The Reptile Kingdom. A place of danger and exotic things. I see things in this realm I haven't seen much else. Things as tall as those foreign object they call catholic church. Well, the grandest ones. Creatures as glamor as deadly. A place where no expeditionary would wish to journey into. 

To tell the truth, I have seen a few risking their lives to make a home among the beasts. That is why I come to the aid of anyone appearing to be in peril. And there has been quite a number of them.

I've once seen an another pilgrim like me traveling to this realm in an effort to gather some valuables hunted down by a pack of what they call raptors. A dozen had surrounded the man, barking in delight as they had thought to secure a meal. I jumped down a tree and lacerated them with phantom claws until their will to fight was ripped to shred, forced to retreat for an easier prey.

Another time, it was a group of scholars cornered in a remote forest by a duo of bipedal creature with a height of 30 meters. Their frontal claws had atrophied to the point of non-use, instead relying on their jaws and tail to earn themselves a feast. With a swarm of venomous moths, I've had them fleeing for their lives under a hundred bites and scratches.

With each time, the people started giving appreciation gifts to me. I do not know how the couriers of this realm knew where I claimed home but each morning, a 'thank you' letter could be found in front of my secluded cave. I appreciated those kind words they gave me. pattern Even though I was intending on curing them of their physical ailments.

Then again, I guess I should have seen it coming. Nearing the end of the ascension ritual, my parents had gifted me with a new set of clothes. A warlock's armor, made of leather that covered me from neck to toe with a brown garb. The most interesting part of this armor was the helmet, an arcane ram's skull, respectfully cleaned and prepared for me. Its horn deeply steeped in green magic, my magic.

From their perspective, surely it would have looked like some demonic being came to harvest them. Good thing I carried a few homemade medicinal packs for their wounds, thereby gaining their trust to bring them back to safety. They like telling me the stories of their reasons to be here, even if it was a dangerous location to earn a living. I enjoyed listening to them as we walked back, hearing most of them relieved that the 'Phantasmic Ram' had come to their aid. 'Phantasmic Ram'? So that is what they call me around here.

One day, however, the person I came to aid was a bit different. having exhausted all of my medicinal herbs, I had to go out to gather some more. There was a bed river not far from where I lingered. A quick trip was in order. And yet, midway through, my spiritual senses detected a disturbance in the air. Someone else was in trouble, this much was obvious.

I forsake my daily routine and immediately started running in the direction of the endangered person. With each step, I could feel another type of magic. A familiar one. A banquet of gilded rivets slashing at the air gave me insight to those they call The Order. I have heard of them. I've heard enough to know that to walk in their paths would mean danger for those not submitted to their will.

I finally reach the source of the discord in the air, my gaze meeting three knights of this Order I hear so much about. Their shapes enveloped in a golden light, yet it feels to malicious. It reminds me of those blue pigmented things I've fought under a blood moon. Seeing further, my eyes captured a bound man on a tree. He's not well.

"Now, for the tenth time, are you going to tell us where your wench is?" screamed one of the knights, poking the bound man on the tree.

"I don't know what you're ta--

"Do not lie to me!" objects the same knight while striking the man with the pommel of his sword.

"Look, you obviously have the wrong man in this situation. I'm nothing more than a gatherer. A simple man who collects and sells ingredients" throws the man as he struggles to keep himself conscious.

"Yes, with some reptilian whore tailing behind you. We know you claim her as your 'wife'. You disgust me..." lashes out the other one.

"Indeed. Our scouts have spotted you cuddling with some abomination a dozen times over. Either you tell us where she is and have us cull you with mercy, or make sure you beg for your death after-- aft---

I walked out of my hiding spot, a screeching hatchet. I could listen to them no longer.

My obnoxious footsteps and growl prompted the three to turn and face me.The one closest to me points his blade at me "This is official Order business! Desist this instant or suffer the consequences!" I listen to the trembling pitch in his voice. I see the shaking blade in his hand. I take a step closer, making him back away.

"Did you not listen to him!? He said to walk away! Walk away and forget what you saw here!" defies the second free one, posting his shield sideways. I note the poor manner in which he raises it, feeble in his grip. I explicitly turn my gaze to him. I can feel his heart rate increase from here. They must be unaccustomed to warlocks.

I fold my hatchet the moment I spot the third one holding his blade against the man's neck "Drop your weapon or watch him die! Choose now!"

A guttural sound escapes my skull helm. They think they can kill him before I make my move. Alright, I'll play their game. My hatchet passes practically no sound as it falls on the grassy land. The third one's companion eagerly approaches me, even as my voodoo slowly starts mimicking the hostage holder.

"See!? Not too hard for your simple mind to follow orders, is it?" gloats the sword knight, forgetting the fright from earlier.

"Come on Micheal, you know some peasants just need a demonstration of strength to bend their backs" laughs the second one, tuning his body for a lethal strike, a few meters from me.

The mimic is fulfilled. I see a glyph of the condemned man depicting an eye looking down. A bone-chilling sensation crawls up to his back, despite the armor he dons. A perceptive one, he immediately returns his gaze to my own. Green flashes fill my eyeless slags.

"Kill him! Kill him now!" he screams, holding firmly on the bound man. He spat his orders too late. A green tide swirls around my last location, a black shade standing in my stead as the two plunge their blades in the dark. The shade ignores their lunges, standing in an idle animation. 

The cold sensation creeps up to them. They back away, nocking their heads left and right in an attempt to locate my current position. Why though?

"I'm right here". My guttural voice draws their ears and eyes to where their supposed leader is. Debris of metal fall in pieces, punctured by my grasp on his neck. His voice is choked out by my clenched hand. They see a voodoo puppet hauntingly resembling him. I can see them shake even more under their armor.

The man I hold is no longer conscient. It appears I've grasped him a little too hard. No matter, he'll live. I throw him aside, his armor breaking on the tree he contacts with. His limp body shatters any remaining will the two had. They want to run. Their instincts are screaming them to run. I can see it in their eyes.

"I could make them experience terror, but..." My gaze turns to the injured man. I don't know how bad his wound his, but I better make this quick. I pour a little magic in my hand, the same used to break their captain's neck guard and take one step forward. I lean my head on the side, mimicking a possessed host ~Come to meeeeee~

Their remaining nerves wracks, bent like a singular twig. As quickly as their stacks of wearable metal allow them, they scurry to their fallen leader, noting his open injury on the forehead. Quite a minimal one from where I stand but in their jet of panic, they must be thinking otherwise. Sparing no time for the one they sought to execute, they flee, their shapes disappearing among the thick leaves of the forest.

My attention turns to the injured man. I approach him slowly, searching my satchel bag for a pack of medicine. My hand rummages the inside, but all I get is empty air. 

I sigh and opens a tiny pocket. Apothecary dust. They glitter under the sun in stars of white and green. I clench my hand pumping a green tide of magic directly in the Apoc dust. With a sudden precision, I blow all of my palm's content directly at the man's head, the source of injury.

Just as I do this, a terrified shriek rushes all the way to my ears. Instincts kick in, branding my hatchet and dagger out at my sides. I swiftly re-position myself before the injured man. 

My head cranes into the source of the shriek, only to see a humanoïd creature sprinting to out position. I back my hatchet behind, readying for a motion strike.

"No...wait..." a voice calls up behind me. I feel the weight of a hand weakly posed on my weapon "Please don't..."

"Why?" I ask "This one is..."

"She's my tender half..." he feebly replies, to my surprise.

Before my mind recalls those words, the creature is already next to him, hugging him with all of her might. A few tears collapse from her cheeks while I notice her frontal stomach shift. An adaption, perhaps? Whatever it happens to be, it appears to be medicinal. I can see the green fluid gently cover his point of injury, devouring the bleeding gash.

"So there are monsters like that here too...fascinating" I whisper louder than I think.

"Of course there are" replies the Edaph, now calm at the prospect of the situation returned to calm "We are as many as the rain in the sky during a storm. Did you not see any of us before?"

"Not in this land, I must admit"

"I see. Well, regardless, I thank you for rescuing my husband. Though to be honest, I thought you were the one responsible for his state" smiles the Edaph, currently occupied on fixing the now boundless man.

"I don't blame you. Most of the people have the first reaction. Their ease returns when I explain that the skull I bear as a full head mask is but something I wear. Anyway, perhaps you should return to wherever you call home. The scent of his blood will undoubtedly attract more predators" I let out, well aware of the exposed area we are in.

"Well, why don't you come with us? I'm sure Gordon will want to thank you for your act. And you can double our muscle until our destination" she invites. 

I can see the insistence in her eyes. While I would have loved to carry out the gathering of medicine, leaving someone to pull an injured man out in the wild seems a bit distasteful "Sure. I'll come with".

"Then it's settled "she shouts out "To the Gordon Cave!" she immediately starts running with the man in her arms, an unending stream of soothing herb directly given to him. And there I am, left to wonder if all of her species are this bursting.

The trip is uneventful, all the way to their settlement. Contrary to what I was welcomed with all the way to him, her choice of path seemed devoid of predators. Seems she is adept at safety routes.

I step in their cave, hitched at the top of a warm mountain. Quite a view of things downward, I admit. The inside of their home patterns than I was expecting to see, especially in a place like this. practically everything is adorned with a velvet silk, be it a table, chair, walls or otherwise.

This place is beautiful" I mutter, taking the time to grasp at the myriad of fascinating object dedicated to medicine. 

"Why thank you! We do try to make this place a comfy one" replies the Edaph "By the way, I'm Josephine. What's your name?"

"I am Zaeer"

"Ohh? Zaeer the Phantasmic Ram?" she questioned with a very certain expression on her face. Despite clearly being a reptilian, she looked hauntingly human. At the time, I struggled to ponder whether she merely wore these extra appendages or if they were natural.

"Yes. I take it you heard of me"

"Quite a few inhabitants have in fact. Always speaking of a shaman-like man bearing a beast skull to conceal his face. First time I see someone like you around. A rare one you are, even by the kingdom's standard"

"I hear that a lot" I reply, not sure of what to make of this supposed fame.

"Well, you may watch out for invitations of hunter guilds" she lets out, taking a seat on one of their stool. I see a few opened plants and glands besides her.

"Invitations? What for?" I ask, my mind a tad confused about her words. There are guilds here? Never would have I thought.

"Yep! My husband and I are part of one. They basically deal with the 'excess' around here. Be it natural or 'unnatural'" she proudly exclaims.

"So an all-around group of safety patrols," I simply exclaim.

"Well, if you want to make it seem so mundane, then sure, let's go with that" returns Josephine "But they are known to send out invites to people worthy of joining. Maybe you already have one?"

"I honestly doubt that" I deny, well aware of my foreigner status among them.

"Ohh don't call it off so casually. You do know some among the Guild hunters were strangers, right?"

"Well..." I asked while leaning toward her, my ram mask sparkling green crackles of energy between its teeth "...I don't think they've ever sought someone like me"

"You never know..." she lets on, quite sure of my imminent invitation as the gash wound of Gordon was long since healed. She keeps his head cuddled on her chest long after the threat has been decimated. Is this what they do? I note the recurring behavior with most of the non-human bipedal creatures. Things are not changed.

I wave goodbye to the couple, forsaking my wait to Gordon's awakening. The day is quick to pass, and I'd rather not be found by any creature by night. Josephine throws that 'invitation' message again, thinking I'd receive one sooner or later. I still doubt...

Weeks pass as I expand the material of my craft. Rune bones, raw materials as well as processed ones. This segment of time has been mostly without strife, save for one.

Two days prior I have set myself to an unfortunate meeting with a devious creature. A humanoïd woman with a great green tail. Seeing her skin lacerated with injuries had warned me she was quite on edge. What worried me was the state in which she was. I was told it could happen if one of her kind had a brawl with another one like her.

A very explicit liquid seeped from her thighs, telling me she was looking for something to eat. Or worse, to 'eat'. Unfortunately, because of that brawl she supposedly was in, her senses were on edge, easily detecting me as I gathered my usual things.

I had fought her for a while. Her brute strength was quite dangerous, even more so as I've heard they threw themselves into a frenzy when seeing a male human. Fortunately, keeping her at bay with phantom gnaws was easily possible. 

With so many lacerations, even with her impressive healing capacities, this 'Jho' had to forfeit her prize and made a run for it, too injured and fatigued to carry on. I stood ready, just in case it happened to be a snare. But no trap was to be found by her. She had run.

I went back to the road, as I heard her coming from the scenic route. Broken caravans lingered along the pavement, with a few men bruised but otherwise lacking injuries. One of them called out to me.

He tells me that creature wanted to have her way with them. With all of them? Well, that's a reversed harem if I have seen one. Regardless of my thoughts, he asks for my name, but I simply continue on, my lack of drive for recognition peaking up the window again. 

I hear their pleas for me to come back, even as I detect more of those Guild Hunter members. They'll be fine. Fame is not why I am here...

The day rises, showering the land with the golden rays of the sun. The deepest confine of my home is no exception. Though I do enjoy the sun, this kind of place seems safe as not many creatures are willing to explore these shifting paths in the dark.

I slowly open my olive eyes, sheltered behind my ram skull helmet only to close them as they are not yet used to the sun after a night in total blackness "I seriously need to stop staring at the rays like that".

My steps carry me to a narrow and hollow hole. I drop a few meters below, directly to a source of water, hidden to many. I was lucky to have found it during a trip to the center of this realm.

I cross my arms and brand them wide, illuminating my cloth with a daily spell "Transparence!" My brown garb, pants, and skull all glow with a tinge of green at their extremities, allowing one to bask in mundane clean up without having to remove their armor or whatever they happen to be wearing. A basic but necessary spell should anything try to sneak up on me.

The hour of soak toying in the sauna is a blessing too often taken for granted. I can feel my hands caressing the surface of the warm water. How soothing it is. Eventually, my time grows near. I sigh as I have been doing everytime the first ray of sunlight has reached the deepest reaches of this cave "I guess it's about time for me to go out"

As I leave the massive saunas of the under the cave, the glow of transparency fade away, sentient about my departure. Walking back to my humble home, I start gathering everything needed for today's trip. No serious event this time, a mere collection of plants and mineral for later uses among the places I'm used to. Clippers, empty vials, a pair of emergency potions, a small pick axe, my notebook about the plants with their descriptions, a small letter, a--

--wait, a letter!? Where did this come from?

I notice the letter held in my hand, smelling like a breeze of cool air. Definitely not something that is written in a hurry, if I pay attention to the condition of said letter. A white envelope stamped with a mark I've never seen before. A seal decorates its back, likely to keep the content closed. I flip the letter once more to read its inscription:

Invitation: a letter for the foreigner bearing a fallen beast's skull

I read this again and again, just to be sure. Skull wearer. "Well, gee..." I say to myself as I proceed to stare at my shimmering horn attached to the skull veiling my head "I wonder who could that be. Chaac forbids anyone else be running around with something like that".  I shake my head slightly "Good thing I don't do bets around here. Otherwise, I'd probably owe this Josephine something.

I open the content of the letter. A simple address with the map of the surrounding area is present. I jog the words Josephine told me about those supposed guilds. Basically, patrollers, if I remember correctly. Sitting on the nearest chair available, I ponder on whether a visit would be done or not. Hmm...

Might as well at least go see what it's all about...

Firstly, a change in my equipment. Off go the tools for gathering and collecting. Pair of clippers, off you are. Empty vials, not needed, get out of my bag. Those leaves that were to be processed into potions and medicinal herbs, thank you and goodbye, you're getting off. Pickaxe, not in my bag you aren't. Emergency vials, get in. Regular vials, you're invited. Bandages, get right in. Everyone's getting in today.

My bag is done. My pouch is sealed and ready. My attire is renewed after a half hour of maintenance. Everything zeroes and I promptly walked off the mountain where my deep burrow, venturing forth into this segment they call their H.Q.

I walk among the dense leaves of the choking jungle, well aware of all the screeches of battle that surround me. From miles to mere meters, I can distinguish them all, constantly at the ready for anything to jump out.

Along the way, my path crosses road with another man. He claims to be as invited as I am and proposes us to walk together, a gauge of security. Why not? I could use a companion to speak during my travel.

Walking through many twists and sudden turns around, he presents himself as Maxim the Prodigy, a swordsman from a land in which their sword techniques are more akin to elegant fencing than the hack and slash I've seen so far. Apparently, he is somewhat of a genius when it comes to his craft. Famous around these places, as I've also heard of him.

Walk and walk we do as the day turns to night, a river of stars welcoming us to as the fluorescent wildlife start glowing in the dark. And the night to the day, where the population of stars is washed away by the sunrise's dew, pouring onto us as we march on. After a few days and night, however, I spot a clearing, a camp in a nearby possible. We set up for our stay in the cosmic sea, right as the stars move once again to claim their nightly spots.

Sleep soon blankets the two if us with its shivering blanket acting as the winds of this land and shelter we seek inside our tents. My eyes slowly retract in the comfort of my eyelids, as the darkness gradually invites my consciousness to the dreamland. My vision turns blurry, soon erasing the dim light of the campfire escaping through the sheets of the outer folds. My ears give a deaf ignorance to the exterior noises, the cacophony of the jungle, be it the distant growls of bigger predators, the nocturnal insects that happen to rummage around or the conjunction of two opposite steel.

Steel? Against one another?.

My body rescinds my drift to the sleep as I focus on trying hearing what I thought I've heard. Seconds of silence follow before an audible ringing comes to my ears. It's faint, but I can hear it. I don't know if Maxim heard that as well, but I cannot take a chance if there is battle nearby. 

I quickly and quietly draw my emerald hatchet and obsidian dagger and creep out into the night, listening to my ears intercepting the opposition of two metal.The closer I wonder, the more prominent the sounds become. I start hearing words shouted from two slightly different places, although they are melded. Two people fighting, in the middle of the night. The words travel to my ears.

"Mew are absolutely not pruupared to take on the role of an assistant! Best mew lower your paws!"

A cat? A woman? I'm having difficulties depicting who keeps making those weird speech patterns like that. My head full of conjunctions is yet again assaulted by the other correspondent who didn't make herself quiet.

"BAH! Kaiula not work under minion as assistant. Me take minion as minion! Got it, sour puss?"

Now an ogre-voicing woman with what appears to be a speech impediment. What I get out of this is the fact that they are brawling for someone. Hmm, Maxim may find himself in over his head with this...or won't. Having a local navigator around these lands could help to ease his integration. I continue venturing forward, soon seeing what made this much noise in the dark.

On the left side, a furry woman, coated in gray. Well, her fur, at least. The rest seems to be covered in armor recently out of the smith's armory. Her weapon, without much experience. Either she in her first time out in the wild or she is seriously committed to impressing whoever her and the other are speaking about.

The other one seemed clothed in nothing more than tattered clothing. Grossly exposed leather attire reminiscent of an amazonness. I see a paint pattern all across her orange skin, filled in white and green. Her weapon seems to be at a discord with her. Not that she didn't know how to handle it, but it looked like she was using the wrong thing for herself. It may be the weapon's condition. Chipped, rusty and at the point of breaking.

"Stop nyelling so loudly! If mew keeps this up, mew might wake him up all agitated and frightened!"

"RAH! This be good lesson for minion to ready for combat if it presents to minion! Kaiual not pick chicken follower!"

I can't help but stifle a laughter in my skull mask. emerald must really want him, considering the small distance they're doing this. Man, this poor Maxim will have to pick between the two. Hilarious! Better go tell him!

Sheathing my weapons at my hips, I turn my back on them, proceeding to return to the sleeping celebrity when I stop dead cold in my track as a dry crack escapes my foot. My head snaps down. A broken branch is visible beside my foot. I quickly turn my head and spot their eyes shimmering in the night. Locked on me!

My hands go straight for my weapons, thinking this would turn into a brawl. A surprise comes into sight as the cat-looking woman comes forward, a bow in my direction "Mya appuurlogy for the noise in mewyuur ears! I am Annya and have heard that mew may be joining the Hunter Guilds. I wish to come to work under mewyuur wing as an assistant".

My skull hidden in the dark, I cannot help but wonder whether they are aware of who she is speaking too. I lift a finger to voice the confusion, but the other one already presses on before I can, stomping the floor before her with her rusty greatsword "Me Kaiula! Legendary warrior with ears sharp as sharp ears! Me heard you join the Hunter's Guild and decided to make you minion under my order. We grow strong together!"

Yea, definitely picking up on the rumors of potential recruits for this syndicate. Must be a powerful one if monsters are willing to work under the new initiate. Regardless, raising a finger toward my camp, I speak "You two are talking to the wrong man."


"What minion say!?"

I state my claim again "The man you're looking for is still sleeping under his tent. I'm merely a man who crossed his road and opted to accompany him. I'd wait until morning before attempting to speak to him"

"Ohh..." Annya, a Felyne if I remember correctly utters before her ears fall flat, disappointed in the missed opportunity to speak right away to the one she sought. As for Kaiula, her manner of expressing irritation is more akin to a tantrum as she starts stomping on the ground, shaking the surrounding very slightly before dropping on the floor, Something about the way she cloth herself is curious. That mask especially...

But I digress. I wave my arm, beckoning them "Come wait around if you wish to speak. We have extra materials for a tent if you need". Annya's ears perk up again as Kaiula promptly raises from the ground "Very good, unimportant man. I shall do so!" Unimportant? Not subtle at all, this one is.

I show them the campfire, where they promptly sit and wait, staring at the flames dancing while sometimes throwing a glance at Maxim's tent. I can see the eagerness in their eyes. I go near a tree and lean on it, now thinking of watching these two to avoid any more inconveniences. I.E., actual creatures attracted by all the noise...

The morning dew washes over the sky, clearing it of the darkness. I watch as the birds litter the heavens as among the first to wake up. I remember watching them with my parents every day. Mother used to tell me the early bird gets the worm as we began our daily routine. My practice magic enthusiastically up with father while she lit the stove for breakfast. My memories always returned to me being carried by my father as the morning would prove too much for my motor skills to rev up this early. I'm still amazed at the patience he had toward my shortcomings.

"I thank you, dad," I utter as my stream of remembrance is interrupted by the sight of Maxim surprised at the two women presenting themselves to him. I focus on his face as their conversation continues.

I see his face make a curious expression upon hearing Annya speaking. Another of her strange speech pattern, I'm sure of it. Hmm, now he seems somewhat humble to hear her offer her assistance. I see his eyes looking up and down, likely checking her attire, though his ocular movement often glances at her chest for seconds on no end. A blush on her face is clearly visible from my perspective, even with her gray fur. I keep forgetting that apparently, they love ogling eyes.

She is done. I'm curious as to what Kaiula with be doing and say. I stand up, still leaning against the tree, my face under my skull mask churning an awaiting expression. She walks forward, eyeing the man before her, her hands on her hips. Hmm, how about that. Seems she thinks to be mistaken about the man she's looking at. Now that I think about it, seeing how close she looks to one of those ogres or monsters with a brawler mindset, I'm guessing she wanted someone more...rugged looking? 

Maxim is speaking back, probably seeking more time to see if she would not reconsider. Seeing how rare monster women are around, perhaps his eyes are delighted to witness two potential assistants. I don't blame him. A companion is often welcomed in such a dangerous place. Even with Kaiula's slight incompetence in swordsmanship, she could quite easily be of aid. Although... 

Regardless, I think this little party to the H.Q. is large enough as it is. Maxim, Annya, and Kaiual will surely need the focus between themselves to pick the best solution for them. I wish them luck in their endeavor as I quietly gather my things and leave the scene, sparing them no last glance. I've my own road to travel.

I continue further to the north, according to the map I'm holding. There is naught but greenery and uncharted territory everywhere. A sigh escapes my mask as I have quite a bit of road for me to continue on "Well, at least it does not look like I'll have further trouble..."

Just as I formulate those words, my ears capture a rumbling noise coming in this direction. Did something smell me? I pull out my obsidian dagger and seek shelter behind one of the numerous tree available in this forest. Whatever is stomping the area is coming near. I look in the direction where the stomp comes from. It surges from the path I once took, following in my footsteps. I see... orange pigmented woman walking with her legs squatted out like she's out to brawl someone. My worry dims down a little as I expect Annya and Maxim to be following behind. Seems Kaiula is quite the expressive one.

"MINION! MINION WHERE ARE YOU!? Minion no hide from Kaiual!"

I promptly leave my hiding spot, my dagger away, my finger pointed in the supposed direction of Maxim, only for to come rushing at me, an indescribable expression because of her mask "There minion is! Minion doesn't walk from Kaiula!"

What!? Did she forget she the prodigy? Better set those clocks right "Madam, I'm afraid you're looking at the wrong man. I am not some prodigy, you see. Merely a man lucky to be exploring a possibility".

"I know I not looking at blondi man. I looking at skull head minion. Skull head minion going to join the Hunter Guilds too, right?"

"No, not yet, I'm simply exploring the possibility of joining said syndicate and once again, you're looking at the wrong man," I tell her again. Are her kind thick-headed or simply forgetful?

"No, no, no!" she stomps her feet on the ground as well as her sword before pointing it at me as if to do some declaration "Blondi man not what I looking for in minion material. Skull head minion more suitable for me. I lead skull head minion to greatness with my leadership. You skull head. Therefore, you skull head minion! End of sentence!"

Ok, so somehow, she failed to come to a compromise with the other one or didn't want to share a potential recruit with someone else, let alone a Felyne. So she latched on the nearest traveler This is slightly unexpected, but I think I can guide her to a more capable someone. Yea, that's definitely a possibility. 

"Alright then, if you think that's your best choice, I'll follow you. But, just so you know, I'm trying to get to their homeland" I give in, just so I may resume on my road.

"I know that, minion. Follow me, I know the path to Hunter Guild" she enthusiastically gestures while jumping an impressing leap before me. I watch in incredulity, wondering how in Chaac's name did I manage to get myself in this sort of predicament.

"Minion, you coming?" with her back at me, her face is turned to my direction, hands on her hips brimming with impatience "Come on! Me don't like standing around turning my thumbs".

Good thing my skull mask encases my entire head, otherwise, an incredibly explicit disdain would be carved on my face...

According to the map, I am a mere day from the guild's hub. As it happens, the place seems to be a great city. according to the icon displayed on the map. My eyes close as I let my spirit energy wash over me, coloring my attire in a green tide before expanding like an aura. A few glyphs shape underneath my feet. A 'life sense' technique to record anything or anyone that might be a threat to us. My breathing steadies as I mentally record any mid to large size creature. Their outer frames gradually paint on my retinas, enabling me to--

"Minion! What you doing posted like dummy dumb dumb? No time to feel nature energy!"

And here goes my concentration. Shaking my head toward the already marching Kaiula, my mind still struggles to comprehend how did I manage to get stuck with someone like her? Guess I'll eye it for the day.

We eventually reach a small river bed. Good fortune indeed. I eagerly go to the pond, drawing water in the palm of my hands to sip it. I sit with crossed legs as I do this "Thank the lord of rain for this boon"

Kaiula gets to her knees next to me. I can feel her closeness, a corner of my mind trying to tempt me into scanning her body. I don't know how to explain it, but something just whispers at my psyche, alluring my eyes toward that body of hers. That same something that threw its tempting winds at me when meeting Josephine. When he discarded Annya's claim as well as Kaiual's. Every woman-shaped monster I've met and fought, trying for the same effect. My skull mask would each time repel such thoughts, though, for her, it seems...lenient. It manages to get a glance out of me...

I see her plunge her entire head in the river with no regard for anything around. Some water splashes on my garb, but my eyes are still scanning the image of her shape. Surprisingly toned, but without a loss of feminity. About the same as those lion women I'm witnessed in combat. Really any fighter-type. Contrary to human women, they somehow manage to retain their figures even with rigidity. 

Beyond that slightly toned shape of her body, my eyes are drawn to the greenery of her hair. It's elegant and amazingly clean even with how much she seems to get in trouble. I don't know whether she keep it in shape herself. Unfortunately, like me, anything beyond her hair is sealed by some mask, though hers is made of wood, shoddy and a bit insulting to be honest. Perhaps I can fix it? Maybe in that way, I co--

I shake my head and promptly flushes any closeup image of her from my mind. I better stop more often to sate my thirst. Delirious ideas are so dangerous around here. Good thing she's already gone. Even out of my sight, I can sense her particular energy. Strangely familiar. I can't pinpoint how or why, but I can follow her movement much more easily than more things around. Anyway, I sense her duckling pretty often in locations. Gathering some fruit, if my guess is correct. I continue drinking more, trying to sate my thirst even as her signature closes in. 

"Minion! I come back with berries and more! Time to eat!" I turn to see her lifting her extra leather hanging from her brownish pants, carrying an overabundance of fruits. To gather such amount in small amount of time when I'm not even done here...

"I'll be fine. You can have the whole thing for yourself" I say, not very hungry at the moment. She seems kind of longing for something to put under her teeth at the moment, her signature is shaky.

"No, minion. I collect this for me and skull head minion. Skull head minion eat with me, I order it"

I see her approaching and balancing some of the pack on the edge of her waist's frills. Without a thought, my fingers open, dropping whatever water was left, instead, welcoming a warm patch of wild fruits and what not. I'm guessing she's going to go through with everything she decides. She's going to be a handful.

An hour passes as we rest, waiting for the effect of the fruits to pass. Our walk continues afterward, only to reach the sector longed for hours later. Besides the usual wildlife making itself clear and present, the trip was pretty mundane. Kaiula pretended to know the best way to this place. She was not wrong. 

I walk with her 'leading' me from behind, a situation I find quite amusing all the way to the inner sanctum While a bit unprecedented, the situation has turned comical, as Kaiula occasionally shouts nearby walkers to 'back off' whenever someone is 'dangerously close'. I barely am able to stifle a laughter each time.

A rather large office comes in view, amidst all of the walking armed individuals around, shaped in different armor, armed with an assortment of weapons and what not. I really, really feel like a stranger among strangers.

"Minion! Office here!" Kaiula points before running off, straight for the postmaster. "Hold on, now!" I call out, running close behind her. She sidesteps and deftly dodges anything and anyone in her way. I'm surprised she's not using brute force to plow her way through. 

A sidestep here followed by a slide between a small gap of legs of an imposing warrior prompted to look down. My steps are not far, though I do stop a few seconds to apologize to those she considers nothing more than static obstacles to use.

I do manage to reach her, just as we come face to face with whoever appears to be in charge. In a twist of irony, the man simply takes a few steps toward us with his arms widespread "Finally, my first new initiate! Didn't think you'd take so much time getting there".

My hand makes a halt motion "I'm not joining the guild. I'm just here to oversee what would be tasked to me and the considerations to join or not".

The post officer quickly raises a smirk "They all say that. Each and everyone I've met before has said those exact words. And guess what?"

My brow raises in perplexity, though it remains sheltered by my helmet. Sensing a doubt from me, the man turns around to all of the diverse amalgamate of people flowing in and out of the central hub "They're all here!" he turns back to me and Kaiual, the latter letting her eyes wonder at all of the people here. This should be a prime occasion to get her attached to someone actually part of this place. But right now...

"I take it you're not from the other realms already know if I take a jab at your attire. Never seen someone dressed like that. Well, what if I tell you, we can connect you to whatever homeland you happen to hail from?"

I jolt a bit at the man's words "What!? Really?"

His expression increases in confidence "Looks like I've piqued your interest, yes? But anyway, we can from here. As you can guess, almost the entirely of the people working for us here are from exotic and nomadic lands not of the factions known. Being the many who fancy a visit to their lands once in a while, the lord of this segment has provided us with material and fund to build a number of portals we like to call the Constantine Gates. As a member of our guild, you'd have unlimited access to them unlike the visitors who has to pay tribute".

Dang, this man does offer something of interest. My visit here looks to entangle me further in this land, now with the possibility of a direct getaway to my people.

"But hold on" continues the man "I'd like to present to you with what we do around here. Can't have you sign up like a were-bat, can we?"

"I guess so" I mutter, following the man as he proceeds to play tourist guide for me and Kaiual, who soon picked up on our parting. The following hours consisted of him explaining that this particular guide was responsible for the recollecting of things lost to the wild, be it materials, people, artifacts or else. 

Of course, he also tells me that the more radical factions from the outer realms also had their claws dug in despite the wildlife. Somehow, I'm not surprised at this. Having seen my share of the two going at it in places not of this realm, I know of their abilities and dedication to painting everything they see as theirs.

Then, as we continue, the officer shows me a quarter dedicated to the member of this hub. A sleeping hub, like a sanctuary all for them, away from the violence of the wildlife. If I didn't know any better, I'd think the place, showering with more placid life and a shimmering sun would be more of a vacation spot for people intertwined with another.

My day is spent listening to the inner workings of quests, requests, roaming and events. The more I listen to him, the more I feel like being part of a group could help my travel around the world. Maybe settling down somewhere was due sooner or later. A shame. One could wonder what other arguments this officer can pull out of his sleeves, had I refused. 

A time of trial would be needed for me. The officer knew as it was customary for them to issue a one-year trial upon the would-be initiates. One year...

A few months has passed. And what months those has been. Kaiula, with her sour nature, had been to no end of trouble for us. With every quest docked to us, she'd always go and speak her mind through to whoever was at the wrong doing.

During the 'Remembrancers collection', a quest to retake a collection of the history of old heroes from a group of order convoy, she had decided a quick pilfer wouldn't be impressive enough. She sat right at their road, stating their thievery and ordering them to give them back or suffer the 'wrath of her minion'. They laughed. Of course, they laughed... least until I showed up behind their formation. Their laughter turned to shrieks of "Demon!" left and right as their formation scattered in the winds. I could remember Kaiula telling them off, calling them 'chickens' and 'cowards'. Learned later they were novices. Novices sent in the wild with no veterans around. How sad...

Another one called 'The gift of truth' had pulled a group of newcomers who thought they could easily carve a piece of the land for themselves out of the locals' jaws. Aristocats they called themselves. It was not until all of their so-called 'highly' trained troops were prey to more feral monster women that they realized their wealth would only get them so far. 

My 'leader' once again provoked the creatures, sending them off to me while having to protect the v.i.p.s as well. Unfortunately, as I slowly repelled the beasts, they started speaking back ill of the things running, like they had anything to do with it. 

I almost wanted to stop and watch them beg for a savior, especially when I thought they'd care more about their men in the wild. The same I had to pull out in the deep amazon, reduced to a pile of shivering naked males, almost on the verge of no return as their captors were close to 'harvesting' them. So that was fun...

The most interesting one so war involved a crossfire between the more extreme faction out of this realm nicknamed the 'Unwanted mix of black and white' It was as much a crossfire as it could get, what with the dark spectrum seeking to mate with the knights of the light spectrum and them swinging swords at their enemies. 

They had apparently scared off the local people and beasts away and were busy fighting or 'mating', really when I and Kaiula arrived. In a strange manner, she was less about pushing them away and more intrigued about the very acts, if I remembered correctly.  

It was an eyesore throughout the whole quest as I had to separate the 'lovers'. Didn't help that the monsters tried slashing me away or even drawing straws at me.

A thing to note during that year was my companion. She do I put it...changing, to say the least. I don't know what otherworldly force was at work, but Kaiual was 'mutating' or maturing...? 

I don't know where to begin with...

Firstly, her mask. All of this time, a mask was deeply attached to her face. that in itself was pretty normal, considering I'm always wearing my own. No, what made it strange was the act of removal. Ever since I've met her, she has never taken it off. But recently, I could catch glimpses of her face now and then. Those green irises of hers. So confident and yet... innocent. I'm starting to think this place is getting into me. Carving words out like that, a bit abnormal.

Then there's her height. I've never noticed until now, but Kaiula has always been a smaller than ordinary. I don't know how I missed that, Must be that oversized ego she likes to brandish around. But anyway, she started growing taller bit by bit. Every time she'd always round around the hideout "Minion! Minion! I taller! Kaiual way taller!". It should be noted that her height is not the only thing *ahem* growing. I'd rather not mention it...

However, the paint on her pigmented skin seems to be changing as well. The color, the shape, it's something new now. I'd swear I could see an ocean of arcane tide crashing deep within her paint. A green ocean, no less. I say this as I stare at her, sitting on a tree in this sanctuary. She's reacting to something.


Her voice is changing too. Somehow growing more refined. More mature.


I don't know what's happening. But, maybe this is normal for her kind. A period of growth? If so, then maybe--

"MINION!" My skull recoil at the opposite of her head as her voice runs a parade in my eardrums.

"Skull head minion standing still for long time! Looking at Kaiula. Me think skull head minion wanted to say something, but skull head minion not answer when I call him. Me think skull head minion basking at Kaiual's body. Minion knows what he likes".

My head still rings. Yet I hear her. She noticed me throwing glances. So her awareness is increasing as well.

"Me curious as to what skull head minion do to fight. Me want to watch skull head minion use green stuff" she says while looking straight at me. Her emerald eyes shimmer behind her wooden mask.

"Green stuff? You mean magic? My voodoo magic?"

"Yes, skull head minion's green stuff he always uses in fights. What minion can do, I do better", she beams proudly in her voice. Not that she boasts so much it's been drilled into my skull, but something about her makes me think she could learn a spell or two. By then she'd actually be a capable fighter. A much more capable than her current version with nothing more than a rusty sword swinging at empty space.

"Sure. Maybe you can show minion a thing or two over time". Her eyes widen up in joy.


Kaiula jumps in the air and bounces off the furniture. Several pots with plants fall off and break, committing me to the clean up later "Maybe this was a bad idea..."

About a year has passed. An official certificate inviting me to the Shrine hunter guild has been sent to us. Words of mention told us of how 'impressed' they were with our performance. Everything has been sent through the mail. ID cards, our pay for for the year I didn't know we'd in a trial, a welcome package for home, a magic map charting everything happening, etc.

As I filter through the things sent to us, the shakalaka eagerly tugs on my garb, holding a ritual tool. A dagger I've crafted for her, to be used as a catalyst "Minion! come look at what I do with green stuff!"

"Ohh? Why would you need your 'minion' to witness?"

"Well-duh! For minion to learn! Minion come right now!"

She persists, continuously tugging at my shirt "Fine. Your minion will come watch. Just stop doing that, ok?"

She bows a bit "Minion wise! Let us go, now". Without so much as consideration, this woman before takes my hand, interlacing my fingers with hers and staunchly drags me along outside the hideout. Her hand is warm. Even pleasant to the touch. My leather glove does not impact the softness of her touch despite that overconfident tongue she uses so much.

Before my thoughts go any further, my arcane sense detects a spell in the making. No rather, it was already done. A pentagram of her making.

"See minion? Magic still a bit rough, but I make magic work. Is minion impressed? Minion think Kaiual pretty amazing, yes?"

That is indeed something. The edges are a bit rough as she said, but something like that. A regeneration field of this caliber shouldn't be made by someone Yet she did.

"This is good..." I whisper. Her eyes lower under that mask. Her joyful demeanor is dampened. Disappointment?

"Is this...only thing minion say? Is skull head minion not happy?"

The tone in her voice drops a few decibels. Her head follows her eyes, looking down at her circle of static nutriments. A gaze that occasionally returns to me, watching it, for no more than seconds. She really wanted to impress me. 

The thing is, she did. I don't know how she managed to learn something so basic and turn it into a greater form, but she did. Kaiula is raw talent waiting to be polished. But if she knew, then she'd know she's too good for me. I can't let her go. Not now! Once she's ready, once she's finished, then...

...then I'll let her fly.

Another year passes. I watch the days go by as they shift to nights and back. The quest we go through, all as mundane as numerous. All this spare time goes directly in training with Kaiula. From teaching her to incorporate her magic into weapons and tools, to showing her a few spells I have carried with me from my homeland. She's so at ease with them, it's worrying.

Every time I'd show her something, she would come back to me with a new twist from her experience. When I taught her to enchant her tools, she showed me a beautifully carved dagger of wood and a strange metal. I believe they call it demon silver. 

When I showed her to use a spell, she turned in into something of her own, coming back covered with butterflies shimmering in the dark and light with a purple shine. A variant of my own swarm, consisting of moths dipped in a sickly purple.

It's amazing how quickly she's growing. Literally and metaphorically. Every time I see her, her body seems to tune more and more into that of a woman. She even took the opportunity to change her attire, in an effort to be different, as she so often says it. Kaiual often went before me just to display her change in clothing, a stream of white line aligned on her stand alone sleeves. Her string bikini turned into a corset, etched with her paint. Her underwear now masked with a skirt, holstering a sheath for a dagger and a tiny doll. 

To think I've tried many times to send her astray to someone more 'suited' to her style. Instead, hey way is changing. To suit us both. Maybe she always had a more delicate manner, yet to be bloomed. This girl has indeed turned. She's grown. Matured. Adapted. Everything someone could ask for, in her own way. 

As I ponder in my thoughts, I see her standing in the winds as today is stifled with current dancing in the sky "This little birdy has always wanted to dance in her might. Then swing your hips, jiggle your arms, bask in your new shape. I've come to let you free..."

My words turn deep with the last pronunciation. She'd always boast about her strength. With someone like me tying her down, Kaiual won't be fulfilling all those boasts. Time to venture forward. Our path separates from one another...

The day has given way to the night. My sight is set on the cloudy moon that sits on the horizon. My bag is cautiously set beside me.  My ears feed me with the wildlife quietly settling in, added with Kaiula snoring in the background. I can see her laying on a tree branch, just outside. With that teaching given to her, her boast has only increased, but naught without reason.

My footsteps stalk the night, carrying me further, silently. I spare her no last glance, for it would compel me to stay. By what reason, I do not know. I just know it. As the years passed, so as my heart grown accustomed to her. Weaker of resistance around her. I must quell it. For her sake...

Days have passed. The upper north of the realm, the same place where I've entered this land will now be the path to my exit. I walk continuously as I have been for those claimed days. The life roars and smashes. Slashing and biting on miles around me. All natural echoes, as strange at it seems. At least in this realm.

My ears blot out the more destructive emanations of the place as I want to leave with the gift of serenity. The waterfalls are nearby, their presence heard by any and all from miles. A perfect place to grasp a final sight. 

I walk. Then my body turns to jogging. The jog accelerates to a full sprint, rushing through the leaves and branches. My nose can already smell that water, pure for drinking, free of violence as a sanctuary. My hands push away the few branches adding up in the way. The water, I see it. A few animals are stocking up on its crystal clear liquid. I quickly join them, eagerly cupping my fingers to pool to sip it through my skull.

"Quite a simple remedy when one is thirsty, "I tell myself, ignoring the animals slowly backing away. Though my instincts do catch up to my nervous system, tugging my hand at my hatchet. My ears are saturated with cracking branches and muffling grass under heavy feet. A rhythmic sensation is traveling the soil. Disciplined, yet clumsy. Their feet are callously attempting to muffle their echo, with no success. As I look in the direction of the incoming, my otherworldly senses burn in my mind. Blinded...

"So they're still around..." I say as a man lunges toward me, hammer in hand. I sidestep to the left, in full sight of his exposed flank. As I dodge his hefty strike, I throw dust in his eyes, dazing him for a few seconds. A few more arrive, shield and swords in hand. They make a circle around me.

"Didn't think I'd get you here, heretic!" spits a voice still walking out of the branch. Seeing the gross opulent aura of the speaker miles ahead of his presence, I could tell he was what they'd call a 'Hero'. A pretty ironic name, if you ask me.

"..." I stay mute, looking straight at his direction just as he finally reaches the waterbed. His men are smirking, an ounce of overconfidence stench clinging to their faces.

"Not saying anything? No pleads for mercy? No words of penance? Nothing to defend your acts against the holy Order?" he asks again, really trying to shake me down for an answer. I hear the rattle of his men's weapons up and down in accordance with his words. The desire to let him speak crosses my mind.

He continues to defy the air with his reserve "We know who you are. Our men saw you sowing the seed of discord among our sacred quests in this desolate realm. We do not tolerate the kind to act abreast our righteousness. We have you against our arms. Will you really not try to justify yourself?"

I continue to glare at him while surrounded. His words wasted on a mute someone, the six men, including the dusted one all has their visages twisted by the grip of impatience, grasping straws to get their pleas. My jaw forms a grin underneath my skull mask.

"Nothing!? Nothing to justify your sabotages!?" shouted the hero, his voice corrupted by the vice stench of anger. I openly grab the handle of my emerald hatchet and the hilt of my obsidian dagger. The very act of rejecting the Order's gesture of 'mercy' infuriates them to a point of no return.

"Very well..." sternly spits the hero as he draws out his white-stained weapon, a thin blade that frankly looked more like something used to thrust and fence rather than slash "...kill him!"

Their feet approach in a synchronized manner as I slowly turn toward the hammer-wielding one. Microscopic dust lingers around him. A flash of energy flashes in the jaws of my skull helm as I maintain my gaze on the man.


His eyes overrun with the same signature of mine, they flow with an emerald tide. Before the rest could raise their weapons, his hammer emanates the same color as his possessed irises. He swings the hefty object...

...right at their leader, not prepared to catch it. "Hnngghh!" The man flies meters away through trees, crashing dow like dominoes as the possessed minion of mine re-directs his tool against his others companions.

"Remon, what are you doing!?" asks the closest order knight as they slowly realize he just bludgeoned their leader away. I take a bystander's position with my arms crossed. My gaze is tethered to him.

Smite them. They speak behind your back. Speaking of...assassinations.

The possessed man swings his hammer once more, at the man speaking to him. The blow proves too much for the shield-bearing trooper as it shatters in his arm before the momentum also sends him flying. However, due to his weaker will, his armor bends against the first tree he crashes with.

All of them seek to conspiracy against you. To stain your reputation. Will you let them proceed?

Not letting up, my possessed minion continues his onslaught against the rest of them, breaking their shields. Breaking their weapons, Breaking their armors. A carnage of twisted metal occurs from this fight turned one-sided brawl. The fury in his eyes speaks of a hidden story of mistrust among them. To think my dust of suggestion could work this easily...

Never the less, the dust settles, with him and me being the only ones left standing. Though I can sense the third one coming back. The branches breaking and snap at his imposing armor, though hollow with a massive dent on it. The hero stares daggers at his henchman, still unaware of his possession. Only when their eyes meet does he realizes.

Yet he speaks no words. His needle sword is armed against the possessed. With fury emanating from his eyes, he focuses his assault on the hammer mate. My possessed instantly pulls his weapons on the front, intending on shielding himself from the luminous wrath of his captain. The weapon's outer layers decay under the sundering assault, falling in pieces. Then the inner layers, reducing the head of the imposing weapons in but a blink of the eye.

Soon enough, the only thing left of the gilded hammer was a scraped head of the pole. No reaction could save the possessed for the needle sword carried on, assailing the joints between the armor he bears, breaking them to dust and severely injuring his own man. Unable to sustain his fresh wounds, he collapses on the ground, his breathing accelerated.

"Even with the knowledge of his possession, you still went at him like an enemy..." My arms are still crossed, unfazed yet still indignant.

His needle sword rises to point at me, a demented smile accompanying it "Anyone against my cause, no matter the circumstances will fall. That includes the members of the Order. Their soldiers, my squadmates. All for th--

He ducks quickly, just as a phantom claw tears at the air overhead "Spare me your sanctimony. I can see your eyes from here. Kee your venom from me".

"Then let our weapons speak for themselves!" he yells as he lunges at me, his needle sword pointed straight for my skull. My back stretches as my skull leans backward, hands thrown on the soil beneath. My boots lift, next to his chest, well aware of his over-zealous bounce, carried by his momentum. I press my boots against his solar plexus and hurl him away with all the might, throwing him against yet another tree behind me.

The collision is violent, splinters falling all around while I regain a standing pose. His stare is blighted with desire for vengeance. The purple and emerald shimmer in the day, drawn against his solar needle. It is crutched as his raising stick "Not bad, foul entity! I can see how you managed to survive in this trash heap of a realm". His voice rattles with condescendence. 

"However, you're merely delaying the inevitable with those rubbish movements of yours". He points his needle again in the sky. I can see an important amount of light accumulating at the front. Immediately, my body strafes to the left just as he downs it "Crescendo wave!"

A curved blade of light is sent forward, scorching the earth" It travels with devastation augmenting in size and scarring. I look back at the trail of the razor blade light. Scorned trees and burned leaves are polluting the air directly in the aftermath.

"See this!? This is only the beginning of baptism of this land. I will scorch it from head-to-toe in a display of purification!"

"This isn't purification! This is a purge!" I scowl him, now aware of this demented man's strength.

"For you, perhaps. But no words, only battle!" he yells out while throwing another one. I witness the scarring earth approaching my feet, quickly dodging its blade scorch. As promised, a relentless flurry of these deadly projectiles all zeroes in on me, burning the forest around us a little more each time. Everywhere I look, it's burned leaves and ruined soils.

Can't let him continue any longer. With each strafe, my obsidian dagger flips around my fingers, lined on the man's arm as my eyes are. I forsake the slashes projectiles, letting my other senses be my vision. At the right moment...

"The well is dried". My dagger charges at his hand, coming as a green flash. The light grabs his attention "A sneak attack?" His weapon keeps the charge but the flow of his technique is interrupted as he swiftly moves his arm to deflect my dagger in the air "Hah! A deception among my purity waves. But a failed on---Uurrrhh!"

My dagger lands on his armed shoulder, spreading a mist of magic dampener throughout it, shattering the focus of his Crescendo. His mind is turned on trying to pull the dagger out.

The dagger digs deep in his shoulder plate. Pulling it out would bring a tremendous pain. His focus out of place, I hurl my hatchet straight at him. It spins with the same green tide, catching his out of guard. The impact sends him flying yet again as a large horizontal gash appears on his armor, compromising its structural integrity.

The hero cobbles himself up, imprinted with my two weapons still gnawed on his armor. Forgetting the dagger on his shoulder, he puts my hatchet out of his chest and throws it on the scorched land in a fit of anger. "You're quite the enemy, skull man". His voice trembles with confidence. He must have something up his sleeve. "Quite a shame you never thought of coming to us first. Someone capable of scorning a Hero naught once but twice would be welcomed with open arms".

His armor radiates light, slowly forcing my etched dagger out "Oh well, perhaps the next stranger out of their homeland will". A shell of light comes to overlap on his broken pieces, reinforcing them. His shoulder spouts a bit of blood, prompting a reaction of pain, one he woefully ignores.

His blade re-ignites as I open my palms, my weapons flying at them. I see the more focused look on his eyes. It is sharper than before. Probably a spell of concentration.

I press on the offensive, swinging my hatchet in thin air, directed at him. His instincts move his arms before him, blocking from different angles as phantasmal claws tear at him, causing a clash of sparks to explode from repeated contact.

I press on, charging my dagger held upside down. The rhythm accelerates, yet he holds on without effort. His sword gives no sign of faltering.

"Is this all you have now?" calls out the man, grinning in full teeth "What happened to those otherworldly spells of yours, skull man?"

He must think I'm desperate, throwing a repeated flurry of claw attacks. Such entitlement can tug the prey from the jaws of victory. A small swarm of moth assembles at my dagger arm, the tip of the thing sparking with excess power. 

"You must be weaker than I've thought if this is what your accumulative strength is" he continues, his gloating returned. A shame his own light blinds him. I raise my obsidian dagger and hold it high. At this moment, a hand of swarm loudly make their presence known, catching his attention. Or rather, his dismay. "What is this? What is this!?" he turns to me, once again gaining no words from me.

The moths mimicking my arm materialize a dagger, larger than the nearby trees.  They buzz in entropy, raised up at the man's head. Around him, the light of day dies out, giving way to the moths' night. I see him preparing his needle sword.

"Song of decay"

I plunge my hand down, causing the swarm mimic to do the same. The point of contact: the Hero's chest. He brands his sword in imminence. The explosion from the dagger's accumulated energy occurs, directed at the Hero in the form of a point.

His sword tackles most of the damage, though some pieces attack more of his armor, forcing him to cover more with his new light binding. The night surrounding us burns away, letting the sun back in our location.

The damage that spell would have brought could have been devastating for the environment, had it not for the Hero's purge of the land while attacking.

My eyes see him pant "Another deception, from the skull man" he takes a deep breather "Well done" Another one "But not enough!"

The Hero raises his sword, ready to re-enact his Crescendo spell when another presence was felt around. A distant one, closing in quickly. My senses rememorate the familiarity of this.

"Kaiual" I whisper unbeknownst to myself. 

She soon arrives, walking bare feet at the smoldering aftermath of our battle. Once again, I see her changed and grown. The Hero looks at her, intrigued but mostly disgusted at the shakalaka "And who do we have here? A wench looking to claim the loser in battle?"

"Kaiula, what are you doing here?" I yell as she stares at the man in white and gold "Minion. We speak of you leaving later. Right now, we battle the gold man".

"So, the skull man had someone called out" he spits, turning his weapon on her "Quick to fight, are we?" he says as he throws a Crescendo at her. Kaiual dodges it pretty easily, throwing a duo of purple energy daggers at him. 

He blocks them and dashes straight at her for close combat. She quickly pulls out another dagger and deflected his first blow. Then the second. Then the third. I throw my own dagger at her free hand as his tempo accelerates. She catches it, enabling me to teleport next to her as I start attacking, to decrease his assault.

The clash sparks in all direction, my mind noting yet again the synergy I and Kaiual have, for an unknown reason. Just as I subtly rad her movement and bodily distress, so does she. causing the two of us to cover each other, with no words uttered between us. The Hero manages this with difficulty, to his very dismay.

However, with us two attacking at the man in the same time, his sword explode in a tide of light, pushing us away from the man. His bound light was no more, sacrificed for a singular opportunity. I crash against a charred tree, attracting ashes.

The blow has dazed me, yet my senses are screaming. The Hero walks toward Kaiula, further weakened by the scattering of his making, laying on her back against a tree, his needle sword raised for this opportunity. He slashes downward...

Kaiula finally opens her eyes, sensing the Hero next to her. She grabs on to her knife but jolts in fright. A needle was mere inches from her mask. From her eyes. I couldn't bear to see those eyes defied by his misguided purge. Destroyed by his tool of erasure. Therefore...

"Minion! Why are you bleeding!? Minion!?" she screams out, a wailing tone in her voice. Wailing. That's a first for her. Didn't think she was so frightful at the sight of blood. The pain in my shoulder stings so much. His light channeled through his needle burns so much.

"Ohh, I didn't think you'd be so tied to this thing, skull man. How foolish to flung your own integrity for the safeguard of these aberrations. But, you sure did. Now, to smite the--Hnnghh" He tried to pull his weapon off my shoulder, embedded in it. Yet my hand kept it here, forcing the man to use more of his strength "Hnngh, let go! You are already dead! Do not delay the inevitable!" He tries yet again, summoning more power to try just as a swarm of moths assembled on my shoulder.

My head slowly turns to her. Despite the skull hiding my expression, she quickly sees the escape order I'm throwing at her, with my injured hand throwing air at the left, the safest route for a quick getaway. She does not move away. No, A hand of butterflies amassed right to her punching the man away while holding on to my now collapsing body. His sword still embedded in my shoulder, burning and painful.

The Hero crashes straight on the bed of a dried out river.   A frantic Kaiula hastily pulls it out, before throwing it away!Hnnggh!" The pain is relieved twice during her immediate action.

My ragged breathing is straining. The light he left in my open wounds is festering and drawing strength out of me, as well as burning my nerves around. 

Despite all of this though, my mind is still playing the sequence of her last spell. Not unlike my Song of Decay, she could just as easily summon a swarm to mimic a limb of hers. Despite me never have taught her, not show her anything. Yet, it happened. To be able to assimilate something so quickly...

I press my other arm against the searing wound, hoping to contain my pain as I slowly look up Kaiual's eyes. They seem so watery from down here. And her appearance, so home. I remember seeing women attired like this, though for so long, it was a fleeting memory. My mind has slowly pieced the awareness from her entire being.

Whether her whole kind was like or not, I knew Kaiual would be set on the path as a witch doctor. Never thought I'd see another one like her outside of home. But it all fits. Her overall appearance. Her ease in my doctrine of magic. The haste with which she assimilated the things I've taught her. Now it made sense.

Despite the still fierce searing pain, I straddle myself up, to her dismay "What are you doing, minion?! You're still...! Your shoulder is..."

I stagger up, still dazy from the burns overlapped, yet I manage. My breath is ragged, still struggling with the pain "Kaiual...where did you learn that attack?"

She's struck with incredibility at my question, as far from my current state as it could be "Minion! Don't speak about this now. You're injured badly!"

I can see her displeased eyes mixed with worry "I need to know. It may rid us of him, seeing as I can't fully do it with a useless arm"

Still kneeling behind me, she clenches her dagger, looking away "I saw skull head minion followed by shadow mimicking his movement, directly behind him. I thought I had same shadow as minion did. While minion was away, I tried calling out to shadow thing. I succeeded..."

The last two words leave her with an ounce of pride, only to be later laced with regret "...but only bits. Not full shadow out. Me wanted to impress minion with full body of me in butterflies like minion did with shadow of moths all those years..."

So she could see my Song of Moths all this time. The song, a spell deviated from my homeland, unique to anyone capable of doing it. Those able to do so usually have a shadow from the other world mimicking their every movement, like a shadow from the reflected world. Always ready to strike out. My song happens to take after the moths that firstly gathered around me before my parting with home.

For anyone not of the Drowned Forest, seeing the shadow was naught but impossible, available only to the best of their spellcasters. During my travels around the lands, I've often had some of them calling out an ink around my size following me around. But she could not only see my song but had her own. I see it clearly even with my debilitating injuries. Layer after layer of overlapped butterflies with folded wings all synergized and collectively moving, kneeling down like her.

She truly is something...

"Can you do it again?" I ask, slowly. her face perks up, only slightly "Only by bits. Not full shadow". A deep sense of uselessness shades her aura. An unwarranted sense, really, for someone as gifted as she is.

I lend my functional arm at her, prompting surprise from Kaiula's end. No words come out of me, as I suspect she will catch on. her palm meets mine, lifting her up. Ignoring the grievous wound of my charred shoulder for a moment, I take out her dagger and slip it on her hand as well as the doll I had on me on her other hand. the doll is a striking resemblance of the Hero, assimilated the moment I had plunged my own dagger on his arm.

Surprise briefly assails her before carrying on, knowing exactly what I intend on doing. I stand behind her,  guiding her movement, my hands over her own. The doll is on the lower positioning as the dagger we both grasp on is held up high. The sky blackens again, darker than before.

The Hero is slowly rising up from the latest blow delivered, finding a few butterflies left on the left shoulder all the way to his arm but soon leaving his shattered gauntlet. His binding light returns to him, interloping his broken pieces. He sets his eyes on us, as we look at each other with an understanding beyond words.

He points his needle sword at us, grinning with an opportunity...that would never come as he felt another presence. Not north, nor west. It did not come from the west either. No, it was south, directly behind him, mere inches behind him. The Hero turns, his sword brandished, ready to swing...

...but dropped it at the sight of a duality of swarms. Swarms of purple butterflies. Swarms of moths, the both of them shaped in the form of I and Kaiual, towering over the very trees themselves, those not scarred by his purge. The hand of moths, palm opened at the Hero, too shocked, too distraught to move, has no mistake in its intention.

Kaiula slowly turns her masked face from me to the doll, just as her gigantic mimic does to the Hero. I join her in the gaze, brandishing the dagger in out overlapped fingers, causing the avatars to do the very same. No light could hope to save him. No armor could shelter his fate.

With a gentle press of my palm, we stab at the doll..."Song of Entropy"

The darkness of the sky dissipates immediately in a flash of light, erupting with the green tide of our melded magic. The land scarred by his own attempted purged by fire is further damaged by the clap of thunder that struck the man, turning gray and barren. A few rays of light come to banish the dark enveloped in our area.

At the epicenter, lies the Hero, completely devoid of armor, of clothes even. While devastating, I never wished to outright kill him, and I suspect Kaiula didn't either. Therefore, while too injured to move, amidst a land of floating dust and arcane ashes, his life would never be in peril.

His men, surviving the large scale blow designed for their captain were also devoid of their attire entirely. As well as their weapons, their strength, their stamina and overall constitution. Utterly vulnerable to any wildlife threatening to skip around. 

With all of this over, the swarms had dissipated into the unharmed sections of nature. My hands were still interloping with Kaiual's and with the threat definitely gone, my mind returned its attention to details until then overlooked. Mainly the fact that in the process of sheathing the doll on her doll compartment, I still held her by the waist. Somehow, my hand managed to find itself holding her close to me.

Worst still, her own hand over mine as if she was unaware of the act. "!!" I immediately recoiled and took a few steps back while she was still admiring the sun returning. 

As I do this, the sharp pain of a searing shoulder returns to me as well, prompting me to hold it with my other hand. Kaiula's sun gaze turns to my grunt. "Oga! I forget minion is injured! Let us go back home, so I fix minion!" Without awaiting anything from me, she slips her arm under mine and starts walking back, trying to get me to lean on her for the trip. Exhausted and still injured, I do naught but give in, turning my eyes away from the men.

Days have passed since my recovering has started. Seems the injury I sustained from this man's needle sword was more than just physical. His light was embedded in the wounds. Kaiula, under my instructions, has prepared a solution to rid myself of it, greatly accelerating my healing. 

During this time of remission, I've continued to oversee her training, watching her attune her mastery over the magic I've introduced her to.

"Very well done!" I compliment after watching her summoning the Song of Butterflies to smash an artificial doll of hard light of green with her foot.

"Minion thinks so? Kaiula mighty impressive, yes?" she asks, saturated with pride in her voice. The presence of gratitude is also very present, like a sweet taste on an avant-garde bitter meal. A very welcomed pint.

"Once again, you manage to surpass my expectations, even with merely a few days of demonstration" My words are apparently like treats to her. I do not know whether her pride is the one fed or other.

Regardless, with that amount of recognition I've thrown at her, the woman starts running all around with that volatile magic, spreading it around in a momentum of jubilee.

I watch her do as such for a while before my arm gets a bit weary. I return inside, to let her live out her joy. My feet carry me all the way to my own room, a ray of light invading from the stone carved window. I look at it for a moment "Seems I'll be staying here for a moment longer".

I quickly slumber to my bed, continuing to look outside of the window. The birds around here are pretty numerous. Their incessant singing is welcomed to my ears. Soon enough, sleep crawls up to me and send me to a minute of rest.

Used to sleeping in my warlock attire, strange new sensation flushes me straight out of my sleeping haze. A familiar one warning me of danger but this...

I quickly open my eyes, only to meet Kaiula's body directly over mine. "What the...?" I jolt slightly,  a reaction undeniable. Her lips part somewhat, as I realize she's not wearing her mask. "Wait, what!? Her mask is..."

Before I can try to comprehend why her wooden mask is out of her face, she wakes up, half-asleep looking back at me with a haze "Min~ion? Did I wake you up?" Her eyes are barely open, not sure of what she's seeing. I stay quiet, hoping for her to get back to sleep. With that, I could inch myself from her and see whether she has lost it.

The opposite happens as she blinks many times to gain clarity "Minion is awake!"

"'re sleeping on me?" I utter in disbelief.

"Well, of course, Kaiula sleeps in same bed as minion! Skull head minion helped Kaiula! Made her grander! I reward minion with presence" she replies, with a very visible blush on her face. And a few freckles on her cheeks.

"You could simply sleep next to me if that is your purpose", I try suggesting to her, my eyes drawn to her cleavage laying on my garb.

"No, no, no! I sleep WITH minion, NOT beside minion! Minion needs to learn difference" she shouts, getting closer to my skull hindered face to the point of feeling her breath on it "If I just sleep beside minion, minion not know it. With me sleeping with minion, minion learn!"

"Learn what?" I ask, unable to know whether I was very aware or still dozing in a lucid dream "I don't see what is to..."

Her eyes look away in embarrassment, tightening the grip she had on my chest "I want to be with minion..." It came like a whisper, very unlike her usual manner.

"...what?" The only words I'm able to speak out, a rush of heat traveling to my cheeks now. Did she utter those words? Hearing this really nulls in the fact that this was why I've was to leave this place. Being a boastful being, I didn't think she'd ever develop feelings like this. Yet my mind persists in doubt.

"Kaiula recognizes minion as worthy person. Even more worthy as mate to me since minion teach me what makes me, me. I don't want anyone else to be Kaiula's lifelong mate. Therefore..."

She suddenly closes up to my face, still shrouded under my ram's helm "Kaiula finds minion as best person to live with me..." Her face is tapped in shades of red.

"Anyone at my place would have done the very same..." I call out, finding the will to resist the desire to overlap my arms around her increasingly difficult. 

"But no one until minion's presence as done same for me" I feel an ounce of sadness in this sentence "Other always thing Kaiula loud-mouthed or vain. I never knew I was not suited for physical combat. But minion knew and slowly drafted me toward something fitting me like glove. No one else did..."

I subconsciously raise my hand to her cheek as her eyes drift to the side with those words sapping her short burst of happiness. She perks up while I get a moment to stare deeply at her face, noticing the new pair of earrings hidden by her silky emerald hair. A matching gem in the middle adorns the tiny accessories. 

The light in her eyes sparks with a stark brightness "With a face like yours, I'm surprised no one sought to aid you", I let out, gazing in those peerless beauties.

"Well, I never remove mask because I never felt like anyone would like what's behind". She slightly distances her face from my helm, still straddling over me, yet gently holding my hand on her cheek. A smile comes to embellish her freckles "Minion gave cared for me. Took rough rock I was and turned me into a gem. Minion only deserving of seeing my face..."

Her words come to sever any remaining doubt I still harbor, a cut with each syllable laced with sincerity. I would later learn that Shakalaka aren't very fond of parting with their veils in the presence of strangers.

"Well, I'm glad I helped you achieve who you are", I say, feeling truly grateful to the embellished woman she became, both physically and spiritually.

"Kaiula's heart now belongs to minion. Called out to him ever since he left me. Minion won't leave now, will he?" Her expression is both waiting and worried. Her hand guiding my own to her heart, closing her eyes with a faint smile. A very beautiful one. Her heart beats calmly. She knows I'm no longer intending on parting ways.

"No, I won't. Not anymore" I throw my free arm around her waist, gently leaning her on me. A faint blush escapes her cheeks as she was not prepared to my sudden act. Yet she lets herself tilt. Even with my garb essentially preventing a certain amount of sensation, I can feel her soft and smooth skin. I'm not sure how, but she really takes care of herself in the pigmentation department. I'm no one to complain.

"I love you, my minion..." she lets out, putting a hand on my chest, her eyes still closed, almost sleeping. I take my other hand behind her waist, for a hug "I love you too, my dear Kaiula..."

We stay embraced for what my mind perceives to for an eternity. Eventually, however, she soon parts her head from me, looking back at my hidden face "Could...could minion remove skull head?"

My lack of shock from her request comes from the inevitability of her desire to see behind it, as I've seen monsters, as well as human women, do the same. My mother often had asked my father to avoid branding his so much at home. Not that he always wore his. It seemed more like a way of complimenting his facial features.

My hands go to each side of the skull I bore for years. Painted writing appear on it, flashing in my signature aura of a fluorescent green. She looks with curiosity while the skull slowly begins to disappear into the otherworld, leisurely revealing the blue short cut hair I've kept as such. The modest tribal paint etched on my extremities, with motives of water flowing reminiscent of my place of origin. My eyes of a surprise ocean blue.

Kaiula blushed once again, though I thought this one was somewhat exaggerated, considering I could easily remember the Prodigy easily topping my charms with his. "Minion, you as stunning as I am" she exclaims, revealing a slightly larger tooth of hers, pointy on the right corner of her mouth. Looks like she doesn't care. I suspect she may have forgotten him already.

"Really? I could've have sworn a blonde man was much more appealing to ladies" I joke, only to receive a pout from her.

"Kaiula don't care for pretty men. I prefer handsome men. Minion is handsome man indeed. More than blondi man".

I let out a laugh at her words, despite her pout persisting "Kaiula serious!"

"I know, I know. I just found it funny how you always had somewhat strange appreciations. Especially with the way you kept calling him blonde".

"Well, Kaiula don't want no pretty man! Prefer handsome man!" She says this with an ounce of indignation, almost as if insulted or my questioning of her particular preferences.

We both stop speaking, soon drowning in the eyes of the other, as my helm re-appears on the table nearby. My eyes slowly look all over her body, unable to contain themselves. She easily notices it "Minion likes what he sees?"

I quickly drift my eyes away in embarrassment. Subtle things like the direction of my gaze became harder to conceal without my helm. Her hand slowly goes on my cheek, to try to garner my attention ~Minion can look if he wants. I would be insulted not to be eyed~

Hiding emotions certainly became nigh impossible at this point as well. Yet my eyes stopped caring for that the moment she uttered those words, slowly appreciating every inch of her reforged body, one of a queen Shakalaka if I remember correctly.

Looking around her every inch, I inevitably land on her orange lips, parted in silence. I want to kiss them. With every second passed in her company, all those years, I wished to see how she looked behind her mask. Funnily enough, it often translated to my desire to kiss her gently during the first changes she began going through.

~Minion can take my first kiss if he wants~ she spits out, very aware of my stare. 

I try to deny it "It's fine. Everything is going pretty fast. Perhaps too fast" I stutter with each word spoken.

"Minion, it's been years. I know minion wants it. I want it too" she continues without letting me off the hook, getting closer to my face. Once again, I realize I am without my ram helm, stationary on the table stool, inert.

Her arms overlap behind my neck. her face turns into a more gentle one. Her eyelids close in as her lips part, awaiting a kiss from mine truly. From up close, I could smell her breath. It smelled of tangerine. A very sweet one. My nostrils were enchanted by it. So, with no more loose string holding me, I leaned in for the kiss.

Immediately, a myriad of orange-based fruits assails me. The taste of each overlap with the latter, giving way to unique combinations. So tasty, so soft to the touch. I wonder how many fruits she ate for her breath to smell and taste as such.

Our hands locked behind the other, we get closer, as day turns to night. To think she had such feelings for me and I, for her. Slowly, but surely, our lips part one from another, her face stained with a plead for one more second. I could feel that as well.

"I hope minion will be more lenient on his skull head". Her eyes are locked on mine with a finger drawing circles on my garb's chest, a cuter pout showing on her face.

"Do you hate it that much?" I ask, even knowing what she meant by that.

"No, but I won't be kissing minion so much with his bone head attached".

"Of course..." I let out, expecting her to say that "Don't worry about that. I won't be passing out on our growing intimacy" I reply to her, poking my nose with her own. A bright smile illuminates her face, yawning in response to the oncoming night.

Seeing it, I lay on the back of my bed, inviting her to sleep. I knew she wouldn't want to leave, especially now. She lays on me, forsaking the sheets under us "Minion is warm enough for me~. I smile, turning tired as well. Our eyes collectively close with the coming of the night welcomed in the dream land.

Funnily enough, the next day, I found her bed hanging over the nearest tree, ripped to shred with splinters falling all around. She said something about 'not needing it anymore'. The surrounding members of the Hunter Guilds found this very odd, though the monster counterparts easily identified to this act. I had no complaint about this, surprisingly.

Ever since that night, Kaiula and I never parted far from each other. We became a couple as much as most others, very common here. Kaiula's confidence became less of arrogance, seeing as she knew more clearly what she could do and what she couldn't. Her quick acceptance of this surprised me. Never the less, it became a blessed welcome.

With each obstacle we traverse, our bond binds us deeper. Essentially saying that Kaiula was the woman I never knew I needed in my life. And seeing how she's mostly lenient on leaning on me during our still moments, I'm guessing it's the same for her.

Every day, I thank her for her presence. She may have her quirks, but I wouldn't changer her. I love her too much as she is to bother with that. Though the so-called Heroes of the light spectrum keep sending me envoys about how annoying she apparently is.

Ambush parties, platoons, squads of Heroes, bounty hunters, death squads. All of this because apparently, she finds a little fun in playing with their tools while they're not here. No shortage of malfunctioning armors, dulled weapons, and half efficient tools have been wrought in her wake. 

I guess the biggest crime I've 'committed' against them was with that renowned Hero incident years ago. Leaving him stranded and exposed with no scraps of cloth to guard himself with. Him and his men.

A man called Gordon once came to us with his escort, a Jho named Jodice with tiny scars in our reserve, wanting to share the story of some pretentious Hero hunted and 'harvested' by thew wildlife. According to him, the man we left has been preyed on by a large pack of raptors. Actually, it happened to be a coalition of packs. Ten in total. Ten packs of ten members, sometimes more.

Being without weapons, they were easily subjugated and 'welcomed' to the ranks. Of course, they sought to protest, but with so many alphas around, they couldn't exactly turn down the invitations, much less the terms.

They say this place with chew anyone foolish enough to wander in. Well, 'chewing' has changed coat in regard to the definition.