tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 068

Three Square Meals Ch. 068


*John! What happened?!* Edraele cried out to him, sounding frantic with worry. *I heard everything until you fell asleep, but then I could feel our connection being blocked!*

John had lurched upright in bed, and he took a deep shuddering breath to calm his frantic heart rate. Sakura was clinging to him and quaking like a leaf, and while Alyssa was more composed than the terrified Asian girl, she was still badly shaken. She gave him a fierce hug before turning to Calara who was trembling with fright, and attempted to console her.

*We're okay, Edraele. Just give me a moment...* John replied, trying to soothe the Maliri Matriarch's fears. Looking around at the girls in bed with him, he asked, "Is everyone alright?"

Dana had been desperately hugging Rachel as the two panted for breath, but she sat up and yelped, "I'm pretty fucking far from alright! That was the most terrifying goddamn thing I've ever seen in my life!" She waved her hands in the air, while shaking her head and said, "Wait, scratch that! I've never even had nightmares that fucking scary before!"

Jade drew all their attention with a shocked gasp, and a moment later she cried out, "Irillith's been hurt!"

John guided Sakura over to Alyssa and Calara, and the Latina took a big breath to steady her nerves, before joining her blonde lover in hugging the whimpering Asian girl between them. He then clambered over the bed to join the Nymph, who was looking at Irillith's leg in horror. There was a jagged gash across her blue calf, in the same place where the barbed tendril had flayed her during the nightmare. The wound was bubbling with a black ooze, and the Maliri girl was looking deathly pale as she lay there unresponsive.

Rachel quelled her fears upon hearing that one of her friends was injured, and she scrambled to attend Irillith. However, she was brought up short when she reached John's side, and got her first look at the festering wound. A gangrene-like infection, consisting of spidery black webs was slowly spreading out from the ragged cut on Irillith's calf. Thinking quickly, she grabbed John's arm, and said, "We need to clean that out right now!"

"Oh, Fuck!" Dana blurted out, as she flanked the brunette and saw the state of Irillith's leg.

John glanced at the shimmering white bedpost, then raised his right hand towards it and focused his willpower outwards. A section of the post streamed away in a long viscous line, before gathering in a rotating orb. He fixed the shape of a knife into his mind, then imposed his will on the psychically responsive material. It rushed to obey him, smoothly forming into a razor-sharp blade about a foot long, and he snatched it out of the air as soon as it had solidified.

"Try and remove all that black pus-like substance, I'll go and get my treatment kit!" she urged him, her eyes wide now with worry as she leapt off the bed.

He brought the knife to the toxic looking substance, intending to scrape it from the wound, but a blood-curdling shriek pierced the air as the blade touched the hideous liquid. Jerking his hand back in shock, John gave Irillith a worried glance, but she was still unconscious.

"The scream didn't come from her!" Jade warned him, gaping in revulsion at the putrid wound in Irillith's calf. "It came from that liquid!"

Gritting his teeth in anger, John used the knife again, and smoke poured off every area the gleaming white blade touched, the black ooze burning away to the sound of more tortured wails. It took less than thirty seconds to clean the ragged laceration in Irillith's leg, the malignant substance howling in torment at the touch of the Crystal Alyssium blade.

John sat back on his haunches when he was done, and shaking his head, he muttered, "What the fuck was that?!"

"I've got no fucking idea!" Dana gasped, hugging his arm. "I didn't think tonight could get any scarier!"

Rachel rushed into the room, the spare treatment kit she kept in her quarters held in her hands. She knelt down beside Irillith, and began cleaning and treating the wound with an antiseptic spray, before applying a skin-regenerating gel.

Jade looked at the doctor with worried eyes, and asked, "Is she going to be alright?"

The tawny-haired girl nodded, all calm professionalism now, and without taking her eyes off Irillith, she replied, "Whatever that substance was, John's efficiently cleansed it from her wound. The laceration to her leg appears to be a conventional injury now, and under my care she'll be fully recovered in less than a week." She looked at John pointedly, and added, "I imagine you'll be able to heal her on a considerably faster timescale?"

He took a deep breath, then closed his eyes, and looked at the mental compartment containing a depiction of Irillith in his mind. She was still actively linked to him, her stomach still full of the catalyst for his psychic ministrations. Concentrating on her intently, he began knitting flesh together, mending the damage to her lithe limb. He heard gasps around him, and he smiled before he opened his eyes again, knowing that his impromptu psychic surgery had been a success.

"You're getting stronger," Rachel observed, sounding impressed as she ran her hands over Irillith's blue flesh. "You healed that even faster than Sakura's surgical wounds."

"That's not all," Alyssa murmured, taking the glistening white dagger from his hands, and looking at it with interest. "I quad-shaped the bed frame just to make sure it was nice and robust. You just quint-shaped that blade without any real effort."

John was surprised at that, and looked at her with a startled expression on his face. He was about to respond, when Irillith let out a low groan.

"What happened?" she asked, sounding disorientated. Irillith suddenly seemed to remember without prompting, and she bolted upright, looking wildly around her then clutching at her leg in horror. Locking eyes on John, she flung herself into his arms, panting with fear.

"You're okay now. I've got you, don't worry," he told her in a comforting tone, wrapping her in his arms and stroking her back.

The others leaned in for a group hug, stroking her arms and legs as well, to help soothe her shivering. After spending five minutes holding each other, the close physical contact helped calm everyone down. Irillith peeled herself off him, and then gave him a tender kiss and a grateful smile

"Thank you for saving me from whatever -that- was," she said, her angular violet eyes gazing at him intently.

"You're welcome, honey. It's what I'm here for, to look after beautiful girls," he replied with a self-deprecating smile.

She laughed at that, sounding immensely relieved, and then moved back on the bed to free his legs.

Alyssa came over to join them, and looking down at Irillith's healed calf, she said, "We were right to be scared out of our minds. That just proved it can hurt us in the real world, not just in our dreams."

He nodded, his mouth set in a grim line, and said, "Yeah, pretty dramatic proof alright."

Dana rubbed John's shoulder, and said sympathetically, "I remember when you woke up after that nightmare months ago. I can't believe you've been suffering through shit like that for so long."

He turned to look at her, and seeing her concerned expression, smiled in reassurance as he said, "They weren't ever quite that bad. I'm just sorry you girls all got dragged into it this time."

Looking thoughtful, Alyssa then gave him a chilling smile as she said, "Another thing was different too. We know we can hurt that fucker."

John laughed at that and shaking his head in wonder, he said, "No beautiful, I hurt it, you blasted that bastard into next week!"

Dana nodded eagerly and gasped, "I was so shit-scared, I forgot all about that! You Nova Lanced that fucker! Using your fists!"

Rachel smiled too, and sharing a mischievous look with the redhead, she said, "It was one hell of a fisting!"

There was a bout of giggling and laughter from everyone on the bed, and despite chuckling along with them, John shared a meaningful look with Alyssa saying, *We shouldn't really be laughing about this, that thing is still a deadly threat.*

She stroked his arm, and replied, *I know, and we'll have to deal with it eventually. Laughing about it feels good though, doesn't it?*

He gave her a brief nod, then looking sombre, he added, *We'll have to come up with a better plan next time. We'll be heading back to Maliri Space soon...*

Alyssa grinned at him, and said with delight, *You bad boy! We all nearly died, and you're thinking about Maliri girls blowing you!* She shifted where she was kneeling, biting her lip as she added, *Luna, Ilyana, and Almari are going to look so hot with big round blue tummies. Are you going to fuck them all too? Really break them in?*

*I can see you're feeling alright again,* he replied with a grin. He knew she was right before though, laughing about their near-death-encounter was what everyone needed right now. He'd experienced more than his fair share of these terrifying nightmares, but he wasn't sure he'd be able to get any more sleep that night.

She leaned in for a kiss, and said, *I probably shouldn't bring it up, as everyone's feeling much better now, but you were the real hero tonight, not me. It was you who shored up the wards in the shield, then started protecting us while I was still petrified. I just followed your plan at the end and provided a distraction, but you pulled us out of the Astral Plane, and saved all our lives.*

*Just trying to keep my girls safe,* he replied as he kissed her back, while gazing into her adoring eyes.

When he pulled away from her, and looked around self-consciously after their passionate kiss, he was startled to see all the girls staring at him with expressions of heartfelt gratitude on their faces. He glanced back at Alyssa with a questioning frown, wondering what was going on.

*Yeah, I told them everything I said, and your response too,* Alyssa admitted with a smug grin, as he was buried under an avalanche of grateful girls, and smothered with loving kisses. He could hear her amusement as she added, *They were so scared during all that, they didn't know what was going on, so I thought I'd clarify what happened for everybody.*

"Okay, okay!" he eventually cried out, "I love you all, too!"

They helped him up with more giggling, and he couldn't help but notice that they all seemed much more relaxed now, thoroughly distracted from their dreadful experience. He looked at Alyssa with newfound respect in his eyes. Her ability to read the girls' emotions, and carefully tend to their needs seemed to be growing on a daily basis. She gave him a gentle smile in return, compassion for the girls she'd adopted as her sisters shining in her eyes.

He looked around him, and announced, "We should probably get some sleep. We'll be hitting the Dragon March soon, and we need to be well-rested just in case there's trouble." He added some conviction to his voice as he continued, "You're all safe now. There's no chance we'll have a second nightmare again tonight, they just don't work that way."

Looking immensely relieved, the girls settled back in bed around him. John was at the centre with Sakura and Alyssa in his arms, while Calara cuddled up behind the blonde. Alyssa gave him a quick kiss, then swapped places with the Latina, so Calara could be surrounded by both her lovers. That left Dana and Rachel pairing off as usual, while Jade hugged Irillith protectively.

"Good night girls, sleep well," John said quietly, and one by one they started dropping off.

Tired as he was, there was no rest for the wicked, so he reached out to Edraele, and said, *I'm really sorry for leaving you hanging like that when you were scared. I'm sure you were reading my thoughts, so you probably figured out what happened for yourself.*

*There's no need to apologise. What you've just been through must have been dreadful,* Edraele replied, her voice throbbing with sympathy. She sounded emotional as she added, *Thank you for saving my little girl. I owe you so much...*

*You don't owe me anything, Edraele,* he replied in a comforting voice. *I love Irillith, and I'm never going to let anything bad happen to her if I can help it.*

*Thank you,* she replied simply, and he could feel the earnest gratitude in her voice.

Glancing at the ship's chronometer, he saw that it was now one in the morning, and he frowned as he asked, *Isn't this incredibly late for you at the moment? I thought Valaden was on a different time pattern to standard Terran time?*

She hesitated a moment before replying, *Actually, I've adjusted my hours to fit standard Terran time. I wanted to make sure I was awake if you ever needed me for anything.*

John was impressed by her dedication, and said, *You didn't have to do that, Edraele, I feel like I inconvenience you enough as it is!*

*I wanted to be there for you, it's never an inconvenience,* she countered, sending him a telepathic smile.

He sent her a kiss in return, and said, *You're a good girl, and I'll show you how much I appreciate your support when I see you. I'm going to sleep soon, so I want you to get some rest now, okay?*

Edraele sounded delighted by his reply, amused and happy whenever he called her "girl", considering the huge age gap between them. She immediately promised, *I'll go to sleep right now.*

The telepathic connection to her went quiet seconds later, and he knew she'd dropped off straight away. The compulsion to obey him was incredibly useful, but it also filled him with guilt every time the girls were forced to follow his commands, intentional or not. He was adamant that he was going to resolve that situation the first chance he got.

With Edraele now reassured, there was still one other person he needed to speak to until he could get some sleep. He closed his eyes and concentrated on pulling his mind from his body, peeling away his spirit form like a second skin. It was hard with the anvil-like presence dragging him back, but he managed it, tired as he was. As he sat up, he heard a cry of relief and a shining girl threw herself into his arms, knocking him off balance.

"I'm so sorry!" Athena cried out as she hugged him fiercely.

John rolled them away to the foot of the bed, as floating through everyone's bodies like some incorporeal ghost felt far too surreal. He wondered if his astral cord would get tangled with hers, but they seemed to pass through each other as if insubstantial, still linking him with his body, and Athena to Alyssa. He held her in his arms, and looked down at her scared face, then brushed his hand against her radiant cheek.

"We're all safe, everything's fine," he told her, in an attempt to calm the stricken psychic guide.

She shook her head, and gasped "It all went so wrong! When you were pulled into the Astral Plane, I tried to intervene, but the leviathan cut me off. I was trapped here within Alyssa's mind!"

"You know what happened while we were there? You heard us discussing it just now?" he asked her, simply to check that he wouldn't have to repeat himself. He knew time was short, and he didn't want to waste it talking about the same things again.

She nodded, and her face crumpled as she replied, "Adding Sakura was another near-fatal mistake! I've let you down so badly."

Rather than arguing with her to try and calm her down, John simply leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss. Her eyes flew open in surprise, the electricity tingling between them, and she responded slowly at first and then with more passion. When he was certain she wasn't torturing herself any longer, he pulled back so that he could look at her face more clearly. She stared back at him looking flushed, or at least it appeared that way, as difficult as it was to tell with her glowing ethereal face.

"You weren't to know," he told her firmly. "Despite what you said to Rachel, you hadn't done anything like that before. How could you have known what was going to happen?"

"But, I still cou-," Athena started to object again, so he leaned in and continued kissing her, silencing her self-recriminations.

When he pulled back again, he smiled and said, "I haven't got much time here. I'm exhausted and I can't resist the astral cord's pull for long. I'll happily spend it kissing you, though, if you keep blaming yourself."

She smiled at him affectionately and said, "Alright, what do you want to talk about?"

"When I tried to return to the Material Plane, that creature blocked me from returning, and I could feel how staggeringly powerful it was. What the hell is it? And can you tell me precisely what went wrong with the ward idea?" he asked her, staring into her eyes.

Athena was remorseful as she replied, "I'm sorry, but I don't know what it is, exactly. I could feel its malevolent presence from this side too, so I spent some time studying it, looking for breaks in the barrier that would allow me to reach you. There was a certain familiarity to it, in a warped and terrifying way." Looking thoughtful now, she paused as she pondered his other question, then replied, "I think the ward partially worked. Its existence prevented the creature from pulling you into its own Planar Domain, where you've experienced the worst parts of these nightmares before."

John frowned in confusion, struggling to understand those strange concepts, and said, "Sorry, I'm not following you. What's a 'Planar Domain'?"

She smiled at him as she explained patiently, "You were trapped in the raw Astral Plane, which can be formed into Planar Domains by powerful psychic entities. Think of it as a personalised ethereal home that someone with enough psychic strength can shape with their mind. As you were warded, it wasn't able to pull you into its Domain."

He nodded, and said, "The ward did a hell of a job of protecting us. That monster gave up in the end and tried burrowing under it."

"That was down to the protective wards you built into the lattice, which was your improvement if you rememb-," she suddenly trailed off, and blinked in surprise. She stared at him intently, and asked, "Did you say it tried to burrow -under- the shield?!"

"That's right. The dome was impregnable, but it ended at the floor, so it used tentacles to drill-," he paused as her peals of laughter echoed around him, and Athena started shaking her head in disbelief. Feeling a little self-conscious he asked, "What's so funny?"

She rolled her eyes, and sounding immensely relieved she replied, "I was such a fool..." He leaned in to give her another kiss, assuming she was going to start blaming herself, but this set her off laughing again and she pushed him away. With a beaming grin, she added, "I know why the ward failed."

"Really? Why was that?" he asked her.

"We forgot to put in the floor," she said, still grinning at him.

He suddenly realised what she meant, and he joined her in her laughter, feeling an overwhelming surge of relief. Letting out a sigh, he asked, "So if I make another ward, but make sure it has no holes this time, we won't get pulled into the Astral Plane again, right?"

"Yes, exactly," she agreed, nodding with enthusiasm. "That huge dome was overkill, we won't even need the others next time. We'll make a tightly-warded cocoon to protect you, and we won't even need to put them at risk."

"Good girl, well done figuring that out," he said, as equally impressed as he was relieved.

She smiled at him, and said, "I'm just sorry we had to work it out the hard way. Poor Irillith keeps having to pay for my mistakes."

"I'll tell her you're sorry," he said playfully, then leaned in to give her another energy-charged kiss.

"I really am," she agreed when their lips parted, a flash of regret passing over her face.

Now he had the answer he needed, it was getting harder to fight the relentless tug of his astral cord, and he gave her a resigned smile as he said, "I need to return to my body, I can't fight it much longer."

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