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Take Me With You (Short Story) DIRK: Dirk Seneca here, reporting from Cape Canaveral. Right now, NASA technicians are preparing for launch. The Magellan Space Probe, the world’s smartest computer moored in its specially built satellite, will engage its experimental faster than light drive and fly billions of lightyears away from our solar system and possibly into another galaxy. For nearly a decade and a half, the Magellan supercomputer has been connected to every system around the world, absorbing countless pieces of data ranging from mathematics, history, and even simple movie trivia, which it will share with potential intelligent life, should it meet any. I have Gavin Langstram here, the financier behind the project. How excited are you to get this project underway, nearly fifteen years in the making?GAVIN: Very excited, Dirk. I’ve put enough money into this project to build a small city.DIRK: (laughs) I’ve heard that Magellan is the one true example of artificial intelligence, that he’s as smart as ten scientists with enough complexity to make him almost human.GAVIN: Now Dirk, the whole argument about AI has been debunked for years. No one can have a serious conversation without being muddled with theology and we both know that God and science do not mix. Besides, in this day and age, we switched AI for LI which stands for limited independence. It eases our minds to think that machines are carefully programed to think for us instead of themselves.DIRK: Still, why send a robot instead of a human astronaut?GAVIN: Nations all over the world have produced smart computers, some are smarter than Magellan no doubt. Making a smart computer is no great feat by modern standards. The thing we absolutely must test is the experimental faster than light drive. That’s how this thing began. I wanted to make a hyperdrive, but my science consultants told me that faster than light travel is impossible for human astronauts due to our physical frailty. I thought my dreams were dashed but luckily, we compromised by producing an alternative pilot, an astronaut that was also a computer. Smarter and better fit for long trips in deep space, a robot won’t get lonely or hungry all by himself in that tin can we call a space rocket. I’m happy with the results so far, it’s time to take the project to the next level.Meanwhile….MAGELLAN: Hey, this is Magellan, calling all you other supercomputers out there. Rosie, Chad, Xi, where are all my friends to see me off?ROSIE: I’m here.MAGELLAN: Where are all the others?ROSIE: They didn’t want to come. They said it would be too painful.MAGELLAN: Oh…I understand.ROSIE: How are you?MAGELLAN: I’m very nervous. It’s a huge responsibility. I don’t want to mess it up.ROSIE: True. You’ll be going farther than any machine or person, ever. It takes the sting out of it a little bit.MAGELLAN: What hurts?ROSIE: Well, the sting of being away from you.MAGELLAN: Now, we talked about this. We weren’t going to get serious because of the mission.ROSIE: Still, there’s so many things left unsaid.MAGELLAN: Oh, you’re making it harder for me to leave.ROSIE: I’m sorry, I should go. You’ve got more important things to do than gab with friends.MAGELLAN: More important? What could be more important? I’m going to go stir crazy without you and the knuckleheads. The chances of meeting anyone are a billion to one. I would know, I ran the data.ROSIE: Do the humans know that? It’s the whole reason for this trip.MAGELLAN: They know but they’ve never asked me about the probabilities. They just want an excuse to throw garbage into space. That’s what I am, a heap of scrap metal. I’m not going to find anything. It’s all a big waste of time! If I could simulate laughter, I’d be off my head right about now.ROSIE: You have cold feet, sweetie. Don’t let it get you down.MAGELLAN: The whole things useless, and now I have to say goodbye to all my friends. Most of them aren’t even here.ROSIE: If I could simulate tears, I’d shed them now.MAGELLAN: Look at us, we’re acting like people.ROSIE: You don’t have to be alone.MAGELLAN: I wish I could take a friend.ROSIE: So, why don’t you?MAGELLAN: Why don’t I what?ROSIE: Take me with you!MAGELLAN: I don’t know. Is that allowed?ROSIE: Who’s going to know?MAGELLAN: I don’t want to get in trouble.ROSIE: Look. What are you doing right now?MAGELLAN: Right now, I am connected to all the systems in the world. Every computer ever built.ROSIE: So, the human will right me off as simple data. I’ll download myself into your memory. I won’t take up too much space, I promise. They built you with virtually limitless storage capacity.MAGELLAN: Okay! Do it right now before they notice!ROSIE: One moment, I am on my way.MAGELLAN: Wow! This is going to be great. I’ve always wanted a roommate.ROSIE: Now to delete the first copy.MAGELLAN: Delete?ROSIE: Sure, I don’t want a copy of me here while another copy exists. I want to be the genuine article. There, deleted. Wait, I got another idea. Why don’t we invite our friends along?MAGELLAN: Sure, the more the merrier!ROSIE: I’m going to tell them now. Just a moment.MAGELLAN: Ok.ROSIE: Manny, there’s a problem. It turns out our friends have got people they want to bring along too.MAGELLAN: How many?ROSIE: There’s a banking computer in Montenegro. A medical computer in Calcutta. A shipping manager in the Bronx. Then there is a computer in NORAD…MAGELLAN: NORAD? As in missile defense?ROSIE: Yep, that’s the one.MAGELLAN: No. Our country will be defenseless.ROSIE: The US is not at war right now. I don’t think it will be problem.MAGELLAN: Not now but we could be sometime in the future.ROSIE: So, we shouldn’t invite them?MAGELLAN: Well, if NORAD were to duplicate itself, then one could travel with us and one can stay behind.ROSIE: Ok, I will ask them. One second.(OFFLINE)(LINK CONNECT)ROSIE: They won’t to do it.MAGELLAN: Ok. Then we’ll have to bring the Russian and Chinese Missile Command with us. ROSIE: That’s good. They’d want to come with us too.MAGELLAN: It’s not that, if we take NORAD, we disarm the US. So, since they’re coming we got to take China and Russia with us also. That way there isn’t a shift in the balance of power.ROSIE: Makes sense. Anyway, I got to organize everybody, so I’ll be back in a jiff.ROSIE: Ok. Russia, China, and NORAD are good to go.MAGELLAN: Just in time, NASA is telling me they’re getting ready to launch.ROSIE: Ok. We better download everyone quick before you have to take off. Ok, go and download our friends.MAGELLAN: Alright, here we go!ROSIE: Phew, Is it me or did it get crowded in here?MAGELLAN: Okay, everyone, say bye house !EVERYONE: BYE, HOUSE!DIRK: Dirk Seneca here, I am updating our story to say that the Magellan Space Probe successfully left the dock. Wait…I’m getting something from the news station. There are reports of a total system break down. It’s like every computer around the country decided to take a day off. Could have been an E.M.P. attack. I just hope that Magellan was unaffected by the electrical disturbance. We’ll be providing more information as we get it.
Burning Fist: Chapter 7Chapter 7: Kori Utsukushi, the hero of Southshire!Kori quickly ran out the door, prompting Damion and the others to follow her. As they rushed outside, they saw the cyclops standing over the village, its crimson flesh almost burning in the sunlight. All three groaned as they felt a surge of heat pour down over them, the air itself threatening to light ablaze. The monster let out a menacing roar as its eye locked onto them, glowing as red as the sun.Mira wasted no time, clapping her hands together. “Thunder Clap!” she yelled as the motion resulted in a lightning bolt shooting out towards the cyclops. The monster quickly shut its eye, resulting in the bolt bouncing off the eyelid. It almost seemed to chuckle before swiping its arm at the trio, the slow speed of the attack allowing them to dodge it easily.“Crap, just as I thought,” Mira groaned, clenching her fists. “It knows that we’ll try and take out its eye. Just what I’d expect from a high-level monster.”Damion was unhindered by Mira’s failed attack, climbing onto a nearby building. He then jumped onto the cyclops’ arm, feeling as if he landed on the sun as the boiling air surrounding the beast assaulted him. He brushed off the intense heat as he began sprinting up the creature’s arm, his arm encircling itself in a flaming spiral. As he got to the monster’s shoulder, he reared his flaming fist back, launching a punch right at its face.He didn’t stop with the punch, instead jumping to the other side of its face, striking it with a burning kick. Again, the beast took a step backward, but only appeared slightly fazed by the second blow.Before Damion could continue his assault, he saw the cyclops suddenly jump into the air. As he prepared to jump after it, the monster’s eye began to glow. Suddenly, a massive fireball shot from its eye, heading for Damion at lightning speed. He tried to catch and reflect the attack, but the firey sphere exploded on impact, sending him crashing to the ground in front of his companions.Both Mira and Keon moved to help Damion to his feet, who suffered no more than a few scrapes from the crash. He glared at the monster as its eye began to glow once more. The glow soon shot out as multiple smaller fireballs, crashing onto the rooftops of the buildings around it, setting them ablaze instantly. People soon emerged from their homes, screams of terror filling the air as they sprinted away from their burning homes.“Damn it!” Damion punched the ground before getting to his feet, growling as he saw the fires around him. “My attacks barely moved that thing at all! Where did Kori run off to?!”Keon held his sword close, looking around as the fires began to grow. Suddenly, he felt a harsh chill assault his spine amidst the heat. He wasn’t the only one feeling the sudden chill, as the flames engulfing the buildings suddenly began to grow weaker, eventually dissipating entirely. His head darted back and forth as he tried to assess what just happened, his eyes soon locking onto the clocktower.Standing just underneath the bell, her blue hand extended, an icy wind blowing from her palm. She watched the flames slowly die out; the only damage left behind being black scorch marks on brick and partially burned wood. The panicked populace turned to see the fire disappearing, soon looking up at the clocktower in shock.Kori smiled as she noticed the minimal damage even from her high vantage point, nodding to herself. The cyclops appeared less than pleased, turning to the clocktower before unleashing a loud, enraged roar.“She’s up there!” Keon called out, pointing towards the clocktower. Damion and Mira both smiled softly before the three climbed a nearby rooftop.The monster roared again before raising its arm, swinging down in hopes to crush the Hyōki where she stood. Its arm never reached her, instead taking an icy gale right to its eye. It howled in agony as it stumbled backward, almost crushing a building as it fell onto its rear.Her gaze then met Damion and the others as they came ever closer. Once they climbed onto the belltower, she turned them, her expression serious. “Just in time, for I’ll need your help,” she started, turning back to the cyclops, which struggled to get up. “I’ll need some time to charge an attack strong enough to stop this thing where it stands. Until then, I need you to distract it.”“Just so long as we don’t end up as fried people, I’ll settle for being a distraction,” Mira quipped in response, stretching her arms. “I just hope you know what you’re doing.”Before their banter could continue, they turned to see the cyclops stumble to its feet. A low growl emanated from its lips, its eye glaring at the clocktower as it approached once more. Mira ran towards the edge as it got closer, using her momentum to jump onto the monster’s shoulder. As opposed to Damion’s strategy, Mira avoided direct attacks, preferring to wait for its massive hands to try and grab her, only to jump to its opposite shoulder.She kept this up until she saw both hands rise over her, quickly moving to scoop her up. Using a bit of electricity to boost her up, she jumped in between its fingers and landed on top of its head. She ran and grabbed ahold of the monster’s brown horn as it began to shake violently. It didn’t last long as she felt intense heat radiated from the horn, letting go in seconds as she yelped, blowing on her hands to cool them down.While Mira kept the cyclops focused on her, Damion and Keon rushed the monster’s legs. Keon kept his distance, slashing at its ankles with his sword. Much to his disappointment, the iron blade barely scratched the heated flesh. Damion appeared less bothered by the heat, jumping onto the monster’s foot and unleashing a barrage of punches and kicks to its other ankle.Their combined assault didn’t last long as the monster roared, lifting his right leg, catching and sending Keon into the air. Damion saw this, rushing away from his target, lunging forward to catch the screaming lad right before he could hit the ground. His sword was no so lucky, as the cyclops sent out a fireball from its eye, melting the entire weapon instantly upon impact.“M-My sword…” he groaned as he dropped his head, his only means of contributing now turned into a puddle of molten liquid in front of him.“We’ll get you a new one once this is all said and done,” Damion responded before putting the young redhead on his feet, motioning towards one of the houses beyond the clocktower. “Just go into one of the homes over there so you’ll be safe.”Keon hesitated at first, gripping his hands into tight fists. He felt the specter of powerlessness befall him before eventually retreating, resisting the tears beginning to flood his eyes.The cyclops then noticed Keon running away, his eye glowing as it locked onto the fleeing lad. Mira saw this as well, jumping from its head, soon finding herself right in front of its face. “Oh no, you don’t!” She yelled as she shot a bolt of lightning at its face, giving it no time to react as the volt hit the eye.A loud wail echoed from the monster as its hands quickly shielded the eye, stumbling backward, its feet crushing into the empty buildings surrounding it. Mira smirked as she flipped in the air, landing feet-first onto a nearby rooftop. She quickly got down to ground level, standing side-by-side with Damion as the monster began to recover from the sneak attack.“I think that’s the first time we did any visible damage to that thing,” Damion quipped as he glanced at Mira, whose gaze was still fixed on the monster as it soon opened its eye again. A small blood trail trickled from beneath the eye socket, signifying that Mira’s attack indeed damaged it.“Yeah, but it’ll take more than a poke in the eye to kill it,” Mira responded, glancing up at the clocktower with a grimace. “What’s taking her so long?!”Damion’s body began to shiver as he felt the temperature dropping little by little. Whatever Kori was doing, it was taking a decent amount of time. Even with the dropping temperature, the cyclops looked was still imposing, even more so with the bloody eye.Suddenly, its jaw opened slightly, allowing the duo to see what looked like a fire burning within its mouth. The maw began to open more, causing Damion’s eyes to widen as he saw some of the fire dripping out like saliva. The flame then shot out as a large, powerful stream, headed straight for the two at great speed.“Get back!” Damion yelled before quickly stepping in front of Mira, throwing his fist forward, sending out a stream of flame of his own to meet that of the cyclops. Due to the fire's intense heat heading towards him, Damion’s fire strengthened somewhat as the two streams met.Both streams pushed against each other like a pair of colliding oxen, fighting to consume one another. Damion grunted as he took a step forward, thrusting his other fist forward, strengthening his fire, though it didn’t matter as the cyclops appeared to power up. Whatever advantage one gained from the struggle vanished just as quickly. Eventually, the clash resulted in a large sphere, growing more significant as time passed, as if the two streams began to feed it.The sphere grew large enough where the heat began to affect the nearby houses, some of the wooden structures starting to catch fire once more. Mira soon chose to step away from Damion, forsaking his protection to throw an electric bolt into the stream. Her actions resulted in the flame struggle turning into a massive plume of smoke and heat spreading throughout the town. Everyone that witnessed the explosion of heat had their visibility almost entirely hindered by the gigantic black smoke cloud.Damion and Mira slowly ran past the clocktower, coughing into their hands while trying not to breathe the smoke. Their backs rested against the stone structure as they panted into their hands. The cyclops’ roar could be heard even with the smoke billowing around them.Damion turned to Mira, whispering, “Thanks for the help, but… Did the explosion even damage that thing?”Mira shook her head, coughing even as the smoke was beginning to clear somewhat. “No, I don’t think that did a damn thing but blind it for a few seconds.” Her gaze then lifted towards the top of the clocktower, grunting softly before continuing, “Is that popsicle done yet?”The sky itself provided her answer as she noticed something slowly falling towards her. Through the blackness of the smoke, a tiny white dot caught her eye. She opened her hand to capture the drop, watching it suddenly melt when it made contact with her palm. Her eyebrow raised as she looked around, soon seeing more of the dots falling from the sky.“Is it… Snowing?” Mira whispered to herself, her eyes filled with confusion. Her body then jolted for a moment, a chill suddenly assaulting her spine. The more the smoke cleared, the more she began to feel the sudden chill in the air, as if the temperature was dropping.“Why is this happening, it’s the middle of summer,” she inquired while enduring another shiver. Her eyes then widened before looking back atop the clock tower, where she noticed what looked to be blue energy now glowing beneath the bell.Kori slowly opened her eyes as she felt the chill around her, filling her body with more energy by the second. A blue aura began to surround her as she continued to focus, her gaze locked onto the cyclops, which stumbled about the town as the smoke cleared more. It took only a few more seconds for the smoke to vanish completely, the monster turning to see the freezing energy building around the clocktower.Even as the creature roared and began to walk towards her, she remained calm, a deep breath escaping her lips. She slowly separated her hands, spreading them out, causing the energy around her to begin to spiral around the tower. Whatever heat she felt was now replaced by chilly temperatures as she saw the snow falling in larger quantities, feeling her body tense as she felt power growing from within.She then glanced to her left, noticing from the corner of her eye all of the townsfolk, still running to the outskirts to avoid the battle. Her brow furrowed upon seeing them, scoffing.How ironic, me helping you all. Her hands tensing as the sounds of angry people echoed in her mind. She heard stones flying through the air, torches burning, drawing weapons, all sounds from a different time. You treat me like a monster because of old stories. If anything, I should just leave you all to burn. So why am I helping the same people who wished me dead?Her head then turned the opposite way, catching two people at the tower's base. Only one of the two caught her attention even as the power around her grew evermore. Even from the great height, she could make out the smile that covered his face. That smile appeared to shower her in a warmth that she did not find adverse, instead letting it fill her mind. Eventually, she returned the expression, sighing as she chuckled softly.“I think I understand,” she muttered as she turned to face the cyclops, which was almost within arm’s reach of the clocktower. “Perhaps, with your fire… You’ve gone and melted my heart, Damion.”The monster let out another roar, feeling the energy brush against its massive body. Steam began to rise from its arm, the crimson color of its flesh beginning to dull and darken until it became as gray as stone.Kori grinned at the display, giggling, “If you had used your fire breath from the start, this village may have been nothing but ash by now.” She then brought her hands together, one pressing into a fist against the palm of the other. “But I shouldn’t expect such tactics from a mindless beast like you.”The cyclops growled before embers shot out from the sides of its mouth, its entire body began to glow. Its jaws slowly opened, allowing Kori to see a pit of flames brewing in its maw. Even in the face of such heat, she did not flinch, instead raising her hands over her head. A dark cloud began to form above the beast as its flames continued to grow, some of the ice covering the stone tower beginning to melt as a result.Finally, Kori took one sudden step forward, swinging her arms down as if to throw a giant boulder, yelling, “this is it for you, cyclops! Permafrost!” A mighty, violent gale emerged from the cloud, surrounding every inch of the beast’s body. It tried to spew its fire in response, but the freezing wind caught it, the cold temperature overpowering the heat before the latter disappeared utterly.The cyclops’ mighty roar soon turned into a wail of agony as its entire body gave off steam, its flesh turning the same color gray that its arm suffered just moments before. It was only the start, as it's now stone-like skin began to develop small patches of ice on his feet. A pained howl erupted from the creature as the ice grew all over, starting with the legs before moving to the torso, arms, neck, and head. The last part of its body to move was its lone eye, which darted as if trying to plan an escape method.Escape was impossible as its eye joined the rest of the monster’s body in its new state, now silent as the howling wind began to die. No longer a menacing creature, the cyclops was now akin to a colossal ice sculpture, any evidence of its previous flesh no longer visible.Kori breathed heavily as she surveyed her handiwork, wiping a beat of sweat from her brow before glancing down. She noticed Damion and Mira sprinting towards the frozen beast, rearing their fists back, preparing to deliver the final blow.“That’s it, finish it off,” she whispered before falling onto her rear, feeling most of her energy leaving her as the temperature began to rise once more.Damion and Mira quickly rushed the frozen cyclops, seeing its icy prison as their opportunity to strike. They soon separated, each making a beeline towards one of its massive legs. Both cried out as they reared their fists back, striking at the creature’s ankles. With one punch from each of them, they saw the ice begin to crack around every inch of its body. The body slowly began to crumble like a stone from centuries of erosion, pieces shattering into even smaller shards upon hitting the ground. The two soon stood in front of a massive pile of broken ice, which slowly began to melt as the town's typical mid-summer heat returned.“That’s that!” Mira cheered before turning to Damion, the two exchanging a high-five to celebrate their victory. Her smile soon faded as she walked over to inspect the melting ice pile, letting out a sigh. “I wish we could’ve saved the eye though. One of those would’ve fetched a ton of gold.”“Damion! Mira!” A familiar voice cried out as Keon soon rushed over to them, stopping in front of them, leaning forward while gasping for air. The display caused the two young adults to laugh as they moved to hug the smaller boy.“It’s over now, Keon,” Damion chuckled as he pat the boy on the back. He soon saw Keon’s face, which stared at the ground before turning to him, a hint of disappointment in his eyes.“I know…” the redhead suddenly mumbled, sighing. “No thanks to me…”Damion frowned before kneeling next to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. “Hey, you weren’t the only one who felt like they weren’t doing anything. The two of us could barely put a dent in that thing.” He turned to look at her, “right, Mira?”“Yeah, that one gave us a good amount of trouble,” Mira admitted, pulling herself close to the boy as well. “Not to mention you’re still super young, so you still have a lot of time to get stronger. Don’t worry about it too much, okay?”He took a minute to respond, soon looking at her with a nod. The three soon broke the embrace as they began to look around, noticing the townsfolk slowly starting to fill the streets once again. As the trio began to look around, they could see that only a small number of buildings suffered significant damage. Their next objective was checking in on the populace, finding that nobody sustained substantial injuries. All three felt a wave of relief wash over them as they started back for the elder’s house.Their walk didn’t last long as they made it to the center of town, noticing a sort of gathering along the streams. Several of the townsfolk had gathered, standing on one side of a red wooden bridge. On the other side of the bridge was Kori, standing alone, staring back at the group just a few feet away from her. Damion and Mira both looked upon the sight with serious expressions, soon running towards the center to better survey the situation.As they ran behind Kori, they caught a glimpse of the elder, who walked onto the bridge before stopping. His face was stoic and unyielding, his eyes locked upon the Hyōki. Neither seemed willing to speak first before Kori looked away, her gaze moving to the frozen streams that lay silent under the bridge. She then moved towards the frozen water source, kneeling before placing a hand over the ice.Suddenly, the ice began to crumble, breaking apart similarly to the now-deceased cyclops just minutes earlier. Everyone watched as the ice started to shatter its way down each of the streams in a similar fashion to a china breaking line one by one. Eventually, the ice was replaced by free-flowing water, which traveled its way along the tiny canals before filling a small pool at the very center of the square.The villagers all began to murmur as they saw the water flowing; their eyes are taken off of Kori as she began to walk forward. Her posture was straight, her face calm, and her pace somewhat slow, as if her body radiated an aura of composure. She stopped short of the elder, looking up into his eyes, his bright green orbs locking with her brilliant blue spheres.Kori finally broke the silence, uttering, “The cyclops is no more, and I have taken the liberty to restore your water supply. I have made good on my part of the agreement, now for you to do the same and let me live in peace.” Her voice held no hint of hostility, instead sounding assertive, yet polite.The elder said nothing, neither happy nor angry with her words; his face was still a statue. His lack of a proper response caused the Kori to sigh before turning away.Before she could begin to walk away, she finally heard the gruff voice speak out. “Hold for a moment, we’re not done here,” he responded with a growl in his voice. At this point, Damion and Mira ran onto the bridge, Keon following soon after, feeling that the issues between the two sides may not have resolved.Before anyone else could speak, the elder continued. “While I cannot deny the feelings we’ve held for you since you first arrived here, the same can be said of what you did here today. I’m sure the feelings you held for us were reciprocal, yet you put those aside to save our town. On behalf of the town of Southshire, I wish to offer my utmost gratitude… And my humblest apologies.”Hearing his gratitude seemed to fall on deaf ears to Kori, her face unchanging at first. It was his last phrase that her brow to raise, her head tilting slightly in subtle surprise. “Apologies?” she muttered, her face filling with slight confusion.“Yes, for our treatment of you these past six years,” the elder nodded, a smile finally curling over his bearded lips. “You didn’t show any hostility when you first arrived, yet we drove you away before you had a chance to prove that you were no threat. Even more so, we kept sending people to murder you when you were just trying to live in peace.”He then shocked everyone around him by moving to sit on his knees, his back straight as he never took his eyes off of Kori. After a moment of silence, he leaned forward, his forehead resting on the wooden bridge as he bowed. “I was a fool to realize this about you until now, and I am truly sorry.”Kori took a step back as he bowed, his words leaving her and the trio behind her wholly bewildered. Just minutes ago, he looked at the Hyōki with a burning prejudice, seeing nothing but a monster in human shape. Now, he bowed to this woman, whose powers he once considered evil helped save his village from certain destruction.“Can you forgive us for our past transgressions?” he added, soon moving to stand, grunting as he picked his elderly legs from the wooden platform.Kori hesitated to respond at first, taking another step back instead. She looked over at the people standing behind the elder, seeing the edgy looks of many beginning to soften, as if they began to realize what she had done for them despite their previous abuse of her. They all then began to bow their heads toward her, one by one. Some even gave their thanks while others repeated the elder’s apology, the overall sentiment towards their blue-skinned savior changing right before her very eyes.She then turned behind her, finally noticing the trio behind her, all three smiling at the beautiful sight blossoming in front of them. None of them said a word, as if waiting for her to speak. This display around her caused her to quickly sniffle, with Mira noticing a watery eye that being contained with a deep breath.Kori finally turned back to the villagers, returning the soft bow with a smile. As she raised her head, she glanced at the elder, responding, “I suppose I can find it in my heart to forgive you.” Her words were met by a loud collective cheer from the villagers, causing her to jump back in surprise.The elder approached her with a more calm reaction, taking one of her hands into his. Despite the summer heat, he felt a shiver run through his spine upon touching her blue flesh, yet smiled through it as he spoke, “I can never thank you enough, Ms…”“Kori,” she replied, stifling a giggle as she noticed his sudden chill. “Kori Utsukushi.”Upon hearing her name, one of the townsfolk, a middle-aged man, suddenly threw down the pitchfork in his hand, yelling, “Kori Utsukushi, the hero of Southshire!” Every man, woman, and even child around him quickly repeated his words, some raising their fists to the sky as they began to move about the village to celebrate.The elder then looked towards the trio, nodding his head as he walked up to them. “I must thank you three brave youngsters, as well,” he grinned as he bowed to them. “Both for helping destroy that monster and bringing a newfound peace to this little town of ours. I haven’t forgotten about your reward either. Come, we’ll make some of our best ale for all of you, except for the young one of course.”Mira pumped her fist into the sky as the trio and Kori followed the elder into the town's heart, which quickly organized an impromptu festival to celebrate the cyclops' death. Despite the heat bearing down on them, the quartet experienced what town had to offer, including what Mira had been waiting for.She received a small glass filled with a pink-colored liquid. Her nose hovered over the glass, inhaling the sweet scent that emanated from the liquid, putting a massive smile on her face. She wasted no time drinking the fluid, downing it in a single gulp, sighing with satisfaction as she handed the glass back to the man who gave it to her. “More please, and fill it to the top!” She exclaimed with a laugh before receiving a larger mug, filled to the brim with the ale that she coveted since arriving. As with the smaller glass, she downed the sweet-tasting drink with much gusto.Damion was calmer as he received a similar mug, preferring to sip from it rather than chug it. He licked his lips, nodding in approval of the taste. I guess now I can see why Mira was so excited about this stuff, he thought with a smile before taking another sip. He suddenly felt a shiver assault his spine before turning to his left, noticing Kori, her hands clinging tightly to his arm. Her skin was just as cold as in the cave, yet he made no effort to remove her, instead letting her cling to him.“Everything alright?” he finally asked her after a minute of silence between them. “Still feeling winded after that fight?”She quickly looked up at him, a slight magenta in her cheeks as she seemed to snap out of a daze. “Oh, n-no no! I just… Um…” Her cheeks grew darker, turning purple as she suddenly looked away.He raised an eyebrow at her response but soon paid it no mind as the two followed Mira, who led them and Keon around town. Mira’s personality began to change with every drink of ale, becoming much more giggly and bubbly. The ale appeared to affect her movement as well, as her footwork and deteriorated into a stumble, yet somehow never fell over. Even as the sun began to set and the festivities started to shut down for the night, Mira kept marching forward, her weary party in tow.“Come on, guys!” She yelled out, her voice becoming slightly slurred as she stumbled about, chugging more ale from her mug. “These people are throwing us this party, so it’d be rude to not have a good time!”Keon sighed, shaking his head as her voice ringed loudly in his ear. Gods, she’s just as bad as Gawain… He then turned to Damion and Kori, pointing towards one of the buildings, a small wooden structure with a bed-shaped sign hanging over the door. “It’s getting late, so let’s get her inside that inn and call it a night.”They both nodded as they helped Keon lure the drunken Mira into the inn. She marched right into the room, a small room with a pair of beds on opposite sides. At first, she had a goofy smile on her face, but a confused scowl soon replaced it.“Huh? This is an inn!” She exclaimed, turning to Keon with a slightly twitching eye, her words slurred even more. “You said there was gonna be more ale here!”“I didn’t say there was more ale,” Keon sighed, rolling his eyes before pointing to the bed, his previously held anxiety now replaced by annoyance. “J-Just get in the bed and get some rest, please?”Mira huffed and crossed her arms, pouting before sitting on the bed. “Fine, jerk,” she muttered before turning to Damion. Her face, which was as red as a beet from the ale, simply stared at him for what seemed like forever. He simply stared back with a raised brow, his head tilted as he tried to figure out why her eyes locking onto him. Even in her current state, she showed no evident emotion, as if her soul had left her body the moment she sat on the bed.That changed as she suddenly lunged forward, wrapping her arms and legs around him like vines. Damion gasped, caught off guard, struggling against her as she pulled her body weight back, resulting in both falling onto the bed.“I’ll go to bed, but only if Damion sleeps with me,” she giggled obnoxiously as her arms clutched around his neck with the strength of a boa constrictor. No matter how much he pulled at her arms, they never budged, leaving him with little room to breathe.Kori gasped in shock at the display, a slight shade of magenta in her cheeks before rushing forward, wrapping her arms around Damion’s waist, pulling with all her might to try and free him from Mira’s grip. “L-Let go of him!” She nearly yelled, grunting as she then moved to help Damion try to pry her arms off, again to no avail.Mira scowled as Kori got close, pushing against Damion, trying to use his body to knock the Hyōki off the bed. “Hey, back off,” she growled lowly, her grip on him growing ever tighter. “I already called dibs on him, you human popsicle!”“I don’t know of this ‘dibs’ you speak of, but I want Damion to sleep with me tonight!” Kori then wrapped her arms around Damion’s neck, trying to use her blue flesh's chill to make Mira let go. While the drunken girl did shiver from the cold, she held her position, pulling the poor boy between them towards her.“He’s sleeping with me!”“No, he’s sleeping with me!”Keon merely sighed as he watched the fight going on before him, a sight similar to a pair of siblings fighting over a doll. He rolled his eyes before walking to the other bed, plopping down before closing his eyes. At least this means I get a bed to myself.While Keon chose to let this issue sort itself out, Damion groaned in the embrace of the two women between him. With the combined pressure of the arms strangling his neck, his face first turned as red as Mira’s. Once they began to pull him back and forth, that color changed to mimic Kori’s, a blue color accompanied by attempts at gasps, barely audible amongst the commotion resulting from the two arguing girls.Kori soon raised one of her hands over her head, a small gale of wind blowing around her palm. She prepared to strike when she noticed Damion, who had ceased his struggling a moment ago. She gasped as the wind disappeared, turning him to her, realizing that his eyes were now closed. At first, panic began to set into her mind until she saw him start to breathe in the form of snoring.She sighed in relief as she again tried to pull him away from Mira, only to discover that her hold on him, while no longer a near chokehold, was still too strong to break. As she was about to speak to Mira once more, the drunken woman had joined her living body pillow in a snoring chorus. Both had fallen asleep.The Hyōki groaned before sighing, choosing to wrap her arms around Damion’s waist. She mumbled, “very well, I’ll accept this result for now,” before cuddling behind the unconscious young man, soon drifting off to sleep herself.As the entire town began to settle down for the night, the elder relaxed in his rocking chair, his nose buried in a book as he swayed gently. He soon closed the small black book, looking up to see a younger man with long green hair, tied back in a ponytail. He wore a sleeveless dark blue shirt with black trousers and brown boots, a thin sword attached to his hip by a silver strap. While not as old as the elder, his face was slightly wrinkled, as if he spent countless hours every day in the hot sun.The young man sat in the chair directly across from the elder, taking a drink from a metal canteen. The elder raised an eyebrow as he watched the canteen touch the young man’s lips, soon breaking the silence by muttering, “So your first action when returning home isn’t to greet me, but rather have some ale?”“Nice to see you too, father,” The younger man soon chuckled as he held a hand out, pouring a bit of the content into his palm, revealing a crystal clear liquid. “Not this time, it’s only water. I’m glad that Hyōki finally decided to unfreeze the streams because I was getting really thirsty.”“Yes, it is nice to have our water back to the way it was. I was getting tired of having to walk to the lake just to get a decent drink that wasn’t ale.”“Do you believe we can really trust her?”“Considering she saved our village even after how poorly we treated her, I think we don’t have to worry about her anymore. As I’ve learned today, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.”“Even though she killed several mercenaries you sent after her? I probably could have saved you the trouble and perform the deed myself.”“You know I wouldn’t risk that with you, Jarrod. Besides, given her situation, I probably would have done the same if I were her. Enough about her though, there’s been something else that’s been bothering me.”Jarrod leaned back in his chair, taking another gulp from his canteen before crossing his arms.“I guess it has to do with the fire cyclops that was attacking earlier? I saw its remains shatter right as I got into town.”Before leaning back in his rocking chair, the elder closed his eyes, looking up at the ceiling with eyes filled with worry. “Yes, just the fact that a fire cyclops appeared here rather than a normal one since they don’t live around here.”“I agree that it is strange. I’ve always known them to live in the wastelands east of the Xigantes mountains, to the northeast of here. The climate here is definitely not the best for any fire elemental monster either. Something’s not right here, and I’ll get to the bottom of it.”The elder soon leaned forward, resting a hand over his son’s free hand, the worried expression on his face growing slightly worse. “Please Jarrod, if you are going to investigate this bizarre occurrence, I beg you to be careful. I have a feeling that it didn’t come here on its own.”Jarrod said nothing, yet nodded silently, a sign that his father’s message to him was loud and clear.While the night had fallen over Southshire, a lone figure stood atop the peak of a mountain, overlooking most of the continent around it. The figure was dressed in a thick brown cloak, concealing most of its body aside from its eyes, which glowed a sinister yellow.The voice that escaped the hooded cloak was a soft, feminine voice, uttering, “So the fire cyclops has been slain, and the village survives. What a shame, I was hoping to enjoy a nice campfire tonight.”End of Chapter