Purification episode 38: Concern

Lilly woke up to the sensation of a figure standing over her.

“T… Twila?” 

“Good, you’re awake,” Twila said. “Feeling better?” Twila put the wet cloth she was holding on Lilly’s forehead. 

“I… I feel… Is it really okay for you to be doing this?” 

“Don’t worry,” Twila said. “Mister Josa and Fang are gathering the books I need to check right now. I have time to look after you.” 

“B… but what about… that is… Is Axra okay, you know, with this?” 

“Why should Axra be concerned about it?” Twila asked. 

“Well… with you she…” Lilly looked away. “Sorry… I’m not making sense.” 

Axra walked in. “Lilly, you feeling better?”

“Oh… much,” Lilly said. 

“Good, cause I brought you some apples,” Axra said. “Just hold tight I’ll peel one for you.” 

“I… I can do it myself,” Lilly protested, trying to sit up.

“Calm down,” Axra said, gently pushing Lilly back. “You were in pretty bad shape for a while there. Just take it easy.” 

“I’ll get started on those books,” Twila said. “I’ll trust you to look after her.” 

“Say no more,” Axra said. “I’ll take such good care of her she’ll be running around in no time.” 

*****

True to her word, Axra spent the rest of the day looking after Lilly, in spite of the other woman’s protests. Lilly wasn’t sure how long passed, but the old scribe’s home eventually quieted and both Axra and Twila went to sleep on the floor nearby. Axra made Lilly promise to wake her if she needed anything. 

Lilly looked over at the two of them. The house wasn’t large, so they were sprawled out close together. Fang was resting near their feet. The way Axra had taken care of her… could it mean? Before she could get too excited by the prospect, Bonnie’s words came back to her.

“We’re servants. Nothing can happen between us and our masters.” 

“Are you okay?” 

Lilly looked around, startled. That was when she saw a bird hanging on the couch above her, multi-coloured feathers glistening on its head. 

“Gail?” Lilly asked. “I… is that you?” 

The bird nodded. “This place is dangerous,” she said. “If these people try to hurt you… I’ll throw this entire sphere into the sun itself.” 

“Hurt me?” Lilly asked. “Why would they want to?” 

“They’re a sneaky, cowardly race,” Gail said. The bird shifted, revealing Gail’s humanoid form. She had to duck to avoid hitting the ceiling. “Rest assured, I won’t let them harm you.” She kissed Lilly’s forehead. “I’ll be watching from afar until I’m certain you’ll be okay.” Lilly suddenly felt really tired. She couldn’t keep her eyes open. 

When she woke up, she could smell breakfast cooking. Neither Twila nor Axra was in the room. She got off the couch and walked to the kitchen. The old scribe was cooking with Axra cutting some ingredients for him, Twila was nowhere to be seen. 

“Oh, you’re awake,” he said. “You must be feeling better. Sit down, it’ll be ready soon.” 

“Oh, thank you,” Lilly said. “But I really should help.” 

“No, no,” Kilieg said. “We’ve got it handled. Although you could get Twila for us. She’s in the basement.” He nodded towards a staircase. 

Lilly went downstairs. The entire basement was filled with books. There weren’t any shelves. Instead, they were piled up in stacks. There wasn’t any furniture in sight except for a small desk. Twila was bent over it, reading a very new looking book. 

“It… It’s time for breakfast,” Lilly said. 

“Breakfast?” Twila asked. “Oh, right. I suppose it would be.” She marked her spot and moved carefully past the piles of books. 

She put her hand on Lilly’s shoulder when she got close. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” 

“W… well you two both took such good care of me that I’d have to,” Lilly said. 

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Purification episode 37: The Senile Scribe

“Sorry,” Lilly muttered. “I… I’m sure I’m too heavy.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Axra said. Lilly was positioned on her back with her arms around Axra’s neck. “Just concentrate on feeling better.” She kept walking, holding Lilly carefully up as she went. Lilly’s hair tickling the back of her neck. “Still, why is Lilly the only one sick?” 

“It’s hard to say,” Twila said. “It could be that she’s the least accustomed to moving quickly or there could be some genetic factor responsible.” Fang flew off of Twila’s shoulder and hovered above her as though to demonstrate his own lack of difficulty. 

They continued down the path towards the reportedly senile old man’s home. The ground was nearly pitch black and their journey took them through or around several craters. Some of the larger ones had buildings inside of them, usually businesses from the look of them. The city had several statues of Artemis, they seemed to pass one every half hour or so. Axra had looked up at the moon several times, but she’d never imagined that people could or would live on it. Still, it made sense. The Djinn were largely forgotten because they’d retreated to such a distant place.

They drew quite a bit of attention. Which made sense given that the Djinn were isolated up here. Axra didn’t see one member of any other race in the crowd. Although she did spot a cute Djinn girl. The young woman blushed and looked away. 

“Right,” Axra thought. “They read minds. Better not think about anything like that.” Just as she was focusing her ind on carrying Lilly to their destination, she spotted a stunningly beautiful Djinn. The woman winked at her. Dammit! Why was it so hard to not think about things like this when you were in a situation where it was a bad idea? 

They eventually arrived at their destination. It was a medium-sized house situated just outside of one of the craters. Twila went over and rapped her staff against the door. 

After a couple minutes, a bent old Djinn answered. His hair was pure white and he had a bushy mustache. He was barely over a meter tall. “Is this an invasion?” he asked. 

“No, Sir,” Twila said. “We…” 

“Not an invasion,” he interrupted. “That’s good.” He slammed the door. 

Twila tried knocking again. 

The old Djinn quickly returned. “Are you my granddaughter?” he asked. “Did you want some hard candy?” 

“No, Sir,” Twila answered. “My name is Twila Magia. My friend and I…” 

“Not my granddaughter,” he interrupted. “I see.” He closed the door again. 

Twila frowned but forced herself to smile before knocking again. 

The old Djinn answered. “Where am I? Are you trying to sell me something?” 

“No,” Twila answered, speaking quickly. “We aren’t invaders. I’m not your granddaughter and I don’t want to sell you anything. We came because we heard that your an authority on ancient texts.” 

“Oh, that’s why you’re here,” he said. “I see.” He poked his head out of the house and beckoned for them to come inside. “Hurry, hurry.” 

They moved inside and he quickly shut the door behind them. 

“Can’t be too careful,” he said. “These youngsters have no respect. Always trying to take advantage of an old man. They think I’m senile, you know.” 

“Aren’t you?” Axra asked. Twila shot her a cautioning look. “Sorry.” 

“No need to apologise,” he said. “Just means I’m doing something right. When they think I’m senile, I can talk circles around them until they go away. Very handy. Now then, Miss… Magia, was it? What do you need from an authority on ancient texts?” 

“We’re looking for specific information,” Twila explained. “About a woman who was sealed in the Wastes. She has an awful lot of power and we’re concerned for our friend’s safety.” She nodded towards Lilly. 

“So, that’s what it is,” he said. “Oh, yes, my name is Kilieg Josa, but if anyone out there asks I couldn’t remember.” 

“We understand,” Twila said. 

“Good,” Kilieg nodded. “Put your friend down on the couch. I’ll grab some books from before the cataclysm. Let’s see if we can’t find out about this strange woman of yours.” 

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Purification episode 36: Djinn City.

“That was amazing!” Axra declared. “I’ve never felt such a rush of speed!”

She looked around. They were on a platform very similar to the one they’d left, except housed in a domed building instead of in the middle of the ocean. There were three people watching them. They all had the same slightly pointed ears and large eyes as Reira. She was taller than any of them by a good half foot. 

“No,” Reira said. “I’m not a gnome/human hybrid like you initially thought. Yes, you are looking at my people.” 

Axra scrutinised the four of them. They didn’t look like any species she’d seen before. 

“We aren’t,” Reira said. Axra was starting to get annoyed at having her mind read like that. “Say hello to the Djinn.” 

“Well met, Reira.” An elderly looking man stepped forward. “Here to visit with your niece and her good friends are you?” 

“She needs to find some information,” Reira said. “If you can point her in the right direction, you can send me back to Lexine.” 

“It’s most unusual to bring outsiders here,” he said. “But I can see why you did it. This Gail seems like trouble and there is good reason to believe there would be information on her here.” He looked over at Axra. “You might want to help Lilly stand.” 

Axra turned around, Lilly was wobbling and looked about ready to fall over. Axra rushed back and helped her stand. 

“S… sorry,” Lilly muttered. “Th… the trip. I… don’t…” 

“It’s okay,” Axra reassured her. “I’ve got you.” 

“So,” Twila began. “wi…” 

“I will,” the old man said. “I don’t know anything about that time period myself. But there is an elderly man whose collected and re-transcribed all of the ancient texts he can. He’s a bit of an oddball, though. His ability to read minds has been all but lost and we fear he’s going senile.”  He looked up at Twila. “No, we can’t tell for sure. Reading another Djinn’s mind isn’t so easy. Without him opening up to us, we could only force our way in. But such a thing… such a thing isn’t done without very good cause. Yes, I will write up directions for the three of you. Just give me a moment. You youngsters, always in such a rush.” 

“We barely even said a word,” Axra whispered. 

“True,” Twila said. “But he can’t help but read our thoughts. As such, we can’t really phrase things delicately.” 

Reira laughed. “You’ll find that I’m one of the better Djinn about letting people talk. Most everyone up here has never interacted with other species. So, you can expect them to treat your thoughts as though they were words. After all, if they’re unguarded they’re going to assume you mean for them to hear them.” 

“I might be able to develop a defensive spell,” Twila said. “But I don’t know how long it would take and helping Lilly takes priority.” 

“Well, you could replicate the type of interference that the Eris orb creates for Lulu,” Reira suggested. “I never could read his mind without putting in a major effort.” She shrugged. “Easier said than done, I suppose.” 

“Thanks for bringing us up here, Twila said. “Are we going to see you again?” 

“You will,” Reira said. “Although not anytime soon unless you return to pick up your other friends before Lexine and I leave Jeriska. When you’re done, just return here. They’ll send you back.” She walked over and hugged Twila. “Good luck, Kiddo!” 

*****

“The reinforcements from the academy are here.” 

“Good,” Zero stated. “I want to hurry and put this behind me.” 

“Their head representatives wish to speak with you.” 

“Of course,” Zero said. “Send them in.” 

A red-headed elven woman and a gray-haired human walked in. 

“Magia,” Zero said. “Mister and Misses. It’s been a long time.” 

“It has been,” he said. “I never thought I’d be sent to help you or that I’d accept such an assignment.” 

“Still mad?” Zero asked. “It’s been decades since I beat you down. You really should let it go, Isaac.” 

“Boys, calm yourselves,” she said, gently. “It is an interesting problem. A ridiculously strong weather spell focused on this small area.” 

“If we don’t dispel it, this entire area could suffer greatly,” Zero stated. “That’s a certainty.” He looked at Isaac. “Will you allow that to happen?” 

“Of course not,” Isaac said. “That is why Moira and I are here. Hopefully, our party’s added power will enable us to beat this thing.”

“Good,” Zero said. “We should try to get along anyway,  if only for our daughters’ sakes.” 

“Yes, I heard about Twila speaking to Elaine on your behalf,” Isaac said. “I also heard that my brother was working with Axel on the Hestial League problem.” 

“And Twila’s letters have spoken very highly of Axra,” Moira added. 

“Axra is very fond of Twila as well,” Zero stated. “I was surprised to see how close they’ve become after so short a time.” 

“Then we’re agreed,” Isaac stated. “Give us some time to rest from our journey and we’ll deal with this problem.” 

“I’ll stay on the side-lines,” Moira said. “You’ll probably get it dealt with, but should we fail again it might provide valuable insight if someone’s monitoring.” 

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Purification Episode 35: Far From Home

“Ready?” Reira asked. 

“I am,” Twila answered. “What about you two?” 

“I’m totally ready,” Axra said. 

“I… I’m a… a little nervous,” Lilly said. “J… just a bit.” 

“You can stay here if you like,” Twila said. “I’m sure Bonnie and Lysara would appreciate your company.” 

“Yeah,” Axra agreed. “We can handle this.” 

“Th… that’s okay,” Lilly said. “I… want to come, really.” 

“Okay,” Reira said. “Do the teleport spell, Twila. I’ll mentally guide you.” 

“You don’t do the magic yourself?” Axra asked. 

“Not me,” Reira said. “I only know clerical spells. Don’t worry. I can still guide the spell easily enough. Miss Hart, don’t you dare try running into the spell after it’s started.” 

Bonnie put a hand on Lysara’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. They’ll be okay.” 

Twila completed the spell and the four vanished. 

*****

Axra looked around. They were on a small circular platform. It was elevated above, and surrounded on all sides by, water. She could smell salty waves. 

“Yes,” Reira said. “We are in the ocean.” 

“Wh… what’s that?” Lilly asked, gesturing at a pedestal with several buttons sticking out the top. 

“That is our ticket out of here,” Reira said. “Stand back. It won’t work for you anyway.” 

She approached the pedestal. It began clicking while a soft hum came from it. A small panel opened and a metallic tendril reached out, pricking Reira’s finger. It retracted back into the device and the hum grew louder. 

“Hyev gulhn tiwril.” 

“Did that voice come from that thing?” Axra asked. 

“It did,” Twila said. “Wish I knew how the device works.” 

“I could tell you the basics of how,” Reira said. “But I know what you really want to know is how all of its inner bits work and even I don’t understand it. Although you might meet someone up there who does.” 

“U… up where?” Lilly asked. 

Reira grinned and pushed two buttons. The four of them were enveloped in a bright light and Axra felt like she had been tossed onto a horse moving at a greater pace than she could imagine. She felt a little queasy but also intensely thrilled. The speed was amazing!

*****

“My lovely ladies,” Reginald said, bowing. “Where are the others?”

“Shut up,” Lysara snapped. She tossed a key at him and Velvet. “That’s for your room. I’m going to find something to eat.” 

“Something seems to be troubling her,” Reginald observed. “Women, right?” He nudged Velvet. 

“What about them?” Velvet asked. 

“She’s in a bad mood because Twila went off somewhere with Axra, Lilly and her aunt,” Bonnie explained. “Velvet, we’re under orders to await their return.” She turned to Reginald. “You can do whatever. You aren’t under any obligations.” 

“You wound me,” Reginald said. “I shall await the lovely ladies alongside you. In the meantime, there is a Hot spring that I would very much like to soak in.” 

Bonnie watched him go. 

“Anything strange this time?” 

“Not really,” Velvet said. “He just bought supplies.” He looked away from Bonnie. “There was one thing that was a little odd. His money was made of paper.”

“Paper?” Bonnie asked. “Could he have been calling in a debt?” 

“Maybe,” Velvet said. 

“But if he has nowhere to go, then why does he have a history with this town?” Bonnie wondered. 

“That’s what I was curious about too,” Velvet said. “It could be nothing. This is pretty near the Great Library. Maybe he just comes in on occasion.” 

“Well, go keep an eye on him,” Bonnie said. “I’ll… I guess I’ll go find Lysara. She could need help.” 

“The town’s pretty safe,” Velvet pointed out. “You sure that’s really why you want to find her?” 

“Just what are you implying?” Bonnie demanded. 

“Nothing,” Velvet stated. “Just thinking out loud. Well, I’d better go keep an eye on Reggie.” 

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Purification Episode 34: Resort town Jeriska

“Where in Jeriska are your aunts?” Bonnie asked. 

“Do they run one of the hot springs?” Lysara asked. “We could totally stay with them a few days!” 

“They don’t run one,” Twila said. “They’re just resting from their adventures for a couple weeks.” 

“What kind of adventures do they have?” Lysara asked. 

“They don’t have the kind of dangerous ones they used to,” Twila said. “they mostly just wander and help wherever they can.” 

“Seems I’ve heard stories about that,” Bonnie said. “Two lady adventurers who help those in need… There was something strange about them, but I can’t remember what.” 

“Well,” Reginald said. “I should see to our supplies while we’re in town. So, just go meet them without me.” 

“Are you sure?” Twila asked. 

“Absolutely,” Reginald said. 

“Well, I may have to go for a while,” Twila said. “So, just meet up with everyone else.” 

“You shouldn’t go alone,” Bonnie said. “It might not be safe.” 

“Oh, yeah,” Velvet agreed, not bothering to move his hat off of his face. “I’ll go with him.” 

“It’s a resort town,” Reginald said. “I very much doubt there will be danger, but I would appreciate the company.” 

They dropped their horses off at a stable near the gate and proceeded on foot. Except for Velvet who stayed in his dog-drawn wagon. 

The ladies headed for one of the Inns while Reginald and Velvet went off to get supplies. 

*****

“This is the one,” Twila said. 

“I… it looks very nice,” Lilly commented. 

“It looks expensive,” Bonnie said. 

“Worried about the price?” Axra said. “Don’t worry, I’ve got it.” 

“We don’t have to book rooms,” Twila said. “We can just go inside and talk with them.” 

“But it’s so luxurious!” Lysara declared. “Can’t we stay here?” 

“The inn across the street is perfectly fine,” Twila said. “And much cheaper. We should save our coin for important things.” 

Twila was able to get instructions to her aunts’ room at the front desk and they went up the stairs to it. 

Twila knocked on the door. “Aunt Reira, Aunt Lexine. Are you decent?” 

The door slid open. A brown-haired half elf with a patch over her left eye stood there. She was wearing a simple tunic.

“Twila? We weren’t expecting you so soon.” She stood aside to admit them. The room had a very small love-seat with just enough room for two people if they sat very close together. It also had a short table with a steaming kettle sitting on it. Near the table was a small fire pit made with stones and a metal rack. The second half had a door leading into it. Currently it was slightly ajar. Axra could just see a heart-shaped bed inside. Near the entrance a pair of bagh nakh, a sword and a shield were propped against the wall. A set of armour had been carefully placed in the corner. 

“We made good progress,” Twila said. “Where’s Aunt Reira?” 

“She went to take a dip in the spring,” Lexine said. She looked over at Axra, Lilly, Bonnie and Lysara. “These must be your friends. Axra, Lilly and…”

“Lysara and Bonnie,” Twila said, indicating each one in turn. 

“Of course,” Lexine said. “Good to meet you both. I was just having some tea, would you like some?” 

She got some extra cups and poured some for each of the girls before putting more water on to boil. 

Twila had started telling Lexine about her adventures when Axra heard very small footfalls behind them. She turned to see a petite woman, not quite five feet tall and wearing a robe. She had slightly pointed ears, greyish purple hair tied in a ponytail and bright green eyes. There was something very otherworldly about her. 

“I suppose there is,” the woman said, as though reading Axra’s thoughts. “I like to think it accentuates my beauty.” 

“Aunt Reira,” Twila said. 

“Little Twila,” Reira said. “I see you’ve found some pretty friends.” She looked over at Bonnie. “No need to be so suspicious, Miss Calendula. No one here has any designs on your Mistress. Well, not any hostile ones at any rate.And no, Miss Hart, this isn’t some cheap magic trick. Why, the very thought.” She winked at Lilly. “Why yes, Miss Valvye, I can read minds. How astute of you to notice. And no, I won’t tell them that. I’m, not tactless.” 

“Sorry,” Twila said, stroking Fang’s head. “I should have warned you all.” 

“Don’t worry about it,” Reira said. “It’s more fun this way. So, you want to visit the Djinn and find out who this Gail person is. She does seem terrifying based on what you’ve seen of her. Although there is evidence to suggest that she’s not going to try to harm you, but who knows what could happen if she just decides to take Miss Valvye with her.” 

“So, you now know our situation,” Twila said. “Will you…” 

“Take you there?” Reira asked. “I will. It’ll be a quick journey if you’re with me.” 

“Thank you,” Twila said. She turned to the others. “Sta at the Inn for a little while. I’ll be back shortly.” 

“Wait,” Axra said. “Why can’t we come along?” 

“W… we wouldn’t be in the way,” Lilly said. “W… we could even help.” 

“I know,” Twila said. “But the place I have to go… It isn’t one that just anyone can access.” 

“True enough,” Reira said. “But I’ll allow those two to come along,” she nodded towards Lilly and Axra. “I’m confident that they can be trusted to keep the secret.” 

“Wait a moment!” Lysara demanded. “I…” 

“Will tell anything that makes for a good story,” Reira said. She looked at Bonnie. “And you’ll report it to your masters as part of your duty.” 

“If it’s something they should know,” Bonnie admitted. 

“Then it’s settled,” Reira said. “I’ll get properly dressed, prepare the teleport spell and the four of us can be off quickly.” She moved over and kissed Lexine’s cheek. “Just wait for an hour. I’ll have them there and be back in no time.” 

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Purification episode 33: Failed Missions

“This is the place,” Axel said. “Do you guys wanna go first or should I take my people in?” 

“Shin,” Lulu said. “Take some of the soldiers and watch the exits. The rest of us will go in.” 

“No offense, Uncle,” Shin said. “But you aren’t at your best. I should be the one to go inside.” 

“Don’t go burying me yet,” Lulu said. “I’m still spry enough.” He nodded to Axel. “Let’s move in.” 

The two led their troops to the entrance. They moved in, kicking the doors open and hurrying inside. 

“I don’t see anyone,” Axel whispered. 

“Maybe your intel was wrong,” Lulu said. 

“No,” Axel said. “Trust me. I used… very persuasive methods.” 

They looked around, going through empty halls and rooms. 

“Sir,” one of Lulu’s soldiers addressed him. “There are signs that someone started a fire, tried to burn some documents. We’re trying to salvage something we can use.” 

“We waited too long,” Axel muttered. 

“It would appear so,” Lulu agreed. “I’ll look around for tracks. stick around and organise the search for evidence here.” 

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Axel said. 

“Did you have a better suggestion?” Lulu asked, glaring. 

“No,” Axel admitted. 

“Then we do it my way,” Lulu said. 

“Fine, but I won’t like it,” Axel said. 

*****

One by one they collapsed. Over a dozen mages, all working on a single counter-spell. Zero fell to one knee, but kept going. He refused to let this thing beat him. Not again. 

They were down to five. No… four. His last companion fell. Now it was just him and three of the dark elves. One of them fell. Several of the townspeople came to carry her inside. Then another. Finally, Zero himself lost consciousness. 

“ther… Father dearest.” 

“Rachel,” Zero muttered. “Did we get it?” 

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But you didn’t. I do so hate this kind of magic. It’s made everything terribly dreary.” 

“Perhaps the Matriarch herself should come here,” the head of the Archmages, Lila, was it? spoke up. 

“That might be for the best,” Zero said. 

“It was like something was fighting us,” Lila noted. “Not just the spell, but a force strengthening the spell even as we tried to undo it.” 

Why hadn’t he thought of it before? “That’s exactly what it was!” Zero declared. “Some incredibly powerful mage is actively blocking our efforts. So if we can get enough strong mages…” 

“We can surpass her,” Lila said. 

“Or him,” Zero said. “I’ll call for reinforcements from the Academy as well. This being, whoever they are, won’t make a fool of me for long.” 

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Purification episode 32: Suspicions

“So, where are we headed?” Bonnie asked. 

“We’re going to travel to Jeriska,” Axra explained. “Twila says her Aunt Reira can help us.” 

“Her Aunt Reira has books that aren’t even in the Great Library?” Lysara asked. 

“That’s hard to believe,” Bonnie said. “Are you sure she isn’t up to something?” 

“I trust her implicitly,” Axra said. “If she says we can learn more from meeting her aunt then I don’t doubt it.” 

“I… I believe her too,” Lilly said. “A… after all… she’s, you know, never given us a reason to doubt her.” 

“Fine,” Bonnie said. “We’ll leave it at that. I’ll get Velvet and we’ll prepare the horses.” 

Bonnie went to the little room and dragged Velvet up. “Come on, we’ve got work to do.” 

“I was sleeping,” Velvet muttered. 

“Aren’t you always?” Bonnie asked. She waited until they were back outside. “Find out anything?” 

“No,” Velvet said. “The most suspicious thing he did was ask if I ever get pent up traveling with a bunch of women who are only interested in payapaya.” 

“He never vanished to send messages or anything?” 

“No,” Velvet said. “And I totally kept an eye on him at all times, like instructed.” 

“I still don’t like it,” Bonnie said. “What’s his angle?” 

“Maybe he’s just helpful,” Velvet said. 

“I don’t buy it,” Bonnie said. “No one offers their services for nothing. With Twila, she’s getting a chance to gain knowledge. Which seems to be an important thing to her. Although I’m still not so sure about her, to be frank. What does Reginald gain from helping us?” 

“Who knows,” Velvet shrugged. “Thinking about stuff like that is too much of a hassle.” 

“Well, keep watch over him,” Bonnie instructed. “Until we know for sure we can’t risk getting complacent.” 

*****

“We’ll be ready to move out soon,” Axra said. “Bonnie and Velvet left to make the preparations.” 

“That’s good,” Twila said. She rubbed her eyes and yawned. “Sorry, I haven’t been sleeping well.” 

“I know,” Axra said. “If you ride on my horse with me you can sleep and I can hold you steady so you don’t fall.” 

“That might be good,” Twila said. “You’ll wake me if there’s trouble?” 

“Of course,” Axra said. 

“Then I think I’ll accept,” Twila said. 

“So, why would your aunt know about Gail?” Axra asked. 

“Oh, that,” Twila said. “It’s not that she would know but the Djinn might and she can take us to them.” 

“I thought the Djinn were all dead,” Axra stated. 

“Most people do,” Twila said. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be talking about this.” She yawned again. “I’ve probably said too much already.” 

“Don’t worry about it,” Axra said. “I won’t say a word.” 

“You won’t have to,” Twila said. “She’ll know I told you.” Twila shrugged. “Can’t be helped, I suppose. I just hope she isn’t too mad.” 

*****

“I can’t believe we got through that,” Zero said. 

“Of course we did,” Axel said. “You got Elaine’s niece to speak for us.” 

“I just thought that there would be another diplomatic incident,” Zero said. “Possibly from a careless word.” 

“Are you saying I’ve got no tact, you Asshole?” Axel asked. 

“I never said that,” Zero said. “And it was brilliant of you to suggest cooperating to attack the League.” 

“The extra bodies’ll be helpful,” Axel said. “You’d better take care of Rachel while I’m gone.” 

“I’m not some monster,” Zero said. “Thanks to your actions, which I dearly hope Axra never finds out about, we know where they are. There’s no longer any necessity to sacrificing Rachel.” 

“Good,” Axel said. “Because if I find out you let her die, our long partnership is over.” 

“I will safeguard her completely,” Zero said. “When the dark elf Archmages arrive to aid me in undoing the Choltin spell, we’ll take her with us.” 

“Can’t believe you need a whole party to undo a single spell,” Axel scoffed. 

“Neither can I,” Zero said. “I fear the caster may be a legitimate child of one of the Gods. Unlike all those fools who claim a divine Sire to prop up their position. I just hope there isn’t some deeper scheme at work here.” 

“You’re being paranoid again,” Axel said. 

“Am I?” Zero asked. “Why cast such a powerful weather spell over one of our protectorates if not to keep me indisposed? With you leaving as well, I fear for the castle’s safety.” 

“Don’t worry,” Axel grasped Zero’s shoulders. “It’ll all work out. I’ll deal with the League. You’ll deal with the spell and everything will be back to normal.” 

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Purification episode 31: The Great Library

It was several floors tall. There was very little space dedicated to anything but books with shelving close together, all the way from the floor to the ceiling, leaving only small openings to get through. Axra noted that the aisles were even smaller than the ones in her dad’s library. Twila led them to a small side room, smaller than any single room in Axra’s house.

“This is the sleeping area,” Twila explained. “If we need it.”

“Can we even all lie down in here?” Bonnie asked. 

“Don’t be shy, Bon,” Lysara said. “We’ll just snuggle together.” 

“Sounds good to me,” Reginald said. 

“Not you,” Lysara said. 

“Velvet and Reginald can stay in here,” Axra said. “The rest of us can squeeze into the aisles.” 

“I guess it would be okay,” Twila said. “Just be careful not to damage any of the books.” 

She stroked Fang’s head. “Fang, find me any books you can about the pre-cataclysm and the Djinn.” The dragon flew from her shoulder and went to work. By the time he returned, several hours had passed. 

“Is he going to be okay looking for those?” Lysara asked. 

“He’s an expert,” Twila said. “We simply don’t have many books about the Djinn anymore.”

“We… I… I’m sure you’re doing your best,” Lilly said. 

“Don’t worry,” Twila said. “If any information about Gail is here, we’ll find it.”

She and Fang went to work. Over the next week, she spent very little time eating or sleeping, devoting herself to her research. Fang would take frequent breaks when she had a book, resting his wings. 

“W… what do we do if she doesn’t find anything?” Lilly wondered. 

“Relax,” Axra said. “If Gail comes after you I’ll deal with her.” 

“It’s concerning,” Bonnie said. “Her dragon’s rummaged through just about every floor. How can a creature so supposedly powerful have left no information behind?” 

“Well she was alive, like forever ago, right?” Lysara asked. “There aren’t a lot of stories that pre-date the cataclysm.” 

“That’s another disturbing detail,” Bonnie said. “How is she still alive? A Goddess couldn’t be confined like that. What else could possibly live that long?” 

“A Titan!” Lysara declared. 

“Aren’t they all imprisoned in Tartarus?” Bonnie asked. 

“Well, maybe one got imprisoned before that and she was forgotten over time,” Lysara suggested. 

“I… I am the child of chaos, death and magic,” Lilly said. “Isn’t that what she said?”

“Something like that,” Axra said. “Excuse me for a moment.” 

She grabbed some water and took it over to Twila, who was sitting in the lotus position reading. “Here,” she said. “Drink this.” 

“Wha… wh… Oh, thanks,” Twila said. “You startled me for a moment there.” 

“Still haven’t found anything?” Axra asked. 

“No,” Twila admitted. “And I’ve been through almost every book that might have the information in this library.” 

“And if it’s not in the great library it’s not on this planet,” Axra said. “Wonderful.” 

“No…” Twila muttered. “Not on this planet but maybe… 

“Are you okay?” Axra asked. “You’re starting to ramble. Maybe you should get more sleep.” 

“Of course!” Twila continued as though she hadn’t heard Axra. “It was such an obvious place to look. I should have thought of it before.” She reached over and grabbed Axra’s hand. “Get the horses ready! Get everyone outside, we have to find my aunt Reira!” 

“Huh?” Axra asked. 

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Purification episode 30: The Wandering Swordsman

“Y… you seem in much better spirits,” Lilly noted, upon Axra’s return. “Not that it’s my place to say.”

Axra put an arm around Lilly. “Don’t worry about it. Come on, we’ve got a library to go to.”

“Indeed,” Twila agreed. “If we hurry we can still make it before nightfall.”

“No need to rush,” Velvet said. “Won’t hurt to take our time.”

“You’ll be in your wagon anyway,” Bonnie said. “You aren’t the one who’s going to have to work.”

They headed back towards the entrance. The soldiers opened the gate to allow them to exit and they followed the tunnels back to the surface. Twila dispelled her darkvision spell and they stepped into the sunshine. Axra had to cover her eyes for a moment while they adjusted.

“Maybe I should develop a lightvision spell,” Twila said. “Make things less difficult for you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Axra said. “I just needed a moment.”

They retrieved their horses and went back on the road.

“Hey, Bon,” Lysara said. “Which sounds better? “for our bright future I’ll strive” or “onward we’ll always journey. Hand in hand?”

“Don’t ask me,” Bonnie said. She trotted away from Lysara and closer to Lilly.

“N… not that it’s my business,” Lilly said. “B… but aren’t you, you know, hard on her?”

“Something about her bugs me,” Bonnie said. “I don’t know what it is, but every time she talks to me I feel… anxious. Somehow, flustered.”

“I… is that so?” Lilly asked.

“It is!” Bonnie declared. “I don’t even know if I like this feeling. It’s both uncomfortable and, in a strange way, wonderful.”

*****

They stopped for lunch at noon. Lilly approached Axra.

“P… princess.”

“Just call me by name,” Axra said. “We’ve been friends too long for formalities. How many times are you going to make me say that?”

“S… sorry,” Lilly said. “A… Axra, it might be nothing, but I think we’re being followed.”

“Did you see someone?” Axra asked.

“Not see, no,” Lilly said. “But I’ve been hearing an extra set of hoof beats. I… I would’ve told you sooner, but I wasn’t sure until we stopped and I heard the sound of hooves moving away from us.”

“I wonder who it could be,” Axra said. “What do they want? And how should we deal with them?”

“Princess, Lilly,” Bonnie said. “Lunch is ready.”

“Lilly’s been hearing hoof beats following us,” Axra said.

“What?” Bonnie asked. She looked back the way they’d come. “Which direction did they go?”

“S… south east,” Lilly answered.

“Let me go have a look,” Bonnie said.

“It could be dangerous alone,” Axra said. “Take Velvet with you.”

“Understood,” Bonnie said. She walked over to the cooking fire they’d built, grabbed Velvet by the nape of the neck and dragged him along with her.

*****

“So, where are you dragging me?” Velvet asked.

“Someone’s following us,” Bonnie said. “We have to find them and ensure that they pose no threat to the princess.”

“It’s a hassle, but I guess it has to be done,” Velvet said.

The two moved cautiously. They reached a small stream with a horse tied beside it.

“Do you see the rider?” Bonnie asked.

Velvet shook his head. “Wonder where they went?”

“Strange,” Bonnie said. “There’s no attempt to hide it. Almost as if… Shit, we have to head back!”

“Why?” Velvet asked.

“Just hurry,” Bonnie said.

*****

“Where are Bonnie and Velvet going?” Twila asked.

“To check something,” Axra answered. “They’ll be back in no time.”

“Problem?” Twila asked.

“A possible one,” Axra said. “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.” Lilly drew her bow and moved in front of Axra. “Lilly?”

“F… footsteps,” Lilly said. “Several people are coming this way. P… please stay behind me.”

“No can do,” Axra said. “You need distance, so you should stay behind me.” She put a hand on Todberührung’s hilt and moved forward. Lysara saw the two of them preparing and moved close to Twila, grabbing her chakram on the way.

There were over a dozen of them, all armed.

“Who are you?” Twila asked, loudly. “What do you want?”

“Impure ones,” their leader said. “Prepare to be purged.” She nodded and they ran forward.

Axra rushed to meet them. Her blade slashed one’s mid-section open. She jabbed a second. An arrow flew past her head and hit an enemy behind her through the heart.

“Chain Lightning!” Twila cried. A bolt surged from one opponent into a second and then a third. All three collapsed. Fang flew from her shoulder and started breathing fire at the approaching foes.

Lysara moved to Axra’s side, taking an enemy down with her chakram.

“Barbarians!” a voice cried. An elf ran in behind their opponents, striking two down in quick succession. “Using superior numbers to try and overwhelm women is cowardly!”

“Shit, retreat!” Their few remaining enemies ran back the way they’d come.

“Th… the HL symbol,” Lilly noted, looking at the fallen enemies.

“These guys again,” Axra muttered.

“Are you alright, Ladies?” he asked. He was a bit scruffy looking with a thin blonde goatee and hair tied back in a ponytail.

“We’re fine,” Twila said. “Thank you for the help.”

“No trouble at all,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to help such lovely ladies as yourselves.” He bowed and reached for Twila’s hand, kissing it.

“What are you doing to my Twila?” Lysara demanded.

“My apologies,” he said, backing away. “I was just introducing myself. My name is Reginald Bitterleaf. At your service.”

Bonnie and Velvet returned shortly after and were quickly filled in.

“So, where are you going, Reginald?” Axra asked.

“I’m just a wanderer,” he said. “I have, unfortunately, no real purpose. You see, I was exiled from my home for a crime I didn’t commit. Ever since, I have been aimless. When I saw you besieged I couldn’t help but interfere.”

“Well, you certainly helped us,” Twila said. “Thank you, but we really must be on our way.”

“Where are you lot going exactly?” Reginald asked.

“The great library,” Lysara answered.

“Allow me to accompany you,” Reginald said. “In case you encounter more brigands.”

“We can take care of ourselves,” Bonnie said.

“Don’t be so hasty,” Velvet said. “It might be useful to have another sword along.”

“You just want to do less work,” Bonnie said.

“I agree with Velvet,” Lysara said. “We could’ve been in real trouble if he hadn’t shown up. I don’t mind him coming, if he stays away from Twila.”

“Then it’s settled,” he said. “Onward, Friends.”

Bonnie pulled Axra back while everyone else was moving.

“Be careful,” she whispered.

“You think they’ll come back?” Axra asked.

“Probably not,” Bonnie said, still whispering. “But it all seems too… convenient. I don’t trust our new companion.”

“Gotcha,” Axra said. “I’ll be careful.” She looked forward towards Reginald. Was Bonnie being paranoid? What would the enemy gain from having someone like him join them when they probably could have killed if he had fought with them?

*****

It was nearly nightfall when they reached another mountain. They tied their horses near a stream and approached on foot.

“A… are we looking for another tunnel?” Lilly asked.

“No,” Twila said. “In this case we make a tunnel.” She stood in front of it, chanting. Light started flowing around her and she touched the side of the mountain. The surface split open, forming an opening. “Come on,” she beckoned. “It won’t stay open for long.”

They followed her, taking their first steps into the Great Library.

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Purification episode 29: Approval

Axra sat in the field, dejected. She’d been beaten, depressingly easily. You’re too weak to protect Twila. The words were haunting, but she couldn’t deny them. 

What would happen to her now? Would Lulu insist that Twila go on without her? She’d have to order Lilly, Velvet and Bonnie to stay with Twila. Surely, the three of them could keep her safe. Velvet would go quietly. Lilly would protest, but she’d go. Bonnie was the wild card. She would follow her fathers’ orders first and foremost. If Axra could persuade her that she’d be safe going home alone, then she might obey. Would Twila be okay with just Lilly, Velvet and Lysara? 

Lysara. Axra hated to admit it, but she was jealous of that girl. Lysara had no trouble opening up about her feelings. She didn’t let anything bring her down. She kept moving forward, earnest and confident. The idea of Twila relying on Lysara… it hurt. 

She picked herself up, wiped her eyes, sheathed her blade and went back inside. The path seemed longer, colder. When she reached the library the girls were sitting in a semi-circle. Lysara was playing her lyre and singing a ballad. Axra couldn’t focus on the words. She hurriedly slipped into her sleeping bag and closed her eyes. Even if she had to go… even if she couldn’t be with them anymore… she couldn’t let them see her crying. 

She wasn’t sure whether she actually slept or she’d spent all night running over the situation in her mind. Trying to figure out how she’d failed. But when morning came, she was exhausted. They ate a quick breakfast and packed their gear. Lulu and Shin went to see them off. 

“I’ll see you again soon,” Twila said. “And I’ll make sure to write. Take care of yourself.” She hugged Lulu. “You too, I guess.” She lightly punched Shin’s arm. 

“Be careful on the road,” Lulu said.

Axra looked away. This was it. The moment she’d been dreading.

“Don’t try to shoulder everything. You’ve got some good friends.” Much to her surprise, Lulu touched her shoulder. “Rely on them when you have to.” 

“I will,” Twila said. “Don’t worry.” 

The group began their trek back towards the surface. 

“Why?” Axra wondered. She stopped. She had to know. “I almost forgot,” she said. “My dad wanted me to make a personal apology to your uncle on his behalf. I’d better go back and take care of that.”

“D… do you want me to come?” Lilly asked. 

“No, that’s okay,” Axra answered. “I can manage on my own.” 

“We’ll wait here,” Twila said. 

Axra nodded and ran back for the building. Lulu was sitting outside with one of the wolves in his lap. Shin was nowhere to be seen. 

“Back?” Lulu asked. 

“Why?” Axra inquired. “I… I thought you were going to tell me to go home.” 

“Does it really matter why? Aren’t you happy to be traveling with Twila?” 

“I am,” Axra said. “Hearing that I would still be able to, I was really happy. But I thought I was too weak to protect her. So why…” 

Her train of thought was interrupted by Lulu holding up his hand in a gesture for silence. “You are too weak,” he said. “You can’t protect her. However, she doesn’t need protection. She’s perfectly capable of handling herself. What she needs are companions who care about her and will do their utmost on her behalf.” 

“So, I’m good enough,” Axra stated. 

“Yes,” Lulu agreed. “I saw your heart and you are more than good enough.” He turned away from her. “Go on. They’re probably waiting.” 

Axra nodded and hurried back. She was weak but she was still good enough to stay with Twila, even if she couldn’t protect her. She resolved to become strong during their journey. Strong enough to be able to protect those she cared about. Strong enough to be able to show her feelings without regret. 

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