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Snow and the Fool

Page history last edited by Sea Foam 5 years, 7 months ago

    Long ago there was a boy by the name of Gluten. He was a boy not unlike any of you, a precious little tike with a loving father and mother that lived above a bakery. He dreamed of becoming a baker one day, like his father and his grandfather before him. He could even bake cookies if his mother helped him. That is, until one fateful night.

 

    It was his birthday. The whole town celebrated, though they didn’t normally. Gluten knew something special must have happened and they weren’t actually having an entire festival for his birthday, but it was nice to pretend. It would’ve been nicer if his sister had stayed home with the family for his party, but mama said Pepper was ‘at that age,’ whatever what meant. She hadn’t left too long before bedtime anyway.

 

    Gluten awoke to a gentle shake in the night. His father, a kind but strong man hushed him repeatedly as he dressed.

“What’s wrong, Papa?” Gluten asked as the two of them padded down the stairs into the family’s shop and took the first steps into the knee deep water below. “Where’s Mama and Pepper? Why is the floor wet? Won’t all of the flour get-”  

“Shhh, we need to be very quiet little one, Mama went to go find Pepper, but you and I have to go out too, okay?” Gluten’s father whispered. “Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you and I pretend there’s a biiiig monster somewhere in the town and you and I have to get to the wall and run away, okay?”

Gluten’s eyes were wide. “Like a dragon?”

“No, not like a dragon. Maybe… yeah, like a big ugly minotaurus. You can be a knight and I can be your faithful horse, so if you see any monsters you’ve gotta verrrry quietly let me know so we can sneak away, okay?”

“But knights don’t sneak, Papa.”

“The smart ones sneak.” The man ruffled Gluten’s hair, then carried his son piggyback through the shop and onto the street. “Now remember, quiet.”

 

    Though the moon was full, the rain they stepped out into was blinding, as if the Goddess herself wept. The rain on the lake their home was becoming was deafening as well. Gluten and his father walked through their own world, one that extended only a few feet in any direction. In that world it was easy to pretend that he and his papa really were on an adventure. It was strange though, the whole sky had been clear just that afternoon.

 

     Occasionally there would be a flash of lightning and just for a moment Gluten could see a bit farther. Everything was still. A scrap of wood here, a crumbling house with a hole like it had been pounded with a giant’s hammer there, a floating roof a bit farther away, and quite often patches of water more crimson than the rest. Something floated by that looked a lot like Carver, the man down the street that always had candy. There were lots of those floating around it seemed, human-like figures that looked vaguely familiar but with gaping holes in them or limbs missing and all too still to be a person, unless they were sleeping face down in the rain, and that would be silly. Silly or not, there were more of the people-things as Gluten and his father neared the walls, so many that soon all of the water was red and Gluten’s father had to push them aside to move forward.

 

“Papa, that looks like Mama.” Gluten pointed to one of the people-things with a fist-sized hole in its chest lying in a pile against the city walls. “Papa?”

Gluten’s noble steed stopped, trembling beneath him and clutching his legs almost painfully.

“Papa, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, son.” Gluten was young, but even he recognized that voice. It was the one Papa used after Mama got angry at him and Papa knew she wouldn’t forgive him for a while, right before he went on a long walk. “...That’s not her.”

 

     Still the horse only trembled, his head turned towards the not-person that looked like mama. He didn’t know why, but Gluten felt like he should leave Papa alone, so he sat quietly until he noticed a sound over the rain. A rhythmic swishing, nothing like his father’s footsteps, more like the sound an oar made if you splashed it back and forth instead of stroking. Gluten turned his head to look at the noise.

“Papa, a monster.”

 

     That got the horse’s attention. He spun so fast Gluten nearly fell off then it froze, the trembling from before now growing worse. This wasn’t the minotaur Papa mentioned, but still Gluten’s father was afraid.

 

    Was it really for good reason? The girl now before them was a frail thing, pale like china with hair to match and gentle features. She wore all white robes like the heretic priestesses the preachers told stories about; even clinging to her just budding body in the rain Gluten could tell they were fine clothes. She was beautiful. This was no monster, this was just a girl, younger than his sister even; Gluten would scarcely have called her a monster were it not for her pink eyes and the few rows of pale scales visible above the brackish water.

 

“You know,” the girl began with a flat voice, her eyes devoid of life, “you’re the only ones moving now. The whole town started running when I started, but now everything’s still.”

“Please,” Gluten’s father pleaded, circling round the beast. He wanted, needed to turn and run, but with his son on his back and with the footing treacherous as it was he couldn’t manage. “You already killed my wife, I don’t care if you kill me, but my son…”

Slowly Gluten’s father backed away. The white Lamia kept pace, her eyes on Gluten.

“Ah, so this is your daddy. I had a good daddy too, you know. He was nice and didn’t mind that I always wanted to be close to him. We cleaned fish together and went for long slithers and he bought me things and I made him things. I loved him a lot. He used to tell stories about how nice all the townspeople were to him, too. He didn’t go often, but every time he did they would greet him and share stories and tell him to bring the daughter they never got to see. Then they found out what I was. They had a festival for daddy today, you know? They made lots of food, built a big fire then sang and danced around his head on a stick. I was so happy I cried.”

“I don’t know anything about the festival. I-it was my son’s birthday, I didn’t even go!” There was a whine Gluten never heard before in his father’s voice.

“I know. Everyone at the festival died first.”

“I-I’m just a baker. I’ve never done anything against a monster in my life, so if you just let us go I’m sure-”

“Let you go? That’s not fair. This town destroyed the only thing in this world I loved and you want me to just let you go?”   

“You killed everyone because we-- no, because a few people killed one man, isn’t that enough revenge?”

“He wasn’t just one man, he was my daddy. He loved me and I loved him back. I loved him. I loved him I loved him I loved him IlovedhimIlovedhimIlovedhimILOVEDHIMILOVEDHIMILOVEDHIMILOVEDHIM!” The snake’s wail stopped suddenly, leaving only the ceaseless white noise of the rain. The smile that crept up her face as she regained her composure never reached her eyes. “Oh, I have an idea. How about a present for the birthday boy?”

Even gluten could sense any present this woman gave wouldn’t be a good one.

“You can have some of my pain.”

 

     The lamia raised her hand, and with it a glowing sigil supporting an undulating ball of water. Gluten’s father still refused to turn his son towards the monster before him; instead he began one last sentence he could never finish.

“Gluten, I lo—”

The ball of water in the white snake’s hand disappeared with a bang and the head of the last person alive Gluten loved exploded like a watermelon under a mallet.

_____________________________________________________________________________

     How does one kill a beast? You gather the finest weapons and armor made by the finest smiths, hone your skills over years of fierce combat and wage battle worthy of song… or you can wait until they fall asleep and slit their throats. There was none of the Human elegance the Goddess loves there, but Gluten did not fight for the Goddess, only for himself, for revenge. Gluten came to lack honor, he lacked pride, he lacked allies with the unbreakable bond forged by the love of the Goddess, but he did not lack skill.

 

     Twenty years before on that fateful night, Gluten became determined to become a knight and picked up the sword. He carried it bravely as he charged into battle with his comrades, watching them fall or be spirited away one by one. Watching the only family he had die again and again was too much; Gluten turned his back on the noble way of the knight and became an assassin. Smart knights sneak.

 

     He joined a group of rogues. They were rough men that killed without honor, but they died a bit less. Those same men worked their magic then, twenty years to the day after Gluten lost everything, binding or quietly killing the ryuu shrine’s few attendants as Gluten himself snuck into the bedroom of the head priestess.

 

     She was older now, but her fair skin and delicate features still made it look like she would break if you handled her roughly. The Shirohebi was beautiful, perhaps even more so now that she had grown into a woman. That was a fact its lover—no, perhaps her husband—seemed to have already enjoyed once tonight, his naked form lying wrapped within those snow white coils with her head on his chest. The scene might have been endearing, even cute if that monster hadn’t killed Gluten’s entire family.

 

     Wordlessly Gluten stood over the two of them, found a good angle with veteran eyes and slid his knife between the snake’s ribs. From a deep sleep the snake jerked under the knife and for just a moment their eyes met. As her heart shredded itself upon his blade a stunned look spread across the monster’s face.

“You…” One word was all it managed to utter before the light left her eyes and her body went limp. There were many things Gluten might have said, so many things he would say to her, about the loss of his family, his home, his everything. But its death had been too quick, more painless than he should have made it. He settled.

“Thanks for the birthday present.”

 

    Then there was the issue of the husband to deal with. The death throes of his wife hadn’t gone unnoticed and he now stared at Gluten in wide-mouthed terror. Before the man could make a sound Gluten lashed out and ran his knife across the man’s throat, sending a brief fount of blood to the ceiling. To the side a large sphere of water noisily splashed to the ground as the monster’s husband fell limp on the blood soaked sheets.

 

“Sloppy.” As he flicked the blood off of his knife Gluten chided himself for not noticing the open barrel the water came from earlier; missing things like that around worshippers of a water Goddess could get you killed. But then, it hadn’t. Gluten was alive and they weren’t, that was how things worked around here. For the son of a baker Gluten was an oddly philosophical fellow, as he walked toward the door thinking about the simplicity of death he almost missed the second monster in the room.

 

     A quiet gurgling brought his attention to a basket on the other side of the bed where a tiny version of the lamia cooling  on the bed squirmed, woken by the splash of the water. The form wiggling in the basket was a tiny thing, a child just barely old enough to no longer need its mother’s breast. Gluten knelt next to the makeshift crib, knife held high. He hesitated for just a moment, then drove the knife downward.

 

     Gluten had no love for the Goddess. He could kill a monster in its sleep, but a child was too much for his conscience. He could not, would not end the beast, nor would he leave it to starve to death as it likely would if left alone at that isolated shrine. Silently he pulled his knife out of the bundle of sheets next to the baby monstrosity and bundled it up against the cold. He knew not the evil he had committed.

 

“Sloppy,” Gluten chided himself as he left the room with a bundle in his arms.

_____________________________________________________________________

   

    Daddy is a great man! He’s the biggest, strongest, smartest knight in all the land! Or at least he used to be. A looooong time ago when I was really little daddy beat up a Dragon to save a princess and make it return all the things it stole, but after he told the dragon how mean it was being, saved the princess and gave all the other treasure back I was still left in the Dragon’s hoard. No one knew where I came from, so Daddy had to stop being a knight to take care of me, but I still want to be just like him when I grow up!

 

    He named me Yuki, it means “snow” in the language of Zipangu; Daddy says it’s because of my pretty white scales. I try hard to keep them clean, but it’s dirty around here, so it’s tough. We’re going to move to Zipangu one day, but it’s a long way away and Daddy doesn’t make much doing odd jobs around the city. That’s okay with me since I like it here, but he says there I’ll be able to go into town and talk with people. All of Daddy’s old knight friends are a little gross so having other people to talk to sounds fun.

 

    We live in a cabin outside of town. No one ever comes by so it’s a little lonely, but Daddy and I do okay alone. We play games together, make stories and bake. I’m not very good at baking yet, but Daddy still eats my bread and tells me it’s delicious even when it stays flat and doesn’t turn brown like his does. I pretend not to see when Daddy feeds the rest to the dog under the table. I don’t blame him, it’s kind of hard to chew.

 

    He started getting me back for the bread though. Every week or so starting after my tenth birthday he disappears behind the house and grunts a little, then comes back with a cup full of berry juice and some other stuff. He calls it a “health drink,” but I dunno. It tastes weird, but I like it a little more every time. I followed him once but it just looked like he rubbed his belly then went to go pick some plants. Weird.

 

    On Sundays we play long games of hide and seek. Daddy is super good at seeking and even better at hiding, I think he lets me find him most of the time because he always turns up somewhere I already looked! I’m really good at hiding when the ground is wet ‘cause I can feel him coming and run away, but I’m not very good at hiding when the ground is dry; the water doesn’t talk to me then. After we play and get all dirty we usually go swim in the river behind the cabin. Daddy says I’m fast because of the paddle on my tail, but I think he’s just slow because he’s old.

 

    He’s turning older today. I’m always happy on my birthday, but on his Daddy gets sad and drinks things that make your nose burn when you smell ‘em. When it’s really bad he goes where he thinks I can’t hear and cries. I have a really good idea to make him happy this year, though! Daddy writes in a journal sometimes and it’s almost out of pages, so I’m making him a new one!

 

    It took me a long time to figure out the right scribbles, but if I smash up a bunch of wood and shape it just right with some of the river water then dry it I can make paper. It’s not as smooth or white as the stuff he’s using, but you can still write on it. I think I’m using the stuff in Daddy’s stories called “magic,” but I’m not a wizard and no one ever taught me how, so I dunno.

 

    Anyway, I made a cover and stuff out of bark and went to go pick some flowers this morning. There was another boy in the field when I got there. I tried to talk to him, but he ran away when he saw me. I chased after him for little ‘cause I wanted to talk, but then I remembered that Daddy said I’m not supposed to talk to people unless they’re with him. Oh well.

   

    Daddy came back early today. He was all red and sweaty like he never gets when we play hide and seek so I was worried, but at least he didn’t have a jug of the smelly stuff today.

“Daddy, look!” I cried and handed him his presents as he puffed through the door. He smiled just a little at the journal, but stopped as soon as he saw the flowers.

“Yuki, did you pick these today?”

“Uh-huh!”

“Sweetie…” Daddy took a deep breath before patting my head and walking deeper into the house. “Okay, we need to go camping for a little while.”

“Why? It’s your birthday, shouldn’t we-”

“Not this year, little one. Did someone see you earlier?”

“Uh-huh, but it was just another kid.”

“Yeah, I thought so. Listen, remember when I told you about how you had to hide from people I didn’t bring with me because you’re so smart and special they’d get jealous?”

“Mm-hmm, but that’s not good because they’d be acting just like all the bad people in the stories.”

Daddy nodded. “Yes, but sometimes normal people can be bad people too. That’s why we have to leave. Now.”

 

    Daddy walked around the house pulling boxes I didn’t know we had out of places I didn’t know were there. The things that came out were scary, lots of knives, big and small, a bunch of different powders, leather things. I didn’t like them. Most of those and some water skins went into a big pack he had, and a little food and other stuff went into a smaller pack. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know what to do so I just stayed out of the way and watched.

 

“Daddy,” I asked, as he cinched both bags shut, “we’re not coming back, are we?”

“No, but it’s okay. If we travel like this we can get halfway to Zipangu with the money I saved, so… yeah, it’ll be fine. Look, we need to go, so grab your doll or whatever—” There were dogs barking in the distance. Daddy groaned and pulled a few things out the packs.

“Damn, that was fast. I should’ve had these ready in advance. So sloppy.”

He took a long knife and a few of the packets of powder out of his sack and handed me a sheathed knife out of mine.

“Okay little one, change in plans. Go into the river and swim down to that hidden beach you found and wait for me there, I’ll meet you later.”

“What about you?”

“I have to go talk to the townspeople and see if I can get them to take the nice doggies home. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”

 

    The barking was loud now, and the doggies and some of the villagers were already starting to group up in front of the house as we walked out of the door. They had pitch forks and torches.

“Daddy…”

“Don’t worry Yuki, Papa can take care of this.”

“But they look angry.”

“That’s why we’re going to have a talk. A nice, loooong talk.”

“Monster!” The villagers cried. “Fucker of beasts! Die, beast shagger!”

Daddy turned to look at me. “I need you to go now, as fast as you can.”

I turned but took one look back at Daddy. He smiled and motioned me away, that long knife shining is his hand. Afew of the villagers tried to walk around in front of me, but Daddy threw something in front of their feet and they all started jumping funny. I was really scared, so I slithered like I was told to. I made it to the river okay and swam where Daddy told me to go, then I waited. And waited…

______________________________________________________________________

    Gluten was a rogue. He remembered some of his training from the order, but he was no warrior. Still, for a filthy assassin he fought well. He emptied sacks of powders that burned the eyes and throats of the mob and splashed the village hounds with fluids that made them stagger and drowse on the spot. Gluten was a heathen. He did not understand the townsfolk’s deep hatred of the beast he had saved, but the Goddess knew their reasons and she protected them. The sick man’s blade dulled in his hand, none of his blows struck true, all neatly avoided vitals in a way any decent surgeon could suture shut.

 

    He didn’t hold out for long. His plan was simple: hold up the villagers long enough to let his daughter escape, then lose them in the woods. He didn’t expect the number of villagers that came though, and the villagers kept up their attack, growing ever stronger with the power of their faith even as the assassin grew weaker with fatigue. Soon one half of the deed was done.

 

    It was some difficult task for the villagers to follow the snake’s trail, as somehow she left few markings on the ground, but their dogs found its scent and followed it to the water’s edge. They hesitated a moment there. It was a well known fact that their river had few places one could climb out from that time of yearespecially without legsand there were rapids before the nearest landing. Little did they know that even the most inept shirohebi would have little trouble calming the waters enough to swim safely through the treacherous current and reach a little visited beach on the other side. It is unfortunate, but the villagers had been taught no better, so they left the vile snake to drown or be dashed to pieces in the rapids downstream, sure of its demise. They left the river, took their torches to Gluten’s home and planned a festival.

 

    It was a marvelous event, though quickly put together. In the town square bands played, the minstrels sang, and all ate, drank and were merry. Why would they not celebrate? Though the order had sent no knights a monster, the only one in the area, had been slain and their livestock and families were once again safe. It was an accomplishment.

 

    A light drizzle began part way through a circle dance around the fire purifying Gluten’s body. The skies had been clear just hours before, but no one inside had reason to care about the rain, and those outside were in the square drunk on spirits and their own high spirits. Indeed, no one paid heed to the weather at all until the first icicle fell from the sky. A townsman noiselessly slumped to the ground sending a quarter of the circle down with him. The woman next to him grumbled as she rose to her feet, then screamed when she noticed the chunk of ice protruding from his skull. The skies opened up at that moment, and rain began to pour as if to flood the entire city. Indeed, the drainage system failed, the water falling from the heavens began to fill the city’s walls like a giant cistern. The icicles continued to fall from above, skewering those foolish enough to venture out while the rain rose past waist height, extinguishing warming flame and ruining hiding place alike.

 

    Once most of the people at the festival had been slain by the icy daggers, they began to fall less frequently so people began to venture out in an attempt to flee the drowning city. It is said that whirlpools formed around the walled gates, dragging anyone that might attempt to open them to a watery death. Those that tried to scale the walls found them unnaturally slick, as if they were coated in grease rather than rainwater. A sudden current would knock away any ladders that were set up as well. Indeed, the people of the town seemed to be destined to drown.

 

    There was no safety for those that cowered in their homes, either. A figure swayed throughout the streets turned waterways of the city. Wherever it went jets of water sent houses crumbling to the ground, crushing or drowning anyone inside. Of course, such methods weren’t wholly effective; there were some whom collapsing upper stories and roofs didn’t kill. For them a new burst of icicles would rain from the sky or the figure itself would appear before them, moving faster than any man could in such deep water, and shoot a stream of water so powerful all that stood before it fell missing limbs or chunks of their torsos.

 

    Yet miraculously there was one boy by the name of Beetle still alive as the night drew to a close. After tucking him in early his parents had gone out to the festival to be among the first killed and his house had been collapsed, yet he remained safe in his little corner where the  stone and timber hadn’t fallen, shivering in the dark. The last of the screams faded into the darkness, leaving only the deafening sound of the rain to drown out his sobs as the world fell apart around him.

 

    It was all too much for young Beetle. He knew staying where he was would be the safest thing to do, but he couldn’t stand knowing that something was out there hunting him. So he ran. He crawled out of the debris hiding him and he ran as fast as he could. Beetle couldn’t know that all who tried to climb the walls failed, nor could he know that moving in that water would alert the creature of his movements.

 

    The creature set upon him quickly, rapidly closing in from behind as Beetle made his dash for the safety on the other side of the stone wall, dodging detritus and slipping often. The boy looked back. It was hard to make out, but a flash of lightning let him see a sphere of something floating in front of her hand. Beetle turned and ran even faster, though he thought it impossible.

 

    That very same flash of lightning illuminated Beetle’s face to the monster. As his visage reached her eyes the beast froze. The boy was young, but it reminded her so much of a familiar face.

“Daddy?” It whispered into the night. Even as it spoke the words its will diminished and that hand conjuring the sphere of water dropped limp at its side. “Wait!”

 

    Beetle did not wait. He ran, though the beast called out to him often to stop. He ran and he swam in circles, not nearing the wall for he knew that as soon as he tried to climb he would be caught. An errant stone caught the poor boy’s foot eventually, and he went face down into the water once again. Unnaturally strong hands pulled him back to the surface.

“It is you. But you can’t—he’s—” The beast muttered as it ran its hands over his face.

“Let go!” Beetle demanded. He may have been caught, but even as a young boy he had his pride. The shirohebi did not let go, but made itself content to examine his face with glassy eyes and mutter despite his protests and struggling until young Beetle found a nearby piece of driftwood and slashed it across its face. The surprise caused the beast to let go and Beetle scrambled for cover in a nearby barrel.

 

    Poor Beetle knew his end was near and braced himself for a coward’s death. An end that never came. Instead the barrel settled heavily in the water as if a great weight had been cast upon it. There was the sound of something rubbing, perhaps stroking the wood and a voice floated in through the planks.

“Why’d you have to stay, Daddy? I don’t know why the villagers did what they did, but we could’ve gotten away. I swim fast, you hide good, it would’ve worked. I hope you don’t mind, but I tried to collect as many of your ashes as I could. I’m sorry I didn’t do it before I made it rain though, they got all wet and spread everywhere. They’re not even sticking to me anymore, it’s so sad. Daddy, say something. I’ll think you’re mad at me if you don’t.”

Beetle shivered.

“It’s cold, isn’t it? Let’s go to Zipangu like you said, isn’t it warmer there? Hey, maybe you can finally teach me how to play some of those big people games your friends talk about. Won’t that be fun? Why aren’t you coming out yet? Come out, Daddy. Come out, come out, come out~”

Young Beetle had no intent to respond, but he didn’t need to. There was a rush of water as a nearby group of the Order finally got the city’s gates open and the pool of death soaking everything began to flood out. Beetle’s barrel tumbled end over end in the current, both knocking him out and separating the lamia wrapped around it. When the young boy awoke he found one of the knights that saved him and said—

 

    A violent fit of coughing interrupted my story and Sister Olive handed me a cup of water.

“Drink this, Father Morning,” She said, making the lamia sock puppet she liked to use for narrating the snake girl’s portion of the story.

“Do take that infernal thing off of your hand,” I grunted after a long sip of the refreshingly cool water.

“C’mon Father, finish the story!” One of the boys in my small audience cried.

“Hold on, Father Morning is tired.”

“All you did was talk!”

“Yes, well, when you get to my age even talking is tiring. Now then, you know the story, don’t you? Why don’t you tell the rest?”

The little boy stopped for a moment to gather his thoughts, then plowed forward with that zeal only the young can have.

“And then Beetle said to the knights ‘take me with you and teach me your ways!’ And then, uh… And then he came back in twenty years and got his revenge on the snake! He killed her dead, and all four of her baby she-snakes, too!”

“Yes, very good.”

“Nuh-uh, she only had three,” a girl corrected.

“She did too have four!”

“Now, now, children, there were four. Can anyone tell me the moral of this story?”

 

    This was the part where the children actually sat and thought about what I was saying. The important part. These stories were fun to hear and fun to tell, but there was a lesson in each all of the Goddess’ followers needed to know. One boy finally raised his hand.

“Always know your enemy?”

I nodded. “Yes, that is a good lesson that can be taken away from this. The people of that second city might well have save themselves if they knew shirohebi could brave their river's rapids and searched farther downstream so they could finish the job. What else?”

“Um, follow the teachings of the Goddess?”

“Yes, of course.” That went without saying, but at this young age the fact still bore repeating. “There’s still one more verrrry important lesson though.”

The boy that finished the story shot his hand into the air. “Oooh! Spare no monster!”

“Yes!” I agreed with a short clap, “that is the main lesson of the story. Allowing even one seemingly harmless lamia to live was the cause of much suffering for many people. That’s why when you see a monster you have to make sure all of them are slain, okay?”

“Okay!” The children droned in unison.

One more girl raised her hand. “I heard Brother Beetle ate one of the she-snakes, is that true?”

“I don’t know about all that, but if you’d like to know you can ask him. I think Brother Beetle is in the garden right now.”

 

    As per usual the children took off running when told they could hear more stories of valiance and dragon slaying. I allowed myself a smile as I took another drink of water.

“I hope we aren’t troubling Brother Beetle with the children,” Sister Olive said.

“Oh, you know those old paladins. They never turn up their noses at a chance to tell a tale. Now then, shall we go see to that holy water?”

The two of us stood and waddled down the corridor as high voices talking of purifying succubi and slaughtering harpies filled the hall, putting just a little more pep in my step.

 

They were good children.

 

 

 

 

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