Disclaimers still apply.
Major thanks to Kerrik Wolf for proof-reading and offering spelling and grammar abuse corrections for this chapter. All corrections are his, all mistakes are still mine.
Sleep was trying its damned best to leave, and Micah was doing his damned best to make it stay.
Full wakefulness tugged at the edge of his awareness, and with it, the full import of the sensations running around in his body. He felt... not -awful-, not exactly, but like he was both drunk and had gone on a caffeine bender simultaneously, both lethargic yet charged with the brilliant sensation to just get up and -run-!
Damn. What the hell had he been up too last night? All he could recall was just being...
And he was -hungry-. A thick, hollow, ravenous hunger that doomed anything vaguely edible within Micah's vicinity to being forced down his gullet, chewed or not.
"...I think he's awake..."
"Good. The magics should have dissipated hours ago, so he's only been sleeping naturally for the past few."
Something warm and close to him shifted, and he -gripped- in vague irritation of something trying to get away from him.
A bright giggle. "Ah! Master, those things are -sharp!-"
Micah opened his eyes blearily. For a brief, confusing moment, he couldn't -see-, and then, like something going 'pop!' in his brain, everything snapped into stark clarity.
Two sets, one single, and one closed sightless gaze of worried yet triumphant eyes looked upon him.
Anya was smiling brightly. "Master? How do you feel?"
"Mmmm," Micah glanced, found that he had wrapped himself around Nunnally, carefully peeled himself away from the Armsmistress. "Hungry."
Bagels. Peanut butter. Hard cheese, nuts, leftover faux-Dutch oven cooked biscuits from a breakfast, all died a messy death in a willing sacrifice to Micah's stomach. He didn't really think, -couldn't-really think. Just ate. And only stopped whenever he was no longer headache-screaming ravenous and just simply -hungry-. Which, considering all he had put away, was slightly worrying.
And all four of his pokegirls were -staring- at him. Even Nunnally seemed to be focused on him a little too much. It wasn't... fear, nor arousal, or shock, if Anya's small, delighted grin was anything to go by.
Micah regarded them all back. "...what?"
Euphemia spoke first. "Master, how do you -feel-?"
Micah blinked, as if the question was ludicrous. "Feel? I feel fine." Paused. Realized what he had just said. Realized how he -should- feel.
He found himself staring at his hands. There was something wrong about them, something off. Were his fingers ever that long? He gently probed at them, touching them, feeling the structure of flesh and bone and hardness. They looked normal from the outside - -felt-normal, unless you pressed hard enough and felt something that -should not be there-.
Panic flared in his brain, and he felt muscles flex, flesh -slide- in a manner that felt -natural- yet not, and like a magician's trick, black claws erupted from all ten tips of his fingers.
Micah flinched back in panic. But only for a moment, as curiosity got the better of him. Leaned in close, examining them, brain searching around to find the reaction that controlled them, tested them, claws sinking back into flesh, sheathed, then back -out-. Cat´s claws didn't do this, the structure and operation didn't fit. They didn't even look similar. More bird-like than anything, with that solid, lethal structure, yet bird claws didn't -sheath-, nor have the thickness his seemed to posses.
Micah glanced up at his harem, something rustling against his back, blood-warm, in mild annoyance. "That's -it-? I go to death's door and back again like I'm delivering pizza to his frat party and all I got was a set of weird claws?"
Cornelia stared at him. "Master. Your -wings-?"
Micah blinked. Look down at his shoulder, wondering why it was black, as he wasn't wearing a shirt, then wondering why he wasn't as cold as he should have been, and -
Thick, leathery, black wings unfurled from their assumed cape arrangement on his shoulder, spread out instinctively as he followed that pathway of nerve and muscle and bone and -pulled- as he became aware that, yes, that sensory information was both -new- and -not natural-.
They were -massive-, studded with long, flexible bones. They weren't bat wings, -couldn't- be, due to the general configurations bats used, but there was a vague similarity. He wasn't stupid enough to think he could actually -fly- with the damn things, which left a very good question - what exactly where they -there- for?
Micah gave a weak laugh, half-disbelieving, half-worried that his brain was telling him this was -perfectly fine-. "Anything else?"
"You need a mirror," Anya said.
His eyes were unchanged, barring the sclera of the orbs having gone completely black. -Horns- adorned the side of his head, ram-like, black in color like his claws and coming from amidst blonde hair near his forehead to curl back around near his ears.
Even his teeth had changed, his fangs more pronounceable. Micah shivered as he saw that they all fit together perfectly, and was suddenly -very- glad he had been out for the count whenever -that- had taken place. A quick muscle-flex confirmed the fact that, yes, his feet had gotten similar treatment his hands did, though his feet-claws seemed to be disturbingly larger. Micah frowned suddenly. Living with cats, you tended to learn just -how- they defended themselves from larger predators. Their forepaws were for gripping - the real damage came from when they dug in with the powerful hind legs, claws out, and -kicked-.
If he did similar with these, someone would -definitely- be hurting.
Something else clicked. Micah stared at the magically-summoned mirror's reflection, noticing a definite -absence- of something. Looked up, to focus on something far away. Then looked at something disturbingly close.
It was stupid, compared to everything else. But the loss of his glasses hit him the most as a sob hitched deep in his throat, and fought it down, -hard-. And glared, whenever his harem looked fit to mob him in their caring, then fought down the glare.
Anya moved close, touched at his cheek, ran a simple caress upon his forehead, her mannerisms disturbingly close to that of a mother with her child. Which wasn't that far off. Micah -looked- young, and Anya was over 30. Micah glanced curiously at Anya's thick, thick blonde hair, and didn't know whether to stifle a shiver or a snicker at the idea of someone jumping to -that- conclusion.
"How do you feel?" said Anya.
Micah gave a rolling shrug of shoulder and wings, deceptively casual. "I still feel fine." Though he would admit to feeling a bit -numb-around the edges. And, in a way, feeling -fine- was actually rather bad; it meant that whatever had got him had gotten into his brain, as well.
Though... maybe not -that- bad. Wings, claws, fangs, horns. Whatever it was had enough grace to give him -instinct- to go along with all the added accouterments. Which mean it wasn't likely that he'd injure himself... too badly. "Considering that I look like a freak and all," he added calmly, almost as an afterthought.
"You do -not- look like a freak," Anya gripped at his shoulders.
Micah quirked one eyebrow, regarded Anya with blue on black eyes, lips curled into a smile that was framed by his black horns. "Anya," Micah noted, "Just because I have a healthy mental image of myself doesn't mean I'm -oblivious to reality-."
Euphemia couldn't help but smile. "No, you -look- like an Infernals wet dream."
Micah gave her an odd look.
Euphemia unexpectedly grinned. "Hey, who said pokegirls don't get hot and bothered by personal fantasies? I'm sure a Demoness would -love-the idea of getting forced down and -ravaged- by some hulking Demon Lord. Maybe a few Megami and Angels, too."
Micah - carefully - facepalmed, even as he tried not to laugh at that mental image. "'Demon Lord'?"
"I'm sorry. Demon -King-."
Micah rolled his eyes. "I think I've got a -long- ways to go before I get people starting to call me that. Burning down one dorm building on a college campus isn't even a -start-. I don't even want it to be a -trend-."
"Seriously," Anya asked again, even as she ran a finger along the curve of one black, ribbed horn. "How do you feel?"
Micah emitted a gust of a sigh, even as he tried not to feel how -interesting - that sensation was. "Tired. How long was I out?"
"The change itself was relatively... manageable," Euphemia noted. "Once you were held down. Even if your heart did stop twice, your lungs collapsed at one point, and you had more broken bones from your struggling than I care to mention."
"On a plus side, your screams attracted -a lot- of ferals," Euphemia replied. "We captured nearly all of them, though the majority needs to be run through a healing cycle."
Micah blinked. "Why's that?"
"Cornelia was taking her aggression and fear out on them," Euphemia said.
Cornelia snorted, but didn't deny the accusation even as she folded her arms under her breasts.
Micah found that motion far, far too interesting to have just come off of his death bed, but even as his hormones tried to get a running start out the gate, sheer lack of energy beat them to the finish line. And slumped, knowing that sensation, as well - when recovering from being really sick, you could start out feeling fine only to find your reserve of energies was a bit... less than you expected.
"More sleep," Euphemia murmured. "And no more healing spells. You need to -rest-, and they're a poor substitute."
Micah let out an unexpected jaw-cracking yawn, and then nodded blearily. Right.
Sleep was more problematic than Micah would have liked. Once the bone-crushing weariness had passed, he found himself more awake that he should have been - and if the quiet feel of the night was anything to go by, it was that awkward set of hours in the night when it was too early to properly wake up, yet almost too late to try and get back to -sleep-.
Worse, once the weariness passed and he began to -think- about them, managing his new accoutrement was a royal pain and a half. Lying on your back? Forget it. Laying on your side was manageable, as long as you had space to spread out, but that could be awkward if you twisted just -so-. And the -horns- meant he was jamming them up against something and learning quickly he needed a -much- bigger pillow to rest his head upon.
Distantly he recalled the Batman movie that had the actor sleeping in a foot-lock on a hanging bar. If this kept up, he'd seriously think about investing in something similar. He -hated- trying to sleep lying down on his front.
Altogether, it meant that he was up, sharing silence with Nunnally as she took final watch for the night, wings wrapped up around him in a leathery cocoon that felt both disturbingly new yet disturbingly -right-. Thinking. He absently flexed his toe-claws, watching them deploy and stretch, like a cat's would. Forget socks, a part of his brain pointed out. They'd go through them like a knife. Hell, forget -shoes-. He couldn't tell how his new additions would be on normal woven fabric and leather, but he couldn't see them handling up very well.
Shoes, hell. How the hell was he even going to wear a -shirt-? Or -shower-? Micah considered the notion of banging around in a small hotel shower stall or bath, and winced.
Not a very appealing notion.
I'm already thinking about how I'm going to -live- with something like this, Micah thought to himself. Optimistic, in a way. After all, living day by day was something that wasn't very certain, what with Sanctuary thinking that he either dead or enslaved was a -very- nice thing to have occurred.
I've got Anya, he pointed out to himself reasonably. And Cornelia. And Euphemia. I've got a lot of tricks to throw at them as necessary.
Tricks that could run out, eventually, he went on mentally. They saw what I managed at the college. They likely know I do, in fact, have a powerful pokegirl on-hand, and account for that. They might even be able to guess the specific type.
Which, ironically, meant that collecting further powerful pokegirls would be beneficial tactically. But even that could only hold for so long. Sanctuary was fighting a war; he was barely managing a resistance cell. The grim equation was, sooner or later, they'd simply wear him down by the numbers alone.
Unless he made it in their best interest -not- to pursue him. Mutually Assured Destruction. Easy to say, hard to manage. Especially whenever he'd have to pull off something akin to Nagasaki and Hiroshima with the promise of more coming down the pipe if they didn't back the right fuck off.
Micah discarded that train of thought as momentarily fruitless, instead allowing his brain to wander toward mulling over the mystery of his condition. He had at least two ideas as to how he ended up the way he did; neither were very encouraging.
Micah glanced up, having almost forgotten that the Armsmistress was present. He absently cleared his throat. "Problems?"
"You seemed depressed, Master," Nunnally pointed out. "I didn't think it would be good for you to obsess over whatever it is that vexes you."
A very good point, he had to admit. Micah glanced at her curiously. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"A guy sprouting claws, fangs, and wings is typically enough to send most women into the night, screaming their heads off," Micah pointed out in a reasonable manner.
Nunnally regarded him with a calm expression, though he couldn't help but imaging a subtle 'You're an idiot' behind it. "I'm your pokegirl, Master."
Micah smiled. "True, but that doesn't mean you don't have your own opinion on things. Sadie Pokens day wouldn't work otherwise."
"You called me a woman, Master."
He quirked an eyebrow. "And?"
Nunnally summoned up her wings, letting them flare out and calmly gestured to herself. "Do you think me something to run away screaming from, Master?"
Micah almost rolled his eyes. "That isn't the point, Nunnally." He bit back a sigh, trying to figure out how to say just what it was that was annoying him so. "I suppose... I'm just surprised at the end result. You couldn't have been enjoying yourself having to deal with me as a screaming invalid, with blood and liquids everywhere. I guess... it just threw me off, the fact that you seem to have regarded all of that as another day at the office, so to speak, without complaint or commentary."
"I did not enjoy having to feel your flesh bruise beneath my grip or your bones break under my hands, but it was necessary, Master," Nunnally pointed out.
Micah smiled. "You're a very strong woman, Nunnally."
She blushed faintly. "Thank you, sir."
His smile broadened into a grin. "You're welcome. But to answer your earlier unspoken question, yes, I've been thinking about my condition. Unfortunately, I can only narrow an explanation down to two possible causes, neither of them very appealing." Micah loosened his wings enough so he could draw a hand from their cloak, letting black claws flex free. "The first one is Toymaker."
"You mentioned that name before."
Micah nodded. "Yes, I did." He quirked a grin. "If the Author Kerrik Wolf has the character Kerrik Wolf, then I, as an author, have Toymaker." A negligent shrug. "He wouldn't assist me in getting home, but if he learned of me, learned of my predicament, something like this? This is what he would do. An experiment, let loose in the wild, to flourish or die on its merit alone. Something... interesting." He grinned faintly, then let out a breath. "The second option? -I- did this."
Nunnally said nothing.
"The idea of being female - no offense intended, but frankly, the idea... isn't very appealing, to put it lightly. My psyche has no room for that consideration. If what the S-Goths did to me actually -was- going to change me into one of them, then I might have... shifted it a little. Just enough, so that I remain male." Micah sighed. "I know of pokegirls instantly, nothing can get inside my brain, and I am very hard to find for no reason at all. Why?" He snorted. "The most likely explanation is that the S-Goths summoning mechanism did this. Quite frankly, I hope it did."
Nunnally, again, said nothing. Micah was beginning to suspect that the Armsmistress had an uncanny knack to know when it was best to shut up and let someone else tie off a noose to hang themselves with. And, slowly, he shook his head. "No. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I just have to move forward and handle things as best as I can."
With that said, both lapsed back into total silence. Micah, curled up in a leathery cocoon, must have gradually dozed off, as soon enough, it was morning.
"Your dedication to research is admirable," Micah pointed out to Euphemia over breakfast as he handed her a large bowl of oatmeal. "But you shouldn't forget to eat, as well."
The G-splice had tied her voluminous mass of red-hair up to keep it out of the way as she horded herself over various holographic screens. She took the offered bowl gratefully, making a sound of delight as she spooned up and sampled the oats, sugar, and cloudberries therein. "I'll eat, I'm just in the middle of reading through some information. I think I've got a good place where we can setup shop."
Micah tried to sit down next to the fire, frowned whenever he couldn't figure a good way to get his wings out of the way while sitting cross-legged, and eventually gave in and simply stood while eating. "You have my attention."
"Around thirty years ago, Morgan Capella was a pretty successful Tamer. Got pretty well stinking rich off of it, too. Guy led a charmed life with several bounties to his name. Manti, Panthresses, even assisted with a Widow call out, he did it all," Euphemia explained from around the spoon in her mouth. "When he went to settle, he decided to build a kind of sprawling... home... complex... place."
"A regular Winchester House?" Micah asked.
"It was an old house built by the Widow Winchester, who was a gun manufacturer," Micah replied. "She used her fortune to constantly add on to it, and construction never stopped until she died. End result was haphazard and large, to say the least."
"I guess it's something like that," Euphemia replied. "What was so odd about it was that it was pretty remote. Closest large city was Juneau... he literally picked a place in the middle of the wilderness and settled down. As a result of the construction, though, a small town developed nearby."
"A regular boom town," Micah grinned. "Go on." Anya, Cornelia, and Nunnally were all listening in curiously.
"Well, around ten years ago, there got back some odd... rumors about the place," Euphemia said.
Micah glanced heavenward. "How gruesome were the rumors?"
"Uh, pretty bad," Euphemia replied. "Then people started disappearing, and... well. Long story short, Morgan got killed, what remained of his harem was sold off, and the town was abandoned at a pretty quick pace. It's been abandoned nearing seven years by this point."
Micah frowned curiously. "Who owns it?"
"Uh, technically, no-one," Euphemia replied around a mouthful of oatmeal. "The Capital League has so much land that a lot of it is just classified as 'unrestricted boroughs'. You could move in and make a quiet land-claim and no one would think much about it."
"I just love the wild west mentality this place has," Micah said as he glanced skyward, even as he was grinning. "So we have a nice place to settle, so long as we don't mind 'creepy' and can clear the place out of ferals. Good to know. Though until we locate a source of education, settling right now might not be a good plan."
Euphemia smiled impishly.
"Something tells me you might be able to fix that," Micah replied in a sotto-tone.
Euphemia's grin broadened. "I can multi-task." With a glance, Euphemia brought to attention another screen. "Jericho Plymoth, whom has been listed as missing for over a month. Older end of the spectrum for a Tamer, but he was also a reasonably skilled mage."
"He had a pokegirl in his harem who taught him magic?" Micah asked curiously.
Euphemia smiled, paused to eat another scoop of her breakfast, and went on. "Not -exactly-. You see, he was recorded as being the person in possession of the Grimorum Astra. It wasn't just a tome of powerful magic, but supposedly semi-sentient and could tutor the reader, and was how Jericho learned his magics."
"Wow," said Micah. "Talk about a useful tool." He frowned. "A useful and -valuable- tool. Why aren't any of the other magical schools after his carcass?"
"He's only listed as missing," Euphemia pointed out. "Not dead."
Micah nodded, then frowned again. "Wait a minute. That doesn't make sense, either. If he's a Tamer, how was he listed as missing after only a month?"
"Uh, his wife made the request," Euphemia checked her information, and nodded. "She said he was only to be gone for a week, and hence why the MIA was announced."
"That's amazing," Anya noted aloud. "Your skills are easily on par with a Video Girl."
Euphemia flushed with pleasure and grinned.
Micah smiled, absently feeling the pull of added wing and back muscles. "Euphemia is easily half the reason that I have stayed out of Sanctuary's hands," he noted, giving credit where credit was due.
Euphemia flushed brighter.
Micah chuckled softly. "To be fair, the reason I got out in the first place belongs mostly to Nunnally and Cornelia."
Both Demon-Goddess and Armsmistress pinked slightly at the verbal praise.
Anya smiled. "How are your wings feeling?"
Micah gave a shrug with that familiar shoulder and wing shift. "They feel fine."
"No soreness, no nothing?" Euphemia asked.
"No, thank goodness." Micah could recall pulling muscles in his upper back just by twisting in a wrong fashion. Doing that now would likely result in a good deal more pain.
"That's interesting," Euphemia noted.
Micah canted his head to the side. "Howso?"
"Well, humans don't really have the muscle structure too support several added pounds of weight on their back," Euphemia noted. "Hell, pokegirls often have an advantage with that - human physiology still expects to be running around on all fours, and that causes complications. So, the fact that you're handling it fine is interesting."
Micah gave a snort. "In an academic sense, I suppose. From a biological standpoint, they're pretty useless, especially compared to pokegirl possessing flight capability. At best, I'd be able to manage a glide, which doesn't take much. At worst, they're a showy hindrance."
"Hmmm." This, from Anya.
Micah glanced curiously at her. "What?"
"Well, no, you're right, it is interesting," Anya mused aloud, then grinned. "Have you tried retracting them?"
A beat. "What?"
Anya slurped at her drink. "Well, if they're in the way so much, maybe that's because they're not supposed to be out all the time. Maybe you have metamorphic capabilities and haven't realized it yet."
"By that logic, I could also have a 12-foot tall battle form that exhales acid and spits out thunderbolts," Micah countered.
Anya smiled. "Just try it."
Micah glanced down at his empty bowl, sighed, and set it aside. Eyes closed, he took several minutes the carefully pick out the feel and pull of muscle, skin, and bones, trying to see if he could ping some instinct that effectively said, 'Go away!' He gradually gave the matter up as fruitless, feeling the comforting slide of leathery wings upon skin as he wrapped them around his body like some living cloak. "I'm going to venture a guess and say 'no'."
"We might want to get a psychic to check inside your brain to see if she can find such a thing," Euphemia pointed out. "Just because you don't know it's there doesn't mean it doesn't exist, even if you seem to be operating on stubbornness and instincts for right now."
"I'd need a Dire Wolf to keep up with my lifestyle," Micah replied, then shrugged. "I'm not going to worry about it. I've got others things to kill in the meantime."
Anya grinned as she drew out a Card. "Like clothing."
Micah twitched, suddenly aware that he was dressed only in a pair of pants due to lack of anything else he could feasibly wear at the moment. "I was more thinking of making out a plan of locating our dear Jericho, not making me out to be a life-sized winged ken doll."
Anya pouted even as Euphemia explained, "Jericho was on a consulting job, traveling from Petersburg in the Old Alaska area to Juneau."
"He lived in Petersburg?" Micah asked.
"Then wouldn't the Grimorum be there...? For that matter, if he's -married-, then wouldn't the Grimorum automatically belong to his wife?"
"Salvage rights," Cornelia replied.
Euphemia nodded. "Cornelia's right. It's one of those odd little grey areas regarding Tamers and their possessions. Technically, if the Tamer dies, and his girls and items are recovered, they default to whomever recovered them. This only applies in the wilderness, mind. That, and Jericho didn't have a safe place to keep the Grimorum while he was away, so from I understand, he took it with him."
"Whooo." Micah shook his head. "Okay. Petersburg to Juneau. However you cut it, that's a lot of area to cover. What was his method of travel?"
"He used magic for flight across water and a Clydesdame in his harem," Euphemia replied, absently twirling her spoon. "Doesn't matter, though, as that's not how we're going to find him."
Micah gave an amused snort. "I take it you have an idea, o' Mistress of the Circuit and Wire."
Euphemia grinned. "I like that name, Master. No, his pokedex is still active, so I'm just going to force the locater beacon online and let us find out where he is."
"That's still over a hundred and fifty miles to cover."
"Well, if we setup three teleport points along his likely path of travel and do three successful pings, finding him should be a snap."
"You're communicating to his PDA via satellite, correct?" Micah inquired suddenly.
Euphemia blinked. "Uh, yes."
"I know how GPS works, and satellite phones likely do similar. If that's the case, why don't you use the comm satellites to triangulate the PDAs position as opposed to bothering with the locater beacon?"
Silence, followed by the sound of flesh meeting flesh and Euphemia facepalmed.
"Mistress of Circuit and Wire, right?" Cornelia smiled.
"Shut up," Euphemia replied, voice muffled by her hands.
"If you don't mind me asking, Micah," Anya ventured as Euphemia went to work following Micah's suggestion, "Why do you want to learn magic?"
"Because I can," Micah replied without hesitation.
"That is a very poor answer."
"No," Micah replied. "It's the only answer I need."
"Found him," Euphemia stated. "Near Gilbert Bay, on the coast."
"Then we're breaking camp," Micah replied. "Let's go loot his corpse."
"After we get you dressed," Anya noted.
"Err." Micah paused. "Right."
Micah regarded the breath-taking vista the over-look over Stephen's Bay offered. Even after all this time, the sights Old Alaska had to offer still hadn't dulled from his senses. If he didn't focus, he'd easily find himself distracted with the sights nature had to offer.
Micah shook his head and regarded the more unnatural sight of his harem in their full traveling regalia. Even if their ancestors had been crafted by a mad-man, he had to admit, if he ever had the opportunity, he'd like to shake Sukebe's hand for a job well done.
And then mug the poor bastard for plans to whatever dimensional travel device he used. Micah had priorities, after all.
"How are your clothes fitting?" Anya inquired.
"Good," Micah replied. "Surprisingly good." You couldn't just thread his wings through cut holes - they were too large by far for that, so Anya had devised via the Create Card a shirt that split twice in the back, having buttons near the bottom so they could be secured below the slits. It allowed Micah a modicum of normality, even if one part of his brain found the sensation of wings rubbing against cloth... unnatural. He wasn't going to start going around like it was Shirtless O'Clock all the time, though he hadn't bothered with the long cloak Anya had made to even attempt to hide his wings - he'd worry about that when and if they went back into civilization. She'd also created a set of boots for him, as well, secured via laces and buckles and leaving his toes exposed so his claws could flex free. He didn't even want to think what would occur when snow started coming down - suffer, mostly, was all he could fathom - but for now they were excellent and still let him walk, even if they looked weird.
Anya looked rather pleased.
"Five miles," Micah went on briskly, putting aside all of that, "From here to Gilbert Bay. Euphemia, you'll take point to lead us to our dear Jericho's corpse. Cornelia, you cover her. The rest of us will keep our distance while you locate him. Don't move out of sight, however, please."
Nunnally drifted in a lazy circle above as Anya utilized the Float Card so that she and Micah could drift along at an easy pace. She didn't look in his direction, instead keeping a watch out for any feral idiotic enough to try go after them. "Have you made a thought about when you'll practice flying?"
Micah flicked a glance at Anya, then went back to keeping a lookout as well. "In a week, barring something cataclysmic occurring."
Anya smiled. "You gave in remarkably easy."
"No, I didn't," Micah replied. "I already decided to do as such; You just brought the matter up. Even if I can't match Nunnally in terms of speed, I'll have to learn how to use them, regardless."
"You know, some men would be offended to be sitting atop a magically constructed white and gold balloon festooned with pink trim."
Euphemia and Cornelia appeared next to them as they suddenly teleported in.
"Problem," Euphemia began.
"Active campsite," Cornelia added.
"And the pokedex registers as being present," said Euphemia.
Micah frowned. "Did you see Jericho?"
"No," Euphemia replied.
"Someone may have found him already, then," Micah let out an exhaling sigh. "Let's set down nearby and go introduce ourselves."
"Are you going too -" Asked Anya, who was quickly cut off.
"No, I'm not," Micah replied. "Let's see how this works out."
Micah almost regretted his decision when, upon appearing in sight of the camp, a Mazoku began giggling and kicking her feet up. "Master, more guests for the pot! Should we cook them, roast them, bake them in a pie? Sweet souls that bring a demon with them!"
Camp had been made in a rough circle with a campfire at the center; Micah could see activity from inside an open, square, army tent. A fairly nondescript man with a close-cut brown beard and short hair wearing only boots and pants exited and jarred to a halt upon catching sight of Micah. Two pokegirls followed - a miserable, half-starved and beaten Angel and a pleased looking Succubus floating behind her, absently caressing and pinching at one breast of her captor. Both stopped to a halt and regarded Micah with wide-eyes, the Succubus licking her lips and the Angel giving an unconscious tremble of fear.
Don't glare or scowl, Micah thought to himself. Be pleasant. Cordial. Polite. Despite the mantra, he couldn't muster up anything beyond a distant smile as he absently rubbed and wrapped his wings around him. "Good afternoon. My apologies for disturbing you; I was told I could find a friend of mine nearby and yours was the only camp I could locate."
The Tamer flicked his eyes at the poke-freak in front of him, taking in the assembled harem; experience told him the likely composition without so much as going for his pokedex, guessing Slicer, a weird Elf, a Goth, and an over-dressed Sorceress. "Surprised you found me," he began. "The name is John. John Smith. What's the name of your friend you're looking for?"
"Jericho Plymoth," Micah replied after a quick beat, thankful that his wings let his claws clench and unclench free without being seen. Just what the hell was this bastard pulling? He ignored the Mazoku, who had bit into her palm and was licking up the blood running down her arm in a display that would possibly unnerve some people. Micah just found it annoying. "He told me I'd be able to find him here, so if you've seen him...?"
"Oh yeah, Jericho," John Smith nodded. "Yeah, I did see him. Forgot where he said he was heading - wrote it down, so give me a minute..." John had half-turned as if to make for his tent; Micah couldn't see it when he palmed a pokeball from his belt. A half-step, turn, and the pokeball hurtled through the air toward Micah without error, hit the surface of his wing, and fell to the ground, having failed to activate.
Micah honestly didn't remember making the distance that separated him and John, as if his brain had considered such information superfluous and not even bothered to catalog it. The sound of battle was distant in his ears, his breath rasping in his lungs a harsh beat as his claws bit deep into the back of the man's neck, his thumbclaw having actually penetrated the wall of his trachea, blood burbling upward from the wound in time with each of John's panic gasping. All it would take to watch John die slowly would be for Micah to violently grip his hand away, letting claw do the rest.
Raw, seething -hatred- roiled in his brain with such intensity that Micah found speech impossible, as if it was another thing his brain had discarded as unnecessary. It was the intensity that made him mentally sit up and worry, actively throttle it back down, choke it viciously in his throat. He didn't have a temper like this; certainly not enough to haul off and be willing to kill a man without even -thinking- about it...
"Now, then," Micah rasped, voice deep from stress and exertion, "Perhaps I did not make myself clear, little boy." He paused to let that sink in, watching John's eyes flutter around in his skull from fear, his skin flush, blood rolling down the side of his throat from the wound. Silence, now; whatever battle had taken place hadn't been long enough to disturb him. "Where the -fuck- is Jericho?"
"Are you going to save us?"
Micah risked a quick glance upward at the unknown voice, found the Angel staring at him with blank eyes, glanced down at John and nodded by way of reply. A soft sound of naked feet, a rustle of equipment, and a thud as a pokeball rolled nearby Micah. "Jericho's in there."
Understanding flickered in Micah's gaze. "Did they level five him?"
"No." Again, the toneless voice of the Angel.
"Is he tame?"
"Where is the Grimorum Astra?" Micah snarled the question at John; This did nothing to draw a reply beyond more fear.
"He still has it," the Angel provided in her toneless voice.
Micah followed that trail of blood down John's neck and found himself salivating. "Well, then," he chuckled faintly. "Don't really need you now, do I?"
A strong grip held his arm immobile. "Master."
Micah glanced over and found Nunnally at the end of those strong hands. After a long moment of consideration, slowly, carefully, let his claws retract and picked himself off of the prostrate John Smith, whom clutched at his throat and gurgled out rasping coughs. Micah flicked blood away from his hand, careful not to get any of it on his clothing, rolling his neck as some of the tension began to drain away and surveyed the battlefield with a calm he had no right to have. The Mazoku had been embedded in a tree, shards of wood impaling her in place even as the pokegirl giggled weakly and absently played with her exposed organs. The Succubus had been beaten unconscious, her wings ripped bloody. And one weak, malnourished Angel stared at him as if she didn't even have the energy to run away screaming.
"Cornelia, knock our John Smith out and heal his throat so he doesn't choke on any blood. Euphemia, get his pokeballs and get his girls up. Anya, see if you can locate that damned Grimorum." Micah glanced at his bloodied hand, made an irritated noise in the back of his throat as he held his wings back, glanced at the angel. "Nunnally, you're with me. Let's see if we can raid this bastard's pantry to find something for our Angel to eat."
Micah beheld the large tome that Anya presented him with a crawling sense of awe, brushing fingers across the leather bound cover, absently rubbing at the large, iron-wrought latch. He resisted the urge to burst out laughing, even as the delighted chuckled of glee worked their way up his throat. It would be bad form, after all. And smiled at the words carved into the plaque on the cover. "Someone has a sense of humor when they made this, or someone with a sense of humor altered it."
Anya glanced curiously at the Tome. While her brand of magic was more instinctive, even she could sense the power the book held. "What makes you say that?"
"The inscription," Micah laid the book on the small table John Smith's tent held. "'Ad Astra Per Aspera'. 'To The Stars, Through Difficulty.'"
With a sharp sound, the latch clicked open.
Micah and Anya shared a surprised look. Carefully, Micah paged the cover open, running fingers over the soft, thick paper. Words began to script themselves down upon the blank sheets, and Micah read aloud, fascinated. "'Those whose eyes are capable of falling upon the pages of this tome, know that your thirst for knowledge may find a brief respite studying the annals contained within this book. You, whom possess that of power, in educating yourself upon the precepts contained therein are one whom acknowledges that the path of magery is beyond that of the simple act of killing, or that of forbidden knowledge. Know this, that in acknowledging the path you have begun to trod upon you hold above all else that nothing is ever set; that the will of a lone individual can transcend even the stable precepts of reality itself - '" Micah broke himself away from the words with an effort, knowing that this wasn't the best time or place to get lost in reading. Carefully, he closed the Grimorum and secured the latch.
"What are you going to do with his harem?"
Micah leaned away from the table, thinking. stifling that irritating spurt of confinement that dragged at his nerves by being inside of John Smith's tent. It was a nice tent. Large, roomy, evoked imagery of long-term expeditions into the wilds of Africa and all that. As long as you didn't have wings, it was perfect. "The Mazoku gets level fived. No arguments." Micah rolled his eyes. "I knew the guy who created the damn breed in the first place. Should have re-written them entirely when I had a chance... anyways." He shook his head. "Then she's getting sold along with the rest of them."
"Not going to keep the Shaguar and Mist Bunny?"
Micah gave her a look of 'are you kidding'?
"Merely pointing out the option."
"I'm not looking for elemental coverage, Anya. I'm looking for mass destruction and the biggest damn stick I can find."
Anya smiled. "Euphemia told me about the list."
"While Zeromers are cute, I don't think they qualify as a pokegirl capable of 'mass destruction'..."
"Oh, hush, woman," Micah growled out, even as he wrapped an arm around her middle and pulled her close.
Anya giggled as she took the opportunity to snuggle. "And the Angel?"
Micah glanced over to where said Angel was a tiny thing desperately wrapped up upon herself near the camp fire, carefully sipping from a bowl of soup. "She goes with Jericho, and they're both going back to Jericho's wife. I also want the Angel up and healed before we pop Jericho's pokeball. Poor bastard would probably help from seeing a familiar face healthy and well-fed."
"Fastest method would be to run her through a healing cycle at a pokecenter."
"I'm not claiming ownership of her," Micah replied. "And a healing cycle isn't going to do a damn thing to fix her psychological issues." He took a deep breath, let out a sigh. "She needs rest and time to recoup above anything else. We set our own time-tables; No one knows we're here, so we can afford to rest for a few days."
Euphemia walked over, the redheaded G-splice wearing a somber expression. "Problem," she began as she gusted out a sigh. "Our John Smith doesn't have a bounty."
"You're -kidding-," Micah let out a groan. "Which means... Nothing, beyond the fact that he hasn't gotten -caught- before. Now I need to figure out what I'm going to do with the bastard."
Euphemia and Anya shared a glance. "'do'?"
"I'd like to just shove him off on the local authorities and forget about it, but police investigations are a royal pain, and not something I want to be around long. I could just kill him, back lacking a gun I don't have a method to do it quickly. Loveballing him is an option, though a distasteful one."
"I'll do it," Euphemia quietly noted.
Micah blinked. "Do what?"
"Kill him for you, if need be," Euphemia replied. "It wouldn't be the first time. But I have a better option before all of that."
"Which is...?" Micah asked.
Euphemia smiled faintly, albeit with a slight edge of cruelty. "Why don't we let Jericho have first pick of him?"
"It would be a personal matter, wouldn't it?" Micah mused softly. "We'll go with that. Let's start cataloging John Smith's equipment and then we'll see about talking to Jericho."
It took about fifteen minutes of careful searching to find what Micah hoped to find; a PPHU, pristine and fully charged. Then he approached the angel, up-front and frank about he was asking permission to do. After a moment, he received a tentative nod in reply. Micah didn't waste time, running the Angel through the healing cycle and then running Jericho's pokeball through similar, just to be sure. Micah toggled the Angels' release, grateful to see that the healing cycle had improved her overall appearance much, turning a beaten, starved and abused pokegirl into a short blonde-haired winged beauty in the flush of well-formed health.
The eyes, however, remained the same.
Not unexpected, Micah thought as he arranged his harem to give the Angel plenty of room in preparation for Jericho's release. Let's see. That should be good enough. And, moment of truth time...
The decompression effect flared. It left behind a nude, lithe and petite Catgirl, black-furred ears sticking up from a long fall of straight black hair, long tail twitching behind her.
The Catgirl abruptly focused on the Angel, taking in her un-harmed state with a measure of confusion, the lack of Mazoku or Succubus ready with their horrible taunts and even worse methods of torture both physical and sexual, and who -were- these people...?
Micah respectfully glanced away as the two pokegirls re-acquainted with one another. He caught the Angel whispering an explanation, shrugged faintly, and went to go find the Catgirl something to wear.
Clothed, the Catgirl regarded Micah with a measure of hesitation. Micah had to wonder exactly what kind of impression he made; Wings, horns, claws and eyes all. "Jericho Plymoth?"
The Catgirl, Jericho, nodded faintly. "I... yes. I was... him."
Micah nodded, and bowed, wings swept back. "Micah Hakubi."
"How did you find me? Did my wife send you?"
"In a manner of speaking," Micah replied. "Your wife sent out an official notice of you being missing. I took notice due to you possessing the Grimorum Astra, and tracked you down with intent to salvage it if you were dead." Micah didn't even both trying to sound apologetic about that; simply matter of fact. "I encountered our John Smith, and he tried to loveball me. I took exception to that fact, and here we are."
The Catgirl flicked a glance at the bound and gagged individual, something raw and nasty surging up to fill her eyes with a crazed type of loathing. "What are you going to do with him?"
"That's your decision."
Brown eyes whipped around to look at him, disbelieving.
Micah gave a casual, leathery shrug. "You out of all of us deserve to decide his fate. Feel free to kill him if you like."
Jericho's hands erupted into magical flame as she stalked forward. Something in John's panicked struggling set off the Catgirl; she lunged forward, flamed hands burning into his crotch, searing flesh and bone and muscle to the sound of his muffled, crazed screaming.
Micah hissed through fanged teeth as he watched, brain calling up a long-remembered conversation with a volunteer firefighter he once knew, and had to admit; There really was no other smell like burnt human flesh. Jericho let loose a long, feline scream of rage as she plunged her hand deep into John's face, eyes popping as they boiled, fingers dipping past the eye sockets to boil and cook the brain behind them.
Micah flicked a glance over as he wrapped himself in his wings. And the Angel had not done a thing to stop her. That, perhaps more than anything, said it all.
Jericho kept at it long after the body had stopped its spastic twitch, clawed hands digging burnt furrows in flesh before finally giving the matter up as a lost cause. Panting, shaking from adrenaline, she stumbled back into the arm of the Angel and began to sob uncontrollably.
"Right," Micah murmured to himself, glanced over at the Demon-Goddess. "Do you think you could take care of the corpse?"
Cornelia's smile was grimly satisfied. "Certainly." A few slashes of an energy blade severed the corpses bindings and she teleported out with the flame-burnt remains.
Micah waited patiently as Jericho and his - her - pokegirl comforted one another. Frowned, seized upon that thought. Patiently? Unless he had a book, Micah freely admitted that he would get bored as hell if forced to wait with nothing to distract him, be it physically or mentally. Yet, here he was, as immobile as a statue without having to really think about it, something that whispered in his blood about 'prey' and 'waiting for prey'. '-Hunting- for prey.'
His blue-on-black eyes narrowed as he tried to pick that apart. Instinct. He wasn't an idiot, and knew that most of the day had been spent running half on instinct as is. It just worried him; When did he start classifying other humans as 'prey'?
He nearly hit himself. Around the same time you started salivating at the smell of blood, idiot.
Which didn't really disgust him. Blood was just blood, a minor annoyance that was a pain to get out of clothing, nothing more. Of course, why would he hunger for it, then? Didn't really do anything for him in a strict dietary sense, unless... Tangently, Micah wondered if Euphemia would freak if he inquired about the dietary benefits of drinking the stuff.
Worry about it later.
Jericho came out of her self-loathing, sheltered as she was in her Angel's protective embrace. Regarded Micah through tear-reddened eyes. "What will you do with us?"
"I'm taking you back to your wife."
"What happened to the rest of my harem?"
"He sold them," Micah replied. "I'm sorry. I'm going to have Euphemia extract the money from his account to give to you."
"Thank you," Jericho whispered, the Catgirl's ears wilting. "The Grimorum Astra?"
"Oh, -that- I'm going to keep."
Slitted brown eyes glared angrily at him.
"Consider it payment for services rendered," Micah replied calmly. "Once this is over and done with, we'll both be even. Fair?"
A sigh, and Jericho gave a bleak nod. "Fair."
"We can discuss more later," Micah replied. "Now, then. How about some dinner?"
Jericho regarded Micah like he was some sort of freak, the two of them walking down the sleepy streets of Petersburg toward Jericho's house. "Why the hell did your StarMystic dress you up like -that-?"
Micah let out an audible sigh. It was just him and Jericho as they walked, Micah feeling it best not to crowd Jericho's wife with more people than she was ready to deal with.
The 'that' Jericho referred too was the suit, tie, and a backless greatcoat ensemble. He felt like some sort of military officer, wearing it; he actually liked it, in a way. It was cool, clean, crisp, professional, like sliding into a mindset that left everything sharp and focused.
"You stand out enough as-is," Anya had pointed out reasonably. "People are going to notice. So give them something to focus on, something -human-. If you look professional, -well off-, people will respond to it."
Micah couldn't really argue the point. He absently reached up, adjusted his tie. "If it works, it works."
They lapsed into silence as they walked, Micah comfortable, Jericho awkward and nervous. After her treatment by 'John Smith' - hell, after her previous life as a tamer - there was still an unspoken assumption that the... individual walking next to her could snatch her up and do whatever the hell he wanted with her. Even in the Capital League.
More oddly, he hadn't acted like some of the more vociferous parity activists she encountered. There wasn't an edge of frantic justice to his actions, of righteousness - just a flat assumption of 'We're doing this' and going to do it. So why the hell -was- he doing this?
Thoughts flew aside as Jericho felt a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach when they arrived at his - her - wife's home. -Their-home. From death do us part, and all that.
Micah glanced at Jericho, moved forward, and knocked calmly at the door. Waited, until the door opened, and Mrs. Plymoth looked out, a pretty young thing of blonde hair and green eyes that looked as if she didn't belong in an isolated fishing town. Once she had finished working through her reactions, Micah began calmly, "Mrs. Plymoth? The two of us have some information regarding your missing husband. If we could come in...?"
Mrs. Plymoth regarded them both with a blank expression, as if slow to catch up, and finally nodded. "Yes, please do."
Micah waited until they had all settled before he began, perched carefully on the edge of a couch. "Mrs. Plymoth, I'm sorry that I have to tell you this, but your husband had an unfortunate run in with another Tamer. Said Tamer had an illegal loveball, and used it to capture your husband."
Mrs. Plymoth flicked a glance from him, to Jericho, and back again. "I... I see." A deep breath. "What proof do you have of this?"
"On the night of our marriage, you said that you wanted five children, all of them boys, and that you'd drive me to death trying to get them," Jericho whispered tonelessly.
Micah nodded slowly. "Yes. I apologize for being the bearer of bad news, but sometimes it's best to know the truth." He rose. "If you'll excuse me, I imagine you both have some things to talk about."
"Yes," Mrs. Plymoth nodded. "Yes, of course. I'm sorry, if you'll be in Petersburg for a day I can offer you payment as a reward - "
Micah shook his head calmly. "No reward is necessary, please. We've already settled the matter, thank you."
"Ah, yes. Here, I'll show you out..."
Micah took a deep breath as walked away from the house, tasting the smell of water and trees on the wind. He couldn't help feeling unsatisfied for some reason.
Ah, well. Nothing to it.
A sharp, piercing yowl cracked the air.
Micah stopped, pivoted, turned, stared. And made a sprint back to the house, wings tucked down tightly, hitting the door at a run.
Jericho was crawling away from her wife, clutching at a bleeding wound on her shoulder as Mrs. Plymoth raised the knife to stab down again.
Micah didn't think, stepping in, claws biting deeply into soft flesh as he gripped her arm, his lips drawn back in a silent snarl. And squeezed, hard, shaking her viciously like a wolf would a small animal trapped in its jaws when Mrs. Plymoth panicked and tried to get away.
"What the HELL do you think you're DOING!?" Micah bellowed once he found his voice.
"She's my pokegirl now, you freak!" She yelled at him, her green eyes panicked and frantic. "I can do whatever I want with her!"
"The fuck you say," Micah snarled, gripping harder, receiving a gasp of pain as bones ground together, the knife slipping from nerveless fingers. "We're both leaving, -now-, and I won't have you -arrested-for trying to damage -my- property."
"Take her, then!" Mrs. Plymoth yelled out. "I didn't want her to come back in the first place! She -shouldn't- have come back."
A pause, as Micah slowly digested this. And Mrs. Plymoth let out a keening wail of fear of her own, suddenly trying to desperately get away from him.
With a disgusted sound, Micah let her. He didn't bother asking permission, bending down to scoop the small Catgirl up into his arms and stalk out of the house at a rapid pace. Took a turn down a less-used street, not wanting to be seen walking with bloody hands and a bleeding Catgirl. Found a place to settle, and did so, wrapping leathery wings tightly around the shaking package in his arms.
Clawed hands gradually began pushing at his chest; Micah let Jericho go, setting her beside him after a quick check to make sure she wasn't bleeding out. Silence, as Micah didn't think there was really much to say and Jericho didn't really care enough to try and bother.
Finally, Micah had enough of it. "I'm not asking you to join my harem," Micah began, looking skyward and purposefully not checking to see the Catgirl's reaction, "But I want to learn magic, and no doubt my education would be easier if I had a mage on-hand to assist. You have your money, and at least one pokegirl that I have no intention of taking from you. That's more than some can say. If nothing else, where I'm planning to live and study at won't have anyone else around, so you'll be safe from people trying to capture you."
"...why are you even bothering to ask?"
Micah smiled faintly. "Maybe it's all just so I can feel better about myself." He gave a rustling shrug. "Because you had a horrible thing happen to you that you didn't really deserve. Granted, I'm being a hypocritical son of a bitch, but life is never perfect. And I get a teacher I can run too and ask questions out of this."
A toneless laugh. "Maybe it's because you don't want to fuck a pokegirl that was once a guy."
"Not really," Micah replied with no hesitation. "You're very cute, but I'm not going to take an unwilling pokegirl to my bed. And I doubt the idea of having sex with a guy is a very appealing notion to you right now."
"It felt... good," Jericho whispered, her tail flicking behind her restlessly. "That's the part I hated the most. How good it felt."
"I don't really have a choice, do I?"
"No, you always have a choice," Micah replied. "We just like to fool ourselves otherwise, most of the time."
"...you're right." Decision made, Jericho stood, and nodded to Micah. "Let's go."