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Great [Monster] Journey 18

RSanon Jan 25th, 2014 1,802 Never
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  1. Silence.
  2.  
  3. Galen had leaned forward and opened his mouth, but when it came time to speak, his tongue found no words. Of all the stories he’d told, he’d never talked about himself. Where would he start? The argument with his father? The Kraken? Meeting Seira? And how much should he tell? Cea could be interested in any number of things, and he didn’t want to accidentally bore her with extraneous information. At the same time, she was still technically a stranger. He didn’t want to tell too much.
  4.  
  5. “Heh, this is awkward,” he said, scratching the back of his neck. “I thought I could just tell my story, but I guess I’m not sure where to start.”
  6.  
  7. Cea closed her eyes and nodded. “It’s alright, dear. Just start where your journey began.”
  8.  
  9. He twiddled his thumbs. “Well, I did tell Roy I’d tell the story over the meal. Why don’t I--“
  10.  
  11. “Nonsense. You can tell it right here. I will recant it for him later.” Her smile shifted to one side of her face, her eyes narrowing the slightest bit. It was just enough to tell Galen he hadn’t a choice in the matter.
  12.  
  13. “Well, umm, I guess the beginning would be in my yard. That’s where I decided to run away from home.”
  14.  
  15. Seira threw her head back, a paw on her chest as she laughed at the ceiling. “You? Run away from home? Really?”
  16.  
  17. His eyes seethed in their glare, but Cea did the berating for him with a click of her tongue. “Now now, I would like to judge the young man’s story for myself.”
  18.  
  19. Ending the laugh with a chortle, Seira sat back in her chair, smug as expressions would allow. Galen took his gaze off of her, trying to find where he left off. He watched Mino, her tentacle-hair swinging back and forth like a pendulum while she smiled gleefully. Right. She would be next, wouldn’t she?
  20.  
  21. “After getting my pack from my mother--“ An unrefined laugh from Seira blew into her paw. She made little effort to keep to herself. Galen huffed and continued. “I ran through town, making my way to my boat. Before casting off, however, I unknowingly picked up Mino,” he said, gesturing to the slime. “I was already a good ways out before my father found out I’d left and made it to the dock. We said our goodbyes and I sailed into the sea. I didn’t get all that far before my first encounter, however.”
  22.  
  23. “That was the Kraken!” said Mino.
  24.  
  25. He nodded. “Yes, the Kraken was guarding the passage between Nox, my homeland, and the mainland.”
  26.  
  27. “Nox?” Cea tapped her face lightly with her fingers. “Very interesting. And why might the Kraken be devoting herself to something so mundane? She sought mates, perhaps?”
  28.  
  29. “She told me it was Poseidon’s order. She didn’t know why, though.” He bit his lower lip as his face heated up. “Looking back, I think she wanted to make me a mate. But Poseidon wasn’t allowing it for some reason. She let me pass under the condition I find Poseidon and convince her to let the Kraken roam freely again… or at least take her share of the spoils.”
  30.  
  31. “Quite a task for someone as young as yourself. To speak to the Queen of the Sea herself, and further, to convince her of something… how do you plan on achieving such a thing? Is that why you now head toward Mallus?”
  32.  
  33. “Ah, well, not exactly.” His hand went to his shoulder automatically, scratching a sudden itch. It’d been days since he’d had that injury healed, but somehow it still bugged him.
  34.  
  35. He proceeded to tell Cea about his rough landing on shore and that first encounter with Seira. The aggressive, curious manticore who’d one second been pouncing on him and the next running away. He couldn’t help himself from glancing over to Seira as he described their meeting, watching those ears of hers twitch back and forth.
  36.  
  37. He still wanted to squeeze them.
  38.  
  39. Next came finding the injury on Seira’s wing and applying the healing paste. It was then Galen realized afterward Seira could’ve very well set off on her own and Galen may not have followed. Sure, she was interesting and owed--thinking of it that way now sounded weird--him a raping, but his destination had always been Silere. He shook his head. Is that really what he’d chased her down for?
  40.  
  41. The lamia caught up with him after that, beating him, crushing him, humiliating him, all in their pursuit of Seira. Now that he knew who Seira was, it made much more sense, but back then he’d just accepted it. Why did he choose to defend her, anyways? What did he owe her? His hand clenched into a fist. And what happened to that bravery? He’d been injured, sure, but only physically. Somehow he was able to get back up on his feet and move forward like nothing had happened. Yet, that encounter back in Fullsburg and the meeting with the information trader had left him shaking, not to mention his attack on the guard.
  42.  
  43. Why would he feel fear now, of all things?
  44.  
  45. “Courageous of you to stand up so quickly after a cruel beating. Where did you head next?”
  46.  
  47. “Silere.”
  48.  
  49. He wanted to swallow the word the moment it left his mouth. No one had any reason to go to Silere, it was a ghost town. That meant telling her his destination would lead to…
  50.  
  51. “Why Silere?”
  52.  
  53. He cringed. Yup. Fidgeting in his chair, he tried to think up a good answer. He’d never been the best liar, though. Except for pranks.
  54.  
  55. “Umm, ahh, that’s…”
  56.  
  57. Cea leaned forward. “From your hesitance, I would guess you’re not comfortable sharing. But if I might make a guess: your destination may explain why you are carrying that very curious sword.”
  58.  
  59. The next sounds that came from Galen’s mouth were far from intelligible. Seira’s ear’s immediately stopped twitching as she sat up straight in her chair. Mino pushed her hands into her lap so hard they melted into it. How could she know?
  60.  
  61. “That certainly got a reaction.”
  62.  
  63. Face red as a beet, Galen slapped a hand to the back of his head. “I, uh, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
  64.  
  65. A soft chuckle emanated from Cea’s lips, her chest bouncing up and down with its cadence. “I would ask to see your sword, but something tells me it would burn my hand, should I try to touch it.”
  66.  
  67. “Geez, I feel like you have me at a disadvantage, now.” Sweat met the hand on the back of his neck, smearing over his skin.
  68.  
  69. “It was just a guess, but you can learn an awful lot simply from people’s reactions.”
  70.  
  71. “Just to be sure: you think this sword is…?”
  72.  
  73. “Toneruth.”
  74.  
  75. He swallowed, his entire body freezing as if encased in ice. She pretty much knew. Could he just admit it?
  76.  
  77. Seira gave voice to the most obvious question. “How did you know?”
  78.  
  79. Cea’s eyes drifted from Galen to Seira. “Because I’ve seen it before. And Toneruth is not a sword you forget.”
  80.  
  81. Galen found his voice again. “Then, you knew Solvet?”
  82.  
  83. “I knew the sword, traveler. I watched it be drawn and wielded. I watched it strike down monsters without leaving a mark. I watched it slice through armor, skin, and bone as if such things did not exist.” She leaned forward. “But now that it is here, and we are clear on what it is, would you mind satiating my curiosity? I would like to see it free of its scabbard once more.”
  84.  
  85. Galen glanced over to Seira and Mino in turn, taking a deep breath before sitting up straight and grasping the hilt. Holding it as gently as he could, Galen pulled the sword free, his face darkening on being once again reminded of the state of the blade. A pitifully short, jagged thing stared back at him, bare in the light of the fire. It thrummed with a low, monotone whisper, vibrating just enough to appear blurry in his vision. Cea hummed to herself, scratching her chin as she gazed at Toneruth. Her eyes narrowed on seeing the broken tip. Mumbling something under her breath, she crossed her arms and leaned back, nodding to Galen.
  86.  
  87. “Thank you. You may put it away now.”
  88.  
  89. Just as carefully as he drew it, Galen sheathed the blade, letting the clink of the guard hitting the scabbard reverberate through his ears. That was the second time he’d drawn it for the purpose of showing off to someone. Both times for arachnes, in fact. Kind of a funny coincidence.
  90.  
  91. “If you’ve, um, seen it before, is there any chance you might know how to fix it?” he asked.
  92.  
  93. She shook her head. “I am no blacksmith.”
  94.  
  95. “Figures. Can’t hurt to ask, though.” He sighed, falling back into his chair.
  96.  
  97. “Please continue,” said Cea.
  98.  
  99. “Continue? Oh, my story. Yeah.” He looked to the ceiling in thought for a moment before getting back on track.
  100.  
  101. He spoke of the rest of his journey, walking through the scenes in his mind as the words came to his mouth. The river crossing and the orges chasing, their arrival at Fullsburg, waking up to Mino on him and the fight afterward, meeting the information trader, and the fight and flight from the city. Each came to mind easily enough, though he held back some detail on… certain occurrences. Cea smiled, nodded, frowned, and mused as he spoke, sometimes offering a question, but remaining silent most of the time. She hardly seemed like the intense, oppressive monster who had put Galen on the spot a moment before.
  102.  
  103. After talking about the previous night in the small forest--without mentioning Seira’s little surprise--he clasped his hands together and said, “And that’s about it. The day following that is today and we ran into Roy while he was hunting, as you know.”
  104.  
  105. Cea’s mouth turned into a whimsical smile, as if Galen’s story had made her privy to the secrets of the universe. Her fingers fell one after another onto her unblemished cheek as her eyes wandered over the three travelers in front of her. Galen thought to ask her what she was thinking, but such a question would certainly spoil whatever mood she was in, and he was of mind to avoid her ire.
  106.  
  107. She sucked in breath as if to speak, but before she could, Roy entered from the back door, his heavy footsteps announcing his arrival.
  108.  
  109. “Everyone to the dining table! There’s meat to be had!”
  110.  
  111. Galen needed no encouragement. As he left the chair, however, something like an invisible string pulled at him. He stopped halfway to standing and looked to Cea.
  112.  
  113. “Is that all you wanted to hear?”
  114.  
  115. Her smile widened, showing white teeth. She dismissed him with a wave. “It’s alright. We’ll have plenty more to talk about over a meal.”
  116.  
  117. Everyone took seat at the table as Roy brought the food in. Everyone but Sybyll, that was.
  118.  
  119. “Hey, Roy,” said Galen, “is Sybyll out there?”
  120.  
  121. “Oh, yeah. She kept me company while I cooked.” He smiled. “Felt like those eyes of hers were judging my skills, so I had to put on a good show!”
  122.  
  123. “Is she coming in?”
  124.  
  125. “Nah, said she’d wait outside a while. Guarding, or something. She’s sitting on the back porch right now, if you want to go get her.”
  126.  
  127. Galen looked down at his plate. “No.” He voice softened. “No, that’s fine. I’m sure she’s got a reason.”
  128.  
  129. “A reason to miss out on my cooking? Not in this world!”
  130.  
  131. Galen tried to find some humor in Roy’s enthusiasm, but the longer Sybyll remained outside, the longer it bothered him. Fortunately, supper conversation offered some distraction.
  132.  
  133. Cea wasn’t exaggerating when she said they’d have plenty to talk about. Galen thought his story would’ve been enough to satiate her for a while, but the ushi-oni was relentless. Roy’s exclamation about her earlier came to mind.
  134.  
  135. ‘If you’re not careful, she’ll have you running your mouth till your jaw hurts.’
  136.  
  137. Never becoming more animated than a cheerful smile or a soft chuckle, she went to Seira then Mino, asking each whatever came to mind. For some reason, she didn’t ask them their entire stories as she did Galen. Could she possibly see something in them he didn’t? A warning not to pry further? Seira certainly fielded Cea’s barrage more eloquently than he did. She spoke without saying much, no matter how Cea prodded her.
  138.  
  139. To Galen, Cea’s questions seemed a bit random, but he didn’t take her for someone to waste even a single inquiry. It would be up to his wit to figure out what her aim was, however, as she answered any questions directed at her with a succinct reply. Only with urging from Roy did she reveal more, and even then it wasn’t much.
  140.  
  141. Whenever Roy had the attention of the table, it was like she was someone else. Her visible eye was more alight, her smile more genuine, her motions lax and frank. His jokes were funnier than anyone else’s, his stories more immersive, and his arguments more compelling. It almost seemed like an act from where Galen sat. Yet something told him the act was the colder, more intense version of Cea, and the true one only came out around her husband. Something was so familiar about this scene, he just couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
  142.  
  143. Amongst the stories, the revelry, the smiles and the glares, his shoulder itched. Amongst the sweet honey smell of meat, the sharp spices and bitter herbs, his tongue ached to ask a question. In spite of the dancing candle flames, the animated gestures, the odd way Mino’s body swayed with the conversation, he attention kept returning to the back door.
  144.  
  145. ‘Where are you, Sybyll?’
  146.  
  147.  
  148. ***
  149.  
  150.  
  151. The night whistled at Sybyll. Behind her, the buzz of conversation drifted to her ears, but she had little mind to make out the words. In the distance before her, a wall of trees swayed back and forth as if waving farewell or perhaps hello. Distant and silent, the dome of the night sky watched over her, ink black with a touch of purple that may have lost its way from a rainbow. Silhouettes in the dark cackled at her, at each other, at the gusting wind which created them. Even though she didn’t feel cold, she huddled her arms together, squeezing her biceps and feeling her rough lizard scales dig into her human skin. Two things in such contrast had no business belonging to the same creature.
  152.  
  153. Just as that ushi-oni had no business lying along her path. She was a memory, a shadow, not meant for the flesh and blood body she still possessed. Yet there she had stood, in front of Sybyll, defying what should be. Perhaps she had seen something in Sybyll’s eyes in that meeting, something that asked for her silence, as she had said nothing of their prior knowledge of each other. Sybyll could not step into that house. That was all she knew.
  154.  
  155. But that did not mean someone could step outside to her.
  156.  
  157. “Does the cold still not touch you?”
  158.  
  159. Sybyll slowly stood from the porch, turning to watch Cea as she took a seat next to her. “It has not. But I can’t help but admit to a certain chill tonight.”
  160.  
  161. Cea smirked. “No need to be so dramatic, Sybyll.”
  162.  
  163. “I speak only of fact, Sag-Sceaduwe.” Sybyll sat down where she was earlier.
  164.  
  165. “Ah!” Cea clapped her hands together. “You remembered. How flattering. I was wondering what the years would do to your memory.”
  166.  
  167. “They do the same to me as they would anyone else. My agelessness does not make me immune to atrophy of memory.”
  168.  
  169. “If that is the case, have you forgotten about the symbol you wear? I did not see it earlier. Is it still under your armor?”
  170.  
  171. Sybyll laid a claw on the inside of her thigh. “I have not forgotten. It digs into my skin with each step.”
  172.  
  173. “Then why hide it? It was meant to be shown off in the first place.”
  174.  
  175. “It is not something I wish to brag about.”
  176.  
  177. Cea sighed. “It’s hardly bragging. And even if you haven’t told me what you got it for, that doesn’t mean you should keep it a secret forever.”
  178.  
  179. Sybyll’s claw squeezed. “I am comfortable with where it is now.”
  180.  
  181. “Very well.” Cea leaned back on her arms. “Five hundred years, and you haven’t aged a day.” She chuckled. “It’s not that I ever doubted, but it’s another thing entirely to witness.”
  182.  
  183. “Your speech has changed.”
  184.  
  185. “You can thank Roy for that,” she said, smiling as she pointed a thumb over her shoulder toward the house. “I can’t say I’m unhappy with the change. Your speech has changed as well.”
  186.  
  187. “Has it? I haven’t noticed.” Sybyll turned back to the open field, looking for something to focus on. So many blades of grass offered their dance in the wind, she couldn’t pick one out amongst the sea.
  188.  
  189. Cea watched the plain with her, waiting for something more. The chilly wind beat against her fur, tickling her skin where spider met woman. A finger lowered to play with the offending fur, her smile fading the slightest bit as she looked down.
  190.  
  191. “You’re much more quiet than before.”
  192.  
  193. “Perhaps. I believe I merely have less items of importance to speak of.” Her gaze, that iron visage flinching not even for the wind, remained directed outward.
  194.  
  195. “Do you? You may be mistaken there. While you were never one to mince words, that didn’t mean you had a shortage of them, either. Even though we never came this far to the south and west, you spoke of it often. The worn trails desperately patched with rock, the towers of corn you’d hide in, how you neglected harvesting to try catching fish with your bare claws--always something.” Cea laid her hands on her two front legs. “But tonight I’ve heard not a word and caught not a glimpse of you. Do you not enjoy the memories? Does this place bring you pain?”
  196.  
  197. An tenth of an inch. No, less. But Cea caught it. That tiny shift of Sybyll’s brow, the way her lids closed that fraction of a touch. She knew Sybyll too well to let her get away with it.
  198.  
  199. Sybyll’s nostrils flared as she sucked in a great breath, her mouth still stalwartly closed till she spoke. “Pain? No, that is not the word, I do not think. The wasp’s sting of longing is too dulled for pain. It is a curiosity mixed with resolution. Odd, I must admit. I am curious about that lizardman you speak so fondly of, yet my memory blurs together too much for me to discern who that might be.” She looked downward into claw, staring at the ridges on her fingers. “Age has taken that from me, but such a thing cannot be blamed. How am I to curse the years as they pass? And what good would it do? I have duty, still. A wielder, a master. War approaches again, and I might be the one to stop it before it starts. It is as it happened last time.” Her claw closed into a fist. “And I am willing to give myself once more for that purpose. That is why they chose me, do you not think? Why they bound me to the sword? I will not forsake them.”
  200.  
  201. Cea’s hand twitched where it lay. She would have reached out to Sybyll, offered a comforting touch, should it have been possible. “You have earned more than that. Consider yourself for once, Sybyll.”
  202.  
  203. “I did.”
  204.  
  205. Meeting eyes with Sybyll, Cea offered all she could in a look. Sympathy. Empathy. Pain for a friend. Condolences. Words that could not meet the air without soiling it.
  206.  
  207. “I wish I could offer more. I hurt to see you depart again, lonely as you are.”
  208.  
  209. “I have company.”
  210.  
  211. Cea lowered her head to offer a more dangerous look from her eye. “That is not what I meant and you know it.”
  212.  
  213. “I have company enough,” said Sybyll, offering a compromise.
  214.  
  215. Slacking her shoulders, Cea gave a slight shake of her head. And dared to speak further.
  216.  
  217. “He loved you, you know.”
  218.  
  219. “I am aware.”
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