A new arc has started so chapter names will be styled differently.
ACT II- Awakening
Chapter 9 : Surviving a Magic Laundromat
“…emotions! emotions are the sharpest weapons a human can have. The aurora responds to wishes and emotions. Emotions are fluid, an therefore is magic, as it is cast my emotions. The glacial movement of the rules and symbols we bind magic by is powerful indeed. So is the forest fire that catches our heart, resulting in magic powerful enough to stop the glacier!…”
– Diary of The Mad Mage, Surincel Orrtec, 1345 A.C
One year later.
Salrest, South of Ebraven Kingdom, 3000 Cress from the Mountain of Trees.
The shaded glade resounded with the thumping sounds of some huge beast approaching. One, two, no… four Errlats? Ugh these ones gross me out. I picked up my bloodied shield and walked towards the sounds. Brushing the large trees aside like twigs, three huge monsters about 10 feet long and 4 feet high broke into the clearing. They looked like earthworms with three clusters of red beady eyes. Earthworms with two large and strong hind legs like a frog and two shriveled and clawed forelimbs like a rat.
Where might you be headed, lovely ladies?
The lovely ladies in question made a sound halfway between a pig’s snort and a really phlegmy cough; showing off their serrated teeth formed all around their ring like mouths. Yes, mouths. Plural. One in front and another at the back. Their segmented bodies convulsed with each step they took with the massive hindlegs, dripping gelatinous liquid on the forest floor. I took up my shield and charged, the bastard sword Thirst on my right hand. The same sword that I had looted from Icchvarrion. Turns out that the sword was generously imbued with magic stones, making it a really great piece of equipment.
The lead Errlat was surprised at my sudden charge and took a half-step backwards, giving me the chance I needed. I smashed the shield on its face, making it howl in pain. The Tavitz steel of the bastard sword cut apart its soft neck, making a diagonal cut upwards. The Errlat shook as the blade sliced its breathing tubes, cutting apart it’s air supply. The Errlat thrashed in agony as it asphyxiated, its limbs flailing. Twigs and branches from the tress rained down as the dying Errlat crashed into them in its desperation. I ran back to avoid falling debris and to get ready to counter the other two Errlats.
One of the other Errlats hopped right in front of me, blowing away dust and fallen leaves. Stinging dust entered my eyes and throat, making me choke. I started coughing as the dust burned my nostrils.
Fuck. I can’t see the Errlat now!
I put up my shield just I time as the monster spat out green acid from its mouth. The metal shield steamed as the strong acid corroded it. Bloody frogs! another of my shields wasted!
I raised up my sword when a tremendous impact threw me forward. The other Errlat had slammed into me. They were attempting a pincer attack. I crashed into a tree, feet first. However, a year of training and killing had forged me into a beast. I used my feet like a spring to jump backwards into the head of the Errlat spitting acid, burying my sword deep into its heart. The soft tissue like covering of its head split like butter as the sword sunk like cutting sponge. I sent a surge of AP from the blade, which disrupted the simple magic circuit of the Errlat, causing its heart to explode. Blue-green watery liquid like blood surged up from the head wound like a whale’s blowhole.
These monsters had their heart near the mouth and the brain was situated somewhere deep within the body, spread out in thin strands.
The dead Errlat toppled forward while I used its motion like stairs to jump into the looming jaws of the other one. The monster gurgled furiously, enraged at the death of its companions. I stabbed the sword above its mouth, the sword burying itself deep into its flesh. The monster reared up in pain, while I dangled from the sword hilt above its mouth. Thick saliva slapped me across the face and body as the monster kept howling.
I can see why no one likes an Errlat.
I could see the monster try to unhinge it’s jaw, trying to bite me. Like a moray eel, the monster could unhinge its jaws to accommodate larger prey. Before it could tear me into bite-sized Rigel-Hors d’oeuvres, I slipped my left hand backward and unsheathed the Wakizashi-styled dagger.
The monster’s red compound eyes shone with an eerie intelligence unsuited for its kind as I stabbed the dagger deep into its eyes, killing it. By now the jaws had clenched on me hard, but it relaxed as the monster died with green blood dripping down its red eyes. The teeth left score marks on my light metal armour.
I unclasped myself from its jaws and got down. The sword had snagged itself deep into the bones forming the roof of the mouth, refusing to break free.
Its annoying how many times the sword gets stuck in a real combat. Bones, intestines, ligaments…the whole body is just a snag waiting to happen. I want guns!
Because I had lost my concentration trying to pull the sword out with both my hands, I didn’t realize until it was too late. The fourth of the Errlats had arrived and with a humongous leap powered by its hindleg; jumped right behind me and had snapped its maw in one fluid move. I managed to barely avoid having my head torn off due to the practiced reflexes forged in a year of killing. I twisted violently and the monster clamped down on my left arm instead of my neck. Due to the whole movement, I couldn’t reach for my sword or the wakizashi; both still embedded into the corpse of the dead Errlat.
I could hear sounds of bones being crunched come out of my shoulder as the monster bit down on the light pauldrons. The metal that had saved my life on a number of occasions became a death cage as the immense pressure was wrenching my arm loose from its socket. Alarming popping sounds accompanied with agonizing pain had me sweating bullets down my back. I beat the monster with my other hand, but the spongy meat just bounced off my hands. The monster reared up with me dangling up in its mouth.
The tables have turned eh?
Even its eyes were too far away for me to rip through. My world went white with pain as I reluctantly transformed my arm into the black clawed monstrosity that had taken so many lives.
The Errlat’s teeth stopped penetrating into my flesh as the arm changed into the tough scaled hide. The monster’s eyes shone with red light as it tried to shake me like a rag doll to rip off the arm. I could feel my bones creak as I was shaken violently. However, I channeled Aurora into the black arm, creating a blast of hot flame inside the monster’s mouth. Before the monster could unclasp its jaws, the flame had seared its throat, baking its insides and reaching its stomach in an instant. The Errlat cried out in pain, the red eyes wild with panic and glistening green blood. I didn’t let go of the monster even after it unclasped its jaws. I held onto the serrated teeth with the claws on the black hand while sending down gouts of flame from it.
The monster swelled up as its stomach acids started boiling, sending burning noxious fumes out of its mouth. With a resounding boom, the Errlat exploded from its stomach, sending bits of meat and gastric juice everywhere. The scalding hot acids splashed into my body and burned the uncovered areas. But, they swiftly healed as I had my arm activated.
Thank heavens there weren’t any people around. Otherwise I’d have to kill them too for seeing my arm.
I smiled wryly immediately after thinking that. A year ago I wouldn’t have thought about killing so easily.
I collected the monster cores and wiped my blades. The monsters had totaled my shield and pauldron. You guys cost me more than a girlfriend would and you are butt-ugly to boot.
I discarded the misshapen left pauldron and continued on my way deep to the forest. I looked up at the imposing black spire that seemed to bear through the thick canopy of trees, reaching skywards.
Its rough surface seemed to suck in light itself, giving rise to an oppressive atmosphere and a deep set chill. I couldn’t see it now from the distance, but the spire had a cracked and rough exterior. The surface felt like stone that had seen ages pass by. Well, they did see ages if the stories are anything to go by.
Legends say that after the Age of Ascension, when the gods had left Sangraal following the war with the mortals, the Black Spires rained down from the sky. Millions had died in the aftermath of the spires hitting Sangraal indiscriminately. The small scale nuclear winter had killed off crops in most parts of the land, causing famine. Then had come the diseases and epidemics. Members of all races had fallen in droves during the aftermath. After the dust had settled, the civilizations had retreated back to the stone ages, or as the proverb goes.
Something else had come out of the dust too. Something scary, terrifying and deadly. The monsters. Sangraal didn’t have any monsters before the black spires had rained down. When the dust had settled, the beasts had come with their fangs, claws and terror. Feeding on the Aurora, the monsters spread to all corners of Sangraal, their purpose unknown to this day.
Some people say that the gods smote down the mortal races who had dared oppose them. They first punished them by raining down spires from the sky and then exacted their penance by unleashing the monsters. I do not know if this is true but if the gods I knew are anything to go by, it might be quite possible. However what everyone does know is that the Spires give rise to monsters. The area under the influence of the Spires turn into a dungeon, to borrow RPG terms. However, it is not systematic like monsters segregated by levels and such.
I strode through the forest towards the cave near the base of the spire. I slaughtered the small Vicrets that occasionally came through. While I was gutting a Vicret for the Core, I suddenly heard shouts in human voice. Adventurers frequented these Bha’gresh or the Spirelands as they are called to gather the Cores and useable monster parts. So, I would often come across them while hunting. I was on a cordial relation with most of them since I had been prowling these parts for the past year.
I ran towards the shouts to see if they needed help. However, what I saw there chilled my bones. Not. It was the usual party of self-believers who had gone and challenged something far beyond their power. Five half naked corpses were strewn around a raging Errlat. The men had done little beyond pissing off the monster by giving shallow wounds. The acid from the Errlat had half dissolved their bodies, the melting flesh smoking as it worked on its bones. Acrid smell of oxidizing bones wafted and coiled about the bodies, and the Errlat prowled among them to take its pick. The men’s faces had frozen in expression of horror. Atleast the ones who still had faces. Most had their faces melted off from the acid.
Well, can’t sympathize with them.
I thought that when I saw what another Errlat was carrying in its mouth. A young girl of about 18 was on the way to being eaten. The Errlat had hoisted her up so that she hung by her voluminous hair, dangling like a pendulum. The girl was intact save for her clothes. Her clothes didn’t look like it had been dissolved by acid. Looks more like those were torn and cut by hands and swords.
I cut the girl down with my sword. Locks of flaxen hair fell like snow, covering my clothes and sword. The monster dropped the girl with a thud and whirled round at me, baring its teeth. It spat out the remnant of the hair too. Looks like it hated it as much as I did.
What the…the hair inside its mouth was alteast a few feet long.
Since there was a witness here I couldn’t use the black arm, so I set my sword aflame and swept it across the neck of the Errlat.
Its skin bubbled as the flaming blade cut through it. Gouts of greenish-blood spurted from the wounds, evaporating as soon as it came in contact. Sizzling smells announced its death. This puts me in mood for some barbeque tonight.
I looked at the girl. She was covered in green mucus. Now that she had short hair, I could see her ears. Yeah. Elf. I could guess what happened from her clothes. The other adventurers had partied up with her and came to this place, only to rape her. Girl screams and boom! a wild Errlat appears attracted by the noise. Hence the stream of dead half dressed men and an almost naked girl.
Should I use the girl? She seems unhurt…probably would be good to use. Then again if I toss her into the room, she might escape. After all the room is grounded for human magic, not elvish. Besides, I don’t need her faith.
I nudged the girl with a sword tip as I didn’t want to get covered in mucus.
“Oi Rapunzel, wakey wakey”, I poked her hips with the sword. She had the wheatish complexion
peculiar with the Elves. She had waist length hair the colour of sunlight before I had to chop it off. Her features were delicate, like glass tottering on the edge of collapse. Red flush had crept up her skin as she slept. Her high nose and the delicate lines of her lips reminded me of Vampires for some reason. Not the shiny ones.(1)
She did not come to even after all the prodding with an edged weapon. I will leave her to her fate if she doesn’t wake up. As a last resort, I rubbed her long ears, and twisted them. The girl seemed uncomfortable as she twitched and moaned in her sleep, turning towards me. Her ample breasts brushed up against my arm, the skin supple and warm.
Fuck! the mucus! The girl is getting the mucus on me!
I sprang back from the girl. It might seem odd but I really didn’t like getting Errlat mucus on me. It was a different story that Errlats didn’t feel the same way. I decided to leave the girl and go on my way. The girl was too beautiful and that in itself was a sign of trouble.
I got up and started to walk towards the cave. The men’s corpses strewn around the Errlat were useless to me. I heard a shout behind me. I turned around and saw a group of adventurers I knew.
“Hey Aldran, Basque”, I raised my hands and asked. “How’s hunting?”
The two middle aged men smiled in my direction before their smile froze when they saw the corpses strewn about. They came near and understood the situation quickly.
“Those kinds huh”, Basque, the copper haired man with a severe look sighed.
Aldran, the tracker wearing green coloured leather gear looked at the girl lain on the leaves and asked curiously, “She the reason?”
“Yeah, she is”, I said. “The reason however is thinking with balls”.
“Wha…what is happening?”, a guy wearing full plate armour asked with clenched fists. “Don’t tell me…this guy raped the girl over there?” he reared at me with his naked sword.
Basque held the guy back by extending his arm. I asked him, “He new?” pointing at the guy in plate mail.
“Aye. He is my nephew. Came from the capital to rack up achievements as a squire”, Aldran said with a proud tone.
“Uncle! Why are you letting this scoundrel go!” the squire bristled. “Let me teach this bastard the law!” he waved his sword in a complicated motion.
That motion…that stance. That can’t be…is he…trying to act cool?
Basque slapped the back of his head lightly, “Bethral, knock it off. Eridan is not…that sort of a man”.
I do not like where the pause is in that sentence.
“So, care to tell us whats with the Elfgirl?” Basque asked as he crouched down and covered the girl with his shirt.
“She wont wake up”, I offered in a brusque tone, “probably the guys gave her something”.
“I’ll take her to the guild, Eridan. Come with me, Basque, Beth”, Aldran ordered.
Looks like I can’t hunt the master of the Spire today.
The guild was like a consortium that had grown up around the Spires. Ever since the Black Spires had appeared, people were needed to suppress the monsters that arose from it on a regular basis. The army of countries could not keep up with the influx of monsters in addition to dealing with foreign threats. Hence, the Adventurer guild or simply called the Guild was created to deal with the monster threats on a systematic basis using civilians.
Adventurer Guild branches were set up near the Spires, to support and supplement the civilians who would take part in subjugation of the monsters, aka ‘Adventurers’. Slowly, over time, towns grew up centering Adventurer guilds, and in extension, the Spires.
Something that brought the species near extinction turned into bustling hives of activity. The irony.
We explained everything at the guild. The head of the guild sent the Elf to the guild infirmary. We had to write down our names and details. There weren’t that many female adventurers in the first place, and furthermore much less in this town. It seemed like the girl was well known in the guild on account of her abilities and because men hounded her. However, for some reason or the other I had not come across her after she made her appearance 3 weeks ago. The men were just riff-raff who drifted in the last few days. I washed off the whole thing off my hands and left.
I couldn’t visit the room today. Not that I needed to, but…
“ Comm’ere, brave souls for the cheapest armor!”
“Schelleps! brand new Schelleps!”
“Sell your monster materials here! Come one come all!”
Plethora of sounds and sights assaulted my senses as soon as I came out of the Guild doors. The roads were set in cobblestones, that swerved and divided into serpentine alleyways, extending networks of streets like spider-webs. Stone buildings rose on both sides of the streets, their overgrown roofs proving shades in all but the widest alleys. The main network of roads would often meet in plazas barely big enough for a run-down fountain.
Street sellers and vendors lined the narrow streets, making it even narrower. Tastes and smells from unknown lands attempted to worm into your senses, throwing it into a bizarre confusion in their race to claim individual supremacy. The clank of hammer hitting metal, clinks of armour greeted the ears while walking down the streets. The town was for, by and of the adventurers.
I went off the thoroughfare plagued with carts and carriages. I picked up an apple like yellow fruit, paying 3 ress. The narrow alleyway was overgrown with shadows of the red brick buildings on both sides. The air became damp with every step towards the heart of the alleyways, a dull chill permeating under the clothes.
I saw a rusted grill gate of iron. I carefully unlatched it so as no to take the whole thing off its hinges. The gate was set between two narrow walls, having barely enough space for two people to squeeze through.
The silent alley that had come alive with the sound of my footsteps, fell asleep again; silence reclaiming its dominion. I knew that the alley wasn’t as dead as it looked. I could feel stares from its blinded windows, boring into my back. The silent watchers were alive, and watching, like always.
I turned a sharp corner into a blind alley, a broken down shop spread before me. The shop didn’t have a name or either a very agreeable setup. In truth it was more an abandoned building than a shop. I entered the shop, a small bell jangled and announced my arrival.
A small wispy haired man ambled in through the back door. He had a shiny pate you could use as a mirror. He wore an eclectic mix of clothes seemingly made of many patchwork pockets, none of them in the same colour. Small unfamiliar tools hung from his person, as he glared at me with unmitigated hostility. Well, as much as his 4 foot frame could muster.
“For you, Kraus”, I tossed him the cret, the apple like sour fruit I had picked up earlier.
“You gotta stop coming in broad daylight”, He muttered while biting into the fruit. “I don’t wanna the watchers having to dispose of you”
“I was careful enough, Kraus. Now hurry up and do the fusion. I have things to do”, I gave a terse reply.
“How much hav’ya brought this time?”
“25 blues, 36 greens and 3 yellows”.
“That’s half of what ya usually bring”.
“There was an incident”.
“Enough ta stop ya huntin’ ?”, Kraus arched his bushy eyebrows.
“Yes”, I took out 1 yellow and 15 blue cores. “Now start the fusion”.
“Sometime I wish I had left you to the syndicate back then”, I grumbled as I got inside the metal machine. The thing was like a immersive tank, with transparent glass sphere as its main body. Pipes and chutes were attached to the monstrosity, rumbling noisily as the machine fumbled. Metal pipes snaked away into the darkness, giving the machine an eerie look.
Kraus slapped the side of the ugly machine, “Hey hey, don’t badmouth her. She will take good care of ya”.
The large porthole like door opened up as I got ready to go inside the tank. The machine started to rumble laboriously as it shook and rattled in the spacious basement under the shop. It bugged me every time, just how is there such a large basement under the buildings?
I took off my armour and clothes. One cannot wear anything in the Aurora Tank. The machine was used in Churches to fuse monster cores with oneself. However, Kraus…was no member of the Church. This one was a stolen machine from somewhere. More like a magic laundromat.
“Hey Kraus, you sure you can’t make this any safer?”, I asked for the hundredth time.
“Probably. But what’s the fun in that? I jacked this baby up with my own hands to provide maximum fusion”, Kraus said in a proud tone, “Those weak puss machines over at churches can’t even compare to this Sougenhacht”.
I shivered as the cold basement air brushed over my naked skin. Bracing myself, I went inside the machine. With sounds like escaping air, Kraus closed the door. I felt like a goldfish in a bowl. A very tortured goldfish.
The machine rumbled even louder as it gave out billows of smoke. Thick, clear liquid began to pour inside the sphere as the machine drew in concentrated water enriched with AP. Slowly, the world outside the glass began to grow blurry as the thick liquid refracted the light. I clenched my fingers and went stiff when the water reached my nose. The drowning reflex kicked in; I refused to inhale any water, clutching at my throat, my eyes went wide and red with terror.
The water reached the ceiling on the container. I thrashed wildly as I lacked oxygen. Finally, I had to breathe underwater. With huge gulps, the liquid entered my nose, lungs. With burning pain, the liquid seared deep into my body. And with that, I was able to breathe again.
I floated inside the glass sphere, the high buoyancy supporting my body. Did flies trapped in Amber feel like this too? I drew in more of the liquid inside me, strengthening myself. The machine took in the monster cores, dissolved them into a concentrated special liquid and used it for liquid ventilation. The whole process felt like being in an EVA entry plug, but without your mother’s soul inside. (2)
Kraus grinned at me, letting me know that everything was okay. I closed my eyes as I looked on from my liquid prison.
I coughed up buckets of the liquid when the process was over. I curled up at the bottom of the tank, in a severe coughing fit as the water slowly drained away. My lungs burned for want of air, as the last vestiges of the liquid left the system. I crawled out of the tank, clutching at the ground. Nothing prepares you for this agony everyday.
I drew in large breaths as Kraus passed me my clothes. After washing off the liquid, I dressed myself. I passed on the agreed amount of cores to him, as payment for the fusion.
“Atleast give me a regular customer discount”, I urged.
“No can do, Eridan”, he refused, shaking his head. “Its not exactly a legal business we do here”.
When I came out of the shop, evening had already fallen. The moon was low on the horizon. The rings hadn’t yet taken on their iridescent edges. I navigated through the narrow alleys in the dim orange light of the government Ker’dals.
I came up into a dazzling corner. Sounds of laughter and merrymaking rebounded through the small crossing as people in colourful clothes ambled past. Most of the people were stumbling in their drunken stupor, and hailing loudly at other drunks while passing by. Women in cheap and revealing clothing stood in groups, calling at them. Some barkers called people to go inside their shops, and point at the scantily clad women inside them. This was a small part of the city’s flesh trade, Harrengaz, the alley of pleasures.
I crossed the road and continued down the alleyway in front of a dimly lit dingy three storied house. A few attractive women stood at its doorway, chatting. A girl of about 25 stopped me when she saw me going in.
“Say Eri-larr, won’t you play with me today?”, the girl asked twitching her fox ears. She had silver hair that flowed down to her back, tied up in a stylish knot. Her dress was a low cut robe, leaving few things to imagination. Her skirt was a gaudy yellow, reaching down to a few inches down her waist.
“Hey Suri, good evening”, I greeted her as I noticed her friends stealing glances at me.
“Y’know I haven’t been taken by anyone tonight yet. You will like how I smell tonight!”, She grabbed my hand and put in inside her robe, guiding it up her breasts, leaning into me. A seductive grin played across her face.
I cupped her petite mound with my palm harshly. Holding onto her, I brought my mouth near her ear. She gasped at the unexpected force with which I was fondling her.
“I will have the usual, Suri”, I said curtly.
Her body shook as I whispered in her ears. The lurid orange light of the Ker’dal played on her caramel skin, as the gas inside it flickered.
She disengaged from me and went through the open door, beckoning me in. I went inside. The room was a low-ceilinged seedy bar that was waiting for its shady customers. Cheap liquor lined the counter behind the cracked and stained bartop, the dim lights making it seem as if the bottles held flickering souls.
Suri leaned down on the corner, picking up something from behind the glass bottles. She passed me a small container and a single shriveled fruit, that had gone brown, leaving no trace as to what its original colour was.
“Eridan, be careful”, Suri was reluctant to give me the things. “guzzling them down will kill you. Don’t do this”.
I loosened her grip on the fruit, “I know the risks”. I passed her the money and a Bellirut fruit.
“I still think all you need is a good fuck”, She propped herself up on the counter top, facing me, nibbling at the Bellirut. Then she leaned against the counter, opening her legs at my eye level. “No sense in dying when you can just let it out…or in, if you prefer”.
Like throughout the past year, I slapped her bottom and tugged at her silvery fox tail drooping between her legs while I rose to leave the room, “Not tonight, Suri, not tonight”.
I could hear Suri and her friends giggle as I walked up the narrow staircase onto the third floor. The rumors were disconcerting.
I entered the small room I rented on third floor of the seedy bar and whorehouse. I had chosen this place because it was hard to find. More than that, it was outside the influence of the syndicate. I would have had an arrow through my neck if I didn’t lay low and stayed here after antagonizing the Syndicate in saving Kraus. In the city of Adventurers, crime ran rampant. And the Syndicate ruled it all. Well, it did.
My room was dark. I didn’t light a corrte because I wanted to sleep. I put down the glass bottle and the fruit down on a small wooden table. I sat in front the things, glaring at them. I hated going to sleep. I hated dreaming even more.
I stared back at the sky through the small window from my room. The orange gas-lights of Salrest fought with the stars in the sky. I uncorked the bottle and winced as the fiery Zellitat rum burned down my throat. I had already eaten the fruit while coming up the stairs. I closed my eyes as I waited for the heavy numbness to set in.
Mortals in a bid to defy eternity, played in their city of orange lights. Their revelry and cries drifted upwards into the sky. The stars stared on with their gazes of cold fire, eternity in their wake.
The orange lights fought the stars.
(1) Yep, Twilight reference.
(2) Reference to the Injection Pods/Mecha from Evangelion. If you didn’t know, they had the kid’s mother’s souls inside.
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