Great [Monster] Journey 29

RSanon Apr 19th, 2014 1,532 Never
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  1. “And why in all the Lands would Ahdria want me to hear that?” said Seira, taking another drink. It wasn’t alcohol, but in Mallus water was almost as good. Plus, it wasn’t like they had money to pay for anything. The water was free.
  3. “Context, she said,” said Galen, laying his hands on the table between them. “She assumed there was a good portion of that story you didn’t know, and that it was important you did before trying to take down Medusuub.”
  5. “Hmph.” Seira looked away, lifting her chin with the scoff, but Galen could tell from the focus on her eyes she was reflecting of what he said. Even if she didn’t want to admit accepting help from Ahdria, she wasn’t rash enough to refuse useful information.
  7. “I think it may be of more use than it first seems,” said Sybyll. Her eyes had never left Seira since they walked inside the bar.
  9. “How did you come to think that?” asked Seira.
  11. “Medusuub was wronged as a human, forced to become a monster and likely used that rage to fuel her desire to take the title of monster lord. There are parts of her story even you might sympathize with.”
  13. Galen cringed when he saw Seira’s grip on her mug tighten. “I will never sympathize even the slightest with that bitch of a monster.”
  15. He had no interest in seeing those two start fighting. He leapt in with another thought. “Context is important, but Medusuub’s past as a human could be useful in another way. Wouldn’t monsters lose faith in their leader if they heard she was born human?”
  17. Seira turned to him, but he could swear she was somehow leaving one eye fixed on Sybyll. “That is a good idea, but I fear it won’t be near as effective as I need it to be. It might do something to sway her allies in conjunction with several other incriminating pieces of information, but alone it means nothing. Unless you can somehow turn her back into a human.”
  19. “That’s possible? I mean, it would be a pretty great way to take her legs out from underneath her.” He paused, then added, “Well, it would give her legs back which we could then take out from underneath her.”
  21. Seira shook her head. “No. Many have tried, but no one has even been able to do so. It’s been all but abandoned by anyone that might try. Even bringing it up will get you weird looks.”
  23. “Long ago, there was rumored to be some progress made on that by the most powerful mages, but without any concrete evidence, it will remain in the realm of myth,” added Sybyll. “I’ve heard much about it too, Galen, but it would be best to consider it impossible.”
  25. He silently lamented his joke dying without a single chuckle. Mino, at least, was sitting with a massive grin on her face, probably trying to keep from laughing, so at least he could take pride in that.
  27. His face wrinkled with a slight frown. It seemed so harsh for Mino to be restricted around Seira as she was. He understood why she did it, and to an extent appreciated the consideration toward Seira, but that didn’t make it any more fair to Mino. She should have the freedom to make poor jokes, over-enthusiastic statements, or hum random tunes when Seira was with them. The fact that she couldn’t fully appreciate his humor was frustrating enough on its own.
  29. Seira said she would try, though, and if Mino was content to police herself like this, then he wouldn’t rattle the cage. After speaking with Seira, he felt it was only a matter of time. No matter how much it pained him to do so, this was one thing he would be better off leaving alone.
  31. “Seeing as you’re relaying all this to me because Ahdria wished it, I’m assuming you got something useful out of her in return?” said Seira.
  33. “We… we did, actually.” His voice rang without a hint of enthusiasm. He flipped his pack over his shoulder to rest it in his lap, rummaged through it for a second, the pulled out the result of their negotiations with Ahdria. A fist-sized stone, a kaleidoscope of warm colors that shifted with the light. Resting in Galen’s palm, he could feel warmth flowing into him. Instead of comfort, however, the stone offered uneasiness, like he was holding a dead squirrel that still produced body heat.
  35. Seira leaned forward, moving her head to and fro, taking in the glow of the stone. He never saw recognition in her eyes, only wonder, so he expected the question that followed.
  37. “What is it?”
  39. “A key, she said.” Galen stashed it back in his pack. The shorter he had to touch it, the better. “She was the one who put the seals on the entrances to the castle, so she knew exactly how to open them. It won’t completely break the seals, which probably would’ve been ideal, but it will get us in there when we need to.”
  41. She nodded, leaning back in her chair and taking another drink. Seeing her drink made Galen thirsty as well and he chugged the rest of his water. They were very lucky it was free.
  43. “I don’t suppose she mentioned another seal?”
  45. “Another…? Ah,” said Galen, lowering his head. After getting the stone from Ahdria, Galen had thought their problems were solved, but she brought up a second barrier, one that was going to cause them more trouble. Apparently Seira knew about it as well. “The Covenant. Yeah, she mentioned it, and she said she’d give us a way to break it if she had one, but she knew of nothing. She told us it was too old, even for her.” He absentmindedly grasped Toneruth’s hilt. “Though she didn’t really go into too much detail about it. What is the Covenant, exactly? ”
  47. Seira smiled. “I suppose it’s my turn to tell you a little bit about history. About five hundred years ago, Solvet killed Suusuub II and ended the second human-monster war before it started. You already know this, and you undoubtedly know about the Scar of the World, the great cut in the earth and sea left in the wake of Toneruth’s overwhelming power. It was that blow that struck down Suusuub II and her army. Suusuub III, seeking an advantage over the countless monsters than sought her succession, went to the human king at the time and demanded protection. She said Toneruth violated the spirit of the treaty that it was commissioned under, giving the humans such a significant advantage over the monsters. She wanted something equal, something that could give her a similar power.
  49. “The king was a pushover, one who lived a life sheltered from monsters, so when approached by the monster lord herself, he quickly gave in. Besides, her argument did have some weight to it, especially after what Toneruth had unleashed on her predecessor. The king complied with her demand, but perhaps not exactly how she wished. His cowardice worked against her. Instead of commissioning another sword, one to match Toneruth, he had shield of magic created. Just like with Toneruth, two of the most skilled mages, a succubus and a human, were tasked with the creation of such a shield. Instead of binding magic to a physical shield, however, they decided to take a different angle. They had a jeweler create a necklace and weaved powerful enchantments into it to protect whoever wore it. The creation of it took many years, almost too many for poor Suusuub III, but eventually they finished and presented her with it, called the Covenant as a gesture from humans to monsters to seal the agreement they made with that treaty so many years ago.”
  51. Seira leaned forward onto the table, laying her paws across each other. “As you can imagine, she wasn’t exactly happy with it, but she was in no position to bargain, and had no time to ask for something else. Besides, the thing did exactly what she wanted it to do: protect her. While wearing the necklace, an invisible, impenetrable magical barrier covered her. It was a bit awkward to manipulate items with her hands, and physical contact, even benign, was impossible, but the protection was worth it. Many attempts on her life failed due to that barrier. For a while, it was even thought she was invincible.”
  53. “Then how did she die?” asked Galen.
  55. Seira’s grin lit up her face as if Galen had just told a joke. “She took it off at night. It was just another piece of jewelry and it bothered her to wear it in bed. So that’s when the assassins struck.” She shrugged. “Suusuub III wasn’t a complete fool, but far too foolish to be a monster lord.”
  57. Galen’s head unconsciously nodded while he stared at the table and tapped it in thought. “Did your mom have it?”
  59. Seira’s face soured. “Yes, she did.”
  61. “Then, how…?”
  63. “She was betrayed. That’s how Medusuub’s forces got in the castle, and that’s how they killed her.” Her voice came out low and ruffled. Galen chose not to pursue the subject any further.
  65. “Did you have a plan for dealing with the Covenant, then?”
  67. “I had hoped to find something here in Mallus, but if Ahd--that succubus can’t help us and she’s this place’s expert on seals and barriers, I don’t think we’ll find anything here.”
  69. “Is there a time she takes it off at all, like Suusuub III?” asked Sybyll.
  71. The question grabbed Seira’s attention vividly, likely from Sybyll’s jumping in. Seira paused, biting her lower lip. “Unfortunately, I’ve heard she never takes the damned thing off. That won’t be a valid option for us.”
  73. “Could we remove it? There must be some way to take it off,” said Sybyll.
  75. “We cannot. The only way for the necklace to come off is if the wearer removes it. Anyone else trying to touch the necklace would be repelled.” A hint of a smile returned to her face. “But we do have options. Being a defensive object, the Covenant can’t really stop us from taking the castle on its own, or even save Medusuub’s soldier’s lives, and she herself is only a single fighter. Should we take the castle, we could simply lock her in a room and the Covenant wouldn’t help at all. I’ll admit to being… annoyed at the prospect of taking no further action toward her, but taking the castle and the title back would be acceptable.”
  77. The way with which Seira had to force the words from her mouth did little to convince Galen. If Seira had Medusuub in a dungeon, there was no way she’d leave things at that. Pushing the issue right now would likely only aggravate her, however, so Galen didn’t push it.
  79. “Well, with that finished,” said Seira, slapping her mug on the table, “I think we’ve gotten what we’ve come for, haven’t we?”
  81. “Huh.” The thought hadn’t occurred to him. He’d been so caught up in actually getting things done, trying to make up with Seira, and recovering for the fight beforehand that he never considered when they’d be leaving. “I guess. I mean, you’re the one who wanted to come here in the first place.”
  83. “That’s everything I needed, and I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully ready to leave.”
  85. “I as well,” said Sybyll.
  87. “Me too,” said Mino. Seira glanced in her direction like she’d forgotten Mino was there, but that was all.
  89. ‘I’ll try,’ Seira had said. If silence in a situation like this was trying, well, that was a start.
  91. “I guess if we’re leaving, we’ll need a destination,” said Galen. “I’d like to meet Poseidon next, then head to Uuluth to repair Toneruth.”
  93. “Are you sure you do not wish to repair it now?” asked Sybyll. “Poseidon is a powerful monster likely allied with the monster lord. The weapon may prove useful.”
  95. “I have no intention of using it when we meet with her. Besides, I’m not trying to start a conflict, I’m just investigating the blockade on Nox and trying to change her mind about it. I don’t see how that could lead to trouble.”
  97. Seira chuckled. “Really? I wish I could have that kind of blind optimism.” Her voice lowered. “It’s not going to go as smoothly as you want it to. Nothing ever does.”
  99. Her warning only stirred stubbornness within Galen. “I’ll just be careful, then.”
  101. Seira shrugged, not saying another word. Galen spotted her ears twitching, however, and a grin so smug he could feel his blood heating at the sight of it.
  103. “If that’s settled, let’s get ready,” he said.
  106. **
  109. Night came again, and again passed in heat and silence. The hospital provided lounging for Galen, Sybyll, and Mino, though rudimentary. Seira, however, had apparently left before she’d been cleared, and the doctors were in a fuss to get her back in a proper bed. Though a stubborn manticore, with a little coaxing from Galen, she begrudgingly gave in and was whisked off.
  111. They had no troubles leaving the city. In fact, quite the opposite. Water and food were provided by the hospital, surprisingly enough at no charge. Galen had accepted with an over-eager smile and embarrassed sweat. It wasn’t often he was offered handouts, so he wasn’t exactly practiced in accepting them. Mallus must’ve been rather well off to provide so much for a few random travelers. They even went as far as to provide Mino with a little something so she wouldn’t need to feed off Galen for a while. He imagined Seira was pleased with that arrangement.
  113. The pleasant surprises didn’t end at the hospital, however. As they made it to the city gates, they were briefly stopped and questioned by guards who provided some good news. As they were heading northeast, they were taking the only other viable path from Mallus, and it was maintained much better than the other. Traders and other caravans that came to and from Mallus, while somewhat infrequent, all used that path, while the other hadn’t been touched in many years. Not only were all the waypoints along the path fully-functional, they also emitted a time-distortion field.
  115. Galen’s jaw had dropped open at the mention of it.
  117. While the succubi’s manipulation of time was still fairly limited, they did have the ability to give travelers the chance to make it all the way through the Scorched Lands in one day without the need for horses or a grueling pace like they had set on the way in. A great weight vanished from Galen’s chest and he could swear he heard the other members of the party sigh in their own ways as well. Mino shrunk at least three inches.
  119. As the great heavy gates closed behind them, Galen smiled one last time upon the city before turning to the ferocity of the Lands. It hadn’t been the most pleasant experience, but surely a necessary one. He stole a glance at Seira.
  121. It hadn’t been all bad, either.
  123. Seira was the first to head out, her legs settling into a jog. Galen and Sybyll weren’t far behind and Mino took up the rear.
  125. “They said we’d have plenty of time,” said Galen, checking the sun. There was still a layer of clouds, but it was thin enough to make out the sun. “It’s just past dawn.”
  127. “They said we could make it through in a day. They didn’t specify how fast we’d have to travel to make it through in a day, and I’ve no intention of putting my trust in the words of a stranger.” She looked over her shoulder at him. “Afraid of a little jogging?”
  129. Well, when she put it that way… “No! I just--”
  131. “Just want to enjoy the scenery?” She gestured to the thick spouts of flame to their left and right. As if on cue, a harsh gust of stale, dry air hit Galen in the face. Her tail was swaying back and forth, almost as if wagging at him.
  133. “Fine.” He didn’t have the wits to match Seira this early, it seemed. Later.
  135. A light jog carried them through the Lands for many hours broken up only by infrequent stops for water. Seira lead them like she had on the way in, while Galen, Mino, and Sybyll all jogged fairly close to one another. Galen considered calling out to Seira more than once and asking her to jog with them, but she probably had other things on her mind. Always planning, always so fiercely independent she was. At least after Mallus he kinda understood why. She hadn’t had the time or capacity to consider anyone else in all those years she’d been running and planning. Working with a group couldn’t be easy.
  137. The though made him want to call out to her even more.
  139. He spoke with Mino and Sybyll about some of the things that happened while he was asleep, if they had any trouble in Mallus, and what they thought of the situation. Mino was oddly tight-lipped, and Sybyll gave answers that amounted to a shrug. Either they didn’t have a strong opinion on anything, or their feelings were so strong they didn’t feel comfortable sharing. Before meeting Cea, Galen would’ve thought such emotion was impossible from Sybyll, but now he couldn’t help but think the exact opposite was true. While he spoke with Mino and Sybyll, he kept glancing at Seira. More specifically, her ears. He considered keeping his voice down, but from the constant twitching of her ears, he figured she’d have heard every word regardless.
  141. Maybe that’s the very thing she was thinking about: what happened in Mallus and what everyone else thought about it. She might be judging their reactions, calculating how best to proceed. She may have sniffed out some change in their demeanor and wanted to find the cause of it.
  143. Through all the words passing between them, all Galen could hear was silence. This wasn’t the first time he’d felt this way. Just before they entered the Scorched Lands, he’d come to the realization his group wasn’t close, and Mallus had solved nothing. A common cause had brought them all together for a short while, but now that the dilemma was past, they’d gone right back to how they were before. Worse, in some ways. Sybyll kept a suspicious eye on Seira and Seira sent one back. Mino walked on eggshells around Seira, and her energetic self showed up less and less. Was it because of Seira’s outburst, when she revealed her aim of revenge, when that raw passion of hers broke through the confident, calculated persona she’d set up?
  145. Was it possible for them, even the slightest bit, to see Seira as… a bad guy?
  147. Galen thought back to the beginning of his journey, before meeting Sybyll, before Seira, before even making it to the mainland. His mind went to his first encounter with trouble: the Kraken. Helpless to her whims, even with all the energy and optimism he’d set out with. She’d wrapped him up before he realized the situation he was in, and only with some convincing and a mountain of luck had he made it past her. Helplessness. He’d become intimate familiar with that feeling. Every time trouble found them, it’d rise up again. Even after finding Toneruth, what had he managed? Almost got captured by orcs, put Seira in a jail cell, and murdered three monsters. What kind of hero was he? Who would tell stories about his Great Journey? What sort of father could be proud of it?
  149. Exhaustion began to set in, heat in its wake. Galen’s body pulled him from his thoughts and he found himself panting so hard it could be wheezing. His legs about collapsed from underneath him. The sweat that ran down his body made him look like he’d been caught in a rainstorm. Each breath squeezed at his chest, and with a stumble he broke out of his jog and came to a stop, planting his hands on his knees and bending over to rest.
  151. Sybyll and Mino stopped at once, with Seira a few seconds behind. Seira came back to the rest of the group to get a good look at Galen.
  153. “The pace I set to get to Mallus was much faster than this. Why are you tired all of a sudden?”
  155. “Such a thing is understandable,” said Sybyll. “He has only just recovered from a dreadfully-taxing experience, and the Lands are not an ideal place to rest. His body is still coping.” She rested a claw on Galen’s back. “We should rest here a short while.”
  157. Seira gave Sybyll a half-frown, but shrugged after a moment of consideration. “Whatever. Won’t get us out of here any faster, though.”
  159. Sybyll helped Galen sit down, laying a claw on his chest to check his heartbeat before walking around behind him, then sat up straight against his back to give him something to rest on. Mino sat down at his side while Seira took a seat on a nearby rock. A spout of flame roared in the distance.
  161. “Forgive me for prying, but are you… brooding?” asked Sybyll.
  163. Galen head jerked up, looking to Sybyll as soon as the last word left her mouth.
  165. “Yeah, you don’t seem too happy. I mean, we did just make it out of Mallus and by the end of the day we’ll be out of the Scorched Lands,” Mino added, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You should be happy. You should always be happy.”
  167. Galen squirmed under the touch. His left shoulder was flaring up again and he absentmindedly scratched it. Was he really so obvious? “Brooding? I, well, I was…” His voice trailed off. Should he tell them? Would that help or make things worse?
  169. “You were what? Please, tell us so we can help,” said Mino. Her eyes quivered, as if her greatest was before her.
  171. So they could help, huh. How could he ask them to help themselves for him? He felt three pairs of eyes on him, each with varying degrees of intensity, curiosity, and annoyance. They all probably thought he was wrestling with something inside, something involving with himself, not them. If he told them, would they despise him for it? Lose faith in him? Or, worst of all, not care? Great adventurers didn’t whine about every problem they encountered to others, they didn’t need help to overcome obstacles. When it came down to it, they had the strength and intelligence to push through. His father would probably know what to do here, some magic line to alleviate everyone’s concerns while keeping his pride intact.
  173. “Sybyll was right. I’m just tired. I wasn’t expecting to get worn out so soon.”
  175. Mino sighed, smiling to herself, but Galen could clearly detect two others who weren’t so easily convinced. He’d taken far too long to answer, and now both of them knew something was up. Hopefully, they didn’t push the issue.
  177. “We should rest a bit longer, then,” said Sybyll.
  179. Sighing, Galen relaxed against Sybyll’s back and took a long drink from his waterskin. His shouldered burned again, making him scratch it more earnestly this time. It flared up at the oddest times. Frowning, he wondered when it would actually go back to normal.
  181. They lounged around for a few minutes more before Seira stood up, saying they should probably get going. Their pace had been leisurely enough, no need pushing their luck with daylight. Galen checked the sun and his stomach churned at the sight. Seira was right; night would be falling before long. If they weren’t already close to the edge of the Lands, then they might be in trouble. He gave no protest when they set out a bit faster than before. As much as his lungs might have burned, he wanted to get out of the Lands even more.
  183. Just as the sun was threatening to touch the horizon, they arrived at the outer barrier to the Lands, a small ring of mountains--well, Galen heard they were mountains. In truth, they looked much more like very tall hills. Unlike last time they passed through, there was a clear path leading through. It was hardly straight, but it didn’t appear as brutal as the previous ascent. A grim smile spread on Galen’s face. Almost there.
  185. Seira had already started up the path, her beefy paws easily carrying her along. Galen watched her a few moments before realizing Sybyll and Mino were waiting on him. He bounded into action, taking the first few steps in great strides. His energy got away from him, however, and he stumbled shortly after, saved from a fall only by Sybyll’s quick reactions. Her arm braced his back and gave him a chance to steady himself. Blushing, he muttered a thanks and made to continue, but Sybyll still hadn’t let go.
  187. “This is not like you. Be careful.”
  189. “Eh?” He forced a smile. “I’ve always been a little clumsy.” He looked up the path before them. “Why are there all these mountains and hills around the Scorched Lands, anyways? Seems like an odd coincidence.”
  191. “It is hardly a coincidence.” She released Galen, gesturing for him to continue up the path. “The mountains were formed at the same time as the Scorched Lands. Many say there was even once a great mountain in its place.”
  193. “Wait, one mountain? Or a mountain range? Because one mountain covering the entire Lands would be…”
  195. “Monstrous. It is not known for sure. The Scorched Lands were formed so long ago, at the advent of monsters themselves, that no one alive today can speak with confidence about it.” The traces of an amused smile tinted her face. “Except for the spirits, of course, but they’re hardly reliable for things like that.”
  197. “But there are stories?” Excitement seeped into his voice. He’d never heard a tale about the origin of the Lands.
  199. “Stories, yes. I would not put much faith in them,” came Sybyll’s curt reply.
  201. “Can you tell one?”
  203. A distinct pause preceded Sybyll’s response. Galen had expected a sigh along with it. “It is said that in the center of this continent stood a great mountain, reaching higher than the eye could see and as far abreast as the sea. The former was obviously an exaggeration, but people back then didn’t know exactly how far across the sea truly was.”
  205. “Sybyll…” He stopped climbing to turn around and shoot her a look.
  207. “What?”
  209. “Don’t ruin the story.”
  211. She rolled her eyes but continued. “No one knew how such a mountain came into being, for such a monument surely could not have been a natural occurrence. Some say the great goddess, mother of man, created it to show her power and remind men of who made them. Some say the world itself could see the splendor of the goddess and yearned to touch her. Others say it was the great demon all along, building up power and pressure to burst forth into the world. For all we know, it could’ve been an ordinary mountain that people simply told more and more ridiculous--“
  213. Galen’s glare cut her off.
  215. “What we do know is how things ended up. The mountain turned out to be a sleeping volcano, and when it burst, it did not simply erupt. It exploded. From the base to the tip, rock cracked, roared, and burst, sending fireballs, heat, and thunder into the air. The world heard its breaking. Maybe the great goddess spurned the world for trying to reach her. Maybe the great demon grew jealous of the goddess and destroyed her monument in spite, or perhaps the mountain had been of the demon’s architecture all along. Regardless, in its place it left a void, a great crater from which all forms of demons and demon energy spewed forth. It may be monsters came from this void, or instead infected human women who then turned into monsters themselves. The second would make more sense, given their dependency on human men, but it is all merely guesswork. But that is all the story I know behind it. You would need to find an expert to learn more.”
  217. Squeezing his hands together, Galen shivered. “So cool.”
  219. Sybyll’s deadpan stare said anything but. “It is conjecture and superstition. The truth is more likely something mundane. If a massive volcano was imbued with magic, say, then the subsequent eruption may have breached--“
  221. “Nope!” Galen covered his ears, hurrying along the path away from Sybyll. “The other explanation is much better!”
  223. In his haste, he didn’t catch the warmth spreading on her face, reaching to the corners of her mouth and curling them upward just the slightest bit.
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