V M A Land Entirely Too Sweet

Apra

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Brain’s eyes snapped open. Immediately, without even taking a moment to identify his surroundings, the silver-haired man turned his gaze to his torso, and gasped. He touched his side to be sure of it, and was able to confirm what his eyes were telling him; that the grievous injury which Cobra had inflicted upon him was gone without a trace, as if it had never even been there… even his clothes were mended and cleaned of the blood and gore that had stained them.

Had it been nothing but a dream? He wondered for a moment. Was he still locked up in prison even now? Inspecting the room he now found himself in, though, the wizard discarded that notion. This place gave the impression of being some sort of rustic cabin, with the walls, floor and ceiling being made of bare, unvarnished wood, as was all the furniture.

Getting to his feet—for he had awakened lying on the floor—Brain glanced out of an unbarred window, finding out there a snowy, white landscape that carried on as far as the eye could see with no sign of civilisation. This was certainly no prison. Also, for some reason there was an overpowering odour of ginger saturating the entire room. The wizard glanced around, searching for the source, but was quickly distracted by what he found lying on a dining table which took up about a third of the room.

A long, wooden pole with a skull on one end. The skull wore a headdress and clutched a crystal ball between its jaws.

“Klodoa?” Brain asked, shocked at seeing the sentient staff here. He had been sure that Zero had destroyed Klodoa. No reply was forthcoming, so after a moment, the man picked up the stick in his right hand, and peered into its eye sockets, “Kodoa!”

Still nothing, “Klodoa, wake up!”

When the staff continued to be an inanimate object, Brain growled under his breath, and smashed it into the back of a chair, which was immediately smashed to pieces… apparently, whatever wood it had been carved from was not the most resilient. Still, though, Klodoa remained silent. And for some reason, the ginger smell grew even stronger.

The wizard stared at the staff again. It felt like Klodoa, and certainly looked like him. Brain was confident that he could use this staff as a focus for his power, just as he had with Klodoa in the past… but was this really Klodoa, or just an extraordinarily accurate replica? He supposed that it didn’t really matter. Brain was hardly the sentimental sort, so whether Klodoa was actually alive or not meant little to him.

The main issue here was that someone had to be behind this. Someone must have found him passed out but not yet dead, after that bastard, Cobra, had struck him, and transported him here, to wherever here was. Whoever that person was, they may well be intending to use him for their own ends.

This situation was not ideal.

The wizard did briefly consider that both he and his staff actually were dead, and that this place was their afterlife… but quickly discarded the notion; there wasn’t nearly enough fire and brimstone around for this to be hell.

Returning to his inspection of his new environment, Brain soon found that the ginger smell was coming from the furniture itself. Snapping off a small piece of the already-broken chair, he tasted it. Gingerbread.

The entire room and all its furnishings were made from gingerbread. This place, he decided, was pretty damn weird.

As he walked towards a door next to the window he had glanced through previously, the silver-haired man held up his left hand and sent a small pulse of darkness magic into the door handle and lock, obliterating them utterly. For all he knew, the door mightn’t even have been locked, but that hardly mattered to him. Shoving open the now handle-less slab of gingerbread, the wizard stepped out into the snow.

Only to immediately realise that something was off with it too. The temperature out here was right, but the snow didn’t crunch beneath his feet like it ought to. Crouching, he scooped a little up, sniffed it, then, tentatively, tasted it. He scowled, “Icing.”

Shaking his head, Brain stood again, looking around disgustedly at the strange, sugary landscape. The gingerbread cabin seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere, and a slight, downward slope of white icing was in front of him. Behind him, the slope continued upwards; it seemed that the cabin was part-way up a mountain.

Off to his left there was a pine forest, so he decided to head that way, for no reason other than that it wasn’t an empty waste. He had no idea why some madman would build an edible house and cover everything around it in icing, but he didn’t really care. He had escaped prison, only for his own guild to then turn on him… even if he hadn't been somehow transported to a faraway land, he would've been at a loss for what to do now, honestly. Still, he had his life and his freedom, so he would make the most of it.

He may need to make finding himself some more pawns to take advantage of a priority, as his previous encounter with the wizards of those legal guilds had made it painfully clear that he was not strong enough as he was… and that was before he’d been left to rot in prison for years whilst they trained and improved. It could be that by this point those wizards who had once struggled to defeat the Oración Seis were now so powerful that they could take him down without breaking a sweat.

Therefore his first goal would have to be finding out where he was, his second gathering more information, and his third recruiting new help.

***

He reached the forest before long, and immediately knew that something was wrong with it too. It didn’t smell right. Approaching the nearest tree, he took a closer look at it. What had at first seemed like a light coating of snow was revealed to be caster sugar, the pine needles were thin, gummy sweets, and the branches and tree trunk were chocolate. Snarling, he glared at his surroundings.

This entire mountain was a joke, he was beginning to suspect. He had no idea why, but it seemed that everything on it had been built from—or possibly transformed into—confectionery, presumably through the use of very powerful, yet undeniably stupid, magic. It had to be magic, as he couldn’t imagine anyone doing all this by hand; it would surely take more than an entire lifetime to complete.

Still, if it had been purposefully put here then was it not likely that its creator was also the one responsible for bringing Brain to this place? And if that was the case, did it not mean that they would likely be observing him? Coming to the conclusion that the mastermind might be annoyed enough to show themselves if he trashed their stupid, candy forest, Brain decided to wreck everything.

Holding Klodoa aloft, he poured magic power into the skull and the crystal ball in its mouth, focusing on the spell he wished to cast. More magic, in the form of green light, began to rise up from the ground and materialise from the air around him, all of it coalescing around the end of his staff. The seconds ticked by as the silver-haired man gathered more and more power, until he figured he had enough and cut off the flow of energy.

“Dark Rondo!” Brain screamed. A purple, magic circle materialised for a moment in front of Klodoa’s skull, and from its centre, dozens of thick bolts of green magic blasted forth. The wizard was pointing the staff upwards, at an angle which resulted in the spell’s projectiles rising high into the air before curving downwards and raining onto the forest from above.

Looking at the size of the explosions the projectiles caused, as well as sensing the amount of magic he’d been able to channel while charging up the spell, Brain knew that his Dark Rondo was much weaker than it should have been, and that knowledge caused him to growl in frustration; this day was just getting worse and worse.

He wasn’t sure if being in prison—locked away in one of those anti-magic cells—for so long had caused his magic power to atrophy somehow, or if his new weakness was a result of being almost killed by Coba… or perhaps it was even due to whatever spell had teleported him to this mountain. Whatever the reason, its discovery was not a pleasant revelation.

On the bright side, chocolate was not the most resilient of materials, so despite his weakened state, his spell utterly devastated the section of forest he’d struck. Trunks and branches snapped and melted, along with the sugar, gummy sweets and icing. When the rain of death had abated, all that was left in the cleared area was a sticky, brown, green and white mess, dotted with partially melted tree stumps.

Brain grinned, and waited a few moments. Unfortunately, no one suddenly appeared out of the ether to berate him for damaging their ridiculous work of art. He wasn't about to give up so quickly, though, so simply shrugged and raised Klodoa up again, once more beginning to draw in magic. He had plenty of power left, so wasn’t going to be stopping any time soon. He imagined that the mountain’s creator would show themselves at some point before he had destroyed their entire forest...
 

Apra

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“Whaaat are you doooing!?” came a shrill, plaintive cry. Brain smirked, and turned to face the speaker. He’d actually exerted himself enough that he’d started to sweat—casting the Dark Rondo over and over, felling swathes of ‘trees’ with each incantation—so it was good that he had finally attracted the attention of the deranged sculptor who had crafted this mountain of candy.

What he saw when he turned was no mighty wizard, though. His face fell, and he growled in annoyance. What approached him, splashing through the quickly cooling puddle of melted chocolate, sugar and icing, was a gingerbread man.

It was person-sized, but its appearance was unmistakable. He hadn’t realised that the architect of this place could animate their constructs, but it wasn’t unheard of for magic to do such a thing, so he wasn’t overly surprised, though he was a little angry at himself not not considering the possibility that the mountain’s master might simply send an envoy, rather than revealing themselves to him.

“What do you want?” the dark wizard snarled at the preposterous creature, as it came to a stop a couple metres from him. In one hand it held a red and white blunderbuss, seemingly made from candy cane. ‘Held’ wasn’t all that accurate, though, as the absurd being had no fingers; it simply touched the weapon with its fat, stubby ‘hand’, and somehow was able to lift it.

“I-I want to know why you’re doooing this? What did this forest ever do to yooou?” as it whined, the gingerbread man began to raise its weapon.

Instinctively, Brain flicked his wrist, holding his hand perfectly straight, and a blast of green energy flashed from his palm, moving too fast for the eye to follow. It struck the creature where a person’s elbow ought to be. Its limb snapped in half, causing the forearm and weapon to fall to the ground, landing in the thick, syrupy liquid with a splat.

The gingerbread man shrieked in agony and fell to its knees, clutching at its stump of an arm, even though no blood flowed from the wound. Brain frowned. He hadn’t expected it to give up on fighting so easily; he’d thought he might have to damage at least its other arm, and possibly its legs as well. Still, he shouldn’t complain; the fact that he’d been able to blow off an arm despite the reduced power of his magic meant that this thing must be very weak, and its ability to feel pain seemed to suggest that it was more than a simple, animated doll... and therefore might actually be of use to him, rather than simply a hindrance in his path.

“You will answer my questions.” he instructed it, not deigning to answer its own.

“Yes! Yes! Alright, anything! Just please don’t kill me!” it raised its head to face him and he saw that it was able to move around the icing on its face to form different expressions; it currently had trails of the stuff ‘leaking’ from its ‘eyes’, as if it were crying. This creature was truly odd; he had no idea why it would ever benefit anyone to make such a thing.

“Good. Answer with sufficient detail and I will spare you. I’ll even be so generous as to leave what remains of this forest standing. Now, tell me where this is, and who made this place?”

“Th-this is Mount Marzipan, of the Icy Fruitcake mountain range… on Hurshii, of course. And... wh-who made this place? I-I don’t understand. You mean the cabin out beyond the f-forest’s edge? I built that myself... it’s my home.” the gingerbread man stuttered in between sobs.

Brain thought on that answer for a moment, glaring at the creature. The place names meant nothing to him. Could he perhaps have left the continent of Ishgar entirely? And if the creature thought he was referring to its cabin alone, it likely knew nothing of the wizard responsible for conjuring this mountain… or perhaps the entire mountain range, as the answer it had given seemed to suggest that they were all preposterous confectionery constructs such as this.

“That name means nothing to me. Where is ‘Hurshii’? What continent is it on? And I was asking you who is responsible for creating all of this-” he gestured around vaguely, “-sweet stuff.”

“O-oh, I see, you’re an outsider, a-a newcomer to the Crossroads. H-Hurshii isn’t ooon any continent, Hurshii itself is a whole plaaanet, and everywhere on it is l-like this; th-the landscape is all candy and sweets.” the gingerbread man was giving him what he supposed must be a pleading look. It did seem to be earnest, at least; he didn’t get the impression that he was being lied to.

Brain found himself leaning on Klodoa for support. He’d been torn away from his own world and sent to another realm entirely, possibly with no way back. It was staggering. It did explain one thing, though; if this world had less ambient magic power than his own, it was reasonable that his spells would be weaker. Then something odd about what the thing had just said struck him.

“If ‘Hurshii’ is the world… then what do you mean by calling me a newcomer to ‘the Crossroads’? What are the Crossroads?”

“The Crossroads is the name of our star system… th-there are a few other planets here besides Hurshii. After coming here, no one can ever leave the Crossroads, but ships between the worlds are common enough that if you head to a c-city with a spaceport, you can get a ticket very easily; they're no more expensive than a simple dagger.” he could hear the eagerness in its voice. The creature clearly hoped he’d leave not only the mountain it called home, but also the entire planet.

“And these other worlds, are they also food-themed?” the dark wizard enquired, stroking his chin as he contemplated the strange reality he had found himself in. The idea of food-planets was exceedingly strange, but if there was one made of meat, that would at least be much more bearable than living somewhere as sickeningly saccharine as this place.

“N-no! They’re not! You’d probably like them a lot more! They’re all very different in their own ways, but Hurshii is the only edible world! I don’t know much about them myself, but there are tourist information booths in most spaceports, so you can easily find out if you travel to a city!”

“Hm, I see. Yes, that does sound preferrable. I suppose that’s what I’ll do, then. And how would I reach the nearest city with one of these ‘spaceports’?”

With its remaining arm, the gingerbread man pointed off in one direction, “S-start by heading south, you’ll reach a l-lemonade river within a few hours. It flows to the south-east, and if you follow it along in that direction, you’ll come to a city after about three days of walking.”

Hope and relief were clear in the creature’s voice, noticeable even in spite of the pain that still coloured its tone.

“Tell me more about this city.” Brain commanded.

“Of c-course. I-it’s called Pastilleopolis, and most most of the buildings are constructed from sugar-coated gummy sweets with fruity flavourings. Its main export is sugar, which its citizens labour ceaselessly to harvest from the candy cane plantations nearby. It is ostensibly run by Mayor Rowntree, but in reality he just does as he’s told by the Wondertainment Toy Company, like everyone else. It has a population of-”

“Alright, enough.” the dark wizard instructed (not being interested in hearing any more useless trivia), raising a hand for silence, and as a result causing the gingerbread man to immediately flinch back and fall over in terror, fearing another magical blast.

In just the short time they’d been talking, the cold, mountain air had already re-solidified the liquid sugar and chocolate, so unlike its severed forearm, the gingerbread man’s back did not get covered in any sticky goo when it toppled over.

“I’ll be going now. Thank you for your assistance.” Brain told it, then, as a parting gift, he fired a blast of darkness magic into the creature’s face, which exploded.

Observing the headless, gingerbread corpse, he smirked coldly. If the silver-haired man had learned anything from his lengthy prison sentence, it was that he really needed to take more care to ensure that he actually finished off his victims when he defeated them. It was a mistake that he had made in the past both as himself and as Zero. As he sat in that cell day in and day out, ruminating on his defeat and its causes, Brain had sworn to himself that in future, he would not ever make that same error again.

He had no way of knowing that the gingerbread man was truly isolated out here; it may well have had some way of contacting the city before the wizard could reach it, and if that had happened then he may well have been arrested upon arrival. And that could not be allowed, no matter what; Brain was done wasting his life locked away in a cell.

Turning away from the body, he headed south without another word.
 

Apra

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The city gates loomed over him. It'd taken about three and a half days, but Brain had arrived at last before the city of Pastilleopolis. He'd had to drink nothing but lemonade, and had had to dig through a thick layer of icing before each meal, to excavate the fruitcake beneath (the name of the mountain range had been spot-on; the ground in the area was entirely made up of iced fruitcake), just so he could eat something that wasn't pure sugar.

And after all that, this city…

Was just as bad as he had dreaded it might be. The gates were enormous, chocolate chip cookies, and as he'd been warned, almost all of the brickwork in the city was little more than cuboid fruit pastilles stacked atop one another to form walls. He walked quickly through the open gates, studiously ignoring the guards that he passed, one of whom were stationed on either side of the gates.

He knew that their eyes were on him as he passed through, and was sure that they were suspicious of a stranger like him showing up, looking totally pissed off. He didn’t bother trying to disguise his expression or to convince them that he meant no harm, just glared straight ahead as he walked by. He might’ve put in a little more effort if the pair had been human, but alas, they were more of the same sort of preposterous culinary creatures that the man on the mountain had been.

Unlike that one, though, these things were not made of gingerbread, but rather some sort of gummy, jelly-like sweet. They resembled babies in their shape, but were the size of adult humans, and stood on two feet. One was entirely red and the other completely green, though both carried what looked like short swords carved from candy canes. The creature he’d interrogated previously had said something about this place having candy cane plantations—though Brain had no idea what was meant by that—and it seemed that the people of this city were in the habit of using the canes as weapons after refining them.

The guards didn’t stop him, thankfully, but the inside of the city wasn’t much better. Not everyone within its walls was made from candy, but almost all of those who weren’t looked just as absurd; like drawings from children’s stories, rather than biologically possible beings. Of course, it wasn’t like magic creatures were completely unheard of on Earthland, so he wasn’t quite as shocked by them as he had been by the food-people.

Nevertheless, he strode quickly through the streets, not interested in interacting with any of them, intent on finding his way off this idiotic world of confectionery at the first possible opportunity. In turn, the people took notice of the way he was glaring at everything around him as he searched for a street sign that might actually be helpful, and they kept out of his way, many even going so far as to cross to the other side of the road so that they didn’t cross his path.

He was brought up short by a certain smell. It wasn’t a potent smell, really; in fact, it was almost hidden beneath the sickly, saccharine sweetness of the edible buildings and people all around. The odour was unmistakable, though; it was meat.

Brain was no glutton, and ordinarily would never have allowed himself to be distracted from his goal by something as trivial as missing a single meal… but on this overwhelmingly sugary planet, he had not expected to come across real food, and even before the last few days—in which he’d eaten nothing but this overly sweet trash—he had been getting only prison fare; the silver-haired man hadn’t had a proper meal in years.

After only a moment’s hesitation, he turned to face a narrow, dimly lit side-street, following his nose. There was someone there. They stared out at him from the darkness, their eyes glinting with reflected light. Then the shadowy figure turned and vanished into the alleyway. He couldn’t say why, exactly, but for some reason Brain was sure that that person had been an actual human.

He followed them, and the glorious scent of meat. The thought did occur to him that this could be a trap, but he wasn’t unduly worried; whilst he may be weaker than he had been on Earthland, if the reason for this was—as he suspected—a lower level of ambient magic in this reality, then it would mean that others with levels of power comparable to his own ought to be similarly reduced. As such, he highly doubted that he had anything to fear from any simple, street thugs.

The smell grew stronger as he walked further, taking a few turns before coming to a cafe and take-away place. Opening the door, he stepped inside, and the odours of meat and grease struck him like an avalanche. Ordinarily, he’d have thought such cheap fare disgusting, but at the moment he wanted nothing more.

There were four others in the building, and they all turned to look at him when he entered. The shopkeeper—who stood behind the counter—was an older man, very fat, with a pig-like head and tiny, beady, dark eyes. Short tusks protruded from his lower jaw and his skin was covered in bristles except on his palms and the fronts of his fingers. Drool leaked from his mouth. He wore a ragged, dirty, grease-stained chef’s outfit, and was most definitely not hygenic enough to be handling food.

Beside him was a much younger man, barely more than a boy, and merely chubby, rather than obese, but otherwise with the same pig-like appearance. Behind them, a donner kebab turned on its spit. That didn’t seem to be all they served here, though, as there were also frying pans, deep fat fryers and other cooking utensils lying around. Brain spotted uncooked burgers, chips and battered fish.

One of the two customers in here with him seemed a little out of place; it was one of the candy creatures, this one looking like it was made primarily from liquorice, though with some differently-coloured parts as well, such as a pink head and blue blocks for hands and feet. That said, its body had a greasy sheen, and its chest had a dollop of what looked like ketchup spilled on it. The thing ‘held’ (like the gingerbread man, it seemed able to do this despite lacking fingers) a very large cheeseburger in one hand, and a bottle in a brown, paper bag in the other. It gave him a crooked smile.

The final figure was an Asian woman in a long, black coat with a popped collar large enough that it’d cover her face up to just below her eyes when fastened closed, though for the time being she had it opened so that she could scarf down the kebab she held. Aside from the coat, all he could see of her clothing was a pair of thick, black boots. Her hair was dark brown and medium length, and it seemed that she’d used a copious amount of hair gel to get it to stick up and look all spiky, for some reason. She didn’t stop eating, but gave him a nod, and the dark wizard wondered if she’d been the one he’d seen outside.

“Wot can I getcha?” rumbled the older pig-man.

Brain took another look at the food on display, and at the menu written in chalk on a blackboard behind the counter, then shrugged and grunted, “Kebab.”

The man nodded and began carving off a slice of meat, while Brain looked back to the woman, eyes narrowing as he tried to decide if she could really have been the one he saw in the alley. Based on what he could surmise about the height of his observer based on the level at which their eyes had been, he supposed that it likely could be her… unfortunately, the mysterious individual’s height had simply seemed to be ‘average’, so there were undoubtedly plenty of others whom it could’ve been as well.

“You want somethin’?” she asked, glaring back at him. She lowered her food and wiped the grease from her mouth… and chin, as she’d not done a good job of eating without making a mess.

“No.” he said coldly, turning his head away. He closed in on the counter, reached out to take the kebab the owner was handing him, then froze. Suddenly, the silver-haired man remembered that he was penniless. Even if this place used Jewels as currency, like Fiore, Brain had none on him, what with having just escaped prison and all.

He supposed he could just kill these four. Or perhaps simply leave without eating. That would certainly be the less illegal option. Before he could decide whether a cheap kebab was worth potentially facing a quadruple homicide charge, the woman stepped up beside him and tossed the shopkeeper a few coins.

“Come on, big guy, let’s talk.” so saying, she turned and headed for the door. Something about the way she’d turned there made him sure that she was the person he’d seen. Though inexplicably paying for his meal was also a strong hint, as it wasn’t exactly normal behaviour.

It was obvious that she had some purpose in mind for him, but he doubted that would matter, much. If he decided he didn’t want to go along with whatever she had planned, he could always just kill her, after all. And getting away with one murder would be much easier than getting away with four.
 

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Beginning Community Quest: Legend of the Gummy Serpent

She led Brain into another alley, and he followed along obediently, making a start on his meal, which tasted fantastic after days of nothing but desserts. He hadn't managed more than a few mouthfuls before his guide came to a stop and faced him, giving him a once over, her eyes lingering on his bare, muscular chest for a moment, before she tilted her head back a little, looking up to meet his gaze, “So, mister, you seem pretty strong… and pretty short on cash. What do ya say to a little job offer?”

“Does it involve me immediately leaving this planet?” he asked, his expression blank.

She laughed, “Not so fond of all the sweetness, huh? Well, can’t say I blame you, I’m pretty sick of it myself. But no, it doesn’t.”

Immediately, and without another word, Brain turned to leave.

“Oi, wait! Wait!” the woman yelled before he’d made it three steps. He stopped, and she lowered her voice, “C’mon, I bought you dinner, the least you can do is gimme a few minutes of your time, surely?”

Slowly turning back, glaring, Brain wondered whether he ought to just kill her, but ultimately decided against it. It was true that he had no money, and he'd need some to leave this world, so it could benefit him to hear her out, “I suppose.”

“That’s the spirit.” she said, grinning. Then, after gracelessly stuffing the remains of her food into her mouth and tossing on the ground the greaseproof paper in which it had been wrapped, she quickly buttoned up her massive collar, concealing the lower half of her face, and pulled a small, rectangular something out of a pocket. She tapped at its screen, which seemed to have some sort of coloured display which reminded the silver-haired man of his own Archive Magic, though far smaller.

“So, you got Medium access, big guy?” she asked, not looking up from whatever she was doing.

“Medium access to what? I’ve just arrived on this cursed world, so I have no clue what you're referring to.” he responded, glaring her way.

“Ah, you’re a noob, huh? Well, Medium access doesn't mean, like, medium-level access to somethin' or other, just access to the Medium. And the Medium is, well... I guess you could call it a ‘communications hub’. Do you have anythin' that you used to use communicate with others, back wherever you lived before here? If so, try usin' it now; sometimes noobs can get a Medium signal even with devices made for other systems.”

He frowned, not having any idea what she was talking about… but Archive was a type of communication, he supposed, and so figured he might as well give that a shot. Waving a hand, Brain called into existence a bank of holographic, yellow-tinted screens beside him. The woman whistled softly. Looking over at them, he noticed a blinking icon on one. As he willed it into existence, a holographic keyboard formed before him. Tapping the buttons to select that icon, he received a prompt asking him if he wished to connect to ‘The Medium’. With another tap of a button, it was done.

“Well, that’s certainly new to me,” his mysterious companion said, her eyes locked on the plethora of screens, “I’ve never seen anyone usin’ magic spells in place of a phone… though I ain’t exactly well-versed in all that mystic mumbo jumbo, so that’s maybe not sayin’ much.”

“This sort of magic isn’t common where I come from, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it's rare here as well. Now, I have accessed this ‘Medium’, so what next… and how does this relate to your 'job offer'?” the dark wizard demanded.

“Here, just type this into the search bar,” so saying, the dark-haired lady held up her little device, which displayed a long code on the screen, “it'll let you speak to someone who can brief you on the job.”

“I hope you realise that if this is just some stupid joke, I will kill you for wasting my time. You understand that, right?” Brain asked while typing.

“Ah… I did not, but now I do. No worries, though, big guy, it's a real offer. An’ if you're confident in your ability to kill, then I may’ve been right to ask you. This could be right up your alley.” her voice was calm and confident, but she took a small step back.

After typing the long string of letters and symbols, the wizard jabbed at a key and the screen on which the bar had been displayed was replaced by one with a ‘loading’ message. Then, after a couple seconds, a ‘connecting’ message replaced that.

“Okay, good.” the woman in the overcoat said, nodding, “Now, you'll get to speak to someone in a sec. Just tell them ‘One pain is cured by another.'”

“Oh, why? What is that supposed to mean?” Brain asked disinterestedly.

“Like hell I know. I guess probably ‘revenge feels fuckin’ good’, or somethin’ along them lines. It doesn't really matter, though, it's just a code, to let the boss’ people know you ain't gonna rat us out to anyone.”

“How do-” the silver-haired man began, planning on asking what made her think he wouldn't immediately spill their secrets at the first possible opportunity. He never got the chance, though, as just then the connection was established, and the image of a guy who was positively ancient, with a light brown skin tone and grey hair—standing, hunched over slightly, behind a wooden counter—filled the screen.

*Greetings, young man,* the shopkeeper said, smiling warmly. His words were not heard aloud, but rather arrived directly in Brain's head, thanks to the magic of Archive, *it's not often this little store sees custom from off-world, but I'm sure we can arrange a reasonably priced delivery. Welcome to Hoodwink’s Apothecarium, how might I be of service today?”*

Brain cast a sideways glance at the woman, to see if she had also able to 'hear' the man, or if she would be left out of the conversation. She nodded encouragingly, presumably indicating that he should repeat that silly code, and the dark wizard noticed that the screen of her handheld device had turned a yellow shade, similar to Archive's displays. Wondering if that object was in some way required in order for her to use any form of long-distance communication at all, he sighed, then held the fore- and index fingers of his free hand up to his forehead, as he was required to do when sending telepathic messages, and thought, *'One pain is cured with another.’*

He could have said the words aloud and Archive still would have transmitted the thought over to the person he was contacting, but even though he and the woman were alone in the alleyway, so not in much danger of being overheard, he figured it wouldn't hurt to hold the conversation silently.

*Excuse me?* asked the geezer, sounding confused. The dark wizard looked at the woman, his eyes narrowing, thinking that all her talk of a code might have been nonsense, and that this man was just some harmless old guy. He momentarily contemplated sending a pulse of magic power straight into her skull. Tricking a stranger into prank calling a random shop seemed a stupid thing to die over, but it hardly mattered to him; if anyone tried to make a fool of him, it was only natural that they perish as a result of their poor life choices.

“What's with the weird salute?" she asked aloud, apparently not interested in taking advantage of the perfectly silent method of communication that was on offer here, "And the code is 'by another’, not 'with'.”

*Causing others pain doesn't sound very nice, but if you're in pain yourself, we have a wide variety of potions available which can counteract all manner of health problems.* the shopkeeper offered. The silver-haired man ignored him.

“It's not a salute, you fool, this gesture is required in order to use telepathy magic.” he said, figuring that there was no point in him being quiet if she wasn't going to be, "And what was that about the code?"

“It's ‘one pain is cured by another’. You said ‘one pain is cured with another’.” she informed him, after giving him a sceptical look when he'd explained his telepathy. Brain wondered if perhaps things were different in this reality, and there might be telepaths out there who could use their magic without a gesture.

“Alright, fine,” he growled, supposing that he might as well give her one more chance, after having gone along with everything thus far. If it turned out that this was no more than a childish joke, though, he'd not show her any mercy for wasting his time, which could have otherwise been spent reaching the city's spaceport as fast as possible and getting off this disgusting excuse for a world. He turned back to the screen showing the old geezer behind the counter, “‘one pain is cured by another’.”

Immediately, the shopkeeper’s attitude changed. He straightened up, smile vanishing, looked imperiously at the dark wizard, and sighed, *You couldn't even remember a phrase six words long? Seriously? Youths these days are such ill-educated louts. Still, a customer is a customer, I suppose. I don't recognise you, which means you're new, and we don't extend credit to new customers, so I hope you have the means to pay for whatever it is you need.*

The old man's tone was icy, now. It was the voice of a businessman whose goods were in such high demand that he felt no need to provide anything approaching decent customer service in order to keep people coming back.

“I don’t need anything from you,” Brain growled, not particularly appreciating being called a youth… he wouldn’t argue the point, though, as this guy was decrepit enough that Brain actually did appear quite young by comparison. And that was an impressive feat. The shopkeeper looked as though he might crumble to dust if he was hit by so much as a stiff breeze, “I’m only contacting you because this one-”

Here the dark wizard grabbed the woman beside him by one shoulder and yanked her over to stand in front of the screen, letting the ancient geezer see her, “-told me something about a job offer.”

*Oh yes, there was one offer we’d put out on Hurshii, wasn’t there?* the shopkeeper said absently, then opened a drawer, pulled out a sheaf of papers, and began leafing through them, *Ah, yes, here it is… hunting a ‘gummy serpent’ and delivering its venom sacs to our agents on Hurshii. This task is actually rated as being quite challenging, are you sure you’re up to it?*

“Killing a snake? What do you take me for? Of course I can handle something so simple.” the silver-haired man responded irritably, letting go of his captive, who chuckled and backed off a couple steps.

*Well, they’re apparently rather large, so that may not be as easy as you’re imagining. Also, the species is very close to extinction... so much so that they seem to have become almost a legend. And we have no idea where they can be found, other than that it’s somewhere on Hurshii, so good luck tracking one down.* the old bastard said, his contemptuous tone making it clear that he didn't think Brain was up to the task.

“Hmm,” the silver-haired man mused, wondering if this presumably time-consuming task would even be worth bothering with, “And how much would I get for this, then?”

*If you succeed in getting us the venom sacs intact?* the geezer paused for dramatic effect, and smiled slyly, *Sixteen thousand coins.*

“Ah… and what is that worth, then?” the dark wizard asked, his tone clearly unimpressed, thinking that if one coin was the equivalent of one jewel (the currency of Fiore, back on his own world), then it was a pretty awful reward. For that much, he might be able to afford a new pair of boots. It was hardly a figure worth risking life and limb for.

“Heh,” the woman in the overcoat said, and though he couldn’t see her mouth behind that massive collar, he knew she was smirking, “well, put it like this, big guy, sixteen kay would be more’n enough to buy outright every single buildin’ in an entire town.”

“Oh.” Brain said, blinking in surprise. He wasn’t normally all that interested in material wealth, certainly not nearly as much as he craved knowledge and power, but that was a truly immense fortune. It was now clear to him that there was a massive difference in the value of currency between the two worlds.

Turning to the screen displaying the old guy, he asked, “Is that true?”

The geezer shrugged, *More or less. The value of a building can differ depending on many factors, so it’s hard to measure currency in the number of buildings it’s worth. If you were to try buying an entire town, you’d likely have to settle for one of the poorer, shabbier ones. But yes, it would be possible to do such a thing.*

“And you would just give up all that money in exchange for some snake venom?” Brain asked sceptically.

*Exactly,* the ancient man nodded, *The venom is an extremely potent toxin, with a single drop being capable of felling an ox, and as big as it is rumoured to be, the gummy serpent should have a vast amount of the stuff. Even when paying so much for it, my employer is confident that he can make a tidy profit from selling it on.*

Brain stared into his eyes, then turned to the Asian lady and looked at her as well. As far as he could tell, they didn’t seem to be lying. Though he was not the best of the Oración Seis members at reading people, the silver-haired man did have some confidence in his ability to do so. And he had even more confidence in his ability to brutally murder these fools in the event that they dared try to double-cross him. So he nodded.

“Alright, fine. I’ll accept your offer, and bring you that venom.”

*Excellent.*

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Apra

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“Well, thanks for the help,” the overcoat lady said cheerily once the call had ended and Brain had closed Archive, “good luck with the search, dude.”

He narrowed his eyes, “You seem awfully chipper.”

“Huh? Oh, don't mind me!” she said, and laughed awkwardly, “Anyways, I've places to go, noobs to recruit, so I'll just be headed off now an’ leave you to your-”

“Hold it.” the dark wizard interrupted, his left hand clamping tightly on her right shoulder as she tried to back off, “That shopkeeper said there was one job they needed done on Hurshii… so what are you recruiting for?”

“Ah, well… you caught that, huh...? Haha…” the woman said, trying ineffectually to shrug off his iron grip and back away.

“Just how many people before me have accepted this little quest of yours?”

“Oh, uh… a couple… well, a few… maybe several…” she blatantly avoided meeting his gaze.

“Several?” he asked dully, not believing her for an instant.

“Yeah, several. Dozen.”

“Several dozen?” he snarled, drawing her closer and contemplating how much might be left of her corpse if he should force Klodoa's entire skull into her mouth before unleashing a Dark Rondo.

“Yeeeaaah. Somethin’ like that. It's a pretty difficult job, y'know. Not just anyone can track down an’ slay a giant snake. Course, I'm sure you'll manage, big guy, but I get paid commission for each idiot- um, applicant, I recruit, so if I can convince one or two more before your inevitable triumphant return, why not, right?”

“Mph. Of those people who've accepted this job before me, how many are still alive?”

“Ah,” the woman continued to avoid making eye contact, “round about, roughly, sorta, kinda, approximately, somewhere in the region of... none of them.”

“What.” the silver-haired man responded flatly.

“Yeeeaaah, none. Nadda. Zilch. Nobody.”

“I see… so this snake has killed everyone who has even attempted to locate it, then?”

“Uh, yeah... I guess you could say that. In a way.”

He tightened his grasp, fingers digging into her shoulder.

“Ow! Ooow, dammit! Stop! Stop!” after an unimpressive attempt at wriggling free of his grip, followed by an equally mediocre attempt at tugging his hand away, the overcoat lady gave in, “Alright! It wasn't just the damn snake! Ease up a bit, this hurts!”

“Go on.” Brain instructed coldly, but relaxed his hand a fraction.

“There's this savage tribe of candy people who kinda, uh, worship them gummy serpents as avatars of their god, and’ll happily fight to the death to slaughter any outsiders who so much as get close to their territory. And before you ask, yes, they live in the same place as the snakes, and no, I ain't got a clue where. I just do the recruitin'.”

“Hmm, so anyone who successfully tracks down the creature is slain either by it or by its primitive guardians? I see. Still, if none of your ‘recruits’ have ever given up before reaching that point, at least uncovering the location can't be that challenging.” Brain stated, musing on whether or not he ought to continue with this mission. He couldn't imagine a tribe of clueless savages proving much of an obstacle to as great a wizard as himself.

His thoughts were interrupted by an awkward cough, “Oh yeah, totally. Just them, nothin’ else. At all... haha...”

“You are the worst liar I have met in my entire life.” Brain replied, after a short pause, “Now tell me the rest before I break your arm.”

“Aw, fine.” she grumped, “It ain't just the tribe. The thing is, these snakes are also, like, nearly extinct, an’ there are a bunch of crazy animal rights activists around who've got this weird idea in their heads that it's wrong to hunt endangered species for profit. They generally try to assassinate anyone they hear has been even askin’ about the snakes.”

“I... see.” the dark wizard said slowly, then nodded. He released his grip and patted her shoulder a couple times.

She nodded back, and started to back up a step. He immediately grabbed her by the collar, lifted her from the ground, and slammed her into the alley wall with all his strength. Though the sugar-coated gummy sweets that made up the brickwork were by no means as solid as real stone, she still grunted in pain at the impact. Brain leaned in so close that their faces were but an inch apart, his own expression suddenly twisting into an enraged snarl.

“And you just thought you'd not bother telling me that? Are you trying to get me killed?”

“Well…” she began, but hesitated. Seeming to finally realise that she wasn't going to be able to awkwardly mumble her way out of this, she sighed, but then her expression hardened, “Yeah, alright, I admit it. That's pretty much exactly what I'm after.”

She met his gaze this time, and he noticed that her eyes were a bright, emerald green. The woman could actually manage to look surprisingly intense when she felt like it. He was sure that she could even come across as intimidating when she wore as serious an expression as the one she had now.

“Why?” Brain asked, not really sure why he was bothering to give her a chance to explain herself. He knew that logically he ought to just kill her here, go through her pockets to see if she had any more coins on her, then use her money to buy himself passage off this repulsive planet. But the immense fortune that he could instantly amass by completing this job called to him. His life in this realm could be made so much easier with that kind of wealth.

“I get paid commission. The more idiots who accept this suicide mission, the less real work I gotta do to make ends meet. An’ if someone completes the job, there's no guarantee another'll come along.” she shrugged as best she was able in her current position, “The shopkeep's in on it too. He reckons the boss is offerin’ way too much for the venom, an’ the business'll go bust before turnin' a profit if we pay all that. So in the interest of keepin’ his job, he agreed to go along with my suggestion that we downplay the dangers when advertisin’ this mission.”

“I see… and I'm the first person to ever uncover your little scheme, am I?”

“Nah, there've been a couple others.”

“And what happened to them?” the silver-haired man could guess, since he'd already been told that everyone who had ever taken this job had ended up dying, but it didn't hurt to confirm it. If his would-be employers would decide to silence him should he walk away, he may have to hunt them down before they could do so.

“Heh. They both lost their tempers and attacked me. I killed them myself.” from the blatant smugness in her tone, he felt certain that she was being honest; she was clearly pleased with herself for being able to slay these other recruits. There was more to this overcoat lady than he had suspected, it would seem. He doubted that those she'd defeated could have been anywhere close to being his equals, but it couldn't hurt to be cautious of her just in case.

“Hmm, and if they had not attacked you but had instead just left and given up on the job, what would you have done then?”

Nothing.” she answered quickly, her voice sweet and soothing and utterly unlike how she’d spoken up to this point. She met his eyes this time, though that in no way convinced him. The woman was still an atrocious liar.

“Hmph,” he grunted, and released her, “so that’s how it is. Fine. And what about if someone were to finally complete this mission? Would you attempt to kill them when they tried to collect on the reward?”

“Haha. Fuck no.” raising her hands, the mysterious recruiter slid sideways—out from between Brain and the wall—and backed away a few paces, “I wanna keep my job, but I do have some self-preservation instinct, y’know. Anyone who could beat a bunch of psycho animal rights assassins, a small army of fanatical cultists, and a giant, super-toxic snake, would be way above my pay grade… but does this question mean you’re considerin’ playin’ along, even knowin’ what you know?”

He couldn’t see the smile he was sure was on her lips, but the dark wizard did spot the eager gleam in her eyes. Was she truly so enthralled by the prospect of earning money, or did she derive some sick pleasure from sending people to their deaths? She might well tell him if he asked, but Brain didn’t particularly care. The recruiter was nothing more than small fry, just one minion of her mysterious employer. She didn’t matter any more than that old shopkeeper.

He nodded to her, then turned and strode off without another word.

Behind him, the lady in the overcoat began to chuckle. Softly to begin with, but soon more and more loudly, until she was laughing at the top of her lungs.


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Apra

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Heads turned his way as the silver-haired man stepped into the bar. Letting the door slide closed behind him, he sighed as he surveyed this place's patrons. Pathetic.

The tavern had the same sort of atmosphere—and level of cleanliness—that one would expect of any other dingy, disreputable bar, but the shady, unwelcoming patrons were one and all cartoons or confectionery. It looked moronic. Like a picture book belonging to the universe's edgiest 3-year-old. They glared at him inhospitably, and he sneered back, feeling nothing but contempt for these ridiculous beings, and secure in the knowledge that he could slaughter everyone in this room with a single Dark Rondo, should he so desire.

He had information to gather, though, and for that he would need at least one of them alive.

Brain strode up to the bar, his footsteps and the sound of Klodoa’s shaft striking the floor loud amidst the perfect silence which had descended upon his arrival. He ignored the glares directed his way.

“What do ya want?” the barkeep asked gruffly. He—or it—was a fat marshmallow man, who was cleaning a glass with a rag, and held a cigar in his mouth. He was almost as tall as the dark wizard, and far wider.

“I heard this place was a good source of information. Much as I’d rather not have had to endure your company, I’m not yet familiar enough with the ‘Medium’ you have in this realm to effectively sift through the immense quantities of data available there with my Archive. Which has led me to resort to simply asking questions in the dim hopes that one of you maggots might actually prove to have enough knowledge to be of use to me.” the dark wizard didn’t bother to keep the scorn from his voice.

Several people stood up, and much angry muttering rose from the patrons. Slowly, the marshmallow man put down his cloth and his glass, “Ya better mind yar tongue, stranger, if ya don’t want ta lose it.”

“Hmph, please, as if trash like you could actually pose a threat to me. Let me make one thing clear, barkeep; though I’ve come here looking for information, I have no intention of paying you for it." the minor detail that the silver-haired man omitted here was that he couldn't have paid for any info, even if he'd wanted to; he was still flat broke, after all, "You’ll tell me what I want to know or you will die. It’s that simple.”

“Raaagh!” yelled someone behind him. Brain spun, and saw a cartoonish caricature of a man with dark bags under bloodshot eyes, coming straight at him, swinging a bar stool.

The silver-haired man simply held up his free hand and launched a small burst of Darkness Magic from his palm. The green light smacked into the man’s sternum and kept on going.

His attacker stopped, then toppled backwards. He landed with a thump, the stool clattering on the floor after slipping from limp fingers. For some reason, poorly-animated blood sprayed up into the air like a miniature fountain from the gaping cavity in the dead man’s chest.

Several others screamed in rage and started towards him. Everyone in the building was on their feet now. Calmly moving his left hand over so that his palm was directed towards the marshmallow man, to keep him from trying anything, Brain raised his staff slightly, beginning to build up magic power within it. Green light shone in Klodoa's eye sockets and within the crystal clutched in his jaws. The people froze, suddenly all looking rather hesitant.

They had seen but a fraction of his power so far, and now seemed to realise that. Looking back at the barkeeper, the silver-haired man saw that the confectionery creature clutched a shotgun in both hands, but had yet to raise it to point at him, apparently having stopped the instant the dark wizard’s hand had turned his way. The marshmallow man was staring worriedly at Brain’s palm.

“So, will you answer my question now?”

“Ya won’t get away with this.” the marshmallow snarled, recovering a tiny bit of his composure, “Don’t ya realise who ya’re messing with?”

“I don’t care.”

“We’re the kings of Hushii’s criminal underworld, the top dogs! We’re the Muffin Man Mafia!”

“The what?” the silver-haired man asked, disgust colouring his voice.

“Haha, yeah, scared yet?” the marshmallow man asked smugly, standing taller, apparently somehow mistaking revulsion for fear, “If that’s enough to frighten ya, this next bit will have ya pissing yar pants: I answer directly to none other than the Custard Cream Capo himself.”

The dark wizard took a deep breath, then let it out. He had to stay calm, to keep himself from killing this imbecile on impulse. The marshmallow man certainly wasn’t making it easy for him, though. These names alone were bad enough that whomever had come up with them deserved to be executed for their poor taste. It felt to him like every single thing he learned about this planet made its inhabitants seem ever more pitiful.

He lowered his hand slightly, angling his palm towards the confectionery creature’s prodigious gut, rather than its chest. Then, Brain fired another pulse of magic. The blast tore a hole in the marshmallow man’s stomach, and the walking lump of sugar slipped to the ground, screaming in agony and dropping his weapon. His hands shot to his belly, as the saccharine being tried his best to staunch the flow of what looked like honey, which was seeping slowly from the gaping wound.

“Aaaagh!” the fat, disgusting lump wailed piteously, his cigar toppling from his mouth. The mob shifted unsurely, but when the silver-haired man glanced over at them they froze up again. Klodoa’s crystal and his eye sockets were still shining with the green light of Darkness Magic; Brain could still cast a Dark Rondo at any moment, and though they didn’t know exactly what his magic could do, the crowd were no doubt wary of taking any potentially suicidal risks.

“Wh-who are yaa!?” blubbered the marshmallow monster, sticky, syrupy trails of tears leaking from his eyes.

“Hmph. I am Brain, of the Oración Seis dark wizard guild, and before the might of my magic, you are all less than insects, lower than maggots.” as he spoke, the silver-haired man realised that this was the first time since he had arrived on this sugar-coated world that he had actually said the name of his guild aloud. For a moment, he felt strangely nostalgic. He saw the faces of his guildmates in his mind; Midnight, Cobra, Angel, Racer, Hoteye. And for some inexplicable reason, he even found himself wondering about how his life might have gone differently if he had actually treated them as trusted comrades and allies, rather than disposable tools.

Shaking his head slightly, the dark wizard brought himself back to reality. There was no point in dwelling on what-ifs and might-have-beens. He had to make the best of whatever situation he found himself in, “Now, tell me… where will I find a giant gummy serpent?”

Despite the agony he must have been enduring, the barkeep managed to blink a few times, his agonised expression being replaced by one of confused disbelief so pronounced that it was clearly apparent to Brain even in spite of his inhuman facial features.

“A snake?” he eventually asked, incredulity colouring his tone, “Y-ya did this ta me... ya opposed the Muffin Man Mafia... threw yar life away… ta find out about some dumb snake?”

In response, the silver-haired man calmly shot one of his prisoner’s arms. The marshmallow man screamed, as honey splattered on the floor and the limb fell limp.

“Answer the question.” Brain instructed coldly.

Hunching over in pain, the candy creature told him slowly, in between sobs. It took a few more questions from the wizard, to clarify minor details and check for inconsistencies—he had to do what he could to determine that he wasn’t being lied to, after all; torture may be great for getting confessions out of people, but it was a notoriously poor method for gathering accurate information—but eventually he had a fairly good idea of where he would need to head in order to reach the Jelly Jungles in which these legendary creatures were believed to dwell.

That done, the silver-haired man nodded, “Thank you for your cooperation.”

Then, without hesitation, he cast a pulse of neon light into the marshmallow monster’s head, which burst open, splattering his surroundings with honey. Several patrons screamed. A few others were quick enough on the uptake to realise what this merciless killing heralded for them, and tried to rush him.

They were, of course, far, far too slow. Brain slammed the butt of his staff down on the floor and said curtly, “Dark Rondo.”

For a moment, a purple, magic circle formed in the air before Klodoa’s skull, then huge bursts of green energy—far larger than the palm-sized bolts he had used on the barkeeper—began storming out from the centre of the circle. They weren’t targeted at all; many struck his victims, but even more collided with the floor, ceiling, walls and furniture. The series of detonations was not quiet.

When the spell had ended, and the dust had settled, the dark wizard paused for a moment to admire his handiwork; not a single living thing aside from himself—and possibly Klodoa, if sentient magic items could be considered ‘living’—was left in the tavern. Most of the patrons weren’t even recognisable as… well, not human… but whatever it was they had originally been, at least.

He was well aware that by killing them he could well end up making himself some new enemies. He doubted they would prove powerful in the slightest, but even so, the mafia goons could likely be quite irritating, especially in large numbers. As such, it would be best for him to get away from this bar before someone came to check on all the noise, and ideally get outside the city entirely, if possible. If no one could tie this slaughter to him, then this Mafia would be one less group he would be forced to massacre on his way to collecting the immense bounty which Hoodwink’s Apothecarium had placed on the legendary gummy serpent.


***


When the silver-haired man strode out through the now-empty doorway (which was empty due to the door having been made from a simple chocolate-chip cookie, and so not being even close to durable enough to resist the great destructive force of his magic) and headed down the street, he completely failed to spot the chocolate frog, no more than a couple inches long, perched on the edge of a nearby building’s roof.

Even had he happened to see it, though, the dark wizard surely would have thought nothing of it, for there was no chance at all that from such a distance he would have noticed, clamped between its tiny jaws, the miniscule camera which the magically animated dessert held.

On the other side of the city, in a dimly lit room, an emerald-eyed woman lay on her sofa, and gave a smile of smug self-satisfaction as she watched the man depart on her smartphone’s screen.


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Apra

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Brain strode purposefully down the corridor, ignoring the light gunfire that pattered against the translucent sphere of magical energy which surrounded him. He had been a little worried, initially, the first time these people had ambushed him. In that instance, he’d barely managed to get up a barrier in time to save himself from being shot to death on the spot.

That was a fortnight ago, now; just a couple days after he’d departed from the city of Pastilleopolis. In the time since then, they’d attacked him twice more, and by this point he hadn’t the slightest doubt that even the greatest of the armaments in their possession were no more than small arms. There was no reason they would have kept sending their people to their deaths, wielding inferior tools, if they had weapons capable of penetrating his shield stashed away somewhere.

Suspiciously well-informed though they may have been for a mere animal rights movement, their resources were clearly limited. Unlike the guns of his own reality, the type which this organisation made use of did not require their wielders’ to expend their magical power in order to fuel the weapons, but instead fired single-use bullets, which had to be replaced after running out.

They were rather inefficient, in his opinion. Perhaps the group had had no choice but to buy the cheapest ones they could choose, simply to ensure that they had enough cash left over for ammunition. If that was the case, their reasoning had been flawed in this case.

After the third ambush, he’d finally gotten tired enough of their antics to track them to the hidden base through which he now trod. It had taken a combination of capturing and torturing his would-be assassins, and some in-depth and time-consuming research through Archive, but he had at last managed to reach the general area from which they were operating. At which point he had then wandered around aimlessly until he stumbled across them. It wasn’t exactly the most efficient search ever carried out, but on this plane his resources were rather negligible, so he hardly had had a lot of choice.

Once located, it had been a simple matter to blow open the doors and stride through the smoking ruin that was left of their entrance. Another reason, he supposed, that they might have bought handguns in bulk, rather than going for more powerful armaments such as rifles, could just be due to the high-calibre weapons seeming like overkill; everything in this confectionery land was so fragile that even handgun shots could tear through pretty much any obstacles. Their own base, for instance, was built almost entirely from rock.

Not stone, though. No, this was the sugary sort of rock. As such, their walls were so feeble that, given enough time, a child could have licked their way through them. To say that the silver-haired man had an easy time breaching their defences was a massive understatement. It had taken only a single, condensed Rondo to utterly annihilate the great, thick double doors that had been their entranceway.

And now the candy people and their caricature-ish companions fired everything they had at him, while backing slowly away. They were clearly terrified, as he continued on implacably, down one passage after another, seemingly unaffected by their barrage, a contemptuous sneer plastered on his face.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite as invincible as he was letting on. Maintaining the barrier was taking all his focus, and even so, their shots were slowly wearing it down. He was—and had been, for the last dozen or so minutes—hoping that the next corner he turned would lead into a long, straight corridor. If he could launch a Dark Rondo down such a hallway, he might manage to obliterate all of his attackers in one go, keeping him from wasting his precious magic power. Instead, he was finding that their base was comprised of numerous, short, maze-like passages.

It was annoying. Even after exterminating this cell—he wasn’t optimistic enough to expect that this one base and its occupants would be the entirety of their organisation—he was sure it would take him a while to find his way back out afterwards.

Turning a corner into yet another narrow, short hallway—in this case, one with a door on either wall, and ending in a T-junction—and deciding that he probably wasn’t going to get a good opportunity no matter how long he wandered around aimlessly, and that his prey would likely split up at the end of the corridor, thereby reducing further the number he could hope to slay with a single spell, Brain stopped.

Then, he backed away from them, back around the corner. Before he lost sight of them, he saw them all pause, clearly confused.

The moment he was sure they couldn't notice him doing so, the silver-haired man sighed, and dropped his shield. He wiped off a little sweat that had gathered on his brow, scowling. He was angry at himself for being so easily exerted. Whether his weakness was as a result of being brought here or of dying beforehand, he couldn’t say, and though he knew he should be grateful to have been able to reincarnate at all—especially as he still had his own body, and all his memories were intact—it still pissed him off that he was so much more vulnerable now.

He took only a couple moments to feel sorry for himself, though. He soon heard light footsteps, as some of the building’s denizens worked up their courage and tentatively closed in on him. He raised Klodoa and began channelling the magic he would need to cast his spell. As he poured his own power into the staff, environmental magic—in the form of thick, wavy streams of green light—was drawn towards it as well, gathering around and within the crystal clutched in Klodoa’s skeletal jaws.

Several people gasped, and judging by the (admittedly, soft and hard to hear) footfalls he was listening for, most of them had stopped dead in their tracks. This was no surprise, as he had fully expected that the intimidating lightshow would convince them all to keep their distance—thereby giving him ample time to prepare to unleash his magic upon them—but he could still detect what sounded like one or two people moving... and not only that, but they sounded as if...

Oh? They were approaching him? Instead of running away, they were coming right to him?

Well, that was fine too. Now that he had dropped his shield, he was more vulnerable to their attacks (not that they knew he had released it, of course), but he was also able to attack them now. The moment he saw the first hint of a person rounding the corner, Brain instantly requipped his dagger—summoning the small weapon into his left hand—and lashed out.

The cold steel parted soft flesh with ease, and the individual he’d struck stumbled to the side, coming fully into view. She was one of the cartoonish bunch, a shapely woman with grossly exaggerated features, in a tight, long, pink dress, with matching, elbow-length gloves. She had long, blonde hair, and wore an armband around her left bicep, which displayed her organisation’s logo; circle around the head and upper body of a smiling gummy bear, with a squat tree pictured in the background. The word ‘CARE’ was emblazoned across the bottom, and below that, the group’s full name, in much smaller lettering; ‘The Crusaders of Animal Rights & Environmentalism’.

They all wore those armbands. Brain had been seeing them a lot, what with all the ambushes. They also had a massive flag on their building’s roof, proudly displaying their logo, which lead him to wonder exactly what the point of them having a secret base even was, if they were going to advertise their identity… though at least they’d had the common sense to build their hideout in a forest, where people would be somewhat less likely to stumble across it by accident.

The woman he’d cut clutched at her throat with one hand, staring wide-eyed at him as a comically large amount of blood fountained from her wound. As he was beginning to realise was rather common for these caricature beings, her body appeared to have an extremely tenuous grasp on the laws of physics. In no time at all, more than the woman's entire body weight in blood had spurted from her throat. She was single-handedly flooding the passageway.

She tried to raise her handgun to point his way, as the others around the corner screamed in shock, but the heavy, metal weapon slipped from her numb fingers. She stumbled, caught herself, seeming like she might actually manage to stubbornly remain upright a little longer, even though it was plainly clear that she could no longer hope to do anything to stop him. Then she keeled over, landing with a wet, smacking noise on the floor, which was drenched in her blood.

Brain didn’t know if she was dead already, or had simply fainted. He didn’t much care, though; even her kind weren’t immortal, and with an injury like that, she couldn’t hope to hang on much longer. As such, he ignored her completely, and instead stepped out in front of the woman’s horror-stricken allies, levelling his staff in their direction. A purple magic circle burst into being in the air before Klodoa’s skull.

"Dark Rondo!" before any of them could react, a swarm of magical bolts began pouring forth in a torrent from the circle’s centre-point. Not everyone in the passageway was killed by the first shot that struck them, but given the sheer quantity of blasts, there could be no doubt that there would be no survivors from amongst this group. A couple did manage to each get off a return shot of their own before going down, though fortunately for Brain, both bullets were hastily aimed and flew wide.

When the dust had cleared, the corridor was a ruin: the walls, ceiling and floor cracked, cratered, and partly melting; littered with debris and corpses. By and large, it seemed that the caricature creatures had a little more resilience than the confectionery ones, many of which had been simply blown to pieces after being struck by one of the Rondo’s bolts. Still, between the force of the explosions which had sent them flying and the shards of sugary shrapnel that had then impaled many of them, none of either kind had survived.

Alas, the same could not be said of their compatriots who had already progressed around the next corner before Brain had initially backed off, and who it seemed had had the foresight not to head back his way when he did. Guessing what they would likely do next, the dark wizard called up another shield around him.

He was not a moment too soon, for just then three people—two from the side of the junction to his right, one from the left—poked their heads around their respective corners. Faces that were already pale with fear seemed to drain of blood entirely… at least, in two out of three cases. The third of the individuals was some sort of anthropomorphic dog, so the silver-haired man couldn’t actually see its skin colour. Judging from the way its jaw literally dropped to the ground and its eyes momentarily burst out from its skull on stalks, however, he imagined that it too was pretty shocked.

That didn’t last, though. After a second of horrified disbelief, the trio moved a little further into the open, just enough to aim their handguns his way and open fire. Once they had each emptied a clip into his shield, they ducked back around their corners.

Brain sighed, and began walking down the hallway. He knew that these three couldn’t be alone, and that from here on the survivors would be much more cautious. Slaying the rest of them was going to be a real pain.


***


He kicked open the door.

Sweating heavily and bleeding from an inexpertly-bound shoulder wound—which he’d received when a bullet grazed him as he stabbed someone to death—the dark wizard stomped into the room. He no longer had the energy for another casting of the Dark Rondo. In fact, he barely had the energy for any magic at all by this point. His power now was a far cry from how he had been back on his own world, where it was said that each member of the Oración Seis could conquer an entire mage guild single-handed.

To be fair, though, it wasn’t all bad. Despite having been worn down this much, and having only one of the Six Prayers still in effect, due to the absence of his guildmates, Brain could not feel Zero stirring in the darkest corners of his mind, as he would have expected had he been reduced to such a state as this back before his death and reincarnation. Losing much of his power—inconvenient though it surely was—might not be such a bad deal, he thought, if it meant not having to deal with that lunatic ever again.

The room was a wide, spacious, well-furnished office, with a large, fancy-looking desk carved from dark chocolate, in its centre. Behind the desk sat a woman… or a rough approximation of one, in any case. Her body appeared to consist mostly of liquorice, though her hair was blue candyfloss, her eyes were white chocolate buttons, and she wore what looked like a business suit sewn entirely from raspberry laces.

And of course, like all the rest of them, she had one of those armbands on as well, though hers had a lot of gold and silver in the stitching, clearly marking her out as being of a higher rank than the peons he’d worked so hard to slay up to this point. The plaque on her desk—which read ‘branch manager’—helped make her seem more important too.

“So, you’ve made it this far, then.” she said calmly, “I take it that means you’ve killed everyone else already?”

The dark wizard shrugged, “Maybe. Some of them might’ve run off or hid. Anyone who got in my way died.”

She nodded, and sighed, “And now you’ll kill me too, in the hopes that making an example of this branch will convince the rest of CARE to leave you alone, right?”

“More or less.” he doubted that would work, if he was being honest with himself. If anything, finding out that he’d slaughtered a large number of their animal-loving compatriots would likely only anger the rest of the organisation further… but their other bases would hopefully be far enough away that he could accomplish his mission before they tracked him down. His main reason for wanting to kill everyone here was actually just to get them to stop pestering him.

“Well, I can’t say it really comes as a surprise that this would happen eventually… with Hoodwink always recruiting more and more psychopaths like yourself to hunt down a gummy serpent for him, it was only a matter of time before someone showed up who was simply too powerful for us to handle.”

“You don’t seem all that concerned.” he commented, advancing towards her, Klodoa in one hand and his dagger in the other.

“If I am to die fighting for what I believe is right, then I have no regrets.” the liquorice lady said, getting to her feet and stepping out from behind the desk, and as she did picking up a candy cane the length of a walking stick, which must have been leaning against the rear of it.

She pulled on either side of the large sweet, unsheathing the steel blade within, before casting aside the swordstick’s candy scabbard. The woman then took up a fencer’s stance, aiming the point of her weapon his way and holding her other hand behind her back.

Ordinarily, he’d simply have blasted her aside with a burst of magic power; a single non-wizard was in no way anything close to being a worthy opponent for one such as he, but in this case the dark wizard was too worn out to be able to rely on his magic, so he instead gritted his teeth in annoyance and lunged, attempting to use his greater physical strength and reach to club her with his staff.

Her rapier flashing, the liquorice lady deflected his strike and lashed out herself, her blade seeking out his heart. Thankfully, the silver-haired man managed to parry with his dagger, then took a step closer, stabbing with the knife. To properly parry with her sword, she took a step back, maintaining between them a distance too short for him to comfortably wield his staff, and too large to effectively strike with his dagger.

It quickly became apparent that she was the better fighter of the two of them, but between his two weapons and his magic-enhanced body—which was more resilient than a regular human’s—he did manage to slowly force her back, despite her skill, while receiving no more than light grazes from her in return.

For a brief time, it seemed that she might come out on top despite this; he had already been tired beforehand, and was soon breathing heavily, raggedly. Between that and his steadily increasing quantity of cuts, she may well have worn him down, had they been fighting in a void.

But as it was, he could see behind her, over her shoulder, as she backed away, while the manager herself could not tell exactly where she was.

When she’d moved to a point which Brain figured was good enough, he drove Klodoa’s skull up towards her stomach, putting all the force he could muster into the blow, to make it as hard as possible for her to deflect. Predictably, she jumped back.

Her chocolate eyes widened in surprise when her back struck the wall. Then she gagged, when the staff’s end slammed into her gut, crushing the leafy headdress which Klodoa wore, and driving the air from her lungs. As a result of the wall, she had barely managed to put any distance between herself and Brain, and so the impact still carried a lot of weight.

Gasping, she fell to her knees, the point of her rapier dipping. And that was all the opportunity her opponent needed. The silver-haired man lunged, again and again, burying his dagger’s blade in jet-black ‘flesh’ over and over again. No blood poured from her injuries, but the woman screamed hoarsely, which was a good enough indicator for him that she did indeed feel pain.

She continued screaming for a while, apparently being pretty hard to kill herself, but the dark wizard had quickly moved to pin her sword-arm beneath one of his legs, and from that point on he had known he had no need to worry; she couldn't effectively harm him, and it would be only a matter of time before she succumbed to her wounds.

When at last he was convinced that she was definitely dead—he’d kept stabbing her for a couple minutes after she stopped moving, just to be sure—Brain dropped his weapons, forced himself to his feet, and began the arduous task of shoving her large, heavy desk in front of the door, which no longer had a working lock, as a result of him having kicked it open.

It took longer than their entire fight had to do that, but it was important enough to be worth the effort. If there were any survivors hiding somewhere in this complex, he had to make sure that they couldn’t simply burst in here while he was sleeping and kill him when he couldn’t fight back. It was important that he avoid that outcome, as being murdered by Cobra had taught him that people die if they are killed, and he wasn't keen on going through that again.

He had seen actual dorm rooms in another part of the building, but didn’t think he had the energy to reach them. Also, this room had a sturdy-looking table and only a single entrance, which made it fairly defensible. It may not be the most comfortable place to sleep, but it would do. After positioning the desk where he wanted it, the silver-haired man leaned against a nearby wall and slowly dropped to the ground. Despite sharing the room with a corpse, it took him just a few moments to drift off to sleep.


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Community Quest Word Count: 9,227/20,000 (5,802 + 3,425)
 

Apra

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With the CARE base having fallen, Brain was now free to continue on his way, though not before availing himself of the supplies of their medical wing—to treat the various cuts and bruises he had accumulated during his attack on the building—and rummaging through their leader's office until he found something worth stealing. Namely, some maps of the forest and its surrounding environs.

He also found numerous reports and documents detailing the status of the local fauna and flora; as would be expected of an organisation which dedicated itself to the preservation of endangered wildlife and the environment. He ignored the overwhelming majority of those, of course, though their file on the gummy serpents was most helpful.

Not only did it give him a much better idea of where he would need to go in order to locate one, but it even included notes on the savage candy tribe which worshipped the snake, and apparently were in the habit of offering it human sacrifices. The animal rights activists hadn't been able to strike up a dialogue with that primitive people, as their emissaries kept getting kidnapped, and either fed to the serpent or enslaved.

The dark wizard had grinned as he read those lines. Hopefully, this meant the tribe wouldn't be using the same handguns that CARE did, for although his shield could stop low-calibre bullets, he still felt that he'd have a much easier time against a group armed with nothing more than primitive swords and spears.

So prepared, he headed out into the wilderness once again, feeling a lot more optimistic than he had previously about his odds of actually locating this monster. Whilst the assassination attempts had been annoying, perhaps in the grand scheme of things, the activists may have actually done him a service by forcing him to come here to slaughter them all.


***


He walked for days, seeing nothing sentient, though he did occasionally have to slay the odd animal which thought its teeth and claws made it more than a match for a mere human. Of course, those beasts all reckoned without his magic, and he killed them with ease. The only time he was ever in any real danger was when he accidentally trod on a regular-sized, non-massive, gummy snake. It bit his calf, penetrating his thick, leather boots as if they were tissue paper, and it was only thanks to his magic-enhanced body that its fangs penetrated barely further than his skin.

The limbless reptile was rather frail, and he had no trouble crushing it to death under a foot, though by then traces of its venom had already found their way into his bloodstream. He was happily quite close to a river of strawberry milkshake, which he used to clean the wound as best he could. Even so, his leg hurt like hell for the next few days, and he felt dizzy and nauseous the entire time.

After that, he was more on guard, and took to blasting anything remotely suspicious with magic. Which, of course, resulted in him tiring himself out much faster, and requiring much more frequent breaks. It was slow going.

As he travelled, the silver-haired man couldn't help but notice that the vegetation around him was changing, the temperature rising and the air growing more humid. He assumed that this meant he was headed closer to the planet's equator, though none of the maps he'd liberated from CARE had covered the whole world, so he couldn't be totally certain of that.

And then he remembered that Archive allowed him to access the Medium. Opening an app called Moogle Maps (the icon for which depicted a cherub-like creature with what looked like a red balloon attached to its head), Brain saw that the dot indicating his location was now closer to Hurshii’s equatorial region than the city he'd left just recently—Pastilleopolis—which was thankfully also indicated on the map. He’d actually covered a surprisingly large distance.

The app didn’t have any information on the tribe that lived here or on the gummy serpents, though, so the silver-haired man reassured himself that all the time he’d spent searching through that woman’s office for those physical maps hadn’t been a complete waste.

Slowly, as he continued on his way, the candy forest gave way to a candy jungle. Milk chocolate oaks with lime candyfloss foliage were replaced by rubber and palm trees made of chocolate shortbread and bearing thick, wide, gummy leaves, which tasted of apple.

And then, over a fortnight after trashing CARE’s base, he finally encountered some more people, just a day or so into what the activists’ maps indicated was the territory of the tribe of snake-worshippers. They weren’t quite what he’d expected.

The group consisted of half a dozen men and one woman, whom it was immediately clear was the leader. She sat atop a palanquin held aloft by four of her minions, and to which all six of the males were attached by thick strings of interlocked boiled sweets that were looped around their necks, like the choke chains sometimes used to control unruly dogs.

All seven of them were clearly confectionery creatures. Two of the men—stationed at the fore and rear right-side corners of the vehicle, respectively—were large, hulking jelly babies, the first blackcurrant and the second lemon. Each must have been almost seven feet tall. Positioned at the front-left carrying pole was a pink-skinned marshmallow man, only about half a foot shorter than the jelly babies and even wider than they were. Behind him, the final pole was held by an orange sour patch kid, who was technically about five and a half feet tall, though much of that was his head. He had to stretch to hold up his corner of the litter to the same level as the others, and looked to be struggling.

The other two not helping carry the palanquin walked out front, clearing the vegetation from its path. Of those, one was humanoid in only the vaguest of senses, and appeared to be made of numerous slices of red velvet cake. This figure was about as tall as the marshmallow, and would seem at first glance to be a much better choice to help carry their leader’s litter than the diminutive gummy-man who had been given the fourth slot.

The final male of the group was practically the opposite of that guy. Like the branch manager from CARE whom Brain had slain, this dude was extremely human-like at first glance. He looked young and fit, with short, artfully messy hair. It was only after taking a moment to look more closely that the dark wizard realised that his entire body—skin, hair, teeth, eyes; everything—was made from fudge. Aside from the fact that he was moving about and clearly alive, he looked like nothing so much as an impeccably accurate, classically beautiful sculpture… made of fudge.

Each of the six men was barefoot and topless, wearing only a loose, ankle-length skirt with a thigh-high slit on the right side. The garments were all black, seemingly being made from liquorice.

The litter itself was made primarily of dark chocolate, though it was heavily ornamented with all sorts of other candies. Atop it, the slender woman in command of the group was of the same race as the fudge man. Her shoulder-length hair appeared curly, though like her male counterpart’s, it was in actuality just a solid lump of fudge, with an astonishingly intricate pattern. Also like her counterpart, she more closely resembled a sculpted ideal than a real woman.

As with the rest of her group, she was dressed in black liquorice, but rather than an already loose skirt with a slit for even greater manoeuvrability, she wore an extremely tight, sleeveless, ankle-length dress, with no slit. It seemed like she'd struggle to even walk quickly, never mind run, while wearing it. It didn’t look remotely convenient, but then, perhaps that was the point; the impracticality may have been intended as a display of her rank, an indicator that she didn’t need to be able to walk around freely, as she was important enough to have minions to carry her everywhere she needed to go… or perhaps she just really wanted to show off her curves.

Before the silver-haired man had recovered from his surprise at the sudden arrival of this strange bunch, the palanquin-rider spoke, and he was in for another surprise; he couldn’t understand a single word she said.

Of course, Brain was a very knowledgeable individual, so he knew of the existence of languages other than his own. However, he had never actually encountered a person who spoke another language. Back on Earthland, interactions between the nations and continents of the world were common enough that in this modern day and age, everyone on the planet spoke the same tongue. And after awakening on Hurshii and finding himself able to understand everyone (even the man in Hoodwink’s employ, who lived on another world), he had simply assumed that the same applied here.

Either that, or this reality included some sort of natural magic that automatically translated the words of everyone within, no matter their realm of origin, thereby allowing all of its inhabitants to converse with one another. The fact that he couldn’t understand this lady spoiled those theories, though.

When he didn’t immediately reply to whatever it was she'd said, the woman glared at him and said spoke again, her tone growing more heated. He raised an eyebrow, wondering whether he should just destroy these idiots now. If they couldn’t even converse then there was no sense in wasting time attempting to get information or aid out of them.

To his surprise, however, the fudge-flavoured female suddenly turned to the cake-man and spoke to him instead. Then, in a deep, velvety voice, the vaguely anthropomorphic dessert spoke, and this one the dark wizard could understand, “My mistress asks if you have come to willingly offer your life to the great serpent, as surely all outsiders of your kind should know that the only fate which awaits them should they trespass here is to be fed to her people’s god.”

“What? Of course not, don’t be stupid. I’m here to hunt down that big snake and sell its venom, obviously.” Brain wasn’t exactly feeling threatened by these confectionery creatures, so he felt no need to bother being subtle with them.

The humanoid velvet cake ‘stared’ at him (if someone without eyes could stare) for several seconds, before eventually saying something in the woman’s language after she barked an impatient command at it. Her expression clouded with rage, and she actually hissed at the silver-haired man.

Sneering contemptuously back, he raised his left hand, palm aimed her way and fingers pressed together. A pulse of darkness magic leapt forth from his hand, and she flinched back, eyes wide.

The blast struck something invisible, about a metre in front of her litter, and detonated harmlessly. The lady laughed sharply. She had been taken by surprise by the suddenness of his attack, but it was obvious that she was protected by some sort of magic of her own. Brain scowled, but had no time to make any sort of retort, for the two men not assisting in carrying their ‘mistress’ immediately lunged at him.

He swung at the fudge dude with Klodoa, but the man side-stepped nimbly. He also requipped his dagger and buried it in the gut of the cake guy, who wrapped him up in a bear hug, taking no notice of it at all. The faceless monster was far, far stronger than he looked, and easily lifted the dark wizard off the ground.

Whilst Brain was immobilised, the fudge man darted in close and landed a few quick jabs on his back, though they hurt not at all. Between his own muscles and the benefits of having magic coursing through his body at all times, the dark wizard was far more durable than a regular person, and so wasn’t going to be overcome by simple, unarmed strikes from anyone lacking inhuman strength.

Growing tired of the fool pestering him like an annoying insect, the silver-haired man brought up one foot with all the force he could muster, hoping to slam the heel of his boot into his attacker's crotch. Brain couldn't actually see the man behind him, but he hit something, and judging from the high-pitched squeak, followed immediately by the sound of a body crumpling to the ground, and then heavy, pained gasping for breath, the dark wizard surmised that his aim had been on point. And also that these fudge people a) felt pain, and b) had genitals, both of which were, in hindsight, things which could easily have not been the case, given that they were already biologically impossible to begin with.

The woman atop the litter screamed her annoyance, and spat words which Brain assumed were curses. She tugged on the chain around the fudge guy’s throat, constricting his collar. He tugged futilely at it, and struggled in vain to rise to his feet, before falling again. The dark wizard laughed, and felt the mistress' venomous glared boring into the back of his head.

Then he heard her drop the chain, giving up on her unarmed underling. He twisted his head around as far as he could, intending on giving her a smug smirk, only to see her lean back in her cushioned seat and, rather than ordering any more of her followers to attack, begin drawing something in the air with the tip of her right forefinger. The silver-haired man groaned, as bright, colour-shifting lines of light were left behind with each stroke, and she soon joined them together, rapidly forming the beginnings of an intricate pattern of runic sigils, which somewhat resembled a magic circle.

On the bright side, this was a much slower process than utilising magic circles had been in his own world, as there they simply required the wizard to expend magic power while willing them into existence.

On the not-so-bright side, no matter how he struggled, he could not break free of the clutches of his cake-y captor, who held the dark wizard wrapped tightly in his arms, his grip like a vice... albeit, one which had been liberally slathered in cream cheese frosting.

Since that wasn’t working, and the woman’s method of spellcasting seemed rather time-consuming, Brain decided to attempt to reason with the thing holding him prisoner, “Release me, you fool! That spell could easily hit us both when she unleashes it! Is that what you want!?”

“Of course not…” the red velvet cake replied sombrely, “but not all of the snake god’s blessings are lethal. If I were to release you out of fear for my own life, I would definitely be put to death for disobedience. This way, I will at least live if the mistress has chosen to hold back.”

“Worthless maggot! She can’t put you to death if I kill her! Release me and your survival will be guaranteed!” as he yelled at the sentient dessert, Brain struggled, twisting his dagger in his captor's gut, in a way which would have caused a human excruciating pain. Whilst the cake didn’t seem bothered by this action in the slightest, the fact that his prisoner was actively attempting to hurt him even whilst begging for his help likely gave him the impression that the dark wizard was not to be trusted.

“Even if I wanted to, you have already demonstrated that your magic is no match for hers. There is no way that you could win.”

“Fool! That was my weakest-”

Brain’s attempt at explaining himself ended prematurely when the enemy wizard finally finished drawing her multicoloured ring of runes in the air. He heard a noise like a whip cracking, and looked over his shoulder again just in time to see, stretching out from the magic circle—which seemed to have been overlaid with some sort of heat-haze-like distortion—seven saccharine snakes, the bodies of which were highly translucent and insubstantial. Aside from their fangs, that was.

Two of them missed, flying past him entirely. Another struck near the bottom of his cloak, managing to get itself all tangled up and utterly failing to bite him. The fourth sunk its teeth into the arm of the cake man, who swore under his breath. And the final three bit the dark wizard in various places. He would have liked if his magic-enhanced body could have been resilient enough to keep their fangs from breaking his skin, though of course, it was not to be.

Then they were gone, as if they had never existed at all. Their summoner laughed boisterously.

Then the velvet cake released him, its bitten arm falling limply to its side. It staggered, backing away a couple steps. Swaying, the silver-haired man struggled to stay upright, as his vision blurred and his ears began to ring.

The fudge lady said something, and one of her other slaves spoke next, either replying to her or translating so that she could indirectly address Brain. If the latter were the case, however, she would be disappointed, for he couldn’t even make out what was being said. Darkness encroached on his view, and he toppled over.


Post Word Count: 2,885
Community Quest Word Count: 12,112/20,000 (9,227 + 2,885)
 
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