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40

And so, Mel found himself in the middle of a civil war. Laiela the Blood Matriarch lived up to her name, sprouting a grand crimson fountain from her chest as Norah the Day Matriarch impaled her with her sword-whip. She snapped it free, her arm stretched out to the left, lopped off by Maiera the Gale Matriarch, who opened her guard enough for Hon the Nest Matriarch to lop off her head with her bardiche. It arced through the air and flew out of the nest, the surrounding grass bathed in more red than the world had ever seen, while the Storm Matri-

We are getting ahead of ourselves. Let us return to Mel leaving the gnolls and making his way back to the great nest. The sky was more green than when he went in, so it must have been daytime. Mel had more than sobered up by this point, what buzz he had left taken by the... slime that managed to catch on his garb, burned away as he bounded through the forest. He started with a rock, then a branch, and soon was soaring over the treetops, his goal in reach. All it would have taken was one more leap, but, wouldn’t you know it? A spider finally decided to rear its ugly head. Emphasis on ugly.

Mel had leaped from another tree, preparing to land in the nest, when he felt something jerk his leg. Before he had time to look down, the world decided to do him a solid and go down for him. As much as he appreciated the world being a bro, it was a touch too fast. Made everything a hazy mess, but at least it had a quick stop right into the arms of the spider one decides to forget about after throwing their shoe at it instead of napalming the entire room to make sure it was gone. Well, now it was back with a sick scar over four of its eyes, all on the left because nobody cares about the right side, a busted leg that was hacked off and given a gun, and a distinct hankering for Mel’s face.

It seemed to drool as it pulled Mel in for a hug, but he had to draw the line somewhere. He already pushed it by wanting dangerously furry dickgirls, but a battle-hardened black-shelled orb weaver with a heart of gold that just needed a bit of coaxing to come out of its shell, perhaps over forty-five minutes before the second act rolls in? Nobody had time for that, or the liar-revealed third act when Mel reveals that he was in love with her web.

So, Mel did the only rational answer. The spider shrieked and shrilled, trying so hard to confess its burning passion to him... or simply writhing in pain from burning alive. It was rather tough to tell the difference between the two, but what Mel had to do next was the hardest decision he ever had to make. It was for the best, but, dammit, he would treasure those thirty seconds with the web and pass on the tale to his... soon-to-be billions of children... He was about to be a daddy.

Mel suddenly had a strange sense of... what was that feeling he had? It had been so long since he felt it, known about it, but he was having the strangest sense of deja vu. It was as if he should know what this feeling is, for somebody recently said i- proud! He was proud. That... couldn’t be it. Nobody was proud of bird children. Not even bird people were proud of bird children; that’s why they kill them so frequently.

After all, just the other day, 374 were killed with impunity, all for a ridiculous idea of a submersible frigate. Hello! Welcome to the twenty-first century. There were long metal dildos to get in now. So much simpler, safer, and didn’t need a ridiculous mechanic of getting the ship under and rise up from the front first. It wasn’t like they were locked to only that kind of technology anymore; this wasn’t a movie or fantasy book or game. This was real life, and yet they throw their people’s lives away like they were trash. It’s not the matter that there would soon be billions, nor the needs of the many outweigh the few. It’s just common sense, and besides, when would they ever need the ships? Even if it’s a completely submersed world, they can simply... ignore it and move on. It’s not like those denizens would notice nor care, so why waste lives and resources?

But Mel wasted enough time grieving over his web, his one true love. He had to focus on getting the Storm Charm, so that he could get taken care of, send the gnolls off to... where would he send them? He only knew two other places really, and he doubted Benjamin would take too well to him releasing them on the Institute. So, the next best place would be Earth... Why not his home state? Rugged, forgotten, overlooked, and plenty of desperate men looking for a bit of freaky fun. Mel would know... all too well.

All that was left was to get the Storm Charm –which he once more forgot about. And gravity. He completely forgot about gravity. He was still floating in the air, but Mel didn’t feel like falling. He’ll give it a rain check; Mel simply walked through the air, climbing into the nest. He had great respect for gravity, but he was a man on a mission.

The Matriarchs were talking among themselves like usual, whispering in hushed caws, silencing as one by one they noticed him approaching. Hiilda pushed her way through, beaming at him as she clasped her claws together.

“Patriarch,” she said. “Good morning. Did you enjoy your exploration last night?”

“Could have been better,” he said.

“Well, hopefully today brings you contentment and happiness. Last night, however, your succubus... friend?”

“Eh... ‘Friend’ is a strong term, but that’s the closest -frieacquaintance? Acquaintend? Not exactly friend, but we know too much about each other to be acquaintances- you know what? Let’s go with booty call and call it there.”

“Regardless of what she is or isn’t, somehow she worked the cage to the cliff’s edge... We found her unconscious, but the cage was still perfectly intact.”

“That’s good. Where is she now?”

“By your wicker chair.”

“Ah. Thank you, but I have a request.”

She sighed, rubbing her brow. “If this is about the submersible ship-”

“No.”

“Oh, thank g-”

“It’s about the Storm Charm-”

“No such thing,” she blurted. For a moment her smile faded, but it was quickly mended as she tittered. She reached for his arm, goading him to turn towards the edge of the nest, towards the ocean. “Come, Patriarch. Let’s get you in your hammock. You must be exhausted.”

“Oh, I am, but I am a man on a mission. I need the Storm C-”

“There is no such thing.”

“The gnolls say otherwise.”

She stopped, pushing him forward, and almost broke her mask before Mel was completely turned around, facing her again. Instead, she hid her scowl with another clearing of her throat, and hid her anger by clasping her hands even tighter.

“The gnolls have mislead you, Patriarch. Told you lies.”

“So they didn’t try to make you leave for Terra so that your numbers could flourish as well as be revered instead of being the laughingstock of the dimensions? Your kind didn’t retaliate and force them to live underground, as well as take their prized possession?”

“Of course not, Patriarch.”

“Oh. Huh... Well, I’d still like the Storm Charm so I can send them to another dimension. It’s only fair; the harpies will soon hatch and then you’re going to wage an inter-dimensional war with everybody anyways.”

“There is no such thing as the Storm Charm, Patriarch.”

“I find that hard to believe... You are the Storm Matriarch and all, head of the Matriarchs. There has to be a reason, right? Maybe because you call the shots with who is allowed to enter and leave at any given time?”

“You are incredibly astute, Patriarch. Wise beyond what your years and actions show, but there is no Storm Charm. That is my inherent gifts, being born of the Storm Matriarch prior-”

“Ah! So she must have the Storm Charm. Where is she?”

“D... she’s dead. It’s sort of how I am the current Storm Matriarch.”

“Oh yeah... So that means you have the Storm Charm.”

She growled, her smile finally breaking, and she could no longer hide her shaking by gripping. Blood poured onto the nest from her palms.

“Okay, Patriarch... Tell me. If this supposed Storm Charm exists, and that’s a big if... what makes you think I will simply hand it over so that you can send our most reviled enemies to another world?”

“Because soon you won’t even think of them as such? If everything is going to go as you say, then they won’t be more than a speck under our feet... It’s not like I’m asking to keep it. I want to see it for a moment, maybe half a day, so that I can send them off. Then I’ll bring it right b-”

“Matriarchs!” A harpy shrieked, practically diving into the nest. She broke into a sprint as soon as she landed, holding something in her arms, while tears streaked down her face. “Matriarchs... the children.”

Hiilda spun to the harpy and looked down at the heap in her arms. Mel couldn’t really see, but his stomach dropped a bit remembering the crunching from the day before. He thought it might have been bones, maybe carcasses from old meals, but... but what if he really did step on a few eggs?

“Oh shit,” he grumbled, rubbing his head. Hiilda scooped the child from the harpies arms and spun to Mel. “Look, I’m sorry if any were crushed. I was drunk as hell, didn’t know where I was stepping-”

But the child was perfectly fine. No scrapes, bruises, cuts, crushings, or any imperfection... Well, aside the three dangly bits between their legs. The baby harpy cooed as it saw Mel, reaching out for him, very much having his eyes, his hair.

Torn apart by Hiilda.

She tossed them over the side, glowering at Mel as she did, ignoring as the other Matriarchs raced over to her.

“Hiilda!” One said, her plumage so golden that it hurt to look at, but at least it was laced with enough greens and blues to compensate around her eyes and hips. “Are you mad? That was a child!”

“A male,” Hiilda said, her words hollow, but the anger could be felt, rumbling in the deep. She growled, and looked back over her shoulder at the harpy. “Destroy all the eggs.”

“Hiilda-”

She snapped towards the Matriarch, bearing down on her.

“Silence, Hon! Know your place.”

“Ignore that command,” another Matriarch commanded. She had snow-white feathers, thick and wide, yet paled compared to her big, blue eyes. They seemed alight, energy crackling through those soft feathers until they reached her hands and forged a long, black lance.

“You dare summon your weapon, Laiela?” The fourth Matriarch, Norah, exclaimed, her yellow-and-orange feathers bristling as well. The plume on the top of her head fanned out, showing two great red circles surrounded by black, matching the edge of her sword-whip.

Stifled by the glaive in Maeira’s clutches. Its long, golden edge complemented its sapphire handle, clashing against the black and silver feathers she had in a thick down across her middle, the rest of her bare.

“You would be wise to put yours away.”

“All of you would!” Hiilda shrieked. Her breath became like growls became tempests that spurred the clouds above to gather and darken. Harpy upon harpy arrived at the nest, carrying a newborn, each and every single one with a little bit extra between their legs. “All of you! Slaughter the children. They are not any of ours.”

“No! They are ours!” Hon stated. “This is the change we needed. We finally have males of our own species.”

“After how long? Eons?” Norah squawked, echoed by the caws from the right side of the nest. “No! These are not of our blood but tools, trickery of this mage and the magus! Slaughter them all!”

“Hold your tongue, or I shall hold it for you,” Laiela said. “These are our children. We, all of us, laid the eggs. We felt them grow. We felt the rush of being filled. How can you say these aren’t ours?”

“These children deserve a chance,” Hon said, backed by the squawks from the left side of the nest. “This is part of the prophecy.”

“We were looking for a way to dominate the other dimensions, and what better way than also to breed with their women?” Laiela added.

“So we can have even more freaks? More bastards of our blood?” Maiera exclaimed. “I’d sooner die than allow such to p-”

“Enough!” Hiilda shrieked. The warmth in her cheeks faded in a flash, replaced by the fire and fury in her eyes. Thunder rumbled above, clouds gathering quick as the Matriarchs parted from their... leader- we’ll go with that! Lightning struck around her, singeing the twigs that made the nest. Each bolt closed in before her, becoming more and more frequent until a thick beam of lightning crackled and burned. Hiilda reached in and pulled out a pair of axes, each as jagged as the energy that brought them. They glowed with an eerie teal light, still crackling from the lightning as it relented, allowing them their true justice. They both only had one beard, but a rather nasty, twisted pick on the back sides, both as long as his arm. She swung them around at the harpies, pointing at each and every single one. “The next person who speaks up shall feed this edge... Mage. Was this your plan from the beginning? To throw our people into disarray, sabotage our lineage, and to steal the Storm Charm for those filthy gnolls?”

“So there is a Storm Charm,” Mel said, rubbing his head. “Like I told you, I just need to borrow it for a moment then I’ll bring it b-”

“Why are you so stupid? Quit being so stupid! STOP BEING SO STUPID!”

She cried out as she swung both axes down towards Mel.

Meeting Hon’s Bardiche.

The white handle sparked against the beards, but were knocked away as the Matriarch pressed herself in front of Mel.

“You dare attack the Patriarch?” She shrieked.

“You dare raise your blade to me?”

“I stand for the good of all Harpies. I am the nest mother of all. I shall not stand by while my children are being threatened!”

“They are not your children!” Maiera cried out, charging at her. “They are none of our children! The damned mage tricked us! He is no Patriarch; he is Satan, himself!”

“Then call me a demon for I believe he brought good to this world,” Laiela said, tripping Maiera. “Times need to change. We need to change. He brought the change we needed!”

“Stop fighting! All of you!” Hiilda said, and now that we are all caught up, we can return to the Storm Matriarch swooping down upon Mel.

She grabbed him by the collar and carried him off towards the plains. She practically dragged him through it, kicking, squawking at every bush, at every rock they passed until one finally gave. She leaped down into the Gnoll’s tunnels, her talons clacking away, grumbling and cooing in pure rage and agitation.

It wasn’t long before the alpha revealed herself, her growls shaking the tunnels, stilled as she saw the mage in the harpy’s grasp. Hiilda tossed Mel at the gnoll then pressed by into the larger chamber that waited beyond, where Mel had been taken to after his first encounter with fluffy tail. The room still reeked of dog and... musk, but Hiilda ignored it, pointing at the wall that once housed his “cuffs”. Her arm glowed, showing a small, green gem embedded in her wrist, which started to hum, whine, before it flashed. A rift opened in the wall, showing the Institute; Hiilda turned towards Mel.

“Go.” She stated. “Get out. I never want to see you again.”

“But... what about the gnolls?” Mel said. “I promised them and all.”

She scoffed, turned into a shrill squawk, glaring at him.

“Don’t press your luck, mage.” She stated, shooting a dirty look to the gnoll behind her. “They won’t be shown as much mercy as you.”

Mel huffed. “Well... this has been a horrible vacation. I’m going to have to give you a one-star review.”

He started towards the rift. The gnoll behind started to speak out, but one look from the harpy silenced her... He stood before it, looking at his ‘home’, and knew all too well that, no matter how long he stayed there, no matter how much he tried, it would never be really home... Mel cocked his head back at the alpha, his throat buzzing once more.

“Hey.” The Alpha looked up. “Do you really want to leave, or were you wanting it as a necessity?”

The alpha opened its mouth... but shut it, shaking her head.

“I... I don’t want to leave,” she said after a moment.

“But you feel you need to. ‘For the good of everyone’?” He groaned, ruffling his hair. “Dammit... At least I have more than one reason to do this.”

“To do w-” The Matriarch began, screaming as she held her arm. Everything before the wrist was fine, but she sort of sported one of those new blood super soakers that were all the rage. Kids loved it; it was almost as popular as the flamethrower. She gave her hand rather easily to Mel in exchange for the awesome blood soaker, and he shook the Storm Charm out of the wrist. It was a perfectly flat disk with a rune on it that looked like a drunkenly drawn 4. He held it up to the rift, and the disk started to glow and hum. As it became a whine, it flashed, and the rift closed.

“Didn’t even need an instruction booklet,” Mel said, flipping the rune like a coin. “How cool is that?”

“You... impetuous... moronic... retarded simpleton!” Hiilda shrieked, and tried to lash out at him.

Slammed down to the floor by the alpha’s hammer.

She gasped, wheezed, writhed and seethed under it, but, no matter how much she fought, she couldn’t get free. The blood pooling from her wrist didn’t help any, either. Mel turned around, and saw the alpha staring down at him, her white eyes shining so bright, but something else caught his ear. Something... wafting... He looked behind her, and saw that her tail was wagging.

“You got the Storm Charm,” she said, and did her spine-tingling shriek. It echoed through the halls, answered by dozens of others. The halls rumbled, and from every single passage gnolls burst forth, seeing the scene... and the room started to smell of musk again. “The death god has brought us the Charm. We are going to a new home-”

“Actually, no,” Mel said. “I have something else in mind.”

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