"So, now we all know that only I get to choose when to discard one of you. Yes?" said Charon, the jovial tone to his voice that was at odds with the broken, bloody form of one of his creations at his feet. The bony and armoured ridges that used to protect the body of the homunculus riven with cracks and deep fissures, revealing the marrow within as blood pooled around him. Frothy red bubbles still foamed out of both what remained of his mouth and the holes in his chest.
"Yes, Lord Charon," said the gathered homunculus as one. A coterie of beings of every shape and size. Some with visible mutations that showed them as not human, others, appearing entirely human except for their blank eyes.
"Good. Now, obviously we're not going to delay our journey for this, so instead I'm going to send some of you to do it for me. Also, don't return until you find her, or what's left of her. You, you, and you," said Charon pointing and a trio of homunculus stepped forwards, hidden under their drab robes and cloaks.
"But I do suppose that you'll need a guide of sorts," mused Charon, holding his hand out towards the treeline. For a moment there was silence, then yelping was heard as something moved quickly over the underbrush, snapping branches and crushing shrubbery. Then, a wolf appeared, unseen hands dragging it from the treeline. The wolf yelping in terror and pain as it was taken to Charon's side.
It bared its fangs, snarling in anger and fear, growling as Charon grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, holding it in place as he cut the finger on his other hand on his massive scythe. As a drop of blood hit the dirt, the growls turned to whimpers and cries of pain as Charon began to chant.
The drop of blood writhing and wriggling, in the dirt, growing, even as the wolf fell silent with one final pitiful howl. Shrivelling and shrinking like an autumn leaf before the coming of winter. The ground around Charon turning black as all life around him died, the ground cracking and splitting, the ground turning as hard and brittle as sand turned to glass. The broken homunculs at Charon's feet shuddering as what remained of his life force was taken from him to fuel the new creation taking form. Shrivelling and shrinking in like dried meat, body turning to a mummified corpse before their eyes.
From the swirling mass of pulsating red flesh and dark magic, a hand emerged. Barely more than muscle clinging to bone, it reached out, skin forming over top of the exposed flesh like frost forming on a window pane. Fingernails sprouting from the fleshy spindles of the fingers like plant buds breaking through soil. Thick and strong, like the claws of a wolf. The hand grasped at the cracked earth, pulling itself free of the swirling mass.
A body emerging, red and raw, pale skin forming and covering the bare muscle. Eyes filling the sightless sockets, and a ragged gasp as newly formed lungs took their first breath. Long hair the colour of moonlight sprouting from the scalp, growing and extending until it nearly covered the waist of the being. Then, fully emerged from the mass, Charon let the magic slip and what remained splashed onto the ground, hardening rapidly like a scab upon the ground. His newest creation in a fetal position on the ground, shivering and shaking. Head next to that of the wolf that had given its life to see hers come to be.
"Lupa, get up," commanded Charon annoyed, seeming to only have been half interested in the making of his newest creation.
"L...Lupa? Am...I," began the woman as she tried to rise, legs shaking unsteadily as she rose for the first time. "Where...what?" asked the woman, blinking as she looked around for the first time. She cried out in alarm as Charon grabbed her jaw.
"You're Lupa. Yes? Know who I am?" demanded Charon and Lupa gave a quick nod, or at least as much as she was able to. Fear and confusion on her face.
"Seems I've made another like Desdemona. Oh well. Here, a bloodhound to guide your search," said Charon, tossing the woman away who stumbled on her new legs, falling at the feet of the homunculus assigned to track down his other wayward creation. Laughter as she fell to the ground, then, with the apparent blessing of Charon, one of the homunculus kicked her in the ribs, launching this new Lupa several feet with a cry of pain, all to more laughter of the other homunculus.
She was quick to get into a crouch though, growling and baring her teeth, many sharp and pointed like those of a wolf, ready for a fight. At the prodding of Charon, one of the other homunculus started towards her, but then halted midstep.
This new one, this Lupa, her body began to change, and rapidly at that. Growing and enlarging, face extending forwards, fur covering her body, and in what seemed like only an instant the woman was replaced with a wolf. Sixteen hands tall, growling with lips pulled back to reveal teeth, each of which like a knife blade, yet ten times sharper. The snarl deep and low, reverberating in the diaphragm of those present. Fur white like the light of the moon and how the woman's hair had been.
"Looks like at least some of the imprinting took," mused Charon. "You three, take your new sister with you and find our wayward Desdemona. Oh, and Lupa? Stop that growling and come to heel, before I have to pull on your leash.
Lupa stopped growling, ears flattening against her head and letting out a whine, the fear of her master as ingrained in her as her need to breathe. Changing in seemingly only an instant back to her more human form.
"Good girl. Now, see about getting her some clothes so that you don't draw too much attention to yourselves. Then depart, if you're still here in an hour I'll need to make replacements to send in your stead," said Charon.
It hardly took five minutes for the chosen homunculi to depart with their new sister.
"What question is agitating you so badly, that you won't stop glancing at me when you think that I'm not looking?"
"Doctor, I don't have any-" began the warrior bunny, falling silent at a single sideways glance from the Red Army Major, before going back to scribbling in a journal taking notes. The scratching of the pencil soon resuming, the only sound in the spartan laboratory save for the buzzing of fluorescent lighting overhead.
"I was just wondering Doctor...about the siren," began Felicia timidly.
"You wish to know why I treat her better than I treat you, yes?" asked Pajari.
"N...yes," said Felicia, the half formed protests dying on her lips as flashes of what happened when she lied before became as real as the air she breathed. The smell of rotting flesh filling her nose even though there was none present. Mouth drying at the memories that threatened to come surging from the depths of her mind, lips trembling in trepidation, only stilling as she pressed them firmly into a tight line.
"You are not special," said Dr. Pajari simply. "You know how to fight, but that is all. A slightly stronger will to continue that most, but by no means anything that makes you a gem. Your intelligence is sufficient for the tasks I give you, and you are an adequate lab assistant. You will never be more useful than you are now. You did, and still do harbour some sentiment as to your superiority simply because of the tattoo on your neck that you managed to earn marking you as a wind dancer. The Siren on the other hand had an eidetic memory with all the markers of being a savant. She is a rarity, most likely with a form of high functioning autism, but so minor it could easily be ignored as quirks. Were I to be cruel or even rude with her it would make her retreat within herself and blunt, if not outright stop any further progress that could be made in her development. So to sum it up in two parts, it would be counterproductive to be anything but kind to her, and she is worthy of the praise and time."
"Don't take it as you being worthless, far from it, I'd rather have you at my side than half of the conscripts here. Men with no passion for what they do, no strive for excellence. Simply putting in their required time so they can get on with what they call a life. Simply existing. I despise such an existence and people who allow themselves to be content achieving so little."
"I understand Doctor," said Felicia quietly.
"No, no you don't," said Pajari simply. "I had another assistant a short time ago, another warrior, one like you who thought himself superior to all those around him simply because of the training he had managed to endure. Above average intelligence, drive, and physical conditioning as was to be expected for a supposedly elite soldier. At first I had wanted to dismiss him, but I soon found that he too was...special. Do you want to know how?"
"It was because he had a fire in him, one that drove him to push himself harder than anyone else. He had a need to be better than anyone else. A determination and will like tempered steel, and a heart just as cold. It was like it pained him physically if there was something he didn't know, if someone could run faster, shoot more accurately, or quote literature that he couldn't. I am a fan of the writings of Nietzsche, not the bastardized NAZI interpretation, but the true message. To make yourself better, to constantly improve, to become an ubermensch. Not a superior human based off of some asinine combination of superficial genetics, but the will and spirit of the individual. To turn your will to power and shape the world around you. This man who assisted me for a time displayed several sociopathic tendencies, traits that made him better at what he did and he understood it. He took full advantage of his lack of empathy, or rather, blunted ability to feel it. He knew that he was best suited to killing and put all his energy into making himself into the best killer possible. Forever striving to improve, to be better, never settling for mediocrity. It was beautiful. Someone who knew their place, their skill, and sought to improve upon it as much as possible. I felt a great sense of loss when I saw him in an army hospital. A shadow of his former self, recovering from injuries that by all rights should have killed him and still half mad from the experience. He was hollow from it, from having failed so badly it had shattered his entire perception of himself, but there was still a spark of what had made him special in his eyes. Something only needing a little encouragement to bring it all back."
"I understand Doctor," said Felicia, refusing to meet the eyes of the major.
"No you don't, but you don't have to. Now, be a good bunny and bring me my tea."
Automatic weapons fire split the air like a blade, the harsh chatter of a Kalashnikov unmistakable, now even for the denizens of Falmart. Then just as abruptly as it started, it stopped. The echo fading away slowly until the only way to know that it had ever happened at all was to see the birds having taken to the sky in a panicked flight.
Heat wafted off the barrel of Feliks' AKM, a shimmering distortion in the air as he aimed down the length of it, ensuring that what he had been shooting was well and truly dead. It gave a twitch and without pause he put another round into the head of the thing that had emerged from the woods, removing a portion of its skull and spilling brains onto the loamy soil of the forest floor.
Feliks made a quick hand gesture in the air and his men quickly formed a defensive perimeter as he advanced on the 'animal' that he had just killed. Giving Averin a curt order to send up a contact report, that it had just been an animal that they had shot and that they weren't involved in an engagement.
Feliks would have chided, outright torn a verbal strip off of any of his soldiers had they done what he had just done, both for wasting ammo and giving away their position, but he had just done it. Instinct had taken over when he had seen the thing, and when it had shrieked at him.
He advanced on it slowly, sure to keep his own rifle trained on it, giving it a harsh kick when he was close to ensure that it was well and truly dead. His boot rebounding off the corpse with a meaty thunk. The 'thing' which was what Feliks was calling what he had just killed resembled a deer, but it was wrong. There was no other way to put it.
He could see bone pushing up against the mangy hide, but not for starvation or lack of food. There were just extra bones. Hard protrusions almost like ridges or spines that were forcing themselves up against the skin, threatening to break out. Like this 'thing' had an armoured cage of bone layered on top of its skeleton.
It wasn't like the deer were different here either. If anything they near identical to the ones from his world, like a cross between North American deer and Russian deer. This 'thing' though, was just wrong.
The eyes, even in death looked feral and almost reptilian. Teeth protruded out of its mouth and prying it open gently with his knife, it was almost like looking into the maw of a shark. Concentric circles of teeth leading down the throat of the 'thing', and teeth sprouting from odd and unnatural places. Meat clinging to some of the serrated protrusions of enamel.
The mouth of the 'thing' suddenly snapped closed on Feliks' knife, teeth grinding against the steel. A reflexive action, like a severed snake head biting even though the snake was dead. Feliks stared impassively, staying crouched until with a yank he pulled his knife free. Blood so dark that it appeared black turning his knife slick and foul smelling as it clung to the metal like tar. With a quick manipulation of the knife, done with the skill of someone long practised with a blade, Feliks slit the throat of the 'thing' in a single motion, black blood gushing from the wound foul smelling and thick. Sitting atop the soil almost like a jelly rather than blood.
Feliks took his knife and tried to gut the 'thing' only for the blade to bounce off a hard ridge of bone covering most of its stomach. Feliks worked the knife around until he found a soft spot and sank the blade in, trailing it down the 'things' stomach, avoiding a hard plating of bone until he had enough of an opening to get at the guts.
More black blood came around his knife as he opened the belly of the thing, a noxious smell coming from inside the 'thing' like rotting flesh and corruption. Making some of Feliks' men gag even though the farthest was more than twenty paces away, but it didn't bother Feliks any. He had smelled worse.
What did make him back away slightly though was the mass of parasites that emerged with the guts. Wriggling, slithering, clinging to the insides of the 'thing' they writhed along the black innards. Feliks catching glimpses of more moving within the 'things' intestines, twitching with internal movement ever so slightly as the many creatures continued to feed on their now dead host.
Curiosity overcoming him, and a keen sense of what he would find, Feliks slit the stomach of the 'thing' open, a foul miasma emerging like a wave from the corrupted innards of the 'thing'. Half digested meat and ropy parasites the length of Feliks' arm. The smell of it was near enough to make him gag and it did make several of his men nearly lose their lunch.
Feliks, carefully avoiding the wriggling parasites sifted through the mass of meat with the end of his blade, pausing for a moment before separating one piece in particular. Though decomposing and savaged by the teeth of the 'thing', the piece of meat and bone was still recognizable. It was a human finger.
"Fun and games ahead," muttered Feliks laconically to himself.
"I've never seen anything like what you're describing before," admitted Ianthe, nibbling on some jerky as she ate her lunch beside Feliks. "Never heard of anything like it either. Well..." paused the mercenary, debating whether to continue, because the explanation was mostly superstitious peasant nonsense.
"Well what?" asked Feliks, not impolitely.
"Nah, it's silly."
"Maybe I like silly?" offered the Soviet and Ianthe sighed, deciding that he wouldn't mock her for it.
"When I was a girl, my father of course hired private tutors to instruct me and one of them was quite well versed in old legends and myths. I was interested in such things at the time so I studied under him for an hour a day for a time. Long story short, there were gods before the ones we worship now and it wasn't a peaceful transition of power between them. One of them in particular got screwed over real hard in the feud and swore death and damnation upon all creation, cursing the land and all that lived upon it to twist into terrible abominations."
"So I killed a devil deer?"
"Supposedly they're twisted mockeries and corruptions of what they are supposed to be normally. Not possessed, just corrupting their bodies and mind. Driving them mad and making them live for carnage, fulfilling base desires, and destruction. Though I suppose possession isn't wrong since it's supposed to corrupt their souls as well. But like I said it's just stories. I used to think that the idea of cat people was fucking stupid until I saw a bunch of them. Then I talked to them, and realized that they were fucking stupid, just in the normal way. There's also a legend about Sigvald the burdened and his eight foot cock that he dragged around with him, so take it with a grain of salt."
"Stories of evil gods and giant cocks, I'd almost think that you were from Ancient Greece Ianthe."
"You did ask," intoned the mercenary dryly. "Also, what the hell is Greece?"
"I guess I did, and it's a country. So, I guess we'll just have to be more careful then usual in case there's more wildlife like that around. Suppose I should mention too, Vitsin and the lot pulled another woman from the river this morning."
"Another one?" said Ianthe half in exasperation, half in surprise.
"Yeah. This one was hurt pretty good too, but she's...different."
"Different how?" asked the mercenary quirking up an eyebrow inquisitively.
"Odd eyes. Like there's no colour."
"Really bright blue? Silver? What?"
"No, it's like there's just nothing in them. Like they're almost just pure white. If you look hard enough you can see the outlines of the pupil and the iris, but otherwise it's like it's not there.
"So she's blind then? Albino maybe? Or just deformed?"
"Definitely not deformed. Beautiful is how the boys described her. She can see, or at least she acts like she can. Pretty banged up though so we'll just have to keep an eye on her and see if she has any family around here."
"If she does have any family they probably disowned her," said Ianthe. "People with oddities like what you described usually get shunned by the villagers and peasants. Most of them are very superstitious, probably think that she's possessed or an evil spirit. Honestly I'm surprised that they didn't drown her at birth if they thought that she'd be blind."
"Well that's a little harsh," said Feliks.
"Times can get very tough and feeding an extra mouth that can't pull its weight is a big burden on a poor family. Especially out here by the Kingdom of Elbe. People here don't have your technology Feliks, they either survive on their own or they die. Oh, I do have some good news that I'm sure that will improve your mood," said Ianthe, eyes brightening in excitement.
"Oh yeah? Well let's hear it."
"I found the pilot."
"You did?" asked Feliks delighted. "Where is he?"
"He's shacking up with some dark elves so he's safe for now. Figured it would be better if someone who wasn't a mercenary was trying to grab him out of there so that there's no confusion."
"Good point," said Feliks pulling out his map and spreading it on the ground. "Where is he exactly?"
"Hmm," hummed Ianthe, tapping at her chin with a finger. "I was sure that I knew where he was, but my memory seems to be a little fuzzy," said the mercenary playfully.
"You can't be serious," deadpanned Feliks.
"I mean, everything around here I can remember and see clear as day," said Ianthe tracing a finger around the territories of the Empire. "But in here, I just can't seem to remember really anything," added Ianthe tapping on the Kingdom of Elbe. "It's almost like...it's not covered."
"See around here, it's covered," said Ianthe tapping on the Empire territories again. "But it's almost like nothing was ever said about Elbe," continued the mercenary tapping on the outline of the kingdom again.
"You can't be serious," repeated Feliks.
"Oh, I'm always serious when it comes to contracts and money Feliks and my contract covers here. But not here. See it's good to here, but not in here," said Ianthe gesturing back and forth between the Empire and Elbe on the map.
"How much?" sighed Feliks in resignation.
"Well, because of the sudden change of contract and addition of duties and how I've already found your pilot, I'm thinking about...three gold coins," said Ianthe holding up the corresponding fingers.
"No! Don't just agree right away Feliks, I'm fleecing you and asking for way too much. You're supposed to say that I'm asking for an outrageous amount. That it's way too much. You got me on retainer for a gold coin plus lodging, food, and expenses so a simple extension of the contract shouldn't cost anywhere near that much."
"Okay. So you want another gold coin?"
"No, I want three," said Ianthe.
"Then why did you tell me to offer you less?"
"Because offering me less would be far more reasonable."
"Then why didn't you just ask for a reasonable amount to begin with?"
"Because I'm going to try and get as much as I can from you for anything that I do. Hell, I'd take all of your silver and gold if you'd agree to it."
"Okay, I'll give you three gold coins then."
"NO! Gods dammit! I'm trying to teach you how to haggle! Say that I'm asking too much and that you'll only give me another...say, fifteen silver pieces."
"Okay, I'll give you another fifteen silver pieces for finding the pilot and recon in Elbe."
"I guess you really don't want to find the pilot," said Ianthe airily inspecting her fingernails. "Anything less that a gold piece is just an insult to me. Only fifteen for finding the pilot and a brand new contract? I have a mind to walk away right now."
"Okay, a gold piece it is."
"HOLY FUCK! NO!" burst out Ianthe.
"What?" asked Feliks. "I really need to find that pilot."
"I know, but don't agree to the first counter offer! I came down two thirds in the first refusal, that should let you know that I knew I was asking for a ridiculous amount to begin with. That means, that I'll likely come down again with the next offer. I am making this a stupid easy introduction to haggling!" said Ianthe, voice quickening and thickening with frustration with every word so that soon it seemed that they were pouring out of her in a flood.
"But you said in the beginning that you wanted three gold pieces."
"Of course I do, I work for money."
"Then why are you trying to make me give you less if I already agreed to pay you?"
"Oh. My. Fucking. Gods. Why are you making this so difficult?!" demanded Ianthe exasperated. "It's simple haggling!"
"Then why not just ask what you want to begin with and then see if I'll pay it instead of asking for more?"
"WHY IS THIS SO FUCKING HARD FOR YOU!?" Exploded Ianthe.
"Because when you get angry your ears start twitching and it's really cute," said Feliks with a small smile.
Ianthe's mouth froze half open in shock and her bright blue eyes widened as a bright pink blush began to spread across her cheeks, eventually creeping up to the tips of her ears and down her neck, disappearing into the lip of her curiass. Her pointed elvish ears still twitching furiously. A strangled noise came from her throat as though the words she was about to say had died of embarrassment. She stayed like that, sitting still for a long moment and staring.
"Oh...cute is it?" Said Ianthe finally, far too calmly. Her face still flushed pink. "Well...IS THIS CUTE!?"
"Hey!" protested Feliks as all at once Ianthe was upon him, placing him in a front headlock and holding his head tight against her chest.
"Still enjoying yourself Feliks?" asked Ianthe savagely, tightening her chokehold on the Soviet officer.
"Considering where my head is, yes," said Feliks with his head buried in Ianthe's bust. Or rather, against its steel covering.
"Are you now?" said Ianthe, voice starting to adopt a playful tint to it. "Such a scandalous man I've attached myself to."
"Yeah...getting a little dizzy now though. Think I'm gonna pass out in a second here. Feeling my face starting to go numb."
"Well we can't have that," said Ianthe, loosening her hold on Feliks' neck since his face was startling to turn a very deep shade of red and eyes beginning to bulge slightly.
"You can let me go now."
"Oh I don't think I will Feliks, you've offended my honour. Cute? What an outrageous thing to say to a Messalonian blademaster. I have to punish you now."
"Oh yes, most severely. After all, how could you find this cute?" asked Ianthe and to Feliks' shock wiggled her elvish ears, turning her head first one way, then the other, tilting it in a playful fashion. "Such an insult...demands," breathed Ianthe inching closer with every word. "Compensation," and what that last word uttered, she kissed him.
Giggles sounded behind them, and Ianthe quickly pulled away from Feliks, a bright blush on her cheeks to see Luella doing her best to stifle her giggles, but failing to.
"It's rude to stare Little Teacher," chastised Ianthe.
"I was right," preened the elf, before giggling again.
"So you were," admitted Ianthe.
"Have you two shared...other kisses?" asked Luella, giggling again at the scandalous suggestion.
"Indeed Little Teacher, we have shared many other kisses as well," said Ianthe, a small smirk on her face as she said it and Luella giggled again, ignorant of the implication in Ianthe's words.
"So...are you paramours?" asked Luella, voice quieting at the scandal of the question.
"Paramours?" asked Ianthe, mock shock in her voice and she held a hand up to her head as though she was going to swoon and faint. "Such a salacious accusation! Oh, but woe is me, tis true! How my debauched actions have corrupted the mind of my sweet Little Teacher so! What a terrible fate to have subjected you to! What will become of you now?" wailed Ianthe, grabbing hold of the petite elf and pulling her close to herself as she lifted her off of the ground. Spinning her around and around in circles.
"I must send you away from me, before tis too late for my precious charge," proclaimed Ianthe dramatically. Finally setting her down, so Luella teetered unsteadily for a moment, looking as though she would fall over, before seeming to regain full control of herself and stood steady again.
"But alas! My heart could not withstand such a parting!" said Ianthe, holding the back of her hand to her head, before turning in a flash and diving towards the petite elf.
Luella displaying the peerless dexterity of her elvish heritage, ducked to the side of the leaping mercenary, even putting a hand to Ianthe's back to unbalance her, and even accelerate her plunge into the dirt below.
"Oh, woe is me!" said Luella, mimicking Ianthe's tone and holding the back of her own hand to her head, mimicking grief. "My brave ser knight has fallen, and I am bereft of her guidance!"
"Blegh," said Ianthe splaying out her arms and closing her eyes, mimicking death. Then both girls burst out laughing, the high and clear tinkling laughter of elves.
"Oh, I almost forgot, the woman we pulled from the river is awake," said Luella. "I was going to go and heal her, but I thought I should let you both know first. You know, so you could ask her questions when she's better."
"Thanks for thinking of us Luella, we'll be right there," said Feliks.
"Alright," said Luella, then paused, like she was considering if she should say something or not.
"Is...is it normal to pull human women from a river? I mean, is it a common occurrence?"
"No," said Ianthe and Feliks together.
"Feels like it's common," said Luella half to herself.
Feliks and Ianthe followed after Luella, marvelling at the girl. Even after what had transpired with the bandits and the confrontation that they'd had, there was no tension in talking to her. No awkwardness. She held no ill will, no animosity. She had forgiven him as readily as she had forgiven those who had attacked her. Thought of it as nothing but something in the long distant past no longer worth troubling herself over. Perhaps this was the true reason for the youth of the elves? They didn't let old grudges and wrongs age or trouble them. They could live forever, so they had to learn to let go.
Desdemona was floating on a warm cloud, body numb to pain or any concern. They had given her...her thoughts were fuzzy. A comfortable haze was over her mind, blunting any concerns and they had fed her, though the need for food seemed distant and she had only picked at it. Why did she need food when she had morphine? Ah, morphine. That was the word.
With this morphine, she didn't care about anything. Charon, his plans, her homunculus brothers and sisters, nothing mattered anymore.
A man's face filled her sight, the same man with blonde hair who had given her the morphine. What a wonderful gift he had given her! Such a kindness he had done for her., given her food too! How could she ever repay him? Perhaps sucking his cock would please him? Maybe there was someone he wanted dead? Maybe both? He was not a bad looking man so laying with him would not be a chore for her if that is what he wanted. She did not dare to try and think of anything beyond the next day or two at most. She had learned her lesson with the farm boy. Hope only existed to be snuffed out, like the farm boy and his brother's life.
Maybe Charon would make her kill the man who had given her morphine and food? She hoped not, but she would do it if he wanted her to. She'd snap his neck in an instant. Maybe she should try to suck his cock sooner rather than later? But first.
Desdemona gave an exaggerated whimper as the blonde man prodded her side and checked her wounds. Careful not to make do too much, careful to time it with the strength of his touch and where he prodded her injuries. It did hurt of course, at least what she could feel through the haze of the morphine, but what was this pain compared to what Charon did to her? How he could set her very soul alight into blinding fire? If she even had a soul that was. Ah, but it had worked, and Desdemona tried not to show her excitement as the blonde man produced a needle. There was the moment of fumbling as the blonde man struggled to pierce her skin, hardened as it was being a homunculus. He had broken one on his first attempt to help her when they had first rescued her, so now she waited impatiently for him to be able to pierce her skin. She felt the prick, and there it was. Sweet warmth, sweet all consuming, mind numbing warmth.
Desdemona prepared to fall back into a blissful sleep again, but felt someone else standing over her. Opening her eyes again was another person with blonde hair, but it was an elvish woman this time. A young looking one, yet likely decades, if not centuries old. The information she had never learned or heard coming unbidden to her mind, a gift from her 'father' she supposed. Behind her, a man with dark red hair and the eyes of a killer. To his side, a woman in armour with a sword on her hip, the eyes of a warrior on her. The little elf in front of her? Her eyes were full of kindness and concern. What did they want from her? Whatever it was, so long as they gave her more morphine, they could have it.
"Hello, my name is Luella, from the village hidden in the glade. I would like to heal you, is it alright if I do that?"
"Yes," slurred Desdemona, wondering what this little elf would do that the man with the morphine hadn't. Her eyes were not a natural creation. If she so wished, and focused she could see the magic in the world. She could see the woman with the sword, how she glowed because of her elven blood, but how the power fluctuated and wavered. The woman too inexperienced to use it properly. This little elf though? Nothing. Blank. Inert. Less than the humans. Did she intend to rebind her wounds? Give her more morphine maybe? That thought excited her at least.
"Alright, just relax then," smiled the elven girl at her. "This will only take a moment." Then the elven girl closed her eyes, and the only thing Desdemona felt was stark terror that was all consuming.
When she looked upon Charon with her eyes, she could see his power. It was dark and imposing. It was how they all knew that they stood no chance against him. Like a mountain he towered over them, over everyone. Over everything. A dark and terrible power that could cover the land, that reached for the heavens, hoping to tear them down. A terror to look upon. This girl was blinding.
She was the sun and moon above. Her power as as endless as the sea of stars that stretched farther than the sky could hold, and as vast as the void they rested in. She was life, she was god, and she was death. Power meant pain. Power meant suffering. Power meant cruelty.
"NO! NOOOO!" wailed Desdemona, terror gripping her as she forced her battered body off of the cot as she shrieked in terror. Clawing desperately to escape, her body felt as though it was on fire as she refractured her broken bones, tore off her bandages, fingers digging into the dirt as she tried to escape. It had been a trick! It had all been a trick! This pain was nothing compared to what someone with that kind of magical power could do to her.
"No! Please stop! You're hurting yourself!" said the elvish woman, horror in her voice, but Desdemona didn't hear her. Couldn't.
Desdemona was blind and deaf to anything but her own terror, her own pain an afterthought. Focused only on the entrance of the tent and her own escape. Her terror only increased ten fold when she felt her body freeze. Magic holding her in place, allowing her only to breathe.
"P-please stop moving! I'm trying to help you," said the elfin woman, concern heavy in her voice.
"Please don't hurt me! Oh gods, please! Mercy! I beg mercy! I'll do anything you want! Please, please please!" begged Desdemona, as she felt her body raise from the dirt, though no hand touched her and place her back on the cot. Trembling in terror, as much as the binding of magic would allow her to, tears clinging to the edges of her eyes. Begging never worked on Charon, though he enjoyed to hear it. But, maybe it would work on this god? Maybe it would please her enough so she wouldn't hurt her? Maybe she would pity her enough, or be disgusted by her enough that she would leave her alone?
"Please, don't move," said this Luella, concern in her voice, but Desdemona could understand a command when she heard one, and laid still, hardly daring to breathe. Her protests falling silent, hoping that obedience would spare her from whatever was to come. Then Luella began to sing.
Golden light filled the tent, washing over Desdemona in soothing waves. The pain vanished in an instant. She could feel her bones setting themselves, her flesh mending, inside and out. Any feeling of illness or pain vanishing with the high and clear notes of the elfin girl's voice. It seemed to last an eternity, yet ended in only an instant, leaving her whole and well. The light and power of the elf, this Luella, vanishing as she hid it within herself. Tears welling in her indigo eyes.
"I didn't mean to scare you, I'm so sorry," said Luella, tears breaking free as she fled the tent. The woman in armour with the eyes of a warrior giving Desdemona a scathing look, before following after her.
With shaking hands, Desdemona prodded herself, marvelling at her newly healed body. Expecting at any moment for a cruel trick to climax. For a sadistic deception to be revealed, but as the seconds ticked by, no dark intention was revealed. No tricks, no strings, but perhaps they had only healed her so she'd be more willing to answer their questions?
The red haired man asked her a series of questions and she answered in half truths, deflecting or claiming ignorance on many. She was a drifter. A nobody. Somebody who did what they needed to so she could survive. She said that she'd been attacked by brigands and fallen off of the path she had been on, luck the only reason she had survived which was more or less the truth.
The fear she felt at the very idea of saying anything that would make Charon angry at her, making her all the more believable, because the terror she felt was real. After a time it seemed she had satisfied his curiosity enough that he left her be.
Left alone again, the blonde man who had given her the morphine brought her more food, some meat and bread with a few vegetables and she devoured it hungrily like a starving wolf, stopping herself in her gorging only to prevent her from getting sick from the influx of food that her body was not used to being allowed. Already she could feel her strength returning to her. She should leave, return to Charon, but she didn't want to. She knew she would have to, or he would be upset with her, but her ever present connection to him felt weakened. Perhaps the distance, or maybe because she was so close to the elfin god the reason?
Besides, she was tired and with a full belly she laid down on her cot to sleep, the warmth she felt at the moment better than the morphine she had been given, not that the warmth from morphine was gone yet. Was this what happiness was? The blonde man checked her again, putting a metal tool to her chest with tubes that led to his ears, watching a stick twitch past etched symbols on a dial on his wrist as he felt her pulse. Prodding her and making sure that the damage to her body was truly gone. His touching seemingly the purely professional touch of a healer.
Desdemona thought about trying to get more of that sweet morphine, but should she push her luck too far, she realized that he would understand her deception and she would likely never get any ever again. So she let him continue his work uninterrupted. Maybe he wouldn't like the reward that she would give him? She gripped his hand lightly when he had finished his inspection, squeezing it gently and tracing her thumb across the back of his hand.
She felt his pulse quicken as he stiffened in reply, taking just a moment too long to pull his hand away and say something to her in a language that she didn't understand, but she understood what his body was saying well enough. He would enjoy her gift. She fell asleep shortly afterwards, the ghost of a smile on her lips. Waking again hours later in the dark of night, the dim light in the tent cast from a lit lantern turned down low.
She saw the blonde man from before at the far end of the tent, seemingly checking on some of his medical supplies, scribbling on a hard backed piece of parchment as he did. They were also alone.
She rose as silently as she could, her heightened senses and abilities making her as silent as a ghost rising from its grave as she peeled back the blanket that was covering her. Stripping herself of her clothes, she padded up silently to him, reaching him as he rose to his feet, startling him as she kissed him softly on the neck from behind.
He whirled around, protests forming, but she shushed him quietly, feeling his pulse quicken under her touch, guiding his hands to rest on her when they had originally risen to keep her back. She heard his breathing become huskier, his eyes taking on an almost glazed over look. His protests, now already feeble collapsed with a few well practised kisses and a gentle caress.
She knew how to please a man, Charon had made sure of that, but this was also different. Charon took what he wanted, did what he wanted with whom he wanted, and without care or concern. This man was eager after his initial hesitance, but also gentle, curious even as she almost had to prod him to reciprocate her actions, like she was made of glass and being too rough would see her shatter. It was almost cute in a way, how she had to prod him to claim his reward for being kind. It was adorable how he watched to see how she reacted to his own actions, seeing if she liked it or not.
He didn't last long under her ministrations and she could practically feel his embarrassment at the fact which was not her intent. She had meant to reward him, not embarrass him and so she pulled him down on top of her, allowing him into her when he was ready again so he could feel better.
Again it was gentle, then, for the first time ever, pleasurable. Perhaps because she wanted it? Because she was not revolted by the man she was bedding and he was treating her as a lover instead of a hole? Soon, her mind became clouded as though by a fog, her own breathing became ragged as she began to chase her own pleasure. Forgetting that she was only doing this for him, forgetting everything for a few moments as she gripped the man tightly to her as her vision flashed white in pleasure, letting out a muted moan as she shuddered.
They laid together for a few minutes after and Desdemona again felt peace. Was this what sex was supposed to feel like? Was this why Charon never let them enjoy themselves? Because allowing them to enjoy anything, even their own bodies would make them happy, if only for an instant? That they would want something other than to do only as he wished? Was their happiness as much his pain as their pain was his pleasure?
That had to be it. Charon was cruel, he was malice incarnate. His eyes were those of one who fed off of pain and misery. Whatever his ambitions were would only spread more of the same. She didn't care though. Didn't want to care. She wanted to escape, to be free. Desdemona wanted everything that her benighted father sought to deny her.
She kissed the man on top of her, passionately, forcefully, wanting to feel something. Wanting tenderness, companionship, kindness, maybe even love. Wondering what kind of life he had lived that had made him the way he was. Gentle, kind, a healer, someone who wanted to help others. A part of her, a dark part, wishing that she could have his life. That they could switch places. Let him have to serve Charon. Let him have to live in fear and return to that beast. He could have her strength, her keen vision and senses. Her long life even, since the passing of years would not wear her down. He could have it all and she would take his life. Parents, siblings, children, hope for the future, and goals of her own. She wanted it so much, that against her own chiding she allowed herself to fantasize about a future of her own design.
They made love again, for she realized that it truly was what they were doing, not just rutting like animals. This time him underneath her as she set the pace, seeking what she wanted. Doing it because she wanted to, because it was what she chose to do and she enjoyed it. She was a greedy lover this time, but he didn't seem to mind.
"You know a part of me is happy that we finally found the pilot and that he's safe, but another part of me is filled with murderous fury that while we were hiking all up and down these dragon infested mountains he was drinking wine and eating grapes with his new friend. Among other things," remarked Feliks, watching the source of their most recent consternation smiling and talking to his new 'acquaintance' who was giggling and talking in muted tones to the pilot. Seeming to use a mixture of broken Russian and a dialect of Elvish that Feliks hadn't heard before.
"You would have thought that they would have been more welcoming to us when we arrived," said Ianthe, playing with a handful of gold coins.
"You did break the guard's nose," said Feliks.
"After he pointed his stupid spear at Little Teacher," fired back Ianthe. "I should have broken more for that, but you know how Luella is when there's violence," huffed Ianthe. "She was more upset with me than the man who pointed the spear at her."
"Yeah, that's our little Luella alright," said Feliks, looking over to where Luella was standing, proudly wearing a woven wrist band made by the bandit turned basically camp follower Gelvira, as she talked to Boris. The red headed teen basically following faithfully behind the petite elf wherever she went, going so far as to sleep next to her and basically act like she was a servant of the elf. Absent now, only by express order from Feliks that she wasn't allowed to follow them.
"So," said Ianthe slowly, the tone in her voice making it quickly apparent that she was going to try and broach a sensitive subject. "Your tour here is going to end shortly, and they're going to send you home, yes?"
"Yeah, they're going to rotate us out," admitted Feliks, realizing that he was genuinely upset about the fact.
"Do you know when you're going to be coming back?" asked Ianthe, making sure to look only at the long blade of grass between her fingers.
"No. I've been thinking how to stay here, but there isn't much. There's a process to be sent here as a settler, but the waiting list is probably a mile long and they only accept families at the moment, not single men. I'd probably be sent back to my old post for at least a year, and I don't know when I could get back. They'll probably want to give as many troops as possible some kind of deployment experience."
"So, you can't stay," said Ianthe, tonelessly, not looking at Feliks, but instead playing with the blade of grass between her fingers, tearing at it now. Stopping only when Feliks entwined his hand with hers.
"I'm not going to leave you, and I'm not going to abandon you. I'll figure something out," said Feliks, putting as much feeling into his words as he could, Ianthe not saying anything, but grasping his hand tightly with hers, tracing her thumb across the back of his hand tenderly.
"You have the general's favour, yes?" asked Ianthe.
"I suppose so, but I think it's mostly due to Luella.
"Perhaps, but it would still be enough to ask for a favour, would it not? Perhaps an extension to your tour? An assignment to a new unit coming in?"
"I...could ask if I could be an instructor," said Feliks slowly, thinking carefully. "I've heard some rumours of them wanting to make a militia out of some of the locals. I've probably got some of the best training out of the troops we've sent to Falmart and I've got experience working with foreign soldiers. I also speak common, so I wouldn't need a translator. I'd be top of the list for that."
"Yes! An instructor," said Ianthe, seizing on the idea happily. "And your general holds Little Teacher in very high esteem. She could talk to him on your behalf and make it so!" said Ianthe, smiling now, almost giddy.
"I don't know when they're going to set up the training program though, so it might be a while," cautioned Feliks.
"Yes, but it would mean that you will be able to come back," said Ianthe.
"You know," said Feliks, an idea occurring to him. "With us doing all this deep recon stuff, I haven't had a chance to use up any of my leave and there's nothing saying I have to go back through the Gate to use it. I mean, they consider our territory in Falmart as part of the Union, so technically I could take it here, since I'm still on this side and don't need to do any of the quarantine stuff. I've probably got a month or more accrued by now, and it wouldn't be like they would be making me report in. I could disappear for a while, and they would be none the wiser."
"We could go to Messalon together!" said Ianthe, smiling brightly now. "You could come with me, and we could show that I completed a contract faithfully, that I've redeemed myself. I would no longer be Kenos! I could reclaim my honour."
"For a second I thought that you were going to say meet your dad," chuckled Feliks.
"What? No. We need you to buy some property first, or a stake in a shipping company. He'd run you off as a penniless vagabond if I introduced you to him right now."
Feliks laughed, but Ianthe remained stoic.
"I'm actually serious Feliks, my family is quite important in Messalon. Even though I'm.." said Ianthe, faltering at saying demihuman, or something more self-loathing.
"Beautiful," said Feliks instead, earning a smile from the mercenary.
"I'm still the daughter of the Lord of the City of Pluto. My father has...certain expectations for my suitors to meet. As the daughter of Acamus, things are expected of me."
"Yet you're still hanging around with guys like me, eh?"
"There's things that are expected of me, but then there's the things that I want," said Ianthe, squeezing his hand again.
"You say the daughter of Acamus, do you not have family names in Messalon, or are you just named as son or daughter of your father?"
"No, I have a family name, I am just not allowed to bear it. As a bastard child, and because of my mother's lineage, the honour is denied to me," said Ianthe like she was long used to explaining such a thing, but it still hurt like pulling out a thorn. A familiar pain, but an unwelcome one.
"Well where I'm from, even bastards get the family name. You'd be Ianthe Volkhova for sure," said Feliks, realizing what he'd just implied the second he'd said it and how Ianthe perked up at what he'd said.
"Volkhova. Ianthe Volkhova," said the mercenary slowly, as though tasting the words. Feeling how they rolled off of her tongue. This time however, staring very intently at Feliks. A very different gleam in her eyes, almost massaging his hand with her own.
"Some would say that it would be indecent to suggest such a thing so short a time after becoming a paramour to another," said Ianthe, a purr to her voice. "That a longer courtship is necessary," continued the mercenary, sidling up next to Feliks so that her could rest her head on his shoulder, lips nearly brushing his ear.
"Some people would say that," said Feliks, wondering what the hell he'd gotten himself into, his heart being wildly. He liked Ianthe without a doubt, loved her most likely, but marriage? They'd only been officially together for a few days.
"They would," said Ianthe, softly into his ear, voice barely above a whisper. "But I would say to that, life is short and you need to take what pleasures it has to offer. If someone were to offer such a thing to me...I would say yes."
Before Feliks could come up with a response, the mercenary shifted cocking one of her elvish ears.
"Do you hear that?"
Felkis strained his hearing, but soon he too could hear the sound, bouncing off the canyon walls as it grew louder. An engine.
"Not ours," said Feliks, grabbing his rifle quickly, Ianthe doing the same with the rifle she had taken to carrying.
"There and there! Move!" ordered Feliks and his men sprang into action. Taking cover within the rocky outcrops leading to the cave entrances where the dark elves had taken refuge. RPGs, rifles, and machine guns readying with clicking of safeties being flipped off.
They waited as the engine grew louder and soon a HUMVEE in JGSDF colours rounded the corner, hauling a small trailer behind it. The large off road vehicle looking like it would topple off of its precariously narrow path at any moment. Yet, it remained advancing loyally forwards and there were dark elves riding atop of it.
Feliks watched one of his men step into the path of the vehicle, halting it with a raised hand. Feliks couldn't see through the windshield of the HUMVEE, and was hoping against hope that it wasn't who he thought it was.
"Hi Tuka!" cried Luella excitedly, emerging from her own hiding place and waving ecstatically at the other high elf who waved in turn, with the same enthusiasm.
"No," said Feliks lowly to himself. Watching as the dark and high elves dismounted from the HUMVEE, followed by the mage that exclusively stuck to Itami and his group.
"No," said Feliks again, frustration creeping into his voice as he realized who must be behind the wheel of the vehicle.
"NO," growled Feliks, seeing that it was indeed the Japanese Officer that he had gotten into a fight with back in Tokyo, one he had very possibly almost created another international incident with. With a huff, Feliks slung his AK and emerged from his own cover, striding purposefully towards the Japanese officer.
"Aw fuck," said Feliks, seeing Rory the Reaper emerge from the HUMVEE as well, giant halberd perched on her shoulder. She waved coyly at him, waggling her fingers as she did so. With her here, the balance of power was most definitely in the favour of the Japanese Officer.
He could shoot Rory, stab her, behead her, burn her, and explode her, only to see her heal from any damage and then murder him and all his men while laughing maniacally while doing it. Basically, whatever Itami was doing her, whatever he wanted, he would get if he was willing to use force. Feliks couldn't stop him.
Still, he wasn't the first to greet Itami's group, Luella rushing ahead and talking with Tuka in rapid fire elvish, at a speed that Feliks couldn't begin to try and keep up with, much less understand.
"Feliks! Feliks! You'll never guess what!" cried Luella excitedly, practically jumping up and down with excitement.
"What?" asked Feliks.
"Tuka's dad is with her!"
"Oh? Where is he?" asked Feliks, half curious and half wanting to avoid talking to the Japanese officer for as long as possible.
Luella spoke to Tuka in rapid fire elvish again, and Tuka responded, equally excited, before pointing. Confusion spreading on Luella's face, and following the finger, Feliks saw that she was pointing at Itami. The Japanese Officer looking very uncomfortable.
"What the fuck?" breathed Feliks, mostly to himself.
AN: Holy Hannah did you guys want this to keep going, (also being kind of passive aggressive) and so it did. I didn't do any writing for quite awhile, but I've got the urge to do it again, so I might release a few more chapters here and there. Anyways, hope you guys enjoyed it.