Chapter 9:

A Walk in the Ruins

Mylo and the Summoned Hero


"So, you get out of jail…"Bookmark here

"Yep."Bookmark here

"Which is full of cold stone walls and centipedes…"Bookmark here

Kasumi nodded. "With you so far."Bookmark here

"And to celebrate, you want to go into the ruins, which has unstable stone walls and giant centipedes?"Bookmark here

"Ah, but Mylo, this is a place of adventure."Bookmark here

"Right…" So far the adventure had consisted of tramping over trampled grass and down dusty lanes. So far, no monsters, but that was a function of arriving late and following the misleading map Kasumi bought from a vendor next to the ruin’s entrance. Mylo had compared the map to his morning’s observations and found it lacking detail and honesty.Bookmark here

While Kasumi consulted the map, Mylo took a break on the grass. The exhaustion that plagued him earlier in the day felt distant, like fog swept to the horizon, but gathering strength there to return as storm clouds later. Maybe it was all the running around? No, what kept him conscious was the deafening embarrassment he and Ezre had shared when he returned her letters.Bookmark here

He didn’t open them, nor did he hold any up to the light to read through the envelope—not a great trick by the way, even if the paper is thin, the words on each fold run together into a garbled mess. Not that Mylo would stoop so low, he had standards…these days. Nevertheless, Ezre had searched Mylo’s face for guilt with a jeweler’s loupe.Bookmark here

I know what I think it means. Why else would someone write a bunch of letters to one person but never send them? No, it can’t be—whenever we have a no-show at the station she puts me on pipe 12 by myself. But then I don’t—Bookmark here

"Uh…that way! I guess." Kasumi let the map hang in the dust and heaved a shrug.Bookmark here

Mylo stood up and followed. They scrabbled over a pile of rubble where a wall of the once great library had tumbled down. Now they stood on the fallen remains of its roof, Kasumi surveying the rocks for enemies. Mylo’s mind roamed elsewhere.Bookmark here

Rising all around, the bones of Old Edule. In its prime, it wasn’t that much better than its modern replacement over the hill. Thinking on it, in some important ways the old city had been worse—sanitation poor and famine frequent. But stripped of their paint and their iniquities and their life, the old stones were left with their gravitas only. And hey, pillars! Pillars make everything cool, right? Old Edule topped the pillar connoisseur’s to-see list.Bookmark here

"Map says…this way."Bookmark here

Their wordless arrival through a decrepit archway onto the old forum was received by a single cricket.Bookmark here

Kasumi led onward with decreasing steam. Not a monster in sight.Bookmark here

"Geez. Where are they?" She sat down on the remnant of a plinth.Bookmark here

Mylo meanwhile, backtracked his thoughts. Okay, so I can’t tell yet what Ezre’s deal is, but now I can rule a few things out. What should I do about whatever it is? How do I find out? These questions could have entertained him for hours, but the rubble didn’t offer much room for pensive pacing. He inevitably paused in front of Kasumi.Bookmark here

She looked deflated. That mischievous light in her eyes which an hour ago had seemed unconquerable now dwindled to a flickering pilot flame.Bookmark here

"Uh, Pelgram? You okay?"Bookmark here

Despondent, she answered, "I’m fine."Bookmark here

The part of Mylo’s head that still ran the cold calculus said that he should really be in bed right now, and that Kasumi was still a stranger to him. Mylo hadn’t listened to that voice in a long time and didn’t mean to start.Bookmark here

Instead, he wondered: Everything you say and do is so peculiar. You must have come very far to wind up here.Bookmark here

Mylo shelved the matter of the letters. Sitting there on the plinth, a stranger in his land. She asked for a tour yesterday, and wanted to see the ruins today, she must be a tourist. And here Mylo was letting a bit of speculation make a terrible host out of him.Bookmark here

He clasped his hands behind his back and bent down into Kasumi’s view. "So, you want to beat up some monsters?"Bookmark here

"Duh! What do you think I came here for?"Bookmark here

Now she looked pissed, but at least he’d chased off the catatonia.Bookmark here

Mylo pointed at the map, lying in the dust at her feet. "Every once in a while some merchant gets this idea. Toss together a map, slap a red ‘X’ on it, and say it’s the location of the boss room. Any room will do—if someone complains the boss wasn’t there, the merchant claims someone else got there first and cleared it."Bookmark here

Kasumi pouted. "You could have told me sooner."Bookmark here

"You’re right. I’m sorry. I was thinking about something important, but I could have done that later."Bookmark here

"So, there are monsters in this dungeon?"Bookmark here

"Yes."Bookmark here

"And you know where they are?"Bookmark here

"A few of them, yes. Getting off the beaten path will find us plenty more."Bookmark here

Kasumi stood on the plinth and extracted a wooden club out of nothingness. "All right, Mr. NPC. Lead the way."Bookmark here

Mylo backtracked a bit to the ruins of the library. This was a landmark he could recognize from the tower. Here the untrustworthy map pointed south to the forum and onward, but the nearest landmark on Mylo’s route was the fallen bronzes of Tokatta Alley, so north it was.Bookmark here

Just two minute’s walk later, in what had once been part of an imperial garden, they found a trio of horned blood rabbits. Fast, fluffy, red of eye, and about the size of a guard dog, they would bite or stab the less cautious adventurer. They could be pretty dangerous, but easily handled by a well coordinated party.Bookmark here

"Okay," Mylo began, "First thing you need to know—"Bookmark here

Kasumi vaulted the garden wall. "Let’s do this, LEEEEEEEROYYYYYYYYY JENKI—oh f— they’re fast!"Bookmark here

Did she just say the letter ‘f’? Bookmark here

Kasumi and the blood rabbits took turns chasing each other around an old marble statue. Pretty soon, they stopped switching directions as Kasumi chased rabbit number 1, while rabbits 2 and 3 chased Kasumi. The blood rabbits’ size proved to be a mixed blessing—she could swing at the one in front of her without breaking stride, but direct hits from the small club didn’t seem to bother the big rabbits.Bookmark here

"Hey! Aren’t you gonna help?"Bookmark here

"No weapons!" Mylo called back.Bookmark here

And the chase continued, Kasumi bopping the rabbits over and over until, one at a time, they fell down in the dust. Then she fell over, panting next to her slain foes—or rather, the small stack of coins each dissolved into.Bookmark here

"Ow."Bookmark here

Mylo bent over, offering shade and a hand. "You alright?"Bookmark here

A grimace told him no. Kasumi lacked the abdominal puncture wounds of the blood rabbit’s horn attacks, or evident bite marks.Bookmark here

"Where’d they get you?" Kasumi dropped the club and held up her hand. Wood splinters, inflicted by her own club, lots of them.Bookmark here

"Good thing one of us brought a med kit. Hold still, this won’t hurt."Bookmark here

On seeing the tweezers come out of the bag, Kasumi flinched. "I don’t believe you."Bookmark here

Mylo uncorked a bottle of white powder and sprinkled it on the wound, then set to work with the tweezers. In his left hand, he held Kasumi’s wrist. Her skin was soft.Bookmark here

He had half of the splinters out before Kasumi came out of her preemptive wince. "You’ve got a very smooth touch."Bookmark here

"Oh, not really."Bookmark here

"Is this one of your special strobing powers?"Bookmark here

"Strobilus, and no. We aren’t particularly good healers."Bookmark here

"Then, how?"Bookmark here

Mylo nudged the bottle of white powder with his boot. "Anesthetic. I’m told this one’s made by reacting a dye-base with a solvent. The people who dream these things up amaze me."Bookmark here

Kasumi, meanwhile, found anything but amazement in the clubs she’d briefly gone to jail for making. As soon as Mylo finished extracting the final splinter, she stood up for leverage. One by one, she pulled the clubs from her inventory and hurled them at the nearest wall.Bookmark here

Watching while packing up the med kit, Mylo asked, "Is this one of your battlecaster tricks?" When Kasumi looked blankly back, he added, "making objects appear in your hands. I thought only the roguish classes could do that."Bookmark here

"Oh. That. Never you mind, Mr. NPC."Bookmark here

Kasumi scrabbled up the coins the rabbits left behind and motioned for Mylo to lead on. Mylo found Kasumi’s mood fully restored. She swung her arms and hummed, occasionally breaking into reedy whistling.Bookmark here

"What’s that tune? I’ve never heard it, or one like it."Bookmark here

"Never you mind, Mr. NPC."Bookmark here

Okay, someday soon I’m going to find out what that means. For now, I'll enjoy the moment.Bookmark here

Up a ruined alley they went, using a ruined wall to shelter them from the afternoon wind—not unpleasant in its own, but it picked up and threw around the dust of the old buildings.Bookmark here

Mylo ran a couple steps ahead and held up a hand for Kasumi to stop. He peeked around the corner into Tokatta Alley. This was on their way to the boss room, but also a place he’d heard adventurers talk about in frustration. There, by a fallen bronze horse, lurked a creature. It walked on five segmented, coiling, ground-snaking arms. Its shadow-dark trunk loomed upright almost tall as a person. And with that glittering sphere of schizochroal eyes, there was no mistaking it—a fasral. Mylo flinched back out of sight.Bookmark here

"We should go around."Bookmark here

"Let’s see this big scary monster." Kasumi strolled out into the alley.Bookmark here

"Get back in cover!" Mylo hissed.Bookmark here

Mylo reached for Kasumi’s hand to pull her back, but she stood too far away from the wall.Bookmark here

"Oh. Is it that thing? Freaky, but I expected something bigger.Bookmark here

Mylo shivered. He didn’t need a premonition to know an acid glob was coming. He also felt watched again, like yesterday on the tower.Bookmark here

The gold impelling blur kicked in as Mylo launched himself and caught Kasumi around the waist. Together they toppled onto the dirt. The fasral’s acid shot arced over them, blue and shimmering, and struck a stone wall, which fizzed. Mylo pulled Kasumi up and behind a forgotten king’s bronze likeness. The statue would buy them a little time, but they couldn’t stay here. The fasral was already creeping toward them, and they’d have to cross it’s line of sight to escape—best to try while there was still some distance.Bookmark here

Kasumi’s grin was red as her blush. "While you’re at it, do a wall slam."Bookmark here

"What?" he asked before he noticed he still had a hand at Kasumi’s waist, pulling her tight against him.Bookmark here

Mylo went breathless for a moment. Another glob hissing against the old king brought him out of it.Bookmark here

"Okay. Plan: stay at range, don’t get hit."Bookmark here

Kasumi kept her breezy smile. "Come on, this is the starter town dungeon. How bad can it be?"Bookmark here

"That thing melts flesh!"Bookmark here

"Oh." The light in Kasumi’s eyes changed from amusement to determination. "So, don’t get killed, anything else?"Bookmark here

Mylo started a pale blue thread of mana to her and uncapped his gyre. His tongue tingled. He gave Kasumi a thumbs up and unveiled his plan: "Hit it till it dies!"Bookmark here

"Really? That’s your grand plan?"Bookmark here

But Mylo was a bit busy scrabbling in the dust to answer. He found a flake of flagstone, thin but about the size of his head, and tossed it into the alley. The fasral spat, fragmenting the stone.Bookmark here

Mylo ran around to be on the other side of the enemy. A fasral could see in every direction, but only spit in one. The fasral chose the visible target, and the head began its swivel to track him. Mylo heard the cough and dove onto ancient flagstones. Dull pain swirled up before the mana in his blood pushed it right back down. There’d be bruises later.Bookmark here

"Don’t you melt my NPC!" Bookmark here

From the king’s shadow, Kasumi emerged, both palms raised. She launched a salvo of flaming wisps. At first her shots fell around the fasral’s snaking arms, but Kasumi soon tilted her palms to correct. Tiny magma-hot spheres started finding their mark, burning through the trunk and smashing glassy eyes.Bookmark here

Mylo crawled behind the nearest statue. With each shot Kasumi fired, the mana to repay it was tugged down the thin blue thread, out of Mylo’s core. The spell Kasumi spammed cost so little that Mylo’s gyre overcompensated, refilling more than was spent. Thumping pressure, like having the hiccups at jackhammer speed.Bookmark here

The fasral fired a final desperate shot at Mylo, hitting only the marble plinth between them. Burning and punctured, the fasral died in silence. It stopped tracking Mylo, toppled, and dissolved into a pile of coins and small mound of potions, daggers, and other items.Bookmark here

Kasumi bounced up and down. "Awesome! Fasral are loot-piñatas!"Bookmark here

Mylo breathed a sigh and picked himself up. When he reached the Kasumi, she stopped eyeing the dropped stuff for a moment to frown at him. "How come you get all the mana while I only have 12 points?"Bookmark here

"Strobili have the Gyre of Falot. It’s more trouble—hang on, 12?"Bookmark here

Kasumi nodded.Bookmark here

"You know exactly how much mana you have?"Bookmark here

"Of course. And how much of it spells cost."Bookmark here

Mylo stared at her.Bookmark here

"Is that weird?"Bookmark here

"Yes!"Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Some distance to the west, atop the highest structure still standing in Old Edule, an irritable tail swished. Its owner dressed in a sandy robe that blended with the stone and hid her lynx-tufted cat ears. She watched Mylo and Kasumi through a monocular, tracking them as they started off towards to the east.Bookmark here

The watcher called herself Couzinet, and she watched with a little frown.Bookmark here

"Go on," she muttered. "Go, deliver the hero to the boss room. Then you can go back to your boring, little life."Bookmark here

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