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He took the bundle from her. It squealed and wriggled harder than he'd expected, the baby's limbs too long and powerful and... and clawed? A red-and-white muzzle peeked out at him, black nose sniffing. Dom frowned. A fox? Why a fox? The fox was... a god? That didn't seem right.
Then something was jammed hard onto his head, forcing his eyes shut. He frowned and reached up, but just then, Chryssa took off, and he grabbed onto her for dear life instead, holding the fox god with his other hand. Slowly, he twisted his head until the helmet settled over his head and he could see out the darkened visor.
They were pulling away! Dom grinned in satisfaction. Was this a rare thing, then, this motorcycle object? None of the others were able to keep up with them, aside from... those two. One of them seemed to be using an odd form of light magic, but the other... what was wrong with her knees? He grimaced, slightly disgusted. Was that from interbreeding with humanoid monsters? It was supposedly possible, not that anyone had ever seen it.
Before he could call on the earth, the light mage was there beside them. Chryssa lashed out with her snakes. Neither of the blows seemed to do much. Dom stared at the earth and called it up; it responded more sluggishly than usual without his gestures, and didn't get high enough to block the light mage's feet. He grimaced. The priest-master had always told him not to depend too much on gestures, but dammit, what else was he supposed to do? Some of the High Priests were ex-Shrineguards and still used weapons to focus magic, for fuck's sake! Sure, it'd be convenient now, but he'd never imagined he'd be on the back of a magical vessel holding a fox god in his arms! Who prepared for that?
Up ahead was an opening in the trees. "There!" Dom said, pointing. They burst out onto a beautifully-paved road and zoomed off. Spring-heeled girl fell back, but the light-mage kept pace. Shit, they had to do something! He glanced around, then looked at the fox in his arms. It couldn't possibly be their god, right?
One way to find out. "Hey, catch," he said, tossing the bundle just ahead of the light-lady. She squealed and leaped for it, jumping off of her bubble of light, and rolled her body around it just before she hit the ground hard. Stunned or injured too badly to rise, she quickly disappeared over the road.
"Don't worry," Dom shouted over the wind. The fox was still squirming in his arms; he'd only tossed the blanket away. He pressed the fox's body into Chryssa's back so she'd feel its squirming and know it was fine. "Just keep going!"
"Going, going!" Chryssa shoved the bundled-up fox at Dom, leaping astride the motorcycle. The guy would have to figure out how to hold onto both it and her, and fast. She was going to be seriously upset if the guy threw one of her rescues on the ground when they were going forty-five or more. Which, incidentally, was about as fast as Chryssa was willing to push it on the rough terrain between them and open road to Star City. She twisted around, jamming the helmet still dangling from one hand onto Dom's stupid, fluffy head. He needed it more than she did, probably. Passengers secure, she kicked the bike into roaring life, immediately throttling it as hard as she dared. With a dangerous wobble, they sprang forward, rattling over the uneven ground.
Behind them, another firebolt sizzled, splashing partially against the barriers Dom seemed to be fathering up and partially against the rear wheel of the bike. Scorched rubber hit Chryssa's senses like a slap. She bit down on a surge of terror, sure that they were about to come to a crashing halt as the tire melted right off the wheel. There was a sticky wobble, but the tire's integrity remained intact, and they were off and running in the next instant. A handful of Chryssa's snakes slithered up until their chins rested on Dom's shoulders, glaring flat hatred at their pursuers.
It was hard to say how many of them there were. Her snakes' eyes weren't as good as their noses, especially at a distance. With the cycle jerking around to avoid rough patches and the wind tearing past , she could only see them as distant blurs. The stone guy had long fallen behind. Firebolt guy was trying to hit them long distance, but they were rapidly reaching the end of his range, and their zigzagging path was throwing him off. There were two, however, who were pulling ahead at unnatural speeds, closing in on them. One had something up with her legs, some weird springy extra-jointed mutation that was letting her clock some crazy speeds. The other was coasting on some kind of bubble of light beneath the soles of her boots, easy and smooth as downhill skiing.
Crap, crap, crap. Dom's arms were full of decoy fox. Chryssa's were full of motorcycle. The snakes were their only defense, and only at uncomfortably close range. Her snakes boiled around each other on her head, hissing, fangs dropping as her venom began to pump through each one.
It was the one with the light-boots who reached them first. "Give Him to us!" the woman barked, leaning in to snatch at Dom. The snake on his nearer shoulder struck like a whip. The fangs glanced off of whatever thick shirt she was wearing beneath that cloak, scraping along flesh but not penetrating deep enough to unload venom. Pearly drops of it flew harmlessly through the air. The woman yanked her arm back with a startled yelp.
Chryssa let out her own yelp a second later, bike thudding heavily over a too-large hole, swinging wildly out of control for a heart-stopping second. She wrestled it back beneath her, breathing hard. Too much attention on the snakes. Driving was more important right now! She gunned it, the road closer by the second. If they could just hit the road she'd be able to build up some real speed.
Oooh, that thing! He changed his course to run a more direct line to where she'd hidden the thing. The bike. Motorcycle. Whatever it was called.
He'd barely made it a dozen paces before claws hooked into the back of his jacket. Falling heavily, he ate dirt hard and turned to Chryssa to complain, only for heat to scorch inches above his face seconds later. Holy shit! They had a fire mage on their side? At least that much was familiar, even if the rest of this was all confusing as fuck.
While he was on the ground, he drew on his power again, letting it circulate through his body and through his fingertips into the earth. The ground between them and their pursuers grew subtly rougher, rocks inching out of the dirt at just the right height to catch toes. He wasn't quite done when Chryssa yanked him up; magic was still spinning through his body, leaving him hot, almost sick-feeling. The downside to being so sensitive to magic was that he got magic-poisoning at the drop of a hat. Dom gasped a breath and did his best to corral the magic back into the Godstone, but he could feel the familiar sensation of blood vessels bursting around his sternum. Annoyed, he gave it a good scrub. "Warn me!" he snarled at his new companion.
They whipped around the edge of the building and towards the bike. Yeong flashed by; he tossed a bundle to Chryssa, and Dom stared. Wait, so they'd had the god the whole time? Dammit, they should've just handed it over! Too late now. And honestly, he was kind of pissed at those dumb cultists on principle. "Keep a good damn hold on it!" he shouted. He wasn't going to give it up after all this effort.
The bike, at last! He raced towards the sheet that covered the infernal machine and ripped it free, revealing the mechanical beast. "Hand the god to me!" he called to Chryssa, holding his arms out. He wasn't going to drive the bike, but he could hold a god.
According to some people, he already was.
Fire blasted the earth all around them, sparking on the trees around the bike. Dom dug his heel into the earth, let magic flow through him, and drew out big, thick earthenworks, ringing the bike from behind. The blasts continued to ring out, but in this country the same as his, they splashed uselessly against the earth. "Let's go!" he called.
The guy on top of her grew heavier all at once, impossibly so. The breath was squeezed right out of Chryssa like a tube of toothpaste, letting loose a wheezy groan on the way. The shepherd made some horrible grinding noises of his own, as well as a furious yap as it let go. The guy was expanding, growing hard and dense. Lines of light raced along his hardening skin, making it really clear what was happening. Some kind of power. Chryssa thought he felt her ribs creak and compress. She couldn't budge an inch. She was going to be crushed to death!
Something equally hard contracted around her middle, driving another breathless grunt from her throat. At first she thought the guy was... hugging her? But then whatever it was yanked her back, skidding along the ground until she came to rest at Dom's side, around a wall that definitely had not been behind her when she'd tackled that cultist a minute ago. Even released, it felt like she couldn't suck in a breath for a horrifying couple of seconds. She clawed desperately at her helmet, yanking it off, snakes expanding in a buzzing cloud around her head. She gasped desperately for air while Dom demanded to know what a bike was. Oh, right. Crazy foreigner. Apparently the way he'd been clutching at her hadn't stemmed from just never having ridden a motorcycle before, but being unfamiliar with the concept of two-wheeled transport. Another explosion rocked their little hiding place, sending shrapnel in all directions. Chryssa spared a limp moment of gratitude that her animals seemed to have fled to the winds.
Just a moment. Then she was rolling to her feet, snatching up her helmet in one hand before sprinting after Dom's fleeing figure. "The, the thing with wheels that we came on! A bike, a motorcycle!" It was dozens of yards away, and the cultists were between them and it. A bunch of trees, too, which may or may not work to their advantage. Slower to get through but more cover.
A burst of red heat behind Chryssa eclipsed her senses for an instant. Blindly, she hooked her claws into any part of Dom she could reach, yanking them both to the ground. Some kind of laser or fire projectile shot through the space their heads had just been, exploding as it hit the storebuilding where Chryssa and Yeong kept the feed. More masonry flew, along with tongues of fire.
Damn, superpowers were not necessarily uncommon, but this was weird as hell. Where had they all come from? How did a cult like this manage to gather this much of a following right next to the Knights' home base? Why were they summoning gods from other dimensions?!
"C'mon, get moving!" She hauled Dom back up, planting a hand in his back to urge him along faster. She was about to follow when a flick of familiar scent and black feathers from one of her snakes pulled her attention around. From the corner of the half-wrecked shelter building, Yeong stood, observing the chaos with narrow eyes. Chryssa paused, turning to aim her human eyes at him, torn. She didn't know what kind of expression to make. She couldn't interpret his. Fury was only natural, seeing the utter mess of his home. How much of it was being aimed at his first glimpse of his business partner's real face was impossible to say.
She didn't know what she was going to say, but she never got a chance to say it. Yeong hoisted a bundle wrapped in a towel, tossing it right at Chryssa's chest. "CHRYSSA, TAKE HIM AND RUN," he hollered, with a sideways glance at her pursuers. "PROTECT THE GOD." Then, before she could react, he was ducking away, nimble as ever.
The crow swooped overhead, letting out a rapid-fire version of Yeong's exasperated 'tch!' Startled into motion, Chryssa legged it after Dom towards the trees, clutching the wrapped bundle to her chest. She nearly stumbled when it let out a horribly human wail, but firmed her stride in the next instant. As if she didn't know what a fox smelled like.
One snake on the back of her head stayed stretched backwards, jaw hanging open, until she couldn't see or smell even a hint of Yeong anymore. Ahead of her, she shouted to Dom, "I'VE GOT HIM, KEEP GOING!"
Chryssa charged the men at his signal, more used to combat than he was really expecting. He swiped at the skinny one. If this guy was the squad leader, as it was, then best to take him out before he signaled the others Dom had sensed earlier. A wave of earth wrapped around his legs and the bottom of his robe, then spiraled up, binding his arms to his body, reaching for his mouth. Dom grinned. The man was bound! Excellent, now they could escape!
The skinny man shivered, then sagged, hanging limp in the earthen grison. Dom frowned, confused. What in Terra's name--
Water streamed out of the sleeves of the man's coat. It grouped together into a vaguely human shape, then threw itself at Dom.
Dom's eyes went wide. What kind of new water magic was this? The water-man had almost reached him before he realized he was just staring. He threw himself to the side as he sent up a wall of earth; the man splashed against the earth, then immediately molded around it. A high-pitched shriek escaped from somewhere mysterious in the water as it lunged at Dom again.
All around the rescue building, robed men appeared, racing towards them. One of them raised another of those boxes and pointed it in his direction. On sheer instinct, Dom raised a hand, and a rock wall sprouted between him and the man with a box. There was a strange sound, then a fizzle and a rush of wind; then something impacted the rock and exploded with enough force to send him flying.
The man grappling Chryssa tore at the robe he wore; it'd tangled around him and between Chryssa and the dog gnawing at him, it was holding him down. It ripped around his body, revealing gray, stone-like skin streaked through with bright energy from within.
Dom scrabbled back on all fours, completely lost. Men that turned into water, stone-skinned men, boxes that shot explosives--this was too much. He couldn't deal with this. He stood, then closed his eyes and drew on his magic, letting the energy swirl around his body. More, more--he jabbed his hands into the earth, and the earth burst up around him, forming a wall between him and the water-man, barring off the other fighters. Chryssa he snatched up with a tendril of earth, tearing her away from the rock man and onto his side of the wall.
"Where is this bike thing?" he asked her desperately. Hopefully it was a way out of here!
Even as he spoke, another explosion rang out nearby, shattering a section of his wall to bits. He looked to Chryssa, then ran. There were times when retreating was the better part of valor, and this was certainly one of them!
Dom was nodding at her. Blonde hair ruffled in the breeze, debonair smirk, confident and unfazed by danger. All cool and slick, like they were about to team up. Fight off some bad guys. Save the farm. He couldn't see the look of absolute lip-curling exasperation Chryssa was giving him from inside of her helmet.
A being summoned from another dimension, huh. Chryssa had three guesses who that was, and there were only three people HERE. Yeong was right, she should have just left this weirdly attractive ditz at the gas station.
The only lingering question left was how two such stellar intellects had performed the first successful magic ritual since the event. Successful in that it might have grabbed somebody from another dimension without ripping apart this dimension or killing the 'somebody', that was, not that Chryssa was suggesting Dom was a resplendently luminous blah and blah. And possibly how, if there was no God, He kept pissing in Chryssa's cereal anyway.
Squaring her shoulders, she whistled sharply. A handful of nearby dogs pricked their ears. "Sic 'em!" she shouted, darting forward, shoving Dom's shoulder as she passed. Then, loud as she could through the helmet, "GET TO THE BIKE, BOYS."
The guys had guns, but Chryssa was used to that, and had an opening move to compensate. It had never been tested against an RPG, but the principle should be the same. Halfway between her and them, just when an attacker should be getting a bead, she dropped into a slide, taking RPG guy out at the ankles with her heavy boots. The unfortunate side effect of this move was taking a man's full body weight as he fell pretty much right on top of her. His huge fucking weapon clunked down, too, clipping her shoulder in an explosion of pain. Stunned, breathless, Chryssa wiggled, trying to bring her claws to bear.
A German Shepherd snarled nearby, and then there was a furry body in the melee too. RPG guy shouted in alarm or pain. Chryssa couldn't tell if the dog had gotten flesh along with clothes in that bite, but he was not letting go. Chryssa slashed up with all her strength, trying to heave the guy off of her. She just had to get Dom to the friggin bike and away, and these guys would leave this place alone!
Chryssa seemed as mystified as Dom was. A deist, huh? He wasn't familiar with the term, but it meant she wasn't a Lucist. It was kind of his duty as High Priest to try and convert her. He sighed deeply. He really didn't feel like it, though. Maybe Fulgur's High Priest would be up to the task, or Luce, or Aqua but he sure wasn't.
Oh, a more detailed description. What a good idea! He turned to the man expectantly.
The man looked at Chryssa, then back to Dom. "A resplendent being of pure energy, summoned from another dimension to lead us to glory," the man said, gesturing wildly. "Lo, though we summoned it to a warm welcome in our inner circle, someone diverted our glorious savior to this..." He looked around, hood turning in each direction. "...dump."
"Haven't seen any resplendent beings of pure enery today. Chryssa, have you?" Dom asked, nodding in her direction. What on earth did that even mean? "Resplendent." Was it particularly shiny, or something? Actually, what did a "being of pure energy" look like anyways?
"You have five minutes to surrender it before our glorious leader arrives to raze these piteous ruins to the ground!" the man finished, gesturing wildly.
Alright. Enough was enough. Dom gave Chryssa a little nod. It was about time they took these guys out, wasn't it?
Chryssa skidded to a halt, breathing heavily, staring. Was that a goddamn RPG on that man's shoulder? Whoever these two were, they had seriously over-packed for an assault on two people living in an animal sanctuary. Which might have been a symptom of the raving insanity they were clearly suffering. Nevertheless, Chryssa lifted her hands, frozen in place at the sight of heavy armaments pointing directly at her home, full of innocent, scared cats and dogs. Yeong was somewhere around, too, maybe right in the line of fire.
"Of all the crazy things you've asked me, that sure is the most recent," Chryssa muttered out of the side of her mouth. "NO, I do not have a god here. I'm deist!" She was wracking her brain to figure out what on Earth they could even be referring to. Or what she had that she could possibly fob off as some sort of god. There had been some turtles in the old water feature last she checked. A talking crow was maybe kind of impressive. Yeong would kill her, though, and it only said one or two insulting phrases in Yeong's voice. Not very divine. She could take them to that bar in Star City where Isiah hung out--he was a priest of some denomination, that was close. Honestly, the most mysterious and magical thing she had in the entire shelter was Dom himself.
Like hell she was gonna say that, though.
Licking her lips, Chryssa raised her voice. "Hey, fellas, I WANT to help you out here! I'm not trying to steal from anybody, promise. I'd just really appreciate a slightly more detailed description of what you're looking for so I can hand it over and everybody can go home. If it's not some description of woodland creature, I am a little at a loss."
Dom made it to the next room over before a big black dog ran out in front of him and slammed into his shins. He went flying head over heels into a mass of already-terrified fur; his landing was soft, but emotionally painful as the dogs yelped and fled away from him afterwards, giving him big guilty puppy dog eyes. "Sorry," he said, giving the few nearest to him apologetic pats. It was their friend's fault, anyways! Where had that dog gone?
Into the next room where Chryssa still was. "You bad dog," he muttered under his breath, shaking his finger after the dog, then took off again. This time, he was a little more careful about dashing away. He leaped over the little dogs and circled around the big ones, climbing more than running his way through the mass of panicked fur.
He finally pushed his way past a big husky and made it outside into the yard. Raising his hand, he blinked, momentarily blinded by the sunlight. When the sun-dazzle cleared, he found himself standing in the yard, surrounded by fleeing animals. Before him, two men in robes stood. One was hugely muscular and held a strange box on his shoulder; the other was slender and short. More than that, he couldn't tell much about them. The robes were thick and dark, and hung loose around their frames.
The muscular one raised the box and pointed it at him, but the slender one stepped in front of him and raised a hand. "You have captured our god. Return him to us, and we shall leave in peace."
"Bit late for peace," Dom said, putting a hand on his hip. "Besides which, you're mistaken. Unless your god is a dog, he's not here."
"You can't fool us! We traced the energy here. Our god is here, and you [i will] return him. If not..." the slender one gestured. The muscular man lowered the box and pointed it at the shelter.
Dom frowned. What kind of a threat was that? What could a box do to a building? Even if it was full of boiling oil or something--which it clearly wasn't--it wasn't much threat to the building.
"I will give you five minutes," the slender man finished, then settled back, clearly done.
Dom licked his lips and glanced back at the building. There really wasn't any chance that their god was in there, was there? He supposed their god [i could] be a dog, or buried somewhere in the depths of the building, but he hadn't felt any footsteps aside from Chryssa and Yeong's in the whole complex. Or any magic, though apparently that wasn't so common in this country; who knew?
In any case, there was no chance they'd be able to meet these men's demands. And there were just two of them and a box. The others were scattered in the forest out of sight, but they didn't have any magic on them, so what did they matter? "Here," he called, as Chryssa ran out. "You wouldn't happen to have a god on the premises, right?" Just on the off chance. Might as well ask, right?
What the hell. What the hell what the hell what the hell. Chryssa lay stunned on her now-completely-uneven concrete floor. The sudden wrecking of her building had caught her completely by surprise. She'd slipped right over, would have cracked her head one good if not for the helmet. She was in a perfect position on her back to see pillars of stone sprout right up, meeting the ceiling with a crunch that sounded almost as destructive as it was helpful. A few chunks of roof still tumbled down, but most of it was held up by these sudden buttresses. She traced them down with her eyes to where they were sticking right up out of a floor now as wavy and uneven as it had been smooth and level ten minutes ago. And Dom, standing in the center of them, with his hand upraised as if to brace the ceiling with his own body.
Shit. He'd said magic, right? He'd said it like it was normal. Like it was something people could do. Like it was something... HE could do...?
Chryssa couldn't process it. Dom was rabbiting right out the door, on the hunt for whatever missile had just hit the shelter. He let in two big dogs, one German Shepherd and one Labrador, who bounded over to Chryssa to nose along her body. The lab fastened teeth in her jacket and began to tug with whole-body jerks, trying to drag her towards the door. The shepherd nosed beneath her, pushing. Chryssa struggled mightily to regain her feet without putting her hands anywhere near the interfering, furry bodies wiggling around her. She eventually managed it when the lab let go, though they continued to shoulder her legs hard, nearly pushing her back over.
"Yeong! Find Yeong!" she eventually snapped. The lab sped off, but the shepherd continued to push Chryssa the entire way through the play room towards the front door. The play room was a riot of frightened creatures. Bristling cats clustered beneath every piece of furniture available. Dogs ran back and forth, some shaking in corners, others trying futilely to chivvy their brethren outside. A husky was howling. The birds had vanished, as had the foxes. A dog bounded past with one of the raccoons in his teeth.
Chryssa waded through the chaos until she was outside. She looked around, but Yeong had gone out the back and apparently not made his way around front. She couldn't see him anywhere. Damn it, she couldn't take the helmet off if he might pop up at any second! This was her safe place, the only place she was allowed to relax and feel good. She couldn't compromise that by letting her one human friend see her real face. Whatever the threat, she'd just have to face it with claws alone.
With the helmet on, her thermoreceptors were inhibited. The snakes seethed, uncomfortably restricted in their agitation. She couldn't smell where the attackers were. She charged into the more cleared space in the center of the ruined strip mall, head on a swivel for any sign of Dom or hostile attackers. The shepherd kept pace with her, occasionally nipping to try and get her back to the rest of the animals.
"Dom, where are you?" she shouted. "Dom!"
Oh? Dom watched the man back up with interest. Was this one of those countries where magic was outright prohibited? But Chryssa didn't seem so alarmed. Maybe he just didn't like magic. There were people like that, who feared what they didn't understand, or who'd had a bad run-in with magic in the past.
So not only was her face unusual, but it meant she couldn't hold power? Interesting. This land was quite strange. Not unlike his country, in some ways, and in some ways, very different. He wasn't really surprised they weren't nobles; they'd have to be quite eclectic if they were.
"... the extinction event?" he asked. The what, again? He got a cold shiver down his spine. Something was very wrong. He had to be very far from home.
As much as he would've loved to ask more questions, there were more pressing events at hand. "There's men outside," he stated. "Five, maybe ten. Maybe more than that." He looked at her. "Can you call Yeong back? He might be in danger."
The words had barely left his mouth when a booming crack, a thousand times louder than thunder, slammed into his ears and against the building. Dom felt himself lifted and thrown into the air; all around them, the cages rattled and crashed, and the cries of a million scared, hurt animals filled the air. Dom reached out for Chryssa, but before he could grab her, another explosion slammed into the building from above. The roof sagged, then gave in, a ton of metal falling on both their heads.
There was no more time to think. Dom let the magic flow through him and threw his hand upwards. Pillars of earth sprouted from the floor between the cages, floorboards snapping as they were reduced to sawdust, and caught the roof before it could fall. Dom looked at Chryssa. "I think they think there's something worth tangling over," he said, then sprinted outside. He wanted to see the men who were trying to kill him before he sent their souls back to the soulstream.
By the question about magic circles, Yeong had backed up so far he was hitting the exterior entrance to the clinic room, subtly enough that Chryssa hadn't even noticed he was doing it. She was continually amazed by how swiftly the guy could get around with a bum leg. His glare, too, had ramped up from run-of-the-mill accusation to pure Inquisition. Chryssa's self-doubt kept pace accordingly. With every word out of the man's mouth, it became clearer and clearer that this man was not simply an isolated country boy, but a possibly-dangerous lunatic. His weird names for everything had the edge of the uncomfortably fanatic, but even alien-worshipping couldn't explain why he kept bringing up magic. Or why he was amazed by any part of two poor scavengers living in a secret animal farm like the world's smelliest hermits. Admittedly, her bike was pretty nice. And Dom had been pretty freaked out by it, but most people weren't used to motorcycles and it didn't mean they literally didn't know what they were!
At 'magic circle', Yeong snapped. "You should not have brought him here. We can't help you, young man. Please leave. Chryssa, helping humans was no part of our original agreement! If you can't keep to that, perhaps you should forget where this shelter is after all."
Used to the man's temper and empty threats as she was, Chryssa still felt stung. "Better hope I don't, or you'll have to actually figure out where it is. Maybe leave for the first time since I took up helping humans!"
Yeong's face tightened. His voice, rough with irritation, came from the crow on his shoulder. "That's no good!" Then Yeong was slamming through the door, into the backyard area, to the sound of a greeting chorus of dogs. Chryssa wished she could rub her face, but he could come back in at any moment, so the helmet had to stay on. She settled for kneading her neck with her finger joints, claws curled in.
"...Sorry about that. We're better with dogs than people," she offered to Dom, sighing. "I'm really not sure what you mean by nobility. Closest thing we've got is the Mayor of Star City. Or the Knights of the Silver Crescent, I guess. Anyway, you saw my face. I was born like that, you know. Nobility probably would have drowned me shortly afterwards. As for a magic circle, if you don't mean the star craters I really don't know what you're talking about. Nobody's used magic since the extinction event as far as I know." Mutants weren't really the same thing.
She heard the racket of the dogs outside pick up in intensity and hostility. Her frisson of alarm was automatically soothed by her rationality. They barked all the time like that at passing squirrels or other dogs. Sometimes it sounded like they were tearing each other apart when they were only playing. Anyway, any passing human would steer well clear of what sounded like a pack of feral dogs. It was fine.
Dom didn't seem to think so. His head came up and around, alert as any hound, attention fixed on a point that Chryssa couldn't see.
"Nobody comes here but me," she said, uneasily. "It's fine. Nobody comes near with the dogs making noise like that. As far as they know, there's nothing in here worth tangling with them over."
It wasn't exactly surprising they hadn't heard of Lucerna, since he hadn't heard of Yuess. [i The] Yuess, at that. He arced an eyebrow to homeless; awful pretentious of them. Couldn't just be a country, like everyone else; no, they had to be [i the] country. "No, I've no idea how I got here," he repeated. "I've heard of transport spells from the Era of Living Gods but..." But, well, he would've noticed a spell like that! The spell circle would've been insane! And the buzz of ancient magic... sure, there was plenty of background in the Battlefield, but a transport spell would be... it'd be a spotlight of magic. Impossible to miss. Besides, he hadn't woken up in one, so he could more-or-less rule that out.
"Why dump me in the wastes if I was kidnapped?" he countered. And he wasn't a sleepwalker, not that it made any more sense. "No, it's not... the crater is new to me." He shrugged. It didn't make any sense. None of this did.
"No, no, listen: Lucerna is a country," he explained patiently. "And I come from no small settlement. I've traveled all of my--Terra's domain, and some of Ignis and Aqua's. I'm not from some isolated settlement. I'm a well-traveled man, you know." Too well traveled, to hear Guila rant about it, but he'd certainly never been treated like this before, like he was some backwater idiot. Sure, he wasn't familiar with this country, and had no idea how he'd gotten here, but...
A map? He watched with great interest as Chryssa pulled out a tattered piece of paper and spread it out. The detail was insane, and impossibly precise--he leaned in just to get a closer look at the craftsmanship. Those letters! It must have been made by a master scribe. He picked it up and examined it closer, flipping it over. Incredible! And this paper! So fine, so thin and yet durable!
Dom looked up. "I've been meaning to ask, but are you nobility of some sort? Your... your clothes, and this strange equipment..." He folded the map and handed it carefully back. "In any case, no, none of that is familiar." Which answered none of his questions. He scratched the stone in his chest and bit his lip. Something magical had happened, of that he was sure. The only question was, how did he reverse it?
"Do you have a magic circle?" he tried. It was a bit to ask, but even other countries had mages, if they were much different from Lucerna's priests and guards.
Outside, the dogs all started to bark. Dom looked up. Boots on dirt. Just on the periphery of his awareness. Many boots, more and more approaching the longer he listened, the more he extended his awareness. He glanced back at his new friends and called his awareness back to himself, so he only just felt the boots, just barely. "Were you expecting visitors?" he asked, magic coursing eagerly from his Godstone even with him barely calling for it. He hoped they were. Using magic carefully enough to not kill the dogs, too, would be such an effort that it almost wasn't worth the bother.
The look that Yeong aimed at Chryssa was as clear as words. It was pure blame made visual. 'You did this,' those eyes said. 'You brought this into my home'. Chryssa would have returned fire, except that he couldn't see her eyes so what was the point. At least it meant he couldn't see her sudden panic and doubt.
Was this guy, Dom, really alright? She'd suspected something was up from the moment she'd seen him, yes, but she hadn't expected him to be this... confused. Was it possible English just wasn't his first language? He didn't have an accent, though.
'Fix it!' Yeong's eyes burned right through her helmet.
"Okay, pal," Chryssa began, cautiously. "I've never heard of Lucerna before. Is it a city? It's just... Really, you've NEVER heard of the largest country on the continent? Sure, we don't have a central government anymore, but pretty much anyone who lives where the US used to be considers themselves American. You must have heard of it. There's no way you took a nap and hopped continents!"
The crow on Yeong's shoulder bobbed his head, feathers on the back of his neck fluffing out. He opened his beak, and Yeong's sharp voice emerged. "That's no good! That's no good!" Yeong reached up to scratch the agitated bird on the chest until he settled down a little.
"There's bound to be new settlements somewhere we haven't heard of," Yeong said, slowly. "Could it be you were kidnapped while asleep?"
"And what, sleepwalked to freedom?" Chryssa grumbled, folding her arms.
"The Battlefield of the Gods isn't a name I'm familiar with either," the man completely ignored Chryssa. "But if you don't mean the star crater, it narrows things down. Chryssa, you have a map, don't you?"
"Of course." She reclaimed her backpack from Dom and rifled through it, emerging with a stained, crumpled piece of paper folded many times in on itself. When unfolded, it was a black and white depiction of the former state of Illinois on one side, and a close-up of the area around Star City on the other. The state map part was several years old, and therefore probably wildly inaccurate, but it did well enough in a pinch. Settlements tended to fail and then spring right back up in the ruins of the old one. Littler or more nomadic settlements were harder to track, but where there had once been a city pre-event, there was probably still at least some people living now. Star City, for example--the prime location right on a big, freshwater lake was too good for the fact that the city had had to be reconstructed literally from the ground up to deter people.
On the state map, the star crater was filled in with ink. Each of the eight spindly arms looked thin, nothing like seeing them up close. There was only one other star, a quarter of the size of Star City, stamped where the state capital had once been. Chryssa didn't really hold out much hope for Dom being from there. Surely he'd have heard of the country he lived in, if so. Then again, it was always possible he'd simply been raised by some kind of new world faction which eschewed all knowledge of the old world. Communes like that were a dime a dozen in the countryside, away from urban centers like Star City, where history was a little more immediate and relevant due to the presence of the Knights of the Silver Crescent.
"Don't suppose any of this looks familiar?" she held up the map for inspection. Honestly, would he even recognize a map of Illinois, if he'd been raised in a commune, or simply hadn't traveled much? Chryssa went from settlement to settlement, delivering packages and scrounging up resources for the shelter. The Star City close-up was full of her own hand-written annotations, new settlements drawn in and crossed out, notes about fauna and dangerous conditions all in the margins.
He didn't look up again until the strange metal contraption ground to a blissful halt. His thighs felt like jelly, vibrated and bounced around until he could barely feel them, his hands were sore from holding on, and his hair would never be the same; the wind had massacred it. Dom stumbled off the thing and towards the nearest solid object, legs trembling like a newborn doe's. His shoulder hit a tree, and he slid down it until his legs finally engaged, then breathed a sigh of relief. It was over. The horror ride had stopped at last. With weak hands, he tried to adjust his hair into something that resembled hair instead of an upturned tornado, with little success. What [i was] that machine? And who would be mad enough to ride it?
By the time he'd recovered enough to take in his surroundings, Chryssa had already tucked the horrible thing away under a tarp and was leading the way in. Belatedly, he realized that they'd come across nature at last, in the form of a forest; so the whole country wasn't barren, then? Good, that was good. The construction ahead of him was mysterious, however; he couldn't make heads nor tails of it. There was a solid building in there, somewhere, but it had been extended with a caravan's worth of tents. There was metal lying around here and there, as well, enough to make any blacksmith green with jealousy--though they seemed to simply be using it as building materials. Dom furrowed his brows, confused. Was this country resource-rich or -poor? On one hand, that wasteland, but on the other hand--all this metal! They must have insane mining abilities to use metal so casually.
And then he was bowled over by a veritable tidal wave of animalflesh.
Panic bit deep in Dom's stomach. He reached out for the earth and drew on his power, ready to protect himself from the flashing teeth and dark claws--only to get slobbered upon by a mighty horde of--were they all dogs? He struggled back upright and looked around. Dogs, as far as the eye could see. What on Terra was this? A bit stunned, he followed Chryssa inside silently, too busy taking in everything to speak. A man appeared, and he started; so they didn't all have snake-hair. Actually, this man looked remarkably normal, aside from the crow on his shoulder. Then... was there a race of intelligent gorgons here, that were discriminated against by the humans? It was the best explanation he could come up with, but somehow, it felt wrong.
Yeong was oddly dressed as well. The colors in his outfit--the King would have died for such rich dyes. And yet, the cloth looked to be no more than cheap cotton, and the cut was... certainly nothing special. The pants were a beautiful mottled blue, and yet constructed from some kind of--was that burlap? No, but it was a similar thickness and roughness. It was mystifying. This whole country was mystifying.
He watched as the two bantered with a small grin on his face. They were old friends, obviously. When Yeong turned on him, he startled, not expecting to be brought into the conversation. If anything, he'd been under the impression he'd been forgotten. It happened, sometimes. He had a forgettable face and quiet demeanor. Even once he'd become High Priest, people had still forgotten he was in the room with them.
"No, no, nothing of the sort," he said, chuckling at the idea that a single gorgon, however intelligent, could threaten him in any way. "No, I come from Lucerna. I've no idea how I arrived here in Yuess. In fact, I'd never heard of your country before today. The last thing I remember is taking a nap on the Battlefield of the Gods--ah, the wasteland in the south of my doma-- country, when suddenly I woke up... here. Chryssa was kind enough to agree to take me into the city, where I hope to discover a little more about where I am, and where it is relative to Lucerna."
He opened his mouth to continue, then stopped and considered. A High Priest was a bartering chip the likes of which many countries would love to hold over Lucerna. He liked to wander alone, preferred it, even, but even he knew better than to just mention it to random passerby, especially in a foreign country. Attempts had been made on his life before, or to kidnap him, but none had been successful--having said that, neither was he eager to put himself in danger for no particular reason. "I would've been wandering still if not for Chryssa. She has my deepest gratitude," he finished instead, giving her a little bow and a smile.
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