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Introduction:


Hello and welcome to the Monstergirl CYOA! I’m your host, Purging_Flame. This CYOA will be based around the Monster Girl Encyclopedia. For those who are unaware, the MGE is a faux reference guide for your standard fantasy / RPG creatures and races…with a twist. Thanks to certain backstory events, these monsters have all been transformed into, well, monstergirls. And instead of hungering for flesh, they hunger for, well, men. For sexy purposes. Those who are interested can find the numerous translated entries via judicious use of Google-fu, and I will also likely be posting a few of the entries myself as these girls are encountered.


With all that said, here’s how this topic will work:


1. I do not plan on writing explicit H-Scenes! Even though this CYOA is being written directly to the wiki, with no danger of moderation. I suck at them, and I doubt anyone would want to read my badly written pron. With that said, I’m certain there will be scenes of intimacy, but they will probably be obscured by what TVTropes calls a Sexy Discretion Shot.


2. This CYOA will be mainly an adventure story with harem elements thrown in. For the sake of the narrative, just assume that the sex drive of all monstergirls is a bit less than what the Encyclopedia claims they are. Otherwise the protagonist wouldn’t get anywhere, on account of being jumped by horny girls every couple of metres.


3. Kenkou Kurosu’s actual world and setting is something that I am sadly unfamiliar with due to it all being written in mysterious glowing indecipherable moonrunes on his website. Some stuff, like the Order and the new Demon Lord, will be included in this topic. The world map and landscape are my own creation, and the story is, quite naturally, not canon by any means. If I go into any specifics on any detail that is not directly covered by the Encyclopedia entries, it’s best to assume that it’s something I shamelessly made up.


4. Voting will work as follows. The CYOA will be written here but voting will take place in the Monster Girl discussion topic on OT proper. After a period of time has passed I will upload the resultant chapter to this page and post in the topic to notify everyone that an update has happened. It sucks, I know, but there is no other way. The GameFAQs moderators are sitting, huddled over their laptops, frothing with glee at the opportunity to delete any topic that goes against their vague interpretation of the TOS.


With all that out of the way, here’s the (Rather mediocre MSPaint) World Map:


http://img406.imageshack.us/img406/7568/mamonomap3.png

We probably won’t be visiting everywhere, but I’ll do my best. I have a vague plot in mind, but how we get there is up to you, dear readers. The first entry will be coming up very soon…


Prologue:

The wild wind blows across the island of Tomonia, bringing with it the smell of the ocean. In the West, the wind blows over the Blighted Lands, a barren, desolate landscape, corrupted by fel powers spilling over from an obsidian portal to the Demon Realm. Heat rises from great rents in the earth, and storm clouds billow perpetually overhead, lightning striking the ground at regular intervals. The few trees that cling to life in this blasted place are short and stunted, twisted into odd shapes and bearing strange fruits found nowhere else in the world.

The wind blows on, great gusts of air travelling eastwards to the Great Wall. A massive, monolithic structure, the Great Wall spans the length of the island, sealing off the encroachment of the Demon Realm behind its enchanted stone. An immaterial barrier extends beyond the wall’s physical form, circling the Blight and preventing any movement in or out of that forsaken land. But despite the power and strength of the wall, the land on the other side continues to decay, slowly but inevitably, plants dying and earth crumbling into sand.

Dividing the wall in the centre is the Black Gate, the only entrance to the realm beyond. The two seamless slabs of ebony stone open only in the event of a Crusade, and only a Cardinal of the Order knows how to do so. Beyond the Black Gate, above the ruins of the ancient capital of Maridol lies the Order’s citadel, an ancient granite structure that existed before the demonic portal was built. It is here that the members of the Order gather, either to listen to the preaching of the Bishops and clergy about how to live ones life well…or to gather for a Crusade. But the wind’s journey is not yet complete.

Blowing on from the Order’s bastion, the wind continues on its eastward journey, over villages and other small settlements dotted along the golden road, over the Great Herryth Lake and the mountain range that divides both halves of the island. The East is a wild and untamed place, home to a myriad of temples and ruins whose origins stretch back through the centuries. The Order’s reach runs thin here, and many villages containing both humans and monstergirls exist.

Its long journey almost done, the wind blows over the coastal port of Ringwell and across a narrow ocean channel to the Isles of Zel. The large amount of forest and abundance of wildlife is just enough to support the two small villages established here. Ruins in the middle of the largest island suggest that this place was once rather more significant, but whatever civilisation that once lived here has been lost to the ages for hundreds of years.

This collection of small islands is where our story begins. You are Kyo. You are 19 years of age, and have lived on the Isles of Zel your entire life. Both of your parents have passed away; your father was a mainlander who died shortly after you were born, and your mother was lost in a storm while out fishing five years ago. Since then you have fended for yourself, doing odd jobs around the village, hunting on occasion, and generally helping out where you can. But this peaceful life is about to be shattered forever…


A Beginning, Part One

You run through the undergrowth, panting. It’s coming. Closer and closer with every second. Its harsh footfalls sounding in the night, its heavy breathing getting steadily louder behind you. You can hear it right behind you, gaining on you, getting ready to pounce. With a yell you twist, lashing out with your knife-

You awaken with a start. Cold sweat beads your forehead as you struggle up, breathing deeply. That dream again. For the past few nights, you have been kept awake at night by similar nightmares; dreams of being chased, of being hounded by some creature that you can hear but not see, something that always remains perpetually just out of sight. Then again, having such dreams at this time of year is probably to be expected.

With a sigh, you push back the simple sheets and stand up, trying your hardest not to shiver as the cold night air hits your skin. The log hut you call home is enough to keep the worst of the cold out, but the air outside finds its way in through small gaps and knotholes nonetheless. From the dim light shining in from under your door, you guess that you have woken in the early hours of the morning.

“Too late to go back to sleep, but too early to get anything done. Just my luck.” You mutter to yourself irritably. But the cold air makes the decision for you. You dig through the heap of clothing beside your pallet, pulling out the thickest garments you can find. Most of them are leather or animal fur, and go a long way towards keeping out the early morning cold. You dress quickly, grateful for the sudden absence of cold air against your skin.

Sitting back down on your pallet you wonder what you should do next. You remember the village elder commenting on the need for more animal hides to make thicker clothing for the upcoming winter; going hunting in the forests would be a good way gather food and untanned hides, and put the elder in your debt, which is never a bad thing. It would also kill some time until day fully breaks.

Or you could remain at home for a while. There is plenty to do here. You could indulge in a spot of reading; your mainlander father brought a number of texts with him when he came here. Though dog-eared and slightly torn from years of use, they are still mostly legible. Speaking of your father, you could puzzle over the objects he left behind when he departed this world. It would be about the thousandth time, but your mother rarely spoke about him and his box of…things…is all you have left of him.

What do you do?

1. Go out hunting. You’re running low on food anyway and it’ll be good exercise. Having a few spare hides to give to the tanner wouldn’t hurt a bit, either.

2. Stay at home and read. Being one of the few literate people on the isles can be useful sometimes.

3. Examine daddy’s belongings again. He remains an enigma to you, one which refuses to go away.


A Beginning, Part Two

Once again you find yourself drawn to relics of the past. Going down on your hands and knees, you clear away a patch of straw on the ground. Instead of the familiar earthen floor underneath, your fingers scrape against wood. In a few moments you have cleared enough of the floor to reveal the top of a wooden crate sunken into a hollow in the earth. The container is medium sized, the sort of thing one could carry without aid if necessary, yet with a sense of bulk that indicates importance and weight. The wooden slats are scored and battered, and the left hand side is showing signs of rot. You dig your fingers into this side, the weakened wood easily swinging upwards, having rotted free of their hinges several years ago.

For the thousandth time, the objects within are revealed. There are several of them, and none of them make any sense to you. You reach in and pull one out at random.

Opening your hand reveals the first object, a fist sized orb-like item in the rough shape of a sphere, but many-faceted and rough edged. Though it is hard to tell in the dim light, the orb is darkly coloured, almost black, yet at the same time appears nearly translucent. The surface is impossible to scratch or break as far as you are aware. Overall, it looks like an oversized gemstone, but neither you nor any of the other inhabitants of the isles can say what it truly is. Placing the orb on the floor you reach in for another item.

You pull out a rolled up piece of paper. Unlike the crystal orb, this one is extremely fragile and heavily affected by rot. Gently you tug it straight, small flakes of rotted paper flaking off at the edges as you pull it taut. It appears to be a map of Tomonia, the main landmass in this part of the world. The ink has run in many places, and many place names have been obliterated entirely. Spots of a different red ink are scattered across the map, crossing out certain areas, except for the Isels of Zel, which are marked with a dotty, squiggly symbol you do not recognize.

Next to the map in the crate is a palm sized cylindrical object. It looks much like the compass old man Raja showed you many years ago, but instead of pointing North like usual, this one has only ever pointed South. You have no idea why this is; the only things of note in the south are the other…village, and a few moldering old ruins.

Most of the other things in the crate are far less interesting. Glass bottles and jars, a few pieces of tarnished jewelry, a small hammer and chisel, a brush, some moth-eaten strips of fabric and a rotten old pipe. You sift through them for a while, but as usual nothing about their function or origins really springs to mind.

You replace the objects with a sigh, putting the lid of the crate back on and covering the top with straw once again. It seems more time has passed than you thought, since the once feeble light coming in from under your door has now strengthened significantly. Well then, guess it’s time to get to work. You open the door and step out into the sunlight.

The village is a rough collection of about four hundred small huts, all emanating outwards from a central communal building in a circular pattern and stopping at the coast. A dirt track divides the settlement roughly in half, stretching from a small pier on the northern coast and vanishing into the forests of the south. You live close to the centre, giving you both the curse of a long trek to the forest and the blessing of a short walk to the docks when the trade ships arrive from Ringwell.

As you step outside, you notice many young men hanging around a sign in front of the communal building. The sight of it seems to remind you of something, something important, but you cannot quite recall what it is exactly. As you stare, one of the men sees you looking and points at you, and two others break from the crowd and begin walking briskly in your direction.

You cannot recall doing anything wrong, but this situation is still a little unnerving. You turn the other way, only to see the village Elder strolling along the road towards the crowd, carrying something covered by a blanket in his arms. You think furiously; what should you do in this situation?

1. Something is really bugging you about that crowd. Go and talk to them and see what’s going on.

2. Ask the Elder for help. He’s in your debt enough, and should sort out whatever the problem is for you.

3. Make a break for it. It’s risky, and you’ll probably be caught, but something tells you that today is going to be a really bad day.


A Beginning, Part Three

You turn and walk briskly in the opposite direction, away from the crowd and towards the elder. Whatever it is, he can surely help get you out of it. Halfway there the old man looks up and sees you coming towards him.

“Ah! Kyo. Just the man I wanted to see. It looks like everyone else is ready for today, so if you could help an old man carry this heavy thing, I’d be very grateful.”

You stop for a moment, briefly consider your options, then move over and take the bundle from him. It doesn’t seem heavy to you, but to the elder it must have felt enormous and unwieldy. As you turn to follow him, he whispers to you softly.

“Good luck with today, young man.”

Suddenly it hits you. The thing that you’re forgetting. The reason all young men under the age of twenty have gathered in the centre of the village. The reason why the Elder was carrying a covered bundle. And, perhaps, the reason for your recent dreams about being chased through familiar territory.

Today is Man Hunt day. With a sigh, you turn and head towards the crowd.

--

Like almost everything from the past, nobody quite knows when the Amazons first arrived on the southern tip of the Isles of Zel. They swiftly settled where they landed and expanded northwards, eventually meeting the human inhabitants of the north. Like most Mamono, the newly arrived Amazons required human men to reproduce.

That was when the Man Hunts began.

Nobody on the Isles quite knows when the agreement was reached. Perhaps it was talked over peacefully and agreed upon by all parties. Perhaps. Most agree that it is far more likely that the Amazons only stopped to talk when it became clear that their hunts across the Isles were capturing all the men available, leaving none free to ensure a sustainable population. Whether by fate or happenstance, a Mamono mother will only ever give birth to female Mamono offspring.

Thus the agreement was reached between the villages. Every few years, when the number of young Amazons reached a certain number, a Man Hunt would be declared. The young men of the human settlement drew lots to decide who would participate and who would stay out. The Hunt lasts for an entire day, and any men who managed to survive without being caught were allowed to return home.

--

“All right everyone! Come forward one at a time and take a token! Red for In, Blue for Out! Come on, we haven’t got all day!” The Elder’s voice is surprisingly strong, very much at odds with his small and wizened form. Everyone moves forward slowly, dragging you along towards whatever fate awaits you.

“Hey! Kyo!” A friend of a friend whispers loudly next to you.

“Hey! Me and the boys met Nell in the forest a couple of days ago. She said to tell you not to get caught by anyone else, or she’d…well, it was quite graphic anyway.”

You groan inwardly. Nell. That particular Amazon has been fixated on you ever since you first met her nine years ago. After that, whenever you went hunting she would sometimes coincidentally show up as well, remarking about how it was clearly destiny and you should absolutely go back to the Amazon village with her immediately.

A sudden emptiness in front of you jolts you from your reverie, and you realise with a start that you have reached the front of the line. A smaller group of men stands behind the covered basket, each holding a red token signifying their participation. The lucky ones who had the fortune to draw out a blue token had already dispersed, melting back into the village to continue their day to day existence.

Okay, it’s crunch time.You walk forwards slowly, reaching out with your right hand, snaking it under the blanket and into the basket beneath. The tokens within clunk and rustle under your hand, and the irrational idea hits you that maybe your chances will be better if you dig down into the bottom of the pile. Your hand closes around one of the bottom most tokens and, with trepidation, you slowly draw it out.

You breathe out harshly as you see the red token in your open palm. In some ways, it’s actually a relief to have it over with. You walk around the basket and join the other participants. Already they are whispering to one another about good hiding places and strategies to surviving until nightfall. Your mind begins to work, already forming similar plans for survival. No matter how you think about it, everything boils down to three options…

1. Hide somewhere in the forest. You’ll have plenty of room to run if you are discovered, but there’s only so many good hiding places and they may all be occupied.

2. You’re a pretty good swimmer, and the tide is low right now. Swim out to one of the small uninhabited islands in the bay, stay there until nightfall, then return. You’ll have few places to run to, but then again, nobody would think to look there.

3. There are some old ruins near the centre of the main island. It’s not a safe place by any means, and crumbles a little more each year, but it’s expansive and has underground levels to hide in.


A Beginning, Part Four

-About an hour later-

You’re lined up with the rest of the participants along the village perimeter. Adults are stationed every few metres along the entire forest border, in order to prevent anyone from returning before nightfall. Now you wait for the toll of the village bell to signal the beginning of the hunt.

You have already determined your strategy. You’re going to hide in the southern ruins until darkness falls, then run back to the village when the coast is clear. By that time many of the Amazons will have caught another man and therefore no longer be a threat. You wince inwardly at the thought, but this is a very important matter and it’s every man for himself right now.

A deep, booming peal sounds out across the village and over the forest, signaling the start of the hunt. There is a dirty scuffle as dozens of young men make a break for the treeline, the faster ones pulling away easily whilst the less athletic participants form small clumps to find safety in numbers. You run ahead of the latter group, weaving in between trees and jumping over roots as you make your way towards the forest ruins. They are notoriously unsafe, and you highly doubt anyone would risk going there even in the midst of a Man Hunt. Better to be carried off by an Amazon than to die carelessly.

-On The Southern Part Of The Island…-

Nell runs through the undergrowth, outpacing the rest of her sword-sisters as she bursts into the forest proper. Like the rest of her kind she is tall and muscular, her dark tanned skin clashing slightly with her iron grey hair, which falls in waves beneath her shoulders. Her clothing is made of leather, tanned from the hides of animals she killed and skinned herself. They also leave little to the imagination, revealing a good deal more skin than they cover.

They also reveal Nell’s numerous tattoos; dark, sinuous lines representing her achievements, the number of duels won and the number of large predators killed, amongst other things. After today, with any luck, she will be getting a new one, on her chest; the tattoo of a married woman. Her sword-sisters would most likely chase after the first man they came across. Not Nell. She has a specific target in mind. Kyo, the boy she met whilst out on her first hunt so many years ago.

To be honest, there were better looking people on the island. But he had had a look about him, one that told Nell that he would be a challenge to bring back. And Nell had always loved a challenge. With any luck, she would manage to catch him before anyone else did. But where would he be? He certainly wouldn’t hide in the forest; it would be too obvious and vulnerable out in the open. No, Kyo would do something different. Something nobody would think of.

Something like swimming out to the smaller bay islets and sitting on his backside until the hunt was over. Yes, that would be a likely plan of his. Too bad clever Nell has thought of it as well.

A tangled mess of leaves and intertwined branches blocks her path, but Nell does not slow down. She unhooks her sword from her belt, a crude, blunt thing made of hardened stone. With a single motion, she cleaves through the blockage, tough vines giving way beneath the sheer crushing weight of the blow. It would not be long before she crossed into the centre of the isles, and from there it would be easy to swim out to find her new husband.

-The Forest Ruins-

You lean against a moss covered boulder, panting, trying desperately to regain your breath. That last ambush had been a near thing; three Amazons had burst from the undergrowth and tried to bring you down with their bare hands. Through sheer luck, one of the straggler groups had crossed your path whilst you were running from your pursuers, and their attention had been swayed by the bigger prize.

Still breathing heavily, you stare at the ancient structure in front of you. The temple itself is sunken halfway into the ground, and here and there tangled roots have punched through the stone blocks at its base. Mosses and lichens cover the exterior walls like a dull green cloak. There is only one entrance, a cavernous maw in the northern wall, leading into a pitch black interior.

Your breathing finally stable, you walk towards the opening. I really shouldn’t be here. It’s not too late to go back. Being with Nell might not be so bad. You ruthlessly crush your doubts and step inside. The illumination from outside extends only a few feet, the unnatural darkness beyond seeming to swallow all light. You seem to be in some sort of chamber.

Faintly, you make out a series of passages leading away to the left and right. The left-hand passage is illuminated by cracks in the outside wall, but those same cracks extend into the floor. Surely it’s not safe to go that way. The right hand passage seems to be somehow even darker than the chamber you’re in right now, and vanishes into the distance.

Ancient murals dot the walls and floor, covered in most areas by a thick layer of dust. A staircase on the far wall leads downwards, deeper into the ruins. From somewhere you can hear the sound of dripping water. Once again you come up with reasons to leave, but something stops you from turning back. In this situation, what would be the best course of action?

1. It’s too exposed here, right at the entrance. Go deeper into the ruins and find a good hiding place.

2. Take the left hand passage. It’s cracked, but moving carefully should ensure your safety.

3. Take the right hand passage. The darkness will conceal you nicely.

4. Examine the murals in the central chamber. Perhaps they will give you clues for a good hiding spot.


A Beginning, Part Five

You find your eyes strangely drawn to the large mural set into the floor of the central chamber. It is covered in a thick layer of dust, but a patch near the entrance has been cleared away by the wind. You crouch down and begin to clear away more of the grime, slowly revealing the cracked and aged surface beneath. You have no idea how long it takes, but eventually you manage to clear the entire area. You shiver involuntarily; despite the darkness, for some reason you can make out the pictures clearly.

The central mural is divided into regularly shaped rectangles, with one picture following on from the previous and giving way to the next. It seems to be a timeline, or at least a chronology of some sort. Some of the panels are cracked or stained with age, obliterating whatever was on them. However, you can make out a general outline.

It begins with a monstrous horned figure, wreathed in dark flames. The ground the being is standing on is split into two halves beneath its feet, one side green and filled with plants and flowers, and one side blackened and burned, a desolate wasteland. The next few panels show the same figure standing at the head of an army of monsters and stylized demons, burning and pillaging the land. Eventually these panels stop, halted by a picture of a shining figure whose face is obscured by a large crack.

Many of the panels towards the middle of the mural are stained and unreadable, but one particular one remains intact. The shining figure is striking down the massive demon, cleaving it in two whilst the demon’s lieutenants flee the field of battle. The next picture is slightly cracked but still legible, showing the demon disintegrating into fragments, which themselves disintegrate into nothingness.

One final panel remains untouched. At the very bottom of the mural, a picture larger than any of the others shows seven dark objects being placed on altars, each altar bearing a different rune beneath it. Everything above seems to indicate a historical record of some kind, but the meaning of this picture escapes you.

But you have wasted enough time as it is. It’s time to find a decent hiding place and wait out the rest of the day. The left path is unsafe, and the right path makes you feel uneasy for some reason. That leaves the staircase leading to the lower levels. Unable to suppress a slight feeling of trepidation, you begin your descent into darkness…

-Some Time Later, On The Central Isles-

To say that Nell is angry right now would be an understatement. She has spent the better part of the day searching the small islands nestled in the bay of Zel, and has found no sign of Kyo.

“Damn, where the hell is he?” She mutters to herself, sitting down heavily on the sandy shore of the largest islet.

“When I find him, I’m gonna kill him.” She growls. Whilst, as previously stated, Nell does love a challenge, she is also easily frustrated. Not the most agreeable combination of personality traits.

“Well, maybe not kill him,” she admits, “But give him a good disciplining at least. With ropes. And oil. And maybe some warm water, and a nice, soft bed…Gah!” She jumps up.

“What am I doing?! I have to find him quickly, or someone else will! But where else could he be?” She thinks hard, mentally eliminating the places she has already checked. Kyo would never hide in the forest; it would be too exposed even with the numerous nooks and small caves to hide in. The only other place would be…

“The southern ruins…” She whispers. The ruins are technically off-limits, but that wouldn’t bother Kyo in the least. Nobody would look there, because nobody would be stupid enough to go in there. Except Kyo of course.

Her mind made up, Nell sets off at a run, loping across the sandy beach and diving smoothly into the water. Despite her tiredness, it would not take long to reach the opposite shore, and from then she had until nightfall to find her quarry.

-Near Nightfall, Beneath The Ruins-

You creep softly along the hallway, crouching low to the ground in order to lower your profile. The lower levels consist of a lower central chamber, with passages leading off in the four cardinal directions. The central stair seems to lead even lower, but the path downwards is blocked by rubble from a collapsed wall. More worryingly, the collapse has affected the floor, which is crisscrossed with fissures and bulges downward alarmingly in places.

This level is more illuminated than the ground floor, dim bluish light spilling from fist sized hemispheres set into the walls and floor. You are currently exploring the southern passage, having already found nothing of note in the other three apart from dead ends and derelict storerooms. The air seems filled with a strange vibration, filling you with unease. Perhaps coming here was a mistake after all.

Living quarters branch off from the passage at regular intervals. From the look of things, this ruin once housed hundreds of people. At the end of the passage is a small and dusty alcove. Brushing away the cobwebs, you see that it actually contains a small fountain set into the wall. However, it appears to be clogged with a black putrescence, and only a trickle emerges from the dank vertical slit in the wall. The water runs down the wall, into a basin clogged with more filth, with the excess overspill pouring down through a rusted mesh grate in the floor.

You are just about to turn a corner when a sudden crashing sound fills the air. The faint sound of dripping water is momentarily replaced by a loud clattering, perhaps the sound of falling stone and masonry. You pause for a moment, thinking. The ruins may finally have begun to collapse in on themselves; it would probably be best to leave as soon as possible. The only question is, how do you go about it?

1. Simply go back the way you came. You’ve been there before, so you know a relatively safe route back to the stairs.

2. That collapse may have opened a path directly to the surface. Search for the point of collapse and see if you can escape from there.

3. Looking closely, the fountain grate is rusty and brittle. You could probably pull it off if you tried. You’ll probably end up in a drainage system, which would definitely have an outlet of some kind leading aboveground.


A Beginning, Part Six

There’s no sense in taking unnecessary risks. You have no idea where the drainage system leads, and the collapse may not even have opened a route to the surface. In this case, going back through a familiar route would certainly be best. You turn around and walk away from the alcove, trudging wearily back through the passage and towards the central chamber. The lights flicker and dim slightly, then slowly brighten back to their former illumination, casting strange shadows across the walls and floor. You quicken your pace slightly, and the door to the central chamber draws nearer.

You slow down as you approach the door. Though the rumbling of falling stone and masonry has ceased, a low crunching noise persists, as if the rubble is shifting itself around. Taking a breath, you flatten yourself against the doorframe and slowly inch around it, the room beyond slowly coming into focus. It seems part of the ceiling above has caved in, showering the eastern side of the room with fragments of stone and discoloured building blocks. Looking more carefully you can see that the left hand passage in the room above has finally decided to give way. It seems you were correct not to go that way.

As you begin to walk towards the stairway, the pile of rubble seems to heave a little. A second later it heaves again, loose blocks tumbling away to reveal a disheveled figure underneath. Your heart sinks as you recognize the sweaty, dirt-streaked Amazon.

“Ugh…Damn floor…gave way…I’m not that heavy…The floor is just…too weak.” Nell intones dizzily as she tries and fails to stand up straight. She rubs her head, looks up, then spots you. Her eyes suddenly seem far more focused. She smiles, in much the same manner as a large predatory cat.

“Ha…found you, K… I looked all over for you, and now I have you. Honestly, you should feel ashamed, making your wife wear herself out like this.”

She looks tired and bruised from her fall, but even a tired and bruised Amazon could easily run you down in such an enclosed space. You inch around her carefully, keeping well back and avoiding any dips in the floor.

“We’re not married yet, Nell,” you reply casually, “You still have to catch me, remember?” You smile back, giving her your best smug grin. If anything, her smile widens.

“As you wish, K. Don’t worry,” she pats the coil of rope hanging at her waist, “I promise I’ll be gentle.”

Bondage and rape is gentle now? Oh yeah, Amazon. How silly of me.But there’s no time to think. Nell drops to a crouch, then springs forwards, eating up the distance between you in seconds. You barely have time to turn and run a few paces when she tackles you, pinning your arms to your sides and dragging you to the ground. You struggle furiously, and her sweaty hands slip for a moment, letting you scramble forwards towards the stairs.

The floor creaks ominously as the pair of you slowly stand, eyeing each other warily. It’s only a few paces to the staircase now, but a wide crevice in the floor between you and it means you will have to go around. Nell advances towards you steadily, knowing she has you cornered. Her dull gray eyes are fixed upon you, and she idly fingers her rope as she puts one foot in front of the other.

Suddenly the floor begins to groan and buckle downwards. Nell’s little journey through the ceiling, coupled with you running on the already cracked and unstable floor has finally been too much for the aged building to handle. Cracks begin to lengthen before your eyes, and sections of the floor begin to collapse in on themselves, dust and stone blocks falling down into the lowest level of the ruins. You try to run back to the stairs, but the crevice behind you has now grown to twice its size.

The ground shakes and you lose your footing, falling to the ground as it disintegrates around you. You just have time to notice a flash of dirty white hair and feel a strong pair of arms pull you into a protective embrace before darkness takes you…

-An Indeterminate Amount Of Time Later…-

You awaken partially buried beneath a pile of rubble. Nell is lying next to you, even more bruised than before. The soft rise and fall of her chest tells you that she still lives, and you sigh with relief. She may be out to get you, but she’s ultimately not a bad person. She must have shielded you from the worst of the impact. Living with her may not be so bad after all.

You gingerly pick yourself up, wincing a little as you become aware of numerous cuts and bruises. Luckily it seems nothing is broken. Nell is still half buried in rubble, so you set about digging her out, clearing away the debris slowly until she rests in a small hollow. Her clothes have been torn open by shards of rock, leaving almost nothing to the imagination.

“Uh…hm. Wow.” You feel an involuntary blush rising, but you find it difficult to look away. Her body is a strange blend of smooth curves and toned muscle, topped off with a large chest that rises and falls gently with every breath she takes. Wait a minute…Does this count as having caught me? No harm in having a look at my future wife, but…

You tear your eyes away, and then you notice something else. As your vision adjusts, you find that you can make out an altar at the far end of the narrow room you are in. Curious, you decide to move closer. The altar itself is a square block of stone, perfectly smooth and showing no signs of wear or age despite the general state of decay of the rest of the ruins. Runes have been drawn over the sides and top, gold lines with a black underlay, twisting geometric patterns that your eyes seem to slide away from if you look at them for too long.

The top surface of the altar shows no signs of dust or dirt, and a dark object glints from a small hollow in the centre. As you draw closer still, you see that it is a spherical black stone about the size of a child’s fist. In fact, it looks almost identical to the black stone left behind by your father back in the village! Your interest renewed, you examine the stone more closely.

Like the one you already possess, it is multi-faceted, its dark surface making the surrounding shadows look pale and misty by comparison. Upon closer inspection, however, this one seems to radiate a…sort of…light. There is no other way of describing it. There are no light sources in the room, the dim illumination from the collapsed ceiling dissipating into nothingness a few metres below. And yet you can see every detail of the altar in perfect clarity.

You find yourself fascinated by the stone. What is it? The one your father seems to have found never had that quality. Even now it seems to glitter darkly in the shadows. It almost seems to be calling out to you. You find yourself filled with an overpowering urge to take the stone from the altar. Is this the stone itself? Or simply your own burning curiosity? Your father was looking for this, you’re sure of it. You never knew him, he died so quickly after your conception. This may be your only chance to find out more about him, about who he was and what he intended.

1. Take the stone.

2. Leave the stone.


A Beginning, Part Seven

You reach out…slowly. You stretch out your hand over the altar, and immediately feel resistance. It is as if the air around the black gem has become fluid and viscous, and you have to push your hand forwards forcefully, else it will be pushed away by the unseen force. The runes on the surface of the stone block begin to shift, seeming to unwind themselves into even more complicated shapes that hurt your eyes to look at. The strange light around the gem begins to pulse rhythmically, getting faster the more you reach out to it. The whole ruin seems to shake, dust and debris falling from above.

But you have to do it. It’s calling to you. You have to take the orb, no matter what. With a violent heave, you push your hand straight through whatever force was holding you back and close your fingers around the jewel. As soon as you touch it, everything stops. The air becomes light again, the runes cease to shift and the rumbling tremors slowly die down. You wait a few moments, but nothing further happens. With a gentle tug, you pull the black stone from its socket.

Without warning, everything goes black.

-Outside The Ruins-

The ruins had stood for hundreds of years. Over the centuries, they had survived howling winds, beating rain, minor earthquakes and tropical typhoons. Each time, a little more had been lost to the elements, reducing the once proud temple to a few moss strewn boulders. If the ruins had had a voice, it would be the dry and dusty tone of an old man who knows his time in this world is limited, waiting for the inevitability of slow death.

As it turns out, however, the end of the ancient temple was far more violent.

The stone of the ruins grew dark, casting long shadows over the surrounding forest, as if drinking in the light itself. The shadows twisted themselves into tangible shapes, levering themselves up off the ground and curving back towards the decaying mass of stone. The shadows slowly grow larger, merging with one another, stretching and bending back still further until they meet in the middle, directly over the center of the ruins.

The black hemisphere covers the entire temple, arcs of dark energy playing over its surface as it slowly expands outwards. After a few minutes, the expansion slows, then stops completely, the dome now extending half a mile into the surrounding forest. The blackness ripples upwards, then bursts violently, a column of darkness shooting upwards into the sky, splitting the clouds like a giant ethereal sword. The upsurge lasts only a few moments, then flickers, pales, and stutters out like a guttering candle.

Of the ruins, there is no trace. In their place lies a perfectly rounded crater in the ground, extending through the soil to reveal the layered bedrock below. At the very bottom of the sloping crater lie two figures, somehow unharmed from the violent upheaval. One of them clutches a fist sized black stone.

-In The Blasted Lands-

The Dark Matter shuddered, eyes blank, arching her back. The pitch black clump of demonic power beneath her writhed and twitched, forming thick, ropey tentacles which swiftly turned their attention to the girl who rode it. The Baphomet nearby eyed her intensely, carefully measuring the reaction. The titanic blast of dark energy that had swept across Tomonia and over the old fortress where they now stood hours earlier was having some…interesting effects upon the denizens of the demon realm sensitive to such things.

The Baphomet watched a moment longer, then sighed and stood up. The Dark Matter had been interesting to watch, and had given her a number of ideas for next week’s Sabbath, but there were more important matters to attend to right now. She most certainly would not abandon her duty like some big breasted Dark Priest!

“Um…Aruhamael-sama?” Came a small voice from the side of the room. The Baphomet turned, shifting her scythe to a more comfortable position across her shoulders as she swiveled to look at the new speaker. It was Afka, a novice Witch who had yet to find herself a familiar.

“What is it, Afka? You look like you have a question.” The young Witch looked slightly embarrassed.

“Well…its just…I was wondering what we’re going to do now…There was so much energy in that blast. It makes me a little scared.”

Aruhamael closed her eyes, reaching out with her mind. The air around them was saturated with demonic power, more than there had ever been before. Higher than some places in the Demon Realm. Outside the Blasted Lands the energy would swiftly dissipate, but once it crossed the threshold of the Great Wall it had been hemmed in and trapped. The witch was right to be cautious; too much of that kind of power was dangerous even to a Baphomet if handled incorrectly.

“Do not worry,” she replied with more confidence than she actually felt, “Everything will happen as it should. In fact, this saturation will be of use to us…it will help us cross the Great Wall.” It would. It would also take a lot of preparation, the co-operation of the full Sabbath and their familiars, as well as a bit of luck on the side. There might well be some side effects as well. But it could be done, and that was what mattered.

The Demon Queen herself had given her this task. Finding the item that had caused that blast was the most important task in the world. Perhaps in both worlds. Retrieving it would surely be difficult, but Aruhamael had lived for over seven hundred years, and had been chosen especially for her adeptness at solving difficult issues.

With a last look at the rapturous Dark Matter, the Baphomet turned and walked out of the room, followed by the novice Witch. There was a long road ahead, and many preparations would need to be made. Perhaps she should set up a base on the other side of the Wall. She already had somewhere in mind. It was going to be simply marvelous.

-The Cathedral Of Order-

Cardinal Raymond Gillesbie reclined on his throne, eyes wandering across the paintings and tapestries adorning the walls of the Cathedral. They depicted scenes of past crusades, of the forces of Order triumphing over the chaos and evil of the demonic realms.

“If only it were that simple…” He intoned drily, his reedy voice too soft to cause an echo even inside the cavernous Cathedral. If the Crusades were so righteous and holy, as the more radical elements of the Order claimed, why was it that they so often failed to make any lasting achievements? Gillesbie had spent many days thinking on it, praying for answers, but none had ever come to him.

Gillesbie had always been a moderate man. Ever since he put on his clerical robes at the age of twelve, he had always preferred the preachings of peace to those of war and destruction. Unlike many others, he was willing to entertain the notion that the current Demon Queen’s plan had truly been to create peace between humans and monsters. He was willing to entertain it, at least. It did not erase the fact that the human race was now in danger of dying out. And like it or not, something had to be done about it.

At seventy nine years of age, he was the eldest member of the Order on Tomonia, as well as the highest ranking. There would have been far more Crusades without him in charge, for better or worse. That there had been any at all was thanks to the efforts of Archbishop Lemures, with his fire-and-brimstone preaching about how all Mamono were in league with the devil and had to be exterminated for the sin of existing.

Matters had grown worse lately. According to a secure message received not two hours ago sent by the Magister’s Tower, a colossal eruption of dark energy had been detected by scrying devices somewhere to the south east. Right now the matter was known only to himself and the mages, but word would spread soon enough. It always did. Gillesbie tapped his bony fingers on the arm of his throne, and a young messenger appeared soundlessly at his side.

“Send word to the Chamber of Divines. We are to request a Visitation as soon as possible. Make sure they understand that this message is of the highest priority.” The messenger swiftly departed, leaving the Cardinal alone with his thoughts once more. There would be tears before all this was over. Tears, and, unfortunately, probably blood as well.

POV Choice time! Whose POV does OT-kun want to see through next chapter?

1. Kyo

2. Nell


A Beginning, End

“How is he, Mira?”

“Fine, as near as I can tell. A few bruises here and there, but nothing life threatening. Elder, what exactly happened to the ruins? I’ve heard certain rumors… Is it true? Were they-”

“I’m sorry, Mira. I don’t know any more than you. At the very least, let us give thanks that the two young people escaped with their lives. In any case – Ah, but it seems our young helper has woken up.”

You open your eyes. You find yourself lying on a straw pallet in what must be the Elder’s hut. It is far wider and more spacious than your own dwelling, though it also seems less full somehow. The Elder and another woman you do not recognize are seated on stools next to you. Blinking a little, you remember that she is actually Miranelle, the village Healer.

“Well now, young man. You’ve caused quite a few problems and no mistake. Do you have any idea what-” The Healer begins heatedly, but the Elder cuts her off by raising his hand.

“Now, now, Mira. He is barely awake; he has no idea of the situation we are in. Lets not be hasty in apportioning blame.”

“Um, Elder? What’s going on? Blame? What happened?” You lever yourself up, rubbing your head and wondering what on earth is going on. You remember going into the ruins, then being chased by Nell, then finding a black stone. Nothing after that, though.

“Mira, you’re sure he’ll be alright? Very well then. I’m sure many who have come back from the Hunt have scrapes and bruises that need tending to, so please don’t let us take up any more of your time. Now then.” He leans in closer as the Healer steps out of the door, shooting an unreadable look at you before she does so.

“A number of hours ago, something…unprecedented happened. You know of course about the forest ruins, yes? Well, earlier today, those ruins vanished. Disappeared without a trace. A number of the villagers have said they saw a monstrous black spire pierce into the sky at around the same time, but I was asleep at the time, so I have no way of knowing about the truth of the matter.” The Elder sighs, then stands up and begins to pace around the room. He seems very tired all of a sudden.

“When night fell and the Hunt was finished, some of us went to check up on the area, and to see if anything had happened. We found you near where the ruins used to be, lying next to that Amazon girl who follows you all the time. And the ruins? Gone, replaced by a perfectly hemispherical hole in the ground. When I last saw it was already starting to fill with water.”

You sit, stunned. The entire structure was gone? But how could that be? The ruins had always stood there. And now there was nothing at all? Through your shock, you realise that the Elder is still talking.

“We brought you back here as swiftly as we could manage. I don’t know if that Amazon girl managed to catch you, but I thought it best to take you back in any case. Now, here comes the hard part. I don’t know what happened there. Nobody does, but rumors are already spreading. People may start to think you caused it.” A look of pain crosses his weathered face.

“I mean no offense, you have always been a great help to us. Your father was an outsider, and some would say that makes you an outsider as well. People may see these events as an omen. I am so very sorry, my boy. But I think it might be best if you left this place, at least for the time being.”

A cold feeling rises up from the pit of your stomach. You worked so hard to help the village, to make yourself one of them. Everything had been going so well. And now this happens. Ruins vanishing, darkness rising into the sky? What the hell. What the hell is this crap. You shake your head to clear your thoughts. Just how do you respond to something like that?

“It won’t be forever. Just a short while, so I can sort things out with the other villagers. I promise I will do my best; it’s the least I could do for you, for all the help you’ve given us over the years.” The Elder pauses, then hands you a small leather bag. From the way it hangs, you can tell that there’s something in it.

“You were carrying this when we found you. I managed to hide it before the others saw it. I won’t ask what it is, I suspect I wouldn’t want to know in any case.” You open the drawstrings, revealing a rounded, multi-faceted black jewel. The same one you took from the altar, no doubt. It still radiates a soft light, but the glow seems more…subdued somehow. You finger it delicately, but nothing else seems to be different about it. You put it back in the pouch.

“What do you suggest I do, Elder? I have never been off these islands.” You know a little about the mainland, from the books your father brought over, but not nearly enough to know where to go now.

“Hmmm. Well, the trade ship from Ringwell should be arriving in a few hours. If I remember correctly, it stops off at both Port Ringwell and Edge. Ringwell is a port town, a good enough stopping point. You could probably find work easily if you went there. I did some myself in my…erm…younger days. Hard to believe I was young once, I know.” He chuckles, a sound like rustling leaves.

“Edge, on the other hand…Well. It’s much larger. That’s about all I know, really. Oh, but…Hm. Yes, I suppose you ought to know. Edge is, if I’m not mistaken, where your father came from. Or at least, the place on the mainland where he boarded the ship that brought him to these isles.”

Edge or Ringwell? Well, it’s not like you have to decide right now. First you need to pack for the journey. You stand up slowly.

“Elder…Thank you for helping me so much. I am indebted to you.”

“Like I said, it’s the least I can do for you, my boy. You’d better go and get ready quickly, or that Amazon girl may very well run in and try to carry you off!”

Yeah, that would be problematic. You walk over to the door and open it, the sudden sunlight making you blink. You wonder, briefly, if you’ll ever see this place again.

-Village of the Amazons-

“Nell. I will ask again. Did you catch him or not? It’s not a difficult question, there are only two different answers. Come on, girl. I’m waiting.”

Nell cringed inwardly. She sat cross legged in her family dwelling, desperately wishing she were anywhere but here. Her mother had been berating her for the better part of an hour, and showed no signs of stopping

“I don’t know, mother,” she said quickly as her mother paused for breath. She had to get a word in edgeways, or the tirade would never stop. “I was about to, but then the floor fell in and-”

“So you say.” Her mother interrupted. Raha was short for an Amazon, but what she lacked in height she made up for in aggression. A long, thin scar ran down the side of her face, curving down from her left eyebrow and down her cheek, ending just before her chin. Doubtless a relic from a duel of some kind. Right now she was standing in front of her daughter, arms crossed, tapping her fingers on her elbows. Nell knew from experience that that pose generally meant trouble.

A clatter from behind drew Nell’s attention. Her father was busying himself with the fire pit, preparing to make a midday meal from whatever Raha had brought home from the morning’s hunt. To be berated by one’s mother was shaming. To be berated by one’s mother in front of one’s father was shaming to the extreme. Nell suspected that his presence here had been planned all along.

“But tell me, daughter, was there any chance – any chance – of him escaping had you not suffered a cave in?”

“Well…No. No, I don’t think so. You see, he couldn’t reach-” Her mother made a cutting gesture with her hand, shutting her down mid sentence.

“Then why are you still here? He belongs to you. So where is he, Nell? Why haven’t you claimed him, Nell? Honestly, I didn’t raise my only daughter to-”

“I’m sorry Raha…where did you hang the meat? The fire is ready now.” A soft voice from behind cuts her off. Her mother turns her head to face her father, her expression softening a little. If Raha could be said to be soft with anyone, it was with him.

“Out the front, dear. Just to the left of the door. Honestly Jerro, how many times do I have to remind you? Silly man.” Nell could never remember her mother berating her father as she did herself. Then again, with him Raha had other methods of working off her aggression. Nell decided to take advantage of the lull.

“I’ll go and get him immediately, mother. I promise not to shame myself further. Please, may I have your leave to depart?” She prayed that the answer would be yes. Turning back to her once again, Raha regarded her daughter. She opened her mouth to speak, paused for a second, then gave her assent.

“Hm. Fine. Your father could do with a son in law to help out with the chores. Very well then, you may go.” Wasting no time, Nell stood and prepared to leave. Her trip shouldn’t take long, it was just to the other side of the island and back. She crossed the room and opened the door. She would make her mother proud.

-The Pier-

You check through your things one last time. You’ve managed to pack most of your father’s belongings (May come in handy someday), a few of your favorite books (Will definitely come in handy someday) and some food (Is essential as it allows you to live). The Elder helped you out one last time, fishing out some old and faded mainlander clothes for you to wear.

Right now the trade ship is in the middle of docking, deck boys throwing down lengths of rope to tether and preparing some planks to allow access to the ship. The whole process takes about half an hour, and the trading itself even longer, so that it is several hours before you are on the boat and sailing away from the isles. You watch as your home retreats into the distance. You spent your whole life there, and are now entering an unknown world. The sailors show little interest in you; you paid your fare, and that’s all that matters.

A commotion near the front of the ship draws your attention. At first it looks like a fight has broken out, with men sprawled over the deck and others running for the hatches to below. Then you get a little closer, and a sudden urge to put your palm to your face washes over you.

On the deck in front of you stands Nell, even more disheveled than the last time you saw her, dripping wet and with seaweed hanging off her hair. As you look, she turns to face you, her exhausted expression brightening into a smile. Wait a minute, did she just swim out to the boat? From the shoreline? Oh dear, this can’t be good.

“Ha…found you again, K.” She coughs a little, spitting out seawater.

“Oh…uh, hi Nell. I wasn’t running away or anything! Honestly, I can explain.” Yeah, this doesn't look suspicious at all.

“Oh there’s no need.” She slumps down suddenly, like a puppet whose strings have been cut. You hurry over to her, but it seems to be simple exhaustion. Swimming that distance, along with yesterday’s injuries must have taken a lot out of her.

“That crusty old man told me everything. I guess he didn’t think I’d try to follow you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just making sure you don’t run off again. You belong to me after all. You better…better not try to run away…don’t…don’t run away from me K…” She trails off, sounding a little folorn. You feel strangely guilty somehow.

Her head flops down slightly. You lean in to check, but it seems she’s just sleeping. Well, perhaps it’s for the best. Having some muscle around might be useful until the Elder sends word that it’s alright to return.

Oh yeah, that’s right! You should decide on your destination. You’ve given it a lot of thought, but ultimately decided on…

1. Ringwell (TsunTsun Medusa as eventual first companion)

2. Edge (Oniichan Baphomet as eventual first companion)


The Edge of Emptiness, Part One

-Fort Cragg-

Nestled within the great Tomonian bay lies the Cragg. A barren, windswept flat of bare rock, the Cragg spans about a mile and a half and is almost completely barren. Out of the centre of the rock rises Fort Cragg, a massive fortress built almost entirely out of granite. Its three outer walls give way to a central courtyard, square in shape, with towers placed at all four corners. The towers themselves end in oversized battlements, each housing one of Fort Cragg’s four Mana Bombards. The snub nosed steel tubes point in the four cardinal directions, casting long shadows over the ground below. The bailey itself is situated in between these towers, pointing straight at the sky like an accusing finger.

The fortress has stood for centuries. In the beginning it was a staging ground, a stopping off point for crusaders travelling to fight in the blighted lands before the Great Wall was built. When the encroachment of the demon realm intensified, the island was fortified and used to launch surgical strikes across the blighted coastlines. When the situation became desperate, the four massive canons were added, giant steel artillery pieces capable of launching energy projectiles halfway across the island.

With the construction of the Great Wall two hundred and fifty years ago, the practicality of maintaining the fortress came into question. The garrison is now barely a tenth of what it was all those years ago, many of its rooms and halls converted into observation chambers monitoring the barrier cast by the Wall. Nevertheless, Fort Cragg is still an imposing sight, reassuring the people of Edge that they are safe from harm, despite being so close to the blighted lands.

One wonders if this will always be the case…

-Edge Docks-

You step down the gang plank and onto the cobbled docks, shielding your eyes against the harsh light of the morning sun. Nell follows behind you, laden down with all your belongings. You tried to carry them yourself, but she insisted that it would be improper to let a man do any sort of heavy lifting. Well, she is an Amazon after all.

Squinting against the glare, you glance around at your surroundings. A central paved road runs along the waterfront, snaking its way around the buildings and vanishing out of sight around a distant corner. Smaller roads split off and run into the town itself, dividing themselves still further into winding alleyways and back streets. The buildings are tall, far taller than the log huts you’re used to, coming in all different shapes and sizes. A multitude of people walk the streets, men and women and children all going about their daily lives. There are others walking around as well; out of the corner of your eye, you see a strangely dressed woman with several fox tails sprouting behind her. It is all quite overwhelming.

“Hey, islander! Need some help? You’re looking kind of lost.” The captain of the ship saunters down onto the docks, regarding you with a curious eye. You didn’t talk much on the journey over; no doubt he’s wondering what has brought you here.

“Oh, yes. Well, I’ve never been here before, so I was wondering where would be a good place to stay…”

“Lodgings, eh? Well, I can recommend a few places. The Sargasso Inn is a good start. It’s full of sailors, but Master Vorne runs a tight shop and makes sure no fights break out. It’s cheap, but good for a few days rest at least. It’s right down over there, just past those fish stalls.”

“Generally it’s more expensive the further you go inland. Although…” He leans in conspiratorially, “If you’re flat broke, there is another place. The Nocturne. It’s down that alley over there. The owners are…uh…her sort of kind. You know. Not human.” He jerks his head in Nell’s direction.

“They accept…favours…in lieu of coin. I’m sure they’d love to have someone as pretty as you in there! Maybe it’s best you don’t go there. Might get eaten alive, eh?” He laughs raucously then walks off, barking orders to the crew.

Part of you can’t help but be curious about this mamono establishment. And another part of you knows that you will invariably have to go there, since you have no money whatsoever after paying for your passage to this place. Suddenly you feel someone tugging your arm.

“Hey, K! It’s a huge town!” Nell’s eyes are wide with awe, staring around at the brick buildings and paved roads.

“”Well, yeah, it’s certainly bigger than anything I’ve-”

“Let’s go explore it!” She yells excitedly, dragging you away from the docks and towards the town itself. It seems Nell is having an adventure of her own, and you are going to be part of it whether you like it or not.

-Blighted Coastline-

A massive lance of black and purple energy struck out from the ruins of a town, shrieking its way through the sky and slamming into an invisible barrier. A massive discharge of black lightning from the centre of the lance briefly made the shield visible, exposing the slowly growing outward bulge as the barrier distended against the force of the impact. The lance slowed, its momentum swallowed up by magics designed to counter this very sort of escape attempt, but the shield continues to bend outwards. More lightning surges from the tip, this time focused against the barrier, lashing against it furiously. Eventually, the assault proves too great. A loud snap accompanies the piercing of the barrier, the lance of energy crackling out and dying as a tiny object hurtles through the swiftly closing hole.

High above the sea, Aruhamael struggled to maintain her altitude. As she suspected, the ritual had taken every bit of power the Sabbath could muster, and even then it had been a near thing. She felt tired and drained, and needed to find somewhere to land and consolidate her position. It was too bad she hadn’t been able to take any of her followers along with her, but there had only been enough dark energy to shield one person. And her entrance into this part of the world would not have gone unnoticed.

A small rocky outcrop below caught her eye, and she began a slow circular descent towards it. Closer inspection revealed a tiny islet about a hundred metres in length, with a small cave at its northern end. A perfect place to rest up until nightfall, when she could make her next move. Idly, she wondered how much Edge would have changed since she last saw it two hundred odd years ago. With luck, she might even get to do some sightseeing.

Aru loved sightseeing.

-Edge-

“Are you done yet, Nell?” You ask impatiently. Your Amazon companion is currently staring at a selection of knives and short swords outside a Smithy. What is she doing? It’s not like you can afford any of them anyway.

“Hmm…This one has good metal in it…Much better than the ones we saw earlier…not many impurities…uh…” Oh dear, it seems you’ve been ignored. Your lovely future wife is more interested in sharp bits of metal than she is of you. Does this mean you’ve failed as a man?

“Earth to Nell? Hello? Can you hear me? Come on, we better find a place to stay before it gets dark.”

“Honestly K, who are you, my father? Fine, let’s go.” She puts the knife she was fondling back on the rack and turns to leave. Despite your initial perceptions, Edge is actually a bit smaller than it looked from the docks, and it doesn’t take long to get back to where you started. The ship is long gone, of course, replaced by a different, more slender craft.

“Anyway, what did you say the place was called? The Rock Turn?”

“The Nocturne. It should be down that alley.” You point to the side street the captain had shown you earlier. The pair of you walk over to the entrance and look down the winding alley.

It seems…kind of seedy, now that you look more closely. The Inn itself is a tall building compared to any you’ve seen before, but is dwarfed still further by those on either side of it. Most of the windows have their curtains drawn. The sign hanging from a hook above the door shows the name of the Inn, the letters printed out on the scales of a painted Lamia. You can’t help but feel that the painting is watching you somehow.

Well, it’s pretty much inevitable that you have to go in. Still, what do you do then? There are plenty of things to do once you’re there.

1. Book a room, then go up there and collect your thoughts.

2. Get something to eat first. Just hope nobody starts hitting on you.

3. Drinking game with Nell, because why not. You can worry about the consequences afterwards.


The Edge of Emptiness, Part Two

The interior of the building is dark and shadowy. A short wooden hall leads into a central common room, with numerous tables and chairs for sitting on. The air is slightly smoky, with some of the patrons smoking pipes, the wispy smoke floating up and forming a thin layer of grayness around head height. At the far end of the room, a bored-looking Crow Tengu lounges in a high backed chair, wings folded down beside the armrests, taloned feet laid across the desk in front of her.

Indeed, around half of the people here seem to be mamono of some sort. Two Lizardmen sit in a corner, hands on the hilts of their finely-crafted swords, eyes roving around the room ceaselessly. A Red Oni lies collapsed across one of the tables, surrounded by a huge number of empty sake bottles, her human drinking partner giggling uncontrollably as he knocks back another shot. A Lamia of some description sits off to one side, making a seat out of her own coils, smoking something through a long thin pipe. She looks at you, eyes slightly unfocused, and moves as if to approach you. Then she spots Nell beside you, frowns, thinks better of it and goes back to smoking again.

It looks like the Crow Tengu is the one in charge. You pick your way between the tables, feeling several pairs of eyes follow you across the room. It’s not a dangerous feeling, but…Well, you’d better keep your wits about you. The Tengu looks up as you approach, her red eyes staring up at you unblinkingly.

“Uhm…hello.”

She continues to stare.

“Um…do you have any rooms available?”

Staaaaaare.

“I was wondering if-”

“I’m sorry to ask this all of a sudden, but…have we met before?” The Tengu asks abruptly, cutting you off mid-sentence. You scratch your head in confusion. You’ve never seen this person before in your life.

“Well…no. No, I don’t recall ever…seeing you before. I’ve lived on Zel my whole life, this is my first time here.” She blinks, finally. For an instant, a look of confusion crosses her face, quickly replaced by the usual boredom.

“Really? My mistake. You wanted a room? We have several.” Her eyes flicker towards Nell for a moment, and brief smile flickers across her face.

“Okay then, we’ll be needing two r-” Nell elbows you in the side. You double over, trying to catch your breath as she overrides you.

“We’ll take a single, please. With a double bed. We don’t know how long we’ll be staying, unfortunately.” She frowns fiercely at you, then hauls you upright again. Oh well, it was going to happen eventually. May as well get started sooner rather than later, it’s not like you’re going to be staying here long anyway. The Tengu smiles again, wider this time, deftly picking up a pen with her left talon and making a small note in a large leather bound book before rising to show you to your lodgings.

~~

The room you find yourself in is wide and spacious, with a square window opposite the door that looks out over the low buildings of the docklands, giving a nice view of the ocean. A small partition to the right of the door conceals a large copper tub, the coals piled underneath it suggesting that it was used for bathing in.

You flop down on the double bed, still tired from Nell dragging you around the town. The Amazon in question is currently admiring her reflection in a large mirror next to the tub, leaving you some time to think. A sudden thought strikes you, and you reach over to your bag, rummaging through it until you find the small box full of your father’s belongings.

Opening the lid, you reach in and pull out the original black jewel. You roll it around in your palm, staring at it intensely. Something about it seems a little…strange. You empty the pouch containing the other black stone, comparing the two. As you suspected, there are some subtle differences. Your father’s jewel does not seem to give off the same aura of dark light that the other one does. Your father’s is also slightly heavier, and a much closer inspection reveals that it has more facets to it than the one you found.

Neither shows any sign of wear or tear, no scratches or scuff marks that usually appear on aged gemstones. You feel as if there is a fundamental difference between the two, one that you can’t quite place. What do you do now?

1. Examine the stones ever further. Perhaps you’ll spot something you didn’t see before.

2. You’ve examined everything you can for now. You brought some books with you; read up on the surrounding landscape and towns so you’ll know about any good places to go to.

3. Talk to Nell. You really need to know more about her.


The Edge of Emptiness, Part Three

With a sigh you place the stones back into their respective containers. It looks like there’s nothing you can do with them now anyway. You should probably focus on your immediate situation.

You dig around in your pack, searching through the assorted junk until your fingers find what your hands are looking for; a book on the locations and cities of Tomonia. It was the one book you never really looked at much, since you never imagined you’d leave the Isles for anything. Flicking through the pages, you manage to find some brief introductory pages on Edge and its surroundings.

The settlement of Edge is ancient, founded in the year 145 ADE. As an aside, this makes it the oldest island town still in existence, after the destruction of Maridol at the end of the Sixth Crusade. The town itself is of middling size, with a thriving economy thanks to its many trade links with Ringwell and other small coastal villages.

Edge is divided into three distinct districts. The Docklands extend along the coast, with inland storehouses and collection points for incoming goods further into the town. The Merchant District merges outwards from the Docklands, comprising of countless shops and vendors. Most of these are clustered around the main street leading into the centre of town. The final area is the Grand Central Plaza, containing numerous fountains, towers and upper class dwellings, including the main Order chapel for the region.

The population of Edge is difficult to estimate. It is widely agreed that around 90% of the population is human, with various Mamono breeds making up the remaining 10%. This remaining fraction is heavily regulated by the Town Watch and local government, and demon-type Mamono are forbidden from entering. In the past there have been several clashes with the Order’s worshippers in the area, but the town has been relatively peaceful for the past few years.

Edge is surrounded by the sea on three sides. The only land route runs from the east, through the marshes of Dragglemire. These lands are infested with Kappa and other swamp based mamono, so travel through this area is not advised. Rumors of Ghosts and a haunted mansion within the marsh remain unsubstantiated.

The rest of the chapter goes into detail on the various trading lanes connecting Edge to the rest of the island. It is neither relevant nor particularly interesting, so you stop there and snap the book shut. Looking up you see that Nell has finished playing with the wash tub and has now turned her attention to the mirror. She seems to be studying herself quite intently. You cannot resist the urge to tease her.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” She whirls to face you, a slight blush spreading across her cheeks as she crosses her arms beneath her breasts indignantly.

“Wh-what? I was just wondering if I had any scars from the temple…I didn’t have time to check back home, so…” She trails off, turning her head slightly back towards the mirror again. She fidgets a little, flexing her fingers and toes unconsciously. Her segmented tail sways gently from side to side, the spaded end tracing a line back and forth across the floor.

You look at her. You can’t see any scars from this distance. Nell seems pretty concerned about it; she’s gone back to staring at the mirror. You let your eyes wander over her form for a moment. The twisting black tattoos that curve over her flesh seem to have some kind of meaning, but not one you can immediately puzzle out. They cover her legs and wind sinuously up the sides of her body, stopping just under her breasts. The centre of her stomach in conspicuously bare.

With a sigh you roll over and pick up the book again, rifling through the pages for anything that looks interesting. You don’t expect to be here for very long, but any information will be useful.

[-Nell POV-]

Nell turned back towards the mirror, more flustered than she let on. The mainland was so strange to her, and having such a large mirror to look at herself in was something she had never experienced. This settlement was so large it almost made her head spin, and there were so many humans running around it boggled the mind. Enough to hold a Man Hunt every year and still have more than enough left over for their children’s children. It was certainly an interesting place. The buildings, the shops, the waterfront. Nothing like the small village she had grown up in.

She snuck a quick glance back at Kyo. He had gone back to reading, lying back on the bed and holding the pages in front of his face like a shield. Probably a guide book of some kind. Nell was bad at reading, and the only stories she was interested in were ones of famous battles and wars. When she was a child her father had often read them to her before bedtime, painting vivid pictures of conflict and war, honour and tragedy with his words. Sometimes her mother had been there as well, describing in detail how she had acquired her scars before both her parents left for the night.

A quick glance out the window told Nell that night was fast approaching. The sun was a mere glimmer on the horizon and fading fast; soon there would be too little light for Kyo to read by. Nell took one last look in the mirror, then turned and strode towards the bed.

[-End Nell POV-]

You squint at the writing on the page, before finally giving up and closing the book. It wasn’t that interesting anyway, just a few details on Ringwell that probably won’t be of any importance. You put the book down just in time to feel Nell lie down on the bed next to you. She looks at you intently, her tail beginning to flex once again. Hesitantly, she begins to speak.

“Um…K?”

“Yeah, what is it?”

“Well…I was thinking. Since we’re going to be together once we get back, I just thought we should get to know each other better. So, if there’s anything you want to talk about…”

That seems like a good idea. You know Nell as a casual acquaintance, but if you’re going to live with her you’ll need to know more about each other first. What should the two of you talk about?

1. Ask about Nell.

2. Ask about Nell’s parents.

3. Discuss your interests together.

4. Talk about yourself.

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