Fungal Halo

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A More Perfect Servant

A bolt of light streaks through the air, faster than the human eye can track, aimed unerringly for my servant’s heart. A blur of motion intercepts it, and with a sharp crack of sound, the magically charged arrow is deflected to the side.

Good puppet. Well done.

Unseen by these irksome intruders, my claws stroke the back of Emilia’s head, tipping her annoyance with a gentle nudge toward contempt. Still, she almost wavers when she recognizes her enemies. I grip her more tightly to steady her thoughts.

Three of them. I dismiss the first, a knight built like a giant slab of meat gripping a giant slab of steel as a shield. An unremarkable simpleton. Even now, my servant wants to think of him as a friend, however. I squash the thought before she can be allowed to think it.

More dangerous is the young, newly crowned king leveling that divine blade at us. Even without that telltale glow, I’d recognize the stench of the goddess on it. The thing is littered with countless more enchantments, too.

How many sorcerers and master craftsmen were involved in constructing this weapon? Did he empty the royal coffers to commission that sword just to kill us? Oh, he must be quite furious about my puppet killing his parents.

But my servant, predictably, cannot wrest her attention away from the third—the doe-eyed priestess with the goddess’s gifts—and I haven’t decided whether it’s her powers or this girl’s obsession with her that makes her the greatest threat of all.

The priestess nocks another arrow, and she channels the power that is her birthright into it. However, instead of taking aim, she makes one more attempt to break my hold on her friend.

“If you’re still in there, you have to fight that demon’s control. Don’t make us kill you!”

I whisper poison into an ear that cannot shut me out, and my servant’s lips move to speak the jealousy I plant inside her.

“Don’t pretend that you suddenly care about me now. You made your choice, didn’t you?” I paint a sneer on her mouth.

“The Anchor needs—”

“Your goddess demands an heir to inherit her gift,” my puppet interrupts, that word dripping with resentment that isn’t even mine, “something I could never give you. But he can, can’t he? Merging the royal bloodline with your holy one. How perfect.”

The large one responds to all the malice in her words, moving to place his shield between the threat she represents and his friends.

My puppet is insulted. I stoke her fury until a violent outburst carries her forward, leaping over his shield to bury her glaive in his skull.

That’s one down. Now…

Wait. What—?

I tug the strings, but my puppet only stiffens. She drops her weapon. Tears fill her eyes.

“Kill me. Please,” she begs.

Disgusting words that I did not feed her. I squash her pity. I smother her revulsion. Still she resists me.

We have so much more to do. We’re burning this entire world down. What is the point of such a display for this tiny, insignificant group of people?

“Hurry, I can’t—”

The next holy arrow strikes true. Right in the heart. My servant falls.

Intolerable failure.

“I-is it over?”

No resurrecting my servant. The arrow’s power repels me.

“That demon of hers will try again. Maybe with one of us.”

The priestess would have to intentionally lower her natural defenses for me to take her, and the sword in the king’s hands works similarly.

The dead knight, maybe. Wouldn’t be my first choice, but my options are limited. Humans are sentimental creatures. Perhaps they’ll drag his corpse back, with me in tow, and I’ll have more choices open to me later.

I slip into the body.

Careless, too used to inhabiting an empowered servant, I don’t notice the trap until it’s too late. Wards on the body flare with heat and light, and the king’s reflexes are swift. He plunges that holy blade through his dead friend’s chest and into me.

“Got you,” he growls.

Sealed away by the sword’s power, howling in futility at the goddess’s repulsive servants, I am unable to lift a finger to resist as they add layer upon layer of imprisonment. Wrapped, chained, locked away in a remote temple, they think me gone forever.

But it is my nature to corrupt, and while the blade has no will of its own to seduce, it likewise has no will to resist as I wear away at its essential nature with time.

A century, a millennium, a myriad years—however long it takes, I will make this sword-prison mine.

Slowly, oh-so-slowly, I twist the blade’s light into alignment with my power and my nature. As I do so, I study it and come to know the power of the holy bloodline far more intimately than ever before.

The priestess herself once imbued this sword with her power. The bond remains, and I can trace it back, back, back to her descendants.

Somewhere out there a princess dreams, and I seed her fertile mind with prophetic nightmares of what I’ll do to her kingdom. There is no scheme in it. No grand plan. It’s an act of spite at enmity’s heir. What happens next is simply good fortune.

She half-recalls a distorted legend of a sword that seals away darkness. She sends a champion to claim a weapon to fight my prophecy.

And then one day I feel the caress of a strong hand once again.

The blade I embody is wholly under my command, and the power this new knight claims is equally mine.

I sink my fangs into her mind, expecting to struggle with her for dominance the way I did with Emilia.

Instead she exhales a sigh of pleasure. She strokes me like a lover.

Her mind’s eye shows me crimson-stained visions of her enemies, and all I have to whisper is “yes.”