073 Encounters · 8

Encounters · 8

tumbling to her feet Chain eyed Drop curiously but then the worry faded from her face and she donned a huge smile.

“Oh well. I enjoy wielding a sword anyway. Bu~t I just have to try it since I wanted to anyway. I have to see the difference for myself! Finch! You might want to step back!”

-  Wha– -

Finch wasn’t sure what Chain was talking about, but she wasted no time piloting her Dolmen out of the way as the smiling maid snapped her fingers again. Maye was far more hostile in her panic than Finch and leveled her rifle onto Chain.

“What do you think you’re doing heretic

“Just making us a way in. Don’t worry, I shouldn’t get the wrong incantation this time. At least I shouldn’t.”

Beaming at Maye, Chain’s lack of confidence did not put the centaur at ease. Chain was not concerned though and held the open Ambrosial Gate in her hand up so that she was looking down it. Her smile somehow widened more as she began her new incantation and the glowing mote of light in her hand became as a growing sphere of flame.

“~ Crimson children of Ambrosia.
Gather in my hand and be as thy source of power.
Become the flame that washes away all who stand against me. ~”

The blazing sphere in Chain’s hand raged with destructive force but did not lose form. The spell was stable and, with her smile still on her face, Chain brought the sphere behind her in preparation for the coming throw.  As she released the orb of fire, hurling it towards the debris that kept her from entering Deep Root Colony, she completed her incantation with a joyous shout.

“~ Fireball‼ ~”

Flung from her hand, Chain’s spell revealed its true form and swelled in size several fold. It was still relatively small compared to Finch’s Dolmen by the time it reached the debris that prevented them from entering Deep Root Colony, but it swelled to a size that completely consumed the debris as it collided with it. The energy and heat released by the blast was tremendous and Maye shielded herself with her arms while Chain simply watched on smiling as her hair and cape were whipped about.

“Heh heh! Perfect!”

- Amazing! -

Exhaling in amazement, Finch could hardly do more than watch the embers that were all that remained of the rubble drift away. Maye could barely contain her horror either at the gaping, now ember ringed maw that invited them into Deep Root Colony.

“So that is sorcery…”

“More accurately, that is what mankind used to call spirit magic. The incantations and effects are the same, but by calling upon the power of spirits, the effects are greatly enhanced beyond the limitations of a vessel to hold Nectar.”

Swimming through the air in pursuit of Chain, Drop answered Maye’s question while providing additional insight. Maye did not like what she just bore witness to however, and refused to let Chain out of her sight, though she finally lowered her rifle wondering if it would even work against such power.

“I know there are some amongst us on the Chapel who can cast magic, but I have never before had the misfortune to see its destructive side. It is difficult to fathom that such power is more commonplace across the Face of Icarus than not.”

“And most monsters can cast magic too.”

Chain’s matter of fact statement delivered over her shoulder as she walked ahead into the ancient colony unsettled Maye more than she already was. Eying the cleared passage before them and the scope of it compared to Finch’s already larger than typical Dolmen made her swallow.

“It is little wonder that those who face monsters scoff at guns. It is difficult to imagine that they would have any effect against creatures who wield such power.”

Lifting her rifle up to look at it, the doubt about her ability to battle what awaited them within was writ clearly upon Maye’s face. Finch seemed to notice as she too had not yet begun to follow Chain and tried to comfort her senior.

“Don’t worry Maye. We have my Dolmen if we encounter anything too dangerous.”

It was crushing for Maye and finch both as the latter’s childlike faith was so easily wiped aside. Though the exterior walkways for most of the upper third of the visible part of the colony were large enough to accommodate the Dolmen, any lower the halls and passageways were either too overgrown with ages of vegetative growth, or were simply designed in a deceptive way that only made it look like they could allow a Dolmen passage. The bulk of Finch’s unit made it even more difficult to progress, though they had made good time in their descent regardless as there was little the nuns ahead of them had not already explored. Between the Dolmen and Chain’s swordplay, what Ambrosial monsters that did attack them were never any real threat and Maye felt increasingly agitated. Her agitation led to regret however as eventually they caught up to the lead group of nuns and had yet to find who Chain was looking for and any further progression of Finch’s Dolmen was truly impossible at that point.

“Sister Maye. Daughter Finch. Chainmaid. We were not expecting you so soon.”

“Heh heh! That’s part of the fun. The unexpected is what makes an adventure an adventure.”

“Mind the heretic. I take it that we should expect thicker resistance from the beasts that plague this place as we advance.?”

Pushing Chain to the side, Maye sought out any info she could glean about the path ahead. She did not like the answer she received though as the nun who greeted them of the five who made up the lead group nodded.

“It is as you say Sister Maye. As the Lead group we have faced the greatest number of monsters. As we are armed with staves imbued with Nectar however, we will likely have less trouble than you and Daughter Finch moving forward.”

“But I bet you won’t have less trouble than a Sa·B·er. I think it’s time I moved on ahead and put an end to Squawk’s waiting. I bet he’s getting really mad by now.”

Stepping back in front of Maye, Chain boasted about the strength of a Sa·B·er with a broad smile. Her smile did not last long however as Drop added in some unwanted details.

“Though we are fairly inexperienced still. But that makes it particularly exciting.”

“Drop, you’re going to make them not trust us.”

“I already don’t, heretic.”

“And you’re a bigger idiot than she is for that.”

An unexpected voice emerged from the vegetation that would have forced Finch to proceed on foot had they continued forward. Chain’s reaction implied that would likely no longer be the case for the maid as her eyes absolutely shimmered with joy at the voice that was the same, as impossible as it was to believe at normal human volume, as the one that responded to her above. Turning to pinpoint the voice, Chain and the others laid eyes on a young, stock nāti man with dark wiry fur, eyes, and beak, garbed in a green trimmed white long coat over a black shirt and pants with black icaran boots. He held an engraved wooden staff that was taller than Chain who was taller than him. Crossing his arms, he made a mighty harrumph as he took in Chain with a smug expression on his face.

“So, a Foreigner infection made you younger looking and really didn’t kill you. It did seem to kill your modesty though as looking younger really emphasizes how you’ve still only a–

“Don’t you dare say anything about my figure, Squawk! You know how much I can’t stand that!”

Chain’s teary-eyed joy became childish indignation as she charged Squawk and locked the young nāti man in a harmless false headlock. Harmless as her lock was though, Squawk did not appreciate it and started shouting much to the chagrin of the nuns.

“What do you think you’re doing, you idiot I’m not some filthy person like a you! I’m a Pilgrim of Lady Atheaelde on a pilgrimage to restore her touch of life to the Face of Icarus.”

“Interacting with him makes our desire to save him and just see him so confusing. He is both loud and mean at once.”

“What was that, you idi… …ot?”

Squawk began by raising his voice in anger at Chain’s apparent teasing but as he realized that her voice came from in front of him, he began to trail off. Looking to see how Chain’s voice could have possibly done that when she managed to take his back to put him in a false headlock, he laid eyes on a naked, mermaid double of Chain who was only twice as long as Chain’s thumb and swimming through thin air. Seeing her he finished his statement quietly before shocking her and everyone else as he shouted in total disbelief.

“Why are there two of you now How is that even possible What did I possibly do to deserve having to deal with two of you

As loud and startled as Squawk was, his antics strangely managed to relax Chain. Releasing her false headlock, Chain let her arms drape limply over Squawk as she rested her forehead into the back of his head. It was an awkward spot Squawk found himself in and he was not for certain how to react. He was almost grateful he didn’t have to as Chain spoke, but the softness she talked with unnerved him in ways he couldn’t understand.

“A lot has happened to me Squawk. I can’t even remember all of it in order right now because I’ve been so broken in the head since the church tortured me and I woke up under that glowing tree.”

“What The church tortured you Why on the Face of Icarus would they do that Unless… You didn’t, did you

“Didn’t what our screeching nāti friend.”

Her curiosity piqued, Maye prodded Squawk to expand on what he implied. Squawk simply offered her a harrumph and turned his beak up at her.

“I’ve little idea who you are and care not.”

Gnashing her teeth, Maye was about ready to tear into Squawk, but Chain of all people kept the peace.

“It’s alright Squawk. You don’t have to be harsh to them. They don’t really know what happened and I’m fine with that. I’m fine with them just knowing me as the Sa·B·er Chain. The Chainmaid. The Chainmail Maiden.”

“You, a maiden? I always figured you would just turn into an overgrown girl you idiot. But if you’ve chosen a new name for yourself then it must be true that you’re a Sa·B·er. It’s hard to think our village’s unwilling future engineer craftsman is now one of the unfortunate souls tasked with protecting mankind from the Foreigners. What exactly happened to you, you idiot? And what happened to the other idiot and your pet? Don’t tell me they didn’t make it?”

“Heh heh… I wish I could say they’re fine, but I haven’t seen them since before I woke up under that glowing tree and Finch up in the Dolmen there found me. But it really was a lot that happened to me. When we get out of here I’ll have to tell you all about it. It’s a really long story.”

“One that is about to come to an end. Hehehehehe…”

As the smooth young man’s voice threatened Chain’s life, Squawk’s eyes widened and the five nuns’ asides from Finch and Maye joined them in looking down the path they had come down. Standing there with a black longsword that was only slightly more ornate then the cruciform sword Chain wielded, was a hulking, yet sleek mechanized black suit of icaran armor draped in a dark cloak under a poncho of similar hue. Whatever face the man within had was hidden behind his helmet that no light seemed to enter, even through the chevron shaped eye slot.

Facing the mechanized black knight, Chain pushed Squawk behind her and reached up and grabbed her sword hilt. As she did, her cape billowed about her and her scabbard disappeared within exposing the glistening steel blade of her sword. Bringing it around she leveled it at her challenger along with a question.

“What makes you so sure of that? Maybe I’m inexperienced like Drop says, but I’ve fended off any number of monsters, wiped out an army of bandits, and have held my own well enough against a pair of Sa·B·ers. I don’t see what type of threat you pose when I’ve got at least seven nuns with me who are all combat trained and one of them is even piloting a Dolmen.”

“No, you idiot…! That is no man. That is what has slaughtered everyone who has come here. I’ve little idea of how I’ve lasted this long…”

Chain’s confidence only made Squawk’s fear worse as her ignorance was on full display. But unlike the others who took heed of Squawk’s terrified words, Chain only paid her would be killer any heed and furrowed her brow as she glared him down with her massive eyes. Her questions and boasts though only served to amuse him and he began snickering sinisterly.

“Hehehehehe… You don’t understand at all. You are a Sa·B·er you say and will protect mankind from the ‘Foreigners’? But so many have already died that you have failed to protect. But I suppose that doesn’t matter to you. As long as you save those you deem in need in the moment it is enough to satisfy your ego. Though, if your ego needs stroked before you die, then know that you have already succeeded in saving these pitiful humans from a ‘Foreigner’. But that is only because I have waited here slaughtering dozens all so I could hunt and kill you, Child of Her Light.”

Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater


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