It doesn’t take long for the fire to spread enough to fill the tunnel with smoke, forcing me and Snow to retreat back up the stairs we just came from.
While going higher generally isn’t a good idea to get away from smoke, it works as long as we’re in the tower.
The smoke reaches the bottom of the stairs and then spreads out rather than ascend them. It’s like an invisible wall is there to block the smoke from getting up here.
So, at least we’re safe from that.
All that is left is to deal with Snow. Somehow.
Shit. I have no idea how I’m supposed to deal with a girl this panicked. I’ve only been in this sort of situation once before and I seriously fucked that up and made everything worse.
Dealing with Snow isn’t going to be an easy task.
I’m just happy that I was able to get her out of there. I was starting to think that she was going to go into the damn fire or just let it consume her, but she did eventually come with me after tugging on her ankle enough.
Had to bite her hard enough that I ended up cutting into her skin, though.
Her blood tasted… weird. I haven’t exactly tasted much human blood before. Sure, I’ve tasted my own blood back from when I was a human, and I might have accidentally gotten others’ blood in my mouth before, but that all more or less tasted the same. Even Elanah’s blood tasted similar to my old blood as a human.
But Snow’s blood?
There’s something weird about it. I don’t know what and I don’t even know where to begin guessing what the fuck could be up with it, but I do know there is something weird about it.
But all that really matters right now is that we’re not going to get burned alive.
Elanah should be safe in the gathering zone, too. So, we’re all safe.
Damn it. I shouldn’t have done something so stupid.
I need to stop getting ahead of myself. I seriously need to stop that. It’s just… I feel so much less fucking inhibited now. It feels like my self-control has been next to non-existent ever since I got turned into a puppy.
Then again, it’s not exactly like I had much self-control back when I was a human. If I did, I probably wouldn’t have spent all my money on women and alcohol.
Mainly gambling and women.
Back to the problem at paw…
She’s just sitting here on the steps holding her knees against her chest with her face buried into them. I can tell that she’s trying not to make it too obvious she’s crying. She’s doing a good job of it, but I can still tell since she’s shaking every now and then as the flames roar in the tunnel at the bottom of the stairs.
I was thinking that it might be better if we get to the top of the stairs where she won’t be able to see and hear the flames – and feel them since their heat is still making it into the stairwell even if the flames and smoke aren’t, but she really refuses to move now.
She’s just sitting here.
“Ya can’t just sit here crying forever,” I bark at her.
Yeah, that probably didn’t help at all. Telling crying people to stop crying never works.
But I always end up trying that for whatever damn reason.
Alright. What do I do? What is there that I, a grown man in a puppy’s body, can do?
I could always try talking to her about it. Would that work?
She can actually understand me, so it might work.
Alright. I just have to try and talk to her like how I’ve seen other people try to comfort the sad.
“Hey. If there’s uh, anything that ya want to talk about – maybe get it off your chest or something, then you can talk to me,” I tell her.
Yeah. That didn’t do anything. I didn’t even get a response.
“I’ll be here. It’s not like we have anything better to be doing right now. So uh, yeah.”
Even if she’s not talking back, it still feels nice to know I can at least be understood by somebody.
I should probably try to stop being so selfish. That’s part of why we’re in this situation in the first place. I let loose and selfishly acted out of my own interest.
But fighting against your own nature is damn hard.
Anyways, talking isn’t doing anything, so I don’t see what else I’m supposed to do. I’m just getting ignored which is actually kind of pissing me off even if it is nice knowing that she can understand me.
I should probably try to stop getting pissed off because somebody else is reliving trauma and ignoring me.
I’m starting to realize that I’m more of an asshole than I even knew.
Wait, there was that one time Elanah was upset. It was after we killed those two lovebirds who wanted to kill me.
How did I cheer up Elanah then?
How did I calm her down? I know that I did, but I can’t remember how.
I think… it definitely wasn’t with words since she couldn’t understand me at all.
Wait, I think I might remember.
Didn’t I… just let her hug me and use me as a tissue while she cried?
Yeah, and then it was after that when I had to lick her to try and help her heal a bit. That helped relax her, too.
I’m in a puppy’s body, so I might as well continue acting like a puppy if that’s what works the best.
I’ll just go ahead, stand up on my back legs, and try to lick the exposed part of her upper arms.
I finally get a reaction out of her.
Snow lifts her head a bit and looks down at me.
Shit, her eyes are red. She looks like a complete mess right now.
But, licking her is working.
I guess I’ll just continue doing this.
At least I’m not licking her where she’s bleeding like I had to do with Elanah.
Of course, nothing is ever this simple.
Snow… picks me up.
She holds my back in her arms, leaving me looking up at her, and then she buries her face into the fur of my neck.
Her face is right here, so I guess I should keep licking her?
It was working before, so I might as well keep on doing what works… right?
And… now she’s crying even more, but she’s not trying to hide it anymore. She’s just letting it all out – she’s letting all of her tears out into my fur, making the typical crying sounds of a woman, and shivering.
Something is weird again.
I don’t know how to explain it again. I’ve just got this weird feeling welling up inside of me and I know that it’s attached to her somehow.
And that feeling grows stronger and stronger.
It reminds me of when I felt the desire to kill strong enemies, but there aren’t any nearby enemies for me to kill, nor do I feel like killing right now.
I feel like protecting her?
This isn’t a natural feeling, either. This is definitely like that skill that makes me borderline suicidal.
“Sorry,” Snow whispers, finally done crying so much. “My father… I – when they attacked the palace, I… I could not do anything. I held him back. Instead of having the final battle that he lived his whole life dreaming about, he… sacrificed himself to save me. He put my own survival above his lifelong dream – his reason for living. For nothing. They still caught me. Because of me, he died by fire instead of in battle, and… I see him in every flame. I see him trapped underneath the burning debris telling me to run – to escape… to live. I… do not know what the point is. I even obtained his skill after he died. It was like the goddess herself wished to see me suffer – to remind me of his death every day for the rest of my life. Here I am… surviving with the skill of my father because of everybody else taking care of me.”
Well, shutting up and just letting her talk seems to be working the best and is answering some questions of mine.
Being a puppy is pretty powerful when it comes to getting people to open up. Even if they know that I’m actually a human in here, they still do it.
The only downside is getting my fur wet with tears.
But, getting my fur dirty for a little bit is worth it if it means not having to deal with her being so emotional and freaking out.
Besides, it sounds like something pretty fucked up happened to her. Even if I do think her emotions are annoying right now, I wouldn’t want anybody to relive any sort of trauma like that.
Except for that shithead me and Fane tortured. That bastard deserved whatever mental trauma Fane gave him.
“I… I wish that I could have saved him from the fire. I tried and burnt my hands, but the debris was too heavy, and… I failed. He burned alive for me only for me to fail and get caught anyways. He wanted me to run and hide to live peacefully – to live my own life, but… I couldn’t. All I do is let him down even now. I know that he would tell me to stop crying and to hold my head high if he saw me right now, but I don’t think I could do that even if he was here to tell me that. To think that the daughter of the Chaos Demon himself is such a weakling. Maybe if I was born a son like they all hoped for, then—”
“Your old man ever care about ya being a girl?” I ask.
I couldn’t resist. She was starting to say the kind of bullshit that pisses me off. There is only so much self-pity that I can handle before it pisses me off too much.
“Do ya trust him?”
“I do, bu—”
“Then it doesn’t really fucking matter, does it? Sounds to me like he’d be happy you’re still alive at all. He might be pissed off at whoever wronged you since then, but you’re alive, and you’re making it sound like that’s all he cared about. So, stop caring about what some bastards might’ve thought and care more about what your dad thought since it sounds like he’s the one you care about the most. It’s pretty stupid to not value his opinion over theirs if he’s the one you cared about.”
Well, I couldn’t resist running my snout.
According to history, I’m either going to get slapped, get told that I know nothing, or—
“I know,” she says. “He used to call me a ‘foolish girl’ whenever he heard me complaining about such things. Then he would go on a rant about how my mother was the ‘strongest being’ that he’d ever known, so being born a girl instead of a boy meant nothing. He even killed one of his retainers when he heard him saying that he should try with one of his concubines for a boy.”
Hang on now.
I have a feeling that there might be some information I’m not putting together that I should be.
She was in a palace with her father when they were attacked. Her father was supposedly known as… the… fucking Chaos Demon?!
Hang on now.
Just hang on for one fucking second.
Disregarding the palace, retainer, and concubine information…
Her father was the Chaos Demon?
The Chaos Demon as in the man who everybody has heard about? The man with an unparalleled fury who raged across battlefields and accidentally took over an entire fucking nation just because he wanted to find a good fight?
And he’s dead now? People were calling him the strongest man to ever live back when I was a human! They called him invincible! And he died to a fucking fire?
Well, shit. I can kind of understand why she might feel so bad now. Everybody knew of him and knew that his one goal in life was to find a strong enough enemy to defeat him in a duel. I mean, the crazy bastard literally united a nation and became its warlord of a leader by accident just because he kept on chasing after whoever claimed to be the strongest and refused to serve anybody. I remember people over here were worried that he was going to invade someday and take over the whole damn world searching for a good fight to the death.
I mean, her father was the conqueror of conquerors. He was the man who nobody could defeat. There were songs about him that went along the lines of, if he were to show up at a nation’s borders, they would be better off surrendering even if it’s an army of thousands against only him. It was better to surrender and give in to his demands than to even think about seriously fighting him, because there was no seriously fighting him.
But he died to a fire so that he could protect his daughter.
And his daughter is Snow.
Damn, information gathering as a puppy is easy. I wish it was this easy back when I was a human.
Why the fuck has Zurie decided not to share any of this information with me?! She had to have known that fire was going to set off this girl’s trauma, I have no idea what triggers her to go berserk, and I really would have liked to know beforehand that this girl is the Chaos Demon’s daughter!
I’m calling her out for the vague, important-information-withholding asshole that she is the next time I get to talk to her. Why the fuck did she think it would be a good idea to leave all of this out?!
And how am I supposed to improve my magic when with her if it’s going to set her off every time?
Zurie specifically gave me items that would boost my magic knowing that it was fire-based yet stuck me with a girl terrified of fire.
How does that make any sense?
The only possibility that I can think of is… that she wants me to help Snow get over her trauma. Somehow.
But why the shit would she think that I’d be good for that? I used to be a thief, not some goody-two-shoes helper who could make people overcome their trauma! I don’t know the first thing about that other than, apparently, letting girls use my fur as a tissue!
No. Maybe… maybe I am right for this.
I was able to get her to safety and calm her down. Zurie also seems like the type who wouldn’t want to force a goodperson to relive their trauma to make them get over it. Instead, she’d have somebody else do it – have somebody else do what needs done without necessarily telling them to.
She might not have given me the order to make sure this girl gets over her trauma, but I bet that she’s expecting it.
Other than that, she did tell us that Elanah was basically filling the role that Snow was meant to fill. Zurie wants me and Snow to become partners – to grow stronger together.
Helping her get over that trauma of hers is probably going to be a good way to build trust and grow together. I mean, it’s not like I necessarily care about that, but I’m betting that’s what Zurie is hoping for.
But what if I never acquired fire magic? What if I chose a different elemental evolution? What was Zurie’s plan going to be then to make Snow get over her issues?
And what if I died or refused to work with Zurie? Then what were the plans for Snow?
No matter how many lines of thought I chase and no matter how much I try to answer those thoughts with Zurie’s previous explanations, I always find myself coming back to one question.
One question that I just can’t get a fucking satisfying answer to.
Would this have happened to any bastard dumb enough to try and steal from her?
Damn it. I can’t let myself spend too much time trying to think about that.
She’s already answered that question for me twice before.
I’m just not happy with the answers she gave me.
For now, I have to focus on what’s happening around me. I have to focus on Snow and get us back to Elanah.
Demanding more, better answers from Zurie can come later after we do prove that we’re even better than she’s hoping.
If Zurie has so much planned out for us, we’re going to do so damn well down here that even she’s surprised when we get back to her.
“Listen,” I bark. “I need to increase my fire skills. That means you’re going to have to deal with it whether ya want to or not. Run away and hide from it if ya need to or face it head on. Either way, we are going to grow stronger, and I’m going to continue using fire. Call me an asshole if ya want but it’s not going to change anything.”
“Thanks,” Snow replies.
Seriously? She’s thanking me?
“The fuck are ya thanking me for?”
“I’m sure as fuck not.”
“You are. I believe it.”
“Well, ya believe wrong, because I’m being the opposite of kind right now. Ya know I’m telling ya that I don’t care if I traumatize you or not, right? That I’m going to keep on using my magic even if it makes you cry and freak the fuck out?”
“I know. I also know you’re doing it because you don’t want to coddle me. If you really did not care then you would not have warned me about it. You care.”
“You’re annoying. Can ya let me down now? You’ve been holding me for long enough I think, plus the flames are gone now. We’ve got a flat board to go meet back up with.”
Snow nods and sets me down on the ground next to her.
“Thank you. Again. I know that letting my emotions out like that is weak—”
“Let me guess, because it’s a girl thing to show your emotions or some stupid shit like that?”
“Partly because of that, yes, and partly because I know that emotions can be easily taken advantage of and show weakness.”
“And who taught ya that bullshit?”
“Get over your complex. I don’t give a shit if you’ve got a pussy or a cock down there and I don’t give a shit how emotional you are as long as you can get done what ya need to get done. Trying to hide your emotions and bottle them up is only going to make ya snap eventually and cause a bunch of misunderstandings.”
“I will keep that in consideration.”
“And now that I’ve actually got ya talking, I’ve got two questions. First, why the fuck are ya so afraid of fighting?”
“Because once I harm another… it is extremely difficult to stop. I lose myself to chaotic violence until I am satisfied, and I have no way of controlling what happens during that time.”
“So, it’s less that you’re afraid of being hurt and more that you’re afraid of hurting others?”
“Well, that answered my second question. Any idea how we can get ya to control that rage of yours?”
“I don’t know. My father never had the opportunity to teach me.”
Go fucking figure. “Alright, one last question since I just thought of it.”
“How come you’re so talkative now when you were being so quiet around everybody else before this?”
“Because I know my accent makes it difficult for them to understand me. It… is embarrassing to speak this land’s language so poorly.”
“The fuck are ya talking about now? Ya speak every bit as properly as that haughty vampire up there.”
“And you sound like you are speaking my language flawlessly.”
She’s able to communicate with animals, so we can both understand each other flawlessly. She still has to talk though for me to understand her, so she would either need to talk in—what I’m guessing—sounds like a broken language or in her native tongue. Around others, she’s worried about sounding embarrassing, and it’s not exactly good manners to talk in a foreign language around company who can’t understand it.
Not that I care. I’m guessing that Zurie and that butler have taught her some manners, though.
In other words, she can speak just fine when it’s only me and her.
I doubt that Elanah is going to be letting that happen again anytime soon.
“One more thing. Really this time,” I bark.
“What is it?”
“If ya have anything ya want to let me know by any chance, ya might as well let me know now. Or if ya have anything ya want to ask me.”
“Is it okay if I pet you sometimes?”
“Seriously? That’s what ya want to ask me?”
“Is… that weird?”
I mean, it’s not really weird seeing as how I’m a puppy, but, “Yeah, it’s weird. I don’t really care if ya do it or not, though. Just keep in mind that the board isn’t going to be too happy if she sees ya doing it. She gets jealous. And possessive.”
She nods and then we both look down to the bottom of the steps.
All that is left where the fire was are ashes and the green tips of new blades of grass growing up from underneath them.
The tower’s floor is already healing itself – it’s already regrowing.
It won’t even look like there was a fire by the end of the day.
Looking down the different paths… the fire doesn’t look like it spread too far. Not far enough to piss the tower off at least. I hope.
More immediate than that concern is a certain board that has spotted us.
One second passes. Elanah stares at me.
Two seconds pass. Elanah is running straight at us.
Three seconds pass. I’m being picked up by Elanah and hugged against her chest with her face rubbing down against the top of my head.
“Woofen! I was so worried! Are you alright? Were you burned at all? Did anything happen?” Elanah asks, and asks, and asks.
She doesn’t even care that Snow is here getting to listen in on how obsessive she can be.
But, she does turn her attention to Snow after seeing that I’m alright.
“What were you shouting earlier? I couldn’t understand you,” Elanah says.
“Sorry. That was my native tongue,” Snow explains.
I guess that when she was shouting about her father, she was shouting in her home’s language.
I understood her perfectly fine but I’m guessing that Elanah had no idea what she was saying.
Snow also made sure not to actually answer Elanah’s question.
“You both look alright,” Elanah says before returning to rubbing her face against me.
“He helped me,” Snow says.
“That’s because Woofen is the best. He’s helped me so many times before. He’s just… so perfect. He’s cute, handsome, smart, funny, helpful—”
Elanah trails off with a bunch of other compliments until she eventually just starts mumbling and holding me closer and closer to her face.
Apparently, being separated and making her worry was enough to turn her into this – to surpass all of her self-control.
Then again, she’s part abyssal elf. It’s not like she has much self-control in the first place.
Fortunately, she does let me down.
And then I immediately start coughing.
Being this low to the ground – any movement that any of us makes kicks up the ash, and I’m short enough that I breathe it in way more easily than them.
As much as I hate this… I paw at Elanah’s legs to get her to pick me back up.
I don’t want to choke to death because of the damn ash, nor do I want to be sick later from breathing in too much of it or anything.
Though, I’m not actually sure if I could get sick from something like that. I’ve been in bad shape before from inhaling too much smoke, but ash? No idea.
I only let her carry me until we get into the gathering zone. That’s when I start wiggling around to get let down.
Just like how the fire couldn’t spread up the stairs, it failed to spread into the gathering room, too.
Speaking of which, I can’t lie. It’s fucking pretty in here.
The grass is a much more manageable height, there are trees spread throughout the room, glowing chunks of stone near the walls, flowers colored with every color of the rainbow, and some hidden insects chirping away.
These overgrown floors might be a pain in the ass when it comes to exploring the actual tunnels, but the gathering zones here have always been my favorites. They’re just so damn serene.
But is one of the most important things here?
Looks like nobody has harvested it recently, either.
Standing near the center of the room is a wide tree full of hanging, pink fruits.
“Woofen! Where are you running to?” Elanah shouts, chasing after me as I run over to the tree.
I’m not going to be able to get the fruits myself.
Once under the tree, I look up at some of the fruits, look at Elanah, and bark.
“Do you want one of those fruits?” she asks.
“No shit I do,” I bark back and then nod for good measure.
Elanah takes one of her blades and uses it to carefully cut down some of the fruits.
One, two, three, six – I sink my fangs into the nearest, juiciest-looking fruit.
Explosive, juicy flavor spreads throughout my mouth.
Fuck me, this tastes just as good as I remember it tasting. Sweet, succulent, soft – the three S’s that, when combined, make for the best damn fruit that there is.
It also makes for the best damn wine, but wine made from these fruits takes forever and is so damn expensive.
“Woofen, I don’t think I’ve ever seen your tail wag this fast before. Does it taste that good?” Elanah asks, picking up one of the fruits for herself as I bite into my second fruit.
I don’t even have to watch her to know what her reaction will be.
I already know what it will be.
And I’m proven right as soon as I hear her moaning and swallowing behind me.
Now, normally, my mind would go to something far more perverted if I heard a woman moaning and swallowing. But when these fruit are lying around? No. There is nothing perverted about these delightful, flawless gifts from the tower.
I actually kind of feel bad for catching some of the floor on fire now. If I would have remembered these fruits being here instead of getting caught up in the battle, I never would have risked catching the tower’s floor on fire.
Wait. Do I feel worse for the tower than I do for Snow all because of some fruit?
I really am a horrible person.
Some delicious fruit is all that it takes for me to care more about an asshole, wonderful tower instead of a girl who has been traumatized and lost her legendary father to a fire.
Alright, maybe I don’t actually care more about the tower than her, but still. These fruit are just so damn good!
“Let’s take more of these, Woofen. I have space in my bag for the rest of these, and we can just eat whatever we can’t take with us,” Elanah says.
That sounds like a good plan to—
This is still a gathering zone, you board! Monster spawns are going to get triggered if you gather enough, and these fruit absolutely count as gathering!
I start barking at her to try and get her to stop, but she doesn’t stop.
“You must be excited! Don’t worry, I’ll cut them all down for us. It’s not like we need to leave any for anybody else,” Elanah says.
Snow speaks up to say, “He’s trying to tell you to—”
The ground rumbles.
Now there is a pissed off tree with wooden tentacles sprouting up from the ground wanting to kill us.
At least we should be able to safely gather the rest of the fruit if we kill it.