Juliana stares out of her bedroom window, completely naked. One-way enchantments and a modest window tint ensure she’s the only one who gets to enjoy a view. She smiles as her eyes follow the carriage that trundles away from her manor. Inside the carriage, her still prodigal, but no longer lost daughter travels away with her team, off to her next adventure. She stayed with Juliana for just a week, but what a week! The past seven days felt like a lifetime of love and adventure and wonder and passion and fulfillment; impossible, apocryphal tales and nagging about Quasi.
Oh, so much nagging and lies! Claims like, “Quasi has over a hundred mistresses and children,” or “he is graced by the gods to spread his seed to as many women as possible, and is geassed to fuck a thousand more.” In comparison, saying that he was planning to destroy the world sounded reasonable. There’s only one claim that Juliana could and did verify, that “the Gods have granted him endless stamina and unquenchable desire.”
It’s a good thing healing magic can fix sore muscles.
A knock on the bedroom door ends her musing.
“Come in,” she orders.
The door opens and a elderly woman enters. The woman, a [Midwife] of a respectable level, enters. She sees Juliana’s naked body and doesn't even react. The woman had seen thousands of bodies over the years; another one changes nothing.
“[Baroness], I’ve come to speak about the upcoming births.”
Juliana frowns. “Births? You said I am pregnant with a girl. Do I have twins?”
The [Midwife] shakes her head. “No, it is your [Maids]. They too are pregnant, and from the same seed, no less.”
Juliana freezes at the declaration. Her mind whirs to the past week, trying to figure out when such a thing could have happened. When did that man have the time? He’d shared her bed every night, experimenting with coital variations for hours on end.
She sighs and shakes her head. Maybe, just maybe, her daughter's admonitions weren’t actually lies.
“I see,” she acknowledges. “How many are pregnant?”
The [Midwife], a wizened woman who has seen countless and even been involved in a few “familial troubles”, smiles.
“All of them.”
Joe heaves a sigh as his adjutant drops another stack of forms onto his desk. For the past week, Joe’s been buried under a metric fuck-ton of paperwork all related to the epic clusterfuck that started with a fateful encounter between a necromancer and a clergyman.
The worst part is that he still isn't done. Not even close. He needed the whole damned week just to finish the report on the deaths of Ethan and Jared, filled out with the precise information the churches would demand. He still has yet to start on the damned cage-fulls of children his [Guards] have found and the massive, newly unearthed underground child trafficking organization the [Priests] were linked to. A literal network of tunnels and bedrooms that linked churches to their surrounding neighborhoods.
So many churches of various gods were part of the trade that over a hundred [Priests] are locked up deep within the city’s dungeon. On top of that, they now have hundreds of traumatized children, far too many for the city’s orphanages.
Joe sighs again, drops his quill on the desk, and leans back in his chair. The clear, happy blue skies above almost seem to mock his efforts. His eyes turn to his [Guards] working at the city entrance, checking everything and everyone. They have even begun asking children more questions to make sure that they aren't secretly being smuggled in.
He picks up a towel on his desk and wipes his clear dome. The sun is shining bright today, an annoyance that makes it difficult for him to work on his paperwork while also manning the city entrance.
That same sun also gleams off another headache, the massive white pile in the distance, a mound of bone armaments formed from the corpses of the city’s deceased. Apparently, the [Necromancer] was protecting the [Baroness] from [Assassins] targeting her life; a slight hedge, but more acceptable than to admit [Necromancer] was protecting himself.
Regardless, the civilians are mightily pissed about their desecrated family members, as are the [Guards] in charge of hauling and cataloging all those bones.
Shaking his head, he grabs his quill to continue his report, only to pause as the ground starts to tremble. A moment later, he hears gasps from civilians and guards alike. He shifts his head towards the entrance and his mouth drops open as a certain [Necromancer]’s carriage exits the city.
What flabbergasts him and rumbles the ground are the twelve elongated white legs supporting the carriage. As it hurries from the city, the legs’ cadence speeds up. The ground cracks and creates a small dust cloud as the monstrosity of wood and bone rushes away faster than a horse can gallop.
The [City Defender] sighs. He places his quill back on his unfinished report. He reaches under his surcoat and grabs a flask. With the grace of a very stressed out [Guard], he uncorks the bottle and pours the contents into his mouth.
“Uh, sir,” the adjutant almost mumbles, “are you sure you should-”
Joe looks over at the protesting [Guard] and fixes him with a hard stare as he continues to empty the drink. He finishes and looks over. “What?” he growls.
“I-Uh, nothing, sir,” the [Guard] furiously tries to backpedal. “I was just, uh, wondering why you’re doing this all yourself. The, um,” he withers beneath Joe’s glare, “the [Quartermasters] could maybe help? Sir.” he hastily adds.
Joe stares at the sweating [Guard]. He looks down at the desk covered in forms, and realizes that for the past week, he’s barely seen any of the administrators.
His clenched hand splinters the wood.
“Here's the thing about creating undead structures, Abernick,” Quasi gestures to the floor of the carriage, “if you can, use what works in nature. Legs, wings, and pretty much all manner of limbs have an evolutionarily tested function. Trying to invent new ones will almost always fail unless you spend a lot of time fine-tuning and creating control heuristics. Instead,“ he leans forward and touches the glowing skull of a spider the size of his palm, “you use the core of an undead which already has the prerequisite knowledge of such locomotion.”
Abernick frowns as he stares at the spider skull. “But you used [Skeletal Creation] to create a tiny [Bone spider], and then you modified that tiny thing to fit under a carriage.”
The [Prince] scratches the size of his head. “But, you took a random bone and just turned it into a spider. How does that random bone know how to move like a spider?”
“That, my good prince, is called the power of System Bullshit,” Quasi espouses.
Abernick raises an eyebrow. “And that is…”
Quasi rolls his eyes. “Right, I always forget that people here call it the World Voice or Divine Voice or some other godly shit. The actual and correct name of what’s giving you power is called the Pandora System. I just call it the System, though I guess names don't matter much at this point,” he taps his chin, “Anyway, the system gives skills to people from leveling or achieving stuff. The skills given out are always way more functional than what most people can design on their own. But once you have the skill, it doesn’t matter. You just activate the skill and the System takes care of the finer points.”
Quasi points once again at the bone spider head. “[Skeletal Creation] lets me make thousands of skeletons from a large list. But, I don't know how to give said creations locomotion, so that gap in my knowledge is circumvented by the system. Thus, I created a tiny undead spider that can do everything a living tiny spider can do.”
Abernick stares, his face blank as he attempts to understand what he’s hearing. To him, it seems like Quasi just cheated the system. “That's… ugh. Hmmm… Could I do that?” he mutters.”
“Sure you can,” Quasi exclaims to Abernicks surprise. “I’ll show you tomorrow, though. Today I just want to relax and to gain as much distance from the city as possible. I don't want anyone following.”
The [Prince] nods. He assumes this is because Quasi wishes to throw off the church’s eyes.
“And, where exactly are we going?” Abernick asks. “Oh, right-”
“Far west,” Abernick and Quasi say in unison.
Quasi shrugs. “And I meant it. We’re heading all the way west till we hit Luxor.”
“Luxor…” Abernick frowns and taps his chin as he attempts to remember the city. A moment later, his eyes widen. “That's the capital of the Sand Empire!” he practically screams.
Jessica and Fiona look up from their books. Both women give the two boys an annoyed glare. Especially Jessica, who is still peeved about Quasi and her mother.
“Sorry,” Abernick whispers, and the ladies return to their reading.
“Really? Luxor?” Abernick frowns at Quasi. “How will we traverse the Bloody Desert? Are we going to pay for a guide? What [Sultan] is willing to sponsor you?”
Quasi just stares at the [Prince] silently and with an enigmatic look.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the [Prince] realises something. “You have no idea where Luxor is.”
“West,” Quasi reiterates as though that single word explains everything.
Abernick pinches the bridge of his nose. “Why Luxor of all places?”
“I need to talk to Cleopatra.”
Abernick releases a slight groan as his hands touch the temples of his head. “Do you even know who Cleopatra is?”
“An [Empress]... [Queen]... thing? Maybe?”
Abernick closes his eyes at Quasi’s ignorance. “Cleopatra is the [Empress of Sands]. She is one of the most dangerous and powerful people in the world. Her domain that she rules is the desert between the Aesir lands and the western sea.”
“So, a high level [Empress], got it.”
“No, that's- Ahhh!” Abernick shakes his head. “Look, just deflate your ego for two minutes and listen for once. The [Empress of Sands] has ruled the desert since before the demons were sealed. Before the descent of Mimir. The empire might be older than some gods!” he splutters. “There are no documents in history that have said otherwise. No nation or kingdom has ever defeated her. She is feared and avoided by all the strongest powers in the world. Even the demons that roamed the lands during the demon wars had avoided her like the plague.”
“Wait…” Quasi perks up. “So Cleopatra is old as shit?”
Abernick leans back onto his seat and huffs, annoyed that Quasi is focusing on the wrong thing.
“No, of course not,” he scoffs. “All the [Empresses] of Luxor are just named Cleopatra. No human lives that long. Heck, not even the elves do.”
Quasi frowns. “Well, that's kinda boring, but it doesn’t change anything. I still need to meet her. You make it sound like it’s impossible.”
“Because it practically is. The Sanguine Desert, more commonly known as the Bloody Desert, is patrolled by monstrous worms that travel below the red sands,” Abernick spreads his hands apart, “before you say anything, these monsters are as large as entire cities. They have devoured and slaughtered armies. Unless we have a guide, then we will be devoured by these beasts.”
“Right. Guide. How do we get one?”
“We’ll need to requisition one from one of the [Sultans] that live at the border of the Aesir lands.”
“How much will this cost?” Quasi asks.
“That's,” Abernick frowns, “the difficult part. It’s forbidden for guides to work for monetary rewards. We’ll need to ask, um, politely.”
Quasi cocks an eyebrow. “Really? Politely?”
Abernick clasps his hand. “Look, I don't know the specifics. My education didn’t focus too much on that blasted desert. We’re going to need to do some research when we get there. Then we have to request a meeting and then a guide.”
“So, the simple process of traversing a desert is stopped because of giant underground worms.” Quasi states.
Quasi looks over to Jessica, but she ignores him. He looks back at Abernick. He raises a hand to his chin and furrows his brows in thought.
“Can I ride one?” he asks.
Abernick closes his eyes when he hears Quasi’s words. The [Grand Necromancer] had expected Quasi to ignore the warning and stride into the sands. Instead, Quasi took his words to heart and conceived of something even more stupid.
Why does he feel like he just walked into a trap?