Luka's Story-Paradox

BY : Ditmag
Category: +M through R > Monster Girl Quest
Dragon prints: 779
Disclaimer: Monster Girl Quest Paradox is the intellectual property of Tortorro Restistance. I make no money from this.

Author's note: I didn't intend to begin publishing this soon, so for now I'm just posting it here in response to Breadhouse wanting to see it. This one will be LONG and will take awhile, and I wasn't really ready to really get into it, so updates might not be as fast as you're accustomed to. But when a fan wants something, I give it to them, so here you go. Oh, and if anyone is jumping in here, I depart from canon quite a bit, so you'll need to read the first four Luka's Stories to understand what's going on. Sorry about that.

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I was about to finally know peace. After one thousand years of life, two wives, only two children but hundreds of descendants, both monster and human, and another thousand years of my soul being entrapped in a statue of…. Myself(very funny, Ilias!) I was finally going to pass on to the other side. I wondered what it would be like. My centuries of entrapment had not been the torture it had been for Heinrich. Ilias hadn’t done it out of malice. She had been motivated by feelings similar to Eden’s so many centuries ago when she sent me back in time to prevent me from dying of old age. Ilias was just not ready to let go.

I had a strong sense of satisfaction that I’d changed her for the better. That had been my true superpower ever since I’d come to this world. I’d never learned how to use my innate magical power very well. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t even tried to use it in centuries. While the potential was still within me as it had been even before I arrived in this world, I had let the “muscles” atrophy. That hadn’t been Alice’s fault, or Granberia’s. Both had pushed me to maintain my skills, Alice out of caution, Granberia because she wanted someone to fight. Tamamo, on the other hand, had encouraged me to relax and enjoy life. Worry about tomorrow when tomorrow came. If tomorrow ever came. “Tomorrow”, as it turned out, had come long after I was dead. My prudence in ensuring that my power could still be used after my death to protect the world had been the best idea I’d ever had. I hoped so, anyway. Moving on to the next world, or next life, or the afterlife, or whatever awaited me, I would never know if the world had been saved. I hadn’t even been told precisely what the danger was.

They say that when you pass on, such worldly concerns are meaningless to you. Maybe it was because I hadn’t arrived yet, that I was merely transitioning, that I didn’t feel that way. I still had immortal friends on that world. I was worried for Tamamo, and Eden, even Ilias and Alipheese. And all the people who lived on that world, many of whom, perhaps thousands, were my blood relatives. Maybe when I got to wherever I was going, I’d be free of such concerns. Would I see all of my loved ones again? If I did, would they only be loved ones from this world, or from my world as well?

I wasn’t consciously moving, but I was drawn inexorably towards a light. It wasn’t even all that bright. Maybe it didn’t hurt my eyes because I didn’t have physical eyes? I wondered what would happen when I reached that light. It seemed so welcoming, so comforting. My eagerness to find out what was next grew.

As I got closer to the light, it seemed to fluctuate, as if troubled. People who had reported near death experiences had testified in many cases that this meant they were about to be thrust back into their bodies. That seemed impossible to me, given that my body had long since become dust.  Perhaps what I was seeing was just flickering.

Tendrils of light seemed to reach out for me. They felt warm and comforting. My anticipation grew.  It was time to enter eternity. Before too long I was wrapped completely in that light. That close to it, it finally became difficult to bear, so I closed my eyes, ready to open them in… heaven? I couldn’t wait to find out.

 

 

I opened my eyes. I was lying In bed. I was so startled and surprised that I rolled right out of the bed and landed with a hard thud onto a hard wooden floor. Ouch! This sure didn’t feel like heaven! As a matter of fact, this place looked like my room in Ilias Village? Not exactly. The layout and size of the room were different, but it was decorated and organized the way I would have done it.

Now I was getting worried. Instead of dying, had I jumped to an alternate world? I had some experience with parallel worlds. I knew enough to understand that my body didn’t have to jump, although sometimes it did. My soul was sufficient to make a jump, landing in the body of a variant of mine, another Luka. Had Justin done this? Did he need me for something? I was a bit cranky at the thought, since I’d lived a long time and had just been about to enter the afterlife, whatever that was. Although I hadn’t saved the world in nearly two thousand years, I felt that doing so three times was sufficient to claim that I’d paid my dues. Five times, since I’d saved Ariana’s world twice!

I picked myself up off the floor and went to a mirror. Yep, that was me! Not that I expected any different. Whenever I’d jumped to a parallel world, I was always me. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed Quantum Leaping into various people. It was bad enough that I was taking over the life of another Luka again.

I opened the door to exit the bedroom. No, this wasn’t a house at all. It was a small inn. Not terribly surprising, since some Luka variants had had a small house, and others ran a small inn. I was now convinced that I was jumping again. Would I keep on jumping for all eternity? Was I here in this one world for a reason? Or was this actually the afterlife?

The only way to answer such questions would be to explore this world a little more. Little could be learned from this small inn. I decided to take care of some basic needs, like eating and urinating and bathing, and then head out. Maybe I’d encounter Lime and Alice again. Ah, Alice! She had died eight hundred years before me. She had been my first true love. I’d later married Tamamo, and she had been in many ways a better wife to me. And yet, Alice was the one I had loved first, and most.

I made a quick meal, since my stomach was empty and supplies were abundant. Next, I relieved myself and hopped into the shower. It was obvious that this world I’d been transported to was similar to Alice’s world when I’d first arrived. Most technology was medieval, but they had fairly modern sanitation, which meant toilets and showers. I know that we in the modern world take things like the internet and electricity for granted, but if you had to give all that up, and still had toilets and showers, you’d be in pretty good shape. Using chamber pots and outhouses sucks!

What was unusual, however, was how warm the water was. During the two years I’d spent in Ilias Village upon my arrival in that world, there had been no way to heat showers conveniently. So I’d gotten used to taking them cold. So already I was spotting one difference. Apparently, this inn had a hot water heater somewhere. Interesting.

My thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the shower curtain being roughly opened. Startled, I stared directly into the liquid eyes of a slime! I was embarrassed that I screamed. For all my power, I was a big sissy sometimes. I got myself under control and cautioned myself that I was in a new place. I didn’t yet understand the rules. If a slime girl was in this inn, she probably had a good reason. Maybe in this world she was Luka’s girlfriend? Or maybe even his wife?

“Luka!” the slime girl shouted. “Hans has been kidnapped by a bad slime!”

Hans!? My jumps to alternate worlds had often begun with the alarm sounded that a monster was headed for the village. Hans had usually been the one to sound the warning. But this time he’d actually been taken?! I dashed past the slime girl and frantically got into some clothes. While Lime was a sweetheart, rape was never justified. It had been the ultimate blind spot for monsters until Alice and I had changed things.

The slime girl followed me around as I got dressed and cast about for a weapon. Wait, I don’t need a weapon! I thought. Forget the weapon!

“Luka, are you sure you can handle this?” the slime asked, concern in her voice.

“I think so,” I said uncertainly, still not sure what a slime was doing in my inn. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Lime,” she replied, now seeming very weirded out by me. “I know that many of us look alike, plus we like to change our forms a lot, but do you know any other slimes who would barge into your inn and come get you out of the shower?”

But if Lime was in the inn with me, who had kidnapped Hans? And why was Lime so familiar with me? Was she my girlfriend? I began to get that feeling I’d get on some of the worlds I’d jumped to. The feeling that something was very different about this place. I decided to focus on the one thing that was the same. I was the hero, and I had to save Hans!

I dashed outside. The village was in a panic, which I’d seen many times before, but what was a shock was the presence of slimes everywhere, running around in circles! The slimes seemed even more frantic than the humans. I stopped one of the slime girls.

“Do you know where Hans has been taken?” I asked, trying to get her to calm down enough to tell me.

“They took him to the top of the hill right outside the village!” she panted. “I’m a good slime, honest! But sometimes Bunny…. She just gets so mean!”

So that was why the slime girls were so afraid! They may have feared that the humans would hold this Bunny’s actions against all of them. All the more reason to stop her. I knew the hill the slime had been talking about. I could get there quickly. I prayed that Bunny and her apparent conspirators(the slime I’d questioned had said ‘they’ after all), hadn’t already raped Hans. If this village accepted slimes, one of them raping a human would jeopardize the peace of the village. And if there’s one thing I always tried to do, it was create a more peaceful world for monsters and humans to coexist in.

I ran out of the village, ignoring the shouts of people I knew to not get involved, to let the soldiers handle it. If the soldiers here were like the soldiers in every other world I’d been in, Hans would be drained dry by the time they got their shit together. As I ran towards the familiar hill, I saw numerous other slimes outside the village, some of whom shouted encouragement to me. Others looked frightened and concerned. A particularly concerned looking slime girl was waiting at the other end of a bridge over a small ravine that I had to cross to get to the hill.

“You’ve got to hurry!” she urged. “Bunny and her friends aren’t going to be gentle with poor Hans!”

I nodded and ran past her, trying to decide whether to climb up or use the path, which was further away but easier. Maybe I should fly? It had been so long! I stopped and tried to concentrate, remembering what it felt like to have Sylph in my heart. I’d had no reason to call on the spirits in centuries. I found that I’d forgotten the feeling. I tried calling to Sylph, but there was no response. I hadn’t expected one, given that in this world, Luka had not contracted with Sylph. Great.

Just as I’d decided to take the path, I heard a loud BOOM! near the base of the hiil! Now?! I thought. What happens if I stop to talk to Alice before rescuing Hans? I missed Alice so much! I didn’t want her going off on a journey without me. Well, she was on the way, so I would just have to make the conversation quick and tell her I’d come back as soon as I’d rescued Hans.

What I found at the base of the hill was not Alice. A small, angelic form was in a crater on the ground, face down was the sight that greeted me instead. This was getting very confusing. I gently turned the small form over. The eyes popped open and I recognized the face of Ilias immediately, despite her reduced size. Like Alice when I’d first found her in the forest, she popped up instantly, and even floated in the air for good measure.

“Who are you?! Where am I?!” she asked, in a tone that demanded immediate answers.

“Ilias,” I began. “My name is Luka and you’re just outside of Ilias Village.”

Even though it had been called Luka Village for centuries, it never ceased to make me uncomfortable, so I’d never really internalized the name.

“Luka?!” Ilias said. “What am I doing here?!”

“That I don’t know,” I admitted. “You don’t remember anything? You don’t know how you got sealed?”

“Sealed?” the little goddess asked, looking even more confused than before. She materialized a mirror out of nothing and stared into it. “I… I’m little! Who did this to me!? Was it Black Alice? Promestein? The Dark God?”

“Did someone put the Six Ancestors’ Seal on you?” I asked.

“How do you know about that seal?!” the goddess demanded to know. Hoo boy. I’d have to be careful not to be too loose with my words, lest I have to say the same phrase over and over again. The phrase being:

“It’s hard to explain,” I said. I hadn’t had to say THAT in a very long time. At least one thing had been confirmed. “So how do you know me?”

“I’ve been keeping my eye on you for some time, boy,” Ilias replied haughtily. “You’re going to do something for me. But right now I have bigger problems, so we’ll be talking later.”

With that, she flew off. I considered chasing her, but decided that Hans was a much bigger priority at the moment.  I resumed running, thankful that I’d kept up my cardio in my later years. Wait, did that even matter, given that I was in a new body, even if it did feel like my own? Questions to ponder another time. I passed many more slimes on the way up the hill, none of whom interfered. It seemed that some bad slimes had done something on their own, and the good slimes were too timid to oppose her. I’d have to be careful. The slime that had kidnapped Hans could be powerful if the other slimes weren’t intervening.

I arrived at the top of the hill, breathing hard, to find Hans surrounded by three slimes. It appeared that they hadn’t started to drain him yet, as he still had his clothes on. Clearly I’d arrived just in time.

“Hop, hop!” a pink slime that looked more powerful than the others said. “Gonna make you slop!”

Ah, the bad old days, when monsters told you in gory detail what they were going to do to you before doing it. At least it had bought me time to reach Hans. One of the pink slime’s companions shouted a warning, causing her to turn towards me.

“Oh, you look much tastier than this villager!” the pink slime said. “Hop, hop, gonna make you slop too!”

“Yay!” one of the blue slimes cheered. “More to eat!”

Now my views towards dealing with monsters like this had changed a lot over the years. Even though the world I had previously inhabited was a world in which monsters and humans mostly got along, there were still wild monsters, and occasionally bad monsters, who would attack people. Since critical ecstasy had ceased to have meaning for me once I’d figured out how to use my power to recover my strength, unless a monster was truly evil I tended to simply offer myself up as a substitute for whomever they were attacking. Some great sex and some conversation later, and I usually had the monster expressing remorse for their actions. Sometimes I judged their character poorly, and they would triumphantly stand over me and tell me they were going to eat me, but a quick activation of my power and my sword in my hand would make them reconsider their actions.

So normally, I would handle something so harmless as a few wayward slimes by just letting them feed off of me instead of the unwilling Hans. The problem was that not only was I out of practice with my power, I could barely even feel it. I wasn’t sure that I could recover from critical ecstasy, and while this slime called Bunny didn’t seem too threatening, she didn’t seem terribly nice either. I would have to use force.

“You know you’re not supposed to be kidnapping humans, Bunny,” I warned, bluffing in that I was pretending to know what I was talking about. I’d simply heard other slimes say it, so therefore it must be true. “I’m sure there are plenty of willing men for you to eat.”

“There are too many slimes in Iliasville!” one of the slimes protested. “There aren’t enough men to feed us anymore! Hans here never feeds us!”

“It’s against my religion!” Hans protested. “It’s not that you ladies aren’t lovely, it’s just that I believe in Ilias’ commandments!”

“And that’s why we won’t go easy on you!” Bunny retorted. “Gonna make you slop ten times!”

Hans gasped. I got an erection. For those of you who haven’t been following my adventures and just decided to tune in because you saw Paradox in the title, monsters can make you ejaculate many, many times, because something about their natural magic makes you have no refractory period. So you can keep on coming again and again, and it never stops feeling amazing. Being promised ten orgasms when you know you can probably survive the experience is always arousing if it’s not against your religion. Sadly, I couldn’t trust this mean little cuss of a slime and I couldn’t be sure I could call on my magic to save me.

“I tried to take on this rabbit girl form to get men to want me more than the other slimes, but it’s not working, dammit!” Bunny slime said, interrupting my thoughts.

“In fairness, Bunny, you don’t look that much like a bunny girl,” I tried to say gently. It was true. She’d sprouted a couple of ears, but that was about as far as her “disguise” went. If anything, she looked LESS attractive now than the blue slime girls. No wonder she was desperate! “Look, let Hans go and we can talk about it. Maybe I can help.”

“You’ll help by feeding my belly!” Bunny exclaimed, and attacked, hopping towards me with her hands outstretched. I instinctively grabbed her hands, and realized a second later how foolish that was. The rest of her body stretched to absorb me.

Realizing that I was starting to get into trouble, I reached for what little power I could grasp and surged it into Bunny’s body, intending to give her a painful rebuke that would make her decide to find something better to do. I found out to my horror that just because I could only reach for a little, didn’t mean I got only a little.

Bunny exploded, sending pieces of herself splattering against not just me, but Hans and her two companions as well. For a second, no one said anything. I, and everyone else, just stood around in shock. Then one of the slime girls screamed. And kept screaming. The other was a little more articulate.

“You meanie!” she exclaimed. “All she wanted was to make you come a few times! She wasn’t a bad slime! She wasn’t going to hurt you! Maybe it was wrong for her to force Hans, but you didn’t have to murder her!”

“i….I didn’t intend to….” I stammered. Hans took the opportunity to split as one of the slimes continued to scream and the other slime looked at me accusingly. Then I got an idea. “Wait! She’s a slime! She’ll be fine!”

“No she won’t!” the slime that had been screaming exclaimed. “She’s not a powerful slime! She’s just Bunny! Bunny’s dead! WAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!”

“No!” I yelled with realization. “I can heal her! Trust me! Gather up all of her pieces and put them in one place on the ground!”

The slimes looked at me as if I was nuts but weren’t about to refuse an opportunity, however fantastical, to get their friend back. A good portion of Bunny was already on and inside the blue slime girls, so they simply expelled what they had onto the ground. I pulled Bunny’s slime off of myself as well, then assisted the slimes in gathering up the pieces of her that were on the ground. Once the pieces were all together, they merged without any further assistance into a big pile of glop. I waited, hoping that Bunny would emerge from that pile, but she did not. It was just a dead mound of slime.

As the other slimes watched, I placed my hands on the dead slime and imagined her as she was before. To my satisfaction, I could still do that. I may not have used many of my skills over the centuries, but I still got minor cuts and bruises, as had Yamatai villagers from time to time. This, I could still do without much strain. Soon enough, the slime was beginning to transform into sentient slime, taking shape. A head, a torso, legs, a face, and finally, bunny ears popped out of her head. The other slimes were astonished.

“What kind of human are you?!” the slime who had been screaming asked. “No human has that kind of power!”

“First you blow her up, then you heal her!” the other said. “Incredible! And scary!”

For her own part, Bunny looked up at me weakly. “Wha happened? I feel like I got all beat up. Did you beat me up? Meanie.”

“I’m afraid so, Bunny,” I said apologetically. “You just can’t go and attack humans, okay? Maybe just… pick a different form to try to attract males.”

“If you say so,” Bunny replied. “I guess I have to be good now since you beat me up. No more kidnapping humans.”

I sighed with relief. Bunny was alive and this world worked the same as all the others when it came to monsters. If you defeated them, they would respect you. My first mini adventure in who knew how long had ended well, although with quite the scare. I had killed before, once intentionally, once accidentally, and I hated it. I wasn’t sure what I would have done had I killed this cute, if misguided, slime.

Bunny seemed to be fine, her friends continuing to minister to and comfort her. I decided to see if I could learn more about my situation. I’d dropped into alternate worlds before, but never with so much going on at once. In my past jumps, most of what I’d seen had been familiar. But this world was giving me Ariana vibes. There was enough here to be recognizable, but it seemed that the differences could cause me a lot of trouble if I went into situations with too many assumptions. Having Ilias fall from the sky instead of Alice drilled that fact into me as surely as running into a non-Monster Lord Alice has so many years ago, on a world that had looked superficially like this one.

I began the walk back to the village, trying to think of what to do next. How had I been brought here? Why was I brought here? Why am I even alive? Wait a minute, I realized. I was thinking of questions that had no answers for the time being. I needed to think about what to do to get answers, answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask yet. I decided to go back to the inn that this world’s version of me apparently owned. Although I hadn’t owned an inn, I’d run into Lukas who did. There might be clues in the inn that would tell me something about this world. Information I might get without having to learn the hard way.

“Hey, you there!” a small voice said, interrupting my thoughts as I trudged back down the hill. The voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it. I looked towards the source of the voice. Then I realized why I hadn’t immediately recognized it. The voice belonged to a small blue lamia with long silver hair. My heart nearly stopped in that moment as the centuries felt more vast than any mortal man should be able to bear.

“Boy,” the blue lamia I knew to be a sealed version of Alice said to me. “Have you seen a rabbit around here?”

“Alice….” Was all I could croak out. The little Monster Lord tilted her head quizzically.

“How do you know my name?” she asked.

I pulled myself together as best as I could under the circumstances.  This was not my Alice. My Alice died many centuries ago. This was an alternate Alice. 

“It’s….. hard to explain,” I stammered. That was another thing I hadn’t had to say in a long time. I mentally prepared myself to say it a whole bunch more. That was a phrase that was probably going to be said frequently.

“Do I know you?” Alice asked. “I feel like I should know you, but that’s impossible. You’re the first human I’ve ever seen.”

“A sense of déjà vu?” I asked.

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It… doesn’t matter. There’s a slime at the top of the hill who looks like a rabbit.”

“A slime that looks like a rabbit?” Alice sighed. “I’m pretty sure that’s not the one I’m looking for, but I’ve got no better leads right now. I suppose a slime powerful enough could disguise herself as a rabbit. Thank you for the tip, boy. What’s your name, by the way?”

“It’s Luka,” I said, my heart welling up with emotion. I prayed that she would leave and also prayed that she would never leave.

“Luka? Now I really feel that I should know you. Are you famous?”

“I…. I really don’t know.”

“How would one not know if they are famous or not?”

“Like I said, it’s hard to explain.”

“You are a mysterious sort,” Alice mused. “I’d stay and learn more about you, but at the moment I have more urgent matters to attend to.”

“Like removing the Six Ancestors Seal that’s on you?” I blurted out in a fit of trying to be helpful, or perhaps subconsciously I really didn’t want her to go. I must have feared that if she left that our paths would never cross again.

“How in the world…?” Alice asked in surprise. “You know what, one mystery at a time. But don’t go far, Luka. I’m going to have some questions for you, and very soon!”

I considered following her as she dashed off, but she was moving much too fast for me to have any chance of keeping up with her. I had no reason to worry, however. Even in that diminished form, Bunny was no threat to her. I doubted Bunny was even who she was looking for. I couldn’t imagine what business the Monster Lord would have with a slime in Ilias Village. I decided to continue back to the inn. This world’s Alice was now quite interested in me, She would find me very easily, as easily as she had the first time.

I arrived back at the inn and was disappointed that Alice wasn’t already there waiting for me. Well, she had something else going on with Bunny, I was sure she’d be coming around soon enough. But what if she didn’t? I slapped myself in the face, hard. She is not your Alice, idiot! I scolded myself. If  you are here in this world to do something involving her, fate, or Justin, or whoever, will see to it that our paths cross. For the moment, I had to figure out why I was where I was.

I went upstairs to the room I had awakened in and looked around. If there’s one thing I had noticed in all of the worlds where I’d jumped right into the middle of an alternate Luka’s life, it was that we all thought alike for the most part. Same decorations, same room layout, same…. Bingo! Journal. Oh. This Luka called it his diary.

A quick word on journals. I’d always wanted to keep a diary ever since I was a kid. I’d done it briefly and then lost interest in it many times. But when I arrived in a fantasy world without my memories, it had become a habit to keep a journal to record thoughts and memories that I recalled. The idea was to help me get my memories back, plus I wanted to write things down so that if my amnesia became a chronic condition I would have something to refer to.

I hesitated to open the diary. These were the private thoughts of a person who may have looked like me and thought like me, but wasn’t actually me. Would it be an invasion of his privacy? Making a decision, I opened the book to the first page. The information in the diary could be vital to whatever purpose I was serving by being on this world. If all Lukas thought basically alike, I knew that this Luka would forgive me, even support what I was doing.

Scanning the first page, the immediate information that jumped out at me was that the Luka of this world had been born there, to a father named Marcellus and a mother named Lucifina. Lucifina? No, there had to be many Lucifinas in every world. Still, I decided to file that information away in case it was important.  As I read on, I smiled at my counterpart’s optimistic worldview. He was also quite religious. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, since he had been born here and the Ilias faith was the dominant religion on nearly every world I’d ever been on. As I quickly read on, the story got sad, however. His mother had died. His father, a hero, had disappeared. Ah, and something very different…. There had been something called a Great Disaster. Ilias had not been heard from in thirty years and strange holes in the ground had appeared all over the world. Was it related to his father’s disappearance?

Luka also had a childhood friend who was apparently quite abusive and bossy. I smiled. The descriptions reminded me of someone I once knew.  Wait, she used magic? There were many entries of this Sonya beating Luka up and then healing him. Humans using magic was uncommon on any world I’d been on. Was she just exceptionally gifted, or was magic use by humans common here?

As I read on, quickly, because I expected Alice to arrive at any moment, I arrived at the part where Luka was going to begin a journey. But this journey seemed to have a different purpose. He wanted to find his father rather than promote coexistence between monsters and humans. I remembered seeing the slimes living among humans right here in Ilias Village. Perhaps this world already had coexistence? Yet this world’s Luka was still drawn to questing, and had a very personal reason for doing so. I couldn’t imagine that my purpose here was simply to find one boy’s dad. This world’s Luka could have done that for himself.

“Luka!” a voice shouted. I quickly turned and was disappointed to find that it wasn’t Alice. I had no idea who it was, actually. She was a young lady, human, of modest height, with shoulder length brown hair. She seemed to be in priestly garb.

“Yes, can I help you?” I asked politely.

“What the hell are you still doing here?!” the girl demanded to know. “You’re late for your baptism!”

“Excuse me, and you are….?”

The girl glared at me, but after a moment her face changed to one of deep concern. She began feeling around my head for bumps.

“I know you went to go save Hans,” she said while examining me. “Did you get hurt? You should have waited for the soldiers, but I guess it would be futile of me to expect you to actually do that. You never could ignore a cry for help. Did you get hit in the head? Did you fall?”

“No, I’m fine,” I said, realizing that perhaps I should have lied. But in all my centuries of life, I never had quite learned how to lie well. “It’s… hard to explain. So, who are you?”

“I’m Sonya, your childhood friend!” she said angrily, removing her hands from my head and grabbing my shoulders, looking as if she wanted to shake me. “You have to be hurt! No one forgets their childhood friend!”

“Oh! You’re Sonya!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, Sonya!” she replied, exasperated. “Now come on, get your ass to the temple! They aren’t going to wait for you all day! The only reason the priest is waiting for you now is because you were doing something heroic. You have an excuse! But you can’t just hang out in your inn and mosey on over there whenever you decide it’s time! Come on!”

She began dragging me out of my room and down the stairs. I dropped the diary on a table downstairs, and lacking any better ideas, began to whine.

“But I can’t get baptized!” I objected.

Sonya kicked open the front door and dragged me outside. “Now I know you hit your head!” she growled. “You’ve been wanting to get baptized forever! It’s how you become a real hero!”

“But I don’t want my semen to taste like angel liver!”

That stopped her. She turned around to face me.

“What?! Why would you mention semen to me on the way to the temple?!”

She began inspecting my head again.

“This is really hard to explain,” I said. “But I can’t get baptized. I just can’t!”

“Luka, it’s not even a real baptism!” Sonya retorted. “Ever since Ilias disappeared they don’t do real baptisms anymore. It’s just a ceremony! Now stop resisting me and let’s go! We are SO late!”

This Sonya was a force of nature, not one to be denied, so I let her drag me all the way to the temple with little further whining. As long as there wasn’t going to be a real baptism, I decided I could let them have their little ceremony. It was better than trying to explain the unexplainable to Sonya. Besides, best to get it over with as soon as possible so that I could get back to waiting at the inn for Alice’s inevitable appearance.

Once we entered the temple, she let go of me, giving me a look of warning that I was to behave myself or there would be serious consequences. Presumably involving a large club, which I’d read she used often to beat Luka when he made her mad. Although I’d never been religious myself, I respected religion enough to know how to comport myself when in a place of worship. I stood a little taller and walked down the aisle towards the waiting priest. He greeted me with a broad smile.

“Luka, getting an early start on being a hero!” he said jovially. “Ever since you were a little boy you were the first to run to someone’s aid when they were in trouble! But this is the first time you really saved someone! Word has already spread through the village!”

“Thank you, sir… um… your Holiness,” I stammered.

“Now, let’s get on with the ceremony,” the priest said.  “Sonya, the holy water, please.”

Sonya handed the priest a small glass of water.  The priest simply poured it onto my head. I waited for him to say a prayer or something.

“That’s it,” the priest said. “Hope it wasn’t too much of a letdown. In the old days, this would be the part where the Goddess herself would descend from Heaven to meet you.”

I once didn’t believe in goddesses.  Experience had taught me otherwise. Where had Ilias gone? Was my sighting of her in sealed form the first time she’d been seen in thirty years? Should I tell the priest? Before I could collect my thoughts, I heard Ilias’ voice.

“Luka…. Hero Luka… Can you hear my voice?”

“It can’t be!” the priest exclaimed. “That voice…”

The goddess shimmered into view right in front of us. The priest and Sonya were slackjawed, astonished. I was equally surprised, mainly because I had just seen Ilias in sealed form. Had she unsealed herself in time to show up to my baptism? Was getting me baptized all part of some new diabolical plan on her part? Or maybe she was just playing a prank on me? Make my semen taste like angel liver so that I’d have to go to the trouble of unbaptizing myself somehow with my power? That might take awhile.

“Luka,” Ilias began. “The world is teetering on the edge of ruin. Even as we speak, the darkness covering it is spreading faster and faster. The only one who can thwart it is you, Luka. You’re the very last hope this world has. As I am now, I don’t have enough power to baptize you. Its taking everything I have just to get you this message. But even without a baptism or blessing, you’re a true hero in my eyes.  I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate that sooner, my unblessed hero.”

“Wait… You’re MY Ilias?!” I asked frantically. “Ilias, how can this be? You had nothing to do with this? What do I need to do?”

“Luka, please save…. This world….”

Almost as if she was a Star Wars hologram, her form began to show static and her words became too garbled to understand. Then suddenly, she winked out, as if her attempt at communication had been cut off. Had Ilias sent a message from my world to this one? And if so, why did she even care? Was whatever was wrong in this world affecting hers?

“Ilias, I never lost faith in you,” the priest said reverently, getting down on his knees where Ilias had appeared just a moment before. “I knew your holiness could never be destroyed.”

“Luka, what did you mean when you asked if she was YOUR Ilias?” Sonya asked.

“Never mind that now!” the priest interrupted. “Luka, it appears you’ve been burdened with a great destiny. You must save the world, unblessed hero.”

I was about to retort “What else is new?” but then I realized that I’d actually had a pretty long break from world saving. Several lifetimes worth of breaks, as it turned out. Well, vacation is over, I thought. If only to take my mind off what it all meant for a moment.

“It may be prudent to keep the nature of your quest a secret, however,” the priest continued. “The Goddess told us that the world is being covered in darkness. If the masses learned of this, it could cause a great deal of panic and strife.”

“That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on Luka,” Sonya said. “He’s reckless under the best of circumstances. Now you’re treating him like some sort of legendary hero.”

Now I know how Clark Kent must have felt, I thought.

“That is why we must keep this between ourselves,” the priest replied.

“I understand, your grace,” Sonya said.

“You must remain discreet on your journey as well, Luka. I know you may be excited, but strange things are afoot.”

“I understand…. Er… your grace,” I replied.

“Sonya, please don’t mention this to anyone,” the priest reminded her.

“I won’t,” she said solemnly. Then she got a little indignant. “Wait, why am I the only one who has to be told that twice?”

“She’s right,” I said in her defense. “I’m the one who just blurts things out all the time.”

“Let us hope that you demonstrate as much wisdom as you do courage, young Luka,” he said. “Now go, and do everything in your power to obey Ilias.”

I resisted the urge to lecture this young man, but decided against it. I hadn’t actually matured as much as I thought I would over the centuries. If anything, living so long, especially in a time of peace, had caused me to digress a little. Being married to Tamamo hadn’t helped. We’d been like two kids frolicking carefree for centuries. There had been days when I’d been weighed down by melancholy due to my long life and all who I had lost. But Tamamo would always bring me out of it. If Alice had been my passion, Tamamo had been my comfort. Oh, how I missed them both! And Granberia….

“I’ll be waiting for you back in the village,” Sonya said, interrupting my thoughts again. I’d have to be careful not to get too lost in my own head while I was in this strange world. I had a job to do. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I meant to do it.

Relieved that there was nothing left to do in the temple, I jogged back to my house to see if Alice was there. If I was going to go on some kind of quest, I needed her by my side. She was the brains of our team. Without her, I feared I had little hope of success.

As I approached the door to the inn, I heard noises inside. Sounds of a scuffle. No, more than a scuffle. More like a rumble between two rival gangs! Rushing in, I was greeted by a welcome sight. Alice was indeed in my home. But she wasn’t alone. Ilias had come calling as well, and their chance meeting had apparently not gone well. They were brawling like little children. Which I guess made sense, since they were in the bodies of little children.

“Damn you Ilias, what are you plotting?!” Alice asked angrily as she held a handful of Ilias’ hair and punched her in the face several times. “That rabbit works for you, doesn’t she?!”

Ilias grabbed a handful of Alice’s hair, which caused Alice to stop punching her as they both went to the ground and began rolling around.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Ilias raged. “Look at me and tell me how this is not one of your evil designs!”

Alice’s balance and leverage were far superior given her snake body. She yanked Ilias off of her with her tail and flung her against a wall. Following up, she grabbed a chair and shattered it over Ilias’ head when she tried to rise. Despite Ilias’ childlike form, the blow barely fazed her, only increasing her rage. She flew at Alice and tackled her again. The two resumed rolling around on the ground, pummeling each other.

“Okay, that’s enough!” I yelled, pulling Ilias off by putting one arm around her waist and lifting her. Ilias continued to throw punches at empty air in Alice’s general direction. Alice got up and took a cheap shot at Ilias while I had the goddess restrained. That made me angry, so I grabbed Alice by the ear and twisted.

“AAH!” Alice whined. I smiled. My grandfather had used that move to get me to cease resistance many times when I was a naughty boy. My smile evaporated when Alice punched me in the dick, staggering me. Ilias, whose arm I was still holding while I was trying to restrain Alice, looked at Alice, then looked at me. And then she too, punched me in the dick. I went down onto my back, moaning. Two of the most powerful beings on any world stopped fighting long enough to gaze down at me.

“It was very foolish of you to interfere, boy,” Alice said. “In our true forms, our battle could wreck this entire village.”

“Oh, don’t act as if you’re a match for me!” Ilias retorted. “I’m a fucking goddess! You’re just some…. Monster with delusions of royalty!”

“In these forms we’re equal,” Alice replied with a tight smile. “So I can do this.”

Alice grabbed Ilias by the nose as if she was trying to rip it off. Ilias retaliated by ripping Alice’s top and twisting a nipple. Both screamed, neither willing to let go.

“Okay, how about on three, you both let each other go?” I suggested, still holding my crotch and laying on the ground. Alice and Ilias looked at me and nodded. I counted to three and they released each other, each backing away and glaring at the other.

“You’re right, boy,” Alice said. “This fight is pointless. We can’t actually do any real damage to each other. All we can do is cause each other pain. Which I admit is fun, but there are more important things to do.  Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Alipheese…”

“Yes, the Monster Lord,” I said. “We already established that I know you.”

“You know I’m the Monster Lord too?! Even in this form you recognized me?! I don’t think any human has ever seen me? How could you possibly know who I am?”

“Well, you already know that I am Ilias,” Ilias said smugly. “The goddess of all creation. Not that you could have been confused, given my beauty. I mean, who else could I be?”

It was not an idle boast. Ilias truly was the most beautiful being I’d ever seen, although Tamamo could give her a run for her money, but perhaps that was just my opinion.

“How I know you, Alice, is something that we’ll have to talk about later,” I said. “It’s a very, very weird story. For now, what brings the two of you to my humble abode?”

“I’m looking for a certain monster,” Alice said as Ilias was about to speak. Surprisingly, Ilias didn’t try to talk over her. “Unfortunately, this incapable body is making the search rather difficult.”

There was a moment of silence. Ilias looked at Alice. “Oh, are you done? Oh good. There is somewhere I need to go. No human could possibly understand the situation. However, it is too dangerous for me when I am this weak. I am in need of the protection of a hero.”

“And I am in need of a traveling companion,” Alice said, interrupting Ilias. “I just happened to hear about a youth leaving from the villagers today. I’m glad that it’s the same youth who I needed to speak to anyway. I can get the answers out of you while we travel together.”

“Back off, Monster Lord!” Ilias warned. “I’ve had my eyes on Luka for a very long time!”

“So…. You do know me, Ilias?” I asked, hoping beyond hope that she was my Ilias. But if she was, who was that Ilias in the temple?

“Of course!” the goddess replied. “I know everyone in the world.”

“Do you know people…. Outside this world?” I asked cautiously.

“Well… no, not exactly,” Ilias answered. “What a strange question to ask. What could that possibly have to do with you?”

I sighed. She was merely this world’s Ilias. Heh. I thought. Merely. A goddess was in my house and it was just Tuesday for me.

“Alice, where are the Four Heavenly Knights?”

“I don’t know,” Alice admitted. “And is there anything you DON’T know about me? You have me at quite the disadvantage. In any case, I have no idea who I can trust right now. For the time being, I want to proceed carefully, and in secret. I’m not sure I can trust you either, and yet…. Something tells me that I can.”

“I can’t contact my angels either, thank you for asking,” Ilias said to me sarcastically. “I have no idea what that means. Do I simply lack the power in this form? Or has something happened? If Black Alice or Promestein were to learn of my present condition…”

“Chances are, they caused your condition,” I said. “You’re lucky to be alive.”

“How do you know that?” Ilias asked.

“Wow, you’re slow for a goddess,” Alice snarked. “It should have been clear from the beginning of this conversation that Luka is unusual. He knows too many things that he shouldn’t.”

“Well, the fact is that I do know some things,” I said, finally getting back to my feet. “And so we need to find answers.”

“Yes, exactly!” Ilias said excitedly. “You will protect me and serve me as the loyal hero you are.”

“Don’t get the wrong idea, Luka,” Alice countered. “You will be traveling with me.”

“I’ll be traveling with both of you,” I said firmly.

This time, neither waited for the other to speak up. Ilias and Alice began talking at the same time, Alice warning of the dangers of Ilias misleading me and manipulating me, and Ilias warning of Alice scheming behind our backs. Neither seemed to appreciate the true danger each posed. Ilias was the schemer, Alice the manipulator. I was sure I’d heard this referred to as projection, each woman seeing their own faults in the other. Their reasoned arguments quickly turned into simply telling each other how much they hated each other, which in turn led to them throwing punches again. I separated them, then quickly jumped back as Alice went for my balls again. I had to admit that Alice was not doing a very good job of convincing me to pick her if I had to choose. I imagined that if this world’s Luka was here, he surely would have picked Ilias.

My separation of the two had momentarily calmed them, however, causing them to return to what passed for reasoned argument.

“Don’t take this goddess with you, Luka,” Alice urged. “she simply sees you as a servant and won’t be of any help to you on your journey.”

I had to laugh at that, remembering how Alice had made a point of being as little help as possible, although she had provided assistance at many key moments.

“What’s so funny?” Alice asked.

“He knows that he can’t count on a monster when he needs it most,” Ilias laughed. “He has worshipped me his entire life. He knows I will always love him and look out for him.”

I laughed again. That statement had been funny on many levels.

“Let me explain to you two what’s actually going to happen here,” I said, trying to put some bass into my voice. “It seems likely to me that you both have the same problem, which means that you probably have the same enemy. And I’m pretty certain it’s all connected to the reason I’m going on a quest. So you’re both coming with me, and you’re going to learn to be civil with each other.”

“Who the fuck do you think you are to order your goddess around?!” Ilias shouted.

“You sure don’t speak like a goddess,” Alice observed. “But as much as I hate to admit it, she has a point. You have a lot of arrogance, boy, to think you can make the goddess and the Monster Lord follow you.”

“Look,” I said, abandoning the authoritative tone in favor of logic. “You’re both reasonable….. Okay, maybe not reasonable, but intelligent women. You’ve both been sealed, which implies a sealer, and that sealer is your enemy. Alice has seen the enemy, some kind of rabbit.”

“White rabbit,” Alice interjected.

“Alice is chasing a white rabbit?” I asked. “Seriously?”

“What? Is that also a joke to you?”

“Never mind. You are both weak… relatively, anyway, and don’t know who you can trust. I know things. What’s more, I have power.”

I wasn’t sure just how much command I had over my power, but I decided not to get into that just yet. I needed to build their confidence. I made my hand glow.

“A human can use magic?” Ilias breathed in astonishment. “I thought you were a loyal follower! You know you’re not supposed to delve into witchcraft!”

“More importantly, what kind of magic is that?” Alice asked in wonder.

“What does it matter?!” Ilias asked angrily. “He made his fucking hand glow! I can still do that!”

Ilias demonstrated by making her own hand glow with her holy energy.

“Language,” I admonished.

“Fuck you!” Ilias replied.

“Look more closely, Goddess of Idiots,” Alice interrupted. “It looks a little like holy energy, but it’s not. It’s not dark energy either.”

Ilias squinted her eyes and looked more closely at my glowing hand.

“You’re right!” she said in wonder. “I thought for a moment that it was just holy magic. I know some humans, misguided sinners though they may be, tend to prefer holy magic because their souls are more attuned to it than your monstrous dark magic. But that’s neither holy nor dark. That’s impossible, though. How can a type of magic exist that I don’t know about?”

“He has a lot of it, Ilias,” Alice said. “This boy is starting to scare me. Were you the one who sealed us, Luka?”

“What?!” I asked. “No! Of course not! I may seem to know a lot, and I do, but I’m as confused as you are about what’s most important! I literally just got here and I haven’t the foggiest notion of what’s happening!”

“I…. believe you,” Alice said. “I don’t know why, but I do. All right. I’ll travel with you even if you bring Ilias along.”

“Thank you, Alice,” I said gratefully. “So Ilias, ball’s in your court.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Ilias said.

“Luka, speak like a normal person,” Alice added.

“I mean Alice has agreed to come with me unconditionally,” I explained. “So now it’s up to you. Will you accompany us, or risk going it alone?”

“When I get my true form back, I’m going to burn you to cinders,” Ilias growled. “For daring to speak to me as you have, and for playing around with magic so sinful that even I don’t know about it. But for now, I will travel with you. Perhaps if you serve me well on our travels, I will make your death quick and painless.”

“Excellent,” I said, relieved. “Now that that’s settled…..”

“Luka!” Sonya’s burst in through the front door. “Oh! What are these two children doing here?”

“I am your goddess Ilias,” Ilias said grandly.

“And I am the Monster Lord, Alipheese the Sixteenth,” Alice said, trying to match Ilias’ grandeur.

“Cute,” Sonya said. “Luka, Lime’s in trouble!”

“What?” I asked. “What happened to Lime?”

“She got caught in the poison marsh!” Sonya reported. “None of the town guard are brave enough to go save her. I know you’re brave enough and strong enough and I knew you wouldn’t turn your back on someone in need.”

“Okay, I’ll be right there,” I said.

“Great,” Sonya nodded, heading out through the front door. “I’ll get over to the marsh and assess the situation for you.”

“Thank you,” I said as she left. “Now, do you two want to stay here and try not to start fighting again, or do you want to come with me on our first mission?”

“I’ll wait here,” Alice said. “I’m hungry and I can smell a lot of food here. You can go do your pointless mission to save a slime that couldn’t be bothered to stay away from a poison marsh.”

“Hah!” Ilias said triumphantly. “See how little she cares about her own people? That’s how much sympathy you can expect from her when you get into trouble.”

“S-shut up!” Alice yelled.

“Anyway, Luka, who was that?” Ilias asked.

“Oh, that’s my childhood friend, Sonya,” I answered. “She’s training for the priesthood.”

“Is she now?” Ilias asked. “Then how come I don’t know this Sonya?”

“You’ve… never met her?”

“I know everyone who exists on this world,” Ilias said, shaking her head. “And yet I don’t know her.”

That caused the hair on my neck to stand up. I’d been on many alternate worlds, met many variants of people I knew, as well as quite a few unique characters who didn’t seem to exist on any other world. I had never met Sonya on any of those worlds, so simply assumed that she was one of those unique persons who only existed on this one. But apparently she didn’t belong here either? Or was it this Ilias who didn’t belong? This world’s Luka had written about Sonya in his diary. He knew her. So Ilias had to be the one who was out of place, just like me.

“We’re going to have a lot to talk about, Ilias,” I said. “But first, there’s a damsel in distress to save. So I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll go with you,” Ilias said. “I don’t approve of you saving monsters from their own stupidity, but I’d like to see you in action. I want to get a sense of how well you’ll do when you have to save me from something.”

“Good, let’s go then,” I said. “Alice, food’s in the kitchen. If you want, I’ll cook something for you when I get back.”

“I’ll manage,” Alice said, heading into the kitchen. I knew she’d do a lot more than manage. I’d be lucky to find anything left when I returned.

I rushed out the door, Ilias following close behind, complaining that it was tough to keep up with me with her short little child legs. She eventually took to the air, which enabled her to get ahead of me. She took some satisfaction in outracing me to the marsh. What I found there was quite surprising. A few town constables were standing as close to the marsh as they were willing. I remembered that marsh. The fumes weren’t too bad, unpleasant, but not terribly dangerous. Because of that, it had always been the job of constables, on a rotating basis, to guard the marsh, lest a child try to go swimming there despite all the signs warning of the danger. I’d drawn that duty many times. But as dangerous as a poison marsh was to humans, to a slime it was particularly hazardous. Slimes unconsciously absorbed parts of their environment. What in the world was Lime doing out here?

I sighted Lime at the far end of the marsh, standing on a dry patch, flinching away from the poisoned water as it lapped at her feet. How had she even gotten that far?

“Wow, that’s one stupid slime,” Ilias chortled. “I guess it’s a waste of time asking you not to save her. You always did have a soft spot for people in need.”

“That’s our Luka,” Sonya said proudly.

“Just doing your job, Ilias,” I muttered.

“Excuse me?” Ilias asked, offended.

Without another word, I strode into the marsh. The water wasn’t deep, it only went up to my knees, although I had to be careful, because there were spots in it that could sink me in up to my chest. That’s where it could get dangerous. The poison wouldn’t do much damage to skin, but if it got in my mouth it would kill me. If it got into my nose, or even my butt crack, it could do damage. I’d never had to save a child, much less a monster, but I had saved a few animals that had wandered into the marsh, and found out the hard way how much whatever toxins were in that marsh burned when it got into my peehole. Yee-ouch! That was probably the real reason none of the guards wanted to venture in. It wasn’t likely to kill them, but none of them wanted a burning sensation when they urinated for a week.

I approached slowly, feeling ahead with my foot to gauge the depth. Lime whimpered and cried, but watched me with hope in her eyes. I could see as I approached more closely that her feet and ankles were infected with the toxins of the marsh. She must have waded in, trying not to get in too deep, and then ran into trouble. I would have to heal her when I got her out. I was glad that I still had that much control over my power.

My caution and my luck held. I never got in past my knees. I reached the tearful slime. “Okay, Lime, grab onto me. Wrap yourself around my upper body, but be sure not to cover my eyes or nose. Gotta breathe, you know.”

She nodded and put her arms and legs around me, changing her shape so that she was a large glob of sentient slime, almost like a new article of clothing. Most of her was around my head and neck, with the contaminated portions of her around my chest. If I made a mistake and got in deep, those parts were already poisoned.

Getting out was much faster than getting in. I made it out successfully with my passenger, who reformed herself once back on solid ground. I bent to heal her, but Sonya beat me to it, rushing to Lime and placing her hands on the infected portions of her lower body. Lime sighed as Sonya’s healing magic flowed through her.

“What were you doing playing around in the poison marsh?!” Sonya asked as she finished her work.”You know how dangerous it is for slimes to even get close to the marsh! What were you thinking?!”

“I’m sorry!” Lime sobbed. “I… I knew Luka was charging into danger to save Hans! I’m not as fast as he is so I tried to take a shortcut.”

“Through the marsh?” I asked. “How is this even a shortcut?”

“It is for me!” Lime exclaimed. “I can slide up this hill that humans can’t go up because it’s too steep! I would have been able to catch up to you and help you against Bunny! But… I… I… stumbled and almost fell into a deep part and I got scared! I scrambled to that dry spot and just froze! I’m so sorry you had to face Bunny alone!”

“I’m sure Luka obliterated that hateful slime,” Ilias said with satisfaction. “You did obliterate her, didn’t you?”

“I…. did and I didn’t,” I stammered. “Bunny’s fine. She’s agreed to not do bad things anymore. And I’m fine too, Lime. But thank you for trying to help me.”

“That’s what friends are for!” Lime said through her slimy tears, which she simply absorbed back into her body.

“Yes,” Sonya said. “FRIENDS definitely help FRIENDS when FRIENDS are in trouble. You’re a good FRIEND, aren’t you Lime?”

“Of course!” Lime said. “Luka and I are great friends! He feeds me for free every day!”

“What?!” Sonya exclaimed.

“Fish! Luka makes the best Tilaphia!”

“Oh,” Sonya said, sighing with relief. “Yes, he is a great cook, isn’t he?”

“The best!” Lime agreed. “So Luka, I really owe you one for saving me.”

“Oh don’t worry, Lime, it’s fine,” Sonya said. “Heroes don’t accept rewards for doing heroic things.”

“I don’t really have anything Luka wants,” Lime said. “So I figured you could take me with you on your journey, Luka!”

“Take you with me?” I asked, taken aback. “Lime, this is going to be very dangerous.”

“Yes, Lime, very dangerous,” Sonya agreed. “This quest is for Luka and me. Just the two of us.”

“Wait, you’re coming too?” I asked Sonya.

“Of course!” Sonya replied hotly. “You’ll need lots of healing on your quest! What can a slime contribute?”

“Quests have lots of treasure chests,” Lime answered. “I can open any lock by turning finger into a key.”

Quests don’t actually have lots of treasure chests. Believe me, I’ve been on a few. Almost no treasure to be found, unless it’s guarded by a scary dragon. Treasure chests aren’t randomly found in caves or dungeons, and if they are, they are usually mimics. Don’t open them! This has been a public service announcement in case any of my readers decide to go on an adventure.

“I think we should take her with us,” Ilias said.

“What?!” Sonya asked. “What do you mean, us? This quest is just for Luka and I.”

“Show some respect when you speak to your goddess, girl,” Ilias said calmly. “It is you who are not needed. I can heal Luka as well as you can, probably better. So I don’t think you contribute anything to our cause. Nevertheless, as my loyal subject, I will allow you to aid Luka in protecting me until I can regain my true form.”

“Are you kidding me?!” Sonya yelled. “Luka, you’re not taking a child on a quest!”

“She actually is the goddess,” I said. “And the other girl is coming with us too. She’s the Monster Lord. You see, they were both sealed, which is why they look like children.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself to her, Luka,” Ilias said. “Now come, let’s go get the filthy Monster Lord and prepare to embark on our mission. Lime, come along.”

Sonya looked helplessly on as I shrugged and headed back to the inn with Ilias and Lime in tow. Sonya had no choice but to follow.

“Ilias, why do you want Lime with us?” I asked. “You hate monsters! You do hate, monsters, right?”

I’d been on worlds where Ilias either didn’t hate monsters or didn’t particularly care about them one way or the other, so I had to be sure of my facts. Ilias confirmed that at least in one respect, this world was one I was accustomed to.

“Of course!” Ilias said matter of factly. “I loathe monsters! But we already have the most loathsome of all monsters traveling with us. Having a slime accompany us as well will be useful. Slimes are very hard to kill and so she can absorb a lot of attacks that would otherwise hit us.”

I could tell that this was going to be my most complicated quest ever. I had been hoping to have Alice by my side, to help me find answers and solutions. Having Ilias along was going to make things quite a bit more stressful, but it was necessary due to her current state. And truth be told, I had developed an affection for the goddess over the centuries. She really could change. Perhaps traveling with me would change this version of Ilias the way it had changed my world’s Ilias. But the crowd of three had now become a mob of five! A human who I suspected might have feelings beyond friendship for this world’s Luka, and a slime who I knew well from other worlds where I’d encountered her, but who I wasn’t sure would be much help to us. Oh well, I shrugged. In fantasy books, a party of five isn’t an unusual number. And I had once gone on a very short quest with four others on Ilias continent. Perhaps it would all work out.

“So why were you going to be traveling, Luka?” Ilias asked as we walked back to my inn.

“Oh, um…. That’s a difficult question to answer,” I stammered. I still wasn’t sure whether to pretend I was this world’s Luka or come clean to Ilias. I decided for the time being to just relay what I’d ready about Luka’s reasons for setting out. “Luka’s… My father disappeared, so I’m trying to find him.”

“You’re trying to find your father?” Ilias asked. “Isn’t he dead?”

“Is he?” I asked. “You would know, wouldn’t you?”

“I’m not sure,” Ilias admitted. “My memories aren’t working the way they’re supposed to. Some things are crystal clear, others are muddled.  I had thought you believed your father to be killed by monsters.”

“I believed? Does that mean he wasn’t killed by monsters?”

“Um…. Never mind. I don’t remember.”

I could tell Ilias was being evasive, but I knew better than to try to pry answers out of her, or Alice, for that matter. Besides, something else she had said interested me more.

“Your memory is damaged?” I asked. The same thing had happened to me when I’d first been transported from my own world. The crash landing had been the cause, not the transference. Ilias had taken a pretty hard landing herself. Perhaps that was it? “Did the fall to the surface do that to you?”

“I don’t think so,” Ilias replied. “My omniscience is a function of the amount of holy energy contained in my body. Since I’m diminished, my omniscience is substantially reduced. But it’s not just my awareness that’s faulty. My vast store of knowledge isn’t available to me either. It’s like trying to fit massive amounts of data on a floppy disk. Oh, but you wouldn’t know what a floppy disk is, would you?”

“I know very well what a floppy disk is,” I said before I could stop myself. Damn, I’m terrible at this! I thought. I’m going to blurt out my entire life history on the first day! “The question is, how do YOU know what a floppy disk is?”

“I…. I don’t know,” she admitted. “I know I’ve used them before, but I can’t remember where. That technology doesn’t exist yet. Could I see the future when I was at my full power? But I would think I’d remember what my powers were, even if I don’t have them anymore, right? Oh, I’m so confused!”

Ilias was so self absorbed that she didn’t even think to ask me how I knew what a floppy disk was. I was sure she’d realize it later and ask. Oh well, I’ve got no particular reason to hide anything from my allies, I thought. There would be plenty of time to discuss it all on the journey. The term “floppy disk” simply went right over Sonya and Lime’s heads, so I had no worries about them asking questions for the moment.

“Before we go, we need to talk to Uncle Lazarus,” Sonya said.  “He wanted to see you before you left.”

“All right,” I said, having only a vague notion of who Uncle Lazarus was. He had been mentioned in the diary as a friend of Luka’s father and a fellow adventurer. He was Sonya’s uncle, not mine, and had taught Sonya her formidable club skills. For some reason, he had refused to teach Luka sword skills. No problem, I thought, I already have sword skills. Very rusty sword skills, but I imagined I’d get back up to speed quickly. In the meantime, I had my power to fall back on, which was apparently still potent. Too potent, perhaps. I didn’t want to kill anyone. I’d have to be very careful. One thing I did feel confident in, however, was my grappling skills. Those had never gone stale. Until the last few weeks of my life, I’d wrestled with Tamamo almost daily. I could never figure out why she hadn’t wrestled me much before marrying me. She’d always wanted to have something to do with me back when we were just friends, and the answer had been staring us right in the face. I’d wrestled Granberia frequently, after all. And that right there was my answer.  Tamamo hadn’t wrestled me because things would have escalated. They often did with Granberia, but Granberia at least didn’t have soft fluffy tails. It was possible to wrestle a dragonkin and not get horny.

I shook my head. I was getting lost in my memories again. A big problem when one has so many of them to get lost in. The important point was that I could still fight well unarmed. I just needed to get my sword skills back up and a better handle on my power. Between that and powerful allies, I had a pretty good chance of succeeding. At whatever… this was.

We arrived back at the inn, where I found Alice stuffing her face with candy. Ilias must have been hungry, because she ran to where Alice was and started shoving candy into her own face.

“Hey, that’s mine!” Alice objected. “I found it!”

“It’s not yours, it’s Luka’s!” Ilias countered. “Luka, may I have some candy?”

“Of course, Ilias,” I said. “And no fighting!”

“We’re not children, Luka,” Alice harrumphed.

“In that form, you have child brains, so you can be prone to acting in an age appropriate manner,” I said. Alice had once told me that. “So when I see either of you behaving like children, I’m going to treat you like children.”

“Just as long as I get candy,” Alice huffed. I reminded myself to buy lots of sweets for the journey. Ilias and Alice would need mollification even in their adult forms. In child forms, they could be unmanageable without treats to reward them with.

“I’m going to go talk to someone before we leave,” I said. “But I want to get started as soon as I come back. I’m going to buy some things while I’m out. Do you two need anything?”

“Candy!” Alice said eagerly. “Really, any and all foods.”

“I know,” I said, smiling affectionately. I’d missed Alice’s prodigious appetite. “Anything besides food?”

“I want a bow!” Ilias exclaimed. “A small sword wouldn’t hurt either.”

“Okay, but we don’t kill anyone if it’s at all possible to avoid it, okay?”

“I do what I please.”

“Not if you want to travel with me, you don’t.”

“Fine,” Ilias pouted. “It’s your job to protect me though, as my appointed hero. I still want the weapons. In case you die while protecting me.”

“Do you want any weapons, Alice?” I asked.

“No, I’m fine,” she replied disinterestedly. I knew that meant, no, I’m not helping you even if you are about to die. How had I fallen in love with her, again?

As we walked outside, Sonya lit into me. “Are you crazy, Luka?! Bringing two children pretending to be Ilias and the Monster Lord with us?!”

“They really are Ilias and the Monster Lord, Sonya,” I said patiently. “You’ll just have to believe me on that. You’re going to see a lot of things that are hard to believe on this journey. It’s you who should consider backing out.”

“Not on your life, mister!” Sonya replied hotly. “Those two won’t pull your ass out of the fire when you do something foolhardy! I’m the only one you can count on!”

“In that case, I’m grateful that you’re coming. I have been known to charge into danger without thinking first.”

“Are you sure you’re okay, Luka? You seem different somehow.”

“Really?” I asked, a little scared. I didn’t intend to keep the truth from Sonya, but if she had an attachment to this world’s Luka I would have to be careful. She might regard my presence as a possession of someone she loved, a demon even. She might try to exorcise me. “In what way?”

“I don’t know, you seem more… worldly, like you’re an old soul. As if you suddenly aged a century since yesterday.”

That had hit closer to the mark than she knew.

“Sonya…. I guess it’s just with everything that’s already happened today, I have to grow up now. The world needs me. You heard Ilias. She said only I could save the world.”

“Why you, though? What makes you so special?” she asked.

I knew exactly the what, if not the how. My power. That was what would enable me to save the world where even Ilias herself could not. I just had to figure out what exactly the problem was, and how to use my power to solve it. That, however, would be tough to explain to Sonya all at once.

“Ilias has her reasons,” I said. “Gods work in mysterious ways.”

“That’s what they teach us,” Sonya sighed. “So if you acknowledge that the Ilias we saw in the temple was real, then why would you believe that little girl is Ilias?”

“That’s hard to explain,” I stammered. “You’ll have to trust me on that one. Believe me, she’s as tough as you. And she needs our help. She’s stuck in that form. We need to get her her real body back.”

“If you say so,” Sonya said reluctantly. “I just… I really wanted this to be something for the two of us.”

My heart felt for Sonya at that moment. I’d fallen in love with Alice in large part because we’d traveled alone, just the two of us, and seen and done so much. Sonya wanted that experience with Luka. And thanks to whatever force had brought me here, it had interrupted this Luka’s life, as well as Sonya’s. I had to rationalize that if Luka had gone on a journey like this, he would almost certainly have been killed. A mission this big required big power, and he probably didn’t have it. I did. Whatever was happening here, it had fallen upon me to deal with it. I presumed that once I did, Sonya would get her Luka back, and perhaps they could live happily ever after. Assuming it wasn’t every Luka’s destiny to fall in love with Alice. I had yet to enter a world where Luka and Alice’s lives weren’t intertwined.

We stopped at a few local shops to stock up on supplies. I guessed that if Luka had been planning to travel, he would already have camping supplies. But Alice would have plundered most of Luka’s food by now, so I bought a large backpack and filled it with dried meat, fresh fruits and veggies, and of course candy and pastries. The journey to Iliasburg would only take two days. There would be a lot more to buy there. I also bought the bow that Ilias had requested, as well as a small sword. I assumed Luka had a sword, but I didn’t plan on using it. Alice would give me Angel Halo and then I could go all out on opponents without worrying about truly hurting them. In the meantime, I’d have to rely on my grappling skills and as a last resort, my power. I’d promised myself centuries ago that I would never use a weapon that drew real blood again.

“Where are we going?” Sonya asked, interrupting my thoughts. Lost in my head again, I thought.

“To your Uncle Lazarus’ place, right?” I asked.

“We’re going the wrong way,” she said, then pointed in the opposite direction, to the east. “Uncle Lazarus’ house is that way.”

“I…. should have known that,” I said sheepishly. “Maybe I did hit my head. Could you remind me of a few things?”

“Like what?”

“Like, why are your parents not here? Did Uncle Lazarus raise you?”

“He raised you, too!” Sonya exclaimed. “Wow, you really shouldn’t be adventuring until you get medical attention. Do you want me to try healing you?”

“No, no, it’s all right, it’ll all come back to me,” I assured her. Something was coming back to me, I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I didn’t have amnesia as I’d had on my original adventure, but that name Lazarus was familiar t me. But it had been so long that I was having trouble remembering. “So what’s the deal with the Great Disaster?”

“It happened about thirty years ago. Are you sure you’re all right? Anyway, there were storms and earthquakes. I wasn’t around yet, of course.  It rearranged the geography of the world. The weirdest thing were the holes that opened up all over the world. They call them Tartarus. But most importantly, Ilias disappeared. Until today. I still can’t believe we actually saw her.”

That filled in a big blank for me. Browsing Luka’s diary, I’d seen references to the Great Disaster but no explanation. Apparently his father had gone on a final quest, and Luka had assumed that it had something to do with the Tartarus holes. Sonya mentioning that geography had changed was important as well. On every alternate world I’d been on, places had been the same for the most part. Now I knew not to expect that to be the case in this world.

I was jarred back into reality again, this time by the appearance of a familiar face in front of me. Much like seeing Alice, it knocked the breath out of me. It was my own son, Nero. How? This can’t be! I thought frantically. Alice and I just met! How can Nero be here? The thought that it could be someone who merely looked like Nero briefly crossed my mind, but I quickly dismissed it. My children had unique genetics and looked nothing like anyone else. This was definitely Nero standing in front of me. The only difference was the odd dress. So definitely Nero, but probably not MY Nero.  My son had never been that flashy. An alternate Nero, then. That meant time travel was also going on. This world was so weird.

“Hello,” Nero greeted me. “You must be Luka,”

“Nero,” I croaked out, fighting back tears.

“How do you know my name?” Nero asked in shock. “I know word travels fast in a small town, but I haven’t told anybody my name.”

“Do you know this guy, Luka?” Sonya asked.

“Sonya, would you mind going ahead to Uncle Lazarus’ house?” I asked. “I know the general direction, just… stand outside and signal to me. I have business with this man.”

“And you remember this, but not who I am or the Great Disaster, or…. Virtually anything else?” Sonya asked. “You are acting awfully fishy. You’re hiding something from me. Well you know what? Fine. I’ll do what you ask, for now. But you and I…. we’re gonna talk, got it?”

“Absolutely, Sonya,” I agreed. I hated lying to her. First off, I was terrible at lying, and secondly, she seemed nice(mostly) and didn’t deserve this. But right now wasn’t the time for explanations.

Sonya reluctantly left. Nero waited until she was out of earshot before speaking again.

“Who is she?” he asked.

“That’s Sonya, my childhood friend,” I answered.

“You don’t have a childhood friend.”

“You don’t say.”

“I have to admit, this is not what I expected to find when I arrived here to check the situation out. I was told that you’d be completely unaware of what happened. Everyone else around here is.”

“What exactly did happen? I’m as in the dark as everyone else. Moreso, in fact.”

“Wait a minute,” Nero said, confused. “You know I’m your son but you’re confused about the situation? What do you know?”

“Not much,” I replied. “I woke up in my bed at the inn, in a totally new world, and now I’m on a mission to save it, and I’m running into people I know, who aren’t really the people I know, as well as people I’ve never seen before, like Sonya.”

“Oh, this is bad,” Nero fretted. “This is really bad. We had a plan and now it’s all messed up. Shit! What to do, what to do. Damn, an alternate Luka just plopped right into the middle of this whole thing. That wasn’t supposed to happen!”

“Maybe it was,” I argued. “Ending up on alternate worlds isn’t new to me. Maybe I’ve been put here precisely because of my troubleshooting skills. It’s happened before. So why don’t you tell me what this is all about, since you seem to know more than me?”

“That’s gonna be a problem,” he said. “You’re in a situation where the more you know and the earlier you know it, the more likely you are to cause a disaster. Look, I know you mean well. I have some familiarity with alternate universes too. All Lukas, everywhere, are good at heart. But don’t assume that whoever brought you here was good like you. We had a plan and now this ruins everything!”

“We?” I asked. “Is Neris with you? Can I see her?”

“Okay, first off, let’s be clear about one thing!” Nero warned. “You’re not my father. You’ve replaced my father here. Nevertheless, we are allies. You’re just going to have to trust that every Nero is good just like every Luka. Because I can’t tell you anything. It’ll screw everything up even more.”

“I trust you,” I said. “As long as you know what’s going on, and you’re watching over things, I’m sure it’ll all work out.”

“Yeah, don’t be so sure. This was already complicated and now it’s infinitely moreso. It’s not just you, either. I’m seeing everyday people using magic, and then there’s that Sonya girl. So much damage has already been done.”

“Tell me how to fix it!”

“I can’t just yet,” Nero said, shaking his head. “Look, I gotta go. But you’ll be seeing more of me. I’m going to help out as best I can. Just…. Go on your adventure. If you’re like every other Luka in the multiverse, it’s better for you to leave the thinking to others anyway.”

“Okay, and um… Thanks?”

Nero looked around, ducked behind a nearby house, and vanished.  I tried to settle down. So far, this had been a thousand times more emotional for me than my hop through the multiverse after five years away from Alice. It almost seemed crazy for me to have been so distraught over a mere five year separation.

I steeled myself and went looking for Lazarus’ house, hoping that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself and get completely lost so that Sonya had to come find me. I was in luck. I found her waiting outside a modest home, waving to me. The girl was no idiot. She knew that something was up. I just had to figure out how to tell her. I had to figure out how MUCH to tell her. I’d have to make the same decisions about Alice and Ilias. Alice I felt I could tell almost everything, but Ilias…. There were some things she mustn’t know, and even more things she shouldn’t know that I knew. Assuming this Ilias had the same plans as my Ilias had had around this time. Given that she’d mentioned Promestein and Black Alice, it seemed a safe bet that Ilias was not on the side of the angels, so to speak. Given how bad I was at keeping secrets, and given how I was even worse at lying, Nero had a point that I could mess things up very badly.

“Looks like you found the place,” Sonya said grumpily. “You’ve only been here a thousand times.”

“I’ll tell you everything I can soon enough,” I promised. “This is not what you think. It’s actually a lot worse than what you probably think.”

Sonya’s face changed to one of alarm from anger. “How could it be worse than the end of the world!? Argh, let’s be quick with Uncle Lazarus then, I need to hear this.”

Sonya opened the door and gestured for me to enter. Entering the small home, I saw that it was in terrible shape. The smell of liquor filled the small dwelling.  It looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in several years. Snoring in his bed was Lazarus. Sonya shook him gently awake. Lazarus sat up with a start.

“Wha? Oh, Sonya! About to head out?”

“Yes, Uncle,” she replied. “Would you please clean this place up? How did it even get this way? I cleaned it for you just last week!”

Lazarus turned to face me. That’s when it hit me. I recognized him. This man, at least on my world, had been the leader of the terrorist group Ilias Kreuz! I’d only met him once, and just for a few minutes, long enough for Alice to turn him into stone.  In that world, Lazarus had killed Alice’s mother. Alice had intended to unstone him after the war, but the spell had been dispelled by Alice’s sealing by Promestein. Apparently that particular spell only worked while the person casting it was in full health. Lazarus had somewhat redeemed himself by dying as a hero during a battle.

Although I was alarmed by Lazarus’ presence so close to this world’s Luka, I decided to withhold judgment. I did not know what this particular Lazarus had done or what he would do. Really, that was something I would have to remember no matter what familiar face I encountered. While I’d learned, and Nero had confirmed, that people’s essential nature didn’t change from universe to universe, environment and lived experience mattered as well.  I could not run around this world assuming that I knew anyone.

“So you knew I was going with Luka?” Sonya asked.

“Of course I did, ya little scamp!” Lazarus laughed. “As if you’d ever let Luka go on a long journey by himself! I know you too well, kid. You remind me so much of Karen. How’s it hangin’, Luka?”

“Um… pretty well, I guess,” I responded. “Staying out of trouble?”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?!” Lazarus asked, sounding not suspicious at all.

“Just a turn of phrase,” I explained coolly.

Lazarus ignored me and went to sit at the lone table in his house. He reached for an empty bottle and tried to get one last drop out of it.

“Damn, am I out of booze?” he asked, more to the bottle than to us.

Sonya bent down and hugged her uncle. “Goodbye, Uncle Lazarus. I hope to see you again soon. Thank you so much for training me for this day.”

“I did my best,” Lazarus replied. “You do your best too, ya hear me? Find that sonofagun.”

“We will, Uncle,” Sonya assured him, kissing him on the forehead. Lazarus attempted to get another drop out of his bottle, failed, and set it down with resignation. He then began going through his pockets looking for some money, presumably to buy more.

Sonya quietly ushered me outside. “Ready to talk?” she asked.

“Not yet,” I said. “What I’m going to say involves our companions as well. I don’t want to have to say it three different times.”

“Fair enough,” Sonya said, and we started heading back to the inn in silence.

Ilias Village is small in any world, at least in the time period in question. Later in my life, it actually became the capitol of the United Provinces and grew exponentially after that, but that’s another story(the one before this one, actually.) So it didn’t take us more than a few minutes to make our way back to the inn, where Alice and ilias had already cleaned out my kitchen in a cooperative effort that was both infuriating and hopeful, since it appeared that they could get along as long as they were working towards the common goal of stuffing their faces. I’d have to make a point of using food to lubricate their relationship to avoid any further scuffles. If they managed to regain their true forms at some point, keeping them from fighting would be even more vital. A battle between them at full strength could wreck a small city!

“Are we ready to go?” Alice asked, her face covered in pastry frosting.

“Yeah, let’s get going,” I said. “It’s a three day journey, might as well  get started. Besides, there’s a lot to talk about on the way there.”

“Three days?” Sonya asked. ‘What are we planning to do, stop for a lunch break every thirty minutes? Iliasburg is just a little more than a day away! We can get there shortly after nightfall if we make good time.”

“Really?” I asked. Must be the geographical changes caused by the Great Disaster. Had Ilias continent shrunk? “Okay, we’ll probably arrive sometime tomorrow then. For now, let’s get going. Some of the things I’m going to tell you all are going to be difficult to process.”

“I can hardly wait,” Alice said. “You, Luka, are quite the mystery. If there’s one thing I love almost as much as eating, it’s solving mysteries.”

“Yay!” Lime cheered. “I’m going on a journey with Luka, the Monster Lord, and even Ilias! Yay!”

I smiled at Lime’s enthusiasm. Lime had been someone I’d encountered briefly many times on my journeys, but I’d never traveled with her. Having her along would be some welcome frivolity on a quest that was likely to get very heavy and emotional for me.



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