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The rain pouring outside of the city really does sound very bitter. Yet somehow, despite seeing it on the edge of her periphery, despite the cascade of the water being present in her ears, it doesn’t seem to be paid the least of mind by any of the people here, who all only have eyes for the stage. The storm itself never seems to manage to come any closer, as if some spell cast around the city were encasing it and creating a space that is protected from any such things. Or maybe it’s something less esoteric. Maybe the boughs of the giant tree simply held the rain away?

 

Here, in this city, the rain is an oddity. Here, in this city, she herself is an oddity as well. Not because of her class or because of her new-found ability to fly or for any such things. But rather, because right now, as she stares at the same figure which all thousand of the onlookers, and then some, stare at together, she realizes that she is the only one who seems unhappy.

 

The young man, who she can only assume is the hero, walks out on stage, wearing a suit of regal, ornate silver plate armor that is ill-fitted for his body, which clearly hasn’t grown into it yet. A royal-blue cape dangles down behind him. He’s tall, his hair is mid-length and raven-black with a light wave to it, his confidently surprised, fearless eyes stare out towards the crowd as he awkwardly lifts a gangly arm and waves, looking very excited and happy about this himself.

 

“Hello, everyone!” says the hero and that’s all that it takes for the crowd to explode into a series of cheers and cries that causes Fresh to wince from the pain in her ears. She hovers in the darkness, next to a lower wall, watching as a group of people approach him from behind, as the buzz continues for a while. His party-members, she assumes.

 

Already born just from this one statement of his, come less than subtle whispers from beneath her of how charming he is, how handsome he is, how awe inspiring he is. Fresh isn’t as wowed, she just sees a reborn, gangly teenager in a suit of armor. But she supposes that she isn’t exactly ‘the target audience’, as it were. “My name is Garnet,” says the hero, his voice overpowering the crowd.

 

His party reaches his side. A healer, some white-haired, well groomed woman who is some high-ranked priestess, by the looks of it. The hero goes on. “You don’t know me, but I have been a guest of your hospitality for days now.” Another person approaches. This is clearly the agile member of the group. Some elf with an obscenely large bow strapped sideways to her back. Her oak-brown hair is strung back in an extremely tight, scalp pulling pony-tail. “I was chosen to come to your world because the gods have deemed that you are in need of aid.” The crowd falls silent. The hero closes his eyes and Fresh notices the posture and expression of his face. He isn’t free-forming this, he’s reciting some speech as if he were standing in front of a classroom, giving a presentation.

 

“Darkness has fallen over the land. Wickedness stirs in every nest. The north-wind has become breathless,” he explains to the thousand, and then some, faces that stare at him, as if captivated. Their mouths are agape, their eyes are wide as if they were staring at a god that had come down unto the world, like in times of old. The last party-member approaches from the keep.

 

Fresh’s eyes tear open wide, her teeth clench against themselves so tightly that she’s sure she’s about to crack one and the wood of the broom complains in equal manner as her fists grip and crush the handle she sits on, as she watches the familiar stranger walk to stand next to the hero.

 

The red-wizard, from the north.

 

“For years, generations, the world around your home has become sick. Degenerated,” says the hero.

 

Even here, even without touching her own body, Fresh is sure she can still feel the knick in her ribs, she’s sure that she can still feel that breaking of her own heart as the memory of the creature returns to her, the creature she had trusted that had hurt her, that had abandoned her and left her for dead, that had robbed her and her friend’s home. She’s in the hero-party?

 

Her? How?!

 

“For lifetimes, the disease has spread from one heart to the next. The befoulment. The ugliness -”

 

Fresh doesn’t really ever get angry. Not like this. Sure, she’s been upset, whiny, naggy, frustrated, sad and so many other things like that. But anger? Like this? Strong, clean burning resentment?

 

In her chest, like a pot of black-ooze coming to boil over, splashing and splattering and tainting everything around it. And with every proverbial splash, she can hear it. She can hear the laughter of the fountain. It’s laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing. It finds this hilarious. It finds her expression hilarious, her feelings, hilarious, her confliction, hilarious. It’s like it had been watching a show for hours, waiting feverishly on the punchline it knew was to come and here it finally was.

 

“That is why I am here. But I can’t do it alone! Let’s work together!” says the hero, bending down and grabbing the hand of the first person he can reach, pulling the very surprised boy up onto the stage as his mother stares with awestruck pride and tears in her eyes. “Noble, Commoner,” he says, turning his head to look over the crowd, grabbing the hand of the priestess next to him with his other. “Lay-person or master, let’s work together to make the world a just place.” He says to the breathless crowd. Fresh feels her arms shaking as she stares at the red-wizard, obsessed. “Let’s work together to make the world a safe place,” he says. Her heart is beating so strongly in her chest that she can see her own body lurch forward an inch with every strike of it. Every time the red-wizard nods in silent agreement, Fresh has to suppress the urge to scream.

 

“Let’s work to make the world a place where everyone can be happy!” he says, finishing his speech. The crowd goes wild. Fresh closes her eyes, not really in control of her, very much, fluctuating emotions right now. Happy…? Happy? Happy?!

 

With her eyes shut tightly closed, everything is dark. She listens to the roaring applause which drones on beneath her like the sound of a raging river. “So, do you want to tell them the bad news, or should I?” asks the voice of the fountain, stemming from some impossible place.

 

“Can I go home?” asks Fresh, stating her true wish right away. “Please? I just want to go home,” she begs.

 

“After this, you can go wherever you like,” promises the fountain. “As long as it’s where I want you to be.”

 

Fresh opens her eyes, feeling the ache in her shaking fists that are wrapped around the broom. She doesn’t have a choice anymore, if she ever really did. She sits upright, adjusting her hat, wiping the tears from her face. The bell of the large cathedral tolls loudly, signaling the strike of midnight.

 

“A new day dawns!” shouts the hero, lifting both of the hands he’s holding up into the air and in return, a thousand and some voices chant the same line back towards him, the reverberation of their voices echoing around the night as that of a harmonious collective.

 

Only one voice separates itself from the fold, who all begin to look around themselves in confusion. A loud, sharp, feminine cackling echoes through the night, causing the hairs on every neck in the courtyard to stand on end, causing children to huddle closer to their parents with fearful eyes, causing old bones to quake and young eyes to warily, sharply watch the darkness for the oddity that approaches.

 

“WITCH!” shouts a voice as Fresh descends down from the sky on her broom, holding a hand sideways in front of her mouth, as she does her best to recreate a smug laugh. The crowd tears away, pressing themselves as far away from the spot that she hovers above as possible, leaving a gap in the world below her. It’s as if an ocean had simply parted and decided to ignore a single spot of land in the midst of itself. People scream. People press and struggle their way away.

 

Fresh looks at the hero she is hovering before as something, somewhere in the world, breaks in that instant. Her skin feels wet as something strikes it. A droplet. Rain. The fountain’s plan is coming together. The storm has managed to breach the sanctuary of the central-city. The hero fumbles around with awkward, untrained hands, trying to pull free his sword from its sheath as he pushes the boy back behind himself. “You’ll find,” she says, turning her gaze to the red-wizard who she can see stepping back with shaking legs. “- That here, the night is often longer than you’d expect.”

 

She lifts a finger, pointing it at him crookedly.

 

“I was warned about you!” he says, his sword shaking in his hands.

 

The broom circles around the stage, circles around the hero-party. All of the onlookers in the crowd, all of the onlookers on the ‘high-status’ seats, all of them retreat away as far as they can, watching from a safe distance as the witch of the north flies a slow, calm circle around the hero-party, as the rain begins to fall ever more steadily, staining the ground with oddly dark spots.

 

“What did they tell you about me?” asks Fresh. “Was it her?” she asks, pointing at the red-wizard who pulls together quickly. “Keep her in your party and you’ll change your mind about this world pretty quick,” she tells the hero. The broom hovers closer to the red-wizard, who pulls back as Fresh leans in closer towards her. “Hey! How about a potion?” asks Fresh, clasping her hands together in feigned excitement. “It’s been a while, you must be thirsty?” she asks, holding her arms out wide.

 

The crack of thunder and lightning splits the sky, illuminating the beginning of the heavy rain. Rain cascades down all around them, as if brought on by her provocation. Which in a sense, it was.

 

The broom shoots to the side as a massive arrow, the size of her own body flies just barely past her head. Fresh looks to the side at the archer of the hero-party, who stands there, with her gigantic bow placed onto the stage. There is a loud crashing as the projectile smashes into the inner wall of the castle.

 

“I really like your giant bow, that’s so cool!” exclaims Fresh. “You must be super-strong,” she adds on, hovering around towards the hero again. “- if you can still move.”

 

Turning her head, she looks at the priestess, if only for the sake of wanting to say something to her too. “Hey? Can you guys just… not have a crusade? Please? The world is already terrible enough. Thanks!”

 

Shaking her head, she hovers back to the hero who is still standing there, his sword in his hands, both of which no longer shake. The poison rain has paralyzed him, like everyone else it has touched. This was the fountain’s plan to keep her safe. It has befouled the rain, one of its rare direct interventions into the world, given its limited power.

 

Lifting her finger, getting back on track, she reaches past his sword and places the tip of her digit against the hero’s chestplate, leaning in towards him. “Sorry,” she says quietly, because her voice would crack otherwise. She’s just about hit her limit of theatrical ability. “Don't trust them. This is a bad world,” she whispers, closing her eyes so she doesn't have to see what happens next, letting the broom drift her away and off into the night.

 

(Fresh) uses: [Curse]{Curse of the sunless day}

 

The rain hammers down, washing over everyone, soaking all of them down to the bone. Only Fresh is able to move. The effect of the rain should be gone in a few minutes, at least according to the fountain’s words and by then, she has already left the city, clinging to her broom with soaked clothes, with a soaked hat and a soaked body as she wraps herself around it, letting the lantern guide her all the way home. For the entire trip, she keeps her eyes closed so that she doesn’t have to see anything at all and as for the bitterly cold air that bites deeply into her body, easily ripping through her wet clothes, she lets it do so.

 

It’s something to feel, other than sadness.

 

Eventually, she can smell salt in the air, eventually, she can hear the comforting rush of the waves crashing over the ocean and for the first time since departing the central-city, Fresh opens her eyes, relieved to see the eastern-city she is approaching. It is still several hours until daybreak. Her friends won’t be awake yet. It will take at least a week until word of the events of the central city arrive here. Until then…

 

Until then… maybe she can keep another secret…? Maybe she can keep her friends, for at least the rest of the week, until the fuse finally burns through, once and for all.

 

Sniffling and getting it all out of her system now before she wakes any of them up, Fresh hovers the long way around the city, approaching their house from the side and then quietly glides towards the balcony of their home.

 

Safe. She’s safe at last. She’s home.

 

Hovering in front of the railing, Fresh looks into the double door, leading to their upstairs and stares at Jubilee, who is standing there with crossed arms. Now, for the first time in this entire night, she feels true fear for her own continued existence.

 

“We need to talk,” says Jubilee, stepping outside and closing the door behind themselves.

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Razzmatazz

Bio: I am a studied expert in the field of XR (Virtual/augmented/mixed-reality technologies), a government-trained media and information specialist, as well as a severe hobby-occultist. Most importantly, I love to write! Thank you kindly for your interest. Because of you, I can stop screaming into the void for a little while and keep making more exciting content!

In my spare time, I write free web-serials under the moniker "Razzmatazz".

The main genres that I write in are litRPG-fantasy, action, adventure, romance, tragedy, horror and slice-of-life.

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Comments(74)
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SatinySquid ago

Thank you for the excellent chapter.

kgy121 ago

If Fresh makes a crab-roomba, it's only one step removed from the crab-broom, and she might be able to make it fly.

zano187 ago

Jubilee is definitely the mom of the group

GrayMarsh ago

These recent chapters are some of your best work.

While I feel bad for Fresh, I kind of love watching her go full wicked witch on Central. At least Jubilee caught her so she doesn't have to agonize about coming clean.

Shark Bait ago

Oh No, not the dreaded "We need to talk" line!

Thanks for the Chapter!

NyanFan190 ago

Nobody seems to be mentioning the party composition? Like, what about cool giant bows? Basil, but not squeezed because of low rank? RED WIZARD. At this rate they'll feel just as neglected and start eating their own apples.

    Razzmatazz ago

    Hero gets the classic party harem comp. A priestess, a caster and a thiefy type (all women, of course, as is tradition for hero-parties) They're pretty nice enough people, well, except the red-wizard...

Tiptaptictac ago

a cliff followed by...

A CLIFF?

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

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