bluish tint to the blade. It seemed worthy enough.
  217. “You’re boring. Are you really the best they have in this prefecture?” Kikimo asked, sheathing the sword.
  218. “I AM THE GREATEST THERE EVER WAS!” the redfaced man groaned.
  219. “Don’t yell at me”
  220. “I’VE BROUGHT SHAME UPON MYSELF!” the man kept roaring, now with tears in his eyes. Oh no, he was a cutter. There was only one way to deal with sore losers like him.
  221. “I’m going to bite you” Kikimo warned, and then her pincers pierced into the man’s thigh and pumped venom in him. She very quickly uncoiled, put the band on the sword’s sheath over her shoulder and scuttled out of the room without looking back. There was bound to be some needy Akaname maid somewhere who’d show up and help the man out, so she didn’t need to worry about him going mad with lust and bursting a blood vessel in his brain or heart. She sighed. This hadn’t been a very good day. Maybe now that she’d broken into the fortress and beaten this guy, stolen his sword and humiliated him, they’d organize a posse after her. Those always had one or two guys who stood out in either looks of skills. Never both, though. That was a shame.
  222. Kimiko scuttled across the yard, where archers took aim at her, but none of them loosened a single arrow. She’d climbed over the walls coming in, and she left the same way. She didn’t like damaging property; the people who had to fix things were usually nice and quiet and making their lives more difficult just seemed unnecessarily mean. They never bothered her.
  223. After the fortress was no longer visible in the darkness apart from where it had been set on fire – this too was not her fault, not like she’d thought it a good idea to try and burn her – Kimiko stopped and looked up at the Moon.
  224. “The Half-Moon Temple…” she mumbled to herself. Kimiko mumbled to herself a lot. Not like there was anyone listening to her most of the time. The Moon had put her in mind of the temple that was relatively close, on a little island in the middle of a big lake. A Ryu lived there. She knew how to tell the future and stuff. Maybe she could tell her where she’d find a good man. Now which way was it? Damn. She’d have to ask around, huh? But not back at the fort because that would be kind of embarrassing. There was a town nearby, wasn’t there? Yeah, the road from the fort led there. Goodie!
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