“Inciting violence.” “Indecent exposure.” “Molestation.” These were the three charges wrought upon Francis for his little act, but there was a fourth charge that was the icing on the cake for him: Betrayal. With it in the mix, with seeing Cassidy’s hopes and dreams crumble around her and any sense of decency gone, she was nothing but a husk of herself, a shell of good intentions undone by her murderous impulse. She lost the one thing that kept her from being yet another harpy: The first man she ever truly loved, taken.
And everybody knew it.
Francis couldn’t help but be in a good mood, sitting, staring at the wall in detention. Both him and Jessica were there, but their keeper for the “afternoon”, Tanya, she made sure the two horny pups were kept from mating again. Francis never saw her Use before, and wished he never did; however, seeing her literally pound up stalagmites to seal them both in was quite a sight. He had a question, though: If Stalagmites came from the ground and stalactites from the ceiling… what about spikes that came horizontally from the wall, itself? What were they called? Regardless, they hissed against his hair –which, after waiting so long for it to be as scraggy as it was, he refused to let those stay. He respected those walls otherwise, but nothing… NOTHING touches to ’do.
He had his phone out, answering so many texts. Most of them angry. Ezra, Cassidy and the other flockers, Penny, Bridget –especially Bridget. Talk about a bombshell; she didn’t even know he was seeing Jessica. In truth, if anyone were to kill the manticore right now, it was tied between that witch and Cassidy… but he would put his money on Cassidy. Reducing her to a crying cucked mess; he couldn’t have asked for greater justice.
But… there was one other he worried about.
No wonder you have been so proud lately, Destiny initially sent, not even before he was settled at his desk. Tanya was only beginning to pant, her soft, timid, almost frail face bulging and becoming bull-like before transitioning to full ogre. The rest of her matched, as well. Her breasts, once so large in comparison to the rest of her, looked almost A-cup before his sight was lost to the rocks around, leaving him to respond to his favorite rapist. Pray tell. How do you think this will play out?
You tell me, he sent. And she did. Oh, she did.
The harpies are in an uproar. They are demanding for the manticore’s head and to use you as breeding stock. They want to incapacitate by drugging you so you don’t even gain pleasure from it. The lycans are in semi-agreement, though I already heard they are wanting to capitalize on the harpies’ shortsightedness.
As she sent those, he received messages from Ezra and Dixie.
Who pissed you off? Ezra sent.
Are you okay? Meanwhile, the orc said. But then Bridget blew up his phone, hearkening back to a certain lamia and what allowed these events to unfold.
How could you? How could you not tell me?! I could have helped! We could have worked this out. I know I’ve been distant, darling, but now I see the error of my ways. I should have been there, when you needed me most. I’m still here, though. I can still help you… Please? Tell me what I can do. Tell me what can be done. Tell me what you want done! Do you want to help the manticore with the children? That’s okay! I’m looking up day cares. There’s a good one in Minnesota; loves working with baby himan. They, also, have dealt with manticores in the past and have antivenin on-hand. There’s, also, plenty of businesses opening over there, so Jessica can find a job no problem. In fact, I forwarded her resume from the Academy’s files –with permission from Lilith, of course. Already seven jobs she is qualified for. She can begin right after graduation and we can easily move her there. There’s a himan project in a good part of the state which has a fifteen minute commute to the day care then to work. Right after each other.
And? What about me? He sent, watching it all pile up. How… driven she was to have done all of that in fifteen minutes.
Oh, you don’t have to worry. You’re still in school, after all. You shouldn’t have to burden yourself so much for a slight oversight.
‘Oversight’. Sure. Let’s go with that, he scoffed all the same, and sent her another text. They are my children too, you know.
Yes. Her children you helped make. I want to help you any way I can, darling. You know I love you. <3 <3 <3
Obviously, he groaned, and stretched his arms, welcoming the fresh air outside his stony prison before settling in and pestering the others. That was hours ago, and, as the clock drifted ever closer to that final mark, the walls began to erode.
It clicked over, and he stood, finding them gone. As well as Tanya. Only he and Jessica were in the room. Her face still had such a glow, but her attention was upon the door. She must have had work that day, and couldn’t afford to waste another minute in that pit. That being said, he still beat her to the door, holding it open.
“Thank you,” she said, and tittered, kissing him on the cheek. “So tonight as soon as I get off of work I’m going to start moving things over. If you could be a doll and mark where you want them, I’d appreciate it.”
“I think I can do that,” he said, and gave her ass a nice smack.
She squeaked. Her tail slammed into the roof, and she shuddered as she looked back over her shoulder at him.
“Be careful,” she said, and groped his pants, squeezing the third leg. It was nice and bulged, and very much liking the attention, throbbing as she pulled down to the tip. “I might end up riding you in the morning and getting double pregnant.”
“Is that a thing? Wait. What am I saying? It’s absolutely ridiculous; of course it is! Knowing my luck, it’ll jump over double to quadruple.”
“Okay, that just ruined it for me. No way I want that many… But a few more wouldn’t be so bad.”
She tittered, kissed him again, and let him go, sauntering down the hall. He simply watched after, enjoying how her hips swayed, the slight jiggle of those cheeks and her thighs, at how her tail swung opposite, its tip lulling away. Her wings ruffled, and he looked away as she shot a glance back, following after at last.
Penny was waiting for him, and only him, down at her car. Jessica said her goodbye and hurried across the street, leaving him to clamber into the vehicle with the wizard. They sat there, watching students as they passed by, while Francis’s phone continued to blip and buzz away. With each one, though, he could see it taking its toll on Penny, making her eye twitch, her mouth twisted in a nasty scowl. At last, it was too much for the dead and she flung her arm over, trying to snatch that oversized pill out of his hand.
“Okay! Yeah. You don’t need that,” she grumbled, shaking her head. “Really, Francis? Really! I leave for three minutes, and I came back to… to…”
“Justice,” he said, cracking open the tall can of pop in the cup holder by his feet. He left it there from the last time he rode with her; icy cold after sitting in frigid temps. “It was justice.”
“It was tasteless.”
“No no. It had a flavor. Like… salt, mild vinegar, a tang of metal-”
“Ew! Just… ew! J… shut up a moment… It was a tasteless act.”
“But a powerful one.”
“If you were aiming for all the girls to hate Jessica, yeah! You succeeded.”
“You would think they would start realizing that the lowest common denominator between all of them is me and start to despise me.”
“You would think! Goodness knows I do… How is it you can literally be Hitler and still be adored. Hell, I think you could do worse than Hitler and women would still fall all over themselves to be executed by you. Some men, too.”
“Don’t look at me. I’ve never had as much ‘luck’ with the ladies as I have now. Before it was always business or plain trash that wanted to bang but not much else. Here? It’s ‘relationship’ this and ‘marriage’ that. I understand that men are a rarity, but I don’t think a single other man in my class has even been hit on. In truth, I’m starting to think something fucky is going on- and there probably is, given how I ended up here in the first place.”
“Oh. Yeah. You never told me how you ended up in Eve’s care. I only pieced together that you had a criminal past.”
“In all truth, I don’t think I actually explained it to anyone. Mostly because I’m still wrapping my head around it… Essentially, I was alone in a little backwaters town. My stomping ground… One evening, a desire demon and a succubus passed through. One thing lead to another, and, the next moment, I was being arrested, held for a few hours, and then released in the care of Eve.”
“That’s… Are you just glossing over things?”
“No. That’s pretty much it.”
“What do you mean by ‘pretty much’?”
“It’s… it’s still strange to me… A part of me just wants to deny it ever happened.”
“Well… Essentially, I ‘met’ the desire demon and succubus… but didn’t. One moment I’m talking to them, about to get into the black succubus’s pants-”
“A black succubus? That could only be Ayn.”
“You knew her?”
“Yeah! She went to the Academy for a time. Pretended to be a Fang… then… She, uh, lost it. She was detained after that, and I never saw her again.”
“Well, I have. And she had a friend: A scrawny little spit-fuck that went by Norman.”
“I have no idea who that is. Never met him before in my life.”
“Probably for the best. Between the two, I was more terrified of him. That was before I even knew what he was, too.”
“So… what happened that made you question?”
“Essentially, I was stalking them, about to jump and kill him then have my way with Ayn-”
“As most normal, sane people would do. Incredibly classy, by the way.”
“It was a different time then-”
“As though that excuses it.”
“True enough… As I said, though, I was stalking them… and then -while still seeing him in the car mind- Norman the little shit just… appears right beside me. He just blinks into existence and tells me not to be shy. When I look over he’s gone, and that was pretty much the foundation for that whole exchange. By the end of it, I was being shoved to the ground, thrown into the back of a cop car, and they were nowhere to be seen.”
“Really? And you are sure there was nothing else?”
“Nothing else… well…”
“Oh my fucking gods- YOU ALWAYS DO THIS. You ALWAYS bury the lede.”
“Because it’s not the most interesting part.”
“Somehow, for you, it never is yet it’s always the most crucial… So, what is it?”
“Norman asked what I truly desired…”
“Ah. He pulled the classic trick of the desire demon, which, thanks to a certain show, has been given a title. You’ve been Lucifer’d… So what did you tell him? You wanted all the bitches you ever wanted? Nobody could ever hate you?”
“You know, it’s funny. I really don’t remember. I think it was family or something, though.”
“Well, congrats. You finally have one. In a few months, you’ll be a proud cat dad.”
Penny pulled out of the parking lot at last… and decided to take a detour. She had a lot on her mind and so did Francis, lulling away on the road and into that crucible inside his dome. So many things clashed and broke upon each other. So many notions, ideas, plans came to be only to be slaughtered by the opportunistic dread, despair, and loss that plagued the present future. Responsibility reigned over it all, a sword above its head and a rope around its neck, the platform underneath and the blade at the rope both held by time and free will.
Now, more than ever, he was having doubts.
He didn’t think this far ahead. He was only focused on causing as much pain and humiliation as he could onto Cassidy for murdering Desiree. Now that he has crossed that point… where did it go from there? He didn’t give it much thought at the time, nor did he really want to. Now, though, as he drifted off, he remembered the one text, the singular message Cassidy sent him.
I still love you.
How could she still act so innocent, after being humiliated like that? How could she be so humble, so modest… Dammit. It didn’t feel like a victory because of that. Her breaking down and being humiliated, sure, but he expected her to snap. Like her friends… The car came to a stop, and he opened his eyes, seeing them before a restaurant. It was further out than that shitty little stink called a town, but the air still held some of that nauseating grease. Inside the restaurant wasn’t much better, but at least he could tell it was from old fryers.
“I wanted something a bit more special today,” Penny said.
“As long as you’re buying, I don’t care,” he grumbled, yawning as he joined her at the bar. The place had a red-and-yellow checkerboard scheme to it, and he didn’t mean the tile under. In fact, that was solid black, polished almost to the point one couldn’t see the separate lines, but he could feel them. That grout ran deep. Good grout, at that; he tugged at it with his toes as they waited for one of the employees to grace them with their presence. “Been here before?”
“Once. While I was trying to woo that one kid. Scrawny little shit couldn’t even finish his Kahuna burger.” She sighed as an employee finally appeared- and, boy, did she appear. Never in his life did Francis think he’d see a nymph in a burger joint, but when that tree came lumbering around the side, some of the smoke she used most likely to remedy her hypocrisy still clung to the lower bows. Her solid emerald orbs had a tinge of pink to them, coursing down through her dark, bark skin.
“Welcome to Mako’s,” she said. “Would you be interesting in trying our Marlin Griller?”
“What that?” Francis said, twisting his voice.
“It’s a double half-pound burger with thousand island dressing and a marlin steak put in between, garnished with lettuce, tomato, grilled pinapple, and serrano and jalopeno peppers. Served on a pretzel bun.”
“Ugh. If it wasn’t for the fish part, that sounds amazing… So can I have that without the fish? And add cheese.”
“A Marlin Griller with the fish cast back in… and you?”
“I’ll have a Wake up Call.” She pointed it out on the menu, so Francis could see it was a single-patty Swiss cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, mustard, and a special sauce dubbed “coffee whip”. Served on sourdough, instead. “Medium.”
“Can you make mine medium rare, oh and make that cheddar cheese on mine?” Francis said, and clapped his hands. “Right. Do we get fries with these?”
“Every burger comes with a bag full of Mako’s curry fries,” she said, and had her tree lumber into the back again. There really wasn’t much to look at from their side. Just that wall and the long, sprawling chalkboard showing all the stoner delights and a window to pick up from, placed beside the door. The dryad returned with two, dark brown bags, plopping onto the counter. Francis reached for one, and felt that it was at least half a pound in the bloody bag. The dryad clicked the last few buttons on the machine, took Penny’s card, then waited for the tinier machine beside to print out two receipts, handing one to her to sign. “Pick a spot and I’ll bring them over.
“All right,” she said, signing off, then took the other receipt, leading Francis to one of the booths –again, holding true to that checker pattern. He looked around, and saw that it was mostly pictures of people fishing and eating at bars, holding up burgers and catches as if they were one and the same. In most of them, though, was a shark man, grinning ear-to-ear. One picture caught his eye, though, of that shark man thrusting against a caught mako shark, his face beet red and his legs buckled. What a freaky fish g- “You just going to sit there, or you going to eat?”
“Why not both?” he said, and finally opened that bag- where he was assaulted by curry. He wheezed, rocked back into the booth, wiping his nose after that sucker punch, and looked inside again. The bottom had a tiny, cardboard basket in it, keeping it from direct contact with the bag, but he was right in his assessment. Almost half of the bag was nothing but those Indian-spiced potato spears. He ate one… and was surprised. Though it REEKED of curry, it was a sweet blend, almost subtle compared to the sheer amount of salt and pepper underneath. There was a bottle of spiced kethcup and a paper cup dispenser beside, three filled before he handed it off to Penny, indulging as well. “So… Mako’s, huh?”
“Yup,” she said, stuffing her mouth with one of the spuds.
“He still around?”
“Nope. Died last year. He went out for a swim, and, well, some Chinese thought him fair game. Little did they know that was a shipment of fins they would never find. His daughter took over, but she’s busy at Vereor Nox right now she left her uncle in charge.”
“So that’s how you heard of it. This was literally in the middle of nowhere… Look. I didn’t think it completely through, okay? My initial and primary thought was to make that harpy pay-”
“For what? For loving you?”
“No! For killing Des.”
“So… she did kill Des?”
“The way she acted when I confronted her about it-”
“You confronted her? You… And you thought that was a good idea.” She groaned, pinching her brow. “Jesus, Francis… Well? How did she react?”
“She tensed up. She stuttered a moment-”
“Yeah! Because her would-be lover was accusing her of murder.”
“Ah-ah! I made it very clear that I wasn’t into that y-”
“You weren’t, but she was… and you basically slapped her… What did she say?”
“She said she didn’t –because of course she did… Problem is, she was now proven a liar today. That paternity test; there was no doubt I was the father.”
“Not even a little? A smidge?”
“None. I’m the only one fucking Jessica.”
“And you are absolutely, 100-percent positive about that? No other guy at all?”
“I would smell it. She carries my scent and nobody else.”
“So… you can smell every girl that has your scent on them… How many girls is that now?”
“Shockingly, only two: Jess and Cass.”
“Really? You haven’t done it with anyone else?”
“Huh… That’s… commendable-”
“No, wait. There’s technically Bridget, but I never put it inside her. Still. She reeks of me.”
“You see, I was just enjoying my food then you brought that bitch up-”
“Oh, you have no idea. She’s the one blowing up my phone right now. She’s hellbent on sending Jessica as far away as she can ‘for my sake’. She’s not even trying to deny it.”
“Oh no. Not you two.”
“I’m just saying. That’s not the worst idea… The farther she is away from this place right now the better-”
“Sadly, it won’t be until after she graduates.”
“If she makes it that far-”
“Hey! No… None of that.”
“Look! I’m just telling you, feeling the lay of the land. People are pissed! Jessica already didn’t have the best reputation-”
“No way in Hell. She’s a known cheater. When there’s a test, she is taken out of the room and down the hallway, and even then she’s escorted by another student without anything on their person. She skews her answers so that she can easily point out the ‘right’ way when confronted- she does anything she can to get ahead! ‘Opportunistic’ doesn’t even begin explaining her. ‘Conniving’ doesn’t even scratch the surface… Which, again, is why I’m worried for you. She’s obviously using you.”
“This is one of those times where I know her slightly better than you. I already knew all of that… However, when I met her, she was on the verge of suicide. If I didn’t intervene when I did, she would have taken her life that day coming back from work.”
“Uh… huh… Is that what she told you?”
“Right before fucking her brains out, yes.”
“And there it is.”
He growled, gnashing into four fries.
“I don’t think I appreciate your tone.”
“I’m not calling her a liar-”
“I didn’t say you did.”
“What I am saying is… I’ll admit: You are quite the catch. A drachen, strong, witty; gullible.”
A bell dinged, and Penny stood, saving the dryad a trip. Even then, Francis felt like he would need to stand. Each plate was as big as his chest, with the burgers on them hissing, popping, and crackling away. The wizard managed it, though, and placed his Marlin Griller with the fish cast away before him. He wasted no time biting into it- and being sent to meat nirvana. How long he stayed depended on how long he could keep his face buried in it –which, given his time with Jessica, was a very… very long time.