Inside the breeding pens dried grasses covered the ground and the air stunk of musk. Muffled voices hidden by wooden walls broke the silence.
They paused at the corner of the first wall and Rain poked his head around. A pair of Goblins were arguing beside some kind of lumpy blanketed table.
“It’s my turn!”
“Your turn? This is the end of the tribe. If we’re all gonna die I want to go out riding dick!
“W-what! That’s ridiculous! I’m on the schedule for today, look, look, my mark is on the schedule. It’s clear that you haven’t a leg to stand on, he’s all mine. ”
“Fuck the schedule, and fuck you.”
The Goblin punched the other Goblin in the eye, she went reeling and sat down with a thump.
“You bitch!” said the Goblin, rubbing her eye.
The Goblin who had thrown the punch was no longer looking in her direction however and was pulling aside the sheet. A pair of stumps, legs that had been severed at the knee, were revealed, as well as a wrapping of chains, then as she pulled the sheet back further a loincloth.
She licked her lips and crawled up on top of the table.
A growl from behind made her freeze up and slowly turn around. Her eyes glanced over the corpse of the punched goblin lying on the ground and then up to the massive blood covered black wolf monster.
“Ahaha heyyyy there. Don’t suppose you’d let me have a little fun before you get me? maybe?”
A paw flashed out and she was dragged into his jaws with a squeal of fear, swiftly ending her life.
Rain tugged on the chain and the Elf-sheep who had been holding onto the wall to keep herself up whimpered and tottered after him. Her entire lower body was trembling uncontrollably now and she looked near ready to keel over.
Rain walked to the far end of the table and pulled back the sheet. A pure blood Minotaur’s head was revealed, his head encased in a metal frame and his jaw forced open with a metal bar. Scars marred his face and one of his eyes was missing. The good eye looked up at Rain, pleading. Rain tilted his head to the side, he didn't think anyone about to die by his jaws had ever given him that look before. He gave the Minotaur what he wanted and ripped out his throat. The look of sheer peace that crossed the Minotaur’s face gave Rain a moment of pause. It was incongruous with his experience and it bothered him, prey normally did not want to die like this.
The elf-sheep appeared at his side.
“He was a Minotaur, one of the most prideful species. I think this must have been a hell tailored to his worst nightmares, poor guy.”
“I assume he tried to escape more than once going by the wounds.”
“Most likely. Some species do much worse than others in captivity, some better. This tribe should have been exterminated a long time ago, if only the local town ranker wasn't a lazy asshole.”
“I know of him. He is on my list.”
“What list is that?”
“The list where they get eaten bit by bit while still alive.”
The Elf-sheep shuddered and gave him a wary glance.
“Is this what you wanted to show me? Because it’s not enough to save your life.”
“N-No! No, this is something else, I didn’t know about this guy or what was being done to him. What I wanted to show you is further in, I think… I hope.”
“Know with absolute certainty to be one hundred percent factual. I have supreme confidence that it is the case with zero doubt whatsoever that it is anything other than what I know to be true.”
Rain squinted at the nervous looking Elf-sheep. Then tugged on her chains and they passed through to the next partition. A pair of human women were curled up in the piles of dry grass. Rain realised that this was what the Elf-sheep had wanted to show him for they were both clearly pregnant. The pair looked up at him with fearful eyes and scrambled back.
The Elf-sheep stepped forward.
“It’s okay now, everything’s going to be fine.”
She turned on Rain with a quietly confident look.
“See, told you, it’s something you wouldn't want to deal with.”
“Well, it’s obvious, isn't it. You’re not going to eat pregnant people!”
Rain furrowed his brow in thought.
The Elf-sheep blinked and then worry crossed her face.
“Y-you a-aren't are y-you?”
Rain knew he was now a monster and no longer Human, it was just a fact, not that he had led a particularly normal Human life. Still, he remained at his core Human, even if he was now drenched in so much blood.
This feels like a line that Human me really doesn't want to cross. I don’t want to cross it either, but I’m just so hungry, so painfully hungry, and they are just there, but they’re not like bloodthirsty monsters, or even regular callous and cruel levelers, or the already dead, this is...
Conflicting emotions and powerful instincts wracked his mind and he worried the problem. He could practically hear his animalistic hunger roaring in his ear, telling him to eat! eat! eat the prey!
“H-hey, hold on, there’s another reason!”
Rain looked up and blinked.
“Yes! There was an old fisherman who lived by a lake.”
“J-just listen. The old fisherman fished everyday, he fished and fished and he ate every fish that he caught. Now the old fisherman had a brother who lived by a different lake, that fisherman did not eat all of the fish he caught and instead threw back the pregnant fish and the young fish. One day the first fisherman went to the lake and fished and found that he did not catch anything. He put his head below the water and found that the lake was empty of fish. He then starved to death while his brother lived on because the fish in his lake kept making more fish. So, you see, you need to let some fish go to keep fishing in the long run.”
“Or I could go to the brother’s lake and eat him and then eat his fish.”
“I- I don't think fishermen eat other fishermen normally, fishermen eat fish not other fishermen.”
“I-it’s a metaphor uhmm.” She pointed at the pregnant Humans. “They’re fish, see, and the dungeon is the lake.”
He abruptly strode toward the Humans and crouched down in front of them. They obviously freaked out and tried to scramble away but his paw came out and clamped down on one's wrist like a vice. He dragged her toward him.
“Fish! She’s fish! You can't eat her! Sustainable fishing!”
Rain brought her hand up to his mouth. The pregnant woman was hysterically bawling her eyes out by this point. Rain paused.
He dropped her hand and she scrambled back into the pile of dried grass.
The Elf-sheep let out a desperately relieved sigh of relief.
Rain wasn't actually sure whether the morality of it or the consideration for ‘sustainable fishing’ had let him overcome his currently screaming visceral hunger. Maybe the latter had allowed the former, he couldn't say, still, this felt like a turning point in better controlling himself, one where he could have gone down a different path. The Elf-sheep had led him here.
As if remembering something he suddenly stood up and turned back to her.
“You got what you wanted, but you seem to be forgetting something.”
“I, uh, am?”
“You are clearly not pregnant.” His eyes came to rest on her flat stomach.
She blushed once more. “That’s something I was getting to! H-hold on!” she said as Rain took a step toward her and she quailed, her legs nearly buckling under her. “I’m not pregnant, but you need me still!”
“No, I do not.”
“What do you think is going to happen to these fish!”
“I do not care.”
“Sustainable fishing! Sustainable fishing!!” she cried as though it were a ward against him.
“Stop saying sustainable fishing at me.”
“It’s true though! Just letting them go in the middle of the dungeon is not that, they wouldn't last five seconds out there, without the tribe protecting them they are all dead dead dead!”
Rain glared at her. “That is... annoyingly true. What of it?”
“Well, I’m glad you asked.” She gave him a winning smile and pointed at her chest with her thumb. “Expert danger navigator and avoider of monsters, well-renowned saver of persons and items. I am your best bet, and best value, for rescuing such things from places of peril as I have the legendary and famed Rescuer Class! My prices are quite reasonable and I have excellent reviews.”
“You expect me to pay you to take food away?”
“Oh no no! Sorry sorry, force of habit, this will of course be pro bono.”
“Hrmm. Avoider of monsters? I don’t think you are doing particularly well at that.”
“Hey, that’s not my fault, that stupid witch had some kind of locating spell, they swarmed me before I could do anything!”
“I saw she could do that. Well, that’s not something you need to worry about any longer. There’s nothing left of her but a crater in the grass.”
“Good! Stupid Spider-goblin. Come on, help me break their chains.”
Rain watched silently as the Elf-sheep scooped up their chains and tried to fruitlessly pull them from where they were attached to the wall. After a moment he sighed and grabbed up the chains with one paw, with a grunt he pulled them both from the wall with a shower of splinters then put the ends in the Elf-sheeps hands.
“Thank you, just a few more places to check now!”
Rain stepped toward the next stall as the Elf-sheep encouraged the terrified humans to their feet. They reluctantly followed, keeping the maximum distance from Rain that their chains would allow. The next stall was empty of people, although talon marks marred the walls, including a crudely made picture of a pair of wings plus a crown, below which someone had written ‘Harpy Reign’. In one corner was a shattered pair of chains, in the other was a pile of discarded clothing.
The Elf-sheep wobbled over to this.
“Oh! My clothes!! My precious stylish clothes! Oh, how I have missed you!”
She quickly snatched up a pair of shorts and wiggled into them and grabbed up a jacket and a few other things. She threw a pair of blankets at the pregnant women as Rain pulled on her chain and moved onto the next stall.
He had to stop as he entered as the stall was dominated by a very large and very pregnant pure blood Lamia, a human-like upper body with red hair and a green scaled serpentine lower body.
A snake tail coiled around his stomach and pulled him forward playfully.
“Oh? What’s this? Did the little Gobbos send me a new toy to play with? They could have at least cleaned you first, tch. Though these muscles, this build, ooh this isn't bad at all,” said the Lamia, as she ran the tip of her tail over his body.
“If you don't remove your tail you’re going to lose it snake.”
“Ohoho! He’s a spicy one! I likey!”
“You uh, know what I said about certain species dealing with captivity better than others...” said the Elf-sheep giving Rain the side eye.
Rain grabbed the Lamia’s tail which was trying to fondle his rear and threw it aside.
The Lamia had a significantly nicer stall than the others, an actual bed was in one corner as well as several trays of different foods, also unlike the other she had clothes, nice clothes. She was still collared and chained however.
“I’m here to take you home, you don’t have to stay here any longer,” said the Elf-sheep.
“Ah, really? That’s good I suppose. How about a little roll around in the sack first though?”
“No.” said Rain.
“Aw. But we could have fun!”
Rain grabbed her chain and hauled it from the wall then handed it to the Elf-sheep and started to make his way out, ex-prisoners in tow.
“What about you sheepy? I can do things with my tail that would make your fluff frazzle and your toes curl.”
The Elf-sheep jumped as the tip of the Lamia’s tail ran up her leg.
“Erm! I-I’m okay, th-thankyou for the offer though. I’m on the job and that would count as fraternization in the workplace, sorry!”
“Blegh. You’re no fun.”
“Aren't you at all worried about your pregnancy?”
“Oh, this? No, Lamia have the easiest pregnancies in the world, and all the little cutie Lamia-gobbos that come out make it more than worth it.”
“Uhhh…” said the Elf-sheep her eyes drifting to Rain’s blood covered back.
“I’ll have to say goodbye before we leave, they are so precocious and care so much for me, this really has been a wonderful experience, really broadened my horizons. I had no idea tribal monsters had become quite so civilized, why some of the things we experimented with in the bedroom would boggle the mind of Lamia high society. I will have quite the tale to tell when I return, and some rather fun demonstrations!”
“I already spoke to your offspring! They said they were happy to have a mother like you and wished you well but wouldn't be able to meet you!” blurted the Elf-sheep.
“Oh? That’s sad, I wanted to say goodbye,” pouted the Lamia.
“It happens,” said the Elf-sheep soothingly. “Sometimes stuff comes up. Don’t worry though I’m sure they will keep you in their hearts, and you know you can always send them a letter or something!”
“You think so?”
They emerged back into the light of the cavern and began walking through the grassy clearing. As they did so a red-scaled Kobold emerged from the treeline dragging a Goblin body by the arms. He pulled it across the grass and put it by a growing collection of Goblins, as of yet there were no Lamia-goblins visible to the Elf-sheeps relief.
“I didn't think you were serious about eating them all…”
“I like eating, particularly levelers.” He eyed the Elf-sheep’s body.
“I don’t count! And hey, why don’t you eat the Kobold?”
“He works for me, I doubt he’s happy about it though. Opal, another, is more like my partner, a Goblin. She’s more ruthless than I am, she won’t like that I’m letting you go, she'd want me to eat you.”
“Partner? She wants to work with you?”
“Very much so, and more than work.” He gave her a wolfish grin.
“Huh. That’s uh, brave... little bit reckless, just saying.”
Rain gave her a flat look.
“Wolves don't lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.”
Soon they were walking below the foliage of the tree line and they passed by several Harpy-goblin corpses until they passed the corpse of the Queen Harpy. She had survived a little while impaled on the Inquisitor’s sword and had dragged herself over to slump against a tree before she had expired.
“Oh my, I did wonder what had happened to her. She was a terrible apartment mate you know, dreadful screeching and she kept disembowelling her sexual partners and throwing their bits over our separating wall,” said the Lamia. “Terribly uptight, some people need to learn to live a little and stop chasing shadows.” She shook her head. “I could have predicted an end like this, I said as much at the time.”
“She was a monster, there's a reason levelers aren't huge fans of Harpies.”
“Yes, yes, I know but prejudices against tribal monsters are a real thing. Most levelers don't even consider them truly sapient. I plan on speaking in favour of some kind of outreach when I get back, I see such potential, really this ancestral memory of theirs is far underestimated, it changes everything. This isn't hundreds of years ago, things are different. I can smell change on the air!”
“Uh, I’m not so sure that will go over so well…” muttered the Elf-sheep.
“Just watch darling, I have rather a lot of influence amongst Lamia.”
Soon they reached the entrance and the stone disc.
Many of the bodies had been moved already but Rain still had to move one or two aside. He reached down and gripped the stone chock holding the disc in place and with a grunt pulled it free. He then set his back and heaved. With a grinding rumble the disc rolled to the side revealing the entrance cavern with the path winding through its middle.
“Oh gods, freedom!” said the Elf-sheep.
Rain growled and stepped close to her causing her to wilt and her legs to spasm in fear. He grabbed the chain manacling her wrists together and pulled her close.
“You’re going back to Lynthia, meaning you’ll speak to levelers. If you don’t want to make it onto my list then do not speak of me.”
“O-of c-course not! I take client confidentiality very seriously! My lips are sealed and welded shut one hundred percent!”
Rain gave her a searching look but he couldn’t tell if she was being genuine or not. He grabbed the metal bracelets on each wrist then began to pull them apart. The short metal chain holding the bracelets together squealed as it deformed before abruptly the rings came apart with a screech leaving her arms free to move as she pleased.
She took a moment to stretch her limbs and crack her knuckles until she noticed Rain’s gaze and blushed. She rushed to put on the jacket she had recovered from the breeding pens and cover up her chest.
“Ahem. Well, I shall be departing now. It was a terror meeting you, I mean uh, a pleasure. I thank you for your business and -”
Rain snarled and the Elf-sheep yelped and flinched away.
“-I -I guess we’ll be going now! Goodbye!”
She hurriedly pulled on the chains of the two Humans and the Lamia and they shuffled after her through the entrance and wasted no time rushing and slithering down the path.
Opal appeared at Rain’s side.
“Hey, are you really just going to let food go like that! Nasty levelers even?”
“You’re just watching a load of fat juicy steaks go wandering off, you can’t be serious!”
Rain ignored the Goblin and slunk from the entrance and into the nearest tree line. He made his way after the group of four hidden from sight, not difficult as they weren't particularly fast.
They eventually made their way to the exit from the cavern where the path ended. Rain watched from the shadows.
“Gods that was close, I really thought I was dinner for a moment there. Fucking scary wolf thing, that monster is going to be a threat to the local town I just know it, hell I wouldn't be surprised if they are already aware of a monster like that.”
“Oh he didn’t seem so bad, we’re alive aren't we?” mused the Lamia.
The Elf-sheep turned on her. “It wouldn't have been necessary had you not gone gallivanting off into the dungeon and gotten yourself kidnapped your Ladyship. You do know I came here for you yes? Your husband paid me to come and rescue you.”
“Oh? Well all's well that ends well I suppose. Back to regular life as it were.”
The Elf-sheep worriedly eyed her clearly pregnant belly.
She turned to the two Humans.
“I will take you as far as safety but no more, is that okay?”
One of them nodded furiously but the other simply looked scared.
“Oh poor things, I suppose they must have had a rougher time of it, Gobbos do need a strong hand at their worst, easier for some than others.”
“R-right. Well, for now let's make our way back. I need you to trust me on this part and not let go.”
She managed to get the trio in a line behind her and got them to link hands. She grabbed the hand of the Lamia at the front.
“Don’t be shocked, this is perfectly safe, though I’m not sure how long I can sustain it with so many, I’ll need to take breaks. On three. one, two, three.”
The group abruptly blinked out of existence.
Rain stared at the spot where they had been. Teleportation…? An extremely rare power, and unheard of to be viable with multiple people, it didn’t really fit with how the Elf-sheep had gotten captured however. As he watched he noticed a shift of dust and dirt near the exit. He narrowed his eyes. Invisibility. And not just invisibility for oneself, but others too, not only that but possibly near full invisibility if it covered the voice and removed most tracks as he suspected, he certainly couldn't hear them speaking any longer.
He suddenly felt a lot more regretful letting her go.