Day 111 – A Paladin is a Burning Light

Feb 1st, 2017
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  1. Day 111 – A Paladin is a Burning Light
  3. “To Knight Reclaimant Victor,
  5. I do wish that I could help you more. The updates you've been sending me have been fascinating. Were there any of the other telltale signs, I'd almost hazard to guess that you've one of the intelligent magical items of old. As it is, I can only guess that there's so much overlap of enchantments that it simply seems as though it were reacting to the outside world.
  7. With luck, our continuing research on the tomb in which it was found will yield more answers. I cannot promise that, of course, but we've never failed to solve a mystery before, and I'm not the sort to leave a text untranslated in any case.
  9. I know that I'm not offering any new insights, but you might want to start making a list. If we could correlate every incident with some specific factor, then we might be able to piece together just what enchantments have been placed on that sword of yours. Again, I wish I had more to offer, but so far it's just been a rather confusing mess.
  11. With my apologies,
  12. Professor Adrain Moore”
  14. I didn't expect that there would be an easy answer, but I thought that I would get more than this. I'm not used to hearing from the professor and still having questions afterward.
  15. “You seem bothered,” I hear the succubus say.
  16. “Do I?”
  17. “You aren't eating.”
  18. I look up from my food to the succubus. “I'm just enjoying the beautiful presentation.”
  19. “Oh, stop,” the elven girl says with an exaggerated wave of the hand and a wide smile.
  21. I finally pick up my fork to start eating, and almost drop it again as the succubus asks “Anything I can do to help?”
  22. I stare at it, fork held before my open mouth. “I don't think fucking me's going to help anything,” I finally answer.
  23. Its expression quickly turns to frustrated anger as it spits out “Never mind” and goes back to eating.
  25. I mentally shrug and go back to my own meal.
  27. ---
  29. It's been a while since I saw the dark priestess out by the roads. I suppose it's luck of the draw, when we both end up on the same side of town, or on the same street. It still stands there, talking to all of the uncaring people trying to ignore it as they walk by, holding its signs. It's no different than the first day I saw it.
  30. But then, I'm wearing the same armor and walking the same routes.
  32. I stand there, watching for a few minutes. It's watching the thoroughfare that leads to the port, and so never turns to look my way. It's only after I've taken a moment to compare its self-inflicted duty and my own that I start to move toward her.
  33. And I slow as I hear the voice calling out, and see the figure approach her.
  35. “Oh miss, I'm just so very lonely, and my sexual needs are completely unsatisfied,” James says as he strides forward. It couldn't be anyone else, with his armor and thick, wavy hair and the smile on his face. Even moreso, that sense of humor. I come to a stop. My eyebrows are trying to climb up my forehead to my hairline.
  36. It seems to be as stunned by this as I am. It glances around, before beginning to speak too quietly for me to hear from this distance. I take a few steps forward without thinking.
  37. “It's terrible, isn't it?” His voice is jovial, boisterous. “It's like, 'I'm a sexual being, with needs!' Women don't get that.”
  39. It stares at him for a moment, and then starts to smile as it steps forward.
  40. He spots me out of the corner of his eye. His smile broadens and brow rises as he turns to face me fully. “Vic? Hey, is that you?”
  41. And just as quickly it turns to face me. It looks back to him, and then casts its gaze downward, seemingly stricken. It turns and it moves quickly away, abandoning the random boxes and signs as it does.
  42. “Yeah man, it's me.” I look back to James just as he lands a light, friendly jab on the shoulder. “What in the Hells was that?”
  43. “Mm,” he starts, absently looking me over before making eye contact again. “Oh, just fucking with a cultist. Day in the life. Hey, how've ya been? It's been what, three months? Four? Crazy. How goes the work?”
  45. It's strange how quickly my world readjusts. The slow pace of days that I'd grown accustomed to is, in an instant, shifted. James is like that; I might as well be sitting in the commons at the academy with him for how it feels right now.. “Oh, fine. Caught me on my rounds. What brings you out here?”
  46. “What, I can't check in on a buddy in some infested hovel?” He laughs, either at a joke or just for the sake of it. “If I can go anywhere I want for my training, why wouldn't I come hang out with a friend?”
  47. “You're working under the imperator, though. What about your duties?”
  48. “My duties are to learn. Where better can I do that than where you just so happen to be,” he says with a flourish, destroying the tatters of the faked innocence he put on for barely a second.
  50. The walk that follows seems so much more comfortable than all the patrols I've gone on before. Part of that is probably the weather; it's starting to actually feel like autumn. The weather has reached that point of mild coolness where it reaches that perfect temperature once you've been out walking in the sun for more than ten minutes. The greater portion of it, though, is in camaraderie. For the first time I'm not walking my rounds alone.
  52. The pleasant conversation, catching up with all the events that I've missed back in Megalos, is interrupted by howls. I look down the stretch of road as it clears, the people on it seeming to remember that they've other places to be rather quickly. “The Hells?” James doesn't answer, but then, he doesn't stop smiling, either. I take a breath, close my eyes, and remember the feeling as much as I remember the word.
  54. ---
  56. "Four are the shields that guard against darkness, and five are the blades that we bring to bear."
  58. “The greatest strength of the darkness is that it is unknown. In hiding, it protects itself from the eyes of all those who are righteous. Manifold are the monsters that seek to protect themselves by avoiding our gaze. By this word, we overcome our blindness, and become hunters of the darkness.:
  60. ---
  62. As soon as my lips are done moving I'm there, and yet not there. I can see the two packs of werewolves as they fight, but I don't see them at all. Sight wouldn't let me see both sides of them at once, nor hide their surroundings in a vague, colorful fog. Sight wouldn't let me feel the fear or the anger. Sight wouldn't let me feel the sensation as claw cuts flesh.
  64. I'm breathing hard as I remember where I am, and my vision is only that of my own two eyes. “Neat,” I hear from my side. “How is it? The words, I mean.”
  65. Painful. Uncomfortable. Worth it. “Werewolf packs feuding. We should move in, in case there's a man at the center of it.”
  66. “Sure. All right.” He doesn't seem to care. It's not like him. He follows me when I move, though.
  68. It's at the corner of the block that we find them, bent over almost as a group in the alley. Seven total. They look at us as we step forward, but it's James who takes the lead. They don't look scared or surprised, but instead simply rise, turn, and walk toward us.
  69. The pack stops a short distance away. Close enough for us to get a good look at them. They're all werewolves – or weredogs with sharp ears, I can't be bothered to tell the difference. Their hair's cut oddly short for monsters which prefer long hair to tempt men, but otherwise ranges the spectrum of blue grey to brown to white. Their scraps of clothing are, needless to say, barely there, but even so theirs are ripped, and there are dozens of bruises and cuts along the exposed skin of their arms, faces, and abdomens.
  70. He steps toward them, smiling comfortably. “So,” he says in that exaggerated way that's more to grab attention than to begin a sentence. “How'd it go?”
  72. One of them steps forward, barely, without changing posture. “We did what we were told.”
  73. “And?”
  74. “They won't becoming back to our turf anytime soon,” the leader says. It raises its head slightly as it does, but not quite enough to look him in the eye.
  75. “You did so good,” he says, talking down to them like a man would his pets. “Yes you did!” All but the white-haired one clench fists, teeth, or both at the insult, but none of them move otherwise. Almost none of them move.
  76. The white dog-thing's tail starts before it does. The slightest smile forms and then grows on its face as it looks down and away from James. "Then," it starts just slightly too loudly. It looks back up to his shoes before starting again, more quietly. "Then, do you think," it manages to make out in a burst.
  78. Its companions very quickly shift from looking at it in mild confusion to openly staring at it with an expression of alarm. One of them raises both its furred hands to below its face as though about to reach out to the weredog, or else trying to brace for an impact.
  80. "Do you think that, you know, maybe," it turns a slightly deeper shade of red and looks back away from him. A single short, determined breath later and it looks at him square-on. "You might marry me someday?"
  82. Stillness and silence answer it. For a pregnant few seconds the only motion is its tail still slowly moving back and forth in anticipation. The rest of the pack is frozen in various states of shock. Some gaze unblinkingly at it in wide-eyed disbelief, while others stare determinedly at the ground. Another has both furred fists firmly covering its mouth. All of their ears are pulled flat against their heads.
  84. James doesn't even blink. After a moment he reaches out his hand and places it on its head. It closes its eyes, smiling further at the touch. "Sylvia," he starts quietly, still smiling his constant, pleasant smile. “Sylvia, Sylvia, Sylvia.”
  86. A startlingly loud crack fills the air, followed immediately by a half-formed yelp of surprise. Its legs almost buckle from the pain, but it's held in place by James' iron grip on its right ear. "I want you to tell me what you did wrong, Sylvia."
  87. It grips at his wrist and lets out a half-screamed, half-cried shout of "I'm sorry!"
  88. Another pop fills the air alongside another muffled cry of pain. "I didn't ask if you were sorry," James states quietly, smiling all the while. "I asked what you did wrong, Sylvia."
  89. The bent, trembling figure manages a muffled and incoherent answer, closer to a squeal of pain than actual words.
  90. "Sylvia," James begins, and she tries to answer him again more fervently and more plaintively, but it only makes her words even more slurred and incomprehensible. He barely opens his mouth to speak again when her grip on his arm turns into plaintive pawing and she breaks into sobs. "We're not done yet, Sylvia."
  91. "Please. Please? I'm sorry."
  93. "Vic? Hey man, you all right?" I almost jump at the voice. James is staring at me with open concern. The figure past him slumps to the ground, clutching its ear.
  94. I try to speak, but my throat clamps shut before my voice escapes. As my attention turns to myself I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I feel out of breath and slightly nauseous. I lift my hand to gesture, but stop when I find that it's shaking. Every muscle is tense; every joint is locked in place.
  95. “Hey man, remember your focus word.” I close my eyes and clear my mind.
  97. Abandoned.
  99. The inhuman beasts stare at me from behind James' concerned face. Their limbs stretch and turn in wrong directions, such that their canine frames assume the most disturbing similarity to human shape and gait. Claws stretch obscenely from their paws in the shape of curled fingers. The worst part, though, is the eyes – without implying any emotion or thought, they somehow convey hunger in the most primal way imaginable.
  101. The image lasts only a second, but it's enough. I only needed a moment to reorient myself. To remember. I straighten myself and brush off James' hand from my shoulder, staring at the kneeling figure of the white-haired dog. “I'm hungry,” I announce. “Let's go grab something.”
  102. And James' face is immediately smiling again. “Good idea.” He turns back to the things and says “Keep up the good work, girls. I expect nothing but good news from here on out.”
  104. It's only when we're half a block away that I give voice to what's on my mind. “You're working with them.”
  105. “Well, sorta. They made the mistake of challenging me. It looks like they were expecting me to lose to their alpha, but instead they got a new one.”
  106. “Why accept?”
  107. “Mostly because it's funny.” I glance at him, and he is, indeed, smiling in amusement. “But there's also the fact that if they get caught, my hands are clean.”
  108. It's a sound plan. Turn them against each other. During the various wars, attempts were made by almost every human nation to try to get the monsters to turn against each other. The idea that the only reason they failed was that the monsters didn't have free access to humans is some bizarre mixture of ironic and depressing.
  110. “So,” he begins, letting the word hang in the air for a while. “Having trouble?”
  111. “Today's the first time. Just a trick of the light.” It's a reference to the first instructor who spoke to us about monsters, back when I was a boy ranger. “They look like that because humans are nobler, righteous. We don't hurt our own – the very idea troubles us. Monsters abuse that. It's no different than a chameleon looking like a branch. Just a trick of the light.”
  112. “Yeah. You should get an indoctrinator to have a look at you.”
  113. I'm already laughing before he finishes the sentence. “I sent up the request already. It's just – I'll get used to it. Can't spend too much time around them, is all. That, and around the collar they try to act civilized.”
  114. “Neat.”
  116. The conversation stops and starts a few times more, but it's clear that something's changed. I've never shown weakness in front of him before. I've always been the perfect fighter, making up for the tiny percentage loss in animosity index with my ridiculous melee combat scores.
  118. ---
  120. “You know, I hear slimes don't actually feel pleasure from sex.”
  121. “Huh. Well, I mean, they don't have – you know.”
  122. “Yeah. They just sort of feel satisfaction from toying with boys. Well, that and not being hungry anymore.”
  123. “Yeah. I mean, I'd probably still do it just for the fun.”
  124. Giggling erupts over the boundary between tables.
  126. “How's the fish?”
  127. My attention returns to my food, even though my eyes had never left it. “It's fine,” I say, and I start eating again.
  128. “You sure you're all right? You look distracted.” He tilts his head slightly as he gives me that appraising look again.
  129. I answer it with an incredulous one. “Don't you hear that?”
  130. He straightens his neck as he listens for a moment to the conversations in the restaurant. “Oh, right. You don't gotta concentrate to hear the things properly.”
  131. I shake my head. “Lucky prick.”
  133. The fish is perfect. It's me that's having trouble. I don't have an appetite anymore.
  135. Why does my ear hurt?
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