Great [Monster] Journey 33

RSanon May 24th, 2014 1,506 Never
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  1. Galen collapsed on his bed, eyes drifting to the cold stone ceiling above. Salty air, wandering in from the sea, slipped into his room beneath the silent, stalwart door. He wondered if he’d ever get the smell out of his nose. His hands flipped over to grip at the sheets, running along the fine patterns whatever seamstress had woven into them. His pack lay atop a dresser across the small room, his only company apart from the flickering candles. He should be thankful for Poseidon’s hospitality, but no cozy mattress, styled sheets, or oaken bedframes could ease his mind. As his body slowly sunk into the bed, he sighed, trying to count the innumerable specks and imperfections in the blue stone of the ceiling.
  3. In his mind, he saw Poseidon towering over him, back in the throne room, clear as day.
  5. “You must unleash Toneruth, fill the sky with Scarlet Lightning, and create the second Scar of the World on her corpse.”
  7. He didn’t even know how to properly use Toneruth yet, much less cut through sky, sea and earth with the force Solvet had! Galen had blinked wordlessly at the monster standing over him, fighting every instinct to step back.
  9. “I-I don’t know if I can,” he had said.
  11. “You must, else we are doomed to know war again.” Then, to the entire group, she had said, “It will be dark soon, and I will not leave the safety of our futures to chance. You will rest here tonight, and on the morrow, you will continue your journey with all haste.”
  13. She hadn’t allowed any protest after that, waving for guards to take them to their rooms. In the end, there wasn’t much reason to protest. Poseidon was correct about the time, and they would do good with a peaceful night’s sleep. Seira had disappeared off on her own as she always did, Sybyll retired to her room, and Mino had taken off, likely to meet with the other slimes nearby.
  15. Galen rolled over onto his stomach. This felt much like the beginning of his journey, only without a momentum born of excitement and ignorance. He was alone once more, with nothing but the unknown before him, and unknown that loomed that much darker and taller now that he was aware of it. He understood why his father had been so set against him leaving; he’d been so obliviously blind to the dangers of the world and all the complexities and subtleties which came along with them. He cringed, remembering his first encounter with Seira. How he took up his sword and proudly declared his intentions like his opponent had any sort of obligation to show such reckless abandon respect. He’d been lucky Seira was one of the nice ones. Well, nicER ones.
  17. “Dad, why didn’t you just tell me?”
  19. The bed muffled his words, words only meant for himself. It wasn’t just the village’s past he wish he’d known, but everything about the mainland. About who the monster lord really was, about the tensions between man and monster, about war and peace, about the great cities and dark alleys. Sure, his father’s stories said something of it, but they were all so far removed from the truth they could’ve done harm just as easily as good, and his father had to have known that! Was his ignorance supposed to be some excuse to keep him home, on the island? Or was he so protective that he didn’t think Galen could handle the truth? Galen was going to have to grow up some day!
  21. Two knocks, clear and concise, came from the door.
  23. “Hello?” said Galen, shifting his head to face the door.
  25. The knocker did not answer. Instead, the doorknob turned, revealing a mesh of soft, shuffling noises. When he saw the tentacles squirm past the door, his eyes lit up and he scrambled to sit up straight on the bed. Poseidon’s head came into view while he was in the middle of brushing himself off. Between the slithering mass of tentacles and the tall, sturdy woman atop it, she practically took up the entire room.
  27. Her curt smile did little to help Galen’s blooming blush.
  29. “P-Poseidon! Hi! Um, sorry, I didn’t expect--“
  31. She cut him off with a raised hand. “It is alright, I did not come for formalities.” The way her frigid-blue eyes narrowed in on him sent a shiver up his spine. “I came because we must talk. Shall we walk.”
  33. Her last words were phrased as a question, but spoken as a declaration. Galen had no time to respond before two sly tentacles coiled around his wrists and helped him off the bed, dragging him forward until he’d started walking on his own.
  35. His chest burned and his forehead throbbed as if afire. Any blush had been long forgotten. His feet stepped lightly, as if disturbing the floor too much might anger Poseidon. He brought his shoulders in and clasped his hands together in front of him, keeping his frame and stride timid. Talking up to a magnificent monster on her throne was one thing, but talking to his host, alone, in a hallway cramped by her size and presence, nearly melted him to a puddle on the floor. Even how she carried herself was different, as if they were taking an afternoon stride on a road, without a single worry before or behind them. He could only guess as to her purpose.
  37. “So, um, not that I’m unhappy you visited, but I’m unsure as to why. I didn’t--and still don’t--object to your plan.”
  39. A calculating eye focused on Galen. “That is good to hear, but that is not why I have come. As I said before, I do not intend on leaving our futures to chance.” Her gaze returned to the hallway ahead of them. “I need to make sure you are someone who can carry out this task.”
  41. Galen rubbed the back of his neck hard enough to turn skin red. A valid concern, one he had as well. Should he tell her or keep quiet? If she decided he wasn’t able, what would she do? Poseidon walked the line between helpful and obscure too well for him to come up with a safe answer, so he voiced the next thought that came to mind.
  43. “How exactly are you planning on doing that?”
  45. “You will find the answer at our destination. Come.”
  47. She waved at him to follow, descending a flight of stairs with a grace Galen didn’t think possible with tentacles. They came to a hallway much like the last, just wide enough for Galen and Poseidon to walk side-by-side, oaken doors lining the walls, identical except in the ripples upon the wood. Several doors down, Poseidon stopped, bringing up a tentacle to stop Galen at the same time. He looked forward, but saw nothing out of the ordinary, then looked back to Poseidon.
  49. “There,” she said, pointing to a door not ten steps away. “In there is a certain harpy, someone I have offered shelter to while she recovers.”
  51. Galen’s brow furrowed. “And why are you showing me this?”
  53. “Do you know any harpies, Galen?”
  55. “No...” The word came out slow, as if he expected it to be the wrong answer.
  57. “I think you do. Try to recall whom you have met.”
  59. “I can’t--“ He took in a sharp breath, eyes stricken with languidness and his body twitching as if wincing from a blow. “I didn’t really know them, but there were two harpies.” His head sunk. “I killed them.”
  61. “Did you?” Her thick voice hooked as if amused by the statement. “This specific harpy is a scout working for the monster lord. She came to me not a day ago, exhausted, bruised, and quite determined to relay what she had learned. It turns out she had been a part of a small group tasked with taking out a certain monster lord’s daughter, a manticore on the run who might still become a disruption to Medusuub’s plans. With one other harpy and a mothman, she raced to cut off this manticore on the route they suspected she’d be taking.” Her gaze remained steady on Galen’s animating face. “They encountered this manticore twice, once on the border of the Scorched Lands, once inside the Lands themselves, both times failing to kill the manticore, driven off by her companions.”
  63. His mouth hung stupidly open, eyes blank as they stared at the door Poseidon had indicated. It wasn’t possible. Sybyll had told him Toneruth’s magic killed her! How could that harpy still be alive?
  65. “I-I-I don’t know what to… is that really the harpy? W-why are you telling me this?”
  67. Poseidon crossed her arms beneath her breasts, causing the waterfall of fiery hair to splash along her shoulders and flow inward over her chest. “Soon, before the moon falls for the night, she will leave to tell Medusuub of all she knows of you. She followed your group along the path here, and when she was certain of your destination, rushed ahead to inform me. She may not know your intentions after leaving her, but with her knowledge, Medusuub will probably figure out enough. She will put our plan in jeopardy by giving Medusuub time to prepare.” Poseidon’s eyes grew colder. “It is up to you to kill her now, while she sleeps, to prevent that.”
  69. Galen had to work his jaw several times to get it functioning. “Bwah? Kill her? That doesn’t--“ He cut himself off, then lowered his voice. He didn’t want to wake the harpy. “Why tell me this now and not earlier when my group was still together? Why do you want me to kill her? Why can’t you, or one of your soldiers? Heck, anyone but me!”
  71. She straightened her back, lifting up higher upon her tentacles. Or was that just Galen’s imagination? “Because you are the one who will strike with Toneruth, and if you cannot strike an ordinary opponent with an ordinary blow, then how are you to strike Medusuub with Toneruth’s greatest power? Besides, that harpy is your enemy, is she not?”
  73. He threw up his hands. “Isn’t she yours, too? Why are you even offering her a place to stay, anyways?”
  75. “I am still the monster lord’s associate. Her interests are mine, and by extension, that makes this harpy an associate of mine as well. I would not keep her from her duty.”
  77. “Then why are you helping me?!”
  79. “Because I believe the monster lord’s actions are irresponsible and reckless, and she should be replaced.” She lifted a finger. “But she has not been replaced, not yet, so I will still aid her where appropriate. Should I kill this scout now, and word reach Medusuub, I will be in a sore position if you fail to complete your task. The world of monsters will suffer for it; my forces and Medusuub’s splintered right upon the brink of war. Humanity could very well wipe us out, and I will not allow such a possibility.”
  81. “So you won’t kill her because of… politics?”
  83. She gave a slight nod.
  85. “But you’ll allow someone else to kill her under your nose.”
  87. The same nod.
  89. Galen eyes wandered back to the door. A pawn. That’s all he was to Poseidon. She didn’t see a man, but a tool, one which she doubted the mettle of. Seira, Sybyll, Mino were probably all much the same. Here she tested if her pawn would jump when she asked it, strike when she ordered. Exactly how much of this situation did she foresee and how much of it was beyond her control?
  91. Wrinkling his face with frustration, Galen glanced back and forth between the door and Poseidon. It would give him much pleasure to wave her off, throw her little test back in her face and return to his room. Did she think him blind enough not to see what she was doing, or did she want to see what he would do despite that knowledge? Regardless of her intentions, the facts were before him. If indeed the harpy was still alive, she would know what they’d been through, what their goals were, and when they would come. She’d know Ahdria had given them the key, know Galen had Toneruth, and Seira was coming to removed Medusuub from her throne. This was the only chance they had to kill the harpy. The only chance Galen had.
  93. “If you are so unsure, why don’t you fetch one of your cohorts to do it for you? I imagine Khertaleon wouldn’t hesitate.”
  95. “No! And her name is Seira!”
  97. “It is Khertaleon as well, little human. Do not forget.”
  99. Galen grimaced. Whether he killed the harpy himself or asked she be killed, it was the same thing, the same result. He wouldn’t have anyone carry this burden, not even Seira, who would gladly take it from him. The salty air wisping down the corridor thickened around him, as if it grew heavier with the weight of his thoughts. His right hand unconsciously went to his shoulder. This wasn’t the first time he’d held the harpy’s life in his hands. Before they’d entered the lands, Seira had been ready to strike the killing blow and he’d stopped her. Even when she had screamed at him his foolishness, he’d held his ground. For days she turned her back to him, and he understood exactly why. This, too, she would hold against him, should he let the harpy live. Was he ready to face that anger again? What did he know, really? Time and time again, the world had thrust upon him proof of his ignorance. How could he hold onto his reckless beliefs in light of what he’d learned? How many would die so he could keep his hands clean?
  101. ‘For duty and want of self.’
  103. Sybyll’s voice echoed throughout his head, those words spoken in the same solemn tone as last night before the fire. Galen had his trial before him, and for needs beyond his own, he had to make his choice.
  105. “I need a sword. The one I have won’t cut what I need to cut.” His voice didn’t carry it, but his arms trembled.
  107. Poseidon produced a sword. Galen didn’t ask where from, only snatching it and walking toward the door. He paused with his hand over the doorknob, but gave himself only a moment. Quietly as he could, he opened the door and stepped inside.
  109. Poseidon watched from the hallway, arms still crossed, appraising the young man as he disappeared into the room. Though his face drooped with the weight of the task, it was best he face this harshness now, rather than before the monster lord. Her face twitched. Memories of when Gladiel and her human companion were here had brought out her soft side, she supposed. The similarities were striking.
  111. An unholy shriek exploded into the hallways, ringing through Poseidon’s ears and into her skull. A sleeping opponent and a bladed weapon did not turn Galen into an experienced assassin; his kill was neither silent nor quick. Still, from the pain born of that shriek, she could tell he had struck true enough. When a second shriek rang throughout the area, Poseidon’s face turned grim. Only death could follow.
  113. Galen emerged from the room, sweating, panting, and holding the sword Poseidon had given him in one hand. Its edge had drank blood.
  116. **
  119. Shadow and gloom held the night, falling like rain over the beach. Galen’s hands dug through the sand, its coarse waterfalls flowing between his fingers. He’d kill for a rock, just one stupid rock, to throw into the ocean. Yet the beach was apathetic to his desires and offered nothing. Huffing, he stood up, hands on his hips, and started walking.
  121. His steps were not the only ones.
  123. Stopping, he hung his head. It must’ve been too much to ask for some time alone out here. Even running from the palace after… after that harpy, he couldn’t slip away from everyone.
  125. The footsteps ended a few short of him.
  127. “You are troubled,” a stark statement from an stoic voice which could only belong to Sybyll.
  129. “A little, yeah.” He wasn’t going to even try to hide it from Sybyll. Too much of himself laid bare in the moonlight.
  131. “Is it the mission that troubles you?”
  133. He rolled his eyes. “Sure. Let’s go with that.”
  135. “If that is the case--“
  137. He spun to face her. While he couldn’t tell it himself, his face had solidified with anger. “Sybyll, why did you follow me?”
  139. She twisted her head a little to the side, keeping her eyes on him. “This is not like you.”
  141. “I’m always like me. That’s what makes, ‘like me’, like me.” He slapped a hand to his chest, fighting the urge to squeeze his shoulder. The pain was beginning to flare up again.
  143. “You know my meaning. Your troubles have not angered you before.”
  145. “No, Sybyll, they really have, I just haven’t shown it.” He turned around, kicking at the sand as he walked. “Because this time is worse.”
  147. “You do not know why your father never told you about his past. You do not understand why you are the one given this task.” Her tone deepened. “You do not know how you will carry it out.”
  149. “That’s all pretty obvious.”
  151. “I cannot help you will all these things, but,” she paused, taking a breath, “I do have experience with the second.”
  153. Galen let his arms fall to his sides, closing his eyes as he let his head tilt back. That’s right. She had been given an extraordinary task, one she was still carrying out. One she might be fulfilling for as long as swords have a place in the world. “Then maybe you can tell me how my adventure turned into this.” He opened his eyes up to the glowing moon. “You know, if I had told the Galen that started this whole thing out that he’d get to go up against the monster lord and save the world, he’d be ecstatic.”
  155. “But you are not?”
  157. He opened his arms, presenting himself to her. “Take a look.”
  159. Sand shuffling beneath her feet, she took a few steps forward, raising a claw to lay it gently on his chest. “This is a good thing, is it not?”
  161. “What, my weariness?”
  163. “No.” She withdrew her hand. “The change. The old you and the you that is before me: you would not want them to be the same, correct?”
  165. “I like me.” He rubbed the spot she’d touched. “That’s why I’m me. So when I change, I lose something of myself. It happens so subtly, too. I’m worried I’m going to end up someone who I don’t want to be without even realizing it.”
  167. Sybyll watched his eyes for a moment, thinking, then sat down. When Galen just stared at her, she pat the sand beside her. He shrugged, but sat without protest, finding the sand surprisingly cool under his rear.
  169. “When I was young, before I ever met the blacksmith and the mages who would eventually tie me to Tellus, I was a rather… rambunctious lizardman. I would not pay attention when elders attempted to teach me history, or my parents attempted to teach me discipline. The only thing I gave any attention to what the blademaster who taught me the sword, but even then, only when it suited me.” She drew her sword, the one Galen had given her back in Mallus, a few inches free of its scabbard. “I wanted to play with the sword more than I wanted to respect it. When I sparred with my peers, my intention was to win with dazzle, to see their eyes and jaws drop open when I stood over them, victorious.” She slipped the sword back into the sheath with a click. “It would be fair to say I was something of an embarrassment to the village. But I was who I was, and I had no reservations about it.
  171. “Now look at me. A thousand years and ten thousand trials later, I am a different monster entirely. My style is focused; precise as a needle slipping through cloth. I do not play tricks, I do not aim to impress. I move forward for duty, and begrudge no one for it. What do you think the me of my youth would think about this?”
  173. Galen glanced at the bulge beneath her armor where that golden medal hid. “She’d probably be terrified of the idea of growing up to be you.”
  175. Sybyll nodded. “And do you think I do not know this as well? There is such a great chasm of time and experience between my two selves that a stranger would not recognize one as the other. Yet I am content with the monster I have become, and I do not worry how I might change in the future.” She scooped up a handful of sand, letting it slip between her fingers as she watched. “We are the sum of the trials our pasts and the expectations of our futures. As we learn, we grow; as we fear, we cope.” Her eyes turned to Galen, glowing yellow against the night. “No one can control who you are but you--do not allow the fear of yourself to cripple who you might become. If you are to choose between hope and fear, I would choose hope. It lends itself to more worthy futures.”
  177. “Nothing ever get to you, does it?”
  179. She laid a claw on Galen’s shoulder. “A great many things ‘get to me’, Galen. Only through much practice have I learned to hide it. It is only by allowing such things to tremble my core can I progress.” Her claw gave a reassuring squeeze. “And when you emerge from tonight, you will find yourself that much further along your path.”
  181. Tiny spikes lit all over Galen’s skin, like his entire body had fallen asleep. He fought to keep himself from fidgeting, focusing on the moon instead of the fire. “Do you remember the first monster you killed? Or the first person?”
  183. Sybyll frowned. “No. It was far too long ago; my memory is not perfect. In fact, I do not think it will be long before the phases of my life begin to bleed together. Monsters were not meant to live this long.” She followed his gaze to the moon. “But it is easy to get too focused on the killing, to lose yourself for the sake of those who fall under your sword. What is important now is who I am and the choices I make.”
  185. “But what about who they were? What choices they would’ve had if they’d gotten the chance to keep living?”
  187. She raised a finger. “Do not forget: when there is a battle, there are always two stories, two lives, two paths converging. Some focus too much on their own; some, like you, focus too much on the other. Who is to say your story has any less right to continue? Their choices brought them to the battle, just as yours did.”
  189. “And if they’re peaceful? If their decisions didn’t lead them to battle and it’s being thrust upon them instead?”
  191. “Then why are you fighting?” Sybyll stood up, stretching a moment before offering a claw to Galen. He took it and she helped him up, brushing the sand off his back. “Take each situation as it comes to you. Do not think because you have acted in one fashion at one time, you must continue to do so for all situations that come after. There is no need to live in absolutes.”
  193. Galen nodded, no longer finding trouble holding Sybyll’s gaze. His hand played across Toneruth’s hilt. “I still feel like I’m not ready for this whole thing with Medusuub and ‘saving the world’, but I think--“ he paused, swallowing, “--I think that I’m glad I’m the one doing it now.”
  195. “And why is that?”
  197. A smile flashed across his face, disappearing as quickly as it showed up. “Because I think I’ll do it right.”
  199. The two started back to Poseidon’s cave, their mismatched footsteps crunching the sand underneath. Galen was starting to feel the pull of sleep, and he knew he’d need it for the day ahead.
  201. Sybyll cleared her throat. “Last night, I asked you why you were here. I did so because I needed to know if you were suited and worthy of the knowledge I have yet to teach you. As of now, I have made my decision.
  203. “When we reach Uuluth and Toneruth is whole once again, I will teach you how to strike with it using such power even the great demon will hear it. I will teach you how to cut out another Scar in the world.”
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