42 To Be Human - Headed by a Snake
Pale wiggled backward to sit up in his bed. His sheets were soaked with sweat and he wiped off his forehead with his pajama blouse sleeve, "I... I think I had a nightmare, Sir Tycon."
"Go on," Tycon replied, his back still turned. He continued incessantly scratching quill to paper at his writing desk.
"Something was... wrong... with Taree, Sir... And... and I told her to keep her eyes open... Because I thought if she closed them, she'd die."
...Did Boss Tycon know Taree? Pale couldn't remember. His mind was clouded. He wanted to go back to sleep... But something in the back of his mind told him that he mustn't.
Pale shivered from a sudden chill and reached again for his blankets. A small furnace in a lonely corner dimly illuminated the room but provided not nearly enough heat.
"Tsss!" Tycon scoffed. "Young man, that is absolutely false. Sleep slows a number of human functions while simultaneously increasing its potential for self-recovery. Allowing an ill or injured patient to sleep is largely beneficial to convalescence."
Pale looked around the room, especially at the three other beds beside his. The white sheets covered the occupants, including their heads and faces. They lied eerily still, not making a sound.
"Sir... May I ask a question?"
"A moment, young man..."
Pale waited patiently, the rhythmic scratching of the quill and occasional dip into the inkwell proving a welcome comfort. Pale waited for what felt like well over a full bell before the furious writing slowed and Tycon allowed himself a contented sigh.
"Thank you for waiting, young man. I'm rather pleased that you've learned to practice your patience."
"Thank you, Sir." Pale couldn't help but smile weakly as he stared at the bumps his wiggling feet made in the blanket.
"Your question, Bucket?"
Tycon sighed in annoyance, scratching his pen in a long loop. "Out with it, young man. Hesitation does not suit a leader."
Pale bit his upper lip and summoned his courage, "Sir... Are you Human?"
Tycon's quill abruptly stopped moving.
"Young man..." Tycon's voice dropped in octave, "Why would you ask that?"
"Well, Sir..." Pale gripped the top of his blanket with both of his hands and stared at Tycon's back. "I'm not quite sure you have a face."
Tycon stood up, his wooden chair loudly scraping the floor. Turning around, a bone white mask covered his face, allowing his golden eyes to glow through its slits.
"Very good, young man. Always question, if not aloud, then in your mind... Can you do better? Can you reduce the risk? Is there an obvious flaw? These are the questions you, as a leader, must ask."
Pale nodded. He shifted his legs, kneeling in the bed. He didn't know when or how, but his spear had returned to his right hand, returning him a spark of bravery.
"Now, young man, is there anything else before we continue?" Tycon asked, ever professional. "I'm certain you understand... For you to go on your way, I must show you what is underneath this mask."
"No, Sir... No questions... But..."
The mask-wearing Tycon tilted its head, "Yes?"
Pale stood up on the bed, spear at the ready, "Sir, thank you for teaching me."
The masked Tycon nodded in approval, "Young man, remain vigilant. The lesson has yet to finish."
And so, Tycon removed his mask.
She stood, draped in a white dress.
Black hair spilled from the mask.
It dripped and smelled of stale water.
Black bile spilled from her lungs.
She stood, taller than the ceiling.
The ceiling was gone, as if it had never been.
And where it would, the stars shone.
Waxy white hands dropped down from the darkness, pale hands on long wax arms. They lifted the blankets off of the corpses.
A woman screamed soundlessly... but she was already dead. She dropped off of the bed with a sopping thump and tore her nails upon the floorboards, trying to crawl away. The hands grabbed at her body, tearing off flesh in clumps as a loaf of bread.
A man screamed soundlessly... but he was already dead. He raised his boneless arms, desperately screaming prayers to gods that refused to hear. The hands grabbed at his skin, which stretched and tore. Like hooks, their fingers pierced his flesh.
The child stared soundlessly. He wanted one last moment... but he was already dead. His body writhed and shook, thrashing sharply from side to side while the hands split his torso from his legs, bathing the room in a steady stream of blood.
The goddess stood.
In Her left hand, She holds a sword.
Moonlight makes its blade.
In Her right hand, She holds a girl.
Her eyes are shut tight.
She sings a song so she cannot hear.
Pale screamed for her to awaken.
She sings a song so she cannot hear.
Tycon glanced over his shoulder, seeing Tarquin Wroe approach.
"Mister Wroe," he nodded.
"Boss," Wroe gave a salute, placing a palm against his chest.
Tycon pointed at a clearing 20 fulms away, free of trees, leaves, or plants, where three children had collected.
Bucket was standing in a combat stance, his dilated pupils unfocused. A young silver-haired girl was sitting in a crouch, holding her knees, singing a song and... crying. The blonde kid was face-down in a pile of leaves with an arrow stuck in his back. Tycon would have been more concerned if not for the fact that he was snoring loudly and peacefully. Most curious in the group was Bucket's hide-covered log that had somehow grown a collection of knives.
"This... I suppose this was your doing, Mister Wroe?" Tycon asked, unamused.
Wroe offered a guilty smile, "Can I say no?"
"Go back!" Tycon yelled, startling the blue-haired angel.
"Okay, okay!" Wroe retreated to a healthy distance. "Boss, where am I going back to?"
"Just-- scout the area or something! Or go up into the branches and wait!"
Wroe escaped handily as Tycon turned to deal with the situation. He picked up a hard fruit, fallen from a nearby tree. It would cause a handy lump if it struck Bucket's head... and hopefully free him from whatever mind-effects he was under. Tycon tossed it with a moderate amount of strength.
Bucket's spear slashed through the thrown fruit. But the boy's eyes didn't change-- he was still dominated by the mind-effect.
"Seven Hells... What kind of reflexes does this boy have...?" Tycon asked aloud.
Tycon picked up a second hard fruit, "Okay, different target. Eh... The girl. As I throw this fruit with speed capable of dealing moderate-to-high physical harm at this young woman, I cite the Equal Opportunity clause of Guild Invictus: a statement which asserts that I, the contractor, shall not discriminate against employees or clients based on gender, species, religion, culture, national origin, or age."
Tycon threw the fruit, "Hah!"
Bucket's spear reflexively slashed through it.
"Seven Hells... Wowwww," Tycon groaned. "Bucket, if *anything* is thrown at me from here on out and you fail to protect me, I'm going to shoot you. In the back. With a crossbow."
Tycon thought he saw Bucket visibly shiver but ignored it as an anomaly.
He picked up another fruit, "The dumb-looking blonde kid, then! He's probably babbling about something lewd."
Tycon grew quiet to listen... "Now... lemme tell ya... 'bout noodlin' fer catfish."
The boy was talking about fishing for catfish. Tycon placed the hard fruit back onto the ground.
"Fish are delicious." Tycon nodded in approval.
Tycon crossed his arms in thought. He needed to break the spell that was clouding the children's minds. He could have used more violent methods, but he deemed it inefficient.
« System, change setting: Set default skill search to minimum 90% Completion Rate. »
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« System, search with conditions: List:Skills. Target:Ally OR Allies. Type:Support. »
[System response: 6 results. Commander's Strike; Desire Trigger; Jumping Knee Counter; Inspirational Surge; Lulu Defense Formation; Lulu Offense Formation.]
Tycon scanned the list. His instincts were telling him that Desire Trigger was what he needed. But he was curious as to how Jumping Knee Counter was a support skill. And he was very curious as to who the missing Invictus Member, Lulu, was and why she rated two different formations.
« System, display effects of Desire Trigger. »
[Desire Trigger: Support ability. Targeted ally is compelled to envision an existing incentive, moderately boosting target's ability to resist detrimental effects.]