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Sibling x Girlfriend 6 - Game Night With Peakwoods
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Prayer and Demon 14 - Last Echo

p_d_14_-_last_echo.rtf
Keywords cat 173528, feline 121297, rabbit 109333, demon 31075, fantasy 20478, magic 19970, lioness 9706, adventure 4594, harem 1973
Last Echo

They followed the mountains for two more days.  Tuli gradually regained her old, bouncy, slightly ditzy demeanor...along with a growing habit of randomly talking to herself.  That took some getting used to, even though the group understood what was going on.  Sarahi began politely excusing herself to work with the sword shortly after the nightly ritual with Oro.  It was safer to admit to where she was going and why than to sneak off and risk another encounter like she’d had with Tuli.

They had hardly set out on the third day when Oro turned his attention away from the rocky spires to their right and peered off between the trees on their left.  “Fusking finally,” he growled after searched between the branches for a few minutes, pointing out a few pillars of smoke rising high into the still sky, “Village that way.  We can replace the tent and snag an actual meal for me.”

Nayeli rolled her eyes, smiling her ever-patient smile, and patted his shoulder.  “I think it would be better if only one or two of us go.  Ferruda won’t cause such a stir here, as we’re still in Nazeen, but your reputation may still precede you and kobolds will arouse suspicion nearly anywhere.  It’s unlikely a small village will have an inn for us at any rate.  I’ll be sure to come fetch you if they do.”

“Fusk the inn,” Oro growled, shrugging off her hand.  He was well aware of her real reason for not wanting him anywhere near innocent people.  This argument was old-hat to them by now...and usually ended with him sound asleep under a tree somewhere just outside of town while she did the necessary shopping.  “Fine.  Go get a tent, and whatever else needs replacing.  I’ll find something with a head to bite off while you’re gone,” the Rabbit frowned, stomping off through the trees not-quite-straight toward the smoke.

“Take Diya and Kylan,” Sarahi suggested more sincerely, “We’re near the border with Coras, so humans will be more common, but with your habit and their lack of scent there won’t be a problem.  The rest of us will find a place to camp somewhere between here and the village.”

Nayeli nodded.  “I think one of them will be enough.  I don’t intend to get much: some fresh food for us, and some sort of shelter in case it rains.  A tent like the last one we had won’t be readily available somewhere as remote as this, but some large canvases might.  We’ll make do with a couple of those and some creativity with the rope.  Diya, will you be kind enough to go with me?”

“Of course!” the little halfbreed readily agreed.  They found the little road leading into the village a short time later.  The main group immediately turned back off from it to search out a campsite, while Diya and Nayeli handed off their packs to Oro and followed it as it wound between outlying cabins and small farms.

The town square was an open field with a well near one side.  Not many people were milling about, it being late in the morning by this point and most honest folk hard at their work and chores, but Nayeli’s habit immediately demanded attention from the few souls who saw her coming.  They were greeted politely, if curiously, and soon pointed toward the large building just across the path from the well.  “If we’ve got it to spare, Ol’ Mags’ll have it in the store,” the wirey thatcher suggested, “We’re a tiny timber village, so not much fancy stuff, but the basics should be there.  What she don’t have she might can call for, if anyone around might.  If it’s just the two of you, she might even put you up in the storeroom for a night.  We don’t see travelers enough to bother with an inn.  The road kinda runs out at our little village.”

“Thank you very kindly for the help,” Nayeli bowed gratefully.  Her smile had a way of radiating through the veil that attempted to hide it, drawing a match on the thin man’s face, and he saw them off with a friendly wave as they headed toward the store.

The building smelled of herbs and leather and oil all at once.  The floor was nearly claustrophobic with barrels and crates, standing mostly open, holding whatever goods were available for sale.  Most of it was vegetables and trade tools.

“Ohhh.  Strangers,” hummed the old woman sitting in a rocker, behind a thick plank laid across two barrels to serve as a counter, “A priestess, no less.  Don’t see your kind here often,” she remarked as she rocked onto her feet, greeting Nayeli with the sign of The Authority.  “What brings you to our little village?”

“A wrong turn on the road, and want of supplies,” Nayeli greeted in return, again smiling behind her veil.  It was rare even in Coras for a priestess to be welcomed with such manners, and she was almost certain this woman did not do so out of a shared faith.  The Ferruda gestured toward the various containers then.  “May we?”

“Of course,” the old woman nodded with a smile that lacked more teeth than it showed, “We don’t have much variety around here, but there’s plenty, at least, even for strangers.  You’re welcome to whatever you like.”  Nayeli bowed appreciatively, then she and Diya began browsing the crates and barrels, selecting fresh vegetables and seasonings and smoked meat.  Diya carried their selections to the counter as Nayeli’s arms filled up, and the shop-keep leisurely filled a small burlap sack with their pickings.

“Would you happen to have any large canvases available?” Nayeli asked as she picked out foodstuffs, “We’re actually a pretty large family, and we’ve lost our tents.  The others are waiting for us outside the village, since we weren’t sure how much your community appreciates strangers.”

The shop-keep nodded as if that wasn’t surprising.  “We tend to be welcoming around here, but we also don’t see travelers enough to have many bad experiences.”  Giving Nayeli a careful look, she asked, “Is that a literal family, or figurative?  Are all of you from the Order?”

Nayeli shook her head clearly.  “Literal, and no.  We’ve been on an errand in your lands, and are now returning to Coras.”

“Ah.  Well, to answer your question, I’ve got a few of the sort we use to keep hay dry.  If you need a proper tent, and have the time to spare, my daughter and I could get one stitched by tomorrow morning,” the shop-keep suggested.

“Oh, that’s very generous of you,” Nayeli turned and bowed to her gratefully, “Yes, please.  There are eight of us in total, if it’s possible to have one made large enough for us all, or two or three smaller ones.”

The old woman gave a low whistle.  “Big family,” she chuckled, then added with a wink, “My condolences.”  Nayeli giggled, blushing just slightly behind her veil, at the kindly woman’s misunderstanding.  It wasn’t the sort that needed to be clarified, though, so she went back to browsing.  “I’m sorry if this seems a little strange, dear,” the old woman spoke hesitantly in her already slow, creaky voice after a thoughtful moment, “But did you meet anyone on your way in to town?  A little girl, perhaps?”

Nayeli tilted her head curiously as she handed off a handful of potatoes and some apples to Diya.  “No, we didn’t see anyone on the way in.  Why do you ask?”

“Oh,” the old woman shook her head, looking a little embarrassed, “I was just hoping.  It’s a sad mess: two days ago, little Mia went missing at the edge of the woods.  Her father, of course, went to look for her...and also went missing.  Then a couple of his friends went to look for him.  None of them have returned yet.”

“Goodness, that is strange,” the priestess remarked sympathetically, trying to keep her own suspicion from creeping into her voice, “And no one knows what might have happened?”

The old woman shook her head, gathering up the fruits and vegetables and placing them one by one into a little sack.  “No, dear.  No one with any sense, anyway.  Seth...ah, he’s the village lout, you might say...he went out to see what he could find, since he had nothing better to do.”  She glanced at the door to the shop, as if to make sure it was closed and showed no sign of opening anytime soon.  “Now, you didn’t hear this from me.  The rest of the town thinks he came back without finding anything...which is true...and he only told me otherwise because I’m his mother, sorry as I am to admit it.  But he swears up and down that while he was in the woods, he heard Bert...that’s one of the men that went searching for Mia’s father...heard him calling for help.”

“But he couldn’t find where the call was coming from?” Diya prompted, giving Seth the benefit of the doubt despite his own mother’s apparently low opinion of him.

“More like wouldn’t,” the woman sighed, “My guess is he just got spooked.  He’s a bit of a coward, on top of all else, and doesn’t like the woods.  He told me the voice didn’t sound right, and went back and forth between calling for help and shouting for him to run, though of course Bert couldn’t have known he was out there.  Seth said it made him think of some old tavern tales about a—”

She and Diya both blinked in surprise as Nayeli suddenly dropped the goods in her arms on the floor and broke out in a sprint for the door, slamming it against the wall in her haste to open it.  “Stay there!” she shouted to Diya over her shoulder while running down the road as fast as her habit would allow.

Diya blinked again, now more than perplexed.  “Um...that’s...odd,” the little halfbreed admitted, looking back at the shop-keep, then down at the sack of goods they’d picked out.  “I’m very sorry, but...”

The woman waved a dismissive hand, “Don’t worry about it, child.  She’ll be back soon, I’m sure.  She probably just wants to get your siblings out of the woods.  Your mother’s the skittish type, isn’t she?”  Reaching into a little jar behind the counter, she produced a short stick of something amber and sweet-smelling.  “Candy?”

Diya tilted her head, opened her mouth...and then thought better about whether that was a discussion she wanted to have right here and now, and decided to just play along with it.  “No thank you,” she answered simply, “But that’s the weird thing: Mom’s easily the bravest person I’ve ever known.  And Dad is...a really good fighter,” she phrased it tactfully, suggesting that there shouldn’t be any cause for concern about their absent companions, “They’re actually more used to dealing with monsters than everyday people, I think.”

“Is that so?” the old shop-keep hummed thoughtfully, sucking on the end of the piece of candy herself.  After a quiet moment, she pushed the sack of goods toward the little female, along with the candy jar, “Well in that case, your money’s no good here.  Help yourself.”

Diya tilted her head again.  “Thank you, ma’am...but why, exactly?”

“Well, if your mother means to do what I now think she means to do,” the woman explained with a bit of remorse in her voice, “Either my loose tongue has made you an orphan, or I’m going to owe her a debt of gratitude far beyond the worth of a few vegetables.”  Reaching across the counter, she patted Diya’s head comfortingly.  “But don’t you worry, dear.  I’m sure they’ll all be fine.  You just make yourself comfy here until they get back.”

Nayeli’s sprint did not slow for a full mile and a half, and then only because she had to leave the road to enter the forest in roughly the place she and Diya had parted from the rest of the group.  Her eyes darted desperately around, looking for signs of the camp.  They wouldn’t be far off the road, just enough to not be obvious, but the tent they hoped to have would need a clearing, and water was a necessity...

The priestess fought the temptation to call out to them, as she might have usually done.  Usually she would not be in such haste, though, and silence would not be a source of security.  Fortunately, even before she heard their voices, the sharp crack of wood against wood rang through the trees.  Sarahi was practicing with Grik and Gaki, and Nayeli had never been more glad.  Turning in the direction of the sound, she followed it as quickly as her habit would allow to the little clearing they had found.

“Oro!” she shouted as soon as she burst into the clear, and all eyes turned to her, “There is a Last Echo in these woods!”  Her eyes swept around the camp quickly.  “Where are Tuli and Kylan?”

“Fetching water and wood, obviously,” the Rabbit growled, “They offered to go so Sarahi could get some practice in.”

The priestess’ eyes widened.  “Oro, they are in great—”

“You think I don’t know what a Last Echo is?” he growled more fiercely, “Now shut your trap!  And you,” he rounded on Sarahi and the kobolds, who had paused their practice when it became clear a serious discussion was going on, “Not another sound until everyone is back.  The only voice these woods are going to hear from now on is mine, understood?”  All three nodded quickly and silently.  “Good.”  The Rabbit turned his glare on the woods in general, and motioned for all of them to follow him.  They’d barely gotten into the trees, though, when another familiar voice came drifting through the woods.

“I’m headed back, Tuli,” Kylan was saying, loudly enough to suggest the Ferruda wasn’t actually right next to him.  His own voice was a little strained with the effort of carrying the two full buckets of water without spilling them.

“Uh...okay,” came Tuli’s hesitant, slightly confused answer, “I thought you already went.  Aren’t you going the wrong way?”

“I didn’t say that!” Kylan called out again, this time from much closer to Oro and the rest of their group, and sounding more than a little alarmed.

“Both of you, shut your traps now!” the Rabbit bellowed into the trees, creating a startling echo of his own.

“I didn’t say that!” Kylan protested from somewhere a little further off than he’d sounded a minute ago.

“Shit,” Oro hissed, drawing his sword.

“Oro?” Kylan called, his voice getting quickly closer to them, “What is —?”

I said shut it!” the Rabbit repeated, “And stop moving!”

Shut it!” his voice reiterated from somewhere off to their right, the source still hidden among the staggered trees, “And stop moving!”

Grinding his teeth, Oro rested his sword on his shoulder, ears up and swiveling in all directions.  “Listen up, both of you,” he shouted again into the woods, “I’m only going to say this once: Do not move and do not speak until you can see its face...then scream like your life depends on it!”  More quietly, just to the group beside him, he added, “It is going to take one of them.  I won’t have time to worry about you.  Try to keep up.”

He could hear the hissed draw of breath behind him, and looked over his shoulder just long enough to shoot a glare at Sarahi before she could protest.  Her tongue was still well behind her clenched teeth, though, apparently remembering her oath to trust him and not hesitate when it clearly counted.  Fortunately, the pair in the woods seemed to be doing the same...or at least judged him a greater threat than whatever was stalking them.

“Be right there!” a voice that sounded like Tuli called out, bouncing among the trees, followed swiftly by a bark in Oro’s voice, “Stop moving!”  Neither of the pair answered it, nor any of the Rabbit’s group.  There was a tense, quiet moment.  Oro stood stone still except for his ears, continually scanning the woods.  Nayeli had her hands steadying the skirt of her habit, ready to take off after him the instant he moved, though he would hopelessly outpace her.  Sarahi tightened her grip on her spear, claws dug into the ground in preparation to follow Nayeli’s lead, and the kobolds had their noses to the wind, trying to sniff out the danger.

It was Kylan’s scream that broke the stillness, so abrupt and shrill that it seemed he might have injured his throat.  Oro’s ears snapped in a direction, and the Rabbit was gone from sight before Nayeli could take her first step, though the rustle of the brush in his wake showed them which way he’d gone.   For a moment Sarahi worried about how she and Nayeli would avoid losing them...but then realized Nayeli was already following a clear trail of hewn limbs and gashed trees.  Oro’s sword was blazing a trail in his wake.  The Sha'khari was tempted to ask what it meant when the trail seemed to lift off the ground and cut into the higher branches above, but wasn’t sure it was safe for any of the rest of them to speak yet.

They almost crashed headlong into Tuli, who was clearly struggling hard to bite her tongue when she had at least a dozen questions and twice as many concerns.  Sarahi grabbed her shoulders and swung her onto the Sha'khari’s back, losing as few strides as possible.  Nayeli, though she looked back in worry, was not letting up.  Oro could handle a monster, but he had no power to save Kylan if the little halfbreed was injured in the fight.

A second scream ripped through the woods, a little less frantic this time, as the initial shock of the creature’s appearance had worn off and Kylan was now trying to direct Oro to where it was fleeing.  “Shut up!” the Rabbit bellowed into the woods again, “If it realizes you’re calling to me it will kill you!”  His voice was getting more distant even as he shouted, and Sarahi was amazed both at the speed with which he outpaced them and the fact that this “Last Echo” was apparently maintaining some amount of lead.  More amazing than that, however, was that Kylan managed to obey.

He was sure he would break a tooth if he clenched them any harder, but that would be preferable to spending even another minute under this thing’s arm.  That face...Kylan shut his eyes, desperately hoping Oro could make it in time.  This thing’s face was one giant hole lined with rows of jagged, yellow teeth, like some sort of giant lamprey.  Its body was all bones and bone-white flesh, strung together with what looked like the bare minimum of muscle necessary to let it move...but those muscles were deceptive in their strength, and Kylan could not for the life of him get its grip around his waist to loosen.  It was faster than a deer, and heedless of the low branches and brush along the ground.  That was probably to his benefit, since Kylan imagined it was only the rustling of those branches that was still leading Oro toward him.

And then it stopped.  Standing at the edge of a deep depression in the ground, like a modest sink-hole that opened into a cave beneath the roots of a large tree, the creature seized Kylan around the neck with one hand and swung him out from under its arm to dangle over the pit.  Its other hand clamped on the back of his head, the long fingers driving their sharp nails painfully into the flesh below and behind his ears.  He couldn’t scream now even if he tried, and he didn’t want to know whether it was preparing to shove his entire head into its gaping mouth or simply twist it off his shoulders...but he was confident it could do whichever it pleased, and would within the next second.

That was half a second too slow.

Steel flashed in front of his eyes, and he could swear he tasted it on his lips as it passed.  Oro’s sword severed the arms holding him with a slight jerk, and Kylan had just enough time to see the monster open its maw in a painful scream before gravity asserted itself to drag him down into the pit.  He landed hard amid a hollow crackling sound, and felt a sharp pain in his left arm.  Oro’s head peeked over the edge of the pit.  “Are you hurt?” the Rabbit asked quickly.

“...Not bad, I think,” the halfbreed answered dizzily, still trying to get his bearings back, but Oro vanished from sight before he could give a more informed assessment.

The Rabbit’s voice drifted back to him from the opening above.  “Good!  Stay there!  The priestess will find you soon!”  Kylan wasn’t quite sure how she would manage that, but he had more pressing concerns at the moment.  Putting a hand to his aching arm, he found something embedded in it and winced as he touched it.  Kylan pressed tenderly around it to verify that it wasn’t bleeding too much, then hesitantly looked down.  He found half of a broken bone sticking out of the punctured flesh, and it didn’t belong to him.

Looking around, Kylan realized the floor of the pit was covered in bones, large and small.  Some of them were long dry and brittle, like the one splintered end that had stabbed his arm.  Some still showed signs of the flesh and tendon that had clung to them until recently.  Some still had clothes snagged on them, and the sizes of the skulls indicated both adults and children among the victims.  A shudder ran down Kylan’s spine.  Apparently he had been dropped into the monster’s pantry or garbage pit, where its victims found their final rest.

“Kylan!” came a delightfully familiar voice, “Are you down there?”

“Ye-es!” Kylan answered Nayeli a little shakily, “Help!”

The second word had barely left his lips before her habit blotted out the sun as she jumped heedlessly into the pit.  She landed in a much more controlled fashion than he had, and ignored the contents of the pit entirely, aside from him.  Even behind the veil, he could tell she winced at the sight of his arm.  “It’s not mine,” he reassured her, “But it hurts like...well, it hurts,” he bit back the obscenity on his lips.

“Yes, I imagine it does,” she agreed softly, crouching next to him, “So will taking it out.  Endure just a moment longer, okay?”  He nodded, gritting his teeth as she took a firm grip on the exposed end and carefully backed it out, taking care not to leave any slivers or splinters behind in his flesh.  As soon as it was free she was whispering a prayer, running her fingertips lightly around the tender edges of the wound.  Kylan breathed a sigh of relief as the pain subsided and the skin began to knit itself back together before his eyes.

“Thank you,” he sighed when she stood up and offered him a hand to his feet, “How did you know I was in here?”

“Oro left his sword standing by the mouth,” she explained, looking up to the edge of the pit above them, “Sarahi, give us the end of your spear, please.”

“Wait, he’s still chasing that thing unarmed?” Kylan blinked.

“That man is never unarmed,” she chuckled as Sarahi walked as much of her body over the edge of the pit as she dared, “And he’s already got hands on it.”  Bracing her back feet in the dirt at the rim, with Tuli holding her tail for good measure, Sarahi extended her spear to a point within their reach.  Nayeli gave Kylan a boost up, letting him climb out first, then accepted the Sha'khari’s assistance in climbing out herself.

Once out of the pit, Kylan understood why she’d said Oro already had a hand on the monster.  Not far from the pit, they could hear the struggle between the pair.  Oro was laughing, even taunting it on occasion, despite the fight it seemed to be putting up.  They were shaking the trees, and the group could hear wood crack and splinter as bodies were slammed against the trunks.

“It’s safe to speak now,” Nayeli comforted them once they were all free of the pit, “It can’t confuse us as long as we’re all together.  Just stay in sight.”  She took a much more relaxed pace from there, making her way in the direction of the struggle.

“What is that thing?!” Tuli immediately burst out, “I thought it was Kylan for a minute!  I almost went to see if he’d gotten turned around somehow!”

“That’s its goal,” the priestess admitted, “It lures victims by calling to them with familiar voices, usually of prior victims.  It can only parrot phrases it’s heard before, though.  Have you ever heard of hunters who imitate the calls of birds or deer to trick them closer for a clean shot?  It’s kind of like that, I think.  It doesn’t seem to really understand what it’s saying.”

“Take your time,” Oro growled from nearby, a slight strain in his voice, “Have some tea on the way, why not?”  They found him with the monster pinned to a tree, pulling it against the sturdy trunk with the stumps of its arms in each hand and one of his feet braced against the wood.  The poor tree was slowly splintering under the pressure between them, but was holding up for the moment.  “Get your tail over here, princess,” he grunted as they came into sight, “You’re about to become a real man.”

“Say what?” Sarahi frowned, lowering her spear as she carefully approached the restrained creature.  It pulled back against Oro, and tried to kick the tree, but he yanked hard and slammed its face back into the wood.

“Not with that,” the Rabbit chuckled, “Unless you’re looking to tenderize it before it dies.  It’s time to see what that sparkly sword of yours can really do.”

The Sha'khari almost dropped her spear.  “I...don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Sarahi disagreed, remembering how it had felt to look at him the one and only time she’d dared to draw the blade in his presence, and what it had tried hard to convince her to do in her dreams.

Nayeli stepped forward, laying a protective hand over the top of the hilt on Sarahi’s hip.  “I agree.  This isn’t—”

“I don’t think I fusking care,” Oro interrupted, “You want to be a fighter?  You’re making your first kill today, and you’ll need that sword to do it.  Now draw it!  Or so help me, I will let this thing go!”  The monster in his grasp snarled and sank its teeth into the wood, tearing a chunk free.  The tree began to list in Oro’s direction...

Reluctantly, Sarahi set down her spear.  Taking a deep breath, she drew the sword from her hip, holding the hilt firmly in both hands.  Radiance erupted along her like fire across a line of oil.  The bright, shining blade hummed angrily in her grip, vibrating her hands with its deadly song as it leveled its own tip at the monster.  The Last Echo began writhing and wailing in wordless desperation as the burning light washed over it.  “Oh...fist...of Heaven,” the Sha'khari intoned through clenched teeth, reciting words that did not belong to her even as she tried to hold the blade back, “Punish...the sinful...earth.”

She managed to hold on.  Barely.  The blade jerked her entire long body forward as it flew to its target, skewering the monster and the tree behind it...and very nearly caught Oro on the other side.  Even the cross-guard forced an indention in the wood.  The monster’s skin cracked like a mirror under a hammer, leaking rays of light from every seam, then crumbled into ashes.

Oro gave a low whistle, leaning down to smile smugly with his nose just an inch or so away from the still-quivering tip of the blade that had narrowly missed his foot and nearly reached his stomach.  “Good effort.  Maybe next t-FUSK!” he jumped as the sword jerked forward that extra inch, nicking his cheek and leaving a bleeding blister on it.

“For goodness’ sake, don’t taunt him!” Sarahi groaned, pulling back on the hilt as hard as all four of her paws could manage, “This tree and I are barely holding him back as it is!  He really wants to kill you.”

“Good fusking luck,” the Rabbit growled, tenderly touching his wounded cheek, “Now get a grip and get it sheathed.  Fusk...does that even count?  Fusking sword is as murderous as I am...,” the Rabbit muttered to himself.

Kylan stepped out from behind Nayeli’s protective shadow as Sarahi began talking softly to the sword, trying to calm it enough to allow her to sheath it again.  “...Thank you,” the little halfbreed said simply, “I was sure I was dead when it held me over the pit.  I...that’s twice I owe you my life...”

Oro snorted dismissively.  “That tally’s going to get fusking high if you’re keeping count.  Thank me by making yourself useful,” the Rabbit growled, causing Kylan to wince, but continued, “No way I could give chase like that with a pack on my back.  And you follow orders well.  Keep that up,” he insisted, then went stomping back toward the pit of bones.

Above her veil, Nayeli quirked a surprised eyebrow, but said nothing for fear of breaking his generous mood.  It was exceedingly rare for the Rabbit to give compliments of any kind.  Pacing around the tree, she knelt in front of the luminous blade, cupping her hands to either side of it, and quietly thanked it, praised it, and asked it to return to its place of peace.  The pressure slowly subsided, and Sarahi was able to back it out of the tree and sheathe it once more.  “Alright,” the priestess sighed in relief once the holy weapon was put away, “Now that that’s over with, I need to go back and let Diya know we’re all okay.  But I’d like to search that pit before I go back,” she sighed, starting to follow the path Oro had taken, “A little girl went missing two days ago, followed by her father and some other villagers.  I should try to bring back a token, to assure the people that the threat has been dealt with and help them find closure.”

Kylan shuddered.  “Nayeli, there was more than one child in there.  And a lot more than three or four adults.  That thing’s been hunting around here for a while.  How was it not noticed sooner?”

“They’re not all from around here,” Oro grunted from ahead of them, “Fusking thing is a kind of huntsman.  It eats a few people here and there, then gathers up its favorite bones and whatever shiny things it liked from its victims and moves to another pit.  If we hadn’t come along, and nobody else came into this neck of the woods for a few days, it’d move right along with no one the wiser.”

“Wow,” Tuli blinked, tapping her chin thoughtfully, “I’ve thought this several times now, but you two know a lot about monsters.  How many have you met over the years?  Or is this something everyone in the Order gets trained in?” she turned curiously to Nayeli.

But the priestess shook her head, also giving odd looks to Oro.  “Only the Order of the Nightwatch, dedicated to St. Culbert, studies monsters and abominations in detail.  As soon as we were married, I immediately sought out one of their outposts and read as much material as they would allow.  I’ve sent letters to Corruscant before, asking for pertinent details if I expected an encounter with something in particular, or to clarify what I’d met after the fact...but this is our first meeting with a Last Echo.  Oro...how do you know that?”

They arrived at the mouth of the pit.  Oro stood at the edge, arms crossed and sneering down into it, as though judging the bones within.  “It’s a spawn of Gorgorond.  It eats and eats and eats, but the souls just pile up inside it.  Eventually it either bursts, spawning an outbreak of the undead, or Gorgorond finds it and makes a feast of it.  Shoulda fusking swallowed the thing instead of letting the princess purge it,” he grumbled, flicking one of his ears, “But he was slow with the details.”

“Gorgond will eat his own children?” Sarahi grimaced in disgust, “How many are there in the world?”

The Rabbit scowled at her.  “What part of fusking ‘demon’ do you not understand?  They’re not kids.  They’re barrels.  Or pigs.  Farmers put a lot of time and effort into raising those little beasts, but I’ve never heard one complain about having a plate of bacon in the morning.”  Before she could even look chastened (or insulted), he stepped over the edge and dropped down among the bones, heedless of any that splintered under his weight.  “Now come on, priestess,” he gestured for her to follow quickly, “Find your tokens.  I’ll make sure the den is empty.  Sometimes they hunt in pairs.”

That little tidbit suddenly set everyone back on edge, and Sarahi turned to eye the woods warily with one hand on the hilt of her sword.  Tuli and Kylan huddled close to her haunches as Nayeli sighed and hopped down into the pit with their husband.  Pacing a menacing circle around the edge, he seemed to disappear at one point behind a curve in the wall.  Nayeli followed cautiously as they made their way down a short, increasingly narrow tunnel.  They almost had to get down on their hands and knees before it ended in a dark little room.  “By the Authority, vested in me,” Nayeli entoned softly, “I command the stars to fill this pocket of night.”

Faint dots of twinkling luminescence sprinkled themselves along the walls, floor, and ceiling.  In the soft light, barely brighter than a couple of candles, she could see a small pile of odds and ends and personal effects that had once belonged to the monster’s victims.  It wasn’t very large, consisting mainly of odd coins and jewelry, with the occasional toy or hat or shoe in the mix.  Oro pulled his shirt over his head and tied it into a knot just below the arms, and Nayeli reverantly placed each item into the makeshift sack.  Then the pair made their way back to the mouth, where he lifted her high enough for Sarahi to catch her hand before flat-out jumping out of the pit himself.

“You’re back!” Diya exclaimed, setting aside a broom as Nayeli walked through the door of the storehouse some time later.  She’d been helping Ol’ Mags keep the shop tidy while she waited.  “Is everyone alright?”  Seeing the odd sack Nayeli was holding to her chest like a treasure, and the careful, measured pace of her step, Diya repeated quietly, and more seriously, “Is everyone alright?”

The priestess nodded her head.  “We are all fine.  And the village is safe once again,” she said to the old woman behind the counter, looking at her with a stoic unease in her wrinkled face, “However...I am sorry.”  She laid the knotted shirt on the counter, letting it fall open to reveal the assortment of items inside.

The old woman nodded in quiet understanding, carefully emptying the sack onto the counter and shifting through the contents.  Her breath caught in her throat despite having braced herself for the inevitable.  “Oh, my poor, sweet Mia,” she sighed, clutching a little corn-husk doll like a lost treasure as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“...I am sorry,” Nayeli repeated softly, reaching out to lightly rest her hands on the old woman’s back, letting her hide her tears behind the priestess’ wide sleeves.

But the shop-keep shook her head, and pushed the arms away gently.  “No.  You have done our village the service of a hero.  You have nothing to be sorry for,” she insisted, wiping away the tears and recomposing herself.  “You must be tired.  I’m sorry to ask you to walk some more...but please go and bring the rest of your family here.  I don’t care how many of you there are.  You will stay in the most comfortable house we have tonight, and be given all the supplies you need besides.”

“That is too much trouble on our account,” Nayeli declined respectfully, “If the tents can be made for us by tomorrow, that will be enough.”

The old woman shook her head again, coming around the counter and patting Nayeli’s shoulder as she headed slowly for the door.  “Don’t you tell this old woman what’s too much trouble and what’s not, young lady.  So far as I’m concerned, if it’s to be had in this village, it’s yours to have.  I just need to find some young bones to do what these old ones can’t.  So go and get your family.  I’ll have everything arranged by the time you get back.”

“I’ll help,” Diya offered, trotting quickly to the old woman’s side, “If you’ll just tell me where to go.”

Ol’ Mags smiled down at her through the tears still forming in her eyes, and patted her head.  “Oh, you are a sweet girl.  But I know every man, woman, and child in this village, and whipped the manners into more than half of them myself.  If I say someone needs a new barn by morning, they’ll have a new barn raised by morning.  So you go with your mother...and take some candy for your siblings,” she suggested, turning toward the row of little houses to the right of the village square.  “Reminds me of sweet, little Mia.  Oh, poor Mia...what is Leena going to do?” she sighed to herself as she started off.

Diya’s ears drooped a little, and Nayeli patted her back comfortingly.  “I feel bad for her,” Diya remarked as the pair set off toward the road again, “Mia was her granddaughter.  Though she seems more like the whole village’s grandmother.  She’s very nice.”

Nayeli nodded.  “It’s good to find communities like this,” she agreed, though with a touch of sorrow, “Where everyone is close and kind, and look out for one another.  They warm my heart and remind me what I am striving to protect.  I try not to linger too long in them, though.  They tempt Oro to his worst.”

“Envy?” Diya sighed, rubbing her head, and Nayeli nodded, “With a heavy dose of cynicism, no doubt.  I can see that.”

“Yes,” Nayeli confirmed, “Our night-ritual will be particularly important here.  But at least we’ll be able to enjoy a real bed, by the sound of it, and maybe even a bath,” she smiled encouragingly.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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by horcat
Prayer and Demon 12 - Returning to the Mission
Last in pool
In which the family happens upon a little woodland community under threat.

Keywords
cat 173,528, feline 121,297, rabbit 109,333, demon 31,075, fantasy 20,478, magic 19,970, lioness 9,706, adventure 4,594, harem 1,973
Details
Type: Writing - Document
Published: 3 weeks ago
Rating: General

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