Purification episode 12: The Hermit

“Axra? Where did you go?” Lilly sounded like she was on the verge of tears. 

“I’m right here,” Axra said. “Wherever here is.” 

“Thank goodness,” Lilly breathed a sigh of relief. “I was worried that the spider had cut you and you were bleeding somewhere, but I lost my torch and couldn’t find you and…”

“Lilly,” Axra interrupted “calm down.” She looked around. There was a hole above them, they’d probably fallen through that. It didn’t look possible to scale back up. At least not without proper equipment. Lilly was groping around in the dark, trying to get her bearings. 

“The important thing is to get back to Twila,” Axra said. “We’re in a tunnel right now, but I don’t know which way to go.”

“We… well,” Lilly said. “When… when I’m not sure where to go… I look for clues, you know, if there’s something or someone I’m actually looking for… but I can’t see a thing.” 

“We’ll just have to pick a direction,” Axra said. “Follow me.” 

“B… bu… but I can’t see you,” Lilly protested. 

Axra turned around and held Lilly’s hand. Lilly squealed very softly. Axra wouldn’t have been able to hear it if she wasn’t part elven. “This way.” 

Lilly obediently followed behind Axra. The two moved quietly through the tunnel, Axra keeping alert for dangers. They moved along for nearly an hour, searching for a way to get back up to the level they’d come from, when they saw a strange silver glow ahead of them. 

“Wh… what do you suppose it is?” Lilly asked. 

“Don’t know,” Axra said. “Let’s find out.” 

They moved towards the light. It was a dimly lit chambre with dilapidated bits of furniture and tattered scrolls scattered about. Axra noted that the light was perfect, for a person with dark vision. 

“Co… could this be where the hermit lives?” Lilly asked. 

“It’s possible,” Axra agreed. 

“M… maybe we should go,” Lilly said. “Th… they say she’s crazy… and crazy could mean dangerous… and we are trespassing.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Axra said. “Maybe she knows the way out of here.” 

“Force cage!” 

The two found themselves trapped inside a barred cube. They turned to the sound of laughter behind them. 

“You thought you could get me, kill me, but I outsmarted you!” A dark elf woman approached them. She was dressed in scraps and several large spiders trailed obediently behind her. “I knew that Elaine Silverstar would send someone eventually! I knew I was still a threat to her.” The woman rubbed her hand together gleefully and started laughing. 

“Pri… Axra, she looks like you,” Lilly whispered. Lilly was right, Axra knew. The woman did look a lot like her, but without the softer humanoid features. 

“Now, now, now,” she rambled. “What to do with you? Feed you to my pets? Let you die and resurrect your corpses to use against her? Oh, so many choices!”

“Ex… excuse me, Ma’am,” Lilly said. “We… we don’t mean to intrude. We got lost. I promise, we don’t mean you any harm at all. If you could just show us how to get back up to our friends… well, we promise to leave you completely alone.” 

You, you think I’m a fool. You… hybrid girl,” the hermit said. “Airell Moonbeam is no fool. I almost ruled as the dark elf matriarch, you know! I would have, if not for that bitch and her hybrid lover.” 

“Mother, stop it!” Axra cried. “Don’t you recognise me?” 

Airell leaned towards the cage and studied Axra. “Yes… that bitch did find a girl who bears a striking resemblance to me. She thinks she can fool me. They all think they can fool me, but I have no such thing. I… I…” Airell turned away from the cage. “No,” she said, finally. “There was a child, wasn’t there? At first I was excited. It was the perfect weapon. I could send it to kill Elaine Silverstar without her being on guard. But it couldn’t hold its knife nor would it pay attention while I taught it about poisons. Eventually I couldn’t take its crying so I gave it to its father. Which one was he again?” 

“Your mother?” Lilly asked. “Are you sure?” 

“Yeah,” Axra said. “Axel Papa told me once, my mother had left them to live in the Wastes only to return with me in tow and vanish again.” 

“You… you couldn’t be that child!” Airell declared. “It was small… so very small. I could carry it with one hand. But you… you’re almost as tall as me! You.. liar!” 

“That was over twenty years ago,” Axra said. “I grew up.” 

Airell pointed at Axra with one finger, got a confused look on her face and turned away, muttering to herself. “Small… it was so small… Twenty years ago? Was it that long? Is it possible? No… it’s a trick. It has to be. Even if its father, whichever one he was, kept it… it wouldn’t know how to find me… Besides, I’m not that old… I know I’m not. Stay strong, Airell! Fight on, Airell!” 

The force cage dissipated around Axra and Lilly. Axra almost reached out to Airell, but she pulled her free hand back. 

“Let’s go,” Axra whispered. 

“Are… are you sure?” Lilly asked

Axra looked at her rambling mother. “Yeah. There’s nothing here for us to worry about. Let’s go back the way we came and keep searching for a way up.” 

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Purification episode 11: Separated

Axra cut through the web in a single stroke and carefully moved inside. There were more dried up centipede corpses within the chambre. The walls and ceiling were all covered in webs. 

“Do you see the spider?” Twila asked. 

“No,” Axra answered. 

“That’s odd,” Twila said. “They usually stay pretty close to their webs.”

“Maybe it scurried away because it doesn’t wanna deal with the hassle,” Velvet suggested. 

Velvet’s dogs stopped outside of the doorway and started growling. He motioned for them to guard the door and went inside with the others. 

“What’s wrong with them?” Twila asked. 

“They smell something,” Lilly said. “Something threatening. They… they’re terrified. I… I think we should go.” 

“It won’t do any good to run away,” Twila said. “Especially not when we’re on the verge of a great discovery. Wherever the spider is, I’m sure we can handle it if we keep our wits about us.” 

Axra caught some movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned towards the spot. Webs, covering the wall. Completely empty. Was she seeing things?

“Keep a watch out for me,” Twila said. “I’m going to cast a fire spell to clear this web. Hopefully, I won’t damage anything it’s covering.” 

“No problem,” Axra said. “We’ve got you.” 

“S… sure,” Lilly said. 

Axra thought she saw movement again. But there was no sign of any living thing. What could have… Wait. 

“Lilly, Velvet,” Axra said. “I think I just saw that web move.” She pointed to the general area. 

“It looks pretty still to me,” Velvet said. 

“Wind?” Lilly asked. “N… not that there’s any here, but maybe there’s a draft we aren’t seeing.” 

“Something spooked the dogs,” Axra said. “Lilly, can you fire an arrow into it?” 

“Oh… yes. No problem,” Lilly said. “But, you know, if it’s okay with you, maybe Velvet should take point.” 

“Velvet should stay back and guard Twila,” Axra said. “I’ll take point.” 

“Oh… Um… sure,” Lilly said. She quickly fired an arrow into the indicated patch of web.

A gargantuan spider leapt out. It was almost five feet tall with a shiny black carapace that featured a bright red hourglass on the back. It lunged towards Axra without hesitation. Lilly tackled Axra out of the way, firing a couple arrows as they went tumbling out of sight. Twila turned her spell on the spider and Fang flew towards it, evading its deadly fangs and breathing fire on it. 

“Lilly, Axra, are you okay?” Twila asked. She hurriedly completed a lightning spell, but the arachnid seemed to be shielded against magic. It turned towards Twila and scrambled after her. 

Velvet grabbed its fangs in mid-lunge, holding them apart with his bare hands. 

“What a drag,” he muttered. “but orders and all that.” He pulled the spider’s fangs right out of its head and tossed them to the side. Then he crushed its head with a quick punch. 

“Are you okay?” Twila asked. “Did its fangs cut you?”

“A little,” Velvet admitted. “But no worries. I’m part dwarf. We use this kind of toxin as flavouring for our ale.” 

“I thought that was a myth,” Twila said. “But if you’re sure you’ll be okay… Did you see where Lilly and Axra went?”

“They were over there a minute ago,” Velvet said. 

Twila examined the area. There was an area where the dust had visibly been disturbed but it led right to the wall. “I don’t see them,” Twila muttered. “Could they have fallen through some kind of trap door?” 

“I hate trap doors,” Velvet stated. “Finding them is such a pain.” 

“Well, get looking,” Twila ordered. “They could be in trouble. I’ll clear the webs to make it easier.”

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Purification episode 10: Deeper into the Darkness

“Axel.” 

Axel grasped the scrying gem in his hand. “Yeah?” 

“Lilly and Velvet found Axra. She’s promised that they’ll keep her safe. Have you found the League yet?” 

“I found some signs of them,” Axel said. “But I may have just gotten us into a war.” 

“What did you do?” 

“I may have attacked Elaine Silverstar’s lover and her nephew.”

“Why on Earth would you do that?” 

“Cause,” Axel answered. 

“I’ll see if I can sort things out with the dark elves. Don’t do anything to further antagonise them.” 

“Fine,” Axel said. “I’ll play nice, until I meet those League bastards, anyway.” 

*****

Axra woke up and looked around. Twila was still asleep to her left. To her right, Lilly had somehow rolled out of her bedroll and was almost touching Axra’s. She couldn’t see Velvet from her position. He’d taken a spot away from the three of them and close to the entryway. 

Fang flew over to her bedroll and stared at her. 

“What?” Axra asked. The little dragon flew back to Twila’s bedroll and nudged her. The mage awoke almost instantly.

“Morning,” she whispered. 

“Morning,” Axra said. 

“Could you lower your voice please,” Twila stated. “So, what do you think of our new companions?” 

“She’s nice and he’s harmless,” Axra answered, lowering her voice to match Twila’s. “Why?” 

“He let it slip that they’re on a mission as soldiers of Nervius,” Twila whispered. “I very much doubt that he’s as harmless as he seems.” 

“Soldiers, huh,” Axra said. “Do you know what they’re after?” 

“No,” Twila responded. “That’s what bothers me. They’re probably here for something very important. We’ll have to keep our eyes out.”

“You think they’re a threat,” Axra observed. 

“I don’t know,” Twila clarified. “But until we know what they’re after, we should be cautious.” 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Axra agreed. 

The two prepared breakfast. Lilly woke up while they were working and hurriedly offered to help. Velvet showed no signs of movement until it was finished. They ate a leisurely meal and went back into the main tunnel.

“Think we’ll encounter more of those multi-legged things?” Axra asked.

“Possibly,” Twila said. “It’s unlikely that there was only one down here. I think they’re closely related to centipedes, but of a monstrous size.” 

“Ca… careful,” Lilly said. “I… I see some really big webs… and where there are webs… there are spiders.” 

The three moved up to her location. Axra could see them, a large web was covering a door nearby and extending over the wall. A couple dead giant centipedes were lying near it. 

“Is it smart to keep going?” Velvet asked. “Fighting a bunch of giant insects seems like a hassle.” 

“We won’t learn anything if we’re afraid of the potential dangers,” Twila said. “And spiders aren’t insects. Let’s cut this web open and see what’s inside.”

“Wh… Wha… Won’t that be, kind of, dangerous?” Lilly asked. 

“Don’t worry,” Twila said. “I’m quite confident that we can handle a giant spider.” 

“I’ll go in first, Axra volunteered. 

“Alright,” Twila said. “I’ll cast a protective spell before you cut it open, just to be safe.” 

Axra nodded. She was determined not to let anything past her. Besides, this was the first sign she’d seen of giant spiders. The hermit could be around here.

She drew her sword and prepared to bring down the web. 

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Purification episode 9: Axel’s Search

“This is a good spot,” Twila said. 

The chambre in question was to the side of the tunnel. It had a smaller chambre connected to it with a large, circular basin filled with water. The water was clear enough to see the bottom. 

“Great,” Velvet said. “I’m super tired after all this hard work.” 

“The important thing is that no one can sneak up on us,” Axra said. 

“And we can bathe,” Lilly said.

“That will be nice,” Twila said. “This area was probably setup as a shelter. If the family that lived above needed to hide they could come down here. I wonder if it used to have food stores and beds as well.” 

“Probably,” Axra said. 

“But is the water still good?” Lilly asked. “I mean, I know it looks fine. But how long has it been sitting there?” 

“The bath is probably fed by an underground stream,” Twila said. “Although I can cast a purifying spell if that’ll make you feel better.” 

“N… No, that’s okay,” Lilly said. 

“Why don’t you take a bath first, Axra?” Twila said. 

“It’s fine by me,” Axra said. “If you don’t want to go first.” 

“No,” Twila said. “I’d like to get my bedroll and everything setup. Plus, I can get the cooking started.” 

“Would… would you like me to go too and wash your back?” Lilly asked. 

“No thanks,” Axra said. “I can get it myself.” 

Twila turned to Velvet and Lilly when she’d gone. “So, tell me about yourselves,” Twila said. “What brought you to the wastes?” 

“King Zero told us to get moving,” Velvet said. “It was a hassle, but he’s the boss.” Lilly glared at him. 

“You two work for Kings Zero and Axel?” Twila asked. 

“Oh… that is to say… yes,” Lilly admitted. “We do.”

“So, why did they send you to the wastes?” Twila asked. 

“To find something… precious,” Lilly said. “We have to find it and, you know, bring it back to them safely.” 

“So, you’re soldiers?” Twila asked. 

“Not exactly,” Lilly said. “I’m more of a tracker. I also help look after the stables. I used to be the princess’s personal attendant, but… well… I’m not anymore.” 

“Why?” Twila asked. “Did she get hurt under your care or something?” 

“Oh no,” Lilly said. “It was nothing like that. They said that I was… taking advantage of my position. But I never… honestly, I never did anything untoward. I bathed with her a few times… but only as part of my job. I never once did anything… uncouth. You can ask her… f you ever meet her. I mean… if she had asked me… if she wanted me to… I wouldn’t say no… but still I was… I was perfectly professional.” 

“I’m sure you were,” Twila said. 

“Hey… if it’s not too much trouble… that is to say… you use magic, right?” Lilly asked. 

“I do,” Twila said. 

“I… I had a scrying gem… but I lost it… If I write a note could you, maybe, use your magic to send it to king Zero?” Lilly inquired. “I hate to ask… but he’ll want a report.” 

“Sure,” Twila said. “I can do that for you.” 

“Thanks, Twila,” Lilly said. “It’ll really help me.” 

*****

Axel examined the area. There had been a village here, once. It had been wiped out three or four decades ago. Some rumour had started about it being cursed and everyone had stayed away since. It was the perfect area for the Hestial League to hide. 

He’d started tracking them a few days ago while Zero minded the castle. He wanted to find Axra, but this was to ensure her safety. He found a set of fresh footprints. The league?

He followed them, keeping an eye on the terrain ahead of him. He drew Blutrünstig. 

Caution, there’s someone in the shadows to your left!

Axel raised his blade just in time to block the downward scythe stroke. 

“You! I should have known you’d be involved with them.” 

Axel studied his attacker for a moment. The man was a half elf with a shaven head and a rust red coloured goatee. He had hetero-chromatic eyes, one bright red and one a dull grey. “I remember you,” he muttered. “You were the one who killed Zenas.” Axel smirked. “No wait, that was the little djinn girl. You were one of the little people who got your ass handed to you.” 

The man scowled and his scythe almost cleaved into Axel’s flesh. Axel parried the blow and tried to counter with a quick thrust to his opponent’s gut, but the man evaded it with ease. The two fought for roughly ten minutes. Neither one managing to slice into the other. They backed away and circled one another for a moment. The half elf suddenly spasmed, dropping to one knee and coughing up blood.

“Chance!” Axel cried. He lunged at the man, but a shield blocked the blow. A second half elf. This one far younger and with dark blue hair. 

“Are you alright, Uncle?” the young man asked. 

Axel’s original opponent tried to rise, shakily. “Stay back, Shin. He’s not an ordinary opponent.” 

Axel took advantage of the distraction and went after the younger man. It took him a minute, but he managed to send the man’s sword flying away. But his opponent held tightly to his shield and went on the defensive. Axel glanced at his original enemy, the man had almost pulled himself up. He had to finish this, fast. 

He leaped into the air and tried to bring his sword down on Shin’s skull, but he was thrown back by some kind of barrier. 

“Magic?” Axel asked. “But who?” 

It didn’t take him long to find the answer. A dark elf woman was floating up to them. Her arms crossed and a frown on her face. “King Axel,” she spit the words out.”I trust you know that it’s an act of war to attack either my consort or my nephew?” 

“Elaine Silverstar,” Axel muttered. He sheathed his blade and forced a smile. “No offense intended, of course. I just wanted to see his skills again. It has been so long, after all.” Axel bowed. “I’ll just take my leave.” He faced them as he walked slowly away. The young man glared at him. Elaine kept an eye on him while helping her lover up. 

*****

Zero was sitting in his study when a violet flame burst open on his desk, leaving behind a letter. He examined it. 

Your Highness… or should I say Lord… maybe just King

Sorry if I offended you by addressing you wrong, but I thought it was really important for you to know that we found Axra. Don’t worry, she’s perfectly fine. I’m terribly sorry, but she made me destroy the scrying gem, but rest assured, I’ll do everything in my power to keep her safe. And I’m sure Velvet will help too or you wouldn’t have sent him, right? I promise you, she’s in good hands with me, Twila and, I guess, Velvet. I’ll report further as soon as I can. 

Best regards… I mean, your faithful servant, Lilly

“Who in Tartarus is Twila?” Zero asked. 

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Purification episode 8: Axra’s Orders

“We’re glad to have you with us, Miss Valvye,” Twila said. 

“Oh… um… please, if it’s not too much trouble, call me Lilly,” Lilly said. 

“Okay, Lilly,” Twila said. “You made it pretty far on your own.” 

“Well, actually…” Lilly began “I… kind of have some help.” 

“Oh?” Twila asked. “Did you get separated?” 

“Well, no,” Lilly said. “He waited outside with his dogs.”

“I see,” Twila said. “Well, I’d like to examine that thing we killed.” She glanced over at it. “I’ve never heard of such a creature before. So, why don’t you go invite your friend to join us?” 

“Well, um, that is…” 

“I’ll go with you,” Axra said. “There’s no need to worry.” Her eyes met Twila’s. “If that’s okay with you.” 

“Sure,” Twila said. “I’ll set up a barrier and have Fang to guard me.” 

Axra nodded. She and Lilly began walking towards the surface while Twila began her barrier spell. They moved in silence until Axra was certain that Twila was out of hearing range. 

“What are you doing here?” Axra asked. “Didn’t my dads tell you to stay away from me?” 

“Well… yes,” Lilly said. “But… they, you know, wanted me to… find and protect you.” 

“I see,” Axra said. “Who else did they send?” 

“Velvet,” Lilly said. 

“Who?” Axra asked. 

“He’s… you know… the guy with… His dogs do his work for him,” Lilly said. 

“Oh, the half-dwarf,” Axra said. They moved in silence for a while longer. “I don’t suppose I can get you to take him and return to Nervius?” Axra asked. 

“Oh… I… I’m sorry, but I couldn’t,” Lilly said. 

“I thought as much,” Axra said. She stopped in mid-stride. Lilly took a few steps before stopping as well. She stared meekly at the floor, fiddling with her fingers. 

“Lilly,” Axra said. “I will allow you and Velvet to accompany me on two conditions. If you can’t fulfill these conditions, I will knock you unconscious and leave without you. You can tell my fathers that I got the drop on you and they won’t punish you. Understood?” Lilly stared directly at her, but simply nodded. “First, you must leave the scrying gem behind.” 

“Scrying gem?” Lilly asked, her gaze shifting to the side. “What gem? I… I don’t know what you mean.” 

“Lilly!” Axra cried. 

“Oh… It’s just… your dads… they’ll be really mad if I leave it,” Lilly said. 

“I’ll take responsibility,” Axra said. Lilly reached a slim hand into her bag, pulling out a glowing green gem. She dropped it on the floor, shattering it. Axra nodded. “Good. Second, you mustn’t tell anyone who I am or who my fathers are. As far as anyone we meet is concerned, we met for the first time in these tunnels. Especially Twila. Understood?” 

“Oh, of course,” Lilly said. “I’ll make sure Velvet understands too.” 

The two hurried outside where Velvet was dozing in his wagon. His dogs piling together in the shade. They looked up and wagged their tails when they saw Lilly. 

Lilly walked over and shook Velvet. 

He took his cap from his face and looked around. “You found her, alright,” he stated. “We going home now?” 

“No,” Lilly said. “We have to accompany her. She… She’s travelling with a friend.” 

“What a drag,” Velvet muttered. 

“And… one very important thing,” Lilly said. “We… we can’t let anyone know she’s a princess.” 

“Kay,” Velvet said. “So, what now?” 

“We…” Lilly began. “We go underground… and protect her… but we can’t let anyone know we’re protecting her for, you know, a specific reason.”

“Got it,” Velvet said. “Let’s go then.” 

The three headed back inside the ruin. Much to Velvet’s annoyance, the dogs couldn’t pull the wagon inside due to the debris cluttering the floor and he was forced to leave it behind and walk. His dogs flanked him on each side, wagging their tails and panting while he grumbled about how much of a drag the situation was. 

Axra didn’t pay attention to him. She was worried that one of them would mess up and tell Twila the truth about her. She didn’t want Twila to treat her with deference or like some delicate noble. 

They returned to find the multi-legged creature’s carcass cut open. Twila was examining its insides with a long pair of gloves. Behind her, an ink-dipped quill jotted notes on a sheet of paper. 

“Oh, you guys are back,” she said. “I’m just finishing up.” She removed the gloves and tossed them to the side. Then she poured the water from a canteen over her arms to wash away the bits of gore that had managed to find their way to her flesh. 

“You must be Lilly’s friend,” she said. “I’m Twila Magia and this is my dragon, Fang.” She extended her hand towards him. “What’s your name?”

“Velvet Parse,” he stated, taking her hand and briefly shaking it.

“And your friends?” Twila asked, glancing at the dogs. 

“He… he never bothered naming them,” Lilly said. 

“So, they don’t have names?” Twila asked. 

“Thinking up names is a hassle,” Velvet muttered. “You can name em if you want, though.” 

“Okay,” Twila said. “I will.” She studied each of them for a moment. “Vicki, Jaime, Leela, Turlough, Ace and Lucy,” she stated, pointing to each of them in turn.

“You’re good at that,” Velvet noted. 

“We should be going,” Axra suggested. 

“Agreed,” Twila said. “We’ll get away from this mess and find a place to setup camp. Tomorrow, we can find out where the tunnel goes.” 

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Purification episode 7: Catching Up

Axra and Twila followed the hidden staircase for several minutes before reaching the bottom. 

Axra looked around the area. They were in some kind of rectangular chambre. It was mostly empty with some rubble scattered about and a single door. 

“Hold on a moment,” Twila said. “I’m going to use a darkvision spell.” She started to take a sitting position. 

“Wait!” Axra said. “There’s a sharp bit of rock under you.” She moved over and pushed it aside. 

“Thanks,” Twila said, taking a seat. “I can’t see a thing.” 

Axra studied Twila’s face while she chanted the spell. Trying to commit every detail to memory. She looked away as the chanting stopped. 

“That’s better,” Twila said. She examined the chambre. “Not much to see is there?” She shrugged her shoulders. “Let’s try the door.” 

“I’ll open it,” Axra said. “Stand back.” She opened the door cautiously. She could definitely hear something, a frantic scuttering. If it was something dangerous she wanted to shield Twila from it. She peered through the doorway. It was a long, tubular corridor. Roughly four metres tall. It looked smooth and vacant with a sharp turn two point seven metres away. 

“It looks clear,” Twila said. “Shall we?” 

Axra nodded. “Just let me take point, okay?” 

“If you insist,” Twila said. They walked steadily down the corridor. Axra listened for any sounds, her hand on her blade. She stopped at the corner. There was a low rumbling noise.

“You hear that?” Axra asked. 

“I do,” Twila said. “Fang, turn the corner and see what it is.” The little dragon flew off of her shoulder and rounded the corner, only to return scant seconds later. 

“Get back!” Twila yelled. Axra jumped backwards. A massive creature rounded the corner. It had a tube-like body, hundreds of tiny legs and pincers dripping with a slimy substance. 

Axra drew her blade while Twila started chanting a spell behind her. The creature ran forward, nearly throwing Axra into Twila. 

Axra hurriedly regained her feet, fully expecting its pincers to grab hold of her before she could prepare herself, but several arrows flew into it, halting its advancement. 

Axra grasped her sword and jabbed it into the monster several times. 

“Get back,” Twila said. Axra did as she was bidden. Twila snapped her fingers and several lances of light penetrated the creature. It thrashed about on its side for several seconds, growing slower and slower until it stopped moving. 

“Are you okay?” Twila asked. 

“Fine,” Axra said. “But where did those arrows come from?” 

The two looked back. A pink haired half elf was crouching with a bow. She had a torch propped up beside her. 

She put the bow down and looked directly at Axra, smiling. She opened her mouth as though to speak, but Axra made her move first. 

“Hey,” she said. “Thanks for your help. I’m Axra and this is my friend Twila Magia. What’s your name?” 

“Oh… ummm, pleased to meet you for the, umm first time. I’m Lilly… Lilly Valvye.” 

“Well Miss Valvye, you certainly helped us,” Twila said. “Did you come to explore the ruin as well?” 

“The ruin… oh, yes,” Lilly said. “I… love exploring, and stuff.”

“You should join us,” Twila said. “Your skills would be most helpful.” 

“Skills?” Lilly asked. “Me? That’s very… kind of you. I… I think I’ll do that.” 

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Purification episode 6: Finding the Path

“The Princess and her companion went in there,” Lilly said. 

“Good. We’ve found her,” Velvet said. “Now all we have to do is wait for her to come out.” 

“We… we should go inside,” Lilly said. 

“Why?” Velvet asked. “It’s not like there’s another way out. If we just hold tight she’ll show.” 

“But… well,” Lilly said. “She could be, you know, trapped or hurt. If anything were to happen to her… We just really need to get to her side.” 

“But if we go inside we could miss her coming out,” Velvet said. 

“You… you just want an excuse to sit around!” Lilly said. 

“That’s not true at all,” Velvet said. “I’m just concerned and stuff.” 

“Fine,” Lilly said. “You wait out here and I’ll go in and try to find her.”

“Kay,” Velvet said. “Let me know how that goes.”

*****

Axra and Twila continued on their trek. Thus far they hadn’t encountered any living things aside from some insects and spiders. Not, Axra noted with some disappointment, giant ones, but the more mundane variety. 

“This should be the spot,” Twila said. “Help me look for some kind of switch or trigger.” 

The chambre was a larger one. There were some broken and rotting pieces of furniture, fungus was growing from the walls and floor around them. If anything valuable had ever resided here, someone had taken it. Twila was scrutinising the walls and floor carefully. Axra did as she was bade and studied the area carefully, but her gaze kept diverting back to Twila as she worked. Why couldn’t she focus? She looked away and something caught her eye. It was a small painting on the wall, oddly untouched by time. A wolf carrying a rabbit in its mouth. 

“Did you find something?” Twila asked. 

“Maybe,” Axra said. She tried touching the image. It wasn’t a switch, it was perfectly flat. “Maybe not.” 

Twila walked over and examined the painting. Axra was acutely aware of her closeness. If she were to move her arm just a little she could be in contact with her. Maybe if she brushed her hand against Twila’s their eyes would meet and then… Axra could feel her cheeks flushing. 

“It’s not a switch,” Twila said. “But there’s certainly some kind of magic to it. It could be just what I was looking for!” 

She produced a book from her pouch, her hand coming very close to brushing against Axra’s. “I’m going to try a spell,” she said. “Stand back. I don’t know exactly what this’ll do.” 

Axra reluctantly backed away while Twila started chanting in a language Axra didn’t recognise. Her voice started low and began rising. At the height of her chant she snapped her fingers and a violet bolt flew from her palm into the painting. 

Axra could hear a rumbling. It started out faint, but gradually grew louder and louder. She looked around for the source, but it seemed to be coming from all around. Axra glanced at Twila who was looking around expectantly. 

A small segment of the floor slid open to reveal a staircase. 

“This could be it,” Twila said. “Let’s hurry!” Axra followed her down the staircase and into the unknown. 

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Purification episode 5: Into the Ruins

Axra didn’t sleep well that night. Why was she so nervous? For that matter, why was she heading to the ruins when she hadn’t come for that purpose? Was it just because Twila was going? Why should she even care what she did? And yet… and yet… She glanced at the sleeping woman. There was something about her. Something that drew Axra to her. Why? Why was it her? Axra lay still, trying to sleep and struggling with her confusion until day broke. 

Twila got up shortly after the sunset. She yawned, stretched and grabbed her pouch. She started by putting her bedroll away and reached in for a change of clothes and provisions. Axra went to her horse and changed as well. She hurried and returned to the campsite. Twila had started making breakfast. 

“Good morning,” she said. “Did you have pleasant dreams?” 

“Sure,” Axra lied. “They were awesome. How about you?” 

“I don’t really remember,” Twila said. “I think I had a dream of some kind, but it’s one of those ones that you just forget as soon as you wake up.” She handed Axra some food. “Eat up. We should be going soon.” 

“Right,” Axra said. “Don’t wanna waste the morning.” 

They ate and hurriedly broke camp. Twila led the way and they eventually reached a large broken down structure. The remnants of a door was tossed to the ground nearby. The entrance was open and there were no living things in sight. Twila pulled a large rolled up parchment from her pouch and examined it for a moment. 

“Yes,” she said. “I do believe this is the one.” 

“You have a map of the ruin?” Axra asked. 

“I do,” Twila said. “Uncle Lulu and Aunt Elaine were here a few months ago. He drew a map for me and then she re-did it so it would be legible. I love Uncle Lulu, but his handwriting’s a mess.”

“If it’s already mapped out won’t there be nothing inside?” Axra asked. 

“It’s possible,” Twila said. “Finding anything of value is difficult for most of these ruins. But I have a theory I’d like to test.” 

“What kind of theory?” 

“Well, I think that the ruins are connected,” Twila said. “This may not have just been a city. It may have been a city with buildings connected by a complex system of tunnels. If we can find the way inside, then we won’t just be able to search rooms that have been hidden for who knows how long, but we’ll be able to advance knowledge!” 

“That would be interesting,” Axra said. “But what makes you think it’s true?”

“I read the legend in a Djinn book,” Twila explained. “It spoke of a large, interconnected city that fell into ruin at the time of the cataclysm. But some people survived by fleeing underground into the tunnels.”

Djinn? Axra had heard that term before. Where was… Oh, yes. She remembered. The lost race. “Where did you find a Djinn book?” 

Twila hesitated for a moment. “I got it from my Aunt Reira,” she finally answered. 

“Well, it couldn’t hurt to check,” Axra said. “We should be careful, though. If those tunnels still exist there’s no telling what lurks inside them now.” 

“We’ll be careful,” Twila said. “And we’ll have Fang to watch our backs.” The two strode into the building. 

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Purification episode 4: Emerging Feelings

“It looks like there was a battle here,” Lilly said. “The Princess left, with someone else.” 

“That’s nice,” Velvet said. “She should be safe, at least. So we can stop for rest.” 

Lilly looked down at Velvet, reclining in his wagon. “No, because we don’t know who she left with. She could be in great danger. Oh… goodness. We really need to run.” 

“That’s such a hassle,” Velvet muttered. 

“Why are you even here?” Lilly asked. “Well… what I mean is just… you seem to just, you know, sit back a lot.” 

“I have two orders,” Velvet said. “They were…” He stopped in mid-sentence and scratched his chin. “Good thing I wrote them down.” He lazily reached a hand into his pouch and pulled out a crumbled parchment. “Let’s see. Protect the princess and chaperon so there’s no payapaya.”

“Oh… my,” Lilly said. 

“What’s payapaya, anyway?” Velvet asked. 

“You… you don’t know the term?” Lilly asked. 

“I’ve heard it,” Velvet said. “Never bothered learning what it meant. It never seemed important.” 

“It’s… well, that is to say… It’s probably not something you’ll have to worry about,” Lily said. 

“That’s a relief,” Velvet said. “I was worried that I had too many objectives for a while there.” 

*****

“This looks like a good place to stop for the night,” Twila said. “Don’t you agree?” 

“Sure,” Axra said. “It’s a perfect spot.” 

“Then it’s settled,” Twila said. “Why don’t you gather some firewood and I’ll cast a protective spell around the campsite?”

“No problem,” Axra said. “I’ll be back in less than a minute.” 

She headed back the way they’d come. She remembered passing some good logs. It took her fifty eight seconds to grab them and return. Twila was still casting so Axra arranged the wood in a circle and unrolled her bedroll near it. 

“That really was fast,” Twila said. “Fang, light it please.” The little dragon flew over the wood and breathed a small stream of fire on the pile, causing it to start burning. Twila reached into her little pouch and pulled out her own bedroll, a book, a rack which she hung her pointed hat and robes on Axra noted that her outfit beneath the robes consisted of a very light shirt and short shorts, some flannel pajamas and a small box. The pouch had to be enchanted. Zero papa had one like it. 

Twila started changing into her pajamas, Axra hurriedly looked away. Why was she so nervous? She was a princess, Twila should be the one who was nervous around her. She glanced back at her companion. She had finished changing and had pulled some rations from her pouch. 

“I hope you don’t mind boar,” Twila said. 

“Not at all,” Axra said. The two ate in silence and Twila went into her bedroll and opened the book. Fang made himself comfortable on top of the roll at her feet.

What was it Zero papa had said? If she meets someone she should knock them out and bring them back? How would she knock Twila out without having to cause severe harm to her dragon and if she did wouldn’t Twila hate her? No, no. Axra shook her head. Zero papa had been joking. What would Axel papa do? Probably wait until Twila mentioned something about traveling together and then say something like “Idiot, it’s not like I want to travel with you or anything. It can’t be helped if we’re going the same way, right?” Bt wouldn’t that lead to a terrible misunderstanding? 

Still, Twila was beautiful. Axra found herself staring quietly at her companion’s profile as she read. She had a very pretty face. Her eyes seemed to sparkle. Twila glanced over at her and Axra hurriedly looked away. 

“What are you reading?” Axra asked. 

“This?” Twila said. “It’s a Novice’s guide to adventuring. I brought it along as a reference. There’s a chapter on traveling with companions that I skipped over the first time, but now that we’re traveling together it seemed prudent to look it over again.” Sh went back to her book for several minutes before closing it. “Well, the first thing is to get to know each other a bit. I guess I’ll begin. My parents are both instructors at the great academy. My father is human, my mother an elf. I have a twin brother, although we don’t really look all that much alike. I’ve been studying magic since I was a little girl, but he wanted to be a warrior. After I got Fang I decided to come check out some of the places my uncle Lulu had told me about. He and aunt Elaine are always wandering off to examine ruins.”

“So, how did you get a dragon for a familiar?” Axra asked. “Don’t most mages just pick something nearby?” 

“That’s true,” Twila said. “But I was lucky. My aunts and uncles all brought me different creatures to choose from. Uncle Lulu and Aunt Elaine brought me a wolf cub. Uncle Florence brought me a unicorn. Aunt Reira and Aunt Lexine brought me a griffin. Uncle Jayko brought me a flying squirrel and my uncle Lennard brought me Fang. What about you? What’s your family like?” 

“Not nearly as large as yours,” Axra said. “Growing up it was just me and my dads. It was kind of a pain since they always fought over which of them I loved more. Zero papa wanted me to be a mage like him. Axel papa wanted me to become a paladin. I learned to use a sword pretty well, but I was never that interested in magic. Just recently I told them I wanted to come explore the wastes. I thought they would protest, but they allowed it.” 

“It sounds like you three are close,” Twila said. 

“We are,” Axra said. “I love them dearly. I just wish they wouldn’t worry so much.” 

“I know what you mean,” Twila said. “When I decided to come exploring ruins I had to dissuade three of my uncles from coming along.”

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Purification episode 3: Reciprocation

“Lilly, report. Did you find her trail?” Zero was speaking into a scrying pool. A very feminine half elf with pale pink hair answered. 

“Ummm, yes… I did find it.” 

“Have you found her yet?” 

“I… that is to say I…”

“You haven’t,” Zero said. 

“Well, no. But I’m sure I’m very close. There is one thing that’s a little strange though… But I’m sure it’s nothing.” 

“Out with it,” Zero said. 

“Well… there are two dead dragons here… but… well… the strange thing is…”

“Lilly, you need to be assertive,” Zero said. “Just tell me the strange thing so that you can get back to following her.” 

“They were… umm… killed by magic,” Lilly said. 

“Magic?” Zero asked. “Maybe they were killed before or after Axra arrived in that area. Just keep following her tracks.” 

“Of course… but… that is to say…” 

“Lilly!” Zero cried. 

“Can I… that is if you don’t mind…” 

“What are you asking?” Zero asked. 

“Can I… maybe send Velvet back?” 

“No,” Zero said. “He’s a good fighter.” 

“But… that is to say… he’s very slow. And when tracking… you know… time is important.” 

“I’m sure he isn’t slowing you down too much,” Zero said. “I’ll contact you later.” He gestured and the light faded from the pool. 

“Dragons killed by magic,” Zero muttered. Could she be responsible?” 

*****

Lilly moved back where she’d left her companion. He was lying down inside a small wagon, it was just large enough for him. The wagon had a harness in front of it that was currently empty. He was built like a dwarf, but slightly taller and with a fair face. He had a cap pulled over his face. Black disheveled hair peeked out above and around the cap. 

Lilly poked him. He yawned and took the hat off. “What?” 

“Well… we have to, you know, get going.” 

“What a hassle,” he said. “I just let them loose too.” He whistled and six large dogs ran over, wagging their tails happily. Velvet hooked them into the harness. “Follow the nice lady,” he ordered. He laid down in the wagon, pulling the cap back over his face. His team followed Lilly while he slept. 

*****

Axra wasn’t sure where she was. After her encounter with the dragons and that strange mage she’d just sort of wandered. She’d expected an encounter with the hermit by now or at least some sign of the spiders. Why did the wastes have to be so vast? Her reverie was interrupted by the sounds of a struggle.

She dismounted and walked towards the sounds, Todberührung in hand. She walked slowly and cautiously, not wanting a repeat of her last encounter, until she could see what was happening. It was her, the mage she’d met the other day. She was being attacked by five gargoyles. Her dragon was darting around in the air, trying to keep them away from her. 

Axra quickly went over everything she knew about gargoyles. Sharp talons, flying, weak mid-sections, ability to transform into stone for protection, highly resistant to magic… the mage wouldn’t have a chance. She had to help, to repay the kindness that had been shown for her. 

Axra charged into the group. She managed to jab one in the heart. Then she pulled her blade free and swung, slicing one in half. One of the remaining gargoyles slashed her back open, but she didn’t let it stop her. She jabbed backwards, hitting the beast in the eye. The remaining two turned and flew away. Axra studied the damage. The dead gargoyles weren’t decaying. Neither was the one flailing around with blood oozing from its eye. She jabbed it again to finish it. Why wasn’t her sword working the way it had against the dragon? 

“Thanks,” the mage said. “I thought I was in trouble for a minute there.” She dusted herself off and tipped her hat. “So, what brings you to the wastes?”

Axra opened her mouth bu then closed it again. She was suddenly drawing a blank.

“Oh, but that’s rude. I should introduce myself. My name is Twila Magia. This is my familiar, Fang. We’re here to explore the ruins. And you?” 

“I’m Axra,” she said, trying to sound confident. “I came here to check the ruins out too.” 

“I figured as much,” Twila said. “Most people who come here are. But you’re hurt!” 

Axra felt the blood trickling down her back. “I’m fine. It’s just a scratch.” 

“That is not just a scratch,” Twila said. “Here, let me take care of it.” Twila grabbed a small pouch from her belt. Out of it she produced antiseptic, some bandages and surgical tape. “This might sting a little,” she warned. 

Axra let Twila lift her shirt and treat the injury. She didn’t feel any pain at all, but her heart was pounding heavily. 

“There we go,” Twila said. “That’s better.” 

“Thanks,” Axra said. 

“Don’t mention it,” Twila said. “You got hurt helping me, after all. Hey, we should travel together!” 

“You think?” Axra asked. 

“Well, we do have the same goal,” Twila said. “And there is something to be said for the tactical advantage of greater numbers.”

“Yeah,” Axra said. “That sounds good.” 

“Then it’s settled,” Twila said. 

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