Illusionistquest Chapter 11: Think of the Children

Xanthia signs your book with a pen she pulled out of… somewhere, before speaking with Saya about old times as if she didn’t just crawl from a circle of blood. You don’t want to think too hard about where she got that pen from, or why the circle was still there, burned into the planks of the second story, the runes seeming to shift under your gaze, making your head hurt a little.

After they’re done having their girl time, you explain the situation to Xanthia again, who never removes that smile from her face, even though she stands there, the perfect model of a maid, despite her status as a Madam. As you finish explaining what Helen was doing, and why you had to remove her, she nods her head. “Ah, I see. How unfortunate, but I could tell her soul was tortured in a way.”

“Uhm…I….” You look down, afraid to really ask HOW she knew that. Saya nudges your shoulder, closing her jaws shut before you. You shudder despite yourself but turn to Xanthia, smiling like nothing happened. You cough into your hand and then bow to her. “We’re deeply grateful for you coming on such short notice.”

“Oh, don’t you worry, young Master. Certainly, I was in the middle of feeding my ladies when you called me forth, tearing me across the mortal sphere to arrive here, but it is of no concern.”

“I’m… sorry?” You say, scratching you head, but she merely chuckles, putting a hand delicately to her mouth as she does so.

“Oh, don’t you worry. You’ve created a space where I may freely enter between the two places. I can be in one place, and then the other.” She shudders for a moment before a second Xanthia seems to pull herself free from the first with a horrifying squelching sound. It feels like reality shudders at this, but you can’t quite pinpoint why it would feel like this. Well, the feeling passes a moment later, and the two Xanthias say in unison, “You did this,” before one of them walks over to the circle and then just… melts into the floor, vanishing in a puff of dark light.

You stare at the ground for a long while before looking up to Saya who gently pats your cheek. “Don’t look so out of it dear, you know how I feel watching you kiss a fairy.”

“It was to gain the powers of the gods as payment for killing an insane woman.”

“WHAT?”

Xanthia coughs, a wet, squishy sound, before smiling at the two of you again. “Now now, the desires of the gods may wait until later. I have much to do before the children wake up and-” She cuts off, looking to the door a moment before a tiny knock is heard. Everyone stands stock still as a soft, familiar voice says,

“M…Ms. Helen? Are…are you still there?”

You look to Saya, feeling a tightness in your chest as you hear Akela’s voice. You take in a deep breath and make to open the door, but Xanthia gets there before you, gently opening the door and looking down upon the little Anubis, her smile almost reaching her eyes. “Good evening, young mistress.”

Akela’s little eyes go very, very wide, and a little stuffed Wolfgirl that’s seen better years tumbles from her hands to gently hit the floor. She stands there, stock still as Xanthia looms over her, before the abomination slowly puts a hand to her forehead, tsking before pulling away and saying, “You poor thing, you’re burning up. Here, let me get something for you.”

“Uh…uwa…wha…” Akela stammers, her body unable to move between terror and crying as Xanthia reaches into a “pocket” of her “maid outfit,” pulling out a small bottle. She then rummages for a spoon and pours a thick solution onto the spoon, proffering it to the little girl.

Akela’s nose sniffs the air as the solution is poured, and she steps back in reflex, almost seeming to gag at the smell. “That smells gross!”

“Medicine always smells gross, my dear, but it will make you feel better.”

“It’s…medicine?”

“Indeed. What would I gain from lying to you?”

“Many things…” Akela mutters before looking over and seeing both you and Saya. She bites her lip and looks about the room before looking down and saying, “Where’s Ms. Helen?”

“She…” You sigh before shaking your head, “She isn’t around anymore.”

“Oh. She’s dead then.” Akela says, in a very matter of fact manner, a certain sense of neutrality in her tone that makes your skin crawl. No child should ever speak in such a nonchalant manner about things so serious. She looks back to Xanthia before sighing. “Are you to be the new caretaker then?”

“Indeed.” Xanthia says, proffering the spoon. “Though it is by your choice, of course. I will not force you to say here with me, but as I have been asked her as favor from one of my dearest pupils, I will do my best to serve and protect all of you, until such time as you are adopted, or find purchase in this world.”

Akela closes her eyes, looking very, very tired. “You sound like Ms. Helen before. It isn’t really my choice though, is it?” She walks forward and places the spoon in her mouth, grimacing as the liquid goes down. She shudders and coughs once before picking up her doll, holding it limply. “Thank you for the medicine.” She turns to go back to her bed, and you turn to Saya, who looks equally heartbroken.

“That poor girl…” She whispers, watching her fade down the hallway. She squeezes your hand before walking after her, jogging a little to catch up with the girl. You look to Xanthia, who merely nods her head before shooing you after the two. You nod and jog after them, finding little Akela wobbling on her feet.

You come by and kneel down, gently picking the girl up. Akela seems to protest for only a moment before the fight goes out of her and she lays in your arms, her breathing a little labored. You look to Saya, who nods at you, before the two of you walk down the stairs, and set the young Anubis in her bed, gently tucking her in. She shuffles for a moment before sighing, almost contentedly, and pulling her doll in close.

You stand up and look about the room, seeing all the other children sleeping far more peacefully than before. This scene somehow calms much of the guilt and anxiety that roiled through your mind before. Taking a deep breath, you take Saya’s hand and the two of you walk outside, to meet with your companions.

The Catgirl is returned to her bed, having not awoken this entire time (so much for cat senses), and Xanthia bids you farewell as you return to your abodes. It’s decided that there’s nothing else to do tonight, and instead you should just get some rest before delving into it all tomorrow. This is mostly Xanthia’s decision, but you choose not to… say anything against it. Honestly, she looks nice and all, but the shifting shadows and feelings of being watched are uhm. Maybe it’s just you.

Clint bids you farewell, saying, “A stakeout is fun, but next time, line something up for me, eh?” He seems jovial enough, and you say you’ll contact him soon. For Clarissa’s part, you offer her a space in your room, and she goes nearly beet red as you say that, but before you can press the matter, she leaps into the air, saying she has to get back to the royal mail sleeping center. She promises to get in touch with you again tomorrow, however. Once you part ways, you head back to the inn and get some much deserved shut-eye.

————————-

Morning comes, seeing you return to the orphanage under much muggier, yet less wet conditions. That being said, you’re sweating when you arrive, perhaps using that as an excuse as you stare in confusion at the building.

It looks far different than yesterday, in fact, it almost seems as if the place was built yesterday, with the outer paint looking nice and fresh, the door much more intact, and far, far more actual windows than before. You look at the sign that sits there now, proclaiming it as, “Juliant Orphanage for Gifted Monstergirls.” As you stare at the sign, the door opens, showing Xanthia, two very young Arachnae crawling on her back and arms, giggling. She smiles at you, seemingly unconcerned, before inviting you back inside.

Everywhere you go, you see the children playing, just as happy as before, yet it’s far more pure, instead of a forced reality. You stare in amazement at the place, completely changed, yet the same from before. The little dining room had a serviceable table, with good quality bowels and cutlery, the smells of an excellent meal still wafting in the room. You check the bedroom too, to find that all the beds are far nicer than they were before. The best part was toys! The children had toys to play with, and they did so with gusto, bringing a smile to everyone’s face.

“Wow, I had no idea you could bring all of this out here overnight.” Ophelia says, amazed. Xanthia gives her an odd expression, as if questioning whether or not to scold a child for a very, very inept observation. Instead, she lets it slide, allowing the science bunny to continue dreaming.

She leads you upstairs to a little room that you passed by before, finding it now made into a sort of office space. The four of you sit down before a desk as Xanthia does the same, on the other end, smiling that damn smile. “So.” She asks, “Have I done a good job?”

“It’s amazing Madam Xanthia!” Saya says, a goofy grin on her face. “The children look so happy!”

“Indeed. I trust they will not enjoy my supplemental instructions, however, but they will in time.” She picks up some papers and rifles through them before pulling out one in particular, reading it over. She doesn’t say anything as she does, and as she’s distracted, you get the curious notion to try something. You lean over to Ophelia and ask her for her [Magesight Goggles], which the Rabbitgirl gives you, looking skeptical. You smirk and put them on, turning your head to look over at Xanthia and…

>You Madness level has increased to 17%

>Your shoulders itch occasionally, as if something is watching you… smiling.

You do your best not to vomit as you hurriedly rip the goggles off, staring down at the floor and balancing yourself. You feel as if you’ve seen something you can’t unsee, some kind of unfathomable darkness that stretches on into eternity, and it KNEW you were watching, hungrily snapping for your mind, calling out whispers of eternity in servitude as mouths ripped and tore at your flesh while cruel visages mocked you.

 

You also saw that Xanthia had one hell of a rack and the most beautiful shifting skin that sparkles with a number of colors unknown to the human eye. Haha, how curious these things are! Haha! Let’s deflect our impending madness with lewd humor! Haha! Everything’s fine!

You probably shouldn’t use [Eye of Fear] on her, if you value what’s left of your sanity.

Xanthia looks up from the paper, directly at you, as if she fucking KNEW what happened. She doesn’t say anything though, merely lacing her fingers together and asking, “I’m glad this all ended up well. It has been far too long since I have been allowed out anywhere beyond my Lady’s manor.”

“You’re still tethered just between here and there.” Saya says, an unexpected edge to her voice, as if commanding something of Xanthia. The Shoggoth nods her head and smiles.

“Of course. Now then, is there any other business you’d have of me?”

“Yeah…” You say, the nausea passing. “Do you know what a Mindflayer is?”

“No, I am afraid I do not. Is this a form of Monster?”

“In a manner of speaking…” You say, seeming troubled. “It seems as if no one knows what one is though.”

“There are things even I do not know.” Xanthia says, nodding. “There are, however, few Monsters of my kind, and they are known to the world, if even tangentially. That something else could exist speaks of things beyond the keel of mortals, does it not.”

You nods your head. “Aye… the gods.” Xanthia smirks, as if you answered a question correctly. So she had an idea of why an unknown Monster would appear, but not what Fiora really was. A pity, you suppose. You look back up at her and frown as you ask, “The woman you uh… ate?”

“Helen Isabella Pillona, yes.”

“Right, uhm, when you did so, could you tell anything about her, like… why she was insane?”

Xanthia pauses, as if taken off guard for just a fraction before the smile returns. “I could tell she, before dying, not of her right mind. Her body stank of one seeped in the magick’s of Jackor, however the touch of something else was there as well, her spirit being shifted by something reeking of a differing power.” She cocks her head, seemingly lost in thought. “Hmm. It feels… verdant. I cannot say much further than that.”

“Phallia.” You say, nodding your head. “She’s touched this Chalan, I bet.” You groan and lean back, rubbing at your temples. “She’s our best lead to Fiora, yet I have no idea how to find her at this point!”

“Why don’t you ask your new friend, Anderson?” Ophelia says, taking her goggles back. You think about it a moment before shrugging. “I suppose that would make the most sense, wouldn’t it?”

“That’s all well and good.” Xanthia says, getting everyone’s attention again. “But I believe we have more important matters to discuss.”

“Like what?” You say, cocking your head.

“Matters pertaining to your adoption of the young miss Akela.” She lays down a paper before you, listing the details of adoption, pertaining to Akela and the necessary yadda yadda…

You look up sharply at Xanthia, who still smiles, before you turn to Saya, her mouth hanging open in shock. You find it difficult to form words for a moment before you take a shuddering breath and say, “Xanthia we… we can’t adopt… I mean we’re not… and besides, we’re out MURDERING people. What kind of life is that for a child?”

“One, I believe, she is used to. Besides, she has taken a liking to you, and I know you have as well. Still, if you do not wish to adopt her as parents, there is always the option of doing so legally and taking her on as… shall we say, a “sister?”

Your heart hammers in your chest as you stare down at the papers. Such a little thing, yet the weight of someone’s life hung in the balance because of it. You feel Saya gently grip your hand, and she whispers, “Whatever you want to do.”

You close your eyes, wanting, very much wanting to take her with you, to see that little girl smile. Gods, when did you grow up? Richard, if he could see you now… Still, it doesn’t feel right to make this choice for her. No, you open your eyes and look to Xanthia before saying, “We’ll ask her what she wants to do. We won’t make any decisions like this without her consent.”

Xanthia nods her head, smiling as if you made the right choice. “Of course. She is currently sleeping, still somewhat ill. Shall I awaken her?”

“No! No…” You say, shaking your head. “We’ll come back later, we have some business to take care of before leaving town.”

“I will be awaiting you then.” She stands and escorts you out, her instincts as a maid obviously not dulling over time. As the door closes behind you, you hear Ginelle, who has been quiet thus far, say, “Holy hells, she wants you to be a FATHER?”

You blush furiously. “It’s not like… I mean I haven’t… it’s just that…”

Saya pats your arm. “I think you’d make a great dad.”

That sort of sets you on cloud nine for awhile, putting you at least in a good spot as you go to speak with Anderson.

—————————-

Thank the Gods you were feeling good before, because you aren’t now as Anderson stares at you from the other side of a table, his fingers drumming on the wood. He stares at you a moment longer before saying in a slow voice, “So you’re telling me that a woman named Chalan, who has connections to Fiora, drove an orphanage owner insane, and she ran way, trying to take a little Catgirl with her until you stopped her.”

“Correct.”

“What was special about the Catgirl?”

“Nothing, I’m pretty sure.” You say, shrugging. “There’s nothing to suggest she has any latent powers or is special in any way beyond being adorable.” You look into his eyes. “Does that count?”

“No, not unless you’re using it as a weapon.”

“I highly doubt she is.” You say flatly, wishing your more blunt companions were around. But no, they’re off getting Clarissa since you have to be alone with this clown. Sighing, you lean back and ask, “So… do you know anything?”

He drums on the table again before nodding his head slowly. “Yes…to a degree. Since looking into the Fiora incident, we are looking closely at illusionists, keeping tabs on all of them that we can. There are suggestions that some are acting erratically in areas she has been seen.”

“She must be causing them to go insane faster than normal but… why?”

Anderson looks unperturbed as he says, “Some illusionists have gone missing since being in contact with her.”

Your eyes go wide and you stand up, hands down on the table. “You don’t mean that…”

“She may be collecting them? Potentially. We’re keeping our eyes and ears open, but I assume if you’re in contact with other illusionists, you might see her again.” He looks down at a mug of tea, taking a drink before nodding to you. “Of course, your main goal is to see Fiora taken care of, isn’t it?”

You frown and nod your head. “Of course.”

“Right then. It’s probably time to start heading up North.”

You remember the list that Abigail made, having read it over again recently. There’s… a few on the list up in that direction, if you remember right. Not terribly far out of Saydinhold, a town built up recently around the Leyways as a depot and track switch site since it’s where some Leylines converge.  It’s a stop, for sure, and it’s on the way. Hrm…

“Alright, I get the picture, but if you’re following her, then I’d hope you could maybe…” You roll your hand. “Give me a heads up via courier?”

He smirks before reaching over to a bag and placing it on the table. He gestures for you to open it, and as you do, your eyes grow wide. Shakily, you pull out a miniature [Port-o-Glass], one of the newest models, built with imported Galmathorian Glass! You gently trace your fingers over the device before looking up at the man, his expression neutral again as he says, “This is payment for your last duty. I’m not fond of eldritch abominations being summoned in my city, but at least someone kept her anchored to one building.” He lowers his glasses. “That someone wasn’t you, I’m going to assume.”

You nod your head slowly, looking down at the bag again, finding plenty of mana crystals to power the device. Anderson stands, nodding to you. “I expect you to check that regularly, and stay in contact. Your predecessor tried to stay away from such things, but you seem to be the more progressive type.”

“I will cherish this forever.”

“Good, because if you break it, you buy it.”

“What, with dead insane people?”

“Yes.”

>You obtain a [Port-o-Glass]

>It’s a communion glass to use on the go! This latest model is much smaller than other versions, perfect to stick in things like rucksacks and… such.

You get really quiet at that as the odd spell caster from before leads you outside, where you meet up with your friends. You and Ophelia have a session of joy as you squeal over your new device, going over every little detail of it. You may have to keep Ophelia from licking it at one point, though that might just be your imagination. Either way, as your squealing subsides, you turn to the other three, who look thoroughly confused/annoyed.

“Sorry about that.” You say, coughing into your hand. “However, we’ll use this to keep in contact with Anderson. I think with that in tow, we should be good to leave, huh?”

“I suppose.” Saya says, nodding. “I sent a letter to Mother, seeing as she’s unavailable right now.” She sighs, “I wanted to say goodbye before leaving, but such is her life. Hopefully she can make time for the family vacation, assuming I’m back.”

Your eyes sparkle, “Family vacation?”

She rolls her eyes. “Down boy. Besides, you never even got Blake’s signature.”

You huff at that. “I know… but at least I sent a letter letting them know about Fellows. My little office should allow for them to at least look him over.”

“Uhm, so uhm.” Clarissa says, flapping her wings as she walks up to you. “Can you tell me what exactly you’re doing? Last night seemed very… dangerous, and I just want to make sure you’re not doing anything that could get you hurt. You’re too good a friend for that.” She looks into your eyes, those sad little Crow eyes staring at you. “Please let me in?”

You look over to the others who nod their heads before you sigh and look back to Clarissa. “Alright, you’re too good a friend to keep you in the dark about this as well. Besides, you did really well last night, thank you for everything, we couldn’t have done it without you.” You grit your teeth. “Still, you might not like what I have to say.”

“Oh pshaw, it’s not like you’re murdering people.”

You look back and forth and she gives you a strained little expression before chuckling. “Oh…haha. Wow.”

You put a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll explain it all, alright? For now, let’s find somewhere to sit and…”

“Tobias.” Ginelle says, cutting you off. You look up at her and she shrugs, “Why don’t you explain everything at once, along with the little Anubis. Might make things easier you know?”

You nod your head, thinking it over. That would be… for the best, probably. Actually, the more you thought about it, the more the idea appealed to you. You still haven’t made up your mind about Akela though, but time is running out if you want to catch a Leyway today, and if you take her, there’s certain preparations, and you have to contact Clint and it’s all a mess.

“That is a good idea.” You say, nodding your head. “Sorry Clarissa, but can you wait for us to explain until we arrive back at the Orphanage?”

“Aww, we’re going back there? It’s so depressing and such.” She kicks at some dirt with her talons. “I guess we can but I dunno about this.”

————————–

“Alright, this is the best place ever!” Clarissa says, her eyes sparkling as she stands outside the Orphanage. She turns to you as the soft sound of laughter plays from inside, and she says, “Did you do this overnight? That’s pretty impressive, wow!”

“Uhhhh.” You say, looking to Saya, who shrugs. “No, not…really.” You rub the back of your head. “The new caretaker did it. You might know her actually, though not personally.”

“Huh? How would I know-HolyhellsitsaShoggoth.” Clarissa squeals, jumping back as the door opens to show Xanthia there, smiling pleasantly at all of you. The Crow slinks down, looking a little terrified for a moment before whispering, “Is that… Xanthia?”

Saya pats Clarissa’s back, chuckling. “It’s fine Clarissa, she won’t bite. Not you anyway.”

Clarissa stands a little straighter before really getting a good look of Xanthia. She slowly holds out a wing, and Xanthia takes it, shaking gently, yet firmly, and Clarissa shivers. “Well, that explains that, doesn’t it. I had no idea you knew her!”

“Master Shady contacted me through his relationship with Lady Saya.” Xanthia says, bowing her head. “I am now the new caretaker of this facility. As she says this, a cackling Red Oni runs by, two angry looking Arachnae chasing after her. She doesn’t move an inch, yet a moment later, they all slink back behind Xanthia, looking incredibly chagrined. They mutter sorry before moving out of sight.

“Oh, I see that… wait, relationship?” Clarissa says, looking between the two of you. You groan, knowing you’d have to speak to Clarissa about this eventually, but you sort of had hoped it would be on, well, your own terms. You nod your head and take Saya’s hand in yours, your fingers intertwining.

“Yeah, I was going to tell you when things were less… hectic, but now is as good a time as any, I suppose.” You take a deep breath and nod to Saya. “We’re together now.” You look back to Clarissa, “Sorry for not telling you outright.”

Clarissa goes silent for a few moments before taking a deep breath and smiling broadly. “What? No reason for being sorry! That’s amazing for your Tobias! Ahhh, you’re together with someone so cool, I’m happy for both of you!”

“Clarissa…” Saya says, but the Crow waves a wing.

“Now now, don’t say anything. I’ve known Tobias for years, and I’m happy for him.” She ribs you with an elbow. “Finally worked up the courage to get a girl, eh, eh? I bet Richard would…” She trails off before shaking her head. “Well, alright then! So, you wanted to see this little Anubis girl, right? What for?”

“Oh, you know.” You say, coughing into your hand. “Adoption.”

Clarissa goes still again, before a creaky smile appears on her face. “A…adoption. Tobias is adopting a child with his girlfriend…” She leans in close and whispers, “Are you sure about this, you’re too young and not even married!”

“I’ve thought about it, a lot.” You say, gripping Saya’s hand tighter. “It was a tough decision between having her join as a sister, but… that little girl needs parents and, well, even if this is a dysfunctional group, we want to give her some kind of emotional support and care.” You wave a hand to Xanthia, “Not that I’m saying anything against you!”

“Of course not. Now then, I shall arrange a meeting room for you to get acclimated. Excuse me.” She wanders back into the Orphanage, leaving all of you outside, uncomfortably, for a little while, only Ginelle seeming to make noise, snickering every so often, though when you look at her, she’s whistling. Apparently she’s taking Clarissa’s discomfort as something funny, the poor Crow. At least Ophelia decided to finish some last minute business deals or something, so there wouldn’t be TOO many people around.

After awhile, Xanthia re-appears, and leads you inside to a room, the door closed. As she puts a hand on the door, she pauses and looks at you, saying, “You may all enter, however, be gentle with her. I’m certain you know she has had difficulties.”

You nod at her and she opens the door, admitting you into the room, a place of bright, yet not overly bright, colors, with multiple chairs laid out around the room. In the far end of the room sits Akela, her legs crossed, stuffed wolf in her paws. She looks at the door, a neutral expression on her face as all of you enter, not saying a word until both you and Saya take a seat. Ginelle prefers to stand, while Clarissa sits at an angle to all of you, folding her wings and waiting.

A tense sort of silence fills the room, and you grow more and more anxious as no one speaks. You feel the oppression pressing on you, forcing you to speak up, when Saya says, “Akela, do you know why we’re all here?”

Akela nods her head. “Considering this room and the way that Madam Xanthia brought me here, I will assume you’re considering adopting me.” Saya nods her head and begins to open her mouth, when Akela holds up a finger, cutting her off. “I have a few things to say.”

Both you and Saya look a little startled, looking between each other before nodding your heads as Akela takes a deep breath and breaths out her nose, her expression seeming incredibly business-like. “You come to this orphanage in order to dispose of the former owner, replacing her with a horror with good intentions. In the process, you end up meeting me, almost by chance, and now you seek to adopt me without knowing much about me at all.” She coughs into her paw for a second before shaking her head and continuing.

“There are plenty of other children here, other girls who I know want nothing more than parents, yet you fixate upon me. You yourselves don’t look overly old, and neither of you are wearing rings, so I suspect you’re not married. Why would you go looking for a child then, especially one like me? Why?”

You grip your hands as she asks those questions, and you think it over carefully, the same questions having kept you awake for some time last night. Truly, one day is not enough time to really come up with such answers, but at the same time, it’s all the time you had. You know that if you don’t do this, don’t say something, the opportunity would be lost forever. You mimic Akela’s motions from before, closing your eyes and taking a deep breath, before speaking.

“Akela, I understand why you’d be skeptical. Hells, I’m a little skeptical about this…”

Saya elbows you in the ribs, “Don’t curse in front of her.”

“I’ve heard worse.” Akela says before nodding to you. “Continue.”

“Anyway, like I was saying, we… we hadn’t thought about anything like this before, our relationship is fairly young.” You put your hands together. “When we saw you though, trembling as the others lived in blissful ignorance, we felt…”

“Pity? How kind.”

“No, not pity.” Saya says, shaking her head. “Concern. For such a beautiful little girl to look so hurt, I grew curious about you. Tobias, he… he noticed how you weren’t as affected as the others by Ms. Helen’s…” She looks to you for confirmation.

“Illusions.” You say, nodding your head. “She was casting illusions, and unfortunately this Chalan might have caused her to begin hurting you with her powers. Why you, in particular, weren’t affected as severely, I don’t know.”

Akela furrows her brow. “Illusions? I suppose that could explain it. I myself do not know, but remember hearing that our kind have blessings of ancient Queens of the sands, though they pale to what they were in the past. Still, I did not know she was a sorcerer.”

“Indeed, she was a kind of sorcerer known as an Illusionist, the same as I am.”

Akela frowns, “Are you to cast these illusions upon me also?”

“Gods no!” You say, holding up your hands. “I would never wish to do something like that to you. Why would you suggest that?”

She shrugs, “When people wanted something from me, they’d exert whatever power they had to make it happen. I figured you might try to influence me with magic to get me come along with you.”

You grip your hands, your heart actually hurting for having heard that. “No…  I wouldn’t do that to someone I cared for, not ever.”

“You don’t even know me.” She says, sighing. “You just know I’m a scarred little girl with a bad attitude.”

Saya smirks, “Bad attitude? Ha, I’d describe it more as the attitude of someone who’s protecting themselves from being hurt.” She leans forward to Akela, holding out a hand. “I promise you that we don’t have any intention of hurting you, or making you do anything you don’t wish to do.”

“I see.” Akela says, going quiet. She hugs the doll again before beginning to tremble.

Your eyes widen, and you stand up, walking over to her before kneeling down. “Akela, what’s wrong?”

She whispers, “I believe you… that’s the problem.” She wipes at her eyes as tears appear there.

“I don’t understand, you don’t like us?”

She shakes her head, her calm demeanor before seeming to melt, the nine-year old girl coming to the forefront. “I don’t know! You seem nice, but… but what if something happens to you? I’d be alone again and…and…” She begins to outright bawl.

You look to Saya, who gets up to kneel next to Akela as well, and the two of you give the little girl a hug, her tears slowly soaking your arm, the occasional coughing fit punctuating it all until she can cry no more, merely staying in your embrace. Say gently strokes her hair, whispering nice things until eventually she calms down enough, sniffing instead of crying.

“Feel better?” You ask, in a quiet voice, and she nods her head. You sigh out before smiling and saying, “I understand your feelings, losing someone important to you. The life we lead is…dangerous, and perhaps not something to bring a little girl into, but…”

“We had to try, to ask you at least.” Saya says, and Akela frowns, looking at you.

You sigh and look out of the corner of your eye, noticing Ginelle looking at the ground, an uncertain smile on her face, while Clarissa watches with a sort of concerned fascination, a hint of longing in her eyes. As she notices your gaze, she nods her head, and you end up sighing before speaking.

“We… are currently on a mission, for the King and an inquisitor of Jackor. We are working to try and stop people like Chalan, but along the way if we find others like Ms. Helen, we… help those they’ve hurt by removing them. It’s dangerous, yes, but if we don’t do it, the world itself could come to an end.  I won’t lie, some of the things we will do will not be pleasant, but… if you wanted to come along with us, I swear, we will give you all the love you could ever want, and do our best to protect and care for you, as parents.”

You chuckle, shaking your head as your heart sinks. “Now that I say it, it sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Asking you to go help us as we kill people for the crown and Jackor. Gods, what was I thinking?”

“That sounds… interesting.” Akela mutters in your arms. “But it really doesn’t sound like a place for a child, that’s something only an irresponsible adult would subject someone to.”

You look aghast for a moment, until you see the smile appear on Saya’s face. She ruffle’s the little Anubis’s hair and ears, and Akela gives a soft smile of her own. “You’re going to be a handful, aren’t you?”

“Potentially, I haven’t said yes, have I?” Of course, she still has that smirk on her face as she says it, prompting Saya to roll her eyes. Akela gives a little giggle and looks down, tensing up some. “I want to… to see something other than this orphanage, but…”

“If we didn’t want you, then we wouldn’t be here, would we?”

Akela’s tension relieves itself and she sudden looks a little tired as she coughs into her paw. “I see… I suppose I can try it… for abit.” Her eyes start to droop closed. “Do I… call you Mom?”

Saya shakes then and holds the little girl closer to her, kissing the sleepy Anubis on the head. “Yes.” She whispers, a tear in her eye. “Yes, you can.”

Akela falls asleep, and Saya gently picks the little girl up, walking with her to the door, which opens up, admitting Xanthia, whom you hope wasn’t standing there the whole time. She nods to Saya and says, quietly, “Well then, there’s some paperwork to fill out, I’ll see you in my office.”

“Hang on.” You say, looking to the confused, and almost heartbroken Clarissa. “I’ll be abit, alright?”

Both of them nod and leave, Ginelle shrugging and following after them, leaving you alone with Clarissa. You pull up a chair next to her, and put your hands together, watching your friend. She looks almost… catatonic, just staring off into space, as if unable to process everything that just happened here.  You know that the whole, “Bird-brain” thing is mostly a joke, and it doesn’t apply to her, but you can almost see steam coming from her head as she tries to process all of it.

You whisper, “You alright there?”

“I don’t know.” She mutters before looking down at you with some lucidity, a concerned expression in her eyes. “I’ve learned today that things can change, very quickly, can’t they?”

“You’re telling me. I think I just became a father.”

“Wow.” She says. “I wouldn’t have imagined something like this the first time I met you, all those years ago.”

“It has been awhile, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah… and now you have a girlfriend, a daughter, and a mission k…killing people for the crown and… did you say Jackor?” She shakes her head, continuing on. “Anyway, it’s just hard to believe that you’re off on these grand adventures after only being gone such a short time and I’m just…” She shrugs and wipes a tear from her eye, “I’m just delivering mail.”

“Clarissa.” You say, sighing. Honestly, you’ve done a lot of consoling of women recently, you’re getting good at it, and that sort of frightens you that you HAVE to do it. Either way, you continue on in a comforting voice, “You do very important work for the crown, and honestly, you’re the fastest damn flier I know.”

“Do you know other flying Monsters?”

“Uhhhh, that is beside the point. You need to believe in yourself. If you want adventures, you need to go out there and take them for yourself! That’s the only way you’ll find the joy.”

“Have you found the joy?”

You go quiet as you clench your fists. Slowly then you say, almost painfully, “Mainly, I’ve found sorrow. Yet I’ve also found duty, fear, exhilaration, and perhaps even love. All this, I never would have known until I went out there. It’s scary, and dangerous, but I know what I do will be worth it in the end because of all the people I’ve met and helped.”

Clarissa looks at you, her expression awed for a moment before a wry smile appears on her face. “Tobias… when did you become so cool? I remember you as this nerdy little guy I had a crush on, and now you’re this… powerful, commanding man.” She shakes her head, “I can see why those girls are following you.”

“What about you?” You say, and she blinks, startled.

“Me? What do you mean?”

“You could come along too, you’d be one hell of an asset and, you know, it would be nice to have you around again.” You hold out a hand. “Although I’d understand if the danger is too much. We may not… not be successful in this, and we’re all bound to get hurt at some point. Still, if you wanted, the offer is open.”

Clarissa looks down at your hand and gently extends her wing before stopping and withdrawing it, shaking her head. “I… I don’t know Tobias.”

“I see.” You say, standing slowly. “There are no hard feelings about this at all. If I were offered this in the way you were, I might have refused too.”

“No you wouldn’t, you’ve always wanted an adventure, you little liar.” She says, pushing on your shoulder as she rises herself.

“Perhaps.” You say, shrugging. “But we can’t change what’s happened, we can only change what will happen. Hopefully we see each other again, and not before long.”

She rests her head on your shoulder and sighs. “I… hope that as well.”

You let her stay like that for a moment before you take a breath and nod to her. “Well then, I think I have some paperwork to fill out, and you need to get back to work, right?”

Clarissa nods her head. “Yeah. Good luck, DAD.” She scoots past you and heads out of the building. You watch her as she vanishes around a corner, wondering if it will be the last time you ever see the Crow. You seriously hope it isn’t. With that thought in mind, you head off to the office to finalize gaining a daughter…

You really have changed, haven’t you?

———————————-

You decided after getting Akela that you’d stay one more night in Sanctifrond, and to that end, Saya took the little girl with her to go shopping. Ginelle seemed oddly fixated on the girl, and Saya, uneasily, allowed her to carry the Anubis, who slept fitfully. Xanthia gave you a vial of medicine for her, along with some clothing, but you feel sort of… odd about receiving such items from a Shoggoth. Well, the medicine is likely very important, but you tell her to keep the clothes, as Saya wants to buy her some today while out. You feel safe enough leaving Saya and Ginelle with Akela to go shopping while you take care of some business you really don’t want to do, but your excuses are running thin. With a heavy heart, you took a wagon to the outskirts of the inner district, to see… your family.

The little wagon trundles up to the small manor gates, and you pay the driver, asking him to stay there, since you expect this will be quick. He gives you an odd look before shrugging, apparently thinking it none of his business. With a heavy heart, you walk up to the gates and put a hand on them, remembering how large it used to look. Now they just seem… stuffy. With a gentle push, they swing open, and you step onto the grounds.

Abigail stirs in your coat pocket, poking her head out and saying, “Hey, why are you here again?”

“I don’t want to be here, but I figure I should at least say hello.”

“Uh huh. Want me to be your moral support?”

“I’d really rather you don’t even come in here, it won’t be pleasant.”

“Too bad sucker, I’m following you, especially if this is really, really painful.”

“You’re the best moral support ever.”

“I try.” She says before vanishing into your coat pocket again, and you sigh, looking out on the ground again.

The small manor, if you can call it small only in comparison to the larger ones in the area, has ground with a variety of trees and bushes and flowers and all sorts of stuff that makes it look larger than it is. You notice with a sense of nostalgia that one tree from years ago is still present, and you remember carving into it, though now a sign is over your carving, saying, “Stay off the Grass.”

Great job Dad, real great job.

You sigh and walk up to the front door, where one, lonely guard stands. He gives you a curious look, wondering who would be bold enough to come through the gate on his own/ would come HERE of all places. As you approach though, his eyes go wide and he says, “By Solos… is that you, Master Tobias?”

You nod to the man, remembering him too. “Hello there Harrison. Is my father here?”

“Uh… yes, he is, but I… it’s been so long and you didn’t send and invitation, so I believe he’s…”

“If he doesn’t see me, then so be it.” You say, opening the door, despite the man’s protests. He followed you inside until you reach a butler, hailing them. The man slows, a new face it seems, and cocks his head as you say, “Servant, take me to see Lord Shady.”

“I apologize my lord, but who might you be?”

“Innes, this is ah… this is the young Master.” Harrison says. The butler’s eyes go wide and he inhales sharply before nodding his head.

“Of…of course. Come, this way then.” He leads you down a familiar path through the wooden floors, marble too expensive for you, down hallways filled with various paintings until you arrive at a set of stairs laid with red carpet. You both ascend to where a set of double doors sits, and the butler knocks once, his rapping echoing in the halls.

A shuffling is heard on the other side followed by a, “What?”

“Sir, you have a visitor.”

“Well, they can go fuck off.”

“Sir, it’s…it’s your son.”

The other side is very quiet for a long while before you hear a muttering curse followed by, “Show him in.” The butler bows and opens the door, ushering you into your father’s study.

You walk inside the rustic looking room, lined with various trophies and books, all centered around a desk where your father sits, papers piled around him. You walk forward and stand there, looking down at him as he sits in the chair, and just… appraise him.

Your father was always a fairly tall man, not quite as tall as Richard, but powerfully built, and possessing a jaw line that could crack marble. Frankly, you’re glad you didn’t inherent his raw, rugged strength, but at the same time, his piercing eyes, brown hair, and air of confidence, that you’re glad you got.

He watches you as well, sitting in his suit, which is the newest fashion, if you don’t miss your mark, his elbows on the table. His hair, while brown, has shocks of white running through it, the hallmark of an overworked man. Still, he didn’t look weak in the slightest, and after a moment of appraising you, he grunts out, “What the hells are you wearing.”

“Nice to see you too, Dad.”

“Cut the shit. You’re supposed to be with that Illusionist in Kasin, unless he cut you loose, or you graduated, whatever they do.”

“How touching. But yes, I was with him, until certain events brought us to Loveura, and now I’m on a mission to help him.”

Your father frowns. “Mission? You’re supposed to learn how to control that power of yours and come back here, you’re not supposed to go on any missions.”

You lean over onto the table, narrowing your eyes. “I could talk to you about how such things would maybe have been possible had I received any letters over the past seven years, or anyone had shown any interest in me, but let’s cut the shit, like you said.” You grit your teeth and almost growl, “I don’t work for you, I work for myself and now, the Crown.”

Your father’s eyes seem to run advanced Calculus in his mind for a moment before he narrows his eyes as well. “The Crown? How did you land a gig like that?”

“You don’t really know a damn thing about Richard, do you?” You say, before shaking your had. “It doesn’t matter, it’s not something you want to use politically, especially not after that scene at the Fullvora mansion.”

Lord Shady grunts. “So, the rumors your Mother gathered were true, I thought people were trying to start shit up again. You really caused me a lot of grief you know.”

“It’s your own damn fault, and you know it.” You hiss, causing your father’s back to stiffen.

“You don’t know a Gods damned thing.” He hisses back before shaking his head. “You can’t understand why we did what we did, nor why things turned out that way. You just go on living in your ignorance.”

“Ignorance? You want to talk about ignorance? Well, you know what you’re ignorant about? I’m traveling with Monsters, and even dating the daughter of the Monster Lady herself.” You lean in close, a predatory smile on your face. “We even just adopted a daughter.”

Your father, to his credit, doesn’t flip out. Instead, he folds his hands into his lap, his eye twitching only once as he says, “Get out.”

“What’s that? You want your son, the only one you have, to leave after coming to visit after so long? All because he has damn Monster for a girlfriend? Because he DARES not to fall into the traps you laid for him?” You lean in even closer and snarl, “I only came here because there was time, and because I wanted to see if you were sorry for abandoning me for so many years. I can see my trip was wasted.”

He doesn’t  flinch, instead, he holds your gaze with those powerful green eyes of his. He says, in a steady tone, “Are you finished?”

You stands up straight, looking down at him again. “Yes. I believe I am. I wanted to let you know that you’re a grandfather, but I doubt you’ll ever see her, not that you’d care.”

He takes a deep breath, and you swear, somewhere under that stoic face, something of emotion plays under there. It’s gone in an instant though, and he just looks at you once more. “You can show your anger toward me all you want, but at the end of the day, you’re a Shady, and you’ll always be a Shady. You’ll return here someday, once the world has had its fill of you. I am disappointed our reunion turned out this way, but it is obvious that it is the only way it could have gone.”

You hang your head and mutter, “It didn’t have to be this way.”

“Yes, it did.” He turns back to his papers. “Thank you for the update, it will get me ahead of the game once this news reaches the inner circles. I’ll see how I can play it to our advantage.”

You look to the side, disgust washing over you, along with an infinite sadness. “Don’t you include me in that.”

“Once a Shady…” He says, not even looking at you, before going quiet. You watch him for a moment longer before turning and leaving out the doors, not even feeling angry, just… tired.

As you close the door, the butler from before, Innes, nods to you and says, “I apologize, but Lady Shady did not wish to see you. She seemed quite flustered when she heard you were here and…” He trails off before leaning in and whispering, “That the rumors say you are fornicating with Monsters.”

You give the man a tired look, and he holds up a hand. “I apologize, my lord, it is not my place.” He looks a little chagrined before adding, “They do speak about you sometimes.” Before you can say anything, he perks up and says, “Shall I show you out?”

You give him an odd look before sighing and nodding your head. “Yes, thank you Innes.”

“My pleasure, Master Shady.”

—————————–

You meet with the others as the sun begins to dip under the horizon, your expression doing nothing to lighten itself until you enter your inn room to find the most adorable sight.

Saya is lifting Akela in the air, the young Anubis making a face of surprise as she flails about in her dress, a little thing of contemporary fashion made of a salmon color with white frills. You notice in the corner there are other dresses, and even some pants and more men’s clothing, hiding in the pile. You smirk, your sour feelings about your family vanishing as you view your new family, hoping against hope that this would work, that you wouldn’t end up like your own father, that you could do right by everyone.

“I’m home!” You say, wanting to try how that feels, and it kind of feels good to say, would be better if you had an actual home, but oh well. Everyone turns to you, including Ophelia, her hair loose, wearing light clothing, her fancier stuff laying in a pile in the corner. Must have been a long day for her.

Saya smiles and puts down Akela, who wobbles a little before coughing. Saya gently pats her back and offers to get the medicine, but Akela shakes her head, taking in a breath normally. Saya nods and looks up at you, smiling. “Welcome back. How did it go?”

“Not… the best.” You say, trying to downplay it. “We can talk about this later.”

Saya nods her head. “Fair enough. A shame you didn’t come, Akela looked so cute in all those dresses, we just had to get her some.”

“More than just some…” Akela mutters. “They dressed me up like a doll.” As she says this, she clutches her little wolf, and you notice that none of the purchased items are toys. Akela points to Ginelle and says, “At least she convinced Saya… I mean, Mom, to buy me something else.”

Ginelle sniffs, “Having clothing to run about and maul things in is very important.”

“Ginelle, you do that in all clothing.” You say, rolling your eyes as you kneel down to Akela. “Did you enjoy yourself though.”

She fidgets before nodding her head. “Yeah… I’ve never really… done anything like that. It was a little scary, but fun.”

Ophelia chuckles, which sounds more like a gurgle, before saying, “Welcome to your new life, kiddo!”

Akela cocks her head, her ears twitching. “Ophelia is an interesting lady.”

“You got that right.” The Rabbitgirl says before rolling over onto her stomach. “You got yourself a kid! She says, chuckling. Maybe I should get one too, make my mother happy.”

You frown, “Ophelia, have you been drinking?”

She waves a hand, “No, I’m just tired.” She sighs out, “I’m sorry Akela, it’s just hard to believe you’re here with us.”

Akela nods her head with far too much Sagacity. “I have difficulties believing it myself at times. However, I am told I have a money-back guarantee, and I can exchange these two out if they fail to meet my strict tastes.”

Everyone in the room looks at Akela incredulously, and she slowly cracks a wolfy grin. “Got you.”

Everyone laughs then, though you merely smirk and roll your eyes before reaching out to ruffle Akela’s hair. You pause, hovering over her head, wondering if that’s too forward, but she just rolls her eyes and nuzzles your hand, so you get into it, petting her soft head and ears. You smile broadly, feeling a certain sense of… contentment. Sure, shit was going to go down soon, but right now? This is good.

“So.” You say, addressing everyone. “Who wants to get some food?”

“Gods, yes.” Ophelia says, bouncing up, making everyone else chuckles again.

——————————–

You return from a wonderful evening of fine dining, with only minor embarrassment from Ginelle (even Akela having better table manners), to place your new little daughter in bed, tucking her under the sheets, where she falls asleep soon. You watch her gently drift to sleep, Ophelia quickly doing the same as well, though you yourself don’t feel overly tired.

“Hey, I’ll watch her.” Ginelle says, waving to you and Saya. “Go, have some time together.”

You look to Saya and you both shrug, resolving to head out to the balcony for abit. “Thanks Ginelle….wait, you’re not trying to become Aunt Ginelle, are you?”

The Badger looks to the side, failing miserably at hiding her expression. You roll your eyes and pat her arm before heading out to the balcony in the warm summer night. Standing there with Saya, you both lean over the railings, filled with emotion.

“We… only just started dating, and now we adopted a child.” Saya says, her voice almost cracking.

“Yeah… laws here are really lax, huh?”

“My mother… what is she going to think?” Saya says, chuckling. “Gods, what about my sisters? Or… oh boy, telling dad will be fun.”

You chuckle and pat her arm. “Well, you can lord this over your friend too, right? Uhh, Patricia, was it?”

Saya whips her head around to you, her eyes wide. “Oh my Gods, I forgot about Patricia. You are totally right, I can beat her good with this.”

“Saya, you’re scaring me.”

She looks about feverishly, a wicked smile on her face. “Yes… yes, since we’re still here, let’s totally go rub it in on that bitch.”

“Saya, that’s rude!”

“She’s a Wolf, she is a bitch.” She says, nonchalantly. “Anyway, Akela is asleep, and we can trust Ginelle, come on, I know she’ll be at the university.” She looks at you with puppy-dog eyes. “Please?”

You roll own eyes. Damnit, she was too cute. “Oh… very well.”

“Eeee!” Saya squeals, and you go to make certain with Ginelle before heading off to the University of Sanctifrond.

———————–

The campus is quiet at night, the large, open area inside the inner district where various students and professors walk about, chatting to each other, making out, etc etc. It’s what you’d assume you’d see on a campus like this, though you know the majority of the real learning is inside the buildings. Walking through a large, green lawn surrounded by fountains, you find yourself before a building with the words, “Library” over it.

Looking to Saya, you both shrug and enter, finding the place filled with books up to the ceiling. You whistle, never having seen so many in your life, as you walk down the rows, books of all sorts present. Saya walks with purpose, having been here before, looking down rows of books toward tables, eventually going to the second floor before she finds her quarry. There, sitting at a desk, is a tired looking wolf-girl with messy black hair, wearing a trim, yet stained dress of a scholar, the muted tan tones fading in with her pale skin.  She turns her face toward you, and while she would be beautiful if she wasn’t so disheveled, she instead turns bleary eyes upon you, blinking a few times before frowning.

Saya strides up, her body language all swagger, and she plants her hands on her hips, the smuggest expression in the world on her face. She looms over the tired Wolfgirl and says, “Well helllllo there Patricia, lost in the books again I see?”

Patricia blinks a few more times before rubbing at her eyes and yawning. “Oh good, it’s you.”

“Indeed, indeed. Say, Patricia, I wanted you to meet someone here.” She takes your arm and drags you forward, where you wave at her slightly, but before you can say anything, Saya continues the smugfest. “This is Tobias, my BOYFRIEND.”

Patricia blinks a few more times before looking at you and saying, in a flat tone, “Prove it.”

You look into Saya’s eyes, and she looks into yours. Both of you begin to sweat a little, as ideas of how to prove yourselves to Patricia flow through your heads. Your cheeks start to heat up and the room, despite its high ceilings, begins to feel incredibly stuffy. You pull at your color and gulp, heart beating faster and faster in your chest.

“Y…you want proof?” Saya says uncertainly, her hands trembling slightly. Patricia merely gives her a flat look before yawning and returning to her books.

“Why even bother coming out here with such an obvious lie? Tch, have to try a little harder to get me.”

“O…oh yeah?” Saya says, standing straighter and turning to you. Her lips quiver for a moment before she looks down at her hand, then up to you.

Your eyes go wide and you start to breathe a little heavy. No… she couldn’t possibly mean to… that’s… that’s just so! You shiver thinking about what she’s suggesting, yet at the same time, you feel your own hand tingle in anticipation. Slowly, you raise it up toward Saya, and she lets out a small gasp, her face going red before she too raises her hand.

Patricia looks up from her book, her expression annoyed, when suddenly she freezes, ears standing up as her eyes go wide. “You can’t seriously mean to…”

You carefully take a step toward Saya, concentrating deeply on her, making certain you don’t trip over anything to spoil this. Your hand reaches out to her as she does the same, your fingertips barely a hair away, phantom sensations making your skin crawl in fascinating, yet sensual ways. You both look each other in the eyes as Patricia squeaks, “N…no, you don’t have to!”

Your fingers caress each other as the slide past one another, the cool, smooth feeling of her digits sailing between yours, the way your thumbs pass like lovers in the night, skirting away to never see each other again, yet always carry the memories. Then, both of you nearly panting, you bring your palms together, and like a bolt of lightning, you are awash in the knowledge that you have performed such a forbidden act before the eyes of another.

And yet… all you can think of is the smoothness of her skin, the way you could feel the intricate lines in her hand, so perfectly crafted. In this way, it struck you how intimate the act was, and you wonder how much she is gleaning from your touch. Craving more, you pull her in close to you, an act she readily agrees to, almost melting into your embrace, hands still clasped together. You both look into each other’s eyes and then clap your other hands together, a faint cry of alarm sounding from the periphery. Who was that again? Ah… it doesn’t matter.

It seems to last an eternity of blissful pleasure, yet like all things of such a nature, you are cruelly ripped from it as a pair of strong, fuzzy arms pulls the two of you apart, snapping you back into reality like a man surfacing from the ocean. In a similar fashion, you blink about, dazed and confused, until you see Patricia there, her cheeks burning furiously, paws covering her face.

“Y…you damn degenerates! This is a UNIVERSITY! H-handholding? Here? Where ANYONE could see you? You could have just kissed or even fucked on top of the stacks, but you held hands? Are you crazy?!” She ruffles her hair furiously before groaning, “You’re just like my parents! No decency!”

You cough and look to Saya, who has her hands clasped together while looking down, a goofy smile on her face, which is red as a beet. You scratch at your cheek and realize you’re smirking as well. There truly was power in such things, maybe that’s why it was so reviled, yet sought after. Truly, you have stepped foot onto the path of sin, and both of you know it. Thank you Patricia!

The Wolfgirl grumbles and sits back down, crossing her arms and huffing. “Hmph! Fine, so you have a boyfriend, big deal.” She looks off to the side, clearly not upset, nope, no sirre! She mutters something unintelligible before saying, “Is that all? You just wanted to come here to gloat.”

“Yes.” Saya says, her smugness factor ten times what it was before.

“Ah… no, actually.” You say, coughing into your hand. “Actually, we had a few questions for you.”

Patricia looks at you curiously before sighing and sitting up straighter. “Alright, what kind of questions?”

Saya leans in, her face suddenly serious. “Patricia, I know there’s a great deal of animosity between us, but we’re in a rather serious position, there are things we HAVE to know.”

Patricia’s eyes sparkle. “Serious position? Like… like what our parents?”

“Perhaps worse.” She says flatly, and you sense Patricia’s tail wagging behind her.

“Yeah?”

“Yes…” Saya says, leaning in closer. “Patricia, I have to know this… are you jelly?”

Patricia blinks once, her expression still ecstatic. She looks into Saya’s eyes, as if processing the words momentarily, and then she slowly, ever so slowly, pulls the book up from the table, and covers her face with it before saying, “Get the fuck out.”

Saya rolls about, laughing like an idiot, but you groan and pull up a chair, rubbing at your forehead. “Listen, I’m sorry about her, this is honestly the first time I’ve seen her so… animated.”

“Oh, well consider yourself lucky. She’s always been this insufferable. Just like my twelfth birthday party.” She frowns before sighing. “Well, anyway, you seem like a reasonable degenerate. What’s your name?”

“Tobias Shady.”

She pauses then, lowering the book and staring at you with a flat look. “Really. She got together with the Shady boy.”

“Hey, she didn’t know that at the time, and frankly, I don’t like my family either.”

“Uh huh. What’s your angle? Are you trying to use her for political gain?”

“Gods no, I respect her way too much to use her for… anything!”

“Ah, so you’re a Wizardquest fanboy.”

You pause then before nodding. “Uhm… yeah. Hey, can I get your autograph?”

“I’m not in the book.”

“Can I get your Mom’s autograph?”

“Ask my father.”

“Can’t, he’s busy.”

“Sucks to be you then.”

“Fuck.” You say, rubbing at your forehead. “Oh well, it is what it is then. But seriously, we have some questions about things that honestly, Saya said you’d know about.” You lean in close and whisper, “I think she really trusts your knowledge.”

Patricia leans back, a smirk on her face. “Is that so? Well, if she admits that I’m so much smarter than her, then maybe, maybe I’ll consider answering some questions for this little ah… what were you doing again?”

“Saving the World. She wasn’t actually kidding about that.”

Patricia sighs, “Of course not. Well, all you need to do is figure out what you need to ask me, and get her admit I’m the smartest person she knows.”

You smirk and shake your head. “You two really are best friends, aren’t you?”

Patricia’s eyes widen and the slams the table, wolfish canines bared, “How dare you sir!”

You chuckle, already standing up. “It’s cute, really. I’ll be a second.” You turn to go to Saya, who is still gloating, to get this over with.

“Saya, dear.” You say, crouching down next to your girlfriend, a wicked smile on her face as she lays on top of a pile of periodicals. She giggles every so often, making you briefly wonder if she broke herself a little from her joy. Or maybe she was always broken. Well, regardless, you poke her briefly and she stirs, eyes focusing onto you.

“Did. You. See. Her. Face?” Saya says before snickering again. Gods, she’s like a child here! Well, it is sort of cute, in a strange, childish way.

You nod your head. “Yes Saya, I saw it. We got her pretty good.”

“Hells yes we did!” She sighs out and leans back, spreading her arms out. “It’s always wonderful to find something to get her goat with.” She closes her eyes and asks, “So, what did she say?”

“Uhm.” You say, scratching your head. “Well, you see, she’ll tell us stuff but well, after your uhm, ‘outburst.’ she refuses to do it unless you say that she’s the uh, ‘smartest person you know.'”

Saya’s eyes snap open and she looks at you with a look of disgust, as if you just vomited on a puppy. “How dare you!”

“See, that’s what she said.” You shake your head. “Come on Saya, you had your laughs, just say it to her, please?”

“Hells no! Besides, the smartest person I know is my father, so she loses out there.” She looks at you before looking off to the side. “You… don’t want me to be a liar, do you?”

“Uhh.” You say, scratching at your head. “No, but… come on Saya, just say it. We can’t leave Akela alone all night, and this could be really serious.”

Saya looks at you and frowns deeply, her eye twitching. “S…she has Ginelle and Ophelia.”

“Ophelia passed out hard and Ginelle is… well, she’s a dear but I fear she might do something reckless with her. Not intentionally harmful, but you know.” Saya still gives you an uneasy look, and you rub your forehead. “Saya, if you say it, I’ll hold your hand on the way home.”

She pauses, her cheeks heating up slightly. “Y…you uh. You will, huh?”

“Yes, yes I promise that I will hold your hand the whole way back to the room.”

“E…even as we sleep?”

You hesitate before nodding your head. “As long as Akela doesn’t see.”

Saya sighs and rises from her stack of papers, readjusting her clothes before rolling her eyes. “Oh, very well, I’ll lie to her.”

“Saya…” You groan as she walks over to Patricia and rolls her eyes again.

“Patricia… you’re the smartest person I know.”

The Wolfgirl looks up from her book, eyes neutral for a moment before looking back down. “I don’t believe you.”

Saya grits her teeth and looks back to you, finding you frowning at her. She sighs and says, in a quieter voice. “Look, Patricia, we kind of really need your help here, this stuff is very serious and we didn’t know who else to turn to.”

“Why not your father?” She says, licking a finger and flipping the page, which seems rather less complicated for a creature with paw hands than it should. “I hear he’s the smartest person you know.”

Saya grinds her teeth, all former joy gone. “Because he’s not…here. And he doesn’t…know… about this subject as much as you do.” She grumbles to herself, and you notice that a sly smile is spreading over Patricia’s mouth, though it’s hidden by the book from Saya who rubs at the back of her head and groans, “I… I mean, it’s just that… you might…be…smarter than him.” She raises a hand and hurriedly adds, “In this subject! And you’re right here and he’s at home! And we just happened to be in this neck of the woods and-!”

Patricia chuckles throatily before exposing the end points of her canine teeth in a wolfy smile. “Oh, oh my, was that painful for you Saya? Because it was delicious for me, mmm yes, so good.” You restrain Saya before she can get into a cat fight, to which Patricia chuckles again, setting down her book and clasping her hands together. “Oh don’t get your panties in a twist for your little degenerate to take care of later.”

You cough and look off to the side as Saya does the same, the two of you feeling a little embarrassed while Patricia shakes her head. “Well, it seems we’ve all had a little fun here, so let’s get to business, I have some important studying to do.”

You nod to head and look back to her. “Right then.” Taking a deep breath, you ask, “Do you know what a Mindflayer is?”

“Oh, it’s a kind of Monster made from an Illusionist.” Patricia says, matter-of-factly.

Both you and Saya stare at her, stunned. She blinks at you, cocking her head, “Hmm? Something wrong?”

“Y…you actually know what that is?” Saya says, a little shocked. Patricia shrugs and nods her head.

“Well, it’s not exactly common knowledge, even to the Illusionists themselves, so I hear. I don’t know terribly much about it either, just a passing reference in an old tome on Jackor and the myths related to him.”

You takes a deep breath and lead Saya to a chair before sitting yourself. You look into Patricia’s eyes and say, “Would you believe me if I said we’re trying to kill a Mindflayer?”

Patricia quirks an eyebrow and looks into your eyes, studying them with an intensity that far outweighs her years. She takes in a deep breath then before looking to Saya and then nodding. “If Saya trusts you, then I’ll trust you on this too.”

“Thank you.” You sigh before saying, “I have to say upfront, that I am an Illusionist myself, and that I had never heard of a Mindflayer, and nor had anyone else. She caught us off guard in ways that… almost destroyed us.”

Saya rubs your back as you frown, remembering Richard. Patricia sighs out and says, “I see. Yes, the book didn’t say much, but the passage said, ah let’s see here…” She rubs her temples before nodding and speaking, as if reciting, “One of Jackor’s trusted shied away from his twisted light and took refuge in the dark. There, her mind, twisted and disturbed by the toils of her service, took the hand of the Lady of two faces, and thus her pains were forgotten as she changed in mind and body, robbing Jackor of his hold as tentacles sprung from her to stretch across the land, sinking into the hearts and minds of others. She was brought low by the hand of Jackor, a testament to the might of the Trickster, who never allows himself to be cheated for long.”

She takes a deep breath and nods at you. “The way you’re looking, this must resonate more with you than just a tale. I thought it to be merely a myth, nothing special, but to think a Mindflayer could truly exist…huh.” She takes out a notepad and writes something down.

You just look down at the ground, frowning deeply. An Illusionist ran from Jackor and was picked up the Lady of two faces? Clearly that’s Dollora, but Fiora went to Phallia? Yet the Hand of Jackor clearly means a champion or Inquisitor, which is exactly what you are. You don’t like poetry like this, because it rhymes, and the scheme is the story of your life.

“Patricia, did it say anything else?” Saya asks, yet the Wolfgirl shakes her head.

“No, that’s the only mention, though there’s a sketch…” She mutters to herself, flipping through some pages in a notebook. “Don’t even know what she did to have her hunted down, but clearly if Dollora bade her to do it, then it must have been something to further the cause of Monster kind.”

You tap your fingers on the table as she suddenly stands up and walks away, returning a few minutes later with an old tome that she gently sits on the table. You can barely read the thing, but she deftly, and carefully, flips to a page with an old, stained sketch on it.

The creature depicted looked like a woman, yet where her legs should have been, merged into an array of tentacles that sat upon the ground, while her hair looked nothing so much more than a dripping array of feelers draining from an eye centered in her head that looked out at the reader in a way that made you shiver.

You frown and look back up to Saya, who nods herself. You look to Patricia and say, “Patricia… the Mindflayer we’re chasing, she didn’t look like this. There’s similarities, but… Fi- I mean, the Mindflayer still has two legs.”

Patricia frowns deeply. “Surely, there are some discrepancies in Monster varieties: look at the Wolves of the desert versus the forests, but that large of a variation is…” She rolls her hand. “No, clearly you aren’t chasing a Mindflayer.”

“She said that she was given the name of Mindflayer.” You say. “You know, when Phallia changed her.”

Patricia goes stock still and turns to you before taking a deep breath and hissing, “What?”

“Phallia. It was she who changed her, not Dollora.”

“Phallia doesn’t have that power, that is the realm of her sister, unless…” Patricia trails off before rummaging through her notes and growling. “She’s channeling power through her connection to her sister. A Shirohebi philosopher postulated this centuries ago, yet everyone thought it stupid. How could Phallia use the power of Dollora? But if the reverse is true, then that certainly explains how the Great Transformation affected the plants and created Alarunes.”

“Speaking of Alarunes, while in Loveura, we found some who, well, they seemed to rather fanatically worship Phallia.”

Patricia waves a dismissive hand. “No, Alarunes have always worshipped Dollora, if they worshipped anyone at all. Some have speculated that perhaps Phallia should be their concern, but their voices are drowned out by the others who thank Dollora for their sentience.”

Saya rummages through her clothing and pulls out the vials and the papers from the altar in the Arboretum. Even in her dresses, she always keeps the Matango spores, too afraid to let them go anywhere else. It seems to trusts Patricia enough with them though, as the young Wolfgirl looks them over with delicacy for someone with paws, gently setting them down after looking. Next, she picks up the papers and frowns immediately.

“It’s a cross-breeding guides and…rituals?”

You cock your head, “I’m sorry, cross-breeding?”

“Yes, like cross breeding plants to get different plants or different traits in them. These papers seem to be showing them crossing various seeds to produce some kind of effect that would cause… I’m not even certain, but it all seems to come back to Matango spores.”

Saya nods her head, “I think she said something about trying to induce a war with the Galmathorians and she needed a Mana Cycler for that.”

“Of course she would, infusing magical essence into these spores will allow the propagation of whatever she’s making without the deleterious effects of actually creating Matangos… probably.” She narrows her eyes. “Matango spores induce a sort of rutting behavior in Monsters, and mixed with some other plants could cause a mixture of lust and rage, which could easily set them into a fury, if there is something to incite them to it.”

“How about constructs attacking them in the name of Deleor? Is that a good excuse to get incited and invade?”

“Uh…” Patricia blinks a few times. “Yeah, it would. That isn’t… really happening, is it?”

Both you and Saya nod your heads solemnly and Patricia rubs between her eyes. “Oh okay, sure.” She sighs and looks over the papers again, saying, “Saya, I hope you told your Mother, and Tobias, you better have told the crown.”

“They know.” You say, nodding your head. “However politics seem to keep their hands tied so… they’re sending me out to do this.”

She raises an eyebrow, “The hand of Jackor is…” She trails off before looking closer at the papers. You make to say something when she raises a finger and then growls, “What the hells were they doing?!”

You look to Saya, who shrugs, the two of you waiting until Patricia looks up, fury in her eyes. “They’re crossing LIVING plant Monsters! These are medical documents!” She rubs at her forehead, growling again. “The runes in these reports are religious iconography of Phallia, so many infact that I begin to wonder what they planned on doing? Carving these into the bodies of poor creatures, no wonder most of these ended with, ‘Failure!'”

“Wait… wait, living Monsters?” You say, leaning in close. “We fought a few in the arboretum, they were both rather… off. One of them was frankly insane and the other was calm, yet she kept calling herself a failure.”

Patricia grunts and sets down the papers. “I don’t have records on any of the living ones, must not have gotten all the papers. Either way, some they lobotomized I think, others they… they stitched things together onto them, merging plants for…some sick purpose.”

Saya frowns, “I looked over those papers, and it was all just a bunch of gibberish, how did you?…”

“It was written in code, my dear, dumb Saya.” She waves her hand as if this was a matter of course. “Now then, I can’t see the purpose of mixing this sort of thing with religious iconography… there are a few symbols here I don’t know off the top of my head, but fortunately you did come to the right place as Religious studies are my specialty…”

“Well, seeing as you worships Hevensferth instead of Dollora…” Saya waves, waving a hand of her own, to which Patricia frowns.

“Hevensferth is a wonderful God, and the weekly congregations have some very cute boys.” She says, sniffing.

Saya smirks, “Oh, and have you asked any of them out?”

Patricia stammers, blushing, “I… That’s not how society works anymore! I mean, the man should ask the woman out, instead of… you know, we don’t rape anymore and…”

Saya chuckles, “Awww, don’t worry, you’ll hold hands someday. Or not!” She snickers and Patricia growls at her before sniffing.

“Fine, I answered your questions. Now scram.”

“Ah, but wait.” You say, holding up a hand. “What does all of this mean? Are you able to look up those runes?”

Patricia sighs and shrugs. “Yes, but those tomes can take awhile to dig through and the Communion Matrix is… lacking sometimes. It can take awhile, so if you’re staying in town…”

You shake your head. “We’re leaving tomorrow I’m afraid.”

She clicks her tongue. “Ah, of course.” She sighs and then pulls out a slip of paper, then writes something on it before handing it to you. “This is my Ley-mail address. I take it you do, have Ley-mail?”

“Of course!” You say, nodding your head. “Haven’t checked it in awhile, but yeah, I do.”

“Message me, and when I get something new on this, I’ll let you know.” She smirks before shaking her head. “My mother tore things apart with her bare hands and I’m doing research in a comfy library. My, how adventures have changed.”

“Don’t worry.” Saya says, patting Patricia’s shoulder. “I’ll do all the ripping and tearing, alright?”

Patricia growls before picking up her book again. “Till next we meet then.”

“Oh, I look forward to humiliating you more.” Saya says, waving, to which Patricia flicks her off. You chuckle and lead Saya outside, though before you follow her out, you turn to Patricia and whisper, “Do you have any embarrassing things about Saya I could… use for fun?” Patricia merely smiles wickedly but says nothing further, and you turn to hurriedly catch up with your girlfriend.

She has a good mood, but you’re lost in thought, thinking about the text from before, the differences in Mindflayer appearances, and the strange runes. What does it mean? Clearly one is related to the direct threat, but the others?…

You feel something lean against you and you look over to see Saya pressed against your side, her hand wrapped through arm. You blink a few times before you smile down and gently run your fingers through her hair as the two of you walk through the campus out to the city proper. She sighs gently as you make your way onto more familiar thoroughfares and leans to whisper into your ear,

“Remember your promise?”

———————————–

You slept very well that night, though you didn’t quite get to hold hands. Instead, you came in to find Akela asleep in your bed, Ginelle dozing off in a chair while Ophelia snoozed soundly. You both decided to squeeze in on the sides of your new little daughter, falling asleep with her between the two of you as her soft, gentle breathing lulled you to sleep.

The morning you awoke feeling tired, in a good way at least. Little Akela was a little surprised to find the two of you there, but she didn’t say anything, a little blush on her face as she hugged her doll was all the answer you got there, but she went through a morning routine with you very well, getting a little agitated when you told her you don’t do any real… bathing in the morning.

“Do you want to get disease? Wash your face!”

You roll your eyes at her insistence, smiling as she guides you through the process. You know that Anubis are meant to be a little… overbearing and bossy, but you didn’t really believe it until now. Still, it’s kind of really adorable, so you don’t make too much of a stink, instead just following her commands until Saya gets up, to which she gets the same treatment.

The rest of the morning sort of follows like that until all of you gather at the table around breakfast, both Ginelle and Akela putting it away as if they’d never eaten before. For your part, you look over the list Abigail sent you, along with a map of Deleor marking Leyways that Ophelia had. You gently trace your finger over a path leading to the northeast before nodding your head.

“This is the path to Helmscrag, this Leyway typically takes about ten days to make the trip, mainly due to the unwillingness of the crews to travel at night.” Ophelia says, pointing at a few stops. “They prefer to spend the night in stations, where the Troll Union has power to keep the towns safe.

“Oh oh!” Abigail says, pointing at the list. “There’s a few on the list on the way!” She flies to the nearest town on the list, a place called Indin, a farming town known for its grain. Sleepy place, all things considered, however further north was the larger depot known as Saydinhold, where Anderson thinks Chalan may be headed next. Of course, you also notice Abigail pointing to an area known for its beef and Holstaurus milk little off your path known as Oppenheim. Certainly, it would take you off your path by a day or two, but it may be worth it.

You lean back and discuss this with the others, knowing your end goal, but looking at the closest choices, making the hard decisions on whether or not to put some of these Illusionists down, or chase after Fiora now. Being an Inquisitor is suffering.

———————-

In the end, you decide head first to Indin. It’s on the main track and you’ll be staying there for the night anyway, so you can afford to look about for the Illusionist there, “Carl Tucker.” Such a bland name for someone going insane, yet what are you going to do, murder him for it?

Oh, wait.

After that, the decision is to take the detour to Oppenheim. Chalan is likely moving on the path you are, but if she knows where Illusionists are, and is doing something to them, then the chance of running into her is high. Besides, these murders will allow you to gain more abilities, and frankly, you need them to stand a chance against Fiora. She’s wounded, but nothing a few potions couldn’t fix.

“We have to assume she’ll be as strong, if not stronger than she was before.” Saya says, nodding her head as you finish with preparations to leave the inn. “We can’t afford to underestimate her.”

“You’re right, you’re right.” You say, sighing and rubbing your forehead. “I know. I just hope that these two Illusionists won’t cause too much trouble is all.”

“You got this.” She says, tapping your arm, a smile on her face. “After Helen, even I understand why you have to do this.” She points over to the side where Ophelia is finishing packing while Ginelle gives Akela a ride on her shoulders, the little Anubis giggling as she does.

Saya smirks and says, “Besides, you have us to help you out, alright? You aren’t doing this alone.”

“I… yeah.” You say, feeling genuine appreciation. “You’re sure that everyone is… fine by this, right?”

Saya rolls her eyes, “Come on, you know they could leave whenever they wanted to, and I wouldn’t blame them, especially Ginelle… yet they’re still here. You really underestimate your own charisma in keeping people together, you know?”

Shaking your head, you chuckle, “So, I’m like the Grand Wizard, huh?”

“Oh, no. Dad is smart, you’re just a pretty face.”

Your mouth works wordlessly as you’re too stunned to form words. A wicked grin spreads over Saya’s face, and she taps your cheek gently with her hand. “Awww, don’t worry there dear, I like your pretty face. Besides, it was Blake who kept that party together, Dad… well, he almost split it apart once.”

You cough into your hand, “I know, I read the book.”

She chuckles, “I know, I know.” Saya sighs and looks over to Ginelle and Akela, before putting her hands to her shoulders and making some test motions before frowning and sighing even deeper. You gently pat her head and she mumbles, “I could be as tall as Ginelle too, if I wanted.”

“Awww, don’t worry there dear, I like your delicate shoulders.”

She gives you the stink eye, but you chuckle and move to the others to finish packing. You get all your items together and head downstairs, where you check out with the surly innkeeper, who seems a tad tired this morning. She yawns and accepts your payment, a sum which physically hurts you, yet you can afford it easily enough. Just… well it was a nice inn, and you did stay awhile and… Ugh…

Everything settled up, you head out to the station, where you agreed to meet Clint yesterday after sending a letter saying you’d be delayed. You also sent one to Clarissa detailing you’d be in town another day, but she didn’t respond, so you assume she’s busy. Well… damn, you should have seen if she had a Ley-mail address. As far as you knew, she didn’t have a Communion Glass at home, so the chance of her having one was slim anyway, but it would have been nice to keep in communication.

You check your [Pocket Watch] to see that it’s about time for Clint to be here, yet he’s nowhere around. You frown and look about the busy area, but, well he’s running late, that’s for sure. Sighing, you return to the others, who are sitting down at a nearby cafe and find an extra guest present, a seemingly womanly form in a long, encompassing cloak. You frown even deeper and walk forward, prepared to deal with whoever this is.

As you approach you notice Ginelle standing there, a look of interest on her face while Ophelia looks down with a worried expression. Saya looks nervous, yet as you approach, she hesitantly puts a hand on Akela’s back, gently encouraging her to go forward, though the little Anubis looks a little afraid. The figure holds out a hand, and you see a familiar black fur that makes your heart begin to beat faster in your chest as a cold sweat appears on your forehead. Ohhhhh shit.

Akela hesitates, looks to Saya, and then takes in a deep breath before regaining that neutral composure of hers and stepping forward. The stranger gently puts her hand to your daughter’s cheek and strokes it before moving to the top of her head and ruffling it gently, causing Akela to blink a few times in surprise before smirking.

“Ah…hello there.” You say, walking up a little stiffly. Everyone looks at you, a little surprised due to their attentions beforehand. The figure turns to you and under the cloak you see the hints of a predatory smile that makes you blood run cold. Licking your lips, you say, “Good morning, my Lady.”

Selene’s grin widens, though it doesn’t quite reach her eyes, which you can now see under the hood. Her ears twitch, causing the whole ordeal to shift, yet she continues to look at you and say, in a sweet voice, “Tobias! Just who I was looking for. I heard you were leaving town and I just had to come by and say farewell before you escaped…I mean, made your way out of town.”

“Aha… and why would that be?”

“Well! You see, I heard a mutual friend of ours happened to be in town, and so naturally I sent someone to have a little chat with her, and what should I find but that you’d been there with my daughter, and you happened to adopt!”

You see something snake across the ground and before you realize it, you’re pulled in close enough for Selene to grab your wrist, her grip feeling like it’s going to break your bones. You wince at the pressure as Selene hisses, “I just HAD to see my GRANDDAUGHTER.”

You take a shuddering breath before looking at Akela, who gives you a piteous expression, evidently knowing exactly who Selene is and what this all means. You grind your teeth, realizing that if you back down here, even in front of the most powerful Monster in the world, it would set a bad tone for her for the rest of your life. With that in mind, you turn your full attention to the Monster Lady and say, in a calm, commanding tone, “Let go.”

Selene pulls back slightly, as if rocked back by a strong wind, and she blinks, her expression a little confused. She doesn’t let go of your arm though, instead just looking into your eyes, searching for something. Slowly, she releases your arm, and pulls her hand back, allowing you to walk over to Akela and put a hand on her shoulder, the little girl staring up at you in awe.

The Monster Lady chuckles softly and shakes her head. “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you? It didn’t feel like you messed with my head, yet you seem much more… commanding than before. I like that.” She sighs and taps her head before waggling a finger for you to come close. You frown but do so, getting close enough that Selene can whisper without the others hearing as she speaks.

“Tobias… Saya is my first little girl, and you’ve read Wizardquest, you know what my husband wrote about me, yes? How much family means to me? While I’m overjoyed there’s a new addition to the family, you two have barely been together. If you hurt her, and in turn hurt that wonderful little girl, Nerg himself won’t be able to protect your soul from my wrath.”

Drawing on <Battle Focus> you nod your head calmly, and say, “I promise you that I will not, while I am in control of my rational mind, harm either of them.”

Selene looks once more into your eyes before nodding her head and sighing. “Very well then. It’s just… hard seeing your little girl growing up, you know?”

“No, not really.”

“Smartass.” She says, smirking. “Well, keep this up and you’ll be one hell of a hit at the next family get together.” Your eyes sparkle at that, and she pushes you away, rolling her eyes and speaking up, “Well, I got what I came for.”

“Oh, you’re leaving already, Mother?” Saya says, her face visibly more relaxed than it was before. Apparently your little show impressed her as well, and gave her some confidence. “Is there any support you might be able to…?”

She shrugs and waves about the cafe. “I’d check that Port-O-Glass every so often, if I know anything, I’ll send it to you.” She gets up to leave, the cloak draping to the floor, but you put a hand toward her.

“Wait, wait, I need to give you my Ley-Mail address!”

She pauses and turns her head over her shoulder to smirk. “Who do you think I am? We’ll be in contact.”

As she makes to move out of the cafe, Clint appears, a bag over one shoulder, his rifle case over the other. When he passes by Selene, he tips his hat to her before arriving at your table. He throws a thumb over his shoulder and asks, “What did the Monster Lady want?”

You all look at him with shocked expressions, and he chuckles before shaking his head, “Aww, come on, it’s only natural I’d know who she is. As far as they disguise goes, well, she let a tail slip, and how many other Monsters have tails like that?”

“Two.” Saya says, looking a little embarrassed. “Three, sometimes.”

“Is that so?” Clint says, rubbing his chin. “Well, either way, what’s the plan? The Ley-way to Indin is leaving in about an hour, is that where we’re headed still?”

“Aye.” You say, nodding your head. “We’ll start there, then head to Oppenheim.”

“Oppenheim, eh? A little off the beaten path, wouldn’t you say?” He shrugs and chuckles, “Ah, oh well. All those Holstaurus out there are a nice feast for the eyes though, eh?”

Ginelle huffs, though when everyone looks to her, she blinks a few times before looking down and mumbling to herself. You shake your head before looking to Clint and nodding. “Yeah, we need to do something before anyone gets hurt, or worse, Chalan finds them.”

“Yeah, makes sense.” Clint says, a little somber, “Wouldn’t want anyone going crazy and hurting people, right?”

“Clint…” Ophelia says, her ear dropping low. “You don’t have to…”

He holds up a hand and shakes his head. “Now now, don’t be giving me any pity. Besides, my family is mad enough that I up and left again, especially after they dragged me back to take over once my Uncle was indisposed.” He looks over at the platform in the distance and coughs. “Speaking of which, maybe we could board the Ley-way? I’d rather not be caught out by any of my snitch- I mean, retainers.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Saya says, leaving some money on the table before picking up Akela’s luggage while you take hers and your own things. She smiles down at Akela and says, “Are you excited to ride a Ley-way?”

Akela shrugs, “It’s a series of metal boxes propelled by magical energies of Ley Lines. It’s a method travel like any other.”

Ophelia scoffs, looking hurt as she turns to you. “Tobias! You need to teach your daughter about the wonders of the Leyways!”

You roll your eyes and chuckle, “Only if she wants to learn. Maybe you could teach her a thing or two, since the Leyway ride will be a little long.”

Ophelia’s eyes twinkle, “Oh ho ho, a chance to indoctrinate a young mind to the wonders of Magitek?”

“Dad, she’s scaring me.”Akela says, frowning at Ophelia. “Are you sure she’s right in the head?”

“There there.” You say, beaming at being called, “dad.” “She just gets that way about Magitek, she’s usually more subdued.”

Ophelia sniffs and makes to leave the cafe, the rest of you following in tow. You board the Leyway with little difficulties from the Trolls, and get everyone settled in the rooms you booked. Due to the size of your party now, Clint stays with Ophelia and Ginelle while you, Saya, and Akela have a room. The Leyway this time is not nearly as luxurious as the one from Loveura, however, and poor Clint laments on the quality of spirits they have in the dining car to the Jinko behind the counter, though she doesn’t particularly seem to care.

You open the curtain in the room, Saya having gone to help Ophelia unpack or something, leaving Akela with you while you watch out of the window as the people run back and forth outside. It’s funny to see everyone out there, moving about like nothing is wrong in this world, like it can’t come crashing down at any moment. You begin to wonder if this is how all heroes feel, like they know something the rest of the people don’t. You had inklings of this as a noble, yet now… well, it’s almost depressing in a way.

Thankfully your thoughts are interrupted as a small form appears before you, and you turn to see Akela standing before you, that doll in her hand again. You smile at her and ask, “Hey there princess.”

She quirks and eyebrow. “Princess?”

“Well, you know.” You say, cheeks heating up. “I thought giving you a cute little name like that would be fitting…well, unless you don’t like it of course.”

She closes her eyes and a small smirk appears. “No, no it’s fine. I kind of like it anyway.”

You smile broadly, “Is that so? Well then, what do you need?”

“I just… wanted to say that you looked kind of…” She hesitates for a moment before taking a breath and saying, “Kind of cool in front of the Monster Lady today. Or well, is it Grandma?”

The image of Selene looking like some old granny makes you want to chuckle like a fucking idiot, but you keep it bottled inside. You’re going to rib Saya over this later, and it will be glorious, but for now you just chuckle. “I suppose so. We’ll have to find a better name for her later then.”

“So… what, Lady Grandma.”

“Yes, perfect.”

Akela rolls her eyes. “So, what do we do now?”

“Well, for now, we sit down and wait for the Leyway to start. Once it’s in motion, we can go look about. I’m sure Ophelia will find us at some point and try to teach you a thing or two about Magitek.”

“Oh.” Akela says the one word before walking over and looking out the window. She watches all the people passing by for a few moments before saying, “I never thought I’d leave this place after coming here. I suppose I’d always be trapped in that orphanage, but it’s better than where I was before.”

“Akela…” You say, feeling infinite sadness for the girl. She had to grow up far faster than any child should ever have had to, and you know it hurts her because of it. That’s why whenever she does smile or laugh, you feel a sense of joy, knowing that she’s still capable of acting like a child. You want to do whatever you can to protect that smile, but with what you’re going to have to do… well, it will be worth it.

The two of you look out the window a little longer before you wave to Akela. She looks at you oddly, and you pat your lap. “Come on, you can sit here if you’d like.”

Her eyes go wide at that and she takes a step back, a look of fear on her face. You suddenly grow concerned and ask, “Akela, what’s wrong?”

“No…no, please don’t…” She says before looking away and taking a shuddering breath. She shakes her head and whispers, “I’m sorry, I just… sorry.”

“Oh…alright.” You say, your mind deeply troubled. “Well, that’s fine. If you want to talk about it…”

“No.” She says flatly before shivering. “Not…not right now.”

Nodding your head you take a deep breath and look out the window again, frowning as you see something zooming over the heads of the other people in the crowd. You see some Trolls cry out in alarm, but whatever it is moves too quickly, and is headed directly for you! As it gets closer, you get a dull realization that you know who it is flying toward you on black wings, and a moment later, a resounding “Thwack!” sounds as Clarissa flies straight into the window, splatting like some kind of insect.

“Hey.” You hear through the window, though the voice is incredibly muted.

You hurriedly move to the window to open it up, allowing Clarissa to lean half inside, half outside, a large carrier bag over her shoulder as she takes a few breaths. “Ugh, I tell you, glass if the enemy of all birds.”

“Clarissa!” You say, surprised. “What the hells are you doing here? I thought you were going back to work!”

“See, about that. I have a lot of vacation time, and I never use it, so I cashed in and well…” She chuckles, “I thought that it might be scary and dangerous but… I thought that going with you might be important, so… Uhm.” She fumbles with words as a bell tolls outside. Both of you freeze as you feel the magical energies of the Leyway come to life, the cars beginning to levitate upward.

“Oh, that’s interesting.” Akela says, looking down. “Are we about to move?”

You and Clarissa exchange looks and she hurriedly asks, “So uhm, can I come with? If so, can you give me a hand up? I seem to be a little uh…stuck.”

“Fucking hells, get in here!” You growl, taking Clarissa’s wings and pulling her into the window, her feathers flapping around everywhere before she falls on top of you in a flailing pile of limbs and squawking. You groan and roll over as the Leyway lurches slightly, and you feel the familiar rumbling as it takes motion.

Slowly, you extract yourself from under Clarissa and sigh, plucking a feather from your hair. You look over to see Clarissa grumbling to herself and rubbing her head. You move to stand up and see Akela walk over to the window and stretch up on her tip-toes to close it before turning about and looking at you, frowning slightly.

“You know that’s a bad word, right?”

You blink at her a few times before a wave of embarrassment flows over you and you look down, admonished. “Sorry princess, I’m sort of… new to this.”

She shrugs. “I’ve heard worse.”

“I…” You say, sort of at a loss for words before you sigh and shake your head as the door to your room opens and Saya sticks her head in.

“Tobias, what in the hell…” She looks at the scene before seeing Akela and blushing herself. “Uh, right then. Still, what’s going on, why is Clarissa here?”

“She followed me home, can I keep her?” You say, your sass pushing itself out, though Saya gives you an annoyed look before sighing. You chuckle and fully help Clarissa up before you ask, “Hey Saya, do you mind taking Akela for a little bit? I need to get Clarissa a ticket or else they’ll get angry I assume.”

Saya shrugs. “That’s fine, I’m done helping Ophelia anyway. Honestly, I have a feeling she’s going to assault Clint at night just so she can steal his weapon and disassemble it.”

“I really, really doubt Ginelle will allow that.” You say, rolling your eyes. “But it would be amusing.”

“Yeah, amusing…” Saya says, sighing before smiling to Akela. “How about we look around the Leyway, hmm honey?”

“Honey?” Akela says, cocking her head. “I kind of like Princess better.”

Saya looks confused, yet you snicker, looking away when she frowns at you. She scratches her cheek before saying, “Alright then, princess it is. I suppose in a way you’re sort of like a princess now… or something, I don’t really know how the system works in that regard.”

Akela shrugs, “If you say so.” She waves to you, “We’ll be back then.”

Both she and Saya walk down the hallway, leaving you to scratch your head and look to Clarissa who sits there, smiling broadly. You frown at her and ask, “What’s that smile about?”

“The three of you are cuuuuute.” She giggles and you wave an arm at her and grumble something non-committal. She shakes her head and says, “I’m kind of jealous. Can I be like, an aunt to her?”

“I think that Ginelle would fight you on that one.”

“Oh. I don’t think I could beat a badger in a fight.” Clarissa mumbles to herself, rubbing her chin. “Maybe if I…”

“Alright you’re taking this a little far.” You say, rolling your eyes. “Anyway, let’s go get you a ticket.”

“Oh, alright.” She says, dropping her bag onto the floor. You give her an odd look, and she shrugs her shoulders, chuckling. “I guess this isn’t my room, then, huh?”

“Not quite.”

“Darn.” She gathers her bag up again, stuffing some clothes back in before hopping after you. You both walk down the train’s corridors, Clarissa looking outside to shake her head. “Honestly, these things move so slow, I wonder why people use them.”

“Because not everyone can fly.”

“Oh yeaaaaah.” She says, before tapping her head. “Bird-brain and all.”

“You lost the right to say that after you hustled me in that board game.”

“Just because I used TACTICS doesn’t mean you should hold a grudge forever.”

“Bah!” You say, throwing your hands into the air as a uniformed man walks forward and holds out a hand.

“Tickets!”

You blink a few times before rummaging in your pockets to pull out your ticket. You hold it out to him and he looks it over before grunting and thumbing toward Clarissa. “What about her?”

“Ah, she doesn’t have one.” You say, and the man grunts.

“So you’re the stowaway? Didn’t even attempt to cover it up though, you’re not good at this, huh?

“She just missed the leave time. I’m willing to pay for her.”

The man looks you over, his eye twitching. Apparently he’s having difficulty comprehending the situation fully, as if someone doing something legally is breaking his mind in ways that he can’t fully understand. It is as if a child comprehends a cake on a table, seeing that there is a plate set out for them, yet it all seems too suspicious. Still, he takes your money and hands you a ticket, looking the coins over before biting them and grunting.

“You kids stay out of trouble.”

You both wave at him with smiles on your face and he wanders off, scratching his head. You both turn to each other and laugh a little, both of you clearly remembering that event on Clarissa’s 16th birthday where both of you weaseled your way out of trouble from Richard for putting mud in his coffee. You almost forgot how fun Clarissa was, likely when things got awkward as Richard started making jokes about the two of you getting…yeah. You bet her mother did it to her also.

Shit, are you going to be like that with Akela? You hope not…

“Hmm.” Clarissa says, looking over her ticket. “Well that was easier than expected. Now what do we do?”

“I don’t know.” You say, shrugging. “We won’t be in town for awhile.”

“Should I… scout ahead? Pretend to deliver mail? I brought my uniform!”

“That’s… actually kind of useful.” You say, rubbing your chin. “Ah, but not right now. Let’s just enjoy the ride.”

“Oh, alright.” She says, sighing and leaning against a wall. “Well, what do you want to do then?”

“Honestly? I kind of want to figure out a little bit more about Akela.” You say, sighing. “I saw a little bit about her past and I don’t like it. The poor girl obviously had some abuse in the past and… it hurts to see it.”

Clarissa frowns before ruffling her feathers. “Aww geez, I mean she seems nice, but I do kind of get that vibe from her. Maybe we can do something nice for her?” She cocks her head then, thinking. “Huh, when’s her birthday anyway?”

“I’m… not really certain.” You say, shrugging. “She was apparently fairly young when she lost her parents, so she doesn’t know either.”

Clarissa’s eyes sparkle with that mischievous look she always seems to get before something gets you in trouble. “Let’s throw her a party then!”

“What? A party?” You say, looking astonished. “I don’t… what for?”

“Her birthday, duh. If she doesn’t have one, then the day she joins your family will be her birthday! All kids need a birthday!”

“But we don’t have any preparations or cake or…presents or…” You cut off and Clarissa pats your shoulder before shaking her head.

“Tobias, Tobias, Tobias. Dear sweet child, don’t you understand? You already gave her a great present by adopting her.”

You wonder about that, you really, really do. Of course, you have other things to say instead, raising an eyebrow and asking, “Did you just call me child?”

She looks back and forth shiftily and chuckling. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I hear these things have dining cars, I’m sure they have some cake or something! Alright, if you can find a way to distract the little cute-pie, I’ll make preparations, ehehe.”

“Preparations for what?” Saya asks, walking down the hallway, Akela in tow. Both you and Clarissa stand stock still for a moment before turning to face Saya, your faces masks of gentle emotion, revealing none of your plots.

“Hmm? Oh, just talking about the future, you know. Business and such.” You say.

“Indeed, flight paths, other such things I can help with, you know, boring things.” Clarissa adds, nodding her head.

Saya gives you both odd looks before shrugging. “Alright… if you say so. I was about to show Akela the front of the Leyway.”

“Actually…” You say, walking up to Akela and kneeling down. “Akela, do you want to go with Ophelia for a little bit? I know she’s excited to teach you a few things.”

“Do I have to?”

“It would be very nice if you did.”

“For you…” She mumbles before sighing. “Oh, very well.” She leans down the hallway and says, “Ophelia!”

A moment later the Rabbit-girl opens the door, her ears twitching. “Huh? I heard my name.”

“W… we’re three cars down.” Clarissa says, looking astonished.

Ophelia and Akela both point to her rabbit ears, as if it’s obvious. The Crow relents as the rabbit’s eyes shine and she takes Akela’s hand, almost skipping as she begins reciting basing Magitek theory. On one hand, it’s interesting, on the other hand, your daughter looks a little miserable. Did you do the right thing? Hrm.

“Oh, I kind of wanted to show her around.” Saya says, sighing. “Maybe get to know her some more. Well, I guess there will be more time for that later.”

“Yes, yes, indeed.” You say, nodding to Saya. “For now though, we’re going to throw her a little party.”

“Eh?” Saya says, cocking her head. “Why?”

“Because she’s our daughter and we love her?”

“Oh, fair enough.” Saya says before smirking. “I’m guessing this wasn’t your idea though.”

“I am offended!” You say, huffing. “But yeah, it’s Clarissa’s idea.”

“And since it’s my idea, I’ll divide tasks!” She points at you and says, “Get food and drinks.” She then turns to Saya and says, “Keep tabs on them, keep them out of the way for awhile.”

“What about you?” Saya asks, and Clarissa chuckles, “I’m going to make decorations!”

“Is that so? Take Abigail then.” You say, reaching into your jacket and pulling out the little fairy, who you managed to catch off guard.

“Whaaaaaa! Stoooooppp!” She says, trying to free herself from your grasp, gnawing on your hand, etc.

Clarissa’s eyes go wide as saucers as she stares at the little fairy. “Oh my Gods, she’s SO CUTE!” She hurriedly scoops up from the fairy from your hands and rubs her against her cheek. “Ahhh, she’s like a little doll!”

“I’ll fucking killll youuuu!” Abigail shouts, trying to squeeze out from Clarissa’s grasp, somehow failing despite, you know, wings. Clarissa waves to the two of you and heads back to the room, leaving you both wondering what the hell just happened as you move about to your tasks.

—————————————

“And so, how does a aetheric cross-link tie in with a holdgram recycler?”

“By the mana channeling through the Locum Grid accelerator…” Akela replies to Ophelia, sighing as she places her hand on the outside of the door you’re hiding behind. She opens it up, cocking her head and look about when suddenly the lights turn on, illuminating the scene, her eyes going wide.

“Surprise!” You shout, your voice mingling with that of Clint, Clarissa, Ginelle, and Saya. Abigail abstains from shouting, but you all clap your hands as the little looks about slack jawed at the scene before her.

The room, yours, of course, had been cleared up, and even though it’s small, there’s enough room for a little table with slices of pre-made cake on it, surrounded by little delicious dishes scrounged from the food car, along with various juices and a bottle of wine in the corner, for the adults, of course. All along the room are strings of little cut-outs of stars, made from pieces of paper and colored with various things that you have no idea how Clarissa found. The centerpiece, however is a lovely painted sign that says, “Happy Birthday!”

Akela, and Ophelia since she wasn’t informed beforehand, look about in shock, the little girl taking it all in before settling on the sign. She just stares at it for awhile as you walk up and kneel down next to her and say, “Happy Birthday.”

Her lips begin to quirk momentarily and she shakes slightly, her eyes beginning to shimmer, and in a moment, tears stream down her cheeks. You look at her in alarm and raise your hands saying, “Oh, oh Akela, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to remind you anything-“

“N…no, no. I’m crying because…because I’m happy.” She rubs at her eyes and sniffs, unable to keep herself from breaking into full out tears. “I… it’s not my…my birthday though!”

“It is now.” Saya says, leaning down and hugging the little girl, giving her a little kiss on the cheek. “From now on, today is your birthday, is that alright?”

She sniffs and shakes her head before hugging Saya, her little wolfly paws wrapping around her Monster mother. You join in too, and hold her tight, feeling awash in relief that you could do something good for her again. Her past could wait, for now you’re busy giving her a future.

———————————-

The party was wonderful, everyone having their fill, and Clint getting to speak with the little Anubis for the first time himself. She seems a little awkward around him, but the bastard is good with kids too, so by the end of the whole thing, she seemed to really like him. Really, what can’t the bastard do? You’re beginning to think that he’s the Blake to your Wizard in a way, which excites and annoys you.

Still, as the party wound down, and Akela fell asleep in your lap, you don’t have any antipathy left, and end up smiling as you chat the night away with Saya, gently stroking your little girl’s head as two of you hold hands. You all retire for the night feeling a certain sense of joy and fulfillment.

The rest of the Leyway journey is fairly uneventful, thankfully, most of the time spent going over the details of your plans with Clarissa, who seems a little hesitant as you describe the need to put people down, yet she accepts it. You reassure her that if it comes to it, you won’t force her to do anything, and that her talents are probably better spent scouting anyway, something she seems to take interest in, thankfully.

Akela spent her time with Ophelia, though not fully by her choice, and you refrain from probing deeper into her past, as even through her boredom, she seems quite happy. Why should you ruin that so soon? You can wait until later, that’s what you tell yourself anyway. Yeah…

So, when the Leyway rolls into Indin the next evening, you all bail out in good terms at the small station in the town, only one Troll giving you a dirty look as you walk out and view the town. Of course, calling it a town may be a little much, to be honest, because as you look out over the place, you see some buildings, mostly made of wood, with a few brick buildings in town. Off in the distance, you can see grain silos, reaching into the sky while small farms dot the landscape.

A few other passengers get off, looking around and heading off into town, most seeming like businessmen, while some farmers prepare to load up grain, which you find weird to do at night, but whatever. The Troll grunts at you to move along, and you do, heading out into the “streets” of the town, which are pretty much dirt paths, heading toward one of the larger brick buildings, which looks like an inn. As you pass through the streets, you see that the town is mostly made of humans, a few beastmen Monsters here and there, but nothing too fancy. It feels a little like Kasin, yet far more country than you’re used to. Of course, people give your group odd looks as well, but they don’t do much beyond that, going about their business, as if this is a fairly normal occurrence, which is might be due to the Leyway station.

The inn itself is a fairly standard affair, with a rather boring looking fat man of an innkeeper who gets you set up with two rooms fairly easily enough. They’re nothing really to speak of, and all of you set up easily enough before heading downstairs for some chow, which turns out to be the best damn thing about this town so far.

To start, the bread is fantastic, the flavor just melting in your mouth while the barley stew has such flavor you can’t even describe it. As far as the drinks? The beer has far more flavor than you’ve ever had before, and you wonder if you’ve ever had beer in your life before this. All in all, you devour your meal with gusto, even getting seconds, thoroughly enjoying your time here.

As you near the end of your dinner, you hear some people, farmers by the sound of it, nearby chatting over drinks.

 “Well, this year’s harvest is pretty damn good, wouldn’t you say, Phil?”

“Oh it’s a damn good harvest. Lots of money coming into town, heh.”

“Sure is. And the beer is wonderful from the last harvest, I think next year is going to be great!”

“Well, maybe. I don’t know if I trust the grain from the Tucker farm this year.”

“I know what you mean, place has seemed a little odd recently, hasn’t it?”

“Well it’s always been odd, but I don’t know, I kind of get the creeps around there. Went by today and ol’ Carl was just standing out in his field, scythe in hand, looking directly at me. Didn’t say a damn word, but he just… kept staring, even when I was far away.” The man shivers. “Guy’s been a little odd in the head if you ask me since his wife died.”

“Aye, poor Tellenarre. She was an odd one too, but she went before her time.”

The first man leans over to the other and says, “You know, I hear some people on the outer farms have been disappearing recently. You know anything about that?”

“Nah, I think it’s just rumors. Probably people going on vacation after the harvest, you know?”

“Yeah, probably.” The man finishes his drink before slapping down a few coins and heading out with his friend, their talk turning to something more happy.

All of you look toward each other before nodding and finishing your food, heading upstairs to discuss your next steps, wondering if you were too late to stop something terrible from happening…

 

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