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Great [Monster] Journey 12

RSanon Dec 14th, 2013 1,928 Never
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  1. A rank smell invaded Galen’s nose as he stepped around a pile of horse dung. The dusk wind pushed into his face. He squinted into it, blocking it as best he could with his hand. He’d briefly contemplated performing his routine right there in the street, but decided it wouldn’t have any meaning if he didn’t do it first thing in the day. His stomach grumbled, not from hunger, but a creeping suspicion things might take a poor turn as a result of his negligence. The man had caught sight of them, one blue eye glimmering as it locked onto their approaching figures. They said nothing on arrival, waiting for some kind of cue.
  2.  
  3. “Glad you two could make it,” he said, straightening his back off the wall. “I’ve got good news. My boss said she’ll see you.” His grin carried a private sort of happiness, like he was showing off. “So if you’ll follow me…”
  4.  
  5. Waving them onward, he started off with a leisurely stride, his long legs almost liquid in their movements and his shoes hitting the cobblestone road with a sound like a horse hoof. The long coat he wore swayed back and forth with his gait, ignoring the wind as if it were a pesky neighbor. He never made a glance behind him to check on Galen or Sybyll. All business, Galen figured. Sybyll matched the man’s aura easily, but Galen felt like a kid tagging along. He almost spoke up to ask a question several times, but the words kept choking in his mouth. It would be pointless to ask about their destination anyways, as they would soon see it first-hand.
  6.  
  7. At first, the man led them through the main streets, treating everyone as if they didn’t exist. Not a nod or greeting to anyone that passed. Eventually he turned down an alleyway where the group left behind the clamor of the city foot traffic and idle conversation. The sun could do little more than peek through the buildings at them, soft lines of light their only source of illumination in the tightening alleys. The man in front of them took each turn sharp, forcing Galen to jog forward to keep sight of him. On occasion, a lone man or monster would eye them as they walked by. Galen kept his eyes to himself as much as his could.
  8.  
  9. The alleyways became too narrow for Galen and Sybyll to walk side-by-side, so he took the lead without a word. They hadn’t spoken at all since meeting the man, in fact. His pace kept their attentions on him at all times. In a way, he was thankful for their pace. It kept him from obsessing over who this information trader was. Galen’s breathing quickened, the thick, damp air staining his lungs with each breath. The anxiety that choked down his words threatened to suffocate him, and just as he moved a hand to massage his neck, the man in front of them stopped.
  10.  
  11. His deep, smooth voice struck the silence. “Wait here. I’ll let her know we’ve arrived.” He opened the door in front of him, letting it close itself with a yawning creak.
  12.  
  13. When the door rapped shut, Galen shifted his attention to his surroundings. The door lay at a ‘T’ intersection of alleyways, deep within whatever maze of buildings the man had led them through. He though he could hear a whisper of far-off conversation, but no one else stood within sight. The door was set against a wall at the base of a short stairwell, not entirely unlike the stairwell to the hidden room which once held Toneruth. He stepped to the side, giving Sybyll the chance to come forward and get a look at their destination as well.
  14.  
  15. “You seem nervous,” she said.
  16.  
  17. While her tone remained flat, Galen couldn’t shake the feeling she was teasing him a bit. “But just as excited. I mean, this is a big deal! Can you imagine how much an information trader knows? She’ll be able to help us for sure!”
  18.  
  19. She crossed her arms under her breasts. “I hope I don’t need to remind you of the risk.”
  20.  
  21. He arched his back and wiped the sweat from his forehead, frowning. “Don’t have to be a downer about it.”
  22.  
  23. “And you don’t need to act like this isn’t getting to you.”
  24.  
  25. “Hmph.”
  26.  
  27. The door creaked open and the man stuck his head out. “Come in. And I advise you not to try anything with your weapons. We’ve allowed you to keep them because we know there is nothing you can hope to do with them. I just thought I should let you know.” His head disappeared back into the cellar and the door began creaking shut once again.
  28.  
  29. No use hesitating. Galen punched his fists together and descended the staircase. He grasped the door handle and heaved the door open, finding it much heavier than he expected. He waved Sybyll through. She nodded as she passed him.
  30.  
  31. His first step inside was heavier than the rest, but once he left that door behind him, he never let his feet falter. When it thudded shut, he moved forward, despite the chill that rushed up his spine.
  32.  
  33. If the air outside was thick, the cellar air was molasses. Galen swallowed to keep from coughing, wiping his mouth as he walked. The only light came from an open area up ahead, spilling into the cramped hallway like a promise for things to come. At the end of the hallway was another door, this one being held open by the man that led them there. While one hand clenched into a fist, Galen’s other settled naturally on the end of Toneruth’s hilt. His palm dug into the wrapping, its fibers coarse against his skin. Stepping into the lit room ahead, his eyes flickered to the man holding the door before inspecting the room.
  34.  
  35. Five monsters shared the room with the man, Galen, and Sybyll. Two were leaning against the wall on the far side of the room, carrying an air much like the man that led Galen and Sybyll there. The way the shadows swallowed them, he couldn’t tell if they were looking at him or not, or even what type of monster they were. But with their size, tall enough to touch the low ceiling with their heads, and arms muscled enough to tear a man in two, they couldn’t possibly be human. Before Galen sat a table, almost as long as the room, worn with deep cuts and flaking splinters. Just in front of it, on the left, stood a monster Galen almost mistook for a girl at first. But as his eyes adjusted to the light of the cellar, her clearly monster features came into focus. Two curved horns, like a ram’s, jutted out of a head of golden-brown hair. Her legs beneath the knee and arms past the elbows were covering in fur, thick and tan. Instead of feet, she had hooves at the end of her legs, and her arms ended in 3-fingered paws. The garb she wore seemed ceremonial, baggy and well-decorated. A long, green cape around her shoulders covered her back and, clasped at the neck, covered her front as well. One arm extended out from underneath it, holding a cruel-looking scythe. Galen swallowed. It definitely wasn’t made for work in the fields.
  36.  
  37. On Galen’s right, at the opposite end of the table as the girl-monster, a salamander crossed her arms and stared at him. He knew the appearance of a salamander from his father’s stories--strong, prideful monsters with an appetite for combat. Their tails ignited with bright flames when excited, though this salamander’s flames were dulled at the moment. Her height rivaled Sybyll’s, as did her stance… though when he looked harder, he felt as if there was something more to it. Restlessness? He glanced to Sybyll, who was staring at the salamander as well, her eyes intense almost to the point of a glare.
  38.  
  39. The final occupant of the room, and who Galen expected was their information trader, stood behind the table, smirking at the fresh pair of travelers who had entered her domain. Eight legs, spiked at the end, a large, black abdomen, and two smaller appendages right where her body transformed from that of a spider to that of a woman. Her slender arms laid relaxed on a pair of legs, her eyes taking the sight of those before her as if she already owned them. She wore a dark, purple shirt, cut to reveal her stomach but covering everything else. The sleeves and neck ended in white frills, motionless from the lack of wind in the cellar. Her ink-black hair was impressively long, the tips of it even reaching her spider abdomen at points.
  40.  
  41. Galen took in a deep breath, his eyes circling the room, moving from each occupant to the next. He rubbed his fingers into his sweaty palms, checking his posture and comparing it to each of the monsters’. His lower lip curled under his top row of teeth, teetering back and forth. His mouth opened to speak, but the words coming up his throat tasted like poison on his tongue, and they never met the air. A sidelong look at Sybyll revealed nothing he did not expect; a calm, yet confident aura around her, face focused so sharp it put his sword to shame. Her left arm didn’t rest on her sword, though that could be simply because she knew there was nothing she could do with it to help Galen. Her hand still twitched, though, as if it wanted to hold something.
  42.  
  43. “You have sought me out, travelers. Let me hear what it is you wish to know.”
  44.  
  45. The arachne’s voice hung in the air thicker than her presence, smooth and tantalizing, tickling Galen’s ears. He swallowed down the knot in his throat and replied.
  46.  
  47. “We w-want to know where we can find a capable blacksmith who can use magic in the forge and the location of Poseidon, the ruler of the seas.” That was a good reply, wasn’t it? Factually correct?
  48.  
  49. “And what do you offer?”
  50.  
  51. A burst of wheezes, quick and blunt, came from Galen’s mouth. He hadn’t prepared for this at all. “Well, whatever you feel is good.”
  52.  
  53. The arachne stood up taller, almost hitting the ceiling, tapping her cheek with a finger as she looked down on Galen and Sybyll. “Hmm. Hmm. I do so hate lying, and I would be lying if I said I did not have an idea of what I want from you. Since you have been so forthcoming with your request, I shall be the same with mine.” A thin finger extended toward Sybyll. “Your kind has been all but invisible on the mainland for the past one hundred years. Might you share with me the reason so?”
  54.  
  55. ‘Drat,’ thought Galen. Exactly as they feared. He hoped Sybyll could give a convincing answer.
  56.  
  57. “And the information would be worth what we are asking?” she asked.
  58.  
  59. “It would be a good start. You have already learned one of the places I reside and the identity of several of my guards. I would say you are already in a bit of debt,” she said, adding a chuckle at the end.
  60.  
  61. Double drat! Sybyll and Seira had warned him about the dangers and they were already up to their neck in it. He’d have to start thinking of a solution, and quick.
  62.  
  63. “I am afraid I can not answer your question at all. I have been away from my people for many centuries. Their fate lies hidden from me.”
  64.  
  65. Heat rushed to Galen’s face. That was not going to get them out of trouble in any way. Why did she have to answer like that?
  66.  
  67. “No hint? Nothing at all? Even an idea could be worth something,” said the arachne.
  68.  
  69. “I have no conjecture to offer. My village lied north of here and was well-populated when I left it. Perhaps you can find your answer there.”
  70.  
  71. “Perhaps. But that does not help your situation at all, does it?”
  72.  
  73. The salamander placed a claw on the sword on her hip, a gruesomely-thick and long blade. The two monsters in the shadows took their backs off the wall and the man that led Galen and Sybyll there took a step forward from behind them.
  74.  
  75. “Let’s not escalate this at all, yeah?” Galen said. His shaking voice did little to convince the monsters.
  76.  
  77. “I would love to avoid any mess,” said the arachne, crossing her arms. “All you need to do is offer some valuable knowledge.”
  78.  
  79. Galen looked back and forth between Sybyll and the other monsters. Did she really need to be so painfully honest? She was over a thousand years old, there had to be SOMEthing she knew! Yet all she did was stand there, watching the monsters ready themselves for a fight. She didn’t even put a hand on her sword!
  80.  
  81. He leaned toward her, whispering in her ear. “Any help would be appreciated!”
  82.  
  83. “My knowledge is mostly of an ordinary life as a lizardman and as a companion of an already well-known man. It is either so old as to be obsolete, or already spread amongst the public,” she whispered back.
  84.  
  85. “There has to be something!”
  86.  
  87. “Wishing for knowledge will not make it appear.”
  88.  
  89. Galen almost reached out to shake her. Did anything ever disturb her? Shouldn’t she be concerned for his life?
  90.  
  91. “Um, hey! I’m from Nox. No one has made it to the mainland from there for a couple decades at least! I should know something good!”
  92.  
  93. “From Nox, you say?” She ran a finger along her throat as if tickling it. “Unless you’re raising an army there, I’m afraid any knowledge about that island is worth little to me. I already know of the blockade put in place by the Kraken. A curious thing, but nothing of note.” She raised an eyebrow. “Unless you can explain why the blockade is in place? I have been wondering…”
  94.  
  95. “Heh,” said Galen, scratching his head. “I was actually seeking Poseidon to find that out.”
  96.  
  97. “How unfortunate.” She raised a hand, pointing to the ceiling then curling her finger downward. The guards at the front of the room except for the ram-girl started forward, each step slow, their eyes more on Sybyll than Galen.
  98.  
  99. His heart stopped. Think! Think! Could they really have nothing to share? Would his journey really end on such a pointless note, cut up in an empty cellar and left to rot, another nameless death so far from home? His eyes shot between his enemies. The wood creaked beneath their stalking steps, announcing death with each. He had seconds. A weak whimper escaped his mouth.
  100.  
  101. Why were they all staring at Sybyll, anyways? She wasn’t any threat to them. If they were smart, they would just--
  102.  
  103. His eyes lit up and he thrust his hands forward, shaking them in a plea for time. “Wait! I thought of something!”
  104.  
  105. The guards froze. The ram-girl, who had lit a small purple flame in her paw, let it extinguish. At least they were giving him the benefit of the doubt. Galen slowly went for Toneruth, but when his hands touched the sword, the tip of the salamander’s blade was shoved toward him, inches from his neck. He shook his head.
  106.  
  107. “I’m not drawing it. I just need to show her,” he said, nodding to the arachne, “the sword itself.”
  108.  
  109. The salamander’s eyes narrowed, but she stepped back without a word, her blade still hovering in the air between them.
  110.  
  111. Okay, Galen. Time to shine.
  112.  
  113. He removed Toneruth, sheath and all, from his belt, holding it curve-down in both hands as he approached the table separating him and the arachne. Being sure not to make any sudden movements, he laid the sword down and allowed the arachne to inspect it. She rubbed her chin, looking between Galen and the blade.
  114.  
  115. “If you are offering this, I’m afraid I do not deal in arms, only information.”
  116.  
  117. “I’m not offering the sword itself. I’m offering its name.” He tried projecting his voice with strength, but the last word caught in his throat.
  118.  
  119. “Oh? Now this is interesting. This sword is important enough to have a name?” Her eyes glinted in the dim light.
  120.  
  121. “More than one. Sybyll calls it Tellus, but the name you probably know is--“
  122.  
  123. “--Toneruth.” She finished his sentence for him. The word made her salivate, her long tongue slipping out to run over her lips. “I am familiar with its older name. But that is quite the claim! If you can prove it true, and share with me how you came to such a possession, I will gladly share with you the information you need.”
  124.  
  125. He swallowed. There was hope, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet. “What have you heard about it? What can I show to prove it to you?”
  126.  
  127. “Hmm.” She raised her chin, eyeing Galen cautiously. “Two things of note. The first being that monsters cannot touch it. The second being that it does not cut like other swords. Not much is known of Toneruth, but I heard it cuts spirit, not flesh. Show me those two things, and I will believe you.”
  128.  
  129. Galen’s breath left him in a rush. That was simple. He grabbed the handle and drew the blade. When it came free and the short, jagged piece stared back at him, he suddenly remembered it was broken.
  130.  
  131. “Broken? How curious. And the blade is only on one side,” said the arachne, but didn’t stop Galen.
  132.  
  133. He offered her the hilt. “Here, touch it. But not for long. That should prove the first part.”
  134.  
  135. One lithe, smooth arm reached out, the arachne’s fingers wrapping around the hilt. They stayed for not a second before snapping away. The arachne’s eyes darkened as she rubbed the affected hand. “Effective. Have my guards at your sides touch it as well. I want to make sure.”
  136.  
  137. Galen nodded, then offered the hilt to her guards in the same fashion. Their experiences were just the same as hers, though the salamander smirked at Galen after removing her hand instead of wincing like the other two.
  138.  
  139. “The second part isn’t hard to show, either. Watch.” Galen held the broken end of the blade to his palm. He closed his eyes, tensing in response to the impending rush of cold and numbness, but he knew he had to do this. On opening his eyes, he thrust the sword straight through his palm.
  140.  
  141. Instant cold consumed his hand. His fingers, losing their strength, all began to curl and slacken. Just as with the last time Galen struck with Toneruth, the hilt had gone cold, biting into his other hand as well. His brain kept telling him he’d made a horrible mistake, that there was a damned SWORD impaling his hand, but pushed the panic away. He could endure this. Even as his hand transformed into ice, he had to endure it.
  142.  
  143. Instead of the collective gasps he was expecting, he heard only a “hmph” from the arachne. The rest of them, including Sybyll, must have seen something like this before. He showed the arachne the blade had clearly passed through his palm, fighting to keep his face from betraying the icy chills rushing down his arm, before yanking the blade out as quickly as it had been thrust in. The hilt warmed right up, though his pierced hand remained numb. He put his palm forth to the arachne.
  144.  
  145. “No blood. My hand is numb, though.”
  146.  
  147. Her eyes danced with a growing excitement as she took in the sight. “Indeed. And is the effect permanent?”
  148.  
  149. “No, and the stronger your willpower, the shorter it lasts.”
  150.  
  151. “Guard!” she said, gesturing to the salamander. “Place your claw on the table. Boy, stab it as you did with your hand.”
  152.  
  153. He arched his eyebrows in concern. “Are you sure?”
  154.  
  155. “It is not permanent, yes? And you did it to yourself. I am not worried.”
  156.  
  157. The salamander stepped forward and placed her claw on the table, smirking at Galen, probably from his pointless worry. When he glanced back at her, his eyes gravitated to her tail as it was swaying back and forth with more than just a few sparks coming from it.
  158.  
  159. He shrugged. “Alright.” Positioning the sword directly over the claw, he took one measured breath and stabbed. Toneruth ran through her claw with ease, but stopped against the table with a thunk. The hilt went cold, its frigid touch biting into Galen’s hand so hard he almost felt he’d have to let go. For whatever reason, this time the cold was more intense. He couldn’t afford to let this demonstration fail, however, so he held, paying attention instead to the salamander’s claw. Galen watched her digits dig into the table for a moment before she regained composure and relaxed them. After a short time, he figured that was enough and withdrew Toneruth, giving the salamander her claw back. She lifted it, inspecting it closely, front and back, before attempting to curl it into a fist. At least, that’s what Galen suspected. All that happened was a weak twitch from her digits. She looked to the arachne and nodded.
  160.  
  161. “Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.” She put her hands on her hips. “Now explain how you came to acquire it.”
  162.  
  163. Galen nodded, sheathing the blade and placing it back on his hip. “For the past few hundred years, it had been resting in Silere. That is where I found it.” The arachne nodded at Galen’s statement, but let him continue. “It had been sealed away from the world in a room created with magic. One of the ruined houses had a secret passage leading to that room and I found it.”
  164.  
  165. “And how did you know where to look?”
  166.  
  167. “My father knew a lot of stories about it. When I put the information from all of them together, I had a pretty good idea.”
  168.  
  169. “Your father seems like a knowledgeable man. Where did he hear these stories?”
  170.  
  171. Galen opened his mouth to answer, but Sybyll stopped him by putting a hand on his shoulder. “You should not give away information for free, Galen. The woman has stated she will provide you with what you need for the information you have already provided.”
  172.  
  173. A low chuckle came from the arachne. “I cannot help my curiosity sometimes. Do not blame a merchant for seeking the best deal she can find.” She raised her open hands up to her shoulders. “But you have me. I did say that was the deal, so I will uphold my end.” She coughed into her hand. “The queen of the seas, Poseidon, resides on the eastern coast of the continent, a little more than halfway up the shore on a map. There is a cove, the Diamond Blue, where she has made her abode. On rare occasions, she will travel, but for your purposes, you will almost certainly find her there. There may be a few blacksmiths who can help you restore Toneruth, all of which can be found in Uuluth. Your best bet is a man by the name of Edward Smith.” She grinned. “A fitting name for a blacksmith, don’t you think?”
  174.  
  175. “Y-yeah,” said Galen. He winced when Sybyll’s grip on his shoulder tightened, her claws digging into his skin. Looking up to her, he noticed her mouth straining to stay straight and her eyes opened a touch wider than normal. For Sybyll, she might as well have been screaming her shock to the room with that expression.
  176.  
  177. “Sybyll?”
  178.  
  179. “Edward Smith,” she asked, taking a step forward. “You are sure that is the name? Edward Smith?”
  180.  
  181. “You recognize it, do you?” The arachne’s grin deepened, her eyes drilling into Sybyll. “You two are no end of curiosities. Yes, the name is correct. I’ve been told he is the current generation of a line of many blacksmiths by that name. Quite famous for their skill.” Slackening her shoulders, she crossed her arms. “As amusing as our encounter has been, I dislike being around such curious beings with no way of learning about them. If you have further needs, let them be known, else leave.”
  182.  
  183. Sybyll’s hand dropped from Galen’s shoulder and she was right back to her usual self, composed and confident. She glanced down to Galen. “Do you need anything else?”
  184.  
  185. “Uh, no, actually.” He turned to the arachne. “Thank you.”
  186.  
  187. She waved him off. “Just business.”
  188.  
  189. They left the same way they came, the dark man leading them through the alleyways back to the main streets. Galen’s mind clung to that vision of Sybyll, her eyes widening and her grip constricting. What was it about that name that got her so riled up?
  190.  
  191. Heavy footsteps carried him all the way to the street, stopping when the man parted ways with them.
  192.  
  193. “Let me know if you need anything more. She seemed quite happy with the exchange,” was his farewell accompanied by a flourish of his coat.
  194.  
  195. The sun had since set, leaving the streets mostly empty. A few sparse torches lit certain doorways, but the street they were on was devoid of activity. The air had begun to chill, slipping under Galen’s clothing in licks and whispers, sending shivers up his spine. Each breath went down sharp and came out heavy. His eyes wandered to Sybyll, watching her stand up straight, her attention forward but unfocused. She began her walk back toward the inn, but Galen grabbed her scaly hand, stopping her.
  196.  
  197. “That name, where do you recognize it from?” With Seira, leaving these sorts of questions silent was important, but something told him he had to ask Sybyll about this.
  198.  
  199. “When we first met, I told you of a blacksmith and two magi who forged Tellus.” Her fierce, golden eyes gazed down at Galen. “The blacksmith’s name was Edward Smith.”
  200.  
  201. Her explanation cut off there and she took off at a brisk pace. Galen watched her for a moment, swallowing the information, but he couldn’t think up something to say in reaction. Shaking his head, he started at Sybyll. They could talk later. Their footsteps echoed against the silent buildings, buildings which watched the two travelers as they walked. The streets were eerily empty and the cold was starting to get to him. Besides, they still had a deal to keep with the innkeeper, and if the lamia were back, they’d need Sybyll to do the guarding again.
  202.  
  203. “Galen,” said Sybyll, stopping in her tracks.
  204.  
  205. “Yeah?”
  206.  
  207. “Those lamia…”
  208.  
  209. “What about them?”
  210.  
  211. “They see you.”
  212.  
  213. His body froze below his neck. Slowly, painfully slowly, he rotated his head to face where Sybyll was looking.
  214.  
  215. Not twenty feet away stood the lamia, all three glaring at Galen, and his only thought was:
  216.  
  217. ‘I knew I should’ve done my morning routine.’
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