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Chapter 5-15

Page history last edited by some editor 9 years, 2 months ago

Heavy footfalls, comparable to thunder, echoed from a mountain of muscle as it lumbered further into the cavern. It had the form of a man—there was giant man-sized hole in the wall from whence he came—but he himself wasn't quite human. Behind layers of leather straps covering his head and face were the milky white eyes of an insane beast. I would have never presumed a man, a human man, could grow to such a size. He wasn't a monster but a mutant. A mutant borne from reckless application and experimentation. A twisted and grotesque product of the occult. The Crone must have meddled in powers beyond her own understanding because the only means to control this beast was to bind it.

 

His existence had to be an accident. His bones, muscles and sinew; all were so contorted, so bulbous and hideous. One of his arms was ruined; it was bound and appeared no different from a large plank of leather bound wood. It must be painful. Pain must accompany him with every breath, every step, every waking moment. Nightmares must stalk him for every wink he slept. It just had to be an accident... If it were by design. No. There isn't anyone capable of such cruelty.

 

But how could I answer what had happened to him in just the span of a single day? Montée had swelled and risen in height more than a full meter. The enchanted belts that clothed his body from head to toe strained to contain the muscly flesh beneath. A man of that size would have no trouble looking into a second story window. If he jumped, the tips of his fingers might just brush against the tall cavern ceiling. His arms were the size of trucks, and his chest was built like a semi. When his shipping container legs plodded forward, I could feel the earth vibrate beneath my feet.

 

Everyone in the cavern had come to a complete stop, not just the five of us but Ba'el and the witches as well. Even the children had stopped crying. Terror froze their waterworks. The only one who uttered a sound or moved a muscle was The Crone. She cackled, and her face glowed while celebrating the arrival of her attack hound.

 

     Ba'el tore her eyes away and laid them onto the witch, who was laughing manically, “What in the hells have you done?”

 

There was a quiver in the demon's voice I didn't think was possible. She seemed unflappable, only ever playing coy when she was nervous, but I could feel her genuine horror. Not of fear, but of profound disgust at which she was witnessing before her eyes. She claimed to be over ten millennia old, if this was among the worst she has ever seen, then this affront against nature was something else. I don't think I was fully grasping just how unnatural and blasphemous. Even a demon from hell was visibly disgusted and disturbed by this godless atrocity.

 

     The Crone kept cackling as she turned and, with an insane look in her eye, answered her with glee, “I did nothing more than make someone's dream come true.”

 

Ba'el clenched her fists tightly around her weapon and grit her teeth. Her pupils dilated in anger, but even her furious expression didn't cause the witch to falter.

 

     “He simply wasn't strong enough. You made that plenty obvious, Ba'el. Poor Montgomery here must be the strongest. That is all he wants. In order to be the protector he always wished to be, he must be stronger than anyone!”

 

Was she suggesting this was a choice that he made? That was a joke in poor taste. There wasn't any humor to be found in something like that. Yet she couldn't stop laughing; even though everyone else was silent. Even her minions were horrified.  And so they should be. While they were getting drunk on power and inviolate youth, a fate just as bad, if not as ugly, could have been in store for any of them.

 

As Montée approached, the witches in his path were forced to scramble. He didn't even seem to notice all the girls scurry away underfoot. They had to clear a path; they'd be crushed underneath if they didn't. Stalactites and columns registered no more than the witches. They were carelessly pulverized into dust and gravel as they broke against his shoulder, head, or were kicked aside and stomped on. None of them so so much as gave him pause. It was odd behavior for a so called protector. The only thing driving him forward seemed to be the command of his master.

 

His reach was ridiculous, and we were trapped at the far end of the cavern. He didn't need the help from all the witches to trap us here, so it was little comfort that most of The Crone's witches were fleeing as we all stood petrified before Montée. I wasn't sure if they would return, but it amounted to little comfort. They were not warriors. There's no way they'd put up a decent fight against party crashers like us. Now that The Crone had lost her marbles, and this giant was threatening to stomp on everything, I couldn't blame them for fleeing. They merely needed to leave everything to this two ton man, and he would do their job for them. With a few loyal lieutenants left to organize the remaining conscripts, and Ba'el giving her all just to keep The Crone occupied, the momentum of this fight had been suddenly flipped on its head.

 

I tore my gaze away from Montée and looked back at the orphans. Thirty girls sat there completely terrified and rightly so. Shoshanah was still there too, collapsed to her knees on the floor, her eyes wide open and observing the abomination. She shook her head ever so slightly, and her lips spoke something silently. It was horrifying enough to just look at him; I would never wish to see what might lie inside, but the anubis had that power. Perhaps she just fell victim to her own curiosity. Large beads of sweat formed on her forehead, poured down across her face and pooled on the floor.

 

Rose and Chris held their ground to my left and right while Minte and Shoshanah remained in the rear nearest to the orphans. Chris was always boisterous and erred on the dramatic, but right now she was wearing a serious expression. Minte—who was normally the exact opposite to a fault—had a grimace on her face which replaced her usual blank stare. And as we stared, it stared back at us. The pile of muscle finally came to a stop about eighty odd meters away; but given its reach, that was hardly a safe distance. It stood there, slightly hunched over like a gorilla, breathing heavily with steam poured out from his nose and mouth. He remained otherwise motionless, no different from a statue.

 

     The Crone screeched her command at the idle giant, “Montée, destroy them. Every last one of them!”

 

The giant came back to life and finally took in his surroundings for the first time. His soulless stare caused my skin to crawl. It made me feel slimy, but at the same time his pupilless white eyes made it impossible to truly know where he was even looking, or what he was thinking.

 

If he still thought at all.

 

     “Montée!” The Crone barked once again, “Your new sisters are in danger. These mean mean women and man want to take them away!”

 

That did it. The giant's head swiveled suddenly, his neck snapped and his gaze locked onto us. He looked over each of the girls, and his breathing became heavier. His chest rose and fell, and puffs of exhaust billowed from his nostrils which flared like an enraged bull's. From one girl to the next, his neck snapped and popped as his head swiveled to study each of them. When he finally laid his eyes lastly on Chris he appeared to reach his breaking point. The giant raised his one good arm into the air, slammed it against his chest in rage and stomped on the ground with his massive feet.

 

     “FaaAAaaAT!” He roared. “SssMAaaaaaAaasSssH theeEEee FaaaAAaat!”

 

What?

 

With his grossly misshapen body, he threw himself forward. He charged shoulder first toward us without care. He was still intelligent enough to take orders, but it was clear his reasoning ability had been ruined beyond repair. So too was any notion of self preservation as he cared not for what lay in his path. He ignored and stomped every sharp rock into dust and body-checked every pillar or pile of debris in his way. I almost didn't make it out of his path in time; Rose had to grab me by the arm and pull me along with her when she jumped out of the way. A crater was left where we stood before, and stony shrapnel was sent in every direction. A plume of dust erupted from ground which fractured and shook.

 

Montée was slow to take in his new surroundings, so Chris took the opportunity to leap into the air behind him. She didn't even shout out some lame catch phrase or the title of some technique. Her whole body spun around in mid-air, steered by her tail and held aloft by her wings, and her right talon slammed into the side of the giant's head. The crack given off by the impact was no different than a sledgehammer against concrete. His head abruptly knocked a good thirty degrees, but his grotesque face didn't even register a grimace of pain.

 

Chris could feel there was something wrong right away, but she was suspended in the air and didn't have a chance to get away. Montée was slow to understand, but now he acted as though he were aware again. He spun around on the spot with alarming speed, and his plank-like arm caught Chris on the side. It didn't smash her when it hit, but it did catch her. When the giant reached the apex of his spin and swing, Chris flung off across the room. Her wings couldn't catch the air nor provide enough drag in time, thus she was still at full speed when she slammed into the wall.

 

The wyvern was made of sterner stuff, but even she was shaken-up for a few seconds. Her skin and scales were scuffed, yet she was still in one piece. She pried herself free from the wall and collapsed onto the ground below. With a few shakes of her head, gray dust billowed from her hair. Her eyes refocused on the giant who had fully turned turned around and was lining himself up for another charge toward her. The beast's eyes were enraged, and veins bulged noticeably across his body where they could be seen between the strips of leather that cocooned him.

 

     “UuuUuug!” He stammered and moaned aloud. “-leeEeee... UuuglyyyYYYyy! FaaAAaaat. SssSssmAAaAaaSsssH!”

 

A flip had been switched inside his head and now he was an unstoppable brute. He thumped his chest with his one good arm like a gorilla and stomped his feet on the ground which caused it to quake and buckle. It was a frightening change from one day ago. I had thought he was a terrifying presence before he was thrown haphazardly across the room, but now he absorbed a blow from Chris's powerful legs as though it was no more than a playful slap to the face.

 

I was afraid for Chris who didn't seem quite ready for round two, but Minte quickly jumped into the fray. Over and above, or around quickly from the side, it didn't matter; she appeared in front of Montée and blocked his path. There was no way he was dumb enough to ignore the mantis and her razor sharp blades. Even if the giant was strong enough to shatter stone with ease, he would have to be concerned with the girl who could pierce and cut to ribbons that same stone. Her arm blades snikted into place, and she lowered into an aggressive stance. Minte's face was once again stoic and unflappable, ready to take on the man more than ten times her own size.

 

Montée stopped. He slowly pulled his eyes away from Chris, still at the far end of the cavern. His eyes studied the mantis from head to toe for a brief moment. Minte's feet dragged across the floor as she readied herself to strike or dodge as she saw fit when the giant attacked... Montée did not move. He looked away from her dismissively, and his shoulders shrugged while letting out an apathetic grunt. His rage was momentarily absent during his callous assessment of the threat before him... and how Minte compared to his other deeply held beliefs.

 

Minte's stoney face cracked. Her straight face twisted slightly into a surprised frown, and her eyes shot open wide and went blank. She went completely still, shocked into stillness. The giant ignored her and lumbered past her. Neither seemed willing, nor cared, to deal with the other.

 

     “Hang in there, Minte,” I said quietly to myself.

 

It was too stupid for me to spell it out, but I had a deep pang of sympathy for the poor girl. But it was Chris who was in mortal danger right now.

 

I picked myself off the ground and stood back up beside the oddly quiet Rose. It didn't take me long to figure out why. She was very nearly salivating, and her eyes were sparkling, along with her wide toothy grin full of fangs that glinted under what remained of the red moonlight.

 

     “Hey, Laven,” She said, barely able to contain her excitement.

 

I watched as her face slowly turned toward me. Her excitement in profile was something, but when she looked right at me with that almost psychotic expression of hers. It was a bit too much. Rose's eyes were dilated, her muscles were surging with adrenaline and her tail was whipping back and forth behind her. Her tail spewed embers like a freshly lit sparkler while her claws restlessly clenched and relaxed on their own, and her talons scraped against the stone floor. If I wasn't aware of why, or I thought it was directed at me, I might have very well fainted at the terrifying sight.

 

     “It's okay to let loose, right?”

 

I tore my eyes away for a moment toward Montée as he slowly stomped across the cavern toward Chris. I turned my eyes to the sound of an explosion caused by Ba'el and The Crone who resumed their duel. Chris was on her feet again, but she was still stunned and a bit wobbly on her legs. Lastly, I looked over to the other witches scrambling to carry their wounded and vulnerable out of the cavern. They looked on at the giant of a man rampaging freely with the same terror that I did. He was unpredictable with tunnel vision. The only orders he took were The Crone's, and she was busy exchanging potential death blows with the little demon.

 

     With all the conviction I could muster, I turned back toward Rose, “Yeah. Buy me some time.”

 

She slowly closed her eyes, relaxed her face and tightened her lips into a sly grin.

 

     “Afraid I can't buy you much time-”

 

Rose opened her eyes and flashed me a playful grin.

 

     “-it wont take me that long to deal with 'em.”

 

     “Heh,” I chuckled. “Right. You take care of that. I'm going to get these kids out of here.”

 

Rose nodded and stepped forward. She reached for the longsword strapped to her back and pulled it free from its scabbard. The leather which had sealed it away clattered while the iron sung as it vibrated freely in the cold air.

 

     She retorted back to me as she walked away, “Don't take too long. I don't wanna be left waiting for you later.”

 

Rose approached Montée from behind. Letting the tip of the sword clang ever so gently against the ground as she did. The giant wasn't completely deaf and sensed the approach, so he lifted his narrow vision from Chris and turned his head toward Rose the best he could. All the muscles that made up his neck were an ugly bulbous knot of sinew, but he eventually managed. When Rose got his attention, she flourished her sword deftly, twirling it around her wrist and showing it off to the giant.

 

     “That's right,” Rose taunted. “Look at the pretty shiny.”

 

When she noticed she had yet to get his full attention, she held her sword out then whipped her burning tail into an angle behind it. The light from her tail refracted off the silvery mirror edge of the blade and went right into the hulking brute's one eye. He winked involuntarily a few times, the constant ray of firelight caused him some pain and discomfort. It was only a nuisance, but he wasn't a being that had self-restraint, so in his rage, he let out a mighty roar. Montée abandoned his lumbering toward Chris and turned around to face Rose.

 

     “That's it. Come on, stupid,” Rose continued to taunt while limbering her knees with some quick boxing footwork, hopping up and down.

 

I think that would get Montée's attention for a completely different reason.

 

True to his nature, the giant threw his head back and gave one last earth rumbling roar before throwing himself into a barreling charge toward the salamander. Rose didn't even budge; she kept walking slowly, calmly, toward the charging elephant of a man. He raised his black leather wrapped plank and brought it down like an axe. Rose waited till the last moment to turn away and jump back just enough so that it missed her by less than a ruler's length. Even the explosion of dirt and debris didn't faze her. The path the arm took was just too predictable so far as Rose was concerned. She got cocky and didn't pay the price.

 

The giant pulled his club arm back so that he could swipe at Rose's head with his meat hook of a right hand. All she had to do was duck low, and the grubby hand only just brushed past some loose threads of her ponytail. Montée followed up with raising a leg up high and stamping down where his target was crouching. He hit nothing but ground. Rose had been coiled like a spring, so she easily somersaulted backward. Undaunted, the giant followed up by raising his fist high up and punched down with all his might. He thought he might catch her in mid-flip, but Rose was much faster. Pushing off the ground a second time, with the help of her tail to balance, she dodged the earth shattering blow.

 

Now the giant's overconfidence received punishment. With his fist dug into the ground, Rose was free to do as she wished. She quickly recovered from her second back flip and dug her rear talon into the dirt. Rose's sword twirled and danced as an extension of her own wrist. Her claw wrapped around the mid point of her sword and raised it above her shoulder like a stake. With a battle cry of her own, she stabbed it down into the back of the giant's clenched hand. A puncture sound reverberated from their fight, the tip of her sword drove a good nine centimeters through the snarled muscle and bone of his hand.

 

Montée shrieked, the high pitch of his voice was very much unlike his previous roaring; he sounded no different from a beaten dog. The giant pulled his stabbed hand back and stumbled backward. Without another hand to nurse it, he could only prop it up on his plank arm and retreat both into his chest. A black ichor flowed from his hand and dripped onto the floor. Rose did not pursue. The tip of her blade was coated in black, but it splattered against the floor when she quickly flourished the sword once. She relaxed, slung the sword behind her head and rubbed her nose with the back of her free hand. I heard her chuckle; and even while behind her, I could make out the profile of her face and one corner of her lips curling into a grin.

 

The giant didn't stay timid for long, when the surprise of the blood and pain subsided, it was replaced with rage. Montée beat his chest with his wounded hand and stomped his feet more savagely than before.

 

     “Come on!” Rose shouted in response, beckoning him with a welcoming outstretched claw.

 

She was keeping him busy. It was a ray of sunshine during an otherwise dark moment. Wasting it would be a failure on my part, so I stopped staring like a slack-jawed yokel and started running back toward the orphans. They had taken the time when the giant was being distracted to retreat further into the cavern, which was a good idea. However, I had to sprint further across what had quickly become a no man's land. Pockmarks were carved out of the stone from stray magics, and the earth shook with the clash of those battling all around me. A near miss broke the ground next to me and threw me off my balance. I had no choice but to take a dive out of the open and roll to safety behind some rocks. No sooner then when I thought I'd be safe, Ba'el and The Crone slammed into the opposite side of the boulder.

 

I was surprised that the boulder did not shatter into pieces. Luckily, it held together, but behind me the demon and witch were locked in a grapple. Ba'el was being crushed further into the rock by a shimmer of some giant spectral red hand. It grew out from the tip of The Crone's staff and held the demon in place. She was putting everything she had into the spell in an effort to flatten Ba'el like a bug. The little demon could only push back with shaft of her scythe.

 

     “Soft... Too soft!” I heard The Crone shriek and cackle. “If you were aiming to kill me back there, you were too soft! But that's not it, is it? You pulled back because you can't do it. You know what would happen if you went through with it... So why are you still resisting?”

 

     “Because... a rowdy little child needs a serious spanking on top... of the smack they got,” Ba'el growled while struggling to push The Crone back.

 

     The Crone cackled and snapped back, “A trollop such as you doesn't have a leg to stand when trying to take the high road.”

 

     “You know what they say about glass houses. Let those who haven't sunk to bestiality cast the first stone.”

 

The Crone's eyebrows furrowed, and her demented smile was slapped right off her face by Ba'el's verbal jab. Her face also flushed red.

 

     The demon wore a straight face while she said very dryly, “I was just talking about your own personal gimp, but hey, whatever floats your boat.”

 

They both looked over at Montée throwing his weight around while the nimble and adept Rose deftly dodged each fist, foot and body-slam he threw at her. Each time he screamed and roared just like some wild beast, mindless and without a trace of humanity.

 

     “Well... Let me just cast away then,” Ba'el quipped.

 

With a grunt and battle-cry of her own, she mustered her strength and pushed back against The Crone's red spectral hand. The flustered witch was caught off guard, and it was too late to refocus her energies in time. Ba'el shoved back with an explosion of magic from her scythe that hit the witch with shock-wave and sent her flying. The only thing she left behind was a wailing cry as she shot off like a bullet.

 

     “...Even I never stooped so low before...” Ba'el muttered under her breath while peeling her back off the boulder and then dashing off to give pursuit.

 

With the two of them rampaging back across the cavern, I took the opportunity to dive back out of cover and keep sprinting. That rock probably wouldn't survive another impact like the one before, so I had not other choice. I had to brave the cross-fire, the debris, shrapnel and flying pieces of old mine equipment that had been left to rot among the witch coven's new furniture. I cleared the distance in record time and slid behind the next group of boulders for cover.

 

My breathing was heavy. I was covered in dust and splotches of black ash, but the sound of fighting was now a little more distant. When I raised my head I saw just what I had hoped, the dozens of girls all huddled together. Some held their hands over the ears and eyes, crying while others tried to comfort them, but they were otherwise unharmed. A couple noticed I had arrived, and it didn't take long until they all knew. Though I wasn't exactly met with smiles and open arms. That wasn't unexpected.

 

Their faces and eyes were all red, tears stained their cheeks and the billowing clouds of ash and dust had caked on their clothes, skin and hair. I was glad I didn't see any shades of red, so none of them seemed to have been harmed physically. There was no way in hell they hadn't been already been harmed mentally though. A few too many, more than one, had thousand yard stares as they cowered. Some had probably already lost friends who had been among the ten who had already been carried away. Some may have even volunteered willingly. The rest were quietly in despair or silently hoping someone would save them. Many had their hands clasped in prayer and those who had yet to acknowledge me at all were nodding their heads and reciting old prayers from rote.

 

The moon may be red, and the witches run freely in spite of their lord, but I was still here. Seeing their faces hardened my resolve.

 

Sitting up against a rock on the other side, all alone, was Shoshanah. She was the only smile in the whole house when she noticed I had arrived. It actually seemed everyone had scooted themselves as far away as possible from the anubis. It was a rather cold shoulder to the one who probably used up the last of her strength to shield them as they ran here. That also wasn't unexpected. Every girl here had been raised their entire lives to believe monsters were villains that would eat them if they didn't pay attention to their guardians... I guess that sort of already happened. It was still going to be a challenge because I certainly wasn't able to rescue them all by myself... I guess I wasn't much better after tricking them all by infiltrating the orphanage when I was actually a grown man.

 

Keeping my head low, I made my way around the group of girls toward Susan and squat down next to her.

 

     “My spirits are lifted to see that you are unharmed, Laven,” She said with a weak smile.

 

     “We don't have much time. We're gonna get this started right away.”

 

She looked shocked for a moment. My tone was a little forceful, maybe, but that was just the nature of the beast we were tackling right now. For some that was a little more literal. I had neither the time nor reason to apologize though. I saw that I didn't need to because she gave a tired yet even brighter smile than before in return.

 

     “I need to talk with Chris. Right away,” I said.

 

A thump and crunch of stone rose above the sound of battle in the distance.

 

     “Speak her name, and she shall appear!”

 

Chris had appeared and perched herself atop the boulder behind the huddled children. It scared them, but they were not about to run. There was nowhere for them to run.

 

     “Christophaclies, reporting for duty!” She shouted and saluted with her wing.

 

She remained perched on the rock, her back to the chaos, with her wings were spread out like an umbrella over the children. I guess she wouldn't need to worry about any direct hits from long range with that thick hide of hers as she played the role of human shield. It was sad to see they were even more terrified of her than they were of Susan sitting opposite of them all this time. What was even worse was that it didn't seem to register in Chris's head that she was frightening them at all.

 

     I breathed a sigh of relief, but I still had to ask, “Then what about Minte-”

 

When I turned my head, she was already squatting down right next to me, staring right into my eyes the moment I turned my head. The shock nearly have me a heart attack. I don't know how, but the children were all shocked at the same moment I was. As if she hadn't existed behind me until I turned around. Surely out of thirty pairs of eyes a few would have noticed the mantis emerge from the shadows... No. That's not important right now.

 

     “-alright, we're all here then.”

 

I stood up and carefully looked over to the other side of the cavern where I could still see Rose dancing around Montée. The giant could not connect a blow, but neither did he give up. While they fought, somewhere off in the darkness further down the cavern, I could hear the thundering blows and magics being tossed about by Ba'el and The Crone. The New Moon Sabbath's goons were caught in the middle. Lucky for us, most of them were more concerned about their own safety. A few were exemplary enough to get their unconscious and wounded out of harm's way, but it appeared the sisterhood was not as strong as it appeared superficially.

 

     “I don't know how long those two can keep fighting, or for how long those witches might leave us alone, so we're gonna get these girls out of here. Now.”

 

The three of them nodded in unanimous agreement. However, it was Shoshanah, the realist, who had to speak up first and ask the million dollar question.

 

     “How exactly do you propose we extradite so many human children expediently?”

 

     “When we all got here, we were teleported in. I don't know if there's even a normal way in or out. I certainly didn't notice one beneath us. That's why we're gonna use the one we do know.”

 

I pointed up toward the ceiling.

 

     “We're going to fly them out.”

 

The girls had been silently paying attention in the background, but even they couldn't stay quiet when I suggested something so absurd and unobtainable by any ordinary human. Terror was the prevailing feeling, and I didn't blame any of them. I didn't see any other option though.

 

     Shoshanah was quick to try knocking the wind out of that sail's idea, “While we may have infiltrated via the opening near the mountain's summit, it may be too-”

 

     “Nonsense!” Chris bellowed, scaring the children even more. “I could easily fly through it.”

 

     “The opening is smaller than your wingspan, you cretin!” the anubis shouted back.

 

     “Heh,” Chris chuckled. “I don't remember the last time someone telling me something couldn't be done stopped me.”

 

     Shoshanah raised an eyebrow “Pray tell, how did those times work out?”

 

Silence.

 

     Ignoring the awkward silence, Chris's face did not change while she repeated herself, “The point is I tried, and everything worked out in the end.”

 

Susan's face fractured like a mirror hit with a hammer. Chris was just too much for her to handle right now. Her expression contorted painfully, and she wanted so very badly to say something, anything, but she had the better sense not to... Maybe she was just completely at a loss for words altogether. Left holding her bags while the conversation train had already left the station.

 

     I asked her straight up just to make sure, “Chris. You can get these kids out of here?”

 

She did her best to raise one of her forearm claws in the shape of a thumbs up.

 

     “Absolutely!”

 

I'd have to go with that for now. The alternative, doing nothing, was infinitely worse right now. Now I just needed one more thing to put in place.

 

     “Minte.”

 

     “Yes?” She replied, quieter than a feather falling.

 

     “Can you jump high enough to get through?”

 

Her antenna stood up straight and pointed at the opening, then the light inside her compound eyes and finally she lifted her head up slowly to look at it. Minte's wings buzzed and shifted underneath her mantid abdomen for a second while she thought. When she looked back down, she nodded.

 

     “Alright. Here's the deal. Chris takes as many of the girls as she can and flies them to a safe distance. In the meantime, Minte will stay behind and guard the girls. When Chris returns, Minte will take whoever she can carry. Then it will be Chris's turn to hold down the fort. We'll keep rotating until everyone is out. Simple enough?”

 

Chris and Minte nodded. Shoshanah was the only one who seemed to have reservations about agreeing right away.

 

     “You forgot to mention what role I shall play.”

 

     “You're heading out first,” I said plainly.

 

Her inquisitive face melted once again into surprise. It didn't take long for it to become indignant.

 

     “Laven-”

 

     “No. Don't try and hide it,” I barked and interrupted her. “You're all tapped out. I can tell.”

 

Her stern expression softened.

 

     “Besides,” I added. “Someone has to watch over the kids at the drop-off zone.”

 

     “Surely, that should be you for your own pro-”

 

     “Susan. Please.”

 

I pleaded with her, but at the same time my voice was still stern. Her chest was still heaving, and her voice was a little dry, so her throat was completely parched. I wouldn't be surprised if I caught her panting any second now. Breaking that ritual had taken everything out of her. All of her magics had been expended with just a single action, and they weren't going to return to her until the break of dawn. She was just as sturdy as any other monster, but right now she was vulnerable. I could not let her stay here in this cave where The Crone and Montée were rampaging. I couldn't let her put herself at risk for me like that. Because she- for me... that she...

 

     “Besides, you can get two or three of these kids out of here for the price of myself. They don't weigh nearly as much as I do. These girls here are the ones who need to be protected right now. The ones to do that are us... That includes me.”

 

Shoshanah didn't respond. She looked down at the ground, a flush of red spread across her cheeks. I stood up and walked over the to the children, the last people I had to get on board for this plan. I knelt down on one knee in front of them and wore the best smile I could. Anything to try and alleviate their fears. The adults had to look calm and composed.

 

     “This isn't the way I would have like to do it, and I'm a bit late, but let me introduce myself. My name isn't Lola, and I'm not your new sister. I'm not even your new brother. I made a deal with your headmaster and together we fooled everyone else back at the abbey. My name is Laven.”

 

I had the attention from all thirty of them now. I made sure to speech a little louder so that the sounds of the battle still raging in the distance didn't cut me off.

 

     “I'm a... mercenary,” I said, tentatively, unsure if it was the appropriate word to use. “I was hired to protect you. And if I couldn't do that, rescue you.”

 

That was a lie, but I didn't care. It was the truth now, so far as I was concerned.

 

     “I disguised myself hoping I'd catch these witches in the act or get dragged along with you and break us out... It worked. Now is only chance to get you out of here. I know you're scared. I don't blame any of you for that. But right now I need you all to do two things. I need you to trust me.”

 

I knelt there and studied each of their faces. I still had their attention, but most of their faces told me they were still suspicious of me.

 

     One little girl finally spoke up, “What's the other thing?”

 

     “Hold on tight- Chris!”

 

     “Yes, sir, master, sir!” The wyvern said, standing to attention.

 

She leaped off the rocked she was perched on and came crashing down to ground level beside me. I stood back up; the girls were startled, shaken and tried to distance themselves. It was now time for some harsh words.

 

     “You can either go with us, or you can stay here. The choice is that simple... Right. Chris, there's got to be a safe spot not far off, right?”

 

     “Hmm,” Chris hummed while closing her eyes tight. “There's a clearing a bit down the slope. Then there's a place by the river at the foot of the mountain.”

 

That might do.

 

     “Shallow water? Slow current?”

 

     “Bend in the river. Steep sides, but flat in some places. Shallow enough.”

 

That will do.

 

There wasn't so much as a peep or word of protest, so I turned around to Shoshanah.

 

     “You're first,” I said.

 

The anubis reluctantly got up and walked over to Chris. She wasn't sure what to do at first, so Chris wriggled her long tail a bit. Shoshanah knelt down on her knees, slowly wrapped her paws around the base of the tail and then finally hugged it snugly underneath her arm.

 

     “I wish for you all to know that I am putting myself on the record for believing this idea is not without- YIPE!”

 

She let out a surprise yelp when one of the scared children has latched herself onto her bushy tail. No doubt it had to hurt since the kid was pulling on it while she hugged it as tightly against herself that she could. Shoshanah's eyes shot open wide, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.

 

     “Up you go,” I heard Minte say.

 

The mantis had already grabbed hold of and lifted one of the other girls and dropped her against Susan's back. The terrified girl didn't squirm or try to get away, but her tiny hands grabbed hold of the ears on top of the priestess head as though they were handlebars. Now Shoshanah was really crying and whining louder than before as her head was pulled backward almost as far as it could go.

 

     “Get them all to the clearing, after we got them all out of here, get them down to the river. We'll rendezvous there.”

 

One girl grabbed hold of Chris tail further down and wrapped her body around it while a fourth grabbed onto the wyvern's horns when she lowered her head down. That was as many as we could comfortably fit, so Chris didn't waste any more time.

 

Chris kicked off the ground with her powerful legs and got some serious air with her jump. She caught the wind underneath her massive wings and started flapping them as hard as she could. There wouldn't be much room for error, and she needed to pick up a lot of speed. The wyvern circled round and round the room and got higher and higher, closer and closer, to the ceiling until she flew close underneath it.

 

Witches and stray spells hounded her the whole way, I could hear the terrified shrieks of the girls desperately clinging onto her and Susan's pained yelps. With all the speed she built up, she turned her direction upward very suddenly. Chris tucked her wings in and shot straight up and cleared the hole in the ceiling without much room to spare. The tip of her tail scrapped and knocked some stone loose on the rim, but she made it. She'd open her wings, stop her fall and pick up speed, then she'd have clear skies to the drop-off point.

 

Four down... Too many to go.

 

     “She's gonna hold that against me isn't she?”

 

     “Yes. She will,” Minte replied, who was still standing next to me.

 

Maybe next time she'll think twice about putting me in a dress. I'll take whatever punishment she can dish out later. Right now there was still a lot of work to do.

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