"Hey Fatass, wake up!" Fenris shouted from beside Torga's head.
Torga opened the eye closest to the sound and glared at Fenris, "Must you always be so loud, Mutt?" Torga grumbled as he raised his head off the ground and looked around.
He counted off each of his friends as they entered the clearing, but... Someone was missing?
"Hey, Mutt, where's-" Torga started to ask, but he was interrupted before he could.
"Damn Fatass, I knew you must've been hungry, but did you have to eat so much of the forest!?" Fenris yelled while staring with his mouth agape, at the several miles of forest that'd been turned into a wasteland; The trees were gone, the grass had large swaths of it missing, and even the nearby stream was missing.
"You should've returned sooner, then!" Torga barked.
However, his anger at Fenris' question soon evaporated as he, again, attempted to find the missing person.
"Hey, Lena? Where's A-" He was again interrupted, this time by Talia and Solon running up to him.
"Hi, Torga!" Little Talia squeaked. Her long black hair bounced as she ran into Torga's side and proceeded to hug him where she could. "I missed you!" she finished.
Unlike Hali and her mother, Talia was told around her eighth birthday that she just didn't have the magical power to become a full druid. Because of this, instead of being trained by her mother, she was trained by Fenris in the ways of martial combat... And she was good at it!
Blessed with the thin body of an elf, the strength and speed of a beastman, and the instincts of a warg. Once Talia matured a little bit, she would be a force to be reckoned with.
"I missed you too, Brat." Torga chuckled.
Then it was Solon's turn to step forward; He pushed his hair out of his eyes and bowed low to Torga, then he spoke.
"It's nice to see you again, sir."
Torga rolled his eyes at the display, "Stand up straight, Brat. You're not in the presence of royalty, are you?"
Solon quickly stood up straight and began to rub the back of his head in embarrassment.
"Right... Sorry about that."
Just as Torga was going to attempt to ask his question, again. A third person walked up behind Talia and Solon; It was a tall Dark elf with long black hair and bright white eyes.
Like Solon before him, the elf bowed low to the ground and greeted Torga with the utmost respect.
"Hello, Master Torga. Have you been well?"
"I'm still alive, aren't I?"
The elf returned to his full height and looked Torga up and down several times before he was satisfied.
"Indeed you are, Sir."
"Now I see where Solon picked up that annoying habit." Torga smirked.
Deciding to look around for any other interruptions, Torga raised his head and looked at everyone around him.
Lena, Solon, Talia, Uriel, Fenris, and Lena's chosen elf bodyguards were all Torga could see... Which didn't settle well with him.
"Lena... Where are the girls?"
Lena, who'd been in a rather animated chat with her daughter, froze at the sound of Torga's voice.
"Who?" She asked without turning to look at him.
Torga's eyes narrowed into thin slits as a low rumble began at the back of his throat.
"Let me rephrase the question... Where. Is. My. Daughter?" He almost growled.
Lena slowly turned around and nervously chuckled at Torga's question, "I'm sure she's around here somewhere." she finished lamely.
After staring at her for several seconds, Torga decided to change targets.
Despite the rather obvious glare, his wife was giving him, Fenris answered Torga immediately.
"She took off for her fiance's kingdom."
Fenris snorted, "Like Hali and Findral would allow that. They and your other goblins are following closely behind."
"Ah... Good. Thank you for telling me-"
"Yeah, Yeah. No need to get all 'nice' on me. I just didn't want to hear you whining that, 'your 'little girl' could be in danger', for the next three days." Fenris interrupted with a smirk.
"Your little girl's out there too, you know?" Torga sneered.
That wiped the smirk off his face.
"Don't remind me."
After finishing his 'talk' with Fenris, Torga turned his attention back to Lena... Who was currently giving her husband a death glare.
"Why didn't you tell me this?" He asked.
She stopped glaring at Fenris and turned to Torga with a defiant look on her face.
"Because I promised her I wouldn't."
"Why did you promise that?"
"Because..." Lena paused as she collected her thoughts, and then continued. "Because she needed to confront him herself. If you're there to solve all of her problems or make all of her decisions for her, then she'll never grow up."
After hearing his words, Lena breathed out a sigh of relief. "So you'll let her do this on her own?" She asked with a smile... That very quickly turned to fear, as a knot formed in the pit of her stomach.
Lena had been looking at Torga's eyes while she explained herself, so she never noticed the atmosphere around her; The eye in the center of Torga's forehead had turned pitch black in response to his anger, and a cyclone of wind slowly started to form around the forest.
"I see..." Torga repeated, "You believed yourself to be right, so instead of simply telling me the truth and trusting that I was mature enough to let MY daughter make her own mistakes... You chose to hide it from me."
The wind sped up even further as Torga's anger reached its peak.
"What else have you hidden from me, I wonder?" He whispered just loud enough for her to hear.
"The funny thing is... I don't believe you. I've known for years that you've kept things from me and I accepted that because I was sure that it was your business and your business alone... However, do not believe that just because we are friends, I won't destroy you if it meant protecting that girl... Am I being clear enough for you?" Torga harshly whispered.
Lena shakily nodded her head, "C...Crystal."
As quickly as it appeared, the wind stopped and Torga's eye returned to its normal red.
"Then go find our daughters before I lose my temper and do something I'll regret."
Lena looked around at the others and motioned for them to follow. "Let... Let's go, everyone! We need to catch up with the girls before they get too far away!"
Though Talia protested leaving Torga again, she eventually waved him goodbye and ran to catch up to her mother and the others, leaving Torga, Fenris, and Uriel alone.
"I'll forgive you because of the circumstances... But don't you EVER threaten my wife again!" Fenris snarled at Torga.
"You think I enjoyed it? I care for your wife and children more than I do almost anyone else in this universe... But Lena needs to get it through her head, there are certain things you don't hide from me and Ayla running off alone, is one of them."
"You know as well as I, Lena meant no harm."
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions, Fenris."
Fenris bit his lip and glared at Torga.
"I mean it, Torga. Don't become a threat to my family."
"I know you do, my friend... It's why I trust you to take care of Ayla should anything happen to me." Torga quietly agreed as Fenris ran off.
"Kind of hypocritical there, weren't you?" Uriel asked.
"Probably, but don't you have work to do?"
Uriel smiled up at Torga and pulled a large red stone; about the size of a grapefruit, out of his pack and sat it on the ground.
"Have you decided where you want it?"
"Then get comfortable, Master Torga. This is going to take awhile."
"Of course it is." Torga sighed as he laid his head back down and closed his eyes, while Uriel got to work digging a large magic formation into the ground.
While Torga was getting his jewel, Ayla was riding a horse she acquired in town. Trees were mere blurs in her eyes at the speed she was going... Though the angry tears in her eyes certainly weren't helping.
"He lied to me... He lied...He lied. He promised to never leave me, but not only does he leave for two fucking years. When I finally get him back, he's always sending me away. Well fine! If he doesn't want me around anymore, then I'll be the one to leave!" She internally snarled.
With every hoof-beat, her heart grew heavier and heavier as the tears running down her face left their mark.
Hours passed in this way, as she only stopped to let the horse rest and then she would begin moving again. Eventually, she pushed herself to exhaustion and she decided to stop in a small village near the capital... Approximately thirty miles from Torga and the others.
After entering through the main gates, Ayla pulled her hood up and brought her horse to the lone stable in town and asked the owner to care for it while she got some sleep at the nearby inn.
"I wouldn't if I were you, little missy." The portly man said before she could walk out the door.
"Why not? It has beds available, right?"
"O' course, it does. Though some rather... unsavory people, have just arrived in town and they may give a pretty lady like yourself some trouble."
Though Ayla blushed slightly at the comment, she didn't waver.
"I'm sure I can handle myself... But thank you for the warning, all the same." She gave him a slight curtsy, then walked out the door.
After leaving the stable, Ayla walked down the road a ways, until she reached the inn. As it was currently night time, when she pushed open the old wooden door, she was quite surprised to find the inside packed with people of all races. They appeared to be having a party of some kind, as they were chanting and singing loudly to each other.
She forced her way through the crowd to the desk on the opposite side of the room, where she found a small man with a bloody lip standing behind the desk. He was staring at the ground with his fists clenched and his whole body was trembling.
"H... How may I help you?" He asked without looking up.
"I'd like a room, but first, sir? Are you okay?" She asked while pulling the hood off of her head.
After hearing her words, the man's head snapped up and he stared at her in shock.
"Are you insane!?" He harshly whispered, as he reached out and grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her behind the desk where he pushed her to the ground.
"What're you- Hmph!" The man covered her mouth with his shaky hand as he pointed over the desk.
"If they find out a woman's here... They'll... They'll-"
She pulled his hand down, "They'll what? Kill me? Rape me? What!?" She whispered.
However, before the man could answer, a spike was driven into the back of his head and out of his mouth.
"Non O' that lass. Cannibals we may be, be we're not monsters." A thin man with long blonde hair and black teeth smiled down at her.
"And I think we just found our next meal." The man yelled over his shoulder at the other people in the inn.
His words brought about, even more cheering, as he reached down and jerked Ayla up to her feet. Though she tried to use her magic, the sight of the spike through the little man's head was messing with her concentration... What she saw next definitely didn't help either.
The man grabbed her head and forced her to look at the table in the center of the room, where the half-eaten body of a girl about her age was on full display.
"These men aren't human!" Ayla stared with her mouth agape at the body; They'd eaten everything but the bones in her chest and pelvic region, leaving just the legs and head untouched.
The girl had an expression of absolute fear and pain permanently etched into her face as she died... As if she'd been eaten alive.
"What kind of monster's are you, people!?" She screamed.
Ayla kicked the thin man and elbowed another that attempted to grab her as she backed away far enough that she could pull her dagger on them.
A man came swaggering up to her and attempted to take the blade from her hand.
"Now, lass. Hand that over before you hurt ye'self."
Ayla's response was to bury the blade to the hilt inside the man's eye. It pierced through the bone and into his brain, killing him on the spot... However, it also caused her blade to become stuck inside the man's skull.
She then turned and ran out the back door, and right into the waiting arms of the stable master.
"You've gotta help, those people inside, they aren't human!" She yelled at him.
The stable master stared down at her, pity was etched into his face as he slowly shook his head.
"I warned ya, Lass." He quietly said, then he reached down and hoisted her onto his shoulder.
"What're you doing!"
"The longer they remain satisfied eating travelers, the less they'll want to eat us." He admitted as he carried her back inside the inn.
"Why are you just giving up!? Fight back, Tell the soldiers, do anything but give up!" She swung her legs down and kneed him in the stomach.
The impact caused him to temporarily release his hold on her, but he regained it before she could escape.
"You don't think we tried that?" He quietly asked, "They've already killed most of the town because we kept trying to send someone to alert the people in the capital... But their heads were returned to us each and every time."
"So you'll just feed me to them, is that it!?"
"If it keeps my children alive for just a little while longer... Yes, I think I will." The man snarled as he threw her into the arms of a 'cannibal'.
Ayla swung her arms back and knocked the creature to the ground, then she spat in the stable master's face.
"To hell with you then!" She snarled.
Suddenly, before she could move a step further, a large bony hand wrapped around her throat and hoisted her into the air.
She grabbed the hand and tried with all her might to pull the fingers away, but no matter how hard she tried, the creature was just too strong.
"To hell, you say?" A grating voice asked from behind her.
Ever so slowly, Ayla turned her head to the side to see the origin of the voice... And what she saw could no longer be considered a 'man'; half its face was missing showing the snow-white bone beneath. It was tall and skeletally thin with long fangs peeking out from under its lips.
"What... Are... You?" She rasped out.
"Me?" It asked while pointing a bony finger at its chest. "I'm but an old ghoul." It finished with a smile.
Ayla looked around at the other men and surrounding her and began to notice the fangs in their mouths, as well.
"Ghouls... Just my luck."
Suddenly, the door to the inn opened up and a young, green skinned woman walked in. Her long black hair hung lazily down her chest and back as she sauntered past the men and up to Ayla.
"Well, have we learned our lesson, young miss?" The woman asked Ayla without a care in the world.
Her carefree nature was a stark contrast with the situation at hand and the bony ghoul pointed it out.
"Are you lost?" It asked.
"Lost?" She tapped a dainty finger to her chin. "No, I don't think I am."
"Uh...Huh, so you don't care what happens to this girl?" It asked, shaking Ayla for emphasis.
"Of course I do."
"And if I decided I'm going to eat not just her, but you as well?"
"Well~" She took a step closer to him, "I think my friends might take exception to that."
As the bony ghoul asked his question, a ghoul was violently thrown through the wall of the inn, leaving a large hole in its side.
"Should've just let me break it down." A gruff voice said from outside.
"Where's the fun in that? Beside's Holstig, we needed to get their attention, didn't we?" A large rock-like monster asked as it stepped through the hole it'd made.
It stood at nine feet tall and looked almost like a large gorilla, though its rock covered skin, overly long appendages, loincloth, and Warhammer the size of a grown man dissuaded most from making that assumption.
"If you say so." The gruff voice said as a large metallic hoof stepped through the hole, followed by a likewise metallic body.
The creature had the head of a bull, two massive horns that scraped the fifteen-foot ceiling, and the body of an extremely large man. Though it wore leather leggings to cover its groin, the rest of the massive metal creature was bare, save for its metal fur.
The ghouls looked at each interloper in turn, then looked back at the green-skinned woman.
"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Siofs, and the two rather large individuals behind me, are Holstig and Hogunn. We work for the girl you're currently holding's father, and we'd really appreciate it if you'd put her down now."
Without thinking, the bony ghoul dropped Ayla to the ground as he stared in shock at the woman, allowing Ayla to take a much-needed breath and to run around behind the counter to regroup.
"What kind of elf controls those two?" The bony ghoul asked with as much confidence as it could muster.
"Whoever said her father was an elf?" Siofs asked while tilting her head to the side.
"I just thought-"
Before the ghoul could finish his sentence, Siofs reached behind her back and pulled out a small metal cylinder with a button in the center and a round, metal buckler. She pressed the button, causing a spearhead to shoot out of the end and pierce through the bony ghouls head, killing him instantly.
She pressed the button again, and the spearhead split into three and ripped the ghouls head apart.
"That's the problem with you foul creatures... You try to think!" She snarled.
The trident was quickly pulled back and swiped through the heads of two other ghouls, cleaving through their heads like butter.
"Get your overgrown asses into gear! These foul creatures dared to harm Ayla, and if we don't kill every last one of em' it'll be our asses on the line when the master finds out!" Siofs yelled.
Her words knocked Holstig and Hogunn out of their stupors and they too drew their weapons.
Hogunn pulled his Warhammer off of his back and charged into the melee, while Holstig pulled his twin, double-headed axes off his side.
"May the gods have mercy on us, in that case." Holstig muttered as he casually swung his axes and cleaved a ghoul in two with every swing.
Ayla watched the 'goblins' cleave through any ghoul that came near her or them and even though she was very happy to see them... She knew one thing was true above all others.
"I am in soo much trouble." She grimaced.
"What the hell were you thinking!?" Findral yelled at a kneeling Ayla.
After the 'goblins' had cleared out the remaining ghouls and left to hunt down any that weren't inside the inn. Findral and Hali; who'd opted to stay outside until the received the all-clear from Siofs, had verbally torn into Ayla for her rash decision to leave without telling anyone.
"I was mad, okay?"
"Mad? Mad!? I'm Mad, Ayla. You were being a brat!" Findral grabbed Ayla by the head and forced her to look at the burning inn, behind her. "Had we not shown up when we did, you. would. be. dead. Master would've been heartbroken, and who knows what he would've done to this world!"
Ayla snorted, "You give him too much credit."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You honestly think he cares enough about me to feel 'heartbroken'? Please, he would relish the opportunity to be rid of m-" Ayla's head was violently spun to the side as Findral's open hand made contact with her cheek.
"You insufferable moron!" Findral yelled.
"Findral, maybe you should calm down a bit?" Hali spoke up from behind Ayla.
"No!" Findral snarled, "She has no right to talk about Master that way!"
"No right!? He's claimed for years that I was his daughter and he'd never leave me. And yet, at every possible opportunity, he's sent me away! Can you think of a reason for that Findral!? Because I sure can't!" Ayla got to her feet and yelled in Findral's face.
"Because he's terrified of hurting you, you bloody idiot!" She snarled back.
Her words took the steam out of Ayla's sails and caused her to take a step back.
"Hurt me?" Ayla asked.
"Haven't you noticed how Torga hasn't been stopping to eat since his evolution ended?"
"Well... Yeah, I guess. What does that have to do with anything?"
"It has everything to do with it... Tell her, Findral."
Findral stared at Hali for a few seconds, then she breathed out a sigh.
"Tell me, what?" Ayla looked between the two of them.
"During Master's evolution... Specifically, right before he left two years ago. His body acquired a new trait."
"Magic Eater." Hali finished.
"O..kay, and this means, what, exactly?"
Findral rolled her eyes, "Master can't control this trait. Which means-"
"Which means, if he's around us for too long, he may accidentally consume our magic and kill us. You idiot!" Hali smacked Ayla on the back of the head.
As she did so, the 'goblins' came walking up to them.
"We miss anything?" Siofs asked.
"Ayla's being an idiot, again."
"So no, no you didn't miss anything."
Siofs looked between the three girls for a moment, then she slowly nodded her head.
"Understood." she motioned for Holstig and Hogunn to move on, so the two nodded and walked towards the stables.
"You want the good news or the bad news first?" She asked.
As Ayla was still in shock from the information about Torga, it was Findral who spoke up.
"Bad news first."
"Very well. The bad news is the town is completely wiped out and Holstig smelled horses and metal heading in our direction."
"Which means... Someone either managed to get out and alert the soldiers after all or it's a passing patrol."
"I fail to see how that's the bad news?"
"If it's the former, then it isn't... But if it's the latter?"
"Then they'll think we butchered the town."
Hali sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose.
"Great... That's just great."
"What's the good news?"
"Well~ Holstig also smelled something all too familiar mixed in with the soldiers."
"A serpent." a gruff voice said from behind them.
Findral and Hali turned around and saw Holstig and Hogunn standing with their horses.
At Holstig's words, Ayla perked up and turned her head towards him.
He shook his head, "No, It's not Master"
"If not him, then who?"
"I'm not certain... However, we're about to find out." He said while pointing over their heads.
They all turned to see a group of armed men riding atop horses at full speed and leading them was none other than...
"Well, look who it is. Ayla, it's your lover-boy~" Hali smirked.
Ayla stared blankly at the approaching riders and sighed.
"Oh good... As if I didn't have enough to worry about at the moment. Now I have to worry about my 'fiance' attacking my friends... Or them eating him." She hung her head and shook it back and forth.
"Guys just... Please don't attack them."
"No promises." Siofs said while smiling.
"I will defend you, if necessary." Holstig said.
"So long as they don't attack me." Hogunn said while picking his nose.
"That depends on them."
"Great... Now to convince Lokir not to do something stupid enough to get him or his soldiers killed." As she thought so, memories of Lokir's personality swam through her mind, causing her to hang her head again.
"Oh, who am I kidding? They're doomed..."