Voyages of the Cerberus episode 4: No need for protocol

Ophelia and Lucy sat together at one end of the long conference table. Farah took a seat on the side between Katie and Grace. Paul, Leon and Allison sat at the opposite side.

“We’re heading to Sector 47 near Bacchus,” Ophelia said. “I’m sure you know what that means.”

“Scum of the universe,” Allison stated. “Smugglers, pirates, proselytisers.” Farah heard Grace suppress a chuckle.

“Exactly,” Ophelia said. “One of the pirate groups stole an important drive from the Orana Conglomerate. We’ve been hired to retrieve it.”

“There are a lot of pirates in the area,” Allison said. “How do you propose we find the right group, much less the right ship? I suppose all of us could get in our pajamas and put a video on the net asking the pirates to come party with us.”

“Simple,” Ophelia answered. “Grace and Lucy are going to patch into their communications and send a tracking signal designed to ping the drive.”

“It won’t work if they’ve got it turned off,” Grace said. “Unless it’s one of those ones with a black box feature. But they’re probably trying to hack into it to look through the information or they will soon enough. We should be able to find it without any problem. I’m assuming that you have the information we’ll need to identify it.”

Ophelia nodded. “Once they locate the right ship we’ll attack, being careful not to destroy them. Grace will stay in the engine room to make sure everything is functioning perfectly.  While we’re engaging them, Kat, Leon and Allison will get in their fighters, move carefully up to their ship, latch onto it and break aboard, retrieving the drive. Paul, I want you on standby in the medbay in case anything goes wrong. Farah, you’ll be on the bridge with Lucy and I. I want you to run the sensors.”

“Yes Ma’am!” Farah saluted.

“Girl, you are taking this way too seriously,” Allison said. “Would you lighten up if I grabbed your bum?”

“Don’t you dare!” Grace declared, her voice suddenly turning cold. She glared at the other woman.

“Ooh, scary,” Allison said. “You sound almost as jealous as Leon except he’s actually got a relationship going and isn’t just crushing on someone.”

“I’m not jealous,” Leon said.

“I’ve seen you punch a dude because you thought he was smiling too much when talking to Paul,” Allison said. “You are totally jealous and possessive.”

“I didn’t punch him that hard,” Leon protested. “It was totally just a warning.”

“Now, now,” Lucy said “let’s not fight. Why don’t you all go prepare for the mission and Grace and I will get things started.”

Farah went to the bridge with Ophelia while everyone else went to prepare for their parts.

“You do know how to run the sensors, right?” Ophelia asked.

Farah nodded. “It’s not super complicated. We learned at the Academy. We also studied how to use the weapons’ arrays and basic evasive maneuvers. Just in case we ever got assigned to a ship.”

“For now just focus on the sensors,” Ophelia said. “Lucy will handle the weapons and I’ll steer.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Farah said.

“You really don’t have to be so damn formal,” Ophelia said. “Just call me Ophelia. We aren’t a ship that really does protocol. We all have our jobs and we take care of them.” The two sat in silence for a while. “So, how do you like it here so far?” Ophelia asked. “Settling in okay?”

“Sure,” Farah said. “I’m not completely used to everything yet, but I’m sure I’ll get to that point. I just wish that you’d let me do more, you know?”

“It’s coming,” Ophelia assured her. “Lucy my be overly cautious but she also works quickly when she investigates someone and she’s always fair so you don’t have to worry.”

“That’s good to hear,” Lucy said. Farah nearly jumped, having not heard her enter but Ophelia didn’t respond. Farah wondered if Akumillian’s had some way of seeing things without using their eyes. She hadn’t heard anything about it, but the only time she’d seen Lucy with her eyes open was when she’d first seen her on the bridge, and she’d closed them pretty quickly.

“You and Grace finished,” Ophelia said.

“Of course,” Lucy said. “At maximum speed we should be able to overtake the target ship in just under an hour. Assuming that they keep to their current course and speed and no other ships decide to try their luck.”

“Great!” Ophelia declared. She hurriedly input the coordinates and flipped a switch near her chair. “Attention, Everyone. We should be arriving at target point in fifty seven minutes. Standby and prepare to commence the operation.”

Farah watched her console. It was her first mission and she wanted to do well.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 3: Grace’s Story

Farah knocked on the engineering door before entering, remembering Katie’s warning.

Grace glanced back at the door and quickly moved over to her. “Farah! Were you feeling lonely without me?”

“I actually had a question,” Farah said.

“I’m free this evening,” Grace said, leaning close. “Formal or casual attire?”

“It’s not that,” Farah said.

“My, you are a fast worker,” Grace exclaimed. “I don’t know if my heart is ready, but if you insist I can let you right into my quarters. I’ll just have Paul and Leon watch Baron for me. I’m sure they could manage for an hour or three.”

“I wasn’t…” Farah began, but stopped. She examined Grace. “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”

Grace chuckled. “Well, partially. So, what is it you wanted really?”

“Well,” Farah said. “I was looking up the Alliance’s records on you guys and…”

“And you want to know how I really got kicked out of my position,” Grace finished. “I should have suspected this. Allison wanted to know the same thing after she joined up.”

Grace took a seat and patted her lap. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll tell you all about it.”

“I can sit on the floor,” Farah said.

“What, my lap isn’t good enough for you?” Grace asked. She shrugged. “Whatever. It’s a simple enough story. After I graduated I worked my way up pretty quickly until I got put in charge of my own station. It seemed like a great opportunity, at first.” Grace looked off to the side as she spoke, her cheek resting on her hand.

“Something went wrong,” Farah said.

Grace nodded. “To be specific, the equipment was a disaster. Horribly outdated stuff. I took stock of everything and found out that over eighty percent of it was completely unsalvageable. So, I put in a request for new equipment. Guess what? The land whale in charge of procurement wouldn’t put through the request. He said it was too much for our budget.”

“Then it’s his fault that you didn’t have the stuff you needed,” Farah said. “But shouldn’t he have been fired then?”

“It gets worse,” Grace said. “I went over his head and got nothing for my troubles but bureaucratic red tape, a headache and a memo that they’d take it under advisement.I went back and forth with them for so long it was ridiculous. Finally, something actually went wrong and a bunch of my team died.” She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes.

“So, they used you as a scapegoat?” Farah asked.

“At first they wanted to use the highest ranking officer who had died,” Grace explained. “They called me in and promised me new equipment and replacement staff. They just wanted me to blame the accident on him using unsafe procedures. But I didn’t want to smear his name like that and you know what it would have meant for his family. I refused to cooperate. So, they made me the scapegoat.”

“But couldn’t you tell someone?” Farah said. “I mean, you did keep records of your requests, right?”

“Sure I did,” Grace said. “I’ve spread the truth around the net, but it doesn’t change anything. Some people claim it’s all a hoax. Others believe it and use it as an example of corruption within the system. There were even some people who protested but the story’s pretty much died down by now and all of that didn’t get me my position back. I’m still poison as far as the Alliance is concerned.”

“I’m so sorry,” Farah said. “It’s totally unfair.”

Grace shrugged. “Yeah, but I’m not the only one here who got a raw deal. Besides, I like my new job.”

“So, what happened with the Doctor?” Farah asked. “How did he really lose his license?”

“You’ll have to ask him,” Grace said. “There’s basically an unspoken rule on this ship. You have to learn someone’s story from the person themselves. Well, don’t expect to hear Kat’s. Only Ophelia and Lucy know for sure what her deal is. Paul and Leon were part of the original crew with her and they don’t even know. I have some guesses, but no real proof to support any of them.”

Farah felt those suspicions again. Her file was classified and she wouldn’t talk about her past. She decided to try distracting herself from it. “Original crew?”

Grace nodded. “You, me and Allison are the newbies. Before us they had… what were the names?” She snapped her fingers. “I remember! Jane, Damian and Stephen.”

“what happened to them?” Farah asked.

“Well, I wasn’t here at the time,” Grace said. “But from what I’ve heard Stephen and Damian left and Jane died. I don’t know if it was an accident, sickness or what. They don’t really talk about it.”

The two were interrupted by a buzzing sound. Grace hit a button on her desk. “Grace here.”

“Report to the meeting room,” Ophelia’s voice said. “And bring Farah with you if you please.”

“On my way,” Grace said. She nodded to Farah and the two headed out of engineering.

Farah wanted to know what it was about, but was afraid to ask. She noticed Paul and Leon exit medical together. Grace looked back at her, apparently noting the confusion on her face.

“We have a mission,” she said. “Ophelia likes to call all of us together when it happens for the briefing. Well, you probably won’t have much to do in this one besides observe.” Grace winked at her. “Maybe you and I will have more time to play.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 2: Farah’s Research

Farah walked down the corridor. They were in space and she still hadn’t been given her duties. She’d been gently told to take some time to settle. She glanced up at the sound of footsteps. Katie was heading towards her.

“Hey, Katie,” Farah said.

“What is it?” Katie asked.

“You said that I can start piloting my ship once Lucy clears me, right?”

Katie nodded.

“So, how long will that take?” Farah asked. “And why does she have to clear me anyway?”

“She’ll probably only take a couple days,” Katie explained. “The why is simple enough. She’ll just check to make sure that your ties with the Alliance are really severed.”

“I don’t see why it matters,” Farah said. “You said that you guys aren’t doing anything illegal.”

“We aren’t,” Katie said. “But we are embarrassments to the Alliance. The people on this ship… Well, all of us except Lucy, are people doing jobs that the Alliance has deemed us unqualified for. As far as they’re concerned, we can all get killed out here and it would be for the best. That’s why we can’t trust someone with strong ties to them. Our lives depend on each other.”

Katie leaned against the wall with her arms crossed. “If you really want to know more you can use your computer to check the alliance’s files on us. I just suggest that you remember that their file on you says that you were deemed unfit for your duties after your gross negligence led to unacceptable civilian casualties. So, don’t take their files on us at greater face value than we took their file on you.”

Farah nodded. “Don’t worry. I won’t take them too seriously.” She turned and headed back towards her quarters. At the very least, checking the files would give her something to do.

“Let’s see,” she muttered. “How about the Captain first.”

She hurriedly input the name.

Wester, Ophelia:

The file wasn’t long. Ophelia had been in her final year as a cadet at the Alliance’s most prestigious space academy when the Board had decided that she lacked the ability to be an officer and had thrown her out. She had gone to Akumil and secured a vessel under their less stringent standards.

Farah propped her head up with her hand under her chin. It wasn’t unusual for cadets in their early years to be thrown out but a cadet in their final year was unheard of. Something had definitely happened. She wondered if the captain would tell her someday. She decided to move on to the next one.

Horne, Katie:

The word “Classified” flickered across her screen in bold red letters. That was worrying. The alliance rarely did that with files belonging to people they wanted blacklisted. The only cases Farah could think of where they had were times that the person was involved in some investigation that the Alliance wanted hidden. Surely, Katie couldn’t be an agent of theirs. She always sounded so bitter when she talked about the alliance. So why? Was she a criminal?

Farah shook her head. Speculating wouldn’t help. Shakily, she typed in the next name.

Judd, Leon:

His file was short and to the point. He’d been a peacekeeper, just like her. He’d been there for seven years and been decorated several times. Then, three years  and some months ago, his lover had gotten into trouble and been blacklisted by the alliance. A few months after that, Leon had had a breakdown and beat his supervisor, breaking the man’s nose, several teeth and leaving him in need of extreme reconstructive surgery.

At least, that’s what the file said. Farah couldn’t believe it. If the man had really been hurt that badly they would have arrested Leon for assault. Possibly placed him in a psychiatric institution. He had certainly had some altercation with his supervisor, possibly even punched him once but it could’t be as bad as the file indicated. She decided to move to the next one.

Aiza, Allison:

She’d been a peacekeeper nine months before but her maturity was lacking and her pranks had caused tens of thousands of credits in property damage at the station, resulting in her dismissal. Farah wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Allison had pulled some pranks, she seemed the type, but the damages were hard to believe.

Albrecht, Grace:

She had finished first in her engineering class and been sent to an important alliance station where she quickly became the chief of operations. A year ago there had been an accident resulting in nearly twenty deaths. An investigation found that sub-standard equipment had been being used and Grace had been implicated. The evidence hadn’t been strong enough for criminal charges, but it had been enough for her immediate dismissal.

Farah found that hard to believe. If there had really been strong enough evidence that they could trace it back to Grace then they could have certainly taken her to trial. There had to be more to it than that. She wondered if Grace would tell her story. She’d seemed to like Farah when they had met. There was one more file to look at first, though.

Albrecht, Paul:

He had been at the top of his class at the most prestigious medical institution on Earth. He’d been a practicing doctor for almost seven years. Then, three and a half years ago, he’d been sent to Ca’urrg to help with a plague outbreak. When he returned, he’d been stripped of his medical licence for failing to follow orders.

Farah remembered that case. It had been strange because the plague had been cured when he’d come back with the Ca’urrs specifically giving him their gratitude. She’d always wondered how he’d failed exactly. But he’d been strangely silent when news sources had questioned him and the whole incident had been forgotten. She was curious, but she didn’t want to ask him. He was scary.

She left her quarters and made her way to engineering. Determined to, at least, hear Grace’s story.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 1: Welcome Aboard, Farah

Farah sighed heavily. Another day without any luck. There were no jobs, at least not for her. Well, none that anyone in their right mind would want to do. She was starting to get desperate. Her savings were nearly gone. If she didn’t find something… or take one of the unsavory options, she was going to be on the street soon.

She tensed up instinctively as she approached her apartment building. There were three of them. A dark-skinned woman with black hair going down to her shoulders and light brown eyes stood in the centre. She looked to be slightly taller than 170 centimetres. She was flanked by a man and a woman, both muscular. The man stood at her right. He had short dark brown hair complete with a short beard and mustache and bright brown eyes. He had an intense look and was slightly over 185 centimetres tall. The woman was shorter than Farah, only 150 centimetres tall. She wore glasses and had short blonde hair and bright blue eyes.

Farah contemplated calling the peace keepers, letting them deal with the three. But she stopped herself. If they weren’t up to anything untoward she’d just make herself look like a fool. Besides, she had been an elite peace keeper herself. She was confident that she could handle them, should they prove to be dangerous.

She strode slowly but confidently towards the door. As she passed them she heard a slightly husky but decidedly feminine voice “Farah Jilani?”

She froze. She tried to keep composed, but she felt her muscles tense up. “Yes?”

The dark-skinned woman held out a hand. “Good to meet you, Miss Jilani. I’m here to offer you a job.”

Farah looked at her hand, but didn’t move to take it. “I’m not a criminal,” she said, firmly.

“Good,” the woman said. “I don’t make a habit of hiring criminals.” The woman laughed at the expression on Farah’s face. “No need to be shocked. I’m neither mafioso nor am I a pimp. I’m here to offer you a legitimate job.”

“A madame,” the other woman interjected. “A female pimp is a madame.”

“Don’t be so stuck up on terms,” the first woman said. “She knows what I meant.”

Farah hesitantly reached out and shook the woman’s hand.

“That’s better.” she said. “I’m Ophelia Wester. My companions are Katie Horne and Leon Judd.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Farah whispered, nodding towards them. “You say you have a legitimate job for me?”

“Of course,” Ophelia said. “I’m the captain of the Starship Cerberus. As it turns out, I’m looking for crew.”

“Oh,” Farah said, her heart sinking. “I.. I can’t. I’m barred from serving aboard any alliance vessel.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Ophelia said. “We aren’t an alliance vessel.”

“But you’re human,” Farah said. “Aren’t you?”

“Of course I am,” Ophelia said. “But my ship is registered to Akumil. I can hire whoever I damn well please.”

She leaned close to Farah, prompting the younger woman to take a step back. “I know all about you, Farah. Third in your class over at the peace keeping academy. Served proudly as a member of an elite unit for the past three years. Until the hostage situation four months ago. I’ve seen the footage. You took your unit in, undoubtedly under orders from your superiors. You nearly took out the entire group, but one survived. She began opening fire at the hostages. You got two children out of the way, shielding them with your own body. But MP Cerny’s husband was killed. You were sacked for unacceptable losses.” Ophelia shrugged. “Probably should’ve protected Mr. Cerny and let the kids get hit. As far as the alliance is concerned, they don’t matter.”

“They matter!” Farah declared.

“I’m not going to disagree with you,” Ophelia stated. “But you’d still have your job if they’d been killed. Course, I like to think the alliance’s loss is my gain. Farah, when I saw that footage I saw a courageous, quick-witted young woman and I knew that I wanted you for my crew. I won’t lie, the job is quite mercenary in nature and it is going to be dangerous. Furthermore, if you take the job you’ll have to live on the ship. I don’t know when or even if you’ll see Loralai again. But, it is honest work and you’ll get to travel across the stars and see sights that most people can only dream of.”

Ophelia gestured towards the sky, her eyes seemed to sparkle. “We have some other business to attend to, but we’ll be leaving Earth in six hours. Before we go I’ll drop by to get your answer. Sorry that I can’t give you longer.” She turned to go, Katie and Leon taking up position behind her.

“Wait!” Farah called. Ophelia turned and looked at her, quizzically. “I’ll take the job.” Farah said.

“Hmmm,” Ophelia muttered. “Is your situation really that bad? I guess we came at a good time then. Kat, help her pack up and take her to the ship.”

“Shouldn’t I stay and guard you?” Katie asked.

Ophelia shook her head. “Our mission here isn’t exactly dangerous. Besides, I’ve still got Leon with me, just in case.”

“All right,” Katie said. She turned to Farah. “I guess I’ll be your escort today.”

*****

The two packed quickly and Katie led Farah to the docks. The Cerberus was on the small side as far as ships went. It probably only had enough space for a crew complement of ten people, if that many.

Katie took her to the bay first. “This is our docking bay. We’ve got four small fighters and a shuttle.” She gestured towards the fighters. “They’re cramped as hell, even for someone as short as me but they’re good for various situations. The Cosmic Wyvern is mine. the Radiant Healer is Leon’s. The Snarky Nebula is Allison’s. This one,” Katie pointed to the final one. “This one will be yours, after you’ve been cleared by Lucy and completed flight training under me. You can name it what you want then.”

“My own little fighter,” Farah muttered. She reached out and touched it, feeling its smooth metallic texture.

Katie led her to the bridge next. It was largely bare with a view screen, and stations for three people, plus the captain’s chair. A red-skinned woman with sleek black hair, golden eyes and tiny horns was lounging in it. An Akumillian. She rose when they entered, letting Farah see that she was barely over 120 centimetres tall.

“This is our security officer, Luciverianna Wester,” Katie introduced her. “Everyone calls her Lucy for short.”

Lucy closed her eyes and smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Farah.” she said. “I do hope that you pass inspection and we become good friends.”

“Thank you,” Farah said, shakily. It was like Lucy could see everything about her even with her eyes closed. In spite of her diminutive stature, the woman was terrifying.

“Oh,” Lucy muttered, her eyes remaining tightly shut. “Kat, have you been bullying our poor guest? She sounds terrified.”

“Not at all,” Katie said. “That’s you.”

“Me?” Lucy asked, innocently. “Whatever could you mean? I’m the very model of a friendly demeanour.” She sank back into the chair. “Oh, take our new friend for her pre-flight checkup.”

“I will as soon as I show her the engine room,” Katie said. She motioned for Farah to follow her.

The two were heading down the corridor when a 170 centimetre tall brown-haired, brown eyed woman approached.

“Yo, Kitty!” she greeted. “And this must be the newbie.” She reached out, grabbed Farah’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Allison Aiza.”

“Farah Jilani,” Farah said.

“Just don’t take the hazing too hard,” Allison said. “Most recruits survive it.”

“Hazing?” Farah asked.

“We don’t haze recruits,” Katie said.

“You’re no fun, Kitten,” Allison said. “I wanted to see her sweat a bit more.” She gave a mock salute and headed away. “Later, Newbie.”

“Sorry about that,” Katie said. “She’s… odd.”

“She seemed nice enough,” Farah muttered.

The two promptly arrived at some double doors. Katie knocked loudly before hitting the button to slide them open. “Always knock before entering engineering,” she advised.

The two walked in. A woman with a greasy jumpsuit and glasses was doing some maintenance. She had bright red hair that was tied back. Farah estimated that it probably went to the small of her back when it was loose. She was roughly 177 centimetres tall.

“This is Grace Albrecht, our engineer,” Katie said.

The woman looked over to them. Farah noticed that she had beautiful light blue eyes.

“No one told me the new recruit was so cute,” Grace said. She gently took Farah’s hand, brought it up to her lips and kissed it. “Milady, it’s the greatest pleasure to meet you.”

“Charmed,” Farah said. She felt her cheeks flush.

“We were just on our way to medical,” Katie said. “Tell the Baron to prepare for her welcome party.”

“I’ll tell him,” Grace said. “But he’s kind of lazy so I’ll probably have to do it myself.”

Katie shrugged and led Farah out.

“Baron?” Farah asked.

“He’s in charge of morale,” Katie explained. “You’ll meet him at the party. But first, we need to go to med bay.”

The medical bay wasn’t far from engineering. Katie didn’t bother knocking. She just opened the door. “Doctor?”

A bald man with a rusty red coloured goatee and a lab coat was stooped over a microscope. Glasses rested on his forehead. He moved away from the microscope, pulling his glasses down. He had dull grey coloured eyes and stood at 179 centimetres.

“I suppose you need a pre-flight checkup for the new recruit,” he said, sounding annoyed.

“If you please,” Katie said. “Farah, this is Doctor Paul Albrecht.”

“Good to meet you,” Farah said.

“Likewise,” he muttered. He had already begun the examination. It didn’t take him long to complete it and he barely spoke as he worked. “She’s in good health,” Paul said. “No surprises either. I’ll clear her to fly.”

“I’m sure the captain will be happy,” Katie said.

“If that’s all I really must get back to my experiment,” Paul said, curtly.

“Of course, Doctor,” Katie said. She led Farah away.

*****

That night, Katie picked Farah up and took her to the Canteen for her welcome party. Everyone was waiting for them except for Paul and Grace.

“Grace is coming soon,” Lucy said, her eyes were still closed. “She just had to prepare the Baron. I don’t know if Paul’s coming.”

“He’s working on an experiment,” Leon said. “I can get him if you’d like. He won’t refuse me.”

“I’m sure he won’t,” Ophelia said. “But we’ll let him work. This isn’t a mandatory event. Say, Farah, what do you think of the siblings anyway?”

“Well,” Farah said. “She seems really nice but he’s kind of scary.”

Ophelia burst out into laughter. “Sorry,” she said after a moment. “I’ve just never heard it reversed like that before.”

“I said that he was nice and she seemed scary,” Allison confirmed. “I guess everyone does, except for you, you cute little oddball.”

“Do you still think she’s scary?” Katie asked.

“She threw a wrench at me the other day,” Allison said. “I certainly don’t think she’s well adjusted.”

They heard a loud scoffing sound. “Presenting,” Grace’s voice said. “His eminence, Baron Wolfgang Andres Von Erstein.”

Farah turned. Grace was holding a tiny, scruffy looking white dog with a little top hat held in place by an elastic band.

“This is the Baron?” Farah asked. “I was super nervous. I thought he was an actual aristocrat.”

“Why the hell would we want one of those?” Grace asked. “Wolfie is the best morale officer.”

“Can I pet him?” Farah asked.

“Go for it,” Grace said. “He doesn’t bite.”

Farah reached over and stroked the tiny dog’s head around his little top hat. He sniffed her hand and licked her.

“I hate to interrupt,” Ophelia said. “But I’d like to make a toast. To Farah Jilani, our newest crew member.”

The others raised their glasses and drank. Farah looked them over. Her comrades. She had the feeling that it was going to be a fun trip.

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Purification Finale

Gail pulled away from Lilly. The movement was rough and unexpected, causing Lilly to trip and hit the ground.

“Sacrifice yourself?” Gail asked. She was facing away from Lilly, her back shaking. “Being my bride would be sacrificing yourself?”

“G… Gail I…” Lilly began.

“Don’t even try to backtrack now,” Gail said, harshly. She turned back to Lilly, her eyes reddened, tears welling up in them. She sighed heavily and helped Lilly up, quickly moving away from her. When she spoke again, her voice was softer. “I was prepared to offer you the world. Eternal youth and immortality even. I would have challenged almighty Zeus himself to secure them for you. Anything, just to make you happy.” Gail turned and snapped her fingers. The ring on Lilly’s finger slipped off and fell to the ground. “You can keep that if you want, as a memento. It’s just an ordinary ring now.”

“I… I never wanted to hurt you,” Lilly whispered. “I… I’m sorry.”

“It’s quite all right,” Gail said. “You can’t help how you feel. Neither of us can.” She strode over to Lilly. “Permit me one moment of selfishness before I go.” She leaned down and kissed Lilly’s lips. “Don’t forget me, okay?”

“I won’t!” Lilly declared. “I… I mean, it isn’t every girl who has a Goddess fall in love with her.”

“Or even a half-Goddess,” Gail said. She waved her hand over Lilly’s right eye. Instantly, the murkiness was gone and Lilly could see perfectly. “A parting gift,” Gail said. “Your friends will recover without any permanent damage.” She walked several paces away from Lilly. “We shan’t meet again. Farewell, my beloved Lilly. In my eternity I will always remember you and a part of my heart shall always belong in the time we shared. Please, remember me kindly at the very least.”

Gail vanished then, as suddenly as she’d come. Leaving Lilly alone with her injured and unconscious companions.

*****

Gail was true to her word. Axra, Twila, Fang, Bonnie, Lysara and Velvet were banged up, but they swiftly recovered.

They spent those quiet months in preparation for Lysara and Bonnie’s wedding. Rachel met with both Bonnie and Lysara separately, insisting that she be allowed to make the gowns personally. She even made the outfits for Velvet’s dogs, with Lilly’s assistance.

Finally, the big day was upon them. Lysara’s family came, as did Bonnie’s colleagues, both her fellow knights and her former friends from the Masqueraders. The ceremony was taking place in an outdoor area. Reira had setup the altar beneath some cherry blossom trees. The path to it was laced with petals with seating on both sides.

Bonnie approached first. Her white gown was long, practically touching the ground, with golden trim. She had her hair down. As she approached her fellow knights, including Velvet, lined up on both sides.

Lilly met her at the start of the petal strewn path, holding a bouquet. She fell behind Bonnie as she strode through the salutes of her fellow soldiers. Once they reached the altar, the soldiers returned to their seats. Lilly curtsied, handed Bonnie the bouquet and stood to the side.

Lysara was next. Her white gown was cut just above her knees and had a mint green trim. Her parents met her going into the petal strewn path. She kissed them each on the cheek in turn. Velvet’s dogs, Twila, Axra, Fang and Velvet lined up for her.

She sashayed over the path, her eyes fixated on her bride to be, a faint flush on her face. Behind her, her parents held the bouquet together. When she reached the altar, they presented it to her and stood reverently to the side.

Bonnie and Lysara moved in sync, placing their respective bouquets side by side on the altar. They stood attentively as Reira spoke.

“Friends,” Reira said. “Today, we meet for the happiest of occasions. To join these two people in the bonds of matrimony. We, their friends, families, and comrades all come together as witnesses to this momentous event and to wish them well.” She waited a moment before continuing.”Bonnie Calendula, will you declare your love?”

“I will,” Bonnie said, her voice shaky. She cleared her throat. “I never knew what love was, had never experienced it, until I met Lysara. Now, I understand. Now, I can not, will not let her go. I declare before those assembled here today, before the Gods themselves, that I will always be true to Lysara and that I will remain by her side so long as breath remains within me.”

“A fine declaration,” Reira said. “And, I sense, a truthful one. Lysara Hart, will you likewise declare your love?”

“I will,” Lysara said. She looked directly into Bonnie’s eyes. “Bon, when I first learned of your feelings I wasn’t sure how I felt. It was only after careful consideration that I realised I felt the same way. Since then, every trial we’ve overcome, every hardship has only cemented the truth in my mind. The pure, immutable fact that what we have is the real deal. That’s why, from this day onward, I just know that our bonds will only become stronger, our love more passionate. I know that I will love and cherish you for all time.”

“A good declaration,” Reira said. “And a truthful one. In the name of Hera, queen of heaven, I declare you bound together in marriage. May beauteous Aphrodite continue to bless you both and your love. You may embrace.”

Lysara stood on her tip-toes while Bonnie knelt down. The two shared a quick, but passionate embrace. No one noticed a peacock watching the ceremony from the tree line.

*****

“It was a lovely wedding,” Twila said.

“It was,” Axra agreed. “And they certainly deserve their happiness. I just hope Eritos doesn’t teleport in while they’re on their honeymoon.”

“She won’t,” Lilly said.

“I’m inclined to believe Lilly,” Twila said. “If Eritos really intended to slay us and run off with Lilly, she had a perfect chance.”

“Fine,” Axra said. “Just don’t expect me to get too relaxed.”

“You know,” Twila began “I’ve heard rumours about a hidden city under the wastes. We might be able to find it.”

“We’ll have to wait,” Axra said. “I promised Bonnie that I wouldn’t wander off into any dangerous situations without her.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want you to break your promise,” Twila said. “And, I might be able to learn more if I check some books.”

“Just don’t get too absorbed in it,” Axra said, putting her arms around Twila. “We’ve got plenty of time before we can leave on this adventure and you can’t neglect us that entire time.”

Lilly thought about protesting, but instead she moved to join their hug. Wandering ruins, searching for adventure, it was what had brought the three of them together. It was what they belonged doing, for as long as they could manage.

Fin

A note from Ktulu:

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading through this. I hope that I was able to keep you all entertained. Last time I finished a story I had a week’s break before starting the next one while I thought about what to do. I don’t know if I’ll do it this time. I’ll think about what I want to do over the weekend, if I can flesh it out then I’ll begin the next story on Tuesday. If I haven’t quite gotten it down yet I’ll wait until the 30th. Again, thank you all for reading I hope you enjoyed it and that you’ll enjoy the next story as well.

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Purification episode 129: Reaping the Whirlwind

“This is a pain,” Velvet said. “Couldn’t we have brought horses or something?”

“I’m surprised you left your wagon behind,” Bonnie stated.

“No choice,” Velvet said. “Too dangerous for them.”

“We’re almost there,” Twila said. “It’s not too close to any roads and there’s some cover for us.” She waved the Einklangümlich Staff. “That should conceal us well enough, unless she’s expecting trouble.”

The chosen spot was a tiny clearing surrounded on three sides by a rather heavy wood with a small hill on the fourth. Twila, Axra, Bonnie, Lysara, Velvet and Fang took cover.

“Okay, get her out here,” Axra called.

Lilly looked down at the ring that remained securely stuck to her finger and she couldn’t help but wonder if this was really the right thing to do. But she rubbed the ring regardless. It was a simple thing, really. The women she loved demanded it from her and she couldn’t bring herself to refuse them. Maybe she could turn Gail down quickly and she’d leave. She had to try.

The response was nearly instantaneous. Gail quickly appeared beside her. “My lovely Lilly!” she cried, throwing her arms around the other woman. “I’m so happy that you called me. You’re finally ready to accept my feelings, then?”

“I… I need to talk,” Lilly said. “I… I need you to…”

Fang struck before she could get the words out, blasting fire across Gail’s back.

“Just a moment, M’love,” Gail said. “I seem to have something to deal with.”

She whirled around and hurled a lightning bolt at the tiny dragon, but a bolt from the woods managed to turn it off course so that it missed.

Velvet rushed out, executing a quick spin kick, sending Gail back several paces, holding her stomach.

Lysara and Bonnie followed quickly afterwards, slashing at Gail with their weapons. She barely managed top deflect the attacks with a shield spell.

Lilly felt Zerstörelicht’s weight. Gail was turned away from her, she could fire a shot point blank. Could even a half-Goddess like Gail survive a direct hit from it?

Several bursts of magic fired from the woods and Axra ran towards Gail.

“Ants,” Gail said. “How dare you try to keep me from a happy ending with my Lilly!” She snapped her fingers and a wave of azure energy spread from her into the woods.

Lilly had to avert her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, the woods had been laid to waste a kilometre around. Velvet, Bonnie, Lysara, Fang, Axra and Twila were all on the ground, banged up, but alive.

Gail smirked and turned to Lilly. “Let’s away, Lover.”

“There’s only one place you’re getting away to!” Axra cried. Todberührung pierced Gail’s back.

Gail turned and sent a wall of lightning slamming into Axra, sending her into convulsions.

“Bitch,” Gail muttered. She pushed the blade out, her flesh already healing. “Interesting thing you’ve trapped here. Shall I release it, I wonder?”

Lilly felt a pang in her heart and looked back at the bow. she still had a free shot.

“Flames of Armageddon!”

Gail screamed as the ground around her erupted into flame. Lilly looked away, not wanting to see.

“Flash flood!” waters came rushing in, smothering the flames. Lilly turned back, Gail’s flesh had been charred, but was rapidly regaining its normal tone as she watched.

“Meteor swarm!” Twila cried. Large stones soared down, right towards Gail.

“Absolute Deflection!” Gail countered. The stones bounced away from her, right towards Twila.

“Barrier!” Twila commanded. The shield nearly shattered against the onslaught, but it held.

Gail looked over at her. She had nearly healed completely. “I see, that staff of yours is another of mister Hephaestus’ works. It lets you channel magic faster. But, it has one huge vulnerability. Do you know this spell, Child?” Gail snapped her fingers. “Accelerated magic burn!”

A beam of white light shot forward. Twila screamed in surprise and pain as the energy covered her, glowing brightly.

Twila held the staff out, pointing it at Gail. “Fi… fi…” the staff slipped from her hands before she could finish and she fell unconscious.

Lilly noticed that Gail was breathing heavily. If she acted quickly… She started bringing Zerstörelicht up.

“They’re never going to just let us be happy,” Gail observed. “I’m sorry, I know they’re your friends, but I’m going to have to kill them all.”

Lilly’s eyes went wide and she dropped Zerstörelicht . She ran forward, nearly tackling the massive woman to the ground.

“Pl… please don’t,” Lilly pleaded. “I… I’ll sacrifice myself. I… I’ll go with you, as your bride. W… we can go somewhere they’ll never find us. S… so please pl… please don’t hurt them!”

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Purification episode 128: Uneasy Night

Axra and Twila walked together to pick up Lilly. Fang hovered above them. Bonnie and Lysara walked behind them. Axra had insisted that Bonnie come along, just in case her father was still mad and Lysara invited herself to be near her fiance.

“It’s going to be good to have her back with us,” Axra said. “It feels like the clerics have been working on her forever.”

“It’s only been a few days,” Bonnie stated.

Lysara hurriedly nudged her. “Quiet, Bon,” she whispered. “They’ve had a rough couple of days.”

“It’s all right,” Twila said. “We’ve had some time to mourn and we’ll have time to recover once all of this is over.”

They finally reached the temple. “Bonnie, why don’t you and Lysara wait out here?” Axra asked. “I’m sure you’ve got things to talk about.”

“We can do that,” Lysara said. “Have fun!”

They watched Twila and Axra go inside.

“I wonder why they want us out here,” Bonnie muttered.

“You really aren’t good at understanding emotions are you Bon?” Lysara asked. “They haven’t seen their girlfriend for days and now that they finally do, they want some time alone, you know?”

“Not really,” Bonnie stated.

“Oh, Bon,” Lysara said. “That innocent mind of yours is just too precious.”

*****

“Her left eye is fully recovered,” the head cleric explained, stroking his white beard as he spoke. “Unfortunately, we could only heal her right eye partially. Her vision will be clouded for the rest of her life, unless you happen to know someone infinitely more powerful than us, but that would take a God.”

“We understand,” Axra said. “Lilly, how are you feeling?”

“I… it’s strange,” Lilly said. “I… if I close my right eye and look at you, I can see all of your features without a problem… but f I have both eyes open then it… it’s like you’re covered by some… murky thing. I… I don’t like it.”

Twila leaned in to hug Lilly. “Would you prefer to wear an eye-patch?”

“I… I don’t know,” Lilly said. “Th… things would look nicer bu… but I couldn’t see as much at once.”

Axra put a hand on Lilly’s shoulder. “It won’t matter so much when we’ve dealt with Eritos. You can still aim properly, right?”

“I… I can. No problem there,” Lilly said. She lightly bit her lip. She wanted to protest that they should try talking with Gail first, but she knew that neither Axra nor Twila was prepared to listen.

“Great!” Axra cried. “We’ve got the perfect place to go for the match. You’ll rub that ring she stuck to your finger and lure her there. Twila will use concealment magic on the rest of us and we’ll bring her down before she knows what hit her.”

“We’ll head back to the palace and enjoy a nice meal tonight, and head to the operation point and put everything into operation in the morning,” Twila added. “If you’re feeling well enough to travel.”

“I… I’m perfectly fine,” Lilly said. “I’m well rested and recovered. Well, mostly recovered.” She reached up and put a hand over her right eye. “I… I could go now, bu… but I would like a nice meal.”

The three quickly left the temple, Lilly stood between her lovers.

“You’re looking well,” Bonnie observed. “I trust they told you the plan?”

Lilly nodded. “I… it might work, possibly. I think.”

“Personally, I thought that the princess should have borrowed some soldiers, but she doesn’t want her father to know what we’re doing. So it’s just going to be the six of us.”

Fang let out a series of grunts. “I’m sure she didn’t mean to exclude you,” Twila said. “She was probably just forgetting about Velvet.”

“Oh, right,” Lysara said. “He’s going to be joining us when we head out of Nervius. Bon, how could you forget that?”

Bonnie sighed, but decided to play along. “My bad, I forget about him since he’s quiet and sleeps a lot.”

*****

They returned to the palace. Zero joined them at the supper table. He kept mostly civil, but wouldn’t speak to either Lilly or Bonnie.

“Papa!” Axra cried. “Please don’t glare at Lilly like that. She is one of my lovers, you know.”

Zero shrugged. “Perhaps you would care to explain what you see in a common girl like her. Especially one so incapable of comporting herself properly.”

“She comports herself just fine!” Axra stated. “There’s nothing wrong with being soft spoken.”

“Now, now,” Rachel said. “Father Dearest, Darling Sister, let’s not fight, okay? It isn’t a suitable way for royalty to behave.”

“Nor is bringing home a common wench,” Zero muttered.

Axra slammed her fists on the table and stood up. “You and Papa always said that I could love whoever I wanted! So why do you have such a problem with Lilly? She’s kind, thoughtful, and gentle.”

Zero sat staring at his daughter for a time. “You’re right, of course. You can love whomever you wish. I… apologise. I should not have said anything.”

Axra sat back down. The group finished their meal in virtual silence.

*****

Axra took Lilly and Twila to her chambres after the meal was over.

“I… I’m sorry,” Lilly said. “Be… because of me you and your dad…”

“Not your fault,” Axra said. “He doesn’t like you for some reason.”

“Probably because he doesn’t think she’s good enough for you,” Twila suggested. “When your dad brought her here she was just your servant, correct? He probably had her transferred to ranger training because he thought that your becoming friends with her was inappropriate and now he sees the advancement into something more as an exacerbation of that.”

“I… I’m sorry,” Lilly said. “I… it’s all because I fell for you. I… if I hadn’t then you never w… would have crossed that line. I… I had ideas above my station and…”

“Enough with that,” Axra said. “My dads were both commoners before they took the throne after Queen Zenas died. Station has nothing to do with anything.”

The three heard a knock on the door. “Are you decent?” Rachel’s voice asked.

“Come in,” Axra said.

“Pardon my intrusion,” Rachel said as she entered. “I had a talk with your… our father. He is willing to admit that he behaved poorly and he has promised to try to accept Lilly. I’m sure everything will work out once he gets to know her better.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Axra said.

“Oh, but I did,” Rachel said. “Don’t you worry about a thing, Darling. Tomorrow I’ll fix us all a nice picnic and we can spend some peaceful time together.”

“That might not work,” Axra said.

“Oh, why not?” Rachel asked.

“It’s too soon,” Twila jumped in. “Maybe it would be better if we let them both cool off tomorrow and tried on the day after.”

“Oh, of course,” Rachel said. “How silly of me. Well, you three have a lovely night.”

“Y… you too,” Lilly said.

“Right, let’s get some sleep,” Twila said. “Tomorrow is going to be… difficult.”

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Purification episode 127: Bonnie’s Report

“My condolences on your loss,” Highness,” Bonnie said. “However…”

“However, you have some business that requires my attention,” Zero interrupted. “It’s quite all right. I have had time to come to terms with it. Come, we shall speak in private.” He led Bonnie away from the group. “My daughter needs me right now, so make it fast.”

“It’s a simple thing,” Bonnie said. “I just need to know if the clerics are still powerless.”

“They are not,” Zero said. “It was quite bad for a time, but the happy report of their magics returning came not even an hour ago. You may get your arm treated and that horrible girl’s eyes, I suppose. I shall expect a report from you as soon as you return.”

“Understood,” Bonnie said. The two walked back. Lilly was on the ground with Axra and Twila, one arm wrapped around each other woman as they cried into her chest.

“Lilly, go with Bonnie to get treatment!” Zero ordered.

“Bu… But the… they really…”

“It’s okay,” Axra sniffled. “Get your eyes healed. We’ll be fine.”

Twila nodded in agreement, moving to lean against Axra instead.

“Velvet, you come too,” Bonnie said. “We’ll get your back fixed before it gets infected.”

“I’ll stay with Twi and Axra,” Lysara offered. “Come see me when you’re better, okay Bon?”

“What a pain,” Velvet said. He looked down at his dogs and pointed at Twila and Axra. “Comfort.”

The canines quickly walked forward to sit beside the two women.

*****

It took several hours for the clerics to heal Bonnie’s arm. They cautioned her to use it sparingly for a few days while she regained her strength. She returned to the palace as quickly as she could.

Zero was waiting when she got there. “Dame Calendula, you seem to have guaranteed my daughter’s safety. However, her closeness with Silverstar’s niece seems to indicate that you failed in your second task. Am I correct?” His voice was an accusatory hiss as he spoke.

Bonnie bowed. “My apologies, Sir. The Princess sent me on patrol one night. When I returned, she, Twila and Lilly had… retired. There was a soundproofing spell around the tent and I was unaware of what was happening inside until it was too late.”

“What?” Zero slammed his fist into the palace wall.  “Twila Magia, I could forgive. At least she’s part of a powerful family, mayhaps even a good match for Axra. But that awful, common girl was with them? This… this is a very grievous failure on your part.” He took a moment to compose himself. “I trust you’re prepared for the consequences?”

“I shall turn myself in for disciplinary action immediately,” Bonnie stated.

“Oh no,” Zero said. “A couple lashes won’t be enough. Not for this.”

“What would you have me do?” Bonnie asked.

“You have a trident,” Zero stated. “I trust you can turn it inwards.”

Bonnie barely managed to conceal her shock. “I’m afraid I can’t die yet, Sir. The Princess still has need of me.” She didn’t mention her upcoming wedding to Lysara, knowing he wouldn’t care.

“Who in Tartarus are you to tell me what she needs?” Zero demanded. “Insolent whelp! My Axel gave you everything! He gave you a future and even granted futures to those punks you used to lead. And this is how you repay us? You dare to…”

The two heard a loud scoff and turned. Axra was there, her eyes puffy and even redder than usual. “Father, if you’re quite done scolding her, I have need of my valiant knight.”

“Axra,” Zero whispered. He quickly spoke again, his voice louder. “I still have business with her. I’ll get you some other knights from the barracks.”

“Oh but Father,” Axra protested. “No other knights will possibly do. You see, I have promoted Bonnie as my personal bodyguard. It would simply be scandalous to give her duties to someone else.”

“Axra, I really must ins….” Zero began.

Axra rushed forward and grabbed Bonnie’s hand. “Come along, Bonnie. There’s something very important I need you to do. Don’t worry, Papa, I know you have plenty of other knights so my taking her shouldn’t hurt you too much.”

Axra moved with Bonnie in tow until they were well out of Zero’s sight.

“Princess I’m sorry,” Bonnie said. “I…”

“Enough of that,” Axra sighed. “I’m the one who should apologise. I lured you away from watching my virtue and got you into trouble. Don’t worry, Papa’s mad right now but he’ll get over it before too long. How are Lilly and Velvet doing?”

“The clerics said that they can repair the damage done to Velvet in three hours or so,” Bonnie reported. “They aren’t sure about Lilly’s eyes. They’re hopeful, but it could take days.”

Axra nodded. “That’s fine. Twila and me are gonna need a couple days. I… we still haven’t fully come to grips with it. It’s so strange, isn’t it? You leave someone to go on a trip They’re healthy and doing well and then something goes wrong and they’re gone. There’s so much I wanted to tell Axel Papa. I was going to tell him all about finding love, about how much Todberührung has aided me and how much I appreciate him giving it to me. I was going to captivate him with the whole story of this adventure but now…” She turned and buried her head against Bonnie’s chest.

Bonnie hesitantly reached down and put a hand against Axra’s back. “It’s going to be all right,” she whispered. “I’m sure his soul is watching over you right now, proud of all you’ve done, all you’ve seen and I’m sure he knows how much he meant to you. You were his one and only precious child, after all.”

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Purification episode 126: Bad News in Nervius

In the morning Lysara and Twila worked to prepare breakfast while Bonnie and Axra worked at breaking the camp. Lilly and Velvet sat quietly. Lilly had offered to help while Twila changed the bandage over her eyes, only to be gently turned down. Lysara hummed happily as she worked.

“You seem happy,” Twila observed. “Are you that excited to be going back to Nervius?”

“It’s not that,” Lysara said. “I proposed to Bon and she said yes.”

“I was wondering where she got the ring,” Axra said.

“Ring?” Twila asked, she moved over to where Axra and Bonnie were working. “Oh, I see. It’s quite beautiful.”

“C… can you, maybe, describe it for me?” Lilly requested.

“That’s enough,” Bonnie stated, her face flushed. “We should finish up quickly and be on our way.”

“There’s no need to rush, Bon,” Lysara said. “We still have to buy our dresses, find a place to do the ceremony, find a cleric and send invitations. It’s not like we’re going to have the ceremony the instant we arrive.”

“That wasn’t what I was talking about,” Bonnie muttered.

“You can use the palace courtyard,” Axra volunteered. “I’ll clear it with my dads personally.”

“My aunt Reira could do the ceremony,” Twila offered. “If you don’t have anyone else in mind.”

“I bet Rachel knows a great place to get dresses,” Axra added.

Lysara ran up to Bonnie and glomped her. “Isn’t it great, Bon? Our friends are pulling for us all the way! Say, I have a great idea! Why don’t we dress Velvet’s dogs up in little outfits and they can attend the ceremony with the rest of you?”

Velvet glanced at his dogs, they were piled near Lilly and wagging their tails at the excitement. “They seem okay with the idea,” he stated. “I don’t see a problem.”

“Th… the outfits will have to be specially made,” Lilly said. “I… If they, you know, constrict their movements too much they’ll be uncomfortable.”

“This really isn’t the time to worry about that,” Bonnie said. “We retrieved Zerstörelicht and the Einklangümlich Staff for a reason, remember?”

“Of course,” Twila said. “We know that. But we still want to celebrate your happiness.”

“And we’re going to help you plan for the ceremony right after we beat Eritos down,” Axra added.

Bonnie sighed. “We’ll need a plan to do that.”

“We summon her with Lilly’s ring and clobber her,” Axra said.

“I’m loathe to use Lilly as bait,” Twila said. “However, it would seem like the best course. We’ll have to find a relatively quiet area with cover but without any people. I can use magic to try to shield our presences from her and we should be able to ambush her.”

“Won’t she sense your spell?” Bonnie asked.

“That’s the tricky part,” Twila agreed. “With the staff’s power I should be able to pull it off, especially if she’s not alert. But she is a half-goddess. Hiding from her won’t be easy, even with its power.”

“D… do we really have to fight her?” Lilly asked. “I… I think I could ta… persuade her to remove the ring if I just had a chance.”

Axra moved over to Lilly and kissed her forehead. “That ship’s sailed, Babe. We already know she’s not letting you go without a fight.”

“Don’t worry,” Lysara said. “Bon and I will help protect you. Then we can have our wedding and when you three get married you can invite us to your wedding.”

“Are there clerics who hold weddings for three people?” Velvet wondered.

*****

Zero sensed the magic instantly. A powerful force was teleporting through the waygate. He couldn’t recall ever sensing such a strong teleport spell. The same mage who had made that ridiculous snow sculpture in Choltin?

The thought was disturbing, but he had to check. He steeled himself and hurriedly cast his own teleport spell. He was greatly relieved to see the group before him.

“Axra, welcome home!”

“Zero Papa!” She ran to hug him. “I’m home.”

He returned her hug. “I’m so glad to see you well.” He looked at her companions. “I am surprised. I didn’t expect such a strong teleportation spell. You are exceedingly skilled, Miss Magia.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Twila said.

“Axra, are your friends going to be staying with us?” Zero asked.

“We’re going to stay for a little bit,” Axra said. “We still have something to finish, though. I’ll tell you and Axel Papa all about it later, promise.”

Zero felt his throat tighten. “Axra, about that. Axel…” he wiped the tears that came unbidden to his eyes. “Your other father… fell in battle.”

Axra nearly fell to the ground, but managed to use Zero’s shoulder to steady herself. “That isn’t funny, Papa. You shouldn’t joke about something like that.”

“It’s no joke,” Zero said, trying to keep his voice steady. “The Hestial League summoned the great titan, Typhon. Axel took our soldiers and engaged him with the aid of Lulu and the dark elf forces. In that battle Axel, Lulu and Jayko all sacrificed their lives.”

“No way,” Axra muttered. “Papa is… Papa is…” the tears started falling, seemingly without end. Behind her, Twila fell to her knees.

“Uncle Lulu, Uncle Jayko,” she whispered.

Lilly heard the women she loved crying and felt her heart break. She wanted to go to each of them in turn and embrace them, tell them it was going to be alright. But she stopped herself. They both needed to cry. Besides, she had no idea what to say to them in this situation.

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Purification episode 125: Einklangümlich Staff Claimed

The five women entered the final chambre. The walls were covered with vines and there was a narrow path over a pool of water. At the end of the path was a circular area with several flaming lanterns. A large, smooth staff with a grey jewel mounted on the end of it was hanging from the vines in the middle.

The five approached it cautiously, suspecting another test. Twila reached for the staff and gingerly pulled it down. The grey jewel shimmered for a moment and shifted colour to a deep violet.

“Looks like that was the final test,” Twila said. “I’ll cast a teleport spell to take us to Fang.”

“You’ve used a lot of magic,” Bonnie said. “Are you sure you can.”

“I should be able to do one more,” Twila said. She began chanting but stopped. “No, I don’t need to take that much effort.” She waved the staff and the five were instantly transported from the chambre, landing near Velvet.

“Welcome back,” Velvet muttered. Fang quickly flew over to Twila’s shoulder and Velvet’s dogs ran over, jumping all over Lilly, pushing against each other to lick her hands.

“There there,” she said, her voice soft. “You little puppies missed me, didn’t you?” She gingerly reached down to pet them, occasionally missing one of their heads only to have the dog in question put its head into her hand.

“That the power of the staff?” Axra asked. “It lets you cast your spells without chanting?”

“That’s part of it,” Twila said. “I also feel like my magic is stronger when I use it. Although it’s difficult to tell with just a teleport spell. I’ll need to try a few others to be sure.”

“You should probably practice a few soon,” Bonnie suggested. “We’ll need to know what to expect during our trek back. Unless you can teleport us all back to Nervius.”

“I can since Nervius has a waypoint near it,” Twila said. “But I’ve done so many spells today with little rest. I need to sleep.”

“We can go in the morning,” Axra said. “Until then we can all rest up. Except Velvet, he can stand guard.”

“Why me?” Velvet asked.

“Because you’ve been napping up here while we were fighting our way through a bunch of challenges,” Axra answered.

“I didn’t nap that much,” Velvet protested. But he kept his objection soft. He was relieved enough to see them all okay that he almost didn’t mind standing guard. Almost.

*****

Lysara and Bonnie went to their tent after eating and prepared their bedrolls. Bonnie noticed Lysara slip something shiny into her pocket but didn’t pay it much heed. Lysara grabbed her lyre afterwards.

“Bon, will you listen to something before going to bed?”

“I’m really tired after our ordeals,” Bonnie replied. “Can it wait?”

“I’m tired too,” Lysara said. “But it’s really important. If I don’t sing it now I… I might forget it or lose my courage. Please, Bon.”

“All right,” Bonnie said. “I’ll listen. She sat opposite of Lysara and listened to the other woman strum a soft melody. She quickly started singing.

It all began with danger in sight

As you rescued me from my plight.

Foolishly I turned to another

Never noticing your heart aflutter.

Now you are my heart

May we ne’er part.

To the depths our journey led

where for my sake you bled.

Your love revealed

my soul rejoiced.

Now you are my heart

may we ne’er part. 

Against the League, hard we fought

granting what they’d wrought.

For peace, harmony

and the sound of melody.

Now you are my heart

may we ne’er part. 

Of your checkered past I learned

still for you my heart yearned. 

That night we two finally

came together mightily

Now you are my heart

may we ne’er part. 

To the mountains next

an adventure most complex.

To claim the staff we came

Now have we found our aim.” 

Bonnie waited, anticipating the next verse, curious as to why this was so important to Lysara. But unexpectedly, the notes changed. They became faster, more energetic and Lysara’s voice rose.

“Bon, won’t you stay with me tonight?
Bon’ won’t you marry me in a fortnight?

Bon, you are the light of my life.
Bon, forever be my wife.
Bon, marry me.”

The melody stopped and Lysara looked over at Bonnie expectantly. Bonnie felt her heart race.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Yeah huh,” Lysara answered. “I know I’m not as strong as you, or as pretty as you and maybe I’m selfish for asking but I truly love you so…” Lysara fumbled with her pocket, pulling out the shining object, which Bonnie was finally able to identify as a ring. “Will you marry me, Bonnie Calendula?”

Bonnie looked from the ring to Lysara. Initially, her answer wasn’t even as loud as a whisper. “Yes.”

Seeing Lysara strain to hear, she spoke louder but her voice still sounded soft to her ears. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”

Lysara’s face perked up immediately. “Really?”

Bonnie nodded. Lysara slipped the ring onto her finger and cuddled up to her.

“Bon, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been right now. My heart is racing. Bon I…”

Bonnie put a finger to Lysara’s lips and smiled. “No more words. At least not right now.” She leaned down and kissed Lysara, her soon to be bride, deeply and passionately.

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