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37

At first, Mel was certain this was the fuck up that he predicted. However, after the initial burst of joy and jubilation the harpies simply returned to what they were doing. Only the Matriarchs remained in the nest, talking among one another, and didn’t even notice as he climbed over the edge and started down. It was a rough start, though. He forgot Hilde had been behind him, her head now on wrong, looking up at the sky instead of lying down in the twigs with the rest of her, but he managed to ease his way over and find a limb to crawl under and begin his descent. Saliim joined him, but she had it way easier since she remembered that she had wings and could fly.

“What are you doing?” She hissed.

“That’s a dumb question,” he replied, easing down onto the next limb, then the next. He kept looking up, expecting an SUV to try to chase him down... or the harpies. Both were equally terrifying, but at least he could get away from the SUV. He failed the Prometheus School of Running Away from Things, so he would be okay. Flying, horngry bird women, on the other hand? They had a handle they could grab onto, and the idea of their sharp, maiming claws sinking and shredding into it made him into a very handsome wom-

“Hey! Are you listening?” Saliim hissed a bit louder, startling the songbirds on the next level he touched down on. They had been watchful, curious, tilting their rainbow-feathered heads side to side, but with her sudden outburst they took to the sky, singing their sweet yet sorrowful song. “Why are you climbing down? Wouldn’t it be wiser to ascend to open a rift?”

“Eh? What for?”

“T... to get out of here, of course!”

“Eh... We could, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“There’s no real rush to leave.”

“No real r- are you mad?”

“No, but I am still a touch tired-”

“Patriarch is tired?” A harpy blurted, suddenly right there. Saliim, meanwhile, had met the tree, gave it a fine dinner, and then promptly allowed to bury about a dozen sticks up her ass. She winced and whimpered as she pulled herself free, glowering at the long-winged, white-feathered harpy with such scorn while it paid her no mind whatsoever. “What do you need?”

“I unno... A hammock would be nice, I gu-”

Two other harpies swooped up, making Saliim into an honest woman by forcing her to meet the tree again after the one-night stand, both holding an end to a long wide hammock. It seemed to be made of silk or cotton rather than rope and was incredibly finely made. They spread it before him, stretching it taut, while the first harpy gestured for him to climb in.

He did so, but carefully, cautiously. It really did feel like fine material, and they eased it for him to be nestled inside as they carried him away from the great tree.

“Is there anywhere specific you wish to rest, Patriarch,” the first harpy inquired.

“Um... anyplace close to a water source. Like an ocean or a river.”

The hammock rocked against the winds, flapping softly against the sides and down to meet him, swaddling him in its warmth. It never got too warm nor too cold, the hammock balancing and mitigating it superbly, and it wasn’t long before he could hear water. Across the soft green sky it seemed to double back to black sand shores, roaring softly yet booming for miles around. The harpies listed to the right, and, atop a cliff, there were five trees, two of them perfectly placed to tie his hammock on and to enjoy the rush of the sea.

“Will you be needing anything else, Patriarch?” The harpy said, then shot a glare at the succubus, finally catching up. “What do you want us to do with the interloper?”

“Eh. She’s fine for now. If she becomes a problem, throw her in a bird cage or something.”

“What?” Saliim exclaimed, and the three harpies closed rank on her.

“Watch your tongue around the Patriarch,” the one on the right said, having the most lush tail Mel had ever seen on a harpy. It looked almost as fluffy as a Husky’s or a Shiba Inu’s.

“You are only allowed here because the Patriarch allows it,” the other, unnoticed harpy finally spoke up, her hair rising like a crest, the red flared with rings of blue and purple. “Know your place.”

With that the harpies flew off, leaving Mel, Saliim, the hammock, and that ocean. Saliim climbed in on top of him, which he groaned then yawned, already halfway gone. He flung his right arm over her, smacking his lips, and nestled further into the finely-made hamm-

“We need to get out of here,” Saliim mumbled... though the fear was palpable and oh, so refreshing to hear, at that moment Mel really didn’t want to hear anything but that oc- “Are you listening?”

“Sadly.”

“We have a perfect location to return to. We can make a rift right on this cliff... We can leave. Right. Now!”

“Yeah. Yeah, we could... five minutes.”

“Mel-”

“Five. Minutes.”

She huffed, but didn’t argue any further. It didn’t really matter; his whole body was already heavy, welcoming the hammock’s embrace. The ocean seemed to rock him, to soothe his aches and sores with its spray, just as warm as the wind on his skin, and once more he found himself without dreams.

When he awoke, the sky was almost a spring green, washed with the sun just a touch over the horizon behind. The sky made it seem like it was a blue sun, and far larger than the one he knew back at home. He simply stared up at it, at the fluffy little clouds that spanned it, listing by without a care in the world as the wind continued to rock him. Saliim snored away on his chest, drooling on it, arms wrapped around him, hugging him tighter as he sat up a bit, looking over the satin lip.

Finding a clutch of harpies waiting on the other side.

At the front of it was the Matriarch he had talked the most to, their arms laden with some type of piled cloth, while the harpies around had their arms loaded with fruits. The Matriarch approached first, beaming at him... before glowering at the succubus on his chest, and placed the clothes on top of her.

“Good morning, Patriarch,” they said. “Sleep well?”

“Sometimes,” he said. “What are those?”

“We Matriarchs worked late into the night, making the traditional garb of the Patriarch. I hope it is to your liking.”

Mel picked up one of the cloth, and saw that it was barely more than a vest. It was soft, incredibly so, dyed blue before embellished with golden buckles and chains that went across the chest. The next piece was crotch-less parachute pants, given the same treatment with the chains going across the groin, then a blue thong that was little more than a sock for his member and his two fellows, and finally a pair of soft, gold shoes. The interior was made with a sinfully soft fur, but it had a sole that seemed strong enough, durable enough, to punch through stone.

“That’s... a lot of blue,” he said, shaking his head as he carefully folded them and put them back on Saliim. “I bet they’ll feel great.”

The harpies cooed, silenced once more by the Matriarch’s swipe. The Matriarch clasped their hands together, beaming at him, and nodded to the first harpy.

“We scoured the wilds this morning for these, so they are all fresh,” they said.

“Are there grapes?”

The Matriarch’s beam quickly faded into a scrutinizing glare, and the harpies around shivered and shook, feeling the Matriarch’s gaze fall on them.

“It appears not.” The Matriarch stated.

“Good. I can’t stand grapes.”

The harpies relaxed a little but they still kept a touch of the cold they felt from Death glaring down their backs. They put the bowls in his lap, careful to place around the clothes and not to sully a single one, then quickly backed away. They waited, watching the Matriarch, like statues until they waved nonchalantly and gave them the right to spread their wings and fly like bats out of Hell. Mel, meanwhile, decided to pick through the bowls, seeing the odd-colored and even odder-shaped goodies he could obtain from this realm. He decided to keep it tame and chose an “apple”.

It had the shape of an apple, the stem of an apple, and even dropped on Saliim’s head like an apple (she didn’t stir, which only proved him right: she was faking), but its blue skin gave him a pause. It looked as peerless as a sapphire, without a single imperfection, as if it had been candied then given a blue dye-job. However, as he readied his teeth on it, the flesh gave without a fight, and a mixture of sweet- and tartness gushed into his mouth. He took another bite, trying to find the core, but bit through to the other side without finding it. Instead, the entire inside of the apple was perforated with tiny, black seeds. He ran his tongue over his front teeth, and his heart skipped a beat as he conjured a mirror. He looked at them, and saw the black seeds had taken root in between and were starting for his gums... nothing a bit of fire didn’t fix, and they tasted like smoky sunflower seeds.

“What kind of fruit is this?” He said, hoping he hid the panic well enough in his voice.

“Grusin,” the Matriarch answered, kneeling beside him. They took the rest of the “apple” and picked out the seeds, tossing them into the wind. Before his eyes, the seeds sprouted small leaves at their tops and were carried off. “They are Hrralyx’ most common fruit.” They bit into the cleaned flesh, then hummed as they reached for the bowls, fishing through them. The Matriarch stalled on a fruit that looked far too similar to something he was packing already, but moved on, slowing on a red-furred fruit. However, they shook their head and continued to sift until, at last, they pulled up a triumvirate of longish, rectangular, orange-spotted fruits. “Might I recommend these next, Patriarch? They aren’t as predatory.”

“That’s good at least. I wouldn’t want to be eaten by what I’m eating and all. That would raise far too many existential questions. So, uh, do I just bite in or-”

The Matriarch tittered, and snapped one of the fruits off. It hissed from its stem... as well as released blue gas, frothing in the wind and down into the hammock. It didn’t burn nor did it have a smell but it made his skin feel a touch uncomfortable, as if it had been made incredibly sensitive. The Matriarch twisted the other end of the fruit, however, and ripped the skin back to show that it was filled with nineteen yellow orbs, each the size of a golf ball, covered in more of that blue gas.

“Juos,” they said, handing them the opened fruit... but not before taking one of the balls. The Matriarch popped it into their mouth without hesitation, without a single issue, their normal, human teeth mincing it with ease –and without rooting in her mouth.

Mel picked up one of the orbs- and almost dropped it. It was... hard, rigid, like an actual, plastic ball. Was the Matriarch making a fool of him? Well, he’ll show them. He had magic, which meant close to nigh immortality. He can handle whatever the world and Fate may throw at h-

He bit into the fruit... and was surprised that it was soft, the flavor as it splashed on his tongue incredibly sour but with a bolt of saccharine laced through to balance it out. However, he was not content; he picked up another one. It was hard, rigid, and, as he squeezed it in his palm, incredibly strong... and yet, when he popped that one in his mouth, too, it practically melted away.

“It reacts to your hunger,” the Matriarch explained, taking another. “It does not give until it is rightfully in your mouth.”

“So it doesn’t melt in your hands?” Mel said, smirking, but was more confused. “‘Acts to your hunger’? You mean your spit?” He picked up another, and welled up a bit of saliva into his lips. He held the fruit close, and slowly let it out, just letting the smallest drop touch it- and it turned into orange goo, slopping through his fingers.

Right into Saliim’s hair.

Saliim, on a good day, was already rather... temperamental to begin with, to put it lightly, and more high-strung than a cat. The amount of strain she was already under to stay silent and not break her facade, no matter what was said or done, combined with her need to give her two-cents no matter the circumstance, must have been great... Now, add the goo.

The succubus shrieked, her lovely facade broken, and shot right out of the hammock, scattering the bowls of fruit and the attire. Once more, though, Mel didn’t even see the Matriarch move, just that they were now on their feet. The bowls of fruit were in his lap, perfectly fine, Saliim was in their left claw, squeezing hard enough to draw blood from all three points, while their right claw was a lot more gentle, holding up his clothes.

“Wretched thing,” the Matriarch spat, shaking the clothes at her. “You sullied them! All that work, and you stain them with your flight of fancy-”

“Eh. They’re fine,” Mel said, waving his hand as he did. A soft, turquoise wave of energy sloshed forth, covering, filling the cloth, removing the goo and juice from the other berries that had burst on it, leaving them in their blue-and-gold glory. “Mage.”

“Oh... Forgive me, Patriarch. I still cannot grasp that detail, no matter how much I try.”

“Speaking of grips,” Saliim croaked, turned to a full gasp as the Matriarch dropped her. “Thank you-”

“Don’t! If it were up to me, you’d be dead. However, because you are under the Patriarch’s protection, it is up to him to decide your punishment.”

“Well, I did say to the other harpies that she does anything to cause problems to throw her in a bird cage-”

“The Patriarch’s will be done!” Five harpies boomed. Seriously, Mel was starting to think they all needed to wear bells, but at least he saw them coming this time. Kind of hard to miss a large, copper cage bolting through the sky. Three were carrying it; the other two flanked, wielding crude bidents.

“Mel!” Saliim shrieked, crying out as the Matriarch grabbed the top of her head.

“The Patriarch’s will be done,” they repeated, waiting for the cage. It was one of the round designs, like that despicable bird from the cartoons was always in. After seeing one in real life, the cat was just an idiot. Any old feline could reach their claws through those bars and nick them enough to have them bleed to death. He could already open the door; he could play the waiting game. Stupid cat.

The harpy on the right threw open the door, raising her bident to match their companion as the Matriarch forced Saliim to her feet. Saliim tried to rebel, tried to pull free, but where could she go, really? If she tried to fly up, the three harpies would have kept up and simply dropped the cage on her, so it was only an inevitability, sealed with a clangorous click. The Matriarch pulled at the door, wrenched and yanked at it hard enough to bend the metal a little, but it wouldn’t relent... Also, Mel couldn’t help but have a bit of nostalgia: the bottom of the cage was lined with newspaper.

The Matriarch returned to Mel, kneeling over the hammock again.

“Where should they take her, Patriarch,” they asked, all the while Saliim was ranting and raving and threatening. Who, though, was a silly question. She was threatening everybody, even Mel- especially Mel.

“Eh. Just leave her beside me. She’s not going anywhere,” Mel said, eating another one of those golf balls. Now that he understood what it was, he found them rather delectable. “Anyways, why can’t you wrap your head around me being a mage?”

“It’s... unprecedented,” they said, laying their claws on the hammock. The fabric hissed a little against their golden tips, “rapping” as if by habit along it. “Magus see harpies as little more than monsters, nuisances. To think one would be the Patriarch, enact Hrralyxa-”

“Ooh... an A added to the end. Must be serious.” He popped another golf ball in his mouth, and tried to blow a bubble with the goo- do not try to blow a bubble with the goo! He wiped the ash and smoke off his face, his eyes taking a moment longer to heal, but it was his hearing again that suffered. Archer was right: Tinnitus fucking sucked... The Matriarch was unscathed, but the hammock had suffered, toppled on the ground and smoking. Two more harpies were already along the way with a new one; the Matriarch aided him to his feet, actual worry seen in her eyes. “I’m okay. That just means I get another virgin.”

“That’s not how it works,” Saliim exclaimed. It truly was amazing how piercing her tone was; even with his ears still ringing he could hear her perfectly clear.

“It’s how it worked so far... So... I never got your name.”

“Hiilda,” The Matriarch said. “Daughter of Skaarga, Storm Matriarch of Hrralyx and Prime Matriarch of all harpies.”

“Huh... Can I just call you Hiilda for short?”

She cooed, biting her lip, but nodded.

“The Patriarch’s will be done.”

“And you’re a girl... right? Do all harpies identify as such?”

“... What sort of question is that? I mean no disrespect, Patriarch, but all harpies are women.”

“Yes, well, welcome to the twenty-first century, where you can have a dick and call yourself a girl and you’ll get somebody fired for saying the wrong pronoun. Can’t blame me for being cautious.”

She cooed even louder, kneeling beside the hammock as he eased himself in again –and it was even better than the first one! They were holding out on him... Wait. What happened to the fruit? Oh. Right. Boom.

“You no longer need to worry, Patriarch,” Hiilda stated, once more “rapping” her claws along the lip of the hammock. “Hrralyxa is upon us. All the worlds shall know the power of the harpies-”

“If I may take a swing? I’m usually good at these; years of experience.” Mel cleared his throat. “Once upon a time, a grand ancestor wrote a prophecy that a great geyser shall erupt and give a rise of the harpy population that the harpies had never seen before. The one that did it is their great leader, dubbed Patriarch, that shall aid in the raising of the brood and pass on his great knowledge and power to allow the harpies to rule over all... Am I in the ballpark, send it flying backwards or-”

“You are exactly correct, Patriarch,” Hiilda said, cooing ever louder- and he didn’t realize how close she had gotten. He could see himself perfectly in both blue spheres... twice over. “You shall raise the harpy people out of the darkness of their own dimension and allow us to flourish wherever we desire. We shall no longer be ignored, treated as pests and punching bags. We are a proud race, a strong race, and now all shall see us for what we are.”

“And that sounds great and all, but I’m failing to see why I was captured and brought here. Couldn’t you have kept in contact through void mail or something?”

“Because the children shall only inherit your prowess if you are in the same realm as them... They need their sire.”

“So... aside trying to leave, I’m basically allowed to do whatever else I want, and the harpies have to listen to my demands?”

“So long as they are within reason, Patriarch. Morally and Ethically, as well.”

“Wait, you know those words?”

Her cooing stopped a moment, and Mel was surprised such large eyes could roll.

“This is why we need you. This is why the harpies need Hrralyxa. No longer shall we be the butt of the joke. No l-”

The Matriarch practically split the hammock in two as she recoiled from the tiny flame Mel made in his hand. It turned soft green and mended the hammock, and Hiilda crawled back over, apologizing, though he could see the smallest hint of annoyance in those blues. Harpies returned with fresh bowls of fruit then left; after Hiilda explained the other fruits, showed how to eat them, she, too, left him to enjoy the ocean, the soft breeze as it blew against his hammock, and his favorite little songbird beside.

Again, at first he believed this was the fuck up... however, it turns out things were simply looking up for him. An army of harpies at his every command (so long as it was ethical and moral... except when they started to invade other places, most likely, so ethical and moral among them), a quaint, quiet little corner of the world he could call his own, absolute peace of mind with silence if he decided to throw the blanket over Saliim’s cage, and, best part of all, no more repeat classes. Call this for what it was: a bloody vacation!

Mel swiped his hand before him, creating a pair of wide black shades, and they slipped on alongside his new get-up. He adjusted in the hammock, easing the bowls over the sides, but also scanned the husks of the fruits left behind. None of them even came close to Earth fruits, wilder than they could ever be, but some had similar shapes. Apples, pears... pineapples; he had the pina, but where was his colada?

The closest he could find was a smooth, white shelled fruit, the inside crimson red. Its fruit was succulent yet spicy, reminding him of both chili peppers and strawberries at the same time, but he didn’t want the fruit. He conjured a bit of water, let it flow into the shell... and smiled as it held it all, not spilling a single drop. He changed the liquid to something a bit more... fitting of a tropical getaway, made a speaker to play some stereotypical island music, and decided to welcome the harpy apocalypse with style.

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