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RazorStar

The Eternal

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Hey all, I'm gonna share what I've been writing over NaNoWriMo for the past couple of years. I will give the forewarning that it has not been edited since I started writing it, so there are gonna be some issues with tense (since I'm awful with that), POV (again awful with it, but I try to keep it over the shoulder with some insight into the POV character's head), and you know general grammar stuff that only gets picked up when you go over things with a fine toothed comb. This is still a work in progress, but I can at least see my endgame coming with this one so I may actually finish this one day. Ha Ha Ha.

 

The Eternal is the story of Pollux Diamante, a priest of the Navahn Church and his companions. Gifted with the God of Wind's Blessing, he travels to the country of Esseria to find a missing relic of the church. With danger around every corner, rumours of monsters and demons lurking in the wilds, and cloak and dagger conspiracies abound, he'll have to rely on his friends and his skills to survive.

 

I had a lot of fun writing this, so I hope you guys enjoy it.

 

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: Wanderers

Chapter 2: An Exercise in Exorcism

Chapter 3: The Hand of Fate

Chapter 4: A Hunting We Will Go

Chapter 5: TBD

Edited by RazorStar

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Chapter 1: Wanderers

 

In a quiet town not too far from the border, a group of travellers wandered through the sandy expanse. The leader of their group shielded his face from the swirling dust and wind as he looked at the device nestled in his pocket. In normal circumstances the three needles inside would point towards the God of Balance, Ferron. However the alignment was slightly off, almost imperceptibly, but as he had been checking these readings constantly, he knew something was amiss. He clucked his tongue and adjusted his brimmed hat.

 

“Something is wrong here.” He said to his group of his companions. “We’re going to be staying in the area a while, so get comfortable.” He slid the device back into his pocket and took a good look at the people of the town. While they weren’t unhealthy or sick, it was important to notice their changes in appearance over time. Given the small level of distortion, he felt it was unlikely the townspeople would develop any strange traits or behaviours but it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye out.

 

The wind roared, slamming wooden doors open and shut on their hinges, and blowing sand straight into the man’s eyes. The woman beside him giggled. “I thought the wind favoured you, Pollux.” He wiped his brow with a dry handkerchief and smirked.

 

“Seyn can be cruel to me, but she never hits me with thorny words.” He smiled and admired her deadpan expression.

 

“If it wasn’t funny the first time you said it, why would it be funny the fiftieth time?” She sighed. “Anyway, if we’re going to be here a while, we may as well set up a base of operations, right?”

 

Pollux nodded, and then looked at the rest of the group. He pointed out a lanky man wearing a thick gray coat and sombre expression. “Gill, how’s our money situation?”

“We should be able to rent a building in this town, but we’ll need to take on some odd jobs to keep food on the table.” He said serenely.

 

The man smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “That’s good. Find us a place closest to the biggest bar in the city. Take Luevin and Ankerdal with you as well, if you need to negotiate the terms.” He turned to the two large men who quickly nodded assent. Though they were from different parts of the world, they quickly became fast friends and were virtually inseparable.

 

“Your concern is touching, Master Pollux. I’ll be sure to find you a place worthy of your family’s legacy.” He and the two beefy men separated to find a building. Pax simply shook his head. Rose looked bored as always while the twins Alia and Exia were off in their own world, admiring the sights of the slightly dilapidated town.

 

“Well, the rest of you are with me. We’re gonna do some rumour hunting, and once we have a place to settle down, we’ll get to work.” Pollux brushed some sand off his lapels and carried on.

 

“Rumour hunting?” Exia raised her hand, puzzled by the expression.

 

“It means we go around talking to people, looking for things we can do to help out.” Her sister Alia responded.

 

She tilted her head to the side. “But why? I don’t get it.”

 

Pollux smiled and patted the girl on the head. “When we help other people, they in turn help us. Not to mention these errands give us ample opportunity to investigate what exactly is going on here to throw this region out of balance.”

 

She smiled. “Oh I get it! You’re pretty smart, sometimes.”

 

Pollux tilted his head back to start laughing, but stopped, “Hey wait, what’d you mean, ‘sometimes?”

 

The small girls shared a chuckle while the older woman stifled a groan. “Can we just get down to business? I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold around here.” She rubbed her shoulders and looked around the dusty town. “Seems like the citizens weren’t either.”

 

Pollux scratched his head. “Alright, Rose. First things first, let’s hit the bar. Nothing quite like a gathering of locals and alcohol for news to spread.” He looked down at the girls beside him. “And no, I’m not buying you two alcohol. You’re still too young for that.” He kicked the sand from his boots and strode along, keeping a watchful eye on the people around him. The conclusion he drew was simple, they were drawing a lot of attention. Perhaps it was his vibrant green clothing, or maybe it was the sheer bulk of the men who left with his steward, Guillaume. He found the whole thing to be a little queer.

 

In a matter of minutes they came across their destination. The building had it’s own quaint charm. The wooden panelling of the doors was exquisite and well maintained, showing hardly any signs of abrasion damage like so many of the other buildings in the area had. The sign overhead had lost some lustre, but still stood out thanks to it’s garish decoration on top. “The Hog’s Head.” He mumbled. “Well it’s certainly on the nose, if anything.” He and the girls walked into the bar and took in the sights and sounds.

 

His boots clacked against the wooden floors in the dimly lit bar. The only other sounds were a few gentlemen rattling chips against the table and an old man slowly thumbing through the local paper. The place was far too empty for Pollux’s liking.

 

“Afternoon folks.” A heavyset woman called out from behind the counter. The hint of gray in her hair shone in the pale light. “Can I get you something to drink?” Pollux strode up to the counter and smiled.

 

“Gladly. Out of curiosity, you wouldn’t happen to have any tea, would you?” He gave her his best disarming smile, but she simply shook her head.

 

“Afraid not, dear. We don’t really get a lot of Sylferdian product these days.” She hummed as he grabbed a glass from below the counter. “Might I recommend our special instead? One of our Hog Shots should wake you right up.”

 

Pollux laughed and shook his head. “Milk will do fine-”

 

“I’ll try your special.” Rose interjected, practically shoving him out of the way. “Milk will do fine for these guys.”

 

“I’ll take a shot too!” Alia said, bouncing on her heels.

 

“No you won’t, you’re underage.” Pollux groaned, as the bartender swiftly poured out three glasses of milk and one vile looking shot of whiskey. He couldn’t believe how quickly she did all that.

 

“You look like a lovely family.” She said with a wistful smile on her lips. “It’s not often we see travelers around here. Not like we used to at least.”

 

Pollux tapped his fingers on the table and let out a hearty chuckle. “I guess we’re a family now, Rose. Does that make you my wife?” She downed the shot the bartender gave her, and then gave Pollux a shot in the arm. “Ow. Truth of the matter is we’re here on business.” She raised her eyebrow in suspicion at the foppish young man. “Have you heard of the Wanderers?”

 

“I’ve heard of wanderers, but I don’t think you’re talking about the same thing, darling.” She clicked her tongue and poured out another shot for Rose, who was somehow already on her fourth. Rose changed her tack when she saw Pollux glaring at her, and quickly changed her choice of drink to water.

 

Glad to finally see some accountability from his party he continued on. “I suppose we aren’t really much of a big deal here in Esseria.” Pollux took a sip of milk, and let the taste linger in his mouth. Definitely cow's milk, nothing to worry about in that regard. “My group is part of the Navahn Church, tasked with handling citizen grievances and peacekeeping affairs worldwide. Though we really haven’t been allowed to operate in Esseria until fairly recently.”

 

The bartender looked confused, but still kept a smile on her face. “So you’re priests?”

 

“Of a sort. I am, and the two girls playing cards over there are.” Pollux said, showing a tattoo of the God of Wind on his hand. “Seyn watches over me, makes sure I’m still around to do her bidding.”

 

“And I’m this idiot’s bodyguard.” Rose said curtly, glaring at her glass of water. “Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid like try and pick a fight with the border patrol.” She sighed. “We thought this little town would be a good place to start, considering its proximity to Sylferde. I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot of me, Miss…?”

 

“Leanna.” She said politely. “It’ll be nice to have some do gooders in this city.”

 

“If you could tell us a few things about the area we’d be much obliged.” Pollux tipped his hat and kept his warm smile.

 

“Gladly.” Leanna tapped her finger to her chin. “This town of Annieum is the largest town in the Akrien Province. We used to be the centre of trade around these parts, but the drought has really hurt us. We used to get a lot of iron shipments from Sylferde and Caeldar to the East, but apparently they’ve been having trouble on those fronts as well.”

 

“So I’ve heard.” Pollux said. “Iron and Coal simply aren’t as abundant as they used to be. All over Sylferde at least, I hear the mines are drying up.”

 

“It’s the same in Caeldar. The place is practically a dead country now. Just a group of bandits. scavengers, and people with nowhere to go.” She wiped off a ring of sweat from the countertop and sighed. “Lots of people have it tough these days.”

 

Pollux nodded, continuing to nurse his drink and make sure the two girls didn’t get into too much trouble. “So how is Duchess Silver handling this drought? As the lord of the province I’d expect her to be under pressure by the Queen to solve this inadequacy?”

 

“I don’t think the duchess has a care in the world honestly. That stuck up tart is content to live out in her mansion and collect taxes all day.” She scowled, as she passed a beer on down the counter. A young girl in a shabby apron passed it to the man firmly entrenched in his newspaper. “Her son is a fine young man though. He’s a real dedicated gentleman. I believe his name was Ren… Rey… uh… it was one of those Sylferdian names that are hard to pronounce.”

 

“Do you mean Renault, perchance?” Pollux confirmed the look of relief on Leanna’s face.

 

“That was it. Actually, the man was just in here a few days ago.” She looked across the room and spoke in a low whisper. “He said that there was a demon in the village south of here, and he was recruiting men to help capture it. I couldn’t believe it at first, but then I remembered the strange rumours I’d hear about that place, considering it’s so close to the Marsh of Lost Souls. Are you going to help them, by chance?”

 

Pollux turned to Rose who gave a knowing smile. Demons rarely ventured north from their territory, so much so that very few humans have actually ever seen a demon first hand. Considering the ways humans react towards them, Pollux could relate somehow to their reclusive nature. However, that in itself wouldn’t have caused any shifts in the world’s balance. Demons were by his understanding, capable of all things humanity were, whether that be virtue or depravity.

 

He shook his head. “If the Lord’s son is gathering up soldiers to capture it, then we have no place in their business. We work to help the common citizenry with the things nobles don’t care or simply can’t afford to deal with. Even if the requests are strange or juvenile.”

 

Leanna looked disheartened in an instant, but quickly wiped that look from her face. “Well, if you’re looking for strange or juvenile, we’ve had our fair share, but I’m not the one you should ask about that.” She gestured to the man thumbing through the paper. “Ol Cobb here has coming in here everyday for the past ten years. He doesn’t say much, but he sees a lot. There’s not a thing in Annieum that he hasn’t heard or read about.”

 

“Much obliged.” He slid two silver coins to the bartender and walked towards to the hunched over man. “Excuse me sir!” The man didn’t respond. He seemed to be lost in thought, as his gaze bore holes into the paper. Pollux walked around to peer at the page, but the man quickly folded it out of his reach.

 

“Whatdya want? Can’t you see I’m busy here, Sylferdian?” He said, clearing the bile from his throat as he did.

 

Pollux scratched his head. “The beautiful lady over there said you know everything about what’s going on around here.”

 

“Beautiful? You really must be blind if you dress like that and think she’s beautiful.” He spat on the ground. “I heard your story, and I’m not interested in letting you damn foreigners walk around like you own the place.” Pollux could smell the ash in his teeth as he spewed his vitriol. “If you really want to help out, you can go get killed in the forest.”

 

He revealed the paper to Pollux, to reveal someone’s photo. The sight was revolting. Pollux grimaced as he glared at the person’s shattered limbs. The person’s head was crushed into a slurry, making it nearly impossible to identify who it was. “Hurry up and die.” He snatched the paper back and continued reading, ignoring Pollux entirely.

 

“May the winds bless you, Cobb.” Pollux said, just loud enough to be heard. The old man grumbled under his breath and let him leave without a fuss. He took a gander across the room, and saw the gentlemen playing poker quickly getting frustrated as the coins were quickly piling up on Alia’s side of the table. He placed his head in his hand and sighed.

 

“And that’s a pair of Kings for me.” Alia said confidently as the river card came up in her favour.

 

“And that’s enough fun for you.” Pollux interjected, “Now give these nice men their money back.” He looked apologetically at the grizzly man who was settling into a cold streak. His face looked like a puppy dog caught in a rainstorm.

 

“She won it fair and square, Pax.” Exia said, kicking her legs underneath the table. “At least let her keep some of it.” Pollux grumbled and took two silver coins out of the pile, and handed them to her. He shoved the rest of the pile to the middle of the table. It wasn’t a large amount of money they were gambling with, but it could buy a week’s worth of food and lodging at your typical inn.

 

“Sorry to interrupt your game, gentlemen, we’ll get out of your hair.” They simply nodded and moved on with their game, seeming more amused by the distraction they brought than angered at the fact a little girl had just read them like a book. He turned to Alia who was humming a merry tune in sync with her sister. “Did you two learn anything?”

 

They chuckled. “This place is just as strange as you thought, Pollux.” Alia said.

 

“Yeah, those three men were woodcutters, but they were called off of their job.”

 

“They said there were horrible monsters in the woods. Nothing like typical animals.”

 

“One of their coworkers was ripped apart. I’ve never heard of any animal that could do that.” The twins kept finishing each other's sentences in sync, but that matched up with the strange photo the old man showed him. Pollux was slowly putting pieces together in his mind, but the puzzle was still full of holes.

 

“Did you hear of anything else?”

 

Exia scratched behind her ear. “Well, it wasn’t something I heard… so much as something I felt.”

 

Pollux gulped. He knew Exia was well in tune with the God of Death, Mahal. As such whenever she had felt something, it represented a soul out of the natural cycle of death and rebirth. “Go on. What did you notice?” He managed his kindest voice.

 

“It kind of sounded like a chant inside of my head. The words were something like, ‘I have failed, I have created calamity.’ Someone’s soul has lingering resentment which is keeping him tied to this world. The thing is though… it felt like more than one person. Seven… maybe ten... Lots of people, struggling with that same feeling.” She looked pensive. “I think we should be careful around here.”

 

“Hey, I want to help too.” Alia said. Like her sister, she was favoured by a god as well. Ayima, the God of Life chose her. Why Life and Death always seemed to choose twins was beyond Pollux’s understanding, but maybe those higher up in the Navahn Church had a clue about that peculiarity. “If there’s a soul that’s out of place, we should put it back in place. That’s our job after all, right?”

 

Pollux cracked a small smile. It was true that they were the group best equipped to handle it. While there were a lot of strange things going on in this town, a soul out of place could cause lasting damage if left unchecked. Very few people would be any the wiser, but that lingering resentment could poison the area in a fog of malice, causing disasters under the guise of coincidence. The actual exorcism was bound to be an unpleasant affair, but it had to be done.

 

Pollux tapped Rose on the shoulder, and she nodded in assent. Waving goodbye to the barkeeper, the four of them left the tavern to plan out their strategy.

 

“So to summarize,” Pollux said, making the explanation as simple as he could for the group. “We know that there is a drought going on, there are monsters in the woods capable of ripping people apart, and there is a soul still clinging on to its past life. I want to investigate all of these things, but the most important thing is taking care of that exorcism first.”

 

“I’m more concerned about those creatures in the woods.” Rose said, “But with Alia and Exia here, I think we should go with your plan, Pollux.” She looked up and down the streets of the town, and could only hear the sounds of the wind. “Exia, do you think you can find that soul?”

 

Exia closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to feel the distortion in the air. Her eyes jolted open suddenly, and she suppressed a shiver. She turned to her sister who looked concerned, and gave her a wide smile.

 

“Follow me.” She said, biting her thumb and turned to Pollux. He tilted his head, but she said nothing to him. The four of them walked down the empty streets, heading eastward all the way to the edge of town.

 

A wave of nausea crashed over Pollux suddenly, as he fell to one knee. He laughed solemnly. “We must be close.” The girls gathered close to him and pulled him up. “I felt that one too. How are you holding up, Exia?” He looked at the girl who had gone pale, he face quenched with sweat.

 

“We’re here.” She said, pointing to a fancy building. The place looked like it could have been a hotel given its sheer size. The doors had been barred shut, and the blinds were closed on all three stories.

 

“Looks like an ordinary building to me.” Rose said. She walked up to the front door and knocked. “Might be condemned, but it’s brick and mortar holding the place up. Thing could probably take cannonfire with how thick it is.” She knocked again for emphasis, letting the dull thud echo.

 

“Before we go in, we should get the rest of us over here.” Pollux said, pulling himself up. Never know if we might need some extra muscle.

 

“Not to worry, Master Pollux.” Gill’s familiar voice resounded from behind. The shock made Pollux fall over again. “It seems like fate has ordained our meeting, once again.”

 

He looked up at the man, who was dangling a key by a golden chain. “So this is our base of operations?” Pollux laughed. “It seems like fate has a sense of humour after all.”

 

Ankerdal and Luevin helped to pull Pollux up, and shared a laugh at his expense. “Gotta watch your step, boss.” The bronze Ankerdal said, “never know when a tumbleweed will knock you down.” He laughed again, clapping Pollux on the back.

 

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.” Pollux said. “How much did this run us, Gill?”

 

Gill had a long hearty laugh. “They couldn’t wait to get rid of this building at the municipal office, they told us ten thousand would be enough to buy it outright. So of course, I have the deed as well.” He gestured to Luevin who pulled out a document affixed with lines and lines of text, and a gaudy stallion seal pressed in the middle.

 

“Guess we’re real estate tycoons, now.” Pollux laughed. “Did they tell you why the place was so cheap?”

 

“They were secretive about that. I figure whatever the issue was, we could handle it.” Gill said with the utmost confidence. “I didn’t tell you I’d be here though, why are you here so soon?”

 

Pollux laughed. “This is our first job. We weren’t strictly hired to handle it, but it’s in our best interest to deal with this immediately.” His eyes narrowed. “There are several souls still lingering here. They haven’t returned and we need to find out why, and return them to the proper cycle of life and death once again.”

 

Guillaume groaned. “An exorcism, then.” He grabbed Pollux by the shoulder and squeezed. “Just be careful you idiot. Ankerdal, Luevin and I will be able to restrain you if need be.”

 

Pollux laughed. “I like how you’re volunteering me for this.”

 

“You’re the only one who can take the strain without losing their mind. I’d ask you to be cautious, but I know you don’t know the meaning of the word.”

 

“Hey, you’re the one who bought a haunted building, this is hardly my fault. Do you want to do business with apparitions?” Pollux took in his blank expression and laughed. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He looked down at the twins who seemed to have calmed down. They were especially sensitive to pockets of malice, and it was strong enough here to knock him over. He could only imagine how tough it was for them.

 

“Alright, let’s find out what’s going on in here.” He rubbed Alia and Exia’s heads. “You two ready for this?”

 

Alia shouted in excitement while Exia simply nodded her head. The rest of the group moved in close as Pollux placed his hand on the steel handle, and breached the interior.

Edited by RazorStar
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Chapter 2: An Exercise in Exorcism

 

Pollux opened the door and was greeted by a pungent aroma. The smell seared the hairs on his nose and made his eyes water. The twins covered their eyes with their hands, but the other members of their group felt unaffected. It was times like this he was envious of normal people. Without a connection to a god, they could remain blissfully unaware of disturbances in the natural balance. Being so close to this perverted air made Pollux want to wretch. He place his hands on the twin’s heads and ruffled their black hair.

 

“Don’t worry.” He gave a calm smile. “I’m here with you. Let’s do our best, alright?” He bit the inside of his cheek to keep his mind sharp as he started to examine the building. On appearances, there was nothing wrong with the place, but this was only the first floor of the building. There were staircases in the back, one going up, the other going down.

“We’ll need to find the locus, the point where the malice is most strongly gathered.” Exia said.

 

“It’ll be easiest to call their souls there.” Alia agreed, “And when we’ve put them at peace, Exia can return them to their rightful place.”

 

“Sounds good.” Rose said, patting Pollux on the head. “I’ll take the lead here, is that all right with you guys?” A quick nod from everyone gave Rose command of the wanderers. “Alright, let’s start by going up together. It may be quicker to split up, but we’ll be in greater danger if we strike off alone. Follow me, and watch each other’s backs, got it.” She said with authority.

 

The group followed her up the stairs, and started to check each room on the second floor. Pollux’s early thought that this was a hotel was dashed. Each room was filled with locked filing cabinets and desks. They seemed to be gathering dust, but nothing seemed out of place or strange. The malice felt weaker here than it was when he first entered, but that could just be him getting used to the air. They kept prying open doors until they had searched the entire floor thoroughly.

 

“They were doing research on animals here.” Ankerdal said, flipping through a fairly wordy document. “Something called the Chimera project, but these files are being quite secretive on what that is exactly.”

 

“I don’t like the sound of that.” Pollux said. “We aren’t going to find the source of malice going up these stairs. I think what they were working on is in the basement.” He kicked his heels against the hardwood floors. “The air is more disgusting down there.”

 

“We’re probably just going to find more research notes upstairs.” Luevin said in his thick accent. “I don’t want to stay here long, Exia and Alia look pale.”

Rose agreed and the group went back down the stairs quickly. Pollux made sure he had taken off anything that might have been used to inflict harm, and passed it to Gill. Unlike most wanderers, he didn’t carry a weapon on him, and prefered to use diplomacy to deal with situations. In the cases he needed to fight, his hands were more than enough to handle an aggressor. Still, any number of things he had used as survival gear could be deadly in the wrong hands. He gave Gill a survival knife, a ten foot length of rope and a half used box of matches, as well as his boots.

 

As they went down from the first floor, Rose quickly grabbed a chair from the waiting area, and took it with her as they headed down towards the basement. The lingering feeling of uneasiness grew strong with each step, as Pollux found it harder and harder to stand. His head was assaulted by waves of pain, each step felt a kilometre long. Alia and Exia had given up on moving entirely, instead being carried down the stairs by Ankerdal and Luevin. Even they were starting to feel the sweat pool on their foreheads. A few more steps until they could hit the bottom of the staircase.

 

Pollux felt the last step crumble beneath him, as he faceplanted into the floor below. The fall wasn’t far, but it still hurt like hell. The rest of the gang rushed over to check on him, but found quickly that he was still alright, just a little bruised pride. He dusted himself off quickly, glad the physical pain was subduing the mental pain. Whatever was creating all this hatred was close by. Alia’s breathing was rough, but she managed to keep a smile, while Exia was trying much harder to keep her expression cool.

 

“It’s close, right?” Rose asked, pointing to a large metal door. A heavy chain was tightly bound to the handles and secured with a large padlock, making it impossible to move. Ankerdal and Luevin nodded to each other, and began to shoulder check the heavy portal, but their efforts made no change to the heavy steel frame. Gill shook his head at the two of them.

 

“You know they gave us the keys at the municipal office, right?” He said calmly as he tried placing the key in the slot. It went in, but the lock didn’t budge. “Guess they didn’t know about the chain after all.” He shrugged, not wanting to press the issue further. “You two didn’t injure yourselves did you?”

 

“I’m good, Gill. Don’t know about Luevin though, he’s not as strong as I am.” Ankerdal laughed.

 

Luevin shook his head. “All good here.”

 

Pollux stumbled towards the chain, and inspected it carefully. It was the only thing holding these doors shut, so if he could break the chain, entrance would be no issue. “Stand back, I can get this open.” He called out, and placed his hands upon the padlock. He began his prayer to Seyn. While some priests had to follow diligent rituals to invoke their god’s powers, Pollux was a rarer case. He had Seyn’s favour, and as long as he had that favour, he could call upon her powers at any time. With a deep breath, he began gathering her energy in his palms, and slowly poured it into the padlock. He did this, keeping his mind focused solely on the task. Not on the pain of falling down here, not on the pain of the agitated souls in the building, just on his breathing, and the miracle of Seyn’s power. A minute passed and the lock started to rumble. The winds inside were swirling like a tornado, with no place to go. In a matter of seconds the lock would…

 

*pop*

 

The chain suddenly crashed down to the ground, unravelling like a rope as it clunked against the ground. The padlock broke clean in two as the high pressure air folded back into the room in a light breeze. “There we go.” He laughed. “Wasn’t expecting to use her powers for breaking and entering, but I suppose this is our property now.” He kicked the doors open and took a peek inside the room.

 

At that moment he wish he didn’t. He wasn’t sure what to expect, but seeing dried blood stains on the floor certainly made him uneasy. The room had a very sterile feel to it, bright white walls, lit well with a dozen sconces on each wall of the room. There were a large glass cage in the back of the room, with one side shattered apart and a few shards of broken glass still scattered on the ground. The room was cleaned, but whoever was cleaning did a terrible job. He pulled out the pocket watch like device and looked at the reading. All three needles pointed to ‘Life’, a confirmation of what was already strongly suspected. There were souls without hosts milling about in this room, desperately clinging to the mortal realm.

 

“What is this?” Gill asked, examining the room with wide eyes. “Some kind of testing facility?”

 

“Well, let’s find out.” Pollux said, rubbing his temples. “This is the where the malice is strongest, so let’s ask the people who died here exactly what happened.” He gestured to Rose to pass him the chair. “Alright then, tie me up before you start. If I lose control of my body, I don’t want any of getting hurt.” He turned to the twins who seemed anxious. “Alia, Exia, let’s proceed cautiously, alright. I know you’re uneasy, but we’ve only got one chance to do this right.”

 

Rose tightened up the ropes on Pollux’s legs, and tied his wrists together behind the back of the chair. It was uncomfortable, but his friends safety were far more important than his comfort. Confirming that he was secure, he called Alia to begin the exorcism. She nodded solemnly, and began chanting to Ayima.

 

This chant would forcibly gather the loose souls into one place. His body. This technique was commonly used by necromancers to return the souls of the recently dead to their own bodies, but with empathetic suggestion, they could use those reanimated corpses as their thralls. Sending souls into a living body was a far riskier proposition, as it could only work if the host soul was willing to let others in. Once inside the souls would typically fight for dominance over the host body. However the protection of a God left him stronger against the influence of other people. He could be certain he would retain his sense of self throughout the struggle, but he could not be sure he’d have full control of his body. Once Alia called the souls to him, he would attempt to calm them down.

 

Pollux controlled his breathing as he started to feel the first pulls of other souls. The feeling was like a vice grip crushing his heart, releasing only for brief moments when he exhaled. He knew to focus on nothing but his breathing, so he let the thoughts of pain, fear and anger clouding his mind, exit through his breath, and let his earnest feeling to communicate come in.

 

The souls rushed in like a torrent. Waves upon waves of memories bombarded his brain, memories that did not belong to him, memories he should never have. He focused on his breathing, waiting patiently for the euphoric feeling to pass. He could make out seven separate people when the flood stopped. All of them were temporarily residing in his skull. One head researcher, three assistant researchers, a janitor, and two children who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He invoked his will upon the disparate souls, commanding obedience with nothing but the strength of his own resolve. The souls stop swirling, and hung in a dead silence. A moment which felt like forever passed, as sweat dripped from his forehead.

 

A voice that wasn’t his started speaking through his mouth. “Where are we?” It asked. It struggled with the binds keeping it to the chair. “Why are you restraining me, do you know who I am?”

 

Guillaume responded, taking charge of the interrogation. “No. State your names and occupations, as well as the last thing you remember. One at a time, please.”

 

Each soul rushed to speak, but Pollux was able to control them to a degree. Each one listed off their names, what they did, and what they remembered before they died. It seemed at least some of them were aware that they were no longer among the living. Gill listened to all of their stories carefully, taking consideration of anything in their testimonies that sounded amiss.

 

The children didn’t remember much, their story was that they were playing outside and they heard a loud noise. After that… there was nothing. Pollux decided it would be best to have them exorcised first, since there was nothing tying to them to the world besides the souls of the researchers, who definitely weren’t as forthcoming with information. He called the two of them to the front of his mind, and looked towards Exia to carry their souls to Ferron.

 

Exia placed her hands on his chest, and Pollux could feel the burden in his mind lessen as the two children departed from this realm. He would remember to bring their parents flowers after this. A voice in his head remarked that he was very considerate for such a young man, and she would love to play around with him. He silently wished this exorcism would be over a little sooner.

 

“Hey Pollux, still doing alright in there.” Gill said. Pollux nodded in response. “Good, Good. Alright then, I want you to call up the head researcher, Miss Linda Taylor.” Pollux focused solely on bringing her soul to the fore, leaving the other four deeper in his subconscious.

 

The woman blinked in her new body. “Hello again.” She said curtly. “What do you need from a dead woman this time?”

 

“One of your researchers mentioned you all were working on something called The Chimaera Project. Would you care to elaborate on the details?” He looked her dead in the eyes as he folded his hands together.

 

She looked nervous in his skin, but held fast to her duty as a scientist. “Sorry, but the details of the Chimaera Project are strictly confidential. That you even know of the name means that one of my researchers betrayed my trust.” There was a hint of venom in her voice.

 

Gill didn’t relax, as he attempted to peer through her. “Alright, who bankrolled this project? There isn’t much left in this room, but it gives off the impression of being expensive. Was it the crown, perhaps?”

 

“Confidential.” She said again, with gusto. Pollux couldn’t help but wonder what kind of secret was important enough to take to the grave. This woman certainly held no compunctions about her actions, and she wouldn’t leak any information about what she was working on.

 

Gill was thinking the same thing, changing his line of questioning. “A personal question then. Do you have any regrets about what you’ve done? We’re here because something is strong enough to tie your souls to this place. You’re shaking the natural foundation on the world by clinging onto life.”

 

“My only regret is that there were innocent people dragged into this.” She said calmly. “I paid the price for my pursuit of knowledge, as did my research team. No one else should have had to die. I’m sorry for that.”

 

“I forgive you.” Gill said, calmly and sweetly. “I know what it’s like to lose yourself in your work, in your passion. I know what it’s like when it feels like you’re the only person in the world, and your work is all there is. I want you to know that it is alright to let it go. There are people who can correct any mistakes you have made.” He clapped Exia on the shoulder. “It is time to carry on.” Again, Exia placed her palms on his chest, and let Linda pass from this world.

 

He called upon the janitor next, knowing that he wouldn’t get much information about the project from him. However, he was the only one who caught a glimpse of what had killed him. “Like I said before, it was hunched over, like a black shadow. It had large furry arms and a cat like head. I only saw it for a brief moment, as it grabbed me, and then…” He looked over to his arm and shuddered. “It starting ripping me apart. I passed out from the pain and I must have died soon afterwards. Please, whoever you folks are, you can’t let a monster like that run wild, please call the army and get rid of it.”

 

Gill assured the man it would be alright. That monster would not live for long now that we knew about it. “You may have saved a lot of lives, thanks to your courage. Now it is time to let it go, and carry on. May you find asylum in the embrace of the gods.” Exia quickly sent his soul, and Pollux could feel the strain on his brain lessen further. Now there were only three people left inside his mind, and at least one of them had to have been so regretful that they chained all of these other people in limbo.

 

Lacking a lead, Gill called them up one at a time. First off was a man named Ernesto. His responsibilities were observation of the subject, and feeding. When asked what the subject was, he did not offer a word. He was angry about the whole situation, first being stuck doing grunt work, and now dying for no reason.

 

“If you were responsible for observation of the subject, then did you not observe it breaking the cage over there? Gill pointed behind the man to the shattered glass cage. Putting the facts together, Pollux figured that was where they held their Chimaera Project. It was some sort of beast, much like the janitor described.

 

“That was the last thing I observed, before the shards of glass flew into my eyes, and it started crushing my head.” Pollux could empathically feel his pain as he spoke, shuddering involuntarily. “Yeah, it wasn’t fun!” He sighed. “I was gonna be a great scientist, Esseria’s leading biologist…. And then I get killed by my own experiment, what a joke.”

 

Gill put a hand on his shoulder, while Exia placed hers on his chest. “I have no words to comfort you, but I hope your soul finds peace in your next life.” With another prayer to Mahal, there were only two souls left.

 

The next soul to be interviewed was a bold older woman. One who had been relentlessly teasing Pollux while inside him. “I’ve never been so intimate with a younger man before.” She chuckled. She introduced herself as Sharon Sorel, a researcher with her specialty in biochemistry, and offered Pollux a few private lessons.

 

“Now isn’t the time.” Gill said, exacerbated. “You are aware that you are dead, correct, miss Sorel?”

 

“Please call me Sharon, darling.” She emphasised, “the least you could do is treat me with respect.” Gill scratched his head, figuring he’d need to take on a different approach with this kind of person.

“My apologies, Miss Sharon.” He turned on his heel, and start speaking cordially, as a servant would to a superior. “Can you tell me more about the Chimaera Project?”

 

Sharon paused, as if unable to speak. Perhaps she had some reason to keep silent about the whole affair, but Pollux quietly reminded her that no one would be at harm from her knowledge. In fact, holding back could lead to more untimely deaths like hers. She spoke up after that. “I don’t know the reason why we were signed up to work on this project, but it was unethical to say the least. The plan by our head researchers was to create an entirely new species. The mission statement was to create a creature that could live in the Marsh of Lost Souls, and remove the predator species that lived inside.”

 

“That makes no sense.” The normally quiet Ankerdal said. “If you remove all of a predator species in an environment-”

 

“You screw it over. Cataclysmically.” She said, not skipping a beat. “Regardless, we managed to create that very creature… and it was our undoing. Perhaps I deserve to linger in the crooked world, as punishment for my crimes.”

 

“You may find forgiveness in the eyes of the gods.” Pollux said, temporarily taking speech back. “As long as you repent and let your soul pass on, you may yet find peace.” He nodded to Exia and let her finish the job of exorcising Sharon’s spirit. There was regret, but her soul had been eased enough to pass enough.

 

There was just a single lost soul left, and her shell would be the hardest to crack. Pollux coaxed her to the forefront, but she would not budge. He hated to be forceful, as it could lead to problems in the exorcism, but this woman needed a nudge. He focused his will into a sharp blade and shoved her into the fore of his consciousness.

 

She blinked. She didn’t have full control of this priest’s body but she was currently able to speak and move around, as much as she could with her arms and legs bound. She could no longer retreat, Pollux made sure of that.

 

“Miss Emel.” Gill spoke to her. “This is you, correct.”

 

“Y-Yes.” She stuttered. “Um, I… uhhh…” She wanted to scream. If they knew the things she knew, they would die. They would die, just like her. She panicked again and thrashed at her restraints.

 

“Ankerdal!” Rose shouted. “Get some cloth!” The large man leaped into action, and ripped the sleeve off of his shirt. Quickly he wadded up the torn strip and shoved it inside Pollux’s mouth. The soul thrashed about in Pollux’s body but was being held steady by Ankerdal and Luevin. The cloth was a precaution in case she thought about biting his tongue.

 

Pollux knew he was taking a risk here as he watched her flail about, but he trusted Exia and Alia to dispel her soul if she got too out of control. He called to Emel in an attempt to calm her down, but she was completely unaware of anything besides her own panic. They would just have to wait this fit out. Pollux was already regretting this, but at least her soul had been contained before she could influence anything else.

 

The glass cage behind him started rumbling, as if the sound of thunder had exploded in the room. Me and my idle thoughts… Pollux groaned inside. I don’t know how much longer I can afford to wait this out. Please Emel, please calm down. He pleaded. The broken glass shattered and started to vibrate on the floor. Emel was lifting the shards up with her mind. He tried to calm her down, but nothing was working from his end. He would have to tell Alia to expel her from him. He tried to gain control of his body, but he was rejected and forced back.

 

“Damn it!” he uttered noiselessly. He hoped Alia would get the message to act, and soon. He didn’t want to end it here, but if he didn’t his friends would get hurt. He attempted to focus his will once again and felt the cold crunch of a palm slapping against his cheek. Rose had slapped him! Well, Rose had slapped her. He felt Rose’s embrace as the soul inside her calmed down. This window gave Pollux a chance to wrest control back from her, he only hoped she would be able to speak freely now.

 

Emel rubbed her cheek, as she felt this pink haired woman’s weight on hers. “It’ll be alright.” the woman whispered in her ear. “You don’t have to be afraid any longer.” Her embrace felt soothing, like the touch of a mother. Emel relaxed in her arms, letting her idle thoughts melt like ice.

 

Rose released her, and stood back up. She gave a warm smile to her, and Emel felt at ease, despite the pain in her cheek. If she wasn’t dead, she would have loved to study this exorcism phenomenon further. Maybe she’d try it out in the next life, if she could remember. There was so much that she still wanted to experience, and she had the utmost confidence that she could. “I’m sorry for all that.” She said, abashed. “I, I don’t know what came over me.”

 

“It’s best not to think about it.” Rose said, overtaking the interrogation. Gill leaned against a wall, with a look of relief creeping through his stony demeanor. “You went through something terrible, something no one should have to face, especially a beautiful woman such as yourself.” Her warm smile made Emel blush.

 

No I mustn’t think such things. she thought, shaking her head out of dozens of untowards expectations, blissfully unaware of the fact that Pollux could hear everything she was thinking. He really wished that Rose would stop flirting and try and get to the bottom of this, especially since he could feel his concentration waning.

 

Rose placed her hand on Emel’s shoulder. “If you can tell us anything at all about what happened to you, it would be a great help.”

 

Emel nodded. “Right, so you all know that we were a group of researchers working on something called the Chimaera Project.” She gushed, without the inhibitions of her fellow researchers weighing her down. “The purpose of the plan was as Sharon said, we were to attempt to recreate a lifeform that would change the environment of the southern marshlands.”

 

“But why?” Rose asked. “It almost seems like you were playing god with these experiments.”

 

Emel nodded. “That wasn’t our intent, but it certainly felt that way once we began experimenting. Truth is, at the beginning our research wasn’t so fruitful. We couldn’t splice together a lifeform that would survive for more than a few months, even when we tried…”

 

“I’m sorry to ask, but none of us really understand this technical talk.” Rose said. “I do so hate to interrupt, but could you put it in a way that we can understand.”

 

Emel blushed, wanting to cover her face. “Oh my, I’m sorry. I just get so excited sometimes.” She pondered over her thoughts. “Um, long story short, our research failed, until our benefactor came by with a really old book. Turns out it had knowledge about something called a chimaera. A creature with the strength of a demon, the reflexes of a feline, and the intelligence of a human. We were successful at creating one. The research, the outline, everything worked perfectly.” She shuddered. “We made a monster.”

 

Everyone’s eyes went wide at the revelation. The mere thought of a creature like that made Pollux shake. The ingrained animalistic fear inside all humans would surely react to that knowledge. He admired the strength of the researcher who regained her self after being privy to that knowledge. He could tell her soul was ready to pass on, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer. He temporarily took control to tell Exia it was time.

 

“Thank you, everyone.” She said politely. “Thank you for believing in me, Sir Pollux, Miss Rose, and the rest of you. I hate to think about what I could have done if you hadn’t came along. Please, do what you can to stop this accursed project.”

 

“We promise.” Their hearts were in sync as Rose said that, he didn’t have to hear it otherwise to feel that bond. Emel smiled as Exia gave her the gift of death, and passed her on to the other side. With his body finally his own again, Pollux slumped in the chair, exhaling heavily.

 

“Good work everyone.” He spoke between laborious breaths. “That went well.” Alia had a bright smile on her face as she rolled onto the ground. Holding that many souls in a single place wasn’t easy, even with his and Exia’s help. Exia laid down to join her, both looking up at the dimly lit ceiling. Pollux wanted to join them, but the ropes were keeping him firmly in place.

 

“Are you alright, Master Pollux?” Gill asked, trying to hide any trace of emotion in his voice. “It’d be disappointing if you were done in by such a trifling thing as this.” He coughed under his breath.

 

“Right as rain.” He struggled with his bonds. “Would you like to untie me now?”

 

Gill laughed. “We can’t be sure there aren’t still ghosts about. I think you should stay like that for a while.” He turned away and started to walk out of the room.

 

“Hey get back here, you jerk!” Pollux yelled over the raucous laughter of the group. “That’s not funny!”

 

Rose wiped the tears from her eyes. “Don’t worry, Pax. I’ll let you go.” She came up behind him to loosen up the bounds.”

 

“I have a question for you, Rose.” Pollux said “That girl, Emel. How did you know she was cute?” Rose stopped what she was doing and walked away.

 

“You’re an idiot.” She said bluntly, and walked out of the room with Gill.

 

“Yep. Pollux is a dummy.” Alia laughed, rolling on the ground. Her sister simply nodded in agreement, poking at the chair.

 

“Ankerdal, Luevin, back me up here.” He pleaded, but the two big men were laughing too hard to back him. “Guys… please?” Alia and Exia got up and walked out of the room as well, with Ankerdal and Luevin cracking up behind them.

 

“Guys?” Pollux said to the empty room. “This isn’t funny… Guys? Please?” He struggled at his ropes, but made about as much headway as seven lost souls did. The last thing he heard before passing out from the ordeal was Luevin’s throaty laugh, echoing in the distance.

Edited by RazorStar
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Chapter 3: The Hand of Fate

The group of seven made real progress with the townsfolk in ten day’s time. Although no one knew what was going on the building, Pollux and the rest made sure not to press about the information they had learned. Chances are, if someone were to confront them, they would meet at their new headquarters. Flirting with the barkeep, doing odd jobs for the citizenry, even taking a few jobs here and there for the Esserian Church. Pollux watched as two drunk guardsmen stumbled out of the Hog’s Head Bar, smashed beyond cognition.

 

“What a pack of animals.” Leanna complained, passing a glass of water over to the semi-conscious Rose. “They come in here, act like they’re a big deal, and if you actually need them to do something, they don’t do a damn thing. Worthless junkheads.” She said, letting the anger show in her typically cordial voice.

 

“Don’t let it get to you, Leanna.” Pollux said, sipping on a makeshift brew. “Every city has losers like that. From the Dragon Archipelago to the frozen tundra of Mohedigo, there will always be those who just joined the guard to abuse their power or influence.

 

“And then they push all the work on the guys who never wanted to be guards in the first place.” Luevin sighed, nearly drenching his wolf like locks in water. “Just let the big oaf handle it.”

 

Leanna’s eyebrows perked up in interest. “You were a guardsman, Luevin?”

 

“Mmm” The solemn man didn’t like talking about himself much, but something about the atmosphere in this place made it easier for him to open up. “I’m Mohedigan, by birth. Since I was always a big and strong guy, I was conscripted to the army. I wasn’t very good at the fighting stuff, or the training and drills, so they moved me to a fishing village in the west instead of having me fight on the front lines.”

 

“That must have been when we met you there.” Pollux said. “I had to admit, it was strange seeing a guy like you running frantically around the town.”

 

Luevin smiled. “Meeting you was great, Pollux. I got to experience so much more of the world, and got to be treated like a person, instead of a sack of meat.”

 

Pollux turned to Leanna and spoke in a stage whisper “Luevin here is actually an incredible singer. You might not think it with his accent, but he has some pipes.”

 

The large man blushed. “Oh do not embarrass me, Pollux. I am not as good as you say.”

 

Pollux shook his head. “That’s nonsense. Look there’s a stage up there. I think this is a good opportunity to showcase your stuff.”

 

“I’m out of practice, I have no song to sing…” Luevin rattled off excuses, but when he saw Leanna’s disappointed face, he apologized. “I… I am not ready. But, maybe another time, when I am not put on the spot like this.” He glared at Pollux who was having a giggling fit. “I have to be in the right mood to sing in front of a big crowd like this.”

 

Leanna gave a warm smile. “Another time then, Lue. And you’re right, it’s been awhile since we’ve had a crowd like this. Is this your doing, Pollux?”

 

He shook his head. “Nah, I just did my job. People are gathering here because it’s the best place to be on a night like this. Friendly company, good drinks, what more could a man ask for?”

 

“It’s not just that.” Leanna huffed. “Everyone feels more alive and exuberant. Like some great weight had been lifted off their shoulders. It reminds me of the old days...” She started to reminisce about the past. Luevin listened intently, while Pollux simply watched the crowd.

 

Gill and Ankerdal had joined the card playing gentlemen in the corner, Luckily nothing of value seemed to be on the table, despite appearances, Gill was an awful poker player. Rose had slipped away from the bar to talk to two young women minding their own business. They weren’t faces Pollux had seen before, and judging from their clothing they were dressed like travelers. He could see why Rose was interested in them. Soon enough, he found his gaze affixed to the trio of women. Esseria did not deserve such beautiful bouquets.

 

Rose strictly speaking, was off the table. They had the same tastes in women, to the point where he often found the girls of his desired affection swept away by her charms instead of his. She was lovely regardless, but Pollux had about as much interest in her as he did a sheep.

 

The travelers were cut of a different cloth from typical women. They were young, healthy and both looked very strong. The nearest of their group had an obvious interest in Rose, her eyes would sparkle through her long silver hair when Rose laughed, and their hands were constantly brushing against each other. He figured Rose would show up to their base much later tonight.

 

The other woman seemed less interested in the affair, instead scanning the room with a hint of caution on her face. Her light blonde hair was tied in a low ponytail that hung gracefully off her shoulder. Her dark blue eyes met his for a moment, and she started to glare daggers at him. He subtly turned around and started listening to Luevin’s conversation again. He was a little shy, but Leanna seemed to have coaxed some stories out of him.

 

He did enjoy Luevin’s tales. The man could make a story about cooking stew seem more interesting than stories of pirates sailing the great Aeteris Ocean in hunt of rare trinkets and baubles. The kinds of tales he enjoyed as a kid. Luckily the material Luevin was talking about was a story he knew well. The time he first met the rest of our wandering gang.

 

Pollux wallowed in the nostalgia, as he occasionally stopped to fill in little details Leanna asked about, or embellish certain parts of the story that Luevin kept too modest. The taste of barley beer helped soothe the feeling of loss he felt as he saw Rose sashay up the stairs with that silver haired girl. Luevin had finished his stunning tale and Leanna couldn’t help but let a tear escape from her eye.

 

“I didn’t know you were such a saint, Pollux.” She cooed as she punched him lightly in the shoulder.

 

He shook his head. “I only do my part, as any true servant of the gods ought to. But enough about me for a second.” he quickly changed the subject. “Who were those two girls in the back? I haven’t seen them around town before.”

 

Leanna smiled. “Ah, so that’s what you’re interested in, mister priest.” She teased, giving a mirthful giggle. “They came from Veharon, a village way to the south of here. They weren’t very forthcoming about their business, but said they were heading to the capital. For what, who knows? They seemed pretty nice though.”

 

Luevin shook his head. “I know that look in your eyes boss.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “Try not to be a dumbass this time. Good luck.”

Pollux was shocked. “What do you mean, this time?” Luevin just laughed. “I assure you I’m just curious.” he said, hoping they would believe him. Obviously, neither of them did.

 

“Good luck.” Leanna waved, pouring out another round of drinks for a new group of patrons. It probably wasn’t fair to monopolize her time like this when she was working, he thought idly. His feet carried him to the blonde girl, who had been nursing a heavy drink.

 

“Hello.” He said politely, “I’ve never seen you around here before.” Smooth, he thought.

 

“Uh… Hi?” She said, scratching her head. “Do you need something?”

 

“Oh I should probably introduce myself.” He straightened out his collar and adjusted his posture. “My name is Pollux, and well I’d like to get to know you a little better.”

 

She thought about it for a second, and shrugged in resignation. “Sure, why not. My friend ditched me to have sex, and I’m finding it’s pretty lonely drinking by yourself.” She signaled the waitress to bring her two more of the drink she was having, a nasty brew called the Ferrous Fister. Pollux was a bit of a lightweight himself, but he couldn’t resist the call of competition.

 

The drinks came in large tankards, containing a pitch black brew that smelled a bit like someone lit their own hair on fire. The girl was chugging through it like it was water. Pollux tried to keep up, but the acrid taste singed his tongue. He choked violently as he tried to down the last of it.

 

She looked amused as he tried to keep the awful beverage down. “So you’re a teetotaler huh? Guess that’s not too much of a surprise.” She gave a brilliant smile, bright enough to make Pollux’s heart skip a beat.

 

“Uh yeah well, uh…” He started to mumble incoherently, “So anyway, what brings you to Annieum? You don’t look like you’re from around here.”

 

“I suppose I could say the same about you, Priest.” Pollux’s jaw dropped. “Your friend Rose told me a bit about you. She had a feeling you’d be swinging by to talk to me sooner or later.”

 

He scratched his head. Was he really so predictable? He thought about it, but decided he wasn’t going to figure anything useful out. Especially with a cute girl in front of him, he didn’t have time to waste on his own stupidity. “I hope she said good things.”

 

“Good things. Bad things. Things you probably wouldn’t want me knowing.” She laughed. His eyes widened at the remark, but it was clear she was joking. “Nah, she didn’t say much about you at all, she was far more interested in getting into my friend’s pants.” She said bluntly. “Are you the same?”

 

“Wow, you really are direct, huh?” Pollux laughed. “Well, I don’t really like to have sex with someone until I get to know them better, and so far I know nothing about you other than you enjoy drinking some really foul beer.” He placed his hand on the table and tapped on the wood nervously. “What’s your name?”

 

“I’m Ark.” She said quietly. “I’m not really interested in having sex so freely either, so thanks for being a little bit considerate.”

 

“I find most people aren’t.” He said. “I’ve seen a lot of places in this world, and I don’t think I’ve met many people who have said yes to Rose’s advances right out of the gate.”

 

“Well Selene… she’s a free spirit, I guess.” She scratched behind her ear. “She’s my best friend, but she’s always had this spontaneous quality about her. Climbing grain elevators, picking fights, living and loving freely. It’s admirable.” She said without a hint of reservation.

 

Pollux found the opportunity to get a real drink, and started nursing that instead. “Grain elevators? I take it you’re from a farming community then?”

 

“Yeah, that’s right.” She said. “I doubt you could find our village on any maps, it’s way at the south end of the country. We have a lot of hunters and farmers there. The soil is good for planting, I think it has to do with the fact we live so close to the marshlands. We probably provided most of the barley in these beers, in fact.” She said proudly.

 

“So what brings two women from a farming village all the way out here? Errands?”

 

Ark shook her head. “Nah… well, I guess in a grandiose sense what I’m doing could be considered an ‘errand’. However, I… don’t really want to say.” She paused. “I’m sorry.”

 

Pollux waved his hands and apologized “Oh no, I was just curious is all. I can understand the need to keep your own secrets.” However he didn’t want to leave it at this. There was a stirring in his heart that was nagging him. He couldn’t be sure if it was Seyn asking him something, or just infatuation. However, he learned a long time ago not to let second guesses stop him from moving forward.

 

“Uh, if you need any help, you can ask me.” He said quietly. “Uh, I mean, it’s my job to help people and uh…” He slammed his head on the table.

 

“Are you alright?” She asked, placing her hand on his head. “You didn’t drink too much did you?” He scraped himself off the table, and rubbed the residual grime off of his forehead.

 

“I’m good now, sorry. What I meant to say was, I’m something of a professional do-gooder.” He gave his most charismatic smile. “We handle anything from the mundane to the absurdly weird.”

 

Her ears perked up when he mentioned weird. “What… do you mean absurdly weird? I sort of had the impression you guys just did odd jobs, from what your companion was saying. I don’t know how weird fetching wedding rings out of the gutter is.”

 

He leaned in closer, resting his chin on his interlocked fingers. “Just last week, we performed an exorcism in this town.” She tilted her head. “Oh, uh we returned the souls of the dead to Ferron. Typically they do that on their own, but sometimes lingering emotions can keep them trapped in the world.” She tilted her head to the other side. “You… don’t believe me, do you?”

 

“It’s not the strangest thing I’ve ever heard about.” She remarked. “Wouldn’t expect you to make up a story like that, though.”

 

Pollux shook his head. “Absurdly weird, right? Well if you don’t believe me, then I’ll show you something else. Do you know about the Navahn Church?”

 

Ark smiled and nodded vigorously. “Of course, I read all about it in my father’s study. How in your country, you worship nine gods, instead of just Ferron like we do here in Esseria. The nine months are named after them, but because Ferron is the only god who cares about the mortal world, she’s the only one we worship here.”

 

Pollux yearned to tell her more about the church’s teachings, but he quickly got his mind back on track. “Well, I hate to say the Esserians are wrong when it comes to matters of faith, but I don’t think they are 100% correct. I can prove to you that the other gods care about this world.” He drained the beer in his glass and tipped it upside down.

 

He tapped the top of the glass, and the bottom of the table below it. “You wanted me to show you something weird, right?” He held both of his hands up in front of her. “Look at the glass.” She adjusted her gaze to see a small whirlwind forming inside the glass, as dust and stale beer sloshed against its sides. Her eyes opened wide in shock.

 

“I am a priest of Seyn, the God of Wind. In a way, I’m like her conduit.” He said, silencing the tornado inside, and flipping the glass back up without ever moving his hands. “This world is an extraordinary place, and there are extraordinary things all around us. I have a feeling we can help you with whatever your ‘errand’ happens to be.” He scratched his head and smiled sheepishly. “I may not look like it, but I am a professional. Not just at paltry tricks such as these, either.”

 

“I see.” She looked pensive, as she twiddled her fingers in the air. “Then I think I have something you might be interested to see.” She pulled something off of her belt and placed it on the table. Pollux gave it a quick once over. Whatever was inside was wrapped up with white cloth, but the colour of blood had soaked through the fabric.

 

“Uh, what is this?” He asked, as his fingers moved to unwrap it.

 

“I was hoping you’d tell me.”

 

Pollux took care in removing the dry crusty cloth, only to reveal a severed hand. He leapt back, nearly spilling the drinks on the table. Ark took back the hand, and wrapped it back up, not wanting to cause any more of a scene. The patrons quickly returned to their usual business, quickly dismissing the noise as someone losing self-control for a second. Pollux wracked his brain, but only had a basic idea of what it could be. “Where did you find it?”

 

“I cut it off the beast that attacked me.” She explained. “It happened when Selene and I were camping on the way here. In the dark of night, this huge animal attacked us out of nowhere. If we weren’t lucky, we’d be dead on the side of the road.”

 

“Were you able to make out any details?” Pollux asked.

 

“Well, I’ve never seen a hand like it before. It has opposable thumbs, just like ours, but the size is too big to be a humans. And uh, it was really dark, but it’s eyes were glowing gold in the night, sort of like a cat’s. Other than that… sorry I was just too panicked at the time to think clearly.”

 

Pollux gave a disarming smile. “That’s not surprising, considering the situation you were in. Frankly, this is more than I was expecting, and it does give me a few ideas. However, I’d like to discuss this with the rest of my group. Do you have time to meet in the morning?” He glanced over at the poker game in the corner to see his friend’s healthy chip lead shrink down to a pile of small coins, while Luevin and Ankerdal were ten drinks into some sort of arm wrestling contest. “Tonight probably isn’t the best time, I’m afraid.”

 

“You sure have some rowdy friends.” She mumbled. “Very well, we’ll continue this in the morning.” A sudden realization dawned on her. “Shit, I should have got a separate room, I don’t want to walk in on… whatever Selene is doing.”

 

Pollux wiped the sweat off his brow. “Yeah, that would be unfortunate.” He gave a loud awkward laugh. “There are spare bedrooms in our base, I don’t have a problem lending one out for the night if you need a place to stay.”

 

“You aren’t going to make me pay?” She asked.

 

“You’ve already bought a room, and my associate is putting you out. It’s only fair that I help out.” Pollux shrugged as if this was simply natural. “I’ve probably had enough to drink, do you want to head out now?” She pondered for a moment, before giving a slight nod.

 

“Oh my stuff… eh, I can get it later.” She said, really not wanting to head upstairs. “It should be safe in the room with Selene there.” She dusted herself off and got up from the table. “Shall we?” She offered, pushing a strand of loose hair behind her ear.

 

He stuttered out his confirmation, and the pair left the bar in the light of the crescent moon. He couldn’t help but be enchanted by this woman’s beauty, letting out a stupid smile as the pair walked down the setted street. Though the sounds of noise and industry echoed in the night, it had felt like the night had just belonged to him and Ark. He looked up at the starry sky, and outstretched his arm, trying pointlessly to grasp the moon in his hand.

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Chapter 4: A Hunting We Will Go

Pollux woke up alone in his room, right as the sun began to peer out over the horizon. Giving a lazy stretch, he rolled out of bed clumsily and began his morning routine. He placed his clothes for the morning in a hamper, and stumbled toward the bathroom. Though he was sure no one would be in there, he made an effort to knock on the closed door first.

 

“Hello?” A woman’s voice replied back. It wasn’t one he was intimately familiar with, but he quickly remembered the girl he had met last night.

 

“Oh sorry, I was just checking if the bathroom was open.” He said, scratching his head. He clenched his teeth and set himself to avoid thinking impure thoughts so early in the morning.

 

“I’m almost done, if you can give me a minute.” She said patiently. He could hear the rustling of clothes and the steady flow of water cease. In the blink of an eye, she was outside, drying her hair with a towel. “It’s all yours.” She smiled, and left towards her room.

 

Pollux immediately hopped into the shower and ran the water as cold as he could get it. He starting chanting prayers to Seyn as the cold water rushed over his naked body. Letting the chill envelop and wash over him, he dashed out to shave once he was clean. Admiring his clean shaven mug on the reflection of the fogged up mirror, he got changed and ready for his new assignment. He heard a knocking on the door, just as he was about to turn the handle. Sensing Alia and Exia’s presence he decided to fling the door open, and surprise them.

 

“Morning Pollux.” They said with a shared bored expression. “You done yet?” He frowned.

 

“Yeah go ahead. Just meet us in the main hall when you’re done, alright?” They nodded and rushed in the bathroom. If there was one thing about this base that was inconvenient, it was only having a single shower. Not that he wasn’t use to smelling awful from spending weeks at a time camping, but he preferred not to smell like he came out of a trash heap. He could hear the twins yelp through the door and decided to get a move on. He was sure they wouldn’t appreciate the cold shower as much as he did.

 

Being the first one up and about, he decided to start up on breakfast. He wanted to make something heavy, but he only had the basic of ingredients to work with. His mind clicked as he saw that there was still a bit of pickled ham to work with. He worked his magic in the kitchen carefully chopping onions and tomatoes, cracking eggs, and listening carefully to the crackle of meat in the pan. In a manner of minutes, he had made a healthy spread of omelettes, ham and one of his favourites, Fried Sylphy Toast. It was simple, but it would sate anyone’s hunger.

 

The rest of his companions were starting to wake up and meander towards the main hall. Ark was sitting on a couch, reading the newspaper that just came by. She must have ran to the hotel and back because she had brought all of her travelling equipment with her. She travelled quite lightly, with only a large backpack and a belt equipped to hold any number of pouches and satchels one needs. However, she also had a large sword resting by her feet. The design wasn’t anything intricate, but it was quite large, and clearly meant to be wielded with both hands. There was something off about it, that Pollux couldn’t quite place, but he had never liked weapons all that much to begin with.

 

“Ah.” She looked up from her paper. “I see you’ve made breakfast. If I had known, I would have lent you a hand.” She said, hiding her face behind articles.

 

Pollux shook his head. “Nah, don’t worry about it. You’re a guest here, and I’d be a poor host if I didn’t make breakfast. I do the cooking for the group from time to time, so really, it’s no skin off my back?”

 

“Skin off your back?” She tilted her head in a cute gesture.

 

“It’s uh, a Sylferdian idiom. Back when they used to flog blasphemers. Thankfully they’re a little more tolerant now.” He stifled a chuckle.

 

The doors crashed open, as Rose strode in, like she owned the place. “Ooh, you’re making breakfast for her already? Whipped! Whipped!” She started chanting. To Pollux’s abject horror, the girl draped on her shoulder starting chanting too.

 

“Woo!” The silver haired girl chortled. “Thanks for waking us up, Ark. You should have hung around a bit more!” She hushed her voice into a whisper, “It was gonna be fun!”

 

“I’ll pass.” She muttered, “I know what your damn idea of fun is.”

 

“Spoilsport.” Selene hissed.

 

“Baby.” Ark spat back.

 

“Uhh…” Pollux stuttered. “Are you sure you two are friends?”

 

The pair looked into each others eyes and laughed. “The very best of.” They said in unison. Selene burst out laughing, while Ark was giggling through a small smile. Pollux had no doubts in his mind. Seeing as how the group had settled down, he invited them all to eat breakfast, it was going to get cold, otherwise.

 

“This is delicious.” Ark said, after shoving a piece of toast down into her mouth. She was going through her plate like she hadn’t eaten a good meal in days. “Never had bread like this before.” In a few minutes she had cleaned her plate, even faster than Ankerdal usually did. He did think it turned out rather well, so he grinned as he put another mouthful of ham and egg into his mouth.

 

The rest finished soon after her, Alia pushing all of her ham onto her twin sister Exia, but stealing a slice of her toast. Gill would set his fork and knife down delicately, while the rest just threw them on the plate and put them in the kitchen. Ark stood up. “I’ll take care of the dishes. Selene, a hand please?” She jolted out of her conversation and started pouting. “Selene, we're guests here. It wouldn’t hurt you to lend a hand.”

 

“Ugh, fine. You’re a bigger nag than my mom, sometimes.” She mumbled as she got up. The rest of the wanderers decided to wait in the meeting area by the entrance. He noticed that the weird hand had been left casually on the table, wrapped in the same cloth as before. No one here knew the details all that well, so Pollux quickly filled them in on what Ark had told him. After explaining that, he opened it up, revealing the hairy hand for everyone to see.

 

Rose picked it up and began fiddling with it, playing around with it like it was a toy. “Hmm, it’s not from a dog or a cat. It’s way too big for that.” She threw it up and passed it over to Ankerdal who gave it his own professional opinion.

 

“It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen.” He said. “But, it has an opposable thumb.” He said, pulling the appendage back and forth for emphasis. “There are creatures with hands like this called apes, but they can’t live in this climate. The winters are too cold for them.”

 

“Is it possible it’s a human hand?” Pollux said, scratching his chin. “Obviously, not a typical human, but something like one.”

 

“No way.” Gill slammed the hand on the table. “It’s way larger than even Ankerdal’s, and he’s probably the tallest person I’ve ever seen. This thing belongs to a monster, plain and simple.”

 

“And monsters don’t just come out of the aether.” Pollux snapped back. “I have a theory about it, and it might help explain some of the odd circumstances we’ve been dealing with.” He pulled out some old files that had been left behind in this building. “It’s the chimaera that our previous tenants were working on.”

 

“Ooh, yeah. That scientist was saying that they made a creature.”

 

“So… why haven’t we found that creature anywhere around here?” Pollux’s eyes narrowed. “If it’s really a creature with the intelligence of a human, it would know that it’s not safe in the city. So, that explains why these two ladies ran into on the way here. It’s living in the woods outside of the city.”

 

“Well we did camp further into the woods that night.” Selene elucidated, finished with the dishes. She and Ark flopped onto the closest couch.

 

“Any reason why you would do that?” Rose quipped. “Seems like an unnecessary risk to take, especially for only two of you.”

 

Selene was taken aback. “Well that’s uh-”

 

“That’s enough.” Ark snapped. “Our reasons aren’t important. What is important is that there’s a creature like that roaming around putting people in danger.”

 

Rose scowled at the blonde, but Pollux quickly raised his hand to break the two of them up. “We all make mistakes.” He tried to appease them. “But Ark is right, there’s a creature out there that has already killed at least six people. As of right now, we’re the best party equipped to hunt down that creature.”

 

Gill shook his head. “I have no problem with your logic Pollux, but how exactly do you expect to take this on.” he turned to Ark, “and if you are our client in this case, how do you expect to pay us. Pollux may act like we’re a charity, but we need to put food on the table, just like everyone else.”

 

Ark sighed. “No, that’s fair. I don’t really have anything to offer in terms of payment, and I know how dangerous this creature is. So I’m going with you. It may not be enough to pay what I owe, but you’ll need my help.”

 

“I have to refuse.” Pollux shook his head. “I cannot allow my client to put herself at risk for the sake of a job.”

 

Ark slammed the table. “I’m not some helpless waif who can’t defend herself. I cannot allow you all to put yourself at risk for my sake without taking that risk myself.” She bit her lip.

 

“Well anywhere Ark goes, I go too.” Selene clapped her friend on the back. “I’m going to see your journey through to the end, and that’s that.”

 

Gill groaned and shook his head. “Your assistance wouldn’t cover the costs anyway.” Ark leaned back on the couch, racking her brain. The newspaper on her lap fell off and spilled onto the table.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry.” She said, scrambling to pick up the loose sheets, but stopped. She clicked her tongue and let out a hearty laugh. “Oh, ho ho, this is perfect.” She exclaimed, grabbing on the sheets and slamming it on the table. The twins jumped at the sudden outburst, but Ark kept laughing maniacally.

 

“The newspaper is offering a reward.” She said after calming down. “Well, to be more specific, the city itself is offering a reward for the person who finds it.”

 

Gill’s eyes widened at the prospect of money. “Lemme take a look at that.” He snatched the paper and began boring holes into the articles with his eyes. “Hmm, hmm, I see.” He put the paper down and flashed a wide smile. “This would certainly be worth the effort, Pollux. And they just put up this notice today.”

 

“Which means if we hurry, we should get ahead of anyone who might be bounty hunting.” Rose said calmly, rubbing her palms together.

 

“You two never change.” He shook his head. “Very well, we’ll set out immediately, but we need people to stay here and watch the place.” He explained clearly. “Gill, I want you to get in contact with whoever is offering the reward while we’re out.”

 

“That would be the town itself.” Gill explained. “Shouldn’t be an issue, I had a nice chat with the clerks over there the last time.”

 

“Good to know. You’ll be staying in the town with Alia, Exia and Luevin. That should be enough manpower to handle any of the jobs we might get while the rest of us are away. Ankerdal and Rose, you’re with me. We should be enough to take care of that beast.”

 

“Leave it to me, Boss.” Ankerdal said, as he rushed out to grab what he needed from his room. Rose nodded as well and began her own preparations.

 

Ark looked miffed as the wanderers had settled into their own pace, so she quickly spoke up. “Naturally, I’ll be coming with you as well. As I’m not a paying client anymore, you have no reason to refuse the extra help on account of my safety.”

 

“No.” Pollux reiterated. “This isn’t a game.” He pointed to a line in the article and quivered. “This monster has already killed six woodcutters, as well as the scientists who worked in this building before us. I don’t want to put anyone else at risk.”

 

Selene stood up and grabbed his arm. “I’m sorry… whoever you are, but that’s not your choice to make. Whether we risk our lives is our choice. And after hearing how large that reward is, I want a piece of that action anyway.”

 

Ark gave a toothy grin. “So we’ll be going, with or without your consent. Besides, we know exactly where we found it two nights ago. You won’t even get a chance to claim that reward.” Selene released her grip and gave her friend a high five.

 

Pollux wanted to pull his hair out. If these were ordinary soldiers or bounty hunters, he might not have cared that they were doing something reckless, but these girls were too young and inexperienced to know any better. He could hear Rose shout from upstairs. “Oh just take them with us. Unless you think you can’t protect two women.” He grit his teeth.

 

“Fine, I don’t have time to argue about this.” Pollux stood up and straightened his back. “You can come with us-”

 

“Glad that’s settled then.” Ark got up and threw her backpack on.

 

“Not so fast.” Pollux stamped his foot on the ground. “I have conditions. If you’re coming with me, I expect you to follow my orders. I am not going to let anyone die on my watch, but I can only do so much on my own. I need you two to value your own lives too, and not be so quick to throw them away. That monster is a serious danger, and if you don’t take it seriously because your head is filled with thoughts of what comes after that shiny reward, you will die.” His voice cracked a little as he made his plea. “I don’t want that.”

 

Ark paused and looked to her friend. Selene shrugged her shoulders, as if that meant she was leaving everything to her. “Sure. I can agree to those terms.” She blushed and looked away, “I’m sorry for being so difficult.”

 

Pollux shook his head. “You can apologize to me by staying alive. We’re burning daylight here, so we should get moving.” He quickly ran up the stairs to grab a few things from his desk. Some dried meat, a wooden sword, his survival knife and a box of strike matches. He pulled open the second drawer and pulled out a compass, and the balancer device given to him by the church. Surely this Chimaera would qualify as something throwing the area around here out of balance. Ankerdal was a skilled tracker, but there was no reason to hold back when it came to information. Feeling adequately prepared, he took his gear down the stairs. Rose and Ankerdal were already waiting for him, equipped to the teeth for this mission.

 

“Alright then. Let’s move out. Ark, Selene, we’ll start our search from your campsite, can you lead the way?” Pollux spoke with authority, adjusting his cloak.

 

Selene nodded. “Of course, I can show you the way. It’s about six hours of walking, so I hope you’re ready to get your boots dirty.”

 

“Before we head out,” Pollux said, holding his palms out. “Let’s not leave anything to chance.” He began chanting a prayer to Seyn, gathering the god’s energy into his palms, and diffusing it into his travelling companions. It wasn’t a powerful incantation, but it would grant their squad many slight advantages.

 

“I don’t feel any different.” Selene said. “I mean, you certainly did something, but I have no idea what.” She shook out her limbs, trying out all sort of things. “I’m not faster, not stronger… what did you do?”

 

Pollux smiled. “Let’s just get going, I’ll explain on the way.” He held the door open for them, and followed behind as Rose and Selene lead their group forward.

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