Scourge Fifty-Three - Useless
It takes a few hours, but by the end I have about twenty mantises and half as many elemental wolves.
It’s not exactly an army. In fact, I’m a bit worried that I’m just not going to have enough monsters by my side to impress the Templars and plough through the undead. At the speed the Templars are going, it’ll take another day to reach the edge of Algecante. Then they’ll probably want to rest the night. I basically have a full day tomorrow to make as many monsters as I can. At my current rate of about five an hour... given half a day to work and taking into account that I’ll have to move between dark pools as I deplete them....
“Are you alright?” Felix asks.
I smile. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I say. “It’s just a lot to handle.”
Felix smiles, then raises her arms a bit. I gladly walk into the hug, because hugs are nice.
I glance over Felix’s shoulder and see Esme watching us. Her cheeks go rosy and she snaps her books shut and climbs to her feet. “Why are we hugging Felix?” she asks.
“Well, she’s hugging me, I think?”
Felix shakes her head. “No, this is a mutual hug. You can join in too, if you want Esme.”
Esme sniffs and crosses her arms. “And what makes you think I want to join in?”
“Because hugs are nice, and when Valeria or I hug you you smile a lot more after?” Felix asks.
Esme’s cheeks regain the rosiness they were losing. “Okay, fine,” she says before Felix grabs her by the wrist and yoinks her into our embrace. She squeaks, which only sets Felix and I to giggling. It’s nice. Felix and Esme can always get me out of my funks when I start thinking too hard. Esme by making me think about other stuff, and Felix by making me think of nothing at all.
“Um,” Bianca says.
Felix turns her way, and... well, maybe it’s because my face is so close to hers, but I really notice the way Felix looks at Bianca. It’s not just her eyes but something about her magic too. Maybe Felix has a bit of Vigilance in her. She inspects Bianca up and down then locks eyes with our noble lady friend. “Did you want to join in too?” Felix asks.
“I think I’m fine, thank you,” Bianca says.
Felix nods, and that’s that... somehow. I have the impression something’s gone over my head, but I can’t tell what. And honestly, I don’t know if I have the time to figure it out.
“Thanks,” I say as the hug naturally ends. I glance up at the sky, which is fading into the orange-y purple of early evening. “We should move out soon.”
“We’re going to have to fly,” Esme says. “We’re not going to catch up to the Templars on foot, even if they’re moving a little slow.”
“Yeah, let’s prepare the birds and head out. We can find a place to camp past where the Templars are while these guys run to catch up.” I gesture to my new mantis monsters who are milling around. Well, no, actually, they tend to stand completely still when not ordered to do anything. Most monsters sniff around or do... stuff, but these seem to like standing there in the shadows and just looming. I bet they’d make great ambush predators.
“Will they be able to catch up?” Esme asks.
“Yeah. Give me like, ten minutes. I’m going to make some little friends we can drop from the air. We can let them act like breadcrumbs to point the way towards our camp.”
“Breadcrumbs?” Esme asks.
“Uh, sorry, I meant little markers that will point the way.”
Esme shakes her head. “Another weird Valerism.”
“A what?” I ask.
“Nothing,” she says too quickly while Felix chuckles. “Go make your little friends. We’ll prepare the birds to take off.”
Pouting a bit, I go and do just that. It doesn’t take too long to make some little friends who can help. They’re shaped like little song birds, with powerful lungs so that they can whistle and attract the attention of the monsters around them, and little fluttery wings so that when we drop them from above, they won’t splat on the ground. They won’t be very useful in a fight, though I do give them long, sharp beaks and tiny sharp claws.
When I ask the first one to whistle for me I flinch back and have to cover my ears. Even then, my ears ring for a minute or two after it stops. They’re loud, which is probably for the best.
After I make about twenty of them, I return to my friends and stuff the little birds into a satchel. And then, finally, we take off.
About an hour later we speed past the Templars who are setting up another camp next to the road. Their Vigilance magic lets them manipulate the earth into big spikey walls and they’re quick to chop a few trees down to build a gate and a makeshift drawbridge. I recognize Lily from afar. She’s walking around the outside of their earthen palisades with a few other Templars, digging a metre-wide moat with magic.
I also notice all the undead on the road. Well, aliven’t undead. The Templars probably ran across them on the way to where they’re setting up their camp and then did what they do best.
We keep flying, only slowing down once we’re quite a ways ahead of the Templar’s camp and I’m out of whistling bird beacons. After circling around a couple of times, Bianca of all people spots a dark pool through the cover of some trees and we come down through the canopy.
Esme gets a good smack in the face from some branches (little whippy ones, not a big branch or else it wouldn’t be nearly as funny) and has to spend the first five minutes after we’ve landed looking for her glasses with Felix’s help.
Bianca and I, in the meantime, set up camp next to the dark pool.
Monsters that I sent ahead earlier start to show up. I send them around the camp and into the woods where they can rest and leave us mostly alone. If the undead decide to attack us in the night, they’ll have to go through a few layers of monsters first. Personally, I think that’s way better than any quickly-made road-side fort, even if we don’t get a moat filled with spikes.
Since it’s so nice out, and the skies are clear of any signs of rain, we just string a tarp across a few trees and lay our sleeping stuff down onto a patch of loamy soil.
I make some monsters that are quick and nimble and who love the taste of mosquitoes, then let them loose around the camp so that we won’t be bothered by midnight buzzing.
My friends get a fire started with some twigs and a few greener branches and I return to the dark pool and make a couple more monsters. This pool isn’t very deep, so I won’t be making much from it. Might as well drain it now then move on in the morning.
I hear some movement behind me while I’m working, and when I turn, I find Bianca stepping closer. “Do you mind if I sit?” she asks.
“No, go ahead,” I say. “I need to focus, but I can talk at the same time.”
“Thanks,” she says. “Felix is... I think she called it a food coma?”
I giggle. “That sounds right.”
“And Esme’s reading, though I think she’s mostly fighting off sleep. She looks tired.”
“Oh. Maybe we can skip her turn on watch,” I say. “I think I’ll take the first one since I’m feeling pretty awake right now.” The monster-making is draining but... not that bad. It’s not physically tiring.
Bianca nods. “That’s alright. She deserves a bit of sleep.”
I nod along, then refocus on continuing my monster-making process. It’s another mantis. At this point I’ve made so many that I barely need to think.
“Can I ask a question?” Bianca asks.
“Sure,” I say. I’m tempted to tell her she just did, but that’s droll. I’m not some middle-aged dad. “What’s on your mind?”
“Felix and Esme, they’re your... friends, right?”
“And are they perhaps... more than just friends to you?”
Something goes terribly wrong with my monster and the dark pool gurgles and splutters. I snap my attention back to it and work quick to stabilise everything. “I-I don’t know what you mean,” I say.
“Oh, I see,” Bianca says.
She nods. “It’s that way.”
What way? What way is it? I want to ask, but I also don’t want to mess up any more than I have with my monster. And... maybe I don’t want to ask.
“In either case, I’m happy you have so many good friends, Valeria. And, while I perhaps don’t feel the same way about you as Felix and Esme obviously do--” She pauses as the dark pool gurgles some more. “I’m still happy that we’ve become friends.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say.
“I am curious though. Was that Initiate, Lily, part of your harem, because there seemed to be a lot of repressed emotions going on there.”
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- Someplace Cold, Canada
- A bird that likes comfy and happy things, and also knives. Once ate a god’s eye and awakened the ability to see all that is good in the world. Known to steal shiny ideas and baubles. Currently forbidden from writing his own bios.
Bio: A bird that likes comfy and happy things, and also knives. Once ate a god’s eye and awakened the ability to see all that is good in the world. Known to steal shiny ideas and baubles. Currently forbidden from writing his own bios.