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Day 36: A Paladin is a Master

Lanternon2 Nov 14th, 2015 1,127 Never
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  1. Day 36:  A Paladin is a Master
  2.  
  3. The door rings, abruptly ending my quiet and focus.  I spend a second staring angrily at my front door.  It's not pleasant; the act of rising to my feet has become the bane of my existence.  I wander to the door and peer out through the small glass window.  It's the abomination again.
  4.  
  5. I open the door.  "You're moulting."  The brusque statement causes the dog-eared creature in front of my door to immediately pull its arms in and twist away, as if to hid its arms.  "That's because of stress," it says, defensively.
  6. I snort.  "What do you have to be stressed out about?  Your outfit?  Who you're tricking into marriage?"
  7. Its face scrunches inward in mock pain, and its mouth closes.  We stare at each other.
  8. "What do you want," I finally ask.
  9. "What're you eating?"
  10. "Boiled shoe leather."
  11. "I'm serious," it pouts.
  12. "And I was about to dig into my own arm, now get out."
  13.  
  14. It nervously steps away, but it doesn't leave.  "If you'd like, I could make you something-"
  15. "I don't, and I'm amazed that you haven't figured that out yet."  
  16. "You have to eat."
  17. "I know that.  Start walking."
  18. "But why?"
  19. "Because I don't trust you.  Because you're disgusting.  Because I don't want anything to do with you.  Take your pick, and start walking."
  20. It doesn't, at least not right away.  First it feigns whatever sort of emotional pain it thinks will undermine my will.  It's not until I take a quick step forward and bare my teeth that it starts and darts back toward its own apartment.
  21.  
  22. I stand in my doorway, annoyed at the fact that the thing's right.  I should find something to eat.  At least until tomorrow when I can get back to carrying groceries.  I test my weight on the brace around my foot and, finding it to be only slightly unbearable, set out.
  23.  
  24. ---
  25.  
  26. "You look thoughtful," a high-pitched voice calls out.
  27. "That's because I'm thinking."
  28. "What?"
  29. I barely raise my voice to repeat myself.
  30. "No, but what about?"
  31. Oh right, elven senses.  "People.  A letter.  Food."
  32. She hops back as I finally start to approach the stairs.  "Well, let's start with the last one first, and then you can tell me about your foot."
  33. "A fruit-bread thing, that blueberry-and-cream thing, and one of those rose teas."
  34. "They have names," she huffs.
  35. "Proper Aenglish ones?"
  36.  
  37. I seat myself while studiously ignoring the lecture on the beauty of the Elven tongue.  It barely lasts long enough for me to sit down, though.  "You disappeared again."  Her voice is quieter, sadder than before.
  38. "Vacation," I state.  It's not an explanation, but it's enough of one.
  39. "I saw you in the news."  There's apprehension there.  It's not hard to imagine why.
  40. "I'd imagine so."  I wait for whatever response there'll be.  Indignance, screaming, questioning, insults, or the ever popular claim that all paladins are mindless killers. Either way, I ready myself to leave.
  41. "Are you all right?"
  42. I look over toward the concerned elf.  She's staring at me over the counter.  Her expression is confusing.  "Fine."
  43. She doesn't start again right away, but she does start again.  "So what's this letter that's on your mind?"
  44. I start talking, all while staring at the book sitting on the other side of the table.  "Human Be(com)ing; How He Became She, and She Became Happy"
  45.  
  46. ---
  47.  
  48. "Dear Victor,
  49.  
  50. My, what news!  I'm boggled by the sheer potential for what this discovery could mean.  I've spent the better part of the last day thinking about what all this could possibly mean.  It seems clear that the sword has criteria it must meet to function, such as time, mental or physical state of the user, or something similar.  From this one instance, it could be near to anything.  You simply must let me know if it ever does something like this ever again.
  51.  
  52. I've been working with mages on determining the text on the mural where we found the blade, but unfortunately they're just as perplexed as we are.  Apparently, the fact that no one currently speaks the language means that magic hardly even recognizes it as such anymore.  By their description, if it can't be used to communicate with anyone then it might as well just be random carvings.  I'll keep up my work, though.  Once we find just one correspendence, or the meaning of one word, we'll be halfway there.
  53.  
  54. I've been in contact with the Imperator lately.  It seems you might be coming up on some more interesting work.  We might be pulling you from Min to do a bit of diplomatic work in Caithness.  It seems that Megalos isn't in the mood to deal with any inter-human warfare so soon after we all finally dealt with the monstrous incursions.  Don't get your hopes up, but do be ready if you're called.  I spent some time there so I know that Caithness might just suit your tastes, but having no monsters means that you're more a civil servant or watchman in their eyes than a proper guardian.
  55.  
  56. Were I you, I'd worry less about my animosity index.  You know, the main hall keeps an eye on the media so see how we're presented to the public, and so I've caught wind of an interesting story from Min.  On a related note, if you receive an official sanction, don't pay it any mind.  It's nothing more than our way of covering our collective ass.  Yours, too.
  57.  
  58. I trust you're tending to your health, Victor.  I'll be quite cross if I find that spending so much time around monsters has meant that you're too disgusted to eat.  And remember that you need to rest, too.  I know you're young, but youth fades a great deal faster than we think, and you won't be able to bounce back from everything for much longer.
  59.  
  60. With concerns for his best student,
  61. Adrian Moore
  62.  
  63. ---
  64.  
  65. "Your teacher sounds nice," she notes.
  66. "He is."
  67. She sounds distracted as she works around the small, open kitchen.  "So, where might you be headed?"
  68. "Caithness."
  69. She whips her little pink head around to fix me with an upset stare.  "You shouldn't go."
  70. "I shouldn't," I echo questioningly.
  71. "It's a cold, unhappy place."
  72. She's turned her back to me, and I'm not sure what sort of expression she's making now.  Her voice seemed sad, though.  "Duly noted," is all I can say.  If I'm ordered to go there, then that's all that I can do.
  73.  
  74. There's a long pause while I hungrily wait for my breakfast-at-dinnertime.  "So what's wrong with people?"
  75. "What?"
  76. "You'd said that you were thinking about people."
  77. I'm both hungry and in a sour mood now.  "I was.  I'd rather not.”
  78. “Why?  I thought you like people.  Human people, anyway.”
  79. “I like all of the untainted races.”
  80. “So what's the problem,” she asks instead of finishing my food.
  81. I think for a moment, not even sure of what to say.  “The problem is the way they looked at me.  I've never seen such looks before – at least, not aimed at men.  It's like I was,” I start, looking for the words.  “Like I was a monster.”
  82.  
  83. "Well what do you expect; some have wives, sisters, daughters, who're all mamono."
  84.  
  85. 43 M
  86. 12 S
  87. That's the red print on the black shirt, stretched taut over the blue form of the succubus that I recognized from before.
  88. It steps out of a backroom, presumably from the washroom.  “And there you are, fresh from the slaughter.”  It walks over, slides a chair out from opposite my own, and sets itself down.  I stare at it, and its book, sitting across from me as though it were the most normal thing in the world.  Almost immediately, plates are brought out for both of us; like the little smiling elf-girl had this planned out from the start.
  89. It's not moving.  I'm not moving for it's sake, either.
  90. I guess this is just how this day's going.
  91.  
  92. “What's the shirt mean?”
  93. It puts back down its tea before answering, “It's how often a man kills himself in Megalos.  We're raising awareness.”
  94. I stare at the thing, suddenly too disgusted to eat my meal.  I'm an inch away from reaching for my sword.  “So what, are you proud?”
  95. It feigns shock.  “No- what?”
  96. “That suicide rates rise when monsters show up.”
  97. It swallows.  “That's,” it starts, trying to act the part of some hurt little girl.  Ever the victim, at least until you're unarmed.  “That's not our fault.  We arent' spreading the- the propaganda that it's the end of the world.”
  98. “You don't have to; no one does.”
  99. It stares at me, then its book.  It grabs it and slides its off the table, starting to read with the same angry look as before.
  100.  
  101. I turn down and, content, start on my meal.  The prong of my fork descend, touching the skin of the first berry I find.  The slightest pressure pulls the skin taut before finally piercing it, metal ripping the skin and effortlessly moving through the flesh beneath.  Its juices pour out, beading red along the skin.  The fluid runs down the edge of the bread and pools on the bottom of the plate.  The skin relaxes, leaving nothing but the wet, glistening interior left open to the world.  Then, finally, it stills.
  102.  
  103. “Mister paladin?”
  104. I look up at the little fey girl who is staring over her counter with a mixture of thought and concern.  I inhale, suddenly finding myself out of breath.  I look back to the succubus nursing its tea, now also gazing thoughtfully at me.
  105. “It was a long walk.”  That's all the answer I need.
  106.  
  107. The food is good, if not the company.  Fortunately, they let me eat in silence for the rest of the meal.
  108.  
  109. ---
  110.  
  111. I press the button that ends the tinny bell-tone on my phone and lift it to my ears, recognizing Erlinson's voice.  “Victor, you home?”
  112. “Two minutes out, sir.  Why?”
  113. “Close enough.  Someone called in; spotted your little girl.  I need you to check it out.  We've got support on it's way, but I want boots on the ground right now if it's planning another abduction.”
  114. “I'll start my search now, sir.”
  115. “No need.  Check the map.”
  116. The phone buzzes again.  I pull it away from my ear to find that a link has been sent to me.  I tap it, and the road map of the area shows up, a blue line cleanly bisecting it and pointing me to a destination.
  117. “Sir, I think I just came to like this thing.”
  118. “Good, now get going.”
  119. “Sir.”  I've already started my slow, painful walk.
  120.  
  121. The buildings here are old, half-hidden by trees that were planted at the same time the homes were made and now all but block out sunlight from reaching the street.  The paint peels from some of them, revealing the old woodwork beneath, but most have been well maintained by their owners.  Families of men and women – real men and women – get in their cars, tend to lawns, and live their lives studiously avoiding the monsters that slowly flood the town.  The homes seem to grow older as I walk through the neighborhood, as brickwork occasionally finds its way into fences and walls.
  122.  
  123. My interminable walking finds me in front of the largest building on the street, surrounded by a wrought iron fence with a “FOR SALE” sign placed on the front.  Untended grass reaches up to knee length with a hundred different types of weed interspersed, all but covering the worn stone path to the darkened front door.  The trees have grown thicker still in this part of the neighborhood – a fact that would make it seem pleasant and peaceful were I calm, but instead simply adds to the sense of foreboding as I step forward.
  124.  
  125. The door opens with only a push, and my shadow stretches across the dark, empty room.  The only other window filters in not nearly enough light.  The wooden frame casts another shadow into the room: bars, and they criss-cross forgotten furniture and shine upon the still specks of dust in the stale air.  At first I simply stand in the doorway, trying to peer into the building.  Then I hear the voice, high pitched and distant.  I step inside, drawing my sword as I approach.
  126.  
  127. Sneaking up the hardwood stairs is difficult, but if the thing hears me then it doesn't stop speaking.  As I climb up to the second floor I can almost hear words.  It doesn't sound like spellcasting, at least in as far as I can tell.  I turn, and see the rickety wooden stairs dropped into the center of the hallway leading presumably to bedrooms.  It's above me still, in the attic?  Why?  I banish the thoughts from my head; I don't know why this thing does any of what it does, so I'm sure as hells not going to figure out why it's talking to itself in the attic.
  128.  
  129. “Make it yours.  End the night.  Make of yourself a ward against the cruel man.”
  130. I can make that part out.  Unfortunately, if I set foot on these stairs, they'll groan like the undead.  The next step I take marks the end of the subtle approach.  It seems I've no choice but to simply face this thing head on, again.
  131.  
  132. I take a deep breath and speak the word of warding as I advance.
  133.  
  134. I climb up, onto one of the wooden beams that fill the small, overheated attic.  Before me is the thing, staring at me, backlit by hellish flame.  Even cast in darkness I can see its expression: proud, smiling as though in victory.  The light reflects off of the massive scythe and onto its face as it calls out “It's my win, paladin.  There's no escape for you now.”
  135. “If all you wanted was an arena to kill me in, you could've done better.”
  136. “I'm mamono,” it says, smiling.  “We don't kill people.  You do.”  With that it once again seems to fall backwards, into the wall of red flame behind it as the flame disappears disappears, leaving only a pitch black humanoid figure.
  137.  
  138. And then it opens its eyes as lines of red seep out from them.  White fangs bare themselves in a cruel smile.  Black isn't quite right, more like ashen grey skin, covered piecemeal by iron, demonic trinkets, scant black cloth, and thick fur.  It leans forward, predatory, as I make out the wolf-like features in the sudden darkness.  Hellhound.  The word comes to mind without fanfare or concern.
  139. “It summoned you?”
  140. “She did.”  Its voice is deep, husky.  Breathy.  Aroused.
  141. “I see.”  
  142.  
  143. Its expression shifts from predatory to confused as I put away my blade and straighten myself.  The warm glow from my ward fades as I lose all need of it.  
  144. “Do you have current citizen registration papers?”
  145. It stares back at me, uncomprehending.  Its head slowly tilts to the side as it attempts to make out what I'm saying.  
  146. That's a good enough answer for me.  “I see.  Well, we're going to have to escort you back outside the walls.  You didn't willingly break the law, so there will be no further punishment or action taken against you.  Please come with me.”  Having finished the spiel, I turn and begin the slow, painful task of making my way back down the stairs and back home.  With luck the others will be here soon and I can just pass this thing along to them.
  147.  
  148. I don't make it to the stairs.  Clawed fingers clench into my shoulder and the world shifts as I find my back pressed against wood with enough force to make me cough and make the woodwork groan.  It growls at me, and there is nothing womanly in the sound.  “How dare you,” it asks in an even deeper tone, its black, light-trailing eyes inches away from my own.  “When I'm done, you'll be lucky if you still-”
  149.  
  150. Its eyes finally find my neck.
  151. I give it a second to realize exactly how stupid it's been before saying “let go of me you stupid animal.”
  152. It doesn't.  For a few seconds its mouth works, fury writ clear on its face as it tries to find some answer, some retort that lets it save face after its idiotic outburst.  Instead in finally settles on staring at my eyes in anger and confusion.  “I will stop you,” it finally states.
  153. “Really?”  I smile, letting myself find amusement in how absurd and stupid this whole damned day has been.  “How?”
  154. “I'll find a way.”  If I gave any stock to the determination on its face, I might be concerned.  It adds “You're only human.”
  155.  
  156. “So are they.”  It had been distracted; I don't blame it for not noticing that we weren't alone anymore.  Honestly, I didn't notice, either.  I barely noticed the voice of someone downstairs before I spoke.  Its ears turn on its head as I speak, and its frustration grows clearer.  “So what will you do, puppy?”
  157. It takes a deep breath and exhales again, and it's like standing directly in front of a dryer vent as the scathing, humid air hits my face.  Through gritted teeth I make out “I'll stop you, mark my words.”  Then, just as quickly as it appeared, it kicks off and crashes through the wall and out into the neighborhood.
  158.  
  159. It's not ten seconds before a half-dozen paladins are in the room with me, quickly followed by Erlinson.  “It's odd seeing you with a sword, sir.”
  160. He barely smirks.  “Report, sentinel.”
  161. “Sir.  There's a summoned hellhound out there, gunning for me.  I don't think it'll target anyone else but it is here without proper paperwork.”
  162. He furrows his brow, but nods.  “And the baphomet?”  
  163. “It's an idiot, sir.”  He lifts an eyebrow, and a smile starts to form as he starts to relax.  “It summoned the hellhound to stop me, but seems to've forgotten that I've got this thing on,” I say as I tap the shield on my neck.
  164.  
  165. Now the rest of the paladins are smiling, and the autocrat is shaking his head as he tries not to laugh.  “Victor, you're something else.”  In an instant he's right back to business as he barks out orders for the other paladins to begin sweeping the surrounding neighborhoods, and get the police in to help find the two monsters while/if they're still nearby.
  166.  
  167. When they're gone he turns back to me.  “One more monster to deal with, eh Vic?”
  168. “That thing isn't even an issue here.”
  169. He stares at me incredulously.  “Then what is, pray tell?”
  170. I sigh.  “Getting back down these stairs is gonna be a bitch, sir.”
  171.  
  172. He's still laughing when we get to his car.
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