Shady Impressions: Lowered Standards and a Dash of Demons #2

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16 of Shady Impressions In this chapter Russo deals with the aftermath of having told his mortifying story and frets about the very real possibility of being hunted down by a demon for past transgressions.

Splurged this week and tossed up two chapters again as I forgot to on Friday.


Chapter 18

After his tale was told, Jem and Dax looked down at Russo with mixed feelings. The wolf was unsuccessfully stifling a snicker and the collie looked down at the human smirking in disbelief.

"As umm... fantastic and entertaining as that story was Russo, it doesn't sound very uhh... believable. You beat a demon by assaulting her with a toilet seat?" Jem said chuckling. His summation caused Dax to finally lose his self-control and burst out laughing.

Russo groaned and grimaced. "See this is why I tried to keep this whole sordid affair to myself. It's embarrassing as hell and nobody believes me!" The human let out a sigh and got up from the bed. "Wait here, I'll be back in a minute or two." Jem stepped to the side as Russo exited out the guest room and headed back into the main hall of the guild. Jem and Dax were left to curiously look and each other, perplexed as to what Russo was doing. A couple minutes later Russo returned and closed the door behind him tight.

"Well?" Jem inquired.

"Well what?" Russo asked annoyed.

"Why did you make us wait?"

"I went to go grab the proof I'd need to make you two believe me. Take a look at this." Russo reached into an inner pocket in his cloak and pulled out a long gnarled horn. The horn was about as long as his forearm and was cracked at the base. It was a uniform mixture of gray-red in color and didn't have any notches in it like those found on the horns of rams.

"What... what am I holding?" Jem asked dumbfounded as he investigated the strange object that Russo tossed to him.

"*Sigh* If you had paid attention during the story you would've remembered that I pocketed the horn I broke off of Umbra's head. Well... this is that horn. I store it in my chest at home for safe keeping and sort of as a reminder of that day."

Dax walked over and peered closely at the horn as well. Both furs were unsure of what to think.

"Oh to hell with it just give me the damn thing." Russo complained as he swiped the horn from Jem's hand. Russo held the horn tight in his right hand and channeled magical energy into it. An unnerving purple and black aura surrounded the horn. "Believe me now?"

Both furs stared worriedly at what had been proven without a doubt to be a demon's horn.

"How... how did you do that?" Dax asked in disbelief. Russo shrugged in response to the wolf's question.

"All I did was channel some magic energy into it. I mean, all demons use some form of dark magic so I guess it makes sense that parts and pieces broken off of them would contain dark energies. ...Okay, I mean don't know exactly WHY it does this when I pour some magic into it, but it does." Russo shook the malevolently glowing horn around absentmindedly. The dark purple and black aura left a stream of darkness in the air, almost like an anti-glow stick.

"I'm significantly more inclined to believe your preposterous story now," Jem said with alarm as he watched wisps of darkness drift through the room. "Mind uh... putting that out? NOW?"

Russo immediately ceased channeling energy into the horn and the dark aura around it began to dissipate. He shoved it back into an inner pocket for safe keeping.

"Wait, then that means you really beat a demon! That's amazing Russo!" Dax exclaimed with excitement, his tail wagging.

"Keep it down!" He nearly hissed at Dax. "First off I didn't beat Umbra, I just got lucky as hell. Secondly, the only reason I was able to walk away from that confrontation was because I had a freaking goddess for backup! This is something I'd prefer as few people as possible to know about, alright!"

"But judging from what that guy from Aurelianis said, it seems like that whole town knows about you and your exploits," Jem remarked.

Russo sighed and scratched the back of his head. "I know, I know, but there they only knew my name, not where I was from or what I do! Urrggh... if that dumbass goes back there and starts blabbing about how he met me here in Tedrah doing errands for the guild..." Russo started rubbing the back of his head faster and started to panic.

"What are you so worried about? So an incredibly embarrassing story about you gets spread around. It's not the end of the world," Jem replied nonchalantly.

"Oh yeah, I'd just love for word to get around that I'm a hero to the whores and harlots of Aurelianis. That's EXACTLY the kind of reputation I'd like to cultivate for myself. But besides that what if word creeps along the vine and Umbra somehow finds out? It'd be a simple matter for her to track me down then!" Russo said with a panicked worry on his face.

"Aww come on Russo, you beat her before, you can beat her again!" Dax reassured the human.

"The only reason I even survived last time was due to some freakish luck. With my magic at my disposal I'm still not sure I could beat her. Look, I'd really rather not run into her again, she is one of the few people...err beings that I actively fear," Russo stated as he looked to Jem and Dax with a worried look on his face.

"Alright, alright, we get the point," Jem said as he put a hand on the human's shoulder and gently shook him in an effort to calm him down. "Maybe you should talk this over with the master. He'd probably know what to do."

"Hell no. The less people that know about this the better." Russo sighed and thought to himself for a moment. "I... I think I know what I'm gonna do. I'm going to go back to the market and find that guy from Aurelianis. And I'll see to it he never so much as mentions the fact that he saw me here in Tedrah to anyone."

"How are you going to do that?" Jem asked incredulously.

"By using my violence of course," Russo said as he channeled magic into both of hands, a light blue aura surrounding all of his digits.

"Oh no no no no no, you are not cowing him into silence," Jem said in annoyance as he moved to stand between Russo and the door.

"I can teleport outside you know."

"And I can rat you out to the master."

Russo groaned as he eased up his efforts and ceased channeling magical energies into his hands. "Well what would you have you me do then?"

"Like I said before, talk to the master"

"Ughhh so if I listen to you I go and talk to master. And if I don't listen to you I still wind up going to talk to master. You're really overwhelming me with all these choices you know that?" Russo sarcastically replied.

Jem walked over and slapped him on the back hard. "What do you possibly have to lose?"

"Aside from his self-respect you mean?" Dax chimed in as he walked over.

"Not helping Dax." Russo replied with barely concealed hostility.

"It's not like you did anything bad or wrong though Russo. Maybe going to Aurelianis is frowned upon but you didn't do anything explicitly bad. I don't think the master will get mad, I'm sure he'll just want to help!"

(Darn you peer pressure)

"Gaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh fine. Neither of you is to speak a word of this to another soul. Got it?!"

Jem nodded affirmatively and Dax snickered as he shook his head. "I'm serious you tubby wolf," Russo responded as he pointed an accusatory finger at him. "You let a word of this slip and you will never receive another magic lesson from me as long as you live."

Dax whined as Russo left the room. "H-hey that's a little extreme don't you think!" He looked to Jem for clarification. "He's not serious is he?"

"Don't know. But if he can keep a secret about you being a giant, then you can keep a secret about him tangling with a demon."

"Yeah... you're right."


Looking up the stairs that led to the master's office, Russo took a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh. He had been called into the master's office so many times to be yelled at that it was a foreign feeling to be going in there to ask for help. He sighed one last time and rubbed his eyes before he began ascending the stairs. He gently knocked on the door.

"Who is it?" The master called out through the door.

"It's Russo."

"Hmm? What is it now?" He called out with annoyance, half-expecting to be told that something somehow burned down or exploded by having the poor misfortune to be in Russo's vicinity.

"I... I need your help with something master."

"Oh. My. This is unexpected. By all means come in Russo, come in."

"Is it really that surprising?" Russo thought as he rolled his eyes and entered the master's office.

"What can I do for you?" The master asked in earnest as he leaned over his desk and looked at the human.

"You know how you had Jem, Dax and I run security for that shipment of booze from Aurelianis earlier?"

"Mmhmmm."

"Well, Jem mentioned me by name and the guy who drove the carriage recognized it.

"Why's that? Do you know him?"

"No. But the people of Aurelianis know of me."

The master stared at Russo long and hard. "And why is that?"

"Well... oh wait before we start let me show you something." The master looked on confused as Russo pulled out one of Umbra's shattered horns and held it in front of him. He channeled magic into it and it began glowing a menacing purple and black. The master stared at it wide eyed and in shock. Russo quickly ceased feeding magical energy into it. "Sorry, I just felt like showing that off before telling my story as opposed to afterwards. Anyway..."

So then the story got retold and this exposition happened because I didn't feel like retyping it

"So what you're telling me..." The master struggled to say as he was chuckling to himself, "...is that you are deathly afraid that should word get out, this demon will hunt you down?"

"Yes master, that's the gist of it. I was initially planning on just shutting up that guy from Aurelianis but... after some 'convincing' from Jem I decided against it. And now that I think about it there's no guarantee he wouldn't have blabbed about it even if I had threatened him."

"Heh, *sigh* I can't say that I'm at all thrilled to hear about what you were planning on doing but I'm glad you chose otherwise. I don't know what to say Russo, but it's not like I can stop this demon from potentially finding out what she needs to in order to track you down."

"So this was a colossal waste of time then..."

"That's not true. What I can do is help you to equip and prepare yourself for such a confrontation, should it occur. Can I see that demon horn of yours again Russo?"

"Sure." He handed it across the desk and placed it in the master's outstretched hand.

"It's not too often people survive an encounter with a demon, and it's a much rarer occurrence for someone to take a souvenir away from it too. Far, far out west is the town of Yash, where one of the other main guilds of this province is located. That raccoon girl you and Jem teamed up with for the Peccamen assignment is from there."

"Okay... how does that help me?"

"The guild master in Yash is fairly knowledgeable about dark magic and demons. She's sure to know a way for you to use this demon horn to craft yourself some weapons or armor that can guard against or even repel the strongest dark magic attacks. Hell, I'm sure she can find a way to make that cloak or vest of yours render most dark magic attacks harmless. If that demon attacks you with claws and fangs well then that won't do you much good, but still, protection such as that would prove invaluable." He handed the demon horn back to Russo.

"Wow. That sounds incredibly helpful actually. So I guess I should head out there after the harvest festival then?"

"If you're wanting to travel there before Father Winter comes barreling in and making travel miserable that's what I would suggest. I swear it seems like the fall season gets shorter and shorter every year. Hmm... now that I think about it you can do me another favor on your little trip, if you do go on it." The master opened a drawer in his desk and fetched out a letter.

"Want me to deliver that to the guild master in Yash I presume?" Russo asked as he raised an eyebrow.

"Correct. Let's just say this letter contains some rather sensitive information and that I'd prefer it trades as few hands as possible in getting to her. If you swear not to peek at this and deliver it to her directly, I would seriously consider knocking a few weeks worth of time off of your suspension."

Eyebrows raised high in surprise Russo hastily reached out to pluck the letter from the master's hand. The master quickly pulled it back just out of his reach.

"Glad to know you're interested. I think I'll wait to give this to you until you actually do head out though. Better safe than sorry." The master slid open a drawer on his desk and deposited the letter back inside. "For now just focus on enjoying yourself at the harvest festival tomorrow. We'll talk more after it has come to an end. Go on, get."

With that Russo was shooed out of the master's office down the stairs and back into the main guild hall. "Well, that went a lot better than I thought it would. Still embarrassing as hell, sure, but I might come away from this with some awesome new gear and a reduced suspension sentence!" He quickly looked around to make sure there wasn't anyone around and then proceeded to giddily thrust his arms in the air in triumph.

"I take it the talk with master turned out well?" A familiar voice called out to him.

Frozen in place, Russo slowly craned his head back to see Jem sneak out from behind the stairs stifling a snicker. "Told you asking the master for help was a good idea," he said with a grin stretching from ear to ear. "Judging from your celebratory stance I'm guessing that you thought so too."

His face flushed red with embarrassment Russo began punching Jem. "And thinking on it further that story actually does a good job explaining why you're so cagey around women," Jem continued snickering as Russo punched him in the chest and shoulders. Laughing hysterically the collie playfully fended off Russo's attacks as he was chased around the guild hall.

---------Then this exposition happened and it was suddenly tomorrow----------

The air was chilled and nippy but the night was clear and a crescent moon shone brightly. Torches and lanterns littered the town and nearly everyone was out on the streets drinking, eating, partying, chatting, or sloppily making out with one another. Russo, Jem, and Dax said at a table set up in the open market and bemusedly watched people tripping over themselves in their drunkenness. Others were passed out on bench seats or on the ground, from the mixture of gorging themselves on delicious food and alcohol. These people were certainly in the minority but it was still fun to point them out and have a good laugh.

"So what'd you think of your first harvest festival Dax?" Jem asked as he devoured some salted veal.

"The best day of my life so far easily! I get to eat and drink to my heart's content with my friends at my side, I don't see how things could possibly get any better!" The wolf happily said as he downed an entire plate full of cinnamon backed apples.

"Hey hey hey don't eat too much too fast. You actually want to be able to sample what all they've got to offer here," Russo chided the wolf as the human shoved a spoon in his mouth and enjoyed some hot tomato brisque.

"That won't be a problem! I'll just grow a bit and make some more room in my belly for the food to fit in!" Dax said happily as he snuck off his dispel crystal and shot up nearly a foot in height.

"What are you thinking?!" Russo hissed at him as he looked around worriedly. He smacked Dax in the back of his head and shoved the dispel crystal into his hands. "For God's sake the entire town is out and about tonight!"

"B-but my tummy's full and I don't think I can eat another bite unless I..."

Russo furiously began punching the wolf, angrily demanding he put the dispel crystal back on.

"You've been on kind of a violent streak lately haven't you Russo?" Jem smirked as he watched Dax quickly shrink back down to Russo's height and put the dispel crystal back around his neck unhappily. The collie drew a mug up to his muzzle and drank deeply.

Russo frowned and shook his head at the collie to which Jem responded by laughing and nearly choking on his beer. Even with beer dribbling down his muzzle and coming out his nose he still found a way to laugh when thinking about how flustered Russo got the day prior.

"So I never did get to hear what the master said to you that put you in such a good mood yesterday," Jem said pointing to Russo. Dax looked down sadly at all the unfinished food on the table as he nursed his sore shoulder. Meanwhile, Russo continued glaring at the wolf and bemoaning his nearly disastrous judgment.

"Well the master gave me some good ideas about how to get some use out of that demon horn. Instead of just waving it around or using it as a reminder of how damn lucky I was, he said I could take it to the guild master in Yash and she'd be able to help make some dark magic resistant gear with it."

"Hmm, that sounds like a pretty good idea actually. Wait... isn't Yash where Morgan was from?"

"Yep. Not really sure I'm looking forward to running into her..."

"I doubt she'd be thrilled to see you either. Look at it this way though. If you do meet it would be a good chance to apologize to her."

"Apologize? For what?" Dax inquired, confused by the path the conversation was taking.

"You know how Russo blew up a mountain and flattened a village right?" Jem asked the wolf.

"Yup."

"Well, when he did that Russo, myself, and two others had to hightail it out of there. Morgan, a raccoon girl, was one of those other people massively inconvenienced by Russo's recklessness."

"Oh Russo told me all about that!" The wolf piped up. "So I guess Morgan doesn't like Russo very much huh?"

"No, not really," Jem said smirking.

"Pfft, you take the good with the bad. Besides it wasn't like I decimated the village on purpose!"

"Even so it would be nice if you apologized for it. I know you never meant for that to happen but I'm sure Morgan would appreciate an apology. And I mean a sincere one, not something half-assed."

"Yeah, yeah..."

"So when do you think you'll head out?" Dax mumbled as he slowly tried to cram a small slice of pie into his mouth.

"Tomorrow hopefully. The sooner I can head out the better. Winter's coming soon and I'd really rather not be travelling around when it's fucking freezing outside."

"Good luck with that then. I'm planning on taking it easy after that last mission. I'm not really in the mood to take on anything else at the moment," Jem said wistfully as he looked into his mug and swirled his beer.

"Alright," Russo said as he shrugged his shoulders and took a swill of his drink. "It's been a while since I've done anything on my own now, it'll be good to get back to moving along at my own pace."

"Be careful..." Jem warned him.

Russo swatted at the air in front of him with the back of his hand, as if knocking all troubles and concerns away. "You always worry too much."

"I worry enough."

Russo set both of his arms on the table and adopted a defensive stance. "I'll be fine. Hell, I'll do you a kindness and see if I can get some armor or vesting given that dark magic resistance as well." He shrugged and took another swill. "Maybe I'll even get Dax something too."

Dax's ears perked up and a gentle smile formed on the collie's face. "That does sound like a pretty generous offer..." The collie trailed off as he took a slice of pie as well and quickly devoured it.

Russo and Jem continued to munch on the food strewn about the table while Dax struggled to stuff himself to the point of feeling like he would explode. There was just too much good food to eat!

After a couple hours of drinking and eating Dax called it quits and headed on back to guild. He held his stuffed belly with both hands as it groaned and sloshed about as he walked back towards the guild. Russo was the next to turn in since he was hoping to get a somewhat early start to the next day. He had settled upon a wing it approach for figuring out how much supplies and gear he'd need for the trip tomorrow. He bid Jem goodnight and headed back home. Jem sat alone at the table in the market watching the night wind down and the streets become less and less crowded. The rough collie continued to munch away on whatever was within grabbing distance on the table. When there was hardly a soul in sight he got up and headed home too, albeit while carrying as much food as he was able. Once he carefully fumbled with the lock on his door and made it inside without dropping any food, he locked the door behind him and closed the curtains on the windows.

He immediately grew nearly four feet in height and shoved the remaining food down into his gullet, doing his best to savor the each and every delicious flavor. He slipped off his uncomfortably snug clothes and collapsed onto his too small bed. His knees hung over the edge of the mattress and it groaned under his additional weight. He smirked to himself as he rubbed his distended stomach and smiled at how Dax had thought to use the exact same trick he had come up with during his first harvest festival in Tedrah. He had been a hell of a lot more subtle about it though, growing an inch or two here and there throughout the night.

He chuckled to himself, dwelling on how similar he and Dax reacted as giants to the little ones way of life, that and how attached both of them became to Russo. A smile crept along his face as he rubbed a furred hand along his stomach. His eye lids grew heavy and as he drifted off he began peacefully dreaming about good times, good food, and good friends.