Purification episode 106: Wandering Hermit

After Axra and the others woke up, Lilly told everyone about Gail’s visit. Flushing when it got to her parting.

“I’ll kill her!” Axra cried, kicking the ground.

“Calm down,” Twila pleaded. “Getting angry won’t help.”

“She kissed my… our Lilly!” Axra declared. “Who in Tartarus does she think she is?”

“Princess,” Bonnie stated, her voice calm and measured. “I understand your feelings, but I think you’re focusing on the wrong part of the story.”

“Bon, you can’t expect her to focus on anything else,” Lysara said, putting a hand on Bonnie’s shoulder. “I mean, any girl would be furious at the thought of someone stealing a kiss from their love. Wouldn’t you be super mad if someone besides you kissed me?”

“Bonnie is right regardless,” Twila stated. “The battle between the Gods and Titans is the concern.”

“Isn’t it a good thing?” Velvet inquired. “After all, the half-Gods probably won’t survive. Which means we won’t have to go to the trouble of getting the staff or fighting Eritos.”

“We should retrieve the staff regardless,” Twila argued. “Just in case she does make it,  but there is a strong possibility that we won’t have to use it.”

“She’d better hope that she doesn’t,” Axra said. “Because the Titans’ll be more merciful than I will.”

*****

Lennard galloped into the Great Forest, taking care not to cause any damage to it. After all, he was already delivering bad news. He didn’t need to give Jayko’s followers another reason to be angry with him. He waited until he’d traveled a good distance before stopping.

“Yo, I know you guys are listening!” He shouted. “I have news for you about Jayko, so come on out!”

He heard a shuffling around him. Eventually, two masked figures approached him. He knew there were more lying in wait, but he wasn’t worried. He also knew they wouldn’t make a move if he didn’t.

“We know of you, Lennard of Maero,” a feminine voice said. “Since you’re here alone, I take it you don’t bring pleasant tidings. What misfortune has befallen our Master?”

Lennard dismounted his horse and reached into his saddlebag, pulling out Jayko’s katana and holding it out to her. “Your master, my friend, he has fallen.”

The two were visibly taken aback, but she still took the blade. Her hands trembling as she did. “How?”

“The Hestial League summoned Typhon, the great destroyer. During the battle with him, Jayko nobly sacrificed himself to protect another.”

“Great was our Master’s heart,” her companion spoke for the first time, his voice cracking as he did.

“The final rites?” she inquired.

“Conducted by Reira Risa,” Lennard answered. “He was honoured.”

“I see,” she said. “Then we shall begin our mourning without the ceremony. Thank you, for telling us.”

*****

The group spent another day without incident, eventually stopping to make camp. Twila estimated that they’d reach Deflum in another day if all went well. The first watch was taken by Twila and Velvet. The second by Lilly and Axra.

“Are… are you mad at me?” Lilly asked.

“It’s not your fault she kissed you,” Axra said.

“I… I know,” Lilly stated. “But I… I did defend her the other day… so…”

“That, huh,” Axra muttered. When she started talking again her voice was louder, clearer. “Lilly, one of your best features is that kindness of yours, the way you try to see the good in everyone. I know that I’ve told you that before. It’s what I love the most about you! Sure, it can get frustrating when you’re defending someone like that, but I still wouldn’t change that aspect of you for anything.”

“Axra,” Lilly whispered.

“I love you, Lilly,” Axra stated, leaning close to her. “May I?”

“You can any time,” Lilly said, she was smiling even while her cheeks reddened.

Axra tenderly kissed her. The two stayed together for a moment, but pulled away when they heard the sound of footsteps nearby. Axra grabbed her sword while Lilly prepared her bow.

Axra looked in the direction of the sound and gasped.

“Wh… what is it?” Lilly asked.

“It’s my mother!” Axra declared. “Why is she here? Isn’t her mind too far gone for her to wander around out here?”

Airell approached them, meandering from side to side as she went, as though she wasn’t quite sure where she was going. “This is a dangerous place,” she muttered, once she’d gotten close to them. “These lands, they’re full of dangerous things. Travelers should be wary.”

“We’re being careful,” Axra said. “Why are…”

“I had a daughter once,” Airell muttered, interrupting Axra’s query. “She was so small, so fragile.” Airell’s bony hand reached toward Axra. “The Wastes were no place for her. No place at all. So I took her to her father. He was a king, you know. She’d be safe with him. She shouldn’t be here. Better that she be safe in the castle. So many dangerous things here.”

“I’m okay,” Axra reassured her. “I have…”

“She mustn’t be here!” Airell cried, tears were streaming down her face. “She needs to be with him, where it’s safe. So many dangerous things in these lands. So many deadly things.” She wandered away from their campsite, muttering to herself. “Not safe for her here. All the dangerous things. Especially me.” She looked back at Axra as she said it. “Especially me.”

Axra sank to her knees. “Oh, Mother,” she whispered. Lilly moved over and put her arms around Axra. “Zero Papa told me that she gave me up for my own good, because she loved me.”

“I’m sure she did,” Lilly said. “In her own way, she’s still trying to keep you safe.”

Axra let herself sink into Lilly’s arms.

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Purification episode 105: Unease

The day’s trek had been quite event-less. They’d seen glimpses of a few dragons in he sky, but nothing had approached them or even wandered close.

Axra glanced at Twila, who was gazing into the distance. It had been like that all day.

She moved closer to Twila and gently slapped her back. Twila jerked upright and looked over at her.

“What is with you today?” Axra asked. “Does knowing magic really make you sense things happening a buncha kilometres away?”

“Not normally,” Twila answered. She looked back toward the distance. “That’s why I’m so uneasy. Whatever this is, it has enormous magical power and it’s been using it for a while.”

“D… does that mean trouble?” Lilly asked.

Twila shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“What could cause that kind of power?” Bonnie asked.

“Whatever it is, it isn’t mortal,” Twila answered. “Even a large group of mages working together couldn’t keep it up this long.”

“So it is Eritos,” Axra stated. “What could she possibly be up to?”

“I… It might not be,” Lilly argued.”I… I mean there are full-blooded Gods out there. One of them might…”

“Get real!” Axra interrupted. “When have any of the Gods flaunted their power this much?”

“I… We… I’m sure whoever it is has a reason,” Lilly whispered.

“Why are you so quick to defend her?” Axra demanded. “Does she have some kind of hold over you?”

“Axra, stop,” Twila said. “I think that Lilly’s right, at least about this not being Eritos’s doing.”

“Oh, come on!” Axra cried. “Who else could it be?”

Twila shook her head. “I don’t know, but the consistent output indicates that whoever’s responsible is in some type of conflict. Who would be attacking Eritos and why would she stick around to fight them instead of teleporting away? Unless we can answer those questions I don’t think we can assu…”

“What?” Axra asked. “Something happen?”

“There was a sudden burst of power and then whatever was producing it vanished,” Twila said. “Whatever was going on it seems to be over.”

“We’ll keep extra vigilant during the watch tonight,” Bonnie said. “Just to be sure.”

They continued on their way, eventually stopping to make camp for the night.

“I’ll cook something up for supper,” Lilly stated.

“I’ll help,” Twila volunteered. “Axra, can you get a fire started?”

“Sure,” Axra said. “I’ll have it roaring in seconds flat.”

“Lysara and I can put the tents up,” Bonnie stated. “Velvet can…”

“I’ll keep a lookout,” Velvet volunteered.

“Of course you will,” Bonnie said.

“That’s one way to get out of work,” Axra added.

The group went to their respective tasks.

“Bon, I put our tent up!” Lysara called. “I think my bag’s even big enough for both of us! Well, it is if we really snuggle.”

“I think we can each have our own tent,” Bonnie stated.

“Aww, why?” Lysara asked. “Was it just a one night thing for you? I thought that we…”

Bonnie put her hand over Lysara’s mouth. “Keep your voice down. I do love you, but if we… if we act too close… in front of everybody then they’ll find out about… about us.”

“So what?” Lysara asked. “I don’t think anyone will mind.”

“We can all tell anyway,” Velvet added.

“Bon, you’re really flushed,” Lysara said. “Could it be that you’re the shy type? I never would have figured.”

“It’s not that,” Bonnie stated. “I… I forgot that he was nearby and it startled me a bit.”

“I hear that a lot,” Velvet stated.

“Hmmm,” Lysara murmured. “Is that really the case?”

“Of course it is!” Bonnie cried.

“Either way, Bon,” Lysara began “since everyone can tell do you still want me to put up a tent just for you or can we share?”

“Well…” Bonnie gazed at Lysara. “Well, if everyone can tell anyway we might as well just stick to one and be able to pack up more quickly in the morning.”

“Yay!” Lysara exclaimed. She hugged Bonnie. “I love you, Bon!”

Bonnie stood awkwardly for a moment before returning Lysara’s embrace. “And I you,” she whispered.

*****

Axra took the first watch along with Velvet. Eventually, the two were relieved by Lysara and Bonnie. Finally, Lilly and Twila took over for the remainder.

“Lilly,” Twila said. “Axra was a bit out of line, but she was definitely right about one thing. You do seem awfully close to Gail.”

“I… I don’t think she’s a bad person,” Lilly said. “I mean… I can’t return her feelings… I… I can only feel that way about Axra and you… but I still… I don’t think she’s bad.”

“She did force that ring on you,” Twila said. “She also cast that spell over Choltin.”

“I know,” Lilly muttered. “But I… don’t think she meant any harm. I mean… if she wanted to… force me… I know I couldn’t stop her. But… every time she’s appeared… she’s never tried to do… anything to hurt me.”

“So, you think she’s just overly enthusiastic in her attempts to court you,” Twila stated. “Is that it?” Lilly nodded.

“I won’t try to sway you to do something you’re against,” Twila said. “But We’re going to get the Einklangümlich Staff and then we’ll seal her back up. Between then and now decide if you can help. If you’re not comfortable with it, give Bonnie the Zerstörelicht for that battle.”

“I… I understand,” Lilly said. “I…”

“You what, My Lovely Wifey?”

Lilly sat upright, Gail was gazing down at her, smiling.

“G… Gail,” Lilly whispered. “Twila and I were…”

“Yes, yes,” Gail said. “You can finish talking to your dull friend later. I just had to see you.” Gail knelt down and hugged Lilly.

“I… I…” Lilly stammered.

“I’m sorry for being a bit selfish,” Gail said. “But this may be the last time I see you.”

“The last time?” Lilly asked.

Gail nodded. “Some fools released Typhon. He’s freed the other Titans and they’re going to move against Olympus again. All of us, be we half-Gods or full blooded, are being sent to face him.”

“Is… isn’t that dangerous?” Lilly asked.

Gail nodded. “For us half-bloods especially. The full-bloods, they won’t die. Even if they’re beaten and chained in the underworld. Me and the others like me… we can.” She glanced at Lilly. “Hey, don’t be too upset. I’m not going to just let those bastards kill me. I’ll do everything in my power to return to you.” She took Lilly’s hands in hers. “Trust me, we’ll have our happy ending yet!” She leaned forward and kissed Lilly. “Sorry, I won’t be able to protect you for a while, but don’t forget me, okay?”

In a flash of light, she was gone.

“Lilly?” Twila asked. “Are you okay?”

“I… I don’t know,” Lilly answered.

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Purification episode 104: Last Rites

“I don’t get it,” Lexine said.

“You mean why Jayko died for you,” Reira said. “It’s not complicated. In that moment, you reminded him of his own powerlessness when we lost Gabe. He didn’t want me to suffer like he has, so he acted.”

“I see,” Lexine said. “I… I didn’t know he was still holding that in.” She looked up at the sky. “Do you think the two of them have reunited in the underworld?”

“I’d like to think they have,” Reira said. “Some people believe that the souls of the virtuous are kept waiting in the Elysium, unfeeling or thinking, until those they loved most dearly come to join them and the souls of the wicked feel every painful second of parting within Tartarus as though it was a century. If that is the case, I’m sure Gabe doesn’t even know any time’s passed.”

“There’s something both beautiful and cruel about that idea,” Lexine said. “What happens when a virtuous soul and a wicked soul are each others’ most beloved?”

“Maybe the virtuous soul gets to buy their beloved’s place in the Asphodel Meadows by sacrificing their own place,” Reira answered. “Why? Thinking of someone in particular?”

“Not really,” Lexine said. “Just curious. I hadn’t heard that idea before.”

“We’ve gathered the bodies,” Lennard reported. “Well, most of them.”

Reira knew exactly who was missing, even without reading his mind.

“It can’t be helped,” she said. “We’ll put the pieces of his scythe on the pyre and give him his last rites that way.”

“I somehow knew you’d say that,” Lennard stated. “I had Florence gather them up already.”

The three walked over to the makeshift funeral pyre. A pile of helmets had been made to the side. Lexine added her own helm to the stack before continuing.

Reira took her place in front of the pyre and cleared her throat. “We’ve lost a lot of beloved comrades, friends and family today. Some of whom we loved more than life itself.” She glanced at Zero when adding that last part.

“Our loved ones are at peace,” Reira continued. “They fought and lost their lives as heroes and their souls are surely at peace now. We… we are not at peace. We are keenly feeling their absence and our hearts and souls cry out in grief. But, we must remember. We must remember those parts of themselves our loved ones left us. We must remember the time we spent with them. Yes, the totality of their lives and the impact they had on ours must be remembered, not just the way they were taken from us. In that way, a part of them will always endure within us until we can meet them again. Please, bow your heads and reflect.”

Those assembled did as they were bade. A complete hush fell over the crowd. Shin found himself thinking of the time he hadn’t been able to sleep and his uncle Lulu had told him to sleep in a pile with the wolves. It had been a very comfortable night. He thought of the training he’d done with his uncle Jayko. How he’d tried some of his uncle’s agility exercises and fallen on his ass. Jayko had laughed heartily at that one. At the time, Shin hadn’t found it very funny, but looking back on it… he allowed himself a momentary smile.

They spent over an hour with their heads bowed like that. Then, one by one, they started raising their heads and opening their eyes.

Reira scanned the crowd. “Now, with these thoughts, these memories of how they enriched our lives, let us honour them in their passing. Let their earthly remains be consumed and let us carry on for their sakes as well.”

She stepped away from the pyre and nodded. Isaac and Zero sent two balls of flame into the wood at the base. The flames quickly reached the bodies.

Those watching put their hands to their foreheads in a respectful salute, letting the tears fall from their eyes.

Eventually, the burning was complete. Those at the ceremony quietly retrieved their helmets or hats. Some talked quietly among themselves, some went off to be alone. Lennard grabbed his horse and rode for home by himself.

Isaac approached Reira. “It was a lovely ceremony,” he said. “I’m sure that Lulu would have been honoured.”

“It’s funny,” Reira said. “Before he died he thought about how all of us were heroes, people who tried to make everything better, except himself.”

“He never could give himself credit,” Isaac said.

“You should return to the Academy,” Reira said. “They’ll be missing you and Moira.”

“I’d like to,” Isaac stated. “But there’s something else I need to do. Something…”

“Lexine and I are going to tell Elaine about Lulu,” Reira interrupted.

“You’re sure?” Isaac asked. “I was his brother.”

“And I his sister,” Reira said. “Perhaps not by blood, but all of us shared a strong familial bond after the whole incident with Zenas and the gauntlet. Don’t argue. I was with him in his mind when he died. There are some things that only I can tell her.”

Isaac nodded. “All right, but who’s going to tell Jayko’s comrades about what happened to him?”

“Lennard,” Reira answered. “He’s already on his way. He could’ve told someone, but he’s Lennard so he didn’t.”

“Well, that’s Lennard for you,” Isaac said.

The two looked back over at the ashes of the pyre.

“Goodbye, Lulu,” Isaac whispered. “Goodbye, Jayko.”

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Purification episode 103: The Second Line

Jayko dived for the fallen orb but Typhon was too fast. The titan scooped it up and hurled it away, somewhere beyond the horizon. Jayko hurriedly backed away from him.

“Move in,” Axel ordered. “Don’t let him take one step from this place. Even if it costs our lives, we can’t let him take one step away!” He turned to Lexine and Shin. “You two stay back. As long as you’re here he’ll stick around to finish you.” He led the Nervius troops against Typhon.

“For Sir Lulu!” the dark elf commander said, raising her blade. Her soldiers cried out in agreement and they joined Axel’s forces against the titan.

Typhon easily tossed aside a group of soldiers, advancing slowly but surely.

Florence slashed, his serpentine blade extending through the air. It entangled Typhon in its grasp. Lennard was right behind it, slashing at the great titan with his Zweihänder. Typhon easily shattered Florence’s blade and tossed them both aside.

“It’s okay,” Reira said. “They’re alive, just knocked out. He doesn’t seem interested in killing any mortals aside from the ones he’s compelled to.” She glanced back at Lexine and Shin. “Just make sure you stay away from him.”

“How long until they’re ready for the dispel?” Lexine asked.

Reira glanced at the rapidly diminishing line of soldiers. “Too long.”

“Then I’d better go,” Lexine said. “If I play things defensively then I should be able to buy some time.”

“Lexine…” Reira began.

“Don’t worry,” Lexine said. “I have no intention of dying out there.” She kissed Reira tenderly and hurried to the field.

Lexine approached Typhon from the side. She couldn’t get too close, if she did then she knew that she wouldn’t be making it back to Reira. She picked up a stone and hurled it at the titan, hitting him in the head and catching his attention. Then she ran.

His fireballs followed, very nearly hitting her more than once. She quickly lost count of how many had detonated near her. The area quickly became sweltering. She fell to the ground avoiding another fireball and just managed to regain her feet in time to avoid one that hit right where she had rolled. “Not yet?” She thought.

“They still need more time,” Reira’s voice answered.

Lexine brought out her shield. It wouldn’t survive a hit from one of his attacks, but if it took the brunt of it she might, at least until he decided to follow up on it.

*****

“I’m going too,” Shin declared.

“You stay!” Reira stated, her voice firm. “She’s got experience. She can make it.”

“Not by herself,” Shin said. “With two of us as targets we might just make it.” He ran after Lexine.

*****

The fireball slammed against her shield with a tremendous impact, shattering it into pieces and sending her sprawling.

She worked to regain her footing from that position, but another was coming and she knew she couldn’t dodge it in time. Reira, I… 

She felt herself being roughly tossed away. She looked over at the spot where she had been just in time to see Jayko blasted apart.

*****

“Prepare yourself, Fiend!” Shin declared. He ran directly for Typhon, turning away just before coming into range of the Titan’s arms.

“Thou seekest to distract me from my other prey, fledgling?” Typhon asked. “No matter, I can deal with thee first and return for her.” 

He turned his attention to Shin, blasting fireballs at him. Shin dodged desperately, barely managing to avoid the first four. The fifth very nearly hit him but he was grabbed by a horse and rider.

“Caide?” Shin asked. “What are you…”

“Shut up!” she cried. “I’m getting you out of here!” She led her horse away as fast as it would gallop, directing it away from the fireballs that followed after them.

Typhon pointed at the retreating pair, a beam of light shot from his finger, exploding in front of the horse and sending Shin and Caide flying from the poor animal.

Caide caught Shin in mid-air and twisted so that she cushioned the impact for him when they eventually landed.

“Caide!” Shin cried, getting off of her. He hurriedly checked her pulse and thanked the Gods. She was alive, but for how long? He glanced at Typhon, the titan was smirking at him, ready to go in for the kill.

“I don’t think so!” Axel cried. He made a flying leap, his knees connecting with Typhon’s chin. “I may not care about either of those idiots,” Blutrünstig slashed across Typhon’s chest “but I know if you get to them then you’ll leave this area to continue your mission,” Axel moved behind the titan and jabbed Blutrünstig into his back “and there are two girls I can’t let you touch, no matter what!”

“Arrogant mortal, playing with toys thee can’t comprehend. Thinking thee can stop me!” Typhon grabbed Axel and hurled him into the air. Then he pointed.

His beam hit the warrior king in mid-air, sending him hurtling to the ground near the trio of wizards.

Axel managed to tilt his head up and look at Zero once more. “Axra… Rach… el… prot…” he coughed up blood and went still.

Issac and Moira nodded at each other. Isaac squeezed Zero’s hand as a signal to him.

“Dispel magic!” the three cried in unison. Typhon was surrounded by a shimmering field for a moment before it vanished.

The titan looked over at the struggling to rise Lexine. Then over to Shin, who was poised to shield the fallen Caide.

He laughed, it was a deep booming laugh. “Mortals, thou hath freed me from my bonds. Now, I can free my brethren and strike against the usurper and his kin!” Typhon bowed and was gone in the blink of an eye.

“Sounds like he’s gunning for Zeus,” Moira observed. She scanned the battlefield. “We lost so much.”

Isaac nodded. “Lulu, Jayko…”

Not to mention the regular soldiers he hit too hard when shoving away or who landed badly. Reira’s voice said. I’d say a good four dozen at least. There’s also King Axel. 

Isaac looked over at Zero. He was cradling Axel’s body in his arms, tears flowing from his eyes.

“You did it,” Zero whispered. “You protected Axra and Rachel but… but why did you have to throw your life away for it you, Idiot? You stupid, stupid Fool.” Zero’s head fell to Axel’s charred chest and he didn’t move away for a long time.

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RIP Sir Pratchett

Sorry, Everyone. There will be no new story bit today. Instead, I want to take a moment to talk about one of my personal heroes. You all may have heard that yesterday the great fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett passed away due to a severe chest infection. He was a great writer and his Discworld novels in particular have brought joy to so many people, myself included.

I encourage all of you to spend some time in quiet reflection and look at some of his works. He was a shining example of how to bring wit and passion into ones’ writing and he will be greatly missed but it’s also important to note that his legacy will endure as long as we remember his spectacular books, interesting characters and immersive world set on a disc floating through space on the back of four elephants, balanced on a great turtle.

Rest in peace, Sir Pratchett, you will be sorely missed.

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Purification episode 102: Shattered Scythe.

Twila felt it. It was a considerable distance away, but she felt it.

“Tw… Twila? Are you all right?”

She became aware of Lilly looking at her with concern. Axra was waving her hand in front of Twila’s face.

“You can stop doing that,” Twila said, gently grabbing Axra’s hand.

“You just froze in place,” Axra stated. “Something wrong?”

“I felt a really powerful spell,” Twila said. “I’ve never sensed any use of magic that fearsome… that powerful before. I thought that maybe Eritos might be behind it.”

“He… her name is Gail,” Lilly whispered.

“If she is it’s all the more reason to hurry,” Axra said. “If she comes after Lilly again we’re going to need that staff.”

“You’re right, of course,” Twila said. “I just hope it’s nothing serious.”

*****

Axel registered a body forming near him.

“Zero, what are you…” he began. Zero interrupted him with a single finger to his lips.

“I sensed the magic all the way from Nervius and used your scrying gem to get to you. Just what is going on?”

“Typhon,” Axel answered. “We’re probably all about to die. You should’ve stayed home and protected Axra and Rachel.”

“We only have one chance,” Lulu said. He turned to Isaac. “Undo the seals.”

“Lulu you… you can’t be serious,” Isaac said. “Even with the orb’s power you can’t beat a titan!”

“Maybe not,” Lulu admitted. “But at least I can hold him off long enough for the rest of you to escape.”

“Escape to where?” Isaac asked. “Where could we hide from a being like that?”

Keep calm, Everyone! Reira’s voice was commanding. They turned to see her and Jayko running over. “We do have a chance,” Reira said. “We just have to dispel…”

“Impossible!” Zero interrupted. “The spell used to bring him here is too strong. Even all of us couldn’t…”

“Let me finish,” Reira said. “We don’t have time for interruptions, he won’t tarry long. We just have to dispel the part of the spell that forces his obedience. Without that we should be beneath his interest.”

“It could work,” Isaac said. “It shouldn’t be too different from when we stopped just the bulk of that snow spell. But it’ll take time.”

“I know,” Reira said. “Someone will have to buy it.”

“Undo my seals,” Lulu said. “I’ll buy you time.”

“Don’t ask me that!” Isaac cried. “I can’t… I…”

Moira did a quick chant and waved her hand over Lulu’s left ear. His earring fell to the ground.

“Go,” Moira whispered.

Lulu nodded. He whispered something to Jayko and moved to meet Typhon.

“I’ll get the troops together and plan a second line of defense,” Axel said. “Just in case.”

*****

Lulu felt a sense of euphoria. The same one he’d felt the last time the seal had been undone. He saw the doorway blow open and Typhon step out. He charged right for the titan, his scythe slashing at his chest. The titan blocked with his human arms, they were torn open but quickly mended.

So he couldn’t stop him in his tracks, at least not for long. He’d just have to keep hacking away.

Let me in. He heard Reira’s voice. He undid the block that the orb put on his mind.

What is it, Reira? 

Nothing too important. Reira’s voice echoed in his mind. I just didn’t want you to be alone when… when the time comes.

I see. Lulu thought.

Hey, do you still think the world’s irredeemably rotten?

Not anymore. Lulu’s voice admitted. There are quite a few terrible people but most people just live their lives as best they can and there are a few who try to make things better for everyone, Elaine, Isaac, Moira, Lennard, Jayko, Lore, You, Lexine. It seems that Twila and Shin are going that way too. 

*****

Shin watched his uncle cut Typhon’s chest open, vault over him and start slicing away at the titan’s back and wings. His scythe was almost too fast to follow. He glanced at his parents and Zero. They’d formed a small circle and were holding hands, chanting hurriedly in unison.

“Please hurry,” Shin whispered.

*****

Lulu barely evaded a blast from Typhon. He retaliated with a slash to the titan’s tentacles before moving back and returning to strike Typhon’s side.

Thou art strong, Mortal!” Typhon’s voice boomed. He ignored the slashes that Lulu visited upon him. “But thine is a borrowed strength. Tell me, how long can it serve thee before it turns thy insides to so much mush?” 

Lulu ignored him, cutting away a few more times before retreating back. That was the key. He just had to keep hitting and running. His body just had to hold together until…

Lulu fell in his tracks. His body spasming violently. He vomited some blood, but tried to pull himself up.

Typhon’s hand lashed out and his scythe was torn into pieces. Then, the titan’s tentacles wrapped around Lulu, pulling him close.

You see, Mortal? Tis the folly of thy borrowed strength.” 

Lulu kicked him in the stomach as hard as he could and then did it again. He had to force the titan to release him, had to keep fighting. They needed more time.

So, your strength is not entirely borrowed,” Typhon stated. “So be it, I shall honour thee with a noble death!” 

White flames erupted from Typhon’s tendrils. Lulu managed one final kick against the Titan before they reached him. Within seconds, his body was fully engulfed. Soon, a crimson orb fell to the ground amid a flurry of ashes.

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Purification episode 101: The Sacrificial Flames

Lysara hummed a cheerful tune as they rode, strumming along on her lyre.

“You seem unusually happy,” Axra noted. “Even for you.”

“I am!” Lysara declared. “Bon and I have never been closer and now we’re going on an adventure together.”

“Is that so?” Twila asked, looking over at Bonnie.

“Well, a lot happened,” Bonnie muttered, quickly looking away. “But I suppose it is true.”

“Guess that leaves Velvet as the odd one out,” Axra stated.

“Don’t feel down,” Lysara said. “I’m sure you can find a girlfriend… or boyfriend. Which are you into, anyway?”

“Romance is a hassle,” Velvet said. “Too much work to bother with.”

“How am I not surprised by that reaction?” Axra asked.

They shared a good laugh, blissfully unaware of events that were unfolding far away.

*****

“We’ve found it,” Jayko reported. “They’ve got an organised system of sentries and a barracks. It won’t take them long to move once we strike.”

“And it doesn’t look like they’ve summoned Typhon yet,” Lexine noted.

“I can sense the magic from the ritual,” Moira stated. “They’ve definitely begun. We should hurry.”

“Should we sneak in?” Shin asked. “Put a stop to the ritual?”

“No need,” Lennard said. “It’ll be faster if we just run through them.”

“That’s my style,” Axel said.

“Jayko and I will sneak in while the rest of you create a commotion,” Reira said. “We stand the best chance of getting to the ritual site without being seen and it should be faster than fighting our way through a bunch of them.”

“Agreed,” Isaac said. “If they do complete the summoning return to us as fast as you can.” He turned to the others. “Let’s make some noise!”

They rode forward, soldiers from the Underground and Nervius riding side by side. The initial sentries were no match for them and the alarm quickly sounded.

Reira and Jayko quickly dismounted, Jayko brought out a wand and teleported the two inside their fort. They were very nearly caught by a sentry, but Reira managed to wipe their images from her mind. She nodded to Jayko, who promptly pulled out a second wand, turning the two of them invisible with two quick waves. The two hurried deeper in.

*****

A fireball blasted several enemy soldiers who were circling around Shin.

“Thanks, Dad,” Shin said. Blocking a strike and thrusting his blade through an enemy.

“Anytime,” Isaac said. “You, Lulu and Lexine seem to be drawing the bulk of their ire.”

Shin scanned the field. Lulu had a circle of corpses built up around him and was cutting through more units.

Lexine had a shimmering field around her that was bouncing arrows away while she fought through waves of opponents.

“Well, we are the only half bloods here,” Shin said. A wall of flame erupted around him, incinerating several enemies he hadn’t seen as well as those he had been fighting.

“Be more careful,” Moira said. “You need to watch yourself and pay less heed to your comrades, unless they’re close by.”

“Yes, Ma’am!” Shin declared.

*****

Jayko followed Reira down a hallway, which wasn’t easy with the invisibility spell. The two hugged the wall, occasionally stopping to allow someone to pass them.

There are more soldiers inside than anticipated. Jayko thought.

Indeed. He heard Reira’s voice in his head. They’re under orders to guard the ritual, fighting only when someone gets close enough. 

It must be close to complete then. Otherwise there would be no point. Jayko thought.

They don’t know how long it’ll be. Reira’s voice told him. They have been told it’ll be over soon. Come on, it’s this way! His mind gave him a clear image of which way they were going.

They quickly arrived in what seemed to be an empty hallway.

Secret room? Jayko wondered. Of course, it’s kind of obvious when you have a hallway that seems to lead to nothing. 

True enough. Reira’s voice agreed. They really should have put some kind of room back here to better camouflage it. She walked over to the wall and pushed two bricks in. The wall slid open, revealing a small area with a staircase leading down. Not that it would have helped against me, of course. 

Naturally. Jayko thought.

The two hurried down, entering into a dank corridor filled with empty cells, dimly lit by torches.

A prison? 

It was, and recently. Reira’s voice told him. They need sacrifices, remember? 

Jayko studied the number of cells, tried to imagine how many they’d crammed into them. “We’ll avenge them!” He put his hand over his mouth, he had spoken without thinking.

“We will,” Reira agreed. “No need to worry too much, there’s no one close enough to hear you, at least for the moment.”

They continued onward, passing more cells as they went. Jayko caught a glimpse of a small stuffed toy left in one. He tried not to look at them after that.

They finally arrived at a large open chambre. A massive flame was building in the centre. A dwarf, elf and human were standing watch over three chained people. The first of them, they tossed into the fire. The human began chanting some words.

Jayko drew his katana and Reira strapped on her bagh nakh.

The dwarf turned, seemingly looking right at them. She brought out a staff and shouted “dispel.” Jayko and Reira stood, stripped of their invisibility.

“We have rats,” she stated.

“We’ll deal with them,” the elf said, drawing a sword. “John, you better finish that spell.”

He rushed directly for Jayko.

“Fireball!” the dwarf yelled. Reira avoided it easily.

“You started dodging before I finished casting,” the dwarf noted. “How?”

“That’s a secret,” Reira said.

She saw a lightning spell aimed right at her chest, she waited until the other woman pointed and shouted “light…” before moving out of the way.

John tossed another prisoner to the flame. He hurried with the rites, just one more to go.

Jayko noticed it too. “Forgive me,” he muttered. He tossed a kunai, hitting the final prisoner in the back of the head.

“No!” the dwarf yelled. “We just needed one more sacrifice…” She was cut short by Reira’s bagh nakh cutting her open.

John finished the rites for the one he’d thrown in. “Richard, come here, now!”

“I understand!” Richard broke away from Jayko and leapt into the flame. John began the final rites.

Jayko hurled several kunai at John, but a protective field bounced them away from the man.

“Damn!” Jayko yelled.

The flame shifted colour to a bright white. “Oh great Typhon,” John intoned. “I beseech thee, come once more to our realm and rid this world of all half bloods!”

The flames burst in a blinding display, both Reira and Jayko shielded their eyes. When they opened them again a pile of ashes was sitting where John had been. The flames were gone and in their place stood an eight foot tall humanoid with pointed ears, wings and a lower half composed of tentacles.

When he spoke the walls shook. “So it has been ordered, so Typhon must do. Let the contract be completed.”

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Purification episode 100: Synchronising Hearts

Lysara hurried back to the Inn. It was a lot of information to process. Bonnie had had quite the checkered past and she wasn’t sure what to do with that knowledge. Was it better to keep quiet and pretend she knew nothing or to let Bonnie know what she’d learned and tell her how she felt about it.

She kept the noise down as she entered, sneaking down the hallway where their rooms were. There was still time until morning. All she had to do was get in her room. She opened the door and froze. Bonnie was standing right in front of her, arms crossed.

“Bon, what are you doing up at this hour? Did you think we needed a watch in this area? My, how diligent of you. Well, good night.”

“Where were you?” Bonnie asked.

“Me?” Lysara asked. “I was… that is to say I…” She shook her head. “No,” she muttered. “No more lies. No more secrets. Bon, I was out asking about your past. I know everything. About the Azure Butterfly who led the Masqueraders, about your match with King Axel. I know all of it.” She bowed. “I’m sorry that I went behind your back like that.”

She looked up, Bonnie’s expression had darkened. “I see…” she muttered. “So that’s what it was.” Bonnie turned away from Lysara. “I apologise, Miss Hart, for pursuing a relationship with you without telling you everything. Don’t worry. I’ll leave you alone from now on.”

Bonnie nearly pushed past Lysara, but Lysara managed to grab her hand. “Bon, wait. Where are…” the words died in her throat. Bonnie had turned towards her and she was crying.

“It’s only to be expected,” Bonnie stated, her voice quivering. “A common thug like me… I don’t… I can’t… not with someone like you.” She weakly tried to pull away. “Please, let me go. I don’t want to hurt you arm.”

“You’ll have to!” Lysara cried, far louder than she’d intended. “If you ever want me to let you go you’ll have to pry my arm off.” Bonnie stared at her, but made no move to retreat. “Bon, you aren’t a common criminal. You never were. That’s not what I heard from people. What I heard was the story of a girl who did her best in a bad situation. A kind girl who protected her friends as best she could, even if she had to fight or sacrifice herself.”

Lysara pulled Bonnie into her room and hugged her. She guided Bonnie’s hand to her chest. “Feel that? Being near you like this, it makes my heart race. My heart, my soul, my body, I’ll give them all to you.”  Lysara reached up and brushed away Bonnie’s tears, smiling warmly as she did so.

Bonnie looked into her eyes. “You actually mean that, don’t you? In spite of everything I’ve done, everything I’ve hidden you still…”

Lysara nodded. “Bon, I love everything you were. I love everything you are and I’m certain that I’ll love whatever you’ll become in future. That’s why I’ll never leave you alone or let you go.”

“Lysara…” Bonnie whispered. Her face was flushing. “Lysara I… I love you too. More than anything. I…” She looked down at Lysara’s lips and found herself moving towards them. The two kissed, first softly and then again, passionately and fiercely. Bonnie felt Lysara’s hand leave her back and she heard the door close.

They eventually pulled away, both breathing heavily. “Bon…” Lysara whispered. Lysara kissed her neck. One hand reaching up to stroke Bonnie’s cheek and the other moving toward the clasps on her  clothes. Lysara’s kisses began moving down Bonnie’s chest.

Bonnie put her hand under Lysara’s chin and gently guided her head back up, kissing her on the lips again. She knew that she could pull away, she always had before in their relationship but no, not this time. She wanted to lose herself in this passion. Her own hands went to work on Lysara’s clothes. She brought her lips to Lysara’s neck.

“Bon, Bon,” Lysara moaned. “I love you so much!”

*****

Bonnie woke up to the sound of the sun rising. She hadn’t gotten much sleep, but, somehow, she felt really invigorated. Lysara was pressed against her, her head resting against Bonnie’s chest. The other woman was sleeping peacefully.

“Lysara,” Bonnie whispered. “It’s time to get up.”

“Jus another hour,” Lysara muttered. “Maybe two.”

“I wouldn’t mind staying like this,” Bonnie stated. “But we have to get ready to go. Remember, we’re heading into the Wastes today.”

Lysara rose groggily. “Tha’s right,” she muttered. “Gotta go to th’ Wastes.” She started dressing.

“Wait!” Bonnie cried. “That’s my shirt.”

“So it is,” Lysara muttered. “What’s the big deal? It’s a little loose but it fits.”

“Not the point,” Bonnie said.

The two dressed and went to meet the others. They were sitting down to breakfast in the lobby. All save Velvet who was nowhere to be seen. They arrived to see Axra feeding Lilly something from her fork.

Lilly looked at them and her face flushed. She quickly moved away from Axra. “G… good morning. I… I was just…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Lysara said. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Velvet still asleep?” Bonnie asked.

“He actually went to feed his dogs,” Twila answered. She beckoned to them. “Have something to eat. We’ll head out within the hour.”

“Thank you, I will,” Bonnie said.

“Me too,” Lysara said, sitting as close to Bonnie as she could manage.

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Purification episode 99: Azure Butterfly

Lysara waited until she’d separated from the others to sneak out of the Inn. A small part of her screamed that she’d said that she didn’t care about Bonnie’s past. She told Lilly that it didn’t matter, she didn’t need to know.

She was such a liar.

the truth was, she wanted to know. She needed to know. If she didn’t find out what Bonnie was hiding it would continue to be a gap between them. It would be a dark spectre looming over their relationship. They would never be able to get as close as they should be able to.

So, she snuck out and made her way to the pub on foot. She passed several guards who were patrolling the street. One of them stopped to tip her hat before continuing on her rounds. Finally, Lysara reached the pub and entered.

It was quite nice, well maintained and clean. Lysara made her way to a stool at the bar.

The bartender acknowledged her with a curt nod. “What’ll it be, Madame?”

“Information,” Lysara answered. “I’m a bard, you see. I heard something about a young lady called the…” Lysara hesitated, feigning a struggle to remember. “The ‘Azure Butterfly.’ Yes, that was it. I thought it would make a good story so I came to investigate the details.”

“The Azure Butterfly!” A middle aged woman nearly ran from the other end of the bar over to the seat next to Lysara. “Don’t tell me you intend to make a heroine out of that troublemaker?”

“I’m just going to tell the story,” Lysara stated. “The good and the bad. Let the audience decide for themselves.”

The woman seemed to relax. “All right then, I’ll tell you about her.” The woman put her hands together and took a deep breath. “It was eight years ago. The bad part of town had a serious problem with gangs. It was all our force could do to keep them from bleeding into the main city. The worst of em were the Masqueraders. Right group of thugs they were. They fought with the other gangs and even attacked the nobles in their own homes.”

The woman looked pointedly at Lysara. “The lot also went by nicknames. Guess they thought it would make it harder to find em. ‘Azure Butterfly’ was what they called their leader. Right nightmare of a girl, I don’t mind telling you. Ruthless too, I remember one time we were called over to the temple to follow a lead. Turns out she’d cut another kid’s leg tendons. Left him a cripple.”

“Bo…” Lysara stopped herself. “The Azure Butterfly did that?”

The woman nodded. “We figured it was a spat between gangs. Fortunately, the nobles were able to get King Axel into town and the Masqueraders got dealt with fore they could cause anymore damage.”

Lysara was taken aback. The idea that Bon… her Bon. The Bon who had fought so hard to protect her and the others, the idea of her doing  something like that… It was hard to believe.

The barkeep slammed a mug down on the counter and subtly nodded towards the back. Lysara followed his gaze. The man who had called out to Bonnie earlier was sitting in a booth, beckoning her over.

She excused herself and joined him at the booth. “You wanted to see me about something?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Frankly, I can’t stand the thought of your story being based on that woman’s account. She’s a good enough guard, but she doesn’t know what she’s on about.” He pointed to himself. “I was one of the Masqueraders. Damn proud of it too.Though you wouldn’t know why to hear her tell it.”

He cleared his throat. “My name is Gavin Drulex, I was born in the bad part of town. There’s a reason those of us who were joined up with gangs, it was the only way to survive. We had nothin. We fed ourselves with crumbs, collected rain water in half broken cups to drink. It was a harsh existence. When I joined the masqueraders it was like any other gang. We stole from the people who were slightly better off, avoidin wealthy targets unless they happened to enter the slums.”

“But why avoid the wealthy?” Lysara asked. “Why steal from other people who had almost nothing of value?”

“Cause stealing from the wealthy made you a target,” Gavin answered. “You stole from the other wretches around you and no one cared. You stole from the wealthy and the guards were all over you. We didn’t have the guts to do it, until she took over. It was the damnedest thing too. Our first boss was a big guy, strong too. But he was challenged and bested by a much smaller girl. Bonnie Calendula, she changed things around.” Gavin reclined back, putting his feet on the table.

“She started with new rules. We were forbidden from stealing anythin from anyone who couldn’t afford it. Bonnie said that we all knew poverty well enough and we shouldn’t make it worse by stealin from each other. We also got nicknames. I was ‘Veridian Muskrat.’ We started raidin noble houses. We never attacked anyone either. I wanna make that clear. It wasn’t about hurtin the nobles, just takin what we needed from people who had it aplenty. Sometimes we did have to knock out a noble guard or two, but we tried our level best not to hurt em too bad. Bonnie didn’t like us hurtin people badly. Thought it wasn’t needed.”

“But she cut someone’s tendons,” Lysara said. “Or was that a lie?” She hoped that it was.

“Wasn’t much choice in that case,” Gavin said. “I do remember that fight pretty clearly. The Wreckers were a right lousy lot. Their boss… Adrian Hurmont, I think, always resented the way Bonnie did things. He thought she was too soft and he brought his lot to attack us. He was set on puttin us down for good too. Said he could take our heads to the nobles for a nice reward. It was a fierce match and Bonnie couldn’t stop him without killin or cripplin him. But she wasn’t no killer. She stopped him by cuttin his legs. His friends ran off after that too. We had to carry him to the temple ourselves. A bunch of us thought that we should just leave the bastard. After all, it was no worse than what he’d intended for us. But she insisted. Said he couldn’t hurt us anymore anyway, no use lettin him die.”

“So, cutting his tendons was an act of mercy?” Lysara asked.

“I get it, you’re havin trouble believin that,” Gavin said. “But it’s true. We ever would’ve taken him for healin, under her orders or not, if we’d have thought that he’d come back to hurt us. But, with his legs like that we felt safe enough to do it. We weren’t exactly as kind as her. Back then I really hoped things would continue like they were and all of us would be together, always. But it didn’t work out so well.”

“King Axel?” Lysara asked.

Gavin nodded. “The nobles were fed up with us. Seein him comin was terrifyin. She told us to run, she’d hold him off. A few people did too, but most of us stayed. We knew she’d fight harder with our safety at stake. But even then she couldn’t match him. It seemed like she had him a few times, but we were just kids. Inexperienced and far too damn cocky for our own good. King Axel beat her. the rest of us tried to swarm him, but he tossed us away like we were nothin. He offered her a choice. She could enroll in trainin to become one of his knights or she could spend her remainin teenage years in prison. What do you think she said?”

“She took the knight’s path,” Lysara said, confidently.

Gavin shook his head. “She asked ‘what about my friends?’ King Axel told her that we were all goin to prison. I’ll never forget what she said ‘Well, then you’ll have to send me with them.’ He gave her another offer then. If she’d swear fealty to him and serve as a knight in his guards, he’d send the rest of us to a private school with warm beds, good food and a chance to make somethin of our lives.”

“And she agreed,” Lysara said.

Gavin nodded. “She was always lookin out for us, protectin us and keepin us on the right path. At least as much as she could. She could have left us to rot, but she made sure we were goin to be taken care of. I’ll never forget that. None of us will. To those of us in the Masqueraders, our Azure Butterfly was a hero. The greatest hero we’ll ever know. I saw her in town recently. If you want to find her I’m sure she’s at the Inn, or maybe visitin her mum. I’ll give you directions if you want to get the story from her.”

“No, thank you,” Lysara said. “I… I think I can find it myself. Thank you.”

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Purification episode 98: Grimswald

Lysara played some notes on her lyre, humming to herself as she did. Occasionally she’d stop, go back and try something different, replaying the entire melody up till that point.

Velvet was lounging in his wagon, feet in the air. His canine team pulled him forward, keeping pace with the others without any difficulty.

Lilly, Twila and Axra rode side by side, chatting as they rode.

Bonnie watched the road. It was true enough that they hadn’t had any problems in the days they’d been riding, but that could easily change at any moment. All it took was a group of bandits of sufficient size or remnants of the Hestial League seeking revenge. It didn’t help that they didn’t have too far to go until they reached Grimswald.

She sighed and rode her horse back towards Axra and the others. “Princess, if I may have a moment.”

“You don’t have to call me ‘Princess,’ you know,” Axra said. “What’s up?”

“It occurs to me that we could save time on our trip if I ride ahead to Grimswald, pick up the supplies and meet up with you so that we can pass through and continue on our way,” Bonnie suggested. “With your permission I’ll leave immediately.”

“Th… that sounds good,” Lilly said. “I… I mean, it will save time so… we might want to, you know, consider it.”

“But we’ll be passing through very near dark anyway,” Twila stated. “At least we will based on our present speed. Wouldn’t it make more sense to get the supplies after we arrive and sleep at an Inn for the night?”

“I’d have to agree,” Axra said. “If we just passed through we’d get, what, twenty minutes worth of travel time before having to stop anyway?”

“Those twenty minutes might prove valuable,” Bonnie said, her voice a lot softer than it had been.

“And it might be, you know, really nice to camp under the stars instead of, you know, sitting in a confined old room,” Lilly added.

Twila and Axra gave each other a knowing look. “All right, out with it,” Axra said. “What exactly are you two so worried about?”

“W… worried?” Lilly asked. “Oh, no… there’s no need for worry. N… none whatsoever.”

“You two do seem to be hiding something,” Twila said. “Wouldn’t it be better to tell us about it so that we can come up with a solution, or at least be prepared?”

“As Lilly said, it’s nothing,” Bonnie stated. “My apologies, I was overzealous.” She turned back and resumed her position at the head of the group.

“Hey, Bon,” Lysara said. “Which one sounds better. This…” she strummed a quick melody “or this” she played a similar but slightly different tune.

“Maybe asking another bard would work better,” Bonnie suggested. “Or Lilly, she knows plenty about music.”

“That’s okay, Bon, I’ll trust your judgement,” Lysara said. She smiled and stared intently at Bonnie.

I suppose the first one,” Bonnie said.

“Then the first one it is!” Lysara declared. “Thanks, Bon!”

*****

The group arrived in Grimswald in the early evening, the sun was just starting to show signs of going down. They didn’t have much daylight left.

The town wasn’t large, but it was busy. Guards patrolled the street. Peddlers lined the road, trying to sell some last wares before closing up for the night.

A guard stared at them with a vague sense of recognition. He seemed to be trying to focus and figure out where it was coming from.

“Velvet and I can grab the supplies,” Bonnie said. “You four can secure rooms for us at the Inn and get space for the horses at the stables. If memory serves, the two are  very close to each other.”

“Sounds good,” Axra said. “Just don’t take too long.”

“Azure Butterfly!” A young man ran out of a pub and moved directly to Bonnie. “It is you! I haven’t seen you since…” Bonnie ran through a complicated set of hand signals and he went silent. He quickly nodded. “I’m sorry, I seem to have been mistaken.” He bowed. “Excuse me.” He hurried back to the pub.

“Azure Butterfly?” Lysara asked. “Bon, what was he talking about?”

“W… we should get the rooms,” Lilly said. “And I’m sure that Velvet and Bonnie need to hurry, you know, before the shops start closing down.”

Bonnie nodded. “That’s true enough. We’ll meet you at the Inn. Let’s go, Velvet!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Velvet muttered. “I’m coming.”

The two hurried away, quickly fading from view.

“Lilly, you know something,” Lysara observed.

“M… me?” Lilly asked. “I mean, I do know some things, b… but that doesn’t mean I know anything about the thing you’re curious about, you know?”

“Uh-huh,” Lysara said. “You know, this city doesn’t look dangerous. It’s got plenty of guards, nicely lit streets and I haven’t seen so much as a pickpocket. So, what’s the real reason that Bon didn’t want to come here?”

“We… well it has changed a lot,” Lilly stammered. “An… and we are still in, you know, the good part of town. Y… you should see the slums.”

“Is the Inn in the slums?” Lysara asked. “Or really close to them?”

“We… well no,” Lilly answered. “B… but it’s co… complicated so…”

“Uh-huh,” Lysara muttered. “Complicated, I see.” Her voice grew louder. “I guess that I don’t need to know then. Come on, let’s get those rooms!” She memorised the location of the Pub while they rode away. It would still be open at night, she’d wager. She just had to sneak out and find her way back.

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