A Parting Blow
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"Up," Opalina shakes me by the shoulder, stirring me from my rest. "It's time to get out of bed for the day, my Dear. We have places to be!"

I rub the sleep out of my eyes, then arise. Upon first glance, I'm met with the painful realization that Opalina is not in my field of vision. This causes me to briefly recoil out of pain until my companion hands me my glasses. I slip them onto my face gratefully and turn towards her, seeing Opalina fully dressed and looking immaculate as ever. Today, the doctor adorns herself in a black, satin robe with fancy purple trim, a white sweater that fits oh so tight, an equally tight black skirt, and dark stockings. For the life of me, I can't imagine a sweeter sight to awaken to.

"Seems like you've been up for a while without me," I infer while stretching out and letting a yawn escape my throat.

"Yes. The thing is, despite your best efforts, you failed to put me in one of those 'sex comas' you men so often like to fantasize about." Opalina giggles as she looks down at me with playful eyes.

"This time," I make a point to correct her.

She raises her eyebrow, then smirks. "I had a couple of last-minute things to do. There were some choice words I wanted to impart Osbourne with and some business things I had to discuss with Solomon."

"Anything I need to know about?"

"No, nothing of the sort." The older woman smiles and extends a hand to me, helping me up. "Just a new magical variant of the cold going around that could use a cure, and I agreed to take a look."

"Sounds like a good use of your time. Speaking of, what time even is it? I feel like trash."

"It's a little after eight."

"Damn. I only had about four hours of sleep, then..." You would think I’d be used to experiencing a lack of rest from having too much sex by now, but I never seem to adjust.

"Should I have let you rest a tad longer?" She frowns and reaches down with her gloved hand to stroke her fingers through my hair.

"No, I want to get home already. There's so much to do, and I miss everyone... I'm just tired..."

"Fret not," Proud of herself for thinking ahead, Opalina puffs her chest out and proclaims, "You'll be delighted to know I already sent for coffee."

She makes it tough to rain on her parade, but I tell her, "I think I'll go without the coffee, actually," which causes Opalina to stare at me in open bewilderment. Uncertain if I am the man she knows and loves or just some poor imposter, I calm her fears by clarifying, "I'll have some when I'm back at the Guild. I was planning on swallowing my pride and asking you to put me to sleep for the ride back this time."

"Oh," She sighs, clutching her hand to her breast with exaggerated drama. "You just about gave me a heart attack, you silly little man. For a moment, I thought you might have bumped your head last night and forgotten your near-obsession with the bitter brew."

"I still could have hit my head," I lean in, smiling. "It's not often I say, 'you were right', either."

"True..." She smiles, then makes the first move and gives me a light kiss. When Opalina pulls away, I get a chance to stare her in the eyes. She blushes, and at that moment, I feel as if things have changed between Opalina and me. The distance between our hearts seems shorter than ever. Since she isn't used to being this open regarding her feelings, Opalina seems embarrassed about the fact yet also pleased beyond words.

She hands me my outfit, and I throw it on quick as can be. Before we go, the witch makes one last pass at some of the books on her shelves, and she flips through some loose notes before deciding she doesn't need any of them. We exit into the hallway, and I witness Bertrand emerging from the secret passage, delivering a cup of coffee in one hand and a breakfast sandwich in the other. The Chamberlain looks paler than last we met, and his face goes despondent as soon as he notices me.

"A-ah...!" He stammers, dropping the coffee cup onto the stone floor. It shatters, sending shards of glass every which way and a bomb of scalding coffee to burst out in all directions. I reach out and stop the sandwich from hitting the floor, at least.

Opalina groans, and I scrunch my eyes as he starts up with this crap again. I don't know where the bitchy Baron is going with this, but I'm dedicated to nipping it in the bud. "Begone, Butler. It's early, and I am exceedingly not in the mood for your bollocks at this current time." I say, then take a short series of bites from the sandwich.

"Goddess below, give me the strength to go on...!" The drama queen falls to his knees, sobbing. "Why has fate molded me into nothing more than a coffee fetcher for the cruel, sex-crazed peasant who has defiled my fair Lady's bare hand with his rapist’s lips!"

How does he even know about that? I look to Opalina for answers and find her cheeks turning red and her smile twisting crooked with malice. I don’t even need to ask... Opalina definitely told Bertrand because she thought it'd be funny, that damnable sadist. I can't deny that I feel a certain satisfaction from seeing the man reduced to such a comically pitiful state, though.

Knowing I'm responsible for his manic freakout, I finish my breakfast and squat right in front of Bertrand. Down here, we can look straight into each other's eyes. He recoils, acting as if my mere presence almost were poisonous to his lungs. Instead of backing off, I cup his shoulder in my hands. I’m tired of playing this game with Bertrand. Now’s the time to deal a fearsome blow to his morale in the hopes of ending it once and for all.

"I want you to do something for me, my friend. Will you listen to my final request?" He stares at me with growing skepticism, as does Opalina. To lower his guard, I play to his ego. "As Chamberlain to the great Duke of Arrark himself, surely you can put aside your distaste long enough to grant me this oh-so-simple favor."

As expected, he swallows down my sugared words like an addict looking for his next fix. "Y-Yes... why, yes. Of course, I can do that much! What sort of man do you take me for? Ask me anything you desire, Guild Master, and if it is within my power, I shall grant it to you!"

I change my expression to one much more threatening as I jab my finger into his heart. "That feeling of despair you've got stewing deep in your heart... that terrifying, unsettling dread you experience whenever you imagine Abigail and me together? Don't you dare go forgetting it. Your worst nightmare isn't something you can run from, Bertrand, no. Far from it. It's an inevitability. I suggest getting used to it now while you still have a chance."

The overpaid butler stares at me, his mouth gaping wide as his face drips with profuse and sickly sweat. Clearly, he is stunned and believes his current reality to be an unpleasant fever dream.  "Did I stutter?" I ask, snapping him out of it. Bertrand shakes his head back and forth out of fear, so I reward him with a smile. "Good. You're dismissed."

With such speed that could rival even Sir Pimpington himself, Bertrand crawls away from me. He screams a shrill scream as the realization that I fully intend on making Abigail my lover sinks in. I smirk, wipe the dust off my pant leg, and rise. Behind me, Opalina laughs and shakes her head.

"Good heavens..." She tsks, "Remind me not to mess with you before you've had your coffee."

"I wasn't going to leave without getting some sort of payback for the way he's been treating me, and this seemed more impactful than simply punching him in the face." Punching him still would’ve been cathartic, I won’t deny.

"I've taught you well," Opalina chuckles before strutting over to the Duke's door. "Now, come over here for a moment. Osbourne would like a word." I give her a skeptical look. “I know, I know... just be the bigger man and be cordial.”

Nothing I can really say to turn the request down. Despite all that happened, I don’t have it in my to leave without addressing my host. I nod my head to give consent, and Opalina knocks on the door. In no time at all, the ghostly-sounding man speaks from the safety of his room. "Guild Master... good morning to you."

"Something like that," I offer noncommittally. After the harsh words we exchanged the night prior, an air of awkwardness hangs this farewell and makes the situation uncomfortable. "What can I do for you, Osbourne? I really must be going, so I hope it doesn't take too long. My Guild needs me."

"Of course," He idles. "I hope that your stay in Dawnstead was to your liking."

"It wasn't much of a stay in Dawnstead so much as it was a stay in Castle Mourneheart. I can't say I had much of a chance to experience the highs and lows of the city for myself, but perhaps next time, there’ll be more time for sightseeing." I certainly would’ve liked to scrounge around in the adventurer’s market with a liberal sum of gold, for one.

"Right, right..." Osbourne's voice trails off, and I take a glance at Opalina. She's frustrated at the man as always, hoping he'll get to the point already.

Growing impatient myself, I get it over with by asking, "Is there something you wished to say to me before I leave?"

"Yes," The dark Duke sighs heavily. Even though I can't see his face, I sense him struggling with his inner thoughts. "I only wished to apologize again for my behavior and for the things I did to you."

"I see," I close my eyes and rub my brow, stress intensifying. "I'm alright. You should be apologizing to Abigail over the things you said, not me."

"Trust me, I already have. Apologizing to you is equally as important, however. As a gentleman, I'd be beside myself for missing the opportunity. Guild Master, my daughter and I are both fond of you. There's no mistaking it- you've seen a terrible side of me, and I would hate for you to remember me for my worst."

My thoughts pause as I consider everything I know about Osbourne Gloomcrest. I don't think he's a bad person, but he's complicated. The kindness he's shown me is unparalleled... yet I can't stand by as he perpetuates this toxic stranglehold over his repressed daughter. "I will remember you exactly as you presented yourself. While I'm open to changing my mind in the future, you should know it's hard to see any other side of you when there's a sturdy door positioned between us."

I give him a chance to grapple with my words before he gives me a rather disappointing, "True enough," with no indication that he wishes to change his habit. Osbourne speaks like a defeatist. It’s almost as if the door were a part of his body, and opening it would be tantamount to cutting his own flesh wide. "It was nice meeting you, and I pray that the Goddess below grants you and your Guild with the power to seize your fate."

I hold back a stressed sigh long enough to thank him, while behind me, Opalina giggles softly to herself. The doctor bids her passive-aggressive farewell to the Duke of Arrark. Opalina then nods her head over towards Abigail’s room, smiling.

I was dreading this moment, but I remind myself I won’t actually be saying goodbye. Not really. Walking over to the connected bedroom, I knock gently just in case Lady Gloomcrest is still asleep.

Sorry for the slight delay on this one, I was writing the outline for the Corruption of Coye vol 2 and wanted to get that done before anything else. It took a few days, ending up as a whopping 30 page outline. Vol 1 was a novella, but I'm aiming for this one to be feature length. We're talking at least 300 pages, so I had a lot of planning to do!

Worry not about this affecting the pace of RotGM. I literally have both series open in two tabs, and I've been switching back and forth between them.

Have some art I had made by my friend W.cross!

This is a WIP of volume 2's cover,




Volume 3's cover.