Gurglugg was the Chief of his domain, lord of all he surveyed. Though some have called Gurglugg a warmonger, he had been a wise enough Chief to enjoy the popularity of the clannish families that served under him. Indeed, no fish had starved to death since he took the reigns of power. For years, the number of young Murlocs proliferated, swelling from tens of clutches to hundreds! Soon, Gurglugg's kin would populate the island!
At least, that was what Gurglugg had anticipated until one moon past. Now, the dreaded Landkin which plagued their island had returned, traversing the terrible sea. Upon their arrival, the Landkin annihilated his outpost and took the lives of sixteen clutches of younglings. Worse still, from the reports he received from Flurgluug, there were flying shamans among the Landkin who could rain down fire from the heavens. Cursed fate! The best his shamans could do was rain down mud and rot upon his enemies. How in the name of Buulopdegup was he supposed to fight that?
As if that wasn't the worst of it, in recent days, his fishes began to disappear by the dozen, entire patrols evaporating into the air as though Buulopdegup ate them herself. In rows, his kin came to him with their petitions, their eyes oozing with mucus.
"My clutch-mate is gone!"
"They took my spawnlings! Gluuurp!"
Bah! Gurglugg was sick and tired of their complaints.
Of course, Gurglugg knew why their babies and their clutch-mates were disappearing. It was because they invaded the Landkin's base! The Landkin were so delicious once flayed. So convenient, these creatures were, to have skins that came with "zips" that allowed for easy removal. They were good labourers as well when made to work in the spawning pools, eventually becoming excellent fertiliser for the young when they grew weak and died.
Now, Gurglugg had just a few dozen left, herded in the pens. Maybe he should use them to request peace? That had worked with the Serpents in the deep jungle, who left them well-alone when Gurglugg had presented them with human shamans. The Snake-kin liked to eat the shaman's brains and hearts, they were strange like that.
Still, what was he to do? With the crystals they found and the flesh they harvested, the tribe could grow to two or three times its size! If anything, Gurglugg needed more time - time for the new spawnlings to be born, then he would be the Chief of a thousand clutches!
Gurglugg shook his bulbous, whiskered head, sending out flying globs of sputum and phlegm, trying to align his thoughts. His intense mental concentration was almost at its apex when—
An explosion rang out, unlike anything Gurglugg had ever heard before. The stupid noise quickly turned into the sound of females shrieking their gills out.
Gurglugg flapped his plump and corpulent body for the door, his legs as thick as small tree trunks. He snatched his favourite coral trident at the door and pushed past the seaweed curtains.
"Glurrrgh! Ghugh! Gooolp gul gu gu gullarg?"
His answer came in the form of a blast of cacophonic noise that filled the air. Gurglugg's jutting eyes, each the size of dinner plates, moved to focus on a series of dots approaching them. With alarm, he realised the horizon was on fire, lit by a miniature sun.
"Goolp gul gu gu gullarg?!" He said to his guard. The stupid fish-spawn built like a mud sloop-house stared slack-jawed.
Then the air grew scorching.
Steam began to rise from the pool and Gurglugg could see the young below writhing in pain.
"Gulark uu Pulak! Goolp gul gu Glaark! Glark!"
His cry of warning echoed across the village, reverberating across the lake. By now, his skin felt incredibly dry, like all the moisture had been extracted from his mucus. He gazed upward, sensing the presence of something too terrible to acknowledge.
The miniature sun had arrived, blazing ochre and orange, radiating enough heat to wilt the wetland. His warriors used every weapon at their disposal, but could not harm the radiant being.
The radiant Sun-God declared some edict he could not understand. Gurglugg did not possess eyelids and could not squint, but in the circumstances, he tried his best. Half-blind, he could just make out the silhouette of three humanoid figures.
There was a flash of light.
The forest burned.
The lake boiled.
The world was on fire.
As the Purge team approached, Yue could see Alesia's Wall of Fire cast a swath of destruction through the forest. Every inch of greenery they traversed became scorched earth, the trees wilting in the wake of their passage. From churning cinder came the figure of the Murks, hundreds of them, fleeing towards the safety of the lake, their limbs flailing wildly, the bright coloured flesh upon their heads pulsating alarmingly.
Yue threw out a few Blast Bolts, watching the missiles detonate below. One bolt struck especially true, splitting a slow running one from the shoulder and sending its head flying.
"Getting a nice count there!" Taj shouted over the music. "You over a century yet?"
"Just about!" Yue hollered back.
"Let's see how many are in the village," Alesia joined in. "You'd probably hit four digits."
"Four digits?" Yue marvelled.
"You'll see." Alesia laughed, sending out fireflies embers as she pressed forward.
"Hey! Check out that fat one!" Yue spotted a rather large Murloc holding a trident.
"I think that's a Patriarch," Taj shouted.
"Let's get started then." Alesia accelerated to combat speed.
The trio arrived at the centre of the lake, where Yue had seen Spawning Pool. Below, they could see hundreds of Murlocs swimming through water, trying to protect clutches of transparent spheres. Alesia's Avatar of Fire was radiating so much heat that the water below her began to ripple and steam in great broken rings.
"Filthy fucking animals!" She spat distastefully. "How many people did they feed into that pool to get that many tadpoles going at once?"
With a grunt, she clapped her hands together; the heat began to rise in earnest. In her Efreet form, Alesia was a human portal channelling the relentless energies empowering the Elemental Plane of Fire.
"Flame Barrier!" She incanted, drawing upon her fathomless reservoir of elemental flame.
Instantly, a wall of fire twenty metres high began to form around the Lake, licking across the forest in black gouts as the vegetation charred. From above, the trio watched as the flame formed a great ring that encircled the Murloc village in a matter of minutes.
"Nothing escapes," Alesia noted for Yue's benefit. "Paul and the others will take care of the Pens; we take care of this."
Murloc warriors emerged from the lake to engage them, great big hulking masses of fish-faced amphibians with bulging biceps the size of footballs. They launched spears of coral and bone from the waters towards the girls, peppering the skies with dark shards of poison and bone.
Had Alesia and Yue been alone, they would have to use their speed to avoid the ground to air assaults, but this time, they had Taj with them. The Abjurer effortlessly blocked the Murloc's non-magical attacks, casting warding barriers of stone that formed below the girls like great bowls of dark clay.
A glob of acid splattered toward the Mages. Taj blocked that too with another shield.
"Yue, take care of it," Alesia commanded.
Yue spotted the Murloc shamans below and began tossing Fireballs toward the surface of the lake, preventing them from surfacing.
Meanwhile, Alesia extended both hands and drew a flaming glyph in the air. Another set of glyphs opened up above and below her. She was beginning the ritual for a tier seven spell of mass destruction, accessible to only in her Efreet form.
Yue fired off another volley Fireballs, watching the orbs impact the lake's surface, scalding the creatures hiding below.
"Fire Storm!" Alesia exhaled. From the heavens descended a tornado of swirling fire that plunged into the lake, wildly displacing the surface so that hissing steam flooded the forest.
As Yue had anticipated, the surrounding area filled with superheated steam. She even felt a spurt of white-hot mist hiss underfoot, noting with alarm that Taj's stone barrier began to flake.
"Glad you got that Resist Element?" Taj joked.
"Bloody oath." Yue almost bit her tongue.
As Alesia's spell raged, the ineffective attacks against them ceased.
"Jesus Christ! What the fuck is that smell?" Yue was instantly aware of a scent that rose from below, thick and heavy with the texture of an oily gravy. It was a smell of fish, not rotten fish, but boiled fish.
Hundreds, no, thousands, of poached fish.
The vortex of superheated air persisted for another minute before subsiding, dispersing thanks to the magically-induced microclimate.
Yue's eyes grew wide with horror. What she saw was obscene death on an industrial scale. The poor bastards below had been boiled alive, their leathery skin falling from their bodies in great sliding sheets of slimy flesh. There were even ones without skin at all, walking blindly with bleeding eyes through the mud, stepping on others. Others had gone mad from the agony, lashing out and attacking anything that came close.
Yue saw one take a trident to its face, frenziedly stabbing itself to make the pain stop.
Then the wailing started. First, a few, then a dozen, then whole schools of the bastards began to cry out in agony and pain, a chorus of suffering. Yue saw small monsters, big monsters, Murlocs clutching clusters of their transparent eggs, now well cooked, wailing in despair. Pairs of the fucking things were hugging one another. She even saw a little fish-thing trying to nudge a dead one to wakefulness.
"What the fuck—" She whispered under her breath.
Her mind spun. These were just monsters, right? Materials and fodder and food! What was this feeling eating away at her chest? Why was her stomach lurching; her heart constricting? She couldn't even breathe. Was it the smell?
She tried to speak, but couldn't find her voice.
"I need a quick break," Alesia announced. The fire of her Efreet form began to dim. "You guys go mop up. I'll be fine at a higher altitude. Meet up with Team Two. They should be at the Pens. If we're lucky, a few people might have made it."
Taj flexed his muscular, bull-like neck.
"Yue, ready?" He joked.
Yue was still staring slack-jawed at the exquisite hell below them.
"YUE, still there?"
She turned slowly to look at Taj.
"You alright?" He demanded briskly. "Never seen mass destruction spell in action before? They're all like this. I wouldn't worry. If you think this is bad, you should see an extended range Incendiary Cloud. Crispy, I tell you! Ha! You ready to become a bit-shot Evoker?"
Yue felt the beginnings of an insane smile, the muscles around her lips locking into place to form a permanent grin.
"Let's mop up!" She announced jubilantly, her mind no longer willing to ponder the vision below. All she could recall right now was the invocation for Fireball. And from what Yue could see, she was going to need many Fireballs indeed.
"Bai Yue..." Gwen felt such wretchedness that she had to hug Yue tightly against her bosoms, enveloping her head with both arms.
Elvia joined in, and the three of them shared a moment of silence.
"Do you want to cry?" Gwen asked carefully. "It's okay to cry."
"I am over it," Yue replied with a muted voice. "I've never been one for outbursts."
The trio parted.
Gwen felt the eyes of her friends upon her.
"Your turn," Elvia said heartlessly.
"Yeah," Yue affirmed. "What's the damage? Miss twenty out of ten."
Gwen audibly exhaled.
"I have a lot of secrets, some of them doesn't belong to me alone, so I'll have to refrain from those, but I'll tell you as much of myself as I am able."
The girls nodded.
"Before I begin, I want to show you guys something. It'll make my story more believable."
A jolt of lightning jolted harmlessly through the air, materialising into a cute little marten that landed with a flourish.
"Oh. My. God."
Ariel began its devastating attack of adorability, instantly enslaving Elvia and Yue's maiden hearts.
"Can I touch it?" Elvia asked.
Before Elvia could touch the marten; Yue reached out with both hands and hugged it to her face.
"So soft!" She moaned orgasmically.
Elvia watched enviously, awaiting her turn. After a minute, Yue handed the cat-snake over. Elvia took it with trembling hands, her blue eyes staring widely at the creature as it sniffed the air.
"Ee?" Ariel necked Elvia's hands with its cheek.
The cuteness proved excessive for Elvia; her mental fortitude had reached zero. Like a girl obsessed, the Healer suddenly kissed Ariel full on the nose, then did it again. Ariel extended its little pink paws and gave her face a good push, but Elvia persisted in smooshing its weaselly mien.
The girls played with the marten for a good fifteen minutes. Finally, Ariel settled onto Elvia's lap.
"There's one more," Gwen said expectantly. "This one is also cute. I think."
The two girls nodded with big grinning faces.
Gwen took a deep breath.
Then she took another deep breath.
Then she materialised plastic sheets across the bed, asking them to stretch out the corners and sit over the edges.
Her friends grew confused. Was it a Water Elemental? Was Gwen trying to hint that she had another element? If so, it would make Gwen beyond unique. Very few Mages had more than one element.
"Caliban," Gwen stated with a quavering voice. "Come!"
A dark portal shunted open near the ceiling. Instantly the temperature dropped by several degrees. Yue felt her heart wrench with dread and loathing as the Negative Energy polluted the air. Elvia, on the other hand, turned white with shock, reacting aggressively against Caliban's aura of desolation.
Then Gwen's Familiar came, a slithering monstrosity in black obsidian, sinuous and serpentine, its prehensile body writhing this way and that. Unlike Ariel, Caliban turned to Gwen and hissed.
Yue felt the bile rising in her throat.
Elvia suddenly began to scream.
She cocked her head, gripped her sheets, and screamed and screamed.
As if reacting to its favourite music, Caliban turned to the petite blonde and joined in the symphony. It's carapace split in twain, revealing a pulsating mass of purple-pink flesh dripping with cold grey slime. It opened its lamprey's mouth and began to sing, its tongues darting about happily.
"Shaa! Shaa! Shaa!"
Gwen grimaced. Was that too much too soon? Was Elvia's father going to burst into the room and see his comatose daughter with a monster?
Gingerly, Gwen conjuring a little handful of purified water and splashing the coldness across Elvia's face. Elvia snapped back to reality, saw Caliban and cried out once more.
Finally, too paranoia to allow her friend free reign, she moved a hand over Elvia's mouth.
"Hush! Shh! It's okay Elvia, Caliban is friendly."
Gwen willed Caliban to calm down, watching its tentacles retract into its carapace. Without its pulsing flesh exposed, Caliban resembled an abstract work of art.
Elvia gripped Gwen's wrists, her nails digging into Gwen's skin.
"Wow, I don't even feel remotely mind-fucked by the Murks anymore," Yue gazed warily at Caliban as its head bobbed this way and that. "Good work, Gwennie, I am cured."
"What…" Elvia wracked her mind to find an appropriate word. She found it in Yue's favourite vernacular. "Gwen, what the fuck is that?"
"Evee!" Yue slapped Elvia, shocked. "No!"
Gwen raised a hand, willing Caliban to come closer. Against her thighs, she rubbed its snout gingerly, eliciting a clicking-purr. Ariel meanwhile, played the ambassador and leapt onto Elvia's lap once more, licking her face to provide her with some creature comfort.
"What… Element is that?" Yue was surprisingly acute when it came to Magical Creatures. "Is it… Undead?"
"No, thank God." Gwen allowed Caliban to settle, feeling a surge of weakness pass over her as Void-mana exhausted her body. Sensing her weariness, Caliban reached out and flicked a tentacled-tongue against its master's chin. "Evee, can I trouble you for some Positive Energy?"
Elvia reached over and began to channel. She could see Gwen's complexion improve as her Healing Word made its mark.
"That's enough. I am not wounded or anything." Gwen breathed out. "To answer your question, Yue - Caliban is Void Familiar."
"What! NO WAY!" Yue exploded. "That's one of the three forbidden elements! That's right next to the big NO-NO! How is this possible?"
Meanwhile, Caliban had found its new favourite thing. A source of life energy! It slithered out of Gwen's lap and made for Elvia, begging and nodding its head comically as it moved.
Elvia felt herself petrify as the dark thing approached. It lowered its head gently and nudged her knees. When Elvia did not retaliate or resist, it continued to crawl up her leg.
"Gwen?" Elvia's voice caught in her throat.
Gwen was unfortunately distracted by Yue.
"Gwen?" Elvia asked again, this time with more distress as Caliban crawled into her lap and began to sniff her skin.
Gwen was still busy trying to fend off the disbelieving Yue.
"Caliban! Come back here," Gwen commanded. Her Familiar sulked and slithered back. Before it returned, however, it regarded Elvia with a look that seemed to say they were now best friends.
Elvia shivered, cold sweat drenching her nightgown.
"I don't get it!" Yue blurted. "This is the stuff they used to talk about in history class! In the Beast Wave! In the Great Calamities! Why is it next to us and giving Elvia a tongue bath!"
"It's a long story…" Gwen began. "A very long story."
"We've got all night—" Yue sat back, holding a pillow to ward herself against Caliban.
Beside her, Elvia was hugging Ariel tightly, feeling the resonance of positive energy within it. Caliban meanwhile, coiled itself against Gwen's lap.
Gwen nodded. She looked forlornly at her two friends, then began to tell her tale.
She started with the events after the Rainbow Serpent when she returned with Alesia to the Tower. She was still under Geas to avoid that topic, so she merely intimated that the Master of the Tower was very interested in her near death-encounter with Edgar, the Mage that had abducted herself and Debora.
From that meeting, Gwen discovered that she had in fact, one more School to Awaken in. With the help of Henry Kilroy and the Greater Cognisance Chamber, she had become both Conjurer and Evoker, Lightning and Void.
When Yue asked about the Void element itself, Gwen told her the half-truth; that she had no idea. As for why she Awoke in it, Gwen associated the talent with her near-death experience, courtesy of Edgar.
After that incident, Gwen trained with Alesia and Gunther while at school and in the Tower. During that time, Gwen also met her grandfather, Surya, and with Henry's help, managed to summon Ariel and Caliban.
"So that's why you kept disappearing every weekend!" Yue commented sulkily. "I thought you had a boyfriend or something."
Gwen continued her story, moving onto the unfortunate meeting between Mark Chandler and herself. It was a complicated story to narrate, and Gwen did her best to tell it chronologically, first going over her assault of the Slaver's base, then her capture, then Caliban running amok. She even confessed fully to Caliban's appetites.
"Don't be scared Evee, think about how loyally Caliban reacted. Man, I would love to have myself a Caliban in a tight spot." Yue remarked with confidence.
Then, to Gwen's relief, Yue reached out and rubbed Caliban's body, feeling its smooth exterior. Caliban raised its head and gazed at Yue with a knowing nod of comprehension. Yue then allowed Caliban to scent her hand, feeling the serpent nudged her knuckles with his snout.
"Good Cali," Yue cooed. "Who's a good boy?"
"Shaa! Shaa!" Caliban replied coolly.
Gwen continued her story, continuing with Gunther's arrival and his borrowing her hand to murder the two slavers.
"You… killed PEOPLE!?" Elvia was white as a sheet.
Yue raised both brows.
Gwen confessed all, including how Bozza and Farez finally expired.
"How do you feel sitting beside a murderer?" Gwen asked weakly.
"Meh, it was self-defence!" Yue's retorted defensively.
"Was it?" Gwen intoned melancholically. She had already replayed the scene so many times in her head. "They had no limbs, Yue. They were defenceless."
Yue licked her lips nervously. "Still, I don't blame you or anything."
Comparatively, Elvia seemed conflicted by Gwen's story. Her hand, which was rubbing Ariel's stomach, had ceased its stroking.
Gwen sighed and continued her story. Without risking too much detail, she explained the reason why Mark turned against his friends and allies. Gwen told them of Elizabeth, Henry Kilroy's wife, who was a Void element user herself. Elizabeth had gone mad with power, ultimately consuming others to feed her insatiable hunger. Mark was convinced that Elizabeth had murdered his sister, and so used Gwen to entrap Henry. She even told them that Mark had used Necromancy to capture his sister's soul as evidence.
"That asshole!" Yue uttered in disbelief, then realised the reason for Gwen's melancholy.
"No! You're not going crazy! You're a good person who feels remorse! Not like that Elizabeth woman. She was unbalanced from the start."
"Thanks, Yue, that's my hypothesis as well," Gwen replied, hoping that her friends had enough faith in her to believe her.
Elvia remained silent.
Gwen had a little more of the narrative left. She told them about how Gunther arrested Mark, of how she had that long conversation with Henry. The only way to save her from a fate of living in infamy and secrecy, Gwen explained, was to became a proverbial panda protected by all. She was to be a living Spell of Mass Destruction that all the powers respected and left well alone, tethered to the influence of the Tower's Middle Faction, and therefore the Mageocracy, itself.
Finally, she informed them of Surya and Henry's plan and the girls' part in it. All the was left now was how the girls would receive the news.
"That's about the gist of it," Gwen finished. She had omitted things as well: her true origins, the twin souls, her consumption ability to appropriate the talents Caliban devoured. These were secrets she'd likely have to take to her grave.
"Well, I am cool." Yue beckoned for Caliban. Gwen watched with surprise as Yue placed her face close to Caliban's own and allowed their noses to touch.
"Odourless, how interesting," Yue remarked, giving it a bop on the formless head. Caliban sent out some feelers to touch Yue's collarbones. "Eek! Ticklish!"
Yue was an amazing Mage, Gwen affirmed. That mental fortitude, that unflappable personality. The girl was made of sterner stuff than Gwen herself.
"Elvia, it's okay if you want me to leave or something." Gwen felt her stomach sink. "Please just say something."
Elvia looked up from stroking Ariel, turning her small face to regard Gwen and Yue with her luminous blue eyes. Then, to their surprise, Elvia launched herself from the bed and embraced Gwen by the neck. She dug her head into Gwen's shoulder and began to sob mightily.
"I am sorry," she mumbled incoherently. "You went through so much, and I wasn't even there. I didn't even know! I am a terrible friend!"
Gwen felt all tension drain from her body. Suddenly, she could breathe again. She wrapped her arms around Elvia, then kissed her cheeks.
"It's okay, Evee. I am so happy you could still accept me as your friend."
"Eee! Ee!" Ariel joined in the huddle.
"Aww." Yue felt her heart fluttering with gladness as she pressed herself into the scrum.
"Shaa!!" Caliban slithered in between the girls.
"Aeee!" Elvia tore herself away, falling against the pillow.
"Shaa!" Caliban looked hurt.
Suddenly, Yue began to laugh.
Gwen laughed as well.
Ariel squealed with delight.
Elvia wasn't in a jovial mood, but the laughter proved too infectious.
Caliban realised that it wasn't in trouble, and wagged its tail expressively.
All five members "laughed" themselves to exhaustion, so much that Gwen had to retract Caliban and Ariel into their pocket dimensions.
"Phew," Yue remarked, recalling a break in the chronology. "Assuming we get more details later for all that, I want to know what you did for the entirety of last month."
"Ah," Gwen realised that she had stopped the story a little prematurely. "Well, there's something you need to know about Debora…"