Bloody Abyss

Chapter 7

Into the thick...

It was a trial not to draw his blade and attack, especially after the replica started to blatantly flaunt his stupidity. After taking a tedious span to restate the obvious, Luke began to badger his original with a slew of unimportant questions. Arms crossed over his chest, Asch stared blankly at a point beyond the replica's head, mentally hoping that an abundance of patience would seep into his restless soul.

It wouldn't do to kill the dreck in front of Natalia, after all.

Fortune wasn't smiling on him today. Annoyed by the lack of response, Luke strode forward, crossing the distance between them in a few confident steps. The replica reached out with a brown-gloved hand and set it on his original's shoulder in a show of "brotherly" concern. It took all of Asch's formidable self-control not to curl his hand into a fist and slam it into Luke's midsection. As it was, he endured the touch for all of five seconds before shrugging it off.

"Seems I've wasted my time here," Asch snapped caustically, taking a sliver of pleasure as pain flashed across the replica's face. "I'll go on alone." He paused, gathered himself, and in his most biting tones snapped, "Don't you people have something better to do than muck around in the middle of nowhere?"

Tapping a blue-gloved finger against his lower lip, the Necromancer's lips curled into their omnipresent, mocking smile as he said, "It seems to me, Asch the Bloody, that you have nothing else better to do." Snarling, Asch whirled to glare at the man. Ignoring the show of hostility, Jade lifted his hand to his forehead, setting the back of his wrist against his head. The Necromancer continued holding his wrist to his head while he talked. "Running to and fro must be quite the strain upon you. Is this, perhaps, your favored vacationing spot?"

"Shut up."

Chuckling, the Necromancer lowered his hand, and something like steel flickered in those crimson eyes. "Yes... Yes, of course..."

Confused by the contrast -- the verbal submission coupled with the gaze that was anything but -- Asch stepped back, fingering his sword. Out of habit, he wore the Maestro blade commissioned to him by Van years ago; the Key was hidden within his quarters up on the Albiore. Not that he was going to reveal that to the owner of those crimson eyes. Though the God-General suspected that the owner of those blood-hued orbs was well aware of his secrets, he wasn't sure. So he held to his silence.

Unable to hold herself in check, the pig-tailed girl clad in pink giggled at the free show. Annoyed, Asch clenched the hilt of his blade. Enough was enough. He'd grind the annoying Malkuthite into the dirt later, but for now he had things to do.

"Oh, Natalia," Anise piped, straining to make her voice as harsh as the God General's. "I'll go. Never fear; I'll save Aunt Suzy for you!"

Lips quirking into a grin, Luke chuckled while Tear bit her lip to keep from laughing. That was all the encouragement the minute Fon Master Guardian needed. Widening her grin, she made a half step forward, hand over her breast, eyes wide in false adoration.

"Oh, Asch, you mustn't. It's so dangerous!"

A strange choking sound came from Guy. Snarling, Asch pinned his ex-servant with a death glare.

"Sorry," Guy choked, "but damn, she's right, you know."

With a sniff, Anise dropped the act and crossed the distance between them. Asch watched her with narrowed eyes, his hand forever curled around the hilt of his blade. "Well, Mr. 'Dark, Tall, and Lukey', we're going to save Aunt Suzy too." The guardian was close enough to reach out and touch him, and she did, brazenly poking him in the gut. "So you can shove the whole I-don't-care-about-anything-and-anyone act, or you can wait here while we go get the medicine."

With forced nonchalance, Asch stepped aside and made a mocking '"ladies first" bow in her direction. Surprised, Anise frowned, bit her lip, and looked up at him. Doubt and confusion were prominent on her small face; the war between anger and confusion was apparent on her young features. He smirked at her, then lifted his gaze to encompass them all.

"Go ahead," he invited, refusing to meet Natalia's confused eyes. "But tell me, before you set off: do you even know what the Rugnican Death Cap looks like? And are you aware of how it differs from the Great Rugnican Death Cap?"

Their collective silence and the Necromancer's thoughtful frown were damning in his eyes.

"I thought as much."

Turning on his heel, he made to leave them. Natalia was alright; he'd settle for knowing that and for firmly banishing her from this place. It was too dangerous for her to be wandering around here, anyway. Even with the pack of fools following her and offering their meager protection...

"W... wait, we'll go with you!"

Shaking off his hesitance, the replica started forward, his hand outstretched as if to settle on Asch's shoulder. Asch brushed the touch aside with his free hand, his sword arm tensed as he shifted his grip on hilt of his blade.

"I'll see you all in hell fir--"

Quietly clearing her throat, Natalia cut across Asch's anger with that one sound faster than any reasoning could.

"Perhaps... Perhaps Asch could lead us, Luke, and you and... some others could stay here?"

"I don't think I like the idea of splitting up," Anise admitted, craning her neck up to stare at the towering specie of fungi around them.

"Not in a strange place like this," Guy said, shivering a little. "Is no one but me bothered about the fact that those things are bigger than buildings? I swear, that's not a hill." Guy muttered the last under his breath, his eyes darting to a bright green mound in the distance. Sparing it a glance, Asch shrugged. It might be shivering, or it might be the mix of the fungus spores and miasma haze that made it appear to move.

"A healer apiece, one to hold the fort and the other to go with the group, would be the best. A swordsman, a fonist, and a healer per group would allow for some balance." Running her slender fingers though her brown hair, Tear thoughtfully tilted her head to the side. "A small group would be less prone to attract attention."

"However," Jade countered in his quiet voice, "a small group would be more likely to be assaulted by the -- shall we say -- local wildlife, if that isn't something of an oxymoron."

As Tear and Jade began to argue tactics, Natalia cast an impatient glance at the road, "road" being an operative word for the flattened, mold-encrusted span that seemed to lead deeper into the wilds of Mushroom Road. Princess and God-General shared an exasperated look as the talk dragged on. When it became apparent that the Oracle Knight and Malkuth Colonel were going to talk until the world ended, Asch made a scornful noise in his throat and turned on his heel. He was going to walk off; it was a stupid argument, and he wasn't taking any of them with him no matter how it ended.

Petty and small was the juvenile voice that chimed that stupidity might be catchy and that avoidance was worth a thousand fold more than a shred of cure. That decided him. He loosened his weapon in its sheath and began to walk away...

... And was held back by the mere uttering of his name.

"Asch, will you please be still? Just for a little longer?" Natalia huffed.

He froze, turned, and let out a little sigh of defeat as she pinned him with her most hopeful smile. His stubborn resistance didn't quite melt under the princess's argument, his knees didn't quite start to knock together under that open show of hope and affection she pinned on him.

But it was a very near thing.

Wiping a sheen of sweat -a side affect from the heat of the day, nothing more!- from his brow, Asch sheathed his blade with a quiet growl.

Eyes wide, exuding innocence when she was anything but, Anise Tatlin looked from Kimlascan Princess to fallen Kimlascan Noble. Analysis done, the little girl flashed Natalia a wide impish grin. "Wow, how'd you get him to do that? Does he do other tricks, like roll over? I'd pay good Gald to see him beg..."

"Shut up!"

Conversation between the Colonel and Tear stopped. Shocked silence fell upon their little span of Mushroom Road and as a whole the group of Malkuth and Kimlascan personages turned to stare in shock. Natalia, whose face was fast turning hue that would serve as a perfect match to Asch's hair, flinched back from their stares.

"Wh.. what I meant to say,-" Natalia stammered, struggling to regain some of her composure. "-was that what you are implying, is absurd. Asch is not a dog, and people do not do tricks, like animals. I find the comparison you're just exposed insulting to say the very least..."

Natalia's speech fell upon unbelieving, strained, silence. Then the silence was broken, by a strange tight noise that might have been a smothered laugh. They turned then, to Asch. The God-General quickly kicked off his coughing fit and looked upon them with grim green eyes.

"I'm leaving. Now. Make up you're minds as to who goes quickly, because I don't have all day."

And so saying he turned on his heel and made as if to walk the length and breadth of Mushroom Road alone. From behind, the sounds of them hastily making up their minds and racing to catch up were sweet music to his ears.