Take Up the Cross – Chapter 19: Unfated Meeting

As Cethran speaks, all of the knowledge of the world is made clear by her questions. Adris watches her sweep her arms grandly, this unpaid lecturer putting on the finest of performances. With all of the mysteries of existence laid bare by her words, a bright smile on her aged face begs the heavens to dare deny her conclusions.

 

It is a wonderful presentation, though Adris can understand none of the words. To him, they are only indecipherable whispers which sound like they come from within his skull. To the multitude of unseen voices which respond all around her, though, her questions give sustenance to their existences.

 

As she continues to move with an animated and unusual passion, the walls begin to run down to the floor like wet paint. From the ceiling overhead, this endless void which towers over Adris, black drippings fall like a tar rain, beginning to fill the chapel as the writhing masses pool unto themselves in ever-thickening layers.

 

The headless man’s statue falls, the mass too warped and squirming to remain attached to the wall. Adris sees beyond into its now open base to discover…

 

 


 

 

“Ah, Elf! Kol found!”

 

A deep, rich voice shatters the vision of the darkening chapel.

 

“Trail here! Smell strong!”

 

Footsteps hurriedly ascend the stairway, metal tinkling and clanking with the climb. Rousing, Adris moves with a start, danger throwing off the deep stupor that clings to him. Forehead dripping wet, he’s disturbed by his sweat soaked clothing.

 

(I fell asleep.)

 

For the first time since waking in the Castillo, Adris slept, confronted by a dream now quickly vanishing. His anger is hot, feeling shame at his lapse in protocol for dozing off in such an exposed location. Already, the figure approaching has him cornered, with no possible avenue of escape except down the stairs it’s arriving from.

 

(I see, I’m left with “conversation”, then.)

 

Adris remains in his chair, automatically adjusting his posture and clothing to present the best impression. He wipes his face with a piece of cloth and straightens his hair.

 

(Let’s see who troubles me now, after a bloodthirsty rabbit was my last guest.)

 

Tramping up the stairs, a short, armored warrior crests the top and arrives on the landing.

 

 

Adris begins his assessment.

 

Its rust-red hauberk jangles as it moves, stopping suddenly to turn after noticing him, its heavily dented sallet and bevor creaking as it locks onto him.

Neither the ripped, black jacket buttoned over armor and gambeson nor the poorly maintained pauldrons, bracers, or shinguards bear heraldry.

 

(You seem quite impoverished for the quality of your armor; but, any armor exceeds my current protection and methods of harming you, making you a difficult target for anything but the cross…)

 

Curiously bestial, but still mostly human-like, feet and hands are left unprotected, with soft white fur showing. The dark silver, swishing reptilian tail has its own short coat running up from the end, though the tail stiffens after Adris is noticed. The skin that he can see appears a tanned white, with the creature an obvious mix of human and beast.

 

(Like the wolfman in the Expanse, perhaps? But you’re a good bit shorter and not as… offensive to look at. Yet without seeing your face, I can’t…)

 

Pink eyes stare at him menacingly, reflecting the reddish light leaking into the room from the overlook. The power in those eyes matches the hands which tighten around its familiar, two-handed long axe as it’s readied.

 

(That axe was pretty helpful, you have my thanks. But…)

 

Adris recalls details which push away all that remains of his drowsy state.

 

(Don’t you look familiar?)

 

The prickled fighter takes a long minute examining the unknown Adris at the end of this long climb. The boy’s heart beats much faster with recognition of the warrior, thoughts of his chosen persona coming rapidly to his mind.

 

(My prey is here.)

 

As limited as they currently are, he adopts the mannerisms, words, and motivations of his grandest role; but, when he begins to move his hand to greet the warrior, the one named “Kol” offers no such opportunity.

 

 

 

Blood and steel!”

 

Hefting its axe up high, “Kol” charges. The crude, toothy white snarl drawn on its bevor becomes fiercer as it closes.

 

 

 

The uttered oath is terribly loud, matched by the resounding clanking of the charging creature.

 

Whispers reach out from all around him…

 

(I don’t want to fight!)

 

Adris rejects this sense of battle, the whispers dying in the air; instead, he…

 

 

 

… leaps from the chair with an acrobatic flourish to easily avoid the axe slamming into it. Landing to the side, Adris avoids pieces of the floor which fly up with dust to cloud the area, as he retreats to the overlook to regroup.

 

The axe’s head has a nearly invisible shimmer surrounding it, which disappears after striking.

 

(Stop, wait, at least listen!)

 

Thoughts well up, but Adris is unable to voice them. The persona he must develop won’t permit it. He can be neither surprised nor inconvenienced by even a lethal ambush.

 

“Oh, move like Puddle. ‘Annoying’.”

 

A disappointed comment comes from the faceless warrior, directed at his manner of escape.

 

(I’ll give it to you, you have the right idea of how to act when meeting dangerous people. Though, your exuberance is like…)

 

 

 

A girl with shining black hair, who always let her sword speak first.

 

 

 

At this moment, unease assaults him, worsened when the short person effortlessly pulls its axe from the deep trench it is embedded in. His only solace is that the attack was terribly sloppy and the creature itself is slower than him, even while charging.

 

(I can beat this thing one on one, as long as it has no extending strikes…)

 

 

 

“Kol! Who are you fighting!” A sweet but also squeaky and troubled voice calls out from down the stairs. A sliding sound is climbing.

 

(At least three more, please.)

 

Adris’ can barely contain his glee, for the axe lodged in the creature had belonged to the group he was searching for.

 

Moving to take up position between Adris and the stairs, the first assailant waits for its party to form up with it. The wait is short, as a cloaked, dark lurker crests the stairs, a white mask peering from beneath a steepled hat and cowl. Hanging from this new addition is a smaller girl behind her neck.

 

 

 

Swiftly moving forward with a practiced advance, the…

 

 

(Definitely a girl, with breasts like those.)

 

… young lady wearing a short black cloak over a brass-buttoned, blue fencing doublet points a flame-bladed shortsword at Adris. Dropping the smaller girl to the ground, she then creeps to the side of the armored warrior on long, shapely legs protected by chausses. Her slightly torn, purple-paneled short skirt allows her to move with ease, a feature found with all of her clothing.

Leaning forward as if preparing to leap at him, her shoeless feet match with her hands. Instead of clothing, a tight, night-dark mesh over her skin muffles all of her movements.

The clothing she wears is protective enough for a minor scuffle, but is absent any armor necessary for a fierce melee. Any bladed strike made on her would definitely deliver immense harm, unless the mesh is special.

 

(Save for the hat, any Last Word of the Emperor would wear similar clothing and disguise. Less a warrior, she’s more like a prowling murderer. I’ve never fought one of those fanatics and I never will.)

 

A dark smile is expertly painted on her eyeless white mask, though it’s her hanging breasts which draw Adris’ attention. Her pleasing curves and no-nonsense, yet still appealing, style tickle his nostalgia for Xin.

 

(This girl has a proper body. Even if she’s curvy, I might lose in a contest of agility with her. If I can’t strike her, I can’t…)

 

As his eyes linger, the girl reacts with a start, before her body begins subtly emphasizing her figure with slight shifts.

 

(She’s also observant and proactive!?)

 

 

“Be on guard, for strange items be borne by one before us.”

 

The smaller girl dropped next to her methodically rises and turns toward him, looking as if she is ripped from some Xinian fairy story.

 

 

Standing three-feet tall, she elegantly exhibits an overly complex, lacy blue dress with a ruffled skirt. The skirt parts high at the front as her slender legs in white socks mechanically carry her forward. A trimmed short cape parts at her sternum, with two violet half-circles that open toward her swaying white cravat, refusing to meet and exemplifying the mystery of her style.

 

(I don’t recognize the material, but this girl is filthy rich to wear clothing this fine. Aristocratic in garments and manner, perhaps she’s the group’s leader?)

 

A gloved hand extending out of her frilled sleeves holds a metallic rod with a jeweled handle, the embedded emerald shining as the rod is leveled. Her body turns as she aims it, the large back ribbon tied around her waist swishing with the movement. Its airy and tiered nature perfectly encapsulates the frailty that clings to her.

 

(As Cethran noted, a mystic. More focused on craft than body, she will buckle if I can nail her first… and I don’t fear magic.)

 

But her clothes are the least fantastical feature, for her facial features and body are too perfect, appearing crafted rather than made by chance. Pale, white skin contrasts against her pale violet theme, the vivid eyes of the same color made so much more emblematic of her as they seem to glow with an inner light.

A golden circlet opening at the front of her temples and curving out like tiny horns barely contains her amber hair that spills over onto her shoulders.

 

(Her expression is impassive, but there’s a presence to her that the other two can’t match. For looking human, the shortness of this girl isn’t like a child’s, especially not with the maturity evident. If that bunny sage’s book is any indication, hers could be just as dangerous…)

 

Adris shifts as his eyes onto the large tome she carries, so large this platinum-bound tome is that she must use a carrying strap to hang it from her shoulder. Even standing still, it makes her regimented appearance awkward as she leans in the direction of its weight.

Her eyes dart from Adris’ body, to his face, and finally to the wrapped cross.

 

“No Art be sensed within, merely low quality ‘enhancement’ upon garments identified.” With a bell-like tone lacking strong emotion, the girl methodically reports her results.

“Rather, not even a hint of power be discovered, as peculiar as it be to state such a finding.”

 

(Dangerously accurate! All without a tool like Lycia would need to use, unless it’s that rod. But that seems unlikely, seeing as she regards it as a weapon…?)

 

The doll-like girl is marked as his number one threat, her gaze far too perceptive for his, at present, limited persona. Her ability to gauge his lack of power at a glance reminds him of his own practiced sensitivity to aura.

 

Leaning down, the cloaked girl taps the shorter one on the shoulder, receiving attention before making an “o” with her fingers and pointing at Adris. She then gestures by rubbing her chin and waving her hand, before ending by flipping her sword.

 

{Absolutely no power? But he definitely “exists”. Why is the idiot attacking, then?}

 

Startled beyond belief, Adris intuitively understands this bizarre sign language.

 

(A cross that interprets such non-specific sign language? Even if you can do it, how do you do it?)

He wonders what else is yet to be revealed to him.

 

“Not idiot! Smell big rabbit! All over him!”

Kol finishes its exclamation after listening in on the conversation, its axe ready to swing as the tension remains high.

 

(That’s not wrong, he was all over me.)

 

“… no, but… just because he smells like the rasselbock (HORNED RABBIT)…”

 

 

 

From behind the lithe girl in blue, a creature inexpertly sneaks forward. Looking past, Adris sees an emerald mass on the ground, slinking a bit as a girl attached to the mass attempts to stay hidden while talking.

 

 

She gasps when she notices Adris looking at her face peeking out. The cloaked girl then shivers, quickly hopping out of the way as if bitten by something and leaving the newest addition exposed. Shaking where she stands, this timid girl’s mouth is open, revealing short, sharp fangs as she makes a strangled cry of discomfort.

 

“Umm, I’m not… dangerous…!”

 

Human-looking halfway up, the long tail and pointed ears demonstrate her true dissimilarity and belie that claim.

 

(You’re like the Castillo’s defenders, so forgive me if I don’t believe you.)

 

Very airy clothing juxtaposes her efforts to hide her exposed body, with only the whitish-blue, scale-metal bodysuit she wears accomplishing this task. While it covers everything but her head and hands, she still sports green, gossamer sashes like a dancer’s wrapping over her breasts and arms. A peculiar, wild dress with ornate leather panels hanging over the cardinal directions covers where her snake body would meet with human flesh.

 

(How can you wear clothing that revealing, yet pretend to be embarrassed by it? A shy exhibitionist? But that mesh armor looks deceptively strong, matching with your emerald scales looking like a natural armor.)

 

An artful ponytail of moss green hair with wing-like silver ornaments swings along with the large pack she carries with one hand. Though it should weigh heavy for her, the only discomfort reflected on her cute face seems related to Adris’ presence. Beautiful, crystal green eyes quiver as his gaze lingers on her slightly angular features.

 

(Fair of face, is green your whole existence? Though you are… quite kissable…?)

 

Thin arms raise up to block view of her blushing face, sporting conspicuous earthen-bracers made of rough, unpolished metal and gems. These bangles clash with the rest of her outfit, firing Adris’ imagination.

 

(Does she even have a proper weapon, or is she a magic user, too? Still, she is attractive, even if her breasts are somewhat small… The sort of girl you might want to protect…? No, what even is that thought?)

 

Only a green whip with a whitish-blue, bladed tip coiled around her waist seems useful. More alarming is the emerald-scaled tail filling the floor beneath her. This snake girl “crouches” where she stands, yet when she coils in place while looking for somewhere to hide, Adris feels she could easily dwarf and constrict him if she chose to.

 

 

 

Finishing his inspection, Adris formulates a plan of attack and appeal at the same time.

 

(All four are present… but it’s a little awkward trying to win over four women at once. I’m not suited for this sort of gathering.)

 

A lifestyle of chicanery and protecting Serras provided no opportunity to approach groups of women, except with a very thorough plan.

 

(Fooling women in groups is easy, but not with this kind of motivation. No, I suppose even this might be simple if I approach it correctly…)

 

 

 

Unsure of what to think of their qualities, Adris at least knows their intentions. Hunting the creature that tried to hunt him, he feels confident that this “coincidental” meeting was orchestrated.

 

(Possibly Cethran, but also potentially the Castillo itself. Desire is its focus. If I desired to meet them…)

 

The power of the wing-walled room has united them, though it also nearly resulted in his demise. That the Castillo gave him what he was seeking, even if in a roundabout way…

 

 

 

(The Castillo knows what I want. It can sense it.)

 

 

 

Possessing the ability to peer into his deepest ambitions chills Adris to the bone. Even now, the passive presence of the mansion’s consciousness is watching the encounter with growing interest.

 

(I can only hope that all it can see is the nature of desire, and not the plan associated with it.)

 

Breathing slowly, Adris closes his eyes briefly, collecting his thoughts before committing.

 

 

 

(Though you may end up not being worth it…)

 

Smiling darkly, Adris stares down his targets.

 

(Let us begin this charade.)

 

 

 

Adris fehl Dain finally becomes [A false god].

 

He throws off all doubts and commits to this path.

 

 

 

Four delvers of unknown esteem and talent watch him, with only seconds having passed since all four arrived.

 

As their initial words fade, the warrior Kol slides a clawed foot forward, eagerness for violence still in its atmosphere.

 

 

 

(Cow and impress, allude.)

 

“No, it would be untrue to say I merely smell of it.”

 

Adris projects his most powerful voice, with his posture shifting to a completely relaxed stance.

 

 

 

“AH! See! Strong!” Kol cheers at this admission, its voice becoming much more insistent.

 

“Merely drawn into bravado be you, Kol. Stand down, lest deceived you may be.” The doll-like girl pats the armored bruiser’s side.

“Believe not those words spoken without proof.”

 

As the two talk and the snake girl quivers, Adris watches the fourth from the corner of his eyes. The girl with the blade creeps slowly and unassumingly, beginning to circle him as she leaves the pack.

She stops suddenly, aware of his gaze focused on her.

 

(Okay, you’re the second most dangerous.)

 

Already trying to set up a pincer, this quiet girl is obviously clever, performing an action Adris would undertake himself given the distractions available.

 

 

 

(Present an air of mystery and sophistication. Danger without confidence and poise is disgusting to women.)

 

“Proof? Before that, aren’t you four forgetting etiquette?” Adris reproaches their way of greeting him, earning slightly raised eyebrows from the short girl, while the dancing snake looks ashamed.

 

“‘Etiquette?’ Kol, speak challenge. Then, fight.” The axe-mad creature tilts its head as it speaks, before looking down at the amber-haired midget for clarification.

“Wrong?”

 

(You don’t even know my name!)

 

Nobody in this Castillo seems interested in names. The hair demon had given him a number, while Lycia had assigned him a title. Only Cethran had bothered asking.

 

(Even then, she was fine with a false name without much further concern… more interested in my hopes and dreams than the persona. Even the imp could only call me “master.” Why do none of the creatures of this world care about details?)

 

 

 

“I see that manners are lacking… in this world.” Adris pauses, letting the severity of the statement sink in as he crosses his arms.

 

The doll girl blinks, almost as if the action of blinking is perfunctory, while nobody else seems to understand his implication.

 

 

 

(From innuendo to threat, let’s advance. Present the hidden power which fills me…)

Adris must suggest danger without inviting violence, a difficult task with a charged atmosphere.

 

“Ho, how strange to consider. You four do have the immense honor of being the first to be greeted by me, yet so many others have already fallen before my influence...”

 

Rubbing his chin while watching the effect of the words, Adris is pleased when everyone becomes more threatened. While the rest ready at this renewed tension, the snake girl shivers more desperately.

 

 

 

(Though it seems… insane, only someone who is larger than life will linger in their thoughts. In order to accomplish my goal, I must replace their definition of “mystery” in their minds. Even if it causes confusion and distrust, I must appear to be a potential terror from beyond their possible understanding…)

 

Adris flings his cape aside as he holds his cross before him, adopting the pose he’d practiced in the halls before meeting Rantil.

 

(Only when I am in the guise of the limitless unknown will all of the incongruities seem explainable and excusable by my origin!)

 

The wind blows softly, his hair loosely lifting with it. The lighting from behind him, a pale, reddish twilight from outside, produces the strongest effect.

Amusingly, Adris thinks of Cethran when he considers his act.

 

 

 

“Know my name, children of Zennia, for I am a false god without peer: Adris fehl Dain, the Star of Ruin, cast down from the sky upon this dying world.”

 

 

 

Said with as much grace and depth as he can muster, he has even adjusted his voice to be more adult, a feat quite difficult for his body’s current age.

 

 

 

One who dwells in vanity has arrived from beyond this world, a harbinger of true power and insight for those who seek it… An ill fate shall belong to those who seek to deny the world beyond…”

 

 

 

Silence meets his final pronouncement, cross still held before him, until…

 

 

 

“Un, very cool! Nice!”

 

His armored foe barks happily while whipping its tail, ruining his self-respect in an instant.

 

“Sound strong! Beat you, great payout! ‘Lucky day’!”

 

The green girl’s fear vanishes in an instant, instead becoming a deep awe and reverence. Her body darts around, letting her eyes shine at Adris from multiple angles as she inspects him, all while smiling gaily and chatting to herself quietly.

 

Lowering her sword a bit, the cloaked girl seems desperately uncertain at this introduction, still ready to attack but also losing all motivation to do so. Moments later, she cringes a bit before finally relaxing with a rolling shrug. Even as she seems to dismiss his imposing speech, her eyeless gaze is focused on his face.

 

The small girl leaves her sparking rod pointed at him, but loses her battle posture, too. Her narrowing eyes seeming very unimpressed, as she purses her red lips in dissatisfaction.

 

 

 

(All in all, a highly imperfect outcome. Two impressed, two unimpressed. The introduction is over, no matter the effect… Now comes the development of this inculcated idea.)

 

 

 

“… Met the creature, then?” The doll-like girl finds her voice after some difficulty, moving swiftly into Adris’ next plan.

 

(Oh, good. Our uniting factor. I will happily share that thing’s saddest day!)

 

 

 

“If you ask what became of the… ‘rasselbock’, then I must say that it… failed to greet me properly and answered for its slight.”

A malevolent, yet happy, smile comes to Adris’ face, as inwardly and outwardly glad as he is to take credit for its demise.

 

 

 

“Destruction of it claimed by you, be this the nature of one’s words?”

 

“Yes, I had a hand in its downfall.” Adris refrains from laughing at his own in-joke.

 

Lazily pointing to the shoes hanging from his sack, Adris offers proof.

 

 

 

Walking up to the table, the girl in the blue dress picks up the shoes and inspects them. Holding up a crystal she pulls from her dress, she compares the two, the crystal glowing white a bit. She blinks once, nodding her head before speaking.

 

“Relationship be true as spoken, exceeding all predictions. Recompense confirmed, for such boots found bear definite reaction to a target once sought.”

Turning to the rest of her party, the emotionless inquisitor voices her verdict.

 

 

 

“No completion possible, lacking the presence of this one before us.”

 

The armored warrior grunts, then looks to the cloaked girl and voices a low growl.

 

The cloaked girl makes an “ok” hand gesture to Kol, before using her hand to indicate winding to the snake girl.

 

{Get him, tie him, roll him out.}

 

“Ah? O-ok?” Setting the pack down, the snake girl hurriedly searches for something within.

 

 

 

The sudden unity of this group makes Adris pale.

 

(Quite an intelligent decision! But also inglorious… and desperately rushing our conversation!)

 

 

 

“You feel comfortable seeking to bind a being such as I?”

 

 

 

The snake girl nearly falls to the ground in shock at the sudden change in tone: a deepening, menacing voice carrying great self-importance.

 

“Uhn, right, beat! Fight!” Kol stomps its foot once, the impact louder than Adris would expect. “Strong enough, beat rabbit, prove stronger!”

 

A voice of something like respect comes from the armored… girl? The voice of the girl is low, but Adris feels confident at her gender. Rather than disinterest like the other two, she is ready to “honor” him with a proper thrashing.

 

(Fear and respect are both proof of being impressed… what about you two? Can this conversation advance our relationship a little more…?)

 

Snorting, Adris dismisses the renewed threat.

 

“Stay such a meaningless action. The world outside of this… mansion, such a place holds interest to me. With you four being the first to be met by me, given the chance to share in my company…”

 

Letting the cross drop, Adris visibly relaxes. He shamelessly “borrows” words from a particularly impressive butler.

 

 

 

“… why show hostility, when we could simply greet as fellow travelers?”

 

 

 

Tilting her head, the short girl’s bell-like voice raises the obvious.

 

“… One found before this assembly being suspicious beyond words… Would this not be sufficient reason?”

 

 

 

(Can’t fault that! You’re way too reasonable. She’s not going to be fooled easily.)

 

“… eh, but… if he wants to come along, then why tie him up?” The green-haired girl speaks up as she moves closer to Adris.

Her eyes are still filled with something like wonder as she looks at him, a carefree smile on her face that lasts until his gaze meets hers, whereupon she begins to lightly shiver again.

 

“Unwise and foolish, be this not the usual description of a newt’s nature?” The violet-eyed, bossy girl marches up to the snake, leering up as she continues.

“Do lizard loins function in place of lizard brain, believing a man no danger simply upon meeting? Of amorous impetuses or rational impulses, which be more prevalent in you?”

 

Gasping, the snake girl’s response is stuck in her throat as she stars at Adris. Now completely red-faced, she shakes her arms as she vents at the midget.

 

“U-unlike you, I’m simply not afraid of him! If he does anything, um, I can just…!” She pauses, looking at her long tail, before flexing it with a whipping motion while looking smug.

 

“Wrap him up~!”

 

The small girl suddenly looks at the snake with moderate pity.

 

 

 

“Terribly lonely a snake’s body be, then? How disconcerting, yet understandable.”

 

“Why is this about my body!?” The snake girl hisses, tears finally welling in her eyes.

 

 

 

“What, why no fight?” The armored girl sounds disappointed, looking to converse with Adris.

 

Her sharp, pink eyes are locked onto him, the boy immediately adjusting his stance to go toe to toe with her.

 

“Want fight, right, strong human? Solve everything, real fast.”

 

(A simple, yet accurate, outlook on life.)

 

Serras would be proud of this walking contraption of scrap steel.

Without noticing her rapid approach, Adris sees a curled hat before him, the girl now standing in as a guardian.

 

The cloaked girl points to her own short sword, then to her mask where eyes would be before tapping her head, finally shaking her finger while twirling her sword with two fingers up.

 

{Fight? With what? Are you blind and retarded? No, sorry~, super obvious: you’re both.}

 

Displaying prodigious strength by leveling her long axe with one hand at the dismissive gestures, a feisty growl is the response.

“Hah? Kol, not dumb! If say strong, then see strong! Maybe Puddle, jealous, him not coward, like Puddle!?”

 

(Between bravery and prudence, I have a personal preference.)

 

Adris is silent as he watches, receiving misinformed compliments from the girl that wants to end his life, while the one that thinks he’s helpless tries to intervene to save it.

With the snake girl and the midget still uselessly bickering, only the cloaked girl is left with a cool head.

 

“Maybe fool sneaky Puddle, not Kol! Smell rabbit, human standing, have treasure, human defeat!” Growling as she approaches, “Now, Kol defeat rabbit defeater! Win by two!”

 

A subtle sneak attack meets her advance: a rock flies directly for her face.

 

Interposing a slow hand as if predicting the strike, Kol deflects it while lowering her face, only for a second rock to ricochet from the floor to strike her between the eyes after slipping into her helm.

 

The rock rolls around in the steel bevor, while the girl begins to buck up and strangle her axe handle.

 

From Adris’ eyes, the cloaked girl flung two rocks at the same time with a whip-like movement of her arm, using the delay of the ricochet to land the second rock in her helmet. After pelting Kol, the cloaked assailant presents a face on her mask extending a tongue, mocking the armored girl.

 

(How did the expression change?)

 

 

 

“You want be crushed first, huh?”

 

Rumbling after the cloaked girl with her axe high, the two start a chase.

 

Kol swings with wild abandon at the cloaked girl, who effortlessly stays dancing outside of reach as they bound around the room. Running up a wall, the agile, blue trickster jumps away moments before Kol slams her axe into it, shattering the face of the wall before resuming her hunt.

 

 

 

As one girl escapes being cornered by another, and the snake and the shorty keep bickering, Adris has the thought that he could sneak away at this very moment, as nobody in the room is paying him any more attention.

 

 

 

(What have I walked into? No, they’re not incompetent… but they certainly aren’t meeting my expectations, so far.)

 

Even as he loses his hope, he feels this group of four weirdos is the closest he’s come to anyone approachable since he awoke in this nightmarish mansion.

 

(Cethran is greatly excluded from my list of preferable company. At least these four… might have potential…?)

 

Adris feels a sudden headache at his decision to become involved with them, considering whether being Lycia’s pet might have been the better choice.

 

 

 

“Stay your boring infighting!”

 

 

 

Sweeping his cross, Adris yells his demands to those who would capture him.

 

The four girls instantly shift their attentions back to him. Kol holds an aggressive posture with her chase ended, though the other girl doesn’t seem hostile. Instead, a curious expression is on her mask, as if she’s interested in Adris’ next actions.

 

The snake girl winces and goes silent as she tries to hide behind her “hateful” rival. The shorter girl wears a neutral expression, but her eyes follow the bound cross Adris holds out.

 

 

 

Walking between the four to stand at the table, Adris tries to sound magnanimous.

 

“Bind me, if this allowance offers you a feeling of security. Know that I mean you no ill intent, else I would simply show it.”

 

Nodding once, the blue-dressed girl stops insulting the snake girl and goes silent. With the cloaked girl slinking away, Kol makes a clicking sound, clearly discouraged at not ending their “disagreement” in the manner she prefers to.

 

The cloaked girl flanks the slithering emerald one, the long-tailed girl looking at Adris with a little trepidation, but mostly curiosity.

 

With a swaying gait, a masked face looks him up and down as this dark figure begins to circle him, expertly patting down his body. The first item to go is his fog tool, a brief look given before it’s crammed inside Adris’ carried pack.

 

As Adris bears with the indignity of his various possessions being removed, the girl finally puts a hand on the cross, lightly pulling on it. When he can’t let go, she moves her hand to her face momentarily, the previously bored expression on her mask replaced by a businesslike smile as she waves over it.

 

The girl points to herself and then to the cross, before flicking her index finger a few times.

 

{Let go~, I’ll hold onto it for you~.}

 

Knowing he can’t, Adris instead tries to warn her.

 

“This cross is a sealed artifact of extreme power. As an extension of my incarnation in this world, you cannot remove – AH!”

 

He nearly falls over as the girl tries to yank it from him, going with the cross a bit before he pulls back. Getting into a brief tug of war, her sudden yank with proper leverage trips him up and results in him falling into her. He suffers surprisingly little shock from landing on her.

As he stares in surprise at the masked face, he notices her expression is truly neutral, her body as frozen as his. Only a moment later does she shift, a soft hand moving to intentionally touch his body. Rubbing along it with a gentle touch, Adris’ face becomes confused without his permission.

 

(What is she…?)

 

Upon seeing his expression, her hand immediately squirms between his legs and begins massaging his crotch.

 

Staring at the girl with a calm expression while his dick begins to harden at her soft touch, she flinches again and ceases. Only when he tries to pull back to prevent the snake girl from seeing what’s happening does she act, clinging to and gyrating against his muscled body. Hand back on his dick…

 

(Let go! You… are coming on a bit strong!)

 

… she applies firmer pressure to his member, seeking to grasp it through his pants as his body balance is thrown off, making it difficult for him to exit her grasp.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

The snake girl leans in from behind, distracting him. With Adris’ penis rapidly hardening, he looks back to see that her masked expression is now a smiling one.

With a slight hint of sadism.

 

“A cursed or attuned item be the impression. Leave under observation, if relinquished it cannot be made.”

The midget’s eyes are incredibly focused as she studies the glyphs that not even Adris can read.

 

This piercing violet continues to excite him, along with the subdued expression on her face, now: one of slight curiosity. When this curiosity transfers to examine his face…

 

“Worse monsters than rasselbock will shortly arrive, if tarry longer one does.”

 

With this wisdom offered, she walks away with no more attention given. The snake girl frightens again, shrilly issuing an order.

 

“OK! Back to the room!”

 

He feels himself grasped lightly from behind, lifting himself with this support. The cloaked girl ceases her assault as he’s pulled away, waving her hand at him.

Adris winces at the grip on his sore chest; but, as he turns to look, the pale-faced snake girl holding him suddenly realizes that he is staring… prompting her to blush and quickly release her grip.

Stammering in surprise, she finds words slowly.

 

“Ah, ah, fine now? I-If it… pleases you, sir… um, Adris?” Her long tongue tastes his name as she speaks it.

 

Motioning for his hands, Adris gifts them to her with as much benevolence as he can muster.

 

“Um… thank you for your help.” Almost as if she’s avoiding contact with him, she weakly smiles… before beginning to tie him up.

 

While the cloaked girl effortlessly flips herself upright like a monkey and the armored girl looks longingly at Adris, the snake girl pulls him gently by the loosely-tied rope and urges him to follow her after the overdressed midget moving towards the stairs.

 

(Somehow, this isn’t going as I’d intended, but it’s still a better outcome than fighting.)

 

Adris is thoroughly tired, but notices he’s joined at the side by the cloaked girl. She looks at him with a seductive mouth on her mask, surreptitiously demonstrating the softness of her figure with lewd pats while pretending to dust herself off.

 

Some quick gestures with her hands voice her coy thoughts.

 

{Are you… “offended”? If your eyes were interested, why shouldn’t I have been, too…?}

 

Before he can comment, she skips ahead.

 

(I’m not… offended, but your interest is quite heated for a first encounter.)

 

Humans are still far better company than ravenous Castillo monsters.

 

(Perhaps they’re affected by the Castillo, too? That might be a way of appealing to them…?)

 

Sighing a bit…

 

“Ah, we’re not going to do anything to hurt… I m-mean, offend you, sir!” The snake girl whispers a promise to him, before smiling more deeply. “And… and… I-I’m pleased to make your acquaintance~!”

 

Bowing her head with flourish as they reach the stairs, the bright, green-haired snake girl smiles.

 

 

 

“I am Avenalliah Aurmaris, an… elf [FOREST CHILD] of the deep earth! Though it is us inconveniencing you, I bid you welcome to our group!”

 

 

 

(What a kind girl. No, what a very impressionable girl.)

 

Even if she seems a bit off, Adris gives her a soft look. This overly scared girl is the first person to seem genuinely happy to meet him.

 

(She’s also the perfect one to start with. Always with a smile…)

 

 

 

“It will be my first time meeting an elf, consider it an honor to receive my greeting.” Giving her a wry grin, Adris bows his head a bit.

 

 

 

As he continues forward, he passes by the halted Avenalliah. He peers at her face, blank as it is with shock as she stares at him.

 

(Did I say something…?)

 

“Uhn… yeah, I’m an elf! Thank… thank you, for greeting me!”

Avenalliah’s eyes are slightly teary as she wipes them with her free hand, her expression going from blank to highly emotional, an almost fulfilled expression to her now.

 

 

 

“… please, call me ‘Ave’ if it’s too long for you…!” She cheerily offers him a simpler name, humming merrily as her eyes cease tearing up, moving down the steps while leading him.

 

 

 

“Waste time. Settle fast? Everything, complicated.”

The helmeted girl bringing up the rear suffers discontent, and Adris can only speculate she is the reason for his sweating as she clanks along behind him, her gaze piercing the back of his head.

 

 

 

In the company of four girls with wildly opposing personalities, Adris notices now that his tiredness has doubled.

 

 


 

Characters:

Characters:

Name: Adris fehl Dain; “Mister Meat”
Titles: Scholar Bound in Madness, Greedy Informant, Lycia’s Little Brother
Race: Xin’El, Emperor’s Child (Human)
Sex: Male
Age: ?? – Young

 

Occupation: Crossbearer; Charlatan/Swindler; Xin’Reh (former); Soldier of Fortune (former); Bounty Hunter (former)
Discipline: Crossbearer – Cursed Aura User; Spear Veteran (former); Aura Warrior, School/Specialization: Self-Taught (former)

 

Powers:

[Tool Savant] – “Adris is a tool-collecting-and-utilizing fanatic. Most men would consider him disgusting for loving tools more than his own partner. Has so many tools that it can be said to be his true power. What does he do when he has no tools left? He seeks to acquire more, obviously!”

 

[Unknown Cross Smash] – {A MAN STRIKES ANOTHER WITH SHINING SILVER. THE MAN WHO IS STRUCK SMILES, HIS MIND AWAKENED.}

 

[Unknown Protection from Poisons/Compelling] – {A MAN WALKS, HIS STEPS UNWEARIED AND RESOLUTE. NONE CAN STOP HIM.}

 

[Unknown Communication Assistance] – {THE MAN HAS NO DIFFICULTY SPEAKING TO THOSE WHO ARE ALL DISSIMILAR. HE UNDERSTANDS THEIR SUPPLICATIONS.}

 

[Unknown Mental Domination] – {A MAN DEMANDS. THOSE WHO HE DEMANDS OF, OBEY.}

 

[Familiar] – “Through means unknown, a familiar has been acquired. Aren’t familiars a kind of tool? Isn’t this sort of strange to consider a ‘power’?”

 

 

Disposition: Resilient / Adaptable / Sinner
Alignment: Chaotic

Eyes: Black
Hair: Black, with strands of White
Skin: Tanned

 

Statistics:

Rantil Value – “Idiot master receives idiot information~”

Stats

Attributes by Grade:

Strength – E

Vitality – E

Dexterity – D

Agility – C

Intelligence – D

Mentality – C

Luck – F

Charisma – D

 

“If you want more, stop being mean to Rantil!”

 

Beauty:

Cethran Value – “If all men looked like him, it might not be odd for women to think that the gods had painted the world in only the drab color brown? While not ugly, would he not exemplify the idea that ‘normal’ is perhaps indistinguishable from ‘undesirable’?”

“What do you think these four girls each find attractive? Isn’t this the question you should ask?”

 

Description:

“A rather plain-looking man wearing traveling robes, what he carries hidden is far more dangerous than his appearance lets on. A disarming smile, leads to you being suckered. A clever tongue, leads to your sorrow. Possessing quick wit and intellect, hubris and arrogance are certain to follow. Well known across the floating islands of Xin, but not by name, only by reputation. Owed many favors, but not with great joy, and certainly not love. The only person he seems to care about other than himself is his lifelong partner.”

“Only now does Adris appreciate his finer qualities. Pretending to be something you aren’t is a talent that takes a long time and hard practice. It also takes a willingness to submit without appearing to, all while becoming in truth something you aren’t.”

 

Commentary:

“Now begins the truest test of what Adris has learned in both lives: uniting four strange people under his dream. It’s a good thing sex is a weapon!”

 


 

Name: “Kol”
Titles: Idiot
Race: ???
Sex: Female?
Age: ???

 

Occupation: Delver, Frontliner
Discipline: ???

 

Powers:

???

 

Disposition: Straightforward / Confrontational / Respectful
Alignment: Neutral

Eyes: Pink
Hair: White
Skin: Tanned

 

Statistics:

Rantil Value –

Attributes by Grade:

Strength – C

Agility – F

???

 

Beauty:

Cethran Value – “Are you attracted to rampaging metal? Though in your case, you appreciate the voice, don’t you? Do you long to see more? If she reminds you of a certain someone, then…?”

 

Description:

“Brash and forthright, a warrior wielding an axe with two hands forsakes protection to deliver only harm. Contrary to this impression, she also seems interested in a straight up fight. If her words are any indication, she offers little thought to her actions.”

 

Commentary:

“It is difficult to talk about new characters without spoiling things, right? But in Kol’s case, I think what you see is what you get, with her story being the more complex experience. There’s nothing wrong with a girl who doesn’t lie to you.”

 

 


Name: Cloaked Girl
Titles: Sneaky
Race: Human?
Sex: Female
Age: Young Lady

 

Occupation: Delver, Trickster/Outfighter
Discipline: ???

 

Powers:

???

 

Disposition: Playful / Sadistic / Skulking
Alignment: Chaotic

Eyes: ???
Hair: ???
Skin: ???

 

Statistics:

Rantil Value –

Attributes by Grade:

Agility – C

???

 

Beauty:

Cethran Value – “Do you really think it’s not obvious? What she possesses is what you’ve missed all your life, yes? Breasts and curves… are these not a new fruit for you to taste?”

 

Description:

“A mute girl who says much with gestures, she also has more going on than she seems to. Though not outwardly aggressive, there’s an atmosphere of danger about her. Opposite of Kol, hers is subtle… Yet, she also can protect others. Given to acrobatics, it matches with her dark, but flamboyant, colors.”

 

Commentary:

“Everybody loves curves, but what happens when you give them to a girl that also speaks with them? Though her clothing might seem strange, there’s also a sexiness to what you desire being unavailable to you until you… claim it. She also won’t give it up easy!”

 

 


 

Name: Avenalliah Aurmaris
Titles: Lustful Lizard
Race: Elf
Sex: Female
Age: Young

Occupation: Delver, Scared Girl
Discipline: ???

Powers:

???

 

Disposition: Joyful / Impressionable / Cowardly
Alignment: Neutral

Eyes: Crystal Green
Hair: Moss Green
Skin: White

 

Statistics:

Rantil Value –

???

 

Beauty:

Cethran Value – “While not possessing your newly favorite curves, isn’t a girl with a naive charm also fine? Because she covers so little, you are also left without having to imagine what you could possess, yes?”

 

Description:

“As cheerful as she is skittish, Avenalliah fits an unknown position within the four delvers’ group. Though she carries a large sack, that would hardly count as a position… right?”

 

Commentary:

“Elves are nice, provided you use them well. My favorite thing about elves is their long, agile tails. Something about merging snake and human makes elves… what do you mean ‘she’s not an elf’? She said she is, you racist.”

 

 


 

 

Name: Shorty
Titles: ???
Race: Human?
Sex: Female
Age: Young?

Occupation: Delver, Mystic
Discipline: ???

Powers:

[Sparking Rod] – “The danger inherent be apparent, even if not demonstrated.”

 

Disposition: Impassive / Calculating / Curious
Alignment: Ordered

Eyes: Pale Violet
Hair: Amber
Skin: Pale White

 

Statistics:

Rantil Value –

Agility – E

Intelligence – B

???

 

Beauty:

Cethran Value – “First imps, and now short girls? This is certainly becoming a pattern, isn’t it? Though you might not fare badly with a girl as beautiful as this, yes? Though she’s a little perfect, doesn’t she seem oddly demure?”

 

Description:

“An otherworldly existence, she wears clothing that doesn’t fit with the Castillo. With mannerisms quite distinct from all others, even the girls she travels with seem incomparable to her uniqueness. Yet, she definitely seems to be in charge…?”

 

Commentary:

“I hate Ayanami Rei, but I love the quiet archetype. In this girl’s case, it’s not exactly the same thing, but the important part is that the interactions work similarly. Though she is three-feetish tall, she is obviously a bit odd. Come on, people love gnomes and hobbits, at least she’s not annoying.”

 

Glossary:

Nothing here.

 

Chapter 18         Table of Contents          Chapter 20