This story contains graphic sexuality and in this very chapter includes scenes of (non-sexual) violence. If such things offend you, feel free to direct your browser elsewhere.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? To be honest, I’ve been sitting on this section of the story for quite some time, but I couldn’t get it to be just the way I wanted it. In the end I’m proud of the changes I’ve made and I think it tells a better story. Sorry for the unwieldy wait though. Hopefully there are those of you who are still interested in the story. For those of you who are new to it: Welcome! The endgame is within sight. Take heart, brave adventurers!
If you like the story, have constructive criticism, or want to plead for more sex: find me at troublemonkee at gmail dot com. Feel free to stop by: Theeroticledger.blogspot.com for more info/stories and the occasional terrible sketch. OR follow me at: @eroticledger [so many ways to get in touch!]
Adventure School, Episode Three:
It is physically impossible to traipse through foot deep snow
He was fitted for a silver and gold cuirass with a relief of an arrow in mid-flight. It was lightweight, but sturdy. Along with the featherlight silver-alloy chain skirt that he wore at his waist they said his armor could deflect a serious strike from close range, but against arrows he would be mostly fucked — which was why he would be staying relatively protected from the fighting on the ground. He absorbed these details with all of the emotionality of a golem. He was screwed. The Templars knew it, the Djinn knew it, and he knew it.
Two days before he had been told that the Templars, sworn to the destruction of all otherworldly creatures, were in league with the worst of them. It didn't help that he'd fucked it. Skip wished that Zophir was around, no doubt he would have put things into perspective. At the least they could have screwed, which also would have helped. But then he thought of the Zophir he'd last seen: a dejected shell of his former friend. Skip sighed and buckled himself into the armor.
He slung his quiver over his shoulder. They'd filled it with twisted, alien shafts constructed of a black wood he'd never encountered before. Iblis vouched for its efficacy, which was a small comfort.
He found a place at his waist for a knife, long as his forearm, for good luck he supposed. If anything got close enough for him to stab it would mean that things went terribly, terribly wrong. Still, the knife was comforting. It was the only thing of his, beside his quiver and himself, that he'd be bringing into battle. Even his bow would be left behind.
Of course they said they would keep it safe. Gavric promised with both hands locked, like a doting schoolchild. Skip would have loved to punch his face in. “No,” they’d explained, “for this you will have to use the bow assigned to you.”
And what a fucking bow it was.
It was a tall, slender longbow made of the same dark wood as the shafts, but infused with gold down to its very core. It gave off a bright sheen at one angle and was devoid of color at another. The djinn explained that it was a weapon made of the most precious material of two worlds: the nameless black wood used as kindling for the smokeless flame that birthed the djinni and gold, which tied to the very heart of the earth. A single shot from this bow, at the exact moment of weakness, would kill the Djinn.
That was Skip's role. The Golden Archer with the Nearly-Golden Bow. One arrow for each of the three Djinn. A savior in the making.
The rest, they said, was best left to the professional monster hunters. And of course, they said, nothing could begin without the return of the Huntsman. Perhaps it was best that they neglected to mention who or what the Huntsman was.
The ensuing days had been a flurry of activity. The Templars outside of the featureless black command center were readying themselves for war at the behest of their masters. Gavric, it turned out, was the magus-excelsius and looked sufficiently imposing before the troops in his midnight-purple robes and dozens of rings and chains. His spinning emerald earring marking him as a force not to be trifled with. Jus barely needed clothes to command instant respect. He walked shirtless in the freezing temperatures of the north, his tattoos crowded his thickly muscled body and he carried an immense, worn lance with him always. Iblis trailed at their side, favoring a carrion crow over a faithful dog, in an asymmetrical black robe that exposed a bronzed shoulder to the cold.
Celadon d'Alain appeared and disappeared at will, doing the bidding of his betters with a tight little grin permanently pasted on his face. Skip had not spoken to him since meeting the Templar's masters, but Celad was quick to favor him from a distance with a wink or a lewd gesture.
Two days had passed as if in a dream and on the dawn of the third day, Skip was dressing himself in the armor that had been supplied and preparing for a war he barely understood.
If I survive this, he thought, I'm going to kill all four of those bastards.
When it was time, he was fetched by the same older woman who had ushered him into the midst of the Templar camp days before. She looked at him over her spectacles and made a dismissive noise.
"I suppose you look the part of a Templar at least. Follow me."
She took him through the winding halls and once again time seemed to pass strangely as they moved to the exit. After some indeterminate period of time, she showed him the door and he stepped out into the half-light of the morning. It seemed endlessly overcast as it did most days, but as soon as he was outside he could tell that things were different. The camp was crackling with activity. The odd man here or there were sharpening weapons or cooking the shit out of frozen meat, but most were huddled and whispering or singing songs in dozens of languages.
Skip had the feeling they were preparing to die.
A shrill whistle caught his attention. "Golden Archer, don't you look the part."
Skip turned to Celad. "So I've been told, but I haven't hit a target in a few days. Would you like to volunteer? Die a patriot?"
Celad lifted his hands in mock innocence.
"I would, but the fates have other plans for me it seems."
"Not from where I'm standing."
Celad grinned. "Ho-ho! And here was I, about to give you a small gift. A token of my appreciation. Now I may have to rethink my largesse."
"I don't want anything you could possibly offer me, Templar."
"You say Templar as if it were a slur. As if you didn't abandon your friends to be with us. As if we weren't the only family you have left." His tone was sharp.
"You say family like you know the meaning of the word."
" Your life only has meaning until you loose those three arrows, archer. And then you become expendable." He looked around."Last time I checked this was war. People die all the time. That's almost the point."
"Get away from me, Templar." Skip grunted and turned to move away.
"And you're sure you don't want my help? My final act of kindness?"
"Your kindness comes with claws, Celad. And I have a feeling I'll be seeing enough of those before the sun sets."
The Templar just shrugged, grinned, spun on his heels and walked away. Skip, to his credit, did the same.
Zophir was pressed into the service of the Order of Gargossa the Blind. A famous "Templar" who had given over his sight in the study of arcane wisdom. He was known among academic circles as Gargossa the Blind as well, but his story was used more as a cautionary tale. The Blind moniker was more of a disparagement considering that he trafficked with a demon in order to gain his wisdom and subsequently went mad. He summoned a towering inferno that burned his city to ash and in doing so killed not only himself but the demon he traded with and over a hundred-thousand people. It was worth noting that Gargossa meant to use his newfound power to destroy the Templars who lay siege to his city-state, unfortunately his spell did the Templars' job for them without harming a single of the righteous. So martyr or madman, Zophir was forced under his flag.
The faithful of Gargossa tended to blind themselves out of deference to his "holy sacrifice", but when passed the consecrated knife and asked to puncture his eyes — Zophir politely refused. The priest of Gargossa was bewildered by this, but in the end didn't push the issue considering that they'd probably all be dead in a few hours.
Zophir didn't exactly like that reasoning, but he wasn't blind at the moment, so it was a bridge he didn't mind crossing at a later time.
The Order of Gargossa was among the first wave of magi at the front, and from what Zophir could glean, their position was considered largely sacrificial. They wouldn't explain who or what they would be battling, but Zophir had a feeling that if it came to a fight he would prove them right. The Templar who had tortured him had done some significant damage to his ribs and left his face terribly bruised, but the worst part was that he had systematically broken Zophir's concentration and made conjuring even the simplest of spells a major task. Through a combination of physical, magical, and verbal abuse over the past two days he'd broken Zophir down and he'd done it gleefully. The magus might have been able to recover, but the past weeks had been hard on him. He didn't know how much he had left to reach for and for the first time in his life he was scared to even try.
Sometime near midday, Zophir was offered a cup of soup and he ate it greedily. It was already cold and tasted like death, or at least a very bad illness, but it was his first significant meal in many many hours. Shortly after breakfast (which was technically lunch, but Zophir was too weak to argue) the priest of Gargossa rallied the order as Zophir was surreptitiously stealing soup out of another magus's bowl.
"Gargossa the Blind, the patron of our order, began his holy mission in a situation as desperate as the one we now face..."
Zophir was ignoring him and slurping his pilfered soup. He continued on about valor and wisdom for some time and then began strategizing, which was when Zophir began paying attention again.
"...we will begin with a line of ever-burning fire across the field, which is marked by scent. You need only sniff out the citrus and burn your assigned section. That will make it difficult for our enemies to cross, which gives us a moment to prepare our second-tier offensive..."
The priest continued, unaware of the blue frocked messenger from the Order of Bircel — a minor noble regarded as a huge gossip in his day who was actually, apparently, a major Templar informant. Zophir was amazed, as he learned these tidbits, of the alternate history that the Templars cultivated within their ranks and how difficult it was to disentangle from the truth. The messenger had to put a hand on the priest's shoulder to get his attention and then whispered something in his ear. The priest frowned, but before he could say anything, the messenger whispered something else and the priest nodded sagely.
"Zophir? Magus Zophir?"
"His Holiness Gavric, Templar-Excelsius, and Master Magus requests your presence. Go quickly and, should his Holiness allow, return promptly."
Zophir thought of staying put, then realized the messenger was staring right at him. It was amazing how invisible one could feel when in the exclusive company of the blind for even a short time. He stood and followed the messenger, who seemed unusually sturdy underneath her or his blue frock and hood.
The messenger led him away from the front and to a small tent pitched nearly half a mile away from the main body of the Templar camp. They passed two sets of guards who the messenger whispered to and they continued.
The messenger opened the flap of the tent and ushered Zophir in. He entered the empty tent and sat down on a pillow he found there and the messenger followed him in and removed the blue hood.
"Is this some kind of spell? How is it —"
Trell shook his head. "No trick. No magic. Basic infiltration training. This camp is far too big and busy to run with anything resembling —"
Zophir lunged at the hammerman who raised an arm in defense, but Zophir threw his arms around him instead and buried his face in his broad shoulder. Trell was stunned for a moment, but eventually reached around to hug Zophir back when he felt a sharp static shock against the back of his head. Trell's head snapped up against his will. His entire body went rigid. Zophir whispered in his ear:
"Are you under my control?"
Trell panicked. Was that his voice?
"Are you Trell, the Scorian Hammerman?"
He tried moving his head, but found it locked in place. He was answering despite himself.
"And are you operating under your will and your will alone?"
"I am operating under my will and the will of the Scoria Signatori, magus."
"Good enough," Zophir said with a sigh and then shocked the back of the Scorian's head a second time. Trell visibly relaxed. Zophir moved away from him and rubbed his eyes.
"What was that? What did you do to me?" He asked, less panicked now that he could move his arms.
"It was a compulsion charm. I've been saving up to cast it for days now. You have no idea how difficult that was. Fuck," he cursed, pulling a clump of hair away from his head. "My hair is falling out. I'm killing myself..."
"So I'm assuming you can't spirit us away from here then?" Trell asked.
Zophir laughed weakly. "Not even if I was at full strength. Can you contact Ix?"
"I used up my only means of communication with him in order to find you. And fighting our way out is not an option. This camp is on high alert and full of warriors. We'd be cut down in minutes."
"Not exactly the finest rescue ever executed." Zophir said. He meant the tone to be breezy, but it emerged desperate.
"I had to insinuate myself into five different Orders before I got my hands on this costume." He pointed to the messenger's robes. "And even then it was a long shot. You're lucky they stuck you with the Gargossans otherwise we both might have been executed a moment ago."
"So what do you know about the situation? Have you got any idea what this war they're planning is about?"
Trell scratched his chin. "Everyone has their own theories, but all of them come down to fighting monsters. There are rumors that the Ran'Aka have been gathering here en masse."
"The Ran'Aka? En masse? Is that even possible?"
"Before today I would have said an immense Templar camp hidden in the far north wasn't possible. You want to push our luck or do you want to try to get the fuck out of here?"
Zophir saw the wisdom there. "The second one. But how do we do it?"
"I might have to kill a few people, but I think we can slip out the way I slipped in. Maybe. But before that. There's one other thing."
"Your...friend, Skip. I think he's here."
Zophir's eyes narrowed. "You're lying."
"I have never lied to you, Zophir. I heard his name. They're calling him the Golden Archer. He's with the Templars."
Zophir stared at Trell for a long time. He didn't think the hammerman was lying, but desperately wished that he was.
"Then I'm not going anywhere until I speak with him."
"This is non-fucking negotiable."
Jus slapped the heavy chain and set the weight at its end swinging briskly. The slave, to whom's nipple the weight was attached, moaned through a fist-sized wad of cotton. The nipple in question was swollen and red, radiating heat as Jus twisted it clockwise. The slave gave a choked yelp and the Templar abandoned him. He moved from the wall to another man bent over a wooden block.
He thrust two fingers inside the man's hole and withdrew them quickly. He rubbed the fingers together to test for proper lubrication and then licked them clean before pressing his cock against the hole.
Skip stood against a wall with his arms crossed as the Templar wrestled his pleasure from a handful of initiates from various orders. They offered themselves to their insatiable lord and he fucked them carelessly. It was, as Skip understood it, his due. Gavric, as usual, reclined on a veritable fountain of pillows and watched with a prodigious erection. Skip had stood and watched the Templar-Champion fuck his way through eight or nine youths that afternoon as they waited for something terrible that no one had the decency to explain.
Jus rode the young man hard, slamming his tattooed cock into and out of his hole without mercy. It was entrancing to watch the elaborate whorls inked onto the Champion's heavy dick disappearing and reappearing like magic. The recipient of Jus' eager minstrations looked caught somewhere between misery and ecstasy; the chains around his wrists and ankles kept him from moving even an inch while Jus fucked him.
Time passed and Jus grew bored of this fuck and abandoned the pursuit mid-thrust. He sauntered over to two blond men, twins who had been shackled together face-to-face while on their hands and knees. Jus slid his cock between their mouths and let them eagerly lap at his prick and each other while he looked on with a satisfied smirk.
"Is there no more to this than leisure and decadence? Must I stand here and watch this?" Skip breathed to himself. Gavric looked up at him and offered a faux-sympathetic look.
"Are we boring you, Skip? Do you tire of the excesses of your betters?"
"You've yet to prove that you're anything close to my better, Gavric."
The stocky magus smirked. "I suppose that's true from your perspective. After all." He gestured to Jus, who had moved on to rimming one of the twins. "This is just sex to you. Just killing time. But I assure you, these young men have waited their whole lives to become part of this legend. To be fucked by Jus the Merciless. To become the plaything of such a powerful man.
“Their desires perpetuate the legend, their horny fantasies have lionized the man before you and he feeds on their adulation. When he's done, he discards them, but not until he has used them so thoroughly that they when they speak of what occurred here, every orifice will quiver in memory. Ultimately, my boy, he's turning these nameless fucks — sons of goatherds and great lords alike — into a history lesson."
Skip and Gavric watched the Champion jerk one of the twins to a shivering orgasm as he kissed his own brother deeply. The magus offered wan applause and asked without turning from the show. "So tell me, Skip Dashe of Obsidian Signatori, has yours Adventure School used you any differently?"
The question bit deeply and Skip recoiled from it as if struck. He thought of a response, but it wilted on his tongue. Instead he remained silent and watched Jus move to attend the other twin, whose erection was rigid and red with anticipation.
A moment later the door to the room swung open and four men entered the room. The first was Celad, the next was a Machina officer still in his uniform, then came a dirty, shabbily dressed man wearing two swords at his waist, and the last...
"Cliff!" Skip looked down at Gavric and then over at Celad, who offered a wink. "What is he doing here?"
When Cliff heard the voice, he whipped around. It only took a second for him to confirm what his ears had heard and then he was moving. Though his arms were chained behind his back, his legs had been overlooked. He sprinted toward Skip before anyone could stop him, though it seemed no one was particularly interested in trying. Cliff dodged past several young men chained in various positions and vaulted over Gavric and his pillows. He would have planted both feet into Skip's chest, but for Gavric, who tugged gently in the opposite direction. Cliff was thrown at full force across the room. He crashed into the ground near Celad's feet and the still grinning Templar promptly drew the officer to his feet.
"Don't hurt him!" yelled the white-haired officer that Cliff had been brought in with.
The shabby swordsman drew his sword and drove the hilt into the officer's back. He collapsed unto one knee and the swordsman rested his sword on the Machina man's shoulder gently and said, "Stay."
Cliff however wasn't so easily cowed.
"I helped you! I brought you safely back to your fucking school! I helped fight those fucking creatures! You killed them, you coward! How can you sleep at night, monster?"
Skip flinched. "You don't understand..."
"The Templars? Murderous fucking zealots? These pigs...? You came —"
Celad planted a punch lovingly in Cliff's side and then another and then another, until he was sinking down to his knees, but Celad had an arm across Cliff's chest and wouldn't let him fall.
Skip looked around the room at all the faces gathered there as if they held some answer.
"What is this? What is he doing here?" he asked again.
"It's not every day you find a medium of his talent. In order to drag the Djinni kicking and screaming to our cozy little battlefield we'll need someone with a toehold in multiple planes. Your friend happens to be our best shot. We've been interested in him for quite some time. Haven't we, Vitto?"
Cliff looked over at Vitto. He was clearly confused, his mouth hung open in disbelief. Vitto's look back was contrite.
"The ISA was specific, Cliff. You had to be here. Right now. That was the mission. I'm sorry."
"The mission? That was why I was promoted? For this...?"
"Hard to admit you're just a cog in the machine, isn't it?" Gavric asked gently. "Though you're trained for humility. Trained to believe that you are just a little slice the loaf, it's comforting to imagine that you're the exception, isn't it? That maybe you'll be the one the rise above, to make a name, to be the hero. In a way, you are, Clifton. Your involvement sped up our time table." Then he nodded at Skip. "Both of your involvements moved things along quicker than we planned, but it was always going to be this way. Don't beat yourselves up about it."
Cliff stared at the ground for a moment. He didn't say anything for some time. "And if I refuse?"
"Not an option," Jus said simply, "there are a dozen ways we can force you to do this. None of them are pleasant and all of them are effective."
Cliff looked lost and sounded hollowed out as he spoke. "I didn't even know how it worked until two days ago. I don't know that I can do what you ask."
"It's never too late to learn, plane-traveller." Gavric explained.
"So you're telling me I can summon those monsters?" Cliff asked.
"You can and will. We will tell you when and we will tell you how." Celad chipped in merrily.
Cliff looked over at Skip and shook his head slowly. Skip didn't know what it meant. Not at first.
"All of you can fuck off." Cliff said and closed his eyes.
Cliff burned. Not with anger or regret alone, but a potent cocktail of the two. He felt the need to lash out, to rage. He left himself for the first time intentionally and it was like taking a first step or a first breath. Time ceased to have meaning in the little room full of naked bodies. He turned his attention away from his physical form and the everything else in his purview was shadows. He saw shadows everywhere he looked, dark replicas of places and things and people with which he was familiar. He wandered the dark for a while, feeling neither fear nor apprehension, and then he began to desire something familiar.
As soon as he had the thought, he was in his little apartment in the First Machine City. The room built up around him like a sandcastle from divine hands at a dizzying rate. The replica was flawless. His bed, his shower, his little speaker box and the unopened bottle of pills on his desk.
Everything looked real, but he knew it wasn't real. This was a stage. No more real than the bed he had fucked in with the blond magus or the mountaintop on which he had watched Skip murder Machina soldiers. It was difficult for Cliff, in that shadow place, to conjure the emotions he had felt in either of those moments. Everything human seemed distant and strange.
In time he grew tired of marvelling at the bizarre half-place. He set to his work. He called out in the dark and waited for a response. At first there was nothing, so he called again.
When they came, it was because they were curious, not because they were compelled. They had not expected a human voice to call them in this place where they considered themselves higher-than-kings. They came to savor his arrogance and his ignorance.
Three creatures too haughty for physical forms appeared in Cliff's little apartment.
"Junun," one said to another, "can I eat this human?"
"No, Majnun. That is not polite. We should question him."
The third remained silent.
"Then I have a question, human. Why did you call us?" asked the first.
"I want you to die, but I’d like to see you punish my enemies before you do." Cliff said, finding himself curiously unable to lie.
"Oh,” said the first, and then to the second said, "See? He means to kill us, which means we should not feel guilty about eating him."
The first and second began to squabble while the third spoke. Cliff could feel immeadiately that there was something familiar about this presence.
"So the Templar have played their cards. I've spent centuries trapped in a book and mostly I didn’t mind. It allowed me to avoid situations like this, you know. Majnun loves nothing more than destruction, but me? I like to savor my food. Slowly eating away at a great magus. Nothing makes a finer meal. It's been hell trapped inside this magic-less twit. Nothing to eat. Not even a morsel..." Cliff could taste the creature's frustration and smell its boredom, "at least I'll have something to snack on now. At least —"
It took a moment before Cliff realized that the creature was talking about him. "Well you won't be eating me. Not today anyway, but hopefully, if you're quick enough. You can catch the rest of the Templars unaware."
Before the plane-walkers could respond, or take a bite out of the human-traveller, he was gone. Gone and taken his delicious scent with him. But he couldn't outrun them for long, they thought simultaneously, not when it was so easy to follow.